Monday, 12 November 2007

Friends Faith and Fellowship

This new link is to an international site which is just about 2 months old. It is slowly growing in membership and topics but all guests are welcome. It is an attempt to use the new technology available to allow contact, shared worship and discussion especially amongst those who for reasons of geography and health etc. may not be able to Meet regularly with others. Please feel free to visit the link and explore. In many ways it is an experiment but I hope that it will grow into something of benefit to those who have contact with it. Thanks are due to Craig for creating this link for us.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Silence, Morton Feldman and Friends

I have been fighting these thoughts all day and longer than that but I now feel that I have to share. Over the last few years I have been collecting the works of Morton Feldman and though I cannot check as to whether he was a Quaker in life he, to me, is a Quaker in his music. Long silences are shaped by notes. Notes are shaped by silences. It is so much like Meeting that this morning as I was making bread I listened to my latest purchase 'the viola in my life' by him. It is, like much of his music, like being in Meeting. The notes are Ministry. The silence reflection. The depth of thought so intense. There is a deep humanity in the music enhanced by a deep spirituality but all was so simple and plain in many respects.As I made the bread my kitchen was filled by silence and ministry. Silence and eloquent lyrical lines of music. Collections of notes appearing and disappearing but creating anticipation. If compared to reading a book it was like wishing to turn the page but having to finish this page and all the words on it first.FFF was on my laptop. If felt connected to something greater. A synergy. A waiting. A gathering. I was alone but part of something greater. Something I knew but like the Tao 'That which can be said in words cannot be known, That which can be known cannot be said in words'. The next time I hear it it will be different but that is like all such experiences. To Morton silence was so important which makes me wonder if though he may not have been a Friend in name he might have been so by nature.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Civil liberties

In response to QPSW's Briefing on Civil Liberties, and discussion thereof at last Business Meeting, I am here putting forward some thoughts on civil liberties in the current political climate and Quakerism, in the hope of provoking further dialogue on this issue within Sheffield Meeting.
There are a number of reasons why I ought not to be writing this. I am a visitor to this Meeting (not to mention to this country): whatever actions you end up taking around this issue, I will probably be back in Canada by the time they are to be implemented. I am not particularly well-informed about British politics and law. I am even less clear on the inner workings of Sheffield Meeting and its relation to QPSW. Nor do I have proper standing to speak about the testimonies of Quakerism, as my own identity as a Quaker is uncertain.
Nevertheless, I see and hear about things happening around me, here in the UK, Canada and the US, and in their spheres of influence, which grieve and frighten me. "Anti-terrorism" laws have recently been invoked against domestic environmentalist groups protesting the expansion of Heathrow Airport. In Florida recently, a student asking Senator John Kerry a pointed question at a public forum was dragged away by police, handcuffed, and then tasered. An American member of Women in Pink was recently denied entry into Canada on the grounds of her peace activism. Less anecdotally, all three countries have in recent years, ostensibly as anti-terrorism measures, abrogated the Common Law principle of habeas corpus, allowing various officials to shut various classes of people up in prison without criminal charges or possibility of judicial review. The US has, fairly brazenly, institutionalised the use of torture, in Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere; while Britain and Canada have to varying degrees been complicit. And all three countries have instituted programmes of massive domestic surveillance, enhanced by modern data-mining technologies.
My main reaction to this has been to vacillate been shock and cynicism. Part of me is stunned by the desecration of constitutional rights and Common Law freedoms which have traditionally distinguished the Anglo-American system from a police state (or so I was raised to believe). The other part of me shakes its head wearily: all states are fundamentally police states when push comes to shove, when the interests of the ruling class are threatened. I do believe the ruling class see a threat ahead -- not from an Islamic terrorist movement, but from domestic discontent: as the dollar collapses (and perhaps the whole world monetary system with it), as climate change and other environmental catastrophes unfold, as world energy supplies peak and food prices soar. And yet a third part of me continues my day-to-day life, business-as-usual, wondering if I'm being paranoid. There are no food riots going on in my neighbourhood. They aren't putting people like me in Guantanamo ... yet. Certainly, I don't see my concerns being mirrored in the mainstream media, not at levels which I would judge to be appropriate to the urgency of the issues. In any case, I feel acutely isolated.
This brings me to why I'm eager for dialogue on this issue within Sheffield Meeting. In most social situations, in my experience, political discussion tends to divide people into opposing groups. In this Meeting, however, I trust Friends to hear me, to meet that of God in me, as I endeavour to do the same. That is, the Meeting provides a space where we can listen to and support one another deeply, below (or beyond) the level of particular opinions and beliefs, recognising the Spirit that unites us all. There's probably an established Quaker term for what I'm talking about, but I will call it solidarity.
Now, it seems to me that this capacity for, and valuing of, solidarity, characteristic of Quakers (though by no means exclusive to them), is the precise thing that suppression of civil liberties is intended to kill. When civil liberties are suppressed, showing solidarity with those whom the state designates as enemies is punishable as treason. When civil liberties are suppressed, speaking the Truth that you find within yourself is forbidden, if it challenges the state agenda. A police state seeks to achieve a society driven by fear, otherwise complacent, in which no concerted social action may occur except that which the state itself directs. It relies on violence. The evil of this violence is clearest to me when it takes the form of torture (as it often does), where the object is to take a human being and remove from her/him all dignity, indeed all identity, reducing him/her to a state of abject, grovelling compliance with the torturer's whims. It is an attempt to destroy the victim's spirit, to stamp out the victim's capacity for solidarity, even with him/herself.
In the previous paragraph, I tried to make the case that there is indeed a distinctive Quaker testimony about civil liberty. Have I succeeded?
There are many questions of strategy as to how civil liberties might be defended. My judgement is that classic liberal methods, such as petitioning the government, are ineffective nowadays. In any case, the first step, perhaps the most essential step to challenging the slide towards a police state, is to practise solidarity: to listen to one another, to be open to the Truth that is in each of us, to allow ourselves to be comforted by that Truth, to be nurtured by it, and maybe, if need be, TO BE WOKEN THE HELL UP BY IT.
To this end, I propose a meeting in the near future to discuss these issues, and take it from there. I don't know what times tend to be most convenient for other Friends, or how these things get arranged here. If you're interested, please speak to me after Meeting or leave a note in my mail folder.