Friday, 13 May 2016

Spring Haiku

Despite everything

the leaves come out. The Spring still

won't give up on us.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Divesting from fossil fuels? Inspiring returns from community renewable energy

Quakers have been a lead in divesting from fossil fuels. Here is my personal story.

As the pressure is on to be open and transparent about our investments and tax returns, I am coming clean that I decided to invest my modest NHS pension pot, not in an off shore unit trust, but in renewables, run by cooperatives. One of which is Four Winds Energy Coop.

If you don’t want to read any further I highly recommend the video on their website  “how coal country can spark a clean energy revolution.”

I attended the Four winds energy coop  AGM on the 19th March in Barnsley which included a site visit to their 500kw turbine on a disused colliery site at Shafton. The coop have two 500kw turbines up and running on old colliery sites. The Shafton turbine pictured here which started generating in July 2015, and the other one at Duckmarton, near Chesterfield, which started generating in December 2014.
Close to, the turbine seems vast. The shaft is 70 meters tall. All we could hear was a gentle purr. We were shown inside by the members of the board who were very experienced retired people, who had been working in a voluntary capacity for several years to get this to happen. One, a retired electrical engineer, told us the turbine was bought and imported from the Netherlands. He told us at the beginning of his working life there were 6 factories in the UK manufacturing turbines, now there are none. The picture on the right is the computer control screen from inside the turbine.  It was really impressive to see how the blades alter their pitch and direction in response to wind speed and direction. The turbine has been generating electricity for nine months and generated one million kw hours, roughly enough electricity for 500 households. Looking 360 degrees from the turbine we could see the communities of Grimesthorpe, Cudworth and our  view about 500 houses.  However, in the UK you can’t sell electricity directly to your local community, like you can in Germany, so this electricity is sold to the grid with remuneration through the Feed in Tariff(FITs). Instead the agm decided that in future years 5% of any dividend should go to a community fund and if possible, one that addresses fuel poverty. The Duckmanton turbine started generating in December 2014 and they have a community fund up and running, working with the local primary school who want to fit solar panels on their roof.

The AGM itself was both inspiring and depressing. The accounts indicated the coop paid for the secretariat services of the parent energy renewable coop, Energy 4 All, which amounted to one part time job and salary. The directors received no fees, just modest travel expenses. (Rather different from any bank or building society!)The deeply depressing information was that the coop had plans for 6 further turbines all on disused colliery sites in Yorkshire, but these are no longer viable due to the governments changes in policy..viz:making planning permission much harder, massively reducing the FITs, and  stopping tax incentives for investing in renewables.

I think this example of Four Winds coop shows what can be done, and at the same time exposes the total hypocrisy and deceit of our government. David Cameron signed the climate Change agreement in Paris last December to commit to massively reducing our fossil fuel emissions and build up our renewables, and also declares he wants to encourage local enterprise and initiatives.  With policies that cramp initiatives such as the Four Winds coop what is going on? Can we hold him to account?

But above all I am filled with gratitude for those men and women who put their all into making these turbines whirr.

If anyone is interested to look into investment in community renewables I can recommend
Triados renewables, now called Thrive renewables.
and Energy 4 All

Heather Hunt
11th April 2016

Monday, 25 January 2016

Noisy Silence

Recently I attended, for the second time, the Sunday service of a Sheffield Apostolic Church that has emerged from within the Slovakian Roma community. It has been brought from Slovakia and holds services on Sunday afternoons in Sheffield. It takes place entirely in Romany. The service lasts over 2 1/2 hours and is made up of quite a long period of singing followed by a long and impassioned sermon and then some more songs and ending with a prayer. I was the only non-Roma person in attendance and I stayed towards the back of the congregation (about a hundred adults and twenty or thirty children).

What struck me was the facility we have for finding silence and space for contemplation amongst noise. I sat there at the back and I suppose for a time the service became a sort of white noise within which I bore witness briefly and silently to the Quaker tradition.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Spiritual Journey

'Spiritual Journey' is, it seems, used by everyone of a religious or spiritual persuasion. But what does it mean? There is no actual physical journey, so it must be a metaphor. Unfortunately, like all metaphors, it can be misunderstood or misused. For me, the most problematic misuse of the metaphor 'journey' is to think of it like an actual journey to a different place or possible 'state', that is, as some sort of progress or growth.

The problem with thinking of one's 'spiritual journey' like a real journey is that in fact spiritually we do not 'progress' or 'grow' in the normal sense of these words. This is dangerous because the whole mindset or paradigm of western civilisation in which we find  ourselves is about progress and growth, so it is rather too easy to slip into the same understanding with spirituality. Thinking in terms of progress and growth is of course disastrous in the context of 'economic growth'  since we live on a finite planet, bit also in terms of technological progress because we come to put faith in a future where technology will fix – or at least ameliorate – our problems.

Spirituality does not 'progress' and 'grow' – the best perhaps we can say is that it deepens. However, a mere child can have a deeper spiritual awareness than the oldest person with a lifetime of spiritual practice, such that the child knows that the emperor has no clothes and so bursts the bubble of our hubris. Spiritual insight or depth comes by grace, and all we can do is make ourselves more receptive.

It does not help that in the Christian tradition there is the concept that that the world and our body in it are 'bad' and that we will one day be in heaven, which is 'good'. This just encourages the idea of being on a journey to another place. Jesus himself talks about the 'kingdom of heaven' being  amongst us, so this idea of denying the world is surely false. If the 'kingdom of heaven' is amongst us, where then do we journey to?

However, traditional mythology is replete with the metaphor of the journey or quest, usually undertaken by the young man [is it invariably a man because of patriarchy, or because women see the world differently?] in order to find themselves.  But in stories, the hero's journey always takes them back to where they started. Odysseus returns to Ithaca and Bilbo goes 'There and Back Again' and Dorothy goes back to Kansas.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
(T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, V)

The purpose of the spiritual 'journey' then is to come to know ourselves in the time and place and community in which we find ourselves – to come to know time and place and community 'for the first time' and so become situated persons. It is not by 'progress' and 'growth' that we become situated, but by 'care' and 'attention' – care for one another and the environment around us, and attention to the time and place and culture we are in.
Like Dorothy we have to realise that 'there’s no place like home'.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

'Reading Quaker faith & practice' conference at Woodbrooke

All area meetings in Britain have been invited to nominate a Friend to participate in the 'Reading Quaker faith & practice' conference at Woodbrooke, from 22nd to 24th April 2016.

The conference will provide an opportunity to:

Learn from one another’s experience of participating in the Reading Quaker faith & practice programme so far.

Gain ideas and resources for setting up and inspiring groups in meetings.
Share reflections and insights emerging from existing groups.
Understand more about the origins, purposes and development of the current book.

The conference welcomes participants from all area meetings, including those which have not yet decided to participate in the Reading Quaker faith & practice project.

Area meetings are being asked to nominate a Friend or attender who has one or more of these qualities:
  • is involved in an existing Reading Quaker faith & practice group 
  • is willing to promote the programme around the area meeting 
  • has a concern for spiritual learning in the area 
  • will be able to communicate with others about what they have learned
If you would be interested in attending the conference on behalf of your area meeting, please talk to your AM clerk or nominations committee. For more information about the conference contact:

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Killing machines R us. Protest at DSEI arms fair.

photo CAAT

photo CAAT
Heather Hunt , attender at Sheffield Central meeting,  donned a corporate suit and posed as an Israeli arms dealer on the first day of action to stop the London based arms fair on Monday September 7th.  This day was to highlight and protest about the Israel and UK two way arms trade .

Heather is part of Sheffield Creative Action for Peace  (SCRAP) and talks about her motivation and the day of  action.

Israeli-UK two way arms trade. BDS campaign
“I was shocked that the UK government had invited Israel arms dealers to have a pavilion inside the DSEI arms fair to be held at the Excel centre East London. I am proud that the Quakers are active in opposing arms sales to Israel. However, I hadn’t realised how complicit the UK and Israeli governments are in this mutual support of arms dealing as good business.

So I was delighted to be part of Sheffield Creative Action for Peace (SCRAP) and its contribution to the protest to highlight and oppose this two way arms trade. Two of us posed as Israeli arms dealers with our badges, “killing machines are us” with client support sheets detailing how you can get more for your bucks with our combat tested weapons.   (eg Friendly and uncritical allies like the UK and US.) We displayed our products to interested independent media from our portfolio of 2D replicas which included our biggest sellers:
Elbit Hermes 450 drones, made in the Israeli owned Elbit factories in the UK  and used extensively on the Gaza strip.  Our sales pitch, backed by research, included “Can be fitted with two hellfire missiles. Recent sales include Columbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Merkava tanks
Manufactured by Israeli military Industries and assembled by Israeli Ordnance corps. Fitted
with 2 machine guns which can shoot down helicopters. Field tested on Gaza.  One tank killed 120 Hammas militants in Protective Edge. Sales increased after assault on Gaza.  “Very serviceable. Main battle tank for many countries. Selling well. Now upgraded to include night sensors and target trackers and adapted for guerrilla warfare.”

Honouring Palestinians killed by Israeli drones
To highlight the nature of Israeli weapons other members of SCRAP displayed the Drones quilt we have been making, highlighting and naming Palestinians killed by drone strikes on Gaza.

photo SCRAP
During the day an enormous low loader arrived conveying a military vehicle looking like a missile launcher. Protestors immediately got onto the road and between us we stopped the vehicle going into the Arms fair for two hours.  3 women clambered onto the vehicle and, with a Palestinian flag flying, read out testimonies from families whose children were killed in the 2009 Israeli massacres in Gaza. And then, with the lorry still blockaded and the road therefore closed, we held a dabke dance workshop in front of the lorry, on the road with police dancing round our circle trying to give us an arrest warning.

photo CAAT
War is good for business and economic growth.
Refugees not arms welcome here.

We found out that the drivers of the low loader we stopped were Hungarian and had driven this vehicle from Southern Hungary, through Austria and western Europe. Sometime over the weekend the driver probably drove past the thousands of migrants walking to Vienna, most of them from Syria and Afghanistan, fleeing wars prosecuted and fed by the sort of materiel he was carrying. 

How ironic is this? That killing machines can cross European borders easily whist humans fleeing war torn countries cannot. The stark realisation before us then was seeing how war is so good for business. Weapons used by all and any side in Syria and other conflict torn countries around the world continue to get circulated and traded, making profit for some and for others, their lives are ravaged.

The day was an excellent example of effective collaboration between CAAT, War on Want, and Palestine Solidarity campaign.  It gave me hope we can work together and creatively to advocate for humane and just settlement for refugees, and an end to the arms trade.

I enjoyed researching my role as a corporate Israeli arms dealer and keeping in that role for 5 hours. I gained an insight of a little of what it could be to be in that person’s shiny shoes. I was marketing manager and my colleague was client support. As we approached the protest, we were shouted at “shame on you! Murderers!” Some protestors really were taken in by us. We arrived confident and smart. From this vantage point the protestors looked SO scruffy and not worth listening to.
Later in the day during one interview, with Russia today, I was asked if I felt guilty and responsible for so much killing and death.  I surprised myself (in role) by the question-not understanding the feeling or the question. Of course we were serving our country, particularly keeping our economy afloat.  Guilt? What has that got to do with it.
Heather Hunt 23rd September 2015

You can see films of the action here and here.

‘Testimonials From Families of Palestinian Victims - #OccupyDSEI Day One’

SCRAP meets on alternate Thursday afternoons. Next action October 3rd, Waddingtom RAF base. Scones not drones.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Our faith in the future

Quakers in Britain have a new 'long term framework' to guide our discernment at all levels of decision-making, including our local and area meetings, as well as our centrally managed work. The document, called 'Our faith in the future', was approved by Meeting for Sufferings (our national representative body) on 5th September. It replaces the 'Framework for Action 2009-14', which was a previous attempt at a 'strategic framework' for Quaker decision-making.

The new document has shifted the focus away from a list of priority areas of work, and towards a vision of the kind of Quaker community we aim to become. No strategic plan or framework can dictate how the Spirit may lead individual Friends, local meetings and the wider Quaker community in the future. Our way of corporate discernment is based on the faith that God's guidance is available to us in community, with the authority to upset all of our cherished plans.

For this reason, the group appointed to write the new long term framework has wisely avoided any attempt to prescribe what kind of work Quaker communities should undertake. Instead, the document directs our attention towards some of the core principles - of spiritual rootedness, inclusion, discipline and social engagement that are at the heart of our Quaker practice.

Hopefully, the text will act as a reminder of what we already know by experience to be important, supporting our practice of Spirit-led discernment rather than imposing pre-determined outcomes on it. The full text is given below:

Our faith in the future

Facing turbulent times, Quakers in Britain seek a future where…

Meeting for worship is the bedrock of living as a Quaker. In worship we become one with the Spirit, with each other and with our true selves. The Spirit is the source of strength and guidance for all we are and do. Our way of worship is open to all, and we are making it available to more people.

Quaker communities are loving, inclusive and all-age. All are heard, valued and supported both in our needs and our leadings. Everyone’s contribution is accepted according to their gifts and resources. All ages and conditions are welcomed and included. There are clear and effective ways of working together on shared concerns. Fellowship and fun strengthen the bonds between us, enhancing a loving community.

All Friends understand and live by Quaker discipline. Our discipline is actually 'letting go and letting God': not thou shalt nor I will but what does Love require of me? It works when we understand it and practise it! Because we understand it, we can share it with others. Our testimony guides us, but we have to work on what it means for each of us personally.

Quaker values are active in the world. Our lives speak peace, equality, respect for the earth and all its inhabitants. We offer friendship to all and solidarity to the marginalised. We speak truth to power with love. We hold those in power in the Light. We find creative and nonviolent ways to get our message across. We are in for the long haul; we’re not afraid to take risks. We are called to live in the place where our deep gladness meets the deep hunger in the world.

Quakers work collaboratively. We are well aware that we can't put the world to rights all by ourselves. We value the important work of others; by engaging with them we are already changing the world. We want to break down barriers; we refuse to prejudge who is or is not an ally.

Quakers are well known and widely understood. We are active in our local communities, reaching out in friendship, making more use of our meeting houses for events and renting/lending out. All members are ready and equipped to explain our way confidently and clearly to anyone who asks, as well as to speak publicly on issues of concern. We share our practices where appropriate and make full use of new media to reach out widely. In an increasingly divided world, we try to offer 'patterns and examples' of a caring community.

… a future where we let our lives speak