Becoming the Community the Spirit Would Have Us Be

Note: I originally posted this as a comment to Mike Shell’s stimulating blog, “Seeing Beyond the Projections” (which I recommend you also read).  I offer it here as a separate blog to invite comments just on it.

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It is unfortunate that many of our Quaker meetings/churches have brought into the meetinghouse the divisiveness that is so prevalent in the world at large.  One of the great charges of Jesus is that God provides for and loves all - even those we might individually consider wrong, misguided, and so forth. Lao-tzu in the Tao Te Ching says the same thing.  Further, Jesus stated that we each should love all in this same perfect manner. If this isn't "universalism", then I don't know what is.  Yet, you cannot love someone of a different perspective, if you don't take the first action of welcoming them into your spiritual community.

I will speak here from the liberal Quaker perspective - but my questions could easily apply also to pastoral and evangelical Friends.  If our meetings do not appeal to the varying shades of Christianity and general spirituality, the whole political spectrum, the rainbow of ethnic origins, varied economic backgrounds, and intellectual capacities - then we just might not be loving (as a community) others, as Jesus suggests we should.  It is one thing to say we accept all; but the 'proof in the pudding' is how comfortable are the 'all' being among us.

Again, let's just take liberal Quakers as an example (an easy one to point to for me because I am part of a liberal Quaker meeting).  The form of worship utilized by liberal Quakers could be an inviting environment for all - no pastor, no sermon, no anything but the living Spirit to minister among us.  However, many of our meetings don't come off as inviting to Republicans, Evangelical Christians, etc.  Our dedication to the movement of the Spirit among us should be uniting us in love - period.  Yet, we often act as the world does by sending subtle messages that we don't respect, accept, or value these "others".

We must ask ourselves direct questions as a meeting in order to reform ourselves into the community the Spirit wants us to be.  Such as, "Do we emphasize our SPICES testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship) without also emphasizing what political action Friends should take?  Does our Peace and Social Concerns committee stick to these testimonies - or do they direct Friends on how they should vote or what they should support in order to "be good Quakers"?  Example: My yearly meeting's Peace committee recently sent out a directive that Friends should contact their legislators about supporting the Iran Nuclear Treaty.  This was done in a directive manner without first arriving at a sense of the yearly meeting that we ALL wanted to do this?  Yet, we have some politically conservative Friends among us who sincerely believe that this treaty will lead to war, violating our Peace testimony.  Surely, it must be obvious to any objective person that our common support for our testimonies does not mean we all support the same political actions in order to manifest them.

Our meetings/churches would do well to embrace some humility before we make assumptions about those among us.  While we all embrace love and light, it is unlikely that we all embrace the same application of these in daily earthly life.  And unless we have come to a common understanding through our Quaker process that we are unified in particular secular action, we must concentrate on spiritual unity above all else.  This is the only way we will ever be able to demonstrate that we actively love all.  The Bible itself says “God is Love”, and so it makes perfect sense that Jesus consistently advocated for Love above all else.  What better basis for our spiritual unity could we have than this?

This simple change in attitude within our meetings/churches could make a distinguishing difference and a witness to the world we live in.

Views: 912

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 9:34am

Did the words of Jesus resonate with the High Priest's partisans and their Roman patrons? So well that they arranged to have him stripped bare, beaten to death, hung up to die publicly in an embarrassing, breathless agony.

Many Republicans (even many Dems) are nice people. And their policies go against everything in Jesus' message.  You certainly can and should welcome them as human beings, but what they think needs done can't set the standard!

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 11:59am

There's truth in what both of you are saying. We need to welcome the 'other' lovingly, but remain true to our core. On the other hand, liberal Friends can be very unFriendly when stating their positions.

Between this post, William Rushby's post 'Turn Around Specialists Needed' and the blogs on Through the Flaming Sword, I'm find pondering a new idea. Admittedly, it will be rejected by most Friends. 

What would happen if we dropped social concerns committees and handed that discernment process over to Ministry and Worship? Name and discern the concerns as ministry.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 12:10pm

Yes, probably we should drop social concerns committees -- as these are petering out around here anyway, as their futility becomes increasingly evident -- in favor of 'social discernment' meetings (probably of the Meeting as a whole) until we can be clear what, if any socio-economic-political involvement we are specifically led to...

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 1:36pm

It might open the way for the return of allowing the Spirit to lead us. 

Comment by Jim Wilson on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 4:06pm

Stephanie:

What an attractive idea!

Jim

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 4:44pm

A lot of folks are attracted to Quakerism, especially of the liberal variety, precisely because of the Peace and Social Concerns committee option, i.e. the combination of religion and activism is attractive, a way to participate many churches don't offer.

Shutting down that standing committee is to go against our brand.  As long as Faith and Practice says we have it, our Integrity teaching tells us "don't lie to the public". 

My article 'Sticking Out Like Sore Thumbs' in the July / August issue (this year) of Western Friend chronicles the attempt of the "Shelver Movement" to shelve Peace and Social Concerns.  Outcome:  Activists 1, Shelvers 0.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 4:54pm

Some people apparently believe "being loving" means "being nice" whereas truly loving parents know that a broad range of human behaviors may stem from loving another person, and that of God within that person.  "Be a hard bed for your friends" said Nietzsche.  Would that more Quakers were as wise, eh?

"I bring a sword" said Jesus (Matthew 10:34), a polarizing figure.  This idea that Christianity means never giving offense and bending over backwards to be accommodating is more tea cuppy Victorianism.  Christianity is known for its fire and brimstone as much as for its group hugs.  Quakerism is not about "lets all just be nice and get along" so much as about testing each others leadings.

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 5:19pm

Thanks for your good comments, Kirby!  I agree that an active group (whether called a committee or not) in our meetings which explores peace and social justice concerns, is indeed a blessing.

Speaking for myself, however, my only concern is that our committees or group of Friends do not outrun the Spirit by assuming unity on a secular/activist action before we engage our process of (as you say) "testing each others leadings" through discernment with the whole meeting community.  Doing so is a sure way to form a click in the meeting that basically does just what you are warning against: "bending over backwards to be accommodating" to  those in committee or leadership positions.  This in essence 'let's no one else in' unless they fit the preconceived mold. 

This is truly about letting go of our ego that feels a need to control outcomes, and instead being open to what the Spirit may bring to us.  Our well-known whole-meeting discernment process is the place to ensure what you are advocating; not a committee of five or so people who are discerning a secular political action for the whole meeting and then directing Friends to do it.  A Peace and Social Concerns committee is a fine group to take the pulse of the meeting, determine possible actions, and then bring these to the whole meeting for discernment.  By bypassing this final step before choosing to direct Friends on what to do, there is an implied disregard for 'that of God in everyone' who is part of your meeting. 

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 5:35pm

First I would like to say that I am a liberal Friend who has been in associated with meetings in NPYM for almost 35 years. My meeting in Idaho released me to work in El Salvador during the civil war. 

I know that being loving is not the same as being nice. 

I have also witnessed Friends taking a scorched earth policy when trying to push their agendas both in and out of meeting. It caused harm, division and, in the end, did not succeed in changing anyone's heart or mind. None of it struck me as spiritual.

I have also witnessed Friends do great work that makes connections across very large divides. 

I am not saying ban social concerns. I am saying try another way. Yes, many people are attracted to our social testimonies. I have also seen people in meetings who never really grok Quakerism and don't understand the discernment process.

What I envision is that anyone with a social concern or any other leading, enter into a discernment process. It would separate the cause from the ego. It would decrease individualism in favor of true community. It could even result in a revitalization of our meetings. 

I'm also a little concerned about referring to Quakerism as a brand as well as apply scores to intermeeting conflict. 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 5:50pm

Many of the people we've got did join us to enlist in that Activism Brand way of life. But many of that age group are dying off without replacement, and the current population available for future recruiting is not inclined to hope for much in the way of change.

That Activist Brand is the 'false branding,' because Friends were not created to be a religious rationale for activism; we are (when we are) activists because God does sometimes move people, as you say,  to tick people off for the sake of better conforming the world to God's intentions.

In the absence of some way of truly mitigating the world's condition, peace and social Goodstuff committees are a shuck and a treadmill; the fact that most of us are in fact voting with our feet to duck this activity suggests that we're at least unconsciously aware that such is the case.

Friends and others continue to be inspired to witness to the world, its governments, its corporations that one collective public crime or another can and should stop. But most of these crimes are inexorably self-perpetuating, thoroughly entrenched in powerful institutions, accepted without question by many people to the extent that only the ubiquitous propaganda in their favor seems credible to them.

In Jesus' time, the Roman Empire and their Jerusalem client rulers were clear, blatant evils. A great many pious Jewish patriots were sure of God's help in violently overthrowing those institutions -- but God did not come to their aid. Many contemporary Jews joined in nonviolent protests against sporatic Roman insults to their religion -- sometimes successfully -- but their rulers, foreign and domestic, remained violent and oppressive.

Jesus wasn't denying the evil of those violent and oppressive institutions, and he wasn't rolling over for them -- but he wasn't lobbying them to make small improvements in policy; and he wasn't practicing strategies for building an activist movement by minor achievable victories; he was announcing that the current Temple system was going to change or die, as it subsequently did. And he was saying that people would need to seek and do God's will more closely before they could reasonably expect any substantive improvement.

That seems to be the foundation our activism needs to be grounded in. Once we've established that, we may well be called to be far more activist than our current practice; that isn't for us to decide in advance!

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