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.