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THESIS

A positive future for Quakers would emerge from careful, rational attention to crafting interpersonal relationships. (15 words)

ABSTRACT

I examine the condition of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain (Quakers) in spiritual and practical matters. I review the changes in British society compared to two landmarks: the founding of Quakerism in 1652 and John Stephenson Rowntree’s winning essay in 1859.

I introduce the notions of embracing science methods and ideas to refresh and empower the practice of Quakerism, of a Master Quaker whose spiritual craftsmanship of personal relationships is a means to answer that of God, and the idea of an open but supportive spirit-led ethical community in the modern world to nurture and support Quaker Craftsmanship. I suggest that Quakers’ future might emerge from developing these notions.

I speculate what our future community might look like.

The place to begin is with myself. Time to start is now. The only cost is my commitment. (138 words). Back to TOP

ARGUMENT

The context and invitation to the competition suggest not only an historical perspective but that present day Quakers, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, face a crisis. A brief review of the present day Quakerism in an historical context suggests there might be a need to keep our head when all about are losing theirs and blaming it on us. Today’s world is different from the past in exciting and challenging ways, often supported by progress in science and technology but the decline in Quaker numbers is as worrying today as was to John Stephenson Rowntree in 1859.

Over tolerance and a lack of clarity on our core nature have created confusion and dissipated our passions. In recent years our strength and competence in finance, structure, governance and practical management has all but vanished. Our image among the general public is often a hundred years out of date

Quakerism has not adapted its beliefs about the nature of the universe and the nature of God in response to the advances of science. Quakers as individuals seem not to understand the nature of science’s quest for truth or to apply its methods to the practice of Quakerism.

Quakerism is a Christian religion in the mystical tradition. Quakers have great spiritual strengths, a history and tradition of social service and reform and a public image of integrity and good works.

I conclude that there is a crisis and I reject, almost out of hand, the options that do nothing and show no hope of a positive future. I attempt to build on Quakers strengths and traditions and set a direction for our future, but it is not a simple or comfortable route.

I suggest science as a search for objective, reliable understanding of our world and of ourselves, gives a new view of God with an inner experienced aspect and an objective outer aspect that suggests a justification for morally behaviour. The dual nature of God allows me, indeed requires me, to answer that of God in the physical world as revealed by science, to answer that of God which I experience subjectively in myself and to answer that of God revealed through other people and in their relationships.

Quakerism is about good constructive and supportive personal relationships, with God, with each other and with ourselves. All areas of Quaker activity, from Meeting to Worship to social work in prisons, work in Africa and Europe and so on are fundamentally about each person’s relationships. Politics, business, families, Quaker Meetings depend on and take place in face-to-face relations between individual persons.

I explore the notion of restoring rather than making furniture to understand the notion of craftsmanship, as the skill and spiritual exercise of manipulating a material to solve a real world problem and restore a state of harmony, and then apply it to nurturing my spiritual life and to the Quaker notion “… to mend the world”

Crafting relationships is fraught with danger and in science and politics it is rightly hedged around with social and legal taboos. To go down this path requires an open, spirit-led, supportive ethical community. The community of Quakers might be able to provide one.

The developments in understanding human behaviour over the last half-century, although far from complete, provide an opportunity to move forward. Everyone has social skills and belongs to a community; some of us belong to a Quaker community. The success of Quaker Quest and the Alpha Course show there is a public hunger that used to be met by the traditional churches, democracy and capitalism. The media are a capricious guardian of the public morals. Developments in film, television, computer games and the World Wide Web open opportunities for detailed study of personal relationships, improvement and training in craftsmanship and sharing of experience in relationships.

The loss of spiritually, practically and financially wealthy Quaker entrepreneurs is both an opportunity to make good the losses, to find new sources of wealth. It is also a threat to the future if the lost wealth is not made good. The principal threats to successful craftsmanship in answering that of God lie within ourselves.

I avoid the difficulties of prescribing for others, Quakers and institutions, what they should or ought to do. I opt instead to consider what I can control and influence through my own thoughts and actions. I speculate what the consequences might be in terms of realising my own vision.

It is for each person to make their own commitment or none.
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THE ESSENCE of Spiritual Craftsmanship

My summary of Spiritual Craftsmanship now on its own page, The Essence of Spiritual Craftsmanship.
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MY JOURNEY

My essay is a journey which started with my fascination as a child with Meccano – mechanisms and models. More recently it was triggered by a series of sessions with the Kindlers. FQ’s competition concentrated my mind with a focus and a deadline.

Under FQ’s stimulation I reviewed my experience of Quakerism. An historical perspective showed that in general as a unity, Quakerism has not modified itself in the new light of science. I concluded that Quakerism has lost its way spiritually and in its practical management.

Throughout this essay I have held Penn’s words on true godliness in my mind. Looking back I see that these words epitomise my understanding of Quakerism.

Science as a quest for truth has told us much about our world and ourselves. In the story from the Big Bang to human societies I found some objective support for a code of moral conduct and values. It also suggested a very different idea of God with an outer objective aspect and an inner experienced aspect. We do not live in a fixed determined universe. God created an open-ended evolving system from which new objects and relations emerge as it develops. This I find very different from the fixed certainties of many other faiths.

Exploring the notion of spirituality taught me that there is more, much more, to our spiritual life than the uplifting adoration of a transcendent mystical experience. An especially helpful insight was to realise that Christians and Quakers are fundamentally about personal relationships: my relationship with myself, my relationship with God and my relationships with other people – ranging from my family to casual encounters in the street.

My recent experience with traditional crafts prompted my to ask what the master of the craft of Quakerism might be. I interpreted the Master Quaker as someone who has mastered the craft of social interpersonal relations. I went on to speculate how this might affect BYM.

The end of this journey was the reflection that I had arrived at an understanding of Fox’s phrase “answering that of God in everyone” and I tender it as my vision of the future of the RSoF. Actually, of course that was only the end in at the time that I wrote it. I have already moved on to a clearer, more coherent idea of what spiritual craftsmanship is and how it affects my life.

Consistent with the evolving and emerging nature of our world, this essay is a way-point on my own journey. I hope the essay will be the seed and starting point from which others, hopefully the whole of Quakerism, will continue the exploration and so develop our future.

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