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 /