About spiritoso

I'm a dad, a Quaker, a storyteller, A Fool, a singer and a writer; a Tutor Organiser and a Union Learning Rep; a kick-ass rocknroll bass guitarist, a European. a scouser, an Evertonian, (one of these may not strictly be accurate)...

Threads, Sprints and Collaborations

“Threads, sprints and collaborations…” ‘Oh, yeah, what are they?’ ‘I’ll tell you later.’ ‘Later? Why can’t you tell me now?’ ‘…because I’m feeling sad, that’s why… I’ve just finished Rep Council after six years and it feels like leaving school. I’ll not see me mates again. That’s why I’m feeling sad.’ ‘Right, well, what are you going to do with all the things you’ve learned at Quaker School for grown-ups…not saying, you’re a grown up, like! Do they give you a certificate?’ ‘Not exactly, but I have got a blue hoodie and I am growing younger! You know, I have got a few ideas of things l’d like to do. For one, I’d quite like to visit some of the other local meetings in my area, talk to people, find out how they’re doing. Haven’t done that for ages. And I’d like to go to a few more regional events, meet more Quakers…possibly even a bit of Quaker Camp in the summer months…anything involving outdoor worship, singing and telling stories ‘round camp fires and owls has to be good, yeah?’ ‘…Singing…in a Quaker meeting…that doesn’t happen, does it?’ ‘Well, why not? There’s no law against it.’ ‘Are you sure?’  ‘Yes, I am. Anyway, I’m wondering about Quaker chaplaincy work but need to know more. There’s a course on at Woodbrooke in September…and I might do some visits in prison or hospital to see if I really want to do it…something to think about, anyway. I could go to the anti-fracking protest on Preston New Road…’

‘You know, that Quaker school sounds good. How come I’ve never heard of it…and who’s taking over?’ ‘Don’t know…not sure they’ve got anyone. And they need two people, a first named Rep and a deputy. I think Area Meeting nominations are on to it but I haven’t heard anything.’ ‘Well, I’m interested…’

Shine on Me

‘Tell us about some of the things you learned.’ ‘Ok, I made some notes from our Home Group…’

(1) Acknowledge what we do well

(2) Using our discipline to create freedom. Helping people to see the value of discipline

(3) Sweep away the dust and find the beating heart of our meetings

(4) Try new things and don’t be afraid of failing. Uphold small groups, who experiment with new things

(5) Rediscover the power and purpose of older things, which have worked well. Remember the early friends were radical.

Naming and supporting our spiritual gifts

‘Actually, you don’t have to tell me.  I’m starting to see what threads, sprints and collaborations are all about for myself and it sounds exciting. When’s the next Rep Council, did you say..? April… well, tell me, who’s on nominations again? Do you think they know I want to go to Quaker School?

Autumn leaves are falling 

Report for Hardshaw and Mann Area Meeting on Quaker Life Representative Council, 13-15 October 2017, held at Woodbrooke, where we explored the theme of “Shape Shifting – New models of Quaker Meeting and Community”

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The Tickle of God

How do Quakers take decisions collectively? We don’t vote or aim for consensus. We believe we are led by (and here individual Quakers will insert their own word for…) God/the Spirit/the Guiding Light/Presence/Christ to discern the way forward…or to wait a while longer.

The Mind of Christ, Bill Taber on Meeting for Business, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 406

‘But how do you know’, I asked the tutors and the students on the webinar*, ‘when the spirit is present with us during group discernment?’ And the answer came back to me straight away and was so simple. It’s the same feeling as in meeting for worship! We’ve all experienced the power and wonder of people speaking in ministry, sometimes for the first time, and revealing how the spirit is working in their lives. We are moved and left deepened by our sharing. ‘So, that’s how you make decisions in your meetings..?’ ‘Well, this is the ideal. All sorts of things can get in the way, like if you’re feeling stubborn, like the bear or sad, like the wolf (Isaiah 11: 6-9)) We don’t always succeed in holding a fully ‘gathered’ meeting for worship but we feel it when we do.

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom

American friend, Bill Taber, described  the way a meeting makes decisions.  It starts with waiting, he wrote. For how long? For as long as is needed. He recognises five gut feelings, which show a healthy group discernment meeting. The first is Joy in Being Together with friends, part of supportive, challenging community, large or small. The second is Joy in the Presence of God. Thirdly, there is the Assurance we will be helped by God’s guiding presence, if we listen well. And fourthly, there is Trust in the process. It works. It may take time, although some decisions may be reached very quickly. It isn’t always about time. It can be more about intensity, when decisions come quickly. During the meeting, we are enabled to step out of our own individual minds into the mind of Christ, while maintaining our self-awareness.

The fifth gut feeling tickled me  – Excitement! How often do we experience the excitement of entering the room, leaving it up to God to discover what is going to happen with surprising results! We do have fun in our meetings at times but not excitement. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced excitement but, perhaps, I’ve never known it was there.

Time places great demands on friends, we heard. Our meetings can feel long and laboured. Too often, tasks fall on the same group of individuals, who do the work but lack the joy. How do we encourage more friends to come to business meetings when we have so many callings on our time?  One of our tutors told a story. Two friends were talking about the next Business Meeting. ‘Oh, no,’ said one, ‘how am I going to get through three or more hours of agenda!’ His friend replied, ‘ I can think of no finer or more joyful way than spending time with God, discerning our way forward.’ And I’ve felt this too at times but also felt the slow hand ticking of the clock.

How do we learn and practise our business method? It’s true that by contacting Quaker Life at Friends House, you can arrange for a team of Young Friends to visit your meeting to model good and bad practice. And I wondered about holding a business meeting in our children and young person’s meeting in January. The children could take on roles of clerking, eldership and ministry. It would help us be clearer about what we can do the rest of the year and who we can ask to do it. Bill Taber emphasises the importance of a daily spiritual practice in helping us arrive at meeting with ‘heart and mind prepared’.

‘And the ministry, so often dry in business meeting, so moving in meeting for worship’, commented a friend on the webinar. ‘That’s it, Christine! That’s it!’ It stuck me forcibly that I’d always put an subconscious divide between the two forms of worship. Yet they were both the same. I’m feeling so excited about attending my next business meeting for worship!

 

Links and further reading:

A Sustainable Life, Woodbrooke course*

Douglas Gwynne, A Sustainable Life

The Mind of Christ, Bill Taber on Meeting for Business, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 406

Alistair Heron, Quaker Speak

Brian Drayton and Bill Taber, Language for Inward Landscape

Emilia Fogelklou Norlind, The Atonement of George Fox, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 166 (1969)

Ben Pink Dandelion, Quakers, A Very Short Introduction

What politics and economics for equality?

One Saturday afternoon, I was attending a talk, given by Alan Pinch and Enid Pinch on inequality in the UK and the wider world at Mount Street Quaker Meeting House in Manchester. During the lifetimes of people in the room, there were those, who had witnessed the campaign for the 1944 Welfare Reforms, supported the Miners’ strike, noted the Northwest’s regional dependency on manufacturing armaments and sought answers to local to global effects of climate change. Attending were interested individuals as well as members of Green and Labour parties. Nobody disclosed they were a good Tory and not all present were Quakers.

It reminded me of meetings I attended in my teens to talk about political ideas. Sadly, the world has gone backwards since then, though not everything was great in the 1970s. While hearing that 1.6 billion people have been lifted out of poverty is good news, millions of people in the UK today are heading back into it, including children. An awful lot of them are in work, struggling already or looking carefully at inflation and interest rates.

Universal Credit could be a good thing, if its current implementation plan could be amended. 50,000 people have died from pollution in UK too. An unequal society is a better society? I just wanted to hear how that sounded. It sounds like what it is, nonsense; a more equal society is a better one. So, how do we go about achieving it?

Small groups like us, talking and listening, leading to action, like campaigning groups, local food growing and cooking groups, Save Our Bank groups are part of the answer. Some suggested introducing the Citizens’ Wage to end poverty, wherein everybody receives a basic income to live on. There are pilots under way in Glasgow and Iceland. Others thought its implementation would be too problematic. Better to keep a range of benefits.

If some 60% of the electorate is not represented by the party they voted for in government, then do we need to build a progressive alliance to bring back more ‘socialist’ policies in power? Does that mean electoral reform and, if so, of what type? Or can Labour win a majority on its own, even after revised constituency boundary changes?

Sometimes, judging by the headlines, it feels like little positive change is taking place. Small groups, like ours, meeting on a stormy Saturday afternoon, talking about what matters to us, contribute to the good in the world. One day, we might just reach the tipping point, needed to make UK a more equal society, politically and economically. And, as our chair, Jonathan Dale reminded us, this would be fulfilling our testimony to equality.

As we got ready to go out into the dark night, we were presented with a challenge! What if friends created their own local Quaker Socialist groups in their meetings? The following day, I spoke about this in the notices after meeting. One friend unexpectedly came up to me afterwards to say he was interested. ‘Good’, I said. ‘I’ll send an email round the googlemail group to see who else is interested.’ It’s a contribution, friends!

So, you may well ask, what does a small Quaker Socialist group look like, and how does it differ from any other Socialist group? Well, that’s a good question. We haven’t got one yet but let me think… Each would have its own character, I suppose, depending on those involved but, probably, it attracts mainly older, white, middle class people, employed in or retired from public service. That’s not like Socialist groups these days, then? The manager of our local meeting tells me that attendance at local Labour Party events when they hire a room is heaving, particularly with young people.

I think a Quaker Socialist group would attract young friends to it, where we have them. Some would find themselves leading it in many cases. The group meets face-to-face at the meeting house or in people’s homes, as often as agreed, with food to talk and learn, a film to watch or text to discuss, perhaps a speaker. It also uses technology like Skype or Zoom to get together online, widening the circle, to discern what actions to take or groups to connect with and which campaigns to take part in or support.

But there’s hardly anything Quaker particularly in this, you might say. Well, no, I’m coming to that. I was once listening to an elderly Quaker friend, who had been active in local politics. He told me that, when faced by opposition, the thing to do was to crush it. And if they got up again, crush them still harder! Perhaps, this is the reality for many politicians today. But does it have to be this way..?

I’m reading George Lakey’s ‘Viking Economics’ at the moment. It’s an enlightening read. In the Nordic states in the 1940s and ‘50s, a consensus of people of all social classes decided they wanted to end poverty and worked out how to do it. They supported radical and progressive organisations (trade unions and political parties), able to take them there. This approach met with strong resistance from employers and banks, sometimes using the police and the military to break strikes, till they too realised everyone benefited from having a high wage economy. Rather than paying for individuals to be idle, the opposite seems to be the case. The basic income, in fact, stimulates the individual’s desire to work creatively and constructively, earning more and paying taxes. Everybody gets on with living now that they don’t have to worry about childcare, housing, education, health care, even eldercare costs, which are subsidised either in your own home or in a care home. The necessities of life are affordable and not a worry. So, people pay higher taxes at a level necessary to make this work and everyone buys into it because everyone benefits from lifelong ‘universal services’. So-called Popular, right-wing, anti-immigration parties support the safety net, even proposing measures to strengthen it, placing them well to the left of the Democratic Party in the US.

We Quakers have a discernment process, which we believe is spirit-led. Together with our core belief that there is ‘that of God in everyone’, it’s hard for us to think about crushing anyone, though we might wish for it at times. We’re only human, after all. Rather, we do what we can, individually and together, for the good of all in our society, advocates for equality and supporting good causes and campaigns, rebuilding belief in social capital, like that, which existed widely in Britain from the late 1940s to ‘60s. It started to unravel in the 1970s.

Such an approach also means accompanying ‘the good Tory’. They may even be leading the way, though, regrettably, I personally don’t know anyone, where I live, who is a Conservative. Maybe, a Quaker Socialist group could meet with members of the local Conservative Association to explore common ground..? I’ve no doubt Tories care deeply about this country and its people too. The idea that the richer people become, the more this wealth ‘trickles down’ to all of us somehow still holds on to the nation’s psyche. Does anyone still believe this, when millions of people in the UK are wondering whether they will have to make a choice between mortgage or rent rises and food or clothing for themselves and their kids?

In 1918, London Yearly Meeting approved eight “Foundations of a True Social Order”, which warrant revisiting today. Number 8 reads, ‘The ownership of material things, such as land and capital, should be so regulated as best to minister to the need and development of man.’ (Quaker Faith and Practice: 23.16). And American Quaker and author, Douglas Gwynne, reminds us that when George Fox published his “Fifty-Nine Particulars” in 1659, for the economic empowerment of the poor, Fox advocated that church lands be parcelled out to the poor for farming. Manor houses, church buildings, and even Whitehall (the government’s administrative headquarters in London) should be converted into almshouses for the disabled. Fines should go to poor relief, not to the lords of manors. All forms of patronage should be outlawed.’ (Douglas Gwynne, A Sustainable Life, Chapter 4, p.62)

It was Joseph Chamberlain, the nineteenth century Liberal Mayor of Birmingham, later a Liberal-Unionist, and not ‘the good Tory’, who pushed for and achieved great social improvements, leading to the city being called the ‘best governed in the world’ (1). It gained greater powers for local authority control, which addressed public health issues, housing, education as well as supporting wealth creation. This voice is still there within the moderate elements of the Tory Party. Occasionally, you hear a few of their voices, when discussing the roll-out of Universal Credit, for example.

I know Quakers as a body, The Religious Society of Friends, do not outwardly support one political party over another. Individuals can and do align with all political persuasions and none. Our disparate views are often reflected in the letters pages of The Friend. Yet, just as we meet together to discern our ways forward in our business meetings, encountering diverse, even awkward views before our clerks reach for a minute to describe the ‘sense of the meeting’, then so can Quakers work with others of all political persuasions to bring about the peaceable kingdom on earth…or at least in the UK. They fought for it and achieved it in the Nordic countries. Why can’t we? And how long does it take..?

From all this , you might think I ‘m a socialist. Well, I probably feel a
socialist. I feel all Quakers should be socialists…however, I don’t like
labels, which is why I’m a Quaker and prefer to hold issues in
the Light and see where the ‘still small voice’ guides me, us. I appreciate my
views are not underpinned by any philosophical thinking and I prefer it
that way. I can draw on new light, listening to all views without
prejudging, even to that ‘good Tory’, who just might hold a vital piece of
the solution.

Wikipedia, Mayors of Birmingham, Julian Ralph, (June 1890), in Harper’s New Monthly magazine, pp99-110

 

 

Quaker school

“Threads, sprints and collaborations…” ‘Oh, yeah, what are they?’ ‘I’ll tell you later.’ ‘Later? Why can’t you tell me now?’ ‘…because I’m feeling sad, that’s why… I’ve just finished Quaker Life Rep Council after six years and it feels like leaving school. I’ll not see me mates again. That’s why I’m feeling sad.’ ‘Right, well, what are you going to do with all the things you’ve learned at Quaker School for grown-ups…not saying, you’re a grown up, like! Do they give you a certificate?’ ‘Not exactly, but I have got a blue hoodie and I am growing younger! You know, I have got a few ideas of things l’d like to do.

For one, I’d quite like to visit some of the other local meetings in my area, talk to people, find out how they’re doing. Haven’t done that for ages. And I’d like to go to a few more regional events, meet more Quakers…possibly even a bit of Quaker Camp in the summer months…anything involving outdoor worship, singing and telling stories ‘round camp fires and owls has to be good, yeah?’ ‘…Singing…in a Quaker meeting…that doesn’t happen, does it?’ ‘Well, why not? There’s no law against it.’ ‘Are you sure?’  ‘Yes, I am. Anyway, I’m wondering about Quaker chaplaincy work but need to know more. There’s a course on at Woodbrooke in September…and I might do some visits in prison or hospital to see if I really want to do it…something worth thinking about, anyway.’‘You know, that Quaker school sounds good. How come I’ve never heard of it…and who’s going now?’ ‘Don’t know…not sure they’ve got anyone. And they need two people, a first named Rep and a deputy. I think Area Meeting nominations are on to it but I haven’t heard anything.’ ‘Well, I’d be interested…’

‘Really, shine of me..?’ 

HOLTDAYS

We were well into our training course, Facilitation for Change when I found myself looking at a poster on the notice board, expressing ‘HOLTDAYS‘. It just happened to be in the room of the community centre we were working in.  I wondered what on earth were HOLTDAYS? I’d also started thinking about what had brought me there, to this course with the strangely sounding name, Facilitation for Change?  What needed changing? Or was it me..?

Certainly people were talking about the big issues, such as global capitalism and climate change, artificial intelligence and our common beliefs and values. I realised one of the reasons I was there was to take stock of the many changes in my organisation after restructuring. We discussed how much power we had as individuals and groups to influence change as well as expanding our focus to seeing how positive and negative changes in society have come about through collective action, for example, the National Health Service (NHS), free school education and fascism. 

It also helped to focus on the personal too. We were asked to consider a time when we’d acted positively to challenge something. And I recalled an intervention I’d made in the care home for my elderly mum with dementia when her care fell below an acceptable standard. For many of us, this was enlightening, believing it was a time when we had spoken ‘truth to power’.  And we felt energised by this greater self-awareness.

When we completed a process task on the state of Britain today, in stages, analysing what it looked like, how we had got here and gazing into the future, it looked a gloomy picture. It’s fair to say the group consisted mostly of people, liberal and left-leaning in outlook, though I did try to lift the mood by performing pop-up Tory adverts, often describing an optimistic vision of a vibrant, robust Britain, emerging from austerity, standing proudly, a soon once again to be an independent state in the world with, moreover, nearly full employment. And there are not many countries that can say that! And I popped down again. I’m not sure I convinced anyone. 

But look, we still have much to be grateful for – nature, the countryside and seas, our parks, if we’re lucky; legislation, such as the Equality Act. And we have learning, I argued, providing space for people to discuss and grow.  And I thought it would help if we smile a bit more. Actually, we were doing a lot of smiling amid the intense focus of small group work.

How would this go down as a training exercise in the boardroom, one of us asked? I’d read once that many managers nowadays at middling level aren’t required to think to do their jobs these days. Their plans are pretty much set and their role is to get people to perform them. 

So, for some organisations, bringing people together to think creatively in ways they may find a little challenging is a good way, surely, to help build a team and invite create solutions from everyone, not just from the more vocal? So I thought. Yes, so long as people can see the purpose behind the exercise and how it fits into the overall day…as we had come to think creatively about changing, becoming re-energised.

Well, was I feeling re-energised? We’d just been through a massive restructuring at work which has left us all, I think, not a little shaken. For me, this training was just the tonic I needed to reconnect to what I feel is vital for the health of a good society, namely, learning. Our beliefs and values are being shaped to a large extent by careful news management, polarising people too easily into opposite camps. Learning may help us hear each other more clearly, if we are to make progress in society.

And suddenly I noticed I had been reading HOLTDAYS all wrong. Suddenly, it jumped out at me. How had I not seen it? It wasn’t  HOLTDAYS, it was HOLIDAYS and I smiled, feeling re-energised, more self-aware and grateful to be part of this group, knowing that, together, we formed a small part of the chain, which both held society together and was the agent of its transformation.

 

For more ideas and information…

This training was organised by Liverpool World Centre.

The training was delivered by Partners Organisation Dublin, skilled in facilitation work over many years. For WEA tutors, the participatory learning resources and ideas are saved on WEAVE.

Robert Chambers, Participatory Workshops, a sourcebook of 21 sets of ideas and activities, earthscan, ISBN 978-1-85383-863-7

The Barefoot Guide Connection

Community Development Resource Association

 

Despair

I’ve started a sustainable life, by which I mean on an online Woodbrooke course, run by Doug Gwynne, with contributions from two other American friends, Brian Drayton and Marcelle Martins, among others. But do you not have a sustainable life already? Well, how do I know? What does one look like, anyway? I have a life, of course, but is it sustainable? What would it look like? What would your sustainable life look like? Hopefully, over the next ten weeks, I’ll gain some answers to a few of these questions and probably many more questions. I almost prefer the questions to the answers now.

During the introductory session last week, we started to get to know one another. And yes, questions came up. How does one live an integrated life? We often think of sustainability to be about climate change and resources. But what if it’s also about equality and housing and neighbourliness? You can be overwhelmed and paralysed by the enormity of the problems facing the planet. I thought of my small, active meeting. Not many people really but a growing number of small clusters of friends who are interested in particular areas, including Peacework, Quaker Life, Children and Young People, Young Adult Friends, many, more than one, and who all contribute to the rich life of the meeting. Their activities and prayers connect us together in tangible and intangible ways. It feels like a community and it’s also part of a wider Quaker one and  society in general. How on earth do we all get on? ‘That’s a question.’ ‘So, give me an answer!’

Well, last evening, Brian Drayton talked through his article, Why climate change is a spiritual challenge, written in 2011.  He said it came out of a conference of botanists, who all spoke of their despair for the future of humanity on the planet. His response was to turn towards the light and wait…for God’s guidance. There are four stages to the response, if it is to be sustaining and effective.

Firstly, be watchful and wait for an inkling or a push. It may not be the most obvious or what you are expecting. It may be something very small, at least to begin with. Doug Gwynne reminded us of ‘the day of small things’, the quote by Isaac Penington. I remembered first writing about organising a street party because I lacked the courage to do so, to finding myself on a street committee two years later planning a marvellous event.

Secondly, when it calls, act promptly, so as not to let the spark go out. And be prepared to suffer – not in the way early friends suffered by being tortured and thrown into prison, though some friends today do end up in prison. Mostly, your friends and colleagues and people you meet will find you odd or quirky. It is more a social strain on your relationships. You will feel growth pains as you change…and grow.

And finally, tell people about what you’re called to do in every way you can. For shy and quiet Quakers, this can be a problem. ‘But if it’s spirit-led, then it’s meant to be shared, yes?’ ‘I think so.’

Put all together, this was the Lamb’s war that James Naylor wrote about to build the kingdom of God on earth today in a peaceful way. I hadn’t made this connection before. How living simply was part of this and why it takes time to do ‘what is enough’. We need to be ready. As William Penn wrote of early friends: ‘They were changed men (and women) in those days, before they went about to change others.’

To be desolate is to stand alone – solus – and we’re not alone. This is heartening. I had grown up in a loving, caring community and have spent my whole life trying to get back to it again. I feel I have that in my meeting, though we are vulnerable to change. And I moved not long ago not only into a lovely place to live in but also into a ready-made community, near to a Quaker Burial Ground, cared for by gardeners from the area. Brian reminded us of his favourite Tolkein quote, ‘Despair is for people who know the outcome.’

I thought Brian’s talk left us dangling on one big question Did he envisage a day of revelation when all the community, business and political groups we spoke of aligned together to create the world we want to live in? A sustainable world, no less! Assuming he lives in a large, Quaker community, would this influence his thinking? My own Quaker community in Britain is tiny. Most people I meet aren’t Quakers…but we connect well.

‘There’s work to be done, then?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘That’s another question.’ At least, it all starts with watchfulness and waiting. So, let us wait and look out for that spark. And when it catches, go for it.

Earworms

The worm of an idea for this wriggled out some years before the writing. It tells of the author’s interest in sound and its effects on people  – real and imagined – when turned into a weapon by a secretive, rogue government department, which the lead character, Philip Fry, sorry, Dr Philip Fry unwittingly joins.

A Quaker, Dr Fry finds himself falling deeper and deeper into more serious trouble while his wife, kept apart, attempts to find out what’s happening to her new husband.

The writing uses lots of different fonts to mimic various sound effects and their impact on individuals and groups. I found myself wanting to rush straight back into the story inbetween work to find out what had gone on.

The text is peppered with unexpected Quaker references in a seemingly farfetched story and yet stranger things are happening in the world. And towards the ending, we witness a silent vigil, carried out with constancy and patient humour.

I was sorry it finished so soon but I expect Dr Fry will have had enough of working in secret government establishments. It’s just that, as the door is ever so slightly ajar, we’re left wondering have they had enough of him, our adventurous Quaker scientist?

By Jonathan Doering, published by the Wolfian Press, 2016