Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Thoughts for 2017

In January 1932, the Quaker philosopher John Macmurray broadcast a series of talks on the BBC. What would become known as the Great Depression was biting hard and unemployment and poverty were on the rise, whilst in Europe Mussolini was in power in Italy and Adolf Hitler would grab power in Germany in the next few months.

Transcripts of these talks and earlier broadcast talks were later published as 'Freedom In The Modern World'.

This is how he concluded his final talk:

John Macmurray
Why can we not act greatly for the solution of our international economic problems? Why do we simply watch our social system going to pieces before our eyes? Why are we paralysed? Because we are afraid, afraid of one another, afraid of ourselves, afraid of the consequences of any decisive action. We are fear-determined, and our one demand is the fear-demand, the demand for security, for protection. Our dilemma lies in the fact that the more we try to defend ourselves the more we destroy ourselves by isolating our selves more and more from one another. You have noticed, have you not, that our efforts to solve a confessedly international problem only seem to increase nationalism? That is because it is fear that is the motive force of our efforts to solve the problem. There is only one way in which we can escape from the dilemma, and that is by destroying the fear that is at the root of it.
I do not think that Christianity will save us from the things we are afraid of. I think it would save us from the fear of them which paralyses us. … Real Christianity stands to-day, as it has always stood, for life against death, for spontaneity against formalism, for the spirit of adventure against the spirit of security, for faith against fear, for the living colourful multiplicity of difference against the monotony of the mechanical, whether it be the mechanization of the mind, which is dogmatism, or the mechanization of the emotions, which is conformity.
What are we to do about it? ... how does one begin to grow faith? How does one set about developing freedom of feeling, and rid oneself of fear? … It is you and I who are afraid, … Whatever we do will be wrong till we are put right. If we start trying to set our feelings free we will just be making the dilemma worse; because we shall use our intellects to force ourselves to feel and to act from feeling, and the whole action will be a sham. It would only express what we think we feel, or what we think we ought to feel; and our last state would be worse than the first. We should turn our fear of feeling into a fear of not feeling, our fear of spontaneity into a fear of not being spontaneous. Reverse your fear, change its object, and it is still fear. We are in a vicious circle. Until we are healed we cannot act healthily.
What we have to do is to wait and be quiet; to stop our feverish efforts to do something; to cease our fruitless attempt to save ourselves. Salvation, if it comes to us, must come from outside. We must wait for the new thing to be born in us; for the new light to be manifested to us. Even to look is useless, for our eyes are blinded. We can only be quiet and wait, expectant but unworried, for the creative word that will say, ‘Let there be light.’ There is nothing else to be done. The next word is not with us, but with reality.
'Be quiet, be still–the world is not resting on our shoulders; if it were, heaven help it! If we are so futile and stupid, why should we be saved? And if our civilization is sham, what point is there in its preservation? Drop this stupid struggle against the reality of things; there cannot be anything real to be afraid of.’ For we all know by this time that what we want is a new and better social order, which will be built and enjoyed by better men and women than we are; and obviously, if we are to have a new world we must let the old one go. Even if it is like death to turn our backs upon it, to stand still and see all our defences crumble and our security vanish like smoke, … that ‘he that loseth his life shall keep it’. It is possible for [persons] and for societies of [persons] to be reborn, even if it is impossible to have them reconstructed.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Our Spiritual Review

As a Meeting, we discerned in June 2016 that it was the right time to embark as a whole meeting on a review of our experience of our Meetings for Worship; we want to listen deeply to one another and enrich our lives as a worshipping community.

We hope that all the many and different existing groups and committees will make a space to reflect together. And there will be lots of other opportunities to meet individually or in different groups to deepen our spiritual lives together; for more details, please look on the review noticeboard or ask an overseer.

Questions to use to talk, listen and reflect….
What is my experience of meeting for worship? 
What do we value in our meetings for worship? 
Sometimes I feel helped by meeting for worship and sometimes I don’t. What makes the difference? 
What (one thing) would make a really helpful difference to my experience of meeting for worship? 
What keeps me coming to meeting for worship and what prevents me?
We suggest, whenever and however Friends are meeting to reflect together, that we all…

Spend time together in silent worship.

Take unhurried time to reflect together using the questions/ conversation starters above.

Write a minute or find another way of sharing your responses to these questions….a painting? a poem? a blog post? There will be a noticeboard and table in the social space for this purpose and/or you can email

We will be exploring creative ways of ensuring we can share together as much as possible.

It would also be helpful to have a list where possible of the names of those who have met so we can ensure as many Friends as possible are included.

The Spiritual Review planning group, on behalf of Sheffield Central Local Quaker Meeting

Friday, 7 October 2016

Just Sit

Just sit there right now
Don't do a thing
Just rest.
For your separation from God,
From love,
Is the hardest work
In this world.


Friday, 13 May 2016

Spring Haiku

Despite everything

the leaves come out. The Spring still

won't give up on us.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Divesting from fossil fuels? Inspiring returns from community renewable energy

Quakers have been a lead in divesting from fossil fuels. Here is my personal story.

As the pressure is on to be open and transparent about our investments and tax returns, I am coming clean that I decided to invest my modest NHS pension pot, not in an off shore unit trust, but in renewables, run by cooperatives. One of which is Four Winds Energy Coop.

If you don’t want to read any further I highly recommend the video on their website  “how coal country can spark a clean energy revolution.”

I attended the Four winds energy coop  AGM on the 19th March in Barnsley which included a site visit to their 500kw turbine on a disused colliery site at Shafton. The coop have two 500kw turbines up and running on old colliery sites. The Shafton turbine pictured here which started generating in July 2015, and the other one at Duckmarton, near Chesterfield, which started generating in December 2014.
Close to, the turbine seems vast. The shaft is 70 meters tall. All we could hear was a gentle purr. We were shown inside by the members of the board who were very experienced retired people, who had been working in a voluntary capacity for several years to get this to happen. One, a retired electrical engineer, told us the turbine was bought and imported from the Netherlands. He told us at the beginning of his working life there were 6 factories in the UK manufacturing turbines, now there are none. The picture on the right is the computer control screen from inside the turbine.  It was really impressive to see how the blades alter their pitch and direction in response to wind speed and direction. The turbine has been generating electricity for nine months and generated one million kw hours, roughly enough electricity for 500 households. Looking 360 degrees from the turbine we could see the communities of Grimesthorpe, Cudworth and our  view about 500 houses.  However, in the UK you can’t sell electricity directly to your local community, like you can in Germany, so this electricity is sold to the grid with remuneration through the Feed in Tariff(FITs). Instead the agm decided that in future years 5% of any dividend should go to a community fund and if possible, one that addresses fuel poverty. The Duckmanton turbine started generating in December 2014 and they have a community fund up and running, working with the local primary school who want to fit solar panels on their roof.

The AGM itself was both inspiring and depressing. The accounts indicated the coop paid for the secretariat services of the parent energy renewable coop, Energy 4 All, which amounted to one part time job and salary. The directors received no fees, just modest travel expenses. (Rather different from any bank or building society!)The deeply depressing information was that the coop had plans for 6 further turbines all on disused colliery sites in Yorkshire, but these are no longer viable due to the governments changes in policy..viz:making planning permission much harder, massively reducing the FITs, and  stopping tax incentives for investing in renewables.

I think this example of Four Winds coop shows what can be done, and at the same time exposes the total hypocrisy and deceit of our government. David Cameron signed the climate Change agreement in Paris last December to commit to massively reducing our fossil fuel emissions and build up our renewables, and also declares he wants to encourage local enterprise and initiatives.  With policies that cramp initiatives such as the Four Winds coop what is going on? Can we hold him to account?

But above all I am filled with gratitude for those men and women who put their all into making these turbines whirr.

If anyone is interested to look into investment in community renewables I can recommend
Triados renewables, now called Thrive renewables.
and Energy 4 All

Heather Hunt
11th April 2016

Monday, 25 January 2016

Noisy Silence

Recently I attended, for the second time, the Sunday service of a Sheffield Apostolic Church that has emerged from within the Slovakian Roma community. It has been brought from Slovakia and holds services on Sunday afternoons in Sheffield. It takes place entirely in Romany. The service lasts over 2 1/2 hours and is made up of quite a long period of singing followed by a long and impassioned sermon and then some more songs and ending with a prayer. I was the only non-Roma person in attendance and I stayed towards the back of the congregation (about a hundred adults and twenty or thirty children).

What struck me was the facility we have for finding silence and space for contemplation amongst noise. I sat there at the back and I suppose for a time the service became a sort of white noise within which I bore witness briefly and silently to the Quaker tradition.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Spiritual Journey

'Spiritual Journey' is, it seems, used by everyone of a religious or spiritual persuasion. But what does it mean? There is no actual physical journey, so it must be a metaphor. Unfortunately, like all metaphors, it can be misunderstood or misused. For me, the most problematic misuse of the metaphor 'journey' is to think of it like an actual journey to a different place or possible 'state', that is, as some sort of progress or growth.

The problem with thinking of one's 'spiritual journey' like a real journey is that in fact spiritually we do not 'progress' or 'grow' in the normal sense of these words. This is dangerous because the whole mindset or paradigm of western civilisation in which we find  ourselves is about progress and growth, so it is rather too easy to slip into the same understanding with spirituality. Thinking in terms of progress and growth is of course disastrous in the context of 'economic growth'  since we live on a finite planet, bit also in terms of technological progress because we come to put faith in a future where technology will fix – or at least ameliorate – our problems.

Spirituality does not 'progress' and 'grow' – the best perhaps we can say is that it deepens. However, a mere child can have a deeper spiritual awareness than the oldest person with a lifetime of spiritual practice, such that the child knows that the emperor has no clothes and so bursts the bubble of our hubris. Spiritual insight or depth comes by grace, and all we can do is make ourselves more receptive.

It does not help that in the Christian tradition there is the concept that that the world and our body in it are 'bad' and that we will one day be in heaven, which is 'good'. This just encourages the idea of being on a journey to another place. Jesus himself talks about the 'kingdom of heaven' being  amongst us, so this idea of denying the world is surely false. If the 'kingdom of heaven' is amongst us, where then do we journey to?

However, traditional mythology is replete with the metaphor of the journey or quest, usually undertaken by the young man [is it invariably a man because of patriarchy, or because women see the world differently?] in order to find themselves.  But in stories, the hero's journey always takes them back to where they started. Odysseus returns to Ithaca and Bilbo goes 'There and Back Again' and Dorothy goes back to Kansas.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
(T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, V)

The purpose of the spiritual 'journey' then is to come to know ourselves in the time and place and community in which we find ourselves – to come to know time and place and community 'for the first time' and so become situated persons. It is not by 'progress' and 'growth' that we become situated, but by 'care' and 'attention' – care for one another and the environment around us, and attention to the time and place and culture we are in.
Like Dorothy we have to realise that 'there’s no place like home'.