“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Holiday Time!

"We're all going on a Summer Holiday, no more worries for a week or two". These lyrics by Cliff Richard are buzzing through my mind today, as I try to clear my desk before going off for a glorious eleven days to Poland.

image by bigbaddaddyvader.com

The word "holiday" comes from Holy Day, a date in the church calendar that was set aside for devotion and reflection. And in the Hebrew Bible is the stern injunction: "Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. "

I have posted before about the importance of the sabbath, of rest, and recuperation from the daily tasks of our busy lives. Nobody should work without a break. It is a recipe for disaster. All of us need "down time", in which to rest our bodies and minds, and to touch base with the important things of life - our families, our friends, and to spend time nourishing our souls.

This post is my last "job" before I start the joyous task of packing and tidying and switching into holiday mode. Blessings on you all.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Finding God in the Dryness

I'm not good at anti-climaxes. You work and work towards something, doing the best that you can to achieve your goal. And then you get there. At first it is wonderful, you're on Cloud 9, and everything in the garden is rosy.

And then life, as it has a way of doing, goes on. Kind friends have congratulated you on your achievement, and then something else happens, and it is time to move on. But there is a flatness, a smidgeon of "so-what-ery" about things, and it is then that I find it difficult to motivate myself to carry out the present task, or even to enjoy the present pleasure. I feel a bit like the Christian described by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, who, "no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God's] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

As usual, I turn to Quaker Advices and Queries for advice. And it is there:

"Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? Do you approach new ideas with discernment?"

So I have a job to do - to recognise the working of the Spirit everywhere - in nature, in humankind, in the ups and downs of everyday life. I know in my deepest heart that He/She is there, but need to keep on being mindful, so that I won't miss the shining examples when I see them. And to "listen with the ear of my heart", as my friend Danny would say, so that I hear them too. And to realise how very fortunate I am to have been given the faculties to recognise the sacred at work in my life.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Can There Ever Be A Just War?

Last Tuesday I attended a debate at Kidderminster New Meeting House, on the question "Can there ever be a just war? It was an interesting evening ...

(c) bestclipartblog.com

Sandy Ellis (Evesham) opened the debate for the motion. His two main arguments were that the leader of any nation has a moral duty to defend its citizens, and that although war is an evil and barbaric thing, it can be justified if it is waged to defeat a greater evil. He went over the standard Just War critieria - that the cause is just, that it has been properly authorised, that there is right intention, that all other means of avoiding conflict have been explored, that it must be winnable, and that the force used is "proportionate". He also mentioned the internationally accepted guidelines about how a war should be conducted, for example, obeying international conventions, not injuring or killing non-combatants, and looking after prisoners of war. The decision to use force when all else has failed is a choice of the lesser of two evils. He concluded that the only way that evil can triumph is when the good man decides to sit by and do nothing.

Then Martin Layton, of Bewdley Quakers, opposed the motion. The main thrust of his argument was that the motives for war are never just; wars are usually started to protect a country's political and economic interests and to get more power. He stated that fear, hatred and revenge have powerful propaganda value, and that atrocities are considered in isolation, apart from root causes, in order to encourage over-simplified responses. He stated that authority is always self-legitimising, and commented on the fact that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council also dominate the international arms trade. War is all atrocity and outrage; it is impossible to contain, and only the victors get to dispense justice. He concluded that war is a business and a crime, and must be stopped.

Ian Kirby of Kidderminster seconded the motion. He argued that the just war principles place limits on warfare. He acknowledged that Christians struggle with warfare, but also that we shouldn't be passive in the face of aggression. Civil disobedience only works when there is a framework of law. We can't just sit by and let genocide happen - we need to intervene. He concluded by reiterating the just war principles mentioned above.

Moira Brown of Bewdley Quakers seconded the opposition to the motion. She mentioned the Quaker Peace Testimony; that it was about deeds, not creeds - a way of living. This is based on integrity, patience and love, not on adopting the ways of an oppressor. Justice is achieved not by war, but by peacemaking. She argued that the refusal to go to war is not surrender, and mentioned the two Quaker offices in Geneva and New York, which exist to facilitate dialogue between potential enemies. She concluded that wars create more problems than they solve.

My own view is this: that to justify war or to take a pacifist line is one of the deepest and starkest choices of personal conscience. Is pacifism a cause worth fighting for? What a paradox! I speak as one who has a fairly volatile temperament at times, and one who is not a naturally pacific person. I admire pacifists enormously. I am deeply impressed by the realisation that we are all human beings, given life by God. What right have others to take that life away? What cause can possibly justify it? Not many I think. I am also convinced by Martin Layton's argument that no war today can ever truly be called just, because economic and political interests and power are at the heart of every conflict.

Our world is riven by conflict, and it is hard not to feel despondent. Yet I also believe that the common humanity of humankind could be an overarching bond that prevents war - there is that of God, the divine spark, in everyone - and that the faith communities could and should do much to promote this. After 9/11, we saw this in action - people all over the world, of whatever political or religious complexion, were united in horror at the toll of death and damage. We just need to be reminded of our common humanity. Often. This is why the work of the Charter for Compassion is so important, so vital - it is trying to transcend boundaries, to break through fear and distrust, to the common humanity of humankind.


Friday, 6 July 2012

Living with Intention

A wise friend of mine, Eugene Hughes, posted the following on Facebook this morning: "How do you want your day to be? Ask yourself what's the single most important outcome? It could be a way of doing or a way of being."

Time for reflection and rest is so important. It is too easy to rush from task to task, ticking off items on the to-do list, and then straight on to the next thing. But it is not the best way to live our lives. We are "spiritual beings having a human experience", to quote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and we need to remember that more often. Or at least I do.

In his wonderful book Sabbath: Finding rest, renewal and delight in our busy lives, Wayne Miller writes:

"What makes life fruitful? The attainment of wisdom? The establishment of a just and fair society? The creation of beauty? The practice of loving kindness? Thomas Jefferson suggested that human life and liberty were intimately entwined with the pursuit of happiness. Instead, life has become a maelstrom in which speed and accomplishment, consumption and productivity have become the most valued human commodities. In the trance of overwork, we take everything for granted. We consume things, people, and information. We do not have time to savor this life, nor to care deeply and gently for ourselves, our loved ones, or for our world; rather, with increasingly dizzying haste, we use them all up, and throw them away."

He goes on to say that we have lost the rhythm of work and rest, and explains that "Sabbath honors the necessary wisdom of dormancy. ... We, too, must have a period in which we lie fallow, and restore our souls. ... Sabbath time ... is a time to let our work, our lands, our animals lie fallow, to be nourished and refreshed. Within this sanctuary, we become available to the insights and blessings of deep mindfulness that arise only in stillness and time. When we act from a place of deep rest, we ar more capable of cultivating what the Buddhists would call right understanding, right action, and right effort."

It is a different approach to our lives. It is a way of being as well as a way of doing. It is living with intention.