JUNE 2018 NEWSLETTER

 

Our Collection this Month is The Leprosy Mission.

Almost 150 years ago, one man’s spirit of adventure took him to India. There, the future course of his life was set in motion. He saw the appalling living conditions and the social isolation of people with leprosy. His compassion and action birthed The Leprosy Mission, an organisation that now works to bring healing, inclusion and dignity to leprosy-affected people around the world.

If you wish to donate but can’t attend at the Meeting House, please send a cheque to Rachel Bach made out to “Ipswich Quakers”. Please send this before the end of the month concerned.

Introduction

This year we will alternate passages from QFP with the short poems of D.H. Lawrence. Best known for his novels, Lawrence was also a good poet, especially in the pioneering way he wrote about animals.

A White Blossom
A tiny moon as small and white as a single jasmine
flower
Leans all alone above my window, on night’s wintry
bower,
Liquid as lime-tree blossom, soft as brilliant water or
rain
She shines, the first white love of my youth, passionless
and in vain.
D. H. Lawrence.

Our Film Night

22nd June- Our film this month is Nostalgia-Tarkovsky’s poetic exploration of the melancholy of the expatriate. It has sub-titles

Music In Our Bones

About two years ago, while on a visit to St. Mary-at-the-Quay near Ipswich Waterfront, we picked up a leaflet about ‘Sanctuary Singing’, the first word referring to the sanctuary knocker still on one outside door. Marie in her younger years sang in choirs and we decided to go along, very much on the basis that it is recommended at our age to keep doing new things.

Tracy Sharp took the session and we soon realised we were the only couple there , the rest appearing to have medical problems of some kind or just single people there to enjoy it. Tracy is an inspiring teacher and we enjoyed it so much that we became regular participants for every fortnightly session. Eventually Mark took over and we were introduced to various accompanying instruments but an eventual move to The Quay near Christchurch Park reduced numbers, leading to us transferring to the fortnightly sessions in the Central Library Lecture Room, 2-4pm on Mondays.

Usually up to thirty people attend, most the other side of fifty in age but also some younger. The recommended donation is from £2-5 with refreshments halfway through. Thankfully other couples were there, some supporting partners who appeared to have had a stroke. Here three leaders were involved, Tracy plus two from Ian, Jennie and Fran. Another difference was the lack of printed word sheets we had become used to- we simply watched as the three went through the song in the middle of our large circle, usually with applause at the end. Then we repeated each line and then sung the words until we had grasped the song enough to go through all of it. However I have forgotten the initial warming up exercises, usually amusing and noisy, to loosen up our bodies and voices. The three leaders seem completely unphased by anything extraneous such as people coming and going, phones going off and other potential distractions. The most important part of the session is the atmosphere created, incredibly positive and happy, everyone knowing they can opt in or out of anything, there is no form of compulsion, not even having to stand up to sing. What those working elsewhere in the library must think of the sometimes very noisy outpourings is unknown but once I looked up to see the caretaker stop just outside the room to enjoy a particularly beautiful song. At St. Mary-at-the- Quay people were always walking close by and one man said it was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard on entering a building.

The songs cover an incredible variety, a small sample over many sessions including ‘I Have A Dream’, ‘Wimoweh’, ‘You Are My Sunshine’, ‘The Drunken Sailor’ and ‘Fings Aint Wat They Used Ta Be’. Once we have mastered words and tune and sang the song through several times, then the fun begins. Different melodies are introduced, some with delayed starts, some with lower or higher voices, making of a seemingly simple song something wonderful and memorable. Those present decide which group to be in, each one orchestrated by one of the leaders. It is amazing how such a simple refrain as ‘Jubilate, Deo, Hallelujah’, sung just before Christmas, ended up with three beautiful intermingled refrains and then the addition of handbells.

The whole purpose of these sessions is to retreat from the strains of life with songs spanning time and subject matter, in an atmosphere where everyone can explore their voices, however tuneful or otherwise. In the most recent session we sang a song with words I doubt anyone could decipher but the fact that we were told it was a rallying song from the apartheid times in South Africa meant that we sung it with loud and passionate voices.

The four leaders are also involved in many other activities, often accompanied by some from the group. These include ‘Musical Memories’ for those with memory loss, their partners, family members and friends. This sense of inclusion is evident in ‘Music In Mind’ for long term mental or physical health issues, while ‘Lifting Spirits’ is for women only. The value of these initiatives is emphasised by the many different bodies giving financial support, in addition to private donations. These include the D’Oyly Carte Trust, The Acorn and Bluebell Trusts, Port Community Fund, Ellies Fund, Suffolk Community Foundation and Suffolk County Council’s Family Carers’ Innovation Fund.

Frances from our meeting attends regularly. To judge the success of any session you have only to look around the room, seeing everyone happy and enjoying what they are doing, laughing, chatting, joining in as they wish to make joyful music. It is one of the most positive and uplifting group experiences we have ever experienced.

See www.musicinourbones.btck.co.uk

Richard Stewart.

What does faith mean?

Do we mean having faith, or belonging to a Faith? If we mean both then does the one necessarily have much to do with the other?

I searched the web. One explanation of faith was to compare it with the trust we experience as babies not to be dropped by a parent. Another was that faith is a firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible evidence. Another was that if God promises to do something it cannot be a lie so that, conversely, it is evidence of God. Yet these would seem to be very dependent on things not going too badly wrong. How quickly do we lose faith when things do go wrong! – be it banks, a council, friends, life itself, and indeed God. This would seem to mean that the explanations of faith I found online are more concerned with expectation – and hope – than with faith.

So I turned to a BBC website that outlines Faiths (religions), including the three Abrahamic Faiths, Hinduism, Baha’i, Buddhism, Jainism, Mormonism, Paganism, Shintoism, Spiritualism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and Sikhism, looking for what they each define as faith. However different they seem to be they have in common sets of beliefs and narratives largely based around extra-natural or paranormal events, documents and persons, often set in remote historical time. These factors in themselves give rise to a strong sense of religiousity and the spiritual, which become culturally institutionalised as Faiths.

This means they are tied up with cultural identity and within that context, personal identity. Small wonder that faith or religion is often a hotly emotive subject, often prone to fundamentalism, pro or anti. Faith, and beliefs (religious or not), would appear to be about emotional vulnerability rather than faith, the latter arising from the former. Concepts and ideas are coat hooks from which to hang longed-for ‘meanings of life’.

Yet I found myself in great empathy with many of the underlying values across these Faiths. And having beliefs and concepts is not exactly avoidable. I could say, and do say, for example, my better self is inclusive of others rather than rejecting them, yet as words this immediately appears to be a yard stick to live up to, to judge myself and others by. It easily introduces a sense of the negative in an instant – and no-one dare challenge the beliefs I need so much!

But given my Christian upbringing, do I believe that Jesus judgementally bellowed at people to ‘stop judging others!’ or was he trying to speak to a spirit that lived within them already? Was he instructing us to adopt thoughts, ideas and philosophies or was he connecting with that spirit, pointing out what it is, and thereby get us to reconnect with it, in and between and for ourselves?

That, then, is the difference between faith and ideas of faith. It became very clear to me at the death of my father – does he live on or has he stopped existing? It struck me that whatever one believes, it’s not about faith – it’s about what one wants – as though this will change the realities of death, whatever they happen to be! But whatever happens is right, because it’s life. So let go. Have faith.

I had found my faith then, which is experiential, not conceptual, a releasing, a letting go; albeit it may seem ironic that one uses the world of ideas – words – to communicate it!

Faith is in the absence of beliefs and dogma.
Dogma and beliefs are the absence of faith.
It has no name or terms and concepts. Beliefs have names, terms and concepts.
It implicitly accepts. Belief implicitly excludes.
Faith is not about being right or wrong. Belief leads to the implication, at least, that other beliefs are wrong.
It is about letting go and letting be. Belief controls.
Faith embraces. Beliefs conflict.
Faith opens up. Belief ties down.
Belief presents own agendas as truth. Faith has no agenda.
Belief is make-belief.

And my reading of the interactions with his contemporaries is that is what Jesus meant as faith.

Andrew Sterling

Concern

I see that YM is to consider the removal of the word ‘God’ from our literature, including QF&P, and I feel the greatest concern if YM does decide to do so.

The reason for my concern is that I belong to a religious society which is distinct from the Humanist Society with which I otherwise share values – apart from their constantly needing to bash religion.

I have been with the Quakers for well over 50 years because the sense of the sacred is vital – as is ‘worship’. The word ‘God’ sums this up in one. If Quakers ditch the word God, and possibly with it – perhaps over time – erode the sense of, and the word, worship, and possibly the sense of the sacred, I cannot but feel that I will be deeply challenged in my membership.

Andrew Sterling

 

 

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JUNE 2018 NEWSLETTER

NEWSLETTER MAY 2018

Collection this Month

Our collection this month is for: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) founded in 1971 in France by a group of doctors and journalists in the wake of war and famine in Biafra. Their aim was to establish an independent organisation that focuses on delivering emergency medicine aid quickly, effectively and impartially. It continues to work throughout the world to help victims of conflict. Its hospitals have been bombed in error by United States Air Force.

If you wish to donate but can’t attend at the Meeting House, please send a cheque to our treasurer Cath Minchin made out to “Ipswich Quakers”. Please send this before the end of the month concerned

Introduction

This year we will alternate passages from QFP with the short poems of D.H. Lawrence. Best known for his novels, Lawrence was also a good poet, especially in the pioneering way he wrote about animals.
QFP 23.73. The Quaker understanding of Christianity includes : the experience that it is possible to have both a strong faith commitment and an open mind, to take other positions seriously without trivialising them, and to value the people who differ from ourselves. (Janet Scott, 1988).

FILM NIGHT
Our Film Night is on Friday 25th May and is “The Woodsman”. A man returns to civilian life after being in prison for a serious paedophile offence -a thought-provoking film starring Kevin Bacon, whose performance is somewhat different to his current adverts on television- with sub-titles.

Did you know? Becoming Friends is now available as a course on the Woodbrooke Moodle learning site and it’s now free to access!
http://together.woodbrooke.org.uk/welcome.php

THE DEATH CAFE+++++

If you’ve never been to a Death Cafe, and find the idea rather off-putting, that is probably because it is just what you need. Modern society, especially the medical profession, is geared to alleviating or wiping out traditional illnesses, so that we all have greater expectancy of life than we imagined in our youth. But because we live longer and can seek cures for most of our ills, we are inclined to push aside and deny the idea of death.

But death is the one thing, perhaps the only thing in life, which we can absolutely guarantee will happen, and it will happen to us all, sooner or later. Yes, it is scary. But rather than push away the thought of death, while still feeling a dull half-denied fear, why not face up to it. The only sane way to handle the inevitable is to turn round and say hello to it.

The Death Cafe is designed to do just that….to get you talking and thinking about death; not in a grave and lonely way, but in a comfortable relaxed way amongst friends. There’s coffee, and cake, and confidentiality. It will probably be a reassuring and enjoyable experience, and you might go home seeing death as natural and even friendly, and certainly worth giving thought to.

The Death cafe is not for those still suffering after a bereavement or an unwanted diagnosis, but for people who are feeling ok about life. We sit at tables of four so everyone has a time to speak. It’s a place to listen, chat, and muse about every aspect of death; wills, final wishes, funerals, expectations and worries, memorials, religious beliefs, and so on, and to find that you have many of the same concerns as others. It’s not a sad or weighty process, though it is a serious one, and there will be laughter. You’ll probably enjoy it.
Helena Woddis

Existentialism Unplugged

‘I have observed that I cannot be an object for an object. A radical conversion of the Other is necessary for me to escape objectivity. Therefore I cannot consider the Look which the Other directs on me as one of the possible manifestations of objective being: the Other cannot look at me as he looks at the grass’ – Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

The philosophy of existentialism is in some ways unique in philosophy in that instead of it being about investigation and questioning of the world, it asks us to question ourselves – who are we? Why are we here? What is the purpose of my life? How should I live?

Ant Wooding led the discussion with a talk on the atheist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness – written while Sartre was a prisoner of war in WW2 it challenges the reader to live authentically, recognising we are who we create ourselves to be. Because we are free we are all responsible for our own lives, we make our own choices, we are free to reimagine our past, and we are free to choose our future too. Yet all too often we hide in our roles and pretend to ourselves the choices we made in the past now determine our future – we fear our freedom and so live in what Sartre called “bad faith”.

John Mann accompanied Ant’s talk with a short summary of the ideas of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber and the Christian philosopher Gabriel Marcel – both of whom felt we had lost our humanity in modern society and needed to recover our connections with each other and through this new, deeper experience of love for humanity, nature and the world to discover again an encounter with God, the ground of our being.

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On 10th January about 25 attended when John Mann and I led the discussion, myself on Jean Paul Sartre’s atheist existentialism and John on religious existentialist thinkers, particularly Martin Buber and Gabriel Marcel

I introduced the fundamental premise of L’Etre et Le Neant (Being and Nothingness) (1943): ‘existence before essence’ and that we strive in our consciousness for our sense, constantly grappling with nothingness is so doing. I gave Sartre’s three categorisations Etre en soi (Being-in-itself), Etre – pour-soi (Being- for -itself i.e. our consciousness engaged) and Etre- pour- autrui (Being- for -Others)

Taking these categorisations, Sartre poses some key philosophical questions for us, and as he was a novelist too (a rarity for a philosopher) he does so in graphic ways. The dilemma of ‘Being for Others’ is described in catching momentary sight of a mannequin in a shop window. Momentarily we think it is a person (let’s say Pierre), but then see it is an object. We strive to make objects of Others to keep/recover our own sense of being, but we are equally objects to them. And where is Pierre when he is not here? He is an image in my reflected consciousness.

Sartre also introduces the concept of ‘bad faith’. The waiter or the judge plays at a role. There can be no such identities or claims of right. What are these people when they are at home, stripped of their uniforms? Even the past is up for grabs: we recreate it for future projects. But this very uncertainty and indeed anguish creates constant possibilities for us, including in the realm of ethics. ‘We are condemned to be free’. ‘The chips are down only when we make a deliberate choice’

John introduced Martin Buber and his two concepts which seem to dovetail with Sartre’s: ‘I-It’ and ‘I –Thou’ (I- You) . By these, Buber can solve the mannequin/Pierre dilemma, or solve it differently. When we treat as object, which can be inanimate, but also another person or persons, we are in ‘I-It’ mode. A lot of our dealings, indeed most, are in that mode. But we would do better to ‘encounter’ the Other as ‘I-You’, and in so doing avoid at least some of Sartre’s angst. We are helped to keep in ‘I-You by two things: love and faith (not bad faith!).

Gabriel Marcel (who hung out with Sartre) has a similar approach but uses terminology of problem-solving for the ‘I-It’ states and mystery for other states. The latter doesn’t even have to involve an Other (You) at all. If I am hopeful in the pure sense (as opposed to hoping e.g. for a pay rise next week, or a miracle cure for my ailment), or in belief, I am in those states. I am hope, I am belief.

We then broke into very interesting discussion and feedback. The overlap of thinkers was clear, although generally Buber was felt to be the more resonant for the group, certainly the more positive. Equally though several of us had experienced existential angst at one time or another! We didn’t generally think that there are intrinsic ‘ought’ values (to adopt also Hume’s category there which also overlaps) – indeed some of us were not happy with the expression ‘ought’ itself. Many such values come from religion directly or indirectly: even if religion may have largely left the society in question (e.g. Judeo-Christian societies). But some at least felt that we could develop (redevelop?) those values from careful analysis of our experience and relations with others. Further, some felt that another help we have here – alongside Buber’s faith and love and Marcel’s mystery- is Nature, and our relation with it. Whilst understanding that the tree, or the view from the mountain top ‘just is’ (being), we also experience its awe and beauty. This can give us a spiritual grounding to help us get to come to terms with Pierre/mannequin and get us (nearer) to Buber’s I- Thou. Indeed whilst Sartre was an atheist, he was not immune to Nature. In his novel ‘Nausea’, predating ‘Being and Nothingness’, the protagonist finally comes to terms with existence, which would include his own and others and his task in the world therefore, through a walk in the park.

I conclude by repeating a quote given to me by John which I used in my talk, attributed (although it seems disputed attribution!) to another French thinker, indeed a Pierre to boot (!): Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:
‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings have a human experience’

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Ant Wooding and John Mann
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NEWSLETTER MAY 2018