Tag Archives: David Boulton

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 @).

 

David Boulton’s talk tonight – don’t miss it!

Viewing the video on Wittgenstein posted by Rhiannon Grant in the course materials for ’Nontheist Approaches to Religious Language’ led me to view 2 short video clips about Wittgenstein on youtube from Don Cupitt’s 1984 TV series and then to listen to this:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00036kp Giles Fraser (1984 – ‘a passionate atheist’ – later Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral – thanks to Cupitt perhaps) on Don Cupitt and the TV series ’The Sea of Faith’. (28 minute radio programme). A very interesting and, I think, fairly balanced assessment of Don Cupitt’s work.
Don Cupitt was one of our speakers at NFN Conference in 2012 (10 years ago!) and a post from 2017 (Five years on) says:
“Our 3 speakers then were Philip Gross, Quaker poet from Wales; Don Cupitt from the ‘Sea of Faith’ and James Riemermann from Twin Cities Friends Meeting, St. Paul, Minnesota. I (Trevor) remember this conference very well and how James’ presentation of ‘coming out’ as a ‘non-theist’ in his meeting moved me to tears. A search for ‘Riemermann’ on the Twin Cities’ website reveals a multitude of papers including this interesting piece on Theological Diversity from 2009.”

Giles Fraser is an interesting maverick, perhaps a little like Cupitt, apparently voted Conservative (for Brexit) in 2019 though saying at about the same time: “all my political energy has been a reaction to Margaret Thatcher. I hated and continue to hate Thatcherism with a passion that remains undimmed”, and having resigned as Canon Chancellor in 2011 as a result of refusing to sanction using force to remove Occupy London (remember that?) from outside the cathedral.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giles_Fraser
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Cupitt

That’s a warm up, I hope, for our 10th Creative Conversation presented tonight by David Boulton on ‘Friends and the Secular World’. Don’t miss it!

 

John Richter’s talk – some thoughts on the challenge

John Richter’s talk on Thursday evening did not feature his work as an artist but proved to be a provoking challenge to Quakers today, non-theist or not, to perhaps change the way we approach things if we are not (in terms of membership) to continue in terminal decline.
John’s ideas might have been unconventional after 60 years a Quaker, perhaps still feeling ‘On the Edge of Quakers’, but drew out a lively conversation of different or opposing views amongst those present (about 82 for the talk).
Our own William P(urser) closed the conversation at the very end with this from a somewhat earlier William P(enn):

“True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it… Christians should keep the helm and guide the vessel to its port; not meanly steal out at the stern of the world and leave those that are in it without a pilot to be driven by the fury of evil times upon the rock or sand of ruin”. (QF&P 23.02) William Penn 1682.

One of John’s suggestions (in relation to his own somewhat declining meeting at Wells-next-the-Sea (Norfolk, England)) was, weather permitting, to leave the doors open so anyone might wander in during the meeting and for people to join or leave the meeting at times to suit themselves – a practice also followed by Friends 340 years ago and indeed in the Sikh Gurudwara today. (In both cases much longer ‘meetings for worship’ – perhaps 3-4 hours amongst 17th century Quakers and sunrise to sunset amongst Sikhs).

Meetings often have a copy of the Bible, Quaker Faith and Practice (The book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain – the ‘big red book’), Advices and Queries (the ‘little red book’ being Chapter 1 of QF&P) and sometimes other books or leaflets on the table, with a vase of flowers, in the centre of the meeting. Piers thought that visitors or newcomers to a meeting find this off-putting if the Bible and ‘Christian discipline’ have negative associations for them. But, we are the Religious Society of Friends and there were contributions from those who disliked the associations of ‘Spiritual’ whilst others might want to emphasise ’the Society’ (of which you can be a member – ’socio’ in Spanish) at the expense of ‘Religious’. Tom Shakespeare the 2020 Swarthmore Lecturer (https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/research/swarthmore-lectures/) expressed a preference for ‘Religious not Spiritual’, doubtful about those who say they are ’Spiritual not religious’ and the associations of ’Spiritual’ with ‘New Age’ spirituality and perhaps ’Spiritualism’.

However, Jesus said: Mark 3.28-9 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (New Revised Standard Version).
And as the Nontheist Friends Network, our online conference in 2021 was entitled ’That’s the Spirit – Dimensions of Spirituality’
(https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/ ) which included an impassioned talk on Humanist (or secular) Spirituality.by Andrew Copson of Humanists UK. See also https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/articles/the-faith-of-a-quaker-humanist/#Spirituality

John posed two questions at the end of his talk for the group to consider:
1 What is the purpose of Quakers?
a John’s 4-word answer was “to explore religion together” and
b He asked us to respond with our four-word answers.
2 To flourish as a society we need to make ourselves meaningful to ourselves and to people who might join. What do we need to change?

Howard answered the first with (5 words perhaps) “to have our answers questioned”. Whilst this was drawn from some Quaker pamphlet or notice and makes a nice ‘sound-bite’, I strongly suspect that many would like their questions answered too – I know I would.

John especially wanted to emphasise the open-ness of Quakers and the open ended search for truth which has evolved from the 17th century when Friends felt they had the ‘Truth’ and while this latter claim might still be true in terms of ‘the spirit within’, the ‘inner light’, the ‘Christ within’ and so on, nonetheless we recognise that there are different kinds of truth (for example scientific truth, historical truth, spiritual truth, ‘the facts’, your truth and my truth – what is true for you is not necessarily true for me, and so on) and Friends ask ‘Are you open to new light , from whatever source it may come?’ (Advices and Queries no. 7) (Some Friends question ‘from whatever source’?).

So we see that your answers may indeed be questioned but our ‘queries’ often constitute implicit ‘advice’. We can question and seek but we can also find, or perhaps that’s ‘discern’ in ‘quakerspeak’. We no longer (as Quakers did in the 17th century) go out of our way to attack or challenge ‘Puritans’ (Evangelicals?) or Papists and indeed many of us now find wisdom from the (Western) Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions too, even if we rather specialise in being unorthodox or heretical. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heresy for a good overview of heresy). The great majority of Quakers in the world, in the Americas and Africa in particular, are members of evangelical or programmed meetings with quite different worship practices and beliefs from most ‘unprogrammed’ Quakers in meetings like BYM. Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC – https://fwcc.world/about-us/) by and large succeeds in uniting all the different sorts of Quakers into one ‘family’ with a common heritage and willingness to see beyond differences and work together to ‘mend the world’.

John had himself suggested some ideas for change in his talk and these included the above-mentioned openness (even open doors) and focussing on being a society of Friends rather than a church (building or meeting) and not making silence our creed – that is to say emphasising the importance of spoken ministry and attentive ‘listening’ to what might come to us during the silence. Other Friends present emphasised the importance of friendship and being meetings of friends – doing things together, socialising together as well as to ‘live better in the world, and be excited in their endeavours to mend it’. Whilst there were disagreements and differences of emphasis, many of these came down to different language: spiritual not religious or v.v, society v. church and meeting v. church. The development of language about ‘God’ – or ‘whatever you call it’ is particularly demanding: God is real or a metaphor, ‘theist’ or ’nontheist’ might be a continuum rather than either/or – see, for example, ‘God, words and us’ – https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/?s=God%2C+words+and+us

Whether you were present at John’s talk or not, please let us have your comments and thoughts below!

 

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/

 

Feedback and reflections on NFN MfW&CC 1 April 2021

Trevor (NFN web person): I hope other Friends will contribute to these reflections.
I received an email this morning from Humanists UK which began: ‘Dear Trevor, You and I are not religious’.

I replied to say: ‘ ‘You and I are not religious’ not a reasonable assumption.
There are many religious humanists.
See David Boulton ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist’ at https://qug.org.uk under pamphlets.
Not even reasonable for British Humanists to be so determinably anti-religious!’
https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-26/

(Except the spell-checker didn’t like ‘determinably’ and rendered it ‘determinable’ – never mind, I suppose I meant ‘determinedly’.)

Some attending the NFN MfW with creative conversation presentation by William Purser last night commented that they too were in some sense ‘religious humanists’ or that they were uncomfortable with some humanists’ anti-religious activities and that the value (and values?) of religions or religious groups should not be sniffed at.

I suppose that must include ourselves as members of or Friends of ’The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain’ (or elsewhere).

The meeting was well attended with Friends from right across the UK as well as a few from the USA and I think Africa and possibly elsewhere. (Please let us know!).

We thank William for his presentation ‘Fox to Opium via Marx….?’. I think William intended to be provocative or at least to provoke some thoughts and reflection in the following ‘creative conversation’ which it certainly did. (It’s perhaps not quite ‘worship sharing’ but not ‘discussion’ although some Friends obviously felt the urge to move in that direction – even debate or Q&A!).

Likewise, I intend to be provocative here or, I hope, to provoke further reflections and conversation (by these people, right here, now on this website as Harvey Gillman might have said).

One participant asked ‘what brought us all to this nontheist meeting, which we are not getting from our own local meetings?’ and (another?) ‘unity or what unites us is more important than anything that might divide us’ – religion, politics or economics for example?

It seems that quite a few of us do identify as ‘humanist’ in some sense, some as atheist, some as ’nontheist’ and some as ‘theist’,  while some thought that any differences between theist/nontheist weren’t even worth talking about.

From my own experience of NFN Friends, conferences and the Steering Group over 10 years, I’m sure there is quite a wide range of views or beliefs held but that all take comfort from our practice in Meeting for Worship and Quaker social activism (which includes political matters and ideas about the need for a ’new economics’).

Have I captured some ‘sense of the Meeting’ and have I been sufficiently provocative, at least not to induce yawns or snores??

(I had intended to put in a whole lot of hypertext links but I’ll assume you can all use ‘duck, duck go’ instead). https://duckduckgo.com/

We did this time have a final 20 minutes in breakout rooms after the meeting and it would be interesting to hear of any feedback (respecting privacy) from those groups. In total I believe we had about 95 attending the meeting and about half remained for the final chat in the breakout rooms at the end. My own area meeting (East Cheshire, near Stockport/Manchester) was quite well represented with at least 4 of us attending and there were two of us in my breakout group. At least one person in the main conversation had commented that men had tended to dominate the contributions a bit and that was true at first in our breakout group (I think there were 4 men and 4 women in that group. I didn’t notice what the overall balance was in the main meeting and I hope my binary reference is acceptable).

At the previous meeting with presentation by John Senior on 4 March there was quite a bit of feedback on the ‘Chat’. This time the Chat was disabled because some people apparently thought it was distracting. I on the other hand thought it was a useful additional channel of communication between participants including the organisers and a means of clarifying items not heard well.
What do you think?

Helen Gilbert on the Facebook group (link below) commented:
Tim (Regan), I enjoyed the Zoom meeting and talk, it would have been lovely to have been able to thank people by written message as I am not always able to get a good connection to speak or be seen. I know having ‘chat messages’ running along side a speaker and discussion can be a bit distracting but it can be helpful if your connection is poor (as I use an underpowered Chrome Book or for those using phones). Would it be possible for the message function to be turned on even if it is for 10 mins at the end just so the speaker and yourself can be thanked?

Comments on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1631439757083868:
Helen Gilbert
I really enjoyed the second of the Non Theist Network meetings for ‘worship’ tonight with an interesting talk on whether religion is the ‘opium of the people’. It was interesting to consider also any links between Jesus and Marx, in the discussion group afterwards. I find myself thinking that for me the link between them is that they were both motivated by compassion and love for those in need, and the motivation and reputation of both have very debatably been damaged by their ‘followers’. Thanks to the NTN for an interesting talk and debate.

Gabi Clayton
Thanks for today. I look forward to the next one.

(See additional comment from the Facebook group under Comments below).

We all now look forward to the next meeting on 6 May: Philip Gross, The language of poetry, and creative uses of the word ‘God’

March 2021 newsletter and website updates

An excellent March 2021 newsletter edited by David Boulton was emailed out to NFN members on 22 February and has been added to the website today. (You will find it under ‘Articles-Newsletters’).
(And do have a browse of past articles on that Articles page).

Further speakers and dates have been added to our new ‘Meeting for worship and Creative Conversations‘ programme. (that link just returns you to the homepage, correct at this time, but sometime in the future you might have to look for that page elsewhere).

For feedback and to comment on the first meeting on 4 March, see that post.

Other changes to the website include the addition of ‘Google translate’ for overseas visitors and a ‘flag counter’ (right hand column) some months ago which shows that we have had over 1000 UK visitors, 700 US visitors and over 300 from 45 other countries since last October (5 months). I’m not sure what to make of that!

Feedback and reflections on NFN MfW&CC 4 March 2021

As mentioned elsewhere in Comments, and as one of over 85 participants, I thought for a first attempt on zoom it went rather well tonight.  This seems like an excellent place for some ‘fizz’ (or is it ‘phys’, snap, crackle and pop?) on the website.

I would like to invite all present at the meeting tonight to offer their feedback, reflections, queries, suggestions and comments here on the website. (Please comment or ‘Leave a reply’ below – comments will appear within 24 hours or so after moderation).

I would like to set the ball rolling by congratulating John Senior on what I thought was an excellent presentation drawn from mainly familiar sources, for provoking much thought, comment and reflection and for being delightfully short, leaving more time for those contributions from many.

Your comments here might include further reflection, references OR comments and suggestions on technical matters and organisation.

We have already had 3 comments (ahead of the meeting) on timing (answered in the comments). One attendee tonight would have liked to start a little earlier whereas I thought a little later (after the children have gone to bed? – see those comments).

There will never be a perfect timing – always inconvenient for somebody and I’m sure the working group will want to leave that as it is at least for the next 3 months tho’ perhaps that can be looked at in the future.

Some people struggled a bit with zoom but that gets easier with practice and I’d suggest people who want to speak, unmute themselves first, whilst keeping quiet and then be ready to speak when invited.  Not quite in the spirit of ‘worship sharing’ but some people obviously felt confident to say or answer something very briefly by interjecting. (Please don’t do that to hold the floor!).  Otherwise as Mackenzie (University Friends Meeting, USA) advised: For anyone looking for the “Raise Hand” button, you might find it under “Reactions” (new zoom) or under Participants (old zoom). (And once raised an option changes to remove raised hand).

For the same Mackenzie, the website I was referring to for Michael Wright’s article on prayer was of course THIS Website! See under ‘Articles’ and scroll down for several articles by Michael which include ‘Prayer beyond belief‘ where Michael deals with ‘The Bible; God; Jesus; Doctrine; and Prayer’ and the section on prayer is a substantial part of the article although he mentions other points relevant to our conversations tonight.

Another suggestion made in the meeting was to have breakout meetings next time for smaller groups (and giving more people time to say something – 8 supporters) whereas others preferred to keep it as one whole group. In some ways, though it might be a bit of a technical burden on the hosts, it might be possible to combine both, with those who want smaller groups to be allocated to say upto half a dozen breakout rooms at random leaving those who prefer ‘a big session’ together in the main room for the others to rejoin at will.  That would certainly be an experiment but it might work.

I will finish with a few quotes from the chat transcription, including references and John’s texts and then it’s over to YOU to continue the conversation if you will.

John Senior Llanidloes to Everyone : Texts quoted:
A&Q 1 & 3
F&P 19.04, George Fox, 1648
F&P 19.07, George Fox, 1652
*George Fox’s letter to Lady Elizabeth Claypole, 1658
F&P 21.65, James Nayler
*William Penn in ‘No Cross, no Crown’, 1682
F&P 26.12, Geoffrey Hubbard, 1974
F&P 20.06 Philip Rack, 1979
*These items should be available online
*Here is the extract from Fox’s letter to Lady Elizabeth Catchpole (Oliver Cromwell’s second daughter) in 1658 quoted in part by John: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/fox_g/autobio.xvii.html#fnf_xvii-p17.1
Elizabeth died later the same year aged 29 and her father died later the same year.
*Here is William Penn’s ‘No Cross, no Crown’:
https://www.gospeltruth.net/Penn/nocrossnocrownIndex.htm
I don’t know if John might provide the quote he used?
John has now provided the text of his presentation and it is available here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/news/john-senior/

From Mackenzie (she/her) University Friends Meeting, USA to Everyone : From North Pacific Yearly Meeting’s F&P (3rd Ed, p.19 – p32 of pdf a 303 page 6Mb document) on nontheist Friends: A number of Friends in NPYM do not believe in the existence of a deity. This perspective cannot be described fully in a few words. Many nontheist Friends live in awe and wonder of the world, feel deep and mysterious connection to people and nature, and are convinced of the infinite sanctity of life. Nontheist Friends share strong callings to service, to the mystery and power of the gathered meeting, and to the importance of community in spiritual growth. Nontheists are warmly welcomed and valued as members of our Friends meetings. (see also http://www.nontheistfriends.org/ our Friends in the USA)

From Michael Boulton in BC Canada to Everyone : For me Quaker Worship is an act of Listening, being open to promptings wherever it comes. It is not noise of profession, but is of active listening, silencing all noise from inside and the external world.

From Enna to Everyone : Can I ask, do you feel comfortable using the phrase: “holding you in the light” instead of “praying for you”
And if so, how does what was said earlier about the light being a luminosity experienced during our stillness, relate to this phrase? or is it a different meaning.

From Gisela Creed to Everyone : I just say: thinking of you with all my heart.

From Pat Blackheath SELAM to Everyone : A good question. Are we humanists? or ?  (David Boulton a principal founder of NFN who was with us tonight wrote for the Quaker Universalist Group in 1997 ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘)

From Helen to Everyone : I hope we have not let go of the possibility of mystical experiences in the silence from whatever the source or attribution it is given either internal or external, for me listening in the silence is the experience that matters, but even though I identify as non-theist I have felt great feeling so love and joy in the silence that felt mystical. I do not know how to pray or hold others in the light except to feel love for them or send love to them in my thoughts so I hope that suffices!

From Paul to Everyone : Jesus lived 2000 years ago and the Buddha lived 2,500 years ago or so and we find their ideas helpful so George Fox is fairly recent in comparison.

I have included above a selection of chat comments with names and hope that is acceptable. I could put the whole transcript (as I got it) on the website for those who didn’t save it but that would involve having everyone (who contributed)’s names there so it might be better to email the clerk if you didn’t and would like a copy.

Now it’s my bedtime too and it really is over to you to continue with any appropriate comments below. (If there are a lot, I won’t respond to all, but you too can help by responding too – Creative Conversations!)

History of the NFN – 2

Here’s a second instalment of early NFN history.

This also serves as a bit of a tour around the site: visit our articles page and hit the link to newsletters ‘at bottom of page’ https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/articles/  where you will see newsletters from 2013-14 and onwards (direct link: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/articles/#newsletters ). If you then scroll up a little, you will find our many articles starting from 2013 – 6 articles or talks from 2013 by Sarah Richards, Michael Wright, Jean Wardrop and Paul Bates on Discernment, Gretta Vosper, Continuing Revelation, Prayer, God and Quaker Diversity – well worth reading from those ‘early days’ even 7 years later – do have a look and continue exploring!

On our American Friends site, there is an article by Miriam Yagud – one of the founders of NFN in the UK – on a gathering in Canterbury in 2011: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/getting-beyond-the-words-nontheist-friends-network-at-britain-yearly-meeting-gathering-canterbury-2011
You can also explore that site further and have a look at their list of Contributors articles: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/contributors

Now, we need a similar list of contributors here and you can sign up to be a contributor (with a free wordpress.com account) OR submit an article by writing to me and pasting it into the Comment box on our Contacts page here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/contact/
I think that should keep you all busy for a bit, and I look forward to hearing further from you (or just leave a comment below).
Trevor Bending