Monday, 30 June 2014

"To be or not to be?" Should Quakers get involved in Politics?

 Unlike other members of my family and a considerable number of Quakers, I will own up to not being very well informed about international affairs. These days I do not get involved in discussions. Each morning I read a range of newspapers on line, and see the news no more than once a day on television.

Ironically some of this unwillingness to get involved comes from the time when I was most active in politics. Having just been elected to the local Council, I was working with some thoroughly good people, all wishing to contribute and with some very strong opinions. This was an incredible learning experience, exhilarating. and because of the responsibility, scary. Learning how to represent just one ward was hard, so it seemed best to focus firstly on those who were trusting me to act on their behalf. If one resident asked me to deal with graffiti on her walls, stop drug dealers in her road or simply remove the rubbish, that tended to take up most of my effort and concentration.

Shortly after my election I was told that political skill is almost entirely about presentation. In this process, our role was to flirt with the electorate so as to attract votes.  Since bad news needed to be carefully sandwiched, I was told off when the first concern I raised just happened to be about drugs. 

With each challenge there were so many points of view. Whenever a concern is raised, I still think of those police officers injured during a demonstration and obliged give up their career. I think of families worrying about a son serving in the armed forces who do not need my views to undermine his commitment. It would seem we all have our priorities and opinions. To me, practical support is so much more important than just having a Quaker presence or getting our voices heard.

In fairness to my colleagues, they never questioned or criticised my attitude to war although some of the implications of a Quaker peace testimony may have bemused them. Since trust in politics is usually based on a sense of common purpose, being an awkward Quaker could be uncomfortable at times. Political parties are to me a bit like systemic weed-killer, not always kind, likely to affect the innocent, but also an effective device to maintain a democratic state. When you do not have an efficient way of informing the electorate, the risk of creeping bindweed may be very much greater than the risk.

At one time, every adult Quaker in my town went to prison rather than swear an oath of allegiance. To me such loyalty to the truth is still a fundamental priority for Quakers. Although it was reassuring to think of Quakers who made a contribution to society through politics, I personally found it hard. There seemed little point in representing other people if I could not first be honest about me. It still troubles me when I see Quakers taking sides, as if one perspective is all it takes. As untrained enthusiasts for the most part, do we honestly believe we have sufficient knowledge to tackle complex international problems? In my community it is so easy for us to preach and pontificate. We are so fortunate in our freedom, in our comforts and our security. Those of us who have nothing to fear or forgive, do not I believe, have the right to make judgements about others.

Whether it be through the use of arms, a mass protest movement, in discussion, or even through winning an election, there is a certain attraction about winning. It can be very satisfying to look back on the things you were able to do and politics is no exception. If we are sincere about peace and the worth of other human beings, sometimes it is necessary to lose. Whenever I meet up with former colleagues I am impressed with their stamina and commitment. At the same time I have no regrets, knowing that standing down at the end of my term of office was the right decision for me.

Considering all the potential hazzards, perhaps it would seem a very good idea for Quakers to assume a somewhat monastic role in the world, engaged in harmless activities linked to a particular type of culture. We might choose not to hear about the dilemmas and suffering of others. In this way we could avoid being divisive, making mistakes, living out our testimonies or being particularly useful.

When I heard a few days ago about the brutal assassination of a young woman in Benghazi because she had been campaigning for human rights, was it really appropriate to think this had anything to do with me? I had once been a woman in politics and the worst anyone threw at me was an egg overnight at the front wall of our house. To be honest, I felt shamed by my own ignorance. It seemed the whole world was suffering and I had chosen to know nothing about it.

Strong opinions may result in young people being sent away to fight. Is this really what I want as a Quaker? Countries such as Libya which have suffered from the wrong type of foreign intervention over the years, might well feel entitled to tell misinformed do-gooders such as myself to just go away.

To me, resolving any dilemma needs to begin on solid ground. I know my own ignorance but am also guided by my beliefs about God and the human race. Just as I would ask someone trustworthy for directions if lost in the street, prayer should really be my first step. Do Quakers pray? If we are honest about ourselves there would seem no question that we need to.

This year as Muslims throughout the world celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, I am aware of the need to remember that we are all God's children. Whatever our religious backgrounds, or the form of words we use, it seems appropriate to remember communities that are not so fortunate as my own and pray with them for reconciliation and peace.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

When Quakers get Tangled Up - Healing our divisions.

One of the questions I am frequently asked is "What do Quakers believe? As with almost all questions involving Quakers, this usually results in a pause. Instead of being able to provide anyone with a manifesto about Quakers, or pretend that I will ever be in a position to speak for them, it seems more honest for me to talk about how I see them, and, as part of that process, have chosen to identify myself as being one.

There is the almost irresistible temptation to begin by saying, "Well of course we differ widely," Rather a lot depends on who writes what and where you happen to be (left or right of "the Big Pond". Those of us in Britain Yearly Meeting might well resort to Wikipedia before meeting up with any American Quakers, having absolutely no idea what all those groupings are about. Among ourselves we have a tendency to use the terms "Liberal" "Orthadox" and "Universalist" (At this point I should probably apologise to Quakers for leaving some of these definitions we give ourselves out.)

In recent years there has been a growing tendency get double-barrelled faith identities such as Jewish-Quaker, Quaker-Unitarian, Christian-Quaker, Buddhist-Quaker. For those of us engaged in interfaith, where there is so much diversity and choice, this very specific approach may result in changing your religious identity more times than the names of your average prisoner on the run! (unless it is possible to set up in the first place a more accurate and inclusive definition of "Quaker").


Whenever we claim a view is held by Quakers, it would seem unlikely everyone signed the form stating this to be their belief. Instead what we claim as representative is more usually a majority verdict, leading to a problem now of what to do with the rest. Should these individuals be now considered on the peripheral of Quakers? Are such views so upsetting as to constitute a threat? Perhaps we should encourage anyone who is not happy with our opinion, to worship where their presence will no longer provide a challenge?
Even when that view has been agreed by a number of Friends in a reputable place, and could be seen as resulting from our ancient testimonies, it seems to me that somewhere during this process something very important has been lost.


 These dilemmas have been with Quakers for a very long time. It would seem likely to me that if anyone had asked James Naylor what was the hardest outcome of his trial and sentencing for blasphemy, he would have said the response of other Quakers.

So what about our differences? For as start, I find it a little hard to imagine the likes of William Penn beginning his defence before an English court with a plea to be treated on an individual basis, he was a very much nicer guy than all the rest, and "of course we differ widely." Right from our very beginning, Quakers have been perceived as a job lot. You either liked or loathed them. You either put them all in prison or waited a few years, looked with appreciation at that picture of Elizabeth Fry on an English five pound note, fondly imagining that in some mysterious way every other Quaker might be like her. To those outside Quakerism we have always been one people, one insidious group of troublemakers, one stubborn set of Seekers after Truth, one group that resisted the role of priests, used silence in their worship, one group that placed such emphasis upon love in all our dealings and persisted in seeing the human race without exception as being children of God. It does seem to me as being so illogical that we should see ourselves as being divided when there has always been so great an emphasis on unity from everyone else.

 To me, it is important that Quakers should not all looking be looking at each other. Such judgements with their associated hierarchies have always been irrelevant because we believe Christ speaks to us direct. Since we are all individuals with unique needs and expectations, how we hear that message will quite naturally differ widely.

This morning I am thinking in particular about kites. As with Quakers, these need to remain attached and guided or else they are in danger of getting lost. When Quakers get entangled with each other, it is generally because they are not looking in the right direction. We can get in a right mess sometimes and then come crashing down.There will be those times when it is necessary to unravel and untangle our perception of the truth. It is important not to pull the knots tighter because this process is not about power. The line is constant, the wind an endless possibility, Like kites, we have long brightly coloured tails of experience which can help stabilise us in the sky. Who is capable of judging which way the wind will blow? Who can predict our pattern?
It would seem to me that we all need to be humble about our understanding of the Truth, concentrate upon our own spiritual journeys and refrain from judging others. At times it helps to remember that life is not an easy process. We are all Quakers doing our best to fly.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

However bad the situation, there is always something we can do.

Over the last few weeks there have been some horrible images conveyed through the television news. Religious extremists blowing themselves up in a crowded market-place, kidnapped school-girls and the brutal consequences of an advancing army, are all examples pertaining to the human race. At times such as these, perhaps I am not alone in seeking some way to make the world a better, safer, fairer, happier place despite enormous odds.

Most of us contribute to good causes. Such gifts are subject to our means and undoubtedly make a difference. I would like to think of them as symbolic of a much deeper level of commitment. The kind of support I am thinking about right now, can happen at any time and it is something anyone can do.

1-We can act first.
 Those who resort to violence do so through a belief that this is the only or the most effective option. As Quakers we have an opportunity to pre-empt this choice, by showing that we are prepared to listen, that we can be respectful of different situations and perspectives. Acting first often requires courage. We may choose to be compassionate and forgiving, taking care not to lose sight of the potential and worth of another human being. In the words of William Penn, we can
"See what love can do."

2-We can set a good example.
This is a very big commitment. By setting a good example we provide individuals and communities that may be very much less fortunate than our own with an alternative way of living, perhaps a different set of priorities, and consequently a choice.
In the words of George Fox, we have the option to
"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one."
George Fox, 1656

3-We can pray
For those Quakers brought up in the tradition of programmed meetings this may seem a very predictable suggestion. Others might own to being totally mystified by some of the language Quakers use, wondering whether "Holding anyone in the Light" says as much about our wish to seem proactive and important, and, in comparison to "proper prayer", more of a compromise arrangement.

Quakers believe that anyone can approach God directly, so perhaps it is understandable that at times we can feel a little awkward to step in, doing something those in need of support might just as easily do themselves. Instead of being proactive in our prayer, many of us prefer to wait.

It would seem to me that prayer might just as easily begin with an understanding of the human condition, as through any expectations we have of Divine Guidance or intervention. By praying, we accept our own inability to solve a situation on our own, that we can be sufficiently humble to ask for help and we are open and responsive to guidance. Instead of acting as an intermediary, I see this act as being essentially about our own relationship with God. By communicating our concerns through prayer, we demonstrate our trust in God's love.
Since God is all-powerful, prayers are never wasted. Although this may be in ways we do not expect, or through a wider perspective than we can possibly imagine, our prayers will be answered in some way.
We do not know the solution to many of the world's problems, so will never be in a position to present God with a list of alternatives that we would like him to do. Instead, I think through worship we gain clarity, and in our response to all the worlds' suffering, a renewed responsibility to communicate God's love directly and practically in which ever way we can.

The Role of Jesus 

"Consider now the prayer-life of Jesus. It comes out most clearly in the record of St Luke, who leaves us with the impression that prayer was the most vital element in our Lord’s life. He rises a great while before day that he may have some hours alone with His Father. He continues all night in prayer to God. Incident after incident is introduced by the statement that Jesus was praying. Are we so much nearer God that we can afford to dispense with that which to Him was of such vital moment? But apart from this, it seems to me that this prayer-habit of Jesus throws light upon the purpose of prayer.

I think of those long hours alone with God. Quite obviously petition can have had a very small place in our Lord’s thoughts. We cannot suppose that He whose chief desire was that God’s will should be done in all things could have been incessantly asking, asking. There must have been a sacred interchange far deeper than this. Especially are we sure that He was not praying for material blessings to be enjoyed by Himself alone. On the only occasion recorded in which He asked (in perfect submission) something for Himself, at Gethsemane, His request was not granted.

My own belief is that outward circumstances are not often (I will not say never) directly altered as a result of prayer. That is to say, God is not always interfering with the working of the natural order. But indirectly by the working of mind upon mind great changes may be wrought. We live and move and have our being in God; we are bound up in the bundle of life in Him, and it is reasonable to believe that prayer may often find its answer, even in outward things, by the reaction of mind upon mind. Prayer is not given us to make life easy for us, or to coddle us, but to make us strong … to make us masters of circumstance and not its slaves. We pray, not to change God’s will, but to bring our wills into correspondence with His."

William Littleboy, 1937
Quaker Faith and Practice  2.24

Remembering Paul Eddington on his birthday.

"A journalist once asked me what I would like my epitaph to be and I said I think I would like it to be 'He did very little harm'. And that's not easy. Most people seem to me to do a great deal of harm. If I could be remembered as having done very little, that would suit me."

Paul Eddington 1927-1995
English actor best known for his role as politician Jim Hacker in Yes, Minister and later in Yes, Prime Minister.

"A Life Well-Lived"- BBC Documentary on the life of Paul Eddington

Monday, 16 June 2014

Those whom we choose to love make us who we are.

Each morning I am reminded through watching the television news of how terrible human beings can be to each other. At times perhaps we are misled over what all our different beliefs are for, even through pride associating them with power. To me all our religions are about navigation, helping us define priorities, live with each other in a world of finite resources and make us better at being human.

Suffering appals me, especially when the terrible things we do to each are done in the name of religion. To me, this is blasphemy. I can see how easy it must be for strong forceful characters to persuade others down the wrong paths. There is also that human characteristic that if you are doing something wrong, it never seems quite so bad if you can get others to support you. Through knowing how bad and divisive human beings can be, how we get so narrow minded in our perspective and preoccupied with power, I am very glad that Quakers have always emphasised the importance of communicating with God direct.

This morning I am thinking of Iraq, in particular the many images distributed through national media of so many young men being led away to execution. One of them was wearing a football shirt, with an well known player's name on the back. It seemed only a few days ago he would have been following his team, using the example of this player as a role model. Yesterday he died for religion. Whilst families in this country were celebrating Fathers' Day, I was thinking of families not so very different to my own which through war were now steadily becoming smaller.

Although so much of the suffering that takes place goes unnoticed or unmarked, we are all I believe, loved and known in all our abilities, situations, thoughts and deeds through being without exception Children of God. It is a quite remarkable opportunity being human. When confronted however by the evidence of what we can do to each other, I think Quakers should find themselves challenged. We are not entitled to create divisions and disharmony among ourselves through holding different perspectives on the Truth. Where there is conflict, we have a responsibility to look at it honestly, and then, in the words of William Penn,
"See what love can do."
 Whilst kids in football shirts are being shot in the name of religion, I do not think we should ever believe ourselves entitled to take our peace testimony as a soft option. Instead we have a massive responsibility to live our lives as a pattern, showing absolute confidence that the Source and power of all love is supreme.

A few days ago this news story captured my attention.

This initiative by ordinary Libyan people to picture the best and most beautiful aspects of their country and then share these images with the rest of the world, meant a great deal to me. I was brought up in the country. It has been very sad for me to see all those childhood memories steadily destroyed through military rule and the recent uprising. There were many evenings in which I spent searching for news through the internet and it seemed that almost all of it was bad. At times I would see images of places that I remembered on the news only this time it was because some atrocity had just been discovered. Thanks to this initiative I was reminded of the country’s natural beauty, an amazing culture, the history, jewellery made with tiny beads and leather in the desert, the Tripoli Souq with its narrow lanes lines with merchandise and houses built around courtyards, Fezzan dates (stuffed with almonds and shaped into a block), Italian ice cream after swimming on Kilo 13 beach, The International School where there were 23 different countries represented in my class, the fun of bartering for everything when you shopped, the horse drawn taxi service which was such a treat for a child, riding my new scooter back from Nicola's toy shop, which kept getting stuck in the sand. There was a local supermarket with its own dough-nut making machine, and (because I am English and get very sentimental about animals!) my friends the goats. Some things you can get wrong as a child. There was a place we all called "George-in-popoli" I have no idea who "George" was or what he was doing in "Popoli" and can find no record of this place on the web!

Through #MyLibya I can understand what George Fox meant by describing how
"I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness."

Perhaps those of you reading my blog will feel able to support those living in communities that are not so fortunate as their own. Wherever our starting point might be, I would like to think we are prepared to set an example of the values we consider important, our religion in all its diversity is sincere, and that whatever situation we are in, love has the final say. 

These days it does not seem all that important that I write as the "Secret Quakers". Names are given to us at birth, usually by our parents. The reasons for their choice could well seem quite random, something they liked the sound of, to honour a relation, the prevailing fashion, or even the actual meaning. Most of us have the uncomfortable knowledge that you have been named after someone else, ideally a reputable person! However hard expectant couples scan the dictionaries in search of ideas, none of our names are unique. Some of us have an unfortunate tendency to forget names the moment you are introduced, almost as if other characteristics about that person matter more. Even among those closest to you, names can get confused. I remember at one time my four year old getting very cross with me because I had just called her and instead the dog came running!
Instead of relying upon our names, I think it would be more honest and more accurate to accept that those whom we choose to love make us who we are.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Quaker dog-training. How good are we?

My mother's little dog was a very sweet character and good most of the time. There was one thing however about her that puzzled me. Whenever you gave her a command such as "Sit" or "Lie Down,"  she would wait for a moment as if considering the request, then perform the task as if this was a joint decision. For some reason she would always say "Woof" afterwards.

 Over the years I have become very used to rescue dogs, at times very naughty rescue dogs who really push the boundaries while they are with you, and then become destructively devastated when they are not.
It would seem a better character reference to say that my present "personal trainer" was once the kind of dog you see advertised by animal rescue charities as having been badly treated, and who deserves a second chance. Instead however, I have that uncomfortable feeling that even rescue dogs can be very much like their owners. This one with a proud record of extending both my physical and mental endurance, is still quite a rebel, very strong willed and with a great sense of fun. Instead of being a truly deserving case, it would seem most likely to me that she ended up on the streets just through taking herself off- being very naughty. Whether or not we always deserve it, there is compassion about!

Anyway, my mother's King Charles Spaniel had a great sense of self-importance, as would seem fairly typical of the breed. Whenever I see these dogs about, it is so tempting to ask their owners if these "little angels" also answer back. Through living in England, I can imagine these little dogs sitting on plush cushions in a Restoration Court, or even a royal lap, knowing all too well that with a possible exception of his mistresses (of which there were quite a few) they were undoubtedly Charles II's favourite subjects.

A little dog such as this one could well have been present as two plainly dressed women presented their case about Quakers. Charles II listened to Margaret Fell and Ann Curtis explaining why Quakers were loyal subjects even though through loyalty to their conscience it was impossible for them to take an Oath of Allegiance. From their very privileged position these little dogs could look down on all delegates. They already knew how to be socially acceptable, enjoy every possible comfort and get their own way at court.

These days it would seem Quakers are presented with a choice. In the past we would follow certain commands without question, even if this meant loss of property, imprisonment, and considerable personal danger. Now we are more assertive about what we believe to be our rights and so there is the cushioned option.

This transformation would seem to me as being very strange since the authority which spoke to early Quakers hasn't changed. There are still the same Scriptures containing laws and commandments, besides the many available insights of other faiths to enrich our perspective of the truth. At times however there is a tendency among Quakers to re-negotiate their position, so that we can also be like royal dogs, aiming somewhat lower in our search for a pack leader. Although you cannot serve both God and Mamon, it would almost seem at times that Power might also do.

Present day Quakerism may involve a process to consider whether a command suits our present condition, rather than to demonstrate implicit trust in our Master. Even when we are living according to our testimonies, there is a considerable temptation among Quakers to say "Woof" "Did you see that?" "That was our peace testimony!" "Just look what we can do!" Because we are talking about now, people these days people will then scratch us between our ears and say what lovely creatures Quakers can be. Since the world is a wonderful place when everyone likes you, how hard it is to resist rolling over onto your back, getting your tummy tickled and then forgetting entirely what you did to begin with. At times like these, it can be harder to tell the difference between a dog and a cushion.

In the past, Quakers seemed much more reliant on their horses to carry then about the country rather than to take on dog ownership in a big way. This isn't to say that besides companionship dogs didn't have their uses.

Nearly all dogs are acutely aware of a need for leadership and their food source. Perhaps Quaker dogs were also very much like their owners. Nearly everyone was hungry due to the general privations of the time, and their owners were undoubtedly hungry after truth. There might have been dogs living at Swarthmore Hall to guard the property (where's the account book of Sarah Fell when you need it!?) Here they would have identified with the household in some way, knowing that they was something important to defend.

No doubt there were rat catchers, birds that needed scaring away and dogs that brought food for the table because if you happened to live in that household there was always going to be an awareness of what you are up against and then some sense of mission. Although some dogs in those days undoubtedly lived on cushions, being a Quaker has always involved a journey and some kind of adventure.

I wonder if Quakers these days can feel quite the same degree of loyalty to the past. Perhaps we look at all those ancient letters and documents, find them a little hard to decipher, re-negotiate, and then woof having achieved considerably less than we might do.

So where are we now as Quakers? Has obedience to the truth now gone out of fashion? Should we enter dog shows even among other faiths because we still have something to offer? Do we celebrate diversity as you do among dogs, identify our talents and then do the appropriate training. Quakers can be very good at obedience training, jumping through hoops, running along see saws, climbing ramps and wiggling through sticks to help make the world a better place so perhaps we should do this often.

Monday, 9 June 2014

A Story to Unite the Human Race

I was first introduced to The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling at about the age of Six. These accounts of how certain animals were modified to gain their current form were to be found in the somewhat heavy, rather intimidating, " Children's Treasury of English Literature" I received on my sixth birthday. It was some time before I ventured beyond the traditional nursery rhymes because for some reason the print gradually went smaller and all the illustrations mysteriously turned black and white!

When I first read about how the camel gained his hump, it seemed a bit unlikely although I didn't like to say. Through being brought up in North Africa, I was used to seeing these somewhat grumpy animals with a tendency to spit at you about. Leopards however seemed even more amazing once the writer had drawn attention to their spots. I was told how the rhinoceros got his skin, about the whale's digestion, and that tragic account (made considerable worse as I believed it at the time!) of how a baby elephant gained his trunk. It suddenly occurred to me that through these improbable accounts I was being quite deliberately provoked to ask questions.

As an adult I have continued to ask questions. It seems more helpful for me to interact with the Scriptures, rather than just read them. At times I will ask the writers "Why are you telling me this story?" "Is this simply because you wish to provide a historical record, or is there a different reason?"

My understanding of Bible stories is that they often have a tendency to work backwards. Someone notices something. It may be about their environment, a person, or something that has happened, then a story is built up around it. For me the story of Noah's Ark is comparable to those I read as a child which filled me with a sense of wonder about animals I had never seen and encouraged me to ask questions.

Some years ago I whilst teaching five year olds, I was amazed to see the story of Noah's Ark set as part of the curriculum. There seemed a distinct risk of totally freaking out a class of impressionable young children by this terrible account of how a vengeful, very disappointed God eliminated the entire human race with the exception of one family and brutally culled the animal population whether or not they were good.

Children these days are much more aware of natural disasters conveyed through the innovations of television and the internet. Perhaps this makes them steadily immune to the suffering of others, or else broadens their perspective in a way I couldn't possibly have imagined as a child. The Japanese tsunami in December 2004 during which thousands of people lost their lives, may have seemed to a great many horrified onlookers as an arbitrary act of God.

When my colleagues enthused about the art possibilities associated with painting a very select few happily climbing onto the ark, I wondered if we might be presented with pictures of drowning people and animals to put on the classroom walls. Would this story also seem about about an uncompromising God, distributing justice on an undeserving world not entirely unlike our own?

In linking this story to the rest of the curriculum, we thought about design, technology and how journalists would report the events. Although journalism may have been a particularly saintly occupation in those days, enabling them to escape the flood, it seemed as if we teachers might be missing the point. This seemed particularly apparent when my colleagues got enthusiastic about ancient maths (my most hated subject), as if we hadn't got enough of it already!

Scientific discoveries during the past hundred years have also impacted upon the story of Noah's Ark. Most children for example, know something about dinosaurs yet these are not the animals usually associated with the ark. 

Among archaeologists there have been strenuous attempts to locate remains associated with Noah's Ark. It is debatable how much they have succeeded. I am most definitely not in a position to pass judgement upon their investigations nor should I wish to do so. To me, this search for historic truth may provide fascinating discoveries but can also distract from the main purpose of this story.

Instead I would like to imagine some child in the very distant past, seeing all the diversity and wonder of the animal kingdom, the way in which human beings all seem to be connected, a shared morality and perhaps even that rainbow in the sky and then asked for a story about how we all came to be sharing the same earth together.

To me the most important aspect of the story of Noah's Ark is that it came to be remembered, perhaps many many generations before it was written down. I do not think this was because of its historic accuracy, association with justice or through the ecological implications and our present risk of global warming. To me this ancient account of a man building a boat and then filling it with animals is about human identity and the possibility of creating new beginnings, both in the time of Genesis and now. What better story to draw the human race together! We are all Children of Noah, one family, one fantastic opportunity of freewill and life upon this earth, with laws drawn up for our own safety and happiness, and all in the same boat together. Together we have one God, with a responsibility to be honest about our understanding of the divine, honouring and keeping the laws we have been given. If our focus is upon God, we will see his promise, that rainbow of many colours in the sky, all united in a single purpose, just as we are one family one earth.

Written with many thanks to my local branch of the Friendship Dialogue Society for inviting me to share Ashura with them and then sending me back to my family with lots of Noah's Pudding to share!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Pentecost. Making it happen all the time.

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.…"


Although an understanding of "The Spirit" is fundamental to Quakers, instead of celebrating Christian festivals such Pentecost, we adhere to our ancient testimony of "times and seasons" in which every day is to be considered  holy.  It seemed particularly significant to me that none of the ministry at our Quaker Meeting this morning mentioned it was Pentecost Sunday.

To anyone visiting it might have seemed Friends had forgotten this Christian festival entirely. This could have seemed surprising. At times our emphasis upon the Spirit, and the manner in which we have traditionally reacted to it, has led to comparisons between Quakers and the Pentecostals. There are striking parallels between Quaker silent worship and the practice of glossolalia [modern Pentecostalism]. Our silent worship also involves a kind of letting go, a lack of strain or effortful attention, a willingness to "flow" with the leading of the Spirit and with the larger movement of the entire meeting. ... As in the case of glossolalia, the process of speaking out of the silence and of listening in the silence involves a resting of the analytical mind, a refusal to let deliberative, objective thinking dominate the meeting. The early Quakers received their name because they literally "quaked" through the power of the Spirit.

Typically George Fox wrote to Friends in the Ministry
" So the ministers of the spirit must minister to the spirit that has been in captivity in every one, so that with the spirit of Christ people may be led out of captivity up to God, the Father of Spirits, and do service to him, and have unity with him, with the Scriptures, and with one another."

Advices and Queries Number 9 describes how
"  In worship we enter with reverence into communion with God and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit."

These days, among ecumenical gathering where Quakers may seem quite different from other Christians, there could well be an audible sign of relief whenever "The Spirit" is mentioned.

For that first Pentecost, disciples gathered together in an upper room. During the past few days they had suffered the brutal crucifixion of their leader, a huge sense of loss, and guilt because they had either chosen to disassociate from Jesus or else run away. Now, despite considerable danger of arrest, these same disciples chose to celebrate the ancient Jewish festival of Shavu'ot. This coming together showed how despite the recent past, their own grief and all that was going on around them, they wished to recognise how God had given them a law through the prophet Moses. From that ocean of darkness and despair, the disciples had a sudden realisation of God's power. Through honouring Jewish law, they saw the connection between Moses and the leader they had lost. Instead of hiding away in the past, the disciples decided to put things right. Without having any more protection than a sense of mission, they went out into a huge crowd to proclaim Jesus as God's Messiah. This first Pentecost came about through loyalty to the truth, a commitment to put things right, and love for all the people who just happened to be in Jerusalem at this time.

Among Quaker meetings, we may also have those times of darkness and despair. Through gathering together as Friends we also recognise the importance of loyalty to our best understanding of the truth. Through turning towards the Light, we see our mistakes, how to put things right and experience the power of repentance. God works in many ways according to our condition. From meeting together and experiencing God's transforming love, we also go out into our communities, with a mission to work for God's Kingdom.

It would seem to me that the apostles realised the importance of making the effort to reach people rather make assumptions about their own charisma and importance. That ability to speak in many tongues happens all the time.The skills we use these days may be very different from the apostles. In whichever way we choose to serve humanity, it is still love speaking.

It would seem to me that Quakers do not celebrate festivals such as Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost because we do not see them as being historic events. Through honestly about ourselves, loyalty to the truth and by coming together in worship, we recognise God's transforming power happening all the time. Each moment of our lives there is an opportunity to recognise the leadership provided through the teaching of Jesus, put aside our own pride for this new law, and work for God's Kingdom

Friday, 6 June 2014

Why do we have to be so bad?

Through being actively involved in my community for many years, I was quite regularly asked what Quakers are really like. There was a huge temptation to begin by saying that we differ widely, which is true but not a particularly good answer to their question. I could not for example imagine George Fox climbing upon that rock at Firbank Fell, then begining to preach in front of hundreds of people with the words "Well of course, we differ widely."

In many instances my problems were compounded by the follow-up question, "So what do you do?" Although (as readers will already know!) I will sieze on any opportunity to talk about history, this curiosity seemed to be about the present. With some reluctance I decided to hold back on all our Quaker tapestry panels and how that lady on the English five pound just happened to be a Quaker. Instead it would seem appropriate to observe how Quakers like to be included and will regularly express their views about war. Although this observation may not be fair of all Quakers, this preference for sharing an opinion rather than more mundane methods would seem particularly ironic. Quakerism began as a reaction against preachers who attracted the attention of George Fox because their lifestyle did not suggest they were particularly sincere.

Increasingly I have been reminded of the old English nursery rhyme about the girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead.

"When we are good, we are very, very good,

But when we are bad, we are horrid."

Within Meetings for Worship, throughout our history, and on the social network sites, there would seem a marked tendency for fallings out among Friends. Whereas in other faiths there is so often a proud record of saintly beginnings, our history has to accommodate the story of James Naylor, the Wilkinson-Story controversy involving the same generation of children who kept their meetings alive when their parents were in prison.
Since we have no clearly identified leadership, that "envious spirit" would still seem a particular risk among Quakers. For anyone who has every been stung by other Quakers, there will be times of desperate searching for answers, starting within our own consciences but also about the ways we operate. Time and time again words keep going over in our head,

"Why do we have to be so bad?"

It would seem to me that this problem is made considerably worse through a misunderstanding of our testimonies. That commitment to honesty should I believe begin from within ourselves. It will involve accepting that other people have a different perspective and that our own spiritual journey involves understanding its importance. When Quakers "bash each other about" this process should be seen as being no different from that of any other human being. Forget any previous conceptions that Quakers are entitled to this type of plain-speaking. Such behaviour should I believe be very firmly recognised for what it is-  inconsiderate and rude.

When we identify certain individuals as being evil, because we do not agree with their opinions, this is quite the opposite from acting through a belief that there is that of God in everyone. How can we call ourselves peace-makers if the way in which we choose to operate involves cruel selective judgements, ignoring a possibility of common-ground, and an operating process that actively drives people apart? Instead of building bridges, there is no reaching out so we end up with a tower.

Some of our problems may be made considerably worse through the manner in which we listen. Although listening to each other is undoubtedly a good thing, we also need to be aware that what is being communicated is a perspective and that the willingness to listen does not represent an endorsement. Quakers should not be naive in their wish to focus on the brighter side of life. We are not exempt from having our own agendas and these may not necessarily be good ones. In listening to others we need to be aware that defamation of character is a criminal offence, extremely damaging to the victims, and take care not to condone this. Our role as listeners should be to reconcile, drawing a meeting together as Friends. This role will be impossible if we are selective in our choice of evidence and not entirely honest to begin with.

Throughout this blog I am regularly going back to the theme of leadership among Quakers. It would seem to me there is a particular risk in focusing too much upon each other. Our ability to assist and support is limited, and that love which enables us to act like Friends comes from God. It would seem our role should be more about pointing others in the right direction rather than to pretend we as individuals or as an organisation, have everything they need. Since the need to be led is a consistent trait among humans, it would seem crucial that in times of difficulty or dissent among Quakers, we should look to our leadership for guidance.

For those who have ever argued that our Movement is now entirely a gathering of Friends, progressing towards non-theism as our norm, all our decisions should be made democratically, so that instead of looking towards God for guidance, we look towards ourselves, it would seem appropriate to reply that even with a collective opinion, people can make mistakes sometimes.

In the absence of all other hierarchies, and invested with enormous freedom, no wonder Quakers can make a bit of a mess of it sometimes. Our identity is however grounded upon a commitment to truth and the knowledge we have a choice of direction. Whenever we encounter problems within our Meeting, this would seem to me as being an opportunity to re-evaluate our position. As Quakers, we have a responsibility to work for God's Kingdom. Since Christ has come among us as our teacher, what would he do now, to bring Quakers together?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Quaker fashion tips

"Personal pride does not end with noble blood. It leads people to a fond value of their persons, especially if they have any pretence to shape or beauty.

Some are so taken with themselves it would seem that nothing else deserved their attention.

Their folly would diminish if they could spare but half the time to think of God, that they spend in washing, perfuming, painting and dressing their bodies. In these things they are precise and very artificial and spare no cost.

But what aggravates the evil is that the pride of one might comfortably supply the needs of ten. Gross impiety it is that a nation's pride should be maintained in the face of its poor."

William Penn, 1669
Quaker faith & practice 20.29

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

When "Sorry" seems to be the hardest word

Some weeks back I attended our local Anglican Church. Since this was the first time I had been for a great many years, it did seem quite amazing how much of the service I remembered.

In the pattern of most churches, the congregation of which I had chosen to be a part of that morning, all said "The General Confession" very early on in the service. The words we spoke were quite unquivocal about the impact of sin and the role of Jesus Christ as our mediator with God.

"ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father;
We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen."

To me, we are all God's children. The role of Jesus is for me more as a pattern and a teacher so the usual practice in churches of saying prayers through Christ as a mediator does not really speak to my condition. As a Quaker, I have adopted silence as being the most appropriate way for me to communicate with God.
At the same time I am very glad whenever other forms of worship remind me of sin. Since some form of cleansing is considered necessary for all other faiths before worship, I see no reason why should Quakers be exempt.
Traditionally sin has tended to be a subject we tend to pass over rather quickly. George Fox's visionary statement originated I believe through a very uncomfortable realisation of his own sin besides that he could see all around him at the time. During the years of Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate, he had made an agreement with a military dictator. His highly pragmatic response to James Naylor enabled him to remain on the right side of the law but was notably lacking in compassion. At this time of immense turmoil, George Fox recalled how,

 "I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.”

These days Quakers may feel more inclined to take these words more as a weather report than reason to address certain characteristics evident in every human being. Instead of focusing about the inward struggle, we would seem to prefer singing along with the Monty Python Crew about how we should always look on the bright side of life. The very controversial film "Life of Brian" from which this song originates ends in irony as a huge pit is gradually revealed before the condemned prisoners.
 Turning a blind eye to sin represents a huge risk. I remember once being told that my particular failing as a leader was this unwillingness to accept its presence. In doing so, I risked letting people down, even putting them in danger. Without recognising the darkness in ourselves and human nature, it would seem to be fog and not that glorious "Ocean of Light" that we see.

Some years back I remember being invited to attend a talk given at one of our local mosques. I arrived early and was shown into an empty room. At no time that evening did I actually see the speaker, although it was very nice to be joined by several Muslim ladies and their children. The talk was given in Arabic and relayed to us through a sound system. It was evident to me that the people of this mosque had a very precise understanding of God in which everyone was expected to know their place.
Although I was a little put out by these arrangements at first, we had a fantastic evening. The Speaker could not stop for a meal the ladies had prepared, so instead we enjoyed it. During our meal together, this lovely group of Muslim women told me that the talk had been about forgiveness. According to Islam, there is no intermediary pleading with God on our behalf. Instead of focusing upon justice a Muslim believes that if a sinner is prepared to recognise their sin, tries to put things right with the person who has been affected and then takes measures to resist further temptation, it is with Allah as if that sin never happened. 
We all have different perspectives of the truth and an opportunity to learn through the insights of others. That evening I was confronted with my own pride and put very firmly in my place. Through my contact with Islam, without even hearing the speaker, I gained an understanding of God's love and forgiveness that has remained with me ever since.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Taking a toy train ride.

This morning is a little quiet, a good opportunity for catching up on various jobs although for the present I am thinking very happily of the time I had with my grand-children this time last week.

The focus of our activity was a wooden toy train set. These are very popular in Britain for developing a wide range of skills including (through the way carriages are joined together), an understanding of  magnets.

Undaunted by its educational possibilities, within a few moments I found myself sitting on the floor, putting the various pieces of track together to make a layout. This is not something that I am particularly good at. Whereas other family members are always able to produce a circuit, my attempts reflect the way my mind works, to ramble on, eventually running out of the right pieces and one end usually disappearing under a sofa.

When all the pieces are in place "Little Brother" is moved beyond grabbing distance because among all the many hazards endured by the railway network, such as "leaves on the line" and "the wrong type of snow", perhaps the most alarming is to be placed in a baby's mouth. At some point however it will become clear to my grand-son what all these different pieces are for.

It may seem a little narrow sometimes, although the purpose of any clearly defined track is to make things easier. In life there will also be obstacles, uneven ground, furniture and rugs to work around. Perhaps those Victorian Quakers who were so actively involved in the railway, had a particular understanding of the need to prioritise our surroundings. Through careless feet and unreasonable babies, there could also be a sense of injustice. In these instances we have a choice, either to keel over onto the carpet or experience bravery and persistence. Life is intended to be worked at. Our course through it will need regular maintaining.

Once the railway is complete, my grand-daughter likes to take control. She will  place her engine on the track, align various wagons and carriages behind it and, assisted by the magnets in their buffers, push them gently together. Although we do not as yet have a platform (or passengers) since trains move forwards and backwards, our passengers (who may only be imagined) already have the dilemma of not knowing in advance where to expect first class. They may run to the front or the back, or more wait hopefully somewhere in the middle. With trains, especially trains that manage to arrive on time, it is enough just to be there. As in life, we may have expectations, only to find ourselves humbled.

It takes some practice fitting wagons and carriages together. At times carriages seem in harmony, all being pulled along together in the right direction. There are however other instances when instead of seeming attracted to each other, carriages back off in quite the opposite direction. For some mysterious reason no amount of pushing can bring them together.
At times it is easy for us to forget the magnetic side of human nature which instinctively responds to the presence of God and pulls in the right direction. Those instances when it all seems to be going wrong are only an opportunity to stop, reassess the situation and gradually turn your carriages around.In many faiths this process of transformation by changing direction is called "repentance." I like to think we are prepared to do this often among Quakers.

Within our meetings there may be a temptation for everyone to think of themselves as an engine, invested with the right and ability to negotiate their own course through life. Since we have no clearly defined hierarchy, our search for humility may be the most difficult part of the journey. With each point and each moment there is a choice.

The right engine will help carriages stay on the rails, just as with life. Choosing the right one is often the result of background. To those adults looking for perfection, a 1930's steam engine might look a little strange pulling carriages designed for the Channel tunnel. A child however might use an entirely different set of criteria such as colour or the ability to go under a particular type of bridge. In life and as on certain toy railway layouts, this can be a bit of a problem. Among Quakers some may look exclusively to follow Jesus whilst others deliberately look to the insights of other faiths. As with life, the test of any toy engine is to see if the magnet works and where it chooses to take you.

With each moment and experience there is an opportunity to learn something new. We may not get things right first time, and need to practice certain skills. It is just as well that life also has a tendency to go round in circles. All the time there is a choice about the direction in which we choose to face and whether or not to hold on.

My  grand-daughter has a very good imagination. Her train always goes to the seaside, and to the zoo. Sometimes the route is a little more mundane although "shopping", especially "toy-shopping", can be a very exciting experience to a child. Her little toy train is gently guided to experience wonder, given time to learn from experience and so through this journey of discovery, gain the things that it needs- as in life.


The Valiant Sixty

A group of early Quaker itinerant preachers, mostly from northern England, who spread the ideas of the Friends during the second half of the Seventeenth Century.
Also called the First Publishers of Truth

 "The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us, and catch us all, as in a net, and His heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land... the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and great admiration, insomuch that we often said to one another, with great joy of heart,'What? is the Kingdom of God come to be with men? And will He take up His tabernacle among the sons of men, as He did of old? And what? shall we, that were reckoned as the outcasts of Israel have this honor of glory communicated amongst us, which were but men of small parts, and of little abilities in respect of many others..."
Francis Howgill

Ayrey, Thomas, Yeoman (Husbandman), Birkfield.
Aldam, Thomas, Yeoman, Warmsworth.
Atkinson, Christopher, Kendal.
Audland, Ann, Wife of Shopkeeper, Preston Patrick.
Audland, John, Linen Draper (Farmer), Preston Patrick.
Banks, John, Glove Maker (Fell-monger and Husbandman).
Bateman, Miles, Husbandman, Underbarrow.
Bensen, Dorothy, Wife of Yeoman, Sedbergh.
Benson, Gervase, Yeoman (Husbandman), Sedbergh.
Bewley, George, Yeoman (Gentleman), Haltcliffe Hall.
Birkett, Miles, Miller, underbarrow.
Blaykling, Anne, Sister of Yeoman, Draw-well.
Blaykling, John, Yeoman (Husbandman), Draw-well.
Braithwaite, John, Shorthand Writer, Newton-in-Cartmel.
Briggs, Thomas, Husbandman, Bolton-le-Sands.
Burnyeat, John, Husbandman, Crabtree Beck.
Burrough, Edward, Husbandman, Underbarrow.
Camm, John, Yeoman (Husbandman), Preston Patrick.
Camm, Mabel, Wife of yeoman, Preston Patrick.
Caton, William, Secretary, Swarthmoor Hall.
Clayton, Richard, Yeoman, Gleaston-in-Furness.
Dewsbury, William, Shepherd (Clotheir), Allerthorpe.
Farnsworth, Richard, Yeoman, Tickhill.
Fell, Leonard, Husbandman, Baycliffe.
Fell, Margaret, Gentlewoman, Swarthmoor Hall.
Fisher, Mary, Servant, Selby.
Fletcher, Elizabeth, Gentlewoman, Kendal.
Fox, George, Shoemaker (Shepherd), Drayton.
Goodaire, Thomas, Yeoman, Selby.
Halhead, Miles, Husbandman, Underbarrow.
Harrison, George, Gentleman, Sedbergh.
Hebden, Roger, Tailor, New Malton.
Holme, Thomas, Weaver, Kendal.
Hooten, Elizabeth, Wife of Yeoman, Skegsby.
Howgill, Francis, Farmer (Tailor), Grayrigg.
Howgill, Mary, Sister of Tailor, Grayrigg.
Hubbersty, Miles, Husbandman, Underbarrow.
Hubbersty, Stephen, Husbandman, Underbarrow.
Hubberthorne, Richard, Yeoman (Soldier), Yealand Redmayne.
Kilham, Thomas, Gentleman, Balby.
Lancaster, James, Husbandman, Walney Isle.
Lawson, John, Shopkeeper, Lancaster.
Lawson, Thomas, Gentleman (Schoolmaster), Lancaster.
Parker, Alexander, Husbandman (Soldier), Ardsley.
Nayler, James, Butcher, Bolton Forest.
Rawlinson, Thomas, Gentleman, Graythwaite.
Rigge, Ambrose, Schoolmaster, Grayrigg.
Robertson, Thomas, Yeoman, Grayrigg.
Robinson, Richard, Yeoman, Countersett.--distinguished from R.B. of
Salthouse, Thomas, Husbandman, Dragglebeck.
Scaife, John, Day-Labouer, Hutton.
Simpson, William, Busbandman, Sunbricke.
Slee, John, Husbandman, Mosedale.
Stacey, Thomas, Yeoman, Cinder Hill.
Story, John, Husbandman, Preston Patrick.
Stubbs, John, Husbandman (Schoolmaster and Soldier), Co. Durham
(convinced at Carlisle).
Stubbs, Thomas, Soldier, Pardshaw.
Taylor, Christopher, Schoolmaster, Carlton.
Taylor, Thomas, Schoolmaster (Beneficed minster), Carlton.
Waugh, Dorothy, Servant, Preston Patrick.
Waugh, Jane, Servant, Preston Patrick.
Whitehead, George, Schoolmaster (Grocer), Orton.
Whitehead, John, Soldier, Holderness.
Widders or Withers, Robert, Husbandman, Over Kellett.
Wilkinson, John, Husbandman, Preston Patrick.

(Cut and paste with thanks to this link which quoted from
Elfirda Vipont's _George Fox and the Valiant Sixty_and
Ernest E. Taylor in _The Valiant Sixty_ (1947; rev. ed. 1951)

Monday, 2 June 2014

Is it all just Doom and Gloom for Quakers?

Those of us who have visited very old Churches or have an interest in early art may already be familiar with depictions of the Last Judgement. Of these "Paintings of Doom," one of the most spectacular may be found in the church of St Thomas and St Edmund in the English Wiltshire City of Salisbury.

I discovered this medieval wall painting quite by chance. There was a heavy rainstorm, and since the bus to take me home wasn't due for another half hour, I sought shelter in a church. On entering that building, quite unexpectedly, some medieval artist completely blew my mind!

A huge brightly coloured fresco completely dominated the chancel arch and surrounding walls. This late medieval masterpiece had been commissioned some time between 1470 and 1500 by a grateful pilgrim. At the time of his gift England was bitterly and brutally divided. Rival claimants for the Crown brought terror and much suffering during these Wars of the Roses. During those tumultuous times, where secular authorities were in turmoil, it must have been immensely reassuring that in religion the country was united, under the oversight of Rome. Confronted by this forceful representation of Christian theology, a largely illiterate population were now to be left in no doubt of the power and decisiveness of God.

As the Reformation swept across Europe, the fresco in St Thomas and St Edmund's Church was to be one of a great many covered over. For centuries afterwards its congregation worshipped without the distraction of religious imagery. In 1819 however traces of paint were discovered. As the whitewash was gradually removed, a glorious and uncompromising Christ in his Majesty was once again revealed, in the company of saints, apostles, and an angelic host, to judge the souls of the dead.

These days it would seem as if our relationship with God may be compared to our attitude towards the European Union or other International alliances. In these arrangements there is generally understood to be a distinct good side associated with peace, mutual support, material benefits and a principle of generally loving each other. At the same time however there is also that uncomfortable feeling of not being entirely in control of your own destiny, wishing to maintain your independence and fears that a disproportion of benefits would seem to be going to others. Instead of accepting God's authority, we try to negotiate our position. Our preference is for love, light, and that certain feel-good factor, whilst the perception of power, judgement and Christ seated at a very much higher level is so often greeted with dismay. To the modern mind, those Salisbury parishioners view on the Day of judgement theme was probably a false alarm. Through pride  the God we select becomes less conscientious about justice, subject to evolution and not quite so powerful as we thought. Through asserting our independence we become that bit less secure.

Before Quakers take out that tin of whitewash to enthusiastically obliterate the past, I think it may be helpful to revisit that painting. Confronted by doom, we are mindful that it has never been possible to represent God. Instead of even attempting to do so, it would seem to me that this image of Christ sitting in judgement is to be used as a mirror, so that human beings of all generations may gain a greater understanding of themselves.

To me, the use of judgement as a theme is not an attempt to predict the future, or even provide us with a stern warning. It is also not a question of getting the right theological answer as if at some point St Peter will greet us at the pearly gates with a knowing wink, saying " I got there pretty close to first. Very nice to see that in these difficult theological questions, you've also cracked the code." Neither do I think it a matter of adding up all the good points once you have lived your life. 


Instead, it would seem to me that judgement is a process that is going on all the time. This Doom painting tells us about our power because with each moment and each choice, we may become ugly little devils, or else one with the angels. Intead of being terrified by this picture, Salisbury parishioners might well well be acting like football supporters trying to spot themselves in a club photograph of the crowd. They might ask a friend "Can you see me? I'm the one doing greed.....or lust.....” then think for a bit and confess “It's not a very flattering picture!" 


For today's multi-cultural society, I think it is important to recognise that although Medieval Doom paintings originate from an exclusively Christian Society this does not mean that God's will may only be communicated through one faith or religion. To me, the Doom Pictures apply to the whole of humanity. God is decisive in determining the difference between good and evil. By choosing to be like the angels, we accept a responsibility to act according to our best understanding of the truth from whichever source that may be.