Sunday, January 29, 2006

don't worry, I'm still me

For those of you who seem to be getting worried about where all this bible reading etc is taking me, fear not I'm still me! So much so that when I saw this blog it made me laugh so much my sides ached (sorry Dad, I'll have a go at new pop up windows another time, for now I'm using the clever 'link' button which gets you what you're given with no techie input on my behalf...).

I can remember heated discussions on PC language in the past and finding myself on both sides of the fence. I've no idea quite what I was arguing with Dad about years ago when he hit me with the retort "so I suppose you think it should be 'Personchester' then" (as opposed to Manchester, a city over the hill from where we lived - kinda loses something when you have to explain!) but I was obviously advocating more inclusive language (possibly not using 'chairman' but chair/chairperson - my arguement for that being if the person is female then in terms of plain speaking chairman is inaccurate) and I took a high heid yin from head office to task when working for the Employment Dept for repeatedly talking about 'manning the desk' at a New Horizons For Women conference (all about empowering women) - he was decidedly non-plussed with my suggestion of 'staffing' but did eventually take the hint! But on the other hand I've had run ins with CYPC over Rosy Glows vs Cosy Glows, or Affirmation Sheets as they call them here - doesn't have the same ring to it but it sure takes the PC issue away - allegedly people of colour don't blush so 'Rosy' was deemed inappropriate - the fact that I'd always seen it as the fiery warm glow you get inside when reading them, not the colour of your face (these things aren't there to make you blush but to feel good about yourself) and the fact that fire is um, well 'rosy' is apparently beside the point. We agreed to differ in the end.

During my daily perusal of the Quaker blogosphere I came across a comment on someone's blog which referred to the pain felt by some Black American Friends at the use of the term 'overseer', it having for them the connotations of plantations etc. Lorcan's point was about us losing the ability to use certain words, like God, Jesus etc without causing offence to others. It does strike me as sad that so many words these days are being lost to us. In discussion at the Triennial with two YFs from the more christocentric tradition about spiritual language and my sense that I just didn't have the vocabulary to explain myself they asked why I didn't reclaim the language I did know as my own. Reclaim it but at the same time explain what I meant by it, when I did often I would find that others actually meant the same thing too even though I had assumed that coming from a more 'conventional' christian tradition they would mean something else by it. That discussion with Carla and Kayla made WGYF possible for me, it opened my eyes to a lot that I had rejected without really hearing because I had assumed I knew what people meant ('never assume anything' was the most sensible piece of advice I was given when I worked at Garvald and one I should remember more often!). Maybe rather than bending over backwards to avoid using certain words we should work towards reclaiming them, especially for the sake of those who have been hurt by them - face your fear and use it anyway?

The danger is when explaining what you mean by words and at the same time are trying not to offend anyone else you are in serious danger of ending up sounding like something from a Monty Python sketch or The [non offensive] 23rd Psalm...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Iraq war video

It is a blues music video about a returned American soldier made with the assistance of American Friends Service Committee, very powerful and beautifully filmed (was going to write shot but it somehow it didn't seem appropriate, or maybe too appropriate...)

Haven't got time to write anything more, but it is well worth watching and reading about. Thanks to Alyssa for passing on the word.

Monday, January 23, 2006

simple living

I read this blog on plain dress a few days ago and have kept going back to read the comments that have come flooding in. I've been wanting to respond but too much is going round my head to coherently add anything that isn't already there. What speaks to me is it being a faith based decision/way of life. There is very much a spiritual basis to my reasoning on such things, rather than a political one which is probably more where I started. The two aren't mutually exclusive of course - but different, overlapping, paths in a similar direction.

I got asked the other day to either run a session or contribute articles to the Meeting's newsletter on simple/plain/environmentally friendly living. A few weeks earlier I'd been asked to help with a weekend at the Settlement in 2007 (!) on food choices...

The whole thing of living simply with respect for the environment, for the quality of life of those producing the goods is something that has grown with me for some time now. I try to buy what I need rather than what I want (but don't need) - to the extent that stocking up a food cupboard with a week or twos supplies instead of a few days was actually hard work for me (but I don't 'need' 4 tins, I just need 1, and I don't like buying tinned products anyway!), but here need is a bit different - no I don't ordinarily need it but should the infamous 'big one' (earthquake) hit, there be even worse rain caused landslips on the (only) main road into Wellington than there have been in the last couple of years, or a tsunami reach us then I'll be very glad of a few extra tins and stuff in the freezer.

I cannot isolate one aspect of my purchasing power (limited as it is as I'm not really earning anything right now) from another - I apply similar criteria to my food as my clothes, to my stationery as the cleaning materials and loo roll supplies I get in. Since I've got here I've limited myself to just buying local artists cds (which considering Bic Runga, Crowded House/the Finn brothers, Stellar, Dave Dobbyn et al are all Kiwis it isn't exactly a hardship!) but that is more to curb my spending than overly ethical reasons (but I have managed to keep to just spending christmas/birthday money, not the money I have to live off for the forseable future!) My only other 'pure self indulgence' spending has been on the books that have somehow made it onto my bookshelves, and counter to all my 'promises to self' to Bookcross them are still there (but I will read them again and again, honest....).

It is odd for me to find myself being considered ahead of the game on such matters as I don't feel that I am - also this country has such a good 'green' image internationally it seems even more odd to be asked as an incoming Brit to raise awareness about these issues and explain what others can do too! But both requests came from Kiwis so I guess I'll see what I can do. My difficulty now is finding a way that I feel comfortable with. As someone who has been involved with Quaker outreach over the years and really struggles with those people who fight shy of it and consider it as 'evangelising' I feel remarkably reticent to be seen to be trying to 'convert'! I'm far happier leading by example (an example which has obviously been noticed or I wouldn't have been asked!) . I guess as long as I make it clear that the 'wear it as long as thou canst' philosophy can be applied to pretty much everything then I'll be ok, after all I didn't get to where I am overnight either.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

afterwords from Meeting

You know how when in Meeting for Worship (ok, for the non-Quakers out there you just have to trust me, it happens) you can be sitting in your own little world, or so it seems, and then someone stands and gives ministry on something related to what has been going through your head? It is what, for me, makes Meeting for Worship different from meditation (apart from the fact that I usually fall asleep when meditating but thankfully don't in Meeting, well not often anyway). Meeting for Worship is a collective rather than individual process, we are aiming to meet each other and the spirit (whoever/however we define that as) in a shared space, not creating our own cocoons around us.

Sometimes this can be very disconcerting and can lead to distinct feelings of paranoia - did I say that out loud? I don't think I did... do I really think that loudly? Oh heck, hope they didn't catch what went before that bit....! Other times it can be beautiful, developing a wonderful sense of interconnectedness and for me the image of a web of light reaching out to touch everyone in the room like the ball of string in one of the name games I've often played at youth events. Sometimes it can be frustrating, gently chiding, bringing you back to something you'd rather not dwell on, an uncomfortable truth, something you don't want to accept but know deep down that you have to. Then there are the tangental moments where they lead off on an angle you hadn't got to yet, or had on another occassion but hadn't made the connection between the two....

Today it was the latter for me. Before Meeting Jonathan and I were planning our first bible study group (gulp - next week! Yeah I know last minute etc but c'mon, if you know either of us is it really surprising?!). We are using as a starting point the sessions in a book by Mary Morrison on 'Approaching the Gospels' for the simple reasons that Ann leant it to us and neither of us had a better idea! Having realised that meeting once a month for an hour we weren't going to get through the whole of the Gospels in a year we picked out her 'essentials' and started from there, which means the first session will focus on John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus and thus giving the rest (we hope!) a bit of context.

The only piece of ministry this morning started off about baptism, the rather sad revelation that Betty didn't know who her godparents had been (apart from the fact that Morgan called me his fairy godmother he at least knows I am one of his!), but the main point of her ministry was about confirmation, confirming one's commitment to Jesus - or to our faith in general - and that this is something as Friends we have lost. Look at the early Friends and their commitment to their beliefs - apart from perhaps peace can we honestly say that aside from a dedicated few that Friends have that strength of commitment in their lives now? She recalled the hymn O Jesus I have promised (just where is the beautiful tune we sung at school? And why oh why do they have dodgy electric organs murdering these things online, give me a Father Willis organ anyday...) which had apparently been played on the radio this morning - a hymn which I really loved as a child, because of the tune rather than the words I suspect having just looked at them again, but the line that was going around in my head in the few minutes left after Betty had spoken was 'o speak, and make me listen'.

This sense of lack of commitment, confirmation of belief, not listening to what god tells us and acting on it is a topic that seems to be a recurring theme within the Quaker blogosphere . The only ritual we have in confirming our commitment to Friends is membership - a controversial issue in many Meetings around the world, one often accompanied by much handwringing over falling membership numbers. Many liberal Quakers are uncomfortable with the idea of 'god telling' anyone to do anything, or even the idea of god. Being able to hear someone speak about what 'god wants' without cringing is still a relatively new thing for me, it sounds too human which is not how I perceive god at all.

But yes, I'm one of those who yearn for a more tangible outward expression of my faith than a 'Quakers for Peace' bumper sticker (especially as I don't drive), I don't want to be alone in trying to live my faith openly, and whilst I'm far from being happy with the idea of calling Jesus 'my Master and my friend' in what I perceive to be the conventional understanding of the line I can happily accept him as 'my teacher and my Friend' and be open to what Jesus has to say (or at least what the Gospels have to say!) in the same way as I'm open to what anyone else may have to say.

The only way though that I can 'promise to serve', to confirm any commitment to my faith is to confirm my commitment to my spiritual journey; to be open to the fact that my beliefs will evolve, that there is no end point of having 'got there', recognising that they have broadened and deepened with time. I can confirm my willingness to live out those beliefs as best I can, to keep making changes to my life because of them, but above all to make time to listen to that still small voice, not drown it out with being too busy doing, thinking, or jumping ahead of the gun at the faintest sound but waiting in the light to hear what is really being said. For me as someone who likes instant answers the waiting is the hardest part.

(hmmm, I wonder if I brought that Tom Petty album with me...)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

doubts and queries?

Alice was saying in a recent blog how she finds the liberal constant doubting and questioning of Jesus annoying and shallow and it made me think again about my most recent doubts and queries...

But as with most of them on a biblical theme it isn't the teachings of Jesus I'm doubting and querying but the whole bible business and how it gets interpreted.

At Summer Gathering last week I held a special interest group to look at the call for repealing Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 which basically give parents lawful justification for using 'reasonable force' to disciplin children - 'reasonable force' having included such things as beating with a length of wood. Several of us are already involved with writing submissions and there were others who joined us who are planning to. I was sharing with the group what I had got from the UNICEF forum last year, in particular a Samoan theologian's contribution - after all our main infuence as Quakers is to counter the hard Christian right's stance that it is a god given right and it says in the bible that it is ok.

The Rev Nohe Vailaau's stance on it was to take apart the hard right's biblically based claims piece by piece. Good on him, but....

He spoke of how only god can meet out justice, people should not presume to, yet we should be acting out god's love. It sounds fine a first but I don't quite get how people are supposedly incapable of acting for god on the one hand but expected to act for god on the other.

He spoke of the various verses in the bible which 'justified' physically punishing children and pointed out that the bible also condones stoning yet we don't allow that to happen within our society. Sure, but then he gave a long list of references where the bible tells us to be tender and guiding to children etc - again fine at first glance but saying you don't have to follow those bits anymore, they are outdated, but every good christian should follow these bits... Well, what if the next 'good christian' has a different set of quotes to follow or reject, as is the case here with Section 59. Which 'good christian' (if any!) has the right to decide which bits of the bible are relevant now and which aren't?

He said some really good stuff about restorative justice; about disciplin vs punishment; about children not being mini adults but children - they have to make mistakes to learn and shouldn't be punished for not going from 0 to 18 overnight. He stressed how punishment only affects the moment in which it is given - disciplin is long term; how the 'rod' in 'spare the rod, spoil the child' if you go back to bible properly actually means a rod of law or like a shepherd's crook which is to guide, comfort and lead - not a tool to beat someone with ('The Lord's my shepherd' would sound well dodgy otherwise!).

I'm not convinced that quoting the bible back at those who use it as justification will get any of us anywhere. It feels like point scoring and in doing so missing the real point that these are children's lives. They are, we all are, as Deborah kept reminding us 'children of god' - they don't have to wait to become 16 or 18 to magically become so. They are vulnerable, they need to be protected by the law not penalised for being under age.

So like Alice I too feel frustrated and 'want to get on and live in Faith' and struggle when others use their 'faith' as a justification for something that seems so inherently wrong to me. Ah well, I guess I should just go and get my bit of the submission written and do some more homework for the bible study class for newcomers & sceptics (amongst others!) that Jonathan and I are supposed to be planning on Sunday!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


whakapapa - n & v. n - a genealogy, not restricted Maori or biological descent... v - to trace a lineage (A Dictionary of Maori words in New Zealand English)

Remember wh = f so it's pronounced faka-papa

I came across this quote today and wanted to share it as it really spoke to me...

Who am I? Do I matter? Does the whakapapa really matter?

Yes. Oh yes! Because it gives me unison with the universe. It tells me that I am not alone or ever will be. It weaves me into a pattern of life that began at word's creation and will be here till world's end. I am the people who came before me and I am the people who will come after me. Although I will die, the pattern will not be broken. There is no such thing as time passing because I have always been here and will always be here.

from ' The New Net Goes Fishing' by Witi Ihimaera

It's written by the guy who wrote 'Whale Rider' yet it sounds so much like something from Richard Bach's 'There's No Such Place As Far Away' - not quite as accessible as his classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull but still well worth a read.

Being from a decidedly nomadic family and spending almost all my life living in places where 'belonging' was such an inherent part of the local culture my whakapapa has always been important to me. I never quite 'belonged' to anywhere I lived in Britain and answering the question here 'where are you from' usually elicits the answer 'well I've been living in Edinburgh/Scotland for the last 12 years, but I grew up in Yorkshire.' Yet locals of neither place would consider me to be one of them. So belonging to a people rather than a place became my point of reference, how I saw my identity.

Several of us have been working on and off over the years on the various branches of the family tree. Needless to say I've concentrated on who is out here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and found myself far more interested in who discovering who is still alive, who has descended from our common ancestry than who has gone before us. Lets face it those in Oxford cemetery aren't going to give me a bed for the night! Altho' Oxford cemetery (that's the Oxford on the South Island Canterbury Plains, not the one in England) is the only place I know of where there are three generations of my family buried in the one place - commonly considered the Yorkshire yardstick for whether you are a local or not (especially if you had the audacity to be born elsewhere).

But my whakapapa embraces not just my genealogical family tree but also my Quaker ancestry. It was the common bond we had at WGYF, for all our differences in tradition and theology we could all link our Quaker heritage back to George Fox, Margaret Fell, the Valiant Sixty et al, back to the mid 1600's. At Summer Gathering last week Charlotte, Frances, Jonathan and I shared our experiences of WGYF, and having a longer time slot that we've had on previous occassions we played to the gathering the audio recording of the Aotearoa New Zealand YM presentation and a snippet of Deborah Saunders' first talk.

I'm so glad we got the opportunity to share those recordings. So many people said to me how proud they had been to hear Jonathan, Charlotte & Leith talk about Quakers in Aotearoa, about the whakapapa of the YM, from the first Quaker to arrive here with Captain Cook through to 'Quaker Acres' at Whanganui. To hear Jonathan's fluent Maori and them speak of the importance of the bi-cultural heritage of this country and the link between the people and the land. I may be a recent addition to this Quaker community but I feel such a strong sense of connection to it, to being part of something that has gone before me and will continue after me. I can help shape it and help it grow.

Deborah spoke of us as children of god, and challenged us - do you know who you are? Sure I need to know who I am as an individual, who I am inside, what my own truth is, but I also need to have a context, to know my whakapapa, to know how I fit into the greater scheme of things and how best I can be who I am. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer points out it is far better to want to be who you are than want to be someone you aren't. Do I know who I am? I'm still not entirely sure, but I think I'm getting a much clearer picture... maybe it's the quality of the light here, of all descriptions.

If I am comfortable with where I am in the present and confident with where I'll be in the future, it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of the past.
(Maori proverb)

Monday, January 16, 2006

chocolate pudding

Ok, Angus won an 'Oscar' for his version at Summer Gathering and Xavier got nominated for best beard after his adventures eating it... so here is the recipe I have - having already written it out for Dylan and been asked for it by Thomas I figured putting it here made most sense!

This is the version I got from Michael when I needed it in a hurry to take to Pardshaw at the Beck's behest. The original verison which Bee's mum got from the Guardian (and was made famous when we made it for about 150 people at YFCC in Newcastle one year - I seem to remember Laurence put it in YQ as Aunty Dunford's chocolate pudding, so if you still have back issues from circa 1990 you'll find it there!) is pretty much the same but uses cups instead of tablespoons, as more people tend to have spoons I'm sticking to his (which he got from his mum - cheers Michael's mum!), if you don't know what a tablespoon is it is about 4 teaspoons/20ml! Fortunately the recipe is fairly forgiving of guestimates of quantities so don't worry about it too much....

the mixture...
4 oz Self Raising flour
1 teaspn salt
2.5 oz caster sugar (2 oz is ok)
1 tablespn cocoa powder
2 tablespn oil (veg/corn/sunflower etc or melted butter)
8 tablespn milk (soya works!)
few drops vanilla essence

the topping...
2 oz brown sugar
1 tablespn cocoa powder
0.5 pint boiling water

0) Pre heat oven to 350 f / Gas 4
1) Sift flour, salt, sugar & cocoa together
2) in another bowl mix oil, milk and vanilla essence
3) Stir (1) into (2)
4) Pour/spread mixture into a 2 pint oven dish

Now for the topping...
5) Mix the cocoa and sugar together and sprinkle over the pudding
6) Pour the boiling water over the whole thing abd bake for 45-60 minutes

In theory this serves 4-6... but from experience 3 can make short work of it all pretty fast! Apologies to those who use metric, I don't have my cookbooks here with conversion tables in so you'll have to work it out yourselves or Google for a handy link! I don't have any kitchen scales at all here so methinks a trip to the Warehouse is called for....

coming back to earth

...but somewhat reluctantly!

I've been surprised by how hard it has been to get back into the swing of 'normal' life again after Summer Gathering. You'd think (well I would) that seeing people again so quickly as they head back north, plus emails coming in already and knowing I'll see others again soon, not to mention the number of actual Wellington folk who were there and I've seen since getting back, that making the transition back would be fairly painless. But it appears not.

I know in many ways it has to do with the children I spent so much time with - I must've looked fairly panic stricken when I first got asked to help bail out the 4-11 yr olds group, being far more used to the 11+ range but I absolutely loved it. Since leaving it has been as tho' there is an enormous hole where they were. Dylan (11yrs) told me to enjoy the peace and quiet whilst it lasted but I'm not really enjoying it at all - I'm missing them heaps. Having Kirsten & Liam's small hands coming and slipping into mine as I walked along the paths, the hugs somewhere around mid thigh height, being able to stand with my arm comfortably resting along Dylan's shoulders (that won't last - he'll no doubt be too tall soon...), being able to pick someone up to hug them goodbye or goodnight, playing tig & football, mucking about in the pool, telling silly jokes (why can I never remember the good ones?) and bedtime stories (Winnie the Pooh - what else!), deep and meaningful discussions about Thomas the Tank Engine with children of all ages (altho' I think we were mainly YFs...), Xavier (4yrs) starting nearly every sentence with "D'you know what...", Hugo's big grin, Zeb's smile, Keava's words of wisdom, Liam's puppy dog eyes...

Broody? Clucky? Me? Well only for children, not babies, and only for quite specific children at that. I think it is the knowing that by the time I see most of them again they'll have all changed so much. Once they reach YF age and beyond it is different, change slows down, the connections made one year can be built upon the next whereas with children, especially those reaching their teens, they move on so quickly and the boys who were happy to sit on your knee or curl up on the sofa by you and want a hug get to the 'girls? Eeuuuurrrgggghhhh' stage and don't want to know any more.

I am extremely grateful to them for including me so much in their week, for giving me so many really special memories, and hopefully we can pick up where we left off next time we meet...

... tag - you're it!

Friday, January 13, 2006

home again

and soooo looking forward to being back in my own bed!

I'm absolutely shattered with a classic case of the post Summer Gathering blues and lack of sleep. I'm missing being surrounded by children but not even Liam would fit into my rucksack...

Thanks for all the birthday cards and emails etc - I'll write back when I'm feeling more awake and I've so much to write about here I don't know where to start, methinks I'll sleep on it first.

Tigger says hello to those who remember him!

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible......

Monday, January 02, 2006

baking in Blenheim

Ok, so I said I wouldn't be writing for a fortnight and here I am the next day - well, broadband and time to spare was too good an opportunity to miss...

For anyone reading this in Wellington (er, Fran?) who heard about the planes being cancelled and everyone being sent home to try again tomorrow don't worry I got here ok, I'm not still at the airport. The nice guy at the Air NZ desk said he'd heard that story so many times and then flights had left two hours later so would I like to try for a later flight? I did and lo and behold the 12.30 left only 5 minutes late, and I got to watch the cricket highlights whilst waiting =)

However it must be said I now understand why Gill entreated me never to fly into or out of Wellington - we were in a piddly plane (a Beech 1900D for the Aidan's of this world) which seated 20 plus two pilots. There were just 7 passengers including a somewhat terrified teenager. To be fair we had been watching 120kph winds for the previous 2 hours, the small planes were all tied down to the ground and when they did start the engines on ours the lefthand propellor took a disconcertingly long length of time to start turning. I must admit I was rather glad we were taking off from Welly not landing as the take off bore a remarkable similarity to a ride on the Ultimate (a rollercoaster oft frequented on Quaker summer gathering outings!). The views coming into Blenheim were stunning - classic LOTR scenery, but as it was still a bit bouncy I doubt very much if the photos I tried to take will come out. An 'interesting' flight but all in all probably preferable to the 3 1/2 hour ferry crossing my 4 guests from last night embarked upon this morning. We'll swap notes when we get to Ranfurly!

So Mum, what is it to be - ferry or plane to get to South Island?!! You can get bigger planes don't worry, they just don't come to Blenheim.

It's been too hot here to do anything other than sit inside and blether this afternoon, Carole & I even let Brian get a word or two in edgeways! We're off for a walk along the river after tea to exercise more than just our vocal chords. Hope it's cooler tomorrow, it could be a very long bus ride to Christchurch otherwise....

(Oh and how come I had to come all the way here to find out what Danny looks like Lynn? Good pics from Dot & Dave's party - didn't expect to see you with long hair tho'!)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

we're all going on our summer holidays....

...sun and laughter for a week or two' ok, that's enough of that, Cliff that is, not the summer holidays!

Tomorrow morning I leave GFH in the capable hands of various relievers and head down to South Island, first stop Blenheim to visit my Mum's cousin, then Christchurch to hopefully see one of my Dad's (2nd) cousins and get my lift to Summer Gathering - an all age Quaker event for 8 days, this time in Ranfurly so I'll get to see some of Central Otago.

At least this year we don't get the incredulous looks Ngaruawahia produced when you said where you were going for your holidays (where it was held last year - it's near Hamilton and well at first I thought it was a bit mean to name a place after Hamilton - then I went there). Altho' next year it is being held up the Hutt Valley at Silverstream, a location more commonly known for being where the civic dump is, altho' there is also a Railway Museum there with steam trains (no prizes for guessing which outing I'll be picking. One childhood fascination I have never quite grown out of), and it is on the edge of the Rimutaka range with some great picnic options. However the joys of that are still way off (thankfully as somehow I seem to be on the organising committee for it... shock horror, now there's a novelty) and this year I get to enjoy SG with 'just' a WGYF session to do with Fran, Jonathan and Charlotte and help out with the JYFs (13-15 yr olds). You know one day I'll get to go to an event again purely as a participant... one day, maybes.

So, it means I'll be out of internet range for a couple of weeks and thus not blogging, emailing, skypeing, messaging or whatever. So much for any bright ideas about New Years resolutions to stay in touch better - dashed before they are started. Not much new there then =)

So Happy New Year to you all - have a good one, and I'll catch up with you again in a fortnight (er, that's 2 weeks time for you N. Americans!)