Thursday, 19 July 2018

What I Fear

A peacock stands on a stone pedestal in a pleasant garden, with a pond in the background.
I have fears, when I write things like this. When I write down what I am led to write, or when I sit down to write deliberately, certain worries are always on my mind.
There are the usual worries of anyone writing things others will read, of course. Have I written this well? Is it understandable? Will people criticise harshly, perhaps even mock me?
When writing down ministry, there are extra worries. Have I faithfully rendered that which has been given to me? How sure am I of the leading?

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Thoughts On Outreach

You may be aware that I recently posted some written ministry concerning outreach, asking why we are so quiet. I didn't mean in worship, of course; silent worship with contributions moved by the Spirit is at heart of the Quaker way. I mean how we are in the world beyond our little Meeting communities. I have written somewhat about this before, concerning the spiritual and moral imperative I see in outreach. It seems timely to put down some other thoughts on the matter.
I can understand a lot of reasons for reticence to engage in outreach. I can understand less the reticence I have seen among some Friends for others to engage in outreach, in general. You might be unsure of how to talk about Quakerism. You might not be generally socially outgoing. You might feel awkward at the idea of talking about your faith tradition as being a good thing. These are all valid. Some of them can be overcome, but none of them are things that you should feel you must overcome. Just because outreach is something that should happen, doesn't mean that everyone should be engaging in it. Indeed, I've sometimes seen people doing outreach who I would much rather weren't, but that's a whole other matter.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Coming Soon – Maxims and Aphorisms

On the background of a chalkboard, typed text reads "Coming Soon"
Thanks to everyone's feedback, largely on Facebook, I've come to a decision about how I'll be sharing the very short ministry I mentioned recently.
For the next 16 weeks, or longer if more come to me, I will be sharing one of these pieces, what I call “maxims and aphorisms”, each week. I will aim to do them on Saturdays, around lunchtime (UK time). Hopefully this will mean a lot of you get to digest and reflect on them at the weekend, though that of course supposes that Friends (and others who are interested) tend to have Monday-to-Friday jobs, which is a bit of a problem. However, I have to pick some particular time to do them, and that's it.

Monday, 16 July 2018

The Personalness of Morality

A stylised humanoid figure, as might be made of plasticine, stands under a tower of letter-blocks spelling "ethics" as the tower falls on them.
Ethics and morality are odd things. Sometimes it's clear that an ethical belief is something we hold to be universal – that there can be no question that something is wrong. Sometimes it's clear that it's a personal thing – that we hold for ourselves that that thing is completely wrong, but do not expect others to share that belief.
This isn't just a matter of different beliefs fitting different categories, though. It's also a matter of different people or ethical systems having different views of relativism. Very few people would extend moral relativism to murder or slavery in the modern context (though there are those who do), but many people (though far from all) are ready to see ethical beliefs about drugs, alcohol or sex as matters of personal morality.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

What To Do About Very Short Ministry?

A person holds a small gift box in their outstretched hands. The gift box is a slightly metallic brown colour, with a cream-coloured bow around it.
Good things in small packages?
What originally drove me to start this blog was my written ministry. This came to me, as I have previously written, with as much compulsion as any spoken ministry in meeting, and after writing it down in obedience to that leading I was led to share it. Once I came to the conclusion that a blog was a good way to do this, it made sense to write what I chose to write as well. I refer to this as “deliberate writing” in order to differentiate it, on the basis of the primary differentiating factor. Such writing has become slightly numerically dominant on the blog, though it swings the other way when I'm going through periods, as recently, with not much time for deliberate writing. Written ministry comes as it will, and I write it down and share it when I have it. Deliberate writing needs me to choose to do it rather than something else.
There is a set of written ministry that I have not yet shared, however, and the leading to do so is generating a considerable amount of discomfort. The problem is that I also know that I should share it in the most effective way that I can, and I have no idea what that would be.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Morality, Action, and Inaction

The moral value of a course is determined by both motives and outcomes, and that value is attached to us by our decisions – whether that be a decision to act, or not to act. Inaction holds no inherent moral superiority over action.
Written July 2018

Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Simple Good News of Friends

There is, in each of us, a part of the Divine.
Through this, each of us can know first-hand the guidance of God, whatever you might call it and however you might think of it.
By what it shows us, we might call it Love or Light.
We do not need special places or people to have access to it, no special rituals or forms of words.
In silent waiting we learn to recognise the promptings of this Spirit.
In waiting together we gain clarity and confidence in our discernment of how it is leading us.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Flashes of Clarity

A view through fogged and droplet-covered glass. Nothing can be clearly made out.
It is inescapably true that we see, as the quote goes, “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) or, in more modern translations, “in a mirror, dimly” – assuming glass to be in the old sense, as in “looking glass”, though there is debate as to which sense was meant by the author of the epistle. This is clearly true, from the evidence of modern neuroscience, of our perception of the mundane, everyday world. We see the reflection of the world that our senses and our complex neural circuitry manage to produce, and it fills in the blanks with reasonable assumptions all over the place. It finds patterns anywhere it can, so we see dogs and sofas in clouds. We miss far more of the world around us than we see.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

On Titles

A selection of titles in various colours and fonts: Dr, Sir, Ms, Mrs, Dame, Lady, Revd, Prof, Miss, Fr, Mr, Esq, Mx, Lord, Lt.
One of the little details of Quaker practice that is not completely unheard of outside of Quaker circles – though that does not mean it is well-known – is our rejection of titles. That is to say, we traditionally do not use such things as “Mr”, “Mrs”, “Miss” etc., preferring to simply use names.
There are several reasons behind this. One is our view of equality; especially in the society in which the Quaker movement developed, a huge range of titles existed and reinforced the expected structure of society, of social interactions, and of status. Nobility was still considered important by many, and the titles of right or of courtesy that went with them were often insisted on. Titles and styles related to offices under the crown, such as “judge” or “doctor” (usually for those who have achieved a certain degree of study – academic doctors or doctors of divinity – rather than physicians) were important, and people of standing who could claim neither noble nor official title often sought a knighthood. Those entitled to the style of “esquire”, not a general formal term as it is now in the UK, nor a term conventionally restricted to certain professions as it is now in the US, would often insist upon its use. As such, the rejection of titles stands for a rejection of the formal and conventional delineations of standing and status, as well as of the forms that derive from them (such as the giving of hat-honour, one of the most noted rejections of convention among early Friends).

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Repentance and Forgiveness

A confessional in a Catholic church, the curtains open.
Like much of our spiritual experience, the Quaker
confessional is inward.
Once upon a time, I habitually listened to Radio 4. For the Americans, this is broadly similar to NPR – I don't know a good point of comparison for any other countries. Basically, it's one of the nine “mainstream” national radio stations from the BBC (there's also a tenth specifically focused on British Asian communities, and local stations for the nations and regions), and it's focussed on talk content. Comedy, drama, in-depth current affairs, that sort of thing. It's very popular with Quakers. If your Quaker community has a trope about ministry coming from a radio station, we have the same thing with Radio 4.
In the last few years, I've listened to Radio 4 less and less. While it has some wonderful content that isn't related to current affairs, there's a huge amount that is – and current affairs has gotten rather depressing lately. It would be quite bothersome to put it on just for the programmes we want and change station every time a news bulletin comes on. Not that we avoid all news; we follow a lot of news online, consuming it when we want to, on our terms. Managing mental health is very important.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Following Light, Purely?

A crowd of geese follow a woman in a dress and a hat, with a dog behind them.
I have heard it suggested that the most true and pure form of Quakerism would be to follow the Light “purely”, directly, with neither story, nor symbolism, nor any form of tradition. It certainly follows logically from the idea of our direct experience of the Divine (or God, Light, whatever you want to call it). In a sense, it might be the Platonic ideal of Quakerism.
The problem is, it isn’t really possible.
We do not live in a world of Platonic ideals. The ideal triangle, the ideal sphere, the ideal rock – all are beyond our grasp. The ideals of purely conceptual things are similarly beyond us (indeed, some would argue that all Platonic ideals are conceptual). We shall never attain ideal democracy, ideal equality, nor even ideal faith or ideal love.
So far, so general and dismissive, you might think. It is only fair to ask that I give more specific, concrete, practical reasons to object to such a theoretically laudable objective – for we would surely follow the Divine most faithfully if we were not impeded by preconceived ideas of its nature or how it might direct us. Of course, as the matters involved include cognition, my points will still be somewhat abstract, or at least not tangible, but they ought to be more concrete than “ideals are unattainable, therefore it can’t be done, quod erat demonstrandum” – which is, after all, not just snobbily dismissive, but also somewhat begging the question.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Goodbye, Grandma

Scrabble pieces on a natural wood surface, spelling the word "goodbye"
Next week, I will be at my grandmother's funeral.
She is the last of my grandparents to die, and the one that I was closest to in my youth. This was not a result of any particular compatibility of personality or interests; rather, she lived nearby and looked after me a lot when I was little and my parents both worked. My other grandparents lived further afield; her ex-husband not too far away, in a neighbouring borough, though he was frail and largely housebound, while the other set of grandparents lived in Spain when I was born, then County Durham a few years later – both a long way from London.
My London grandfather I barely knew, which became a regret once he died. His long illness made it no surprise that he was the first to go, when I was about 14. My other grandparents I spent time with intensively, when I saw them, and I suppose I had most in common with my other grandfather – curiosity, an interest in technology, that sort of thing. I didn't see them that often, though.
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