Friday, 22 August 2014

Swarthmore Lecture Video

This is the video of Ben Pink Dandelion's Swarthmore Lecture, delivered at Yearly Meeting Gathering recently. There is a brief discussion of some of the issues raised in the lecture over at Transition Quaker. The book of the lecture is called 'Open for Transformation: Being Quaker', and a couple of copies are available in the Sheffield Central Quaker Meeting library.
It would be great to know what Friends think of the lecture, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Do It Yourself
We all know we are going to die. Well, technically. There’s a strong rumour going around that everyone dies. Most of us have no intention of actually doing so. (Most people don’t make a will. A will is something which you can’t do after you’re gone. It’s a sort of letter from the person who is now dead to those who are not yet dead, saying what he wants done with his body and other earthly stuff. Most people never write that letter, so most people don’t think it will ever happen to them.)
Many people believe that there is somewhere else you go to after you die on this Earth. (Many people do not.) They say, “You can’t take it with you.” Assuming just for a minute that there is somewhere or some dimension you go to when you die, is there anything that you can take with you? The ancient Egyptians seemed to think so, because they put a lot of good stuff (including food and beer) into the graves of the dead. We now realise that you can’t take your body and all the other earthly stuff you have accumulated. Money, house, garden, car, clothes? No. All those stamps or china souvenirs or Man Utd programmes you assiduously collected over the years? No.
Anything? Well, if you can take anything with you, it won’t be anything physical, which doubtless won’t make the cut. Possibly your memories, experience, wisdom. Possibly those. Many cultures (again, at least from the ancient Egyptians on) have believed that you take with you a sort of personal CV, a record of all the good deeds and bad deeds you did – as well as the good deeds you could have done but didn’t. Before you die, or even as soon as you are born, some cultures get you working for a Lifetime Achievement Award – salvation, sainthood, martyrdom. Other cultures say, “Live now. Now is all we get.”
I can not prove any of this stuff, but I suspect that Now is not all we get, but that we also get And Now for This Bit (even And Now for Something Completely Different). I have no idea what it will be like for me (who am still alive) or is being like for those who have already died. They know (or they don’t, if there isn’t) but I have yet to find out (or not, as the case may be).
On the other hand, I don’t agree with not living Now but saving up all the expectation of the good bits for the World to Come. If I was one of Them Up There (however you define them, up and there) would I be eager to greet someone who has been waiting all his life to get Up There with Us, and so hasn’t really lived Down There? I don’t think so. I might have to meet a lot of people who will be wandering around saying, “Blimy! I didn’t know all this. I mean, I’d heard people talking, but . . .” But I think I would rather greet someone to whom I could say, “You have lived x days or years on the Earth – tell us about it. What can you say?”
There was a time when, if you wanted something, you just plucked it off the tree or picked it up off the ground. Many of our nearest relatives in the animal kingdom still do that. Then we (and some of our relatives) learned a new trick: If you want some-thing, make it – you can make it yourself. We already stood and walked on only two of our four limbs, leaving the two handy ones to carry stuff. Then we got to the point where someone invented bags, so that we could carry a great deal more than just what we could hold in our two hands. That was extremely useful, because (since they could hardly walk for themselves) we had to carry our little ones.
But then we got to where the things we wanted to own became so complex that no one person could make all they needed for themselves. This is where the division of labour came in: “You’re good at knapping flints, so you knap the flints. I’m good at hunting – I’ll hunt. She’s good at cooking, so maybe she’ll cook for us.” This was rapidly followed by barter, coin of the realm, paper money, mortgage rates and the rest.
We now have an economy, in the developed countries, where most people don’t make anything, but do a lot of buying and selling of what some other people make. That may be OK when it comes to farmers growing food, builders building, or factories making clothes. It may also be OK to let other people write stories for you, furnish your house, write the messages in your greetings cards, make you laugh, and so on. But are you really going to rely on others for your memories, experience and wisdom?
Are you really intending, when you get Up There (if there is an Up There) and when They say (if there are They), “You have lived on the Earth – tell us about it,” to say, “Well. . . I did a lot of shopping”?