J is for Justified

Throughout the year I have committed to producing blog posts for each letter of the alphabet about Quakerism, in my case primarily my own experience and interpretation of being a Quaker rather than any piece of beautifully researched or well-read prose.

The Quaker Alphabet project has now reached J here in EBL Towers. In honour of this wonderful letter, I decided to write about Margaret Fell’s 1666 (or 1667) pamphlet arguing that women should be allowed to preach. You can read the full text of it here.

womens-speaking-justified

Margaret Fell was involved in founding the Religious Society of Friends through her work with George Fox and others. Her pamphlet setting out the view of women’s right to preach and speak in church was extremely influential. Quaker women were often literate, and indeed research into the lives of women of this period, such as by Antonia Fraser in “The Weaker Vessel“, may depend upon their journals for insights into people’s daily lives and routines of the period.

The role of women in the life of a religious community will differ from church to church. However, the Anglican Church (Church of England and its related churches around the world) and the Catholic Church are still struggling with the question, some 350 years after Margaret Fell summarised it. It’s not just Christian faiths either that are finding the question challenging.

Clearly I have my answer provided thanks to Margaret Fell, although I might use slightly different language, arguments and examples updated for a more modern audience; in retrospect that might be the wrong approach for churches still mired in historical and apparently antiquated mind-sets.

For me, and as I suspect for a number of other Quakers, the question of women’s speaking simply does not arise. Some years ago, when the Church of England was discussing appointing female ministers, I attended a workshop on feminism and spirituality. It was led by a woman who planned to become an Anglican priest if the vote was carried in favour of such appointments. She sat down with our group of Quaker women and gave a deep sigh and said, “I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be with a group of women who aren’t talking about female ordination!”

We all looked a bit bemused and admitted it was not something we really thought about.

“You don’t have priests…” she started.

“We are all priests,” someone corrected her gently.

And that is the way of it; without a recognised and separate clergy, we all have the responsibility and the opportunity to be priests to and for one another. Essentially every individual has a direct relationship with the Divine and we learn and worship together as equals. Of course there may be barriers preventing people standing up in a meeting for worship and speaking the message they feel they have received. We also are all members of a wider society with its own rules and challenges.

I know and recognise that Quakers are not exempt from sexism (or any other -ism) in thought or word or deed. I know we are not perfect. It’s just that for me I have a community of seekers of the truth who are open to trying not be discriminatory to the best of their ability and in at least this area have done a fair job of it so far.

It’s so easy to slip into self-recrimination, and so I want to celebrate our commitment and value its longevity as well as appreciate and exult in more recent witness (around eg same sex relationships and marriage).

Namaste

 

Advertisements

The mind as an open book

Time to analyse the contorted brain that drives EBL. The Daily Post has suggested (and I am infinitely suggestible when I choose to be) that it might make an interesting post if a person is suffering from Bloggers’ Block to perform some pop-psycho-analysis based on the last five books I read. To be fair, Bloggers’ Block sounds like something fairly serious and I doubt even antibiotics would suffice, so I hope to make it to the end of this post and see you on the other side.

Most of my reading these days is based around your lovely blogs and the occasional foray into Facebook World to catch up on the memes, and occasionally some humans to whom I have linked. Otherwise I read knitting patterns, because they tell me what to do and make me feel better, or look at pictures. The pictures may be moving on a screen, or static in a magazine, and in either case, they transport me to other worlds far more absorbing than my own daily grind.

You are not about to get a series of book reviews. I have included Amazon links so you can look them up if you want to.

I would like to think I read an eclectic mix of material, and looking at my last five books was certainly a reasonably typical selection. My reading of choice tends to be science-fiction. It is a love affair that never grows old, in part thanks to the invention of time travel and a very special theory of relativity. In reverse order then….

1.Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

I always say I like science fiction and not fantasy, but the first item on the list gives that the lie. Anything by Neil Gaiman is OK with me. I love his style, in pretty much every sense of the word.

What does this book tell you about me? It’s a fable. It involves demons and mythology and the human condition.

Conclusion: Likes fairy stories because she never grew up.

Defence: I would say grown ups need to read more fairy stories. We might remember that courage and kindness matter more than riches and fame, that you can’t judge someone by how they look, that dreams and promises are important, and that life is full of wonderful mystery,

Moving on.

2. “The Fifth Science Fiction Megapack”.

I keep this one on my Kindle for train journeys. It’s a collection, and I can start and stop easily which suits train journeys. Currently I am re-reading H Beam Piper’s “The Fuzzy Papers” in it. I loved H Beam Piper when I discovered him as a teenager. He was an antidote to the Cold War mentality and expressed joy in the possibilities of alien life and compassion in dealing with it.

Conclusion: Does too many train journeys, and likes to be prepared. Overly logical and structured at the expense of spontaneity.

Defence: reading something half way decent on a train journey is what keeps us civilised and prevents mass murder.

3. “The King in the North” by Max Adams

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will be aware that I like my Old English prose and verse, and I am interested in the period historically. Oswald was the real life king upon whom Tolkien based Aragorn and he is fascinating. The cult of St Oswald was a huge influence in early medieval Europe. The links to pagan mythology (the Silver Hand etc) are really intriguing, and he is an interesting blend of pagan and early Christian. Given that his conversion appears to have been genuinely based on his own belief and not a politically expedient move as in the case of many other rules of the period.

Conclusion: Likes to appear intellectual / lives in an ivory tower and is unfit for normal human interaction. Avoids intimacy.

Defence: Yes, indulge me. It makes me happy and hurts no one (except the tree which produced the paper). Intimacy is over-rated. As Linus (I think) says “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.”

4. “Rant” by Alfie Crow

Do I enjoy well-crafted sarcasm and a bit of murderous mayhem? Why, yes I do, thank you for asking. And this fits the bill. I came across it because Sigoth has very very clever friends, one of whom recently published her first novel. We were invited to the book launch and met some other first-time authors there, including Alfie Crow. He did a reading from his book and it was love at first hearing.

Conclusion: Not afraid of a bit of gore and indulges in dark humour, probably as a way of deflecting personal insecurities.

Defence: it’s a fair cop, guv. Does it surprise you that one of my favourite films (after “The Princess Bride”, which is the Best Film Ever, obviously) is “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”?  Vinnie Jones makes me laugh out loud. “Don’t effing swear in front of the effing kid!”

And finally, I am currently indulging myself at the end of the day with a bedtime story.

5. “The Inimitable Jeeves” by P G Wodehouse

When I was little I listened to Radio 4 every night after tea with my dad. At 6.30 after the boring news bit they have a comedy or quiz show for half an hour before The Archers. I grew up listening to Hancock’s Half Hour, ITMA, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, The Navy Lark, The Goon Show, Round the Horne and What Ho! Jeeves. I adored them all, even the ones I didn’t understand (honestly, I was quite shocked when I learned some actual Polari!). I thought Jeeves and Wooster were hilarious. I particularly liked the aunts. It was all very silly.

Conclusion: Both nostalgic and escapist while satirical and elitist. The perfect summary of all of the above.

Defence: Indeed.

Well, there you have it. A brief tour of the EBL bookshelves and mental apparatus. What have you learned? Do you read books? What were the last five?

Namaste

 

I is for Introversion

As part of my 12 month mission, I am writing posts in approximately alphabetical order about what being a Quaker means to me. It’s part of the Quaker Alphabet Project 2014 and more information can be found over on this page about it.

This month I have made it as far as the letter I, which is brought to you by Introversion. Get me in my Big Bird outfit!

You see, my dears, I have a bit of a theory. It’s not a big theory, or even a well-considered one. It’s one born of the need to find a word beginning with I and the fact that I was reminding myself about Myers-Briggs indicators the other day. You might say it’s less of a theory and more of an early hypothesis.

Are Quakers predominantly Introverts?

I am, of course, referring to Quakers in the British or similar tradition of silent, unprogrammed worship. We sit still for an hour and wait to see if anyone feels they have a message to share. There is no priest or pastor or vicar or cleric (except that we all are priests in a way), and there is no programme of worship, just a willingness to sit down together and see what happens.

In Myers-Briggs one of the “preferences” (there are four in total) is Extraversion – Introversion. By completing a questionnaire you receive a score along the scale indicating which side you are on and how strongly.

EBL's introversion score

As you will see, it turns out I am fairly introverted.

The extraversion – introversion scale measures where a person prefers to focus their attention and where they get a boost to their energy. So in this case, it would imply that:

  • I am drawn to my inner world
    • This is true. I enjoy mental challenges: crosswords, quizzes, meditation, academic work, genealogy, writing and reading about Ideas. It’s one reason I like science fiction as well as science.
  • I prefer to communicate in writing
    • I would certainly rather email than pick up the phone, also I blog a bit.
  • I work out ideas by reflection
    • I mull things over and let a conclusion arise, I expect my team to be psychic because it’s all going on in my head.
  • I focus in depth on my interests
    • I interpret this as obsessing over the minutiae of my hobbies rather than having a broader range of more general interests. I want to be an expert. Good enough is not good enough!
  • I am private and contained
    • Despite the fact I am sharing this with you, I blog under a pseudonym. I don’t mind if you work out who I am – I wouldn’t say anything here I would not say in public. I just prefer not to use my name because you don’t need to know it.
  • I take the initiative when a situation or issue is important to me
    • Do I wade in and interfere when I think it’s needed? Why yes I do.

It also indicates I restore my flagging energies by taking time out alone. Absolutely. I have to have time on my own, which is why I find regular meditation so helpful.

What it does not mean is that I am shy (although I am in some social situations – at work I am completely the opposite of shy).

So, EBL, what is this to do with Quakerism?

I’m glad you asked, dear reader. It’s because of the silent worship.

You see, those of us who take time out to participate in it tend to say we find it refreshing, restorative, energising. We think of it as the time we recharge batteries, mull over issues, get back in touch with our inner light.

I invite you to look back at the definition of Introversion. I see a link, and I wonder if you do too?

Well, what does that mean? Why does it matter? It’s because only half of the population at most fall onto the Introversion side of the scale. Obviously the rest are extraverts. I suspect they would always struggle with silent meetings for worship, no matter how spiritual they are as individuals.

Don’t forget the scale is a sliding one, so someone in the middle would not be strongly inclined one way or the other; it will be a normal distribution curve. However, a significant proportion of the population is unlikely to find silent meetings for worship as strengthening as we firm Introverts do.

Does this mean Quakerism is not for them? Well, that’s kind of up to us, isn’t it? If all we do is based on silence and reflection, then we will only attract and keep clear introverts. Our community will be biased. If we choose to engage in a range of activities, events and opportunities which satisfy all tastes and preferences, then we can be more balanced and whole by including everyone. We often debate in our meetings how to include children, young people, and so on. Perhaps we should redefine what we mean by inclusion and who we think we are failing to nurture.

Just a thought, dear Friends. I would be interested in your views. (Although perhaps we don’t need to debate MBTI in detail …I have used it as a starting point only!) For all I know there is a Woodbrooke programme for just this kind of thing.

Namaste.

 

Most people don’t realise

bfmh14-copy-e1388959797718

 

Today I have five things to share with you. Buckle up, blogfriends!

  1. Most people don’t realise that I learned to play classical guitar.
  2. Most people don’t realise that I wore built-up shoes as a child due to knock-knees.
  3. Most people don’t realise that I am genuinely ambivalent about Marmite.
  4. Most people don’t realise that I don’t recognise faces easily.
  5. Most people don’t realise that I have wanted to kill myself.

We hide, intentionally or not, many facets of our lives. Sharing everything would be information overload of the most intense variety. However, depression and mental illness are too often hidden because of stigma.

This post is a contribution to the Blog for Mental Health Project 2014. You can read more about it by following these links.

http://acanvasoftheminds.com/2014/01/07/blog-for-mental-health-2014/

http://blogformentalhealth.wordpress.com/

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

What don’t people always realise about you?

Namaste.

 

British-ness

The Sealed Knot

The Sealed Knot is a Civil War Re-enactment Group. When we talk about the Civil War we mean the one we had in the 17th century after which we gave up on republicanism as a bad job and set up a global empire instead. That turned out well.

I do understand that the rest of the world is not blessed with being British. In fact, I am not even sure whether I mean British or English when I say this. As a nation within a United Kingdom of other nations, I am so confused as to my national identity that I can’t even tell you where I am from. It all depends on context.

The question “Where are you from, EBL?” elicits one of the following responses:

If the question is asked by a foreigner and I am abroad, I will say British.

If the question is asked by a foreigner and we are in the UK, I will say English.

If the questioner is British and we are in England, I will say Yorkshire

If we are in South or West Yorkshire, I will say North Yorkshire

If we are in North Yorkshire, I will say “village near t’ Moors”

If we are close to my village I will say its name

If we are in my village I will say “I was born near London” and be subjected to much hilarity and ritual abuse. After that we all have a pint and take the piss out of Westies (people from West Yorkshire). It might be worth noting that the pint could comprise either tea or beer, but not usually both at the same time.

So imagine my joy at falling over a meme on Facebook about British Problems. I have to confess I am guilty of pretty much all of them, so now I know that I am in fact British.

It turns out there are lots of these on the web but I thought I would share a couple here as a warning to anyone who might be planning a visit to our sceptred isle, set in its silver sea.

I was looking forward to a nature documentary but when I sat down to watch it the narrator wasn’t David Attenborough

Honestly, if the national religion in this country is the NHS, then the national voice for all things furry, scaled, feathered or generally of the living persuasion is David Attenborough. You all know it’s true. The BBC exports enough of his stuff to the rest of you. His hushed tones allow you to share his reverence and awe for the natural world in all its quirky, stupendous glory. As a nation we are honoured to have him as one of our own.

If you visit us, however, we are not all like David. Oh no.

I live outside the UK so when I say “With all due respect” no one realises I’m insulting them

This is something visitors need to look out for. Listen for tone of voice or heavy sighs, and perhaps look for crossed arms or hands on hips. When Brits speak loudly and slowly it’s because they think you are slow of English or that you are a pain in the neck (or both).

Similarly

I phoned Netflix customer support, which is US based; they were so overly polite I thought they were being sarcastic and hung up

From this you can assume that customer service in the UK is of a different nature to that of the US. It might not be as bad as in Paris, but only because we keep apologising while stitching you up. I don’t know what your own country is like and I’m sure it varies in different parts of the world, but if you had a line representing the best and worst of US customer service, British customer service would be off the scale at the worst end. If we do it really well, you might not even know we are mocking you.

Don’t be fooled by the fact we apologise for everything either. In fact, I suspect the whole “Nation of Sorries” thing might take an entire new post, so that’s all for now. I need to go and tidy up before the cleaner gets here. I wouldn’t want her to find the house a mess.

How British are you? It’s not a matter of birth but of attitude!

Namaste

 

E is for Expectations

Some letters of the alphabet are greedy aren’t they? I can think of so many entries in this alphabet project for E that I am entirely exhausted. I do keep coming back to this one though, so I am going to choose it as my second E entry.

Beware-Expectations-on

Expectations.

Well, Charles Dickens wrote a book on them, didn’t he? This is not going to be about escaped convicts in marshes, or deranged brides. It’s disappointing, I know, but Charlie did those better than I could. This post is going to be about the expectation of being a Quaker, or at least, my two penn’orth on the subject.

It was as I settled into meeting for worship last Sunday that I realised I get a little jolt every time I sit down in a Quaker meeting. The reason for that is because we are there to try to find our way together and actually no one can be quite sure what will happen. We sit in quiet expectation of hearing an inner voice guiding us. One moment you may be thinking of those around you and those absent, or of snowdrops and catkins and early spring sunshine, or what to make for dinner that evening. The next you are propelled into a stream of refugees escaping Homs, or to Death Row, or to supporting the family of a teenager who has killed themselves, or the excitement of a new gransparent quivering with the possibilities of a new life. Meeting can be an adventure, a trauma or a celebration and occasionally all of those things and more in one hour.

Meeting can also be subversive. It can be as dull as dishwater. It can be joyful. It can be cold. So my expectations of it are a little like a child on Christmas Eve, hoping for a miracle, and not sure whether I’ll receive a puppy or a magic ring or my third copy of “The Wind in the Willows” or an umbrella (I was only nine – an umbrella? What was she thinking?). Perhaps socks and knickers from M&S.

So there you have it: expectation and a little frisson of uncertainty. Eternal possibilities.

Last Sunday it occurred to me that as well as the holding of meeting there are expectations on the people present. It wasn’t a very original thought but I became aware that people at meeting view me very differently from colleagues at work. I behave differently too.

When I left home and went to university I was absolutely certain I did not want my former school friends to mix very much with my new university friends. The reason it was going to be difficult was because I had tried to reinvent myself a little, and I acted differently as a result. I wasn’t being deceitful; I was just experimenting with different parts of my personality. I was seizing the day. Once I had the new bits in place and felt comfortable, like a new pair of shoes worn in, I was perfectly happy to mix both groups together.

I’m at the gawky stage with meeting. The keeping things separate stage. The trying out stage.

When I’m at work everyone knows I am a miserable, irritable, but successful project manager. I may get a little terse and not do human very well, but I know how to plan, organise and deliver application developments, and I do it very well. Just don’t expect me to remember your birthday or compliment you on your hair or ask about your son’s exam results.

At meeting it’s different. People think I am supportive and thoughtful, a little reserved but basically fairly kind. I am still good at getting things done, but I do it differently. The reason I do it differently, I realised, is because everyone around me seems to expect me to do it differently. They hadn’t decided to make assumptions about me based on stereotypes of IT professionals for example. At work I am often told what “you techies” are like. This is despite the fact I do not conform to many (if any) of those perceptions.

Meanwhile at meeting I am a Quaker with some years of experience behind me. Therefore I am seen as supportive, helpful and thoughtful. I am credited with tact and diplomacy in a way that would frankly astonish my co-workers. I am viewed as having insights and contributions which are creative and positive rather than technical and process-driven.

I don’t think I am doing anything very different. I think much of it is because of the expectations of those around me that I am told I am good at apparently very different things. But the result is that I am starting to change my approach a little. I am seizing another day.

Way back in 1968 Rosenthal and Jacobsen carried out a study into the effects of teacher expectation on children. When teachers were told that certain (randomly selected) children were actually “late bloomers” who would improve over the school year, it was shown that those children did improve significantly. I won’t bore you with all the studies and arguments back and forth since then, but essentially the phenomenon of teacher expectation was recognised. It applies in other areas of our lives, at work and at play as well as in the classroom.

Quakers believe in “that of God in everyone” – you can use your own definition of God here. Essentially they expect the best of people and for myself they are bringing out perhaps the better parts of me. I have been away from meeting for a few years as family life took over, but when we attended regularly I was a kinder person on the whole at work as well as at meeting. As I rediscover that person again, the fluffier softer EBL if you will, I remember how to behave in more positive ways while still achieving the targets being set by management.

Most importantly perhaps I start to expect it of myself again. I start to expect love.

And if my meeting can affect me, perhaps I can go out and affect those around me in other situations. Good grief – it could become a Movement!

So how about you? Do you find yourself behaving differently in response to the expectations of those around you? Or am I just a candle in the wind?

Namaste

 

E is for experience

It seemed about time to make another Quaker Alphabet Post, but I was stuck for a while on which E to use. There seem to be quite a few. Then I decided to get back to basics and chose “Experience”.

Experience is a concept at the heart of Quakerism. It is summarised in the expression of “What canst thou say?” meaning never mind your fancy book learning or clever arguments, tell us what you know from your own experience.

You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?—George Fox

http://qfp.quaker.org.uk/passage/19-07/

The Quaker emphasis on direct experience of God (whatever they mean by God, and trust me, there is no single answer) is powerful for me. It holds me to account. I can’t quote the defence of following orders. I can’t sit back and let a priest do the heavy lifting. Quakers are seekers of truth, and everyone has to come to their own understanding.

Now, that can sound like hard work, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it means admitting confusion and uncertainty, when no one will tell you an answer. They will, however, share their own experience.

For myself I find this liberating. I have never been very good at following the party line for the sake of it. I was never the kid who had to prove Pythagoras’ theorem from first principles, but I was the kid who wanted to understand how faith reconciled with science, for example. It got me kicked out of Sunday School.

There I was, a precocious ten year old who had just heard at school about how the earth would one day be swallowed up by the sun. I was unconcerned because by then we would all have built brilliant spaceships and flown off to other planets to live. When the teacher at Sunday School started talking about the Second Coming I had questions.

“You know the earth is going to crash into the sun? What happens if Jesus doesn’t come back before then?”

“Well, he will.”

“But what if he doesn’t?”

“But he will.”

“But how do you know? He might be late?”

Maybe I thought he would get stuck in a traffic jam or miss his train. I’m not sure.

“You have to have faith he will come.”

“But how do you know?”

And so on. She lost her temper and threw me out. When I got back early my mother asked what had happened. I told her I wasn’t going to church any more.

When I discovered Quakers at university I discovered people who loved to ask questions and spend the night debating them. They talked about their experience of God, and what they didn’t know and why they wanted to find out more. They also played music and danced and played mad games and made up stories and cooked huge pans of soup and laughed a lot. Frequently all in one evening.

Basing a personal faith on your own experience is a potentially dangerous route to travel. To put it bluntly, it can lead to all kinds of whackiness and theological absurdity. The reason I am a Quaker is that my individual craziness is tested against the experience of the rest of my community. We seek together, and surprisingly often we find a nugget, something we all recognise as true.

Other times we make soup and laugh. Either way is good.

If you are interested in spiritual or religious questions, do you prefer a tested orthodoxy or the uncertain way of a seeker?

Namaste.