The Three R's of Unity: Part II - Respect

Many attempts at unity fail because they are based on tolerance instead of respect.  There are bound to be differences of opinion amongst a community of what that community is being called to do.  We can't expect someone to just accept our opinion and change theirs without divine intervention.  Furthermore it's not enough to just tolerate another's opinion.  Though we are often admonished to be tolerant of others who at not like us in one way or the other, it is my contention that tolerance is based on an elitist attitude that the other is somehow inferior or misinformed.  This is detrimental to living in unity, especially as a Quaker community.  However, if  we have taken the time to form relationships  with each other we can reach a point where we can respect the other's opinion or lifestyle.  Paul's analogy of the physical body's need for its various members is again apropo.  An eye can never understand what it is to be an arm, however it can appreciate and respect what the arm can do.  It can also appreciate how together with that arm it can avoid harm and do good, all while never understanding what it is like to be an arm.

As Quakers we need to respect the spiritual journey our fellow Quakers are on.  If we have taken the time to form relationships with them we have learned of their spiritual beliefs, yearnings, trials and victories.  Knowing how difficult our own spiritual journey has been and might still be we should be able to respect anyone who is seeking more of the Light in their life.  Sometimes we will have a greater understanding of where they are at than they do but that doesn't necessarily diminish in any way our respect for their steadfastness or patience in following their own unique leadings.  The respect that I advocate is the opposite of the judgment that Jesus spoke against when He warned his disciples to judge not lest you be judged.  It is one thing to discern the correctness of another's behavior, it is another to judge another based on his behavior.  It is here where we have to remember not to judge until we have walked a mile in the other's shoes.  Until we can respect each other's walk, we can not expect true unity.

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Comment by Kirby Urner on 3rd mo. 20, 2017 at 9:04am

I accept membership (the institution thereof) as one of fostering spiritual growth and commitment, as it's a public declaration ("I am a Friend") backed by the meeting's agreeing to authenticate the claim ("yes, he or she is a recorded member"). It's a way to stamp an identity on the soul-stuff of the individual, and that may serve as a powerful catalyst. 

Given my own resume as a birthright Friend and out there (public) Quaker, I had the privilege of resigning my membership, with a clearness committee and everything, without surrendering my public identity. And when it comes to being snobby, my game is somewhat to turn tables in saying to myself I'm just not comfortable with the ethical conduct of these spoiled white Americans I live with 24/7 i.e. I'm too good for them. As an Asian in a gringo suit *, I'm rather biased against North Americans of no color, call me racist I guess.

* like in business meeting we go around the room and give our name and maybe what pronouns we like to be used when referring to us (a Portland thing -- I go be "ya'll" I joked, when we got to me, and people chuckled), so might we declare what "race" we prefer to be known as (just like gender) even if there's no operation or hormone therapy (yet).  I'm innovating that wrinkle somewhat in a comedic vein, so I don't have to bear the stigma of being one of those white people I'm always learning about. I don't think as they do, why should I identify as one? I "tolerate" whites. Har har.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 3rd mo. 20, 2017 at 10:48am

It really does come down to "Do you want to be shacked up? -- or do you want to make it official." As far as being married to Anne, I'd felt entirely married without the big party where Her Brother The Actor played (Universal Life Church) minister from the Common Book of Prayer... but got high from that act of putting the intention out there. (The major practical effect, aside from "No more premarital sex" was that the federal geezer welfare program, aka 'SSI', imagines we don't need as much money to live on.)

Anne never made her membership official. She 'didn't want to join anything that would separate her from being a generic human.' As I told her, this sounded like a totally Quakerish stand to me.

She went with me to Pendle Hill, where she wrote a Pendle Hill pamphlet & I didn't! -- where she should have asked for a less physically-taxing work assignment, but never did.

Back in San Diego, a few years later the Meeting put her on M&O. And then, a year or so later, she left us for the Episcopalians.

Why? One factor was that she (as I did) disagreed with the whole up-tight Middlist-Class orientation of the group -- at the time, too busy filling the new Meeting House with a uniform set of brand new, one-size-fits-nobody chairs, making sure that all the tees were dotted and all the eyes were crossed at every opportunity, fragmenting the Meeting over an epidemic of distorted gossip they'd accepted in the worst possible light. What made her quit the committee, aside from being outside their established consensus, was that nothing she said got through their closed earlids, that much of the time her objections weren't even recognized.

I saw this at the large talking meeting that was probably the turning point. How did we want to see the Meeting develop, now that we were moved into our new place? She said, "I'd like us to be a group of people in love with God and each other." She might as well have been talking Martian.

Comment by James C Schultz on 3rd mo. 20, 2017 at 11:08am

Based purely on my own experience with no evidence to suggest it works the same way universally, I have found that there is a spiritual side to membership in a "spiritual" community.  I find much more freedom and power when I operate within the body's "chain of command" than otherwise.  While we might say that Quakers don't have the same organizational structure as our pastor cousins, I think Forest points out that is splitting hairs as we do have our committees and dos and don'ts.  The scripture I find appropriate is Matthew 10: 13 & 14.  However when you are sent as a prophet to a body that scripture doesn't work as Jonah comes to mind and spending any time at all inside a whale or large fish doesn't appeal to me.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 3rd mo. 20, 2017 at 12:05pm

What saves the institution of membership from degenerating into run-of-the-mill cronyism and cliquishness (the common lot of your average black box church) is transparency to non-members, i.e. no "members only" rituals and initiations.

This guiding design principle puts the non-member in a position to fully "try before buying" while placing workflows under permanent "outsider" scrutiny. Members feel publicly audited 24/7, and that's actually what public companies (non-profits) are supposed to provide, in exchange for their not having to pay taxes the same way an ordinary business does.  We're more like governments, of, by and for the people. Religious institutions take that "nothing to hide" route, and then often hide plenty. However Quakers pride themselves on conducting their business openly, as a part of their truth testimony.

During my most recent tenure on Oversight, I pioneered having a clear policy of inviting non-members to join clearness committees for those wishing to become members, even to convene same. I must say some members found this highly counter-intuitive. We did always have at least one member on said committees, as for purposes of clearness, the candidate member should have worship discussion with Friends of both persuasion.

In my view there's no other way, outside of transparency, that has much integrity. Otherwise you get "members only" signs and symbols and before you know it ruling clique mafioso with rank and gradations, handing out favors to the most sycophantic, and the whole anti-egalitarian hierarchy of an illiberal church, blech (some pastor-led churches may be quite liberal in the sense of open source, not saying only unprogrammed have a shot at salvation).

You want your convinced Friend / new member to have had the opportunity, at least in principle, to have served in any capacity asked of her or him, which may include sensitive positions that fully exercise a person's talents (e.g. AFSC liaison *).  Nominating is free to overlook membership in seeking to bless people with opportunities for growth that serve the meeting (win-win). Non-members on Finance, Property, Oversight & Communications, Ministry and Worship, is more the rule than the exception. I know I've shared all this before, but I think it bears repeating.

That being said, because we have to map to Oregon state legal templates at some level, as a 501(c)(3), we reserve some of the fiduciary / corporate roles for recorded members, with maybe some rare exceptions.

That's in keeping with the institution of membership's main purpose: to draw attention to those publicly identifying as Quakers in some recorded / authorized way.

In theory (I've heard this often) the recorded members are presumably taking more risk, like if Quakers get in trouble with the authorities or people start spray-painting Quaker stars (red and black) on peoples houses. Members get credit for bravery and going to jail first. This sense of "going first" traces to olden times when Friends were deemed politically incorrect and extremist.

But then we need to remember all the not-members and un-propertied, all the slaves and indentured servants, who were also brave in lending our Society their integrity, in whatever ways open to them.

The not-public Quakers comprise a kind of Wall of Stars, of anonymous benefactors who never outed themselves (how could they? Maybe I'm a general in some army somewhere, yearning for peace, whereas outing myself would be political suicide in my position) but supported us behind the scenes nonetheless. 

The theme here is respect, earned or by entitlement, and I'm suggesting members and non-members are flip sides of the same coin (and I understand meetings not wanting to bother with the overhead -- I'm thinking more of how to cope with inertia from the past, vs. trying to impose an unwanted institution on newer, membership-free brands of Friend like Howard's).

Comment by Forrest Curo on 3rd mo. 20, 2017 at 12:20pm

"If they will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet [You've stepped in a few things getting there & arriving!] when you leave."

But that goes on to, "Truly, it will be easier on Sodom & Gomorrah than that place when God starts toting up..." -- but that doesn't quite fit God as I know 'Him'. Always toting up, but pretty much settling on a basis of "We can do this the easy way, or if you'd rather we can try it the hard way." (The Right Answer to that question -- if you were wondering -- is, "Uh, let's try over easy, okay?")

The actual result is that Anne does sometimes like to come worship with Friends -- but doesn't bring her cello in the expectation of being led to ad lib sometime during worship. Does sing in the choir at her downhome Episcopal Church, where all the guys in dresses make her feel more religious, and people are more comfortable with the G word. The people we've lost are still talking to people who've remained, probably regretting some of that past mutual harshness. But Anne's people "in love with God and each other" may be more evident around the church, for whatever reason.

Jonah's fish problem lay in not showing up in the first place. Presumably, if no one had listened to him, Ninevah would have been fried and Jonah would be saying, "I told you so!"  Maybe he'd needed to go fishing with himself, catch a big one the hard way, get a little preparation towards putting some EMPHASIS into that talk...

But really, the Mahayana Buddhists are right in saying that we're all part of one big __ that makes it together if at all (making that annoying vow sort of redundant!) -- and the big question is not "Do we make it?" but more like "How many kalpas do y'all want to keep up this silliness?"

Comment by James C Schultz on 3rd mo. 20, 2017 at 2:32pm

I think Jonah's problem was in not wanting to show up.  A state of mind I can too easily relate to.

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