Sunday, 30 November 2008

Battery Recycling

As a result of an enquiry to Broxtowe Borough Council from Beeston Quaker Meeting, the council are investigating various options, but one in particular we feel is insufficiently well-known: several battery producers have freepost addresses to which you can send dead batteries for recycling.

They are:

Duracell Customer Service, FREEPOST OF1503, Aylesford Road, Thame, Oxfordshire, OL9 3LJ

Energizer and Eveready, Recycling Division, FREEPOST LOL2311, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU5 4YY

Varta Limited, FREEPOST BS7487, Crewkerne, Somerset, TA18 7BR

Happy recycling!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Nottingham Quaker Quest

posted by Rhiannon

My apologies being a little late posting these dates.

Dates for Nottingham Quaker Quest (at the Friends Meeting House, directions here) are as follows:

15.10.08 Quakers & Worship

22.10.08 Quakers & Faith in Action

5.11.08 Quakers & God

12.11.08 Quakers & Peace

19.11.08 Quakers & Christianity

26.11.08 Quakers & Equality

On a lighter note, you may like to know that International Talk Like A Quaker day is coming soon.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Reasoning out our peculiarities

posted by Rhiannon

Martin Kelley has just made an excellent blog post called Sorting Quaker peculiarities in the modern world. It prompted me to think about my peculiarities, and specifically those I attribute to being Quaker-there are many which are unrelated! I'm especially aware of this as I'll be attending a new-to-me Meeting for Worship this morning (I'm in Leeds), so other Quakers will be trying to guess how new I am (the usual questions are: does she need a leaflet? should I speak to her over tea at the end? will she know what's going on? It's easy to get this wrong, leafleting cradle Quakers and ignoring totally new enquirers, especially in a large Meeting. But I disgress.)

Martin discusses two specific 'Quaker peculiarities': the use of 'thee' (in place of singular 'you'), and calling days of the week by numbers rather than names.

I don't, as a rule, do either. Having been brought up in Quaker circles, I can; I know something is wrong without knowing why when people use thee and thou the wrong way around (it's 'what canst thou say?' not 'what canst thee say?'). However, because English speakers agreed with the early Quakers and discarded the status-ranked pronouns, I feel there's no need to keep using 'thee': 'you', used equally for all, has the same effect.

(To quote from Martin's post, on those who choose to do so: "I'm glad they do and don't want to double-guess their leadings." As normal for liberal Quakers, our different leadings are not to invalidate other leadings, especially in matters pertaining only to personal conduct.)

The principle that we should seek to reflect our testimony to equality in our language stands, though. To that end, I am considering taking up another pronoun pecularity: genderless pronouns. At the moment, we have no natural-language way to refer to single individuals of unknown (or non-binary) gender, and the 'correct' thing to do is to assume that they are masculine until further information arrives. This isn't a practice which values women equally, and may (depending which feminists you read) be considerably worse than that.

In speaking, I currently use 'they' as singular when the need arises. I haven't yet settled on an option for writing, but am experiementing with some of the many possibilities.

As for days of the week, this is where I part ways with many Christian Quakers. I think it's right that those who consider themselves Christian should avoid invoking other gods; I, however, consider mayself a pagan, and as a consequence I have no problem using the days of the week as they stand. I do so mindfully, knowing that the name Wednesday should remind me to thank Woden for His blessings.

I even have a Quaker principle which backs up this useage (a useage which is fully aware, not one which does not suit my religious beliefs): every day is sacred. Historically, this was used to reject over-emphasing celebrations such as Christmas and Easter, and seeking awareness that communion with the Divine was possible any where and at any time, not just in churches on Sunday mornings. (There I go again, acknowledging the Divine in the world, in this case, in the power of the sun.) As a Quaker pagan, I have to reconcile this principle with paganism's emphasis on awareness of the cycles of the natural world, of equinoxes and soltices and the mid-points between. I like to think of this as a creative tension, more like the volcanic regions where Gaia creates new land as two tectonic plates pull away from each other, rather than a simple tug-of-war.

I believe there's a balance to be struck here, between awareness and over-emphasis, between rejecting all special days and forgetting that special days are useful reminders. For me, part of that is to call every day by a Divine name. I'm only human. I often forget. But it's there, and just as a Christian Quaker might use the terms 'second day', 'third day', and so forth to remind themselves of One God in Everything, I can use the terms 'Tuesday', 'Wednesday', and so forth to remind myself of God(s) In Everything.

Would this pass Martin's 'Elevator rule'? I don't know, and I think I'm unlikely to have the chance to find out. People usually want to know about my hat, which isn't Quaker at all.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Back to Meeting

posted by Kathy

After the August break, Meeting for Worship starts again. Next Meeting will be on 7th September at 10.30 a.m. at the Day Centre.

Much as I like the illustration, I assure you that bonnets and hats are strictly optional and seating will not be segregated.

For the benefit of any visitors, everyday dress is usual at Quaker Meetings and all are welcome. There is no collection. At the end of an hour of almost (or entirely) silent worship, there will be an opportunity for conversation over tea or coffee and biscuits. Visitors are welcome whether they come regularly, occasionally or just drop in for a single visit.

Friday, 8 August 2008

International Blog Against Racism Week

posted by Rhiannon

I feel that this should be publicised, but have little of my own material to offer: here, then, is a selection of good posts and projects by other people.

The livejournal community which is the heart of International Blog Against Racism Week.

Skin Coloured is intended to be a collaborative, visual exploration of what it is to be non-white in a white culture. Make-up, plasters and tights - even when they’re marked “flesh-coloured” - are not the colour of skin that isn’t white. And whilst white women may have trouble matching these items to their skin, for women who don’t class themselves as white, this inconvenience is symptomatic of a wider problem.

To help illustrate this problem, therefore, Skin Coloured is looking for submissions. Send us photographs that illustrate the inadequacy of provisions for non-white people, and we’ll post them on the blog, and hopefully both those submitting, and those who’re here to learn, will gain something from it.

The issue of diversity among British MPs, and why it isn't likely to increase.

A post from earlier in the year about the American election.

In which Synecdochic introduces the N-Dimensional Privilege Graph.

Aunt Betty has good reasons not to use any analogies between racism and sexism.

A nice piece from the Unitarian Universalists on what is borrowing and what is stealing in the world of spiritual practice, which would be nicely followed by this extended metaphor which illustrates why you shouldn't steal.

From inside Israel, a discussion of racism there.

Two posts on defying stereotypes: vegans of colour, and fat women of colour.

A fascinating consideration of the way the covers of sci-fi and fantasy books hide the colours of characters.

Finally, what is common knowledge? Questions which cover common and hidden cultural knowledge, sorted by cultural group.

(Crossposted to my fandom livejournal.)

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Book Reviews and a Question

posted by Rhiannon

For the third time this year, I'm blogging from Woodbrooke. However, this time I'm doing art and poetry which I can't really share, so here's a post I've been meaning to make for a while: book reviews.

Beginning Again, John Pritchard

Writing for those on the edges of Christianity-either on the way out or the way in-John Pritchard gives very simple and down-to-earth advice about experimenting with different methods of prayer, Bible study, and ways of coping with church communities. There's a lot of highly approachable and adaptable material; for example, things to pray about during a boring sermon can easily be taken as prompts to consider when faced with ministry of any kind which doesn't, to use the Quaker phrase, speak to your condition. Even the section on lifestyles choices is non-abrasive (so often modern Christian works on such matters have little to say beyond 'Don't be gay!'). For myself, the most valuable part is the material on prayer methods, as I'd heard of, for example, the Benedictine method without ever being told what it actually was. It hasn't solved all my problems with Christian prayer (I don't like confession and I'm not sure about that Christ thing) but I've taken a lot away to adapt, use, or store for occassions when it might be useful-perhaps one day I'll find a Quaker Bible study group who are accessible and don't mind experimenting, and be able to put some of that section to use.

Praying Like A Woman, Nicola Slee

A mixture of prose, poems, and liturgy, this book is deeply feminist, at times intensely personal, and brought me to the edge of tears more than once. It does not shy away from the dark things in life, AIDs and winter featuring as themes, but also has space for enjoyment of life, with an especial knack for bringing to the fore very simple material things: summer fruits, for example, get a short and lovely grace. It remains firmly Christian, drawing from Biblical sources, but bringing new and modern readings, both in the form of letting women speak, and of letting God be female. I have only had a copy for twenty-two hours as I write this, and I am already beginning to see that I'll be turning back to this book for readings and meditations.

Quakerism: A Theology for Our Time, Patricia A. Williams

Setting out to take Barclay's Quaker theology and hold it up against modern science, this book is quite clear that Quakerism is the way to go (and not just any kind of Quakerism, but conservative (unprogrammed) Quakerism: the rest, it is implied, are only calling themselves Friends). Her descriptions of the testimonies are clear without over-simplfying; they have room to overlap each other. Because she needs to set Quakerism and science against 'orthodox' Christianity, she has to give very brief overviews of Catholic and Protestant postions-this is ok for me, but may be too short for someone new to the field; I'm in no position to critique the science, though I suspect that those better versed in it may find those summaries very brief, too. Generally, however, I think this is an accessible book on what is often hidden in Quakerism: what we actually think. Perhaps this is an inevitable offshoot of the fact that what we think is most important is not analysing but experiencing. On the other hand, I find analysis both fascinating and enjoyable, so this book was right up my street.

An Introduction to Quakerism, Pink Dandelion

This book also deals somewhat with Quaker theology, but what it actually does best is introduce Quaker history, all the tangled branches of it, alongside a snapshot of where some of those branches are now. At times I found myself a little impatient with bits I already knew, as it has the flavour of being aimed at non-Quakers; on the other hand, I discovered a good many things I didn't know and probably should, so evidently a mere twenty-odd years mixing with Quakers isn't enough to teach everything. A few months after reading this, what stands out are the quotes from various Quaker bodies worldwide. It brings me rather more compassion than I would otherwise have for the Anglican Communion to think that were Quakers to try and have the same kind of centralised meeting we would have as many or more problems than they do! I suppose the Friends World Committee for Consultation are the closest we get to a Lambeth Conference.

My question is this: what books have you been reading lately which have spoken to your condition? What do you read when you want to improve your prayer life, adjust your image of God/dess, or deepen your knowledge of your religion?

Monday, 28 July 2008

August break - next Meeting Sunday 7th September

posted by kathy

As a small Meeting, Beeston sees Meeting for Worship as its central activity. A few of us commit ourselves to attend on as many Sundays as possible to ensure that Meeting continues. However, this becomes difficult in August when a number of people plan family holidays and days out. This makes it hard to hold Meeting so, as usual, we have decided that there will be no Meetings for Worship in August.

It's a good opportunity to experience other Meetings for Worship. There's a link in the right-hand side-bar to Notts and Derbys Monthly Meeting and a list of other Meetings in the area. Loughborough Meeting is also fairly close - if you would like details, click HERE (you may want to email for further information).

By clicking HERE you can find details of Meetings in the U.K.

We'll be back at the Day Centre at 10.30 a.m. on Sunday, 7th September.

In the meantime, there may be further posts on the Beeston Quakers blog. And here is a (non-Quaker) video to cheer you on your holidays.

Note: The performer is Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Babies, Caravans, Betting and Bombs

posted by Kathy

Babies and bombs may seem a surprising combination but the company Clarion Events is happy to sponsor both. They run lots of exhibitions including Baby Shows, antiques fairs and The Spirit of Christmas exhibition.

I've just received the latest email from Campaign Against Arms Trade. And I learn that Clarion Events has extended its range. It's concerned, according to its website, with growth areas. So perhaps it's not surprising that the company has moved into arms sales.

Clarion Events has bought the company DSEi from Reed Elsevier, who seem to have responded to ethical objections to DSEi's area of expertise. DSEi runs regular arms fairs in Britain where states - including some of the most repressive states in the world - can buy weapons and torture equipment from arms dealers. The event is heavily policed and protestors are regularly arrested. This happened to 66-year-old pacifist Gwyn Gwyntopher who was dragged in handcuffs across the concrete of a railway station (although she had a valid ticket) in case her presence and placard cause offence to any arms dealers. She was later acquitted of trespass.

Campaign Against Arms Trade suggests that people might like to write to Simon Kimble, the Chief Executive of Clarion Events expressing their concerns about arms fairs. They provide a helpful form HERE. The address of Clarion Events is Earls Court Exhibition Centre, Warwick Road, London SW5 9TA.

The video shows Mark Thomas considering the arguments in favour of arms sales.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Why Quaker schools?

posted by kathy

This is a question that has been troubling me for years. Why do Quakers, who have a testimony to equality, run fee-paying schools?

I can see why it started. Education hasn't always been free in England and schools often promoted activities and interests that were directly opposed to Quakerism. There is much that I oppose in school education today. But I would not send my children to a private school because that goes against my Quaker beliefs in equality.

I know that Quaker schools have a good reputation. I can see why people would be reluctant to close something that is good - and I can see a case for schools that stand out against dominant beliefs. But I don't believe Quaker schools, however good their education, are sufficiently free from external pressures to justify their existence as Quaker bodies. The sites talk about Meeting for Worship and internationalism but also about exam success - and there's an implicit message that, by buying a Quaker education for a child, the parents will also be buying the kind of facilities and attention that are not available in the state system.

Private education teaches children that they are special - it implies that they are better than children educated in the state system. I've heard children heading for private education at 11 imply that their schooling confer privilege because they are cleverer and/or better-loved than other, state-educated children. This is dangerous - and may be particularly dangerous when combined with the Quaker approach which values personal insight and individual access to truth. Quaker pupils may be told about equality but what they experience is different. They learn that their insights are valued more than the insights of most children. The stories that Osama bin Laden was educated at the Brummana Quaker school in Lebanon may derive from a confusion of bin Laden brothers, but it seems feasible that children educated at expensive Quaker schools may grow up with an enhanced sense of privilege and a strong belief in the importance of their views.

I have known good people who valued their Quaker education and I know many Quakers are convinced of the value of Quaker schools. But when I consider Quaker schools in the light of Quaker testimonies, it's as though there's a great wall between the testimony to equality and the practice of Quaker schools. I could never teach in a Quaker school and my children attended the local imperfect - but much more inclusive - state schools, although I believe there are scholarships to help the children of Quakers attend Quaker schools.

Quakers have often had difficulty with the testimony to equality. Historically Quakers helped educate the poor and slaves but they usually maintained a line between pauper children, slaves and their own, more privileged Quaker children. Real equality would go further.

The testimony to equality is most severely tested when it comes to our own children. We wonder at their beauty from the moment they are born and yearn for their safety and success. Surely all parents do this. But however much I love my children - and that's a great deal - I cannot live the testimony to equality by saying that my children matter more than yours.

I want to know what other Quakers think - and how non-Quakers view the question. What can you say?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

How Pantheism Changed My Prayer Life

posted by Rhiannon

I was going to start this post with a quick summary of the life, times, and views of Spinoza, but then I found this YouTube video which does a much better job that I could:

(If for some reason you can't watch it right now, don't worry; I'm going to summarize the key bits of philosophy anyway. If you want his biography, you can try the Wikipedia entry, or the Stanford entry.)

Rabbi Jonathan Ginsberg's YouTube video does a good job of explaining Spinoza's context and reactions from the Jewish community, but he doesn't go into much detail about Spinoza's actual views on God. How is it that he has been considered an atheist and a mystic?

Well, he was a pantheist. That's a piece of academic jargon which probably doesn't help you much: even the analysis, 'pan', covering everything, and 'theist', believer in God, doesn't give you the word's usual meaning. Spinozan pantheism (there are other kinds but we won't worry about that now) is based on a belief that 'God' and 'Nature' are the same thing. Thus, God exists, but isn't quite God as the Bible sees him (it's life, Jim, but not as we know it).

For Spinoza, 'God or nature' is one substance—one thing which can be understood through itself. He borrowed the term 'substance' from Descartes, who had written only a few years before, but who had always stopped short of really analysing religious beliefs. In Descartes, the potential exists for many substances, but Spinoza said that it didn't make sense: if no two substances can share attributes, and God—being perfect, and all-powerful—has all possible attributes, then there can be nothing but God.

At this point, sensible people tend to say, “But there is! Look, here's a tree, that's not God. Here's me, I'm not God.”

This is a good point, but what the Spinozan says in response is: “You may not know it, but everything in the universe is God. It exists, but the only thing which can exist is God, therefore everything is God. Not God as you think of Him—not a being with plans for His Creation, indeed not a Creator at all, because Creation and Creator would be separate while God and Nature are one.”

This sort of thing could upset a Jewish community, especially if propounded by someone who was supposed to be one of their own. Although Spinoza had some Christian education, he also dealt with very deeply Jewish topics, such as the nation of Israel as God's chosen people. (He sees that, incidentally, as simply a historical matter: what people call 'God's will' is simply the result of material, historical forces. I'll stop here before I reach the Marxism.)

On the other hand, pantheism was very attractive to later writers, especially the 'Romantics', who liked the idea of God-as-everything, and called Spinoza "God-intoxicated".

The question I want to address, though, is a bit more personal: what does all this philosophy have to do with my prayer life?

When I first read Spinoza, I went, 'I like this guy. I can agree with this stuff.' I was writing an essay on whether or not he was really an atheist, so I was thinking about this material quite deeply. (If you're wondering, I concluded that you had to call him an atheist if your concept of theism was a standard Abrahamic one, but he was more than that really.) That was fine, until it was time for Meeting for Worship.

Having decided that I was a pantheist, I sat down in the silence of Meeting, and tried to centre down, to be in closer contact with 'God' (scare-quotes to indicate the vast range of understandings possible). But my old ways of thinking about Deity—whether taken from Christianity or Buddhism or Hinduism etc.—seemed inadequate to this new pantheistic version. Paganism teaches that Deity can be found in the natural world, and some pagans even find it in towns and cities. Quakerism teaches that there is something of God in all people. Pantheism demands more. This is not just a God who is closer to you than your jugular vein, nor an impersonal basis for all consciousness which will be rejoined when you become truly aware.

This is a Deity which is not just here, now, but is the here and now.

I'm still working on that one. It makes sense to me. The trouble is, I slip too easily back into my old ways. I say 'He' or 'She' as if Deity/Nature had gender, and I use names as if Deity/Nature had many personalities. I don't think that's a wrong thing to do: the metaphors and analogies thus created, and many more besides, can be a great help. The mistake is to forget that they are nothing but metaphors and analogies, something which tends to happen when we always use the same ones.

Whether or not you agree with Spinoza, I think there's a real value in understanding such a radical religious position. I'm a philosophy student, and so I tend to change my position every time I read something good—during term time, that can be up to five times a week. However, I like to think that each change is an improvement, and that some ideas stick with me where others slip away. Spinoza's ideas have now been with me for a year since I first read him, and I still agree with much of it.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

One Man's Journey

posted by Rhiannon

I wanted to follow up Kathy's excellent post with a personal and specific account of one of the local events. I'm not going to make it to any of the evening things, but popping in the Central Library for an hour was easy and really informative.

The exhibition (Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row, June 1st-30th 2008) is called "One Man's Journey Through the Asylum Process", and has been created by the Sankofa Foundation. It displays, though photographs, objects, a video, and background documents, what happened to one man who left Kurdistan Iraq in 1998. Although the Immigration Tribunal didn't doubt that he had indeed been in danger, but believed that he could relocate to somewhere else in Iraq.

For all that there are important differences between refugees and asylum seekers (see the comments to Kathy's post), they also tend to have similar needs when they arrive here: food, shelter, support, English lessons, and so forth. A couple of years ago, I was trained as an In4mer (peer educator) through GirlguidingUK, and one of the topics I teach in that capacity is 'Refugees and Asylum Seekers'. In those sessions, I often find that the participants (typically 7-14 year old girls, who repeat the things their parents say) believe many mistaken things. For example, they often think that asylum seekers can be illegal (not true: everyone has a right to seek asylum, though many will not be granted it).

Very few of them have taken the time to think about what it must be like to be in that situation: so as well as explaining, we do exercises with them to prompt thought. We start playing a game but only give the rules in Spanish--to parallel the way that asylum seekers, including the One Man of the exhibition, need help to understand what is going on. We ask them to rate food, water, family, shelter, education, and other things in order of importance--to bring to their attention how much they may have lost.

Even fewer if any of them, though, are mature enough to begin to think about other themes of this exhibition: the loneliness of being cut off from your family and unable to participate normally in British society, the mixed longing to go home and fear of what will happen if you do, and the struggles with the legal system here.

When his application was rejected, this man ended up living in the corner of the factory where he worked--not for pay, but for the right to sleep in the corner. Later he lived in his allotment shed. He is now back in Kurdistan, but (despite all that has happened in Iraq), the Kurds are still, to quote the exhibition signs, "a nation without a state" and his family are "trying to live a very low-profile existence in the shadows".

I found it especially moving that he had left behind so many photographs (having treasured images of his family during their decade apart) which let us have an insight into his experience.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Refugee Week in the East Midlands

posted by Kathy

Refugees - or "asylum seekers" as they're now called - face a lot of prejudice. But refugees also give a lot to our society. Beeston Quakers know this well as we gained a great deal from the presence at Meeting of Konrad Elsdon, who came to Britain as a refugee in 1939. As the obituary published by the University of Leicester testifies, Konrad's contribution to this country was widely appreciated.

Many people who have arrived here recently as refugees have a great deal to offer - but they aren't always allowed to give anything. Instead, many are forced into destitution: homelessness and near-starvation.

Refugee Week organises events which do a number of things. Some show why people seek asylum. There are showcases for music and the arts, for sports and food.

There's more information about Refugee Week HERE.

You can find events all over the United Kingdom by clicking HERE.

There are links to events in the Notts, Derby and Leics area HERE.

Nottingham events are listed HERE.

Beeston Quakers has some informal contact with the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum, which does good work in helping refugees and campaiging on their behalf.

Not all those who need it get asylum. This video shows a performance of a piece simply called "Study for String Orchestra." It's by the Czech composer Pavel Haas. He composed it in Terezin concentration camp (also called Theresienstadt) in 1943. In the following year he was one of 18,000 prisoners, including children, transferred to Auschwitz. On arrival he was taken to the gas chambers and murdered. He was 45 years old.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Further reflections on The Whole Banana

posted by Rhiannon

Now that I've had some more time to think and process the material, I wanted to come back and write in more depth about The Whole Banana. For the background, please read my previous post on the topic if you haven't yet done so.

(image by Alex Wildwood)

As you can see in the picture, the 'banana' is the 'Quaker Way', stretching from Christianity on the left to 'participatory spiritualities' on the right. One of the most important things I think I've taken away from this weekend is the need not to underestimate the real differences between Quakers at different points on the 'banana'. To simply say “we're all...”, whether that is “we're all pacifists”, “we're all universalists” or so forth, is to generalise and hence to ignore some people. We may all tend towards pacifism, but there are different understandings of that; we may all tend towards universalism, but there are different understandings of that, too. Importantly for our purposes here, some see universalists who tend towards the right-hand side of the banana as—in the terms of a New Foundation booklet—“anti-Christian”.

I don't think I know any universalists who intend to be anti-Christian. But in discovering the riches in other faiths, we can sometimes be disparaging towards Christianity: we talk about 'moving beyond' Christianity, about 'leaving behind' Christianity. For those who have been wounded by Christian churches, this can be a very attractive conception of Quakerism. However, there is a need to respect our roots and our current members who find riches in Christianity—to accept the whole banana, and not to focus on one end to the exclusion of the other.

Trying to understand this, I sought both reasons why I might be failing to accept riches from Christianity, and analogies to the experience Tim described of feeling that some people in what he is attempting to make his community were not fully respecting his beliefs. Warning: this next section is deeply self-centred, as I seek to speak from my own experience.

I find two blocks to accepting spiritual insight phrased in explicitly Christian language. The first is the associations I have with those terms: talk of the need to accept Jesus, of believing Gospel truth, of the love of the Lord, always recalls to me encounters with Christians which have been bitter, unwelcome, or painful. In the group, I spoke about an occasion when—while trying to appreciate a celebration of the books of the three Abrahamic religions at the British Library—I was accosted by Christians determined to have me accept their view of reality. I was fresh from a New Testament module at the time, and stood my ground: they finally left me alone when, once one of them had told me that if I did not accept Jesus's word that he was the Son of God, I doubted everything, I looked her in the eye and say firmly that yes, I doubted everything.

I came away with a guilty sense of triumph and a bitterness towards them for spoiling what was meant to be an celebration of their religion alongside others. There have been other incidents of this sort; sometimes I ask for it, by attending Christian Union meetings and the like, but I always go with the intention of listening openly, and find myself being told what to believe. It is notable that other strong religious groups on campus say 'this is what we believe' (the Islamic Society has a very strong line in this), while the Christians say 'this is what you should believe'. Those interactions leave a sense of discomfort around Christianity. Before anyone jumps in, I know that not all Christians are like this—while I was working with the Iona Community, I met many very open-minded, welcoming, non-pushy Christians, who respected my individuality and took me as a friend with (often literally) open arms.

Even on Iona, though (where I felt so much part of the community that I took Communion!), there were things which gave me the clear idea that I could not be a Christian. There are things some Christians hold to which I disagree with intellectually—the historicity of Biblical stories, for example; the idea that one only comes to God through Jesus (odd, because Jesus clearly came to God through Judaism; there is also a debate here within Christianity about whether one needs faith IN Jesus or the faith OF Jesus, but to me the problem is the idea that there's something uniquely special about Jesus: either you only know whether you have the right faith by knowing about Jesus, or you weaken the terms so much that the faith OF a given other person is identical with that of Jesus, and then you might as well just follow that other person and you've lost the Christianity bit); and so on—not to mention the sometimes horrible (occasionally, to an outsider with a twisted sense of humour, hilarious) infighting over homosexuality and the history of fighting bloody wars in God's name. I've been reading up a little on Jews in Spain during the Inquisition recently, and that's enough to put you off your lunch, let alone the Church.

More than all that, though, there's the part I react to on an almost entirely emotional level, and that is the view of women within the Church. Can they be ordained? Yes or no, depending who you ask. Can they be bishops? The yes group are getting smaller. Can their experience be represented in the liturgy? Yes, but only very recently, and never, it seems, in the songs or passages people treasure.

That might be changing. Give the generation who are now singing John Bell's 'She Sits Like a Bird' time to grow up, leave the church, and become Quakers, and perhaps some of the “quote a meaningful passage from the religion of my childhood” ministry will become easier for me to accept with an open heart. For now, though, it's all too often 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind', or something equally exclusive (a shame, because it's good after the first line). I understand the hesitation to try and change the language of one's spiritual experience, but, I keep wanting to say to people, perhaps I can meet you halfway. I'm not, at the moment, quite sure where that is, though.

So: I can comfortably talk about Quakers moving beyond Christianity, because I do not want us to be limited to a tradition which has these flaws, but that doesn't mean I want us to lose it entirely. I can see that there is much good and useful and inspiring in Christianity—one of the things identified over the weekend was the cost of doing what God wants, the need for sacrifice, as a strong theme in Christianity and a weak or non-existent idea in 'new spiritualities'. I'd add to that the undeniable beauty of the physical arts and music created in Christianity—my personal favourites include some of the Taize chants (Ubi Caritas, for example) and church carvings (even if I favour faintly-pagan images like the Green Man).

I can also see that to have people casually say that your community has moved beyond your deeply held beliefs is uncomfortable. To understand this better, I looked for an analogy—accepting that it's far from the same, but hoping to gain some insight. The best I've come up with so far is that it is probably close to the experience I have when, having made some feminist point, major or minor, someone (and it's usually a man, though not always) says to me, “you shouldn't let gender matter”, or, worse, “there's no gender inequality these days”. When someone says that to me, I know that I can't, at that time, trust them to support me in issues which are important, or to be accepting of my position. There are ways in which people can disagree and still accept my position: to respond to “x seems to be caused by gender inequality” with “I'm not so sure; x could be caused by factors y or z as well” is respectful. To merely deny the existence of gender inequality without debate is not.

Thus, I'm imagining that to say 'Christianity is not useful' or 'Christianity is not part of the Quaker Way any more' is hurtful in much the same way. I'd love it if someone from the Christian end of the banana who has felt this would give me feedback on my analogy, as it's based purely on my own imagining at the moment.

This post is already far too long, but I want to discuss one last thing (I can see that there may be more posts in future): the skin of the banana. We need something to hold us together, or we are nothing more than a set of unrelated people using a single name. Suggestions include 'having a sense of something beyond' (but what about the humanists and atheists, who have much to offer but no sense of something beyond humanity?), 'finding worth in Meeting for Worship' (but what about those who, despite regular attendance, claim to feel nothing?), 'living a Quaker life' (but where then is the 'religious' part of 'Religious Society of Friends'?), and 'commitment to openness' (anyone who says that they're right and you're wrong, is wrong: perhaps akin to the militant agnostic position).

I am left with a deepened sense of something studying philosophy often alerts me to: all my answers are inadequate. Perhaps that's the skin of the banana: being okay with questions.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Whole Banana

posted by Rhiannon

I'm back at Woodbrooke, this time doing a course called 'Encouraging Faithful Diversity: the whole banana', with Alex Wildwood and Tim Peat Ashworth.

Obviously, I can't go into much detail--we're discussing a lot of very personal things, and issues from our home Meetings. That in itself is powerful, as the issues can be very deeply felt and the small group (there are only 11 of us, including the two tutors) makes a safe space in which to do so.

To give you an idea, though, the core issue is the relationships within the Religious Society of Friends between our Christian roots (background? past? core?) and the other influences, from other world religions, 'new age' movements, and semi- or wholly-secular sources such as psychology: they are perhaps best characterised as 'participatory spiritualities', but don't trust me on that, try and hear Alex and Tim talk about it for yourself.

The 'whole banana' of the title is the Quaker Way: a hard-to-define blob which stretches from near the centre of a Christian circle on once side, through a mixed area of Christian-other interaction, and into the 'other' circle. Within Britain Yearly Meeting, we have F/friends from all parts of this spectrum. That can be wonderful--we do sometimes enjoy our diversity--but it can be a superficial tolerance which glosses over real difference, or it can be a cause of strife, as wounded refugees from Christian churches are glad to escape and hate to be reminded of it, while other Quakers who find much meaning in Christianity are made to feel that their beliefs are being dismissed.

So, blog readers, I'd like to invite you to consider these questions: which end of the banana are you closest to? how do you feel about that lot at the other end, and those outside the Quaker Way who may be closer to you in beliefs than some other Quakers are? is this an issue which is discussed in your Meeting, or something which is unknown or hidden?

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Are Quakers a cult?

posted by Kathy

I've been moved to post on this subject by a couple of recent events. I noticed a story in the news which about a 15-year-old who was arrested and may be prosecuted for holding up a placard which labelled Scientology a cult. I thought it was probably rather unpleasant for the Scientologists to face a demonstration, but I didn't think a peaceful demonstration should be against the law. I wondered how we as Quakers would feel if there were a demonstration outside our Meeting. Surprised, perhaps - even pleased that anyone thought us worth the trouble.

Then there was a comment in response to one of Rhiannon's posts about Quaker Universalism on this blog. The comment didn't quite call her Satan's spawn, but it implied as much. As a theology student, Rhiannon entered into debate with gusto.

That's a problem with Quakers. Except in Meeting, we tend to talk a lot.

I'm not quite sure how to define a cult. Looking on the web, I find that some people define any religious group as a cult if it doesn't conform with certain beliefs of religious fundamentalism. I'm quite touched by the website of a guest-house in Minehead which describes Quakers as "A non-Christian cult, but nice people." Other websites are very suspicious of silent worship and waiting on the Spirit. They reckon that all truth can be found in the Bible.

Quakers certainly inspired fear and mistrust - as well as derision - in the 17th century when they emerged among the many dissenting groups in the atmosphere of religious seeking and debate that flourished briefly and refused to die away. From the outside, Quakers must seem strange. "What do you do in Meeting?" people ask. Mostly we sit in silence. Occasionally someone speaks, usually briefly. After their words, the silence returns. After Meeting, we sometimes discuss the words and sometimes the quality of the silence.

That doesn't get very far. The next question is often, "What do Quakers believe?" All sorts of things. We share a method. We're mostly pacifists and we care about Truth. I try to explain further but I can see the doubts. A creed would be so much easier. In desperation, I sometimes say We don't believe in Creeds, and immediately begin to wonder if there are Quakers who do - Quakers in dual membership, for instance.

So I start talking about Quaker testimonies
... and find that, although they are, for me, rooted in something which is distinctively Quaker, I can't explain the distinctly Quaker approach to simplicity, equality, truth, peace and social justice without sounding ... well ... weird.

To me, a cult is the sort of body which uses underhand techniques to persuade people to join, controls their minds, limits their freedom, takes their money and hardly ever lets them go. That understanding of what cults are comes mostly from scary programmes on television and articles in newspapers.

Quakers aren't like that - or, at least, not the ones I've come across in more than thirty years of attending Meeting. When I decided I might like to join, I had to ask someone at my Meeting how I should go about it and whether it was difficult. It was a pretty slow process. I wrote a letter saying why I'd like to join, met a couple of Quakers who talked to me about it and then a business Meeting (which all local Quakers can attend) discussed my application and agreed. I was welcomed into membership. No-one asked me for money or suggested I should attend Meeting more often. There weren't special T-shirts or secret handshakes. It wasn't a big change - more like an acknowledgement of something I knew already: that I belonged among Quakers. And if one day I changed my mind, I could resign by writing another letter.

Of course, I do feel I have responsibilities to my Meeting and wider Quaker organisations. These change with what I can do. Sometimes all I can do is attend Meeting occasionally. Sometimes I've had particular roles in the local Meeting. I've organised a children's Meeting. Once - but only once - I accompanied seven teenagers to the big, week-long Yearly Meeting. Sometimes, when I can afford it and Meeting needs it, I give money. At the moment I am in charge of providing drinks and biscuits after Meeting, and I try to attend most Sundays. I blog.

And I try to listen to others, trying to bear in mind the words from the current edition of Advices and Queries: "Are you open to new light, from whatever source it might come?" (A&Q 7) That doesn't sound cultish to me.

What do you think?

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Report from the protest

Posted by Rhiannon

I attended yesterday's protest in support of Hicham Yezza and academic freedom (in no particular order; for details of the events which led to this protest, see my previous post). We began, in the pouring rain, with academics and students reading the document which, downloaded and emailed, led to the inital arrests. I have to say, it seems to be very stirring stuff, from what I heard through the rain: if you're holding a secret meeting in new house, remember that the walls are thin so keep your voice down. If you want to recruit a new agent, find out what they'd like before deciding what to offer them. Try talking to people who work in coffee shops.

We were then addressed by Alan Simpson MP, who in a moment of daring spoke from the forbidden balcony of the Hallward Library. He actually spoke very well--gathering lots of applause--telling us that he too objected to the way things have been handled, especially the time it took to establish that the download was legitimate research. He made it sound like he is doing everything he can to help, though not knowing what's possible I find it hard to judge the truth of this.

Finally, we marched--silently, gagging ourselves to make visible the silence and suggest that we are being silenced by this attack on academic freedom, and also because it's still exam time--round the Portland building to Trent (Google Maps should give you an idea: down Portland Hill and along East Drive to the courtyard of the Trent Building). Once in Trent courtyard, we stood as a mass, in perfect silence for perhaps five minutes, perhaps more: I was very caught up in the moment, in the expectant gathered waiting. That makes it sound like Meeting for Worship, which it was in as much as the silence was powerful and expectant, even gathered, and not in as much as the purpose was very different.

I don't know how many people were there. It's very hard to judge numbers from the middle of the crowd, so I'll leave guesses to others. I did, though, recognise several fellow students and a few members of staff from my departments, and I was heartened to see people coming to the windows as we stood in Trent Courtyard with the cameras whirring, the birds singing, and an unanswered telephone going somewhere in the background.

Other reports:
Worker's Liberty,
Asian Image,
photos can be found here (you may even recognise my hat),
follow more news stories here.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

'Terror' on campus?

Recently, Rizwaan Sabir (a postgraduate student at the University of Nottingham) and Hicham Yezza (a former student and current employee of the University, and a peace activist) were arrested on suspicion of owning 'terrorist materials'. It was widely reported in the local news. Their 'crime'? Downloading and emailing an al-Qaeda handbook which was freely avaliable on the web, including from a US government website, as part of Rizwaan Sabir's politics research. The Muslim News seems to have the best details.

There are several aspects to this story which I find deeply disturbing. It's clearly a misuse of terror legislation and an attack on academic freedom, with racist overtones: Alf Nilsen, a research fellow in law and social sciences, is quoted in the Times Higher Education Supplement as saying that it is "occurring in tandem with several other attempts by UK authorities to increase surveillance of the academy and, in particular, non-Western students and staff". A police officer is being reported as saying that "This would never have happened if he had been a white student."

A protest will be held on Wednesday 28th May at 2pm outside the Hallward Library on campus. Academics from the University of Nottingham will be doing a public reading of the research material that led to arrests under the Terrorism Act, followed by a silent protest where students and academics will symbolically gag themselves to object to the attack on academic freedom.

Secondly, Hicham Yezza has been re-arrested on immigration charges- despite having been in the UK for 13 years as a student and now employee of the university, who are meticulous about checking visas and paperwork. An attempt is being made to deport him, probably to make him appear guilty. A corresponding campaign is being mounted, which has already been picked up by the Independent on Sunday: if it is to succeed, it needs to act quickly, as the deportation could happen as soon as Tuesday 27th May if the current appeal fails.

Like the attack on academic freedoms, these deportations seem to be getting more common. We need to act. Please take as many of the following actions as you can:
- attend the protest, outside the Hallward Library on Nottingham University Campus at 2:00pm on Wednesday, 28 May;
- circulate the press release about Hicham Yezza, by word of mouth, blogging, writing, and whatever other method you like;
- write to your MP asking them to write to the Immigration minister, Liam Byrne, in support of Hicham Yezza.

(further information and corrections welcomed)

Friday, 23 May 2008

Yearly Meeting - twitters and blogs

posted by k

Every year, Quakers in Britain have a sort of annual general meeting called, quite sensibly, "Yearly Meeting." It lasts for several days and all members are invited to attend. This weekend, Yearly Meeting is at Friends House in London and there may be as many as 1,000 Quakers there.

Decisions are reached by all the people present - by agreement of everyone and not by voting. It's a matter of listening to what other people say with openness - it might be expressed as waiting on the Spirit or in some other way.

So far as I know, only one person from Beeston Meeting will be attending - he's 16 and will be taking part in the Young People's programme.

I'll be following the BYM blog - if anything gets posted there. This year BYM will be twittering - see

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

What is 'Universalism'?

posted by Rhiannon

Following my brief blog post from the Quaker Universalist Conference, I've been asked for more on that topic, and especially about what exactly 'universalism' is (particularly whether it is what I said it was!). The answer, as in so many of these matters, is 'different things to different people', but being a student of analytic philosophy, I'd like to take a few minutes to try and say what those things are, focusing on theological uses of the word.

The word 'universal' itself simply means 'applies to everyone/everything', and has no theological content. To make distinctions, I'm going to tack on some other words to clarify what is universal in each kind of universalism. These three are not mutally exclusive, but they can be separated and held as differentiated positions.

Firstly, there's the kind in which "every person who ever lived will ultimately be saved" (quote: Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry). I term this eschatological universalism (it has also been called universal reconciliation) and it has a long and respectable history in Christianity (I seem to remember learning at A-level that Irenaeus was a universalist in this sense).

Secondly, there's the kind of universalism which says that every religion can lead to God ("salvation" in Christian terminology). This has been called theological pluralism, though I think the term 'universal' would accurately support the position that every religion can lead to God.

Finally, there's the kind of universalism which claims that every person alive can have knowledge or experience of God here and now. I call this mystic universalism, and consider it the kind most distinctive to Quakerism. There is no demand that every individual does experience God, nor is there necessarily any eschatological or next-life belief involved.

The Quaker Universalist Group states that their understanding is that "spiritual awareness is accessible to everyone of any religion or none, and that no one faith can claim to have a final revelation or monopoly of truth." If this is an accurate reflection of the beliefs of their members, I would say that most Quaker Universalists (including myself) are concerned with mystic universalism (they also say, further down the page to which I linked, that "mystics of every religion tap the one universal consciousness"), and with a strongly stated theological pluralism. Of course, this does not mean that some are not also believers in the traditional eschatological universalism, but the position of the group does not focus on eschatology (which is in keeping with the general trends of today's Liberal Quakers, who in my twenty-two years of exposure have never shown any sign of an agreed eschatology).

I would be very glad to hear from other people on this topic. Are you a Quaker and/or a Universalist in any of the above senses (or in a sense I've missed)? Whatever your own position, how would you characterise 'universalists'?

Military celebrations

posted by Kathy

It sounds as though celebrating the military is to become a compulsory part of life. I've blogged about this, in a personal capacity, elsewhere but I paused before posting to a blog labelled "Quaker".

I haven't read the whole document yet as it's a large pdf file but I've seen a number of the proposals (which havthe e support of the government) which are widely reported in the press. There are, so far as I can see, three categories, although these sometimes overlap.

First there is a concern to make life easier for serving soldiers, particularly serving soldiers in uniform and those returning from war. It wouldn't be realistic to expect this concern to lead the government to disengage from war at once, disband the army and compensate ex-soldiers but I note that there's more interest in homecoming parades (which councils will be expected to organise) and discounts for serving soldiers in uniform in shops and at sporting events. It's disappointing that there's nothing to meet real concerns of soldiers about housing and health treatment - and nothing about the high level of homelessness and mental health problems among soldiers who have left the army. There's a provision which would make it a crime to discriminate against a soldier in uniform that I'll discuss later.

Then there are provisions to celebrate and glorify the army. Soldiers are to be more visible. Military parades, tattoos and so on will become a more frequent part of life and will be covered on television. There will be a new bank holiday (probably in June) to celebrate the armed services and veterans.)

Finally there are the provisions that will affect people's rights, especially the rights of children and anti-war activists. "Military awareness" will become part of the national curriculum and state schools will be encouraged to set up cadet corps for their pupils. No-one is talking about a right of conscientious objection from military awareness courses. Quakers and others may feel worried about the effect of this increased emphasis on the military in schools. It's bad enough already. In addition, we should watch out for the laws which make discrimination against serving soldiers a crime - and the laws which deal with abusing soldiers.

Obviously the first response of Quakers may be to say, "But we'd never do that." Nonetheless, laws are often used against peace protestors in surprising ways. I recall when Lindis Percy was accused of racial abuse for mistreating a United States flag. Will these laws be used against peace protestors. I've stood outside Chetwynd Barracks with other members of Beeston Quakers and anti-war protestors. I've handed out leaflets and spoken to soldiers through a megaphone. Would this be treated as discriminatory or abusive? We won't know until we see the law and how it is used.

The press has, on the whole, greeted the new proposals with enthusiasm and Gordon Brown has indicated that they will become law. These could be difficult days for peace-makers.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Saying "no" to war

posted by kathy

A review in today's Guardian reminded me of the history of pacifist conscientious objection - and how difficult it was. One of the books discussed, We Will Not Fight by Will Ellsworth-Jones, looks at the case of Bert Brocklesby, whose two brothers were at the front. War was against Bert's Christian beliefs (he was a Methodist) but he wasn't granted conscietntious objector status. Instead he was shipped out to France and sentenced to death.

The review, by Francis Beckett, is full of telling quotations and anecdotes about the horrors of the First World War. It wasn't just a time of jingoistic patriotism but also period in which general conscription was first introduced. Most British Christians were war-mongers and the review quotes Archdeacon Basil Wilberforce, chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, preaching that:

"To kill Germans is a divine service in the fullest acceptance of the word."

It's hard to stand out against trends in the way that Bert Brocklesby and others did. In the twentieth century, Quaker pacifists probably had an easier time than most because they had the support of their Meetings. There was a whole organisation supporting them. They might be sent to prison but I've heard accounts of Quaker Meetings in prison in wartime. Conscientious objectors acting alone and without the support of their churches - like the Austrian Catholic anti-Nazi Franz Jagerstatter - had a much harder time. Bert Brocklesby, who eventually survived, was neglected and condemned by army chaplains:

Under sentence of death in Boulogne, in a filthy cell, Brocklesby was visited by a chaplain, who held his nose against the smell. "What is your religion?" asked the chaplain. "I'm a Methodist." "Oh, I'm sorry, I can't help you - I'm Church of England." Worse was the chaplain who visited Brocklesby after his reprieve and called him "a disgrace to humanity"."

Today it's pretty well accepted that Quakers are conscientious objectors. But Quakers are also involved, more controversially, in direct action: in the campaign against the U.S. spy base at Menwith Hill, for instance; in protesting against arms fairs and the arms trade; opposing extraordinary rendition, torture and the theft of Diego Garcia from the Chagos Islanders. Meeting for Sufferings (the central administrative committee of the Society of Friends) may be concerned with such bureaucratic tasks and the central framework of the society, but it also considers questions which may be unpopular today - such as the need asylum seekers have for friendship, care and support. And from time to time, Meeting for Sufferings still records the arrest and imprisonment of Friends.

It's good to remember how people have suffered for their beliefs in the past and to acknowledge how much we have built on the work of people who stood against attutudes, policies and laws which most people now agree were wrong. But that's not enough. George Fox's question "What canst thou say?" still has force. Perhaps we should also ask ourselves, "What canst thou DO?"

Note: The Housmans website has a good list of books on Pacifism and Non-Violence.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Do you Twitter?

posted by kathy

I don't twitter often - just two or three times a day, unless I'm bored or feeling frivolous. Sometimes I don't twitter for a few days at a time. And I always twitter on my computer - never on a mobile phone.

You may know what I'm talking about - or you may have heard, seen or read something on the news. Broadcasters spent a few days saying that twitter was the big new thing in communications - and then, as usual, they forgot about it.

Twitter is a means of keeping in touch with people through very short communications. The limit is 140 characters including spaces - shorter than some text messages. The idea is that people post answers to the question "What are you doing?" and use this to keep in touch with one another. It's fun trying to get a message into so short a space. And of course, twitter invites the answer my brother gave when he first twittered: "What do you think I'm doing? I'm typing in this message in an attempt to avoid working."

But Twitter has other possibilities. It could be used for very short poems or six-word stories. I'd like to try that, though I haven't yet.

It's also a quick way of keeping in touch with organisations or campaigns if they sign up to twitter and, given the mobile phone facility, it's got a great deal of potential.

I haven't found campaigns on twitter yet - do you know of any that are using it? I've signed up to follow 10 Downing Street, which is often immensely boring. I'm not that interested in the Prime Minister's visit to the Eden Project, although I wish I could go there again.

More useful are the short updates from QuakerQuaker, a United States round-up of many Quaker blogs. (We're not listed on the blogroll.) I hardly ever get round to checking out the blog-site but every so often twitter alerts me to a story or reflection I want to follow.

So are you twittering? Do you have any tips about who to follow or how twitter can be used? Would you like to see Beeston Quakers on twitter? Or would you like to use twitter more informally, to keep up with friends (or Friends)?

I'm kazbel on twitter, by the way. So far Beeston Quakers hasven't taken to twittering as a Meeting - do you think they should?

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The smell of paint

posted by kathy

Today's after-Meeting conversation ranged from the serious (Spinoza, dating the Old Testament) to the frivolous. We seem able to shift from difficult topics to light-heartedness quite easily when Meeting is over. And, of course, conversation is governed by who is there and what they have been doing or reading. At the moment we're in the shadow of exam revision and marking.

A couple of weeks ago, those of us at Meeting decided to shift Meeting for Worship to the next-door room. There were good reasons for this: it's a larger, airier room; there's a better table for books; the chairs are even more comfortable and we thought it time for a change of pictures. (The view of the garden isn't quite so good but it's still visible, especially if one of us remembers to tie back the curtains.)

We don't own a Meeting House. We rent space on Sundays. This includes the right to leave some things in boxes - our varied range of after-Meeting drinks and biscuits and activities for any children who turn up. Our youngest attenders are now in the mid-teen range and prefer to bring computers with them when they turn up.

When Beeston Meeting came into being, we wanted to but the building we used for Meeting for Worship. The Monthly Meeting (now called Area Meeting) agreed but we lost out in a sealed-bid auction. That's how we ended up in the Day Centre, with a 4-hour booking every Sunday morning.

For a while, I wished we had a proper Meeting House. It would have been good to have a noticeboard and freedom to use the Meeting House as we wished. We all liked the idea of a space that other local people could use.

But there are advantages to renting, so long as we're able to keep using the same space. There's nothing in Quakerism that says we have to be the landlords. We're a small Meeting and welcome the opportunity to focus on our main activity, Meeting for Worship. We don't have to worry about lettings or employing wardens or paying for repairs. Mind you, I think we're all glad that there are Meeting Houses elsewhere that we can visit.

But renting means a little less control over our environment. We were just getting used to our new Meeting room when the Day Centre, quite reasonably, decided to paint it. The pictures we liked were down, our drinks' supplies had been moved (but we found them) and the room itself smelt of paint.

So we returned to the room with slightly less comfortable chairs and the old familiar pictures. The sun was so bright that we needed the curtains drawn and couldn't see into the garden outside. I missed the comfy chairs, the new pictures and the sight of bright grass outside. But I could hear the birds and be part of the deep silence of Meeting for Worship. And that's what matters.

Meeting for Worship didn't look a bit like the picture, by the way. But I couldn't resist including it.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Did Romans eat bananas?

posted by kathy

Sometimes conversation after Meeting takes odd turns. I can't recall what sparked the question, but we found ourselves challenged by the query, "Did Romans eat bananas?" Some time later we moved to Bible fruits and the identity of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. The fruit is never named. I said, sweepingly, that apples are not mentioned in the Bible but of course I was wrong. They occur in the Song of Songs, in the lovely line, "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love." ( Song of Solomon 2-5, for those who like careful referencing.)
It's not a matter of theology or accuracy, but on aesthetic grounds I prefer the Authorised Version.

The question of Romans and bananas has stayed with me. Fortunately there are websites to answer such questions. The Roman Food site gives lists of what Romans did and did not eat. I'm afraid that bananas are listed with coffee and chocolate as food that the Romans definitely never tasted. They did, however, eat dormice, although the Senate made an attempt to ban this in 115 B.C. Because fruit - and later vegetables - were the focus of our conversation, we failed Mary Beard's dormouse test.

I haven't anything further to add about the fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden of Eden but I can't agree with Christine's suggestion. I know there's no justification for the idea of an apple but a seedless grape is just too small. A pomegranate, perhaps?

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Quaker Universalist Conference

posted by Rhiannon

A quick report from Woodbrooke, where I'm at the Quaker Universalist conference, so you know why I'm not with you this Sunday.

It has been said that most British Quakers, being the open-minded liberal-liberal kind, are probably Universalists on some level, but QUG (the Quaker Universalist Group) acts as a focus for that strand of the Society of Friends. (A 'universalist' is, roughly, someone who believes in some truth in all religions: it's 'being open to new light', extreme ironing edition).

The title of the conference is 'Translating Spirit'. We've heard about the Zero Point Field (it's centring down, with added quantum) from Brian Gill, balancing the inside and the outside from Jennifer Kavanaugh (I just know I spelt that wrong; correction when I'm not already late for dinner), and music and massage and other non-verbal spiritual things from John Sheldon. Plus there's been time for discussion, both formally in our ten-person 'break out groups' and informally over the pepetual mugs of tea and coffee. Still to come are the AGM and further sessions.

I'll think of you all in Meeting tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

I didn't make it to Aldermaston ... but thousands did

posted by kathy

I wish I'd been at Aldermaston yesterday. In the end, other responsibilities got in the way. But it's good to know that thousands of people turned up for the 50th anniversary demonstration against nuclear weapons.

It would be better to know that there was no need for such demonstrations. Unfortunately, nuclear weapons are still a danger to the world - and may be a worse danger now than in 1958, when the first Aldermaston march took place.

Further information is available on the CND website. The national site can be found by clicking HERE. You can find the Nottingham CND site HERE. (If you wish to look at relevant sections from Quaker Faith and Practice, click HERE.)

Edited to add:> The protestors behind Pat Arrowsmith are Watford Link Group (teenagers from several meetings for those who don't know the jargon) outing to the demo.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Rallying for peace

posted by kathy

I didn't see any other Quakers at yesterday's anti-war demonstration. I travelled on my own, by train, and by the time I arrived in Trafalgar Square the main space was full. I saw a number of peaceful protestors - some enthusiastic, some tired - and a few police.

Police said there were 10,000 people there. The organisers said there were 40,000. I don't know if I was included in their figures. All I know is that Trafalgar Square was full and that some groups were assempling in the adjoining streets. There was room to move on the edges of the square, but not much. I couldn't get a good photo showing everyone there.

I stayed for part of the rally but was tired and my foot hurt (I'm supposed to be resting it). I didn't march to Parliament Square though I'd have liked to get there. I hope the sight of protestors cheered Brian Haw.

I took a few photos at the edge of the crowd and watched the march set off. The persistence of marchers, when government seems entirely unconcerned with both public opinion and the suffering in the Middle East, was encouraging.

I also heard a speaker mention the choice Iraqi asylum seekers are being given between deportation and destitution. The government says that Iraq is safe. But then, the Ministry of Defence seems to be rewriting the history of the past five years and circulating it as lesson plans to schools.

The Quaker testimony to Truth is still needed.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Trying to stop war

posted by Kathy


We've just passed the fifth anniversary of the big anti-war march in London. I've been thinking about it quite a lot. Even my worst fears didn't foresee the devastation that followed the invasion of Iraq. I find it hard to see any good that has been achieved by our soldiers' presence there or in Afghanistan - and I hoped that some good would come, despite the cruelty of war.

The Stop the War campaign has been in touch. They are organising coaches to another demonstration in London on Saturday 15th March. The march will call for troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, will oppose any attack on Iran and will also call for an end to the seige of Gaza. The local group is running a stall in Beeston in the Square on Saurday, 23rd February between 11.00 and 1.00 and would appreciate help with leafletting. If you would like to help, please turn up. There's no need to commit yourself to the whole two hours.

If you can't come to the square but would like to book a place on the bus to the London demonstration, click HERE for details of how to contact Nottingham Stop the war.

The 15th March demonstration is also backed by CND (currently celebrating its 50th birthday) and the British Muslim Initiative. CND is calling for people to surround the Atomic Weapons Base at Aldermaston on Easter Monday (24th March). I don't yet know if anyone is going there from Nottingham. But it might be a good way to spend a holiday weekend.

The Quaker Peace Testimony is more complex than mere opposition to war. But when our country is at war, it seems necessary to speak out as best we can.

UPDATE: There IS a bus from Nottingham to Aldermaston for the Easter Monday demo. Details are HERE on the Nottingham CND website. I don't know how easy it will be to get to central Nottingham on Easter Monday so anyone who knows about public transport then might like to post a comment or share the information by e-mail or at Meeting.