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'.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

'Reading Quaker faith & practice' conference at Woodbrooke

All area meetings in Britain have been invited to nominate a Friend to participate in the 'Reading Quaker faith & practice' conference at Woodbrooke, from 22nd to 24th April 2016.

The conference will provide an opportunity to:

Learn from one another’s experience of participating in the Reading Quaker faith & practice programme so far.

Gain ideas and resources for setting up and inspiring groups in meetings.
Share reflections and insights emerging from existing groups.
Understand more about the origins, purposes and development of the current book.

The conference welcomes participants from all area meetings, including those which have not yet decided to participate in the Reading Quaker faith & practice project.

Area meetings are being asked to nominate a Friend or attender who has one or more of these qualities:
  • is involved in an existing Reading Quaker faith & practice group 
  • is willing to promote the programme around the area meeting 
  • has a concern for spiritual learning in the area 
  • will be able to communicate with others about what they have learned
If you would be interested in attending the conference on behalf of your area meeting, please talk to your AM clerk or nominations committee. For more information about the conference contact: qfp@quaker.org.uk

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Killing machines R us. Protest at DSEI arms fair.

photo CAAT

photo CAAT
Heather Hunt , attender at Sheffield Central meeting,  donned a corporate suit and posed as an Israeli arms dealer on the first day of action to stop the London based arms fair on Monday September 7th.  This day was to highlight and protest about the Israel and UK two way arms trade .

Heather is part of Sheffield Creative Action for Peace  (SCRAP) and talks about her motivation and the day of  action.

Israeli-UK two way arms trade. BDS campaign
“I was shocked that the UK government had invited Israel arms dealers to have a pavilion inside the DSEI arms fair to be held at the Excel centre East London. I am proud that the Quakers are active in opposing arms sales to Israel. However, I hadn’t realised how complicit the UK and Israeli governments are in this mutual support of arms dealing as good business.

So I was delighted to be part of Sheffield Creative Action for Peace (SCRAP) and its contribution to the protest to highlight and oppose this two way arms trade. Two of us posed as Israeli arms dealers with our badges, “killing machines are us” with client support sheets detailing how you can get more for your bucks with our combat tested weapons.   (eg Friendly and uncritical allies like the UK and US.) We displayed our products to interested independent media from our portfolio of 2D replicas which included our biggest sellers:
Elbit Hermes 450 drones, made in the Israeli owned Elbit factories in the UK  and used extensively on the Gaza strip.  Our sales pitch, backed by research, included “Can be fitted with two hellfire missiles. Recent sales include Columbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
And
Merkava tanks
Manufactured by Israeli military Industries and assembled by Israeli Ordnance corps. Fitted
with 2 machine guns which can shoot down helicopters. Field tested on Gaza.  One tank killed 120 Hammas militants in Protective Edge. Sales increased after assault on Gaza.  “Very serviceable. Main battle tank for many countries. Selling well. Now upgraded to include night sensors and target trackers and adapted for guerrilla warfare.”

Honouring Palestinians killed by Israeli drones
To highlight the nature of Israeli weapons other members of SCRAP displayed the Drones quilt we have been making, highlighting and naming Palestinians killed by drone strikes on Gaza.

photo SCRAP
During the day an enormous low loader arrived conveying a military vehicle looking like a missile launcher. Protestors immediately got onto the road and between us we stopped the vehicle going into the Arms fair for two hours.  3 women clambered onto the vehicle and, with a Palestinian flag flying, read out testimonies from families whose children were killed in the 2009 Israeli massacres in Gaza. And then, with the lorry still blockaded and the road therefore closed, we held a dabke dance workshop in front of the lorry, on the road with police dancing round our circle trying to give us an arrest warning.

photo CAAT
War is good for business and economic growth.
Refugees not arms welcome here.

We found out that the drivers of the low loader we stopped were Hungarian and had driven this vehicle from Southern Hungary, through Austria and western Europe. Sometime over the weekend the driver probably drove past the thousands of migrants walking to Vienna, most of them from Syria and Afghanistan, fleeing wars prosecuted and fed by the sort of materiel he was carrying. 

How ironic is this? That killing machines can cross European borders easily whist humans fleeing war torn countries cannot. The stark realisation before us then was seeing how war is so good for business. Weapons used by all and any side in Syria and other conflict torn countries around the world continue to get circulated and traded, making profit for some and for others, their lives are ravaged.

The day was an excellent example of effective collaboration between CAAT, War on Want, and Palestine Solidarity campaign.  It gave me hope we can work together and creatively to advocate for humane and just settlement for refugees, and an end to the arms trade.

Reflections
I enjoyed researching my role as a corporate Israeli arms dealer and keeping in that role for 5 hours. I gained an insight of a little of what it could be to be in that person’s shiny shoes. I was marketing manager and my colleague was client support. As we approached the protest, we were shouted at “shame on you! Murderers!” Some protestors really were taken in by us. We arrived confident and smart. From this vantage point the protestors looked SO scruffy and not worth listening to.
Later in the day during one interview, with Russia today, I was asked if I felt guilty and responsible for so much killing and death.  I surprised myself (in role) by the question-not understanding the feeling or the question. Of course we were serving our country, particularly keeping our economy afloat.  Guilt? What has that got to do with it.
Heather Hunt 23rd September 2015

You can see films of the action here and here.

‘Testimonials From Families of Palestinian Victims - #OccupyDSEI Day One’

SCRAP meets on alternate Thursday afternoons. Next action October 3rd, Waddingtom RAF base. Scones not drones.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Our faith in the future

Quakers in Britain have a new 'long term framework' to guide our discernment at all levels of decision-making, including our local and area meetings, as well as our centrally managed work. The document, called 'Our faith in the future', was approved by Meeting for Sufferings (our national representative body) on 5th September. It replaces the 'Framework for Action 2009-14', which was a previous attempt at a 'strategic framework' for Quaker decision-making.

The new document has shifted the focus away from a list of priority areas of work, and towards a vision of the kind of Quaker community we aim to become. No strategic plan or framework can dictate how the Spirit may lead individual Friends, local meetings and the wider Quaker community in the future. Our way of corporate discernment is based on the faith that God's guidance is available to us in community, with the authority to upset all of our cherished plans.

For this reason, the group appointed to write the new long term framework has wisely avoided any attempt to prescribe what kind of work Quaker communities should undertake. Instead, the document directs our attention towards some of the core principles - of spiritual rootedness, inclusion, discipline and social engagement that are at the heart of our Quaker practice.

Hopefully, the text will act as a reminder of what we already know by experience to be important, supporting our practice of Spirit-led discernment rather than imposing pre-determined outcomes on it. The full text is given below:

Our faith in the future

Facing turbulent times, Quakers in Britain seek a future where…

Meeting for worship is the bedrock of living as a Quaker. In worship we become one with the Spirit, with each other and with our true selves. The Spirit is the source of strength and guidance for all we are and do. Our way of worship is open to all, and we are making it available to more people.

Quaker communities are loving, inclusive and all-age. All are heard, valued and supported both in our needs and our leadings. Everyone’s contribution is accepted according to their gifts and resources. All ages and conditions are welcomed and included. There are clear and effective ways of working together on shared concerns. Fellowship and fun strengthen the bonds between us, enhancing a loving community.

All Friends understand and live by Quaker discipline. Our discipline is actually 'letting go and letting God': not thou shalt nor I will but what does Love require of me? It works when we understand it and practise it! Because we understand it, we can share it with others. Our testimony guides us, but we have to work on what it means for each of us personally.

Quaker values are active in the world. Our lives speak peace, equality, respect for the earth and all its inhabitants. We offer friendship to all and solidarity to the marginalised. We speak truth to power with love. We hold those in power in the Light. We find creative and nonviolent ways to get our message across. We are in for the long haul; we’re not afraid to take risks. We are called to live in the place where our deep gladness meets the deep hunger in the world.

Quakers work collaboratively. We are well aware that we can't put the world to rights all by ourselves. We value the important work of others; by engaging with them we are already changing the world. We want to break down barriers; we refuse to prejudge who is or is not an ally.

Quakers are well known and widely understood. We are active in our local communities, reaching out in friendship, making more use of our meeting houses for events and renting/lending out. All members are ready and equipped to explain our way confidently and clearly to anyone who asks, as well as to speak publicly on issues of concern. We share our practices where appropriate and make full use of new media to reach out widely. In an increasingly divided world, we try to offer 'patterns and examples' of a caring community.

… a future where we let our lives speak

Friday, 29 May 2015

'Right to Roam' for Palestine

I have just come back from a 7 day, 90 mile, (144 km) walk across Scotland, joining Caroline Poland for a stretch of her Right to Roam, End to End walk for Palestine, raising funds for projects in Gaza. I’ve pasted her leaflet below. Here is a little inspiration and a  humble invitation for retrospective sponsorship.

Four of us set off from Peebles on May 13th, walked over the Pentland hills to Edinburgh and then mostly via the tow paths alongside the Union and Forth and Clyde canals, to Milgarvie, just North of Glasgow. We walked about 13 miles a day, often against strong head winds. I’ve calculated that is 184,320 foot steps. Memorable sights along the way were the long vistas from the Pentland hills, aqueducts on the canal, awe inspiring Kelpies and the superb engineering of the Falkirk wheel. So thanks you walking companions, our friendly hosts, and feet, legs and boots!

It was a very good time to be in Scotland, after the election, meeting friendly people delighted they were part of a society that had said NO to austerity and the Tories. Carrying a Palestinian flag, with WALK FOR GAZA inscribed, we did not meet any opposition but rather we were  met with interest and admiration for Caroline’s End to End walk and support for the projects in Gaza.

Two highlights for me are firstly a taxi driver in Falkirk (honest—at the end of a long walk day, only way to get to see the Kelpies.) On hearing what our walk was for he said, “don’t pay me the fare (£5), put it towards the projects in Gaza”

My second highlight is learning about the Shministim, Israeli school leavers refusing conscription to join the Israeli army. We learnt about them through a friend in Protest in Harmony who hosted an evening Palestine solidarity event in Edinburgh for and with us. I’ve pasted their collective letter to  Binyamin Netanyahu at the end of this email.

I may be a bit foot sore but it’s been a very heart warming experience. As a fellow traveller suggests, the Right to Roam walk brings out a strong connection to our common humanity.

 
If you would like to sponsor the walk and support education for women in Gaza   you can do so via
‘Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund’:

many thanks

Heather Hunt

‘RIGHT TO ROAM’ / ‘END TO END’ WALK FOR PALESTINE
Raising funds for projects in Gaza

In Britain, as in many other countries, people have had to struggle for the Right to Roam, the right to walk, to wander across the land. We started out on our Right to Roam walk in May 2013, following the 268 miles of the Pennine Way from Edale, over Kinder Scout, the site of the historic Kinder Trespass, to Kirk Yethom just over the Scottish borders.  We continued our walk last year, walking from Land’s End to Bristol, and then later in the year, from Bristol to Edale to complete the ‘England’ stage of our walk. Right to Roam / End2End walk for Palestine last year, walking from Land’s End to Bristol, & then Bristol to Edale, to complete the ‘England’ section of our walk.  The walk so far has covered around 800 miles – a stark contrast to harsh severe restrictions of movement for all Palestinians to, from and within Palestine, and in particular the harsh restrictions, attacks and siege of 1.8 m people within the narrow 26 mile Gaza Strip.
We are now on the first of the two stages of our Scottish section of our ‘End2End’ walk for Palestine, walking 287 miles from Kirk Yetholm to 50 miles north of Fort William, before returning to do the final section to John-o-Groats in 2016.
We are raising funds to support women’s education in Gaza
Please donate to the
‘Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund’:

Thank you.
Further information or enquiries: Poland.cf@gmail.com

Shministim

letter of conscientious objectors 2014

We, citizens of the state of Israel, are designated for army service.
We appeal to the readers of this letter to set aside what has always been taken for granted and to reconsider the implications of military service.
 We, the undersigned, intend to refuse to serve in the army and the main reason for this refusal is our opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories. Palestinians in the occupied territories live under Israeli rule though they did not choose to do so, and have no legal recourse to influence this regime or its decision-making processes. This is neither egalitarian nor just. In these territories, human rights are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis. These include assassinations (extrajudicial killings), the construction of settlements on occupied lands, administrative detentions, torture, collective punishment and the unequal allocation of resources such as electricity and water. Any form of military service reinforces this status quo, and, therefore, in accordance with our conscience, we cannot take part in a system that perpetrates the above-mentioned acts.

The problem with the army does not begin or end with the damage it inflicts on Palestinian society. It infiltrates everyday life in Israeli society too: it shapes the educational system, our workforce opportunities, while fostering racism, violence and ethnic, national and gender-based discrimination. 
We refuse to aid the military system in promoting and perpetuating male dominance. In our opinion, the army encourages a violent and militaristic masculine ideal whereby 'might is right'. This ideal is detrimental to everyone, especially those who do not fit it. Furthermore, we oppose the oppressive, discriminatory, and heavily gendered power structures within the army itself.
 We refuse to forsake our principles as a condition to being accepted in our society. We have thought about our refusal deeply and we stand by our decisions. 
We appeal to our peers, to those currently serving in the army and/or reserve duty, and to the Israeli public at large, to reconsider their stance on the occupation, the army, and the role of the military in civil society. We believe in the power and ability of civilians to change reality for the better by creating a more fair and just society. Our refusal expresses this belief.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Living out our faith

At Britain Yearly Meeting held May 1st – 4th, the theme that pre-occupied and challenged friends from Saturday to Monday was “Living out our faith in the world”. Three times we met for worship and discernment on this theme, and each time the Yearly Meeting Clerks wrote a holding minute. Monday morning was the fourth and last opportunity to pull together the many strands that had emerged during these times together. At the close of the session the Clerks drafted Minute 36 which, when agreed, was discerned by the Meeting to be a landmark minute for our times. It was suggested that Minute 36 should be circulated as widely as possible, and so it will be in Sheffield Quaker News, on the blog, and sent to spiritual friendship groups – and elders are placing it in all our envelopes.

The Swarthmore Lecture this year, “Faith, power and peace”, was given by Diana Francis. It was an inspirational foundation to the sessions that fed into Minute 36, and as well as the book form, the lecture itself will be available soon on DVD. We are wondering whether our meeting would like us to arrange a time to see it, followed by discussion about it and the final minute, “Living out our faith in the world – are we ready to meet the challenge?” We would welcome your suggestions about how and when this might take place.

Rosie Roberts, on behalf of Sheffield Central elders.


Minute 36: Living out our faith in the world – are we ready to meet the challenge?

How are we led to live out our faith in a world where we see systemic injustice and increasing inequality?

We have been reminded that God’s work is where our deep gladness meets the deep suffering in the world.

As in Psalm 85:

“Mercy and truth are met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed each other,

truth shall spring out of the earth;

And righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

We are all activists and we are all worshippers. Our worship and action spring from the same spiritual source. The light not only illumines us but pushes us to seek change.

We recognise the problems in the world and the urgency of acting on them. Our current political and (especially) economic systems only recognise and encourage part of the human condition, the selfish, competitive, greedy part. So much of what is good and beautiful and true in the world is being trashed. The model of power as domination needs to be challenged and replaced with a model of power as service to the community; in doing this, we need to live our testimony and hold firm to its source in faith.

The damage of the present systems, like the benefits, are not shared equally. We need to recognise how many of us benefit through the possessions we hold and the houses we live in, and to consider when we are part of the problem. In living out our faith in the world, we may be called to give up our privileges, but if we do so our voice and our lives will be all the more authentic and powerful. We can be at our most powerful when we are vulnerable.

The damaged and damaging structures of the world are not the only influence on our lives: there is also the power of faith and the leadings of the Spirit, which if followed will lead us, will push us, towards a better world. That, then, may be the first action we need to take: to be more faithful.

What are the changes which are needed to the systemic injustice and inequality that we see in society? We need to go deeper to find the roots of our social ills, and how we might uproot the powers that maintain them. We should rethink what needs to grow in this world and what does not. Can we transform the way the world is going and recognise that everyone and everything on the planet matters and can be thought of as a divine commonwealth, or kin-dom? Quakerism is all about putting our faith in a power which transforms us.

Many of us have spoken of the anger we feel about the current injustices of the world, and sometimes our hearts are heavy with all the things we cannot do. Anger can be a spur to action, but we need Light and guidance to use it wisely and sparingly. We already have a way of finding this wisdom in our corporate discipline and our testing in worship of leadings. Through these our righteous anger and passion can be transformed in order to tackle the root causes of injustice and inequality. Our action begins in worship, in seeking and reflecting before we act. Our practices of listening within and being open to what comes to us from without are rarer than we think, and are a precious gift that we should both use and share.

We are called to consider what we each can do and also make and build on connections in our communities and across the globe.

We are also called to be a community of Friends as a Yearly Meeting, pushed towards the important things we can only do together. We have a body of experience we can draw on and maintain. We are in this for the long haul.

As a Yearly Meeting we are restless to take corporate action to change the unequal, unjust world in which we live.

We ask Friends and meetings to engage with the evil of social and economic injustice which creates a world in which the wrong things are valued. To do this requires owning and upholding the work that is already being done by Friends and in our name; helping to fund that work as generously as possible; and becoming involved in however small a way. For ourselves we need to find some action however simple to do now.

We ask Meeting for Sufferings to take the work on social and economic injustice forward, coordinating the work of local and area meetings who might wish to become more deeply involved, and encouraging the deep spiritual and intellectual searching that could underpin a ‘true social order’ for our age.

We ask YM Agenda Committee to align their work with that of Meeting for Sufferings and to keep this issue before the Yearly Meeting for further consideration over the next two years. Between yearly meetings we should all try to share our experience.

We ask our Recording Clerk and staff to make our concern about social and economic inequality known as widely as possible and in particular to challenge the incoming UK government to adopt policies which decrease inequality and value equally the contribution which all can make to developing a more just and sustainable society.

We must remember that what makes the real difference is not adding further to the words in the world but being and living out the new social order, testing our leadings together and trusting to our Quaker processes "opening ourselves to the light to guide us in each small step".