Wednesday, 30 April 2014

'Quaker Basics' coming soon

What is supposed to be happening in Meeting for Worship? How do Quakers make decisions? Who runs things in a Quaker Meeting? What are the Testimonies?

'Quaker Basics' - a new series of evening sessions to find out all those things no-one ever explained about the Quaker Way... 

Fortnightly on Tuesday evenings – 7pm to 9pm at the Quaker Meeting House

May 6th    Quaker Worship
May 20th  Quaker Discernment 
June 3rd    Quaker Origins
June 17th  Quaker Testimonies
July 1st     Quaker Community

Each session includes a short talk, sharing and discussion in small groups, and a short period of worship. Ideal for newcomers to Quakers to learn more about the Quaker Way, or for more experienced Friends to share and explore with others. All welcome.

For further details contact Kate Napier, Paul Hunt or Craig Barnett

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Effing the Ineffable

All right, this is naughty of me. Ineffable means cannot be expressed, from the Latin, in- meaning not, and effor meaning to utter. The word effable – can be expressed – does exist, but is archaic. Eff doesn’t exist – at least, not in polite company. Scientists studying primates – lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans – believe they have discovered a positive relationship between the size of the groups in which a species typically lives and the size of its brain. That is, if an animal lives in small groups, it doesn’t need a very big brain, but if it lives in bands, troops or clans, it needs a larger brain, so as to keep up with who everyone is. (This operates species by species, not individual by individual. Just because you personally have a lot of friends doesn’t mean that you personally have a large brain, just that you get out a lot.)
It seems the maximum number of humans who can know each other reasonably well, interact and cooperate with each other is about a hundred and fifty. There are some companies which, if the work force expands and reaches about two hundred, will divide into two companies of about a hundred each. I know that some people reckon their ‘friends,’ such as their Facebook contacts, in hundreds or even a thousand. They don’t have larger than average brains either, just a large hard drive. They probably need to get out more; fresh air now and again would do them good.
Suffice to say that we humans (or most of us) probably have a rather effective face-recognition app somewhere in our neural networks, which allows us to know and recognise about a hundred or a hundred and fifty acquaintances. Some people can’t do this. The very well-known and well-respected neurologist, Professor Oliver Sacks, can’t recognise faces, but can identify who someone is only when they speak to him. Professor Sacks clearly has voice-recognition software, rather than face-recognition.
I heard of a man whose face was seriously injured and scarred – I forget just how. Maybe it was a road traffic accident involving glass fragments. His face was badly damaged, but was successfully put together again by highly skilled plastic surgeons. The only problem was, he said, it was a good enough face, symmetrical and well-made, but it wasn’t his face any more. He found it very difficult and depressing to wake up each morning and have to wash and shave a face which he couldn’t recognise as his own.
Here’s the thing: you know the difference between an orchestra tuning up deedle deedle dee and an orchestra actually playing music, because the music means some-thing to you, but it is extremely difficult to put into words just what the music means. In fact, this is why orchestras exist: if the meaning of music could be conveyed in words, it would be a lot easier and cheaper to write a letter or send an e-mail than to train, fund and rehearse a whole orchestra. Professional music critics find it hard to describe music in words, and when they do, many people won’t agree with them anyway.
Likewise, it is often easy enough to recognise a face (although telling identical twins apart can be challenging) but very difficult to describe someone’s face to a third party so that the third party can identify the person. This is the problem that notoriously confronts detectives who question eye witnesses when seeking to identify someone they have seen. Classically, the police end up looking for a tall, short, bearded, clean-shaven, blond, dark-haired white man of mixed race. That’s the joke, but the police will tell you that there is truth in it.
So what distinguishes one very average, middle-of-the-range face from another? We can see it when we see it, but it seems impossible to say it. One technique is to say, “He looked a bit like [name a famous actor], but a bit [thinner].” It would be good if there was a standard bank of famous faces to use as a reference. I imagine that an experienced police artist or Identikit operator is skilled in evoking the key features of a face from eye witnesses.
What is the meaning of this, the spiritual equivalent? As a Quaker, what am I on about? It’s a case of struggling to express in words what we do not have words to say, like the meaning of music or the likeness of God. Now do you see? How to eff the ineffable. We can but try.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

What it means to be a Quaker today

This current question intrigues me.   I would love if a variety of perspectives could be put forward from within our community so that we could all gain a greater clarity as to what it means for us to be Quakers today.  I am mindful of George Fox’s words (Quaker Faith & Practice: 19.07): “Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say”?  So I dare to offer my perspective trusting that others may feel led to do likewise!
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From a personal point of view, being a Quaker means that I seek at all times to take heed of the promptings of love and truth in my heart – trusting them as the leadings of God - always recognising that they will show me my darkness, but bring me new life. (Advice & Queries: 1)
John Macmurray, (Swarthmore Lecture, 1965) has helped me to understand that there is no such thing as a ‘person in isolation’ but only ‘persons in relationship’. So, as part of a Quaker community I feel invited to meet regularly for worship with F/friends bringing with me this same trust.  Then in the silence of worship, I seek to open myself to the spirit of God communicating directly to my heart but also indirectly through the ministry of others. My faith (trust) as a Quaker includes my willingness to share with others, as seems appropriate, what comes to my heart & mind in worship and my willingness to listen with an open heart & mind to what F/friends are moved to share in their ministry.
 Hopefully following on from worship we all go forward with a sense of  having being enriched. Then, actively in the world, as a community,  we endeavour ‘to let our lives speak’ and in various ways contribute  towards the building of God’s kingdom.  To me this is best understood  as a universal community of friendship in which under God all persons  are equal and free.