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,