Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

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22/05/2013

Call to Peace, Call to Justice

After a short period of silence to allow the meeting to become gathered, Sunday's ministry began with a Friend reading from Advices and Queries, with the spiraling cycles of violence in Syria and Nigeria raised as a concern:

"We are called to live ‘in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars’. Do you faithfully maintain our testimony that war and the preparation for war are inconsistent with the spirit of Christ? Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war. Stand firm in our testimony, even when others commit or prepare to commit acts of violence, yet always remember that they too are children of God."

From there a number of further ministries were given, asking us to consider Jesus Christ and the spirit in which he lived. It was one defined by a passionate concern for others, a desire to do 'something' about injustice but a seemingly equally strong desire to avoid attempting to right a wrong with another wrong. 

A Friend noted that in the stories of Jesus we see a radical rabbi, a teacher steeped firmly in Jewish traditions and identity, reaching out to the bitter enemies of the Jewish people - namely a Roman soldier and the Samaritans.

On reflection, it occurred to me Jesus's views - as represented in the New Testament stories - are not consistently universalist but rather, that they were complex, contradictory and changing over time. The most striking examples can be found in Matthew 10:5 - 6 and Mark 7:24 - 30. For me this makes his ministry more human, more worthwhile reflecting upon, ultimately more compelling.

I also found myself reflecting on Psalm 37, to the point I nearly gave it up as ministry. I encountered the first part of the psalm recently, in Jonathan Aitken's 'Psalms for People Under Pressure' which draws upon his prison experiences following his conviction for perjury and subsequent disgrace as a politician. 

Psalm 37, although written from someone in a different land thousands of years ago, strikes me as carrying a similar spirit to that we see in Jesus - and that we see in other figures, particularly Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who rejected violent means of struggle yet brought us a few steps further towards justice.

On reading it again during the silence, I felt reassured and deeply moved - the unjust, whether we believe in an actively judging God or not - may gain in the short term but will not succeed in the longer term; therefore we must remain steadfast, we must not repay wrong with wrong, we must trust in living according to The Way - a way we can find by looking at our culture's wisdom traditions, across the ages, and to those rooted in other civilizations.

Although I had intended to write up my experience of last Sunday's meeting for worship sooner, in light of today's news of the horrific attack on a British soldier in London apparently by a Muslim opposed to Western military intervention in so-called Islamic lands, it feels all the more relevant.

Be it in politics or our personal lives, the call to peace is as strong as the call to justice.

19/05/2013

Seeing Clearly

I've had to put the blog down for a while recently, as I sorted out my direction for the coming academic year. It has been a tough time for various reasons. As we quite naturally do, I have remained anchored through seeking both community and wisdom - provided by colleagues, friends, family and my local Quaker meeting.

It is important during times where events, and people, appear to be conspiring against us, that we honestly reflect on our perception of things - and try to ensure we don't make matters worse by how we interpret and in turn react.

I have dipped into various books over the past month or so which I could mention - but more recently I have found myself returning frequently to John O'Donohue's Anam Cara (which is Irish Gaelic for 'Soul Friend') and particularly so the following passage:

"Styles of Vision:
To the fearful eye, all is threatening. When you look towards the world in a fearful way, all you see and concentrate on are things that can damage and threaten you. The fearful eye is always besieged by threat. 
To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed. Greed is one of the powerful forces in the modern Western world. It is sad that a greedy person can never enjoy what they have, because they are always haunted by that which they do not yet possess. This can refer to land, books, companies, ideas, money or art. The motor and agenda of greed is always the same. Joy is possession, but sadly possession is ever restless; it has an inner insatiable hunger. Greed is poignant because it is always haunted and emptied by future possibility; it can never engage presence. However, the more sinister aspect of greed is its ability to sedate and extinguish desire. It destroys the natural innocence of desire, dismantles its horizons and replaces them with a driven and atrophied possessiveness. This greed is now poisoning the earth and impoverishing its people. Having has become the sinister enemy of being. 
To the judgemental eye, everything is closed in definitive frames. When the judgemental eye looks out, it sees things in terms of lines and squares. It is always excluding and separating, and therefore it never sees in a compassionate or celebratory way. To see is to judge. Sadly, the judgemental eye is always equally harsh with itself. It only sees the images of its tormented interiority projected outwards from itself. The judgemental eye harvests the reflected surface and calls it truth. It enjoys neither the forgiveness nor imagination to see deeper into the ground of things where truth is paradox. An externalist, image-driven culture is the corollary of such an ideology of facile judgement.  
To the resentful eye, everything is begrudged. People who have allowed the canker of resentment into their vision can never enjoy who they are or what they have. They are always looking out towards others with resentment. Perhaps they are resentful because they see others as more beautiful, more gifted or richer than themselves. The resentful eye lives out its poverty and forgets its own inner harvest.  
To the indifferent eye, nothing calls or awakens. Indifference is one of the hallmarks of our times. It is said that indifference is necessary for power; to hold control one has to be successfully indifferent to the needs and vulnerabilities of those under control. Thus, indifference calls for a great commitment to non-vision. To ignore things demands incredible mental energy. Without even knowing it, indifference can place you beyond the frontiers of compassion, healing and love. When you become indifferent, you give all your power away. Your imagination becomes fixated in the limbo of cynicism and despair.  
To the inferior eye, everyone else is greater; others are more beautiful, brilliant and gifted than you. The inferior eye is always looking away from its own treasures. It can never celebrate its own presence and potential. The inferior eye is blind to its secret beauty. The human eye was never designed to look up on a way that inflates the Other to superiority, nor to look down, reducing the Other to inferiority. To look someone in the eye is a nice testament to truth, courage and expectation. Each one stands on common, but different ground.  
To the loving eye, everything is real. This art of love is neither sentimental nor naïve. Such love is the greatest criterion of truth, celebration and reality. Kathleen Raine, the Scottish poet, says that unless you see a thing in the light of love, you do not see it at all. Love is the light in which we see light. Love is the light in which we see each thing in its true origin, nature and destiny. If we could look at the world in a loving way, then the world would rise up before us full of invitation, possibility and depth. The loving eye can even coax pain, hurt and violence towards transfiguration and renewal. The loving eye is bright because it is autonomous and free. It can look lovingly upon anything. The loving vision does not become entangled in the agenda of power, seduction, opposition or complicity. Such vision is creative and subversive. It rises above the pathetic arithmetic of blame and judgement and engages experience at the level of its origin, structure and destiny. The loving eye sees through and beyond image and affects the deepest change. Vision is central to your presence and creativity.  
To recognize how you see things can bring you self-knowledge and enable you to glimpse the treasures your life secretly holds."
This in turn reminds me of the 'Vinegar Tasters', an ancient picture from China depicting Confucius, Buddha and Lao Tsu tasting vinegar - with their reactions representing their fundamental viewpoint of the world. Below is a colourful re-make of this picture by Jacob Wayne Bryner: