N is for another look at Nominations

One of the things that we keep hearing about is the problem that Meetings (at all levels) face with nominations. There seem to be more and more jobs to do and fewer and fewer Friends to do them.

The reflections on membership and the meaning of membership which has been going on in Britain YM for a number of years (and more formally for the last three years as part of the agenda of Yearly Meeting in session) are in part, at least, a reaction to this difficulty.

The way Friends make appointments – through a nominations process that is well established and reflected in the pages of Quaker Faith & Practice – is quite unique. We set up nominations committees who discern whose name to bring forward. Friends (and in some cases Attenders) are approached to find out if they would be willing to serve in some job or other; it is made clear that even if they say ‘yes’ this doesn’t mean that they will be appointed (or even nominated). Saying ‘no’ however, does mean that a nomination won’t go forward.

This in itself is an interesting idea. If I say yes, then other people – rightly – may question whether that yes is appropriate at that time for the Meeting (and maybe for me); if I say no, no such questions arise. Of course, it is virtually impossible to override someone’s ‘no’ because if they don’t want to do something, then they can’t really be forced to do it.

We don’t do ‘volunteering’ in general; it’s not the done thing to go to Nominations Committee to say: I’d like to do x job. Although, and in particular if there are jobs that are hard to fill, it can be ok to say to Nominations Committee that one would be willing to be approached.

And then, of course, Nominations Committee nominates the people to the Meeting in question – local, area, or Yearly Meeting or whatever committee is in charge of the appointment.

But the very strange thing that keeps happening more and more is this: the appointing body is both very reluctant and often not really in a position to consider the nominations and if necessary say no to one or more of them.

There is a reason – it’s hard to find people to do all the jobs, so we’re only too pleased to appoint the people who have indicated willingness. But what if there is someone (or several people) in the Meeting who have a real concern about a nomination.

Not only do they need to be on the ball – nominations are read out and then the appointment is made in short order – but they also have to be willing to stand up (without having had a real chance to weigh up whether this is necessary or appropriate because nominations aren’t usually known – appointments made by Britain YM in session have been treated differently in recent years with nominations published in documents in advance).

When I was at Pendle Hill last year I attended a course on Clerking. At that course I learned that in Philadelphia YM (and other US YMs) nominations are given two readings: first, Nominations Committee presents the nominations to one session of the body concerned; then, at the following meeting, the nominations are considered and approved or otherwise.

This seems a very good idea; it opens up the possibility for Friends to reflect on the nominations and to think hard about whether or not to support them.

The awareness that there needs to be more opportunity for the appointing body to have proper discernment (rather than to leave all the discernment to Nominations Committee) is well established. Quaker Faith & Practice, section 3.24 paragraph g says (in part):

The nominations committee is not the appointing body and must bring the suggested names to the body for which it acts. Members of this body have the responsibility for approving the names or not and must be given the opportunity to express any doubts they might have.

This needs time. And having a ‘first and second reading of nominations’ approach might provide the time.

Maybe it would be worth thinking about this.

 

M is for Meeting for Worship

The other Sunday I was sitting in Meeting; there were some spoken contributions and after about the third, it felt like a discussion group. I was considering standing and saying this and reminding Friends that this was a Meeting for Worship.

And then I stopped myself, because that term has always been a bit of a problem to me.

The question arises: who or what do we worship? Or what is it exactly we are doing there for an hour or so, mostly in silence?

The problem with words

I was brought up in German Yearly Meeting and in German the word for Meeting for Worship is ‘Andacht’. This is also true for some other European languages (see Sue Glover Frykmann’s post on the subject).

So is there a real difference between these two terms? Well, yes, there is.

Andacht can be translated into English in many different ways; in a German etymological analysis, it suggests that it can be a ‘religious deepening or immersion’ or a prayer service. It has the word ‘Denken’ (thinking) at its root and implies ‘paying attention’, commitment, and dedication.

Worship, in contrast, require an object. In the online etymology dictionary, you find that as early as 1300, the word suggests: “reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being”, as indicated in Wikipedia: honour shown to an object.[1]

And therein lies the problem for me. If I don’t have a concept of a personal God (which I don’t) then who or what is the object that I pay reverence to in Meeting for Worship?

In a setting where I think of this as ‘Andacht’ that question doesn’t arise.

Is thinking allowed?

The other issue is the question of ‘thinking’. The word Andacht as mentioned above, implies that it does have something to do with thinking; a contemplative kind of thinking, granted, but somehow the brain is allowed to be involved.

In Meeting for Worship, this doesn’t necessarily come into the definition. Indeed, I have said myself, on occasion, and have heard it said, that I worry every time someone starts spoken ministry with the words: ‘I’ve been thinking…’

So I began asking myself why thinking isn’t somehow part of the picture. Some of us will say with utter conviction (me among them) that ‘God has no hands but ours’ but what about brains? Surely, our brains – complex and amazing as they are – are part of our make-up and part of the gifts we bring to this life. And so, why should we leave them at the door of the Meeting House?

Answers?

A school friend (from my Quaker School days) who converted to Mormonism after being brought up in an eighth generation Quaker family said to me when I asked him why he had converted: It’s simple: the Quakers have all the questions, the Mormons have all the answers.

Ever since, I have felt that it is important sometimes to come up with some answers, even if that has to be with the proviso that these are my answers and not answers which would be necessarily embraced by all Quakers (as all Quakers embracing any specific answer is almost inconceivable).

So here is my attempt at an answer to the question: what is it that I do in Meeting for Worship (and I tend to prefer to call it ‘Quaker Meeting’).

Because I don’t have a concept of a personal God, there is no question that I feel that in Quaker Meeting I would be showing reverence to an object. But because of the concept of ‘that of God in everyone’ I do have an idea that there is something out there and in us that connects us. You might imagine it maybe like the air we breathe; I’m inclined to add sunshine, but that would make the concept a little rose-tinted, because sunshine is nice. So let’s leave it with the air.

And so this image came to me: when we dry our laundry outside, in the wind and, yes, the sunshine, it does it good. It makes it fresher. It refreshes it in a way that a tumble drier or even a rack in the back bedroom can’t do.

So maybe, engaging in the process of Quaker Meeting is like being refreshed by the wind and the weather and the air we all breath; being aware of the fact that this is something that we have in common; that this is something that we can’t buy more of, or be deprived of by those with more power and more money.

It is an experience of essential, existential equality.

But it’s also about allowing the damp, the cobwebs, the staleness, the old, well-worn stuff to be blown about a bit and rearranged.

Does thinking come into it?

Well, actually, no. Because if we think we are driving the process; and if we want to experience the being blown about a bit, then we need to stop trying to drive the process. But what can happen – at least to me – is that at some point the process triggers something that leads to thought. And that’s ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] From Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, “weorþscipe

L is for…. Life, Lament, Loss, Leadership, …

It’s been a while again since I last wrote on this blog. There are reasons. Some trivial such as other things to do, taking a holiday from blogging and so on. But the real reason is more complicated.

I seem to have lost the impetus to say anything; the situation we find ourselves in the world over is so dreadful that it seems trivial to write for this blog (my other blog hasn’t fared much better).

I have been mulling the ‘L’ words that could be the focus; the ones in the title are today’s cull of words; there have been others.

But life is maybe the most apt to be writing about right now.

Hundreds of people dead in the shooting down of a civilian aircraft in the Ukraine; a terrible mistake, probably, committed by people who might not have known what they were doing, who might not have known how to use the hardware they had somehow acquired – from whom?

Hundreds of people lost their lives; many hundreds more have to cope with the loss and grief; for no reason whatsoever. There are now words.

But of course the media and the politicians all have an answer (and many useless words): they know who is to blame, they know who to sanction.

Hundreds of people dead in Gaza and Israel; many of them children. Hand-wringing from the international community; the US administration declares the bombing of a UN school as totally indefensible and then opens an armoury to the Israeli Defence Force.

Not to speak of all the other places and all the other deaths.

There are so many questions this raises (and in all the questions that follow, ‘we’ stands for humans, the human race; but maybe not for ‘humanity’):

  • Why are we so attached to life; so attached to it, in fact, that we can think of no worse punishment than to take life away.
  • Why are we so willing to take life away from people who have really not done anything against us? People who just happen to be categorized as ‘our enemies’.
  • Does the fact that we are so attached to life give a lever to those who would engulf us in terror? They seem not so attached to life – to rather relish death.
  • Why are we so willing to spend enormous resources on designing, perfecting, manufacturing and selling weapons and all that goes with them, when we say that we believe in the sanctity of life?

And of course, life is not always good; how many billions of people on this planet struggle daily to eek out a living, to barely stay alive, to just get by? And whilst we wring our hands at the murders, the shootings, the bombings, the accidental deaths – and the nearer they are to us, the more we do so – why do we not care about life enough to work for justice? For justice for those whose lives are under threat daily, not because of war, but because of a lack of access to the most basic necessities – at the same time as some of us have not only more than we need but more than we could ever justify.

So maybe this is about lament; a lament for the world, the planet, the people on it (and other species). It’s summer here in the northern hemisphere and normally the media expects this to be the silly season. There’s been no room for that in the last few months.

A commitment to the sanctity of life requires and end to the manufacture, sale and use of arms and ammunition, the end to an economic system that is geared to injustice, and the end to a political system that maintains inequality and hatred in equal measure for the benefit of the materially wealthy.

(No images with this post – you’ve seen them on the news).

H is for – what do we do about Hate Speech

Over the last two days I have picked up a lot of very destructive hate speech in the comments to articles in the Daily Telegraph. And example would be this article and the comments which relate to it.

Let me explain:

I have been reading the DT online for the last 12 months or so for the sole purpose to inform myself about how the other side sees things. The DT itself is quite conservative and Eurosceptic and its readers are, on the whole, even worse. But they do represent a substantial part of the population.

In the wake of the ‘trojan horse’ story about schools in B’ham, there has been quite a bit of vitriol in the DT (and no doubt in other papers, too). And don’t get me wrong, I’m as opposed to the things that have supposedly been going on in these academies.

I have checked with a Friend in B’ham who worked in the education sector for a long time and she is broadly confirming that there is some substance behind the allegations.

But the reaction of both the press and the public commenting in the press is really quite worrying. If you read some of the comments associated with the article (above – see link), you’ll see that people are talking about civil war, about targeted assassinations, about riots to deal with minorities, about the military intervening and so on.

Now, I don’t think any of this is really likely; but I do think that having this kind of stuff out there on the internet is very dangerous and very damaging so long as there is nothing coherent that puts another voice into the mix.

A few days ago, I actually commented on another article in the DT about the story that there was discrimination and non-adherence to the national curriculum going on in 3 schools in B’ham. It appears to be part of the same ‘plot’ as the trojan horse story. And because I said something to the effect that it is important to deal with such breaches of standards and governance in academies through judicial means rather than whipping up hate against whole communities, I got an avalanche of relatively negative comments back ranging from telling me I was part of the problem by saying these things to some comments that were considerably worse.

I don’t really mind getting that sort of stuff – it doesn’t really affect me personally. But I do think there is a need for a different voice to be broadcast effectively, that addresses such problems in context and highlights responses that are reasonable, lawful, non-violent and – dare I say it – rational.

I am at a loss on this one; I don’t know how as Friends we can stand up against such hate speech in a way that is visible on the Internet, on social media, in the on-line papers and that is heard by the communities that are being vilified.

I await your comments and ideas.