Tag Archives: J

J is for Jumble

If a job is like an outfit, at the moment I have clothes but I bought them at the jumble sale. I’ve got one long-term part-time job; a part-time short-term project I’m trying to finish off; a part-time short term project I’ve just been asked to start; a part-time short-term project I’m trying to get off the ground; long-term and short-term voluntary work which needs varying amounts of attention; and several things I ought to be doing for the sake of my CV and future prospects which are both difficult and don’t pay anything (some of them actually cost me money). Trying to prioritise this lot and make sure everything gets done – at least a bit done! – feels like a constant jigsaw puzzle, or trying to find a whole outfit in a single charity shop.

The jumble can be very creative. Sometimes it just looks like a mess. I keep telling myself that if I keep going, sorting it out one piece at a time, eventually I’ll be able to make it into a coherent picture.

I think this kind of jumble is one of the things people worry about when the issue of multiple religious belonging comes up. It’s one thing to have a jumbled set of tasks for your paid work, or a jumbled knitting box (how many non-jumbled knitting boxes are there, anyway?). It seems like another to have a jumbled set of religious beliefs and practices. One issue here is that we may over-estimate how un-jumbled the religious beliefs and practices of a so-called single tradition actually are: as Jeffrey Carlson has argued from a Zen Buddhist perspective,¬†religions as we know them now contain elements of the other religions they have descended from and come into contact with over the years. The other thing is to ask when and how the potential jumble arises, and when it’s creative: if you create a jumble by stealing, even if it’s useful it seems morally wrong, while a jumble created carefully and in love may be morally fine but neither beautiful nor helpful. (I’m sure you’ve seen assemblage art which seems to have this property.)

The jumble is at the hard of much of my way of thinking and working, and I’m committed to keeping trying with it: doing this work and that work so that I see how they relate, holding this fabric next to that and the other until I see which combination works best, and watching the ways different practices and beliefs come together to see what effects they have for people and communities. Sometimes I just want to sort things out neatly, though, even if I know that my wool won’t stay untangled and my timetable will be disrupted!

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J is for… Jargon

I’ve had a few false starts this week. I don’t feel motivated to write about Jesus or Job. I covered Joy last year. I had a brilliant idea – J is for Jail – and then realised that Stephanie got there first by spelling it with a G. So I resorted to the dictionary and was reminded about Jargon.

All in-groups develop some jargon. Some prefer to call it ‘technical vocabulary’ which is itself jargon from the world of education. You know you’re well into a group when you find yourself writing things like:

MfS got a minute from an AM about a concern, originating from a LM’s MfWfB, which was supported by QPSW; Sufferings held it in the light but BYM Trustees say they need more time for discernment.

I just made that up, and I can (and soon will) explain, but for a moment I want to dwell on the impression this makes. I’m sure it’s true that newcomers find incomprehensible remarks of this kind off-putting – I always spoke Quaker, but when I first encountered D&D players and one of them said to me, “Last session my mage rolled a 1 and got eaten by a gelatinous cube,” (or something of the sort), I was totally baffled and felt a bit excluded, especially when everyone laughed and I didn’t know why. On the other hand, I asked some questions, and googled some things, and someone described a gelatinous cube to me, and now I play D&D too (although sometimes I still have to ask whether to roll a d6 or a d10). I think we can’t avoid having some specialist terminology, and a willingness to explain may be as important as instant clarity.

MfS stands for Meeting for Sufferings, which is no clearer at all. Once upon a time, Meeting for Sufferings was the Quaker body which recorded the sufferings of Friends, when they were still more inclined to be jail-birds than is normal today. Now it’s a meeting where around a hundred Friends suffer in solidarity once every couple of months. (Not the whole truth. :-D) Meeting for Sufferings is the national-level representative body which deals with business, especially policy and discernment, affecting the whole Yearly Meeting, but which cannot conveniently be taken to the Yearly Meeting in session – some because they are too urgent, some because they are small, some because there simply isn’t enough of Yearly Meeting, some because they are in the early stages and will reach Yearly Meeting later on.

Yearly Meeting is a meeting held once a year. No representatives are appointed as such; everyone who is a member is free to attend. We have Britain Yearly Meeting, actually covering England, Scotland, and Wales, and Ireland Yearly Meeting, which covers all of Ireland (Northern and Republic). We use the term Yearly Meeting both to mean the Yearly Meeting in session (900 Quakers in a room, or 1500 Quakers in a tent), and sometimes as a shorthand for the entire membership, everyone who belongs to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) In Britain.

Within Britain Yearly Meeting, we have Area Meetings (AMs), who generally meet about once a month. An area is not really a geographical measure – some are small, like Leeds, and some are big, like Nottingham and Derbyshire. They often have names which refer to Quaker history – Sheffield and Balby is still called that because of the famous Elders of Balby Meeting, even though the place is now known as Doncaster.

Each Area Meeting is made up of Local Meetings (LMs), which usually meet once a week – when you bump into a Quaker Meeting on the ground, so to speak, this is generally what you encounter. Most people feel that their Local Meeting is their meeting, it’s the level of regular worship, pastoral care, and often study groups, shared lunches, and so forth.

A Local Meeting will often hold a Meeting for Worship for Business once a month or so, to sort out their local affairs and to look at items which might be coming up at the Area Meeting. In this example, a Friend obviously raised a concern at this meeting, and they forwarded the minute for further discernment.

It’s probably best to read about QPSW and BYM Trustees in their own words (although the latter don’t seem to have a good explanatory webpage; roughly, think of them as a small sub-set of Meeting for Sufferings who handle the nitty-gritty – money, buildings, legal stuff).¬† To hold something or someone in the Light is, depending who you ask, to pray for them, to send them positive energy, or something which is certainly not prayer but we’re not sure what else to call it.

In our last threshing meeting, a young Friend (aged 40) eldered our co-clerk for using Quaker jargon instead of plain speech. She offered a Query: “What canst thou say without abbreviations?”

J is for… Jaffa cakes

a white round pin badge with a large Q in raspberry pink, with the words 'I'm a Quaker - ask me why' around the edge

pin badge: I’m a Quaker – ask me why

When I went to university, I thought I’d try not being a Quaker for a while. My overseer at home offered to write to the Meeting in my university town, and I asked her not to. I’m going to have a break from these Quakers and explore something else, I said to myself. I’m not going to be one of those people who’s an X just because their parents are.

So when I got to university, I looked round to see what else I could be. There wasn’t a Pagan group, so although I knew I was interested in Paganism I put that on a back burner. There was a Buddhist group, but for some reason I couldn’t go – I think their meetings clashed with something else – so I left that alone, too. In hall, though, there were Christian Union meetings. I went to a couple, and kept my mouth shut, and the Bible study was interesting and the singing was fun if I ignored the words and the prayer was okay if a bit awkward… so when I met them at breakfast on Sunday morning and they said, “We’re going to go and try some churches, want to come?” I said yes.

In its way, it was a fine very church. The congregation was larger than any worshipping group I’d ever seen on a normal Sunday – more like Christmas. They met in a school hall, with the front rows perched on those benches you use in P.E. An eloquent and infuriating preacher gave us a long sermon about Jeremiah, which made my blood boil for reasons I can no longer recollect. After the service, members of the congregation took groups of students back to their homes for Sunday lunch, which was simultaneously a lovely gesture and rather a rather odd experience.

The next Sunday, I went down to breakfast and one of the CU group asked whether I was coming to church with them. “I thought I’d go and try the Quaker Meeting,” I said. “Are you coming with me?”

“No thank you,” he said, “but I hope you have fun.”

The Meeting I’d chosen, purely for being the one within walking distance, was small, welcoming, and – I say this with love – maverick. At the end, as is usual, I was offered tea and biscuits. I accepted a mug of cold water, passing up even their selection of herbal teas, and refused the biscuits. “No, thank you,” I said. “I’m not too bothered about ginger biscuits.” I think it was ginger nuts, but it could have been custard creams. I was mainly thinking about the hall-provided meal waiting for me a mere fifteen minutes away; at twelve on a Sunday I usually want my lunch, not tea and biscuits.

“What kind do you like?” they instantly enquired.

“Jaffa cakes,” I said, somewhat flippantly. It was true, although hardly the only kind of biscuit I’m happy to eat.

When I went back next week and was presented with the fresh packet of Jaffa cakes – and everyone else declined them – I realised I was going to have to keep going back until they were gone. And that’s why I’m a Quaker to this day.

J is for… Justice

…And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it…

This is one of the requests made by the version of the Druid’s Prayer with which I am most familiar. (Academic side-note: yes, Iolo wrote it, almost certainly invented it entirely. No, that doesn’t bother me in day-to-day use unless someone tries to claim that it has another source.)

‘Justice’ can be a very heavy-handed word. People sometimes use it when they seem to be asking, in fact, for revenge; I have heard it used to support the death penalty and long, harsh prison sentences with no redemptive value. It can also be ironic; consider the term ‘poetic justice’.

When I hear this prayer, though, I usually think of social justice – not an uncontested term, as wikipedia will inform you, but I think a useful one. To me, ‘social justice’ is an umbrella term which enables us to talk about ways in which so many forms of oppression – linked to poverty, sexuality, gender, skin colour, religious and cultural differences, ability, and so forth – are not just about individual prejudice, but about systemic and structural issues. Justice (equality, fairness) must be a social endeavour, based on valuing all people.

This doesn’t mean that our individual actions don’t count. We still need to consider carefully our own behaviour. It does mean that when those things don’t seem to make enough difference, when we notice that our efforts are just a drop in a rather full ocean, it might not just be that we are doing it wrong or not trying hard enough, but rather that we are up against something so much bigger.

The good news is that a society is made up entirely of individuals. (Bonus Buddhist points if you thought I was going to say that it is made up of non-society elements – also true!) It can be changed a little bit at a time – and I want to finish with a quotation which is now traditional in this context. As Gandhi may or may not have said:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

J is for… Joy

A blog I really enjoy reading is Reb Jeff‘s. He writes about joyful Jewish living.

One of the things which attracts me to paganism is the joy in living and practice which it displays. I say ‘displays’ quite deliberately, and as a compliment; I think Quakers do enjoy their religion, but it’s not obvious; and although some Buddhist groups – the Community of Interbeing comes to mind – emphasise enjoyment of the practice, it can be hard to tell when everyone is sitting or walking in silent meditation! When a group of pagans are giggling over a campfire, or a pagan author is writing lyrically about the beauties of Goddess and God revealed through non-human nature, it’s often very obvious how much fun they’re having.

Joy is the counterpart to suffering. We need each in order to fully understand an appreciate the other. In my life, I notice that I never have to go looking for suffering, while joy can be hard to find. I do enjoy mindfulness practice, and unprogrammed Quaker worship, but I find a deep expression of true joy in paganism’s way of reveling in the richness of nature – even the darker parts of it.