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.


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.

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Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 9:27am

Howard, NPYM's F&P is currently under revision, but here are the opening paragraphs on committees (emphasis is mine):

Committees are tools the Monthly Meeting may use to facilitate its business. Meetings have found that much of their work can be done more appropriately in small groups than in the body of the Meeting or by individuals. 

Each Meeting decides which committees are necessary to carry out its business and concerns. There is no obligation to create any committee, although most Monthly Meetings find a Committee on Ministry and Oversight and a Nominating Committee essential. Other standing committees often found in Meetings are those on Religious Education, Finance and Budget, Peace and Social Order, Property, and Social. Ad hoc committees are sometimes useful for a particular project or concern. When a committee no longer serves its purpose, it should be laid down. 


Comment by Jim Wilson on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 9:57am

A few points for consideration:

Kirby, litigating your concerns seems to me to be counterproductive and inconsistent with the heritage of Quaker Faith and Practice.  Traditional Quaker Discipline argued against using courts to settle intra-Quaker disputes. 

There are very numerous examples of Quakers in history who were not focused on social concerns.  Instead they were focused on God, eternity, and living a holy life.  Would you label all of these people kwazis?  That would be a very large number.

I think it is legitimate for a Meeting to focus on a contemplative calling if that is the sense of that particular Meeting.  I reject the idea that the Quaker Way requires that I spend time on the issues of the moment.  I do not mean that a contemplative approach to the Quaker Way is required; I mean that it is a legitimate expression of Quaker life.  It is not fake and those of us inclined in that direction should not be threatened, even theoretically, with legal action.

Different people have different spiritual gifts.  Sometimes these gifts will appear at different points in a life journey.  Dedicated activism is one such gift.  But so is the contemplative calling.  I would like to think that the Quaker tradition is spacious enough to allow for both.

The original post by Howard addressed the issue of Meetings being willing to encompass a broader spectrum of political views.  I think that would be a very good thing.  And I think it would be a good thing to expand this further to those of us who are not politically engaged and are instead called to a contemplative life.

Howard, thanks for your concise and spot on comments.  Thee speaks my mind.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 11:12am

We're back to branding I think.  

With so many sects out there, configured in various ways, how do we distinguish non-pastoral Quakerism?  I can see where a smallish Worship Group might seek to forgo a P&SC (however named) but in my experience, having such an option for service is one of the great contributions that Quakers provide. 

We provide a role playing opportunity with rotating positions, a great boon, a gift to the public -- and fairly uncommon, in that it focuses on walking one's talk vis-a-vis Quaker values. 

To throw that heritage away seems drastic, especially for flagship Monthly Meetings in big cities, but I'd say any Monthly Meeting that had such a committee, and now does not, is participating in brand dilution.  Why not just call yourselves something else?

Folding the P&SC tent ("shelving" it) seems to me a kind of throwing in the towel, a giving up on a deep level.  "We can't figure out how to have such a committee without giving one another offense so we'll do the easy thing, and just drop it completely."

Correct:  litigation is not ideal.  However given a number of Friends are lawyers, I think it does help to portray the struggle by analogy:  a disgruntled group of shareholders (stakeholders) is trying to hold management accountable. 

In the case of Multnomah, even though the Oversight clerk stated unequivocally in Business Meeting (June 22, 2014) it was not behind the move to drop the committee, the proposal was pressed ahead by Nominating anyway, which is a committee singularly unsuitable to propose shutting down any other standing committee.  

Nominating has the power to simply stop nominating people (which is what happened), effectively not "proposing" but "deciding", with or without agreement from the larger community.  That's too much power and not Good Order.

A threshing session in October of 2014 is what saved us, but only just barely as the proposal for a threshing session had to come from a family already denied membership in the meeting for being too activist (they went off to form their own Worship Group).  They showed up at business meeting anyway and, over resistence from the clerks (whom they had notified in advance), were permitted to read a statement. 

During the threshing session, in which previous P&SC clerks showed up and spoke with passion, it became abundantly clear that the Shelvers were a minority in our meeting and when push came to shove, we had a lot of people willing to serve on P&SC, including my mom, a famous nuclear weapons abolitionist.  We also have David Chandler for a member, all over Youtube as one of the Rethinking911 guys.  So at Multnomah we have our Committee back.  In 2015 it's one of the strongest / biggest committees we have (as it should be).

What's frustrating is how long and hard was the process to keep alive something we used to take for granted and be so proud of, as a hallmark of Liberal Quakerism.

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 11:50am

Friends involvement in social issues does date back to its founding. Peace and Social Concerns Committees are late 20th Century as is the creation of SPICE. The 1972 edition of Philadelphia YM F&P has no mention of such a committee.  The first edition of NPYM F&P (1986) mentions such a committee but gives no description.

There is more than one way for the rubber to hit the road. 

I can clearly hear your unhappiness and hurt over events in your MM. I am still dismayed by what seems a willingness to respond in like manner.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 12:34pm

Our MM (Multnomah Meeting) predates NPYM which split off from PYM.  I mentioned the Beanite Heritage in an earlier comment. 

Here's another useful synopsis, though short on actual dates:

I've looked over our internal Monthly Meeting archives back to the 1960s and we had such a Committee even then, taken seriously.  There was a lot of focus on "Negros" and civil rights, as well as militarism in the ambient society. 

If we dive into the archives of a random 2015 US Quaker meeting in say 20 years (as historians will), what evidence will we see of Americans training themselves to work together for social change / justice without employing violence?  Or had they given up on themselves? 

Maybe some Meetings carried / passed the torch more then others?  Study their Childrens Programs as well as Adult Discussion (or the equivalent).  Were these but Kwazis, posing as Quakers?  I might write a book. :-D

From my point of view, Quakers whining about thinning ranks and lack of diversity goes hand-in-hand with wanting to hide behind some word-oriented theology and forget about practice.  Quakerism becomes just another head trip.  AFSC was about "work camps" (one can hear the difference). 

I'm surprised the Shelvers act so shocked they're meeting with resistance from Friends of my ilk.  Of course they are.  We're talking about practices of longstanding, even if that only means to the middle of the last century.  Controversy is to be expected.

One purpose of a strong PSCC is to audit use of the building.  In Portland, MMM has the good fortune to serve as an event center, renting out to groups from all over.  That's how we got in hot water with RadFem:  the PSCC's job description failed to include "researching groups to whom we rent the building with the option to recommend hosting the event instead".

That's too big and important a job to leave to the meeting clerk (obviously, in hindsight).  One needs a study circle just to keep track of whom Quakers are involved with.  In NGO world, who co-sponsors whom makes a big difference.  The Unitarian Universalists do a great job in our town and insofar as we do have a functioning PSCC, we find ourselves working with them quite a bit.

Were Multnomah to drop PSCC, I fear we'd fall prey to our own ignorance, rent the building to the "wrong groups" and be torn apart as if by vultures.  We can't afford to be that cut off from our own urban environment.  I prefer a course of vigilance and pro-active participation, a way of engaging with non-Christians especially (given unprogrammed Quakers are small and esoteric, we're good at reaching out).

Plus when you have a million dollar Leeds Platinum building, it's great to knowingly help other groups with which the Quakers have sympathy, e.g. Food Not Bombs (I've posted elsewhere in QuakerQuaker about my role in FNB).  Not everyone can afford our rental fees, plus we've historically let AFSC use the building, other groups.  But what other groups?  Property Management doesn't have time to do that much homework.  PSCC does.

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 1:35pm

I am still hearing a very deep hurt and anger pertaining to issues within your meeting.   I am still concerned about labels that contain echoes of the worst ultra right wing tactics. Zwazis is way too close to Islamanazi. 

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 1:55pm

There's the paradox of people saying "don't be a name-caller" where "name-caller" itself names a thing not to be, so where's the edge?  "So-and-so is a name-caller" (whispered phone conversation).  This is the stuff of comedy no?

I think, in stark contrast, that we *do* need to label, and sometimes invent labels, but also provide an etymology and be prepared to defend / explain our usage. 

For example I think the so-called "race" names are indefensible on scientific grounds, but they were never invented to make us better geneticists and of course pre-date any knowledge of DNA by a long shot.  "A racist is someone who believes in races" I've been known to say, quite a bit.  Ruffles feathers, yes I know, but also spurs useful conversation.  "A nationalist is someone who believes in nations".

I agree what "Kwazi" (short for "quasi-Quaker") is offensive and deliberately so.  I've used it sparingly in a few memos (and here), accounting for how I've used it (mostly to keep Shelvers from needlessly throwing away our community's best features -- any decision that reduces overall participation is probably not intelligent). 

I have no Youtube rants on the subject of Kwazis nor am I planning any (and I do produce Youtubes, so that's not what's stopping me -- I have more interest projects to work on).

There's still a lot of pent up feeling around our Meeting's karma, no doubt!  However I don't internalize all of it as if the entire life of the Meeting were my cross alone to bear.  It's not all "my hurt" such that I now should go to therapy.  I'm enjoying good quality of life by and large, as my blogs and Photostream make clear.  I have nothing to whine about.

As a Monthly Meeting, we share in the harvest of what we sew.  RadFem remains furious, thousands of words hammered into a Wordpress site, expressing displeasure.[ 1]  My volume of writing is but a drop in the bucket compared to these -- so plenty of "hurt feelings" to go around (I have a funny story about how Ikea people in Sweden are trained specifically to work with USAers, who obsess about their "feelings" so much and believe they have a human right to never have them hurt -- a peculiar ethnic trait I've never shared, maybe cuz I grew up overseas a lot). 

While still on Oversight and even after that (making it clear my role had changed), I reached out to Sam Berg, the RadFem conference organizer we promised the building to, then reneged, once Business Meeting had a chance to find out about the deal (already announced on Faceboook by then).  :-D  I explained she'd gotten caught up in Quaker process and we were not engaged in ad hominem attacks against her friends.  Healthy debate maybe, but the ideological divide had to do with which committees had been bypassed when the original decision was made.

All water under the bridge by now.  Live and learn.  May other Meetings benefit from our experience.  Life in the big city sure gets exciting sometimes! 

Quakerism is a roller coaster, not just a kiddy park or petting zoo, like so many sorry sects out there, dime a dozen.  We're a religion for fully functioning adults.  <--- Quaker PR, attracting newcomers.


Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 2:20pm

I still hear deep hurt and anger. I profoundly disagree with how you channeling it.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 2:51pm

I've gotten some useful history out there.  Great conversation!  Disagreement OK, no problemo!

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 3:00pm

Personally, I see a different angle on the history. I am satisfied that you have named your use labels yourself. At this point I see no further need to continue this thread.


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