Thursday, 29 December 2011

Power distorts

Physics tells us that a black hole distorts space and time in its vicinity, rather like a lead weight on a rubber sheet. To be honest, I don’t really understand that.

But I do consider that a concentration of too much money in one place distorts human economies (capitalism gone wrong) in the same way as a concentration of too much power in one place distorts human emotion (the funeral of Kim Jong Il), spiritual awareness (the Vatican) and truth (the Murdoch press).

1 Timothy 6:10: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils,” is regarded as the more accurate translation of the original Greek. If for money, one reads power, because the two are broadly synonymous, then St Paul’s observation stands.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Raft

If what we know is surrounded by a sea of unknowing, I suspect our ancestors felt that knowledge was an island which had been explored by their ancestors. You had only to read the right maps, that is the ancient texts, from Aristotle to the Bible, and all would be revealed.

With the Enlightenment and scientific method, people discovered more and more, and they may have reframed knowledge as a vast continent, still surrounded by the sea of unknowing but waiting to be discovered by intrepid teams of explorers (with or without teams of native bearers who never got a mention).

I regard our knowledge as a sea-going vessel plying the ocean of unknowing, but not a battleship, not an ocean liner or even an ice-breaker. I see knowledge as a raft, and a leaky raft at that. We are all still in the sea of unknowing, and we all have wet feet.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

When Bankers Were Good – and were very often Quakers

“When Bankers Were Good”, an excellent programme by Ian Hislop, which was on BBC2 Tuesday 22nd at 9.00pm, looks at Victorian financiers and how their morality informed there attitude to their wealth and what they did with it.

Ian starts off with the Quaker Gurney family from Norwich, amongst the most important and wealthiest bankers in the early 19th century. Quaker integrity shines through in Ian Hislop's analysis of Samuel Gurney who even visits Norwich Friends Meeting House and films us at worship. “The Gurneys were not just Christians – they were Quakers”, although the phrase 'as rich as the Gurneys' entered the language of the day to denote huge wealth.

Watch it here:

Samuel Gurney, was the brother of Elizabeth Fry, whose husband Joseph Fry was also a banker. In the credit crunch following the stock market crash of 1825, his bank failed along with many others. Although Samuel Gurney helped many banks through the crisis, later on he did not rescue his own brother in law's bank, judging it not worthy. About as far removed from crony capitalism as you can possibly get.

What is more:
“The Quakers judged failure to pay back debt an unforgivable betrayal of trust . The bankrupt Joseph [Fry] was thrown out of the Society Of Friends, and Elizabeth's reputation suffered too. This may seem harsh, but perhaps there is something to be said for a morality that valued personal integrity and prudence with other people's money, and considered financial recklessness at the least something to be embarrassed about. These days when bankers mess up the economy they seem to get off scot-free. Perhaps a bit of stern Quaker shame would not go amiss.”

So why does hardly anyone know about what was the greatest discounting house in the world at the time? Sadly, after the death of Samuel Gurney, the bank over extended itself rather like many banks recently, and failed in the 1866 stock market crash, creating the last run on a British bank before Northern Rock in 2008. And Ian Hislop does not flinch from letting us know that the later Gurneys and many other Victorian financiers were no better than those of today.

The remains of Gurney's bank, still in Quaker hands in Norwich, finally merged with Barclay's. But then Barclay's started as a Quaker bank as well – as did Lloyds.

Sitting on a Goldmine

On Friday I waved goodbye to two busloads of small farmers from rural Matabeleland, who were here for a week doing training in ‘seed multiplication’, ie growing their own crop seeds, so they don’t have to buy them from the monopoly seed company Seedco every year. The farmers gave us a presentation on Thursday morning, saying they had never known they could produce their own seed ‘because Seedco doesn’t want us to know we can do it ourselves’. They concluded with a Ndebele song and dance routine (including some impressive dance moves by the older ladies), with lyrics roughly like this – ‘The donors are leaving, if you hold onto aid dependency, you will be left behind’.

Zimbabwean society is going through a huge shift as international aid organizations withdraw from famine relief. In arid Matabeleland, rural communities have depended for years on food aid and handouts of hybrid seeds (that don’t reproduce reliably) planted in fields that are almost pure sand, without anything done to restore the soil. At an Oxfam workshop recently a Zimbabwean professor described this as ‘the aid industry giving out fertilizer and seeds to continue the cycle of poverty’. With the withdrawal of much international aid, rural people are being forced to make a transition to more sustainable livelihoods just to survive. Groups like last week’s are a reminder to me of how important Hlekweni’s work is in helping this process.

Our end-of-year graduation ceremony is coming up in December, unless the police order us to move it - Zanu-PF are holding their national conference just up the road in Bulawayo in the same week and public events that ‘clash’ with Zanu rallies (even family events such as weddings) are often banned. We have also been training a group of older rural women who came through a Zanu-PF funded scheme, and I have been making efforts to discourage our staff from referring to them as ‘that Zanu lot’…

I was out with other staff and trainees fighting a bush fire on the farm again last week, when we stumbled on (but luckily not into) a crude mine-shaft dug by squatters on Hlekweni land. Gold digging is a widespread illegal activity among Zimbabwe’s desperate poor – extracting tonnes of rock with pick-axes in the hope of finding tiny quantities of ore. I don’t know whether ‘our’ miners have ever found anything, but it would be ironic if with all our financial woes Hlekweni turns out to be literally sitting on a gold-mine...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Occupiers and Quakers

The Occupy movement is in nearly 1000 cities around the world, including Sheffield (, outside the cathedral.

Occupy is a "leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. This movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don't need Wall Street and we don't need politicians to build a better society." (Occupy Wall Street statement)

In the 17th century, England was in turmoil as a bloody civil war tore the nation apart. Many people lost faith in the government of the time, and in the church, in those days a central pillar of society. No longer knowing what to do or who to trust, many groups of people started looking for new ways of living together – ranters, diggers, levellers, and others. Some groups simply waited in silence for inspiration as to what to do. These groups, known as Seekers, formed a loose network across the country, and one such group met around Doncaster - then much bigger than Sheffield.

It is from such groups that Quakers sprang in the 1640s and 50s. George Fox realised "that being bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers".
The Occupy movement is telling us that being educated at Eton or the Chicago Business School does not make you fit to run the world.

The Occupy movement has no leaders and practices consensual decision making (

Quakers also have no 'leaders' and have been practising consensual decision making for over 350 years.

As I write this, Occupy Wall Street is being violently evicted in the middle of the night by heavily armed police.

In the 1660's Quakers meetings were often violently broken up and Quakers thrown in prison.

Occupy is our sort of movement – or are we now too comfortable and complacent enjoying the material luxuries of the status quo?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


“It isn’t easy,” said Pooh to himself. “Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

Grace is not an easy concept to understand. It has connotations of favour, the free (gratis, from the Latin gratia, grace) gift of mercy and forgiveness which comes to us from God. As with most Godly things, it is essentially impossible to define it very precisely or to know its attributes. It seems to me that the really difficult part for us is to be able to accept it. So, receiving grace – is it accepting that you are forgiven? Or daring to love God with a full and open heart? Daring to know that you are loved? All of the above?

How can we get from here to there – from not knowing grace to knowing grace?

Some people seem to believe (or seem to act as if) one must earn grace: believing the right beliefs, doing the right deeds, acts of piety (and filial obedience, especially to the Church) but avoiding any hint of spiritual pride, avoiding all the multitude of sins that have been specified by the experts over the centuries, including those that very few people have ever heard of. For a select few, through an extensive course of applied piety and passing various detailed checking procedures after death, it is possible to achieve veneration, beatification, ultimately sainthood. It is said that any US citizen can aspire to become President. Perhaps any of God’s children can aspire to saint-hood, depending on what they do to earn it. The necessity is (in the ancient formula beloved of teachers) Must Try Harder. From this point of view, grace seems to be seen as a medal awarded for outstanding spiritual achievement, and posthumously.

Others would disagree: grace can not be earned, only accepted by the enlightened, but here is how you can bring about that enlightenment. Perform the following spiritual exercises so many times daily (after your macrobiotic breakfast) – yogurt and yoga; meditate the right meditations, chant the right mantras. A sort of spiritual health diet. I am not comfortable with the thought that one can manufacture acceptance of grace, any more than one can make a horse drink or explain a joke. I recall an episode in The Good Life, in which Margo, who appeared to have no sense of humour, pleaded with Tom, Barbara and Gerry, “But why is it funny?” That is a question which can not be answered. I don’t have much respect for painting by numbers, either.

It seems to me that grace is a favour, endlessly extended. All we have to do is take it, as a gift. That isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most of us, most of the time, are suspicious and imagine that there must be some catch, or some condition to fulfil. “Me? How can God love me? What have I done to deserve that? Looking at my track record, I can’t see that I deserve God’s love. Surely other people are worthy of this gift, long before I am. I’m not a very Good person.”

Such thinking introduces the notion of competition. Some people will tell you that grace, or salvation, are not for everyone, but only for the Chosen Few. Which you have to be born into, or brought up in, or in some other way most people are not allowed it – it is an exclusive offer. Us and Them, the sheep and the goats.
That might be the case if grace were a strictly limited commodity. If there are twenty chimpanzees and only twelve bananas, there is likely to be trouble. On the other hand, if there are lots of chimpanzees but bananas for all, there need be no fighting but only the sound of peaceful munching. If God’s love is infinite, as we are advised, then all may share in it. If it is only for a few, then it isn’t infinite at all, but limited, in short supply, and conditional. I believe that we each have a unique pathway through life. I do not see this as a CV submitted as part of our application for the top position, no. I see spirituality as a learning experience, but without a set curriculum.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

'Becoming, once again, native to this place, Earth.'

About 18 months ago I attended a talk given by one of the key players in the transformation of the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden into 'Incredible Edible Todmorden'.

Paul Clarke shared how the people of Todmorden had embraced the ideas of a few willful locals to 'reinvent our place, in mad times', by initiating a wide range of food-growing and self-sufficiency projects, from planting herb beds on the train station platforms, to a major land development and management project on the edge of town, 'for growing, study and learning'.

Todmorden has, in Clarke's words, turned from 'ego-centric to eco-centric'. The former industry town is now flourishing once more. Check out for much more insight!

Last Saturday (8th Oct), a dozen or so friends from our Meeting spent a fruitful day exploring Britain Yearly Meeting's commitment to becoming a low-carbon sustainable community. What emerged out of this day of digging and sifting was a handful of healthy-looking seeds for our Meeting to consider planting, together.

Food is a unifying element of life - 'a universal connector', as Paul Clarke said in his talk of a year and a half ago. The visioning exercises friends embraced last Saturday led us to see food - growing it, cooking it, learning about it and eating it - as a means of helping tend our community toward becoming low-carbon and sustainable; toward 'the conviviality of self-reliance'.

Over the coming weeks, the Living Witness Project Sheffield Support Group will conduct a brief survey to help our Meeting at large to discern what actions we all might like to take in order to build on the strong and exciting visions that emerged from Saturday's session.

We've thought of 3 simple questions: Who in our Meeting grows food? Who would like to learn how to? And who would support a Sheffield Quakers food growing and trading project (by whatever means appropriate to each individual and family in our Meeting)?

So, look out for the questionnaire, as well as the next LWP Sheffield update in next month's SQN, which will give more details of many of the seeds that are sprouting in our Meeting.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Already Growing

Dave Edmonds and I have just spent the weekend in Bamford, at the Quaker Community, sharing and connecting with friends from around the country who are already active in fostering our fresh aim as Quakers to evolve into a low-carbon, sustainable community.

This is an exciting time to be a Quaker. A radical root has taken hold in Britain Yearly Meeting and we in Sheffield are gifted with many good conditions to nourish this new growth. What I've discovered over the course of a relaxing, energising and forward-viewing weekend spent in the company of friends is that, as a community, we have all the elements we need in order to grow together.

It seems that many people in our society miss out on belonging to a group, a self-sustaining, active community, based on deep principles and beliefs. As friends, we come together in meetings for worship, or reflection, or for worship sharing and an energy - a witness - greater than our individual parts leads us in dynamic ways to new discoveries, to fresh ground; to fertile soil. Being together makes this happen.

For me, the most exciting word in 'low-carbon, sustainable community' is the final word, 'community'. It really is the first word, and where we, as a circle of friends, can easily begin from. Lucky us!

On Saturday 8th October (10am-4pm), there's a chance to get together for a few hours and look a little deeper, as a group, at what 'low-carbon sustainable community' means to us, who live and worship in Sheffield. Sunniva Taylor, of QPSW, will be helping us with this. Following lunch, we'll have a chance to discern a collective action that we, as a Meeting, wish to work toward over the next 12-18 months.

Personally, I'm looking forward to growing in the spirit of community, to enjoying the great benefits to be unearthed in working shoulder to shoulder with friends as we work and walk in our living witness. In this vision there already lies the seed of sustainability. Working together, we'll water that seed wonderfully and the 'low-carbon' bit will follow!

Thursday, 29 September 2011


It is said that there are so many possible games of chess that if a game were to be completed every second, there have not been enough seconds since the Universe began to complete all of the possible games. That is how variable chess is.

On the other hand, the rules of chess are absolutely fixed. A bishop moves like this, not like that; a knight does something of its own – it’s not allowed to move like a castle. If you play by any other rules, you are not playing chess. That is how fixed chess is.

Some people think that the rules of life are as strict and laid-down as the rules of chess. Wouldn’t that make our decisions simple?

In real life, there are not necessarily sixty-four squares on the board. Some of them are black and some white, but lots of them are grey. Some of the pieces are of different colours and play on loan to Black or White, and change sides without notice. Some change shape over night and decide to move differently, or wander off for a beer. Some gang up against their own side, or refuse to play with one another because they’ve fallen out.

That’s how variable real life is.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Fire and Fury in Zimbabwe

We’ve had plenty of drama here over the last month. Two weeks ago there was a huge bush fire that burned across our farm and several neighbours’ over a whole day. I was out with a group of local women and trainees trying to beat out the flames, and narrowly avoiding getting trapped by walls of fire as we clambered between thickets of thorn trees. We did manage to stop the fire, but not before it had consumed most of our remaining pasture, which we need for cattle grazing until new grass grows in the rainy season.

There have also been tensions for some time between our two groups of trainees, who arrived in June and July. The June intake are all Shona-speakers from outside Matabeleland, while the July group are local Ndebele people. There is an appalling history of ethnic violence in Zimbabwe, included the massacre of tens of thousands of Ndebele people in the 1980s by government troops. Part of the legacy of this is that relations between Shona and Ndebele people can be strained, and last weekend this erupted in a serious fight between a large group of our trainees, which had to be broken up by staff.  Luckily there were only fairly minor injuries, but it has revealed a very destructive faultline in the community. We are working on ways to build shared understanding between the two groups, including using AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) and bringing in outside facilitators. This is a very important issue for Zimbabwe as a whole, with very sensitive political as well as ethnic roots. I hope that we can help at least some of our trainees to learn from this experience and develop a better understanding of how to avoid destructive conflict in future.

Hlekweni’s finances continue to be in a desperate condition. The cost of living is going through the roof, following big increases in electricity tariffs and huge import duties of up to 90%, which affect everyone since Zimbabwe has to import almost all its manufactured goods. Like most organisations in the country we haven’t been able to increase our income enough to keep up with growing costs, and at the end of this month we won’t have funds to meet our payroll. People at Hlekweni have been here before, and Zimbabweans in general have a lot to teach us about adapting and persevering through times of crisis. For Kate and I, it still feels pretty much like disaster and we both feel very uncertain about the future here (although this is starting to seem a fairly permanent condition when living in Zimbabwe). We are not taking it lying down though - the only way through this is to make the farm productive, so we are starting an irrigation project to grow vegetables commercially on 5 hectares, and are clearing land for sorghum growing during the rainy season. If nothing else, I am learning about agriculture here, and it has got me interested in studying it in more depth in the future.

As always, we appreciate and rely on all your support, letters, phone calls, emails and chocolate parcels.
With much love and in Friendship,

Hlekweni, PO Box 708, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Recent (good) news and photos from Hlekweni at:

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Cowboy

Dawn breaks at the cattle ranch. First out of the bunk-house is the cook, who prepares breakfast for the men. Next out is a cow-hand, dressed in a plaid shirt, hard-wearing Levis, and a pair of boots with heels which will not slip out of the stirrups. Later he will don a neckerchief with which to wipe his brow, a wide-brimmed hat to shield him from the sun, and wide leather chaps, if he’s going to be branding cattle. On his belt he carries a wooden-handled knife which he keeps sharp and clean, as well as a wooden-handled .45, essentially a humane killer in case a beast breaks a leg out on the range and has to be put down. Everything he wears and carries is serviceable and well looked-after, the tools of his trade. He is a cow-hand.

Much later in the morning, from the main house steps the Dude, a visitor from out East. He makes quite a picture: matching shirt and pants all embroidered and fringed, a huge, white, pristine ten-gallon hat, a fancy tooled gun belt with matching, pearl-handled .45s, as well as a pair of fancy high boots. He is going to have a ride on a carefully chosen, mild-tempered mare. He thinks he is a cow-hand.

It’s funny: some people say cowboy to mean not to be taken seriously, doesn’t know what he’s doing. Here, you can see the picture, can’t you? Who is the serious person, who the poser? When it comes to needing a guide through the sagebrush, or through life, would you rather trust the cow-hand or the Dude, the experienced person or the man in the fancy clothes and silly hat?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Do You Believe in Air?

The writer Thomas Harris (not the author of The Silence of the Lambs) wrote a book called I’m OK, You’re OK, an exposition of Transactional Analysis (TA) which was founded by Eric Berne. The title represents a positive and trusting outlook towards oneself and other people, which TA says is the only really healthy position to occupy in life.

One of Harris’s friends asked him, “If I’m OK and you’re OK, why do you lock your car?” A searching question. I think the answer must be, “There is good in everyone, but some people have had such a painful start in life that they don’t know that they have this good inside them, and so they act as if they were bad, not knowing any different.” By extension, you do according to what you feel you are.

If God is universal and eternal, then he has all space and all time covered. He always was, he is everywhere, and he will always be. Quakers believe that he is in everyone too, everywhere in the inner space of people as well as existing everywhere even in the empty outer space of the universe.

How then is it that we think of some people as being without God? To begin with, we simply do not know for a fact what goes on in someone else’s heart and mind, since we can have no direct experience of it. We think we can infer, from what they say and do, how they feel and what they believe, but inference is unreliable at best. Even well-chosen words are limited and ambiguous when it comes to trying to express the inexpressible, as we try to do, and the meaning of someone’s actions can always be misinterpreted. Hence the wisdom of, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt 7:1). It is foolish and presumptuous to think that they are not with God, and even more presumptuous to think that God is with us and not with them.

We may be able, very cautiously, to consider that some people don’t seem to be aware that they have God in them. Then the question arises, “Is it crucial to know that you have God in you? Is it crucial what you consciously believe?” (Compare, “What must I do to be saved?” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Acts 16:30-31) Well, your awareness makes some difference, it’s bound to, but I am not at all sure that it’s the whole answer, by any means. My thinking goes like this:

Some people declare, “I only believe in the facts, me. I only believe in what I can see with my own eyes.” Really? Do you believe in air? No one can see air. You can feel a breeze against your cheek, or the wind blowing your hair, but you can’t see it. We know about air by observing air’s effects, through experience. We certainly know the effects of lack of air, within seconds. But the existence of air, or certainly the existence of oxygen, the bit we need, was only discovered in the scientific age. It is not necessary to know about air or to believe in air, to gain its benefits. It is only necessary to breathe; you don’t need belief, only lungs.

I would say, likewise with the spirit. All the animals and most of the people have always breathed, without knowing what they breathed. I will say that people who do not know that they have God in them, have God in them. They live, without knowing how they live. There is to my knowledge no instrument or scientific method that can prove (or disprove) God’s existence. Only the promptings in our hearts and minds can lead us to awareness of God’s presence and love for us, but our hearts and minds need to be tuned to that awareness, which doesn’t come easily.

I also believe that it is a good thing to effect some sort of introduction between God and the people in whom he dwells, if at all possible. There is doubtless no need to say, “God, this is Man.” He knows. But there is every need to say, “Man, this is God.” Gently, always very gently.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

News from Hlekweni

I’m sitting at my desk with a hot water bottle inside my jumper, enduring the unexpectedly cold Zimbabwean mid-winter. The sun is shining as always, but there is a biting wind and of course no heating in the buildings so everyone is suffering and waiting for summer.

Hlekweni is completely full at last, with 107 trainees, including a group of 54 Shona-speakers from rural Masvingo Province who arrived in June. So we have become a tri-lingual community overnight (English, Ndebele and Shona). Needless to say, we had no idea that the June arrivals were all Shona-speaking until they arrived. For all of them this is their first experience of Matabeleland - for some the trip here was their first time on a bus. It feels quite significant that we are able to welcome young people from Zimbabwe’s different ethnic groups, which have a history of conflict, and that (so far) they are getting on well together and seem to be having a great time. They have started their own clubs for singing, drama, art and debating (!), with help from our new volunteer Jessica, a young Quaker from New Zealand, who is with us until December.

Our mid-week Quaker Meeting for Worship is becoming quite extraordinary. About 30 young trainees came last week. After about 15 minutes of silent worship a young woman started singing and everyone joined in. Then we had a flow of beautiful songs, interspersed with Bible readings in different languages, that went on until dinner time. All of it was unplanned and unorganized – the young people had got the message that Quaker worship is Spirit-led and just run with it.

The local children were delighted with all the new books donated by friends in the UK (there are some lovely photos on the website at: The school holidays are just starting here, and Kate and Jessica will be running another holiday club with games and crafts in the library. 

Trying to manage Hlekweni continues to be a struggle - I generally feel like the ant that thinks it’s riding an elephant (ie the elephant has its own opinion… ). Half the farm has been burnt by wild fires over the last few weeks. It’s an eerie sight in the evening to see the horizon lit up by bushfires and palls of smoke drifting for miles. Jonathan has been quite worried that we are going to get burnt up, but no one else here seems too alarmed, which I’m hoping means it’s not dangerous. There certainly isn’t enough water to put out any fires - our water supply has been intermittent again, as the water table seems to be dropping steadily, and there’s no rain now until at least November.

Sending our love and do stay in touch – we really appreciate your emails, letters (and parcels!)
In Friendship,

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Sustaining the Future

Small groups of friends have been gathering in the Meeting House over the past few months to explore, reflect and initiate action on how to sustain ourselves within - and as - a Quaker community, here in Sheffield.

'Growing in the Spirit - changing the way we live to sustain the world we live in' has been a series of four worship-sharing sessions designed as preparation for Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering, which this year has taken 'sustainability' as its theme.

The opening session gave space for reflecting on what we need as individuals in order to sustain our spiritual lives; then each subsequent session expanded the question to include first our Quaker community, then our local community, and finally the natural world as a whole.

All good stuff. But, what is 'sustainability'? Is it a subjective idea (I think it is when I use the word!) or is it something more calculable, scientific? I therefore wonder if 'nourishment' is a more useful word...

What nourishes us as humans, as part of an ecological reality? What feeds our spiritual existence? What acts of nurturing can move me toward loving action in the place I live, connecting me with others who are different from me?

For my part, I've come to realise that I must put my hands in the soil - to get on my knees , to dig, to plant, to tend and to harvest. (I have NO experience of how to grow a crop, so I really am a beginner.) It was most interesting to me that the final of these four sessions - which invited us to reflect on ways to sustain our natural world - re-animated my reflections from each previous session. Other friends seemed to concur: a vision emerged...

What if, as a Quaker community, we return to the soil?

Sheffield Quakers source a patch of land on which to grow food and, there, we come together. Here's communal worship. In my action, I foster good health and a felt connection with that of God in all things. Here's a spiritual life. Others are invited to come, to learn new skills and to share in the fruits of community. Here's local resilience.

This vision seems to satisfy both the whole (Earth) and the particular (the here and now). Is that 'sustainability'?

So, as a jumping off point, I'm keen to know - do any friends wish to join me on this adventure? Is there a patch of land, in or near Sheffield, that we could take care of, as a 'growing concern'? I'm up for digging down...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

In Praise of Uncertainty

On 19th June, our Friend, Chrissie Hinde, citing the Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön, and her book When Things Fall Apart, ministered that to have our lives sorted out and secure would be sort of dead, and that we are often closer to spiritual discovery when we keep falling out of the nest.

I can understand that we can all feel a need for certainty, probably as much in settled times of peace and prosperity (when were they, exactly?) as in these days, which we regard as troubled. “May you live in interesting times,” is said to be a Chinese curse, not a blessing. We can easily feel the need for a bit more security.

Or at least we would like things to be a bit clearer than they usually are. It seems to me the more aware you are, the more aware you become of how complex everything is. Quakers, given a choice, prefer simplicity, and we sometimes convene a Meeting for Clearness when the cloud of unknowing gets a bit too much. I can appreciate that. Too much security makes for lack of freedom, but too much freedom can be scary.

I suppose the one profession that strives for as much clearness as possible is the law. Our elected legislators rely on law-drafters to get their Acts of Parliament phrased as precisely as possible. Lawyers try to build every contingency into contracts and wills, so that if push comes to shove, anything that can happen is covered. Lawyers like to pin down the exact meanings of words, so that they do not shift.

Of course, pinning down a butterfly kills it. Poets like their words to take wing and fly.

Some people are very uncomfortable with the thought that meaning can be personal and dependent on context. They prefer the facts. It seems to me that facts are good, in their proper context, as long as they don’t get above themselves. Take Michel-angelo’s David. It would be possible to ascertain the facts: the volume of the statue, its weight, hence its density; the place of origin of the marble, its chemical properties, etc. All scientists would pretty much agree on these facts. But none of this conveys the meaning of the sculpture. You feel it, in your own way, or you don’t feel it – some people are probably sculpture-blind, just as some people are tone-deaf.

I have the feeling that if the importance of facts gets out of hand, or if law becomes involved in faith, there is likely to be trouble. I think Jesus had the same difficulty with the lawyers and book-men of his day. To me, the right way to live is not about the precise and scholarly interpretation of the minute detail of an antique text in an ancient language, but about spiritual awareness. Which is fresh and new, and is nice work when you can get it, on a good day.

What worries me rather is what happens if, having experienced what they feel is a spiritual revelation, people feel that they have arrived at the facts, once and for all time. They tend to call it The Truth, not ‘my take’ or ‘our version,’ and they tend to start trying to impose it on other people: ‘You must see everything our way, or your immortal soul has got no chance, you’re headed for eternal damnation, and Serve You Right.’ It may be that they do this out of genuine love for other people, wanting only what is best for them which, they are convinced, their message is.
The problem I have with this is not that I wouldn’t want to preach and proselytise unless I was really sure of my message. These preachers are sure of their message. They know that they are right, without a doubt. The problem I have is that I don’t feel comfortable about pushing someone else in a matter which I regard as deeply personal and which needs to be spontaneous to be authentic, even if I were sure that it would be good for them.

If you are absolutely certain that your beliefs are correct, you may cease to listen to any other point of view, cease to search and to discover anything more, and cease to learn. My experience tells me that you need to receive spiritual revelation again and again. Some may say, ‘I don’t need to learn any more. I’ve got it all.’ My belief in the importance of humility doesn’t allow me to be very comfortable with this position.
As Chrissie ministered, if certainty involves coming to a halt, then in a way one’s spiritual awareness is no longer growing. Like a tree, if it is not growing, it is dying.

So there are problems associated with certainty, especially absolute certainty, just as there are the problems of success. People who have the mixed fortune to receive huge amounts of money from the Lottery have the opportunity to know that. It will totally alter their lives, not always for the good. Be careful what you wish for, as they say.

My take on spiritual awareness tells me it is better to make friends with uncertainty than to try and get it all under control, cut and dried. I hope that this does not sound pessimistic or cynical, as in, ‘You’ll never sort it out, so there’s no point trying,’ but rather more encouraging: ‘If you don’t know it for a fact, that’s fine – stay with it.’

To stay alive, we need to keep growing, and to keep growing, we need a vision – not a vision of certainty, but a vision of hope. This involves an apparent paradox: we need to entrust ourselves to a journey which is of its nature unpredictable and therefore seems untrustworthy. To entrust ourselves to the intrinsically doubtful is where faith comes in.

Paul Hunt

Monday, 27 June 2011

a beginning...

Sunday 18th June was Sheffield Central Meeting's Living Witness Project Sheffield Launch Day. If you weren't able to join us, here's what happened:

Meeting for Worship was well-attended and it was the time of the month for a reading from Quaker F&P. The LWP Sheffield support group offered to the Meeting 25.12 ( and the 2nd half of 25.14 (, from the chapter Unity of Creation.

Both the Children and Young People's Meetings were themed, with Huw leading the children in games that explored resources and recycling and the young people had a chance to get hands on with me as I gave an introduction to Deep Ecology, which, the more I get into it, seems to be a science-based way of seeing 'that of God in everyone'

After Meeting, there was a chance for friends to find out about some aspects of the support group's own 'living witness' to sustainability. Anne presented her tapestry made from recycled materials; Gordon brought in a rich garden compost, with instruction on how to cultivate your own; Rosalie offered info sheets on where to buy locally grown food and organic box delivery schemes; and I presented Dave's low-carbon travel schedule, as he was on holiday in Vienna at the time (having travelled there by train, he cut his carbon travel footprint by well over 3/4s). Meanwhile, Huw led a group of about 20 friends on a tour of the Meeting House, showing recent changes that have made to the building as part of a long-term project to improve the efficiency of the building. Last I saw the tour group they were ascending into the loft...!

The Meeting's first attempt at a low-carbon lunch yielded much more variety than I expected - a great spread! With an emphasis on regionally-grown organic produce, home-harvested salad and vegan-friendly recipes, the vast majority of ingredients were reliably 'low-carbon' alternatives to imported foods. However, it was clear from some shop-bought foods just how many ingredients in processed products come from untraceable sources.

The Launch Day was capped off with an informal session, the 3rd of 4 sessions on concentric circles of sustainability (from Quaker Meeting to planet). Over 20 friends attended, giving a chance to reflect on and share concerns and ideas in relation to sustainable community. So many seeds were sown by the group; some may germinate, in time.

A positive 'first day' for Living Witness Project Sheffield.
More events to follow!

Saturday, 18 June 2011


Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.............

To Friends In Amersham, Isaac Penington, 4th of Third Month,1667. Also Quaker Faith and Practice 10.01

All Motherhood and Apple Pie, isn't it? Should we not be out there working to make the world a better place, ministering in meeting, working “on our many committees, hospitality and childcare, the care of finance and premises......teaching, counselling, listening, praying, enabling the service of others or other service in the meeting or the world.' (London Yearly Meeting, 1986, Quaker Faith and Practice 10.05)?

No. If we start with service, we will court guilt at not being good enough, or at getting tired or feeling burdened. We will 'burn out' and become depressed or worse. We will compare ourselves with others and either be puffed up with pride at our success or downhearted when we see others do better.

Our life is love, and peace and tenderness. We do not need to be good to give or receive love, we do not need to feed people to feel loved. Love does not need an object – love is. Unless what we do comes out of love and peace and tenderness, it will just be so much busyness.

Seek first love and peace and tenderness and all these things that need doing will sort themselves out.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Chinese Whispers

The children’s game known in the UK as Chinese Whispers (in the USA as Telephone or Grapevine) starts with a message that is whispered to the first person, then passed around the group, each whispering what they heard to the next. Mistakes are inevitably made and accumulate, prompting innocent merriment.

Let us say someone once heard a message from the Spirit and wrote it down years later. It was translated and commented on, then the commentaries were freely incorporated into the translated text. Later for political reasons, someone edited the text in a big way, and then that was translated. Chinese Whispers or what?

However it seems to me that probably the Spirit always comes into the world through Chinese Whispers, even if there is only one whisperer.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Thinking and Doing

If you live inside your head, Science, Art and Religion will appear to contradict one-another. This is because, inside our heads, we build systems of knowledge, and in the name of reason, we demand consistency.

If you stay inside your head, only science and logic ultimately make sense. Art becomes nice things to look at to make us feel happy, and religion becomes wishful thinking to calm us when we are afraid – especially afraid of death.

Get outside your head, and Science Art and Religion are thing that we do. And we do things differently. Science tells us how best to use the world to meet our needs. Art tells us how best to view the world to find value in it. And religion tells us how best to relate to the world, including and especially to one-another.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

More news from Hlekweni: how to hit the nail on the head

After all these months of waiting, I finally have my Zimbabwean work permit and officially started as Director of Hlekweni in April. It was quite a shock to hear that the permit had been approved – I had almost given up on it and we were starting to think of making plans to come back to the UK for good this summer. Instead, we have shifted into a new gear of preparing to be here for the next two years (thepermit is until Feb 2013), and being totally responsible for Hlekweni with all its rather pressing challenges.

The absolute poverty here is a constant source of frustration, and I am still struggling to adapt to a situation of absolute scarcity of all resources. As just one example; Moya and Jonathan's school has
been waiting for months to have a dangerously hanging classroom roof fixed – on investigation I discovered it was because there weren't any nails. I finally bought a bag of nails, but the work seems to be stalled again, pending the availability of something – perhaps we are out of hammers too...

Despite the general air of desperation about the place, there are also encouraging 'signs of hope' to help keep us going. The micro-credit scheme we have set up for the local community is working well, and focusing local people's energies on a renewed sense of possibility and self-reliance. The first loan we made was $160 to a group of women who are making Ndebele bead jewellery, and as well as selling to overseas visitors they are starting to become a fashion item around Hlekweni
too. I have designed a business plan template which lots of other groups are using to develop their small business proposals, and our farm manager Lungisani has led a workshop on business planning for the community. One local man told me how important it was to him that Hlekweni is now doing something to help the community who live here, as well as the people from rural areas who we provide training to. Moya and Jonathan are still having a great time, now just starting their month-long Easter holiday. Jonathan has introduced the local boys to the joy of home-made bows and arrows – there was a little band of them playing Robin Hood the other day. Moya has been helping sometimes at the Hlekweni library, reading stories to younger children as well as joining in with the new games club for local children (pictured).

Things in Zimbabwe generally are quite worrying. On the positive side, the economy is continuing to recover, with more foodstuffs available in the shops and businesses re-opening. Politically, the situation is deteriorating, as the security services and youth militias are being used intimidate the population in advance of elections. Hlekweni is still an oasis of peacefulness, and we haven't encountered any trouble ourselves – in fact this is probably the safest place to be in the
whole country. It is dispiriting to see the hopes of Zimbabwean people being crushed out of them though, as they feel totally powerless to change their situation. Despite their envy of the revolutions in North Africa, no-one I have spoken to sees any prospect of something similar here, where the army is so solidly and ruthlessly behind the current regime.

We are all looking forward to our holiday in the UK in June, where we are all being put up by some of our wonderfully hospitable friends. I have got a few speaking/fundraising events lined up, including a talk on 29th June at Friends House in central London, 6-8pm.

Thanks so much to everyone who has emailed, written letters and sent wonderful parcels. It is a highlight of our week to visit the Post Office where there is almost always something waiting for us as a reminder of all the love and support that keeps us going. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers and stay in touch – there are more photos and news articles on our new website at: and we are also on Facebook at:

In Friendship,


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Present and Prevented

Sheffield Friends might remember that in May last year (and two years earlier, and I guess two years before that?) we took part in a national survey of attendance at Meeting for Worship and other numbers relating to our Meeting.

Nayler, a newish Quaker blog, has published a summary of the survey's results. I found them interesting: you might too.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Exclusive! While stocks last!

The other day I was in a department store which made me an ‘exclusive’ offer. This meant, ‘You are allowed to buy this, but those other people are kept out – it’s too good for them. There, that appeals to you, doesn’t it?’

Well, I’m not sure. It’s nice to be given a good offer by someone, as long as it’s something you genuinely need or want. But why is it better for me if it is denied to other people? I don’t think I want to be included in something from which other people have to be excluded. The best offers are free to everyone, if they can only pick up on them. If they can not see them or can not take them, more’s the pity.

Again, I saw an article in a glossy magazine, ‘The ten best-kept-secret British beaches.’ So, that’s not going to last long, is it? If the article is successful, obviously the secret is out. I don’t know – is that in the spirit of inclusiveness? Secret beaches for all?

It seems to me that the Kingdom, or Grace, or Enlightenment – whatever one wants to call it – may be ‘hidden in plain sight,’ but it is free for everyone, and there is enough for everyone. ‘While stocks last’ doesn’t come into it. These stocks will last.

Paradoxically, if we are to love our enemies, we must be willing to include those who would exclude us, or who don’t want us to include them.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

A jolly and murderous life

Henry Williamson wrote 'Tarka The Otter' in the 1920s, living hermit-like in a remote Devon cottage among semi-wild dogs, cats, buzzards, gulls, magpies, and a rescued otter cub. His experiences in the First World War affected him deeply and permanently, and it is thought that he turned to nature in response. Tarka The Otter is known as a children's classic, but what the book group also saw in it this week was the expression of an adult's anguished experience, and an attempt to make sense of a world of killing. There is so much necessary, innocent killing in the book; every time Tarka is hungry he kills. Then he plays or sleeps till he is hungry again. Then kills again; sometimes for fun. Eventually he is killed. Full stop.

Somehow this doesn't make it a bleak book. Every page is packed with the huge gusto of living. For example, how's this for the cycle of life -

'The sickly trout, which had been dying for days with the lamprey fastened to it, floated down the stream; it had been a cannibal trout and had eaten more than fifty times its own weight of smaller trout. Tar from the road, after rain, had poisoned it. A rat ate the body the next day, and Old Nog [the heron] speared and swallowed the rat three nights later. The rat had lived a jolly and murderous life, and died before it could feel fear'.

Where's the goody? Where's the baddy? Who gets their comeuppance/who comes out best? You get the feeling that Henry Williamson earned very hardly the right to present his truths.

Tarka is finally killed by huntsmen after an eight hour chase. During these hours, in the few times when he is not running/swimming for his life, Tarka drifts and plays among the wild dog-rose petals on the water, and basks in the sun. It is like the Tao story (from memory) of the man hanging from a fragile branch over a crumbling precipice edge, tigers below ready to grab him, who is enjoying the scent of a wild flower growing near his head.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Heart of the Matter

Jesus had a way of cutting straight through to the heart of the matter.

He went unto the mount of Olives, and there he saw a group of men rolling up their sleeves and choosing rocks, and he said unto them, “What’s to do, like?”

And they said unto him, “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act, do you know what I mean? And custom and practice,” citing the Law from Moses onwards, “says that we get to stone her, leading to a pile of stones and no need for a grave as such.”

He said to them, “Oh, I get it. And I expect he who is without sin among you gets to throw the first stone, right?”

And they said, “Um, well, when you say without sin, then perhaps not without all sin as such, per se, not necessarily. . . My goodness, is that the time?” and they all crept away.

Jesus said to the woman, “Are you still here? Where are all the guys. . .? Off you go. Oh, and sin no more, eh?”

(John 8:1–11, somewhat paraphrased)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

African haiku

A poetic update from Craig and Kate and kids and Hlekweni....

African Haiku

Blossom floats upwards
White butterflies drifting past
Before the rainstorm

Children trailing home
All morning through the tall grass
School fees still unpaid

Frogs croak in the night
Lightning flickers silently
Lighting up the clouds

Monday, 7 March 2011

God speaks for the silent man

The Quaker book group is beginning to outgrow its birthplace. The small room upstairs in the Blue Moon cafe was crowded, with more new people along for Barbara Kingsolver's Lacuna. We started with a concern from some who felt they were personally not giving enough back to Blue Moon; I know that some months I have turned up and hardly even bought a coffee (if that). We agreed to mention this in our publicity so that we share the concern. Some of us thought about staying on after the group for supper, the advantage of that being you can then have a wine or beer during the group; not too much of a sacrifice.

People commented what a good group discussion we had. What I remember was the comment by someone that Trotsky (who appears in the book) was depicted as rather a bureaucrat, whereas Pasternak in Dr Zhivago painted him as a visionary military genius. There was something there about - what does someone actually do month by month to qualify as a military genius - how, if at all, does that differ from being a militaristic leader - can those capacities ever be put to right use, even by someone fighting for the oppressed?

We talked about the social hierarchy of shades of skin colour in Mexico and Jamaica; about how Kingsolver joyfully throws artistic creativity in with the political mix; about the theme of successful people coming to need help from others to manage their lives so they can go on doing what made them sucessfull.

Someone noted how the structure of the book had similarities with the Gospel of St John, and someone else immediately pointed out the first line of the book ('In the beginning were the howlers'). We sat for a minute taking in this example of the synergy of the group (I think that means the sum being greater than the parts); perhaps Kingsolver had the Gospels in mind, as well as Frieda Kahlo, Trotsky, and the McCarthy hearings, when she wrote the book. 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God' (John 1.1)

And God speaks for the silent man.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

How far have you got?

Each of us sets out on a journey. None of us knows how far we will travel; none of us knows how far there is to travel. None can predict the twists and turns the journey will involve. So none of can say of any other that he or she has (only) got so far (which would imply that we have gone further or know all about it - none of us knows how far along we are. There is no set course to run. The spirit may lead one person further than another, but who can say so? There are no merit badges, or black belts. I may be able to say that I am further along than I was, but further along than someone else? No way. Praise be.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Sing! in Pitsmoor...

Good friends here in Pitsmoor are organising a celebration of five years of the Christchurch Singing Group - on the 26th March from 10am til 2pm. I think it will be a lovely event. I'll be going along with Saskia (childcare willing) and thought that there might be a few from meeting interested. Contact Julie ( for more details. I can't get the whole image on I'm afraid so just click the picture below or title above to see the flyer.


Sunday, 13 February 2011

He Do The Police In Different Voices (T S Eliot at the book group)

Yesterday felt like quite a special meeting of the book group. For one, we met in N’s new house. For another, there were so many of us that N ran out of mugs. For yet another, we welcomed several first time attenders, who had been attracted by our choice of T S Eliot’s Waste Land and Four Quartets. Several people talked with love of how his poetry spoke to them. Eliot originally planned to call The Waste Land 'He Do The Police In Different Voices', and voices became a theme of the meeting.

There was a view that Eliot’s religious sense can run the risk of religiosity, which is off-putting to some readers; this blossomed into a rich exchange. I can’t do justice to it, really (can others who were there help me out in comments?), but it was about the way some ‘religious’ poetry seems written primarily to show off the writer’s religion (or to convince themselves of it), rather than coming more from a place of spiritual searching. The first lines of Burnt Norton were quoted as an example of this hesitant, quite compelling, exploration.

We listened to a recording of Eliot reading his own verse in a booming, rather mannered patrician voice, then to Paul Schofield reading the same extracts. Schofield’s voice was mellifluous and charming, but somehow less engaging than Eliot’s flawed delivery. It reminded me of something David Byrne of Talking Heads said – that he knew his singing voice was poor, but he felt this lack was of use, in that it did not draw attention away from the content of his songs. There is something here about ministry too, perhaps.

Then someone said how Eliot’s fragmented, many-voiced work, covering a wide range of idiosyncratic voices, reminded them of how Meeting can be.

And someone commented that just as Cubism and modernist verse demanded a constant shift in focus in their audience, perhaps this ever-changing focus may be the way we approach spiritual mysteries most rewardingly.

Finally, our Central Meeting has a member who had afternoon tea with Mr Eliot in 1947 or thereabouts; he has a fascinating story to tell. If you are reading this, we would love to hear it!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Khirbet Tana - demolished four times in one year

I just returned from being an ecumenical accompanier one month ago. I shall be talking about some of my experiences on Tuesday at the Quaker meeting house. The last month of my stay there was a busy time, visiting the many villages in and near the Jordan Valley demolished by the Israeli army. One such village, Khirbet Tana had already suffered two such demolitions earlier in the year. Sadly I just received an email from the British EA currently in the area. It has happened again. Khirbet Tana is where the shepherds from nearby Beit Furik, near Nablus, go with their flocks for the winter and spring. Like shepherds all over the world they migrate with the flocks to higher ground, more spacious, ready for the birth of hundreds of new lambs. These shepherds have been doing this for centuries. When I was there I spoke to one man whose grandfather had been killed by a Turkish soldier during the period of the Ottoman occupation. There is a mosque in the village, 300 years old.

The village is about 8 kilometres from Beit Furik along a difficult dirt road, past an often burning rubbish tip. So the people built a school for their children, so that they would not have to walk this road there and back each day. Education is very important to Palestinian people. As well as the school there are living units in large tents, and barracks, which are shelters for the sheep. Some people live in very comfortable caves and build a small tin shack as their toilet.

When we arrived at the village we found the headmaster of the school standing by its ruins, little chairs and tables lying around in disarray. A man sat by, head in hands. The mayor of the village was off to speak with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The Red Cross were beginning to arrive with new tents. Sheep had scattered everywhere. We sat with one family outside their cave, surveying the ruins of their toilet, drinking tea. Even in these terrible cicumstances people will want you to drink tea with them.

I asked them if the Palestinian Authority would help them. "We are waiting for the PA, like we are waiting for the rain" said one man. It hadn't rained for six months. The people feel abandoned. But up on the hillside we saw young men carrying girders and tarpaulins, ready to rebuild. The school had been rebuilt after the last demolition. It took four months.This was December. The children were due to start school in January. Now I hear it is demolished again.

I asked if the soldiers gave a reason for doing this. "They say the area is fo military training, but I have never seen them training here. The only time we see them is when they come to demolish our village, and they don't need training in that", said my companion. These people never lose their sense of humour!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

More Photos from Israel and Palestine

The two previous photos are from the checkpoint outside Bethlehem where thousands of Palestinian men queue before dawn everyday to go to work in East Jerusalem.

This one is from a checkpoint outside Nablus where these children and their father were trying to go shopping one Saturday morning.

© EAPPI/QPSW/Matt Robson

But it would be wrong to think that it is all scenes like these. The next picture shows Palestinian and Israeli children playing together (a very rare event), even more remarkable is that all these children have lost a relative in the conflict. They had the opportunity to meet at the Parents' Circle Summer camp, there is not enough space to fully describe the wonderful work of the Parents' Circle but please read more here.

© EAPPI/QPSW/Matt Robson

Photos from the West Bank

I can't remember the first time I heard Matt talk about his experiences on the West Bank. All I know is that they were hard for me to visualise. I'm a visual person. He came to our book group in September and we discussed the graphic novel (a book told in drawn photos) Palestine by Joe Sacco which helped some. However, I still had no idea what it looked like or how it might feel or smell to be there. These things matter to me when I think about other people's experiences and am trying to understand and empathise about what they are going through.

When we were talking about Sue Beardon coming to talk at the Quaker Meeting House this Tuesday (Feb 15th at 7:00, please note that I initially made a mistake - oh no! - I posted this incorrectly as 7:15, if you come a whole 15 minutes late you may miss tea and the introduction and crucial opening explanations and all sorts of important stuff and the best seats but still come if that's the best you can do :-) ), I asked him if there were any photos he might recommend. He showed me some photos of graffiti. He lead me into a whole world of Palestinian Flickr graffiti art. He started me off on some great Banksy stuff but if you're interested in looking for yourself, all you have to do is go to Flickr and search (click on this link for a number of groups that have specific photos related to Palestine).

Here were a couple favourites I found that immediately conveyed a great sense of place and space:

Limbo Photo Credit: Daniela Galazzo Limbo, Bethlehem (West Bank, Palestinian Occupied Territories), Check Point

Alba Vaga
Photo Credit: Daniela Galazzo Alba Vaga, Bethlehem (West Bank, Palestinian Occupied Territories), Check Point

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Deacon Dave in Hebron


I have been invited to share some stories of my time in Palestine. I have been going backwards and forwards to Hebron for the last 4 years. Initially I went with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Then I met my wife Arwa under an olive tree. We got married and rented our own house in the Old City. Now when we go back we stay with her family. We were in Hebron last summer for 2 months and plan to be back there this summer again, God willing.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Onori, Handala

I love Hebron and specifically Tel Rumeida. The people there have always made me very welcome. I learn a lot from them about endurance, patience and resistance in very difficult circumstances. I find it easier to be close to God when I am there. Praying in the mosque 5 times a day enbles me to keep my sanity in an insane situation. Jewish settlers continually throw stones at children, attack their neighbours' houses, smash windows, harrass families, burn ancient olive trees and generally try to force Palestinians to move away. Israeli police and soldiers protect them and sometimes help them.

Settlers moved in across the road from Arwa's family in 1984. Soldiers came to protect them and set up their barracks on our family land between her 4 uncles houses. The family cannot use their front entrance or walk up their street at all. No Palestinian can drive in Tel Rumeida, not even ambulances sometimes. To get to shops or school you have to go through 3 checkpoints and carry all shopping by hand through the metal detector and up the steep hill.

For more stories and photos check out my own blog

For videos see
or Hebron Voices

Hebron Voices is the project I am currently involved in. The idea is to let local Palestinians tell their own stories. I filmed a lot of interviews last summer and hope to continue this summer. People give me donations and I give out DVD's free to anyone who will watch them. Contact me if you want copies.

Do come along to our Film and Falafel Night on Thursday 24th Feb at 7.30 at Christ Church, Pitsmoor Rd (and Nottingham St.) Arwa, the "Queen of Falafel" will be cooking her wonderful Palestinian food and I will show "Price-Tag Policy", a 22 min film about the setting up af a new illegal settlement near Hebron and all the violence against Palestinians that accompanies that. After the film we will discuss the impact of settlements on the "peace process".

Contact me if you have any questions or if you would like us to come speak to a group or school class.

God bless you. Thanks for your help in listening to Palestinian stories and sharing them with others.

In peace and hope,
Deacon Dave

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Six Impossible Things before Breakfast

Apologies to Lewis Carroll

I went to Israel/Palestine in 2003 and 2004 with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel ( As a volunteer it can be very difficult to know what one person can do or if your presence makes any difference to such a long running conflict, but on a good day it does feel all worthwhile. This piece was written after a productive morning.

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. ~Betty Reese

Up early this morning, partly because of the mosquitoes, but mainly because I had a job, my first as an Ecumenical Accompanier. I had volunteered to help pick up patients and bring them back to the Augusta Victoria Hospital for dialysis. So at five in the morning I arrive to find the driver, Jalil, preparing himself for morning prayers. And as he kneels down and goes through his ritual I find myself joining him in my own way. The orientation is over this is where it gets serious, I ask God to keep us safe and well whatever happens over the next little while. It is a sobering moment I am not asleep any more, but the dawn chorus, the lightening sky, the world waking up give me some kind of hope and then Jalil brings the ambulance bus round and we are off, no turning back now.

Israeli Democracy in Action
Photo credit: Phil Chetwynd Israeli Democracy in Action

We are going towards Hebron, where a few days earlier a Hamas leader has been killed and dozens of people arrested. It has one of the worst reputations for violence in the country, and thats where we are going as fast as Jalil can manage. He asks if I can drive and says that I can if I want to, fortunately I have left my driving licence behind so we decide it is best not to. He teaches me a few words of Arabic and we laugh at my pronunciation. The sun comes over a hill and everything is bathed in a glorious golden light, it doesn’t seem so scary after all.

We pick up the first patient, a ten or so year old girl, and a few minutes later a younger girl and her mother. Then as we reach the turn off for Hebron we join the end of a queue for the checkpoint. The soldiers don’t seem to have woken up yet and no-one is keen to disturb them. The ambulance edges slowly forward to the front of the queue and we can see our last pick up, three children and their mother, about 20 metres away waving their passes and trying to attract some attention. They could walk over, but without some kind of acknowledgement they are frightened to do anything. A soldier emerges and tells us all to go back. Jalil shouts something, I presume to say we are from the hospital, but he waves us away. A few seconds later two more come out rubbing sleep from their eyes and holding bottles of juice, we have interupted their breakfast. Jalil thinks I should go and talk to them.

Red hat on, open the door, it didn’t feel like THIS in training. But I am not fast enough another man (the children’s father ?) is far more used to this and is already close to the soldiers explaining the situation. I wander closer and when he has finished say that we have come from the hospital to pick them up. The soldier tells me to go back to the car so I turn around and go slowly away. He checks the passes and then the mother and her children can join us. The whole thing has taken about five minutes but it feels like much longer.

As we drive away the tension starts to ease, the children start to chatter and laugh, they teach me my name in Arabic and tell me I am beautiful.

It is all a bit much and I feel a few tears coming. By seven o’clock we are back in Jerusalem and it must be time for breakfast.


Monday, 7 February 2011

A special week on Sheffield Quakers' blog

This week on Sheffield Quakers’ blog we are hosting a series of writings on the theme of Israel/Palestine. We hope this is a chance to hear something of the everyday lives of Israelis and Palestinians rather than the headline grabbing stories of violent conflict, which is how we often perceive this region. It is also a chance to hear about the work of three people from Sheffield who have been part of the international nonviolent effort to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

If you want to know more then Sue Beardon, Friday’s contributor, has just returned from the region and will be sharing her stories and experiences at a public meeting at Sheffield Quaker Meeting House, St James Street, on Tuesday 15th February at 7pm. More details here

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Christmas in Zimbabwe

While I was away on holiday (;)) Craig emailed me to say that things are going well except that their computer access is a little too slow for him to upload this himself. It was nice to arrive back to news of Craig and Hlekweni.

It was Graduation last week at Hlekweni and all of our trainees have left, so it feels very quiet with just the permanent community of staff and tenants here until the new intake in January. Moya and Jonathan have been helping the farm staff this week, as they are very short-handed when trainees are away. Moya especially has taken to manual labour in a big way, fetching water and happily plucking and gutting chickens. Today she came home proudly with a bag of chicken offal in return for her labours, which we will be cooking up for our Christmas dinner.

We have just discovered that Hlekweni has a library, which is open twice a week in term-time for trainees. It has a fairly random selection of very old and tattered books, but we were all excited by our find, as books are very scarce and expensive in Zimbabwe. While we were in there, a young teenage girl knocked on the door, asking if she could come in to look at the books. She was delighted to find 'Romeo & Juliet' and she sat poring over it until we had to leave. She is studying the play at school, but they don't have enough copies for the students to take home. There is a great book-hunger here. It is quite heart-breaking when little children come to our house asking 'please a book for reading'. Unfortunately the books we brought for Moya and Jonathan are too difficult for most of them, but we are aiming to build up the library collection if possible and make it more accessible to the community here.

Kate has been getting to know the local families by visiting all the houses with Angeline Ndlovu, our pre-school trainer. They have been discovering that many households here are caring for orphans, and have difficulty paying their school fees of £10 per term, so Kate is planning to set up a small bursary fund to support them. Angeline is also trying to organise the women of the community to help themselves. She has started with a Hlekweni netball team, but has plans for a small income-generating project, and she has asked Kate to help with getting it off the ground.

Through Steve Brooks, who was Interim Co-ordinator here earlier this year, we have also met some local activists from Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ). Gay people experience severe persecution in Zimbabwe, including eviction, violence and arrest, but a small community of activists are openly advocating for their rights with incredible courage. They are celebrating having organised Bulawayo's first ever Gay Pride march for Human Rights Day a couple of weeks ago, which was broken up by the police when they eventually realised what their 'proud to be pink' T-shirts stood for.

It is quite a relief to be in a country which doesn’t have shopping as top priority at this time of year. There is little to buy in the shops at any time and even less money to buy it with. Christmas in Zimbabwe is a time for visiting relatives in the rural areas and working in vegetable gardens. We now have our own vegetable plot in the back garden and are enjoying watching our spinach and tomatoes growing fast in the perpetual sunshine. Thinking of all our Friends in snowy Sheffield and sending our love at Christmas.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

As the Spirit moves us

On a good day, we may be fortunate enough to be moved by the Spirit. Not 'lucky' enough, or 'good' enough. It's not luck, not a lottery, just that we are in the right place in our hearts and minds, and for once, we listen. We can't earn it. It's not a case of, 'I'll sit here as good as gold. I've done all the right things, so come and get me, God, so I can know that I'm right and all the others are wrong.' It's a case of, 'On a good day, God, I can hear you. Tell me what you want me to do.'