The Reduced Sofa Company

You’ll all be relieved to know that the number of sofas in this house has been reduced to one, thanks to those lovely guys from SOFA.  I highly recommend these people if you have furniture to donate: much cheerier than the British Heart Foundation and far less sniffy than LOROS who won’t even take something if it has a bit of dust on it, these guys set to with a will, undeterred by ink spots and merely concerned with how sturdy the structure was.  Now that’s my kind of recycling.

In the process though, I have found a couple of useful bits of info, to whit Leicestershire and Rutland re-use network (though the website is temporarily offline) which actually carry out repairs and upcycling, and www.freeuseit.org (though they merely give suggestions rather than taking stuff).  It was also suggested I might try the Red Cross who help refugees to set up home (legally, lest any Daily Mail readers should start frothing at the mouth) and any of these would have been my next port of call.  Failing all of them I’d have freecycled the bits as foam cushions and pieces of wood.  I was determined to save it from the tip.

Give that woman a gold star!

I mean it.  I want my gold star.

Now, a propos of all this recycling and retoastering (did I tell you about the toaster?  Possibly not; I’ll get to that in a minute) I’ve started another blog in conjunction with Loughborough Quakers.  It’s all about our efforts to live more sustainably and you can find it here.

Kirk out

The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I was reading an article in the Guardian today about how hard it is to be a Muslim in public life.  You get asked all kinds of questions like, ‘Do you think the state of Israel should exist?  Do you sympathise with terrorists?  What do you think of underage marriage?’  You become the poster-girl or boy for every horrendous act perpetrated in the name of Islam – and in the end you discover, as Nesrine Malik says, that the only way to win the game is not to play.

I can totally sympathise – if not empathise – with this, because it ain’t that easy to come out as a Christian these days either, at least not in Europe.  I would never suggest that Christians get abuse on the level of Muslims – for a start, we’re not easily visible unless we go out looking like these guys (the ones with crucifixes, not the ones with breasts).  Unless we open our mouths and start quoting the Bible, nobody can tell what we are.  But if you want to suck all the atmosphere out of a social occasion and have people edging away from you fast, just try mentioning the G-word.

These days I don’t even say I’m a you-know-what: if anyone asks I tell them I’m a Quaker.  This is partly because it’s more in tune with where I am, and partly because you avoid being blamed by association for everything from colonialism to the inquisition.  Being a Quaker is much more user-friendly because either people don’t know what that means and are interested, or they do know what it means and start talking about chocolate and world peace (usually in that order.)  Being a Quaker is – well, Friendly – and unless your interlocutor is wedded to nuclear weapons or radically opposed to chocolate in all its forms, you’re onto a winner.

Then again, it’s better to stick to the outward actions rather than touching on the inner revelation.  Mention ‘the spirit’ or ‘worship’ or ‘the light’ and people will edge away faster than the tide at Camber Sands (and believe me, that’s fast.)  Why is it so hard to talk about this stuff?  Why are people so hostile to anyone, no matter how tolerant or open-minded, who expresses a faith?  I’m not Billy Graham, for f***’s sake; nor do I think evangelism is a good thing.  Quite the reverse.

Sometimes I can’t help thinking that the evangelists are all atheists now.  Doesn’t Richard Dawkins want to make converts?  Aren’t some of the new atheists more intolerant than the believers?

Discuss.  (Politely, please – rude comments will be deleted.)

Kirk out

Random Wisdom

When I have a book of aphorisms or verses or proverbs I sometimes open it at random and see what leaps out.  So today I opened my Quaker Faith and Practice and found this verse:

‘Creeds are milestones, doctrines are interpretations: Truth, as George Fox was continually asserting, {is} a seed with the power of growth, not a fixed crystal, be its facets never so beautiful.’  John Wilhelm Rowntree, 1904

https://qfp.quaker.org.uk

This seems to me to sum up the entire raison d’etre of QFP.  It is not exactly a handbook; much less a rule book, but a guide to – well, Quaker faith and practice, which like Rowntree’s seed, is continually evolving.  Which means that unlike the Bible or other religious texts, it is regularly updated.  This is not at all a ‘slash and burn’ exercise but one carried out thoughtfully and meditatively over a number of years involving a wide circle of people and a wider field of consultation.  Quakers do nothing in a hurry and certainly not rewriting the book of – what do they call it?  I can’t remember.  I want to say the Book of Longing because Cohen is on my mind at the moment.  ‘Book of Discipline’, that’s it.  Not a very helpful title really as it sounds like a headmaster’s record of canings administered.  But there you go.

The problem with the Bible is that while interpretations vary endlessly – as do translations – the text itself is fixed and cannot be altered.  Where Quakers score in this sense is that changes can be made easily and paradoxically, more quickly.  The Book of Discipline is updated roughly every thirty years to take account of changes in society, to ensure we remain both relevant and true to our testimonies, and to let go of passages which are no longer considered useful.  Hence, while it took mainstream churches decades to catch up with social attitudes on LGBT people, Quakers very quickly adopted these ideas under the testimony to equality; since the 1970’s there have been passages in the book about this.

Nor do we venerate George Fox, the father of Quakerism.  He was a figure very similar to St Paul in many ways in being both a visionary and a founding figure; but he was problematic.  He could be ferociously stubborn and bull-headed and some of his pronouncements seem to us today extreme and unhelpful.  But because he’s not a saint (testimony of equality again) we are free to criticise him, something that is not usually the case with St Paul in the church.

So there it is – we’re better than the mainstream churches.  Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Humbly yours

Kirk out

You’re Pretty Ugly

Recently I have been on the receiving end of two contrasting comments on my appearance: both were completely unsolicited, which left me feeling rather like a batsman (batswoman?  I don’t know what they call women cricketers) who didn’t even know she was on the field, let alone that her team was ‘in’.  Interestingly both were connected with Quakers, and both occurred when I was feeling at peace with myself and the world: this may not be a coincidence.

The first incident happened when I was exiting Quaker Meeting on Sunday, feeling sunny and peaceful and at one with the world.  A guy was standing outside: he smiled at me and as he was what I can only call loitering, I was unsure whether he might be interested in Quakers.  In any case I would have smiled back, as indeed I did.  He then said something about ‘growing a beard’: I assumed he was talking about himself as he had a fair amount of stubble.  He then went on to say, ‘I don’t like that in a woman’ and asked if I had considered waxing, whereupon I said that his comment was unacceptably personal and walked on.

My assessment of this guy was on reflection that he was probably autistic; not just because his comments were rude but because he didn’t seem to realise they were rude.  He gave me the impression of someone who speaks their thought habitually without restraint or awareness: so, bruised as I was by his comments, I basically exonerated him.  I’d be lying if I said they didn’t affect me though.

The second encounter was more interesting in a way.  I’ve just come back from two days at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre (an excellent place to stay whether or not you’re studying) and while I was there I ran into an old acquaintance: I’ll call him Bert.  I’d always been slightly wary of Bert as I found him a tad patronising but I’d generally assumed we were basically on the same page politically (this was almost certainly a mistake).  So we said a passing hello, then later I went over to have a chat – and almost the first thing he said to me was ‘you’re looking very pretty.’  I muttered an uncomfortable ‘thanks’ but I was totally taken aback, as I’d assumed his politics would preclude such personal comments; and whilst I was slightly flattered my discomfort far outweighed these feelings.

WARNING: GENDER GENERALISATION ALERT

(this means that comments below are a generalisation to which there may be a number of exceptions, though not enough to disprove the rule).

So here’s the thing: women don’t do this.  When women make unsolicited comments they tend to be of an affirming nature (that’s a lovely skirt; where did you get those shoes?, I love your necklace.)  These comments convey a sense of equality; of comparing notes and appreciating each other.  They are affirming and do not make me feel uncomfortable.  However a man saying I look pretty feels entirely different.  It conveys a sense of judgment, a sense of appraisal, a sense of being looked at and assessed.  It doesn’t feel like a compliment, though it’s dressed up as one.

So lest we forget; this is a generalisation.  Women are capable of negative and critical comments (‘do you always wear your hair like that?’  ‘What an interesting shade of pink!’  ‘Gosh, I’d never dare wear those things together!’) and men are capable of supportive comments, made without any sense of judgment.  But I think there’s a general truth here.  In my experience.

Kirk out

 

If I’m Bored It Must Be Sunday

When I was a child Sundays were practically synonymous with boredom.  Everyone went to church and the whole thing was an incredible performance; dressing up in your best (and most uncomfortable) clothes, sitting still through hours of excruciating boredom and not being allowed to do anything fun.  When I was a teenager it was hardly less exciting as the pubs were closed most of the day, only the paper shops were open (and with restricted hours) and there was nothing to do.  It is hard to see a connection between all of this conformity and the teachings of Christ.

Religion everywhere is a magnet for those who seek power.  The tragedy is that religions often stem from prophets or messiahs who preach against power – but the lure of getting people under your spell by promising heaven and threatening hell and by aligning yourself with the gods you are supposed to be worshipping, is too great.  One survivor of Catholic abuse said a nun told her ‘I’m God.’  This is the most basic idolatry ever and you can’t understand how they don’t realise it.

But!  Yesterday was an antidote to all that because I went to a brilliant service at All Saints.  The church, so often associated with shaming gays and lesbians and excluding those who don’t fit in (thus directly contravening the teachings of Jesus) has changed – and one small church in Loughborough has taken the brilliant step of having a Pride service.  It was a terrific event, inclusive and welcoming not just to gays and lesbians but to everyone, encouraging us to love ourselves as God made us.

http://www.allsaintsloughborough.org.uk/jml02/

After that I went to the pub and then to another pub and then for lunch and then for a walk along the canal.  That’s what Sundays should be like.

Kirk out

Taking a LEAP: Alternatives to Money

FB-share-whale

As I said yesterday, I’ve just finished reading ‘No is Not Enough’ (actually I have yet to read the end bit, which is the LEAP manifesto pictured above, an alternative manifesto with a number of broad-ranging suggestions to tackle climate change and deal with the excesses of global capitalism.  It refers to Canada but is applicable anywhere and everywhere.)

https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/

Klein hits the nail on the head, as always, by pointing out that attachment to money is at the root of this; and without coming over all biblical manages to say the same thing as the New Testament:

http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

Money itself, as I have pointed out before, is neither real nor evil in itself.  It is morally neutral since money is a concept we have agreed to treat as if it were real for the purposes of exchanging goods and services.  So it strikes me that the way to destroy global capitalism (which god knows we need to do before it destroys us) is to undermine this attachment to money.  We can do this in any number of ways: by freecycling, by refusing to buy what we are sold, by helping each other out without asking for financial rewards and above all by refusing to regard money as the be-all and end-all of our existence.

For ten years now I have put my money where my mouth is by giving up paid employment in order to do what I love.  I have taken a leap off the cliff and tried to do the impossible – namely, to make money from writing – and I can’t claim to have succeeded yet.  But – and here’s the astonishing point – I have survived.  My health has not gone down the tubes; I haven’t starved, gone without adequate clothing, frozen to death or been homeless.  Whenever disaster has threatened to strike something has always come along: I’ve even managed some luxuries such as holidays, the odd bottle of wine and, in the last year, a car.  Much of this is due to the generosity of friends (and Friends) and family, but I hope those (F)friends and relatives would agree that there has been some kind of exchange here: in that I may not have money but I have time and energy to do things for others.

This is a phenomenon I’ve observed in other people who put their lives on the line to do what they love; that something always turns up.  I don’t even think you need to have some kind of religious faith for this to work; just the faith that comes from taking that leap off the cliff.  Every artist (unless they are born into money) has this same dilemma: how do I make a living and practise my art?  My view is that if you wait until you can afford it you’ll probably wait forever.  Take a leap of faith.

Living without money has taught me a lot.  In some ways it’s been a very hand-to-mouth existence but I think that central to survival is to think only of what you need today, here and now, and let tomorrow take care of itself. It has also brought a certain kind of freedom: an immunity to advertising.  There is no chance whatsoever of any advertising affecting me or tempting me to buy something I don’t need, because I don’t have the money.

At the same time I refuse to allow lack of money to limit my imagination.  I never tell myself ‘I can’t’ when an opportunity comes up, because maybe there’s a way that ‘I can.’  For example I can go to the Labour Party Conference in September because I’m going as a delegate and this will be paid for by the local party; and in the same way I’ve managed to go to lots of things for free because I’ve managed to access funding or because I’ve offered to do something in return.

It’s amazing what can happen when you look beyond the limitations of mere money and take a LEAP.

Kirk out

Are We Diverse? And If Not, Why Not?

From time to time white, middle-class organisations (like Quakers) ask themselves why they are white and middle-class.  They bemoan the lack of BME and working-class members (though they are perhaps not so keen on attracting the aristocracy).  It seems to be the sole preserve of the middle-classes to deprecate themselves: I never went to a majority working-class event where people were wringing their hands and saying ‘we’re so working-class!’

But in the world of publishing it’s worse, because a row has blown up over Penguin Random House’s diversity statement which commits the organisation to ‘reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.’  It all sounds highly laudable, particularly in an industry that is presumably dominated by white middle-class males.  But is it?  Should publishers try to ‘reflect’ society or should they just publish the best, regardless of where it comes from?

There’s an issue here, which is that of unconscious bias.  An editor may think they are unbiassed but research has shown that women get published more easily if they use either a male pseudonym or initials.  You are probably more likely to be published if you have a Western name rather than an African or Asian name: Hanif Kureishi (who as I never cease to remind you started me off with this blog) was told that ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ would have had no problem being produced if the characters had been white.  Surely it’s a laudable thing to try to address all these unconscious prejudices?

Well, yes.  But the danger is that you get involved in quotas and box-ticking, which as a short-term measure can perhaps have some value but only as a stepping-stone to genuine open-mindedness and lack of bias.  And this is a hard goal to achieve.  Much easier to get some quotas and issue a press release telling everyone how diverse you are.

Enter Lionel Shriver who, in an article for the Spectator lambasts this policy of Penguin/Random in several hundred sneering words.  Shriver may have a point – that excellence is found with an open mind, not with tick-boxes – but the tone of the piece is snide and sarcastic and the argument lost in rhetoric:

‘We can safely infer… that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling.’

Surely she can do better than this?  I would put it another way; that talent should be recognised and acknowledged no matter where it comes from; that we all have unconscious biases in terms of which groups we are likely to regard as talented, and that we all need to open our minds and keep them open.  I know it’s the Spectator but she could have done the job so much better.

Here’s the article anyway:

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/when-diversity-means-uniformity/

and here’s the Penguin statement:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/creative-responsibility/inclusion/

Kirk out