Regional Conference in Bristol

  • Our Regional Conference in Bristol.
    The first of what we hope will be a new series of regional one-day conferences organised by NFN and hosted by local or area meetings took place at Bristol Redlands meeting house on Saturday October 28th. More than 50 Friends (with a variety of views) attended from Bristol and South-West England and were given a warm welcome by Celia Beeson on behalf of Redlands meeting. Hugh Rock from the NFN steering group chaired the two sessions which included small-group discussion and lively contributions from the floor.
    I introduced the theme, Nontheism among Friends: Its Place in our Religious Society, looking first at the many ways in which Quakerism has changed over the centuries, then opening a discussion on what the current dialogue on nontheism means for Quaker language and practice. After a tea break we looked at the work of the Quaker Faith and Practice Revision Preparation Group and its efforts to ensure that we all escape the trap of seeing theism and nontheism in simplistic, binary and polarised terms. United in our belief in an open, inclusive Society, we concluded with reflection in meeting for worship.
    The steering group is grateful to Redlands meeting for taking the initiative in inviting us, and publicising the event in the region. We hope other meetings in major Quaker centres such as York, Newcastle, Manchester and London will consider inviting us to join them in similar events.
    David Boulton
    Steering Group member

Godless for God’s Sake on Kindle

I’m not sure if everyone reads the comments (see below in right hand column) so I’m copying my comment on the Kindle edition as a post here:

It has taken me all of 7 weeks (49 days precisely) to notice James Riemermann’s post on the US Nontheist-Friends site of 6 September 2017 which has popped up at the top of the left-hand column here* – our feed from the US site – to say there is now a Kindle Edition of Godless for God’s Sake.
If you follow James’ links there, it comes up on Amazon UK at £4.64.
The links to ‘customers also bought’ there are quite interesting too!
I’d rather have the paper-back and not buy it from amazon but I suppose a Kindle version has to come from amazon so if you haven’t already read it or want it on your Kindle (or phone) there you go.
Trevor
*(at the bottom on a small mobile device!)

2018 Conference Booking

The 2018 Conference booking details and booking form have finally made it onto the website this evening. (Not too difficult to find!)

We look forward to your bookings (at a special price before 1st January) for your weekend away at beautiful Woodbrooke in the company of Linda Murgatroyd, Harvey Gilman, David Boulton and the rest of us to discuss:
Quakers in 2032: What will our society look like?

Website updates

I have temporarily made the Events Page our Home Page to highlight the Bristol event in October. I have just uploaded the September newsletter (pdf – see under ‘Articles’ above) and my apologies for the slight delay in doing so. David Parlett has made a very good job of producing an informative  newsletter which many of you as NFN members will have received by email but I hope visitors to our site will enjoy reading it too.

I hope to be able to upload the application form for the 2018 conference soon – a little later than last year. (It is still in preparation with a few technical details to sort out).

Trevor Bending

Three more articles reviewed!

Continuing very slowly my promise to review earlier articles on the website, I would like to tackle three in one go: Michael Wright’s articles on Greta Vosper, Disagreeing about God and Prayer beyond belief.

  1. Michael opens his discussion of Greta Vosper with:

Gretta Vosper, a Minister in the United Church of Canada, and Chair of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity, is a fresh voice in modern theology. She is blowing a blast of fresh air through hallowed portals. This is the essence of her view expressed in her first book: “With or Without God – why the way we live is more important than what we believe.”

Thus Michael characterises Gretta Vosper as ‘a blast of fresh air’ – a perfect storm perhaps, implying that the ‘hallowed portals’ (established churches) are theologically dusty places? (Can’t resist mentioning that Michael was an Anglican Vicar for 30 years). ‘Hallowed portals’ might remind us too of George Fox’s derisive remarks (not always in kindly tones) about ‘steeple houses’.

Michael continues quoting Vosper that ‘out of it all may be distilled a core that, very simply put, is love.’ and ‘The church the future needs is one of people gathering to share and recommit themselves to loving relationships with themselves, their families, the wider community, and the planet.’ Still not so very far then from those Quaker heretics of the 17th century.

‘why the way we live is more important than what we believe’ is a far cry from Christian orthodoxy, might be referred to (by some contemptuously) as ‘works righteousness’ whilst ‘With or without God’ leaves room for humanists, agnostics and non-theists too?

Finally Michael says ‘The core of what she is saying about prayer is to adapt the classic concepts of the acronym ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Supplication, and Thanksgiving, and use those concepts as secular spiritual activities. ACTS   – becomes Awe, Concerns, Thankfulness and Self-examination.’ This is a favourite theme of Michael’s as we shall see but as I haven’t read Greta Vosper’s work I’m not sure if Michael has derived this re-working of the acronym from her or interpreted Vosper to match his acronym – it would be interesting I think to know!

  1. Disagreeing about God. This is a longer article by Michael published originally in The Friend and I will refer you to it rather than trying to précis it here. A couple of points echo the article about Greta Vosper summarised above:

Michael quotes John Macmurray’s Swarthmore Lecture of 1965: “Faith no longer means the acceptance of an established creed or the assent to an authoritative system of doctrine. It recovers the original meaning of trust and fearless confidence; and this spirit of faith is expressed in a way of living which cares for one another and for the needs of all.” Search for Reality in Religion (Swarthmore Lecture 1965).

Michael then continues by discussing the *‘Whoosh Epistle’ of 2012 and comments:
‘Such is the context in which the theist/nontheist disagreement is aired in the pages of The Friend and elsewhere. I want to make a plea for a warmer spirit of mutual respect and understanding between Friends committed to either view, and for those who are not sure where they are in this debate.’
*This appears to have been quietly laid down? and is no longer available on quaker.org.uk (a cardinal web sin according to Tim Berners-Lee(1998)!)

He then describes his personal spiritual journey, 40 years an Anglican, many of them as priest, and then as a Quaker from 1998 with a developing move to a non-theist perspective.

He refers again to the ‘Whoosh Epistle’ and closes with:

‘Each of us is free to account for our experiences as we understand them. Each of us is free to explain them to others and to listen respectfully to their different perspectives. Can we recognise that there are many benefits in being part of a “rainbow coalition”? George Fox’s question – “What canst thou say?”- remains a challenge to us all.’

  1. Prayer beyond belief. Chelmsford NFN address: October 19. 2013. Whilst the two pieces considered above are 2 and three pages long, here we have, including notes, references and bibliography, a 19 page account of Michael’s NFN presentation to Chelmsford Friends. He visits all the subjects considered above in much greater detail and quotes A.N. Whitehead:‘Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development.’ (as far as I know, Whitehead wasn’t a Quaker! Trevor) and explains how this applies to Greta Vosper’s work.

Michael talks of a new paradigm for Christianity and considers ‘Five key elements’: The Bible; God; Jesus; Doctrine; Prayer

Under ‘God’, Michael says:

There is no agreement in history about who God is, and what is God’s nature. There are widely different perspectives among Jews, Christians, Moslems, among the Hindus of India, the Buddhists of Tibet, the Shinto of Japan, the Druids or Wicca of Britain, and the American First Nations. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and the Incasof South America had many gods – and I do not know of anyone nowadays who trusts or worships them.’ He then talks about Karen Armstrong’s work, Greta Vosper again and discusses the ‘Apophatic Tradition’.

Under ‘Prayer’ Michael returns to ACTS (AWE, CONCERNS, THANKFULNESS, SELF-RELFECTION) and considers these and related Quaker concepts in greater detail, matching them to our Advices and Queries.

That takes us to page 15 where Michael introduces ‘The spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Roman Catholic religious order the Society of Jesus’ (or the Jesuits). Pages 16-19 were handouts for the workshop but include a reading list and the thoughts ‘Godless prayer – impossible?’ and ‘Meeting for Worship – implausible for a nontheist?’

It has taken me 3 pages to review 30 pages of Michael’s but I hope they will encourage you to read and perhaps be inspired by the originals!

A place for nerds in the Society of Friends?

‘Neither and therefore no’ appeals to me. The rest of this post by Rhiannon, one of our two keynote speakers at last conference I found very moving, hence experimentally re- blogging it here.

Brigid, Fox, and Buddha

One of the questions asked in this year’s Spiritual Preparation for Yearly Meeting is:

  • Do you consider yourself to be ‘spiritual’, or an activist? Do you find the distinction helpful in considering your own journey and experiences?

My answer to this is: neither, and therefore, no.

When I picture an activist, I think of people who do things for which I don’t have the time, energy, or social skills. I do little bits of activism – the kind of things which get mocked in internet articles – like signing petitions, discussing politics with friends, and donating a bit of money now and again. I very rarely go to demonstrations, I almost never hand out leaflets, I’ve never been arrested, and the ways in which I’ve changed my life to bring it into accordance with my principles are mainly invisible. I’m often practical, but I’m by no means an activist.

When…

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Meeting your maker

Just a small contribution from my mobile phone in sunny Spain at 700 metres and 35 degrees.

As this is not a personal blog, I am/have been wary of posting anything too personal or idiosyncratic.
The NFN does not have a nominations group but every AGM invites members to join the steering group if they wish and we currently have an SG of about 12 – see the relevant page for details.
Clerk, treasurer, conference organisers etc. fall by mutual agreement (or discernment?) to those who volunteer. So I find myself our second web person although I have hoped that other members of the SG and interested members of the Network (who may not want to volunteer for the SG) might also become contributing posters or editors (please do come forward!). In the meantime anyone can contribute by posting comments.
And so, bearing in mind all the excellent (and personal and idiosyncratic) Quaker blogs out there, I thought I’d put a spanner in the works or a cat among the pigeons here by posting something personal in the hope of stimulating (provoking) further non- theist discussion.
I don’t suppose many non-theists have any difficulty with the expression (or concept of?) ‘meeting your maker’.
An older member of my meeting (90 next birthday) recently said he tells enquirers after what he is doing now that he is ‘waiting for God’. I remember many years ago my father sitting in his armchair telling me he was only ‘waiting to die’.
One thing all of us have in common, theists and non-theists, is that none of us is exactly sure what ‘meeting our maker’ will be like.
I suspect (perhaps hope) a sleep from which I never wake up, RIP, mere oblivion. On the other hand, if not re-incarnated as the nth Dalai Lama, perhaps as a ‘bull in Wisconsin’ (try the Internet).
I doubt if many theists think that heaven (or hell) is a jolly place to meet up with old friends, Friends or long lost relatives.
Some members of NFN, even the Steering Group, describe themselves as ‘theist non-theists’ (or vv.) or ‘differently godded’ so may have different concepts of what God (a God) is and that is surely true for theists. So when does God become not God? When does a theist become a non-theist? (Darwin went at least halfway after publishing ‘Origin of the species’).
At 71 and for various health reasons I may be thinking about death more than is good for me. In some ways life is less precious because there’s not enough time left and I have so many regrets for things not done. On the other hand I can be grateful for each extra day granted not knowing whether I might fall under a bus tomorrow or struggle on for another 25 years.
If God is just a name we give to love, fate, eternity, the universe or the power that creates, sustains and destroys the universe or life itself, it would be nice to know before I depart this mortal coil to substitute another phrase for meeting my maker.
I look forward to your theistic, non-theistic, enthusiastic or morbidly Melancholic responses.
Trevor as web-person, agent provocateur.

Discussion by Rhiannon Grant, David Boulton and others on Ministry etc.

‘Is it irresponsible to claim that spoken ministry comes from God?’
A fascinating and subtle post on Rhiannon Grant’s blog with discussion and comments by Rhiannon, David Boulton and others about where ministry in Meeting for worship comes from and perhaps the existence and nature of God/Goddess.

Brigid, Fox, and Buddha

(Extract) At the Nontheist Friends Network conference, in the questions and discussion after my talk, a friend asked about my approach to ministry. Most of the question was about how we understand ministry in meeting for worship, but along the way he raised a very interesting point – he said (and I paraphrase here, but hope that his point is clear and made in terms he would accept) that he wouldn’t want to claim that his spoken ministry came from anywhere but himself, because so much damage is done in the world by other people who claim that their instructions come from God…..

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QRB status minuted at Steering Group meeting in York

A meeting of the NFN Steering Group was held at Friargate Meeting House, York, yesterday 6th July 2017.

Further details will follow but it was minuted, amongst other items, that:

  • “7. Being a Quaker Recognised Body

Michael Wright has read to us the advantages of being a Quaker Recognised Body. We are pleased to learn that we need not restrict our membership to Quaker members and attenders. We ask Trevor to put our QRB status on our website.”

This recognition from being formerly a ‘Listed Quaker Group’ was approved by Meeting for Sufferings in April of this year.

The SG Meeting also confirmed the date and topic of next year’s annual conference and AGM at Woodbrooke as being from 9th – 11th March 2018 on ‘Quakers in 2033? Where are we heading?’
It was further agreed and minuted that the cost of the conference to participants in 2018 will be subsidised from our reserves at £199 per head to encourage attendance which we hope will exceed the 40 rooms to be provisionally booked. (The subsidy being approximately £25 per head and the net cost to participants £199).