Chilterns Area Meeting

Query 1 – How has global change affected our communities and ourselves?

Some definitions offered:
Timescale – our life times
Ourselves – those in the cluster group and our immediate families
Our communities – either the local communities in which we live and work or Great Britain or world-wide communities of interest
Global change – any change contributing to the single greater change that affects us regardless of where it happens


Major changes

  1. Greatly increased spending power and much higher expectations
  2. Changes in technology including the introduction of the silicon chip and miniaturisation (e.g. keyhole surgery)
  3. Revolution in methods, reach and speed of communication including the creation of virtual communities; enhancement of global democracy, international campaigning etc.
  4. Global population explosion
  5. Greater use of natural resources both renewable and non-renewable; >reaching the limits of non-renewable resources; >growing conflict over use of and access to resources e.g. water
  6. Relocation of manufacturing and services from developed to developing economies; > loss of jobs > economic migration; ++ international mobility; homogenisation of products and services (“McDonaldisation”)
  7. Development of “throw away” culture
  8. Climate change
  9. Global consciousness
  10. Improved provision of health, welfare and education (the welfare state)
  11. Growth in secularism – decline in organised religion
  12. Growth in fundamentalism and extremism
  13. Growth of a celebrity culture – shallowness


Some effects

  1. Increasing inequality especially in Anglo-Saxon economies with the consequential growth in social ills ( the Spirit Level Richard Wilkinson’s thesis)
  2. The explosion in freedom of choice has led to greater atomisation
  3. We may be the last generation for whom a higher “standard of living” is a reality
  4. Close knit communities based on family and neighbourhood have given way to more diffuse extended networks based on community of interest
  5. Growth in individualism and consequent reduction in community
  6. Breakdown in traditional family structure and patterns; reduction in sense of belonging; increase in violent crime
  7. Growth in awareness and sense of interconnectedness (all in it together); realisation of limits to growth; moves towards “being” and living in harmony with planetary resources


Summary

The overall effect of global change on our communities has been a shift from closely knit geographical communities to a more diffuse set of network connections, both virtual and physical, for different aspects of our lives. Families are more scattered, work is generally not local, and news arrives instantly from anywhere in the world.
We realised that all these changes have an upside and a downside. We found ourselves very conscious of the downside of global change (we may be reaching the limits of global resources and we are recognising the damaging impact of our own consumption, the stresses due to migration of people and jobs, the devastating effects of climatic turbulence and the sudden and unpredictable actions of extremist groups) and feeling powerless to influence it. We realised that we need to look more deliberately at the beneficial effects of global changes so that we are able to get things in better balance. We recognised that we (in the North & West) are probably at the end of a whole way of living. “Saving the planet” is not the problem – saving the planet as a home for humanity with its current assumption about the need for continual economic growth and the current level of insatiable demand for “goods” is.

Query 2 – What actions have we taken in response to global change as experienced in our area, to express our responsibilities towards all creation? In what ways have my own activities or those of my community contributed to positive or adverse social change?

One of the cluster group introduced this session.

She had conducted a survey among her non Quaker friends and business associates.

Non Quakers didn’t see any spiritual dimension to global change and business associates were generally much more positive about what could be done to bring about change. There was a difference between those with and without children with those “with” having more of a future focus than those “without”. The extreme reaction of “it’s not my problem, I won’t be around” was actually voiced to her.

Quakers, by contrast, do think about the consequences of their actions. Many are keen to conserve energy and conscious of their carbon footprints. One of our “stars” who works for a Solar Energy Trade Association, has given up his car and goes everywhere by public transport or bike now. He is an inspiring example to us all (but one of the downsides of this is that we see less of him). But even among Quakers there is little evidence of carbon reducing activities like car-sharing.

On a personal level she is facing a real challenge: her job as travel counsellor does contribute towards the national economy and to education (at a stretch) but the effect of her work is definitely to increase air miles and carbon footprints.

Actions we have taken or are taking

  1. Built a Swedish house which is highly energy efficient
  2. Taught our children the difference between “want” and “need”
  3. Repairing and reusing rather than buy new
  4. Insulated our houses
  5. Some of our children have chosen not to learn to drive and use public transport by choice
  6. Using post as school governor to support efforts to make the school greener and more energy efficient
  7. Working to develop “mutual” alternatives to individual share owning/profit distributing companies (e.g. Scott Bader, the John Lewis Partnership and the Cooperative Movement)
  8. Deliberately picking up the phone rather than use e-mail to keep “embodied human contact” going
  9. Attempting to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever we can
  10. Being mindful – e.g. thinking about the impact of high speed driving on the environment and slow down
  11. Doing the right thing even if it does inconvenience us e.g. travelling by public transport to Woodbrooke – takes twice as long as by car but costs 1/3 as much and gives you the chance to read or take more notice of your environment
  12. Chalfont St Giles community offered alternative venues to greengrocer whose shop had burned down so that he could continue to trade
  13. Chalfont St Giles e-mail newsletter now includes links to all newsletters in towns and villages within 15 mile radius – saves paper/postage and spreads information more effectively
  14. New Jordans Programme has promoted the Spirit Level link between the level of inequality in a society and the level of social ills
  15. Buying the Big Issue and talking to the seller
  16. One of our Friends in Reading offered a temporary home to a Big Issue seller. He is now back on his feet making a living in stained glass
  17. Another couple offered short term accommodation to a Winter Night Shelter guest to help him get on his feet in this country
  18. Trying to promote the concept of having enough rather than having more
  19. New Jordans Programme trying to show that true happiness comes from making a contribution to other people.

Our activities that have contributed to adverse social change

  1. Short term thinking
  2. Driving children to school in gas guzzling 4X4s – we think this is done partly from irrational fear about children’s safety
  3. Thinking only about ourselves (and our own families)
  4. Focusing on material wellbeing – leading to an explosion in greed
  5. Losing our sense of belonging
  6. Allowing ourselves to be influenced by our throw away culture
  7. Allowing the growth of gated communities, fences and barriers
  8. Forgetting the importance of simple face to face communication
  9. Being attached to economic growth as an absolute
  10. Not leading by example

Our activities that contribute to positive social change

  1. Looking 7 generations ahead (like the North American Indians) in taking our decisions
  2. Trying to develop a real sense of community and belonging
  3. Slowing down the pace at which we live
  4. Evening up the balance of power – this applies globally and locally
  5. Smiling at people
  6. Trusting and engaging directly with other people (rather than by e-mail for example)
  7. Pointing out imbalances – 20% of population having 80% of the wealth
  8. Reducing our standard of living voluntarily – based on having enough
  9. Promoting the idea of a zero growth economy nationally and globally
  10. Drawing attention to the spiritual dimension of global change and how everything is interconnected and interdependent
  11. Engaging with the political process rather than sitting back as if we can’t influence things
  12. Trusting in the ripple effect, small circles and quiet processes
  13. Doing our bit even if others don’t – giving a lead

Summary – from global market to global community

Once again we were more aware of the negative rather than the positive – what we are not doing or of activities that have adverse social and global effects. We felt that our efforts are a tiny drop in the ocean – it is difficult not to feel discouraged, even despairing, about any possibility of bringing about positive global change. Our primary awareness was the loss of a sense of community and the gross inequality (especially between Northern/Western countries and developing countries) perpetuated and exacerbated by our current economic system.

We place our faith in small circles and quiet processes and in doing our bit even if others don’t.

Query 3 – How do changes around us affect our relationship with God? How does my relationship with God affect my response to the changes around us? What role does faith have in my life and in the life of my community? In what ways do I and my Friends Meeting community bear witness to our Testimonies in our daily lives?

How do changes around us affect our relationship with God?

A number of us felt that this was a really strange question. Then we realised that if we had a fixed idea of creation or a belief that everything is pre-ordained then the changes around us would threaten that view and lead either to a loss of faith or an attempt to make the world conform to predictions of Armageddon by working to bring it about (as some right wing groups in the USA are doing).

Most of us felt that our relationship with God was not affected by the changes around us but that failure on our part to respond to what is happening to the planet will damage that relationship. We look forward to hearing where other parts of the Quaker fraternity stand on this especially African and evangelical American Friends.

How does my relationship with God affect my responses to the changes around us?

We wondered how we would respond if we didn’t believe in God i.e. is it belief in God that makes the difference here? Connection with the divine and with the whole of creation through our connection with divinity makes what happens to the earth and humanity matter; It puts us in proper perspective – i.e. enables us to see ourselves in the context of the whole It helps us see the ways in which things are out of balance; It helps us to see that we are not in right relationship with the planet; It enhances our sense of responsibility for what is happening; It leads us to inform ourselves about what is going on and to participate in whatever societal processes are open to us; It leads us to value difference rather than see it as a threat – this in turn leads us to share with other faith groups (especially Muslim groups)and to learn from them; It leads us to support and protect diversity; It leads us to act to relieve suffering and to make the world a better more equal place; Believing that God’s will is for the wellbeing of humanity helps us to be less afraid of the future.

If God is the source of all life it matters hugely that we are wrecking the planet and creating massive suffering into the bargain.

If we believe in co-creation with the divine, what happens if we humans don’t keep our side of the bargain?

What role does faith have in my life and the life of my community?

There was lots of common ground with answers to the second part of the query. II provides me with a community of values so that I feel grounded and supported – not isolated; It provides me with a source of strength; It strengthens the value base in society; It counters the fear and negativity that is generated by the Media.

It gives our lives a focus – gets us out of bed on a Sunday morning and gives us access to the Quaker community at local, national and global levels; We can meet other Friends from other countries and know them as part of the same community – this makes global relationships much more tangible; It gives us a sense of direction “excites our efforts to mend the world”; It leads us to be outward looking and to support other community initiatives; It provides us with an alternative value system to that of the secular society that surrounds us and gives us the strength to challenge materialism, greed and the “never never land” of western culture; The interaction with other faith groups challenges our beliefs and thinking (e.g. the Muslim banking system); It works both ways “up” and “down”: strengthens our belief in the divine and our relationship with creation.

In what ways do I and my Friends Meeting community bear witness to our testimonies in our daily lives?

We try to live simply within our means – living proof that a simple lifestyle freely chosen can be a source of strength; We attempt to content ourselves with catering for our needs rather than our wants -enough rather than always more; We attempt to face the truth with honesty and integrity rather than live a lie; In the UK we are starting to recognise the challenge of prosperity without growth and beginning to articulate the implications of a low growth or steady state economy for our own country and for the capitalist system as a whole; We live our lives outwards in relation to one another rather than inwards with the focus on ourselves; We try to live with honesty and integrity and to walk in other people’s moccasins; For some of our meetings corporate Quaker activity is not a reality for reasons of age, distance etc. in this case we act through other groups rather than through our local Quaker Meeting; In a small way the New Jordans Programme, through its local activities and through the web portal (www.quakersintheworld.org) is acting as a beacon of hope in these dark times; Reducing our carbon footprints is the real challenge – especially with inadequate infrastructure (e.g. public transport) to support individual action.

Query 4 – What stories and experiences from past times of catastrophic happenings – perhaps from scripture, perhaps from regional or local events – might inspire us to respond to the changes the world is facing today?

Noah and the Flood reminds us that when life as we know it is threatened it is possible to fashion protection for living species and that things can get better as well as worse. The modern equivalent of Noah taking animals into the ark two by two is the DNA banks that have been created for seeds and animal species that are threatened with extinction. What is important is to ensure that these resources are a global commons and not to be privatised and exploited by commercial companies.

Catastrophes throw up amazing leaders (Cometh the hour cometh the man) who provide us with inspiring examples from Moses onwards. They also concentrate the mind and energy and enable everyone to agree about the nature and scale of the problem (rather than arguing about them and as a result doing nothing). Doing nothing is no longer an option!

The Indian Flag has a spinning wheel at the centre of it and reminds us of Gandhi’s ideal of a labour intensive India – the benefits of mechanisation need to be re-evaluated and the disadvantages need to be brought into the equation especially with unemployment growing all over the world. We need to consider moving back to more labour intensive production methods. We have enough for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed… The developed world has to accept having less so that the developing world can have more.

Jordans Meeting House Fire/sale of Old Jordans Conference Centre There was a fire at the iconic Jordans Meeting House in March 2005. The same week the decision to sell the Old Jordans Conference Centre (on land adjacent to the Meeting House) out of Quaker ownership was announced. These two events were a wake-up call to the Jordans Quaker community. They mobilised a small group of concerned Friends to rise to the challenge of a) rebuilding the Meeting House; b) raising the money for a new rear extension and c) developing the New Jordans Vision (www.newjordans.org) for the use of the restored Meeting House. The effect that the fire had on our Quaker Community was to create conflicts that had to be resolved before we could move on. The result has been a more outward looking programme which is focused on future generations.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals developed in 2000 for achievement by 2015 provide basic statements of priorities for the whole of humanity. They are rallying flags around which people of good will from all around the world can be mobilised and towards which a global network of organisations can direct their efforts and resources. The failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit is forcing us to face up to our brokenness – our unwillingness to take responsibility for the world we have created.

Query 5 – How can we bear witness to the abundance God offers us and testify to the world about ways in which justice, compassion and peace may address significant disruptions, stress and tensions?

A different member of our cluster group introduced this session. Her starting point was the current grossly unequal (80%:20%) distribution of wealth between the developed and the developing world. This is both unjust and immoral and if we fail to act on the underlying injustice and inequality we are storing up heightened levels of unrest, tension and conflict. Quakers have a unique and valuable part to play at national and global levels in highlighting the long term consequences of continued inequality and injustice and promoting the benefits of mutual welfare and the need for dialogue at all levels. She took UK Immigration as her example of a current issue that is causing tension and conflict. It needs to be addressed openly by politicians who are leaving a vacuum to be filled by the scaremongering right wing press. Quakers can highlight the benefits of immigration and face up to the difficulties that immigration brings. Managed in this way the changes that immigration brings can help us make the transition to a richer more diverse society and stronger local communities.

The main points of the discussion were:

We need to concentrate on the education of the next generation. Education for world citizenship is being pioneered by the UN University. What are Quaker Schools doing to address this need? Our sense is that while this may be going on in individual Quaker schools and countries there is no shared global education framework for work on this issue. Quaker Schools worldwide could develop a programme around World Citizenship Education of which the Right Sharing of World Resources would be a key curriculum component. Exchanges and inter-visitation of 17 year old pupils might create the foundation for lasting relationships. Other Quaker Educational institutions like Pendle Hill and Woodbrooke could be involved as could the QUNO Summer School in Geneva;

Influencing the climate of public opinion via the press and media will be really important. Quakers need to make our voices heard, pointing out the long term consequences of continued inequality and injustice and promoting the value of diversity and difference in novel and creative ways using the new social media (like twitter, facebook and linkedin);

We need to articulate a shared Quaker vision of the global society we want to create (prosperity without growth; right sharing of world resources etc.) so that we have a simple single message that will form the foundation for work by all sections of FWCC to change the climate of public opinion world- wide;

We need to build bridges with other Faith Groups and Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs) so that we are able to build bridges between and among us rather than walls around us;

The stark reality is that we in the North/West have to accept a reduction in our standard of living and find ways of redistributing wealth both within and between societies if extreme poverty is going to be relieved;

The central issues of reforming the capitalist system of wealth creation and regulating the speculative activities of investment banking have to be tackled. We note that the Quakers & Business Group has a new project that is looking at establishing new ways of financing social enterprises using Quaker funds.

Query 6 – How can we support one another in rekindling our love and respect for God’s creation in such a way that we are messengers for the transforming power of love and hope?

We really hated this question – it seemed to say everything and nothing!


What is our message?

Living sustainably shows the power of love and hope. Change is possible – we can set an example of better resource usage and living within the earth’s means. A strikingly different example makes people think. And we should attempt to provoke thought rather than resistance;


That of God in everyone goes beyond humankind and extends to the whole of biodiversity and the planetary system. We need to put humankind in its right perspective as part of creation not master over it;
Enough – not more; slow time; resting the earth (and ourselves) in order to replenish life giving resources;


We need to challenge cynicism and dishonesty (e.g. large travel operators’ carbon offset schemes). We need to scrutinize the working of schemes like carbon offset;


We need to help change people’s mental models and mindsets – training them to think about the long term consequences of their actions and their impact on others; We probably need to put things starkly in £/$ since putting an economic value on things is the way the world currently values things;


Demonstrate that living in a harmonious relationship with nature is possible e.g. create photographic exhibition of humankind in nature (not outside it behind the camera) rather than exploiting it;


Quakers in the North/West need to develop a way of thinking about this issue that acknowledges our privileged position vis á vis, say the African Quakers, and our need to reduce our carbon footprint and standard of living if those in the developing world are to have their basic needs met;

Could the global Quaker Community find a way of modelling redistribution of resources and living sustainably as a small scale real time global experiment?