Monday, 28 September 2009

Being human

posted by kathy

I first came across Amnesty International when I was a student. My college adopted a prisoner of conscience in Chile. These were the days of the Pinochet regime and he was a student and anti-fascist. He had been tortured, which was routine in Chile's jails - many supporters of Allende had been killed and others simply "disappeared." Eventually we were told that the prisoner we had adopted would be released if we could find a country to accept him. Of course, we wrote to the home secretary - it was Roy Jenkins, I believe. Britain said no on the grounds that the country was too small. We wrote to other countries. Canada said yes and so did Luxembourg. The student was set free. I don't know what happened to him after that - I wasn't the one writing all the letters but just a member of the college students' union committee. However the events taught me that writing letters could make a difference to someone's life and could even save a life.

Since then, I've occasionally sent cards to prisoners or written hasty emails to governments on behalf of prisoners. I've never managed to do enough. So I was pleased to meet someone involved in Beeston's local Amnesty International group at Meeting on Sunday. The group has monthly meetings in the local library as well as letter-writing sessions in the Commercial Inn. The group is also looking for help in their street collection on Saturday, 10th October. Click here for details of forthcoming of events with contact details. According to the Beeston Express there will also be a letter-writing session in the Commercial Inn from 7.30 p.m. on Monday, 5th October.

If you would like to be involved in Amnesty and don't live anywhere near Beeston, a web-search will help you find either a local or national group. It's possible to support Amnesty as an individual as well as through a group.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Book review: Kundnani, The End of Tolerance

posted by Rhiannon

As so often, I missed International Blog Against Racism week this year, due to a combination of holidays and volunteering work. However, as oyceter notes, "blogging against racism should not be contained to a week" and so I thought I'd go ahead and blog against racism now.

As some of you may be aware, I've worked with City of Sanctuary in the past, and grew up in a strongly Muslim area. This gave Arun Kundnani's book, The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain (London: Pluto Press, 2007) a personal edge for me: without having really been aware of the patterns and historical causes which Kundnani discusses, I had begun to see in some places the evidence to which he refers. As you'd expect, my middle-class white privilege shielded me a lot, but like many people I had been worried about whether the causes of terrorist attacks (9/11, 7/7, etc.) were really as simple as made out, and I'd been nursing a concern that our asylum procedures were racist as well as inhumane. This book essentially confirmed some things I was already thinking, therefore, and added some extras about policing, the economic system, actual statistics about the treatment of people seeking sanctuary here, and the biased presentations of history given by government and many media outlets. By outlining more clearly the situation in the UK, it also points up some of the differences between the situation here and the situation in the US which many anti-racist bloggers are discussing - though perhaps I feel that the tendency to deaden and flatten cultures when selecting pieces to teach as 'multiculturism' in schools is a British phenomenon only because I was educated in the UK and saw it in action.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in human rights, the causes of migration and 'terrorism', or who is trying to understand how racism comes about. (I trust this makes it clear why it is of interest to Quakers.) I'd like to leave you with two paragraphs from the book which I found especially telling.
In Chapter 8, Kundnani discusses the way that 'British values' and 'Islamic values' have been framed as in opposition to one another (despite the fact that neither is clearly defined). On page 129, he writes:

"The White Paper [Secure Borders, Safe Haven- pdf] shattered the framework of official tolerance of cultural diversity that Roy Jenkins had inspired with his 1966 definition of integration. The Jenkins formula had been based on a balancing act of integration (defined as equal opportunity and cultural diversity) and immigration, in which the existing non-white population was to be peacefully integrated while potential new 'coloured immigrants' were to be excluded (see Chapter 1). For most of its life, this formula had been made to work by not allowing the official endorsement of tolerance for 'ethnic minorities' to get in the way of the barely concealed racism that underlay immigration controls against non-whites. With a degree of separation introduced between race and immigration, an important concept of being black British or British Asian could emerge. In the normal course of events, race policy was discussed as a separate area from immigration policy; home secretaries could be outspoken in their tough lines on immigration and, at the same time, adopt a tone of multicultural tolerance with regard to settled non-white communities. Of course, the contradiction was always precarious - it was family members of the existing non-white population who bore the brunt of state racism in immigration controls - but, nevertheless, it made possible a multicultural society in which it was unlawful to exclude Asians and blacks from pubs but essential to exclude them from the country. The state licensed one form of racism while nominally outlawing the other."

There are other, similarly strong, sections throughout the book.

The other paragraph is the final one of the book. In Chapter 12, Kundnani concludes by examining the 'secularism' which demands that people leave religion behind when they enter the public sphere, contrasting it with the US (where church/state separation clearly does not demand that politicians be arreligious) and India (where the key principles are those of religious freedom, the government's "celebratory neutrality" between religions, and government intervention operating only to ensure human rights). The final lines, pages 187-8, give some pointers at where future anti-racist work in the UK may need to go:

"In the final analysis, the test of a secular society is whether it is capable of safeguarding freedom of belief and eliminating racisms based on religious difference. Today, driven by the attempt to legitimise a deeply unequal global order, racism has taken on new forms, at present directed specifically at Muslims and others perceived as 'alien'. Ultimately, the struggle against these forms of racism is not a fight for a particular religion or culture but a fight for universal human rights and against the vast economic and political inequalities of our world. It must involve a battle of ideas, in which alternative narratives - rooted in the experiences of migrant and Muslim communities - of the origins of terrorism, segregation and migration are advanced. At the same time, it must involve the building up of independent community-based organisations that are capable of empowering victims of racism, taking up cases, raising issues, and creating a movement for justice based on real solidarity, rather than imposed and divisive identities. It is only through such a struggle that genuinely integrated and cohesive communities with emerge."

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Truth, Equality ... and Friendship

posted by kathy

I wasn't looking forward to Yearly Meeting Gathering. I considered ducking out of the sessions and spending my time as a tourist in York. Rhiannon persuaded me to attend, offering to turn up in Goth clothes at every session where I was present.

What's so scary about Yearly Meeting? Well, to begin with, it's the numbers. I learnt at the end that 1700 people had been present, and that's an awful lot of Quakers, especially when we rarely manage ten at Meeting for Worship. The thought of so many determinedly nice, good, sandal-wearing people was particularly alarming, even though I was wearing sandals myself. (I make no claims for niceness or goodness though of course they're a good idea.) I didn't even feel keen about reflecting on "committed relationships", one of themes for the week, since the main focus was partnerships and I'm not in one at present. And then I'd booked into a self-catering house which meant I'd be sharing kitchen and bathroom with people I didn't know - the spectre of loneliness loomed.

In the end, it wasn't at all as I'd feared. It was the best Yearly Meeting I've attended. And the self-catering aspect turned out very well since I was able to reflect on my own when I wished but also had plenty of opportunities for conversation and friendship. The discussions in the shared house were a valuable way to reflect on the subject of Yearly Meeting but also a chance to learn about other people, share jokes and explore ideas and opinions. There was even an occasion when, quite by chance, three of us pooled ingredients and shared what turned out to be an excellent meal (pasta with vegetables in tomato sauce topped by cheese followed by gooseberries with Greek yogourt).

I've learnt by now to pace myself at big Quaker events. Rhiannon may have been dancing with the larks before breakfast but I felt it was OK to miss one morning session entirely so that I could arrive in the afternoon with an unclouded mind.

Unclouded minds were important as were a willingness to listen, an openness to the words of others and being prepared to be led in unexpected directions. Consideration of committed relationships mostly centred around the question of what marriage is. The question wasn't just whether same-sex couples should hold Quaker weddings but how we recognized and defined marriage. But it was the question of same-sex marriages that was expected to lead to the most disquiet and uncertainty so we determined to listen to one another's experience and leadings.

This listening began with a talk from an older friend who discussed his own experience of marriage and the relationships and hopes of his four children. The next day, individuals and couples spoke of their relationships. The assembled Quakers became aware of the hurt that was caused to Quakers whose loving and committed partnerships were marriages in everything but name but not treated as such, even within the Religious Society of Friends. While we remained concerned for the very few within Britain Yearly Meeting who remained unhappy and doubtful, the sense of the Meeting was more overwhelming than anything I had experienced before. Minds were changed during the week. But openness and listening worked in more than one way - one young, gay man in favour of same-sex marriage wanted to seek out people who were opposed not in order to argue with them but simply to listen discerningly to their views.

At the beginning of the week there was no plan to make major changes - just to listen to one another and continue the usual lengthy Quaker process. But for once Quakers outran the original plans. In the Thursday afternoon session, one young Friend was called to speak. "You've been discussing this for twenty-two years," she said. "That's longer than I've been alive. Let's get on with it. It's not exactly a snap decision."

By the end of that session, the leading of the Meeting was plain, even to those who couldn't share the decision. We had explored the subject in big meetings (the main hall held 1200, I think) and in small response groups. We'd been asked to think about the history, language, theology, social aspects and law about marriage. We returned to the words of George Fox on the subject: "This is the Lord's work and we are but witnesses." The decision we made had as much to do with our testimony to Truth as our testimony to Equality: we saw that many same-sex relationships were marriages undertaken in a religious context and it we had no choice but to witness to what we understood.

The Minute
wasn't written till the following day - not perfect but, as we accepted "good enough." But from the moment we saw where we were going the mood was overwhelmingly joyous. I had a small video camera with me, and I think you can see some of that in the small clips below, despite the shaky camera work (I haven't yet got used to the technology).

This is my home group - a "walk and talk group" in a garden on Thursday, just after we realised that we'd reached the decision. The garden was open to the public in aid of the Salvation Army and, once we'd done a little walking, we sat down and were served tea.

This is the epilogue on Friday night. We left the ceilidh and other evening activities to stand round the lake singing while young Friends launched huge, fire-powered crepe balloons into the dark sky. Those who are concerned with such matters may be pleased to know that the event was checked for health, safety and environmental impact.

And here Gordon (from another Meeting) and Rhiannon (contributor to this blog) comment on the week and their experience of Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering 2009.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Lasting Effects of Yearly Meeting Gathering

by Rhiannon

I went to help on my parent's allotment tonight, and with just half an hour picking blackberries, my hands were painted purple. I still haven't managed to wash the last of it out from under my fingernails.

Yearly Meeting Gathering seems like blackberries - juicy and sweet fresh from the bush, and it leaves a mark on you that you carry forward into the rest of life. Perhaps minutes are good on muesli, too, or maybe I'm pushing this analogy too far.

I came back from YMG in York tired (a situation somewhat increased by having spent the week before volunteering at Oxford Mencap's holiday scheme - I had so much fun I wore myself out) but also bubbling over with excitement about the business method, which I'd never really seen in action on that scale before, and about the things which were said. In particular, I'm proud to be able to tell people about our new stance on same-sex marriages. I was led to read Minute 25 (see them all here [pdf file] or read it in the context of the press release here) as ministry in meeting on Sunday morning*, and I enthused wildly over tea-and-biscuits (in my case, a glass of water) about the whole experience.

I also have a few other come-back-from-YMG symptoms. For example, having been to lark's circle dancing nearly every morning for a week, I'm waking up expecting to go circle dancing, and am disappointed to remember that I can't. Luckily, I'm not still trying to work out what tickets I need for tomorrow every afternoon!

* Not in Beeston, which as far as I know isn't meeting in August, but in Watford, my pre-university meeting.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Complexity of Simplicity

by Rhiannon, typos corrected by Stephanie

I've been thinking recently about the Quaker testimony to simplicity. My thoughts originally sprang from the issue of Quaker clothing; some friends requested that I attend Yearly Meeting Gathering, or at least some of it, in the Goth clothing which I wear from time to time. I've agreed to do this as far as I'm able, at least partly because I agree that some Friends will probably be stirred up by this. (I'm also well aware that some other Friends will like it, or not notice, or not care, and that's fine by me.)

However, before you set out to purposefully stir up elderly Friends, it's as well to check that when they come to tell you how terrible you are, you've got something solid on your side. (I've been announcing the full name of my MA course recently ('Gender, Sexuality, and Queer Theory'), which produces lots of frowns and questions people aren't comfortable asking. I try and have answers ready for at least the ones they do ask.)

To that end, I spent a little while trying to work out on what grounds Friends might object to Goth clothing. I'm pretty comfortable dealing with people who think that Goths are all into Satanism (I'm not a Satanist, but I am a Pagan Quaker, and I've had a bit of practice explaining why Pagans aren't Satanists and why Quakers can also be Pagans). If people think I'm morbid because I wear all black, so be it; if they say it to my face, I'll talk about appreciating life more when you see death as simply part of the cycle, and perhaps I'll mentioned Jesus, and/or my hilarious cuddly toy raven, depending how the conversation goes.

I did come up with one objection, though, which I thought had some merit. This is the objection from simplicity, so to speak: wearing Goth clothing is not in line with Quaker beliefs because it sets out to be the exact opposite of simple. Covered in beads and sequins and velvet and lace, how can you be keeping the testimony to simplicity?

Well, there's one angle from which I have to; unlike many better-off Goths, who buy specially made clothing from expensive stores, I am a student on a student budget, and I pick up pieces from markets and second-hand stores, spending less on clothing than I would if I bought non-Goth new clothes, preventing wearable clothes from ending up in landfill, and not supporting companies who underpay their workers in order to keep costs down (as I'd probably find I had to if I bought new, as my budget won't run to Fairtrade Organic cotton).

There's another, more interesting, angle, from which I am choosing not to abide by the testimony to simplicity. I'm choosing not to abide by the testimony to simplicity, at this time, because it comes into conflict here with what I consider to be a more central testimony: the testimony to honesty.

How can that be? It happens at two levels. Firstly, in the matter of the way I dress. I choose ways to dress which to some extend express my opinions, my aesthetic judgements, and the place I see myself as occupying in society. Yes, I can make it more or less obvious as I choose, but there are some extremely constant features: my skirt is below my knees, my hat-brim shades my eyes, some item of clothing is black. If I were to set out to dress otherwise, to try and be more conventional (and don't say to me all Quakers are unconventional; we have our own internal conventions. Go to Meeting for Worship on a sunny summer Sunday and count the pairs of sandals worn with socks), that would be a dishonesty about myself. Furthermore, if I were to change my manner of dress specifically for Yearly Meeting Gathering, that would be, effectively, a lie.

Secondly, the testimony to simplicity comes into conflict with the testimony to honesty at the level of ideas. When I look around me with the eyes of a philosophy student, I see so much over-simplification that I sometimes simply laugh at it. Now, there are times when it's fine to simplify your point or your sentence in order to better communicate the important part of it. 'Switch off the lights' doesn't need a detailed discussion of environmental issues every time.

However, in discussions of important and complex issues, a series of simplified slogans is not enough: if you ask, for example, "why do our Meetings not contain a wider variety of people?" then simply trotting out stereotypes ('students don't come because they're all hung over on Sunday morning', 'nobody comes from that part of town because they're all Muslims', 'you only get Guardian readers at Meeting') doesn't help at all; you're losing truth in your simplification. What if the students aren't coming because they don't know where it is, have never met at Quaker, or would prefer to meet on campus in the Meeting which ran for years but was chronically under-supported; what if there's a Muslim who'd like to come to Meeting, if only s/he knew what it was, a previously Quaker person who happens to have moved into the majority Muslim area, or people living there who'd come to Meeting if only the buses ran on Sundays; what if there are non-Guardian readers out there, or even visiting your Meeting already, who'd be Quakers if they felt supported? I feel sure you can think of cases of this sort which are known to you already.

By wearing Goth clothing to Yearly Meeting Gathering, then, I'm being true to myself, and also asking F/friends to look twice at me, and think about my choices, and say: just because she doesn't look like a Quaker, doesn't mean she isn't one.

Now I've proved I should be doing this, I'd better work out how to pack my best dress.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Refugee Week

posted by kathy

It's Refugee Week again and I'm late in posting links and details.

The Refugee Week website gives plenty of information with details of events nationwide. There's a special Simple Acts campaign this year
. We're asked to do just one simple thing to change the way in which refugees are perceived in Britain. You might cook a meal from a different country, tell or read a story about refugees, get to know local asylum-seekers or join a campaign.

As my contribution, I'm going to mention three familiar stories about people in exile who rely on the kindness and hospitality of others.

My first choice is the story of Odysseus. When the Trojan war is over, he spends years trying to get home. The Odyssey praises the people who show kindness to strangers and treat them generously as guests. The picture shows the princess Nausicaa, who finds Odysseus exhausted and naked on the shore. She invites him to the palace for food, drink and rest.

My second choice of story is Sleeping Beauty. Beauty is an exile in fear of her life, who receives hospitality in exchange for housework.

My final
selection is the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, fleeing persecution by leaving home and spending a time in Egypt - a country with different customs, religion and language.

All these stories agree that hospitality to those in need is important. Kindness to vulnerable and needy strangers is a theme of many old stories. They often suggest that such hospitality is a sign of a good society.

There are plenty of events near Beeston - you will find details below. Jonathan asked me to draw attention to the City of Sanctuary meeting (tomorrow!) and the whole City of Sanctuary movement.

Learn how to DJ workshops (FREE)
… and make tunes using technology and cutting edge software. All levels welcome
Venue: SEND Project Studio, Greenway Centre, Trent Lane, Sneinton NG2 4DF Time: 3-6pm (8-14 yrs olds); 7-10pm (14-19 yrs olds) Email:

Capoeira Angola Special Beginners Dance Sessions (FREE)
Venue: New Art Exchange, Hyson Green Time: 7:30 - 9:30pm Contact: Just turn up. (Wear comfortable clothing and light shoes)

Taxi to the Dark Side
US 2007. Dir Alex Gibney. 106min. Certificate 15
This Oscar-winning film is a gripping investigation into the use of torture by the US military as part of its ‘war on terror’. A documentary murder mystery, the film examines the death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base, exposing a worldwide policy of detention that condones torture and ignores human rights.
Venue: Broadway, Broad Street, Hockley NG1 3AL

Quiz Night – Who wants to be a Zimbabwean Billionaire?
Pub Quiz on the Citizen Test
Organised by Nottingham Zimbabwean Community Network
Venue: Lincolnshire Poacher, 161 Mansfield Road NG1 3FR Time: 7.30pm

City of Sanctuary Open Day (FREE)
Speaker: Craig Barnett (The National Organiser) What is the City of Sanctuary movement?
Hear the stories of people seeking sanctuary in Nottingham. How can we, as the host community, help? Get involved as a City of Sanctuary volunteer. Vegetarian food provided
Venue: St Stephens Church, Bobbers Mill Road, Hyson Green Time: 11am – 1pm

Jupiter's Dance (FREE FILM)
Producers: Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye DONATION FOR FOOD
A documentary film set in the ghettos of Kinshasa in the 1970s where street children, beggars, prostitutes and disabled victims of polio, strive to find their daily bread in an urban jungle that has plummeted into poverty and violence. The film shows how music is allowing these disenfranchised Congolese to stand up and be counted. Jupiter’s Dance should be obligatory viewing for all lovers of African music, as well as those who want to admire the defiance of the human spirit in this beleaguered nation.
Venue: SUMAC Centre, 245 Gladstone Street, Forest Fields Time: 7pm vegan food – 7.45pm film
Tickets: Admission free – donation for food. All proceeds to NNRF Tuesday Project For more information:

La Forteresse (The Fortress) - UK premiere
Switzerland 2008. Dir Fernand Melgar. 104min.
For the first time, a camera looks into the hidden world of a Swiss reception centre for asylum seekers. Awarding it the Golden Leopard, the Locarno festival jury cited ‘a remarkably sensitive film exhibiting profound human intelligence.’
Venue: Broadway, Broad Street, Hockley NG1 3AL Time: 8.15pm


Refugee Rights FREE
What are they? How are they under attack? How can they be protected?
Alice Edwards, Lecturer in Refugee & Human Rights Laws, University of Nottingham
Vincent Fox, Solicitor, First Call Immigration Services, Nottingham
Venue: Refugee Forum, The Square Centre, Alfred Street North NG3 1AA Time: 7.30pm followed by Q&A

Rainbow Project Fundraising Dinner
Delicious African and Asian Food served with Caribbean Punch. All funds to support people seeking Asylum and Refuge
Venue: The Vine Community Centre, Bobbers Mill Road, Hyson Green Time: Arrive at 7pm – Eat at 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 / Asylum seekers & refugees free / unwaged & senior citizens (donate if able) Contact:

Cabaret Sorbet
Cabaret Sorbet is an audio-visual live performance night incorporating an eclectic mix of music, dance, illustration, sculpture, spoken word, body art, film projections, and theatre. This month’s event has contributions from international artists / artists in exile.
Venue: The Art Organisation, Station Street Time: 8pm – 12 midnight Ticket: £2 / £3 on the door (bring your own booze)
Contact: Via myspace or facebook by typing Cabaret Sorbet, or email:

Family Fun Day

An afternoon of puppet-making, storytelling, dance and art workshops for all the family. FREE and open to all.
Venue: 1st Floor, Central Library, Angel Row Time: 12.30 – 3.30pm Contact: Juliet /

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Doctor Who, Action Men and video games

posted by kathy

Like many people in Britain, I watched the Doctor Who Easter special.

I've been watching Doctor Who, on and off, since the first episode. I'm a fan.

I've often been impressed by the way in which science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy and graphic novels consider possibilities for society and ethical dilemmas. It's hard to avoid doing this when creating other species, worlds, super-powers, futures, etc.

One of the themes of the revived Doctor Who, for instance, has been the Doctor's relationship with the daleks, who have destroyed his home planet and all the people on it. The conventions of the series demand that he fight the Doctor, but episodes have raised the question of whether, in doing so, he becomes the same kind of inhuman killing machine as them. Non-violent resistance is never raised as a possibility but the series does assume that it's possible to make friends with aliens (the Doctor is an alien himself) and to find the good in individuals and species.

The Easter episode was a disappointment. I had high hopes of what would happen when a London bus was whisked through space to a distant galaxy. But the characters were rather obvious and the most threatening aliens looked disconcertingly like skate. The whole thing ended with a mixture of shoot-up and hair's breadth escape but I didn't feel much anxiety about the outcome. The Doctor and bus passengers had to re-start the bus and make it fly again. Meanwhile on earth the police and army massed with the usual fairly-ineffective-against-aliens weapons. There was brief consideration of an ethical dilemma, when the army commander suggested closing the fabric of space, which would kill the Doctor and bus passengers, so that the rest of humanity would be saved. Somehow I knew the Doctor would make it.

But the closing minutes did worry me - and not because a few of the skate-aliens swam-flew the fabric of time and to be shot by women and men with guns..

Among the bus passengers whisked through space were two lads who did their best to help, engaging in such necessary activities as shovelling sand and tinkering with the engine. They were presented as typical teenagers without many plans for their present, let alone their future - but they were moderately engaging characters. The Doctor - usually the voice of moral authority in the series - recommended them to the army commander as useful recruits, suggesting that a stint in the army was all they needed to sort them out. And that bit of army propaganda in a children's TV programme was too much for me.

As job opportunities plummet, there's a huge increase in the activity of the recruitment and public relations branches of the armed services. New advertisements urge young people to "Start thinking soldier" by playing online video games which offer a limited number of choices. The videos say they are "intended purely for users aged 16 and over." That warning is probably a huge draw for a number of under-16s, who may be attracted from the army recruitment site's Teen Zone, where 13-16 year-olds are encouraged to play other computer games by
joining Camouflage and getting access to "piles of free stuff".

But promoting the army start with younger children. My son was about seven when he first asked for an Action Man toy. We were both unhappy with the military theme but there's a shortage of male dolls for boys. I compromised with Action Men engaged in non-violent activities: driving a moon buggy for instance and scuba-diving. They seemed to increase the scope for imaginative play.

Since then, Action Man has fallen out of favour in Britain so that the toy is no longer marketed in Britain. The Ministry of Defence (public relations division) has seen a gap in the market. They are sponsoring dolls under the "HM Armed Forces" brand which will be dressed for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with suitably scaled-down replica equipment.

The Ministry of Defence assures us that these aren't a recruiting toy but a matter of "public relations" - and that's quite a different thing.

So presumably the dolls - and the TV campaign and the video games and the Camlouflage website - aren't supposed to persuade under-16s that they should join the army. They are just supposed to convince children that, whatever their parents think, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a good thing and lots of fun. I don't suppose the Ministry of Defence is encouraging the production of toy blood and wounds and wheelchairs, let alone any games that involve post-traumatic stress or dead and wounded civilians.

I don't feel happy at the idea of children playing games that involve killing Iraqis and Afghans. I loathe these toys. And it worries me that, as the army recruitment and public relations machine reaches out to young children, Doctor Who has also been conscripted to tell us that slightly under-achieving teenagers would blossom and fulfil their potential in the army. He didn't mention that they would be trained to kill or that they might end up injured or dead.

I suppose it's a coinicidence that Character Group plc, which is developing the new army action figures in association with the Ministry of Defence, also markets and distributes Doctor Who action figures.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Quaker Tropes?

posted by Rhiannon

I was recently directed to the website TV Tropes, which went on to eat the rest of my afternoon and most of my evening. They collect 'tropes', patterns of events or behaviour in fiction, which reoccur across many examples in many genres: for example, modes of transport in all kinds of stories may be found to be Traveling at the Speed of Plot.

As I read through the website, open tabs collecting in my browser like autumn leaves in that gap between the wall and the fence were you can never quite get to all of them, I began to realise that there was another genre in which I participate from time to time where tropes occur.

When I was young, we used to call one of these tropes 'Daffodil Ministry'. There would be a week in the spring when, if Quakers were betting types, we would all have had a fiver on someone beginning their ministry with the words, "As I came to meeting this morning, I noticed the daffodils and I thought..." Of course, this trope has subsections, such as the Snowdrop Ministry and the First Frost of Autumn Ministry, and so forth. All can be valid as ministry and speak to the condition of those present, but they are, nonetheless, recognisable.

Later, I came to recognise another trope: Guardian Ministry. This begins from a news story the Friend has read earlier in the week. It can also be Radio 4 Ministry, or sometimes Moderately to High Brow TV Documentary Ministry. One of the more unfortunate subsections of this kind of ministry is Grauniad Ministry, which occurs when the Friend speaking has misremember or misunderstood a key part of the story. (Luckily this is rare! It's also important to note that such errors do not automatically prevent the ministry from being powerful, useful, and appropriate.)

Perhaps even that most respectable ministry, The Quote from Advices and Queries, would get a page were we to have a Quaker Tropes website. (Perhaps Faith and Practice itself could be regarded as a related collection!) If such a site existed, what would you submit? Which kind of ministry do you hear (or give) regularly?

Edited to add that I wrote this post before I saw that The Friendly Funnel had made this post.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Watford Friends Sharing

by Rhiannon

Just a quick post to alert you to an interesting Quaker project (I'm not supposed to call it a blog, although it runs on blog technology): Watford Friends Sharing. Watford Meeting's Outreach Committee are aiming to post a piece of poetry, writing, or art every First Day, on their newly redecorated website. (The art currently takes the form of the selection of large photographs at the top of every page; at least one of those photos is mine, so you should click onto some other pages to see the rest.)

My excuse for posting about this is that yesterday they posted a poem of mine, Quaker Cake. It was written in Edinburgh in 2007, but reflects my experience of Quaker Meetings up and down the UK: I think Edinburgh is the furthest north I've ever been to Meeting and Come-to-Good the furthest south, but Watford, Beeston, Holyhead, Exmouth, and others have all been important to me, and were in my mind as I wrote.

Some might read the poem as gently mocking. I'd like to assure readers that it is done with great fondness.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The battle of the buses

posted by kathy

The atheist bus campaign has come to an end for now. I've found it rather cheering. Theological debate on buses seems a worthy successor to the wonderful poems on the underground. Since the atheist buses launched, there have been Christian buses (in at least three varieties as well as a brilliant suggestion for a Buddhist bus. I briefly wondered about a Quaker bus and started to think of suitable slogans. But all I could come up with was the famous George Fox quotation urging Quakers to "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one." I'm not sure the bus companies would like the bit about walking - it might interfere with their revenues.

I was forced to question my enjoyment of the bus campaigns when I read of the driver who refused to drive a bus with an atheist poster on the side. This wouldn't be the kind of poster that worried me. But for one driver this was a matter of conscience so serious that he was prepared to risk his job.

Are there posters that would cause Quakers similar concern? How about a bus which carried an advertisement urging young people to join the army? Would a Quaker bus driver have problems with that or would the driver decide that it was more important to get passengers to their destinations?

Are there any Quaker bus drivers?

(photo by Jon Worth, British Humanist Association)

Sunday, 4 January 2009

What can we do about Gaza?

posted by kathy

It was inevitable, I suppose, that the first subject mentioned after Meeting was Gaza. We've been following events separately and wondering if there's anything we can do at this distance. It didn't seem that, individually, we could achieve much.

As pacifists, we have a responsibility to act as best we can. Pacifism isn't a matter of sitting at home and saying "Oh dear."
Pacifists are obliged to act for change. John Woolman, the 18th century American Quaker, urged us to look for the "seeds of war" in our possession and daily life. He also set us the example of acting to bring about change for justice. John Woolman was one of the people responsible for Quakers' opposition to slavery as a body. But he didn't see the end of slavery in his lifetime.

Thinking about Gaza, we decided to use this blog to share knowledge and ideas in the hope that it would help. There's considerable ignorance about the Middle East. Even our Member of Parliament, writing for his constituents and the Guardian newspaper, wasn't aware that Hamas had won the majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority elections in January 2006, nor that the response of the West to this victory was to freeze humanitarian aid. Many people are unaware of the effects of Israel's blockade of Gaza. This imprisons the residents in a tiny area. Those who wish to leave have been forbidden. Students were for a long time denied visas to take up scholarships abroad. Attempts were made to stop Gazans from representing Palestine in the Olympics. People needing medical treatment outside Gaza were prevented from leaving.A year ago, UNICEF reported their serious concern for the safety and well-being of children in Gaza.

We can't undo the events of past years but any attempt to improve the situation must take them into account, both factually and by considering the effect these have on all the individuals involved. We need to know what's happening now as well. The local blogger and poet Litterbug posted a helpful link to the Oxfam site which includes reports from an Oxfam worker in Gaza city. (To look at reports as they arrive, go to the Latest from Oxfam page and check regularly - or follow Oxfam on Twitter for more general news.)

This post isn't an exhaustive list of information - I'm asking Beeston Quakers and others to contribute ideas and, in particular, knowledge, by posting comments. Please add what you can.

If you are relatively new to blogs and/or the internet, it may be helpful to know that the text in green is "hotlinked" to the relevant pages or sites. You can post a comment by clicking on the word "comments" at the foot of this post and then following the instructions.