Tuesday, 24 April 2018

What Are "The Things Which Are Eternal"?

A long exposure photograph of a cloudless night sky, showing the path of apparent motion of stars in the sky as the Earth rotates.
“Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal”. It's a popular phrase, made particularly well-known by it's inclusion in Britain Yearly Meeting's Advices and queries, number 18. It falls easily from our lips, and a lot of people seem to put a lot of emotional investment in the idea, but what does it mean?
In my experience, Friends often seem to use the phrase in a way that is rather non-specific. Much like “that of God in every one”, its meaning seems to be in the moment, in whatever form is useful to the speaker. Usually, it seems to add a sort of warm fuzz to the idea of getting to know one another, that it means getting to know one another in a deep sense, rather than a superficial one. You might know what someone does for living, but it is knowing them in a deeper way to find out that they paint landscapes, or write poetry. This is a reasonable distinction to make, and the idea that we, as Friends, should know one another well is a laudable one. Is this really “the things which are eternal”? Certainly, there's a degree to which meanings change with time and context, especially as society changes – or as our Religious Society changes.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

On Quaker Universalism and the Unchanging(?) Nature of the Divine

A selection of faith symbols arranged in a circle.
There are those who say that Truth, or the true Light, or God, is eternal and the same, unchanging, at all times and all places, among all peoples constant.
I do not know if that is true. I do not know the underlying nature of the Divine, but even if it is somehow a product of humanity, it is possible that it is constant, a product not of our changeable and evolving natures but of some common, constant core of what makes us human.
What I can say, however, is that an eternal, unchanging constancy need not be reflected in how the Spirit is revealed to us. It comes upon us in manners suited to our varied natures, in ways appropriate to our different situations. It is in this way that actions, principles and beliefs may severally be inspired by the Spirit, despite their differences. They may be different in small ways, even so small as to seem trivial, or in large ways, even so large as to seem fundamentally incompatible.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Theology and "Notions"

Photograph showing an infant being baptised with water.
Water baptism: a ritual Quakers have traditionally considered
an empty form, based on notions, rather than any true leading
of the Spirit.
A fair amount of my writing could be described as theology. Not high, formal, academic theology, perhaps, but it's theology – questions (and, to be fair, rarely answers) about the nature of God, or at least of what-you-will. I've known some to quibble with the idea of calling it “theology” if there's no theos involved, but there's no better term, so I'll use this one. Indeed, I'm hardly the first person to talk about theology in the context of a non-theistic worldview. So, if you are a purist in the meaning of that term, insisting that it only applies to theistic (some would say only Christian) contexts, I ask your forbearance. Also, to not argue with me about it on this post – as will become clear, a large part of what I will be discussing here is in the Christian context, indeed in the context of early Friends, and in any case it would be rather missing the point of the post overall. If you prefer to think of the wider idea as hierology, you may do so, but this isn't the place for a debate on what counts as theology and what as hierology.
The context of early Friends is important here, because one of the great criticisms of those early Quakers was against notions. All the haggling among the Church and its divisions, in the first millennium, over the nature of Christ, the question of the Chalcedonian formulation versus Miaphysitism – that is, whether Christ incarnate was of two natures, human and divine, united in a single hypostasis, or whether he was of one nature, wholly human and divine – is one example. Another, far more contemporary with the early Friends, would be detailed questions over the nature of the Trinity and the relationship between its members. The early Friends were, of course, strongly bible-believing Christians; though this was tempered by reliance on “the Spirit that gave them forth”, the bible was still important and a key tool of the early Friends. Because of this, they did not consider the basic idea of the Trinity to be a notion – it is clearly pointed to in scripture. Indeed, one of the members of the Trinity is of particular importance to Quakers, for it was said from quite early days that what moved them in worship was the Holy Spirit (among other terms). Precisely what the relationship is between the members of the Trinity, however, would be a notion.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Stop. Attend. (A Message Concerning Meeting for Worship)

Stop. Attend.
I do not mean to call you to attend to my words. If you are reading them, or hearing them, it is natural that they will have your attention.
Stop. Attend.
Stop, as best you can, your busy thoughts, your worries and concerns, your plans for the week ahead and for the further future. Important as they may be, that is not why you are here.
Stop. Attend.
Stop your rational thoughts and reasoning on spiritual matters. Intellect and reason alone are not the path to that which we seek.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Doing It Ourselves

I've heard it said, many times, that Quakerism is a “do it yourself” religion.
People usually seem to mean it one of two ways. In one of those ways, they are usually being broadly positive about the idea. In the other, people tend to give it a negative connotation.
The first, positive way refers to our lack of separate, particularly paid, clergy. We are all in it together, we all muck in to do the jobs that need doing. Whether it's spiritual nurture, pastoral care, administration or looking after our property, everything is a communal task. This is, I think, usually seen as a positive both in the sense of having thrown off the authority of the “hireling priests” and in the fact that it enriches our sense of community. It is also often used as an encouragement, even admonition, to encourage members of our community (whether in formal membership or not) to get involved and take on voluntary roles within the community.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

A Quaker Easter Part 2: Meaning

Photograph of a statue depicting Judas kissing Jesus.
In yesterday's post, I looked at the role the celebrating or otherwise marking Easter might have within Quaker communities, and in terms of a Quaker community's relationship with the community in which it is situated. Today, I will continue the exploration of Easter, but on a more spiritual note. I will look at the story/stories behind Easter, its history, and what meaning we might take from it.
As I have explained previously, I think this is important for Quakers. This is because, where we observe the traditional testimony concerning times and seasons at all, we tend to only remember half of it. No day is more holy, or more significant than another, which is important. However, the early Friends did not reject the lessons and meaning of holy days, just their fastening to a particular day. The same argument applies to liturgical seasons. Thus, it would be taught that we do not observe Easter, or other holidays, but that we should remember the lessons and meaning of Easter all through the year.
Now, of course, with the cultural pervasiveness of many holidays, it is (in my experience) a rare Quaker that refuses any observance of the holidays at all, yet I see little deep engagement with the meanings of these festivals, whether at that time of the year or otherwise.

Friday, 30 March 2018

A Quaker Easter Part 1: Communities

Colourful eggs in and around a nest seemingly made of feathers, with buttercups and spring foliage.
In the western liturgical calendar, this weekend is Easter. Orthodox (eastern) Easter is next weekend, in case you were curious. As such, this is a good time to continue my series of posts on “times and seasons”.
Quakers traditionally reject liturgical calendars, but increasingly, Friends observe the various holidays and festivals, whether sacred or secular, at least on a cultural basis. As I have observed before, however, the rejection of times and seasons is not a rejection of the idea of the holidays themselves, not a rejection of the stories and ideas behind them, but a rejection of the basic idea of “holy days”. No day is more sacred than any other; for Christian Friends, or for any who draw inspiration from Christian stories, no day is more appropriate than another for the remembrance of the story of Holy Week, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion on Resurrection, just the same as no day is more appropriate than any other for the remembrance of the Nativity, nor indeed for the remembrance of those lost in war or the struggle to achieve rights and equality for women.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Today I Wed

A rope, knotted such that the knot makes a heart shape.
Today, I wed.
My marriage will not bring love,
It is brought by it.
My love does not change the world,
It changes me.
It does not cure my ills,
But it enables my living with them.
Love is the font and source of life.
It is the power the underlies all powers.
It is the strength that falters last.
When dedication and principle and reason fail,
Love remains.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

What Do We Seek?

A section of a jigsaw puzzle, all of the pieces blank and white. One piece is missing.
What do we seek, we Friends of Truth, we Friends of the Light, we Quakers?
We were Seekers first, before we were Quakers, after all, in the genetic origins of our Religious Society. But then, we were also Ranters, in part. Both strands of thought in that chaotic time of the mid-seventeenth century are seen in us, today. There is even a soup├žon of the Levellers and Diggers about our origins, I am quite sure.
If we were Seekers, did we find, and stop Seeking? To suppose that search is over strikes me as the most profound religious hubris. So it is that we continue, as a group, to seek.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Quaker Business Method and Secular Contexts

The Quaker Business Method, at least as practised in my experience in Britain, is – when done right – an inherently religious method with religious beliefs underpinning it. There can be some variety in the precise nature of those beliefs, as I explored in my Quaker Business Method and Theological Diversity series, but they have fundamental compatibilities in their implication for the practice of business method.
Yet Friends have, from time to time, wondered about the applicability of our methods, with suitable adjustments, in secular contexts. Small borrowings have been used successfully, but the method as a whole is difficult to square with secular expectations or to maintain without that religious underpinning. Indeed, there are many Friends who utterly reject any possibility that it could ever work. This is, perhaps, related to the rejection by some Friends – in my experience the same ones, but I do not know if that can be generalised – of non-theistic understandings of business method, even those of “mystical” non-theists.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Isn't It Quiet Around Here?

Regular readers may have noticed that I've been updating this blog a bit less often recently. There's a few reasons for this, and some of them relate to the blog itself, so I figured I might as well share them with you.
Several of these reasons come down to “there's a lot going on”. I'm having to deal with the cruelty and ineptitude of the Department for Work and Pensions in regards to my Personal Independence Payments (or, as is now the case, lack thereof). I'm getting married. I am at a bit of a peak on workload as an Area Meeting trustee, and now data protection officer. It's a lot going on.
The other reason comes down to money, crass as some may see it – and I know some people think that, short of working for Yearly Meeting or Woodbrooke, Quaker work should be done without thought of reward.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Plain Speaking and "Academic" Language

A small cactus with googly eyes, "reading" a dictionary.
Liberal Quaker communities aren't usually terribly representative of the communities in which they are situated. Here in Britain, we tend to be white, culturally middle class, English-speaking (particularly noted in Wales), and educated. There's lots of theories about why this is; I tend to subscribe to the idea that a non-representative community is more forbidding and less welcoming to those who do not already fit into it than those who immediately “fit in”. A black, Asian or other minority ethnic (the currently most acceptable term in this country, abbreviated to BAME) person, in a town that is ethnically diverse, will react the first time they go to a group based on what they see – just as a white person would, but with very different dynamics of social history behind it. If they see 40 people in a room, all white, they will feel that this group is not for them. It may be subconscious, and it may be counterbalanced by other factors (and we'd better hope it will be), but it will be there; none of us is “colour-blind”, however much we might have a misguided aspiration to be so. Similarly, when a person who is culturally working class finds themselves in a room full of middle class accents, when they come to a shared meal and find half the contributions based on couscous and quinoa, they feel that this is a group that is not for people like them.
I emphasise “educated” in this list because it is, in one important way, not like the others. It is something that each of us can potentially change about ourselves, and it is seen as a positive by even the most enlightened social egalitarian. It is not hard to argue that that is it is a good thing that we are mostly quite educated, provided that we include those who are educated by less formal means. We might believe that we are mostly educated because those who join our community who are less educated become more educated in part because of their exposure to Quakers and their living out of Quaker values.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

For International Women's Day

A desk calendar reading "8 MARCH"
It's International Women's Day, so let's talk about women.
Let's talk about the fact that mainstream history has a tendency to treat women's contributions in one of two ways. Generally speaking, it's either minimised, or mythologised.
Boudica led a revolt of several native tribes against the Romans in Britain. It was a big thing in its day, and Camulodunum (among others) certainly noticed, but in the grand scheme of things it was another provincial rebellion that was put down by the Roman Empire. The long-term strategy against such events was romanisation, which continued and succeeded across southern Britannia, and to variable extents as you went north.
If you enjoy this blog, or otherwise find it worthwhile, please consider contributing to my Patreon. More information about this, and the chance to comment, can be found in the post announcing the launch of my Patreon.