Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Membership, Convincement & Belonging

Plastic pawn playing pieces in several colours arranges on a white board with lines variously connecting them.
There are many ways of belonging to the Quaker family. There are those who are part of our community without identifying with our faith, fellow-travellers who participate in some, even all of our activities but do not consider themselves Quakers. There are those of fervent religious belief in the spirit of the early Friends. There are those who call themselves Quakers but deny the religious nature of the experience, or who recognise it as religious but are still patiently waiting for a direct experience of the Divine that they recognise. There is, of course, the division between member and attender, and other terms we throw around – newcomer and enquirer being quite popular ones.
We don't seem to have a coherent view, however, of these different dimensions of belonging, of being part of the Quaker community, of being a Quaker. In this post, I will be exploring some elements of this “belonging space”, to borrow mathematical terminology.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Revision: What Next?

A chalkboard, with "what's next" written on it in white chalk
So, Yearly Meeting has decided. British Quakers will begin the long, thoughtful process of revising our Book of Discipline, the same process (more or less) as was begun in the 1980s to produce our current book, Quaker faith & practice, eventually approved and published in the mid-1990s.
Okay, you might be thinking, but what next?
Let me explain what I understand of what will happen, and my own thoughts and suppositions about what them might happen. I think it's going to be quite an interesting time to be a Quaker in Britain, if you want to be engaged in the process. If you don't, I suspect you may get bored in a year or two and wish people would shut up about it. Either way, it's going to be a lot of work for some people.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Why Are We So Quiet?

This is written from the perspective of theologically pluralistic liberal Friends; I make no claims or assumptions either way of its validity to any other branch/wing of the Religious Society of Friends.
A stone groyne on a beach and placid sea.
Why are we so scared of going out there and telling people about ourselves, suggesting that maybe they might like our way, were they to try it?
Is it that we are shy, culturally, corporately or individually? Our record on outspoken activism for peace, equality and justice says not.
Is it that we don't want new people in our Meetings? Maybe that is true for some; I have certainly heard some comments that seem to amount to that, reading between the lines. However, a great many of us are concerned about our numbers, about our sustainability. We cannot continue to do our work, follow our leadings, if we do not have the resources that ultimately come from there being people in our Meetings.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Equality Is More Than Equal Treatment

A surface with coloured stripes, upon which there are many face-down Scrabble tiles. On top of these are face-up Scrabble tiles spelling out the word "equality".
Equality is one of the most consistent values across the world family of Friends, and has a long and proud history as a Quaker value. Early Friend recognised the essential spiritual equality of men and women, and of rich and poor. Of course, there were hiccups on the way; Quakers were slower than we like to admit to recognise the evil of slavery, and meetings for church affairs (aka business meetings) were long segregated by gender. Still, the essential idea of equality, while it might not always have been as strongly held as it is today, is an important Quaker tradition, and is recognised as a core Quaker testimony by all groups of Friends that make lists of such (at least as far as I am aware).
What do we mean by equality? Equality before God was certainly always an important idea for Quakers, with no ordained clergy. There were those known as ministers, but this was a description of what they did more than who they were. They travelled in the ministry, held public meetings aiming to convince those outside of the Quaker fold, and developed reputations for inspired and powerful ministry in worship. For this, they were known as ministers, but this was essentially a recognition of certain gifts and activities, rather than giving them any authority. The source of authority remained the Spirit itself, and that dwelt equally in all.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Great Lord and His Sons

A rusted crown lies on mossy mounds.
There was once a great lord. His realm was peaceful and prosperous. He had five sons, and he gave thought to how they should be raised.
He had not been raised to rule himself, as he had elder brothers. They had all died before their father, so the rule had fallen to him. So it was in his mind to raise them all to know what it is good for lords to know. He saw that it would be best for his realm if any one of them could take up the rule of the realm, govern rightly and judge fairly.
Yet his aunt had married the lord of another realm, and had had many sons. They had all wished to take the place of the lord their father when he died, and so had schemed and plotted and killed, and in the end gone to war on one another. All had died, in assassination or in war, and the last at the hands of his people when he claimed rule over a land broken by war. The lord of that realm now was the the great lord's aunt's grandson, and the power in the hands of courtiers ruling in his name. So it was that the great lord saw that it would be best for his realm, and for his family, if none of his sons should greatly desire to succeed him.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Fire Inside

An orange flame with no visible source, set against an entirely black background.
There's a fire inside me.
It burns to make the world better. It burns to help those I care about, and to help those I do not know.
It burns to drive me forward. It burns to sustain me in adversity. It burns to tell me I'm still alive.
Though I am assailed and dismissed, the fire burns.
Though I am unfairly accused, the fire burns.
Though I am misrepresented, the fire burns.
Though some seek to obstruct me, the fire burns.
Though I may be unnoticed, the fire burns.
Though I fail or fall, the fire burns.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Revision: A Reaction to the Decision

A computer-rendered image of a figure trepidatiously entering a maze.
As readers of my blog, or indeed those who keep up with Quaker matters in Britain at all, will be aware, this weekend Britain Yearly Meeting met in session, with the principal matter on the agenda being the proposal to revise the YM's Book of Discipline, Quaker faith & practice. This was proposed at Yearly Meeting Gathering four years ago, but Friends were unable to come to unity; instead, it was decided that a group be appointed to help prepare the Yearly Meeting to be better able to take the decision in either direction, and to lay the groundwork for future revision whenever it might occur.
This group, the catchily-named Book of Discipline Revision Preparation Group (BoDRPG is how I abbreviate this; it seems that BYM decided the appropriate revision would just be RPG, which I suppose is not too ambiguous in context – even if it makes me think of Final Fantasy or Dungeons & Dragons), has been working hard for over three years. They have been working out logistics, engaging in explorations of theology, and running the Reading Quaker faith & practice programme to encourage Friends to be more familiar with the existing text before trying to make the decision again.
That preparation has borne fruit, with – by all reports that have come my way – an amazingly positive and constructive approach to the question at Yearly Meeting. The decision was taken, with suitable commentary in the minute instructing Meeting for Sufferings, and the to-be-appointed revision committee, about the approach that Yearly Meeting feels they should take.
(Buckle up, this is going to be a long one)

Friday, 4 May 2018

True Inspiration

Many Friends find great value in reading the writings of early Friends. This is understandable. Some of it inspiring, some is intellectually very interesting. Some borders on being incoherent, but overall the hit rate is pretty good.
It is important to treat such writings with some caution, however. As early Friends wrote in the heat of the new inspiration they had found, we may read them hoping to catch a little of that inspiration. While it may inspire us, however, it is nothing like the inspiration that led to those writings.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Revision: Hopes and Fears

A paper copy of Quaker Faith & Practice (not most recent edition), a paper copy of the update Chapter 16 (Quaker Marriage Procedure), Kindle e-reader showing the Kindle edition of the book, and a tablet showing the web version.
Well, the time is almost here. Again.
Britain Yearly Meeting, taking place this coming weekend, has managed to draw a little press attention, both specialist and general (paywall), regarding the question of whether to revise our Book of Discipline. So I thought I'd take another little look at the whole matter.
Firstly, both of the linked pieces put an unreasonable focus on specific elements of change that Friends think might happen in a revision process. One focuses on environmental matters and gender & sexuality; the other focuses on the suggestion that we might remove “God” (or, they acknowledge, maybe just reduce the use of the term). These are all things that will be live issues if the revision goes ahead, to be sure, but they miss the key point of revision.
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