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the Friend INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS VOL 169 NO 47
3 Thought for the Week: Spiritual truth Ian Kirk-Smith 4-5 News 6 Olympic Truce Trevor Evans 7 The Hexham Debates Caroline Westgate 8-9 Letters 10-11 The Angel of Newgate Deborah J Swiss 12-13 Experiment with Light: Movement of the Spirit Hilary Pinder 14 Poem: Voice of the morning Lloyd Kemp 16 q-eye: a wry look at the Quaker world 17 Friends & Meetings
/ flickr CC
The ‘Occupy London’ tent city continues to draw attention to the dramatic inequalities in British society today.
Cover image: Light through autumn leaves. As the leaves fall, our Experiment with Light series draws to a close. Photo: Muffet / flickr CC. See pages 12-13.
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the Friend, 25 November 2011 Thought for the Week
The people involved in the Occupy London protest at St Paul’s have made a powerful statement to British society. The sight of their camp in front of St Paul’s Cathedral is now a familiar one on our television screens. They may be moved on – but this image will endure because, like other iconic ones, it has come to symbolise a defining idea.
The Occupy London protesters are from many different backgrounds and positions. Their fidelity to an ideal of consensus, and a dislike of ‘leaders’, combined with their diversity of interests meant that their message, almost inevitably, was initially a little incoherent. Some commentators also targeted the rather ill-defined way in which terms such as ‘capitalist’ and ‘fairness’ were used. It is a grave mistake, however, to focus on the ‘word’ and ignore the ‘spirit’ of the protest – as some critics have done.
The spirit of the protest is simple and clear. Inequality on the scale that now exists in British society is morally wrong. It should not have been allowed to happen. It needs to be reversed.
In Britain today there is an appalling gulf between the poverty and hopelessness experienced by many – and the enormous wealth of a few. The system that created such inequality, and that perpetuates it, needs to be changed. It has damaged the health of society.
The protesters have ‘touched a chord’ in contemporary Britain and the sound resonates so clearly because the idea speaks to the condition of so many decent people.
It is heartening to see Quakers in Britain now coming out strongly in support of the protest (see page four) and to hear that the Quakers and Business Group have endorsed the concerns being raised. These concerns have been a growing focus for Friends at a national and local level and have been expressed consistently in the pages of the Friend.
Some media commentators, for a period, turned the story into one about the church and the substantial income generated by St Paul’s. It is not an irrelevant or unimportant issue, as Giles Fraser wrote in last weekend’s Guardian:
‘For those with a traditional understanding of holiness the camp is a threat – just as the impure is seen to be a threat to the pure. The camp is messy and chaotic, the politics raw and visceral. The smell of stale sweat and urine hangs heavy in the air. Inside the cathedral the choir sings of the majesty and otherness of God.’
As Christmas approaches, we are reminded, as Giles Fraser writes, ‘that Jesus was born in a smelly cow shed’. His life represents a rejection of the definition of holiness as a pristine otherness. In Christ ‘holiness is redefined as justice’.
But the real story at St Paul’s will not go away. It is a story with a strong spiritual dimension. Inequality has a strong spiritual dimension.
Spirituality is about a set of relationships: these include that of the individual with themselves, with the earth, with God (however, or even whether, God is defined) and, crucially, with other people and their community. The early Quakers felt this very profoundly and it appears throughout their writings. Their spirituality was infused with a powerful moral force and a sense of responsibility to others.
Ursula King, emeritus professor of theology and religious studies at Bristol University, recently said: ‘There is a danger that spirituality, in some cases, becomes too associated with “my own journey and my own happiness… with me, me, me”. This is a deep misunderstanding of spirituality. Spirituality is about the human person, but not just about individual fulfilment. It is about how the individual person relates to the larger community.’
The protesters at St Paul’s are expressing what it is to have a true spiritual awareness and understanding. Their actions are, at heart, unselfish. They want a better ‘right ordering’ of society. The people working in the City of London, and in the financial sector, are not bad people but, sadly, some of them have lost their true spirituality. They need to re-discover it.
Ian Kirk-Smith Editor of the Friend the Friend, 25 November 2011