A great convincement

convincement book

I have to admit to not really knowing much about the Quaker movement apart from the porridge and the numerous meeting rooms I have visited around the country.

I managed to pick up (in a charity shop in Whitby for £1) an interesting book called ‘ A great Convincement’ by Monica Ventress who chronicles the story of the Quakers in North East Yorkshire (a place I do know a lot about).

Apart from discovering that I was unknowingly an Anabaptist, I just love this description of the emergence of the Gurteen knowledge cafe (the thought that David Gurteen might be a time-lord and had gone back to the 1600s as an experiment did cross my mind):

An essential of the sectarian position was that the sermon should be followed by discussion: that worship was not a matter of passively hearing the Word preached by a learned minister, but in participation by the congregation after a gifted member had opened up a subject for discussion. As time went on the practice of interrupting the parson in his pulpit, became a common occurrence. Disrupting services had been made a secular offence by an Act of Parliament in Mary’s reign (1553-1558). The Quakers always claimed a legal right to speak after the sermon was over.

The book goes on to detail the numerous penalties and imprisonments of people who interrupted services, held or attended Quaker gatherings and is genuinely shocking that these practices were seen as so threatening at the time.

I was then reminded of a Quaker based method called the Clearness Committee’ and is described in Joanna Macy’s wonderful book “Coming back to life” which explains how to seek clarity in important decisions, especially around marriage.

After the focus person summarizes the issue, members of the committee (ideally five or six trusted individuals) assist her by asking questions rather than giving advice or problem solving. Honest, caring queries, arising out of prayerful silence, help the focus person see herself and her situation in a new light and unblock her inner wisdom and authority.

A more complete and detailed explanation of the method can be found here where they explain that:

Behind the Clearness Committee is a simple but crucial conviction: each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. But that inner voice is often garbled by various kinds of inward and outward interference.

I am really looking forward to giving this approach a try at my next problem solving workshop and/or community building masterclass.

Finally in looking to see what was on the internet about this method I came across this really interesting and very relevant slide pack on the use of dialogue by the Quakers on Slideshare by Thomas J Neuville in the U.S.

I am particularly interested to discover the origins of slide 12 and its relationship to cynefin and theory U.

Horses for main courses

The Uffington Horse
The Uffington Horse

I see that the food minister says that we should not throw away horse contaminated food as there is no health issue...

By strange coincidence, yesterday, I picked up and bought this intriguing book from a Charity Shop, ‘The Pattern under the plough’ by George Ewart Evans and in it he explores why he thinks that we do not eat horse in this country:

From the early domestication of the horse, it has been suggested, there grew up so strong a link between horse and man that the horse became sacrosanct: his flesh became taboo and acquired a sacred or exalted character.

Certain animals in early times became totems … The clan developed a direct symbiotic relation with its totem and each member identified himself with it. Each clan or totem group was responsible for the fecundity and plentifulness of the animal or plant that it stood for.

As a result hobby horses appear in many countryside ceremonies and ritual dances.

The Celts, as befitted a nomadic people, prized the horse highly: theirs was essentially a horse culture.

Look also at the horse monuments carved into the chalk downs of southern England

It seems therefore that our aversion to horse may be one of the very aspects of our life that make us British, and just because it is safe to eat doesn’t make it right or we would eat cats, dogs, rats, badgers and perhaps our overweight siblings. So Owen Paterson, if the horse lasagne and burgers are safe to eat why don’t we all deliver them to Westminster and you can live on them for the next few years.

My inner bunny has short legs

There is a constant battle in my head from all this hard edged engineering, open innovation/complexity stuff and a need to draw on all the softer philosophical stories and ideas to satisfy my inner ‘fluffy bunny’.

If you are interested in only the former then skip this but for some essential bunny fodder I highly recommend a recent piece by Davd P Barash on how Buddhism and ecology both refuse to separate the human and natural worlds – and demand that we act accordingly

A few quotes taken out of context highlight why I think this adds real depth and intrigue to an ecological/ecosystem approach to knowledge and innovation.

The interconnected and interdependent nature of things is the heart of ecology

there isn’t any persistent ‘us’: just a constantly moving pattern of flow

The Buddhist suggestion that an organism’s skin does not separate it from its environment but, rather, joins the two … leads to the fundamental identity of subject and surroundings

‘A duck’s legs, though short, cannot be lengthened without dismay to the duck, and a crane’s legs, though long, cannot be shortened without misery to the crane.’

It [ecology] has been called the ‘subversive science’, since it subverts our egocentric insistence on separateness, and with it, our inclination to ride roughshod over the rest of the natural world.

Brilliant, and my inner fluffy bunny was subversive after all. Please read the original with all its wonderful illustrative stories.

Finally in trying to find the URL for this post I stumbled across this simple tale from the ARC Faiths and Ecology page:

Buddhists in Japan tell a story. The Buddha once received a donation of 500 new robes for his followers. So he considered what to do with the old ones. They would be used for bed-sheets, he decided. And the old sheets would become towels. And the old towels would be used as cleaning rags.

Now write down what you get from that story …

Ego Eco

Hat tip for this pic to my friend (and fellow tales to sustainer) Chris Holland, the didgeridoo man.  This has to be my favourite graphic of all time and encompasses everything I believe in. No needs for words, interpret it as you see fit. So much complexity. Thoughts of how the emergence of ‘ego’ created all the ‘warning stories’ of giants and monsters of the past. Smiles at comparing where the woman is positioned on the left with that on the right. Memories of the teaching stories about connecting cow and grass rather than cow and chicken. enjoy.

Who wants to live forever

There may not be a word in English for ‘Multiple belongings’ like the Welsh ‘cynefin’ but there should be.

I have just returned from the funeral of my dad and, for the first time in my life, find myself as an orphan. What I found most difficult was breaking all the connections to the past that the family had made over the years living in Roker, Sunderland. Small connections like stopping the milk, Sunderland Echo and fortnightly delivery of Ringtons Tea which had all continued without break for more than 50 years each re-enforced the finality of this event. I have drunk so much Ringtons Tea in my life that it must be detectable in my DNA.

Phoning to tell the relations gave me a stark shock that the generation that made funerals and weddings a storytelling bonanza are all but gone. My dad was the youngest and all the siblings have already departed this realm or are in care homes or house bound. The other striking realisation was that I have no close friends in the North East now yet I received 35 very much appreciated messages of sympathy on facebook showing that our new sense of belonging is very different, becoming multi-national and more virtual thanks to the Internet.

Funerals like many other businesses have taken the one-stop shopping model to an impressive but expensive state. One brief interview with the funeral director sets up all the cars, flowers, newspaper (and  internet) obituary, minister and service. The only other necessary meeting was with the local council registrar of deaths who with one click of her keyboard stopped passport, driving licence, pension, benefits, council tax, medical records and a whole lot more, which deserves to become a mobile phone app one of these days.

Meeting with the minister was a fun way to celebrate a loved one, we shared all the funny stories, many jobs and surprisingly full life that dad had had. At the service in the crematorium on Monday he then showed his ministerial experience by drawing a full and rounded picture of dad in words and stories pulling on the connections each and everyone of the congregation had with such a wonderful man.

The key story that he shared was one than my dads mother Polly (my nanna and best storyteller I have ever known) used to tell at all the funerals and weddings in the past . When Ernie was about seven he climbed onto the roof with a brick tied to a few rolled up newspapers.. The chimneys were straight in those days. White sheets were laid out in the sitting room, Ernie then dropped the brick down the chimney to clear the blockage. As he descended he was met by the next door neighbours with blackened faces. He had dropped the brick down the wrong chimney.

We entered the crematorium to a piano version of ‘Clair de Lune’ having deemed Tomita’s version, which my dad absolutely loved, a little too quirky and we left in floods of tears to the tune that was his absolute favourite from the Highlander movie, and forever a family jest that it would make a perfect exit, ‘Who wants to live forever’ by Queen.

The sandwich-making complex

Forget the house that looked like Hitler or the name of Allah appearing in a sliced tomato. At lunchtime my wife made me a simple edam sandwich today which turned into a rather complicated situation. I was taken aback at first…

Then I realised and caused chaos in the kitchen as I blurted out:

but that’s not what I ordered

and promptly un-ordered it.

If I had thought of this in time for April 1st I would have said something about adding Kraft triangles and putting it all into SandwichMaker™ with reference to making welsh rarebit but that would all be too cheesey.

What is creativity?

A man becomes creative, whether he is an artist or scientist, when he finds a new unity in the variety of nature.

He does so by finding a likeness between things which were not thought alike before         –        Jacob Bronowski

Gradually working my way through my collection of PDF’s randomly loaded onto my new Kindle I chanced this morning upon the Osho book on ‘The people of the path Vol 1.’  This is a great example of Sufi storytelling and shows just how powerful metaphorical stories can be.

In it Osho asks the question:

I want to be creative. What should I do?

to answer this question he tells a simple story:

A Sunday school teacher asked her students to draw a picture of the Holy Family.
After the pictures were brought to her, she saw that some of the youngsters had drawn the conventional pictures — the Holy Family in the manger, the Holy Family riding on the mule, and the like.But she called up one little boy to ask him to explain his drawing, which showed an airplane with four heads sticking out of the plane windows.
She said, ‘I can understand why you drew three of the heads to show Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. But who’s the fourth head?’
‘Oh,’ answered the boy, ‘that’s Pontius the Pilot!’
Become a child again and you will be creative. All children are creative. Creativity needs freedom – freedom from the mind, freedom from knowledge, freedom from prejudices.

All of Osho’s books and more wonderful SUFI stories like this can be downloaded here.

Sailing by

Staying in a cottage in Whitby called ‘Sailing By’ [booking details to be found here] and inspired by Caedmon the first English Poet and a cowherd at the local monastery I decided to complete the guest book in rhyme…

On Saturday evening, the tide was so high
It flooded the shop of mash and ‘Humble Pie’
As waves engulfed the piers and the bandstand
Leaving promenade covered in foam and beach sand

and one solitary seal went sailing by

Still stormy on Sunday, seas behaving badly
We had fish and chips over at Hadley(s)
Spent an afternoon on the west shore collecting lots of jet
While the boat trips ran upstream as the sea was far too wet

and the Esk Belle went sailing by

Foggy Monday on the moors, visibility was nil
Walked along the pier, sea was calm and still
Tuesday was sunny, cream teas at Sherlocks
Even found an ammonite down among the rocks

and four eider ducks went sailing by

Wednesday, wet again, we must have been nuts
Council began dismantling coloured beach huts
With rain on our backs, to Sandsend we marched
Reward, a pint of black sheep, we were well and truly parched

and our days in Whitby are sailing by

199 steps Thursday, yellow bus tempting to ride on
Twas here that this poem was inspired by Caedmon
Superb curry at the station, pint of Black Dog at Black Horse
On Friday, Robin Hoods Bay, we had gales of such force

and our big red umbrella went sailing by

The last of the Mormon Pioneers

Trying to trace my family tree has been a sobering experience, most of my ancestors have struggled and suffered and lived very ordinary lives in quite difficult circumstances. I recently had a breakthrough on detailed information about my great, great, great grandfather Alfred Stevens primarily because he became a mormon and the record of his life has been preserved much more than most. Connections to the Queen, mormon pioneers walking across the American plains to Utah and related to the first white man to be killed from native American uprisings – Apologies for the fragmentary nature of the narrative that follows but I feel it adds to the imagining of what they must have gone through:

Alfred Stevens, son of Aaron and Louisa Betts Stevens, was born 9 Jan 1815, in London, England. When his parents married, Aaron was 18 and Louisa was 16. They resided in London and also owned a country home in Essex. They helped supply milk for the poor.

His mother, left a widow at the age of 19 with two small children, placed Alfred and his sister, Louisa who was about eight months old, in the care of a governess while she took care of the business. The children were later put in a boarding school and soon after the mother married Mr. Greenfield, the Queen’s footman, which at that time was quite an honour.

When Alfred was 15, he ran away from the boarding school and joined the Navy. He loved the Sea, and in due time became Captain of a sailing vessel.

Alfred was of a religious nature and loved to read the Bible, which he knew and loved. On his voyages, the Bible was his constant companion.

On 21 Jun 1837 he married Miss Christina Lynd and from this union there were 11 children born. However, his twin sons, Charles Lynd and Aaron Bethel both named after their grandfathers had died as babies, one at age 14 months and the other 5 months later. These deaths were followed by two daughters, Elizabeth and Christina dying within 6 months of their births, the latter death being in 1850.

About 1850, when Alfred was 35 years old and the father of 4 living and 4 deceased children, some Mormon missionaries were on board his ship. He was drawn into their conversation, asking many questions and comparing their answers to the Bible. He was so comforted by the Plan of Salvation and knowing that this doctrine agreed with the Bible, Alfred was converted to their religion and baptized on 12 April 1851. He did not tell his wife for two years, knowing that she was very opposed to this unpopular new doctrine.

Continue reading “The last of the Mormon Pioneers”

Human kind understanding itself

My favourite TV programme at the moment has to be the wonderful ‘Rev’ which stars Tom Hollander (pictured above) as Adam, an inner city reverend.  Now I am not at all religious, but I am fascinated by religion, religious buildings and in particular religious stories and until now could never really articulate why, but in last weeks episode of Rev the Archdeacon asks  “What exactly do you stand for Adam?” and Adam replies:

I take a literal and critical view of the scriptures as divine inspired but not inerrant.

I see the bible as a metaphor. It’s a brilliant record of human kind coming to understanding itself. It’s a really good attempt at some very big questions, but it wasn’t divine dictated, it was written over many hundreds of years…”

Thank you, interrupts the Archdeacon “Ive been baptised not lobotomised”.

If only all religious leaders made as much sense as Adam I am pretty sure the religious buildings would still be the central pivot of our local communities. I remember the priest that married us asking about our beliefs and when I said  that “I wasnt sure” he gave a very similar response to the above and also described the times when he had his own personal doubts.

The final episode is on BBC2 tomorrow evening in which I know Adam has a crisis of faith. I cant wait to see it.