Tuesday, June 21, 2016

All welcome?

We don't have many Meeting Houses in this country (eight according to our Yearly Meeting Documents in Advance), and I've not yet been to them all, but I'm reasonably sure all of them say 'All welcome' on their signs outside.

Yet I heard in the last week of someone who had grown up part of the Quaker whānau going Meeting recently and when being asked what he was doing these days basically got told 'you can't do that and be a Quaker'.

I remember some years back discovering that the only Quaker MP sitting in Westminster at the time was a member of the Conservative party. Not the most common political party of choice in the UK amongst Friends, but he wasn't asked to leave or be quiet about being a Quaker. I accepted that even though I might not agree with his politics, and wondered how on earth he balanced his political and religious beliefs, that he was entitled to them, and after all when asking George Fox about wearing a sword William Penn was told to 'wear it as long as thou canst'. In other words your conscience, that still small voice, that of god in you, will let you know when you can no longer maintain seemingly opposing stances and you will know which you have to follow.

If someone comes to one of our Meetings apparently holding values different to those commonly accepted by Quakers what is more likely to bring them round to our way of thinking; being told they can't do/be/believe something and be a Quaker, or being made to feel welcome? A better response would have been 'well you don't find many of those amongst Friends, but I'm glad you still felt that you could come to Meeting' or 'that's an interesting choice, what led you to choose that?' If we want people to reconsider their actions then surely in the quiet of Meeting and in the heart of our community is the best place for them to do so, and it is less likely to happen if they are made to feel unwelcome and unwanted. It can take a lot of courage and psyching yourself up to attend Meeting when you know that what you do is likely to be considered unpopular; to still go anyway because you need that space to worship among Friends is not a decision that will have been taken lightly. To answer honestly when asked 'what are you doing these days?' rather than give an effacing answer that will be more palatable takes courage and integrity.

It isn't a situation that only those with occupations generally perceived to be 'unquakerly' who experience this kind of response when they come to Meeting. I've regularly come across Young Friends who when making it to Meeting for Worship for the first time in ages are basically harangued for not coming more often and expected to explain the absence of others of their peer group. Do we expect any other age group to have to explain themselves if they erratically attend, and vouch for their peer group who they may not have seen in months, maybe even years? And then Friends wonder why our Young Friends don't come to Meeting more often.

If we're going to have signs up saying 'All Welcome' then we need to mean it and live it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

biting off a bigger challenge

If you've been following my blog for a while you'll know I've done the Plastic Free July challenge for the last couple of years. This year will have an added twist as I'm catering for our Junior Young Friends Camp for Quaker teenagers for a week during the month.

Can I produce food that will satisfy over a dozen potentially picky eaters on budget without amassing a huge pile of non-recyclable plastic? What's more can I do it in a kitchen I've never been in before, in a place where I don't know the shops?! Thankfully I have a wonderful local ally who is doing some research for me, and has promised to ring me from the kitchen of Friends House Waiheke so I can ask 'is there a....' to make sure I can round up in advance all the dishes and utensils I'll need etc for cooking from scratch on a bulk scale.

I did the catering for JYF Camp in 2006, and still have some of my recipe sheets from then with bulk quantities for baking scones and biscuits already worked out which will save me some time and mental energy. That time we were in Totaranui, Abel Tasman with no easy access to shops to top up if we ran out of anything, thankfully I won't have that challenge, but I won't have a nice big commercial kitchen this time - some you win, some you lose! The menu will be vegetarian, and a lot of it will be vegan and gluten free so that I don't end up cooking multiple versions of things. My main motivation for saying I'd do the cooking is because I wanted to try to keep what I ate as close to what I would usually to improve my chances of getting through the gathering with my insides happy. The other challenge will be getting enough sleep, but that isn't something I can do much about in advance!

As the years pass by the impact of plastic on our environment is becoming more and more evident. And as with many development 'solutions' the solutions often cause more problems themselves. Who would've thought when they came out that using microfibre cloths for cleaning which can reduce the chemicals being flushed down our drains, and wearing fleecy clothing made from recycled bottles would end up simply shifting the environmental pollution rather than getting rid of it?

It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is no such place as 'away' to throw anything, and whilst we grapple with ways to deal with 70 year's worth of debris that isn't going to biodegrade the challenge is not to add to the problem. But you have to pick your battles, or your priorities, otherwise we'd all get completely bogged down trying to get through even a single day without some detrimental effect on our environment. Where we live and what we do in life changes what is possible and most effective. The trick is in supporting each other in whatever we can do rather than being critical for what 'others' don't do. There is no one size fits all solution, and if the 'solutions' simply end up shifting the problem then it is probably better that we don't all try to solve it in the same manner anyway.

So I'll be doing my bit to keep the amount of non-recyclable plastic to a minimum at a vegetarian gathering that will bring Friends together from one end of these islands to the other (Kaitaia and Dunedin!). The aim of the event is to inspire our young people and help instill in them some of our Quaker values, hopefully 'let us try what Love can do' coming through loud and clear. And to those who want all Friends to stay at home and not fly anywhere, fine, you stay home and make your point. We'll get on with doing our bit the best way we can, together.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

doing what is needful

I found a wopse trying to hibernate in the firewood the other day (no idea which variety of wasp other than the stingy sort which probably means non-native). Unfortunately I found it the hard way as it was in the middle of a bundle of scraps at the bottom of the log bag that we bring firewood in from the woodshed, and I'd grabbed that handful to throw on the fire. I assumed at the time it had headed for a swift cremation along with the leaves and bits of bark, but when I later went to put a large log on the fire to bank it up overnight there was a rather dozy and somewhat crumpled specimen on it's back buzzing half-heartedly. This time it really did get toasted, me mitigating my sense of guilt against the knowledge that it was probably kinder to put it out of its misery.

I don't like wopses, especially not the imported sort that make short work of some of our more vulnerable native, and endemic, species. Luckily swift application of cream and taking an extra antihistamine meant I came off no worse from the rather closer than preferred encounter, I react badly to such stings and as it was the finger with Granny's wedding ring on that had been stung I wasn't about to risk it swelling up like a balloon (again...). But despite the damage they cause to endangered wildlife, and to me, it still goes against the grain to kill a wopse.

It's the same with snails. Finally I have conceded defeat and accepted that chemical warfare (aka slug bait) alone isn't going to be enough. It is the iron based sort, kind to birds and animals which at least reduces the chances of collateral damage. But given the snails at least seem to specialize in a high ropes course style negotiation of the garden without touching the ground where said bait lies, advanced tactics have become required if we're to feed ourselves rather than a rapidly multiplying snail population from the veg patch this winter. So tucked under the outdoor shelves with the empty plant pots and bits of concrete blocks left over from a long gone patio (where the sun room is), there is now an old jar with very strong brine in it and a growing population of dead snails.

What tipped the balance for me wasn't the loss of kale and sprouting broccoli, but the huge number of snails on the swan plants which are food for the monarch caterpillars. The caterpillars are struggling enough to survive as it is without such competition for food, so my extermination efforts stepped up a gear. I don't feel very comfortable about such genocide, but that's the thing with pacifistic tendencies, they aren't easy things to live with.

Ages ago a non-Quaker friend lent me Friendly Persuasion (1956 film version) to watch as she couldn't believe I'd never seen it, being me it sat on the shelf untouched until she asked for it back which prompted viewing that night! (I don't get round to watching films very often...). In case anyone else hasn't seen it I'll steer clear of any spoilers, but it tackles the challenges a Quaker community faces when the American Civil War reaches their doorstep. Sticking to your principles isn't easy at the best of times, and civil war doesn't really fall under that heading. Deciding whether to fight or not may be a far cry from deciding whether to kill a wopse or snail, but it all boils down to the same thing, as Jess Birdwell puts it, you do what you have to do, whatever that might be. A reminder about trusting your conscience, that still small voice.

There are so many things in life where there are implications for life and death no matter what you choose, or not to do. What might be right for one cause, such as protecting our native and/or endangered species, can have fatal consequences for other creatures. The only good possum here is a dead one as they threaten the survival of huge swathes of our native ecosystem. So I'll keep up my my extermination of snails, bump off any more dozy wopses I find in the woodshed, and enjoy my possum & merino gloves as the weather gets colder... for as long as I can.