Tag Archives: being fortunate

V is for … Values

Recently, at a board meeting of a small Quaker organisation the one board member who isn’t a Quaker asked us: ‘So what are Quaker values’? Not an unreasonable question as we had been going on about the unique selling point of the service we provide being ‘the Quaker values’.

The immediate answer he got from one of our number was: read Advices and Queries. I didn’t really think that was a sufficient answer but couldn’t come up with anything quick and straightforward either.

I googled the Quaker Social Action publication ‘The Q-BIT at the Heart of a Quaker led organisation

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I sent him a copy by e-mail and I referred him to page 24 (of the pdf) where in a nice and accessible box you can find the following:

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Of course, the issue with any such list – just as much with a list of our Testimonies which are often used in such discussions – is this: (a) do we live up to these values? And (b) are they unique to Quakers?

Why do these two questions matter? They both matter because they are about authenticity and about identity.

Of course, we don’t always live up to all of these. We’re not perfect and we don’t claim to be perfect. It’s more important to own them and to keep trying. And of course, in theory we do. But in practice, certainly in Britain in Europe more broadly, we don’t have enough diversity within our group to be able to hear all voices and views, for example.

But the question of uniqueness is probably the more controversial. The issue here is that we claim values that others would also claim and maybe they interpret them differently but is it right for us to claim them as ‘Quaker’ values.

It puts me in mind of the discussions in the political sphere of ‘British’ values, many of which are far more universal than that.

So where does that leave us?

The one thing we do seem to have in common and seem to have uniquely in common is our worship based on silence; our willingness to shut down the noise which we are otherwise constantly confronted with; the willingness to accept that silence – as much in a group as on our own – can be uncomfortable because it tends to bring out all sorts of thoughts that we normally try not to allow any space for. It is a silence that makes space for the crucial question: what is really important? What is it that really matters? What do I want to spend my time, energy and money on?

One of the really important issues is that of equality – or to put it into political terms – the growing inequality, which our society is blighted with. I know that Friends are doing work on this; I know there will be some concentrated effort around this over the next few months. But the question for each of us individually and for our Meetings is this: given that most of us are among the better off – though not among the 1% – what can we actually do practically that will make us ‘patterns and examples’; i.e. the people who are the change we want to see.

One key issue is housing inequality. Can we find a way of demonstrating what that would look like without making ourselves homeless and without creating a massive managerial and administrative burden for someone?

Just a thought and a question! If you have ideas of how to bring that about, please let me/us know.

F is for being Fortunate

It’s one of those things we often forget.

The weather gets us down (though it’s been pretty good these last few days); the government gets us down – some things never change; we have some health issues; we have problems with the car, the roof needs fixing. So we can get wrapped up in the things that a wrong with life, the things that make it frustrating (and believe me, I could produce a very long list of them here, but I won’t), and the things that we don’t like.

What we forget is how fortunate we are. One of the things that I try to do in Meeting on a Sunday (I should do it more regularly, but at least on a Sunday morning I have a space to do it and no excuses for not doing it) is to consider why I am incredibly fortunate.

I have just looked on the Internet for some of the images and messages that sometimes land in our inboxes or on our Facebook timelines that remind us of this. Here are just some:

  • I am alive.
  • I am able to see the sunrise and the sunset.
  • I am able to music and bird song
  • I can walk outside and feel the breeze through your hair and the sun’s warmth on your skin.
  • I didn’t go to sleep hungry last night.
  • I awoke this morning with a roof over your head.
  • I had a choice of what clothes to wear.
  • I have access to clean drinking water.
  • I have access to medical care.
  • I have access to the Internet.
  • I can read.
  • I haven’t feared for my life today or ever, really.
  • I have had some challenges, and I have learned and survived.
  • I have – mostly – the freedom to make my own decisions.
  • I live in a country that protects my basic human rights and civil liberties. And even if it’s far from perfect, it’s a lot better than some places.
  • I have a friends or relatives who look forward to our next get-together.

There are many of these lists on the Internet, some designed in a very eye-catching and mind-catching way. Here is one example that I like.

It reminded me of a song, sung by Joan Baez on one of her early records (you know, when they still had vinyl) called ‘There but for fortune’. It was actually written by Phil Ochs and the words are:

Image of Alphabet blog F

 

Why I am writing about this?

Because I want to remind myself and all of us that this kind of ‘being fortunate’ – not earned, not deserved, just given to us because of where and when we were born and where we live – brings with it responsibility. Responsibility to share what of that fortune we can share – and speaking strictly for myself, I don’t think I ever do enough of that; responsibility to keep in mind our fortune and stop complaining when a few things go wrong; responsibility to identify the reasons why others are so much less fortunate than we are and to do something, anything, to change that.

The responsibility that comes from the recognition (so ably expressed by William Penn in 1682) that ‘True Godliness does not turn people out of the world but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it;
not hide their candle under a bushel,
but to set it upon a table in a candlestick.’