I applied for membership when I felt convinced that being a Quaker is my spiritual home, and I stay with Quakers because it feels like home, a place where I can recharge myself.
I may not share all your beliefs, or yours or yours, but that is not a problem, in fact one of the things that I enjoy about being a Quaker is our diversity in belief. One of the benefits for me is that the hour that we spend in Meeting on a Sunday is probably one of the few times when I’m quiet, and when I open my mind to whatever comes rather than applying myself to a task. Two weeks ago in Meeting for Worship it came to me that the difference between awful and awe-ful is the magic ‘e’ – the energy we find when we meet together that helps us move forward in the world.
I am ‘driven’ when I see injustice and misuse of power, an energy that comes for example when I see children struggling with domestic violence.
I feel the power of that energy most of all when I hear about people who left everything that was familiar in search of a safe place – seeking ‘asylum’, and I feel fire when I see how these people are treated here with disrespect, disregard, distrust and disbelief. What happened to compassion, tolerance and understanding?
Music led me to this, and through my love of music I found a love for people that I never knew about before, friends who are worn out by the climate of disbelief that pervades our asylum system; friends who are literally destitute – no home, no support and no hope; friends taken in aeroplanes in fearful uncertainty, or certainty; friends who have refused to eat because they say they may as well die here because they will certainly die if they are taken home; friends who say they are dying here but they would rather die at home whatever the method of death; children who have been locked up in prison-like conditions surrounded by adults who are crazy with fear; those who have been driven crazy by what they have seen back home and by how they have been received here; and friends who fear that they may live forever in detention. These friends come to my mind when I am sitting among Friends in the quiet of a Sunday morning, and their voices call through that still small voice of calm that compliments so well the passionate indignation that their suffering invokes.
I meet with others in the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, and together we give ourselves up to the stillness to find ways that help us open hearts and minds to the personal and political challenges that will hopefully bring change. We ask ‘what can I do?’ and we each do what we can. I can’t tackle everything that makes my hackles rise and nor can you. You may not be able to apply yourself to these matters but if this is opening your heart to these issues come and find us – we have a presence here this weekend, or hold us in your thoughts.
Advices and Queries 34. Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national, and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.
It’s not easy sometimes to find what might be the right path to follow, but I have been lucky because paths have found me, and when this happens I don’t need to find the energy to walk that journey because it comes by itself.
I have a really good friend. His name is Khalaf, and he is Kurdish from Syria. Our friendship has taught me to be passionate about the situation for Kurds in Syria. There are about three million Kurds in Syria and they are persecuted. Many Kurds in Syria are stateless, their lands have been affected by climate change and by the policies of both the Syrian and Turkish Governments. This is ethnic cleansing by stealth. In addition, Kurds from Syria are being forceably returned to Syria by the UK Borders Agency. These are real people.
What can be done? Khalaf and I have created the International Support Kurds in Syria Association – SKS. We have engaged with the UK Government through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Embassy in Syria; with Europe through MEPs; and through the United Nations which is holding Syria to account as a signatory of the Convention against torture. We have worked together to demonstrate that whilst the international community is opening its doors to Syria, Kurds are suffering. We enable people who may be able to inform the asylum system here, to write credible and up-to-date reports for the Courts about the situation for Kurds in Syria. It’s slow and we need to be tenacious but we see our seeds bearing fruit.
I am not shy about setting my candle upon the table in a candlestick, to quote William Penn. If the energy that is given to me opens your heart then the power of love is moving amongst us.
I want to quote Pete Morton, a brilliant singer-songwriter and friend in my closing words: I want to walk this world with ‘Courage, love and grace’ and being a Quaker, among Friends helps me on this path. Quakers is you and me.
BYM 30 May 2010