Saturday, 5 May 2007

Britain Yearly Meeting Reminisces

I woke up this morning and as usual, first thing I did was to check my emails and feeds. This gives me the buzz that I used to get when waiting for the letter post. Who gets real letters now? The only mail I get are Bank statements and Insurance forms. Neither really get the heart beating except when burgled and then discovering that we have forgot to renew the home insurance cover. It was time for us to remember that ...simplicity is shunning superfluities of...possessions which...obscure us from our vision of reality. Not sure if it has the same ethical and moral kick if the possessions are taken rather then given away.

Anyway, I have been mulling over a couple of blogsphere posts. One was about pluralism and Friends and the other was about are Quakers Christian? I was all fired up to get into an intellectual rant. You name the doctrine and the practice I am the one saying well... To give you a hint, I question most post Nicene Christian doctrines and have a deep fascination with the history and social struggle of the early Church and how its emergence was based on the suppression of a whole host of very different voices. This includes how the Christian canon came into existence. Read Lost Christianities by Bart D. Ehrman or The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman if you want to know where I am coming from.

One reading of George Fox and the early Friends and indeed many of the Radical Christian groups of the day was that they intuitively grasped many of these lost visions and practices hidden away in Biblical descriptions. They moved authority away from the Bible and the Church to the spirit or experiential practice(the source of continual Revelation!) This is why John Wolman could challenge slavery, a practice that very few of early Friends questioned as its in the Bible. They would have, if asked , looked to the treatment of slaves rather then the existence of slavery. See for more background.(Now what has all this to do with Britain Yearly Meeting? Patience Friend I am getting there)

You may be surprised to know that I am not an advocate of the pick and mix from the Supermarket of Religious Traditions. I am rooted in Christianity but as my home not my prison as Lionel Blue (a well known British Rabbi) would say. So I am open to explore and value other faiths. And like any home, its the relatives that you tend to have the most arguments with rather then the neighbours. Read Honest to Jesus by Robert W.Funk to get a feel of the Jesus and Christianity I feel at home with. Or Jesus through the centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan.

As you can imagine, in many Meetings I am not exactly mainstream. Yet in one Meeting a Friend who was well into her 90's and was a very conservative Christian in her theology and language embraced me in the fellowship of Friends. I saw in her the nearest to a "Saint" or someone that burnt with the Light that I have ever seen and experienced. And she saw in me some one that wasn't blowing out the candle but was trying to kindle it brighter. Yet both of us were Friends that you the reader may want to exclude from the Society of Friends.

The BYM blog reminded me of when I went to Yearly meeting(yes got there at last) . I sat in the Gallery of the main hall at the back for one session. The Meeting of several hundred people waiting in silence was one of the most profound I sat in.The minute records what the experience was

Minute 13: A prayerful life: experiencing the inward teacher

‘You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light and hast walked in the light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’

Within the gathered stillness of an extended period of worship we have shared our experience of living, or trying to live, a prayerful life, a life in which we collaborate with God’s love and can experience the presence of God at any time and place. Prayer is the way we face the world. Prayer is how we are with other human beings, an act of love which can turn the world upside down.
My experience of this was several speakers that gave polished intellectual ministry but which washed over me or to be frank felt smug. Then a old man with painful effort got to his feet, and dragged words out of himself to ask those who were struggling with feeling God's love not to be downcast. He spoke of his own struggles from the heart and not from the head, and it was clearly painful. I burst into tears, and as I type this tears drip down my face. He is the reason that I know Friends are my home. John Punshon who I met at Woodbrooke in the 1970s makes my point for me.

Getting on with those I love is often a business demanding patience, discretion, tact and understanding. It gets complicated sometimes. It also gets strained, occasionally to the breaking point. But without expression it is barren. I show my love in the things I do...
In Britain Yearly meeting today what will make you know that you are at home and enjoying the company of neighbours and relatives?

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Took the first step...

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...