Wednesday, 28 July 2010


I thought of this a while ago, one day when I was wearing a jacket with deep inside pockets.

In the beginning, we human beings hunted game and gathered fruit and veg freely, where we could find them. Then someone developed herding and agriculture, invented fences, and began the notion of ownership of land and hunting rights. Those who partook freely were now called ‘poachers.’

We Quakers hunt and gather spiritual awareness freely, despite the fact that some people like to put a fence round ‘Truth’ and think they own it. In this respect, we are ‘poachers.’

That pleases me.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Who We Are and What We Do

The Interim Report of the Review Group for Sufferings and Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees has just been presented to Meeting for Sufferings for feedback from Area and Local Meetings. Buried in the linear propositional logic of the 'management speak' of this document is, I believe, an attempt to evolve the relationship between 'Who We Are' and 'What We Do'. However, this way of speaking cannot even begin to capture the dynamic and living mutuality of such a relationship.

It is at the heart of our identity as Quakers. For we are not just a religious group, silently contemplating the nature of reality, nor are we just a society campaigning for peace, justice and equality. No, we are a religious society – What we do is for who we are, and who we are is through what we do. This relationship is at the heart of the nature of our testimonies. They are not ideological statements or political positions, but illustrate the essential nature of that part of the dynamic: Who We Are is through What We Do.

But how do we go about the other half of the dynamic: What We Do is for Who We Are? The great danger of the approach of using 'management speak' is that you can easily lose the dynamic significance of the relationship. We become mere ants in a nest or bees in a hive busying ourselves for some treasured ideal to be achieved in some utopian future.

The full richness of the relationship can only be expressed through poetry and metaphor when using language, or through images and art. I therefore tentatively offer an incomplete diagram of the various groups in BYM and the relationships between them.

I suggest that each pair of relationships, the mutual to-ing and fro-ing between groups, can be illustrated by a single word or a simple image. The word or image does not define the relationship, but rather acts as a pointer to enable us to see the dynamic of the relationship, expressed in body mind and soul as we participate in it. I invite you to fill in the words and images and I have provided a few words to get you started.

The formulation of the relationship between what we do and who we are: 'What we do is for who we are, and who we are is through what we do' is from the work of the Quaker philosopher John Macmurray. He originally stated it as 'The functional life is for the personal life; the personal life is through the functional life.' in 'Persons and Functions', four talks on the interrelation of the religious and the political aspects of social life, delivered on BBC radio in December 1941. He also stated it as 'The state is for the community; the community is through the state' later in the same talks, describing the necessary and proper relationship between the structures of government and people living in communities. Macmurray explored what it is to be a person, especially in relation to the world and other persons. The titles of his major works: “The Self as Agent” - i.e. what we do is more important and prior to what we think, and “Persons in Relation” - we are only truly persons in so far as we are in relationships, in many ways sums up his philosophical position. You can find out more at

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The book group met last week to discuss 'Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson. I experienced again that lurch towards new understanding, the sum being greater than the parts, which we sometimes achieve in the group (I think). I arrived having rather dismissed aspects of 'Gilead'. Then discerning friends expressed quiet, deeply held feelings towards the book. Others brought out themes which had passed me by; we weaved a new sense/shape of the book from many strands.

A lot of the talk was 0f fathers and sons and forgiveness and ageing and redemption and The Old Testament. Personally, I ended up saying that I realised the book was beyond me at the moment. I appreciate that clearness, in the Quakerly sense.

And - the cappuchinos are luscious, the carrot cake is exceptional, and we meet in a small private room with new people along every time; you are very welcome. Blue Moon Cafe, 4pm, next meeting 7th August, book is 'The God of Small Things'. See previous post for full program.