Friday 3 March 2017

Quaker Work and Quaker Play

This is Tim Herrick's 'Inner Quest' talk at Sheffield Central Meeting in January.

My themes today are Quaker work, and Quaker play; and the personal examples I will explore are my paid employment at the University, and my family life with Jayne and Isaac.  These are both areas of work - teaching as paid work, and the effort that goes into constructing a functional, let alone happy, family life - and play - doing fun things with lively people, whether in the walls of the University or at home.  I present them here as examples of playing and working, and want to explore how my Quaker identity - the things I try to be, do, and say - underpins them both.  They may not speak to you as examples, which is entirely fine; and I hope here to start a conversation about work and play where your own stories can be told.

One reason for thinking about working and playing in a Quaker way is that in both of the main activities of my life - teaching, and being a husband and father - I am frequently required to improvise.  Neither area is definite, fixed, or certain; a student’s question might take a class off in an entirely different direction; Isaac might decide today is the day he wants to jump in puddles rather than walk to the cornershop.  I need to be able to respond no matter what, and address the emerging needs of others as well as myself. In the necessary absence of definite things to do next, it’s useful to have a bigger sense of what I would like to happen - the shape of an outcome, not a clear picture.  So as a parent and a teacher I am regularly confronted by new situations where I don’t know what to do, and my Quaker faith and practice helps in several ways.  Firstly, it reminds me that I’m not alone in carrying my troubles, nor am I the first to feel lost among life’s way.  Secondly, it offers a still point of deeper belief by which to orientate myself.  Thirdly, it offers wisdom, experience, and a sense of loving care.  And lastly, for me, it encourages playfulness and experimentation - those two words, “Live adventurously”, resonated deep within me when I first came into contact with Quakers.  So even when hard at work, I try to retain a light sense of playfulness; and when playing, an awareness of the heavier burdens that play might be carrying.

As a Quaker and a teacher, there is a rich point of inspiration in the work, thought, and writing of Parker Palmer.  His book, The Courage to Teach, is one of my favourite about the slippery business of learning and teaching, and I am lucky enough to be in a position to recommend it to others.  In this book, he talks about teachers reconnecting with their heart, the emotional drive to make the world even a tiny degree better, that is likely to have pulled them into teaching in the first place.  He also emphasises the importance of wholeness in a teacher’s life - sustained by community, and interactions with loved ones, but ultimately, a version of yourself that is the same showboating in front of 200 students on Thursday afternoon, as it is sitting silently in Meeting on Sunday morning.  The integrity developed here - and reinforced above all by the discipline of a Meeting for Worship - comes across to learners, and enables them to feel supported and secure in turn.  It also helps with the vision of teaching to which I hold, the primary component of which being listening; listening to the learners, to the materials that we share, and to myself seeking a deep sense of what feels right.  The integrity that Parker Palmer emphasises holds me still in this act of careful, tender listening; my heart an anchor keeping me tethered to the needs of others.

My work, and the work of any teacher, is also grounded in hope: a belief that people can and will change, and become better through engagement with the world outside their heads.  A passage from Quaker Faith and Practice pinned in my office reads:

To pray about any day’s work does not mean to ask success in it. It means, first to realise my own inability to do even a familiar job, as it truly should be done, unless I am in touch with eternity, unless I do it ‘unto God’, unless I have the Father with me. It means to see ‘my’ work as part of a whole, to see ‘myself’ as not mattering much, but my faith, the energy, will and striving, which I put into the work, as mattering a great deal. My faith is the point in me at which God comes into my work; through faith the work is given dignity and value. And if, through some weakness of mine, or fault of others, or just ‘unavoidable circumstances’, the work seems a failure, yet prayer is not wasted when it is unanswered, any more than love is wasted when it is unreturned.
(QFP, 20.08)

This passage speaks to me because of the balance it finds: my work, and my self, do not matter much by themselves, but the things I put into the work, and the energy that I channel through it, matter a great deal.  This, for me, encapsulates something critical about the work of teaching, which is using yourself as a bridge to enable the understanding of others.  If it’s only you as the bridge, then within no time it will be fractured and adrift.  But if it’s you, and your faith, and the spirit that moves through the Meeting - then it can withstand almost any amount of pressure.  Instead of a rigid iron bridge, it becomes something light and, flexible, responsive to the dance of the wind and the pressures of travelling feet.  This not only helps it last for much longer, it also makes it a more pleasurable experience to travel over; and, just as trying to present your wholeness and integrity can help learners find their own still small voice, it can demonstrate that to enable others to learn, all you need is a little flexibility.

The other area I am exploring in this talk is family life, and the pleasures and perils this offers.  I feel I can do this here, in the room where Jayne and I were married and where Isaac first visited when he was six days old, amongst friends, with large and small Fs alike.  One of the many delights of spending time with Isaac is the development of little games and activities where we each have certain parts to play and variation, within strict limits, is encouraged.  The term that fits them best is “routines” - following the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, this seeks to capture both their rule-bound nature, and their comedic intent.  An example may help.  After bath, either Jayne and I will sit with a towel-wrapped Isaac, and play “The clapping game”.  This is essentially a game of imitation with Isaac leading - clapping might have been the initial action, but now, when he puffs out his cheeks, we puff out ours; if he shakes his head from side to side, we follow suit; and if, as he is wont, he shouts “PIRATES!”, then we are obliged to do the same.  The core intent, it seems to me, of the clapping game and related routines, is for Isaac to be sure that we are listening to him and responding in ways that he appreciates.  Quaker Faith and Practice 22.62 might help us take this further:

There is little question that if as a parent we have not taken the time really to listen to children when they are young, listened not only to their words but to their feelings behind the words, they are unlikely to want to come with their sharings in later life.

Sometimes, Isaac is so keen on us listening, he will compel us - placing his favourite snuggly, Baa Lamb, over mine or Jayne’s mouth, he will repeatedly ask “Can you talk?”  The appropriate response here is a combination of expressive eyebrow movements and “Mmm mmm”, until Isaac chooses to remove the gag and carry on with a two-way conversation.  But most other times he is very happy to listen to us, and us to him, without the need for compulsion.  He will recite and act convoluted stories that put the myths of Babylon to shame, as the dolls from his dolls house fly to the moon, get trapped in a tunnel, or go for days out (with plenty of telling each other to “hurry up”).  Listening to these is a pure pleasure as we enter into his imaginative world, laying aside adult cares and taking time to be still.  As the passage quoted earlier from Quaker Faith and Practice goes on, “Learning to listen to each other in families can help to make us better listeners to others and to the Inner Guide”.

Another routine Isaac has developed is called “Scary monsters”, and it comes from a dark place.  It was developed after two very raw arguments between Isaac and I, when hurt, frustration, and anger were what we shared as we were locked in combat.  The details of these arguments matter so little I can’t recall them; but they both pulled hard at the threads of our love, and I am (amongst other things) enormously proud of Isaac for having the resilience to find his own way to handle conflict.  “Scary monsters” involves putting your face very close to your partner’s, almost nose to nose; and shouting, loudly, and at length.  Turns are taken, at least initially, and it ends with a hug, or a wrestle that is also a hug.  A passage from Quaker Faith and Practice perhaps helps explain “Scary monsters”, and the work that Isaac has realised it does.  The passage reads:

I have heard some Friends deny their anger in a silent ‘peace’ where there is no understanding of each other. Such Friends are angry but by their silence the progress of world peace has stood still. If we are angry we know how wars develop. It does not matter who’s wrong. What matters is that we care enough to talk to each other.

How do we become reconciled to each other if we are asunder? All I can say is to go up to that person and say what is in your heart; that their ways are hurting but you still love them. But this takes time and not many people like to look in a person’s face and find out who they are. So we miss the reconciliation and do not have the experience – that we cared. Given that, then we will know who we are and find relief in tears we all should share. This is where peace starts.
(QFP 20.68)

As a family, we do many things.  We argue, and we care.  We make each other laugh, and we make each other cry.  We play, and we work with, on, and for each other.  An image I sometimes have in mind is Jayne, Isaac, and I as enmeshed cogs within a machine, each of us supporting each other by turns; but also sometimes catching on each other, and wearing each other away.  The outcome is that we fit together very well, but perhaps slightly less well with other people, other parts of the machine.  This is one reason why Meeting is so important; it offers surrounding parts that support and work with what we’re doing, while also offering differences and things that we can imitate. Within the larger family of the Meeting, our little family can be grown with love, as we continue to work and play together.

     How does your Quaker identity come out in the work you do for love, and/or the work you do for pay?
     Where, for you, does playfulness meet Quaker-ness?

In the discussion that followed, the ideas outlined here were given much more richness and depth by the contributions of others.  The point was beautifully made that as adults, we all have experiences of being children, and these experiences will be shaped by our families and other immediate influences.  Our memories and experiences are not all going to be happy, which means that there are likely to be hurts we are carrying around; these may come out when confronted with other people’s, including children’s, hurts.  We also discussed how adults have forms of play - routines of their own - which give them opportunities for creativity and joy, from sport to drama and the wonderful-sounding “silliness therapy”.  Lastly, there was a good discussion of some of the differences between parenting and grandparenting - which could perhaps provide the starting-point for another Inner Quest in future.

Tim Herrick

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.