Tag Archives: F

F is for Framing

Framing is one way of thinking about what we do when we ask a question or pose a problem in a certain way. For example, it’s often possible to frame the same question in ways which invite very different answers. This might be a matter of the wording of the question:

  • “Aren’t you looking forward to tonight?”
  • “Aren’t you just dreading tonight?”

Alternatively, it might be a matter of context, or what comes before the question.

  • “I love seafood. Do you serve lobster here?”
  • “I’m allergic to seafood. Do you serve lobster here?”

These are extreme examples, and it can be much more subtle. For example, encouraging gay, lesbian and bisexual people to come up can still, unwittingly, send the message that their sexuality is unusual or abnormal, because it embeds an assumption that if you haven’t come out, you’re straight. Not being aware of the way in which we frame our questions, and the assumptions which we embed in them, can lead to miscommunications. In particular, being given a fact and showing in your response that you have automatically framed this as ‘good news’ or ‘bad news’ can make it very hard for the messenger to disagree with you.

Sometimes it’s necessary to draw attention to the framing of issues. Some authors, for example, have chosen to write very dense, wordy, difficult prose, not because they couldn’t write in another style or because the ideas demand it, but because in writing in a way which demands attention, which calls attention to the writing itself as well as the ideas it is communicating, calls attention to the fact that all those ideas are themselves framed by the way they are written about. In other words, the piece of text is not a clear view of the world, a description of how things are, but is always no more than one, carefully framed, perspective. Think about the tricks which a camera can play – making something seem much larger or smaller by disguising the distances involved, making something finite seem endless by keeping the ends of it out of the frame. (I have, somewhere, a photograph of an endless school corridor. It wasn’t endless, although it sometimes felt like that, but it looks endless because of the way I framed the shot.)

In the same way, we can use language to re-frame a topic. A problem can be dissolved if it reframed as a strength (the classic “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” move). A opposition can be reframed as a co-operation (football teams are in competition, but it takes two of them to make a football match). It’s not always easy to see how to do this – it requires the ability to step back and think outside the current frame, which can be very difficult if we are attached to it for some reason, especially if in some way it is keeping us safe, or if we have never been outside it. It can be well worth it, however. Consider this example: a common framing of illness is of disease as the enemy, something which must be fought. It can be very difficult indeed to speak of illness otherwise, and people who do get pushback: you’re just giving up, don’t surrender to it, and so forth (all inside that same metaphor or framing device). But an illness like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for which the only treatment is rest, cannot be fought, it must be accepted, welcomed, worked with, incorporated. And I suspect the same is true of many other things.

What in your life might benefit from reframing?

F is for Fluency

One of the ideas I like to play with is an analogy, borrowed originally from George Lindbeck: religion as language. If a religion is like a language – if learning to speak Christian is like learning to speak English – all kinds of interesting possibilities appear about how we might understand religion. One of them is that knowing your religion really well, or being really competent in it, is like being fluent in a language.

Fluency has all kinds of aspects, as anyone who has ever tried to learn a language will know. (And I don’t really, although at various times I’ve tried quite hard – I’m terrible at languages.) There’s vocabulary. There’s grammar. There’s the surrounding culture – knowing when to speak at all, for example. There are the adjustments in vocabulary and grammar for different situations, and often different ways of looking at the world. If you speak a language which distinguishes between formal and informal pronouns, for example, you have build a mental filter which sorts situations with reference to which is appropriate.

Compare someone learning a new language to someone learning a new religion. Some people will be happy with a few words picked up for fun, or enough to get by as a tourist – going to a wedding in a tradition not your own might be an occasion when you need a little of another religion in this way, for example. Some will learn a language in detail without ever really using it; it’s possible, if unusual, to study the Bible and know Christianity well without ever participating in a Christian community. It’s more common to have some grounding in a religion and then change later on (in this analogy ‘atheist’ or ‘secular’ can also be thought of as a language). As I have discussed in a previous post about belonging, it’s also possible to belong to more than one religion at once – and the image of religion as a language gives us an obvious analogy for this, being bilingual, something which is not provided by many other ways of discussing religion.

It can give us insights into the ways in which religion changes and yet is preserved – this is the focus of Lindbeck’s use of the analogy. He thinks of a language in a Wittgensteinian model, seeing that meaning is use, and focuses on the community which preserves the language or the religion. Just as English can change over time and in response to new circumstances and inventions (consider, among others, ‘mouse’, ‘gay’, and, for a religiously themed example, ‘icon’), so Christianity can change. Just as in English, fluent speakers have an instinct for what is grammatical and what is new, even in new uses of words (a new verb is still a verb), fluent Christians will know what is an acceptable development and what is not. In fact, Lindbeck is worried that without enough fluent users, religion might change beyond recognition, just as a language dies without speakers. If we share that worry, it would be worth asking: how do we train people to be fluent in our religion, whether that’s Christianity or another tradition? Can the language analogy help us to find better ways of teaching religion, as well as helping us to understand it better?

F is for… Faith and Practice

Quaker Faith and Practice is the current name for our book of discipline (in Britain Yearly Meeting). It’s an interesting book, with several different types of material in it; I’d never thought of it as a very hard read, until I tried to share it with some undergraduate students! The first chapter is Advices and Queries, which I wrote about at the beginning of this year. The rest divides roughly – and not very neatly – into two: inspirational material, mainly composed of treasured extracts from other sources, and governance material, which tells you how to run the Religious Society of Friends.

There is a cyclical nature to this document and its entanglement with the Society, especially Yearly Meeting. Yearly Meeting is the body which approves changes to the book, whether as a big overhaul once a generation or the drip-drip-drip changes which accompany our shifts of opinion and movement in the law. Assisted by various committees, it is Yearly Meeting which ultimately writes its own book of discipline. However, because the book then serves as part of our community memory, it tells us, among other things, how to hold Yearly Meeting. (You’ll find this in chapter 6.) We don’t rely solely on the book for guidance, but it is one the main sources one turns to when you want to know how to do things the Quaker way. In that sense, the book helps to create and maintain Yearly Meeting, just as Yearly Meeting creates and curates the book of discipline.

Also covered by governance chapters are other things one might want to ‘do the Quaker way’: marriage, funerals, looking after people, buildings, and money. Some of these topics are covered again in the inspiration material – so chapter 16, Quaker marriage procedure, is much enriched if you read it alongside chapter 22, Close relationships. Some things fall a little in between, like chapter 19, Openings, which contains historical material (not, as it carefully points out, “a full history”) – this history both informs our practice and methods of governance, and can inspire us.

That said, the governance chapters can have a beauty and an inspiration value of their own. Frequently cited for this is chapter 15, Property and trusteeship. Sections 15:17-15:20 deal with Burial grounds, and 20, Gravestones, is almost poetic:

“Friends are left at liberty to adopt the use of plain gravestones in any burial grounds; it being distinctly understood that, in all cases, they are to be erected under the direction of the area meeting; so that, in each particular burial ground, such uniformity is preserved in respect to the materials, size, form and wording of the stones, as well as in the mode of placing them, as may effectually guard against any distinction being made in that place between the rich and the poor.”

F is for… Finance

This post was partially inspired by a post at the Sheffield Quakers blog about The New Priesthood.

I hope that our discussion of Trusteeship – and of finance, and our relationships with our trustees and our money – will remember that They Are Us and We Are Them. Now that all Area Meetings, as well as our Yearly Meeting, as well as all sorts of semi-Quaker or connected bodies (like nursing homes and colleges and semi-abandoned Quarterly Meetings) have trustees, I anticipate that most adult members will be asked to serve as a Trustee to something or other during their lifetime. As members of Meeting for Sufferings are reminded from time to time, Britain Yearly Meeting’s Trustees are also members of Sufferings – and of Yearly Meeting – and of their own various local and area meetings.

Our finances work best when we own them – corporately – and bring their ordering under the Spirit whose guidance we use for everything else. I do not agree, needless to say, with the Friend quoted who says that the Quaker business method is not appropriate to financial matters. (I don’t know the original context of this comment, and The Friend‘s website is down at present, so I can’t find out – if you know, please comment and enlighten me.) I can imagine that there are times when it feels difficult – either because the time required feels inappropriate to the speed of today’s financial affairs, or because a meeting is led to do something which a financial advisor would deem to be silly – but I hope that we, as a Society, don’t move towards abandoning it.

In fact, I see no signs of this. In my recent contact with BYM Trustees and Quakers in Yorkshire Trustees, I found them working by Quaker methods and happy to seek the promptings of love and truth.

I once told the Yearly Meeting, in a discussion of finances, how glad I am to be part of a religious community which plans ahead, takes as far as possible sensible precautions, and doesn’t have to have endless little ‘fund raising’ drives for new carpets or curtains. (We had heard something about the virtues of churches who take risks with their money to help others, and and enlivened by the resulting financial pressure. I’m sure there’s something to be said for it, but I prefer to think that we steward our buildings as well as we can and offer money to charity when we have it to spare, rather than becoming charity cases ourselves.) We have our fair share of financial challenges. I hope we uphold our treasurers, our Finance and Property committees, and our Trustees as they work on such things – whether or not we understand their decisions.

F is for… F/friends and Family

I read several simplicity blogs – they cross over with Quaker blogs, and environmental concern blogs, and anti-capitalist blogs, and other things of interest to me. And something they say from time to time is (paraphrased): “The best thing about simplicity is having time to spend with your family” or “having time to play with your children” or “having time to talk to your partner” or “having time for really deep conversations with friends”.

It sounds ideal, I think. Then I remember that no amount of throwing my stuff away (I don’t have that much anyway), or taking up home cooking or sewing, or cutting down my working hours, will give me any of those things. I have some family, but I already spend more time talking to them than most people my age; and they are two hundred miles away, so it’s almost always the telephone. I don’t, and can’t, have children, so the question of whether I want them is moot.

I haven’t got a partner – there are people I love, but they aren’t really able to be big parts of my life right now. I love Panda, but he loves his new girlfriend; he’ll see me sometimes, but the days are gone when I could pick up the phone and invite him over on a whim. I love Otter, but she’s in Vietnam (maybe Thailand by the time you read this). Even Facebook messages aren’t getting through any more.

I get on okay with my housemates, but understandably they – a couple – want to spend their free time with each other rather than with me. (I find it hardest that I never know whether they’ll be around to talk to, or shut away upstairs.) I have some friends of the kind with whom you can make plans a week or two ahead, but many of them are far away (for given values of far: Nottingham, Winchester, Sheffield, Otley, Liverpool, Cambridge, Canada), and the two or three who are local I don’t know well enough to be casual with, to say ‘are you free tonight?’ rather than ‘shall we make a plan for next week?’

There are a few people online most nights – but typing for ages isn’t good for my wrist, especially since I do that all day; and there is always the possibility of misinterpretation. I am not ready to deal with another friend thinking that I am leading him on and want a date.

I know I ought to make new friends. (And stop complaining, and suck it up and deal, and not be needy, and not have these messy wants like ‘companionship’ and ‘someone to talk to’.) It doesn’t help that most of my communities don’t really want me. Local political campaigners put leaflets through my door saying that people like me should be limited to a certain percentage of the housing. (They say ‘shared occupancy houses’, and mean ‘students’.) The community groups around sexuality don’t really want me – lesbians usually meet in nightclubs, for example, a perfect way to exclude the chronically ill.

I don’t build up strong enough ties in any of my religious communities to make friends. I am too irregular at Buddhists (I keep having to work over the lunchtime meditations, and can’t manage most evenings). The only Pagan group I now see regularly is the one I sort-of run, and I have to be careful there not to be too bossy, not to be seen to be trying to run it, while also not asking for too much of any of the other members – to be fair, we try and spread things evenly, but it’s difficult to get the right balance. I only know the names of about a third of the people at my Quaker Meeting, and the people who know me a little tend to make assumptions (“it’s so good to see young people involved in our community! it’s so great that you’re bringing all this energy!” There’s nothing like being thanked for your youth and energy to make you feel old and fatigued).

I can’t say this to anyone who knows me, obviously. If you say to a friend ‘I wish I had more friends’, they feel insulted, and begin to wonder what horrible thing about you they don’t yet know.

Sometimes I tell myself that I have to let go of this desire, that I will always be alone, and that I have to deal with that. Other times I tell myself that it is okay to want things, so long as you don’t impose that on other people. Either way hurts. Nothing actually gets me what I want, which is someone to talk to, to listen to, to care about, who doesn’t object to my ill health or my emotions or my life choices.

F is for… Fruit

If I’m any kind of Witch at all – and perhaps I am, though it’s an identity I usually only claim in jest, preferring ‘Pagan’, ‘Druid’ and ‘Goddess Worshipper’ to more seriously describe my path – then I’m a Kitchen Witch. I don’t cook as much as I like to, but all my herbs are on a rack in the kitchen rather than in my altar tools box, and I am often aware of the symbolism of the food I eat.

Although this could be a very long post, looking at how all our food is tied into the seasons of the year, the land on which we live, and the cycle of interbeing, I thought I’d just talk about three of my favourite kinds of fruit.

I love grapes. I try and make them an occasional treat rather than a common food, because – since very few are grown in the UK and they go off quickly – they have lots of food miles and refrigeration costs. They are delicious, though, and (here comes the pagan content!) since I do not (and cannot) drink wine, they are the closest I come to a worship of Dionysus.

A marble statue of two men, one tall (this is Dionysus, on the left), drunk and with one hand flung back behind his head; he leans on a tree strump as a smaller younger man, a satyr, reaches up to try and help.

Dionysus with a satyr.

These do grow locally, and when they’re in season I love to go out and pick them – they grow along the canal, for example, so it’s an attractive walk as well as a free portion of fruit. I don’t try too hard; if they’re out of reach, those are for the Goddess and/or the birds, so I don’t get too scratched or tangled in the bushes. They’ve been eaten by human beings since at least the Iron Age, and probably long before. Here’s an interesting fact about brambles: because they are related to both roses and apples, they also have pretty five-petaled flowers – rarely appreciated, perhaps because of the thorns!

a white flower with five rounded petals, dark brown stamens, and a yellowish centre is shown against a darker green background of leaves

Bramble flower

Apples have featured in British folklore – and in other mythologies – frequently. associated with Avalon – the Isle of Apples – and various goddesses. If you cut one open, you can even tell that it’s dedicated to a goddess, because of the five-pointed star inside.

The inside of an apple, showing the five-pointed star

Apple star