Tag Archives: faith

Y is for … ‘Forever Young’

The last few letter: just two more to go. But as with X and a few others on the way, this one has been difficult to decide on. Not for lack of choice in this case but because I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to focus on.

Then, on Tuesday this week (that’s 2 June 2015), I happened upon an item on the Internet. I don’t even remember how I happened upon it. But it was a link that had Patti Smith and Joan Baez in the title so I clicked on it and it was a YouTube video of on the occasion of the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award to Joan Baez at a ceremony in Berlin on 21 May 2015.

I watched it. It’s quite something. Not many people have been awarded this honour. You can see the list on Amnesty’s website.

You can find the full lyrics in various places on the Internet including a version of the song sung by Joan Baez with the lyrics displayed on screen. The images on screen are a bit saccharine but you can close your eyes to listen to it once you’ve read the lyrics.

It is a very beautiful song, which invokes the idea that youth (and age) aren’t just about the passage of time but also about a state of mind. It is a kind of prayer, which lists many of the things we might like to achieve but know are unattainable; that doesn’t make them any less important.

Key among them are: ‘May you always do for others and let others do for you’, May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong, May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift, may you have a strong foundation, when the winds of changes shift’.

Joan Baez recorded this song first in 1976 as far as I know. Of course she was quite young at the time!

But even more poignantly, in my search, I then came across a story of Pete Seeger in his 90s, in 2012, recording this song (with him doing the voice over for the text) for Amnesty International USA. So here’s the link to Amnesty International and the start of these thoughts.

The recording is available on YouTube

but there is also a slightly longer YouTube video about the story behind this recording, which is very heart warming. It’s really a ‘must see’!

It is really about making the message of the song much more explicit. It is saying that being young isn’t about age; it is about being open. And yes of course, chronological age has an impact on our lives. But whatever age we are we can still make a difference (just see Pete Seeger in the two videos); and in the dark times we are facing, in this country with this government, in the world at large with so many crises, so many violent conflicts, so much dogmatic ideology we need this kind of song and this kind of story. So take the time to listen; take the time to be encouraged by it; take the time to share it with others.

In a different context, I came across a reflection by the Revd. Paula Clifford at the end of a conference on ‘The Cost of Life on Earth: Companies, climate change and your money’ held on 30 March 2015 and arranged by the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility in Oxford:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, So that you may live deep within your heart

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people

So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,

So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world

So that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Amen

To me, it’s another way of saying: and may you stay forever young.

X is for … putting your ‘x’ in the box

I have dithered about this on for months. What on earth does X stand for? And then suddenly, in the wake of the election (in the UK) last week – 7 May 2015 if you read this much later – I suddenly thought: x is the mark we make to indicate our choice, our vote in elections (and other situations where we have to vote on something). So, in a democracy, it’s a really important letter and symbol.

Just before the UK General Election, Britain YM met in session. For those of us who were actively engaged in the campaign, the timing wasn’t great. But in another sense, and in light of the fact that the theme of Britain YM was ‘Living out our Faith in the World’ it was well timed.

The question that this raises for me is this: what does putting you ‘x’ in a box on a ballot paper have to do with Quaker faith?

Ballot paper with x

Let’s start here: Quaker Faith and Practice, in paragraph 23.01 says:

Remember your responsibility as citizens for the government of your town and country, and do not shirk the effort and time this may demand. Do not be content to accept things as they are, but keep an alert and questioning mind. Seek to discover the causes of social unrest, injustice and fear; try to discern the new growing-points in social and economic life. Work for an order of society which will allow men and women to develop their capacities and will foster their desire to serve.

This comes from Advices and Queries in the 1964 edition and is also echoed in the current edition of Advices and Queries section 34.

So, it seems that it has long been recognised that engagement in political affairs is a rightful expression of our faith. And of course, participating in elections – as a voter – is the absolute minimum requirement.

And in the Swarthmore Lecture entitled Faith, power and peace, Diana Francis made it abundantly clear that we have to start from our faith that pushes us to embrace our peace testimony even if that seems to fly in the face of the world we live in. To her, and to me, the peace testimony isn’t an optional extra, anymore than the testimony of equality. They stem from the same place: ‘the conviction that all human beings are, in Isaac Pennington’s words, ‘unique, precious, a child of God’; to put it nontheistically, all incorporate the sacred and are born to love and be loved.’ (Diana Francis, Faith, power and peace, 2015, p. 4).

Penington,Isaac

And if that is the starting point then our involvement in politics – whether this is active by participating in a political party or standing for election, or passive, by simply taking a view and voting accordingly – then our politics must also stem from that conviction.

And so we come to the choices that were before us in May 2015. In many places up and down the country we were being urged to vote tactically. Not to vote for what we believed in, not to manifest our faith on the ballot paper, but to go for something that was not really what we wanted but not as bad as the alternative. Many people probably voted in that way. And we now know where that got us.

I have voted tactically myself in some elections – though not all that often. But this time round I decided that I have had it with that approach, for good.

Because voting tactically, by not voting for what I believe to be in tune with my faith, my conviction that leads me to the peace testimony and to the testimony of equality, I feel that I become morally bankrupt.

So why do so many people vote in this way? Friends urged me to do this, too.

It is really very simple: it’s because our electoral system, the First Past the Post system, the winner takes all attitude of our political system, is morally bankrupt. It suggests that answers are black and white (or blue and red in this case). It suggests that having open, broad dialogue between different positions that cover a spectrum of views is unstable and undesirable.

PR vs FPTP 2015

It’s true: such dialogue does not sit well with the sound bites and headlines so beloved of our equally morally bankrupt media. But we need to stand up and we need to demand change.

Not all Friends will agree on their politics; in this election, 19 Friends stood as candidates for 5 different parties. So party political points don’t work in this context. But the one thing we can – hopefully – agree on is that we need to reform the system so that the outcome reflects better what citizens think. This is necessary because it is fair; it is necessary because it is right; it is necessary because it supports equality – it gives a more equal weight to all the many ‘x’ all of us place on the ballot paper. But it is also necessary, because it will lead to more open discussion, greater tolerance and a more peaceful society.

Let us change the narrative of politics in this country; let us stop talking about who wins and who loses in elections that are broadly meaningless. Let us start talking about how we can make those elections more meaningful. And that means: getting involved, getting active, and doing far more than simply placing that little, innocuous ‘x’ in a box.