Monday, September 21, 2015

WGYF+10: nostalgia, reflection, and looking forward

I'm not sure quite why it has taken several weeks to finish this post, probably because the right words kept eluding me, but having to get something written down for Thomas helped give shape the bits I'd been struggling to encapsulate. Anyway, 'tis good enough, and it will have to do...

WGYF 2005 participants plus children
It is 10 years now since the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005, was held in Lancaster, UK. Thomas pitched the idea of a reunion event that would also be part of the preparation for those going to the FWCC Plenary in Peru in January 2016, and he made it happen. It wasn't until I got there that I really appreciated how nice it was to just turn up as a participant at a WGYF event! Something I hadn't had to organize or feel any responsibility for, that was a real gift for which I am incredibly grateful.

Accompanied by the next generation we had a very literal reminder of what 'fruit had been born' in the intervening years. Sharing the less obvious fruit that had grown out of WGYF was a really special experience. We drifted between a worship sharing mode and discussion as felt moved and there was a real depth to the time spent recalling what stood out for us most about WGYF itself, the Triennial here in 2004 that led up to it for four of us, and the subsequent impact on the following decade.

We had Ben, Lucas and Saskia join us as they are all hopefully heading to Peru in January, along with Charlotte and Thomas, so the ease with which we dropped into that deep sharing cannot fully be pinned on the collective shared WGYF experience. But the fact that we had so much shared spiritual experience between us I am sure helped us slip into the space so easily and comfortably. I found myself holding back a couple of times from saying something as I 'knew' that a someone was about to speak and I knew my contribution could, and should, wait until after it.

There are some groups where I am hesitant to engage with fully at a deep level as I feel vulnerable, and unclear as to whether that is the right space or time for certain sharings. The old 'not wanting to sound silly' anxiety is a long standing acquaintance of mine. Yet in this space there were no such worries, no holding back. Even in an over dinner conversation that included visiting local Friends I was able to better articulate something I've been grappling with in recent years than ever before. The sense of everyone really wanting to make this work, that had flowed through WGYF itself, carried on and really enabled us to all be fully present, no mean achievement with young children around!

I've been trying to distill from that weekend some coherent thoughts to pass on to Thomas who offered to write up a collective piece on the event for our national Friends Newsletter. What was it about the WGYF experience that I carry with me today in my life and into my future? Two things that really stand out for me are the Meeting for Worship to discern the theme for WGYF, and the strong sense of calling to do the administrator job. Both of which happened the year before the event itself.

The Meeting for Worship was at the FWCC Triennial in Auckland January 2004. It remains the most amazing worship I have ever been part of, and at over two hours is most definitely the longest unprogrammed Quaker worship I've been part of. Yet somehow the time flew by, it gave us some insight into the early days of Quakerism and the lengthy Meetings for Worship that seemed to to be fairly common at the time, with or without a lengthy sermon from George Fox and others. There was a palpable sense of the spirit moving in that Meeting, and yet when we looked back at it the four of us there at the weekend who had been part of it had very different, but equally high impact memories of it. In some ways that Meeting has overshadowed every Meeting for Worship I've been part of since, as none have had quite the same feel. Although there have been a few that have come close.

In a similar way the incredible sense that the administrator job had my name on it has made other leadings feel more vague and shaped by my will as much as any leading of the spirit. I'm not saying that sense of calling hasn't been there, as it has. But nothing quite like that almighty kick up the backside that sent me hurtling into a whirlwind of 18mths living, breathing, and often dreaming, WGYF around the clock. Part of me yearns for that overpowering sense of purpose, yet at the same time the mere thought of of it is exhausting! It was achievable for a shortish set period of time, but as a way of life??? Can that same drive to do whatever be compatible with ordinary life, one that has time and space for other things and people, and can it be done without being detrimental to my health?

The event itself in all honesty is a bit of a blur. In the flurry of WGYF related posts on Facebook as the 10 year anniversary came around Betsy shared a photo (amongst many others) of me sitting at a computer in the corner of the administration team's office with my back to the rest of the room engrossed in whatever it was that needed doing. I have some very vivid memories of sitting in that chair, including receiving Loida's email about getting the delayed Friends from Bolivia and Peru to WGYF 'Miracles we can do, the impossible takes a little longer'. That line summed up a lot of the achievements in making the event happen. Still I find out new things that took place somewhere along the line to make WGYF happen that I had no idea about, and I was the one supposedly in the thick of it with a finger in every pie! It really does feel like a miracle that it happened at all.

I keep coming back to something Leith said at the weekend, and has written about for our Friends Newsletter that she has shared with us, about the importance of the stories that were shared, of the inspirational people that were there, the many and varied ways in which Friends put their faith into action in their lives. There were many there passionately pursuing their causes in life who stood out like beacons, successors of the Valiant Sixty perhaps? But there were also those whose light wasn't as blinding who still inspired a reassessment and taking stock of how our faith integrated into our daily lives. It isn't given to all of us to be 'speaking truth to power' at QUNO, FCNL or QCEA etc, or being International Observers in Palestine with CPT or EAPPI, or being out there in the thick of aid and development work with AFSC, QPSW, Peace Corps or many other agencies. To me those are the dauntingly scary tasks that I'm very grateful others feel called to do and it never failed to amaze me to hear the stories of those, often a decade or more younger than me, going out into the field or working in the political arena. These were Young Friends, between the ages of 18-35 remember, which is why it sticks in my craw somewhat when I hear older Friends lamenting the lack of younger Friends 'getting involved'. If only those Friends could hear some of the stories we did.

Equally powerful were the stories of those working within their own communities to bring people together, share resources and learning, resolve conflicts and create a better environment for all. These stories were often the ones that had the most power in that you'd more often come away thinking 'I could do that too...', which then begs the question 'so why don't you?'

It wasn't just the activists working for change that inspired me from within the WGYF community, but the depth of soul searching, prayer and seeking clearness that often accompanied or prompted it. As administrator I was privileged to get to read all the application forms that came in and get an advanced insight into those about to be gathered, and I was rather relieved when reading them I hadn't had to fill one in! I could much better articulate my readiness to perform the practical tasks of enabling such an event happen than I could find the spiritual language to express what I could give or hope to get from participating from the event at a deeper level. By the end of it all though, through a process that at times felt like total immersion surrounded by those to whom such words came more easily, I had started to find my own voice, and better articulate my experience of the movement of the spirit without feeling awkward or silly.

I met many people through WGYF who I continue to admire greatly to this day. I get a a little glow of reflected glory every time I see a WGYF name pop up on the international Quaker grapevine - whether they are working for their YM, running seminars, taking up Quaker posts in educational establishments or the kind of organisations I mentioned earlier. The mission statement spoke of creating the next generation of Quaker leaders, words I wasn't fully comfortable with when I first heard them as the concept of 'leadership' is often linked with a hierarchy we generally don't have. But I will say this, there are an awful lot of 'weighty Friends' around the world who went to WGYF 2005, which I think means we can claim that that mission was certainly accomplished! To take all the credit for it would be ridiculous, but as Jonathan put it, WGYF reinforced a trajectory he was already on. I know that for some people WGYF sent them hurtling off in a new direction, for others more the quiet reassurance that they were on the right track.

For me, it felt like a stepping stone in a journey of having faith that the universe will show me the way; the next step being to get to Aotearoa NZ and be Resident Friend in Wellington, the one after that to undertaking my ECE training, but the last few years I've had a feeling of being stuck midstream. Not without things to do mind, and maybe I've needed this time to take stock and sort a few things out in life.

But where is that journey taking me now? I think the simple living and plain dress discussions that I ended up in at WGYF have definitely shaped the downsizing I'm currently in the midst of. It isn't so much the 'live simply so others can simply live' ideology, worthy as that is, that drives this but an increasing awareness of my footprint on this planet and my attempt to reduce that. Being able to live less encumbered massively increases ones ability to go where the spirit blows you too. Some of the threads of conversations had and stories heard feel like they are starting to come together and form a new pattern, and I'm pretty sure that conversations from this weekend that have built on those from the last ten years will in time be seen to be milestones on that journey.

Whatever happens, I am really grateful to have been blessed with such amazing fellow travellers on this WGYF journey. I cannot imagine my life without them, even when most are only a Facebook post in my day. Seeing the energy that buzzed round in Kenya 2012 when the WGYF 1985ers got together for a photo op, as well as us 2005ers, just reinforced for me how lasting that connection is, irrespective of how well or often you've kept in touch over the intervening years. We were a great people to be gathered and we are still seeing what Love can do in our lives, and long may that continue.

WGYF+10 particpants

Thursday, September 10, 2015

making it so every day is like Sunday

No not silent and grey, although that would be appropriate enough I suppose for a Quaker, especially one with a collection of Morrissey albums! It would also match todays weather, but that's by the by.

Recently a friend was visiting and as is fairly common here she took her shoes off when she came in, and she was apologizing for the holes in her sock. Trying to reassure her that it really didn't matter I came out with an old family quip about her wearing her Sunday socks. I got a completely blank look. 'Your holy ones!' I added. More blank looks. Never mind, I assured her, a family joke, it obviously doesn't travel well!

It dawned on me later that she was of the generation where your Sunday clothes were your best ones, plus English had not been her parents' or her late husband's first language, so puns and plays on English words simply had not been a part of her everyday life in the way they have been in mine.

'Sunday best' or 'keeping it for best' was the theme of a series of adverts on tv a few months back, I think they were for Twinings Tea. They were making the point that it is silly to keep things in a cupboard for best, go ahead and wear/use/drink them and get enjoyment out of them. It's a mantra that I'd gradually been coming round to myself as I decluttered my life, or more specifically my wardrobe. After all there aren't that many 'Sunday best' occasions in my life as generally Quakers don't dress up to go to church, the idea is that all days are equal and sacred. This meant we looked like a right bunch of scruffs in Edinburgh turning up in our everyday clothes next door to the well scrubbed and polished 'Wee Frees' in all their finery!

I had a pair of smart boots that I used to keep 'for best' but my orthotic insoles didn't fit in them so I was wearing them less and less. Fortunately they fit a friend of mine perfectly who was looking for boots and she now wears them for work. When I replaced those boots last year with a pair that I could wear my insoles with I decided that whilst yes, they are expensive boots and smarter than my usual footwear choices I wasn't going to let them gather dust in the bottom of the wardrobe waiting for some special occasion to arise like the old ones. Also I'd noticed my walking shoes/trainers that had been my winter shoes for the last couple of years or so weren't quite as comfortable any more, and replacing them as well just wasn't within my budget, so my smart new boots became my winter shoes. Two winters later they are still looking smart and as they fit my orthotics I haven't worn down the heels at a ridiculous angle either! I'd been careful to buy some that could be re-heeled when necessary so I should get a few more years out of them yet. Well worth the investment in a decent pair, especially as I've still managed to postpone replacing my trainers!

When paring down the contents of my wardrobe I also made a decision to 'reclassify' a knitted top that I'd bought with birthday money from a fantastic boutique shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh many years ago. There aren't many advantages to an early January birthday in the UK, but the sales are one of the few! I have two items from there, both much loved but rarely worn. One I had worn regularly in Scotland, but the other was definitely kept 'for best'. The regularly worn one is a bit too thick usually for a Far North winter, but the other is fine, I just needed to get my head around wearing it as an everyday item. I still hesitate a little when getting it out, but I've worn it quite a bit this winter and I've got to enjoy the lovely softness of the merino/cashmere mix and appreciate its warm red colour properly rather than just when looking in my wardrobe for something more ordinary to wear instead! There are a couple of other tops that I love but had thought of as 'too smart' for everyday use, but they too have been integrated into use as I told myself that if they didn't get worn they'd have to go and I wasn't quite prepared to part with them yet! After all it isn't like my days are spent in the sandpit or getting clarted in glue, paint and various child produced bodily fluids any more.

When I first started clutter clearing about 15yrs or so ago (yeah yeah, you can't do it all in one go okay!) the William Morris quote  Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful struck a chord with me. However I have struggled with the concept of whittling down the 'useful' pile as I inherited a hefty streak of my father's 'it might come in useful one day, and when it does I'll have it' attitude. Unfortunately I didn't quite get the required bit to go with it that means that when that day comes around I'll know exactly where it is... so whilst yes technically it might well be useful one day, it doesn't figure that it will get used. And you know what? If you have less stuff it is much quicker to look in all the places it isn't before you find the one where it is! Beautiful on the other hand has generally been a bit easier. One clutter clearing book asked 'does it make your heart sing, or sink, when you come across it?' The idea being ditch the 'sink' stuff. And I'd got quite good at that bit. But what I hadn't got so good at was making the most of the stuff that makes my heart sing. A lot of it is still tucked away, in boxes, in cupboards etc.

I've kept telling myself over the years that I haven't had enough room to have x,y,z out and in use. If I had more space, or a whole flat to fill again then sure I'd use it. But if I'm thinking of continuing to live out of a small space then something needs to change. I need to wear those 'best clothes' more often if I'm to justify them having wardrobe room, I need to find a way to make a whole pile of stuff more useful in my life as life is now, not as it was a decade or more ago. And if it isn't currently useful then maybe it is time to let it go so it can be useful somewhere else. When the time comes that I do need a whatever again then I can take pleasure in choosing something both beautiful and useful that meets my new set of circumstances. Meanwhile I have a lovely cut crystal glass tumbler by my bed for when I take my tablets every night, not quite the expected nightcap it was intended for but it is getting used far more often this way.

I'm itching to get my hands on the last box (my blanket box) of stuff in storage and find out what else is in there that I could be using and appreciating now rather than 'saving for later'. Another way of looking at this whole thing is as a former colleague of mine said, 'I always burn those fancy candles and use the fancy soaps you get given, otherwise they just gather dust, and I hate dusting!' Indeed. Get the pleasure out of things now, don't make them a chore to deal with later.

Friday, September 04, 2015

If not us, then who?

When I was in my early 20s I attended the Quaker Meeting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At one point they had a series of people talking about particular times in their lives. How many of these there were I've no idea, I now only remember two of them: Grigor & Diana McClelland talking about their time in the Friends Ambulance Unit in WWII; and Curt Gardner's mother who I can picture perfectly but can't for the life of me remember the name of, who spoke of escaping from the Nazis in Germany and Poland with her two small boys who were 6 (Curt) and 3 at the time.

Both tales left a really strong impression on me, along with those I heard in later years from other Friends who had been the FAU or who had been Conscientious Objectors, although the passing of time had left me somewhat hazy on some of the details and whose story did what appear in. So it was with much delight that I found Curt's book God just is: Approaches to silent worship on sale at the bookstall at Summer Gathering which included in it his retelling of their wartime escape.

Curt's book was doubly welcome as not only had he been someone whose vocal ministry I'd always got a lot from, he was (and presumably still is!) one of those gentle souls in the world who just make you feel better for having known them. I was aware when I knew him that he was going through a difficult time in life, although I had no knowledge of the details then, so it was nice in a way to find out more albeit +20yrs later on the other side of the world via a book! Reading the book, which is partially autobiographical, helped me get to know much better someone who felt like an old friend. Also I knew I was needing some help with getting enough out of our local entirely silent Meetings for Worship where the only vocal ministry tended to come from our cat or the sharing of something from Advices & Queries as we settled. I do enjoy the occasional totally silent MfW but right now, to paraphrase a Friend from Edinburgh, my heart not so much yearns for silence but speech! Curt's book gave me some very timely back to basics advice, which is helping.

For various reasons it took me several months to get through the book, not because it isn't an easy read, far from it. But because I'd get so far then take a while to digest that, and try to use it before moving on. This meant that I got to 'Interlude 2' where he talks about the war just in the last few weeks. I'd read that bit at Summer Gathering when I first picked up the book, but reading it again against a backdrop of endless refugees desperately seeking asylum in Europe put it into new light.

A lot of the stories I had heard of Friends work in WWII had not so much been about field ambulance work, although there had been some of that too, but of the resettlement of refugees in camps and communities across Europe. People displaced by war. Not just those who had been interned in concentration camps, but those who like the Gardner's had had to hit the road in the hope of finding a safe place to be. People fleeing fighting and tyranny, exactly as we're seeing again today by the overcrowded boat-full.

I've always been really proud of the contributions Friends made at this time, and the Nobel Peace Prize they were given for their efforts recognized the importance of it too. I realize the world is a very different place than it was then, there are far more international aid agencies working in the field, along with various UN operations. But I keep coming back to the question what can we as Quakers do to help this time around? What more can I do?

I'm hoping to hear answers, rather than silence.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Plastic Free July 2015 +1

Okay, so it is September already... but as with last year I decided to keep two months worth of non-recyclable plastic so that there wasn't any temptation to put off finishing/opening a new packet until next week when the challenge was up etc.

Here is the sum total of July & August 2014...  and here is July & August 2015....

If anything there is more this year rather than less which is rather frustrating given that I feel as though this is something I have taken on fairly seriously over the last year and have been working towards a not so much plastic-free life as a much less plastic dependent one. However, there are many things in this year's pile that are the result of my downsizing; like a pile of Ara Reo dvds that weren't that great when I was studying it and I'm certainly not going to inflict them on anyone else, also the negative sleeves and slide box. There are the things from last month like my hairbrush etc that were the tail end of the replacement process and the things I just didn't even think about last year, like the clear plastic negative pockets on certain photograph print packets, and the clear plastic bit on the opening of a tissue box.

Actually I'm quite annoyed about the tissue box - I'd gone well over a year without buying any tissues at all as handkerchiefs had been sufficient now I wasn't getting endless snottery colds from the children at kindergarten. But then in the last week of me saving my plastic I caught the worst cold I've had in years and a whole box of tissues got used up in a matter of days (and I'm halfway through the next one!). Bah humbug. That also accounts for a sudden increase in the number of tablet strips which had been well down on last year.

But over all I'm hopeful that this time next year the pile will be smaller, or at least will be made up of mostly 'historical' stuff being cleared out rather than newly bought. In fact to make myself feel better about it all here is the stuff sorted into new stuff from July & August, and old stuff that got emptied/used up/chucked out. But whilst it might soothe my ego a bit, it doesn't take away from the fact that it is all still ending up in landfill, whether that is now rather than 15yrs ago or in two months time is neither here nor there (although I suppose literally it does change which side of the world the landfill is in some cases! Aroha mai, Aotearoa...)

What else to focus on reducing/eliminating next over the coming year though? That in many ways is the hardest challenge as I've changed all the easy things already! I'm sure I'll continue to get plenty of inspiration though via the Plastic Free July community and their Facebook page. It is good to be challenged as generally I've had a fairly easy run when it comes to keeping my carbon footprint lower than average. When you start it off as a life long vegetarian who doesn't drive/run a car and thus who uses a lot of public transport, lives in shared housing, likes to grow veggies, is used to frugal living and has been recycling for decades etc you get something of a head start over most folk! I don't feel like I've had to make many difficult changes at all. All those years of hearing 'Turn the lights off if you aren't using them. It's like Piccadilly Circus around here!' as a child/teenager obviously had some long term impact, if not quite the immediate one that was desired at the time!