Monday, 14 May 2007

The Light Fantastic speak to Jez

Young Friends in the 7-11 age group share their thoughts on BYM with Jez

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Does Evil Really Matter? Death and Resurrection as a Compost Heap

If there is one good reason to not believe in God it's because of the existence of evil; if there is one good reason to believe in God it's due to the same problem. There are two further statements that appear to be true and possibly even less helpful: we are all well aware of, and cannot avoid the evil within our world, and the church is often very silent on the matter. What is the role of the church toward evil? And what language and images do we have that help us frame a discussion that is not only helpful but hopeful? These are questions I hope all our meetings will engage in post the Swarthmore lecture.

This year's Swarthmore lecturer Beth Allen, in here talk titled "Ground and Spring," broached the subject of evil. She pointed out that James Nayler, an early Quaker who not only "messed up but was also messed up by others," discovered in his long journey back toward wholeness, "the forgiveness of God is the ground and spring of God." But the fact that Nayler remained alienated from at least some of the Quaker community, including George Fox, reminds us of the many people, often going nameless, who have "messed up" and been "messed up by others" and their own alienation from our communities. There are many ways in which we see these breakdowns and deaths occur within our society and while Nayler's life is one example, it is only one small example of the evil in the world. Evil is something that cannot be neglected by the church if we are any kind of hope to the world.

Beth Allen used the Compost pile to further illustrate the idea of breakdown (and death) and how that makes it possible for new life (and resurrection). The compost heap is a wonderful metaphor for the waste of life being turned into something new.

In our everyday lives it's not much different, though it can often take God much longer to turn the "waste of our lives" into something new and fresh. This is because we're much more fragile and stubborn than dirt, and evil is a very complex matter for us to deal with. We can't deny that evil exists in the world and often cripples us when we are confronted with it. Similarly, the various bits of waste within a compost are not only easily recognizable as decayed bananas, apples, and oranges but this process can often be grotesque (like the picture above in my own view).

Death inevitably surrounds us but so does resurrection. Without decay there is no space for new life, without death there is no resurrection.

The story of God's work in the world, as chronicled not only through Scripture, but also through our history, philosophy and science books, is a familiar story; this narrative includes one of creation, fall, redemption and resurrection. This narrative cycle of life continues on small and large scales throughout the history of our world.

But what of evil's permissiveness in our world? It's often very difficult, at times ridiculous, to image life after death. And this isn't something to gloss over easily, death is a part of fallen creation, just as resurrection is a part of God's intervention into our fallen world. There are no ready-made answers for these questions, the business of life and death is indeed dirty business. That is why the hope of the resurrection requires a people who embody forgiveness. Forgiveness is the link between these two realities. The church is to be a community of people formed around the prayer, "forgive us our debts (and trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (and those who trespass against us)." As Beth Allen said, "I can't offer myself forgiveness." We need to understand what it means to be absolved. Forgiveness only comes from the other; the the forgiveness and mercies of God, or forgiveness offered to us by our communities who hold the power to re-connect us with the "ground and spring" of life.

Quakers, as all Christians, are a people called to remind the world of this process of creation, fall, redemption and resurrection. All of life is packed into this cycle. And beyond the simple reminding, we are also to be a people who embody forgiveness, a forgiveness rooted in the love and mercy of God who has first loved and forgiven us.

If you'd like to read more on this issue read my short entry called "One Big Kitty Litter."

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

More videos

Now the pics & vids from my digital camera have been uploaded, so here to start with is a tour of the Friends House Courtyard including BYM bloggers and Tom Harris:

Here is a tour of the Friends House Restaurant

And the current exhibition there

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

welcome Friend

welcome Friend
Originally uploaded by jez s.
Hello and welcome to our Britain Yearly Meeting blog!

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looking back

Wess, George and Simon
Originally uploaded by jez s.
It's the morning after the BYM before and I'm wide awake and have been tidying up after last night's BYM survivors party.

I have thoroughly enjoyed BYM and have particularly appreciated the sense of purpose that comes with the blog.

The blog 'hat' has pervaded my entire experience and meant that I could wear it with whichever other hat I was wearing at the time (the Friend, Young Quaker, Young Friends General Meeting, Colchester & Coggeshall Monthly Meeting, QCEA conference goer, Young Friends appeal for Rewrite, former QPSW peaceworker etc).

I spent a lot of time striking up conversation with people I didn't know and other times scrabbling around inside my brain trying to recognise people who I have met before when their name escapes me. This time around, it was mostly people who went to the Quaker Council for European Affairs conference in Brussels last year.

In the last few years, I have had no trouble going up and talking with people that I don't know and during the weekend I met some wonderful people who are new to me.

I was pleased to finally make it to a main session and writing up the Salter lecture for the Friend was in the back of my mind for a long long time until I worked out what needed to be written.

Working (very briefly) with the 7-11 year olds was fantastic and I have total respect for the adults who gave up their weekend to work with them, as well as Simon Best, the coordinator and all his staff and helpers.

Making the George Fox videos was really great too. I valued Wess's get-on-and-do-it attitude when it came to putting my idea into reality and Simon's willingness to speak on camera from the heart about us Quakers.

We were looking for George Fox
Led by the light

I also really enjoyed time that I spent with Lizz Roe, who was working the Woodbrooke stand. She introduced me to those of her Woodbrooke colleagues that I didn't already know and she was the eptiome of patience as she explained things and helped people who stopped by.

My biggest regret: I didn't spend any time in the Friends House library. The staff there are always really helpful and friendly and as with people, I love finding new books (or old ones that are new to me!)

My second biggest regret: Only taking a handful of photos with my lomo camera.

On Friendlink, there is a great love/hate thread, so in honour of all the great people there. Today, i hate that BYM is over and my tiredness. I love my happiness, the shining sun, continued fellowship with Simon and Wess and I love that BYM is over at last!

in friendship


Monday, 7 May 2007

Interview with Mike Hoyle

Jez interviews photographer of the Testimonies, Mike Hoyle.


Nice things this weekend:
* Yummy and ethical food easily available at all times at Friends House
* Some good silences in the Large Meeting House, eg. after the Swarthmore Lecture and after Elsa Dicks spoke
* Having lots of interesting people around to speak with and having the time over the four days to meet with them
* The Bookshop Cafe as a place to hang out
* The Quaker Life office as an escape and workspace

Not so nice things:
> Things said in session that seemed pedantic
> Meetings in which not much of a sense seemed to arise
> Getting my documents for the sessions muddled up
> Feeling tired on Monday afternoon
> The sound being quiet on some of the videos

Things I wished I'd had time/energy to do:
< Interview Martin Ward (Clerk) for the blog
< Gotten a few more Advices & Queries videod
< Hang out with the under-19 groups

Will I go to BYM again?
- Yes, but probably for the moment only because I'm on Sufferings and it helps me to keep track of what's going on.

Taking the Epistle?

Wess & Simon attended the reading of the BYM Epistle and give us their thoughts below. Not sure what Jez is up to in the background of Wess' video which also has a cameo from Tom Harris, the new Quaker Life Outreach Co-ordinator.

Two new vidz

Here we have an interview by Jez with Marie Drouin of YFGM about running a stall and meeting Friends from abroad at BYM.

Laura interviews Plain Friend and Quaker bookseller Simon Watson about Conservative Friends and this year's book hits during BYM.

from the light fantastic...(7-11s)

BYM is really cool because you get to go to the park and build a lighthouse


from the light fantastic...(7-11s)

We learnt about how people from Africa were captured as slaves and imported to USA. We also found out how badly they were treated, then we made a banner with posters saying "Stop the Slave Trade" and "Slave Trade" is wrong etc. I had a great time!


from the light fantastic...(7-11s)

It was fun to meet new friends at yearly meeting 2007

rebecca -claxton-ingham


Monday afternoon

Laura, Jez & Wess

The numbers of our blog-watchers are totting up and we're getting people from all sorts of interesting places including Edinburgh and Switzerland. I notice that Lambeth keeps reappearing on the location list. Could it be that Rowan W. is becoming convinced?

from the light fantastic...(7-11s)

I like yearly meeting 2007. It is fun.

Alys, age 8

Checking in

There is a bit more to say about this morning's session, I think. Once again, the assistant clerks are colour-coordinated this time in lovely identical bright orange. Elders started us off by commending Friends for upholding the silence during yesterday's minute-writing in the civil liberties session. Nevertheless, that minute was still being thrashed out this morning and it got to the point where if it had carried on any longer, the Clerk was going to settle on a minute of record. Thankfully, we did agree to say rather a lot more than that. I sat there thinking of my personal position in the current political climate. As an animal rights advocate, I can now be legally stopped in the street simply for wearing a t-shirt that says 'vegan'. The whole movement could be prevented from carrying out peaceful activism and awareness-raising for the animals through a web of legislation that was supposedly intended to address things like the tube bombings.

Over at my normal blog , I've written about my journey this morning and about outreach.

wall of sound

Whenever I get to Meeting, I go in and the room is silent. Sometimes, there is a commotion outside, because people are coming in, removing coats and greeting each other.

But, even with all that noise, there is a sense of purpose in the silence, whether it is a Meeting for Worship, Business, Threshing or Clearness.

So, going into the large Meeting Room on Sunday morning, ten minutes before the official start of a Britain Yearly Meeting session, I was surprised by the tumult, a great commotion, as I walked up the stairs and into the east gallery.

Were Friends not upholding the Meeting, each other and the clerks? If they were, they were doing it among 150 voices, chatter and noise.

It was my first ever session of Britain Yearly Meeting, so I do not know whether it is always like this. Is it?

Almost on the dot of 9:30am, when the session was timetabled to start, a hush rushed across the hall. It was as if a naughty class suddenly stopped, realising that the feared teacher was about to walk into the room.

When the clerks came in, I wondered, did they feel that we were not, as a Meeting, upholding them?

When you hear people grumbling about how the session went, do you ask them if they were there with their heart and mind prepared?

Or, am I wrong? Is this the usual way for Quakers to uphold each other?

Food for thought

Into Friends House at quite a civilised hour this morning. Blogging with the sausage factory last night and subsequent transport adventures meant I wasn't home 'til 2am!

I went into the restaurant for a hearty but cheap breakfast. I sat with Anne Hosking, a Quaker Life staff member. Anne has done lots of work on Eldership & Oversight, and is full of Quaker insights.

Although we were both tired, we had really interesting conversation. Yearly Meeting can be studded with inspiring chats like these.

A few gems from Anne included the thought that 'experience' was a better word than 'belief'. Anne feels that it's much easier to listen to someone talk of their 'Quaker experience'. For many, the word 'belief' can have quite negative connotations. The word 'experience', on the other hand, doesn't deny the possibility of other experiences.

Another idea which clicked with me is whether a meeting for worship is closed, ended, or completed. These are very similar terms, and it might seem pedantic to distinguish between them. However, the words closed and ended suggest that something is being interrupted before it is finished. Complete, on the other hand, is much more positive. It suggests that the worship we are doing has come to a natural end, without closing it off from the rest of our lives (which can be equally worshipful).

A few small words, but meaningful to me. As Anne said, I offer these to you.

Thank you, Anne.

hi Ann

This is a big friendly shout out to Ann from Norfolk.

We are sorry that you cannot be here at Britain Yearly Meeting and we bloggers hold you in the light.

Jez not Wess.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

the sausage factory takes over the blog! (again)


VERY good weekend :D JAZZY! In fact, it's being soo good in can only really be described with funny words in capitals and exclaimation marks.



the sausage factory takes over the blog! (again)

'sup love muffins! its the last night of bym 07 and we're all veeery tired i'm sure, i know i am!
as you've probably all gathered from previous blogs, we've all had an AMAZING time, definitely one of MY favourite byms (of all the 2 i've gone to) and i'd just like to say a HUMONGOUS thank you to the core team and the pgps
muchos lovings and snuggles with sprinkles on top

the sausage factory takes over the blog! (again)

The Joys of Quaker Business sessions

I'm Pip I'm 14 and today I've had my first experience of a proper Quaker business meeting. I can only say that it is an entirely new experience like no other I have ever had. We dealt with the issue of changing "Monthly meetings" to "area meetings" I personally dislike this idea because it removes a familiar term that is part of my everyday life but I do recognise the need to make Quakers a more accessible community to outsiders.

One thing that surprised me was that I have never experienced the Quaker method of decision making first hand, it has become apparent that while not exactly the quickest method of solving a problem it is very good at getting a well considered decision.

It was extremely interesting for me an atheist to find out how much the wider Quaker community directly refers to 'God', but this is just widening my horizons and perspectives. All in all i would say that Quaker business is a very interesting method of reaching a much better decision. Because it allows the minority to overthrow a majority if the level of conviction affects the 'Feeling of the Meeting.

the sausage factory takes over the blog! (again)

hey everyone call me edd. omg wat a gr8 weekend i have been turned EMO baught a causit and heard the whole bible in les than 30mins. how many people have done that in a weekend. c u all l8r by xxx

Martin talks about his day at BYM

A&Q 17 and waves to all you watchers

John F put a tracker on the blog today, and it's great to see that people are watching us from as far west as Devon and as far South as Valencia! Friendly greetings also to the watchers in France, Newbury & Norfolk.

And now Joyce T reads for us in the Friends House courtyard this afternoon...

the sausage factory takes over the blog! (again)

Hello, I am Mat Penaluna from the sausage factory in the Under 19's program. Today, some of us went to the morning lecture, which unfortunately, you had to get up pretty early to go to. The AM session was about the minutes and if people found that the minute was acceptable or not. The session went on for 2 hours and 30 minutes!!! It was OK, but, we didn't have a "shuffle break", we just had a silent stretch. After the session we went to the Drayton Room and had lunch. In the PM session we only stayed for half of it. This was good because we went to Camden Town. Camden is a market place. Unfortunately I don't really like Market stalls. The lecture was about Civil Liberties, and two people from our group read the minute that we made on our Civil Liberties experience. And that is basically it. So that is what the Sausage Factory did today.

A late-breaking update from Mat at 23.55
After the groups had gone, we got told a story by Simon. He told us about This boy called Jack and he got this purse off this random man. This random man told him to look after this purse and if he didn't there would be some severe consequences. He then destroyed the purse after going up to his Aunties and drinking lots of Whisky. He then got sent up to hell and these imp things got told a story and it was from the BIBLE!!! They stared at him and he read it like 1000 + or - a few. The imps got sent back to Earth with him and he threw the book and they all charged after it. In the process of this, they ripped it to shreds. And that was basically the story apart from that it was much longer.
*ENDS* (for the moment :-)

Interview with Bill Shaw of Swarthmoor Hall

Bill talks about Swarthmoor's place in Quaker history and what it has to offer visitors and pilgrims today. Apologies that the sound is a bit faint at times!

Interview with Harvey Gilman

The Quaker author and former Outreach Secretary talks to Jez in between sessions on Sunday.

The Quaker Monthly Trolley!

The Quaker Monthly Trolley!
Originally uploaded by Simon Latham.
Just so you all know, it turns out that there really is a Quaker Monthly Trolley in Friends House.

We're not sure how often it get used though...

Serving the Society: the yellow form way

Walking through the corridors of Friends House, I bumped into Jonathan Hodgkin. Jonathan is a member of Witham Quaker Meeting and when I saw him, he was sitting by a central nominations table.

Upon the table were yellow forms and letters from Ethel Livermore, clerk of Meeting of Sufferings Nominations Committee on behalf of the central nominations committee.

If you can get beyond the long names, Ethel is asking for your (if you're a Quaker) help in making things happen at Britain Yearly Meeting (the body, rather than just the actual annual gathering).

In order to serve, she asks for 'a knowledge, understanding, and love of the Society, and an appreciation of its potential to make the world a better place'. In return, you can help be a part of a 'challenging, fun, occasionally frustrating, mostly rewarding, and above all valuable' part of the Society.

The reason that Ethel has written this letter and her chums have put together a yellow form, is that they simply can't know all of the 17,000 or so people eligible to serve and maybe willing to serve with them.

So, if you can complete a form of your interests, letting them know when you're available (for example, even if you're not available for 12 months, but are interested in being asked about doing something after that, then do let them know if you can). You don't have to say yes to something (I've made a career out of saying no to a lot of people!) if you do not feel able, in fact, you ought not to say yes until you're ready to do so...

There are all sorts of boxes to tick on the form about what you might be interested in. I filled one of these forms in several years ago and found myself ticking more boxes than I imagined that I might be interested in. I was then appointed to a central committee working on race equality. Unfortunately, within a few months, I got a job as a peaceworker for Quaker Peace and Social Witness and had to stand down from my committee role. I'm now 'cup-tied' as it were, for a certain period after I worked for QPSW, but maybe you're not.

You can get a form from the table in the corridor on the east side of the main Meeting room. You can complete it there and then, or, take it away with you and return it in the post.

A&Q 11 & George Fox

Clare Edmunds of Blackheath Meeting reading Advices & Queries 11:

Clare White reading 'Be Patterns, Be Examples'

I just spent an hour trying to fix this, but regardless of whether the original video image is reversed or not, it still comes out reversed in You Tube. Can anyone help?

the people we meet

"It's been quite a boring BYM, you know and you can put that in your blog," said a Friend. We had met moments earlier, when Neville, a Friend from Westminster Monthly Meeting had introduced us.

When I met Neville, he was sitting in the corridor, south of the courtyard at Friends House. He was eating pineapple and cream from a recycled jar. "At least I know what's in it," he said. Neville is concerned about some of the ingredients that manufacturers (caterers?) put in food. He is allergic to mustard and so makes his own sandwiches. He's not a fan of mayonnaise, telling me that they put it in far too many sandwiches these days.

One of the benefits of Britain Yearly Meeting is that I gets many opportunities to meet knew people. There is one guy, Richard, who I met on Friday, I think. I saw him again today in the bookshop, so I went over and said hello.

There are far too many instances where I have seen people early on and we (or I) have said, "Let's meet later on" and before you know it, later on has gone past too and we're into 'even later on'.

Then, you're back home and can't even remember who it was that you were hoping to meet. So, today, I have been making the effort to stop and talk to people, when I see them.

Richard, like many Quakers, is on a committee. In his case it is CIR, or Christian Interfaith Relations to which he then added, 'comma, Quaker committee for'. That was a nice touch.

We were sitting with another friend, whose first name I forgot already. She had written her first name on her badge and then put her home Quaker Meeting on underneath. I think that it was Worcester. She explained that this might not have been a wise idea, since people were saying that they had not realised that this was her last name...

Anyway, in my blog posts, I have a habit of going off on tangents. I also have a disturbing trait, from six months working at the Morning Star, of putting more commas into my work than I ever have in the past. At the 'Star, there was a tendency to put commas and 'that' in places that I had never seen before.

See, the paragraph above is yet another tangent.

Back to Neville. Neville goes to the same Friends Meeting House as me, but it is different, for he goes on Sundays and I go on Wednesdays. I've only been once this year, but I feel a strong affinity with it, so I'm already proclaiming to be worshipping there.

Neville goes on the second and fourth Sundays. When I asked why those two, he told me that Preparative Meeting is on the second Sunday, so he tends to try and make that.

Neville has led me neatly onto another subject, for which I will post separately...

Loving Ourselves to Death? (a theological reflection)

In the context of talking about Quaker work, one of our sessions yesterday, something was said about loving ourselves before we can love others. In this dualistic perspective the inward comes before the outward and there is no room for a circular interplay between the two. Jesus was quoted as supporting this idea when he said in (Matt. 22:37-39) "He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ And a second [command] is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’"

Modern culture has made us turn toward ourselves in many ways. At the rise of science and rationalism of the Enlightenment, the idea of some kind of outer authority over people became very suspect (i.e. the reformation and radical reformation), where else does one turn if all outer authorities are disestablished? Him or herself. Therefore I become my own authority, and my religion and ethics derive from my own sense of right and wrong. In this view I legitimize myself. Another move towards the self comes in our own consumerism that arises out of capitalist economics. We cannot have a society run on capitalism unless we have a people who love to buy things for themselves.

Both these moves have lead not only religion, but all other aspects of life to become centered on the self, this is why sociologists talk about modernity's individualism. How then has individualism invaded the religion? Christianity? Quakerism? When we talk of love of self, what do we mean by it? And is it really true that we must love ourselves before we can help others?

To be honest, I find the lack of dialogue within meetings a bit frustrating. I personally like to talk about issues, ask questions, and get clarifications. We must struggle as a community over questions that pervade all of society. I really wanted to dialogue about our notion of "love of self," our culture's notion (which heavily inform, our own thoughts about the subject), and of course then what Jesus meant by the statement above. Maybe I missed the point of what was said, but it seems to pervade our Quaker tradition in many areas. Jesus' own culture was radically more communal, a close knit group of people struggling to live together in peace and survive, and Jesus himself was far more radical than telling people to love themselves.

In the words of Jesus one cannot understand love until one loves God. That is the foundation of Jesus' ethics. I've come to learn that loving God can often turn out to look a lot like not loving oneself. Obedience to God, as we see in early Martyrs and even Quaker witnesses, calls us forth to witness to the world that can be very dangerous, harmful or even life-threatening to us. Our witness to the life of God, as Paul says, will look like complete foolishness to the world.

So the active engaging and wrestling with God to love God propels us forward into a transformative role within the world, that of loving others in radical ways. The bit about "loving your neighbor as yourself," gets at two extremely radical points that have little to do with how we think of ourselves and much more about what we have to let go of in the process.

First, the question arises, "who are our neighbors?" And more importantly to the context of this Bible passage, "Who are the neighbors Jesus is talking about?" As we can easily recall another reference to neighbors by Jesus was directed towards the Samaritans (i.e. the parable of the good Samaritan). They were the ones the Jews dehumanized and rejected. 'Neighbor' in the New Testament often refers to those who are outsiders (those who are not loved, dehumanized, and outside our own communities). And yes, Quakers have many outsiders and often times those who are our outsiders are other Quakers from other parts of the tradition. Thus, we must give up the comfort to who is invited to our table of fellowship.

Secondly, the final part of the statement is meant to show how we tend to love ourselves and thus put ourselves before others. We see the total rejection of this kind of behaviour built into the Lord's Prayer, the prayer that is meant to shape the practices of the church. "Give us our daily bread," declares complete reliance on God the father as provider over an above ourselves. If we are dependant on God for our bread, then we must be ready and willing to not be bread-takers but bread-sharers. That is to say, other's needs come before our own needs and wants. We eat less, drive less, use less water all so that there is enough to go around. But it doesn't stop here, in our loving God and others, we ought to invite people in to our homes, and meetinghouses in order to share all that we have with them. This inter-dependence on God, and sharing with others is a mark of the reality of the Kingdom of God that early Quakers sought to live by. It bids us to give up our rights to ourselves and turn to the work and love of God.

It seems to me then that true transformation then doesn't just begin inward but also outward, it happens at the same time. As we seek to love, we learn what it means to be loved and often rejected; as we seek to follow God outwardly (through social justice, etc) we are forced to change inwardly. It's not a one way street, the world isn't packaged that neatly, following Christ can be dirty business. We must not continue in the dualalities of the modern period because the rest of the world is busy loving themselves to death.

Blog fever

A few of us bloggers are taking a break in the office generously provided by John F on behalf of Quaker Life. It has to be said, and I hope this isn't too horribly ungrateful, this office is very untidy indeed. Three words: health and safety. The mess I can cope with, but the other side of the office from us is dead pongy because the egg salad sandwiches from the QL meet & greet have been left out there for two days.

Today is warmish and balmy here in lovely leafy Bloomsbury and I've got another three people to read an Advice/Query while sat in the Friends House courtyard. I'm debating whether to go into the afternoon session later for 'Civil Liberty: the Kingdom and the State'. The possibility that it will be more *shudder* worship-sharing fills me with despond.

This morning, I did get into the main session in time for Elsa Dicks' farewell message as she retires from being BYM's Recording Clerk. I like Elsa lots. She sits unspeaking at the Clerk's table of both BYM and Meeting for Sufferings, and has a lovely sweet smile when someone says something funny. When she needs to speak at MfS on some constitutional clarification, she is always well-informed and clear-thinking. It was great that she had a platform to speak freely, and her review of her time in post was interesting, informative and of course funny. I do hope she gets asked to do a Swarthmore Lecture sometime.

Other things I did today were having another lovely soup & salad in the extension of the Friends House Restaurant up on the ground floor and going to a lunchtime Q&A with Beth Allen which was hosted by Woodbrooke. This evening there are five 'themed groups' we can take part in including equality and inclusion, Circles of Support and Accountability, and slavery and racism. Also, Peckham Meeting is on tonight or I could go home early and do some baking for a post-BYM party tomorrow evening.

Ground & Spring

That was the title of Beth Allen's Swarthmore lecture last night. It resonated a lot with my experience, as an unprogrammed Friend comfortable with talking about a living God. I really appreciated Beth's 'gentle certainty'- she explained how affirmative comments about other's experience are often right, while denying other's experience is often wrong.

For me, trying to achieve that balance, of affirming and sharing what you value, without closing yourself to new light, is a key part of being a Quaker.

I found Beth's words very inspiring, but also quite practical and down-to-earth. I really liked the quote she opened with, from St Francis of Assisi:
"God, who are you?
God, who am I?"

Although Beth reminded us all at the start that 'God' in her lecture should be a placeholder for our own individual understanding, I can see that the frequency with which He popped up might have been hard to get around for some Friends.

I often think that language is something of a cosmic joke on the part of God. We have this tool to share our deepest experiences, and yet it can be such a blunt instrument.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Do you take sugar?

After so many videos, I better get in some text blogging as well. At the current count, over sixty people have viewed the 'minimeeting' video. It's freaking me out a bit, since when I made the recording I hadn't intended to read that A & Q and hadn't been particularly comfortable about saying 'god' after reading it. On video it all seems a bit stark and not me. Somehow these words seem less ambiguous in Advices & Queries than they sometimes can in ministry. I think when the video gets to the 100 mark, I might take it down.

It's been all Jesus tonight what with the Swarthmore Lecture. It didn't particularly speak to me, but was well-presented and the round of singing 'Building Bridges' worked very nicely. Last year's presenters, the Sawtells, introduced Beth Allen as is the tradition and I enjoyed that. There was a palpable sense of anticipation in the room and even a projector.

It felt to me that the point of the lecture was to get us to think about 'god', whatever that happens to mean to each of us. I don't feel I have much of a right to be annoyed or hurt since I've known from the begining that Quakers are sort of supposed to be C/christians. All the same, it didn't seem right that when Beth Allen described the extremes of the Christian-Atheist polarity in Friends that the latter came off seeming much less reasonable and likeable. So yeah, didn't speak to me.

In the afternoon session we had 90 minutes of what I believe is known as 'worship sharing' - a meeting for worship centred on a particular theme or topic and preceded by introductory ministry. We heard about Quaker work to abolish slavery in the 18th century and various more recent work by individual Friends, Meetings and Quaker organisations. Unfortunately, this one goes onto the list of worship sharing that didn't really work for me. It went on for what felt a really long time and even the minute took about an hour. We were given a couple of interesting general questions to ponder and minister to, but these were pretty much ignored and the ministry was very much about past projects and very rarely touched on anything visionary and prophetic toward the future. We've been doing rather better than this in Meeting for Sufferings recently. Having said that I found some of the Ministry very valuable for myself personally.

The 'A World Transformed' session made me wonder what Quakers would look back on 200 years from now and say, there we were being prophetic and made a difference. I can think of a few possible candidates, but I wonder if it will be brought about by a gradual change from person to person or if we will have a corporate witness to adopt a 'year zero' for living sustainably, for example. Whatever the next challenge will be that we bring to the world, it will not be easy or done from a position of comfort for Friends ourselves. In fact that is how we will be able to judge that we are being prophetic.

What else happened today? The staff of The Friend looked natty in their matching blue t-shirts and sitting together in their special corner. The Young Quaker stall appeared in the North Corridor complete with a laptop slideshow of photos from YFGM. Friends from other Yearly Meetings (including our own Wess) were asked to introduce themselves to the Meeting. The 14-18 year olds were present in the afternoon session & Swarthmore Lecture. Fab food at lunchtime from the Friends House Restaurant. Lots more people were present today than last night - the ground floor was full and the gallery half full.

I don't mean this in a horrible way, but it's hard to believe the weekend is only half over.

The title of this post refers to the fact that Quakers took part in a sugar boycott during the campaign to end the slave trade and nearly brought down the sugar industry. The boycott was also a great profile-raiser for the issues involved in the campaign.

dwelling in the light

Saturday morning: we went to Bunhill Fields. It seemed appropriate to stop off on the way to Friends House and pay our respects to George Fox.

George Fox was one of the first Quakers, but, by no means, the last.

Together and apart, we seek the truth and we seek experience of the Light.

Simon, Wess and I made a goofy video about George Fox. Then Simon got out his book of George Fox's writing. It has two columns, what he wrote and a translation in 20th or 21st century parlance.

I sat down and read it and that's the video. Wess makes a cameo at the end, reminding me not to be too self-important as I read Fox.

We Were Looking for George Fox

More Advices & Queries Reading

Here is our Simon reading A&Q 18 for us.

And John F reading number 2

Interview with Chris

Someone from the under-19s group has the best t-shirt of BYM, and in this video he talks about that and his contribution to the Saturday afternoon session 'A World Transformed'.

the sausage factory takes over the blog! (part 1)

Here we are at the Sausage Factory in the Drayton room, 14-18 years olds at Britain Yearly Meeting. They're from all over the UK. We talked to them about Quaker stuff, the blog and the differences between programmed and unprogrammed Quakers. All mistakes are my own (Jez), I may have misheard some stuff.

Wess: who is furthest from home?

Chris: I'm about 200 miles from home. I ride my bike most places but i got the train here.

Wess: Where else?

Others: Sutton, London, Isleworth, Cheltenham.

Mike: where are you from? Wess: LA.

Jez: How is BYM? What is the best thing?

All: Such a cheesy question etc.

Simon: What’s the worst thing?

Mike: Early mornings. We got up at 730

Chris: I got up at 5 to 7.

Jez: did you have epilogue last night?

Katy: We did stuff on the floor. Postcards and candles. You could look at them if you felt drawn or moved to look at them.

Wess: Anyone from Birmingham?

All: No.

Wess: Facebook or myspace?All: Facebook.

Katy: Myspace is so lame. Wess: The best stuff is on Facebook.

Katy: You should stop producing Young Quaker. No one reads it. You should close it down, use the money for something more worthwhile.

Wess: How do we make the blog more interesting?

Sally: With music.

Emily: Use bright colours.

Stefan: Photos.

Emily: Animations.

Wess: GIFFs. Would you watch videos?

All: Yes.

sausage factory: part 2

The second part of the chat over lunch at the Sausage Factory (14-18 year old Quakers at BYM).

Sally: Where did you come from in America?

Wess: LA. I'm a Quaker. I'm from a programmed meeting.

Katy: Explain, why do it, how is it Quakery?

Wess: Back in 1850 there were 2 groups, Gurneys and Wilbur, they were trying to incorporate envangelistic style into the meeting to get people in as they died out. There were great revivals so they adopted some of those methods. Quaker, believed in inward light, simplistic etc. They brought some bible stuff and programmed stuff in.

Tavi: Do you sing hymns?

Wess: Yes, we sing, we had 10 minutes silence too. You have a pastor who would give a sermon.

Jez: how long is the sermon?

Wess: 25 minutes, maybe. Also we do business the same way that other Quakers do. We have the testimonies. Just the service is different.

Katy: What do you prefer?

Wess: I like both. Friends come together; we have liturgy or celtic prayer. Half hour silence, and someone reads a query, we might have a short discussion, and pray together.

Stefan: Are the sermons about Advice and Queries or are they bible sermons? Wess: It comes from the bible, could be old or new testaments.

Sally: Is it evangelical?

Wess: From right wing evangelical to left wing non-evangelical, is a broad spectrum. Group of Quakers, then there is the emerging church, meet in clubs and pubs, drama video dj music, poetry, new movement of church doing that - what does it mean to meet together, so when i say that i like to put it together that is where I'm coming from.

Sally: do you find it difficult, to think as Quakerism?

Kate: It is defined by silence, moved by spirit…

Tavi: find it hard to see otherwise…

Wess: God does not just move us in the silence… he moves us when we are encountering people online, in facebook wherever, god can give me something to share. Monday or Tuesday, god could present a poem to share later on, not just for that moment, god working throughout time all time

Tavi: I don't know if i even believe in god, are people being directed by their pastor, i like when people read because they're moved by something deep inside, i don't think that i can experience it otherwise, how do you relate to something? I don't know if i agree with the bible,

Wess: I think it works best when all those things happen within a dialogue, if you came to something i was leading, i don't say this is what it says ‘now believe’, but, this is what i think it is and what do you think? Another part is asking the questions we all have. In a guided discussion, what is god doing in the world, if anything? Lets have those questions,

Katy: I get it better now you've explained it

Wess: Take a book of common prayer or old hymns or poetry, things already done, say a prayer, god gave someone that prayer, 1000 years, 100 years a week ago, its still alive, it can still minister, has vitality in the community of faith, sit down, the whole church for 1000 years has been reading together, is something special. Age-tested prayer.

Stefan: Telling a story beginning ‘once upon a time’ is spontaneous.

Sally: Is the pastor a leader in your meeting?

Wess: Not the sole leader. He or she does not have the final say in things. The Meeting is still run by regular Quaker business, pastor only has as much as the pastor says.

Mary: why don't you do the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage, where 15 young Friends from Europe and 15 from the Americas get together. It is organised by FWCC (Friends World Committee for Consultation). I went in 2000. It is every 2 years in England or Europe or America. Mike: Is there an upper age limit?

Mary: 16-18.

sausage factory: part 3

Katy: Money on Young Quaker magazine could be spent on something different, like working on the blog.

Chris: Young Quaker is quite good, its a valid publication representing Quakers it is aimed at and for.

Jez: I will edit this blog post so that everyone only says good stuff about Young Quaker. Where
Katy says the words ‘brilliant’ and ‘Young Quaker’, she’ll say that Young Quaker is brilliant!

Chris: Young Quaker is published too often, maybe bi-monthly with bigger editions. I flick through while on the bog. Put that in, I read YQ on the bog! Two months into one. After an event, would be a good time to publish the magazine.

Sally: what is it?

Chris: YFGM publication.

Wess: Were you all brought up as Quakers?

Chris: I was, but I was given the opportunity to choose whether I wanted to. I had to make my own application for membership.

Kate: At Westminster Monthly Meeting, specifically Ealing, we have 4 teenagers.

Jez: Are you all the only Quakers in your peer groups?

Almost all: we're the only young people in our meetings. There’s lots you can do. JYM, link groups. We connect by MSN and facebook.

Wess: Do you blog together?

Chris: The Leaveners started a message board, friendlink but now it is for everyone, it is a good place. I think that the new young friends website is going to be good,

Wess: In the States, we have a website and on it are aggregation of all blogs, it catches posts and puts them all on one site.

Sally: How do you know that people are Quakers?

Wess: We run it. There’s the occasion that someone does not want to be there, but it is awesome to get younger people. Most of the people are aged 25-40 on there, but typically not much younger. Thats one way that we are in touch, we're also on facebook, and then meet in the US.

I've been to Rhode Island and San Francisco to meet for dinner and hang out, using web to connect. We bring the virtual community to hang out in pubs, or in our living rooms. Another Quaker, Robin, and I, have done some ministry about the future of Quakers. We've done googledocuments, letters of introduction, interesting things happening, video chats, - some of it is really funny. We do stuff online, so bringing our faith online. It seems natural and important, so not living separate lives.

Tavi: pubs?

Wess: We've got a couple. You know, i haven't been to an English pub, this is my first trip abroad. I'm at Woodbrooke. The cool pubs in LA are the places which are dives, really amazing musicians who come in and play.

Any other questions?

Katy: Can I come and stay?

Wess: I can feed you but I can’t pay for your travel!

Jez: don't forget to look out for the blog!

What canst thou say? (in sepia)

Here is a new video featuring most of the bloggers though John F was working in the office while we had had fun in the Friends House Bookshop. I hope the sound is ok. There was an excited queue for coffee nearby.

Friday, 4 May 2007

The video I posted last night is getting attention in the upper echelons of Friends House, which is making me somewhat self-conscious. More videos to come, I'm sure. Wess has taken lots of nice photos already and my fave is the tags.

Lots and lots of folks that I knew at BYM this evening and hopefully I'll get to catch up with a few. I went to most of the evening session, but have only some superficial observations:

* The folks at the Clerk's table are colour-coded. The Clerk and Recording Clerk were in classic Quaker grey jackets, and the Assistant Clerks wore lovely grass green shirts.

* Not many folks were present this evening - the ground floor wasn't full & the gallery nearly empty. It put me in mind of the London Yearly Meetings of the 17th Century I read about in the red book with standing room only and they went on for 10 days.

* As at Meeting for Sufferings, the Clerk asks if a minute is acceptable straightaway, although there was one point when he put it before the Meeting first.

* The Friends present were a much broader age-spread than Meeting for Sufferings.

* We had the first contender for what Young Friend Andrew called 'The most pedantric ministry at YM' - a mini-saga about the numbering of a section of the draft Church Government document.

* Friends House has it's own Narnia - the 'North Corridor' which tonight was not only open and lined with info stalls, but also open onto the Euston Road.

Responding to that of blog within me

I'm not an experienced blogger by any stretch of the imagination. I had hoped the four blogging maestros I recruited might let me stay behind the scenes.

Apparently, now I've been photographed with the bloggers, I have to join in. I'll offer what I can.

I'm hoping that despite all the busyness that can happen during Yearly Meeting (particularly for staff members), I'll be able to find times of stillness. I hope I'll be able to sense God working amongst us.

(I'm the one of the few BYMbloggers without a beard).

Newbies: Yes I Am The New Guy (But I am not alone)

This is my first official yearly meeting and I get to spend it in London at the Friends House, I must say I feel overly privileged. I have been to Evangelical Friends Eastern Region Yearly Meeting once but it was just for an hour or two one evening, that was back when I was youth pastoring at a small congregation in Barberton Ohio (about an hour south of Cleveland). But this, my friends, is very different and very exciting for me. So yes, I am the newbie - the one in the corner with a glazed look over his eyes or the goofy smile on his face; I can't help it I actually love meeting new people. Not only do I get the privilege of being a newbie, but also one with some responsibility (i.e. blogging here), note how scary this could be. It might be like giving the keys to your merchandise to your unlicensed teen, but it does give me an insider's look at the gears turning behind this big Quaker machine.

It's already shaping up to be an incredible experience because of the really great entry points created for new people just like me. I too can imagine there being a sense of pride in knowing you've got an Evangelical spending his first YM under your careful tutelage. Quite honestly, I am happy to be the understudy.

Here's what I've experienced so far:

First, there was tea and cake for all overseas visitors. Beware would be free-loaders this event is by invite only! In fact, I've got a special blue badge (overseas visitor) with a gold star (YM first timer) on it. This gathering was great not only because of the tea and cakes, but also because of the varieties of faithfulness represented in the room. There were some friends from France, Ireland, Norway, India, Canada, and many other places, even Canton Ohio was represented! Some of these people are here for the first time, some have been coming for years, and others still use their overseas connections (even though they now living in England) to get in to this exclusive gathering; yes the tea and cakes are that good.

But no matter why they were there on the surface, we were all there because God has called us to join together as Friends. And this calling seemed apparent to me from the beginning of the session when the Martin Ward, the clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting, talked briefly about allowing God to shape and mold us, and that is really what Friends are about.

Secondly, I went with Angelina (from Philadelphia yearly meeting) and Simon (from Telford meeting) to the YM first timers session (I don't remember if that was the official title, but we aren't really into titles now are we?). This was a kind of tutorial about what goes on during YM, how things work, and the nitty gritty about where to find things, who to call for help or get to get your questions answered. They also covered the basics, when not to get up and speak during the meetings for business, the importance of turning off your cell phones, and a moving explanation as to the importance of reading the Epistles and Testimonies. My favorite part of this was learning how the actually business session is ran. They covered who the clerks are, why it's important to have silence as a part of the business session, and why everyone is invited to speak during it.

Finally, I think my favorite part so far, besides just being here and being asked to blog about the weekend, is getting to meet all the other bloggers, and people associated with the YM. I've already met friends from all over the world (and most I may even remember their names), and have meet people I hope to keep in contact with for a long time. Oh, and my wife and I have already been invited to stay with one lady when we come back to visit London again. It's not that I am surprised that I feel welcomed, it's how much I feel welcomed that is tipping the experience off for me. Being 6,000 miles away it's good to know I am may be the new guy but I am still among friends.

bright eyes

Friends House
Originally uploaded by jez s.
Everywhere that I look, there are people with bright eyes, shining with joy, among Friends.

There are so many of my friends here, acquaintances, people that I have met at conferences.

And there are people that I had not met before, or I have come across by chance.

On Wednesday night, I worshipped at Westminster. I sat next to Stephen Cox. Before I went in, I noticed a sign on a board advertising his story-telling workshop at Sutton Friends Meeting House.

Afterwards, I asked him about it.

Ah, he said, there are at least two Stephen Coxes active in Quakers and he's the other one that I know about.

This evening, I was at a meeting organised by the Friend. I introduced myself to a man with a bright red jacket.

I'm Stephen Cox, he said.

He's the other one.

He's not going to be at BYM on Saturday though. He has some friends who go cycling together. They are meeting at midnight to cycle to the coast. They haven't decided which coast yet.

Apparently, the roads are a lot quieter at night, making group cycling easier and safer.

The meeting with staff from the Friend was good - everyone introduced themselves (including not-staff people) and said what their interests are and what they like to write about (note to self: find more photographers!)

There were plenty of people there and one woman gave an account of how, being blind, she copes with written communication. Her husband, David, is her email reader, for example.

David told me about one of his grandsons who goes to Quaker events, but gets ribbed by his younger brother for doing so. Hang on in there my friend and others, hold him in the light!

It is grey outside, as I write. I have a view of the window in the photo above.

I also met Laurie Michaelis earlier, he is leading a special interest group on environmental issues on Saturday afternoon, around 5:30pm.

John has set up a lunchtime meeting for us bloggers with some of the under-19s on Saturday, so watch this space. I also hope to find some over-91s and do some work with them too!

I went to the Salter lecture this afternoon. I won't write much now, for I am writing about it for the Friend too and I haven't fully pieced together my thoughts. This lecture was the annual lecture of the socialist Quaker society. There were over 100 people at the talk, but only about 7 looked under 40. I expect that I will have to catch up with them later and see how we can work together - I know many young Quakers whose viewpoints would place them left of centre politically, but I suspect that few would ever have considered themselves socialist. I think that many people who go to university, for example, associate socialism with radical lefties who seem, well, separate, basically.

The lecture was an interesting overview of trade union involvement in change, but did not, for me, really grasp the subject of sustainable development in any meaningful way. Considering that the United Nations climate change report came out today, with demands for urgent cuts in carbon emissions, this was a real opportunity to develop the issue.

I talked to the speaker afterwards and sensed some fiery passion on the subject. Hopefully I can draw on this for my report.

As I write, hundreds of Quakers are in the main session. I'm not (no typing by the bloggers in session, during session), but at least one of us will be going in around 8, if the doorkeepers allow.

Hopefully, we'll hear more later.

in friendship


Thursday, 3 May 2007

Hoping this thing works...

Let the multimedia begin! Here's a video of me practicing for the weekend including an appropriate Advices & Queries (14). Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow evening.

which direction from here? East Africa Yearly Meeting epistle

bollard party
Originally uploaded by jez s.
East Africa Yearly Meeting epistle is on page 3 of Epistles and Testimonies.

One of the reasons that I struggled with my Christian faith when I attended evangelical churches in the 1990s was the ultra-conservative attitudes. So I was disappointed but not surprised to read from East Africa Yearly Meeting (page 3 of the Epistles and Testimonies book):

...Apart from statutory business of the Conference, time was allowed for presentations and discussions on some areas of importance to the church and our day to day lifestyle, including stress management, poverty eradication and the introduction of Gay Culture among others.

The latter 'Gay' was condemned wholesomely since it does not come to us as an error made by God. God created man and out of him. He made a woman for man and it was good and without error.

Gay is contrary to the scriptures and nature. Even the tiniest crawling creatures observe strictly God's command and formation of nature Mark 10:7-9.

This Yearly Meeting shall not team up with any group that proclaims this immoral conduct.

...continues to end.

It would be easy for me to dismiss this, but these are my Quaker brothers and sisters who are saying and writing this.

It makes me uncomfortable to read this, to see this, but it is the view and belief of many thousands of evangelical Christians in East Africa and other places (for example, it is my recollection that when Licia Kuenning had her leading from God of his coming on 6/6/6 in Farmington, US, she believed that gay people would be 'cured' of their sexuality and become heterosexual).

I don't have a conclusion to this, I'm just saying that it makes me uncomfortable. I have long known that there must be many Quakers around the world with this view, whether outside Britain or, for that matter, within.


Wednesday, 2 May 2007

tell your Friends

Sheffield FMH
Originally uploaded by jez s.
Don't forget to tell your Friends about this blog. If you are at BYM this weekend please do tell people about this website.

If you are not at BYM, but are at a Meeting for Worship, or other event, we would be very grateful if you would give a notice, encouraging people to look at our site.

We also have posters that you can print up and put out (see previous posts, below).

We will also have some posters available for you to take away, at BYM. These will probably be available from the Young Quaker/Young Friends General Meeting stall.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

officially sanctioned...

News comes in that the blog has been officially sanctioned by the good spirit of Britain Yearly Meeting.

The acceptance comes with a couple of provisos, that we do not blog from within a session and that we do not leave mid-session to blog.

Whoever added those caveats clearly does not know the lack of urgency that courses through my veins, when it comes to blogging.

The good news for us is that we now have a computer that we can use in Friends House, plus there is wi-fi access around the building.

As well as backing from Quaker Communications, we've also had offers of support from the Friend magazine, so we appear to be well sorted technologically.

We are still waiting on any offers of free food and drink, though...

Looks like my sandwich skills will be called into action, again.