Monday, 31 August 2009

I Don't Like Mondays....

My laptop has some major problems, plus all my symptoms have flared up. Not a good combination. Back next week, I hope.

Monday, 24 August 2009


It was the monthly Meeting for Worship in my home yesterday. After we had shaken hands at the close, we began discussing the case of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the 'Lockerbie bomber', who has just been returned to Libya on compassionate grounds due to his suffering from terminal cancer.

My F/friend Michelle brought the topic up. It has been much on her mind. She said the thing that kept coming back to her, among all the hurt and anger that his release had stirred up, was:

Revenge is not justice.

It is so difficult, when someone does something to harm us, to keep a clear head. Our immediate instinct is to hurt them in return. That may be a natural reaction, but we know that it is not the best outcome. We know, as Ghandi said, that 'an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.' Forgiveness is such a hard, hard thing to achieve sometimes, and there will be times when we feel we will never get there. But it is also healing, for the person harmed as much as, if not more than, the perpetrator.

We also need to remember that our forgiveness is not dependent on their remorse. We can forgive, and let go the hurt, and refuse to give them that power over us any more. Although I have never been involved in a tragedy such as Lockerbie, I can speak this truth from very unpleasant and dangerous personal experience.

Revenge does not heal; forgiveness does. I hope that all involved in this terrible tragedy will be able to find the truth of this for themselves, and not let it warp their whole lives.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Here we go again

Yet again the humidity has beaten me, and I am unable to blog properly this week. The lack of sleep (and presence of unpleasant and disturbing dreams) is really starting to annoy me now!

I'm used to having quite a narrow life, but having it narrowed even more is very irritating....

Monday, 10 August 2009

Further thoughts....

Last week's post generated some very interesting responses and reactions, not only online but in person.

One F/friend told me that she liked that fact that, when she comes to Meeting, she knows she is with people who have thought about their faith, and that our beliefs are not 'dumbed down', and I know just what she means. I think part of the reason for the current Quaker demographic is the tendency for people only to find us after some kind of spiritual search, after a lot of thought about what they believe, and how they wish to connect with the Light they seek. People don't attend Quaker Meetings because they are the nearest on a Sunday morning, or out of habit, or because it's 'the done thing', and they don't attend if they have never considered their own spirituality.

As a religious group, we do not tend to proselytise, and many members (including me) found that comforting when we first encountered the Society. I know that many members and attenders (again, including me) come from a negative experience of evangelical Christian experiences. So I am not suggesting we go out and tell every person in the world that Quakerism is the only true way - that would run completely counter to the idea of respecting the Light wherever it comes from, and would be totally inappropriate.

However, I believe strongly that Quakerism is an ideal way to foster ecumenism and interfaith dialogue - no matter what words we all use to speak of God, or whether we are atheists, we can still all listen together and seek the Light.

Another F/friend suggested that perhaps it might not matter if people do not have any kind of view on the existence or non-existence of a spiritual aspect to life, but I cannot bring myself to agree.

I can only say that I believe everyone should know about us, so that they can make an informed choice - and I believe that, if more people knew about us, our numbers would be rising and our Meetings growing.

Patrick Gale, a non-Quaker, summed up what I feel in his excellent novel about a Quaker family, Notes from an Exhibition:

"When they took her to her first Meeting for Worship, and she witnessed the potent combination of quiet contemplation with the lack of Christian paraphernalia she had long dismissed as nonsense, she found herself marvelling that Quakerism had not become the dominant world faith. It seemed so accessible, sane and adaptable."

Monday, 3 August 2009

Are UK Quakers elitist?

Something is bugging me, and has been doing so for a while now. Are we (especially in Britain) elitist? I don't mean intentionally - quite the reverse! - but from what I read, see and hear from other Friends, UK Quakers are predominantly white, middle-aged, middle-class, educated and left-wing. I include myself in this - that describes me absolutely. But Quakerism has so much to offer everyone, and I am concerned that we're not getting the message out beyond our own circle.

We have Quaker Quest, which is excellent, and I would not think to criticise it. My Meeting is running one in the autumn at which I have been invited to speak, so it would be pretty hypocritical of me to pull it down. But are all the people who attend just more people like us? Are we just continuing the status quo by inviting our friends and colleagues? By all means, invite them - but how do we reach out to other people who may not even be aware that we exist?

I live in a small ex-mining village, with on odd mix of inhabitants. We have University lecturers and post-graduate students, because it's only a short commute to Durham, and we have a group of artists and writers. Then the majority of people come from families who have lived here since the village was founded in the 1870s, people who would be described by themselves as working class, often poorly educated and with complex family trees, as families intermarry and relationships can sometimes be of quite a short duration. Their lives usually revolve around the family, their often unskilled jobs, football for the men and shopping for the women, and drinking on a weekend. They expect to be able to buy pirate DVDs and dodgy cigarettes from their neighbours, and to settle arguments with their fists - without involving the police. Green concerns, ethical consumerism, politics of any kind don't engage them at all.

This is difficult to write about without sounding condescending, and I really don't want to. I am describing my neighbours and my carers, and they are good people. But they know nothing about Quakers, and are usually quite turned off from religion in any form. For example, one of my carers describes any churchgoer as 'all Goddy-Goddy' - with a hastily added, 'Not like you, I don't mean!' I think it's meant as a compliment...

I talk about Quakerism and my faith when the opportunity arises, so at least the people who know me know a little about it. But how do we reach out and explain, to people who are so dismissive of any kind of personal faith, that our way is different? Are they even looking for another way? And would they stay if they came to a Meeting, or would they feel out of place and unwanted?

I have no answers to any of these questions. But they worry me very deeply, so I am putting them out here to see whether they worry you too.