Telling the truth for Quakers

We know this stuff. It is hard, but not complicated. It is part of our spiritual practice, and in our most precious writings:

Our diversity invites us both to speak what we know to be true in our lives and to learn from others. Friends are encouraged to listen to each other in humility and understanding, trusting in the Spirit that goes beyond our human effort and comprehension… Are you following Jesus’ example of love in action? …

Take time to learn about other people’s experiences of the Light. Remember the importance of the Bible, the writings of Friends and all writings which reveal the ways of God. As you learn from others, can you in turn give freely from what you have gained? While respecting the experiences and opinions of others, do not be afraid to say what you have found and what you value. Appreciate that doubt and questioning can also lead to spiritual growth and to a greater awareness of the Light that is in us all.

Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit. Reach for the meaning deep within it, recognising that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others… Do you welcome the diversity of culture, language and expressions of faith in our yearly meeting and in the world community of Friends? Seek to increase your understanding and to gain from this rich heritage and wide range of spiritual insights…

Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect?

We know all this. Love is the heart of it. Listen in Love, speak the truth as best you can. I am very protective of my eye. I do not like things near it. It matters a lot. Yet I notice that the eye is a robust organ, not easy to damage, though it is sensitive and complex. In the same way without meeting for worship we would be impoverished, perhaps disabled, but it is robust.

We know what to do. Listen patiently and seek the truth. Reach for the meaning. Give freely, say what you have found and what you value. Recognise the beautiful humanity of the people around you. Do all this in Love and humility. Then we receive the blessings of our Friends.

Possibly we think it should be easier than it is. Possibly we do not realise how badly hurt we are or how threatened we feel. Possibly we do not realise the effect our words may have.

Possibly, the first time we hear an uncomfortable view it drops, like a bomb, into a conversation we found congenial until that moment. My buttons are pressed, and I withdraw. I want that sense of being with people like me which I can gain from denying their true strangeness or enforcing certain rules about what must not be said. So, one Meeting quotes the Bible all the time, another does not possess a copy, and members of one might be uncomfortable in the other.

Rhiannon Grant’s book “Telling the truth about God” addresses Quakers hearing each other specifically about the words we use for our spiritual experiences. Frameworks can be useful. We have meetings for learning. We take lots of time to hear why one Friend values one idea of God, or of what our spiritual experience is. We recognise the difficulties our ideas can cause, so we find ways in. I like her exercise placing words for God or spirit on a piece of paper, according to which we would always, sometimes or never use. Different people will put the same word in different places, then share why. Ideally that will unearth the hurt in a safe space, where others will take time to hear it and express sympathy. Then at least the hurt will not be renewed.

“We usually find ourselves richer for our differences,” said Baltimore YM, when the separate Orthodox and Hicksite YMs reunited. Yet the differences remain, and we fear that we will lose out. How can people respect my view, if they accept its opposite? And these views are mutually exclusive. That fear, and sense of difference, are the “seeds of war”. Can we calm our own fears, making sure we do not fear anything which is unlikely or would not really be harmful? Can we separate out our ego and desire for respect that is not due, or safety that is not possible? Can we trust the process?

My Friend said you did not always need the business method- not, in her usual example, for deciding the colour of the meeting house door. But if you can’t use it for that, you can’t use it for anything. Different people might have strong opinions. We listen to each other and follow God’s loving purposes- not because God wants a particular colour in the abstract, but a colour which fits our community.

In due humility I set aside my ego-desires, for a desire for the good of all. I use my judgment, but apply it for good, or God, not my own purposes. I am not hiding any part of myself for a quiet life, but present in my full humanity. I let go of demands that the world be other than it is. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

In our own difficult issue, a Friend suggested we get together to “share our hurts”. I don’t want to share my hurts. I have been to too many benefits tribunals, where some hapless claimant states how painful they find it to walk forty yards, and is challenged and often disbelieved. Quakers might feel good supporting the underdog, but I want my contribution recognised, not my hurt. I do not want your sympathy, I do not want a saviour, I want others to work with me for the common good, including my needs.

Threshing, I would rather share my hopes and fears. The reason I want particular action is because it will make the world a better place, as far as we can. Some will be reasonable predictions of likely outcomes and some will be paranoid.

My desires include the good of my Friends and the wider community. Sharing desires may show what we have in common, and bring us together; it may help each understand the differences between us and get a richer understanding of the Good.

My beliefs are the foundation on which these hopes, fears and desires are built. Exposing them can correct them. There is an understanding in me, wordless, which may be my Light; I want my verbal formulations to approximate to the truth it perceives, and together we find the best words.

My sympathies are with Friends even where I disagree. If our differences are magnified, the chances of hurt and disagreement increase. Sympathies bring out all we have in common. We show how we care for each other.



This is my favourite space in Wellingborough. Note the mullioned window on the left, from the 17th century. There are mullioned windows behind the photographer. A planning department would rarely consent to a modern extension on a 17th century building like this, but they must have been inspired by the beauty of it. I love the way the room moves between centuries, gradually with no one point where the change happens. I love the harmony of old and new. I even love the lavatory- not something one says often, though there was a pub in Edinburgh where the urinal was mirrored metal covering the whole wall, down which water flowed constantly, and which was such an attraction that women would go in to see it.

I love the lavatory, because it breaks the oblong of the room, and creates that nook where I can sit between the mullioned windows and the new windows to our right through the thick old wall; under that beam, which is in keeping with both the old and new parts of the room, in cosy darkness despite the brilliance of the light through the glass wall on the white interior. There there is a couch beside a table with a grungy, even cyberpunk feel about it, the heavy rough square wood, the large metal brackets and pins. And the further corner is lovely too, glass walls behind and to both sides, glass roof above, which opens to cool the space in Summer, looking down to the 17th century part, or across the grass and through the trees to the old church.

Upstairs, away from the noise of the coffee machines, is restful; or one may sit outside in Summer sunshine.

Outside bewiched

Safety harness

In which I demonstrate the efficacy and necessity of a safety harness.

dome pin

With friends to erect the Geodesic dome. I thought we could build the top section first, and do lower circles later, but not with these steel units. Each pins to the next hexagon or pentagon with two pins to each side. Mark, whose dome it is, does construction professionally but made the dome as a hobby. He is generous with encouragement, enthusing about our contribution. “Are you happy to climb?” Yes. Yes, I am.

It has been raining, and the segments are slippery. In walking boots, my foot will be still at the join, but not in the middle. The lowest strip has been assembled already, and I climb up with Mark to put the next row on top, aligning the loops to let the pins drop in. I have a belt to hold pins, and a long strip of metal to hammer them in.

The next row is easy enough. Andrew and Tim hand us up the segments, and we pin them in. The following row we have to lift the segments into position. I notice how I compare myself with Mark. It is his dome, and he has erected it several times, and yet I want to be putting as many pins as he. I am pushing myself. At that point, the rain has stopped. The lower segments are dry, and my foot will not slip placed on the middle of the pole. You can get into a rhythm, stepping up the middle, hand holds easily reached.

We have a short break. It is raining again. The poles get slippery, but we hope to continue. Now, we have to hold the segment above the half way point, as that is its centre of gravity. Mark is doing most of the work. I struggle, now in a safety harness, clipping and unclipping it. It gets in the way, holding me below where I need to be. Working together, we can get the loops in line to put the pins in, but it is so frustrating when they are not quite aligned or slip out of the way. Segments just off the ground are wet from the wet grass, and my boot slips.

Down I go. I am hanging a short way above the ground, with a graze, scratch and spectacular bruising on my bicep, shouting.

Mark holds two pins to the scratch, to cool it down. I could hold them myself, but I am just happy to be valued, to have this sign of care for me.

After lunch, I went up again with Mark and Andrew.

-How do you feel about climbing again?
-I would like to do it, but have no particular thing to prove, and am not attached to it.

However, I really want to go up again. Now, the segments are leaning inwards at a sharp angle. We have to bear their weight as we pin them in. Andrew, climbing for the first time, is a lot faster than me. The belt carrying the pins is very heavy. Before we finish the final row, I have to come down, nearly weeping with frustration.

I have learned a lot from this, of how I am. I was comparing myself to a man, who should be far better than me at this task, and pushing myself near to exhaustion: I could barely clamber round the segments before I came down, and was still ashamed to descend before the last row was complete. That shame means that I won’t stop until I am dangling on the end of a rope(!) and also punishes me with misery, where I could reasonably be proud.

The thing I learned about you is you are a really hard worker, said Jude. Some might see that as patronising; I was glad of it. I have been thinking, since, of being so driven, which has caused me to stop. I could, perhaps, notice the achievement.

Covering the dome