One Quaker's view archives
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Compiled by Liz McLeod-Taepa and Jan Marsh
By Jan Marsh
By Jan Marsh
By Jan Marsh
By Jan Marsh
By Emily Provance
By Jim Batson
By Jan Marsh
By Peter Donovan
By Jan Marsh
By Jan Marsh
By Jan Marsh
By Marian Clement
By Christine Gillespie
By Lawrence Carter
By Christine Gillespie
By Peter Donovan
By Jan Marsh
By Jim Batson
By Christine Gillespie
By Lawrence Carter
By Jan Marsh
Meditations on kindness and compassion.
Compiled by Liz McLeod-Taepa and Jan Marsh
February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. These meditations focus on the importance of kindness and compassion in our daily lives - in our families, at work, in the supermarket.
Compiled for discussion at Summer Gathering 2019/2020, we give you two of those here, one from Te Ao Maori, the other from Kristin Neff, academic and blogger.
1. Aroha: Unconditional love that is derived from the presence and the breath of The Godhead.
Aroha is an important concept in regard to the survival and true strength of whanaungatanga (kinship ties, extended family across all universes). It is a quality that is essential for the survival and total well-being of the world community. It is a pillar of life from AIO (the Godhead, Divine Parents).
Aroha is not to be talked about, it is only meaningful when actioned. Human needs, the human element, are more important than material possessions. For example, one has started saving money to buy a new car, and then something happens to a member of the family or tribe that requires finance in regard to personal strife such as illness, death or the threat of losing an ancestral home, one does not hesitate to hand over whatever money has been saved up, to help out. Caring for people and sharing is also quite commonplace for Maori people who have retained the traditions of old. Example: an uncle of the author adopted twenty two children. While he did not have much finance he made good use of the natural resources on ancestral land. He was a tiller of the soil and a wonderful conservationist. His children learnt about the importance of sharing their aroha with the trees, the birds, the fish and their earth mother Papatuanuku.
The pressures of urban living can sometimes make this concept more difficult to uphold. Where there is aroha, however, individual differences and cultural diversity are to be found enriching and exciting. Each person respecting and caring for the other engenders a climate of goodwill and support.
Evil or negative forces cannot flourish where absolute aroha reigns. In a climate of aroha the psyche, the spirit of a person can soar to great heights. Aroha is truly a divine love because it knows no bounds, and is infinite.
From Te Wheke Dr Rangimarie Turuki Pere Ao Ako Global Learning NZ 1991
1. How would you translate Aroha into English?
2. Is it a concept that transcends culture?
3. How does it manifest in your life?
2. Kindness to ourselves
Kristin Neff is an academic with a strong interest in moral development and mindfulness. She writes extensively about compassion and especially self-compassion, which is another way of saying kindness to ourselves. The following is taken from her writing and her website self-compassion.org.
With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we'd give to a good friend. When you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realise that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. “There but for fortune go I.”
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?
The three elements of self-compassion are:
1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgement: being gentle with yourself rather than angry or critical
2. Common humanity vs. Isolation: this is the human condition, to fail or suffer at times
3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification: a sense of perspective rather than being caught up in the problem
Here is an exercise in self-compassion:
1. First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about him or herself or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation (especially when you’re at your best)? Note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.
2. Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Note the tone in which you talk to yourself.
3. Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
4. What might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering?
Christmas Advice: every day is sacred
by Jan Marsh
We wish each other a peaceful and happy Christmas and for many it will be. Family gatherings, shared food and presents, laughter and fun. Beach picnics are being planned.
But the lead up is already getting stressful. On a minor personal level I have caused and been the victim of parking rage - as I reversed to avoid a collision with someone backing out of a parking space, I frightened a pedestrian who was walking behind my car. He banged on the roof and opened my car door to shout at me. Startled, I shouted back! Not at all peaceful.
On a world scale there are heart-breaking tragedies in many places. And those are the ones which reach us in the news. There will be many more where people are living in quiet desperation.
And for some the holiday time holds bad memories, often for reasons to do with family violence. If that's you, you are welcome to avoid Christmas as far as you can and to stop reading right now. I wish you whatever form of peaceful self-care works best for you.
For most of us December becomes a time of cramming in extra work, end of year social events, shopping in crowded places to buy presents, then queuing in the Post Office to send the parcels and, on top of it all, making holiday plans. What are we to do?
Start by staying calm and be tolerant - we are all in the same boat, everyone feels rushed. If possible, stay out of car parks! I find I need to make quiet time for myself, gardening or reading, to withdraw from the bustle of Christmas build-up. I may not go to all the events that are on and its good to remember that I can see my friends in January too - it doesn't all have to be crammed into the two weeks before Christmas.
Simplify and make the day a happy gathering but not the culmination of weeks of stress. Perfection is not required. Love is. We are lucky in New Zealand that the summer weather makes a barbecue or a beach picnic possible. Ask extended family members to bring food to contribute, which shares both the work and also the pleasure of providing food. Most people will put a lot of thought into the one dish they bring and a meal of carefully prepared dishes can be a feast.
Christmas and New Year are traditionally times of excessive drinking which makes it a good time to remember the harm alcohol can do and choose to be moderate. There is a variety of enjoyable non-alcoholic drinks which have the bonus of being cheaper than wine or beer.
Be present. Your kind attention is a gift in itself. Take some time to play with the children who will want to share and enjoy their presents, or talk to an elderly relative, perhaps someone who needs you to be patient with their hearing loss or other disability. Have an all-ages game of cricket. Give home-made vouchers for gardening time or a quiet lunch together after the busy season settles down. Offer to buy the present together, perhaps in the January sales, when a shopping trip might be more fun.
Remember its only one day. For many people the build-up creates such high expectations and overwrought emotions that the aftermath is a come down and can even be depressing.
Every other day of our lives is just as important as Christmas Day and is just as much an opportunity to be loving, generous and attentive to others in our lives. In other words, celebrate life and be the best of ourselves most of the time, take the pressure off Christmas.
Winter - a tough time for a fair-weather Friend
by Jan Marsh
I'm a fair weather friend – I always feel better on a sunny day. Winter can be tough, with the cold weather and short days keeping me indoors too much. The garden lies dormant so there is little to do there and no motivation to be out in a chill wind.
Our winters are not really that hard. A few frosts, snow on the mountains across the bay, a cold wind blowing up from Antarctica some days and sometimes grey, rainy stretches. Most days we will see the sun – cheerful, even if not very warm. But for many years I got a bit depressed during the winter, especially when I was at work full-time, leaving the house in darkness and returning in darkness. I felt very shut in and badly needed the walk I regularly took at lunchtime to get a coffee and spend a few minutes reading the paper in a cafe, just to feel connected to the outside world.
Fortunately, my love of swimming gives me an all-weather form of exercise although I do miss the outdoor pool where I swim during the summer, often with a 50 metre lane all to myself. At summer's end, I have to adjust to the crowds at the indoor pool but I still love to swim and make sure I do so three times a week. I also have a few hardy friends who will walk in most weathers, so I fit in a social walk at least once a week, often with a cup of coffee to follow. I'm happy to walk by myself too, especially if I can take advantage of a sunny hour now and then. And since my friend and coach taught me to run 'injury-free' as he put it, I aim to run once a week. That's not really often enough to improve but I still enjoy it. That's the exercise taken care of and I'm sure it helps a lot in getting through the winter.
I've also learned to plan for the long periods of time indoors. I have friends who are keen knitters so I took some advice from them and picked up a skill I had hardly used since I was a child. My first project was a patchwork rug for my grandson, a task shared with my daughter, sisters and mother. We all made some squares which I stitched together and my sister knitted an edging around it. We were pleased with the result and he still has it. After that I went on to cot blankets which I donated to the young parents' school, a place for parents and their babies to continue their education in a classroom near where I live. I added a few beanies and hoped they would be good for the little ones. Now I'm back to knitting for the next grandchildren.
There's something very calming about listening to the radio or some music while creating something stitch by stitch. I had to get over the idea that it's an occupation for elderly people – or accept that I am a little elderly! - and now I am glad I revived the skill.
Guilt-free TV goes well with winter too. My son added me to his Netflix subscription and I can choose a series to look forward to in the evening. With the heating on and the cat on my lap, perhaps a cosy rug over my shoulders, it feels a little like the Danish hygge which is such a good example of how to pass the winter. Of course, stretching out on the couch with a book is always a good option, too and hot chocolate never goes amiss.
I'm pleased at how well I've got through winter. The buds are on the trees before you know it!
Being present - the only time we are really alive is now
by Jan Marsh
I spent the long weekend painting my living room. After the first morning, when a kind friend came to help me wash down the walls and gave me a couple of hours of her gentle company, I worked alone. I made a conscious decision to work slowly and carefully, initially to avoid getting paint on the carpet, and then because I enjoyed it.
It took three hours to do the brush work, cutting around the windows and doors, scotias and skirting boards. Two hours to roll the paint on the expanse of walls. Five hours each on the Saturday and Sunday to apply two coats of paint, then the third morning to re-hang all the pictures. With the radio or some music in the background and the sun shining in, I sang along or mused a little but mainly I stayed mindful and focused on the job in hand - carefully covering the walls with paint. I enjoyed it, not just for the end product, which did please me, but for the process itself.
There is something very soothing and centring about doing a physical task and being fully present. Connecting with the job in hand, being aware of my body as I balance on the ladder making smooth gentle movements, moving from one section of wall to the next. Nothing more was required of me than to be present, doing this one task. I came to the end of the weekend feeling as though I had had a holiday - a rest from my busy, often anxious brain.
There are other ways of moving into this feeling for shorter periods of time. I had the good fortune to learn to swim in my late 50s, with a teacher who saw swimming as mindful and meditative and wanted to share that experience. After the initial phase of frustration and at times panic, I've been able to find that space and enjoy going back and forth in the pool, tuned into my body's movements and the sensation of water stroking my skin. That same teacher taught me to run safely without injuring myself and I marvel that in my 60's I can enjoy a five kilometre run once a week, focusing on the rhythm of movement and breath. I was not a sporty child so these skills have a sense of wonder and delight for me.
From long years of practice as a psychologist, I can also be very present in a conversation especially if it's with just one other person. Buber's ‘I/Thou' means a lot to me as that connection takes place in its moment in time and I can be with the other person is a way that honours ‘that of God' in them.
As I am able now to live more of my life in the present moment, its clearer to me how this is the way to deal with anxiety and depression, the products of our busy time-travelling brains. So often depression arises from dwelling on the past: experiences of shame or injustice that haven't been resolved, perceived failures that make us feel like giving up. Anxiety comes from desperate attempt to anticipate future problems and ward them off, often creating imaginary ‘what if' fears, adult versions of monsters under the bed.
I don't deny the need to learn from the past and prepare for the future but our busy, over-stimulated lives often push us into dwelling almost entirely in the past and future. And yet, the only time we are really alive is now.
A Quaker analysis of the first Well-being Budget 2019
by Jan Marsh
The Wellbeing Budget has been hailed overseas as a fresh new way of looking at economics, valuing the wellbeing of New Zealanders above GDP. This has been asked for over many years by more progressively minded citizens; it is good news that the Labour-NZ First coalition, backed by the Greens, has listened.
By contrast, the National Government stayed in power for three terms on the back of steady growth in GDP. The fact is, that growth was based on the need to rebuild Christchurch, Kaikoura and other parts destroyed by earthquakes and was also boosted by rising house prices which made the rich richer and the less rich homeless. So yes, as the only indicator of how the nation is doing, GDP has got to go.
So, will the 2019 Budget contribute to the well-being of New Zealanders? I have to confess I haven't read it in its original form, so my impressions are based on news sources such as Stuff, Radio NZ and the Spinoff, and on Bill Rosenberg's summary for the CTU which concludes: Quick answer: Yes, it was a Wellbeing Budget in that it was built around the idea of focusing on many of the things in life that improve wellbeing, and that is praiseworthy. But it was greatly underfunded to achieve what we know is needed.
How does it stack up in the light of Quaker values as described in the Testimonies?
Simplicity: Economics is never simple but if one theme could be highlighted let's hope it's compassion: compassion for the hard workers in low paid jobs, for the homeless, for beneficiaries, for addicts who need not be criminalised, and for those with mental illness and other forms of distress which could be treated early in the community.
The intentions are there. Budget guidelines required all priorities to demonstrate how they contribute to well-being.
Work is still needed to change bullying workplace cultures and heartless government departments if compassion is to be a thread throughout our public life.
Peace: The high operating costs and the increase for new aircraft for Defence is a huge disappointment. To quote Peace Movement Aotearoa:
“Successive governments have said for decades that there is no direct military threat to this country, but this has not yet translated into action about meeting our real security needs. As the UN Secretary General said just last week: “States need to build security through diplomacy and dialogue ... In our turbulent world, disarmament is the path to preventing conflict and sustaining peace. We must act without delay.” (Facebook 30 May 2019)
We would do better with improved, professional civilian coastguard, fisheries protection and search and rescue services, and setting aside money for humanitarian and social welfare needs.
Integrity: We do appear to have a government which is not afraid to show that it is guided by values and will try to keep its promises. This is inevitably compromised by the demands of an adversarial political system and the need to keep coalition partners on side. Time will tell.
Community: The increases in Whanau Ora allocations and index-linking benefits to come more into line with wages are small steps towards reducing inequality. If those on lower incomes have a little extra in order to participate in leisure and social activities, we will build stronger communities. Regional development and funding for research into what makes healthy communities could contribute. Money for Māori and Pacific language developments will also strengthen ties. The allocation for the gun buy-back scheme could make our communities safer if it is enacted in a thorough, timely way.
Equality: Alongside the welfare budget mentioned above, the increased allocation for mental health initiatives could also reduce inequality. It has been clearly shown that those who suffer from mental illnesses are severely disadvantaged in many ways – through stigma, loss of earnings and low wages, poorer physical health all play a part.
The government has listened to the Mental Health inquiry and adopted 38 of the 40 recommendations. Treating addictions as health issues rather than criminal ones has great potential. Another priority that could make a huge difference is making services available to those with mild to moderate needs. But money is not the only solution. Will there be a workforce to respond to the needs? In many parts of the country the Primary Mental Health Initiative, brought in about a decade ago, saw huge growth in office buildings and administrative staff, but tight constraints on the number of sessions available (as few as three per client which is laughable!) and the number of referrals GPs can make. Early treatment can make a big difference to many people who otherwise languish on waiting lists until they are severely ill enough to qualify for treatment. But will psychologists, nurses and addiction counsellors come forward after years of disillusion?
Other measures to reduce the gap between rich and poor, improve housing accessibility and employment options will contribute to improved equality. Let's hope we are moving back in line with traditional NZ values of fairness and respect for all.
Sustainability: Now that we no longer have a climate change denying government there are so many initiatives needing attention. Sustainable energy projects could wean us off the fossil fuel economy. Boosting Kiwirail and getting freight off the roads will reduce emissions, especially if the rail network maintains and develops its electric sections. Supporting farmers to clean up their land use and funding research for ongoing climate-related initiatives sound promising. Good beginnings but let's keep going.
This is very much a once-over-lightly look at the budget, but my intention is to use our testimonies as a value base for assessing public decisions. Try it yourself and see if it's a model that fits.
Fury on Maundy Thursday
By Emily Provance
I had an experience that took me by surprise. On Thursday, I participated in a worship service that involved the reading of John 13. This is Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet. The reading of the Scripture and the message that came after it were deeply grounded, and the speaker made a number of excellent points. He suggested we place ourselves in the position of the disciples in the room. How would we react to this, to Jesus' offer to wash our feet?
I never got that far. I got stuck on the part where Jesus said, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another's feet." That was when I started to feel angry.
It didn't go away. I felt ready to spit fire. And this did not make sense to me. It didn't feel like a normal reaction to this story. I wondered: what about this had me so thoroughly infuriated?
It took me some time to get there, but eventually I realised that it was the telling of the story in such a way that didn't take power into account. "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another's feet."
Jesus was talking to a room full of men. I think it's really important that he was talking to a room full of men. And not just men, but men who--among their own people, at least, though not so much in the wider Roman Empire--commanded a certain level of respect.
When this story is told, it's often with the implication that if Jesus could humble himself to wash others' feet, and Jesus, after all, was Jesus, then the rest of us have no excuse not to humble ourselves in service. But as I listened to the story, I began to realise that this interpretation is exactly backwards. When Jesus knelt to wash his disciples' feet, he was risking nothing. There was no way that this act of humility would lead to a loss of status. The people in the room already honoured him as Lord. The point Jesus was making, I think, was about inverting the power dynamics. Jesus--the acknowledged and unquestionably respected leader--served humbly. That's a big deal and not what the disciples were used to, and telling them to take on positions of humility would not threaten in any way their ability to serve.
But that's not my experience. And I suspect it's not the experience of many of us.
Nobody takes on the task of washing everybody's feet at Quaker gatherings. That's not a thing that's part of our culture, though it was a part of the culture in Jesus' day. So what's the modern equivalent of washing everyone's feet? Making the coffee--washing the dishes--providing the childcare.
These are the things that, in the last five years, I have (mostly) deliberately stopped doing. Especially the childcare thing. And why? Because I'm young and a woman. And when I take on the humble functions, it prevents me from being taken seriously. It took me some time to learn this lesson, and I resisted learning it--but it's true.
Many Friends I know are hard at work disrupting patterns of white supremacy and decolonising Christianity. The intense feelings I experienced during this Maundy Thursday have made me wonder: how would it feel to engage with this story as a person of colour?
More broadly, how do I navigate the intersection of spiritual humility and societal power dynamics? How do I do this for myself? How do I make space for it in my faith community? What is Jesus' message if we contextualise it fully?
Read more from Emily at quakeremily.wordpress.com
Constancy and change – losses and gains
By Jim Batson
I went to a memorial service the other day. It was for someone I had known but did not know well. I went out of respect. I arrived late and sat at the back of a crowded room. I heard numerous accounts of the person’s life; some I knew of and some I did not. As in other funeral events I had a glimpse of aspects of the person’s life; personal and professional: they were revealing and broadening. I got to know the person after they had died in a way I did not know them when they were alive.” What a pity”, I thought.
By the time the service came to an end, I was bored and fidgety. I wanted to go home. I was pleased I had paid my respects; and pleased I had, in some respects, done my duty. As I walked away, I felt down and joyless. Perhaps it was the cumulated sadness; perhaps it was the ceremony which was long and had elements that were repetitive; perhaps it was the tone of the speakers. Whatever it was, it had a downing effect on me.
As I walked away, I fantasied about my own funeral and wondered if people leaving that ceremony would have a similar experience. As well feeling flat, I felt inadequate. I perused my life and struggled to identify edifices that many attributed to this person. I remembered walking away from another funeral service feeling just as inadequate. In that instance I was comparing my achievements with the achievements of the dead person. My mood was conditioned by my realisation that I haven’t been an edifice builder nor have I been a great achiever. I felt dispirited because, I concluded that at the age of 77 I was a bit late to getting started.
After a couple of days my mood lifted. In the intervening time I had remembered another funeral service I had attended which left me feeling buoyed and buoyant. The key words used when referring to this dead person were words like `inspired’, `inspirational’ and `inspiring’. After that ceremony I remembered I had gone away feeling optimistic. The dead person was inspiring. Others said so. I had found the person to be very accepting.
Coincidental with the memory of that funeral I tracked down a description that I knew was buried somewhere in a book. I had read the book years ago (10 years ago, I would say) and I had remembered the description. It is a big book; nearly seven hundred pages. The book sat on my shelf for a long while tempting me to browse to find the passage that I found so captivating. The day after I had been to the funeral service I succumbed and started browsing looking for a hint of the passage I remembered. Eventually of course, I found it. It took me ages! Needless to say, it was unlike my memory. Over the years I had romanticised the image portrayed in the description and I had bent the reality (the author’s description) to fit my own needs; but there was sufficient similarity between the original description and my memory of it for me to make an easy identification.
I remembered that the writer was on a cycling tour of Japan and had come across a middle-aged Japanese man in a park. They struck up a conversation. The Japanese man explained that every holiday he came to the park and took photographs. He went to the same spot in the park, four times throughout the year coinciding with the different seasons, and took a photograph. In the album he carried with him he had photographs of the same spot in the park differentiated by the colours and textures of the seasons. When I first read the description, I was inspired so much so that I tried to emulate the efforts of this Japanese man. In my home you will see on the wall of one room four photographs of the same place in eastern Scotland near where my parents spent their last years alive. The photographs are dominated by different colours and different textures. They were taken years apart; but they show the same hill, the same copse of trees; the same field and the same dry-stone wall.
Gay and Quaker - Christianity and diverse sexualities
By Jan Marsh
To early Friends, 'gay Quakers' were those who wore bright coloured clothing rather than the sober Quaker grey which was almost a uniform for Friends by the 18th Century. These days 'gay' refers to some members of the community of diverse sexualities: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and others (LGBTQ+). The path to acceptance for this community was eased in 1963 when British Friends published 'Towards a Quaker View of Sex', a brief but well thought out booklet which I was happy to discover early on in my connection with Friends.
It has not been so straightforward in other Christian churches. Recently a friend told me about 'Undivided' by Vicky Beeching, the story of her difficult coming-out process, which came to a head in her thirties when she realised that she could no longer deny that she loved women, but to declare it openly would mean losing her work as a singer and composer of church music in the charismatic tradition. Even writing in support of gay marriage earned her vituperation and death threats.
Eventually, she told her story to a journalist and, because she was so well known as a musician and commentator in Christian circles, the reaction was loud and mixed. It's a moving story and her search for love is not happily concluded by the end of the book but she has a new vocation, to show others like herself that it is possible to be gay and Christian. A courageous BBC interview can be viewed here.
It made me very grateful to have had the acceptance of Quakers in my own coming out process. In fact, I smile to remember how, in my late thirties, I came out to Auckland Friends at a family camp by asking whether I could leave my children in their care while I went to a lesbian movie with my partner. When I got back from the movie, not only had the children been fine and the movie enjoyable, but also two or three Friends quietly told me their own experiences of gay family members or friends. While there have been some homophobic moments among Quakers, in general I have felt accepted.
Initially, Vicky Beeching decided that she would have to be celibate to be remain in the church she called home and she took on board some deeply condemnatory opinions from those around her. But as her desire for a loving relationship grew stronger and the stress of hiding her true nature took a brutal toll on her health, she met others who were open about the possibility of being gay and Christian and she began to research the subject. She changed her PhD topic to a study of Christianity and sexuality and her conclusions are interesting. She decided that the six or seven passages in the Bible often thought to relate to same sex relationships were ambiguous if read in the original Hebrew or Greek. She also realised that times have changed as have attitudes to matters such as slavery and the status of women, so official church views could be wrong for modern times and can evolve.
But the revelation came when she took her well-thumbed Bible to St Paul's Cathedral and let her reading inspire her. The passage that spoke to her was Chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles where Peter has a vision of God offering him a bundle containing all the animals considered unclean in Jewish law and telling him to take them and eat. When he protests, 'Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean!' the response from God is, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' The vision prepares Peter to respond to a request to visit a Gentile, Cornelius, and to face down the protests of the Jewish Christians who saw that as wrong. Cornelius and his friends receive the Spirit just as the Apostles did at Pentecost. Beeching points out that this was a turning point, where Gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jews, something that is completely normal now but was a revolution at the time of the early church.
The parallel between Beeching's struggle and this passage of the Bible was enlightening for her. She saw how she had been protesting to God, 'Lord, I've never so much as touched a person of the same sex romantically. I've kept your law and your commandments...' and could now hear the reply, 'Do not call unclean what I have made clean.' This showed her that there was nothing to be ashamed of or to run away from, because LGBTQ+ people were on an equal footing with straight people.
I was familiar with the argument that many of the traditional laws described in the Bible no longer apply to our society nor to Christians (or Jews in many cases) in modern times. The satirical letter 'Dear Dr Laura, Why can't I own a Canadian?' shows this up with humour. (You can read it here) But Vicky Beeching's exegesis of Acts Chapter 10 was a new view. If the church could broaden its perspective and accept Gentiles, is it time to broaden again to fully accept LGBTQ+ people without placing the burden of unwanted celibacy on them? Many would think so. Of course, Beeching understood that same sex relationships, like heterosexual ones, needed to be guided by the values of love, respect and commitment and that exploitation of others is never ok. 'Towards a Quaker view of Sex' (1963) covers this point fully. Vicky Beeching's courage and openness offers a way forward for all Christians to be inclusive of all sexualities.
Knowledge of world religions deserves to be part of our state school curricula.
By Peter Donovan
For better or for worse, religion still plays a significant role in the backgrounds and daily lives of majorities of peoples in New Zealand and abroad. It is time for state schools to recognise this, and to include it within curriculum areas like history, social studies, language and the arts, rather than outsourcing it to volunteers from Christian churches or other religious organisations.
While awaiting an appropriate top-down overhaul of the education system along these lines, there are steps individual schools, teachers and parents can take to help the process along. These do not involve state primary schools trying to teach across-the-board religious studies programmes as such. That can come at secondary or tertiary levels. But a few simple steps can help children develop a basic verbal competency on which to build informed opinions and develop their own levels of appreciation and critique. At very least, this will help remove the apparent taboo on teacher-led, matter-of-fact discussions of religion in the class-room. For as things stand, many children’s knowledge of the rich linguistic heritage of the world’s faiths is in danger of dwindling to a few everyday expressions, exclamations and swearwords.
Here are some simple steps: First, recognise religious commonality and diversity by using generic terms, especially plurals: religions, faiths, beliefs, traditions; gods, divinities, supreme beings, atua, nature-spirits, prophets, saviours, founders; followers, believers, devotees; sacred books, holy days and places, rites, rituals, pilgrimages, and so on.
Secondly, use third person descriptions: Muslims believe ... Jews observe ... Orthodox Christians worship ... Buddhists teach ...Maori traditions recognise... Sikhs venerate…Baha’iis follow… Humanists value… and the like.
Thirdly, learn to spell and pronounce correctly key names, titles and terms from a range of world faiths: divinities like Yahweh, God, Allah, Brahma, Shiva, Tangaroa; incarnations and avatars like the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord Krishna, the Buddha Gautama, Guru Nanak; prophets like Moses, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah, T.W.Ratana; maxims and laws like the two Great Commandments of Jesus, the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path of Buddhism, Five Pillars of Islam, Ten Commandments of the Bible; major annual days and events such as Yom Kippur, Easter, Diwali, Ramadan; spiritual concepts like karma, dharma, nirvana, yoga, eternal life, mana, tapu and noa, salvation, holiness; places for worship, like temples, shrines, cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras. Terms like these are easily accessible on websites like the BBC Religions series, through general reading, or through asking local representatives of various faiths. Teachers can pass them on to students as opportunities arise in the course of general teaching, discussing overseas travel or daily news items, or hearing about the family life of class-members themselves. Today’s children are keen consumers of fantasy fiction and out-of-this-world video-games, so should have no difficulty picking up extraordinary words and notions from the realm of faiths and spiritual traditions if they are made familiar and interesting to them.
Fourthly, discourage the use of partisan and abusive terms: infidels, heretics, idol-worshippers, pagans, unbelievers, Mohammedans (instead of Muslims), Holy Rollers, religious nutters, godless atheists and the like. Respecting the beliefs of others, whatever we may think of them, is not mere political correctness. It is ethical good practice, the Golden Rule itself as taught by religious and secular ethics alike: treat others as you would wish them to treat you.
Promoting tolerance, however, is not the main reason for including religions in the curriculum; neither is encouraging personal spirituality or wellbeing. Schools already recognise these values in their Charter commitment to kindness, inclusiveness, self-respect and hau ora. In fact today’s schools have a better grasp of these values than do many religious groups, who have yet to fully embraced ideals like race and gender equality, freedom of conscience, and respecting the beliefs of others.
Rather, it is for essentially educational reasons that knowledge about world religions deserves to be incorporated into our state school curricula. Hopefully a fresh Government, a new Minister of Education, and a relaxing of the emphasis on national standards assessment, will open the way for real progress to be made in overcoming this country’s long-standing pedagogical blindspot.
Peter Donovan is a retired associate professor of religious studies from Massey University, now living in Wakefield near Nelson. He has published books on religious language and on the beliefs and practices of New Zealanders, and is a life member of the NZ Association for the Study of Religions.
By Jan Marsh
Ever noticed how the one thing that didn't go as well as you would have liked stands out above everything else in the day? How easy it is to keep on kicking yourself for that double booking, that ill-judged joke! To maintain a buoyant attitude in the face of this negative bias - which after all is only trying to keep us safe - develop these three simple habits:
Each day ask yourself:
1. What went well? Reflect on your day and consider the many small successes you had. Some days simply getting yourself to work on time can be considered a win!
2. Name three good things. Go into a bit of depth here. What made those things good? For example, a colleague invited me to join her for lunch. That was good because I was absorbed in my work and needed a break. Consider each good thing and the particular qualities which made it good for you today.
3. Do an act of kindness. A simple thing such as emptying the dishwasher even if it's not your turn, making someone a cup of tea, or even smiling at a stranger in the street, will connect you with others and make you feel good. Or you might find your kindness is blended into your day and can be discovered by asking 'how did I contribute today?'
Try making a routine which supports these positive habits. For example, you could reflect on your day before you leave work, even making some notes at your desk if that' s possible. The drive home might be a way of reminding yourself what went well. If you have someone at home to talk to, tell them the three good things and ask for theirs.
A short meditation before bedtime could include what went well and three good things. (The meditation might be an act of kindness to yourself.)
Healing - our life is love and peace and tenderness
By Jan Marsh
In my many years as a clinical psychologist I always found my clients interesting. I approached each working day with curiosity: what will this new client be like? How is that well-known one getting on with what we talked about last time? What will the day bring? It's a marvellous profession for someone keen to know human beings in all their fascinating diversity and I never tired of learning – mostly from my clients. I appreciated the privilege of being allowed into their lives at a deep, personal level. It was never dull.
But there are themes which came up regularly. First of all, there are certain ways in which people feel bad enough to seek help from a psychologist and fortunately psychologists have tools to help with these. The most common complaints are depression and anxiety, often due to feeling overwhelmed and unsupported in work or family life, perhaps causing the person to dwell on past hurts or past regrets or to fear the future with the many possibilities our minds can conjure up to worry about.
I noticed that when people are bogged down in how bad they feel and how badly they feel they are being treated – by life, their family, their boss – they lose sight of simple things like a healthy diet, exercise, fun. Over and over again I found myself covering the basics of good self-care which will form a strong foundation for well-being no matter what issues or symptoms the client might bring. I encouraged my clients to take care of themselves in body, mind and spirit, trusting that deep down they know what is best for themselves.
So many of us get around feeling not good enough, not noticing all the day to day gifts which life has to offer, unable to make meaningful contact with others for fear of being judged. So often those judgements are in our own minds. Judging and criticising ourselves emphasises the ways in which we are different from others, falling short of what we believe others are capable of. It can make us feel very alone.
Compassion, on the other hand, highlights the common humanity we all share. It connects us with each other and with Nature and it offers hope that we can be the best of ourselves, as others can.
Hope is a remarkable quality which can transform life. It's the expectation that good things will happen, that events will turn out all right, in some way or other. It holds the outcomes lightly, flexibly, avoiding a strong attachment to any particular outcome. Hope simply says, if I attend to the basics, the outcome will be good, just as watering my fruit trees will bring fruit but Nature determines what kind and how much.
Just as your body knows how to heal a cut on your hand, I believe that your mind, given the right conditions, knows how to heal itself. Those conditions involve good self-care and supportive relationships. That includes supporting yourself.
A spiritual path can easily turn into constant chiding for not being good enough. Quakers strive to be the best of themselves but we hope to do that with gentle encouragement rather that strict rules or harsh discipline. Compassion, including compassion for ourselves, and a spirit of hopefulness, lead us along the path.
There is a quote from Isaac Pennington on our Meeting House noticeboard which sums it up well: 'Our life is love and peace, and tenderness, and bearing one with another, and not laying accusations against one another; but praying for one another and helping one another up with a tender hand.'
Considering the Lily
By Jan Marsh
I have picked a small posy of flowers from the garden to put on the table in the middle of the Meeting room. There are blue and purple salvia and daisies and a large white arum lily. A man who has a struggle with addiction and mental illness, studies the flowers on the table. I'm a little apprehensive about what he might say. At times he can be angry, political, looking for an argument, and at other times he might ramble and not know when to stop.
He says with a note of wonder, “The flowers are beautiful. I'm aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so seeing beauty is a spiritual experience which comes from within. For a long time I couldn't see beauty. I'm thinking of the Beatitudes and wonder how they are linked with beauty.”
I am touched. I think of the word 'grace' and how it can mean a blessing as well as beauty of form or movement.
The flowers have more to teach us. Someone quotes Jesus's saying 'Consider the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.' The later verses go: 'Therefore do not worry, saying “What shall we eat?” Or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”... do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.' (Matt:Chapt 6, 28-34)
I considered the lilies as I pondered retiring from my work. A friend advised me:
“Stick with trusting that the universe will deliver your request. Be as clear as you can and ask nicely, then simply trust that the answer will come. Not trusting tells the universe not to deliver the solution to you i.e. you are the wrong address as you are on the wrong wavelength. Trusting is a very different energy/wavelength to not trusting - one is abundant, the other is lacking. I know which one I'd aim to choose and hold on to.”
I liked the idea of 'asking nicely'. Somehow the flowers and the responses they evoked in the Meeting, as well as the kind words of a friend, made trusting much easier than it seemed at first. Having taken the leap, retirement is very pleasant!
How I became a Quaker
By Marian Clement
Every time I watch the clouds during a sunset I am distinctly reminded of where my belief in a God of some kind arose from. Perhaps to many this is simplistic or worse. I am aware of the science behind it, I am aware it is merely the way the light is reflected in the clouds which creates the downright holy image as I see it. A small gift from god, the pure beauty of it is ecstatic, and whenever I gaze on it I feel something I rarely get outside of Meeting, an intense connection and relation to . . . God. Other Friends may use other words to describe it, but that is how I see it.
Before I found myself as a Quaker this sight often gave with me great confliction: the pure beauty of it seemed to deny that in all the chances in the universe such a sight could be born without some intelligent force behind its creation. However, throughout my youth I cuffed often against the idea of god and religion. I was raised in a mostly agnostic environment. My early youth left me chafing at the idea of there being any kind of god or any force for any kind of good in the world. The typical angry at the world teenage kid comes to mind. As well as the Atheist who thinks they know everything.
Though there was some experience with religion since I finished the last years of my primary education at a Catholic school, I always took it as a foolish exercise. An illogical lie bought into by those without any intelligence. And a lie dogmatically forced on others, to a ridiculous degree. Perhaps a bit ironic that view, considering I often took my atheism with a dogma that would meet any hard and true Catholic.
However, in my recent years after having dealt with much anger and being able to live I found myself drifting towards religion. Much time had left me being an Agnostic without much care for the issue, but with a slight appreciation of some aspects of Christianity and the bible. Out of curiosity I would often dive into a bit of research about particular parts of it, partly out of a desire to be able to argue my ground, even theologically, against certain dogmatic views some Christians can hold. It was in this research I found Christianity often had much that was simply a matter of one’s interpretation or was outright misused by those who wanted to use the bible for their dogma or fear-mongering.
A good example of such a case is Leviticus. One often hears someone quoting Leviticus in a frail attempt to show that god does indeed hate gays. They are loathe, of course, to research or admit the fact that Leviticus was entailing a group of laws meant only for the Levites themselves, and even arguably the priests of that particular tribe. Not to mention that much of Christianity gives room to argue against much of Old Testament law being relevant anymore.
This gave me a greater appreciation for Christianity and reading about such lovely women as Dorothy Day and some bible stories made me see and understand that, arguably, Christianity was not only not against my socialist views, but in support of them.
The other problem to me as an Anarchist was the hierarchy of many churches. My own views strongly oppose any group strictly sticking to the bible as the be all and end all, as some untouchable infallible book, which left a good chunk of Christianity out for me. Then lastly, the laws of priesthood, the hierarchy of even many of the Protestant churches was something I chaffed against in my views. Especially the corruption that can arise in such circumstances which I strongly strongly oppose. Then I came upon Quakerism.
It was as I was researching Suffragism in America and I naturally came across the fact that many prominent members including the two leaders of the National Women’s Party, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, were described as Quakers. This led to an eventual digging into Quakerism and its beliefs and I very much gained a lot of respect for them and started leaning towards them. Peace, Sustainability, Equality, Integrity, Simplicity - they were wonderful.
For an Anarchist, the Quaker meetings in Nelson fit perfectly since there were no ‘leaders’ in a meeting really, there were organisers sure, but organisers are all they are. Not to mention that, as a trans-woman, it seemed to me that Quakerism was a very accepting atmosphere and community, at least here in Nelson. Along with this, Quakerism allows for a distinct degree of individuality. Since it stresses the individual’s relationship with God (as I see it), it allows how one feels and interprets the world to become the defining thing, not just some book, so it can even integrate other religious beliefs easily and allow a very accepting and open atmosphere and community.
Then of course, the small, still quiet voice as it is described is something just wonderful. I feel it as that same thing that arises in me when I look at the sunset light reflecting in the heavenly clouds. That unforgettable breath-taking sight swells up the same thing as ministry. It’s a wondrous thing. That experience I can gain whenever at Meeting. Through silence I gain some kind of connection to what I see as god, a small voice beseeching me to become better and allowing me to reflect.
Why I became a Quaker
By Christine Gillespie
One of my childhood memories is of my dad racing out of the house like a bullet from a gun, along the drive towards the big parallel gates that kept stock and us safe from the main trunk railway line. On the other side of the line two black clad men unfolded themselves from their car. They were priests from Taihape come on their bi-annual visit to persuade my parents to make themselves right with God and us kids legitimate by being married in the Catholic Church. The priests never made it across the line.
Dad was raised by an Irish Catholic mother and a Polish Catholic father, educated by nuns and Marist Brothers, and probably no-one did Catholicism more rigidly in early 20th century Wellington. Intriguingly, my grandparents didn’t legitimate their own union until after the 8th of their 9 children was born. My father would tell horror stories of the nuns punishing children by forcing them into the darkness beneath their habits. He abandoned his faith at the age of 14.
My mother was nominally raised Presbyterian, her Scots father’s family faith rather than her Anglican mother’s. My grandfather was an enthusiastic socialist and my mother believed Jesus to be the first communist. We were raised free from religion but with a keen sense of class relations evidenced daily in my rural environment where we farm labourer’s children were forbidden from the farm owners’ garden and their children forbidden to play with us. My parents sent me briefly to Sunday School at the Presbyterian church in Mangaweka where I was taught that I believed in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and the virgin birth and was given a Bible.
It didn’t stick. At the age of 17, exercised about what I did believe I concluded that human beings are so uncomfortable with their own goodness that they project it outside of themselves and call it God. It remains my understanding. I am a humanist Quaker.
I found my way to Quakers 30 years later. Much of those 30 years were filled with a passionate commitment to social justice, feminism, equality and communism. I became a member of a Maoist organisation in my early 20s, immersed myself in social activism, support for working women and the trade union movement. They were rich years; I learned skills in organisation, agitation and propaganda, writing, and speaking. My staunch fighting spirit was nurtured by my parents’ indignation at their impoverished lives despite their hard work, and their identification as Labour Party supporters in a National Party world. I embraced the romance of violent revolution, just wars and ends justifying means:
With whom would the right-minded man not sit to help the right? What medicine would taste too bad to a dying man? What vileness would you not suffer to annihilate vileness? If at last you could change the world what would make you too good to do so? Who are you? Sink in filth, embrace the butcher, but change the world. It needs it.
In the late-80s my trade union was being destroyed by a pincer movement of employers and Government, and misogyny and hubris amongst important (male) figures in the trade union movement who decided not to fight the abolition of compulsory unionism or legislation that obliterated the national wage setting (‘award’) system. Our work was almost unbearably stressful, my anger with our opponents extreme. By coincidence or Providence, I was introduced to meditation.
It was transformative. It was a mysterious and gradual erosion of both my anxiety and my hatred of our opponents. I abhorred their objectives and the outcomes, and I remain anti-capitalist, but my heart was softening to my fellow human beings. But by the time the destruction of my union - in which I and my comrades had championed working women’s rights to childcare, maternity leave, equal pay, and freedom from sexual harassment - was complete, I had left the city in a state of burn out.
Then, the loss of a significant relationship prompted me to visit a 12 Step Programme for family and friends of alcoholics. 23 years later I’m a weekly attender. It was here that I had a spiritual awakening. My world had till then seemed dangerous, hostile, unable to be lived in alone. Now I was introduced to the idea of a God of my understanding, a benevolent force for good. Where the **** was ‘he’ when I was growing up in a poor alcoholic home with a deeply depressed mother, and fending off the unwanted attention of groping farm hands in clapped out old cars? Gradually I came to understand that Collective Consciousness was protecting me even then: the kindness of others, my teachers, especially Mr Reeves who taught me to thread a needle when I was 9. The good people of Mangaweka who raised the funds to send me on an American Field Service Scholarship when I was 17. And the mystery of my father not plunging us and the car off the cliffs driving too drunk to stand home from the pub.
When a few years later I decided I wanted a spiritual community not tied to alcoholism, Collective Consciousness (or perhaps my unconscious) directed me to Quakers. As a child I had seen the sign in Whanganui for the Society of Friends on the fence of their Settlement, and marvelled that some people liked each other enough to form a Society. A comrade had been raised Quaker, but I don’t recall her talking about Quakerism. A friend agreed to join me at Quakers.
Many Friends say that they felt they had found their spiritual home when they first sat in a Quaker Meeting. That is how it was for me. I knew silence intimately, the non-speaking silence of estranged parents, the taciturnity of my father, the spacey silence of my mother, but more positively the deep nurturing silence of nature. Silent of human contentiousness, expansive in the sweeping cliffs of the Rangitikei, the folded form of the Ruahine foothills, the roof of sky, and the rustle of bush dwellers minding their own business. There I could think. Contemplate. Imagine. So it is in the intimacy of Meeting for Worship. An hour-long hongi in which we share breath, listen to each other’s rustling, and become a collective whose consciousness is engaged in the mystery of silent, sacred communication. Others are listening for their God, I am listening for mine. Sometimes their God asks them to speak, sometimes so does mine.
Quaker Meeting is my village. Here are people who like me want to choose goodness over evil. My work as a psychotherapist exposes me to the worst imaginable things we humans are capable of, my Quaker Meeting reminds me that Love, kindness and compassion exist, including in me. Quakers call it “that of God in everyone”, a potential for goodness that we can live up to and thus increase. Quakers are my comrades who I join on vigils and demonstrations for peace and social justice, for freedom for Palestinians, for homes for the homeless. The Quaker principles of peace (I had to grow into that one – I had a lingering sentimental attachment to just wars), equality, simplicity, integrity and sustainability are the fruits of our love for the world that needs to change. We are not perfect and we get things wrong, but it is a worthy endeavour to attempt to create a spiritual community where we can be true to our real selves in our worst and best moments, overcome individualism, and foster a belonging that extends beyond ourselves to all living beings and the Planet.
Councils, climate change and coasts
By Lawrence Carter
Storm surge forces closure of Nelson's historic waterfront venues - this was the headline in the Nelson Mail on February 1st, after the remnants of a cyclone slammed into Tasman Bay. Nelson and Mapua's waterfront venues The Boat Shed Cafe and Nelson’s the Boathouse, are closed following the storm surge. The combination of a king tide, heavy rain and strong winds created a surge that forced sea water through the buildings. Flooding damaged homes in Ruby Bay as sea water poured over the sea wall. The aftermath of the storm also led to a warning against swimming in the Nelson Haven, including Tahunanui Beach, and the Waimea Estuary because of overflows of sewage and contaminated stormwater.
In an article in the Nelson Mail for Saturday, February 10th 2018, Jean Gorman links coastal storm damage to climate change, and asks whether councils are ready to deal with more of the same. She is absolutely right to do so. In the wake of the damage at Rocks Road, Rabbit Island, Ruby Bay and elsewhere, it is surely now clear that councils must take account of climate change in their planning, especially as it relates to sea-level rise and the frequency of severe storms.
The information we need is already there. Engineers for Social Responsibility have been publishing information papers on aspects of climate change for five years (see www.esr.org.nz). Printed copies of the first nine papers were sent to all MPs, mayors and council CEOs, as well as to the larger secondary schools. While the response from central government at the time was a deafening silence, many councils (such as Dunedin) are now aware of the issues, and are taking action.
All of our councils need to ensure that the latest data on sea level, storm surge, and storm frequency, for example, are built into their Long Term Plans. Decisions need to be taken about how close to the coastline settlement and infrastructure can be supported. Over time, we need to think about moving inland. There needs to be a managed retreat to higher ground. Clearly this is a huge and expensive task, and will be painful for many. Nobody wants to hear that their house is too close to the shore to be supported, or insured. People rely on increasingly vulnerable coastal roads, and won't want to face their inevitable closure. We must deal with the facts, though. Even if we succeed in the planned reduction of carbon emissions, there is still enough inertia in the global climate system to ensure that we face years of sea-level rise and fierce storms. It's essential that local authorities know the facts, and plan accordingly.
Our job is to support our councils in this difficult task. We should also pressure central government to provide more support to councils struggling with coastal issues. In my view, we also need to focus on community-building. We need to understand that we are all in this together, and we need to work together to deal with the enormous problems we face from climate change. We already have the information we need, and we have the brains to process it. With strong communities, we can deal with this.
Why Guy Fawkes Day has to go.
And why Parihaka Day should take its place.
By Christine Gillespie
I suspect that very few people have any idea what Guy Fawkes Day or “fireworks night” is about, any more than appreciate All Hallows Eve as pagan Celtic thanksgiving for the harvest, or early Christian remembrance of the dead. These are just days to have fun. Which is fair enough, given the irrelevance of Guy Fawkes’s horrible death to us in 2017 in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Guy Fawkes Day, 5th November, commemorates a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics, rebelling against the oppression of Catholicism. On that day in 1605, Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London; and months later, the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure. It was only repealed in 1859, not because of religious tolerance so much as to dampen down unruly celebrations.
British Colonists brought the tradition to Aotearoa, probably nursing anti-Catholic sentiments as well as recreating the things of home. Today, it survives in competition to Halloween, and despite restrictions on the sale of fireworks, but seemingly its days are numbered: Wellington City Council has resolved to stage its annual fireworks display from 2018 onwards in mid-winter at the time of Matariki, the Maori New Year.
Matariki is the Maori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades which rises in mid-winter and for many Maori heralds the start of a new year. Traditionally, it was a time for remembering the dead, and celebrating the harvest. With plenty of food in the storehouses, it was a time for singing, dancing and feasting.
Matariki literally means the ‘eyes of god’ (mata ariki) or ‘little eyes’ (mata riki). According to myth, when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatuanuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children, the god of the winds, Tawhirimatea, became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens. More New Zealanders are adopting this traditional time of remembrance and celebration, which falls in the appropriate southern hemisphere seasons of death and renewal. Including municipal fireworks displays in the celebrations and taking advantage of early darkness makes for a happy combination.
But, we can still put the 5th November to good use, in fact much better use: to commemorate non-violent resistance to colonisation and to celebrate peace. Instead of burning an effigy of a 17th century English Catholic, and keeping the kids up till its dark enough to fire off the Catherine Wheel (torturous references) lets have peace picnics, plays, shared dinners, performance of song and dance, and exhibitions, all celebrating peace, non-violent resolution of conflict, safe and supportive communities, the recognition of wrongs and putting things to rights, and our bi-cultural heritage.
5th November is Parihaka Day. On that day in 1881 1500 armed men invaded a Maori village in Taranaki, took away the unarmed and unresisting leaders and many of the males, keeping them imprisoned for two years, during which time some died. They violated the girls and women, burned the crops and torched the houses. This was all in pursuit of an illegal land grab. On June 9th 2017 after 126 years of protest by the people of Parihaka, a formal apology was made by the Crown for those atrocities. The community of Parihaka has throughout that time kept to the kaupapa of their leaders to embrace peace and non-violence.
Quakers are natural allies with the people and cause of Parihaka. From 1660 the leaders of the English movement which became the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) declared their opposition to war and all preparations for war. For a decade Quakers were arrested, tortured, imprisoned, and died for their resistance to the rule of church and state they considered inequitable and wrong. The Religious Society of Friends is a ‘peace church’ committed to oppose all that might lead to war. We have a commitment to equality, believing that all people are children of God, equal one to another, and we have a commitment to social justice. The Parihaka project of commemorating the day of wrong and celebrating the cause of peaceful non-violent resolution of conflicts is one we embrace. Quakers in Nelson stand alongside the Nelson group Parihaka Network Nga Manu Korihi mai Whakatu in hoping that Parihaka and peace can come nationally to replace Guy Fawkes as the focus for a day of remembrance and celebrations.
Christchurch Quakers have a longstanding association with Parihaka, and Friends in Dunedin and Nelson held a Meeting for Worship at the time of the Crown Apology to the people of Parihaka. On 5th November this year there were bi-cultural events involving the Parihaka Network, Taranaki iwi and Quakers in both Nelson and Golden Bay.
In Nelson we attended a dawn service to extend peace to the city; held beside a tranquil Maitahi River it was an evocative setting in which to remember the children welcoming armed and mounted constables with songs, dance and bread at 6.00am on that day in 1881, whilst the women and men sat peacefully on the paepae. From there we retired to the Quaker Meetinghouse for breakfast, where te reo resonated around our whare, and we held a brief, spontaneous bi-cultural Meeting for Worship, with Ministry, Anglican prayers, karakia and waiata. Our next event was a midday Peace Picnic in Rutherford Park where a play about the history of Parihaka was performed, as was a peace dance; people made peace cranes and painted pohatu (stones) with images or messages of peace. For two weeks there was an exhibition in the Nelson Library of peace banners made for last year’s Peace Picnic by school children. On November 12th a puriri tree was planted in the Peace Grove in a local park in remembrance of the events at Parihaka.
We aim to continue to grow the scope and reach of these celebrations. We hope we will see you next year, and that such events might proliferate around the country. Together, Matariki and Parihaka Day are perfect, indigenous, bi-cultural opportunities to remember the past and celebrate life.
Putting religions in the spotlight.
By Peter Donovan
The religions of the world have many core teachings: love your neighbour, forgive your enemy, practice peace, compassion, non-violence …Yet despite these great aims, they have in common moral under-performance, tragic failure to properly practice what they preach…Why then include religion within public education – within our state primary schools especially?
Back in the 1970s, when Religious Studies began in NZ universities, we early lecturers found ourselves asking, What are we to be? There were not many of us: two or three at Canterbury and Otago, a small department under Professor Geering at Victoria, a colleague and myself at Massey. Later one or two at Waikato.
What was our role? How did we expect to be regarded by other staff and by students? Were we to be viewed as priests in mufti, as would-be saints, modernist reformers or antiquarian defenders of traditional faiths?
It was obvious that we all had some respect for religion – after all, we had spent time studying it and it was providing us with an academic career and salary. But did we have to be exceptionally pious or zealous ourselves to qualify for the task? One colleague was particularly keen for this not to be assumed. There was no more reason, he argued, for a lecturer in religious studies to be religious themselves than there was for a lecturer in tropical diseases to be infected with TB or suffering from leprosy or malaria.
While that seemed a mildly ironic comment in the 1970s, the comparison today is a lot more apt, with the toxic, disease-prone side of religions depressingly obvious in each day’s news: hate-filled jihadists, child-abusing clerics, gun-loving fundamentalists, women-oppressing chauvinists, inflammatory preachers, racist nationalists, family-splitting sects, anti-science obscurantists… and so it goes on.
The religions of the world have had many centuries in which to carry out their core teachings: love your neighbour, forgive your enemy, greet one another with peace, practice compassion, non-violence, harmony with nature, respect for all races… Yet despite these great aims, if there is one thing they all have in common, it is moral under-performance, tragic failure to properly practice what they preach. As a result, growing numbers of disillusioned people, in modern societies like ours, are choosing to have no religious affiliation at all. While they may still hold to some personal faith of their own, the traditional institutionalised religions, the big brands, so to speak, have little or no appeal for them. Nor are they at all inclined to have their children influenced or instructed by them.
What good reason then, we might ask, could anyone have for wanting to include religion within public education – within our state primary schools especially? Why not keep to a policy of secularity, not just in the mild sense of being non-partisan, but in the stronger sense of not having anything to do with religions at all?
The usual reason given thoughout our history in this country, and still commonly today, is that we need the help of religions to teach our children values and morality. To this the schools may well reply, Who are you to teach us? Haven’t you read our Charters? They are chock-full of moral ideals and ethical aspirations. Not just couched in ageing mottos like “Service before Self”, or per ardua ad astra. But spelt out in 21st century New Zealand values like honouring the Treaty, recognising diversity of race, culture and gender, showing respect and fairness, seeking excellence in scholarship, learning to cooperate, and encouraging honesty and self-reliance.
Furthermore, schools may ask, What do religious authorities, in their pulpits, seminaries, or temples know about the kind of moral decisions we teachers are making, day by day, minute by minute? … who to encourage and who to reprimand, how to deal kindly and inclusively with issues of race or disability, inequality and deprivation, depression and obesity, sexuality and gender worries, cyber-bullying and drug-taking; how to respond to the effects of family breakups and homelessness; how to grade performance fairly and accurately report achievement, and keep up with ever-growing administrative demands, drawing on limited resources and with multiply-competing needs. Schools in their daily operation are seething with these up-to-the-minute value-judgements and urgent ethical choices.
And all this goes on in the very social domain about which the traditional faiths, with their hierarchical and patriarchal structures, are most glaringly ignorant: the everyday world of young children and those who care for them. Yet it is this domain, more than any other, within which human morality itself is grounded, and arguably has its biological and historical origins. Fine titles of holiness and reverence are all very well. But who are the real ethical achievers in our world today: mullahs or mothers, archbishops or aunties, gurus or grandmas?
As we found ourselves asking at an interfaith gathering recently, which activity has the greater moral value: meditating in a monastery, or changing a baby’s nappy? So if we are talking about values, it’s the religions in our midst who should be looking to the schools, rather than vice versa. The religions have yet to learn, from the schools, how to be inclusive rather than exclusive, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, maternalistic rather than paternalistic. They need to become aware of the ever-growing social complexity and information load facing today’s parents and school teachers. And above all, if they are to remain at all relevant, they need to be subjected to the critical scrutiny of young minds – the citizens of the future.
Well then, if values are not the main issue here, what about spirituality? Don’t the schools need religion to provide them with a spiritual dimension? This idea has been debated from time to time, most notably in the Johnson Report of 1977 on Health and Social Education, and many academic papers and theses have been written about it. What does it mean? Well spirituality is a broad and flexible notion, extending from intense religious devotion on the one hand, to aesthetic sensibility and refinement on the other. When used of children, it sometimes refers to an original innocence and a natural sense of the mysterious, transcendent or divine. We find this, for instance, in Wordsworth’s famous Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (1815).
There is research which suggests young children do have an innate tendency to wonder, to experience a sense of awe and amazement at life itself. Some scholars are urging parents and educators be aware of this “childhood spirituality” and take more account of it understanding and nurturing their children. (Edward Robinson, The Original Vision, 1977; Alison Gopnik, The Philosophical Baby, 2009; Hay and Nye, The Spirit of the Child, 2006.)
Among adults too, of course, the term spirituality has become more and more popular. It’s a way to affirm something special and precious within life, without the negative associations of “religion”, “church” or “creed”.
Nowadays spirituality is often used together with notions like well-being and quality of life, for instance in nursing and social work, counselling and care of the elderly. But an attempt to introduce spirituality in this broad sense into schools, as a sort of replacement for religion, may end up pleasing no-one. It is too ambiguous for staunch secularists, and not doctrinally-sound enough for conservative believers. Secularists see it as a devious way of keeping the door open for superstition and New Age mysticism. Conservatives see it is as a form of watered-down, humanistic universalism. Even amongst middle-of-the-road believers, religious forms of spirituality can be divisive and confronting, not only for their beliefs but for their feelings and emotions as well. For instance: the majority of the world’s Christians pray to the Saints, express personal devotion to the Virgin Mary, and make the sign of the Cross when they pray. Yet ask Protestant churchgoers in New Zealand to join in such spiritual exercises, and they will be extremely uncomfortable if not deeply offended. It’s no easier for most of them to perform these actions devotionally than it would be to chant a Hindu mantra, or bow in veneration before an image of the Buddha.
Spirituality of the religious kind, then, is a personal, or more precisely, an in-group, matter. It’s almost impossible to get general agreement on it. Nor can religions claim to be the only or even the main sources for spirituality. It may be simply a natural human capacity on which organised religions themselves depend; just as orchestras and choirs rely on natural musicality and sports codes and clubs rely on the universal pleasures of physical competition and challenge. Some children do have a taste for religious participation, and find excitement and inspiration in worship and devotion. Others find it in adventures, real or imaginary, in fantasy fiction, video games; in an interest in nature and the wonders of the universe, joy and fulfilment in drama and music, dance and performance, kapa haka and karate, care of pets, volunteer service and kindness to others.
And schools do indeed take account of this natural spiritedness and enthusiasm of children. They want children to thrive and flourish. This aim is endorsed and articulated in school Charters through terms like hau ora and taha wairua, health and spiritual well-being. Schools’ commitment to observing tikanga Maori also gives children the opportunity to share in dramatic and meaningful ceremonies. Guided by their school’s kaumatua, for instance, they can experience the powhiri or marae welcome, with its progression through challenge, karanga, mihi, waiata, and hongi to the whare kai where visitors are made welcome and at peace – even while disagreements among them may remain to be debated. It’s a unique and beautiful ceremony – and it’s ours to appreciate, all of us, under the Treaty, as contemporary New Zealanders. The powhiri rests on metaphysical notions of mana, tapu and noa. Is this religion? Are these supernatural realities? Does tikanga constitute a form of compulsory belief and practice, imposed within our secular schools?
Such questions show up the limitations of Western-thinking contrasts between sacred and secular, religious and non-religious, scientific and superstitious. To try to force these abstract distinctions on ritual practices based on a quite different world-view, seems both culturally insensitive and logically inept. And the issue is complicated further by the fact that many Maori have adopted Biblical and Christian terminology, particularly within karakia and blessings. Is this just missionary-taught Christianity in disguise, as critics maintain? Here is a dilemma. Even these familiar school rituals, and the words they use, remain highly contentious for some. Strict secularists and devout religionists once again can find themselves on the same side, opposing any kind of coercion for their children to participate. This being so, there is little chance that spirituality on its own, valuable thought it is, will be the path through which a fresh, more contemporary and diverse approach to studying religion will find its way into our schools. We must look elsewhere.
It is neither the need for values nor for spirituality that most demands fresh action on dealing with religion in our schools today. It is the existence of an educational blind-spot itself. Religions have played and continue to play a vital role in almost everyone’s history and culture, language and art and commerce and philosophy, including our own. Whether we like it or not, this remains a fact of life in the world today. To ignore this is to be seriously under-educated, socially incompetent and politically naïve.
Now of course this is problematic in a country like ours. We are small and vulnerable and we don’t want conflict and strife. The founders of our state school system feared religious controversy more than anything else - especially disagreement within Christianity itself, between Catholic and Protestant and between the numerous denominations and factions among Protestant settlers themselves. So being the shrewd pragmatists they were, they looked for a quick and expedient solution. They set in place, in the late 1850s, what came to be called the Nelson System. This system was then embodied in the 1877 Education Act and with various modifications has been the model for dealing with religion in our state education system to this day. Here’s how the story began, as recounted in Lowther Broad’s Jubilee History of Nelson: from 1842 to 1892 (published 1892): Upon the establishment of the Provinces in 1854, one of the first subjects that engaged the earnest attention of the first elected Superintendent of Nelson … and the Provincial Council, was that of primary education. At its second session in January, 1855, the Provincial Council passed an Ordinance authorising the Superintendent to appoint a Commission to enquire into and consider what system of primary education would be the best for the Province to adopt. … At the first meeting … the first business considered was On what basis should the Educational Scheme be built? There were protracted discussions, but eventually it was agreed: “That as every settler was to be called upon to pay for its support, whatever his religious opinions might be, the basis on which the scheme ought to rest, must in equity be a secular one.”… The religious aspect of the question was also fully considered and discussed, and the … Commissioners finally agreed that it would be expedient, and would secure a better attendance at school, if a permissive clause was introduced in the report allowing a Bible lesson to be read in school at a special hour, with the proviso, that any parent objecting might withdraw his child during the reading of the lesson. Special provision was then made for the setting up, partial funding and supervision of separate Catholic Schools. And the matter was widely felt to have been successfully dealt with.
Here’s Lowther Broad again: The Nelson system … worked admirably. All denominations were fairly satisfied. Theoretically it was not perfect, but it was administered in such a just and liberal spirit, that in practice there was nothing left for anyone to complain about. It solved the religious difficulty, by giving to the Catholics a fair share of the taxes they had to pay for education purposes, … it gave full scope to those who desired the Sacred Scriptures read in schools; and it provided ample safeguard for those parents who did not wish their children to receive anything but a secular education. This system was absorbed into the 1877 Act, and the story ends up on a rather self-congratulatory note: The Board (of the Nelson Education District) was composed of heterogeneous elements, but their actions were, as a rule, directed by a spirit of fairness and justice. The Anglican Bishop, the Catholic Priest, the Wesleyan Clergyman, and the Freethinker, all found places on the Board which included, indeed, persons of all shades of religious opinions, and of no such opinions at all: and several men of liberal education, and broad and liberal culture; together with plain farmers and sturdy mechanics who, without much book-learning, were gifted with strong common sense. There was very little friction, for the spirit which animated the Board, as a whole, was a determination to administer the Act as benevolently as possible. So there you have it: problem sorted … done and dusted … kicked into touch.
You’ll notice the absence of any women (it was another 15 years before they got the vote); no representative of the tangata whenua appears to have been invited, and there’s not much sign of other ethnic differences to match the differences in opinion; then there’s the class hierarchy, from Anglican bishop at the top down to plain farmers and sturdy mechanics at the bottom. However, they did a pretty good job with what they had at the time, so they thought, and who are we to judge them?
The problem is that in setting things up in the way they did, they inadvertently excluded something that hadn’t really even come into existence at that point in time: the academic, critical, comparative study of religions as an educational issue in its own right. They can’t be blamed for this. In the 1850s there was very little knowledge, in the English-speaking world, of historical and literary criticism of the Bible and other religious texts. Nor was there, by the time the Education Act was passed, more than the earliest beginnings of the social sciences, anthropology, psychology, sociology. Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) had only been around for a decade or so. Tylor’s Primitive Culture (1871), and Spencer’s Principles of Sociology (1875) were just appearing. And Frazer, James, Freud, Malinowski and the others lay well in the future. Scientific archaeology and ethnography of ancient civilisations and their cultures was barely beginning. And the general public’s perceptions of the wider, non-Western world came largely through tales of explorers and reports of missionary endeavour, laden with imperial and theological stereotypes.
The problem today is that this educational blind-spot of the founding fathers has continued ever since. By keeping schools technically secular, and simply allowing some Christian education to be taught outside official teaching time, by volunteers, if parents and communities want that sort of thing, this information gap has remained. Curricula have been constructed with the word religion barely ever, if at all, appearing within them. Teachers have not been equipped to deal with beliefs and practices, sacred literature, histories and traditions, founders of world faiths and the like as they arise within general teaching. Allowing any religious content at all within curriculum subjects has been felt to be too controversial. Schools have enough worries and demands on their time without adding that to them. Is this a deliberate policy of suppression, a form of social control, or the enforcement of an anti-religious ideology? Perhaps it is. Though I would be more inclined to put it down to simple Kiwi pragmatism and expediency, in the face of limited resources and unawareness of alternatives.
Whatever explanation is true, the social climate in this country has changed so drastically that it is time for a new approach. Immigration has brought increasing ethnic diversity to our communities, and with that, increasing needs for cultural sensitivity and awareness. Mixed-faith relationships and families, travel and tourism, international trade and diplomacy, sporting contacts, health and community welfare, current affairs and popular entertainment all require rising levels of literacy and competence in understanding the world’s religions. By not keeping up with these demand, educationally, we New Zealanders risk becoming more and more tongue-tied, out-of-our-depth and insular, in the eyes of our neighbours, our international visitors, and the wider world.
How do we fix this? There would seem to be two main alternatives. The first is a comprehensive, top-down overhaul of the whole religion-in-schools system. This would require removal of the permissive loophole, section 78 of the 1964 Education Act, through which over a third of primary schools still leave religious education in the hands of volunteers provided by the Churches Education Commission. It would need the study of the world’s religions to be added to the primary school curriculum, with enough teachers trained and supported to take over this subject area. They would have to be made ready to teach it in a non-confessional, informative manner, in compliance with schools’ stated ideals and values, and in accordance with our Human Rights laws and obligations.
Such a thoroughgoing approach has recently been advocated in detail by visiting British researcher Helen Bradstock in a PhD thesis at Otago University, completed last year. The thesis, entitled “Let’s talk about something else”, explores the kick-it-into-touch mentality which throughout our history has reinforced the blind-spot about teaching on religion in schools. The thesis is available on-line (see below) and has a clear list of recommendations, along with reader-friendly appendices in which the relevant history, surveys and interviews are summarised.
It will take a bold, progressive government, however, to tackle this challenge. There are hundreds of devoted volunteers and strong Christian lobby groups in favour of retaining the Nelson System, Bible-in-Schools model. At the same time, there are growing numbers of voices being raised against it, notably the Secular Education Network, which has an upcoming legal action aiming to show the system to be inconsistent with our Human Rights laws and commitments. And finally, we have hard-working teachers not looking for more demands on their teaching time; and principals and school trustees reluctant to accept additional tasks and accountabilities. It’s a political hot potato if ever there was one.
In the meantime, however, there is a more selective and exploratory option which I wish to suggest here. It is an approach which encourages local initiatives designed to offer schools an alternative to the old Nelson system. On this model, schools and teachers would remain in charge, and normal teaching time would be used. There would be no need to fall back on the s.78 legal loophole. The aim would be to find appropriate ways in which non-confessional, educationally-appropriate religious resources could be drawn on from a range of suppliers. These would be used to supplement existing curriculum subject areas such as language and literacy, the arts, health and physical well-being, and the social sciences. These resources could include such things as print and audio-visual representations of religious art, architecture, images and symbols, on-line virtual tours and pilgrimages, actual visits to places of worship, rituals and ceremonies, feasts and festivals, stories, proverbs and folk-tales, songs and chants, creation myths and after-life beliefs, names and titles and key terms used in various faiths regarding their divinities, prophets and other sacred specialists…. and so on. Some of these resources can be found within the wide range of textbooks and general teaching materials and guides, available from commercial educational suppliers or on-line media such as the BBC. Some could be produced locally, and introduced and explained by suitable visiting speakers including members of local faith communities. There is no reason, too, why existing religious organisations like the Churches Education Commission might not find themselves able to offer relevant resources, so long as these were suitable for use within a new, multi-faith and non-confessional, teaching framework. Non-religious groups like historical or geographical societies, libraries, musical organisations or travel clubs, even the Nelson Institute itself, might also find they had contributions to offer or projects to which they could contribute, if they were given the chance.
Information about religions, their beliefs, their influence and their material culture, is more readily available than both believers and non-believers tend to assume, once a broader perspective is taken. Naturally there would have to be checks and accountability. Schools might give the role of scrutineer of available source-material, and facilitator of its use, to a teacher or teachers with academic religious studies experience. Or willing teachers could take in-service training to help them become more familiar with the field, and to appreciate the fundamental difference between expounding religions evangelistically, and exploring them educationally. Even without involving the Ministry of Education there are at least two professional associations whose help could be called on with these matters: the NZ Association for the Study of Religions, and the Religious Studies Teachers’ Association of Aotearoa New Zealand. And there are private schools and their teachers, some of which are already involved in various forms of religious study programmes and could be called on to assist and advise.
I am suggesting there be an emphasis on local initiatives, because schools in different places will have quite different levels of ethnic diversity among their pupils and in their local communities. Here in Nelson, for instance, we have a richly diverse community, with a newly-formed Interfaith Council keen and willing to cooperate with interested schools. They are in the process of compiling a portfolio of resources they may be able to offer, for teachers’ consideration. Who knows what else might be found usable, locally or nationally? This is all speculation so far.
What I am hoping to do is encourage a Nelson-based initiative to develop along these lines, amongst interested parties, and see what we can come up with. It is time to open up the matter for discussion and questions.
Some background information: An account of the origins of the "Nelson System" of primary school education, including the decision that it should be "secular" but include also a "permissive clause" allowing schools to have some Bible readings each week if they wished. From Lowther Broad, The Jubilee History of Nelson: From 1842 to 1892.
A 2008 Report for the Human Rights Commission on how Religion in Schools is operating, with Questions and Answers about various issues it raises for schools and parents.
Useful summary of a 2014 UK survey on religion in primary schools for 14 countries, including New Zealand. Education about Religions and Beliefs and Ethics in Primary Education: Key Findings Summary. (NCCA 2014.)
2016 PhD thesis by Helen Bradstock exploring reasons why the subject of religion in education has been repeatedly avoided by NZ governments and educationalists, and pointing out how our diverse society today creates issues which urgently need to be addressed. “Let’s talk about something else”: Religion and Governmentality in New Zealand’s State Primary Schools
By Jan Marsh
Lately we are becoming familiar with the term ‘deferred maintenance', meaning, basically, that our built environment has been neglected and is deteriorating. We see the results all around us: yellow stickered buildings that do not reach building standards, even in towns that have not had severe earthquakes. Cold, damp rental housing. Schools where classrooms are shabby and crowded. Hospital wards ditto. Sewage overflows and flooding from poor drainage, drinking water polluted, roads too narrow and crowded for the growing amounts of traffic. Minimal public transport in most regions. It all speaks of a failure of stewardship.
Annoying as this is in a country which should be able to maintain first world standards, there is another more disturbing failure of maintenance: we are not engaging in discussion about our values as a nation. And I don't mean the flag debate, although, did anyone collect that data? I don't recall people saying proudly that they stood for poverty, shabbiness and retributive punishment of all offenders.
Do we still care about fairness and equality? The right to a healthy life? A safety net for our most vulnerable? Do we still want New Zealand to be a great place to raise children?
Taking just the last point: far from being the best place in the world for children, as our mythology would have it, UNICEF ranked us 34th out of 41 developed nations.The report assessed five aspects of children's lives: material well-being; health and safety; education; behaviours and risks; and housing and environment, using our own data from Statistics New Zealand, the Ministry of Social Development and previous OCED reports. New Zealand's low ranking was due to our high rates of child poverty, high numbers of young people not in education and deaths of children at the hands of their care-givers. That's without even mentioning the 20-25% of children who will be sexually abused before their 16th birthday, the high teen suicide rate or the current call to bring back the amendment that would allow parents to assault their children in the name of discipline.
My feeling is that we are too readily blinded by panic-mongering which talks about the lack of financial resources or the competition for them. We are a well-off country, maybe not the richest but the money is there if we have the will to distribute it fairly.
What we lack is a clear understanding of the moral and ethical values which would guide policy decisions and create a long-term vision for the nation we want to be.
Those under-maintained buildings and infrastructure didn't deteriorate overnight. It takes a period of neglect for the shabbiness and unsafety to begin to show.
As we tumble down the league tables on all measures of a decent society, the neglect of our moral compass is showing all too clearly. How will we have that discussion?
For an inspiring talk about values-based politics listen to Max Harris:
or look for his book The New Zealand Project
A Reflection on Compassion and Empathy
By Jim Batson
The other evening, I went to a Quaker home discussion group on the topic of “Compassion and empathy”. I arrived with the thought “Compassion for... and empathy with...” and shared this in the group discussion. I had the impression that when I felt compassionate I was more removed from the other than when I am empathic. Being ‘compassionate for’ seemed a much more general experience than when I am ‘empathic with...’. When I reflected afterwards on the link between these two notions I came up with the following: compassion precedes empathy. This surprised me. I had not anticipated this link but the more I thought about it the more I was certain that the one, compassion precedes the other, empathy.
I work a lot with couples. In this work, we are often dealing with repetitive patterns of interaction which leave each of the couple feeling distant, dissatisfied and perhaps disappointed with their partner and what he/she does. I have long held the belief that in order to affect a change in this recurring and distressing state of affairs the people involved have to develop empathy with the other person. In other words, harmony emerges as each person enters the world of the other and is able to understand and accept that the other is attempting to make or maintain a connection, even if they are misguided in doing so. I believe that all interactions between one and the other are designed to forge and/or maintain a connection. As I work with couples I encourage each to articulate their unique and idiosyncratic view of the world, which includes the place occupied by the other person. As each person finds out about the other’s view then they can be empathic. By one means or another I encourage empathy. When a person struggles to be empathic I presume it is because they lack the experience of being empathized with; they have been hurt and that hurt has not been properly attended to. They may have been hurt by their partner or by someone else earlier in their life and as a consequence they have some lingering resentment. They are unable to be empathic because they lack an experience of being empathized with... As a therapist, my task is to provide this reparative experience...I am empathic in anticipation that the other person will become better able to be empathic.
As an afterthought to the home discussion I realized that the model I had been following lacked one important step...the need to be compassionate. I came round to thinking that before one can be empathic it helps to be compassionate. Being compassionate helps one appreciate the awfulness of the other’s experience. A person can be compassionate without knowing the details of the other person’s inner experience. In order to be empathic it is important to know the person’s subjective experience, what they felt and the bind(s) by which they were entrapped. Compassion recognises the awfulness of the other person’s experience. Compassion helps a person realise that the other person cannot go on like this. Compassion leads to an enquiry about the person’s particular awful experience. Compassion comes with a generous spirit; it is experienced as an invitation to step forward to reveal more of the inner experience. Empathy is entering the experience of the other as if it is one’s own. Compassion helps set-up the empathic transaction; it is the fertile ground upon which the positive impact of empathy can grow and be nurtured.
Apartheid, Palestine and Israel
By Christine Gillespie
I still have a sense of incongruity when I see the word ‘apartheid’ used in relation to Israel and Palestine. I know beyond doubt that it is appropriate – within the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal Israeli settlements, joined by highways exclusively for Israeli’s use, and a “Separation Wall” annexing more Palestinian land, while Palestinians are confined and subjected to violent repression in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. There is the most intense scrutiny of those who wish or need to pass into Israel, and many are arbitrarily prevented from doing so. There are many institutional and legal restrictions on the Palestinian minority living in Israel. There is evidence of the closely entwined economic, military, and diplomatic bonds between the State of Israel and the apartheid regime of South Africa.
Growing up in the anti-apartheid era, going to Halt all Racist Tours meetings, and participating in protest actions against the 1981 Springbok tour, I was well educated in the horrors of racist violence against the black and coloured populations of South Africa. Boycotting South African wine, guavas and other products was a ‘no-brainer’. By then few would have argued openly that the white South Africans were historically or ethically justified in imposing their violent apartheid regime.
Sadly, calling out Israel as racist, colonialist, and oppressive can seem less straight forward. I first learned about the inhuman treatment of Palestinians in Palestine and in refugee camps outside Palestine in the 1970s and 80s, and have felt outraged about it ever since. But unlike the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to which people of conscience in NZ could uniquely contribute - thanks to rugby – there seemed no obvious point of contact to Palestine/Israel. And then there is the fact of the historical oppression of Jews.
To quote from a recent Quaker publication on Israel/Palestine “Some staunch defenders of Israel’s policies past and present say that even to discuss Israel in the context of apartheid is one step short of comparing the Jewish state to Nazi Germany, not least because of the Afrikaner leadership’s fascist sympathies in the 1940s and the disturbing echoes of Hitler’s Nuremberg laws in South Africa’s racist legislation.” My own discomfort arose similarly, having more recently developed friendships with Jews and people with Jewish ancestry, who identify with their Israeli relatives’ fears of Palestinian armed struggle. As a Quaker convinced of the equality of all peoples and committed to nonviolence, I felt unable to discuss with them Israel’s oppression of Palestine.
Then I happened across the campaigning group Jewish Voice for Peace, and their clear-sighted emphasis on Zionism as the ideological and political force still driving the oppression of Palestine. As more and more Jewish people inside and outside of Israel name and oppose colonial oppression, the clearer it is that what is happening in the Middle East is not religious, no matter that it is dressed up that way by settlers in ‘Judea’. It is Israeli Zionist racism, colonisation of land and resources, an unconscionable occupation, state terrorism, and apartheid. To criticise Israel for these abuses is not anti-Semitic.
Recently I took part in a rally to support Palestine organised by Te Tau Ihu Palestine Solidarity here in Nelson. We had a poster saying ‘Criticising Israel is not anti-Semitism’. The person holding it was struck by how passers-by would quietly approach her to murmur that they agreed, or give a complicit nod and a thumbs-up. No surprise when Zionists call all who oppose Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people “anti-Semitic”. A thumbs-up was braving that criticism.
Another difficulty in being brave for Palestine is how little people know about the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people. They may remember the PLO high-jacking aeroplanes, or the stories of rockets being lobbed into Israel, but little else. I was surprised a week or so ago to find that my 50 year old friend with a Jewish heritage had not heard of Zionism. Fortunately, thanks to the internet, Facebook and Youtube there is a wealth of accessible information, and somehow, we need to spread that knowledge, just as HART and other organisations educated us about South African apartheid. We are lucky here in Nelson because TTIPS has a programme of public showings of documentary films about the Nakba.
Once educated though, and educating others, there is something we can do. I discovered that a campaign calling for the boycott of Israeli products, academic and scientific exchanges, cultural contact, and of corporations supporting Israel (like the boycott against apartheid South Africa) is already 12 years old! The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement arose from 170 Palestinian civil society groups, and is a non-violent civic response. A couple of years ago, when I needed a new laptop computer, I told the salesperson why I would not buy HP, because Hewlett-Packard provides technological support to the Israeli occupation. I do not have a Soda-Stream, which is manufactured on occupied territory in the West Bank. Were I ever to need a big bulldozer, I wouldn’t buy a Caterpillar. I don’t buy Israeli foods sold in my supermarket. I can investigate whether my bank invests in companies complicit in Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territories, and encourage them to divest, or change my bank.
2017 marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration by the English colonial occupiers of Palestine set the stage for the Zionist movement to colonise Palestine and later to establish a Jewish state; 70 years since the Nakba or catastrophe: the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947/8 that expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land; 50 years since Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; and 10 years of Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza, where today water and electricity is cut off by the Israeli Military Occupation. Now is a good time to build the Palestine Solidarity movement in New Zealand.
To learn more please go to this site – it has personal stories of the Nakba up to today, as well as background history.
Jewish Voice for Peace is here
An excellent short read: “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions? A Quaker Zionist rethinks Palestinian Rights” by Steve Chase, 2017, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 445. I have drawn on his work in this essay.
Steve Chase also cites a book written by a Jewish Quaker, Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta,(2010) entitled Refusing to be enemies: Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation, published by Ithaca Press, Reading, UK.
Thoughts on Sustainability
By Lawrence Carter
First, I want to say that, in questions about the physical world we can never do better than take the results of peer reviewed science. Scientific knowledge is based on theories, which are tested by careful experiments, and the results published in peer-reviewed journals. To get to publication, a paper must endure the severest scrutiny by other scientists. Once published, it represents our best possible knowledge at that time. Over time, new theories might emerge, which could fit the observed facts better. These are subject to the same rigorous process, which decides whether these new ideas are better than the old, or not. The point is that, at any given time, peer-reviewed science gives us our very best knowledge: we can't do better!
I say this because sometimes people who don't like what science is telling them, will try to argue against it by using a quasi-scientific approach, using perhaps a scientific guru to strengthen their claim. However, such an approach is invariably found to have avoided the peer review necessary for credibility.
We seem to be in a period when multiple environmental crises are happening. Overpopulation, loss of forests, pollution of air, land and sea, decline of resources we use, loss of species, ocean acidification, the list goes on. But the one that focuses my attention the most, because of its far-reaching consequences, is climate change.
In simplified summary, the problem is this: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, since the start of the industrial revolution, causes an increase in global warming due to the so-called greenhouse effect; this warming causes polar ice to melt, and this extra, warmer water causes sea-level rise. This is likely to cause flooding problems for our cities, most of which are built on low-lying coastal margins. Nelson City Council is basing their planning on an expected sea-level rise of about one metre by 2100, which is realistic. This is the problem of climate change as outlined by our scientists, but some people in power, and especially those connected to the fossil fuel industries, refuse in public to believe these scientific truths. So we all have a problem that is even bigger than it needs to be!
I guess these concerns have come about through reading about the issues, but mostly through my association with Engineers for Social Responsibility (ESR), a group of professional engineers who accept that the professional engineer's duty extends beyond the client, to include people generally and the environment we all live in. Over the last four or so years ESR has carried out a programme of education about climate change, sponsoring peer-reviewed information sheets on various aspects of the problem, and publishing these both in print and on our website esr.org.nz. I have helped with this, and so become aware of some of the issues, especially with regard to sea-level rise.
While these concerns and actions have not come about directly through contact with Quakers, I believe they fit pretty well with Quaker values. Quakers value people. In fact each person is held to be of infinite value. Quaker values are embodied in the acronym SPICE: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality; to which has been added stewardship, or sustainability, so SPICES. Basically, it's about caring for people and the world in which we live. Quakers try to take practical steps in their lives to improve the world.
How can we live more sustainably? We all need to put a lot less carbon into the air. If we make a big effort to do this, we can take the edge off the worst effects of global warming. We need to live simple, low energy lives. Of course that's easy to say, and not so easy to do! For myself, I need to work on emitting less carbon when I travel. I have a small, low emission car, but it still burns petrol. I would really like to switch to an electric vehicle, and I need a bike too.
The real 22 progress will be made when we realise that decisions have to be made at government level to curb our emissions. In New Zealand this hasn't happened yet - our emissions per head are amongst the highest in the world, which is really shameful. We desperately need political leadership to take the hard decisions. We in our turn need to be prepared to support our politicians in taking these politically-risky decisions, which may in the short term lower our quality of life.
Walking our values
By Jan Marsh
The theme from Dvorak's New World Symphony is repeating in my head. I've been making a hash of it in my piano practice but now it's the perfect rhythm for trudging uphill. I straighten my shoulders, shift my pack a little and take a full breath, following my companion up the track. As a Quaker, stillness and waiting quietly in the present moment form a regular practice. Tramping is the perfect time for mindfulness: there's nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other and carry myself and my gear to the hut. Today it's Fenella Hut in the Kahurangi National Park, about five hours' walk from the car park. In the process I make small refinements: can I step softly, in spite of the extra weight on my back? Can I walk uphill at just the right pace for my breathing? Can I remember the next phrase of that tune? (No, but it's still perfect!)
There's inevitable disappointment: more rain than expected, no view from the top, and the challenge of keeping going with tired legs or shoulders that ache from the unaccustomed weight of the pack. A three day tramp is a microcosm with so much to teach.
Quakers have a concern for the environment, valuing all aspects of our world and striving to live sustainably and encourage others to do so. A huge part of tramping, of course, is the connection with Nature, which brings a sense of peace. Each rock has its own colour and texture, its own little moss garden, its own point of balance as I place my boot and roll my weight forward. From the tiny plants at my feet, to the beech trees around me and the grassland that sways in the wind making inland waves, I'm surrounded by a complex ecosystem. A weka rustles off into a bush, a robin hops close to my foot, riflemen work their way round a tree trunk and in the canopy the bellbird sings out, larger than life in sound but hard to spot in its green feathers. As we enter the high valley where the hut is sited, mountains surround us, reminding me that we are the tiniest blip in geological time. At night, the stars, thicker and brighter than could ever be seen in town, give an even greater scale and awe-inspiring beauty.
Then there are our values of equality and community. On the track, sharing our thoughts in brief snatches or walking alone for a time, it's tempting to hope the hut will be empty. Free use of the stove, no snoring, how good would that be? But sharing space with random strangers is part of the exercise – and mostly part of the charm. The incumbent Canadian shares his stories – and his matches. Which is just as well, because we forgot to bring any and our meals depend on at least being able to boil water. The Scotsman fills the hut with delicious smells as he cooks from scratch. He is going from here to volunteer on Stewart Island. A serious young man is connecting with his Maori roots. Latecomers bring new stories and, after dark, silently complete a jigsaw puzzle. One of them, even after 10 hours on the track, goes up the hill to fix the water supply and let the tank fill. In the morning when it's raining, I'm extra grateful to have water in the tap and not to have to take a billy to the creek.
How quickly we can befriend and trust people from different places, take an interest in their experiences, rely on them, feel concerned that they complete their journeys safely.
On the way back I reflect on how dependent I am on clean water, food several times a day, fire for cooking and warmth, shelter and a safe place to sleep. We need to be vigilant about sustainability.
As I leave, I know that when I'm not in the forest to see or hear it, vast, beautiful, amazing Nature will be working away in harmony, perfectly.