I’m told some 110 friends gathered together at Liverpool Quaker Meeting House to discuss matters relating to peace and security. We were very fortunate to have three academics from Bradford University Department of Peace Studies, Caroline Hughes, Rhys Kelly and Ute Kelly, leading the sessions. Our hope was to leave refreshed and enthused, amid what looks more and more like a desperate world.
As a parent, it is so difficult to disentangle completely, even when aware…
We were joined by Teenage General Meeting (TGM) and there was also a children’s group, exploring the same issues. So, what were the questions? To start with, we were asked to think about a world we wished for. I wrote ‘…safeguarding a world for our children to grow up in.’; a perfectly reasonable hope yet, as we heard, the world looks in greater peril.
“I’d rather be reading Russian novels than studying where my pension contributions go…”
Our colleagues from Bradford University took us through the critical thresholds facing us: the biosphere, diversity of species, land use, atmospheric pollution, ocean acidification and the interactions among them, compounding the problems. We are fast running out of safe space. There are, thankfully, some positive trends: divestment, renewable energy, a world ready for change, grassroots organisations (Transition Towns, Food Sovereignty Movement) coming together from different contexts and gaining momentum. Would it be enough in time to influence the world’s leaders at the climate change talks in Paris?
What if the partners of the world’s leaders withheld sex until they stopped sending their children off to war and made peace instead?
I needed cheering up so went in search of the children’s meeting. Taking it in turns, they were telling the story of Sadako, a young Japanese girl, who lived in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. Sadly, she died young but dedicated her end days to making paper cranes, the symbol of Peace in Japan. She aimed for 1,000 and got into the 800s. In the Memorial Garden, there is a statue in her memory with these words written at the base, ‘This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.’
A stranger approached and asked ‘who are you? Why do you live in a cave, powered by solar power?’ ‘I am your neighbour…I live here because they have taken my house and I don’t want to let my land go, to lose my sheep. I won’t be able to feed my family without them. And we have been here for generations. We know this land, every curve and bend of the hills and valleys, the shape of each rock, the flow of the streams. We are part of this and this is part of us. I have to stay and do what I can, even though I am afraid.’
Back at the plenary session before lunch, we shared our misgivings and hopes: to respect our cultural differences and understandings; a willingness to change while holding onto our values; flushing out vested interests. We heard a lot about global corporations, the military, oil, energy and food production. ‘Who is in charge? Surely, they have grandchildren. Don’t they care about what happens to them?’ ‘There aren’t any votes in climate change.’ (Not yet, anyway) Meanwhile, China, India, Russia, Brazil are all catching up with the West, which consumes so much.
“Your coffee is at the end…”
In the mid-1940s, a small group of Quakers left the US because they refused to fight in the armed forces. They came to Costa Rica, which had laid down its army where they bought a mountain top forest, called Cloud Mountain. Today, there is a thriving peaceful community, a model of environmental wellbeing, where everyone feels safe and here they belong.
In the afternoon sessions, some of us sang songs and played music together. Others worshipped in Experiment with Light. From the Peace workshops, we tried to pull together our ideas. One friend began, ‘We didn’t do much in our group. We had a lovely chat, getting to know each other better, rather than talk about nebulous concepts. We spoke about our lives, our peace networks; the challenge of dealing with different cultural values and mores; the costs of economic growth…but we didn’t come up with any answers, except aim high and keep trying. Realise your personal energy is finite, so choose your priorities and use the influence you have.’ This could be by writing to your MP, holding a street party, spending time with children or guerrilla gardening. All are so valuable. ‘There isn’t one big solution’, she ended. ‘Any solutions are likely to be multiple and varied.’ I’ll start there, I thought. That’s where I am. Although, actually, I’m not starting, am I? Or you, most likely? We are all involved in many different ways to varying degrees for some time now. Fairer to say, I connected with her here with what she was saying and I will share her group’s ideas with others.
“We need a velvet revolution.”
A friend mentioned that the Greek word for home is Eco. Eco is where we live. At home, we heard about the lovely poppies, made of modelling clay, by the all age group. And TGM presented us with a tableau of many coloured poppies. The friend leading the art sessions reminded us that using clay, as with other art forms, is very, very relaxing and that creativity affects all of our actions and emotions, leading to inner peace and further activity.
The paradox is that there is so much good happening in the world while, at the same time, too much anger and hate. Strangely, love may be expressed greatest in the places where there is also the greatest suffering and where communities have so little material wealth. I hope we can still keep hoping…and acting… for positive change. Most social change in history, I read once in The Friend, comes about rather surprisingly by peaceful means and cooperation rather than by force and violence. For most of our time, it seems, very little has happened worthy of recording.
At the end of the day, a friend approached me, who’d once been a stranger, and asked me some questions. When I arrived this morning, who was I? And who am I now? How have I changed? And how is the world more secure and peaceful as a result of me being here on this day? I looked into her eyes before answering, then offered her my hand and smiled. She took mine in hers and smiled back at me, her eyes holding mine. ‘I think the children have it’, I said. ‘…when they say we need the ‘P’ word. We need prayer and the practice of prayer. And we’re not on our own. We’re all crew now on the ‘Good Ship Quaker’. Everyone knows where we’ve sailed from. We know where we are anchored today. And tomorrow, well, we will set sail and see the where the wind takes us. We live adventurously and we have the best pilot.
Be still and know that I am God.
The day of small things (Zech 4:10), referred to in Quaker Faith and Practice 19.43 in a letter by Isaac Penington – http://qfp.quaker.org.uk/passage/19-43/
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Capitalism: a love story by Michael Moore http://www.michaelmoore.com/movies/capitalism-a-love-story
The Peace Kit by John Lampen
Psalms for Praying, An Invitation to Wholeness, by Nan Merrill