Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Hopes and Dreams for 2009

Most of us in the West have religious origins going back to an historical event of a people escaping from slavery in Egypt. The story is that this people led by the prophet Moses sought freedom from slavery, carrying a collective dream of building a community of freedom and equality. (1). They wandered for forty years before entering what they perceived as their inheritance under a new leader, Joshua.

For centuries they resisted having a king. At the heart of their religion was a simple perception, God is king of all people and so all people under God are equal. They sought to live in the light of this perception and they recognized it as ‘God’s dream’ for his people. Much later they succumbed to having their own king. Later still their kings, aided by Temple officials, began to rule the people unjustly. When this happened the prophets of the day echoed in loud tones the demands of the ‘dream of God’:
What I want is mercy not sacrifice’.
‘Woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion’. (3).
“Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God”.

Centuries later the Jewish people were overrun by a foreign Empire. At this time they experienced oppression not only from Rome, but also from their own king Herod. Jointly these forces ruled, with the support of the temple officials. At this point the prophet Jesus entered history. He came with the same ‘God vision’, again proclaiming a universal kingdom of freedom and equality.

We know that he had few issues with those at the lower end of the social scale but he had huge issues with the Scribes, Pharisees, High Priests and all who put unjust burdens on the backs of the poor. He referred to the ‘dream of God’ as the ‘kingdom of God’, which was good news especially for the poor.

For him the ‘dream of God’ is first perceived at the deepest core of one’s being. He encouraged his followers to trust their deepest inner experiences and to recognize these as the ‘voice of God’ calling them to act justly. In this way those who trusted the wisdom of his teaching, experienced this reality in their own lives, and they too began to work towards building a community of freedom and equality. Jesus fell victim to and was eliminated by the fear and hatred of the combined ruling classes whose security he seriously threatened.

However, great progress had been made and many of his followers lived the vision and proclaimed ‘God’s kingdom’. Many more died at the hands of those who without an inner authority exercised a strong outer and controlling authority over those they called their subjects. Each true follower of Jesus continued to recognize that the ‘dream of God’ was for more than one’s own personal wants. Some who traveled to the ends of the world would never have considered the possibility that others, who claimed to belong to their own community, would themselves come to ‘lord it over others as the pagans do making their authority felt’. (5).

A few centuries later the Church was 'hand in glove' with the Roman Empire and it too became comfortably ensconced in Rome, while the poor under-classes again suffered indignity at the hands of the rich and powerful. This time it was within a so-called ‘Christian’ Europe. While striving to become richer and more powerful the Church and many 'Christians', the inheritors of the ‘vision of God’’, shifted the focus by arriving at theories about trinities and virgin births, while using dualist concepts about an alternative 'spiritual’ world. Meanwhile here on earth the ‘God vision’ of a Community of freedom and equality was tragically ignored.

This process was greatly accelerated in the age the Enlightenment, when for many people science became a substitute God and thus scientific knowledge was often used at the expense of the ‘dream of God’. Compassion, mercy and communal life became second rate values. In a more aggressive climate Countries, while competing with one another, exploited the world beyond their shores and proceeded to appropriate for themselves the world’s inheritance. Empires made inroads into the New World and through greed whole ancient and innocent peoples were virtually eliminated. Nations set up profitable trading routes, and African men and women were traded as slaves as a very favorable commodity within an elitist economic system.

The same Dream of God for freedom and equality fired George Fox and his early followers, and especially John Woolman. They came to know and experience the power of the inner light, that enlightens those who wait in the silence for the promptings of love and truth that arise from the depths of one’s being. The call of such promptings will always be to - ‘doing the will of God’.

Forty years ago a new prophet again proclaimed the ‘dream of God’. People of good will responded to Dr. M. L. King Jr. His dream of men and women, the children of both slaves and slave owners, poor and rich, sitting down at a common table sharing the task of building harmonized communities within a single fragile world. His dream struck a chord, and re-ignited hopes in modern people who once more saw the potential of 'an ancient dream'. He knew that erroneous dreams do in truth offer comfortable living to the rich but that they lead too to misery for countless millions, and the lives of all become circumscribed by fear. Many people began to live with an inner trusting that ‘God’s dream’ could take a giant leap forward. In that spirit people continued to pray “Thy kingdom come on earth”.

These past months amid the ashes of centuries of exploitation, domination, terror and war we heard from across the Atlantic contrasting speeches about love and fear. Today an Afro-American stands before the American people as President-elect. He carries the hopes and projections of the whole world. Once again ‘hope and history rhyme’ . (6). We know that the political, social and economic challenges facing Barrack Obama are enormous, but if each individual would commit to working towards ‘the dream of community' – rather than persisting with the values of 'rugged individualism', who knows!

A contemporary writer reminds us that ‘what is, is’. ‘What is’, is determined and so unalterable. We need to give our full attention to all ‘that is’, rather than delude ourselves into believing that it should be otherwise. (7). On the other hand 2009 is not determined and so what January 2009 needs is our intention. If enough men and women can hold the dream of realizing the values of freedom and equality, arising from their own highest values, and shift the focus of ‘faith’ from ‘believing in theories’ to an ‘inner trusting’, then with confidence we could stand behind a leader of integrity, like Barrack Obama, as together we enter this new era in history.

With our past behind us, we like the mythical phoenix, could rise from the ashes of a fragmented world. America has taken the first faltering steps towards a new metanoia - or an 180o turn. Perhaps America can actually lead the movement away from the greed and avarice at the heart of all egocentric economic dreams.

Together we can work towards building a single world of freedom and equality, on the foundation of love rather than fear. If men and women can have the courage to publicly stand up for, and work towards, their deepest dream and if in their loving intimacy they could have the inner and outer freedom to ‘let the soft animal of their body love what it loves’ and come to know where they truly belong in the family of things. (8) the possibilities for our fractured world would be beyond calculation.

I loved Barack Obama’s victory speech on election night. John McCain too, was magnanimous in defeat. It is possible that Democrat and Republican, men and women, black and white, rich and poor, can work together towards a new but ancient common goal – that of forming national communities of freedom and equality secure enough to respect the freedoms of other nations in pursuit of similar goals? Today we stand on the mountaintop of ‘now’ looking down into the valley of tomorrow. The important thing is the intention we carry as we enter each new situation. We can share a dream and go on making the very best choices, day by day, that we know how? This Christmas we can sing our ancient carols, while consciously acknowledging the Christ-center-within, as around the world we sing:- “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in us tonight”. (9).

1) John Macmurray (The Clue to History). 2) Hosea 6:6. 3) Amos 6:1 4) Micah 6:8. 5) Mk.’10:42. 6) Séamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy). 7) Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now). 8) Mary Oliver (Wild Geese). 9) O Little Town of Bethlehem.

6) Irish poet, Séamus Heaney, expressed a profound truth in ‘The Cure at Troy’ – when hope and history rhyme, we can hope for a great sea-change.

The Cure at Troy

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.

8) The American poet Mary Oliver offers further words of wisdom to those who hope.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Monday, 8 December 2008


Several months ago I went along to a Quaker meeting for Worship in which there was a lot of ministry offered on the theme of friendship. One Friend read from Advices & Queries:

21. Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect? In close relationships we may risk pain as well as finding joy. When experiencing great happiness or great hurt we may be more open to the working of the Spirit.

After the meeting, I joined the meeting for reflection upstairs in room 3. This is an opportunity chat over any issues that may have arisen that morning, and to get to know people a little better, within a smaller group. During that time, I offered some thoughts on the need for “spiritual friendships” but when asked what I actually meant by that I rather fumbled around for words. I found myself ruminating on it for several days. Its nice to get the chance to return to this theme here!

I remember, at the time, that someone else had spoken within the meeting about how they value difference in their friends and this had resonated with me.

I thought back on a book written by Steven Chalke entitled Intelligent Church in which he had written about the characteristics of a spiritually mature congregation. He placed great emphasis on being an Inclusive Church; one that involves itself in the life of the surrounding community, working with and involving others. He then goes on to suggest that an intelligent church is a messy church. Why? Because messiness is the consequence of being inclusive. Whenever a local church chooses to be outward-looking and welcoming of all, it will automatically become messier than it was before - it’s inevitable.

"In many senses the church is a hospital - it is a place of spiritual, social, emotional, moral and psychological healing. And just as in a hospital the patients suffer from different conditions, are at different levels of health and are at different stages of the healing process, so it is with the church. Sometimes healing takes weeks or months - sometimes it takes a lifetime. Simply visiting a hospital doesn’t automatically make a sick person well. Some need intensive care, others less intensive but no less important ongoing treatment or rehabilitation. No hospital is a centre of physical perfection, and neither is a church one of spiritual perfection - rather, both are messy environments full of messed-up people striving to be less so."

We come into spiritual communities with our own wounds, uncertainties and incompleteness. So this life together will need patience and care to work out.

There’s a metaphor that I found in a book written by David Runcorn where he describes that at the height of the struggles against apartheid in South Africa a multi-racial community was founded in Cape Town. It was called The Community of the Broken Wall taken from the New Testament in which Christ is spoken of having broken down a wall of division between ourselves and God and between each other. “For he is our peace, [who]… has broken down the dividing wall” (Eph. 2.14).

Runcorn writes -

"The image of a community without walls confronts one of the biggest temptations of community living. It is perilously easy to create a private, insular world of like-minded people and shut out all those who don’t fit in.

In a community without walls, people will meet others who are seriously different from each other. It will not be a safe, insular network of the like-minded. It is harder and harder in our world to find the kind of place where we learn to talk and listen and meet each other in our real differences".

And I guess that this was the aspect of spiritual friendship that I had been looking to express those months ago.

Messy Church. I like that. I wonder whether we aspire to be messy too?

How messy is your spiritual community?

Sunday, 7 December 2008


Religion is like scaffolding around a building. This is all our notions and ideas and questions like ‘Who is God?’, which are often left over from childhood confusions and accumulations of poorly thought through cultural accretions.

Over time we come to believe that the building will fall down without the scaffolding. That belief is more important than experience. In the Quaker silence there is the opportunity to strip away the scaffolding and reveal the building behind it.

And Lo! The building does not fall down, and, furthermore, it is beautiful.

At the time when I had my first spiritual opening or awakening, I was in contact with a group of evangelical Christians. They immediately told me what my experience meant, introducing me to all the classic doctrines of the Christian Church, with that spin of literalism that they so relish. Soon my experience was covered in the scaffolding of dogma, including the important dogma that this was the only significant experience – my ‘conversion’ – from now on all teaching would be the ‘literal truth’ as revealed in the Bible and mediated through the church and its ministers.

However, two more significant openings occurred, and the second of these, the revelation of the fallacy of human authority, led directly to me becoming a Quaker. In fact, I count myself as a Quaker from that moment, some nine months before I first attended a Quaker meeting, and nine years before being accepted into membership.

Not only did the belief in the innate authority of human institutions melt away, but also belief in the authority of the bible and the multitude of interpretations that were being pushed at me from all quarters – not just from fundamentalist evangelicals, but from traditionalists and liberals as well. There is only one test: ‘does this interpretation speak to my condition?’ And my condition is mediated through my own knowledge that I have built up from my own experience.

In the twenty years since that spiritual opening on 6th December 2008, I have not had any more dramatic spiritual openings. Now I look to that direct experience of what some call ‘the divine’ as being normative, though not necessarily common. There to be discovered, should I only let go of myself and my chattering mind and enter in. For in the same way that beliefs and dogmas – what Quakers call ‘notions’ - can blind us to the reality of God’s presence, so can the objectification of experience by the mind.

We can approach any encounter in three ways:

Oh! -That’s interesting
Oh! -That’s beautiful

And we enter into the ‘divine presence’ of the ‘I AM’ that is beyond words, beyond attachment.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Transition Cities

I was at the first Transition Cities conference in Nottingham last week with a bunch of people from Sheffield's new Transition Initiative. We were sharing ideas with groups from all over the country on how to build city-wide movements which can help us navigate the transition to a low-carbon, relocalised, sustainable, resilient and life-sustaining future. Check out the short film about it; miraculously filmed, edited and published in just 4 days.
You can also read more about it here and here.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Till we all meet again...

in the memories of others
until the day's draw short
and night's long
the day's long
and night's short
until the last memory
but we shall all meet again
in Eternity

Words from Peter Lawless

Monday, 10 November 2008

Persons and Functions

One of the great virtues of Quaker practice is that it makes a clear distinction between persons and what they do. It is refreshing to not be defined by what one does, and equally refreshing to discover by accident what others do or have done.

This practice is built into our structure. Meetings have clerks and convenors, not chairpersons. Minutes are agreed by all present, not by an executive. Persons are nominated to a task, they do not apply or get voted in. The need for tasks is discerned, and laid down when no longer required.

However, this is very hard to interpret in the world or even to one another. When one does things, results are evident (or not if done badly). We like to find out who made such and such a decision, who authorised this or that. We want responsibility to rest with individuals, so we can call them to account. But in a Quaker meeting, all our accountable, concerns are turned into action by the whole meeting.

Thus we achieve the primacy of the personal over the functional. I am a member of a community, not a functionary in an organisation. I am not a member of a society, I belong to a community. ‘Membership’ is an outward sign, and has no significance in the community. It is akin to ‘marriage’, where the ‘piece of paper’ only means something to the tax inspector.

George Fox saw vividly the failure of the church in his day. It had become an organisation. His genius was to set up the Society of Friends (of Truth) to make it very difficult for us to suffer the same corruption.

‘… it is salutary to remember that all of us can fall into apostasy if we lose our sense of the pre-eminence of the inward truth over the outward order in which it is embodied and expressed.’ (from Britain Yearly Meeting Quaker submission to World Council of Churches on the Nature and Mission of the Church, MfS 2008).

So now our Yearly Meeting Recording Clerk can be known as a CEO (Chief Executive Officer). I for one will be very nervous about attending a business meeting where the person at the table cannot tell the difference between clerking and executing.

For the difference is categorical.

We needs must *do* things to at least get our daily bread, but we do these things in order to make space for us to *be* persons in community. The Yearly Meeting should be the ultimate expression of British Quakers *being* together.

When I talk to people about Quakers and how they do business, I make it very very clear indeed that the conventional model of chairperson and or executive is completely invalid. We have these seemingly anachronistic words for our key activities precisely for this reason – they are only anachronistic by dint of minority usage.

I highlighted this same category error in an earlier blog in response to the Long term Framework questionnaire (http://sheffieldquakers.blogspot.com/2007/12/politics-and-community.html).

If there is not a word for something, it does not exist. Ask the Inuit about snow. If we stop using special words for our almost unique way of coming together, we will quickly slip into just doing things the same way as everyone else. The pearl of great price will have been trampled on by swine.

Phew! I managed all the above without using religious or spiritual language. Just two biblical allusions for the cognoscenti to spot. This was deliberate. If we dispense with spiritual and religious language we will be even more lost. For religious and spiritual language *describe* something categorically different: Community and being. Persons distinct from functions. Friendship and love. Community and being does not result in something concrete that can be demonstrated, so we have worship and celebration and ritual and we needs must talk of sin and redemption and atonement and forgiveness and immanence and transcendence and…and…, for these are the characteristics of beings in community.

Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts
As we have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

For only then will the kingdom come.

The title of this blog, “Persons and Functions” is the title of a series of BBC radio broadcast talks by the moral philosopher and (at the end of his life) Quaker, John Macmurray, published in The Listener, 26 (1941) pp. 759; 787; 822; 856. Macmurray, like C.S. Lewis in ‘The Abolition of Man’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Abolition_of_Man; full text here: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition1.htm) saw more clearly than I ever can the truth of the error I have attempted to point out.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Quakers and Christianity

A shorter version of this article appeared in The Friend of 26 September 2008

What a long way we’ve come since To Lima with Love (our last public response to the World Council of Churches in 1986, many quotations from which are to be found in Quaker Faith and Practice).

When I read the Quaker Committee on Church and Interfaith Relations’ (CCIR) Introduction to the Nature and Mission of the Church, I felt concerned that many Quakers today would be alienated by its Christian language. Yet it lies within the Quaker tradition, reaffirming so many of those radical seventeenth century insights which were my main reason for becoming a member. It is designed to send some powerful yet loving challenges to Christians everywhere.

This polarisation was expressed by Friends at Meeting for Sufferings, as some found this paper unacceptable both to themselves and to their Meetings, and others recognised the authentic challenge of true Christianity which it sends to other Churches. One Friend remarked that we appear to be treating the Christian tradition more harshly than we do other religious groups. Perhaps our desire to welcome refugees from other churches adds to this, and it feels good when people express their delight at ‘coming home’ and ‘feeling comfortable’; and yet….

‘Unprogrammed Friends’ worship may seem to be a time for uplifting reverie, for cultivating inspirational thoughts and pleasantly soothing reflections. Quaker worship then appears in the guise of a subdued escape into an attractive fantasy world. However pleasant (and however widespread) such a use of the silence may be, it is surely not what Fox and other early Quakers intended, not what ‘waiting upon the Lord’ is about.’

This quotation comes from a Pendle Hill pamphlet I discovered in the bookshop during the lunchbreak: A Quaker in the Zendo by Steve Smith.

When I applied for membership, I also felt I had come home. However as time went on, I realised that I needed to develop further spiritually. Steve Smith found what he needed through Zen, as I did through the discomforting satisfaction of deep Yogic meditation. Like him, I found that by working within a different tradition I could come close to what early Friends describe as true spiritual experience. What I had been searching for had been there all along at the heart of the Quaker way, but obscured by a number of factors: the polite and well-intentioned desire not to offend; an emphasis on peace and social activism without an explicit connection to its spiritual basis; the intellectual debt to secular humanism; and above all the reticence about inner spiritual experience among modern Quakers.

There was passion on both sides at this Meeting for Sufferings. I think this issue is at the heart of our Religious Society of Friends, and Janet Scott expressed this clearly in the challenge of her closing words. Are we working from our own individual intellects and egos, or are we reaching down into the depths where uncomfortable truths become visible to us, where we have to engage and struggle with the discomforting workings of the Spirit of God? Where through accepting our personal challenge to be transformed, we can hope to find true unity as a community?

I think that the distance we have moved since To Lima with Love has taken many Quakers away from the paradox of Quaker worship: the discomforting – but also strangely comforting – experience Penington puts so well:

‘Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be any thing, and sink down to the seed which God sows in thy heart, and let that grow in thee, and be in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee…’

Might an instant negative reaction to Christian language, to the teachings of Jesus however profound (and strangely similar to those of Thich Nhat Hanh and the current Dalai Lama), be a way of avoiding engagement with the experiential spirituality at the heart of being Quaker? We are so used to hearing Christian language spoken through the prism of right-wing fundamentalism that we are in danger of missing the universal truth of its teachings. The richness and relevance of our Quaker Christian roots provides our counter to right-wing, fundamentalist Christians who claim validity for the unequal, unpeaceful rhetoric that informs so many of their actions. This is a thoroughly Quaker struggle to establish the truth as it lives in and for us today. Each of us needs to see through the thick settled dust of interpretations which belong to previous generations, and the smokescreens erected by the world we live in. We need to find the truth within our own tradition which speaks to our present day. What Margaret Fell experienced when she first heard Fox preaching speaks to me today:

‘I saw clearly that we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly. And I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing of them in ourselves…’

I am glad that our first priority in the new Quaker Framework is to ‘strengthen the spiritual roots in our meetings and in ourselves…from which action can spring’. All our other priorities flow from this. I hope that Meetings throughout the country will share worship on this, and that Meeting for Sufferings will have time to devote another day to it.

If we don’t find the words to speak to other Christians, who else will? If we can’t unite in the profound experience and challenge of Quaker worship, where else is our unity?

The Friend e-bulletin November 2030

Craig Barnett looks back on changes in the Society of Friends over the last two decades.

With hindsight, the name-change of 2015 from 'Religious' Society of Friends to the more universal 'Society of Friends', was perhaps a significant turning point for British Quakers. Alongside our new Mission Statement; 'to be a modern and progressive organisation, promoting ethical lifestyle choices and social reform', it was intended to revitalise our dwindling local Meetings. However these long-debated changes failed to produce the influx of new members we had hoped for. They contributed instead to the formation of several breakaway groups, including 'New Quakers' (formerly Young Friends General Meeting), and the 'spiritual realists' or 'Friends in the Spirit'.

The continued rapid decline in local Meetings culminated in the landmark decision to reform the SoF as a dispersed network of autonomous groups and individuals, rather than a unified organisation. The last CEO of the Society accepted redundancy in 2024.

Friends House was sold 5 years ago, but Friends continue to be involved in its new role as an emergency hostel for climate refugees. It proved an essential refuge when hundreds of families were forced to take shelter there during the recent anti-refugee riots. London's City of Sanctuary teams have since been working hard at peacemaking in the affected areas and most families have now been able to return to their homes.

Friends have also played an important role in mediating at the recent 'Truth and Reconciliation' hearings, which have tried to resolve the bitter conflicts between young adults who came of age in the 2020s and older people of the so-called 'climate genocide generation'.

New Quakers have also been instrumental in securing prosecutions for climate negligence at the International Criminal Court against former Prime Ministers Blair, Brown and Cameron. Continuing legal delays and the infirmity of the defendants mean that these cases seem unlikely to reach a successful conclusion.

With hindsight, the series of financial, energy, food and climate crises that started to unravel Britain's 'age of greed' after the crash of 2008, should have been a clear signal of the drastic changes that were necessary, long before they were eventually imposed by the emergency government of 2020. Those of us who remember those times now find it difficult to account for the strange inertia that gripped British Quakers in the days when they could still have helped to avert the worst of the current climate chaos.

We are are now justly proud of the Quaker Meetings that did become early supporters of local Transition Initiatives, which have been such an important factor in Britain's conversion to a low-energy society. Woodbrooke has also won several Transition Awards for its role in re-training unemployed Friends and other Birmingham residents in the practical skills that are in such high demand in our modern, localised economy.

More recently, there have been unexpected signs that our new slower-paced and community-scale society is encouraging the growth of many small groups of 'spiritual seekers'. Some of these groups are starting to draw on quaint-sounding Quaker practices that the SoF has long abandoned, such as 'silent Worship' (forerunner of our modern 'Quiet Time'), and even 'discerning leadings'. (No-one in the office was able to tell me what this means, but according to Wikipedia it was some kind of pre-modern risk assessment.)

Our next e-bulletin should be available in December, carbon credits permitting.

Yours in Friendship,
Craig Barnett

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Of all the friends I have ever met...

Let us give prayer and due regard to our Friends who, no longer in Meeting, will always be with us in the Eternal.
We have our memories and their regard for the Spirit. Jessie now Eileen, but is this a time for remorse? They are gone yes but they will live until the last memory goes of that of David, Nickie, Alan and Irene. and other Friends.
For Eileen and Jessie
Our beloved Friends

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Give them shelter

This is from a recent article by Harrient Grant and Rachel Stevens in this week's New Statesman. You can read the full article here, or watch their documentary on More4 News at 8pm on Friday 17 October:

"In every major city, Christians of all denominations - Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists and Quakers - are going to great lengths to support asylum-seekers threatened with deportation.
When asylum-seekers come to the end of the application process and have exhausted all appeals, their benefits are stopped, they lose their accommodation and they are told to accept a free flight home or face being forcibly removed. But thousands stay, afraid or unwilling to return to their home countries.

Faced with overwhelming numbers of destitute asylum-seekers in their parishes, churches have responded by creating an informal support network that stretches across Britain.
The role of the church as a force for social justice is not one that gets much attention these days and it is often perceived as out of touch with issues that concern modern Britain. But, under the radar of the public eye, churches and Christian groups are becoming increasingly involved in subversive activities over asylum, one of the most controversial issues in politics.

Some church groups have bought up houses in which refused asylum-seekers may live rent-free after they have been evicted. For example, in Manchester, the Boaz Trust, a Christian charity for asylum-seekers, has eight houses, some donated by church members, which are specifically used as long-term accommodation for those the Home Office has refused leave to stay in Britain.
In other towns, disused presbyteries and vicarages are housing those the government says have no right to be here. Some churches are simply opening up at night, letting people sleep on the floor of their church hall.

In Sheffield, hundreds of destitute asylum-seekers go once a week to the Methodist Victoria Hall in the centre of town, where volunteers swap their supermarket vouchers for cash, and hand out bus tickets and bags of food to get the asylum-seekers through the week. Similar drop-ins are being established in churches in every major city in the country.

Notre Dame de France Church in London's Leicester Square is a vital source of support for many Africans who have been refused asylum but still do not want to return to trouble spots in countries such as Congo or Ethiopia. Only yards from the hordes of tourists and ticket touts, the church offers a comforting chat with a priest and a meal. Many who go there are homeless, sleeping rough or on friends' floors.

Drop-in centres and "safe" houses add up to a subversive network, helping families to stay in Britain against the wishes of the government. The church networks are raising considerable sums for this work, often via the collection plate, passed from pew to pew during services. In Liverpool, the Catholic diocese currently gives the local asylum group Asylum Link every penny it receives from collections during Lent - some £25,000 a year.

Around the country hundreds of thousands of pounds are being raised to support people the government says have no right to refugee status. Giving alms and shelter to the needy is a central tenet of almost all organised religions, but questions are being raised as to whether the churches should be taking such a strong line over what is essentially a political issue."

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Joy Zarembka's book

Hi All,

Having just spent a very enjoyable weekend with Joy and Dave Zarembka, who came to visit us at Sheffield Quaker Meeting, thought you might like a chance to check out this short film of Joy talking about her book 'The Pigment of Your Imagination- mixed race in a global society' She's leaving copies of the book for us to sell and it will be in the library at Sheffield Quaker Meeting. Do take time to check out this link, it's really worth it!

Friday, 10 October 2008


Thank you for the life of our Friend
I have just found this which may be of interest

Nov 2005
Jessie Baston
1926 - 1932
message via Roger Graham
Hi John,I have had a letter from Jessie Baston, an ex pupil and a donor to the Samuel Clegg Scholarship Fund, who is a retired teacher living in Sheffield. She told me that she was at School from 1926 to 1932. In this letter received this morning ( in reply to mine a few days previously ) she told me that she cannot come on Saturday adding that she is " too old to drive far these days ". She is 90.She and Prof. Alan Roper ( 1935-42 ) paid a nostalgic visit to the School in September 1994. Alan was a retired professor of genetics at Sheffield University and in his retirement he serves as a Quaker Chaplain. Shortly after their visit Jessie sent a sum of money to be added to the Samuel Clegg Scholarship Fund. I wrote to her thanking her for the donation and we have kept in touch ever since.Jessie had been one of the very first recipients of a Samuel Clegg award shortly after leaving school. She told me in a letter in 1994 that the grant to her " was an enormous help to me ". Both her parents died during her time at Nottingham University. She obtained a first in French and then embarked on a teaching career mostly at Woodhouse Grammar School in Sheffield. She became Head of Modern Languages, then Senior Mistress and finally Assistant Headteacher.She told me in a letter in 2002 that " Those days at LECS were really the happiest days of my life and I shall always be grateful for what they gave me. I didn't miss even one half-day of the six years that I was there."In the latest letter she also writes : " It's very sad that the school is leaving that lovely building. What memories come flooding back ! I wonder if any of my contempories will be with you - Peter Musson, Tagger Taylor, Philip Wright, Harry & Ernest Plackett, Joan Comery ? I shall look forward with great interest to reading/hearing all about it. " Other contempories of hers mentioned by her in previous letters were Gordon Hobday, Joan Knott and Enid Rowbotham.There is nothing confidential or similar in the 5 paras above & so please feel free to publish all or part as you think fit.Best wishesRoger.
In Friendship

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Quaker Quest

We are holding another series of Quaker Quest evenings at the moment, every Monday, 7pm at the Quaker Meeting House until 6th October. They are designed as a way for people to find out more about the Quaker Way, with three speakers on a different topic each week, some discussion in small groups, finishing with half an hour of Quaker Worship.

I just came across a couple of blog posts (here and here) on Ray's wonderful blog 'Dharmakara's Prayer', describing his experience of the Quaker Quest evenings he came to earlier this year, when he first started attending Meeting in Sheffield.

I'm speaking on 'Quakers and Equality' on 29th September. Any ideas welcome...

The Lambs Do Skip and Play

I've been reading a book of extracts from George Fox's letters recently. This is my favourite so far:
Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day, and of the Light; for the Lord is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt. And the Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants a-top of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play. And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed Christ is over all, and doth reign.
This was written in 1663, during a period of intense persecution of Quakers, when many were in prison for their faith.
Fox was assuring his readers in the fragile early Quaker communities that despite the apparent power of their persecutors, their movement was the work of God.

It also speaks to me across the centuries though, in the present 'thick night of darkness', when growing climate chaos theatens us with despair. Can we discover a hope that will sustain us through the tempests and storms?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Transition Sheffield

A few months ago I went to Robert's screening of the film 'What a Way to Go' at the Meeting House. The film deals with the linked crises of climate change, peak oil, overpopulation and mass extinction. It spoke powerfully to me, making me face up to my own feelings of despair, anger and fear at our wholesale destruction of the living world.

Afterwards, I ordered a copy of Joanna Macy's book 'Coming Back to Life', which contains a set of group 'spiritual exercises' that aim to work through our collective suffering at the fate of the world, in order to engage in its healing.

Macy's work is based on the Buddhist-inspired insight that facing and acknowledging our own suffering at the fate of the world can be a path to rediscovering our connectedness with other living beings and ecosystems. By allowing ourselves to feel and speak our grief, fear, anger and despair, we can discover that we are not separate, isolated individuals. We suffer with the world because we are a part of it. By allowing ourselves to feel this suffering, we are also open to fully feel our love for creation and our desire and commitment to work together to preserve it.

Macy writes of the present time as a period of opportunity, when the overwhelming threat of environmental crisis may act as a catalyst for what she calls 'The Great Turning', away from the Industrial Growth Society based on limitless economic growth, and towards a 'Life Sustaining Society.

A life sustaining society requires a new economy, a new culture with different values, stories, spiritualities and power relations. It is not just a matter of individual lifestyle changes, or changed government policies. We need to create a form of human society that can enable us to live together, without destroying the systems we rely on for our existence.

Shortly after reading and slowly digesting this book, I came across a reference to the Transition Towns movement. This is a movement of towns and communities that are exploring how we can respond to climate change and peak oil by relocalising our economies, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, rebuilding local community and sharing skills and resources. The aim is to build communities which are more resilient, less energy and carbon intensive, and which are also healthier and happier, offering the seeds of 'a better life beyond oil'.

Now there are the beginnings of a Transition initiative in Sheffield, which is starting off with a series of film and discussion evenings in Meersbrook, Nether Edge and Burngreave.

If you'd like to receive updates about future events in Sheffield, you can register for email updates at: www.transitionsheffield.org.uk

Transition Sheffield Film Programme

Tuesday 16th September - St Peter's Community Centre, Nether Edge, 7pm

Six Degrees Could Change the World

A National Geographic documentary based on the highly acclaimed book by Mark Lynas. Using stunning special effects the film looks at how each 1 degree of temperature rise would affect the life on earth up to six degrees.

Wednesday 1st October - Meersbrook Park Pavilion, 7pm

What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire

An intense and passionate film. After examining the problems the film looks at how we got to the state we're in - tracing humanity's past, cultural myths, psychology and more.

Monday 6th October - St Peter's Community Centre, Nether Edge, 7pm

End of Suburbia

High fuel and food bills, recession and unemployment are just the beginning of a crisis known as peak oil: the beginning of the decline in global oil supplies. The implications of this crisis mean a profound shift in the way we live.

Tuesday 14th October - Burngreave Vestry Hall, 7pm

The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

The film opens with a short history of Peak Oil, a term for the time in our history when world oil production will reach its all-time peak and begin to decline forever. Cuba, the only country that has faced such a crisis, the massive reduction of fossil fuels, is an example of options and hope.

Weds 29th October - Burngreave Vestry Hall, 7pm

A night of film shorts: Carbon Weevil, The Story of Stuff, I Am Only a Child.

We kick off with an amusing animation about the carbon cycle and climate change, then delve into an enthralling and provocative animation of consumer culture, and round off with a compelling call to action from the Environmental Children's Organisation at the 1992 Earth Summit.

Monday 3rd November - Meersbrook Park Pavilion, 7pm

Designing Pathways from Oil Dependency to Local Resilience

Rob Hopkins, founder of the transition town movement, tells his inspirational story at the Positive Energy Conference in the Findhorn Ecovillage.

Monday 10th November - St Peter's Community Centre, Nether Edge, 7pm

The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

Monday 17th November - Burngreave Vestry Hall, 7pm

Designing Pathways from Oil Dependency to Local Resilience

Thursday, 21 August 2008

You go your way and I'll go mine!

Reading the following:http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-john-mccain-and-his-secretive-plot-to-kill-the-un-903998.htmlone cannot help wonder about the way of the world. Don't they teach geography in the USA?
However don't think this is just a problem related to the USA as today, 21 August 2008, the U.K. P. M. is in Afghanistan claiming that what the U.K. forces are doing out there is saving the world from terrorisim, strange that since the evidence we are reading daily in the press does not seem to support that. While he was claiming to quote Abe Lincoln Bob Dylan used lyrics to the effect
You can fool half the people some of the time,
Some of the people half the time,
But not all the people all of the time.
At present who is fooling who and at what cost?

Monday, 18 August 2008

My experience at Canadian Yearly Meeting

I became convinced, and joined a meeting last year in Sheffield, UK, while on sabbatical. During this period, I read a number of inspiring works about Quaker worship and business. I had some taste of the worship through Sheffield Central Meeting, but the few business meetings I attended there didn't grapple with any substantive issues. So I came back to Edmonton eager to join in the life of the monthly meeting, and came to CYM particularly eager to experience the Quaker business process.

It was excruciating. A report is received, a proposal is approved, I think we're home free, the recording clerk tries a minute, I hold my breath ... But of course, some Friend stands up and needs to speak to the minute. The proposed minute ties in with some other minute that we already approved, or some other report we haven't received yet. Other Friends stand and speak to the connection between this minute and, say, the FUM affiliation issue, and it goes on. I'm trying to breath deeply and hang on to shreds of patience. Yes, the points Friends are making are valid, sometimes crucial. This is the Quaker discernment process I've read about and admired, but I hadn't realized how painful it can be to sit through. I'm not much of a praying man, but I pray now for patience, a spiritual lubricant to get us through the friction of labouring over these issues.

Other parts of CYM more than made up for this discomfort. I'm thinking particularly of the worship sharing which broke out Tuesday night after the ecology panel presentation. Friends spoke movingly of our world as the Titanic, the iceberg already struck, the poor folk on the lower decks already drowning. Friends spoke of letting go of attachment to unjustly acquired and maintained comforts and security, that underlie this crisis. For the last three years, well before joining Quakers, I've been under great concern about environmental catastrophe and the future of human civilization. Frankly I wondered whether I was going mad. The world as we know it is appears to be coming to an end, but in all the media, in conversations with family, friends and colleagues, I encountered at most a dim, superficial awareness of the issues, if not vehement or mocking denial, that left me feeling acutely isolated and powerless. I was afraid to raise the issue, afraid of sounding like a lunatic street-corner Jeremiah. Nevertheless, with support from Friends, and brothers in Mankind Project (a men's organization I belong to), I've been finding my voice. But to be in a room with over a hundred Friends who get it ... who have the courage to put aside glib denial, to wade into that scary swamp in pursuit of the Truth -- that ministered to me deeply, knowing that I am now part of this courageous and loving family.

I also unexpectedly found that this family I have joined is broader than just the thousand-odd (no pun intended) Quakers of Canada. During the morning walking meditation sessions (thanks to Friend Margot Overington), I had the strong sense that the trees, the flowers, the grasses, are also my Friends, delighted that I was at last waking from the mental illness that kept me from communicating with them. Leaves fluttering in the wind looked to me like "Quaker cheers," whether directed at me or just expressing general joy in the sunlight and breeze. In despair over environmental concerns, I have sometimes slipped into thinking of humanity as a disease that the earth would gladly be rid of. We are indeed living amid a human-caused mass extinction event (estimated at 200-400 species per DAY at current rates), and it seems likely that it will be our own turn very soon. Yet, I sense that the trees I met in walking meditation are not hostile or indifferent to us -- that would be a projection of our culture's inner emptiness and guilt -- they love us, and would mourn our extinction, as I am learning to mourn theirs. And who knows what wonderful new expressions of God/dess' love our passing, or perchance our survival, may make way for on earth?

During CYM's special interest groups, I struggled with Quaker traditions of "speaking truth to power," i.e. classic liberal political activism in the form of petitioning government figures, and/or electoral campaigning. I am frustrated that such efforts seem to lead to, at best, superficial, symbolic changes, that leave fundamental unjust power structures untouched -- perhaps even distracting our attention from these structures. One Friend at CYM particularly spoke my mind on this issue: we should not try to speak truth to "power", we should be speaking truth to people. Another Friend suggested the simple step of getting out and talking with our neighbours. More generally, my past political activism (and I have run the gamut of political orientations over the course of my life, from Reagan supporter to anarchist) always started with the assumption that my views were Correct, other views were Evil or Deluded, and that my job was to campaign, to mobilize, to persuade (if not coerce) others into acknowledging the Correct Position. Quakers know very well that we dare not approach our own business meetings in this "creaturely" spirit. We must speak our own truth, but also listen to the truths of others, always remaining open to the discernment of a larger truth that unites us. Do we approach all our social activism with this same sense of Spirit-led discernment? Do we listen?

Returning home after CYM, I am (at present) full of enthusiasm around making changes, large and small, in my life, in the direction of simplicity, and bringing ideas from CYM back to my monthly meeting. I was immediately reminded that I can't make these changes without practising what I preached in the previous paragraph: exercising though it may be, I must listen to my family, and to my Friends, as well as speak my own truth.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

What experience says...

I believe that E. Waugh the English novelist said something to the effect that he was glad he had not read Henry James in his youth. I totally agree with him and Dr Johnson who said that youth is wasted on the young - or so I believe.After watching a film about Shakespeare and the writing of the Sonnets I have re-visited them for the first time in a number of years and they not only speak to me they are shouting at me. I also have the same experiences with aspects of the Bible like Ruth and John and The Gospel of Thomas which I first read about twenty years ago. They are all full of things that make increasing sense with age.
I have read and enjoyed Shakespeare since I was about 13 and saw a school performance of scenes from Billy Spokeshake for about 4+ nights in a row. I had to be there as I was in the school choir who covered the scene changes with music but the more I saw the more I enjoyed.Similar issues relate to the Bible but that has come about through experience and having read broadly in other religions etc. just like the Shakespeare.Age has a great deal to say but we must remember that intellectually and spiritually we are not our chronological age in all things, like aspects of the body and sexuality grow at different rates.
As Wordsworth wrote in 2 poems:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!
when speaking of the French Revolution but later he wrote:
For I have learnedTo look on nature, not as in the hourOf thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

Age has its virtues. What we may lose one way we may gain greatly in others.
In Friendship

Monday, 28 July 2008

Love the Sinner....

This is a rather delayed response to Gordon and Sharon's posts earlier this month on the theme of gay relationships. I applaud you comment Gordon on your response to letters in 'The Friend' on this theme, particularly the Love the Sinner letter which I've copied below:

'Hating the sin, loving the sinner
Time after time in your letters and articles the overwhelming suggestion is that a homophobe is one who hates homosexual people, and this indeed accords with the dictionary definition. However, it is possible to hate a sin whilst loving the sinner. Sadly we do not yet have a word for this in this context, though it is a condition in which many sincere Friends find themselves, and is in accord with the truest Quaker insights. I pray that homosexual people will accept that true Friends do not hate them personally, but only what they do. If any Friend can coin a word for this condition, I should be glad to hear from him.
Ralph Hill'

I find this notion of hating the sin, loving the sinner, in this context deeply offensive, and nonsensical. I hope that the view expressed in this letter really isn't representative of many Friends in this country.

I do however want to keep the subject open for dialogue as that's the only way to improve our understanding and tolerance. People need to speak there minds, hopefully with their heart and mind open, in an attempt to find a meeting point with those who hold opposing views. Maybe we need to create more spaces within our Meetings for owning our fears and prejudices in the hope of moving towards greater equality and tolerance/ understanding of difference.

It would also be good to get more posts from women on this Blog, where are we all?

Friday, 18 July 2008

A place for C.O,'s

I found this on the Ohio Conservative site


it may be of interest/of use to potential C.O.'s in Meeting

An easy death?

From looking at the Ohio Conservative Friends' e-mail discussion about abortion I can across a mention of euthanasia and it brought back to me my mother's recent death. Myself and my two sisters' were unanimous when told by her doctor about what we should do. There was no discussion, though we had all obviously been thinking given that she had survived for longer than expected. She had cancer of the pancreas and secondaries had formed, one blocking her bowel. Having been taken into hospital they had to operate urgently because of this blockage. As they went in her bowel ruptured. They cleaned up as best they could and we were called to the hospital for the death watch - I'm sorry but I can't put it any other way.She revived in terms of her heart and, at times, could speak though I would ask her questions and she would grip my hand to say yes when I asked if she needed more morphine etc.. However her kidneys failed to work. We were given the possible outcomes. As I had an old lover die in a few weeks with cancer of the pancreas only 4/5 months before I knew the speed it grew.My sisters and myself were presented on the Sunday evening with the choices: take away all but palliative care, try dialysis but that would involve them finishing the operation they had begun on the Friday night and waiting until they could put a bag in plus dialysis. This meant 3/4 days a week travelling across town for treatment and she would not have been able she could do all she had before in terms of going to the market, visiting my sisters and coming to 'run me round' - she should have bought the 'tooit'. We opted to wait until the Monday morning to see if her kidneys did work. They didn't. They waited until the three of us were there and started to turn off the equipment except palliative care. She lived for nearly thirty six hours longer with her children and grandchildren around her as much as possible.I'm telling this story because I got the distinct impression that all should be done to maintain life and too a point I agree with this but where does maintaining life become the issue of keeping life for your own sake/wellbeing and when is it the best course of action for the sick person.This is not the 1st time I've been involved in this but the 1st time involving someone so close. No matter what others' think I am convinced that we all showed our mother the greatest form of love even though it created tremendous pain for us.No matter what arguments are presented I can only feel happy about what we did and how without discussion we had agreement - would anyone do anything other?In Friendship and memory of Edna Lawless 24/1/1926 - 22/1/2008.Peter

'Thought for the Day' on why not to judge people on their sexuality

Today's BBC Radio 4 'Thought for the Day' was John Bell talking about the need for tolerance/acceptance of the diversity of human sexuality. I recommend 'listening again' to it.

(I have also posted this as a comment on Gordon's piece below, but thought I'd put it here too for greater visibility.)


Thursday, 17 July 2008

Sin, Sexuality and Relationships

I have been dismayed and, yes, disgusted, by some of the correspondence in The Friend in recent weeks on "same sex relationships", following the report on the Woodbrooke conference on committed partnerships and same sex marriage on 13th June. Fifteen years ago I left the Church of England, and I though I had put this sort of stuff behind me when I joined Quakers. Then the big issue was the role of women in the church in general, and ordination of women in particular. No problem there for Quakers, but homosexuality seems to be stirring up a hornet's nest.

Why is it that otherwise open-minded, liberal, intelligent people who actively profess to "seek that of God in everyone" get stuck here? What is the nature of that place deep in people's soul/psyche that they cannot come to terms with same-sex relationships?

There was even a letter in The Friend saying we should 'love the sinner, not the sin'. This was a common rallying cry from my evangelical Christian days, and I used it myself - to get round the problem that I am required to love my enemies, but I still want to be able to keep my prejudices. 'Love the sinner, hate the sin' is the last refuge of the bigot.

After a comment made in our meeting for reflection last Sunday, I realised that the problem arises when we define people by their sexuality. We have quite rightly stopped defining people by their race or disability or intelligence or class, but there seems to be a sticking point with sexuality. 2000 years ago Paul spelt it out: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). However, like us all, Paul was an ordinary human being with failings and prejudices and did not carry this profound insight into everything he said. We can hunt around the bible for anything to support our views, but this one is utterly simple and to the point. There is indeed that of God in everyone, and woe betides anyone who tries to find wriggle room.

Race, disability, intelligence, class and sexuality are political issues - we have fought hard over the centuries to create an equal society, at least in law, and the final hurdles are before us. There are no doubt political groups within Quakers who seek their agenda, and who can blame them - I have no idea what it is like to be in a marginalised group, but I bet frustration figures high in their emotions, and if it was me, I reckon I would be banging the drum for political action as well.

But we are a religious society, and religion/spirituality are above and beyond politics. For when the political battles have been won, we still have to live with one another. The only sound basis for living together is Paul's resounding comment: absolute mutuality and equality. Sins are forgiven instantly. Differences are celebrated. What loving couples do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is utterly irrelevant.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Reflections on the Lord's Prayer

Suzanne has asked me to share this with you, as it includes reflections on her experience among Sheffield Friends this past year. She will be giving this as a sermon at her Mennonite Church next month.

As we look at the question of peace in our time, I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps helpful to look at the Lord's Prayer as a cultural blueprint of a way of life that naturally expresses peace-making and pacifism – a blueprint that lays out the human and spiritual qualities of living simply, practicing forgiveness, humility, and offering gratitude and affirmation which are foundational to genuine peacemaking.

I will share my thoughts and experiences today on these four lines of the Lord's Prayer and the four themes they embody. I will conclude each section with a few queries or questions for us to ponder in silence. One thing I learned to appreciate from the Quakers is silence out of which grows new understanding of things eternal as we explore each other's truths and realities together.

A culture of simplicity. "Give us this day our daily bread." I love this image. It's vegetarian, it's living – until it is baked! It can be broken and shared. It is symbolic of the basic things we need. We don't need much, really.
When we were on our sabbatical leave in England this past year, we considered carefully what we really needed, and what we could do without. Here is what we learned.
We had a tiny flat, with two bedrooms, the second of which could not fit two single beds. The windowed closet, which fit a narrow air mattress became Naomi's room – at her request, I should add! She found refuge there when the flat became too crowded with the rest of us. On the other hand, Naomi was confident our flat was large enough for sleep-overs, which we had several times! So we didn't "need" a big house – although coming to back to more space has been welcome and much enjoyed!
We lived without a car. Sheffield is trying to reduce traffic by making parking very difficult, changing some streets to bus only, and adding many one-way streets. So walking everywhere was a pleasant alternative to battling traffic. We walked and talked together, even in the wind and the rain -- and even in the cold -4 degree weather we had in March. We had time because we had a very pared down schedule. For shopping, four arms could carry quite a bit. We had strong nylon bags that could carry a lot. We also used buses for places further than 30 minutes by foot. If we wanted to visit the countryside, there were several bus options to take us there and back. And visiting other cities was so convenient by train – and cheap with our family rail card, as long as our 12 year old was along. When you walk, and travel by public transport, you do have to plan well – or you miss your train! But the travel is stress-free once you are going, and there is opportunity for interaction with each other and with strangers. We have a lot of train stories to tell, but I will save those for some other time.
We also lived without a toaster and a microwave (our flat came furnished, which didn't include dishes, except for the requisite electric tea kettle, so that we had!) We went as long as we could without a sieve, but eventually broke down and bought a cheap one at Poundland! That way I stopped wasting pasta trying to drain it with the lid!
We lived without an electric mixer. We took turns whisking egg whites and whipping cream by hand! It was great exercise and very satisfying. We also baked only for special occasions!
We lived without a piano. Now that was hard. But I found a communal one to play on now and then. And we lived without a TV. It is interesting to watch TV after you haven't for an extended period of time. The commercials are so bold and loud, and some of the programming -- well! But we did enjoy the semifinals of “Britain's Got Talent” for a few days when we were in Ireland!
We got a box of locally grown food at our doorstep once a week. I left the money in an envelope and they left the surprise box. Parsnips got a little old by the end of March, but cooking with seasonal vegetables with little notes explaining why the potatoes didn't look so good that week and recipes for the strange looking vegetables we didn't recognize was a refreshing reminder of our connection with the earth and our daily bread.
Unless you are Amish, there is no blueprint for living simply. It's not an easy “this is good and this is bad.” But it is an interesting exercise to do without some things to see what effect it has on us, how we see things differently, what we do instead. Then we can be more conscious and more intentional in how and what we consume. PAUSE
"Give us this day our daily bread." What is this daily bread for you? Could we consider every time we plug something in whether we can do it on our own steam ,or every time we get into our car whether we could instead walk together and carry the load together? Could we live more gently and seasonally, at peace as conscientious stewards of what we choose to use?

A culture of forgiveness
“Forgive us our debts. " The word "debt" is sometimes translated as trespasses, or sins, but I like the concreteness of debts. And I think especially of the huge debt we westerners owe the earth and future generations for the taking of resources far beyond what we need. One Quaker friend I have in Sheffield feels that working for peace was a 20th century priority. The priority, if not urgency for the 21st century, according to Simon, is to relearn simplicity -- to stop consuming and consuming and feeding greed and fueling violence to satisfy greed. As a socieiy, we have become like compulsive gamblers wanting more, measuring economic success in terms of sales and more sales, and profits, worrying about our investments. Economic indicators can seem so skewed if you stop and think about it in human community terms. It is all a type of violence -- to the earth, to the workers, to ourselves as we stress about things that should be in the hands of God. We can ask for forgiveness for what has gone before -- our debts from the past. Acknowledging our debts can give us wisdom and courage to embrace a new way and to challenge policies that promote consumption at the expense of shared co-existence.
“As we forgive our debtors” The assumption here is that we are a forgiving people who give others another chance, who give room for dialogue and coming together, who restore relationships. Sometimes, we take on the debts of others. For example, in England the government policy is to treat asylum seekers – what we call refugee claimants here -- as if they were pawns to be moved around from city to city, to be deported at any time, to have no accomodation nor stipend nor the right to work if they are refused asylum, even as the government admits it is unsafe to return to their home country. A group of mostly ecumenical faith-based people got together to form ASSIST which supports asylum seekers in various ways to avoid homelessness among this population and to give as much dignity back as the UK government takes away. The debt owed asylum seekers is being repaid by Robert and Margaret and Myra and Tendero.... and through this, there is the possibility of forgiveness.
In a culture of forgiveness, it doesn't matter who is in debt to whom. Through prayerful thought, we react, seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, and we work at making things right with the world that is all around us and we work at restoring relationships– all parts of spreading peace. PAUSE
Do we recognize our own debts, many of which may not be monetary? Do we respond to debts owed and grievences and harm done to us out of a culture of forgiveness?

A culture of humility
"Lead us not into temptation BUT deliver us from evil."
That God would lead us into temptation has always been a puzzle to me. Why would a loving God do such a thing? One alternative translation to the word “temptation”, apparently, is trial or crisis. In fact, in our pew Bibles, the word is translated as trial. I am borrowing liberally from two Anglican Archbishops here, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and David M Gitari Archbishop of Kenya and Bishop of Nairobi.
In praying "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" we acknowledge that we do not know how we will respond in a time of crisis or trial, and we ask God to give us what we need to face a crisis when it comes. A loose paraphrase may sound something like this: “God, do not lead us into crises before we are ready but, rather, set us free from all those things, the fears, the sins, the selfish habits that keep us prisoner and that make us unable to face crisis.”
Is it not during times of crisis that violence erupts in our human relations and our global national relations? To pray for freedom from those very negative human responses to threat is foundational to paving the way to peace.
Understood in this light, this line of the Lord's Prayer is full of humility – that quality that shows we know our limits, our boundaries, our challenges. In praying this line, we are humbled by the forces of life around us, humbled by the acceptance of our own frailness, and humbled in the presence of a God who can deliver us from evil. Of course, this does not mean that trials and crises will not test us, but we are assured that if we remember to draw on the Power of God, we will not be prisoners to fear, but rather free in God's infinite wisdom and love to respond to whatever trial presents itself – feeling at peace and promoting peaceful outcomes. PAUSE
Do we cultivate a culture of humility? Are we aware of the bondage of fear within us? Do we acknowledge that those fears keep us from experiencing God?

A culture of graditude and affirmation

“For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever!” This final line conveys joyful gratitude and affirmation. One thing the Quakers in Sheffield were very good at was affirmation of each other. I noticed this because I felt like such a stranger at first, with my funny accent, my unquakerly way of saying things – yet they affirmed me! They seemed never to miss an opportunity to affirm what someone said in meeting, what someone wrote in the newsletter... And being a part of a culture of gratitude and affirmation makes one want to sing praises to the universe -- the Kingdom and the Power and Glory that is God! Affirmation is foundational to community, which is foundational to lasting peace. PAUSE
Do we express joyful gratitude and affirmation to God and to each other? Does this gratitude and affirmation extend to all those we encounter no matter the faith or culture?

The culture in the Kingdom of God is basic and simple, forgiving, tempered with humility, and filled with joyful affirmation of our God and of each other. Out of this flows a lasting peace that permeates us, our relationships and our faith and the world around us. Let us nurture and cherish this culture – our true inheritance! Amen.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Failed Asylum seekers

Hi all

Just got back from Geneva where I was doing a (very short!) presentation to the UN Human Rights Committee on peace tax. Incidentally I got to overhear the committee taking British government officials to task over the destitution of failed asylum seekers. The officials' response (which I've heard before) was that failed asylum seekers are entitled to accommodation and vouchers until deportation. How does this square with the apparent destitution of many failed asylum seekers? Is it just that asylum claims are unfairly rejected so often that people "voluntarily" disappear out of the system for fear of deportation, and so choose not to claim the limited benefits offered? Or are the officials simply wrong in what they're saying? It'd be worth knowing the answer, since the government trots this line out so regularly.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

News from Edmonton

Dear Friends:

Suzanne, Miriam, Naomi, and I arrived safely back in Edmonton late Monday night, after your warm send-off the day before. We're settling back in, reconnecting with (small f) friends. Miriam is doing a summer school module in chemistry, I've reclaimed my office at the university, and Suzanne starts back to work next week. Tonight we're MC'ing a celebration for some close friends having their 25th wedding anniversary.
I (Robert) attended the Edmonton Quaker meeting today. There were about a dozen people, which is larger than I was expecting: a good size, I think -- not too small, but still intimate. I recognised several acquaintances. The meeting room is not quite as cheerful as Sheffield's, but the Spirit felt comfortingly familiar. They use (I suppose I should start saying "we use") the same Faith and Practice, and Advices and Queries, as BYM, so I don't have to go out and buy a new one. Speaking of Yearly Meeting, it turns out that the CYM conference is just around the corner, in August, at Camrose, Alberta (about 45 minutes outside of Edmonton by car ... I had been assuming I'd have to travel across the continent to get to any yearly meeting), so I'm very much looking forward to attending this, and meeting many new Canadian Friends.
Further updates available upon request.

In friendship,

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Love and Marriage

I just heard from a good friend of mine that his wife and daughter have been refused permission to return to their home in Britain. My friend, a Quaker attender who writes a blog under the pen-name ‘Jeremiah’, is married to an African woman who was refused asylum in the UK. They have a two year-old daughter together, but the UK government wouldn’t allow Jeremiah’s wife to stay unless she went back to her own country to apply for a visa. Under the threat of arrest and deportation she finally agreed, after arranging a safe house where she and her daughter can stay in relative anonymity, as it is still unsafe for her to be recognised there. Mother and daughter have spent the last four months in hiding, waiting to get the necessary documents and then an appointment with the British embassy. And then they refused her.

“We married for love, but that carries no weight with UK Immigration”, writes Jeremiah.

It seems to be taken for granted by the British government that asylum-seekers’ marriages are always ‘bogus’. One of the less well-known Home Office innovations of the last few years now actually prohibits asylum-seekers from getting married. (Jeremiah and JoJo married before these rules were introduced in Feb 2005).

Ironically, through some bizarre loophole in the apparatus of the established Church, the Church of England is still able to marry asylum-seekers who are eligible under its own criteria. These include being a baptized Christian of course. Tough luck if you’re of another faith. Another friend of mine, who is also a ‘failed asylum-seeker’, was able to marry his British partner in an Anglican church through this route, as they are both from Christian backgrounds. They are also in a long-term, committed relationship with a child, so either my experience is very unrepresentative or there is something wrong with the assumptions behind this whole system.

Jeremiah and JoJo are going to appeal the government’s decision.

“In the meantime,” he writes, “we wait and wait. I go to work, come home to an empty house, call my wife every evening. I try to talk to Kébé too, but it's hard to have a conversation over the phone with a two-year-old, especially when she's angry at being separated from her daddy and her home and doesn't find a voice coming out of a machine a satisfactory substitute.”

But Jeremiah did manage to speak to her today. “Kébé talked mostly about her Shirley Hughes picture book, Annie Rose. But she knows something is up. At the embassy she burst out crying, saying ‘I want to go on a plane, I want to go home.’”

You can read the latest news on Jeremiah's blog by clicking here.

Sunday, 15 June 2008


The Conservative Friend sitehttp://www.conservativefriend.org/famousquakers.htm which it appears is the outreach site of Ohio Yearly Meeting gives the following:Daisy Douglas Barr. Prominent Quaker minister and Imperial Empress of the Indiana Women's Ku Klux Klanas
she was a prominent Quaker have I misunderstood something about the nature of the KKK or Quakerism?In confusion.
Do similar issues esist about ?NF, BNP etc here?

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Academic freedom

The current edition of 'The Friend' in the UK contains an article entitled 'Protests over academic freedom' by Roger Sanderson relating to 2 students who accessed open source material about al-Qaeda for legitimate research work - the material was from an open access official US govt. version of a training manual for al-Qaeda. As a result they spent 6 days in police custody before being released without charge though one was immediately re-arrested and fast tracked for deportation. After protests this led to suspension of that deportation for judicial review.This raises some very interesting issues for Friends particularly in terms of freedom of speach and access to materials which might allow the creation of understanding of a significant world issue and its resolution.The following address was given for more information about the case for those who are interested.
In Peace and Friendship

Monday, 9 June 2008

Conflict - an aside

I think it's great that Quakers are serious-minded folk but that we can also have a good laugh, including at ourselves. Did anyone else notice, at a recent business meeting, that the only, brief, moments of 'conflict' arose when the issue was - What to do with some correspondence about 'Responding to Conflict'? It was the end of the meeting, people were probably tired, hungry, and a wee bit tetchy. It made me smile though!

Quakers and internal conflict

An observation that emerged from my recent membership visitation was that the Quaker business model requires us to deal with and transcend personal conflicts. Yet all too often, Quakers shy away from this: it's much easier, and, to outward appearances, "Quakerly" (aren't we good peacemakers?), to sweep personal conflicts under the rug. But anger that has been pushed into shadow has a way of sneaking out and sabotaging our ostensibly peaceful intentions.

I'd like to offer some tools for dealing with personal conflict, which I've learned of through my involvement in the Mankind Project, an organisation of men's groups (see http://mkp.org, or http://uk.mkp.org). (People with counselling or conflict resolution experience may find this old hat: I encourage you to take anything that seems new or useful and leave the rest.) I will first describe some MKP processes and groundrules, and then point out what I see as their applicability to life in the Quaker commmunity, particularly business meetings, and their consonance with Quaker faith and testimonies.

In MKP, we try to create safe space for men to discover and speak their own personal truths, to work out their own missions of service to the world, to identify and work on obstacles to those missions, and to support each other in this work. We've learned that, to create this safe, supportive space, personal conflicts within the group -- even trivial ones -- must be taken seriously, and directly dealt with. To this end, we do "clearing" processes between a "clearer," a man holding some emotional charge (usually anger) towards another man in the group, the "clearee," which might keep the clearer from fully supporting the clearee in his work. The clearing is an opportunity for the clearer to state his feelings and judgements about the clearee to his face, bringing them out of shadow and into consciousness.

The crucial assumption is that the clearing is all about the clearer. The clearer's charge may be prompted by some real, present harm that the clearee did to him, or the clearee may simply trigger some strong emotional memory in the clearer. Either way, the point is for the clearer to "own" the feelings and judgements going on inside himself, not to establish the rightness of his position. Nor does the clearer have to apologise for his feelings and judgements: he just has to recognise them as his own. The clearee has no obligation to respond to anything the clearer says, though if the clearing brings up a charge in the clearee, he can then proceed to do his own clearing, switching roles. To the extent that the clearing process focusses on the clearer's discovery of deeper personal truth, rather than argumentation, it resembles that of a Quaker clearness committee.

The process begins with the clearer saying, "I am not clear with ___." The clearer chooses a facilitator, who invites the clearee to participate (the clearee may say no). The facilitator then prompts the clearer to state to the clearee:
1) the relevant, objective facts (e.g. "You were 30 minutes late") (keeping feelings and judgements separate. If the clearee can't agree to the facts as stated by the clearer, the clearing stops).
2) feelings (basic emotions: glad, sad, mad, scared, ashamed -- no stories here).
3) judgements (e.g. "I judge that you're self-centred. I judge that you don't give a **** whether other people have to wait around for you.")
The facilitator then asks "Whose behaviour does this remind you of?" This invites the clearer to consider whether the charge is, at least in part, a projection of, e.g., unresolved anger towards a parent, or perhaps anger at the clearer himself (often I am triggered by behvaviour in others that reminds me of shadow traits that I dislike about myself). If so, the facilitator then invites the clearer to withdraw this projection from the clearee (this by the way does not mean conceding that the original judgements were necessarily wrong). If the clearer's shadow traits are involved ("How is this like your life? Are you ever self-centred?"), he is invited to consider the consequences of these shadows for himself and those around him. Finally, the clearer is asked, "Now that you see this more clearly, what do you want for yourself? What do you want for your relationship with the clearee (which you might not get)? Are you now clear?"

Paradoxically, in my experience as a clearee, I feel closer and more trusting toward a man who has the courage to speak directly to me about his negative feelings and judgements of me. I know that this man is showing his authentic self to me; that he cares enough about supporting me to risk incurring my (or the whole group's) disapproval; that he's aware of what's going on inside himself, not unthinkingly projecting his issues onto me. The clearing process is thus a form of confrontation that actually strengthens the personal bonds within the group.

I believe the values underlying the MKP clearing process are entirely consonant with the Quaker way. In Quaker meetings for worship for business, as in MKP -- but unlike most other organisations -- the primary goal is not to get through the agenda and reach decisions with maximum efficiency, but to be "led into unity" (A&Q 14). This means we must view our relationships with each other as being at least as important as any decision that the meeting might make. If our "emotions, attitudes and prejudices" are getting in the way of "reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations," we are advised to not to hide them, but to "bring [them] into God's light" (A&Q 32). Historically, Quaker "plain speech" was not merely about thee and thou-ing: it was about dropping superficial conventions of politeness that got in the way of true Friendship. It was about speaking bluntly. "Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect? In close relationships we may risk pain as well as finding joy" (A&Q 21). This risking of pain to find joy in friendships is precisely what the clearing process is about.

Here, I would like to tentatively suggest some ways the clearing process might be adapted to the needs of a Quaker business meeting (bearing in mind that I'm going back to Canada very soon and so I won't be involved in implementing any of this in Sheffield.) Let's assume there's some issue of contention on the business meeting agenda. If a Friend feels some personal charge towards another Friend in connection with this issue, perhaps the two parties could seek out a third Friend to facilitate a clearing between them, along the lines of the MKP clearing process described above. Ideally, the clearing should be done before the meeting starts. But if the charge comes up unexpectedly, or for some other reason the parties haven't had an opportunity to clear, and the meeting's discernment is getting snarled up with individual Friends' charges towards other Friends, one of the parties might request a clearing on the floor. Indeed, it might even be within the province of the Clerk to suggest a clearing if the discussion seems fraught with personal charge.

I am not suggesting here that there's anything wrong with bringing strong feeling into a business meeting. The goal is not dispassionate discussion of the issues. Rather, the passion should be about the issues themselves, not about the personalities of the proponents or opponents.