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

 

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What’s in a word?

wordcloud

Do the words we use matter?

In my world they do quite often because there are a number of technical terms which have to be used correctly or else Chaos Will Ensue. A recent example was a colleague who kept asking for a “radio buttons” on a web page. What she actually meant was just a plain button you click for “Next” but she had in her head the term. I don’t expect people to know all the technical lingo but it needed correcting before the developer got hold of it otherwise instead of this:

nextbutton

 

 

she would have got this:

radiobutton

and that would not have worked at all. Oh dear me, no, it was not what she was after.

Anyway, that’s how I earn my crust. I catch those kind of misunderstandings. I need to pay my mortgage.

Jargon has a role to play. It’s a valuable shorthand for people working in the same field (by which I do not mean agricultural labourers, or “ag labs,” as genealogists call them). It is useful and it only gets a bad reputation because people use it inappropriately, often to try and seem superior, or because they have no communication skills.

I work in IT and I use jargon when I am talking to technical people. I once made the mistake, some years ago , of doing it in front of someone from HR. I was going over a server issue with an engineer and we started talking about dirty cache buffers and hot fixes until my colleague spluttered a bit. So we took our dirty caching outside. Never wash your dirty caches in public.

Jargon has a special place and should be used correctly. For the rest of the time there’s just language.

Do we need to be careful of language? What I have in mind is the kind of language which doesn’t fit the rules but nevertheless communicates its meaning quite clearly, at least to those involved.

Teenagers are best at this. They invent new language all the time and I think it’s great. I love that language is squishy. In this I am quite schizophrenic. I am a complete grammar nazi about all kinds of things including the greengrocers’ apostrophe. I also enjoy the use of a good Oxford comma, which is a little controversial in some circles. Yet I love playing with language. If you understand me then it has achieved its purpose, and it really doesn’t matter if my sentences wobble all over the place like a drunken hen party at 2 am on a Friday night in the West End.

I write long and cumbersome sentences quite frequently. My brain just rambles on and my fingers scramble over the keyboard trying to keep up. I’m not great at editing, particularly for blog posts, so you are subjected to the end result without warning or immediate access to pain relief. I suspect anyone who visits regularly keeps their painkiller of choice close to hand. Admit it, the best way to read this stuff is after a large glug or several of vino or a couple of Mother’s Little Helpers, or both.

I admire compressed communication. It’s so efficient and clever. Again, teens are the experts here. Those coded grunts that teenage boys emit are incredible. You know the conversations I mean:

“A’right?”
“Gnnh. Urgh?”
“Eh.”

The girls achieve a similar level of data exchange in a slightly different format, let’s call it Venusian Chat. It’s a little more physical than Martian Grunt.

“Yeah, like.”
“Y’know?”
“Totes.”
“Eek.”
* eye roll *
* elbows *

If we could capture that level of data compression for IT we would be able to stream HD video over 14.4k modems. It’s absolutely awesome.

The Offspring process information so differently from me and Sigoth that it makes our brains ache. They work in multiple streams simultaneously with little attention to detail but an overall grasp of the whole that is utterly impressive. The problem is that I am culturally unprepared for this, so often it appears they are being rude because they split their attention across the streams. Well, EBL, what an old fogey you are and no mistake. Lawks.

Our means of communication across generations is unpredictable. Blogging can seem like a way of imprinting ourselves upon eternity, or at least upon the lifespan of collective human intelligence. Hello, future, lok at me! Yet we only have to read Shakespeare or Chaucer, or even Dickens or Hardy, to know that words and meanings are as fluid as the dunes of the Sahara, ceaselessly shifting in the winds of change. What then is the point of worrying about Oxford commas or misplaced apostrophes? I can only catch glimpses of meaning in Anglo-Saxon poetry, and even less in cave paintings. Broad concepts are possibly understood, but usually imposed by my own cultural and time-bound perspectives.

I am therefore determined to enjoy being present at the birth of new languages, celebrating new words (“Selfie,” anyone? Omnishambles? Simples?).
While language lives and evolves and flows into new meanings, we are also alive and evolving which gives me hope. The alternative: Orwell’s MiniTruth and the shrinking dictionary.

Words matter, more than I can say.

Namaste.

Christmas Story

Well my dears, Christmas looms upon us and I wish you the merriest of times. Father Christmas is already underway to the East, wise man that he is, and children off all ages are waiting with bated breath to find out if they have been judged naughty or good this year.

I wanted to share the Christmas story with you in a new format (or rather, in an old one!). I am not a Christian myself but I do like the story as a reminder of our need to give thanks for the world we live in and for the love we all receive daily, be it from family, friends or the universe herself.

Back in the period colloquially, and wrongly, known as the Dark Ages, the people living in southern Britain were converted to Christianity, and their leaders temporal and spiritual were keen to share the teachings of the Bible with them in their own language. King Alfred the Great was called Great for many reasons. He was a great warrior, who defeated the Viking invaders when all seemed lost. Never mind Leonidas and his Spartans; Alfred’s victory from the marshes of Somerset was pivotal to the evolution of our nation. But here at EBL Towers we purse our lips at stories of military derring-do and prefer to focus on other aspects of Alfred’s greatness. If you are interested and want to know more about him and his amazing daughter and grandson I can do no more than recommend Michael Wood’s recent three part series, of which at least two episodes are available on YouTube.

Episode 1 is here: http://youtu.be/0L2fYvguLL0

Episode 2 is here: http://youtu.be/huRPB10ghd8

For Alfred was also a great scholar and translated many key texts from classical authors, including parts of the Bible. I don’t think he worked on the gospels of the New Testament himself, preferring to keep to the Pentateuch and Psalms, but nevertheless others did. What I want to share with you today is the Christmas Story from Luke ch 2 v1-20 as read in many a church at this time of year. It was also read to the faithful in those days and in these words, and that very thought gives me the shivers. I can connect much more closely with Old English texts from 1000 years ago than with those from classical antiquity. The language is the root of my daily speech and it feels like home.

So here is the story, with the King James version underneath to aid reading. If I had had time I would have read it aloud for you but sadly I ran out of days.

Lucas II

Þis sceal on mydde-wintres mæsse-niht, to þære forman mæssan

To be read as the lesson on mid-winter’s night mass

1 Soþlice on þam dagum waes geworden gebod fram þam Casere Augusto, þæt eall ymb-hwyrft wære tomearcod

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 Ðeos tomearcodnys waes aerest geworden fram þam deman Syrige Cirino.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And ealle hig eodon and syndrie ferdon on heora ceastre.

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 Ða ferde losep fram Galilea of þære ceastre Nazareth, on ludeisce ceastre Dauides, seo ys genemned Bethleem ; forþam  þe he wæs of Dauides huse and hirede

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 Þaet he ferde mid Marian þe him beweddod wæs, and wæs geeacnod.

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 Soþlice wæs geworden, pa hig þær wæron, hyre dagas wæron gefyllede þæt heo cende.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And heo cende hyre frumcennedan sunu, and hyne mid cild-claþum bewand, and hyne on binne alede ; forþam þe hig næfdon rum on cumena-huse.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And hyrdas wæron on þam ylcan rice waciende, and niht-wæccan healdende ofer heora heorda.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 Ða stod Dryhtnes engel wið hig, and Godes beorhtnes hym ymbe scan : and hig him myclum ege ondredon.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And se engel him to cwæþ : Nelle ge eow ondrædan : Soþlice nu ic eow bodie mycelne gefean, se biþ eallum folce.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 Forþam todæg eow ys Hælend acenned, se ys Dryhten Crist, on Dauides ceastre.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And þis tacen eow byþ; Ge gemetaþ an cild hræglum bewunden, and on binne aled.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger

13 And þa wæs færinga geworden mid þam engle mycelnes heofenlices weredes, God heriendra, and þus cweþendra :

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Gode sy wuldor on heahnysse, and on eorþan sybb, mannum godes willan.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And hit wæs geworden, þa þa englas to heofene ferdon, þa hyrdas him betwynan spræcon, and cwædon : Uton faran to Bethleem, and geseon þæt word þe geworden ys, þæt Dryhten us ætywde.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And hig efstende comon, and gemetton Marian, and losep, and þæt cild on binne aled.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 Ða hig þæt gesawon, þa oncneowon hig be þam worde þe him gesæd wæs be þam cilde.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And ealle þa þe gehyrdon, wundredon be þam þe him þa hyrdas sædon.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 Maria geheold ealle þas word on hyre heortan smeagende.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 Ða gewendon ham þa hyrdas, God wuldriende and heriende, on eallum þam þe hig gehyrdon and gesawon, swa to him gecweden wses.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Soþlice.

Amen

So now I wish to you – Glad Geol and Gesælig Niw Gear

The grown-ups speak again

I recently shared with you some of my family’s verbal peculiarities in the form of odd sayings that became part of the very fabric of life. Since then of course my brain has been bombarded by other sayings jostling for attention and asking me why I hadn’t picked them and saying it wasn’t fair and slamming doors. Some of the sayings have had to go to their rooms and think about what they did until they are ready to apologise. I explained to them they were letting the family down, they were letting me down, but worst of all, they were letting themselves down, somewhat like the inflatable child with the sharp pin. But that’s another story.

Time for more sayings I think. On the whole this batch of child-terrorising phrases probably helps to explain the damaged psyche that is EBL today. Allons-y!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/3670504.stm

Don’t pull that face or the wind may change

Grizzly toddlers everywhere are subjected to this kind of verbal and psychological abuse. They are threatened with the prospect of a deformed and ugly face just when they most need a hug. Well, that’s the way it can sometimes seem.

I do remember that I was occasionally interested to see what kind of face I could mould, but never managed to keep it long enough to set, no matter how long I stood in the garden like a determined miniature gargoyle, chin thrust defiantly into the prevailing breeze. As a result I quickly uncovered the duplicity of this particular piece of adult intimidation, and also learned the implicit message that no one loves you if you are not pretty.

EBL is many things but you could not accuse her of prettiness.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-beard-sailor-image29213076

Enough blue to make a sailor a pair of trousers

Another top saying from my grandmother, this particular phrase was utilised to acknowledge breaks in the cloud cover of England when bits of blue sky could peep through and make the end of winter seem a viable proposition. I don’t think it was intended to convey anything more than appreciation for a bit of decent weather, something of great significance in our soggy isles. At least, I never understood it to mean more. Who knows with grandmothers?

I never quite understood why sailors got the nice blue sky for garments, but it sounded pretty darn cool.

http://1hdwallpapers.com/amazing_stormy_sky-wallpaper.html

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a bit black over our Bill’s mother’s

Conversely my mother used this one when the sky was getting ominous with dark cloud and rain looked like it was on the way. And by rain I mean the proper stuff, not a puerile drizzle or heavy Scotch mist, but real, honest-to-deity-of-your-choice solid coat-soaking feet-squelching shoe-drenching hair-dripping pocket-filling neck-freezing rain.  The kind that, to coin another phrase, comes down in rods, possibly with cats and/or dogs implicated. Real English rain. It can go on for weeks like that. The phrase was employed with a certain degree of relish, as without such calamities we English have nothing to talk about and conversation while waiting at the bus stop can be terribly stilted.

Of course, I knew that one of my not-really-an-aunty Aunties had an attachment called Uncle Bill, and as our house looked out across a field to more houses I was convinced for years that his dear old mum lived in one of them. But we never visited. Probably because the wind had changed.

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/brian-lee-recalls-unusual-traditions-5811698

It’s not the cough that carried him off, but the coffin they carried him off in

This one was one of my Dad’s, and he would trot it out whenever his delicate little flower was hacking her lungs out with that lovely catarrh-ridden, phlegmy liquidy noise only available to single-digit-aged children or heavy smokers; not mutually exclusive categories of course, especially in those days when as a six year old I could run an errand to the corner shop for my mother to get a pack of 20 John Player’s No. 6. You couldn’t do that now. It’s health and safety gone mad, I tell you.

So I’d cough up, my Dad would chirp up, and I’d be traumatised with thoughts of death until the cold cleared up, about three years later on average.

bedtime

Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire and down Sheet Lane

Ah, the cosiness at the end of the day, that put right many of the preceding traumas. Bath done, teeth brushed, nightie donned, it was time to say goodnight and go to bed.

I didn’t go to sleep easily as a small child. When I was five I caught the measles and had three weeks off school because that was the quarantine period you had to go through. My grandmother was distraught as her own daughter had died at a similar age from measles and diphtheria. She sat up with me all night and every night and scared me half to death as a result, because clearly I was very ill, despite feeling quite feisty and rather bored because I wasn’t allowed to play with my friends.

After that was all over she stopped, but by then I couldn’t get to sleep on my own so my poor father had to sit with me every night until I nodded off. Usually he went first and started snoring very loudly, so I would climb over him and go downstairs to get my mother to come and wake him up again.

reading in bed

If possible I preferred to read in bed instead.

What bad stories did your parents use to try and pull the wool over your eyes?

Namaste

Talking like a grown up

Did you ever find, as a person of limited years and growth, that the Big Folk talked above your head (literally and metaphorically)? For those of you who have the luck to be parents, did you do that to your Offspringses? I can assure you that Sigoth and I employed such techniques on a regular basis. Life is complicated enough without having to try and explain it to children, especially when you can’t even explain it satisfactorily to yourself.

There are plenty of websites out there if you want to learn about the various differences between dialects in spoken English. In my part of the world there are also numerous books dedicated to trying to interpret Yorkshire dialect for foreigners, such as anyone from London.

In fact I once took a colleague from London to her hotel in York, where she was asked for her passport. She was quite discombobulated. “I’m only from London!” she wailed. The receptionist looked at her sceptically. “It’s true,” I confirmed, “and she’s going back tomorrow.” So they let her in anyway.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I wanted to talk about some of those odd phrases adults use when talking to each other. The kinds of phrases that, as a small child, tend to make you stop and say “Whaaat?” and scratch your head.

some feet on stairs

I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!

This phrase I had never experienced in the actual eardrum until sitting on the top of a double decker bus hurtling down a very steep road in Sheffield. It was in my green and growing youth when I was exploring various universities to decide on courses I might want to study. I was visiting Sheffield, had wandered rather far, and decided to catch a bus back to the railway station. Largely this was because I was lost and a bus with a destination of “Railway Station” seemed a rather neat solution; plus sitting up top meant I got a good view of the city as we travelled.

A couple of middle-aged women came up after me and sat down just behind me. They started chatting about something or other, involving a lot of “She said..so I said” and “Well I never!”. As we started down an especially steep hill, and I gripped the rail in front of me to keep firmly on my seat, as opposed to being pressed like a distressed mime act against the front window pane,  I was delighted to hear one of the women exclaim “Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!”

“Foot of our stairs?” I thought to myself, clutching grimly to the rail, “it’ll be foot of the bloody hill in minute, without the bus!” However, miraculously we made it in one piece, and I found my way safely back to the sunny shires of southern England before midnight, with a richer appreciation of our island’s cultural tapestry.

The translation for anyone unsure is roughly “Goodness me, how very surprising!”

fur_coat_1910

All fur coat and no knickers

My mother used to use this to describe a woman who lived down our street. To be fair the woman in question, who was a very kind lady and free with the distribution of sweets and drinks of orange squash to local children, did often wear her fur coat, even in the summer. As a child I assumed this was because unfortunately she had no knickers and was therefore too cold and/or embarrassed to go out without her coat. I felt very sorry for her and wondered how she could afford the squash and sweets if she couldn’t afford knickers.

Later I learned it really meant she was perceived to be a woman of easy virtue. It certainly explained the variety of people you met coming and going from her house, given that grown men rarely enjoyed sweets and orange squash as devotedly as the rest of us.

goldwatch

Cough up chicken, it’ll be a gold watch next time!

When I was suffering a coughing fit, for whatever reason, my mother would say this.

As a child I was naturally concerned about the possibility. True, some coughs, induced by swallowing the wrong way, could make you feel like you were about to cough up a substantial part of your insides. On the other wrist, so to speak, the option of a gold watch was appealing. I got my first watch once I learned to tell the time in Miss Weatherill’s class (I must have been 5 or 6) so I was very keen on getting a shinier one to flash about in emphasis of my academic superiority. Sadly I have yet to achieve the feat of coughing up an actual gold watch, no matter how hard I hack my lungs. The phrase itself must be from her childhood as my mother still says it dutifully every time she coughs and splutters at us. Still, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

My family used strange phrases and sayings all the time, but the strangest was one I have never quite got to the bottom of. When I was a grizzly little toddler, having a particularly moany and whingey day, my grandmother would try and cajole me out of my soggy sullenness by saying:

Lcdr_badge

Cheer up for Chatham, Dover’s in sight!

The confusion this provoked was itself sufficient to stop the grizzling. I believe it may refer to an old railway line, the London, Chatham and Dover, but beyond that I can’t tell you any more I’m afraid. I wonder if there’s a connection with hop-picking…

dogsinboots

Even my dog wears boots!

Last but not least is a local nugget of wisdom. “Even my dog wears boots” is a legendary, and possibly apocryphal, response made by a builder who carried on working with a fractured ankle. When pressed to go to a doctor or A&E or somewhere of a medical nature because he had fractured his ankle, it is said that this was his answer. Apparently it is intended to indicate that the person in question is so hard that he will not be inconvenienced by such a triviality. That’s Yorkshire Grit, tha knaws. Aye.

Every family has their odd phrases and sayings: I’d love to know yours!

Later, alligators…

Namaste.

800px-AmericanAlligator

Whitby Abbey

My dears, I have a few days holiday and I intend to spend them with Sigoth and as many of the Offspringses as possible. We are aiming for a confluence of bodies over the coming weekend, and until then I must manage with only one fully vacationing child for the first half of the week. The rest turn up Wednesday and Thursday. Treats will be perpetrated. Weather permitting there may even be excursions. Certainly there will be games and films and talk and wine.

Whitby AbbeyNaturally Sigoth and I were keen to get some practice in regarding excursions, so we took the early-vacationing Offspring to Whitby Abbey on Monday. We do like our ruins, and there are so many around this area it can be hard to know where to start. Funnily enough we have never started with Whitby, or even ended with it, until now.

Inside Whitby AbbeyThe Abbey itself is not the original of course, the one founded by King Oswiu and presided over by the Abbess Hild from 657 AD, and the location of the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD to decide whether the English church would calculate Easter by the Irish or Roman method. Nor was it even the Benedictine one from the 1190s. No, this is the modern makeover one from the 13th century, standing proud on the headland looking over the sea cliffs and being embarrassed by a richness of fresh air, most of which is travelling with considerable speed and vigour.

Whitby Gargoyles

Back at the Abbey we wandered around the museum, pulling faces at the gargoyles on display, before having a cup of tea then heading off to town to find some fish and chips for lunch. There are steps to be climbed down in order to achieve this; you walk from the Abbey through the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin and arrive at the top of a long and winding stair. 199 of them to be precise.

Top of Whitby StairsThere are seats and waiting spaces at various intervals in case the climbers need a rest. In fact on our way back up there was an ambulance at the bottom dealing with someone who had been talken poorly.

The other big thing about Whitby Abbey is the connection with vampires. Bram Stoker had Dracula come ashore at Whitby and in recent years the town has become a centre of Goth attention as a result. There is a Goth festival every Halloween, and it remains popular with the alternative community throughout the year. The tourist shops sell either traditional Whitby jet jewellery or else Goth fashions. Both are black and ornate, so there’s a natural fit.

Changeable beach weatherIt was a blazing hot day on Monday though, with nary a Goth in sight, so we ate our fish and chips inside then waddled down to the beach before the rain set in. Being England, this was the inevitable consequence of a hot and sunny morning which tricked holiday makers into going down to the sand with no more protection than a knotted hanky on their head and a deckchair under their arms. English weather has a sense of humour.

Seagulls

Dark clouds began to gather.

The seagulls hesitated then took to the skies with screams.

Suspicious shipIt was unclear whether they were perturbed by the change in air pressure or the arrival of a suspicious ship from Transylvania.

We went home and found the sun was still shining. It had rained while we were away, so we enjoyed the best of the weather all day. Sometimes things work out that way.

Namaste.

Together we are stronger

This month’s Bloggers for Peace topic asks us to consider our relationships. My brain ferments such questions. Today I uncork for you some early brewings.

You know how it goes: one minute in the privacy of your head you are thinking deep and meaningful thoughts; the next, someone else, outside your bony skull echoes them in public. It happened today.

To start at the very beginning: I am reading a book. I know, who’d have thought it? It’s about the Civil War, by which I mean the English Civil War in the 17th century. The book itself is a peculiar mix of history text book and historic fiction. It’s a bit peculiar but fascinating.

As you will no doubt be aware, there is nothing civil about a Civil War, and the English variety was no exception. It tore apart the country, respecting no person, destroying trade, harvests and cities, families and friendships. It was as uncivilised as war can get, with civilians being used as human shields or hostages, or just target practice. Your immediate neighbours, with whom you had lived cheek by jowl all your life, might suddenly mutate into the Opposition. One man was for the King, his brother for Parliament, and they were followed for better or worse by daughters, wives and children. Both armies, and their camp followers, slogged through ice and snow, rain, sun and mud, starved, died of fever, disease and trench foot (this war was fought in trenches in some cases, just like the calamity in the Somme in the early 20th century), as well as wounds and quaint medical practice.

At the end of it all we, the people, killed the King for treason. We had a contract, you see, where in return for his life of privilege and riches, we could expect his service through good governance and a dedication to our collective welfare. He believed he had a Divine Right, but it turned out he was mistaken, fatally so.

The execution of the reigning monarch would have sent shock waves through an already fractured society and across the Channel throughout Europe. As everyone returned wearily from the years of war to try and rebuild their lives, it would have been hard to trust their neighbours again. During this period a number of extravagant and radical religious groups flourished, in part by offering to replace the lost trust and sense of community desired by a shocked and stricken populace. Among them were Quakers.

It didn’t last, of course. In the end we brought back the king, a new one, whom we held to account. Well, it was that or give up Christmas, and as Narnians will tell you, that is not much fun. The English reserve as their inalienable right the opportunity to celebrate a mid-winter festival. It’s the long, dark nights, you see. You have to take your mind off them, preferably with alcohol.

In my more old-fogeyish moments I sometimes feel we are experiencing similar upheaval today, as communities fracture under the pressures of modern life. There seems to be a lack of connectedness which, I think, can result in the total lack of love for others evidenced by bankers, care workers and certain celebrities. Obviously, many bankers, care workers and celebrities are kind, nurturing people; it’s just we hear about the others. Equally these behaviours are not new.

Whatever the causes, or not, and whether it’s true, or not, people do like to feel part of a community. Some communities may be closer than others, but no one likes to feel alone always and forever.

So there I was, sitting in Quaker meeting and thinking about how we are the same as those distant forebears of the 17th century, when someone stood up and said:

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Well now! There’s a thing. Because I had been brooding over Isaac Penington’s letter from 1667, which begins like this:

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall

Isaac lived through a terrible period of history and he, like others, wanted to leave behind all war and occasion for war. He was a religious man, and saw love and peace and tenderness as a calling from God.

These times are not as religious as then, although it seems superstition is rife instead. We have learned so much and most of it is magnificent, as Professor Brian Cox likes to point out in excited tones.

Reason is a mighty instrument, but reason without love is empty. Reason does not soothe tears or smooth away bad dreams. Compassion and wisdom, as some might say, are the way to enlightenment. Or as Bill and / or Ted would have it:

Be excellent to one another

Namaste.