Sunday, 29 June 2008

Reflections on the Prayer Vigil

I don't usually go into a time of silent waiting with a fixed agenda; that seems to me to run counter to the whole point of the exercise. I mean, I hold people in the light, but apart from that I try to be silent and listen.

So it was with some trepidation that I prepared to fulfil my commitment to the night vigil for UN Torture Victims Day. I was concerned mainly that I might fall back into my old habit of 'shopping list prayer', when I would be so busy asking God for things, and trying to cover every aspect of a situation so that He would know how deeply I'd thought about it, that I would forget to listen for any reply.

I tried very hard to turn off my own thoughts every time they began to intrude. It seemed to work - I got so much insight just from this brief time that I was amazed when I opened my eyes and saw that just my allotted fifteen minutes had passed.

What I learned was this. We all know what torture looks like. We have seen it on TV, read about it in the papers. The victims of torture deserve and demand any and all help we can give. But who are the victims? Not just the person tortured, but their families, their communities, and most definitely the torturers themselves.

Torture is an insidious evil which leaves no one untouched.

When there is domestic violence, there is torture. When there is bullying, there is torture. Like those child victims of abuse who grow up to be abusers, are torturers created by suffering torture themselves?

This is not meant to dilute the awful experiences of those undergoing what we all think of as torture. But I believe deeply that we often do not realise how close those victims can be to us. Not all torture victims are in faraway countries in medieval dungeons. Sometimes they can be just next door.

I know now that I have to keep remembering that within humanity, within each one of us, is the capacity for great cruelty and harm. It's so common to hear an anecdote finished with a laughing, 'Ooh, I could have killed him', or 'I could have strangled her'.Why do we say these things so lightly?

I feel that I have been led another step closer to God. The more time I spend with Him, the easier it becomes to get closer to Him and to live out His teachings, and the less I want to do the things that keep me away from Him. So, in addition to all the other things I have embraced and found strength in, I have to add the awareness of casual violence, not only around me but within me. And I thought I was a good pacifist already...

Thursday, 19 June 2008

UN Torture Victims Day

26 June is UN Torture Victims Day, an international day of awareness and prayer for the victims, their families, the torturers and the politicians who back them.

ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) is supporting this day of awareness by organising a worldwide prayer vigil. The aim is for there to be constant prayer, across the globe, from 8pm on 27 June to 8am on 28 June.

If you feel that you can support this, and wish to take part, please go along to the Night Vigil site to register your intention, and to pick a time slot. Of course, this isn't necessary, and we can all pray at other times too - and I hope we will - but it is heartening to see the number of signings going up as more and more people join.

You can sign up as an individual or as a group. Please think about doing this, even if you are not by inclination a 'joiner'. It's a great support for those who are undergoing torture to know that they are not forgotten.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Warmongers in Census negotiations

The following email was forwarded to me today:

The next UK Census (in 2011), in which participation is compulsory, might be run by an arms company with close links to the United States government, and which also focuses on intelligence and surveillance work. See below for more info.

The decision is now imminent. Sign the petition today: (Deadline to sign up by: 15 June 2008)

Petition on the Downing Street website

What's the problem?

The process of running the 2011 Census will be contracted out by the Office of National Statistics to a private company.

One of the two contractors in the final round of selection is the arms company Lockheed Martin, 80% of whose business is with the US Department of Defence and other Federal Government agencies.

This might concern you because: The Census rules mean that every household will be legally obliged to provide a wide range of personal information that will be handled by the chosen contractor. Lockheed Martin produces missiles and land mines which are being used in Afghanistan and Iraq and which are illegal in many countries. They also focus on intelligence and surveillance work and boast of their ability to provide `integrated threat information´ that combines information from many different sources.

New questions in the 2011 Census will include information about income and place of birth, as well as existing questions about languages spoken in the household and many other personal details. This information would be very useful to Lockheed Martin´s intelligence work, and fears that the data might not be safe could lead to many people not filling in their Census forms.

Census Alert is therefore campaigning to stop Lockheed Martin from being given the contract.

The campaign is supported by the Green Party, politicians from Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Scottish National Party, and others opposed to the arms trade and concerned about personal privacy.

We are not opposed to the Census itself. Aggregated, the information collected is important in allocating resources to local authorities and public services. But personal privacy is important too, and we are concerned that Lockheed Martin's involvement could undermine public confidence in the process and lead to inaccurate data being collected.

There is still time to stop this happening and we are not calling for a boycott of the Census at this stage.

Before the final decisions on the contract are made, we are asking you to do the following:

Sign our petition opposing arms company involvement in the Census. Contact your MP and ask them to raise the issue in Parliament. Contact your local Councillor and ask them to highlight their concerns about the allocation of local authority resources.

Important electronic communications disclaimer

Karen Clarke
Senior Lecturer in Social Policy
Politics, School of Social Sciences,
University of Manchester,
Arthur Lewis Building,
Oxford Road,
Manchester M13 9PL
Tel: 0161 275 4770

Thursday, 5 June 2008

A little hiatus

Before I come back to the account of my journey to Friends, I want to share something that is greatly on my mind.

Newberg Friends Church in the US is currently conducting a six-week corporate fast. This doesn't mean all the members are refraining from food, rather that every member is being encouraged to consider giving up non-essential activities and things that do not feed them spiritually.

AJ Schwanz has a great, thought-provoking and honest post about the way that the first Meeting after the start of the fast went, and how it felt to have her children with her in Meeting.

I was also interested to read the post before that. She had been brought up short by Isaiah 58, and hadn't been able to read past it, so she had brought it to the planning meeting for the fast and shared it with everyone there. She reprints the text and asks if any verse resonates with her readers.

Well, I have been aware for a while now that I am spending too much time online faffing around and doing nothing, and also that my overall time online is impinging on the time I need for reading, sleeping, and sitting in the Light, so I was very drawn to the idea of the fast anyway. When I read Isaiah 58, part of v11 really stuck out for me: 'You shall be like a watered garden'.

It's so long since I have felt anything but exhausted, dehydrated and frazzled - physically, mentally and spiritually. I'm not looking after myself properly, and I want to feel that contentment and health again. I may not be able to cure myself physically, but I can do a much better job of ensuring I get the rest I need, and that I eat nourishing food instead of things I like but which are not good for me (chocolate, I am looking at you....)

If I am not looking after myself physically, that affects how I am mentally. Mental overwork and stress tire me out as quickly as physical overwork and stress, and can be just as simply dealt with. And I never feel spiritually fulfilled if I don't spend time with the source of my spiritual nourishment!

The whole verse actually goes like this:

The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

I could really do with some strength in my bones, and some quenching of drought. It's in my hands now - it's up to me to accept the offer and do the right thing.

Watch this space....