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Advice and Query 5: A God who is free

This is a series of short, c.500-word posts looking at the underlying theology of the Advices and Queries – forty-two pithy statements that collectively capture the British Quaker faith.

Take time to learn about other people’s experiences of the Light. Remember the importance of the Bible, the writings of Friends and all writings which reveal the ways of God. As you learn from others, can you in turn give freely from what you have gained? While respecting the experiences and opinions of others, do not be afraid to say what you have found and what you value. Appreciate that doubt and questioning can also lead to spiritual growth and to a greater awareness of the Light that is in us all.

How can we know anything about God? We can’t have knowledge of God in the same way we have knowledge of objects. God doesn’t have weight, height, colour or texture. God is not a thing. In the Bible, God is continually shown to be a hidden God with an unpronounceable name. So how can we have knowledge of such a Mystery?

According to this A&Q we have knowledge of God through experience of the Light. We can learn from the experiences of the living, but the dead should also have their say. The Bible, the writings of past Friends, all writings which reveal the ways of God, are the lived experiences of God’s Light. We cannot rely solely on our experience as an individual, which is fallible and limited. God is revealed to us through others, through a community that extends backwards through time.  That said, neither should we discount our own experience and understanding, limited though it may be. Just as God is revealed to us through others, God is revealed to others through us. Knowing God is a collective project. Far from being a collection of individuals with private theologies, this A&Q exhorts us to be a community of robust theological debate.

We are asked to boldly speak about our discoveries, and welcome doubts and questions. This A&Q reminds us that being a finder doesn’t stop you from being a seeker. You can doubt and question without doubting and questioning everything. You’re allowed some firm footings. To seek without the desire to find leads to aimless wandering and theological flabbiness. To find and renounce further seeking leads to rigidity and self-righteousness. Seeking and finding go hand in hand.

I find this tension of seeking and finding, of knowing and not-knowing, is found in the early Quaker understanding of how God is revealed.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1-5]

According to the New Testament, the Word – that which paradoxically God both is, and through which God creates and orders the cosmos – is not revealed through printed words on a page, but is enfleshed in a living person – Jesus. God’s Word is not an object or a tool, but a Life to be in relationship with. We can never know a person in the way we know a table or a chair. Can we ever say we fully know our closest friend? A key insight of the first Quakers was that to speak about the Bible as the Word of God is misleading. They experienced the Word of God as the living Christ present in their midst. Scripture, though of great importance, is merely words about the Word. As soon as we treat God’s Word as printed words on a page, we are in danger of treating God as a thing that we can know fully, and therefore control.

Then the devil took [Jesus] to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” [Luke 4:9-12]

The God revealed in the person of Jesus is totally free from any constraints we may try to impose. I’m writing this in the aftermath of the announcement that the U.S. embassy will be relocated to Jerusalem. This is widely interpreted as a means to secure the votes of conservative evangelical Christians who believe that such a move will hasten the Second Coming of Jesus. This theology is based on an erroneous mid-19th Century interpretation of Scripture (treating it as the ‘Word of God’) and suggests that God’s hand can be forced. If God is free, nothing we can do could possibly force God to act in any particular way. To put God to the test in such a way is, according to Luke 4, the theology of the devil.

So we are left with more Queries. When we search for God as a community, and when we communally test our findings, is the freedom of God respected at every point? Can we hold the tension of seeking and finding, the tension of a God who is revealed in our inward beings and yet still remains hidden? Such a project will, as the opening words of the A&Q tell us, take time.

Advice and Query 4: Wrestling with Jesus

This is a series of short, c.500-word posts looking at the underlying theology of the Advices and Queries – forty-two pithy statements that collectively capture the British Quaker faith.

The Religious Society of Friends is rooted in Christianity and has always found inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus. How do you interpret your faith in the light of this heritage? How does Jesus speak to you today? Are you following Jesus’ example of love in action? Are you learning from his life the reality and cost of obedience to God? How does his relationship with God challenge and inspire you?

In Britain Yearly Meeting today, you don’t have to be a Christian to be a Quaker. The religious self-expression of individual British Quakers takes many forms: Buddhist, pagan and Islamic for example.

In such a landscape of individual theological variety, what does it mean for the Religious Society of Friends to be rooted in Christianity? According to this A&Q, Christianity is not a chain to be cast off, but the root structure that feeds the Quaker tradition. To cut ourselves off from our roots might put the whole Quaker project in jeopardy. Whatever our own individual beliefs are, we cannot fully understand the Quaker tradition without understanding its Christian roots. So much of our common language – such as ‘Friends’ and ‘the Light’ – is drawn from Scripture (particularly the Gospel of John). If we are to fully own our faith, then we have a responsibility to learn of its origins.

This responsibility is spelled out in terms of reflecting on the life and teachings of Jesus. Whatever our opinions of him, he can’t be ignored. According to this A&Q, the significance of Jesus is located in three areas.

  1. His example of love in action. This is a man who fed the hungry, healed the sick, and emphasised how God is close to those on the margins.
  2. His obedience to God. In living the prayer ‘not my will but yours be done’ Jesus experienced estrangement from family and friends, made enemies of the religious authorities, and was executed by an occupying power.
  3. His relationship with God.  Jesus showed a startling intimacy with God, referring to God as ‘Abba’ (‘Daddy’), and repeatedly withdrew from public life for times of private prayer.

To obey God is to live a life of love in action. To live such a life is costly, and cannot be undertaken without a solid foundation in prayer.

It should be noted that in focusing on the ‘life and teachings of Jesus’, there are many fundamental mainstream Christian understandings of Jesus that are left aside. Here there is no Incarnation (the belief that Jesus is both wholly God and wholly human), no Resurrection (the belief that Jesus rose from the dead), no atonement (the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection reconciles God and creation) and no Second Coming (the belief that Jesus will return). There is no virgin birth and no empty tomb, no Jesus Christ. What we have is the Jesus of 19th Century Protestant liberalism, shorn of miracles and metaphysical claims. The Jesus of the A&Qs is a teacher and moral example, not a Saviour or the Word Incarnate. This is a great shift from the first 250 years of Quaker belief in Britain, and a break from the majority of Quakers around the world.

This raises many questions, particularly regarding our relationship with the Bible. This modern Quaker understanding of Jesus is markedly different to how the authors of the New Testament saw Jesus, for whom the resurrection was of paramount importance. What are we to make of the New Testament authors? Do we distrust their motives? If we reject their account, upon what do we base our knowledge of Jesus? And how do we relate to our Quaker ancestors? When George Fox heard a voice say ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, how are we to interpret it? How do we relate to our fellow Quakers across the globe, the overwhelming majority of whom trust the Biblical account?

This is a well-crafted, diplomatic A&Q. It affirms the importance of Jesus (if not Jesus’ centrality) without making metaphysical claims that would prove divisive within the British Quaker community of the time. It does however raise questions that we are yet to fully wrestled with.

I’m glad that challenge and inspiration are paired together in this A&Q. Jesus is a figure of both mystery and hope. He is both frustrating and exciting. He refuses to be pinned down and summed up. His ‘otherness’ is part of what makes him Jesus. Whatever we individually make of Jesus, I hope that he will continue to provoke the British Quaker community to live ever more loving, riskier and prayerful lives of obedience to the ‘Love that moves the sun and the other stars’.

Advice and Query 3: Pray without ceasing

This is a series of short, c.500-word posts looking at the underlying theology of the Advices and Queries – forty-two pithy statements that collectively capture the British Quaker faith.

Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. Do you encourage in yourself and in others a habit of dependence on God’s guidance for each day? Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God.

The previous two A&Qs spoke of God and the spirit of Christ. This third passage adds another word for the Divine mystery to our Quaker vocabulary – the Holy Spirit. It is to this Spirit that we are exhorted to be open to, to be guided by. How are we to do this? In this third A&Q we receive instruction on spiritual practice. We can be open to the Holy Spirit by setting aside times of quiet.

Silence is a central Quaker tool for opening ourselves to the Spirit’s guidance. Note how silence is not valued for its own sake. We do not worship the silence. This is not ‘Silence’ with a capital ‘S’. The purpose of silence is to deepen our awareness of the divine, and to find in that awareness strength that is not our own.

There is no prescribed way to use times of quiet. There’s no set time or posture, and no suggested frequency. There’s no prohibition against using song or movement or birdwatching to reach a place of stillness. All of us need to find a way into inward silence and openness, and we are free to find the way that works best for us. Remember that the aim is to deepen out awareness of the divine. This is the end of all our spiritual practice.

The path of spiritual discipline is one of progress and growth. Can we cultivate through our spiritual practice a continuing and continuous sense of inward stillness? Can we, with Paul of Tarsus, rejoice always and pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:16-17)? The Quaker experience tells us that ‘in time you will find, as did Brother Lawrence, that “those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep”‘ (Qf&p 2.22). What begins as a simple suggestion to set aside times of quiet, becomes an exciting and terrifying challenge to live a life of ever-flowing prayer, of continuous connection to God. It suggests that the life of the cloistered contemplative is available to us even in the hubbub of our daily lives.

Such a prayer-filled life is counter-cultural, and can only come through practise and perseverance. Such a life is so challenging, that we can’t do it by ourselves. We need encouragement from our fellow Friends, and they in turn need our encouragement. We must support each other in this Quaker-style monasticism. Our spiritual lives are not private – we have a responsibility to each other for our collective spiritual health.

Again we hear the message that we are not self-sufficient, we are not independent. We need each other, and we are dependent on God. The guidance and strength we receive from God doesn’t just come once a week. One hour on Sunday listening to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts isn’t enough. Like the Israelites in the desert, gathering manner from heaven daily (Exo. 16), and following the pillar of cloud and fire daily (Exo. 13:17-22), the Holy Spirit is present to feed us and lead us every day.

Not only are we to encourage each other outwardly in our spiritual discipleship, we are to hold ourselves and one another before God, in God’s Light, inwardly in prayer. To hold another in the Light strengthens both the one who prays, and the one who is prayed for. I firmly believe in the power of prayer. I also believe it is a great mystery. I don’t understand it, but I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse for not doing it! If we live in a God-centred cosmos, as I believe we do, attending to God and lifting up our fellow creatures before God does not seem a ridiculous way to behave.

With all this talk of spiritual discipline, we could fall into the trap of thinking that our worthiness as Quakers depends on how spiritually disciplined we are. The final line protects against this. We don’t undertake spiritual practices in order to earn the favour of God or our fellow Quakers. We do them because the Holy Spirit cherishes us, and wants to bring us to new life. All are cherished by God, whether we set aside times of quiet or not.

Advice and Query 2: Our experience of God is not God

This is a series of short, 500-word posts looking at the underlying theology of the Advices and Queries – forty-two pithy statements that collectively capture the British Quaker faith.

Bring the whole of your life under the ordering of the spirit of Christ. Are you open to the healing power of God’s love? Cherish that of God within you, so that this love may grow in you and guide you. Let your worship and your daily life enrich each other. Treasure your experience of God, however it comes to you. Remember that Christianity is not a notion but a way.

A&Q 1 addressed the community of ‘dear Friends’. Now we move to a focus on the individual. There is much to unpack in this beautiful and seemingly simply paragraph.

First we must ask, what is this ‘spirit of Christ’. In scripture, spirit is synonymous with breath and wind. Spirit invisibly animates and enlivens. The spirit of Christ is the Life we see in Jesus of Nazareth. In John 20:22 the resurrected Jesus breathes on his disciples, saying ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. This spirit of Christ is mysteriously available to us all, and is one of order. We are invited to allow this spirit, which is also the love of God, to bring healing and order to our broken and chaotic lives. God won’t do this without our permission. Christ stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3.20). We have to open the door before this work can being.

What is ‘that of God within’? God can’t be broken into pieces. We don’t have a fragment of God inside us. Neither do we have one of many ‘gods’ within us. Is it a natural capacity to respond to God? I don’t think so. As we saw in A&Q 1 our capacity to hear and obey God has been impaired. ‘That of God’, in the traditional Quaker understanding, is a seed that God plants in our hearts. It lies dormant in the earth, waiting for the Light to awaken it. We must cherish it, treasure it, and care for it, allowing the seed to grow within us. The process of our healing requires work. The garden of our inner life needs careful tending.

The message is a holistic one. We are asked to bring the whole of our lives to God. We cannot have a ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ life separate to our ‘work’ or ‘love’ life. Our worship and our daily life are intimately linked. If we attempt to keep them separate then we stifle the seed of God. The God-seed needs to flourish and bloom in every aspect of our being and life. Like the mustard seed, it is an invasive weed that will grow to tremendous proportions if we allow it.

We are asked to treasure our experience of God. An important point must be made here. Our experience of God is not God. Our experiences of God will vary, but the variation is in our experience, not in God’s-self. God remains the same, ever mysterious and ‘other’, inwardly knowable (yet still paradoxically hidden) through the spirit of Christ. It is misleading to speak as if Quakerism is based on ‘pure experience’ with an accompanying rejection of ‘talk about experience’. There is no such thing as pure, unmediated experience. I repeat, our experience of God is not God. Our experience of God is vital (in all senses of the word), and so are the ways we communicate with each other about these experiences. This brings me to the continually misused word ‘notion’.

What is a notion? I have heard this word used to dismiss any idea, or even theology and language altogether. I have heard similar mistreatments of Paul’s words that ‘the letter kills’ (2 Cor. 3:6). This is not helpful. Ideas, concepts and theories are vital if we are to communicate with one another. If all ideas are notions, then so are phrases like ‘Christianity is not a notion but a way.’ Rather, a notion is an idea that is empty of divine Truth, and is treated as an end in itself. Our ideas and theories are important, indispensable tools that are useful only when we use them as such. As soon as we mistake them for what they point towards, they loose their usefulness and become notions. God is always bigger than our ideas of God.

So Christianity is not a notion but a way. Christianity (originally referred to as ‘the Way’ e.g. Acts 9:2)  is not an intellectual curiosity, but a story and vision that promises the transformation and purification of the entire cosmos in the fires of Divine Love. It is a community to be joined, not an idea to be entertained. It is not a marker of social respectability or a security blanket, but a glorious adventure bearing the marks of crucifixion. Commitment to Quakerism is not a commitment to a purely abstract theology, or a practice without a theory. It is a commitment both to an embodied theology and a storied practice. Quakerism is a lived tradition.

In many ways this A&Q is a reiteration of the themes of A&Q 1 for the individual – we are called to open ourselves to God’s guidance and healing. A simple idea that I must continually return to and relearn.

Advice and Query 1: Is this the Quaker Gospel?

This is a series of short, 500-word posts looking at the underlying theology of the Advices and Queries – forty-two pithy statements that collectively capture the British Quaker faith.

(1) Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.

‘What do Quakers believe?’ When asked that question, we might hesitate, fearing we’ll come across as pushy. We might unhelpfully answer with what Quakers don’t believe, or talk about sitting in silence, which to the enquirer might be construed as another negative – sitting doing nothing. Might we instead answer with this A&Q? Is this the ‘good news’ of the Quakers? Here there is no hesitancy. This is not a suggestion, it’s an exhortation! ‘Take heed – listen!’

Reading between the lines of these two sentences, an expansive story can be read. The language of listening and leading speaks of a relationship. This is not a relationship of equals, but between one who leads and one who listens. This is a relationship between God and humanity.

Why are we being asked to trust these leadings? Because this relationship has broken down. Both hearing and trusting the leadings of God must be difficult if we need such a reminder. Why has this relationship broken down? Why is it difficult? Because we are in a place of darkness, a darkness that is in opposition to newness of life. It seems that we cannot emerge from this darkness by our own efforts. We cannot even see the darkness without help. We need Light with a capital ‘L’, and this Light belongs to God.

What else does this say about God? This is a God that communicates with us, and this communication occurs inwardly. These promptings, God’s leadings, occur in our hearts, in our inner, emotional life. These promptings are of love and truth, corresponding to the traditional twin characteristics of the Christian God: mercy and justice. God both comforts and discomforts, soothes and reproaches, embraces and unveils.

This is a God who calls us, and if we respond will reveal the darkness we inhabit, the darkness that inhabits us, and will lead us out of it to new life. For all that ‘being saved’ is absent from liberal Quaker vocabulary, here we have a story of salvation. This relationship of revelation with God is a saving one.

So we have in this A&Q a description of a fractured human condition – we are blind to our own blindness – and the promise of a restored relationship with a saving God who both reveals and casts out darkness.

Importantly, this is not an individualistic statement. It is communal. ‘Take heed, dear Friends.’  It speaks of our hearts, and our darkness. This is a relationship with God that takes place in community. We are called to listen together, to trust and be led together, to be judged together, and healed together.

For two sentences, this is explosive stuff!

‘I’m religious, not spiritual’: Postliberalism for Quakers

In this post I’m going to get rather theological. Hopefully in a clear and understandable way. I recently wrote an essay for my theology MA, exploring the modern Western theological movement known as postliberalism. I’d like to have a go at explaining it in a less technical way, whilst also reflecting on what it might have to say to liberal Quakers This 40 year old movement is mainly associated with the academic theologians George Lindbeck, Hans Frei and Stanley Hauerwas, and has proved so influential that it permeates the thinking of popular theologians such as Nadia Bolz-Weber, Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne. It turns out I’ve been breathing the air of postliberalism for quite some time – New Monasticism could be thought of as a postliberal off-shoot.

Already this might sound quite heavy, but I’m going to try and explain it as plainly as I can.

What is liberalism?

Before getting to postliberalism (meaning after liberalism), it’s worth spending time on what we mean by liberalism. I suspect most of us use it when talking about politics or social attitudes. Modern British Quakers are sometimes described as liberal Quakers.

In theological terms, liberalism is a Western Protestant movement beginning in the 19th Century, having its roots in the thinking of German theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, sometimes called the ‘Father of modern liberal theology.’

Liberal theology is concerned with taking the discoveries of science and philosophy – what might be called ‘extra-theological sources‘ – and reforming and re-shaping Christian theology in the light of these discoveries.

Liberal theology is also concerned with universals, particularly universal religious experience. This is the idea that religious experience is common to all people, across all cultures. It sees this as:

  • the source of religious truth – (we know something is religiously true if it conforms to our inward religious experience),
  • the heart of religious practice – (the ceremony and rituals are merely ‘window dressing’) – and
  • the basis of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue – (all religions are essentially the same, as they all have this universal religious experience at their core).

william_blake_all_religions_a_are_one_victoria_and_albert_museum

What is postliberalism?

One of postliberalism’s important features is its criticism of the liberal idea of universal religious experience. Postliberalism raises the following objections:

  • Quite simply, it is impossible to prove that there is a universal religious experience that all people share across all religious traditions.
  • As a basis of religious truth, it appears to make truth relative. If things are only true because they chime with our inner experience, what happens when two people have different inner experiences? If one thing is ‘true’ for one person, and differently ‘true’ for another, is it meaningful to speak of truth at all? And how do we know we can trust our inner experiences anyway?
  • Postliberalism also suggests that universal religious experience is not at the heart of religious practice, because discoveries in anthropology and sociology suggest that it is religious practice that shapes religious experience. The words we say, the images we use, the stories we tell, the ceremonies we perform and the songs we sing – these shape the religious experience that we have. Different religious traditions produce different religious experiences.
  • Therefore, we can’t make universal religious experience the basis of ecumenical dialogue. Not only do all religions look different in their manner of worship (and therefore the religious experience that occurs) but religions differ in their understanding of ‘salvation’. Their goals, their destinations, are different. Postliberalism says our basis for inter-religious dialogue should not be ‘how are you like me?’, rather there should be a true recognition of difference. Postliberalism questions the idea of the ‘anonymous Christian’ (Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner’s reasoning for how good non-Christians might be saved), saying ‘how do we know that Christians aren’t ‘anonymous Buddhists’? Postliberalism asks ‘how can we make peace with each other, without erasing our differences?’

Because of this rejection of universal experience, postliberalism focuses on religious specificity – the things that make a particular religious tradition what it is. Therefore, for Christianity, there’s an increased focus on the Bible. Rather than seeing scripture through the lens of ‘extra-theological sources’ such as philosophy and science, there is a focus on seeing the world through the lens of scripture. There is also a focus on how religious language shapes our experience, and how religion itself is like a language. To join a particular religious tradition is to learn its particular language, and be shaped and transformed by it.

Postliberal Quakerism?

So what challenge does postliberalism present to liberal Quakers? I would say my description of theological liberalism ticks many Quaker boxes. This isn’t surprising, as the roots of liberal Quakerism are in Rufus Jones (1863-1948), who himself was indebted to both Schleiermacher and William James (1842-1910) and his The Varieties of Religious Experience).

In contemporary British Quakerism I encounter a strong belief in universal religious experience which transcends religious tradition, and the idea that Quaker worship represents a stripping away of ‘window dressing’ to get to this core experience. Sometimes I come across the idea that Quakerism itself heralds a ‘universal’ religion – what I’d call Quaker exceptionalism. The idea that ‘George Fox only spoke in Christian terms because of the culture he was born into’ is a product of this thinking (as if Fox can be understood apart from his Christianity, or Jesus from his Judaism for that matter!), as is the idea that there are people out there who are Quakers without knowing it.

A postliberal approach provides a check on Quaker exceptionalism, and draws our attention to the specificity of the Quaker tradition. Quaker worship is not a blank canvas or empty container, but a form of worship that shapes the experience we have within it. Becoming a Quaker involves learning to ‘speak Quaker’, which in turn involves learning the tradition and its stories. From a postliberal perspective, attempts to make Quakerism more ‘universal’ – such as weeding out specific Quaker language or placing copies of the ‘World Religions Bible’ on meeting house tables – are misguided. A robust and vital Quakerism is one that has a healthy relationship with its own tradition, and does not seek to cast it off.

Some words from the wise Nadia Bolz-Weber to finish:

I think it’s interesting people dismiss the being “spiritual but not religious” thing. My business card for the church says, “We’re religious but not spiritual.” That yearning that people have is for something that’s more than 20 minutes old. I think people want to be connected to something that’s more than a whim… Since the age of progress, new is better, right? Now we go, “Wait a minute — that’s not always true.” When new is always better, we’re not tethered to anything. I think I see a longing in people to be tethered to something, and I like to say that you have to be really deeply rooted in tradition in order to innovate with integrity.


Note: The term postliberalism was coined in George Lindbeck’s book The Nature of Doctrine (1984).

Arms fairs, Ortolans and the Apocalypse

Last week I was present at the ‘No Faith in War’ day, part of the ‘Stop the Arms Fair‘ week of action. Here are my reflections on what I witnessed.
The ortolan is a small bird, considered in some countries to be a delicacy. It is kept in darkness, or perhaps blinded, causing it to gorge itself on grain. It is then drowned in brandy and roasted. When the ortolan is eaten, a veil is placed over the diner’s face and plate. The act of eating is hidden, either to preserve the dignity of the eater as they spit out the creature’s tiny bones, or, as some say, to hide such a cruel and shameful meal from the sight of God.
When we know our actions are wrong, we want to keep them hidden.

DSEI (Defence & Security Equipment International) is taking place in London’s Docklands this week. Despite being one of the world’s largest arms fairs, it aims to keep out of the public eye. According to Campaign Against the Arms Trade: ‘DSEI takes place in secret, behind heavily protected security fences and police lines – designed to allow arms dealers to trade their wares unhindered by transparency or public protest – and is subsidised by the UK taxpayer.’
Within the Biblical narrative there is a recurring theme – what is done in secret will come to light. In my Quaker tradition, we affirm that the Light of God shows us our darkness, bringing us to new life. Jesus said that
Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. [Luke 12:2-3]
In the Book of Revelation, God brings everything into the open by leaving nowhere to hide. The sky is torn away and the mountains are levelled:
Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” [Rev 6:12-17]

This is an apocalyptic moment, a moment of revelation. The word apocalypse means to remove the veil, showing things as they really are. The apocalypse is not about destruction, but about justice. To tear away the napkin that hides the gourmand crunching down on an ortolan is an apocalyptic act.
The ‘Shut Down DSEI’ week of action is also an apocalyptic event. It’s an attempt to reveal to the world the horror of what is occurring within the Excel Centre. Through creative campaigning – such as street theatre, art exhibitions, dancing and Daleks – and direct action – such as blocking the entrances to the exhibition centre – activists tear away the veil of secrecy and respectability and expose DSEI for what it is.

I took part in a Quaker meeting for worship at one of the entrances. In the middle of the silent circle, a Quaker was arrested by the police for obstructing the road. A priest placed a row of Bibles on the tarmac, which the police later removed. With the eyes of the worshippers on them, as well as many cameras, the police treated the trespassing Friend with great respect. Even the Bibles were picked up carefully and respectfully. For me, this was a moment of revelation – where I stood, a book was being picked up with such reverence it might have been a living thing, while across the street, preparations were being made to sell technologies destined to blow fragile bodies apart.
I am so grateful to all those who’ve worked on this campaign, and those who’ve put themselves in the way. DSEI is set to return in 2019, and I plan to be there to witness its unveiling.