Welcome to Eastbourne Quakers
In these times of increasing intolerance and deepening divides isn't it refreshing to know there exists
a group of people who do not claim to know the truth, but only seek to find it...
People who don't dismiss other faiths, but are open to being inspired by them...
People who will help you develop your own beliefs, rather than adopt theirs.
EASTBOURNE FRIENDS NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 2018
ON DUTY AND OBLIGATION
By Kothai Kanthan
What of duty and obligation? This was a question posed to me on a few occasions by a fellow Friend. My immediate response was to shudder. It reminded me of my mother telling me it was my duty to have children. Whereupon I replied it was my freedom to choose not to have children. Duty and obligation suggested to me something compelled by social norms, something that destroyed freedom, something imposed from outside by others. It suggested conformism, a propping up of the status quo. I wanted nothing of it.
But the question came back a couple of more times in our conversations. And each time I had to think some more. The Friend this question came from was, by his own description, a ‘conventional’ sort of person, polar opposite to me. So I thought about the meaning of conventional, which I would normally shun, and tried to distinguish it from conformism.
I thought about my English friend Sarah and all the conventions that we had followed which had led to a miracle. It’s a convention to write letters to friends when you live abroad, and I wrote her two letters from the Tamil freedom struggle, talking to her at length about the Women Tigers I was living with. Without me knowing, Sarah, previously a barrister, had just landed herself a conventional job in government. Her role was to inspect how British aid was being spent abroad. She was given a list of countries and because of my letters she chose to visit Sri Lanka. Using the convention of her position as a representative of the British government she conventionally requested the Sri Lankan government access to the Tamil Tiger controlled North where I had been living. The government warned her it was terrorism and they couldn’t guarantee her safety. She stood resolute. As she told me later, she thought, she knew a liberation movement when she saw one and the details I shared in my letter made her confident I was describing exactly that.
Do we take risks prompted by love?
Do we live life adventurously?
Convention meant that the Sri Lankan government could not refuse the British government entry to the North however much they wanted to. Sarah went by jeep with the deputy British High Commissioner around the country and when they got near the North she rang through to the government and conventionally asked again for clearance to go into the war zone. Convention meant it had to be granted. Across the border she was greeted by the head of the Tigers' political wing in a conventional way, had a cup of conventional tea, and was given a conventional tour of the welfare projects the Tigers ran. And then she went on her way for a conventional meeting with the UNHCR officers in the area.
The rest of the diplomatic community in Colombo learnt of the British government meeting with the Tigers which gave a conventional green light for them to meet with the Tigers too…and a conventional peace process was the result. It was a miracle. Our freedom movement had been isolated and maligned by the world for decades, and now the whole world poured into Tamil Eelam and there was love for everyone and from everyone. It was an incredible couple of years of love. So good things can come from convention I realised on reflection. It is the love that is alive filtering its activities through these conventions that creates the magic.
But if we are fearful rather than loving, we can cling to convention, afraid to take risks. Instead of magic we get conformism. Sarah and I were each taking risks. I was taking a risk going into a war and joining a freedom struggle much loved in Tamil communities across the world and at home, but called terrorism by Western powers. Sarah was taking a risk with her job, drawn to discover a women’s movement she had read about in my letters, but afraid her authority would be compromised if anyone found out she knew me. Neither of us conformed to the conventional, we lived adventurously through it.
It is not in my conscience to enjoy conformism. I had seen people use duty and obligation as a rational to force me to give up my individuality. And so, whenever my conventional Friend would bring up the question of duty and obligation in conversation it would perturb me. I would push it away saying I preferred to follow my conscience, and freedom was what was in my conscience.
But then one day another friend, May, came to Meeting for the first time, and she gave a ministry that electrified me. She stood and said that “the light within us can transform communities. It is our duty and obligation to share that light”. There were those words again, duty and obligation. But this time said by someone quite unconventional. And in the context of her words it had an altogether different meaning than the one I had been accustomed to thinking of. It was not about encouraging conformism. And it was not opposed to freedom, nor opposed to conscience. I could now see it was in fact something that could strengthen the power of one’s conscience.
In the last couple of weeks I have been guided to take over the editing of our Eastbourne Meeting newsletter. Geoffrey who used to edit the newsletter is leaving with Ann to live in Ross-on-Wye, while Judy is leaving for Wales. And my conventional friend who I held very dear has gone from my life. It is a season of sadness as people we care about leave us. And Elizabeth’s poignant poem for Daphne Bennett, printed below, evokes the nature of this sadness so well.
For the newsletter my guidance was to include a fulsome editorial to share my evolving spiritual thoughts, and to record and transcribe ministries that were spoken that month during our Meeting for Worship. But presenting this guidance at business meeting brought up a lot of contention. Some people felt it wouldn’t be right to share the ministries, it might inhibit people standing up to speak, it might share something personal too widely, it might lose authenticity as people could feel an impulse to perform for the recording, it might damage the intimacy of Meeting. I myself had had the same apprehensions. And I also had the thought of how troublesome it would be for me during worship to have to be mindful of making recordings when I wanted to feel free to enjoy the energy in peace, and how onerous transcribing the ministries later would be. And yet despite this I noted that repeatedly in Meeting I had felt nudged by spirit to take out my mobile phone and record the ministries.
After the business meeting I allowed myself time, with all these objections at the forefront of my mind, to reflect on the issue of making our ministries public in written form. And in the morning the guidance came to me powerfully and clearly over and over again, the words from May’s ministry…“it is our duty and obligation to share our light with the world”.
Advices & Queries No. 27
Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community?
Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?
d. Sept 2nd 2018
Scholar of words and thoughts,
Frail of body and strong of mind
Hidden feelings, masked too
By the endocrine system so
Complex even the doctors
Don’t know what to do
Elegance of dress and
Joyful friend, who I
Shall miss very, very much
We laughed together many
Times over our own frailties
And complexities of mind.
Goodbye brave one,
I will miss you so.
May the light shine
Upon your soul.
Elizabeth T. Jenks
Diary Dates >>>
1030-1130: Every Sunday: Meeting for Worship.
Sunday 21 October
12:00 Shared Lunch
Sunday 28 October
1200-1300 Study Group: Harry:
‘Two Worlds One Life’
Sunday 4 November
12:00 Business Meeting
Sunday 18 November
12:00 Shared Lunch
Sunday 25 November
1200-1300 Study Group: Kothai:
‘John Woolman and the relationship between Quakers and Native Americans’
Sunday 2 December
12:00 Business Meeting
Sunday 16 December
12:00 Shared Lunch