Category Archives: Conferences

A new homepage – experimentally

Through the history of this website since 2016 we have offered different pages as the homepage (‘landing page’) at different times. (If you follow any of the links below they open in the same window or tab so use your ‘back button’ in the browser to return here).

In the beginning it was our About page (still available!) virtually copy-pasted from the earlier website hand-coded by Brian Wardrop.  From time to time it was our News (posts) page – THIS very page.  For much of the last 15 months it has been our monthly Meeting and Creative Conversation’s page.

At other times it may have been a Conference page or the Events page. You may sometimes see this in future if we have any more conferences or events. These changes have always been motivated by NFN activity and a wish to bring the currently most relevant information to your immediate attention. (did I forget to put in a plug for our Articles page?)

Meanwhile we have a new home page offered experimentally, subject to amendment or ‘tweaking’ and your comments or suggestions will be very welcome.

What’s ‘appening? – current affairs

I think that after 3 weeks (to the day) another post would be timely.

Our next Meeting for worship and Creative conversation is next Thursday 2nd June at 7pm where we will consider “Humanists and Quakers – How do we differ, and what are the similarities – an interactive evening”.  For full details and registration see here. (Sorry about the old link last 5 days – now correct I hope).

We have established, in addition to the Creative conversations Working Group, 5 further Working Groups that I know of (18 April) according to those who put their names forward. Some are more active than others as I mentioned in the previous post ‘No more NFN Conferences‘.

NFN Newsletter

The NFN ‘Newsletter’ Working Group has 4 names to it: Bryan Osborne, John Senior, Catherine Carr and myself Trevor Bending. This has not been active but may come to life if we try to produce a Newsletter for June as suggested previously. All Friends, NFN members, SG members and other sympathisers are invited to contribute (see that ‘previously’ link) and you may hear further after Britain Yearly Meeting 2022 has finished.

Quaker Faith & Practice revision

The Quaker Faith & Practice revision WG held its first meeting on the 18th May, hosted by Steven Goldblatt (NFN Treasurer) and attended by David Boulton, Chris Thomas, Gisela Creed, Bryan Osborne and myself. It was decided that updates would not be provided from this group until some clarity is discerned about what we hope to achieve. I won’t continue to participate in this group (for other committments) and am not sure if Bryan will for the same reason although he was able to help us off to a good start with a presentation and some insights from a meeting held with the BYM Quaker Faith & Practice revision Group by Cambridge AM. That presentation showed up later in the YM session on QF&P this week. If you want to contribute to the BYM Revision Groups deliberations you can do so in the following ways: Read BDRC reports to Meeting for Sufferings on this page https://www.quaker.org.uk/resources/quaker-faith-and-practice/revising-quaker-faith-practice
– see also creative project “Open to new light” on Padlet and other social media links on that page.
Ideas and pieces of writing can be submitted using this online form:
Q f&p: submit ideas for the next revision – QForms
https://forms.quaker.org.uk/qfp-idea/
or contact BDRC committee secretary, Michael Booth, by email to qfp@quaker.org.uk or write to him at Friends House.
(BDRC stands for Book of Discipline Revision Committee).

(Quaker faith & practice can be found online here https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/ (and it is more up-to-date than any printed edition))

Or, you can give your ideas about a nontheist contribution to QF&P revision to the NFN WG here:
nontheistfriend@gmail.com
preferably with ‘NFN Quaker Faith & Practice revision WG’ in the subject line.

Helping Woodbrooke ‘design’ nontheist courses

The “Helping Woodbrooke ‘design’ nontheist courses” Working Group consists of Tim Regan, Catherine Carr and Chris Thomas. I have heard no more about this since I withdrew on 23 April.

Website Working Group

The Website WG consisting of Chris Thomas, Ella Dorfman, Tim Regan and myself (Trevor) has probably been the most active with I believe at least 4 meetings (and lots of emails and ‘Slack’ messages) so far. I think you will probably hear more about this from Tim next Thursday evening (and/or by email) with an invitation to help by participating in surveys or interviews.

NFN Conference Working Group

This was dealt with in my last post. The Group has only Catherine Carr (from the SG) and myself. I believe at least half a dozen people would be needed to organise a Conference (but see that last post). There was only a limited response to that post and no-one came forward to help organise any kind of Conference. Perhaps, therefore, there will be no further NFN Conferences (some of the most rewarding weekends at Woodbrooke I have been to) until NFN members call for one and come forward to organise it. I’ll keep you in touch!

No more NFN Conferences? – and other matters

I believe 5 additional Working Groups were proposed at the AGM in February and all those who came forward to express an interest were contacted by our clerk Tim Regan on 18 April to take matters forward. So far, only the Website working Group (6) seems to have been particularly active. (the others being QF&P revision (6 or 7), Conference (2), Newsletter (4) and Woodbrooke courses (4) – numbers in brackets names coming forward).

Whereas 6 people (including 3 members of the Steering Group) put their names forward for the Website group, only 2 people (and I was one of them) came forward for the Conference group – which appears to me to be a bizarre sense of priorities.

Why the concern for the website (which seems to be working fine?) and so little for a future Conference when the latter, whether at Woodbrooke, elsewhere or online, has been one of the annual highlights for Nontheist Quaker activity, support and the AGM?

Am I to take it that NFN members and past or potential future Conference attenders have no further interest in such an event whether in person or online?  I do hope very much that this isn’t the case as I have always very much enjoyed NFN Conferences of which I have attended at least 6 at Woodbrooke and one online (2021 in lieu of 2020 cancelled through ‘covid’).

From my experience of being involved with the QUG (Quaker Universalist Group) Conference at Woodbrooke over several years, last year online and especially the ‘blended’ Conference at Woodbrooke and online this year when I was heavily involved with managing the online component (but most of the work being done by the QUG team at Woodbrooke), I know that organising a blended conference is very much more demanding than organising one online or even just in person.

If we can’t assemble a team to organise a blended conference (rather more than half a dozen perhaps) or an in person only conference (still 5 or 6?) then perhaps we could rise to an online only conference organised by as few as 4 people perhaps?

There might be a ‘Conference-lite’ alternative which would be simply to have (in person or online) a ‘meet-up’ for social exchange, sharing ideas and worship and so on – perhaps a ‘nontheist retreat’? – organised by just the participants themselves with only 2 or 3 people taking on some prior planning, bookings etc.  Online this might seem little different from our monthly ‘Quaker Meetings with Creative Conversations’ although it could be over a weekend with more time together. In person would be quite a different experience – and perhaps even that could include the possibility of ‘dropping in’ online.

Does anyone else in NFN feel the need for a Conference (or ‘meet-up’) – or should I go back to bed?

I really would appreciate some feed-back on this – whilst you are preparing your articles for a future newsletter.

Oh, by the way, I mentioned ‘other matters’ – the ‘Conversation’ last night on ‘How do I as a nontheist Quaker relate to deeply Christian Quakers‘ went extremely well with some very interesting contributions, particularly, I thought, those from Jean Wardrop and David Boulton. I will try to return to this later but if anyone else who was there would like to write up something for the website now, that would also be most welcome.

NFN Newsletter Issue April 2022

Familiar? Graphics is not my strong point – there’s quite a story behind the above attempt to re-create the masthead from David’s last newsletter.

Greetings Friends and welcome to our Spring 2022 Newsletter!

At the NFN AGM on 17 February, a couple of Friends suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea to continue the newsletter which could be emailed out to everyone on our wider mailing list and even printed and posted for the small number not on email. Printed copies could also be left at Meetings, Friends House and Woodbrooke etc. as a form of ‘outreach’. I have in the past produced a local meeting newsletter on the meeting website with the option of a printed copy. As the proposed NFN working group(s) for a newsletter and beyond the group for the ‘Creative Conversations’ do not seem to have yet been implemented, I thought I would produce an occasional newsletter in the form of a post on our website – so here it is for spring.

Creative conversations
Our next MfW and Creative conversation is at 7pm on Thursday 7 April, 2022: David Parlett,  A Theist Cuckoo in the Nontheist Nest. For further details look on the website at:

David Parlett – A Theist Cuckoo in the Nontheist Nest

Details of further conversations will be emailed and posted when available.

If you are interested in sharing your Creative Conversation with the Working Group, or would like to join us, email clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk. If you have already registered you will automatically receive links to our Zooms approximately a week before each meeting. As ever we would love to hear from you!

Nontheist approaches to religious language
This course took place on ‘zoom’ and Woodbrooke’s ‘moodle’ learning environment with Rhiannon Grant from 28th February to 27th March. About 20 Friends took part, possibly a majority might identify as nontheist Friends and a number of us from NFN were present, but a wide range of ‘theist’, ‘humanist’ and ‘nontheist’ viewpoints were represented. The discussions on the Moodle Forum for the course were most interesting.

The course was oversubscribed and we are told it is likely to be offered again, perhaps this year – look out for it and I would thoroughly recommend it. By the end of the course I was thinking ‘now we need a course on Nontheist approaches to God’ – but see below.

Further courses at Woodbrooke
We have already publicised the above and two other courses coming up soon:
The three courses are given by Rhiannon Grant. They are:

(Please note that these courses are organised by Woodbrooke and designed by Rhiannon Grant. They are not produced by the Nontheist Friends Network.) To judge by the first, I believe these shorter further courses will also be well worth attending and several of us have signed up for them already. (Pay as led).

Pronouns
The following pronouns are used in this issue: we/us/our means those who ‘manage’ NFN business – Steering Group, Working groups, NFN members, website or newsletter contributors etc. I/me means Trevor Bending as website editor and producer of this issue. I hope that future issues will include your contributions: articles, quotes, images, jokes, comments, letters etc. (See the end of the newsletter/post to see how to contribute. You can also make comments/leave a reply on the website below and on most other pages). Suggested deadline for submissions to a next issue (Summer 2022?) is mid-June – 21st if you like. I’d also be happy to accept contributions or responses to this issue for supplementary publication before the next issue.

Quaker blogosphere and social media
Quakers across the world, including nontheist Friends, are very active on the internet. There is a well-established nontheist Friends Facebook group with American and British moderators (Helen Gilbert is the British moderator). The group is public, so anyone can view it and the very interesting discussions that take place there, but to comment you will have to sign up to Facebook and apply to join the group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1631439757083868

One American Friend who posts there regularly is Chuck Fager editor of Quaker Theology whose website/blog ‘A Friendly Letter’ is worth a visit. Rhiannon Grant’s blog ‘Brigid, Fox and Buddha‘ is definitely worth following along with 213 other followers. Speaking of followers, the NFN website is now followed by over 250 people.

Other Quaker blogs include:
Ben Wood’s ‘The Armchair Theologian’ – although this doesn’t seem to have been updated for 16 months.

Craig Barnett, author, Woodbrooke tutor and co-founder of the City of Sanctuary movement who currently serves on the Book of Discipline Revision Committee has a blog called ‘transitionquaker‘ and you might begin with his post (from 2014!) on ‘The Imaginary Theist’

Another Woodbrooke tutor, Mark Russ, has a blog at https://jollyquaker.com/

Another (professional) Quaker theologian, Rachel Muers, has a blog which she posts to somewhat intermittently, sometimes controversially. https://rachelmuers.wordpress.com/

Quakerquaker is an interesting blog/forum with multiple contributors expressing alternative views.

The senior editor of Friends Journal has a topical blog here: https://www.quakerranter.org/

Finally, for blogs today, Friends’ House has an active blog with various contributors: https://www.quaker.org.uk/blog

(Many of these blogs and quite a few more are listed here: https://blog.feedspot.com/quakers_blogs/)

There are also several Quaker Universalist Facebook Groups, American and British, and the websites of the UK Quaker Universalist Group, the American Quaker Universalists and our American Nontheist Friends (to which we also link on our website). Those American Friends also still maintain the nontheist google group which is very lightly moderated and springs into life from time to time!

Other current and forthcoming events
We have already mentioned David’s talk this Thursday above, the courses at Woodbrooke, and the Quaker Universalist Group Conference on Health and Healing is taking place this weekend at Woodbrooke and online. Friends may also be interested in the upcoming conference (‘Living Truth – A Rallying Call for Quakers’) of the new Quaker Truth and Integrity Group (QTIG) which is taking place online from 25-30 April. Speakers include Rachel Muers, Ben Wood, Jane Dawson and Molly Scott-Cato. Attendance is free but requires booking now. The session on Saturday morning (30 April) Drawing things together, agreeing an epistle, and framing next steps hopes for all participants to contribute ideas towards ‘helping Friends live out our Testimony to Truth in the power of love’ out of a ‘concern for the state of truth and integrity in public life across the UK and indeed more widely, (and) the Quaker Truth and Integrity Group seeks to discern what might be done to help redress the current situation.’ QTIG has a steering group, the clerk is Gerald Hewitson assisted by Jan Arriens and I’m pleased to say we have been able to help Jan with developing their website using QMN (Quaker Meetings Network) software (https://quaker.app/about/) which is designed for Quaker Meetings and recognised groups to create, fairly easily, websites with no knowledge, or desire to have any, of HTML, style sheets and the like. Jan has managed to do this very well and the website now has some 11 pages. (By way of comparison the NFN website has evolved, over 10 years since Brian Wardrop first created it, to have some 45 pages, numerous additional articles, documents, sound files and images etc., 133 posts, over 400 comments and some 250 followers – more about this below).

Quaker Humanist
In the last newsletter produced by David Boulton, I drew attention to David’s 1997 Quaker Universalist pamphlet, The Faith of a Quaker Humanist. A number of the participants in the ‘NARLA’ (Nontheist Approaches to Religious Language) course outlined above would probably identify as ‘Quaker Humanists’. I’ll put here an extract from that pamphlet – the section on ‘Faith’. David wrote:

Quakers will have no problem with the word “faith”. Theirs is a religious tradition, and in religious traditions faith invariably occupies a central place. Friends have their own (regularly revised) book of “faith and practice”. Humanists, on the other hand, generally avoid the word, precisely because of its religious connotations. This is a fairly recent preference. Nineteenth and early twentieth century humanists were often happy to write of their “faith”, even of their “religion”. As late as 1960 Julian Huxley gave one of his broadcasts the title The Faith of a Humanist. But today humanists usually prefer to see themselves as representing a “world view” rather than a “faith tradition”.

I have no quarrel with that. I am not going to challenge the convention that, when we talk of faith traditions, world faiths, inter-faith dialogue, we generally mean religious traditions, world religions and religious dialogue. We do not normally regard, say, socialism or existentialism or humanism as faiths in this sense. But few would deny that there is a strong element of faith in all these secular isms. Some of us would say it takes a lot of faith to remain a socialist these days! And perhaps in the light of the cumulative inhumanities of the twentieth century, it takes a lot of faith to be any kind of humanist.

So I am using “faith” not in its acquired sense as a body of religious beliefs but in its more basic sense of a kind of combination of trust and hope. Faith in this basic sense is not about belonging to a religious group, still less about believing dogma simply because that is required of us by some outside authority and tradition. Faith is the voluntary acceptance of certain uncertainties, and the willingness to trust and hope despite those uncertainties.

I fall in love. I trust and hope that my beloved loves me as I love her. I cannot furnish myself with irrefutable, logical, scientific proof that she loves me and that our mutual love will last till death doth us part. Indeed, common experience offers plentiful evidence which might presuppose me to assume the contrary! My acceptance of her love, and my giving of my love to her, has to be an act of faith. I promise to be faithful. Our lives together are based on this trust and confidence – con-fidence, “with faith”. And that faith has to be constantly renewed. From time to time it may fade, or be broken. But such faith has its own imperatives for survival and growth.

On a more mundane level, I fall ill. I call the doctor. There is no certainty that her medicine will cure me. I know only too well that medical science is inexact, imperfectly understood even by doctors. But I place my confidence in her. I have faith in her proposed remedies, albeit a rather sceptical kind of faith which is contingent on their working at least some of the time.

I live in a consumer society where the free market is god, where greed is exalted, where property rights take precedence over human rights, where there is said to be no such thing as society. I have lived through a massive dismantling of collective and cooperative enterprise and a triumphalist demolition of social values. If I remain a socialist, a communist or a liberal social democrat, I exemplify the triumph of faith over experience. Faith, to borrow Byron’s image, is flying the flag of freedom (or whatever banner we may be carrying) against the wind.

My point is that it takes faith to be a humanist or a Quaker. There is no certainty, no logic of history, no immutable grand design which guarantees that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well; that love will prevail  over hatred, “that of God in ·everyone” over that of the devil, the “ocean of light” over “the ocean of darkness and death”. If, before we try to live by them, we demand rational demonstration or proof that human values of love, compassion, sympathy and fellowship will prevail, we shall never get started. If we choose to try to live by these values, to build a society in which these values are exemplified, we had better recognise that we are unfurling our banners against the wind. We are choosing to live by faith.

So I am not proclaiming a new faith-tradition, a belief-system called Quaker Humanism! I am saying what is obvious: that we live by faith, whether we like it or not. And I am saying, which is perhaps less obvious, that there is much common ground between Quaker faith and humanist faith, which is what we are about to explore, first by unpacking the word …
Quakerso David continues and we will consider whether to offer any further extracts in future newsletters. In the meantime you can read the whole pamphlet here.

Continuing this theme, Tony Philpott, clerk to QUG, wrote a book in 2013 called ‘From Christian to Quaker‘ that can be found here: https://qug.org.uk/publications/books/from-christian-to-quaker/
That would make useful preparation for the ‘Are Quakers Christian’ course mentioned above.

Similarly, Michael Wright, clerk to NFN from 2015 to 2018 (sadly, Michael died last year) wrote his account of Jesus in his book ‘Jesus Today‘. (link takes you to the pdf of the book on the website). and that too might be useful preparation for that course and for ‘Why attend meeting for worship if you don’t believe in God’..

The website
I have heard no further about a working group to consider our website (and use of social media) but will be happy to work with that if it happens. In the meantime please send any suggestions or contributions for the website to me (see below).

I will try to give some helpful tips for using the website.

The appearance varies significantly as between a laptop or desktop computer on the one hand and a phone or mobile device on the other and whether you use the latter in portrait or landscape mode (turn the phone sideways!) and on the size of the screen. On a mobile you can scroll to the very bottom and choose ‘View full site’, but you will then need to view it landscape.

On the full site the main menu is the 8 items across the top of the screen (below Nontheist Quakers)

which are: HOME           NEWS       ABOUT            EVENTS               FAQ       ARTICLES        CONTACT          HOW TO?

These items are on every page and remain at the top of the page even when you scroll down. Home takes you to whatever is currently the home page (sometimes varies); NEWS is news (the latest and previous posts);  About is about NFN and has a drop down menu of 5 items (6 pages including About). Events you can guess (past, present and future) with a drop down menu (varies). FAQ is Frequently Asked Questions and has one further item, also about Nontheism and a book, in the drop down menu.  Articles has articles and newsletters (drop down with two items) going back to 2013.  Contact takes you to a form to fill in to contact us via the website editor (I pass messages on or answer them myself as appropriate). How To? tells you what I’m telling you now but is much more complicated and somewhat out of date.

The left hand column (white on black) disappears if you reduce the size of the window (or on a small tablet) and is a site map which is not especially useful. Look instead in the right hand column which is mostly green on white and has more navigation options. It will only disappear if you make the window extremely narrow when it then appears right down the bottom above the white on black column which has also then located itself there. All this is perfectly standard practice for window navigation on the web.

That right hand column contains ‘Search…’ which is very useful for finding everything about say ‘Jesus’, ‘Bible’ or ‘David Boulton’ (5 pages in the latter case – try it, it’s fun! I just tried ‘Elephant’ and it brings up one item).
This search will NOT find items in Articles or documents (pdf, Word etc.) – scroll down the Articles page to see what is there.

In the case of a mobile phone or narrow tablet (unless viewing ‘full site’ – see above) it’s quite different: You will then see a single column (the current home page) with Menu and Search at the top. (Turning it sideways – landscape – just makes it larger and easier to read). You can scroll to the very bottom for ‘full site’ as mentioned above (passing much of interest on the way???) but if you tap on Menu, you will get a drop down menu of the 8 main items and their sub-pages. You can also tap on Search and then enter your search term – on my phone you then have to tap ‘go’ to activate it but may vary depending on phone or tablet.

I think that’s more than enough – have fun exploring the site (45 pages plus lots of interesting articles and documents) and don’t forget to enter your email address to follow the site if you haven’t already done so. Oh, and leave your ‘replies’ or comments anywhere indicated on the site – if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, wait a day or so for it to be ‘moderated’ – and tick the check-boxes for ‘Notify me of new comments by email’ and ‘Notify me of new posts by email’. Any questions? Email me!

At 5 pages of A4, this newsletter is shorter than David’s last one by 1 page – I’ll try and do better next time – send me those articles!

NFNnewsletterApril2022 – Word version (most hypertext links should work)

NFNnewsletterApril2022 – pdf version (to print; probably only links which show full url’s will work)

The Newsletter is published three or four times a year. To keep up with NFN events visit our website www.nontheist-quakers.org.uk. For more information about the Network email clerk@nontheist-quakers.com. To contribute to the Newsletter or the website email trevor at humber.co.uk (remove spaces and replace at with @).

 

Upcoming events

I mentioned at the AGM on Thursday (17th February) that some nontheist Friends might be interested in the Quaker Universalists’ Conference at Woodbrooke and online from 1-3April.
Details can be found here: https://qug.org.uk/conference-2020-health-and-healing/

Friends might also be interested to look at the newly formed Quaker Truth and Integrity Group (next meeting for QTIG members on 23rd February and Zoom Conference from 25 April): https://quakertruth.org/calendar/

Courses at Woodbrooke which should certainly be of interest to nontheist Friends have already been mentioned here.

Trevor

Dinah Livingstone – On Dover Beach

Dinah delivered our third and final talk of the NFN 2021 Conference on 21st July and ’rounded off’ the series very fittingly.

(The many links below generally open in a new window or tab).

Our three speakers spoke quite independently, guided only to deliver their talks based on their idea of spirituality – ‘That’s the spirit! – dimensions of spirituality.’

Nonetheless, the notion (one of George Fox’s ‘windy notions’?) of Spirituality resulted in three talks which, very different as expected, hung together to satisfy and inspire different members of our ‘Quaker Kaleidoscope’.

Dinah is the editor of the Sea of Faith’s magazine ‘Sofia‘ in which role she succeeded the previous editor, NFN’s ‘own’ David Boulton (one of the key founders of the Nontheist Friends Network) in 2004 and changed its name to ‘Sofia‘.  Gill Pennington mentioned David’s ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘ (1997) which I understand is still the most often downloaded booklet from the Quaker Universalist Group’s website. We can see and perhaps ‘feel’ the threads linking Humanism, the Sea of Faith Network and the Nontheist Friends Network.

The Sea of Faith Network takes its name from Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’, one stanza of which reads:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

You can find the full poem (4 stanzas, 37 lines I think) here:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach

Was it surprising to many of us that Dinah’s talk from a ‘sea of faith perspective’ was so biblical? Both Andrew Copson and Gill Pennington had mentioned biblical stories but Dinah wove an account of what I might call the ‘sea of faith version of religion, humanism and nontheism’ drawn substantially from the bible as if it might be considered the source of these ideas. This is consistent with Dinah’s re-naming of the SoF Journal to ‘Sofia’ – a serendipitous extension of the acronym SoF. (An alternative spelling for ‘Holy Wisdom‘ being Sophia). The wisdom literature of the bible provides this potential biblical basis for Don Cupitt‘s ideas and Dinah’s talk. (SEA OF FAITH NETWORK started in 1984 as a response to Don Cupitt’s book and TV series of the same name.)

At the very top of the Sea of Faith website homepage it states:

“The Network…
Explores the implications of accepting religion as a human creation;
Promotes the validity of creative, human-centred religion;
Affirms the continuing importance of religious thought
and practice as expressions of awe and wonder and
celebrations of spiritual and social values.”

Only slightly less prominently on our NFN website (You have to look under ‘About’ and then ‘Aims of the network’ here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/about/aims-of-the-network/), we state:

“The Network’s aim is to provide a forum and supportive framework for Friends who regard religion as a human creation. We want to ensure that our Religious Society of Friends is an inclusive rather than an exclusive Society. We seek to explore theological and spiritual diversity and their practical implications, in respectful acceptance of different views, experiences and journeys.” (clause 2. of our constitution added the words ‘and attenders’ at our last AGM).

It’s almost as if the Sea of Faith is the Christian branch of the nontheist humanists and the nontheist Friends network is the Quaker branch of the Sea of Faith. (and I’d always thought of us as the nontheist branch of the Quaker Universalist Group). Perhaps we should convene next on Dover Beach?

Joking apart, we can surely feel those threads referred to above linking Humanism, Christian origins, Quaker Universalism, Sea of Faith and the NFN.

Dinah drew from the bible, and Christ’s teaching, its essential humanism or human facing concerns. This is perhaps not so surprising given that ‘Humanism’ has arisen, in the last two centuries, from within the Western Christian tradition. As one wit reported in a recent Quaker meeting ‘God created man in his own image – and man returned the compliment’ (or was it the other way round?). I had better at least mention at this point the Goddess to contrast with God the Father.

This ‘pre-conference reading’ bibliography prepared for the 2020 conference provides links to David Boulton’s and other NFN books: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2020/03/01/a-2020-nfn-conference-bibliography/

(Some of the links above are repeated):
https://sofn.org.uk/pages/dinah_livingstone.html
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/don-cupitt.html
https://sofn.org.uk/sofia/index.html – Sofia magazine
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/index.html – useful links
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/spirituality.html – SoF links for Spirituality

Gill Pennington, The very hungry caterpillar and a Möbius strip

Our second 2021 Conference speaker’s talk on 14 July 2021 was from Gill Pennington, former Spirituality tutor at Woodbrooke Quaker Centre, Birmingham.

Gill spoke about spiritual awareness and development and presented a series of slides loosely based on the well-known illustrated children’s book, Eric Carle’s ‘The very hungry caterpillar’.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Very_Hungry_Caterpillar

Just as the caterpillar in the story eats and eats and also eats unsuitable food (unlikely for a caterpillar) until it has indigestion, so, Gill suggests, humans consume and consume, and are absorbed in great busyness, until they also suffer from a mental indigestion and perhaps feel unwell or dissatisfied. Then, as the caterpillar eats a simple green leaf, before pupating and going into its cocoon for a long ‘sleep’, humans (or Quakers at least?), seeking respite from their busyness and ‘indigestion’, simplify or retreat into silent worship which provides rest and spiritual nourishment.

After a period in the cocoon, in which it is transformed, the once caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly.  In parallel fashion, the worshipper who has sought stillness and silence is transformed into a ‘fully developed’ and beautiful human being.  The caterpillar eats, grows, pupates and is transformed and emerges as the beautiful butterfly.  So the human, to realise their true destiny, must live (and eat and work etc.), grow and develop but then go through a spiritual process of transformation, perhaps through stillness and letting go, in order to reach their spiritual goal.

Gill drew parallels between different forms of Quakerism, from the ‘Godly’ and use of traditional godly language, to the non-theist and cited a number of quotations and books, including David Boulton’s ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘ (1997)

Gill talked of the relationship between the inner (contemplative or silent) life and the outer or active life in the world and how these can seem separate but then illustrated how they might be integrated by showing us the making of a paper ‘mobius strip’ in which the inner (illustrated in white) and the outer (illustrated in a contrasting colour) become continuous or one with each other, the mobius strip magically only having one continuous side through a twist in the paper band. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%B6bius_strip (good-luck!)  In an analogous way, being active in life and having a spiritual practice (for example of silence) can perhaps integrate our ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ personalities to become a better ‘whole’.

Before closing with a quote she loves from the dancer Martha Graham from Agnes de Mille’s biography Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
(From this quote), Gill asked us, in our small breakout groups, to consider:
“How can you ‘keep your channel open’ to enable you to enhance your vitality, your life force, your energy and how might you translate this into action and consider possible change?”

The comparisons with the ‘very hungry caterpillar’ made the principles memorable: growth and busyness; ‘indigestion’; spiritual practice and transformation; emerging ‘whole’ (and beautiful) like a butterfly.

I’m not entirely sure whether ” You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.” from the Martha Graham quote could be a description of Quaker worship and ministry.

Our thanks to Gill for a memorable and thought provoking illustrated talk.

We look forward to welcoming you to our next conference speaker Dinah Livingstone, Editor of Sofia (Sea of Faith magazine) on Wednesday 21st July at 7.20pm.

Full details here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/

Registration here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2021/04/28/thats-the-spirit/

 

Andrew Copson (Humanists UK) – what a fantastic talk!

‘What a fantastic talk! That was a great talk, what a thought provoking and affirming start!’ was one response to our first 2021 Conference speaker’s talk (Andrew Copson, CEO of Humanists UK) on Wednesday 7th July.

You can still register for the remaining sessions on 14th and 21st July 2021 here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2021/04/28/thats-the-spirit/

Andrew appeared to extemporise, speaking apparently without notes and giving the impression of masterly ad-libbing, suggesting he is fully conversant with a humanist understanding of spirituality and was able to cite illustrative examples without hesitation (I’m tempted to add or ‘repetition or deviation’!)

As the talk took place immediately prior to the European Cup semi-final between England and Denmark and there was some humorous speculation about how many attendees we may have lost, it was perhaps appropriate that one of Andrew’s earliest examples of ‘humanist spirituality’ (ie. non-religious) was the communal passion of a big football match. As he later revealed that he had no personal interest in football whatsoever, perhaps this was a bit tongue in cheek. He did say however, that although this might appear to be a ‘group experience’, he felt, from a humanist and scientific perspective, that the experience(s) were individual – in each individual’s head so that the idea of it being a ‘group experience’ was perhaps an illusion. Some Quakers, and many others, might disagree about the ‘group experience’ being an illusion. However, although we talk of a ‘gathered meeting’, let’s not forget George Fox’s ‘what can’st thou say?’ (individual experience?).
I also have no personal interest in football though I understand from my wife Georgina who (like my sister) is now watching the England-Italy final as I type this, that England has scored a goal within a record 2 minutes of the start.

It was also clear that Andrew had a good understanding of his likely audience and was familiar with Quaker practice and even nontheist Quakers.

Andrew suggested that a humanist spirituality had four key characteristics:

  1. Powerful and Positive experiences – elation, joy, a moment
  2. Personal, individual subjective
  3. Not intellectual, non-rational
  4. Take you outside of yourself – connect – ‘transcendent’?? peak experiences, universal in imagination, bigger than yourself, immersed ‘elsewhere’

This in part equates ‘spiritual experiences’ with Maslow’s ‘peak experiences’
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_experience
where Maslow describes these as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.”

So this is a psychological kind of explanation for spirituality. I believe Andrew also mentioned the mystical and magical and, somewhat tentatively, the idea of ‘transcendence’. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs#Transcendence_needs in the first of the above articles).

That reminds me of an older, female Friend saying in (I think) an ‘afterwords’ discussion after meeting that ‘good sex is transcendent’ (or was that ministry in meeting?).

Later in his talk, Andrew added three ‘facts’ about humanistic spiritual experience he felt were also essential:
Humanist interpretation: – product of human brain – identical feelings – different interpretation – is it ‘God’? or ‘divine’?
3 facts:

  1. Humans not the pinnacle – product of evolution cf. the unitarian hymn ‘blue boat home’
  2. ‘Connective’ (to oneself), integrated (human being), know yourself – personal development – in this life – a Friend to yourself – humans give meaning to experience
  3. Connection with others – eg. one other; but also imagined connections – importance of fiction, novels (ex. Middlemarch), connection with art, fictional individuals; being part of the human story (history and ancestors). Future gazing, reaching out, awe and wonder, peak experiences

So, whilst Andrew sees these as ‘individual experience’, it is clearly possible to consider a connection with others as being a ‘group experience’. (whether this supposes a belief in a Universal Mind, I’m not sure). (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_mind) and see Jung on Spirituality:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung#Spirituality

Many Friends present will have felt that Andrew’s explanation of humanist spirituality ‘spoke to their condition’ (apologies for the Quaker speak: http://quakerjane.com/index.php?fuseaction=spirituality.glossary#speak) and closely matched their own understanding; some may have a few caveats and it would be interesting to hear from you in the comments (Leave a reply below or by clicking on Comments at top).

Our thanks to Andrew Copson and Humanists UK.

We look forward to welcoming you to our next conference speaker on 14th July Gill Pennington, former Spirituality Tutor, Woodbrooke and final speaker Dinah Livingstone, Editor of Sofia (Sea of Faith)on 21st July.

Full details here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/
Registration here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2021/04/28/thats-the-spirit/

NFN Quaker meeting and Creative conversation 3 June 2021

Dear Friends,
Due to unforeseen circumstances, David Parlett will not be able to share his Creative Conversation presentation for the 3rd of June.  The QM+CC Working group has prepared a Meditation reading written by Harvey Gillman to share with you and invites you to participate in a contemplative conversation with your fellow Friends.

This will be our last QM+CC before we holiday for summer and resume again in September, so we hope to see you.  We are sorry for the change-of plans; thank you for your patience and understanding.

Please arrive early, as the Meeting will start promptly at 7PM.  The Zoom Room opens at 6:45PM.
The format will be as follows:
• Zoom Room opens at 6:45PM, please arrive early.
• 7PM: Welcome and Quaker Meeting: approximately 20 minutes for quietly gathering ourselves and connecting.
• Creative Conversation: up to 20 minutes for presentation or raising a question.
• Small break-out rooms: up to 20 minutes for creative exchanges, expressions, and reactions; hopefully fostering community and fellowship.
• Open discussion in main room: up to 20 minutes to share ‘creative moments or surprises’ that occurred in small break-out rooms.
• Conclusion: ending with a few moments gathered in silence.
• Duration: 1hr:20m-1hr:45m

With gratitude and in Friendship, Kiera Faber, Gisela Creed, William Purser, and John Senior (QM+CC Working group)

If you wish to attend our Conference in July, please register separately for this at clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk   (Just a simple email requesting registration for the Conference) Entry limited to 100. Book early!