Well did it. I attended my local meeting(picture on left) for the first time in 2 years, which sounds like I have been moonlighting somewhere else. The truth is that this is the first time I have attended anywhere for 2 years. I was impressed by the warmth of the hospitality of a small meeting of some 10-12 people, many of whom clearly had the independence of mind and spirit that I love about Quakers. The odd little peculiarities of Friends, the door greeter, the flowers on the table picked fresh from the garden, Bible and other faith material on the table near the centre, the handshake, afterthoughts circle, notices felt as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.
The ministry mainly focused on Peace. It here that mixed feelings arose. The first person’s ministry was clearly a heart felt poem, which washed over me but may well have spoken to another’s condition. The second gave me a key into the condition of the speaker as he admitted not knowing what prayer was or who to pray to but did see that attending peace demonstrations was a prayer-in action. It was the third Ministry that got me. She made the point that aggression and war arose out of fear and animal instinct. Well, deep breath... for me a fundamental cause of aggression is the lack of social justice which is a social and political rather then psychological struggle.
But I am a Friend of long standing enough to know that when Ministry engages you like this, then this is the worse time to Minister( Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit). You need to get below the surface and try and see beyond the words. A sharp tap to the ego raises the point that I may have a range of counterarguments but which of the two of us does more for Peace? So tongue bitten, legs firmly crossed I let it wash over and through me.
In the afterthoughts circle (once meeting is over, people are asked if they have any thoughts to share about that day’s Ministry). Again I rejected the urge to start a debate. But then…but then…A current court case in England is two mothers that filmed their toddlers being made to fight in order to toughen them up. The parents are being prosecuted for child cruelty. Many in the Meeting tutted over the behaviour of the women, which does need challenging but I come from the type of estates these women live in. My own sister treated her son 20 years ago in a similar way. I know that these parents are making realistic assessments of what their children will experience.
One of the other roots of aggression for me is when certainty of knowledge and righteous authority leads to seeing the other person as less then human. For me, to condemn these parents is start down this route. Just to be clear, I condemn the sin but not the sinner. In the day job I advise on the setting up of programmes to work in poor and abandoned communities so that parents can see and learn alternatives to these bleak and negative child-rearing practices. Again, I resisted the urge to get into a debate. Was this me crossing the road as the refusenik Samaritan? Or was I being polite and waiting for a more appropriate time rise the issues?
Pondering what to do, I was greeted by the Clerk, who rushed me off for a tour of the nature reserve that he was building in the waste ground at the back of the Meeting House. Suddenly I was seeing dark woods, a wild meadow, bridges, a natural spring and pools all created and shaped out of a waste acre of land. Truly, a fantastic peaceful natural landscape in a large troubled public housing estate: a real metaphor for what Friends at their best represent for the world. I left walking cheerfully over the world answering that of God in every one...