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the Friend INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS VOL 170 NO 21
3 Thought for the Week:
Speaking of love and truth Geoffrey Durham
4 Commitment and community Marisa Johnson
12-14 Interview: Paul Parker,
recording clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting 15 Poem: A Pump in Africa Philip Gross
5 Serving need not greed Chris Gwyntopher
6 News Symon Hill
7 The Queen’s Speech Michael Bartlet
8-9 Mark Tully in conversation Symon Hill
10-11 Befriending the stranger John Lewis
Cover image: Purslane and cracked earth in the Chihuahuan Desert. Photo: Sean F / flickr CC See page 20
16-17 Economic justice
Beauty and the Beast: Re-humanising money Jennifer Kavanagh
19 Friends & Meetings
20 The Kabarak call for peace and ecojustice
21 q-eye: a look at the Quaker world
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the Friend, 25 May 2012 Thought for the Week
Speaking of love and truth
On the odd occasion that I miss my weekly Quaker Meeting, I get edgy around day eight. My family spots it before I do, but three days on we have all noticed. My emotions are nearer the surface. I veer just a little off-centre. I lose the harmony. My first Meeting followed a sudden, intense experience of God. It was a hot flash, a moment of humility in which I felt my blessing and knew my insignificance. I needed somewhere to sit, a place to be with these unlooked-for sensibilities, and Quakers provided it. But they did so much more. They treated me like a Quaker. Within months, I was hooked.
I became fascinated by the way they talked of love and truth. I read the first of the Advices and found it moving, but a piece of ministry in one of my earliest Meetings pressed the message home. You can give love, the person said, and you can speak truth, but love and truth together are the vital force for change. This was 1996, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was proving the same point with compassion and dignity every day. I realised that the spiritual glow that had taken me to my first Meeting was not something to luxuriate in. Sacred and secular were the same thing. I needed to get out of my head and into something useful.
I noticed that the gems of Quaker literature that sounded sweetest often concealed a hard-edged practicality. I read George Fox’s suggestion that we should ‘walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one’ and secretly hankered to endow his tough, uncompromising words with the spirit of Enid Blyton. Part of me, even now, would love to trip along the highway with a smile on my face, believing wanly that there is something of God in me, something in you and doing nothing whatever to answer it. But Fox really is quite clear. He tells us to seek out that of God in others, whoever they are; to face it and respond to it with love and with truth.
So, as a Friend, I do what I can, but this week George Fox’s great message has sometimes eluded me. I have been watching snippets of the trial of Anders Behring Breivik. He has sat there daily: blonde, blue-eyed, Christian, explaining that his killing of seventy-seven young people was a response to their attempted ethnic cleansing of the Norwegian people. I have listened carefully to what he has had to say and – I find this difficult to write – I have wanted to hurt him. I banish such thoughts. I tell myself this is the old me. And I remember that it is not Anders, but his televisual image that I have felt an urge to harm. Perhaps if we met, I persuade myself, it would be different. Perhaps our humanity would give the situation a new texture. Perhaps I should be more ready to listen to George Fox. Perhaps. Many of my friends are better at this than I am. I learn from them. They teach me by example. And the mystic, unnameable power of Quaker Meetings continues to change me.
Geoffrey Durham North West London Area Meeting
On Sunday 27 May at 2pm Geoffrey will introduce the Britain Yearly Meeting session on the topic: ‘What it means to be a Quaker today’.
the Friend, 25 May 2012