Saturday, 10 November 2012

Ploughing up the Fallow Ground

 
'Bring all into the worship of God. Plough up the fallow ground. Thresh and get out the corn; that the seed, the wheat, may be gathered into the barn... None are ploughed up but he who comes to the principle of God in him, that he hath transgressed. Then he doth service to God; then is the planting, watering, and increase from God.'
(George Fox, Journal 1694)

Fallow ground is land that has been left uncultivated for a year or more. Letting land lie fallow is a traditional farming practice - allowing the soil to regain fertility between years of cropping and harvesting that would otherwise leave it depleted of nutrients. The point of Fox's metaphor, though, is that the fallow ground has been left uncultivated so long that it has become unproductive. As every gardener knows, neglected land quickly becomes colonized by weeds. 
It is my impression that Britain Yearly Meeting has been left fallow for far too long, drifting in the organizational equivalent of ecological succession, by which a vital and living movement becomes increasingly inward-looking, focussing on its own institutional structures and routines, and the needs of its own members. But it seems to me that British Quakers as a whole may be going through a process of 'ploughing up the fallow ground' right now.

Quaker Quest, Experiment with Light, The Kindlers, and the recent 'Whoosh' conference are some of the renewal initiatives that are starting to break up the settled Quaker culture of 'hidden-ness'. Friends all over the country are starting to speak openly and confidently about their faith and to seek out deeper and more disciplined expressions of spiritual practice. Participants at the 'Whoosh' conference this year called for a new emphasis on spiritual leadership, preparation for membership, and a confident teaching ministry. The Kindlers project is working with Meetings around the country 'to rekindle the power of Quaker worship by renewing and deepening our spiritual practices'.
In farming, ploughing incorporates the stored fertility in the leaves and roots of vegetation into the soil, to make it available for the following productive crops. British Quakers too have a huge amount of fertility stored up in our experiences and traditions. The quietly committed lives of Friends throughout many generations have created a rich store of wisdom, discernment and example to nourish the new growth of our movement. We now need a vigorous, nutrient-demanding crop of new Quaker prophets, teachers, accompaniers and ministers capable of drawing on this fertility before it drains away below the topsoil. If we genuinely want and intend to know the 'planting, watering, and increase from God' we need this generation of British Friends, of all ages, to put their hands to the plough.

This is an edited version of an original post on my blog, Transition Quaker.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Sustainability and Spirituality – the challenge for Sheffield Quakers


Britain Yearly Meeting in Canterbury last year was a historic event for British Quakers. At that Meeting, Friends from throughout the country made a commitment to become a 'low-carbon, sustainable community'. This was largely inspired by the vision of Pam Lunn, who delivered the annual Swarthmore Lecture to Yearly Meeting with the title 'Costing not Less than Everything - Sustainability and Spirituality in challenging times'.

Over three Thursday evenings recently, Friends from Sheffield have been watching a DVD of Pam's lecture, and discussing the themes it raises, so that we can find ways of continuing to deepen our Meeting's commitment to becoming a sustainable community.

In the lecture, and the book that expands on it, Pam Lunn explores images of the Earth as our 'one home', and of humanity and ultimately all life as 'one family'. The lecture looks at different forms of community life, and what they can teach us about building communities that are resilient in the face of hardship. Pam also asks us to consider how we can begin to prepare ourselves for a future of growing financial, energy, and resource crises, as the effects of climate change and energy shortages have an increasing impact on all of us.

In our discussions after the film screenings, there was a sense of possibility about engaging the whole Quaker Meeting and the wider community in practical ways to deepen our relationships and extend our practical skills. A further meeting is planned for Monday 19th November, to develop some of these ideas into practical proposals for the Meeting as a whole, and all are warmly invited to take part in this discussion.

The decision of Yearly Meeting at Canterbury, which is now known in Quaker jargon as 'the Canterbury commitment' (or even more obscurely 'Minute 36') could mark a turning point for British Quakers, with a potentially far-reaching influence on our wider society. The model of a 'low-carbon community' is not something new, it is being used by many neighbourhood groups to support each other in making sustained and progressive reductions in their energy usage and carbon emissions. The idea is to work together to keep making year-on-year progress towards a level of carbon emissions that is potentially sustainable for everyone on Earth. Although many small groups have been using this approach for several years, so far as I know Britain Yearly Meeting in 2011 was the first time anywhere in the world that a whole religious society has made a collective commitment to become a national 'low-carbon community'.

That decision was based on the discernment of Friends from all over the country (every British Friend being entitled to take part) in the Quaker manner of vote-less decision-making. It is not a 'top-down' or centrally-imposed agenda, and the decision will not be translated into action without the willing, creative participation of local Meetings throughout the country. Nevertheless, many Friends (and many Meetings) have significant reservations about the idea of a collective commitment to 'sustainability', a word which is well on the way to becoming a meaningless jargon term with little spiritual or imaginative resonance.

For me, the 'Canterbury Commitment' is a challenge to Friends to move together towards living in a right relationship with the Earth our home, and the family of living beings. Perhaps this is the challenge of our times for the generation who are alive now, in an era of continuing ecological crisis.

As Friends we are proud of the collective action we have sometimes undertaken in the past, most famously our contribution to the abolition of slavery. Friends such as John Woolman laboured for decades with their fellow Quakers, many of them slave-holders, to develop a shared sense of concern for establishing a right relationship with the African Americans who had been sold or born into slavery. Once the Religious Society of Friends was finally rid of the corrupting influence of slave-holding within its own community, it was freed to become a powerful influence for the abolition of slavery throughout the world.

Yearly Meeting in 2011 challenged our generation to a similar deep examination of our relationship to the 'community of all beings', at a time of existential crisis for our industrial civilization and our own, and very many other, species. If Quakers can find ways of living together that move us away from destructive exploitation of natural systems, and towards a right relationship with the Earth our home, perhaps we will also become a 'leaven' that can eventually influence nations and governments.

If Friends at Canterbury discerned rightly, and this is genuinely a calling that is laid on us as Quakers in this generation, then we have a privileged opportunity to respond, not out of a sense of guilt or duty, but joyfully with the guidance and power of the Spirit that is leading us.

Both the book and DVD of Pam Lunn's Swarthmore Lecture are available to borrow from the Sheffield Central Meeting House Library. Pam also writes a regular blog here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012


Advance notice - Sheffield Quakers will be hosting an afternoon with the work of Quaker poet UA Fanthorpe in February. This event is open to the public and we are pleased that UA Fanthorpe's partner Rosie Bailey, a Quaker who offers courses at Woodbrooke on UAF's life and work, is visiting us to talk about the poet. U A Fanthorpe's poems express the spiritual honesty, humility and humour of a Quaker outlook on life. There will soon be a copy of her Selected Poems in Central Meeting House library.


Saturday February 2nd 2013
2 - 4.30pm

‘CASUAL HOLINESS’

An afternoon with the work of Quaker poet

U A Fanthorpe


  
·       Speakers: Rosie Bailey –    biographer and partner
                           Elizabeth Sandie -author of a critical study of her poems 
·       Discussion and questions

Requested donation of £3 (coffee/tea included)

Quaker Meeting House
10 St James Street, Sheffield S1 2EW
0114 2757390
(disabled access and hearing loop available)

Bookings (advance notice of group bookings appreciated)
Pay at door, or contact: Roger Ellis roger@appleinter.net or 0114-2499378

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

On being a Quaker and Quakerism

'Quakerism' in the normal sense of such words ending in '-ism', is an ideology – a way of thinking about the world and ourselves in it. It is something that can be read about in books, and taught in classrooms. But how do you go about teaching silence, no creeds and no dogmas? This is maybe why liberal Quakers get stuck saying that 'Quakerism' can only be 'caught not taught'.

It seems to me that most Quakers, like most white liberal westerners, are idealists first and Quakers second. In the same way that 19th century Quakers swallowed the prevailing religious ideology of evangelicalism and began to put scriptures ahead of personal revelation, so 20th century Quakers have swallowed prevailing secular idealism and put thinking ahead of action.

This can be seen in different approaches to the peace testimony. In the mind of the idealist, the peace testimony becomes pacifism, an ideal of Quakerism, but in the hands of the practitioner, the peace testimony is about enabling positive relationships in a complex and difficult world.

Being a Quaker is actually about possessing a set of skills to enable practical action in the world, especially in working out relationships in the world. Skills, unlike ideas, cannot be taught in classrooms. Consider a practical skill such as joinery. There is no such thing as 'Joinerism' that you might be able to get an MA in. Instead you serve an apprenticeship and are recognised by your peers and master joiners as being a 'Journeyman' – able to go from place to place practising your skills and commanding a day's wages for them.

Skills though, are not 'caught' – but they are taught in different ways, as the demands of a proper apprenticeship make manifestly clear. Richard Sennett in his book 'The Craftsman' suggests ways of teaching that avoid the rigidity of fixed rules and working practices – for us creeds and dogmas. He says that instruction must be expressive – 'show, don't tell'. Possible teaching tools, he suggests, are sympathetic illustration, narrative description and use of metaphor.

All demand an active relationship over an extended period. It is not enough to hand out a pamphlet or suggest a reading list – in fact these approaches can send the newcomer down entirely the wrong path, perhaps illustrated by confusion over trying to discover what Quakers believe, when what is needed is to discover how Quakers live – by practising it.

Perhaps this distinction between ideals and skills is most starkly seen in learning how Quakers make decisions – what we call discernment.  In Leonard Joy's submission, from Pacific Yearly Meeting, to the Co-Intelligence Institute (http://www.co-intelligence.org/P-QuakerCI.html), he enumerates 19 practices essential to Quaker decision making. If we think in terms of the 'Quaker Business Method', then these 19 principles have to be learnt in the manner of a catechism, and we have become no different from other religions with their catechisms and prayer books.

Quaker discernment should be viewed as a set of skills, and Joy's 19 practices can then be seen as a 'tool-box', and we need to develop the skills to use the tools effectively. However, Richard Sennett makes the point that tools are not rigid devices only 'fit for purpose', but rather, for the craftsperson, a tool is a dynamic extension of their hands and bodies to enable effective work in varied and demanding situations.

If Quakers are to succeed in the 21st century, and not fall into another idealistic trap to follow Quietism, Evangelicalism and Liberalism, we must first realise that our way is about practice, about living and relating well in the world. Let your lives speak.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Whoosh!

I have just got back from a weekend 'threshing event' at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, discussing the prospects for a renewal of British Quakerism for the 21st Century. Many see this process of growing our spiritual vitality and reaching out to newcomers as already underway, and perhaps signalling a 'transition moment' when the Quaker Way finds a new resonance with the needs of the wider society.

I have written a fuller discussion of the themes of the weekend on Nayler.org here (Nayler is a free online magazine for British Quakers to share their experience along the Quaker way with each other and with newcomers).

The full text of the epistle from the 'Whoosh' event is below:

To all Friends in Britain,

We are 57 Quakers who have gathered at Woodbrooke for the Quaker Life threshing event ‘Whoosh!’  – united by our determination to energise the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, and to help it build on the vitality of the past and present to create fresh fizz and purpose for the future.
We discern a growing confidence within the Religious Society of Friends that our experience-based religion is increasingly what many people are looking for.

Growing numbers of people have rejected all claims to absolute truth, but are hungry for a path of personal and social transformation. This could be a ‘transition moment’ for British Quakers, as we discover a new radicalism in response to turbulent times.

We have been reminded that at the end of the 17th Century Quakers made up 1% of the British population – the equivalent of 600,000 members today. We are convinced that the UK would be a better place with 600,000 Quakers in it.

Our Meetings are facing many challenges from a changing world and the pressure of Quaker business. We need to give ourselves permission to think positively, so that we can recognise our gifts and potential, and be open to transformation.

We have been asked to consider which parts of our lives bring us closer to God. We share a desire to build joyful communities, places that help us live faithfully, and recognise that vibrant Meetings are a channel for God’s love. Should we be more rigorous in testing what we gain from our Quaker roles, being ready to spring-clean our structures when they are not helping us?

How can we use our premises to renew our sense of purpose and reach out to the people who live and work around us?

Do we have the courage to speak with passion and conviction about our spiritual lives? Can we acquire the confidence to find our own words to express the ways in which we understand the divine? Can we encourage others as they reach for the language that is right for them?

How can we share our collective experience and wisdom with and between Meetings? How can we become learning communities, which recognise and foster each others’ gifts?
This conference has been characterised by a clear affirmation of the need for growth, vibrancy and the enrichment of faithful lives. We acknowledge our need for experimentation and openness to change.

We have been inspired by the observation that ‘Quakers are ready to take off’, and by the insight that we do not do this only in our own strength. We ask all Friends to consider how we are led to respond to this challenge to participate in realising God’s purposes for our Society in these times, when a confident Quaker voice is needed more than ever.

Signed in an on behalf of the Whoosh! conference

Paul Parker & Helen Rowlands

Monday, 30 July 2012

New Kids on the Block

My father was born the seventh of eight children. This meant that when he was eight and still a little boy, some of his elder brothers and sisters were twenty-one and more. He said he remembered believing that at that age, they knew it all, and thinking that when he got to twenty-one, he too would know it all. When he reached twenty-one, clearly he found that he didn’t know it all, not by any means. So he had to revise his thinking. His first revision was, ‘They didn’t know it all at all. I have been deceived. They pretended to know it all, and I fell for it.’ (I note that he did not make the mistake of thinking, ‘They did know it all, and the reason I don’t is because I am Inferior.’) Then he revised his thinking again. His second revision, the one that lasted, was, ‘They didn’t know it all, and they didn’t pretend to know it all. I believed they knew it all, because I was only eight. Maybe I needed to believe they knew it all.’ When you have just joined a group for the first time, when you are the new kid on the block, it is very easy to think three things: ‘They are all the same,’ ‘They all know all about it,’ and ‘I know nothing.’ As you get further into the group and get to know its members better, you start to see that they are not all the same (you start to see them as individuals) and you realise that each individual struggles in his own unique way, too. Some people can make a lot of money by persuading us that we can have it all sorted, if only we will buy their latest, improved product. ‘You will have no more bad-hair days if you use [Insert product name here]. You will have no more embarrassing moments if you use [X] deodorant, no more skin problems if you use [Y] cream. You will no longer be what you are afraid you are, a squirming, self-conscious, pathetic adolescent, if you buy our product and no other. You want it, we got it, you can get it only through us, up to and including Salvation. Roll up, roll up.’ Now, we are human beings. Humans don’t do perfect. Maybe God does perfect, but we human beings certainly don’t. We are fallible. No one has it made. No one has it all sorted. This is axiomatic. You can have all the 0 – 60 acceleration, all the RAM, all the gadgets and all the apps in the world, and still you will struggle – as indeed you must, if you take life as it actually is. There is no easy way to be a human being. We humans are not perfect and (I would say) not perfectible on this earth, no matter what the advertisers and cosmetic surgeons will tell you. On the other hand, nor are we irredeemable sinners beyond hope, as the fundamentalists will try to persuade you. The truth is, we are somewhere in the middle. Things and people can be made better, through love and diligence in proper balance. Praise be.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Good Economy

The latest post on Transition Quaker is a reflection on the theme of 'The Good Economy', that was discussed at Britain Yearly Meeting in May.

Many Friends who ministered at the Yearly Meeting sessions on 'economic justice and sustainability' seemed to be anticipating the flourishing of a 'new economy' based on co-operation, fairness, and equality. By contrast, I think we should be preparing for a future of very long-term economic contraction with its inevitable hardships and inequalities, rather than looking to a utopian transformation of society.

Could Quaker communities play an important role in supporting each other through difficult economic times? The current discussions in Sheffield Meeting about our financial future offer an opportunity to deal practically with economic issues in ways that embody our commitments to local resilience and sustainability. I am very much looking forward to seeing what emerges from the process.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Japanese Paper

One of the triumphs of the industrial age is the ability to produce thousands of reams of identical sheets of paper, all exactly the same size, weight, thickness and shade. On these, one may, if one wishes, print thousands of identical copies of the same document. On the other hand, in Japan (for example) you can learn how to make paper, one sheet at a time, incorporating whatever interesting materials come to hand, such as lovely colourful maple leaves. No two sheets are the same. Each has wobbly edges, different thicknesses, no doubt different absorbencies. On these, one may draw a picture, or hand-write a personal letter, a beautiful thought or a charming haiku. I just thought I would mention this.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Magic Eye

Back in the 1990s, someone brought out the Magic Eye books – maybe you remember them. Each page had a complicated pattern, with shapes of leaves or abstract images repeated, like brightly coloured wallpaper. However, designed with a computer, every so often there was a subtle tweak in the pattern, that you couldn’t consciously see. The knack of it was, if you didn’t focus on the pattern itself but gazed through it, a hundred feet past it, so to speak, then somehow your brain reconstructed the pattern and you could see a totally different image, a deer or a teddy bear or goldfish, emerge as foreground with the original pattern as background. It was clearly visible once you got it – almost in 3D. You could virtually look it up and down. I’ve said it was a knack. What you did was, you stopped consciously looking. You gazed, soft focus, and didn’t try to see it. You relaxed all conscious effort, let your eyes freewheel and your mind run down, and your brain would do the job for you. Your contribution was simply to know that it was possible and to expect it to happen. When the new image emerged, you could gaze on it in wonder. Maybe you can already see where I’m going with this: Regarding the Spirit, you can stop consciously striving. You don’t try to believe. As Yoda tells Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, “Try not. Do or do not – there is no try.” If you relax the effort, let your mind freewheel until it has run down, just let your inner self get on with it, then you may get hold of a new awareness, which is quite different from the everyday awareness, and stands out from it in high relief. The caddis worm potters about on the bottom of a stream, incorporating whatever bits and pieces of material happen to be around into its DIY tube, which protects it from harm. I believe that we can potter through life, sifting our experiences, gazing past the everyday bustle and sometimes catching a glimpse of the beyond, on which we are able to gaze in wonder. The world is our stream bed. We are here, we have to live here, we have to acknowledge the world, but we don’t have to take it too seriously. Live in it, use it wisely, be a good steward, pass it on to the next generations in better shape than you found it, if you can – don’t get stuck in it. The world is your paper: write on it, draw on it, fold it into beautiful shapes, or a paper plane and fly it.

Friday, 1 June 2012

On being a Quaker


Britain Yearly Meeting have got a new badge. A Quaker Q with writing round the edge:  I’m a Quaker ask me why.
It’s an outreach effort to get Friends to ‘come out’ as Quakers and open up conversations with people who might want to know more. I work for the outreach team and our aim was to get everyone to leave Yearly Meeting wearing one. So although I’m not a badge wearer I put one on.
The Yearly Meeting session on Sunday afternoon was on the topic of ‘What it means to be a Quaker today’ and was the start of an ongoing process that Quakers in Britain will be exploring for the next few years. The questions behind this are important for us to explore – What does it mean for my life to be a Quaker? What have we got to offer? How do we reach out to those who would like to be with us but don’t know it yet? – and the introduction by Geoffrey Durham was engaging.
He urged us to think deeply and explore adventurously. To value highly the benefits of Quaker discipline and experience and to take what we have found out into the world positively. We have riches Friends, we have much to offer. But the rest of the session didn’t speak to my condition. It felt to me that people got distracted with ideas rather than speaking from their own experience.
I left at the end of the day tired, a bit confused and without really thinking that I was still wearing my badge. And then at the bus stop a young woman asked me about it, asked me what it said and then challenged me with my own question.
‘Go on then,’ she said, ‘why are you a Quaker?’
Internally I flailed slightly but managed to keep my balance.
‘Well, I guess it’s because I love being a Quaker.’
She didn’t know about Quakers, she hadn’t heard of us at all but she wanted to talk and within her limits she was willing to listen.  It turned out she’d just had a difficult encounter with someone who said he was a Baptist and who had told her that she was going to hell because she wasn’t saved. This was a vulnerable young woman, who as our conversation unfolded disclosed past abuse by her father, whose eyes filled tears when she thought about her foster mother having survived cancer three times and who is currently out of work, behind on her rent, playing poker for money and thinking of returning to lap dancing because the money is good.
We got on the same bus and she came to sit next to me to continue talking. She was well turned out but had the translucent skin and sculpted cheekbones of someone who doesn’t eat enough. She judged herself for her ‘badness’ whilst holding out hope of a God she does believe in ‘more like a spirit though, something inside me’. 
She talked, I listened. Where I could I gently encouraged the possibility of a loving message, of ‘that of God in everyone’ and of a continuing process of turning towards the light. I didn’t at any point try suggesting she should come to Quaker meeting or go into any details of what it’s like or what I have discovered there. Not because I don’t want her to come to one, but because I had the sense that it was more important just to be with her, offer my listening for free with no pressure. To hold her in the light as a precious child of God for the short time we had together.
As I got off the bus I said that it had been good to meet her. ‘Vanessa isn’t it?’ I checked, and she nodded. I put my hand on her shoulder. ‘I’ll remember you Vanessa,’ I found myself saying.
She’d probably be surprised how important our meeting was for me. She brought me right to the centre of why it is that I am a Quaker. My conversation with Vanessa didn’t just let me talk about why I’m a Quaker, it allowed me to be more fully Quaker. Because through being a Quaker I have experienced the transforming power of God’s love and our conversation arose from and was imbued with that love.  
If wearing a badge can help open me to opportunities to be a more faithful Quaker then for me, that’s a badge worth wearing. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Trusttees decide against Skyspace

I am deeply concerned that BYM trustees have decided to reject the installation of a James Turrell Skyspace as part of the Friends House, London, refurbishment.
Why are trustees making such a decision? - this is surely a matter for the whole of BYM, and I hope that it will be revisited this weekend at Yearly Meeting 2012. Trustees should be concerned with the management of our affairs, not with matters of deep spirituality. The reasons given in the minute are indeed pedestrian and managerial, and I fear for our future if these sorts of criteria are going to become the norm. Anyone with any sensibility who has visited and experienced a Skyspace should know that the light is from within - it is an utterly immersive experience, removing all boundaries of in and out.
As for the other criteria cited: read the Gospel of John, Chapter 12
Are our trustees about to betray us?

Friday, 18 May 2012

Being Salt and Light in a Broken World, a taste of the Kingdom of Heaven


Some personal reflections on being at the World Conference of Friends in Kenya

Being at the World Conference of Friends in Kenya was a blessing and a gift. Nine days among friends, grounded in worship with plenty of time for talking. 
What’s not to like?
On the first evening I wasn’t sure if I was being called on to be a reserve home group facilitator so I went over their training session to find out. A group of us who had arrived on the last bus walked together along the unlit road to the building where it was being held. Once there I discovered that they had cover enough, so I was free to go. 
I stepped out of the door, into the dark African night, alone.
If I’m honest, I’m a bit scared of the dark. Although I knew that the road was straight and paved, and that I knew the way back from where we’d just come, I was afraid to walk it on my own. It was very dark without street lighting. I thought briefly of turning back into the hall and waiting until the session was over to return with others but pride prevented me. Also I knew that the Friend who had shown us the way over just a few a minutes before had set off back directly, on her own.
‘If she can do it, so can I’ I thought; a comfort and a discipline. And so I took the hand of God and set off into the dark night, one foot before the other, all the way home.
That campus did come to feel like home and being at home amongst so many Friends from around the world felt like a taste of the Kingdom of Heaven. I went to the unprogrammed early morning worship each day and from there to breakfast and from breakfast to the plenary worship session in the main auditorium. That’s the way to start a day. Two hours allocated worship time before half past ten.
The mixture of the plenary worship sessions, planned and delivered by a different ‘section’ each day, gave us the opportunity to experience each other’s worship traditions and to hear from speakers from different parts of the world who explored the conference theme. We heard truth and we experienced community. Many of the speakers were younger Friends and it was striking to hear their depth of wisdom and their confidence and ability to preach to us.
I learned that I would like to have more preaching in my life. I valued being given the insights of someone’s passion and thinking and preparation and devotion. I was thankful for their willingness to make themselves vulnerable by delivering a message to us all and I felt inspired both by what they said and their effectiveness in saying it. I want to speak up more about faith and learn to communicate more effectively too.
Not all the words resonated of course, and sometimes I would have been grateful for more silence. I realised after day one that I was going to have to take notes to have any chance of keeping hold of any of it and this felt a bit peculiar. I generally feel very strongly that note taking during meeting for worship is not on. There was a tendency for us to be enjoined to take part in participation activities – to stand up or join hands or say aloud ‘we are salt and light’ – and in the main this felt awkward and self conscious for me.
However when Jocelyn Burnell (the speaker from the Europe and Middle Section) posed us a series of questions on being broken – ‘Are you carrying grief or some other woundedness?’ ‘Do you feel you have failed in some way?’ ‘Do you have a long term illness or disability?’ – and requested that if we answered yes to any of these questions and felt able to do so we should stand up, it changed the whole dynamic of the conference.
Everyone stood up. We are all broken. It is one of the things that joins us together.
Through being given this opportunity to share together as a body, I felt we, the world community of Friends, were given the space to see that we are all the same.  It was one of the most powerful moments of the conference and once again I was required to revise my opinion, this time on the place of ‘group participation activities’ in worship.
Of course, singing is a commonly used group participation activity in worship and I was prepared for that. There was much singing all through the week and although I can feel rather left out and lonely during singing that wasn’t my experience this time at all. I’m not a singer. I come from an unmusical family and I never learned. So mostly I just don’t sing. I also concur with the idea that you shouldn’t join in with singing words that you don’t agree with just because they’re a song.
There were some instances of this during the week but also many songs which I’d happily join in with if only I knew how. At the beginning of one session I was sitting right up at the far back left corner of the auditorium (two layers of raked seating up) and everyone was singing. We were about to have Nancy Irving’s keynote address so the hall was completely full (a quick note here to reference the work Nancy has done in bringing the Quaker worlds together) and I realised that it would be a good idea if I took the chance to nip to the loo.
I got up from my seat in the back row and sped down the stairs, along the balcony, down the other stairs and across the hall, all the while surrounded by Friends of every colour standing, singing ‘Allelu, Allelu, Alleluiah!’ That felt like a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. It did my heart good.
That song, and the one following it, gave me plenty of time to get back to my seat to hear Nancy’s address! She gave us thoughts on her experience of grace, that it can come prosaically through the need to pay taxes and that it can show God’s hand at work in our lives, if we are listening and willing to respond.
I believe as a community we had the opportunity to experience grace during the conference, not least through the challenges we faced in acknowledging our differences. Such as dealing with our differing opinions about homosexuality. I’m left troubled though by what we did with the opportunity. As recorded elsewhere this came to light most publicly through the matter of the epistle from North American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Friends that had been put up with the other epistles to the conference, and was then taken down.
The public response to the epistle being taken down came from one of the clerks of the conference organising committee. From the platform she told the whole conference that taking this epistle down was ‘an act of hatred and violence.’ Had she said ‘it felt like an act of hatred and violence’ I would have had to accept that this was her experience. But to make an unfounded emotive accusation in this way felt to me to be at best misguided and at worst actively damaging. To one-sidedly escalate a conflict in this way seemed to me like an abuse of power.
In my home group we had a good discussion about the matter and we were able to hold each other’s opinions and feelings without damaging our relationships. We heard from a Friend who said ‘Just tell me where it says in the bible that this gay marriage is ok and then I’ll accept it’ and we heard of the tension between the Inward Guide and the external authority and the ongoing life of Friends’ experience of trying to balance this tension. We heard a clear challenge to taking any authority from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah when it advocates giving up your virgin daughter and her hand maids as an alternative to the intentions of the Sodomites to rape a guest. None of us agreed with rape as an acceptable practice, or of sacrificing virgins.
We heard that in Ezekiel we’re told that if you know your friend is sinning and don’t tell him to stop that God will hold you responsible for his sin as well as your own. And we heard that there was grave concern from our Kenyan Friends that the epistle was up in public, on an open campus where there were reporters present and that if word got out in Kenya that ‘Quakers are ok with people being gay’ that it could seriously compromise the safety of Friends and the Quaker church as a whole. It’s still illegal to be gay in Kenya.
It struck me that we heard that taking down the epistle was probably an act of fear and protection.
And with this understanding of the likely motives of those who had taken it down I began to wonder about the intentions of those who had put it up. I went to look at the epistles and the others were mainly from either recognised constitutional groups of the Society of Friends – YMs or MMs. There was one from American Friends Service Committee (an international organisation) and one from a pre-conference study group (specifically formed in relation to the conference). I query the process by which it was decided to put up an epistle from an informal group from one country which was known in advance to bring a contentious issue into play in a public and unfacilitated way.
When I was choosing a Thread Group to attend I was drawn to the one on ‘Broken Sexuality’ because I knew it was an edgy topic. It was to be facilitated by a Friend from Rocky Mountain YM (USA) and so I did some research to find out what that meant. An American Friend told me ‘That’s a very evangelical, politically conservative, Yearly Meeting. You’ll find they’re more likely to want to tell you what’s right than to listen to other opinions.’ So I signed up to enter the fray.
But then while I walked there (along that road again, this time in the bright daytime sun) I mused on what had been said to me. ‘They’re more likely to want to tell you what’s right than to listen to other opinions.’ It was one of those moments when a voice speaks in my ear: ‘Well, why are you going Rosie? To give your opinion? Or are you willing to listen?’
In the event the group was facilitated with tenderness and sensitivity. We shared from across our range of beliefs and experiences, and the Friend from Rocky Mountain showed clearly that her only agenda was for open and honest communication to take place. I heard some exciting messages from African Friends – about moves towards gender equality and challenges to damaging practices. I could see that they are doing their own work in their own culture, in their own time and that currently homosexuality is not top of their priority list. Which if we look back at our own history we can see it wasn’t for us until after we’d got women sorted with the right to own their own land either.
I was enriched by the experience of this group - I learned from listening and offered what I could to develop the conversation through sharing my experience. As a community we worked together to develop the conversation and through this process we came away richer. And I made sure to go back to the Friend I’d asked about Rocky Mountain YM to tell them that in this case their stereotype was mistaken.
So I know it can be done -we can look beyond our stereotypes and listen to each other. This is how we will gain strength as a community. This is what being a community means. ‘Consider it possible you may be mistaken.’ Friends, the key moment to consider this is exactly at the point that you are most certain that you’re right. It’s considering this that enables us to listen to another experience.
So one of the things that I learned at the World Conference is that I care most passionately about how we deal with conflict, regardless of what the issue is. I care that I’m not inadvertently part of a process that carelessly tramples over sensitive cultural issues without thinking through either how may feel to others or to the potential implications for individuals within our community.  That it’s of key importance to listen and to seek to understand.
In my other Thread Group I was one of the facilitators and it was on the theme of Quakers in Prison. We learned of different work Friends are doing with people affected by prison. Just one example is an amazing story of a woman who has developed work in Rwanda to promote communication and healing between the wives of those who were killed in the genocide and the wives of men imprisoned following it. It was a privilege and an inspiration to share these stories.
In the dinner queue (many of the conversations of the conference happened whilst waiting for food) I was talking with a Norwegian Friend about which Thread Groups we were doing. On hearing of my prison theme she told me that it was because of captured Norwegian sailors meeting Quakers in British prisons that Quakerism came into Norway. Being amongst Friends is rich with such moments of easy sharing of topics of interest.
The dining room was VERY NOISY. All those hundreds of conversations in many different languages echoing round the hall. You could really only easily hear the person sitting right next to you. In some ways it was challenging but in others it gave a vision of determined communication. You looked around the hall and every one was leaning forward straining to hear, shouting to be heard. And that was my primary experience of what the conference was like – we were all leaning towards each other to hear and be heard.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

World Conference of Friends, Kenya 2012


Sheffield Friend Chrisse Hinde attended this once-in-a-generation gathering of Quakers from around the world in Kenya last month. These are some of her reflections on the experience:

The Conference was far more spiritually uplifting and Quaker affirming than I thought or hoped it would be. The venue at Kabarak University was very lush and spacious, filled with beautiful trees and flowers, giving the whole conference a very relaxed ambience. We were about 850 Friends in total but it didn’t feel crowded. The Kenyan Quakers (approx 400 at the conference) were very welcoming and had done some fundraising in order for us to have a subsidised excursion day mid way through. A Kenyan Friend remarked: ‘In Kenya we welcome visitors as blessings’.

Each morning a different FWCC section led the Semi-programmed worship session. The programmed ministry from inspirational speakers around the globe was first class and continues to uplift and challenge me as I reflect on it. Our European and Middle Eastern section talk was by Jocelyn Burnell who spoke of our ‘brokenness’ being a place from which can learn a great deal and advised us not to rush to heal our pain. She quoted Thornton Wilder: ‘In love’s service only the wounded can serve’. Thomas Owen (Asia and West Pacific section) spoke of how man created religion in order to know God, not vice versa, so all religion is limited and flawed but for him Quakers offered the best system for relationship with the Spirit and Community. Most of the talks are available on the web site. www.saltandlight2012.org

Our home group of 15 did feel like a Quaker family. We were mixed with half Kenyan Quakers, 3 British, an Australian and 3 North Americans. When we started one of the Kenyan Friends pointed out that most of the white folks were sat on one side and black folks on the other! From that point on we made a point of mixing up each session. We talked about our Meetings back home and our different styles of worship.

As the week progressed we shared our experiences of other styles of worship. African Friends from programmed Meetings had come to our early morning unprogrammed worship, and spoke of how they encountered a deeper connection with God in the silence. I and others shared how much the regular singing opened us up to the spirit in a way that talking didn’t, and through dance we could embody our praise, and prayers helped us to focus more immediately. We were given a song book and singing formed a regular part of our worship.

We also shared our different views on whether it was OK to be Gay. One Kenyan Quaker said he’d been to Pendle Hill, where he’d met Lesbian and Gay Quakers who were more spiritual than him and they have become his friends. He no longer had a problem with Gay Friends. One of our ground rules in the home group was to use ‘I’ statements, as we’d anticipated some conflict, but people were very respectful, and the group did feel safe, grounded and a place where we could share difference.

It’s fair to say that as a World Gathering we didn’t achieve unity on whether it is OK to be LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). This remains a yawning divide, but I remain convinced that it’s often the small conversations, spoken from the heart, that make a difference. I did find it painful when people gave anti-gay ministry quoting the Bible, and I felt for my fellow LGBT comrades, but I appreciated people’s honesty and willingness to stay engaged. There was a huge amount of good will and desire for unity that was palpable, and for me made our divisions bearable.

The visit to our Gathering by Ex President and Kabarak Chancellor Daniel Arap Moi, seemed to derail us, and for me felt discordant and disturbing. It caused further division amongst us as we couldn’t find unity on how he should be greeted, or indeed whether we should be meeting on his land and enjoying his hospitality! I think many Kenyan’s felt hurt by the strong objections raised. Many of them felt it necessary and right to observe the custom of addressing him as ‘Your Excellency’ and to stand when he entered and left the auditorium. My impulse was to do the right thing by our Kenyan hosts, but there was a strong sense by many others that we’d really compromised our core values as Quakers, in the way we did greet him. It was a big rupture that left me and many others very heavy hearted.

I attended a thread group on Broken Sexuality, which was very skillfully facilitated (thankfully!) It gave us a chance to bring our differences on LGBT issues to a supported setting. African Friends invited their friends to the 2nd and 3rd session saying ‘we never get a chance to talk about sex’. The African women in particular wanted to talk about rape, domestic violence, polygamy and gender inequality. It was precious to have a place we could talk openly about these painful and difficult issues.

I also attended a thread group on Quakers & American Civil Rights. I chose this partly because it was co facilitated by Vanessa Julye (who wrote ‘Fit for Freedom not for Friendship’.) It was also facilitated by Hal Weaver (who wrote ‘Black Fire’). We covered dubious aspects of Quaker history in which some Friends were slave owners and Klu Klux Clan members. Also how African Americans were not permitted in many Quaker Meetings in 1950s. I learnt about the BlackQuaker Project, which celebrates, researches and documents achievements of Black Quakers of African decent.

I discovered that some North American Meetings have stopped using the term Overseer because of its use to describe those overseeing the Slave Plantations, and thought this a very good move. A Jamaican Friend now living in UK spoke of how she continued to be wounded by insensitive racist remarks from well meaning Friends and had often considered leaving, but chose to stay. This continues to prod me into thinking we need to do more to welcome our wonderfully diverse community in Sheffield into our Meeting.

The party on the last night of the Gathering was a truly amazing occasion. Kenyan musicians blasted out funky dance tunes causing a huge body of Quakers to get to their feet and, strut, sway and gyrate themselves around the auditorium in crocodile formation. Young and old, gay and straight, black and white Friends united in joyful celebration. It’s an image and a memory I will treasure for the rest of my days. A perfect finale to this wonderful event. I feel hugely blessed to be part of a world family of Quakers and to have met Friends from the far reaches of our planet. Asante sana FWCC!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Same sex marriage and weddings


I have heard it said from official Quaker quarters that we should not call a same sex union a 'marriage' or call the ceremony a 'wedding'. This includes not using the words on the certificate. (NB: it seems that this was a misunderstanding, and hopefully the revised marriage procedure which treats everyone as equally as we possibly can under the law and uses the terms 'wedding' and 'marriage' for all will be accepte3d at Yearly Meeting next week. However, my own feelings in what follows still stand.)

It seems to me that Quakers have got so caught up in legal procedure and respectability that we have forgotten our heritage.

The original purpose of a Quaker marriage certificate was to provide public recognition of the act of marriage. It was signed by everyone present to give legal weight to the public declaration by showing that it was witnessed by lots of people. The certificate could be presented by the meeting to a magistrate to show that the couple’s children were not bastards and that they could hold property together and bequeath it to them, and so subvert the challenges of disaffected relatives.

We need to go back to our radical roots and actively demonstrate total equality by using exactly the same language on our marriage certificates irrespective of the sex of the couple. These means calling it a marriage and calling the ceremony a wedding, since there are no better words available.

It took a 100 years before there was implicit recognition of Quaker marriages in law (Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753), and nearly another 100 years before there was explicit recognition (Marriage Act 1836). It will hopefully not take as long for full equality in marriage to be recognised in law, but in the meantime we should boldly witness to full equality for Quaker marriage in our meetings for worship, and leave the civil partnership legislation to it's own devices.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Idolatry


“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2)

“.... they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? ….say …. I Am hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus 3:13,14)

“And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, ..... we wot not what is become of him.” (Exodus 32:32)

Relationships are hard work. Communities cannot be created, or be built, or grow. A community can only be lived. You have to look into the burning bush; you have to climb up the mountain. It takes time and effort. You have to sweat it out. You have to let yourself be knocked down, then you have to get up again. You have to be broken and stay broken.

Oh how much easier it is to migrate into one's own head, and create there an image that will comfort us and purport to show us the way. To let other people tell us the way instead of working it out for ourselves. To read all about it in books instead of telling our own story.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4,5)

We might not bow down and worship golden calves, we might well keep our meeting houses free of distracting images. But if all we are doing in worship is contemplating the image in our heads, then it is still idolatry.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Land and Freedom in Zimbabwe


The latest post on Transition Quaker has some observations on the political situation in Zimbabwe, and especially the contested area of land reform. Zimbabwe is almost always viewed as a 'failed State', with a society and economy devastated by a corrupt dictatorship. My experience of living and working in Matabeleland has suggested the situation is more complex, and caused me to question the way that our media represents Zimbabwe and perhaps other 'pariah States' too. You can read the full article here.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Quakers and Worship

Quakers describe themselves as a 'Religious Society' and call the central act of their society a 'Meeting For Worship'. Yet, to hear Quakers talk about this you would think that Quakerism is a religion and we meet together to worship God. There is a world of difference between 'having a religion' and being 'religious', and this difference becomes very apparent when trying to work through the Quaker admonition that everything is sacred.

If one's actual practice in life – which may be different from what one says – is to 'have a religion' then it is impossible for everything to be sacred, because you will have other things besides a religion. What will happen is that everything will become secular. Before one knows it, the use of the terms 'religious' and 'worship' will become problematic and the call to remove these terms from what we say and write will grow ever stronger.

However, if you are 'religious' the whole world is seen in terms of personal relationships, and the secular – that which we do in the world – is superseded by the sacred – that sense of intimate relationship in the world. Worship is the symbolic expression of that relationship in all its fullness, for which the idea of God may or may not be helpful.

The choice is ours in all its starkness: are we an ethical society of individuals who do good works in the world, which we then contemplate in the silence, or are we a community that expresses itself in worship, entering into expectant waiting to discern the good works waiting for us to do.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


A few thoughts on meditation sessions at Sheffield Friends Meeting House


Meditation is very much in vogue these days. The recent batch of meditation sessions at the Quaker Meeting House started on Thursday 24 November 2011. A few of us were sitting in the Meeting House library at about 8pm meditating on light. As I write this down, it sounds to me like a rather quaint thing to do -- and I guess it was. When we finished, a few of us said, 'That was good. Why don't we do this more often -- perhaps weekly -- perhaps on Sunday morning before meeting?' So we decided to run a few trial sessions. The first Sunday morning Experiment with Light meditation took place on Sunday 27 November 2011 and we have been meeting every Sunday since that date. 'What has all this meditation achieved?' you might ask. I can only answer for myself, and that is to say that I feel a lot more connected. Connected to the people I meditate with, connected to everyone I see on Sunday at the Meeting House, connected to the seat I sit on and connected to the thoughts and feelings that people share on Sundays. [To be continued].

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Transition Quaker

Some observations on the food culture of Zimbabwe, and parallels with some of the local food movements here in the UK, are on my new blog 'Transition Quaker'. The aim of the blog is to explore some of the current movements towards building a sustainable and life-enhancing society from a Quaker perspective. I hope it will also develop some of the themes in the essay I submitted to the Friends Quarterly competition in 2009 on the theme of 'The Future of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain'. I will also be posting miscellaneous topics here, taking advantage of having some extra time to think, while I shovel manure in the Moss Valley...

Monday, 2 April 2012

Friends' "Loyal Address" to "Her Majesty"

I don't know how many Friends have seen the text of the 'Loyal Address' presented to the Queen on our behalf last week as part of the Diamond Jubilee ceremonies. The full text, with an interesting range of comments is on Jez Smith's 'Nayler' blog here.

On the whole it strikes me as lacking the forthrightness that I would expect in an official statement on behalf of Friends. As one of the commentators on the Nayler blog (an American Friend) writes:
This message shows only the tiniest inkling of courage — of the real courage that many Friends demonstrate in other situations and which is, in a way, slightly betrayed here, or at least undersold. This address just speaks mutually congratulatory platitudes to power.
 I wonder what Sheffield Friends make of it?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Hlekweni - The Movie


This short (5 minute) video of Hlekweni was filmed in one day and finished just last week - complete with soundtrack by the trainees (available soon on CD....)

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Rule Of The House

Economy: from the Greek 'rule of the house':

Customers want banks to lend them money at a competitive rate of interest, and support them in their business activities.
Shareholders just want banks to make fat profits so that they get big dividends and increased share value and the executives just want fat bonuses for making the most money.

Meanwhile..

The wife and kids want the man of the house to go out and earn a good wage to get food and warmth and clothing.
The man of the house just wants to get as much money as possible for as little work as possible.

No wonder gambling is so tempting........

So the customers get better rates of interest and the wife and kids get the odd present from the winnings. And then they want a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more......

And then the bubble bursts, for, as we all should know, the house always wins.

BUT: the banks get bailed out by the taxpayer, while the gambler gets slung in the debtors prison. Meanwhile in both cases the foolish ordinary people left behind lose everything.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Richard Sennett:Together


There is a new book out by Richard Sennett, an American sociologist who rose to prominence with a book called The Fall of Public Man (1977). In this new book, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation (2012) he writes about (from the blurb):

Sennett contends that cooperation is a craft, and the foundations for skillful cooperation lie in learning to listen well and discuss rather than debate.

Sounds very much like a description of Quaker practice wouldn't you say?
Might be worth a look.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Truro Vean Meeting, Cornwall


I was at Truro meeting this morning. I would like to share a few photos of the meeting house. It is very beautiful, from the early 1800s. It is close to the town and looks out across towards the Cathedral. When I was sitting in meeting I was wondering what the early Quakers in Truro made of the Cathedral and whether they bridled at the church bells ringing so stridently. I was speaking to one of the members, a historian of early Quakers in Cornwall. She told me that the early meetings had women and men sitting separately, not to keep them apart she said hastily, but so that the men could react if they were attacked and keep the women and children safe.

The building is quite large. Today’s meeting and most of them unless it is very warm, are held in a smaller meeting room just across the corridor. The large meeting room is cold. It was heated in living memory by a tortoise stove they called it with coal brought up in two buckets from the cellar.

There is a top bench, well above the main room that was the Minister’s Gallery. I’d not heard about this but apparently, even as late as the 1920s there were Ministers, recognised for their skill at Ministry I presume. I was told that they were often travelling and this Gallery was reserved for them.

The lower bench in front, still set above the main room was the Elder’s bench and very cold and hard too I was told!

The back wall of the main room is made up of wooden paneling. This can be raised on pulleys if needs be, allowing more to see the goings-on inside. There is a Quaker library in the building too but I didn’t get the chance to go inside this time.

Thanks to and Greetings from Truro Meeting, a lovely place to share silent worship if you are here or roundabout.

Monday, 16 January 2012

African Haiku II



On the stony path
a girl is walking barefoot
school shoes on her head

The endless road South
driving through pale butterflies
for a hundred miles

Some more African haiku here

Friday, 13 January 2012

Tell your story

In a community, truth is communicated through story.

However, we are so used to truth as statements and propositions that we think that we have to explain everything. This is all well and good in the practical world of getting and doing. But if we try and explain the story of our life, we impose our own beliefs on that story, and so exclude others who do not share those beliefs. We destroy the potential for sharing and growing, through which community emerges.

Just tell your story plainly and simply – those who have ears will hear.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

famous last words


In a parish church in Sheffield, a barn of a building, so spacious inside, looking at a stained glass window my eyes are drawn to a dedication and not the image. The size of the building and an imagined small congregation brings to me how short a time has elapsed between the grand schemes of founders and today. It seems arrogant in one way yet a last exhalation in another; famous last words. And that's where I was drawn, to dedication, words in stained glass, a text of pride, a practice of pathos outlasting the gospel it frames.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

in permanance


Sitting in a café on the high street, looking out across the road I suddenly notice a young woman standing in a telephone kiosk; still while people on the street pass by.

I realise she runs the stall selling hats and scarves. Her stillness surprises me, emphasising how busy I am, how busy we often are.

Someone stops to look at the hats. Or I assume they do as she disappears from view, her permanence animated by someone joining in.


Monday, 2 January 2012

Occupy, Punch and Judy

The occupation has been in front of the Cathedral for a couple of months now. At meeting we know several friends have been supportive in one way or another and the general sense of conversation has been in favour of giving assistance to the movement. The model of general assemblies appeals to Quaker sensibilities as does the absence of leadership. Something is going on which is in a way nothing: meaning that it is difficult to disagree with Occupy, it is a bit like disagreeing with the Sermon on the Mount. As if the meek shouldn’t inherit the earth.

I’ve had a number of disagreements with people I know and respect over the past few days about Occupy Sheffield. I was very moved by their occupation of the Salvation Army Citadel (The Citadel of Hope) in the town centre before the New Year. In fact I was positively jealous! I’ve been watching that place for a few years now fantasising about what could be done with it. I follow what is going on through twitter and have seen a few photos of the inside and I’m looking forward to looking inside.

I was discussing this all over a meal the other evening and I and friend, an anthropologist, decided we wanted stay the night at the occupation together sometime later in January. We want to support it but also, it is true, to see inside a little more, to register our interest in what is happening, to have more sense of the mechanics place, to be part of the socialisation. This is a fairly bland aim but when we discussed it with the others at dinner we found that there was a fair amount of negativity towards the occupation from some quarters.

The objections were about the value of a movement that had no base in a broad based struggle within the city. The occupation was accused of being at once too middle class, peopled by those with the option to return to comfort, and marginal. It was viewed as somehow pointless, what could it achieve? It alienated people by being seated in an profoundly alternative world that set it irrevocably apart from the experiences and desires of normal people, of that broad swathe of the 99% whose (op)position it aims to voice.

One friend present, whose daughter had visited the camp, was cross because those present at the time of her visit had alienated her, not been able to accommodate her concerns about the utility of the camp. Here was my main area of agreement with them, I too, despite knowing several people who have been there regularly from the earliest days and nights, do not feel comfortable walking up and speaking to them. It feels a bit like wandering up to a sound system at a festival when you aren’t really aware of what music they play, if they want you there and a whole host of other inadequacies.

However, to return to my point: by and large I disagreed with the detractors. Why I asked did it concern you so much? What was the issue with Occupy? You do not complain so severely of the presence and practices of the banks opposite? Nor even of the commercial practices of the cafes or department stores on Fargate? All those brand names, those chain stores. Why object to Occupy which feels almost like a brand name, not for a product, but for a way to organise, a way to discuss, a way to keep issues of inequality in a public arena? There lies, if nowhere else, its profound value: it keeps questions open, it attracts discussion and maintains a set of effective punch and judiesque figures around which an audience, in debt to so much offered by inequality, can gather, laugh or ridicule.

Take the motion put forward by Jillian Creasy, the Green Party councillor, earlier in December. However toned down was the eventual motion passed by the Council, it forced a debate on issues of principal which is, I suspect, comparatively rare in pragmatic political arenas, the very fields where it matters.

Good luck to them and I’ll go to the performance some time soon.