Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hope and Future – FUM Part 5

The theme of this year's FUM Triennial was Hope and Future taken from Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” A number of speakers used this to talk hopefully about what good things God has in store for us. They talked about the good work that we are being called to do. John Punshon put this passage into a larger context. This prophesy was made before the Babylonian captivity. Yes God had plans and would provide a hope and a future, but in the mean time there would be 70 years of exile and captivity. Most speakers ignored this part of the prophesy, the part of the difficulty, the pain, the exile and the self-examination that would happen before the hope and the future would be realized. Likewise FUM mostly ignored the difficulties before it. They avoided all of the difficult issues. They did not even ask for a time of prayer to hold these issues up to God, because we do not know how to resolve them. They focused so much on the hope and the future that they ignored the 70 years of exile. I cannot help but think that it was the time in exile that made the hope and future possible. The Israelites that returned from Babylon were not the same as their parents and grandparents were when they were carried away. The speakers ignored the work that FUM needs to do to be able to have a hope and a future. God may have plans but we need to stop squabbling among ourselves and clear our ears so that we can hear those plans. We also have to be willing to face the difficult work before us that will prepare us for our hope and future.

On Sunday I attended the closing worship of North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative. I had a chance to have a nice visit with Liz Opp before the meeting. The meeting was centered and joyful. During their sessions they had wrestled with issues of how we can live in harmony with the earth and be its stewards. During the worship it was clear that people had wrestled with issues and were not the same people that they had been when they arrived. I did not have this feeling at the FUM triennial and I mourn the lost opportunity.

This is not to say that the Triennial was a failure. I think the emphasis on missions was an attempt to focus on work that Friends are more likely to unite in. The question of the role of FUM is still very much up in the air. Is it a denominational body? Is it a voluntary association of Friends from the Orthodox tradition? Is it a missions board? There were opportunities to meet and talk with people from across the spectrum. I was enriched by this and I know that others were as well. Certainly there was a temptation to take meals with Friends I already knew. I was aware of clumps of New England Friends or Baltimore Friends eating together. I suspect the same was true for Iowa Friends or Indiana Friends but I don't know them well enough to have identified them.

It is perhaps unfair to compare a Triennial session of an international body with a Yearly Meeting. In a yearly Meeting it is much easier to grapple with issues. There are already established relationships and connections so that there is a higher level of trust from the beginning. Trust is required to undertake any difficult spiritual work together. Secondly a yearly meeting has a certain amount of business that it must accomplish. FUM has organized itself so that there is very little business that needs to come before the body. Mostly it hears reports on what has happened during the past 3 years and what is being planned for the next 3. In fact the one piece of business that needs to get done is the appointment of the new clerks for the next triennium and that was not completed. Traditionally the Nominating Committee does its work during the Triennial Sessions. This year they were not able to find someone to accept the position in such a short time. So Gary Farlow, the current assistant clerk will serve until the October General Board meeting at which time the General Board will receive the recommendations from the nominating committee. We also approved a change in procedure so that Yearly Meetings will be asked to name their representatives to the Nominating Committee a year before the Triennial sessions so that they have an opportunity to meet and start the search and discernment process well before the Triennial starts. This seems like a healthy change in process.

This concludes my reports on the FUM Triennial. Next week I will be attending the annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting. I don't expect to blog from the sessions but I plan to make some sort of report when I return. I have also been accepted into the Way of Ministry program of the School of the Spirit. My first residential session starts on August 27. I will be doing a lot of reading and writing for that program. Some of that experience is likely to show up here as well. Even with Barclay done, I don't expect to be running short of things to write about soon.

Blessings to all

Will T.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gender balance among Friends – FUM Part 4

During the final business session on Saturday, the only one in which we conducted any actual business, someone asked, during the Nominating Committee report, how many of the trustees were women. The answer was one, Betsy Muench from New England. I don't remember if there was an explicit request that the Nominating Committee consider issues of gender balance but the implication hung in the air.

At another time, someone commented privately about the leadership of FUM is almost exclusively male but the work is all done by women. The entire North American paid staff is made up of women. Most of the pastors in FUM are men. As I started noticing this and started thinking about it, my first thought was there was something wrong with this. There is a noticeable gender imbalance. Then I thought some more. Not so long that my thinker got sore, but I remembered something.

When I attended the FGC Traveling Ministries retreat last March I had a question for Deborah Fisch, the FGC staff person for the program, “Where are the men?” Of the sixty or so attendees the men could have been counted on the fingers of one hand. The current clerk of New England Yearly Meeting is the only male to hold that position in the past 20 years. I am not sure that unprogrammed Friends necessarily do any better at gender balance but it goes the other way.

By having a paid pastorate, programmed Friends provide a way for men to participate in leadership. By insisting on free ministry, unprogrammed Friends limit who can take on leadership positions. It makes it very difficult for anyone who is the primary wage-earner for their family. In our North American society those primary wage-earners are still mostly men. There are very few opportunities for unprogrammed Friends to support themselves doing Quaker work. People can be involved as young adults before they have responsibilities or they can get involved when they retire. I am able to travel as much as I do because I have been in my job long enough to get 4 weeks of vacation a year, but this is an exception. And even with this, it means that my wife and I don't get as many vacation trips together as we would like. At the Triennial I spoke with a pastor who seemed taken aback when I mentioned that I was there on my vacation. For many of the attendees, this was part of their job.

Both approaches have strengths but each produces their own characteristic imbalances. I have no suggestions. This is just something I noticed.

Blessings to all

Will T

Monday, July 21, 2008

Converging on FUM – FUM Triennial Part 3

On Friday afternoon I was scheduled to take a tour of the Mendenhall Plantation. But on Thursday before lunch they announced that there would be a meeting of people interested in Convergent Friends on Friday at 1:30. Friday before lunch they announced a place to meet. I was thinking that there might be four or five people who showed up. By my count, 24 people showed up and from their comments it seemed as if each of them expected four or five people. What surprised me was the number of pastors within the group. There were more pastors (5) than people I could identify as bloggers (3).

The session was convened by Tony Lowe who identified himself as a pastoral minister from one of the three convergent meetings in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. Many of the participants came out of curiosity about convergent Friends so we had more questions than answers. When Convergent was described as a combination of Conservative Friends and the Emergent Church Movement, the question came up immediately what was the Emergent Church. Tony described the following five characteristics:
Worship is not a spectator sport.
Experiential knowledge.
Being in a long unbroken tradition.
Being the church and not going to church.
Coming together of the Evangelical and social justice traditions.

The part about being in a long, unbroken tradition puzzled me but Tony gave the example of some emergent churches experimenting with things like Gregorian chants. The entire 2000 year Christian tradition is available to us as a resource. We can look to things that happened before the middle of the 19th century or even from before the Protestant Reformation.

These five points all had echoes to me of the rise of early Friends. They were actively involved in worship and were insistent upon the inward experience of Christ. As primitive Christianity revived they were claiming the original tradition of the Church. Although they felt that the church had fallen away horribly in the intervening years there had always been people who had been faithful to the original vision of the church. Barclay had no hesitation in quoting the Church Fathers to establish his points. He had no problem quoting John Calvin either. They had a clear sense that the church was the community of believers and not the building that housed them. Their use of plain language and dress was part of their witness to social justice.

Someone asked what Convergent Worship looks like. This started quite a discussion. One characteristic that was mentioned was that convergent Friends were experimenting with worship. Someone used the example of Freedom Friends Church in Oregon which identifies itself as Radically Christian and Radically Inclusive. They have a pastor and song but no sermon. Instead they have a significant period of open worship. Someone else said that we need to celebrate our differences. Because people have multiple intelligences (emotional intelligence, physical intelligence, intellectual intelligence, etc) they need to worship in different ways.

We were cautioned, however, that when people come in the door of a Quaker church or meetinghouse, they expect Quaker. We need to offer them Quaker. If they want Baptist, they can find that at the Baptist church. If they want Jewish, they can find that at a synagogue. The only place to find Quaker is with the Quakers. This leaves us, of course, with the question of what is it that people are looking for when they look for Quaker? Or what is it that we have that identifies us as Quaker in spite of all of our differences?

A Friend said that Convergent is about relationship and not so much about worship. Can I listen to someone past the first thing they say that I disagree with? What about the Friend who says, “I need baptism.” or “I need communion.” or “I am Jewish.” or “I am Buddhist.” Take a step back and ask why that person needs that ritual or identity. Convergent Friends are about dialog and not legislation.

The final question was what do we do next when we get back to our home meetings and churches. Find people in your local meetings or in your Quarterly and Yearly Meetings with whom you can discuss these issues. Be open to how you may be led.

This wasn't mentioned during the discussion but another trait that I would add about what Convergent Friends are about is curiosity and openness: curiosity about finding what people are seeking and finding and openness to new understandings and living with differences. Convergence is about seeing where God is leading people today. What great work is God preparing us for?

I really enjoyed the discussion. The most important thing for me was to identify a number of people that I sought out to have more in depth discussions with in the remaining time at the Triennial. In spite of my frustration with the formal part of the gathering, it gave me hope that God is working somewhere below the surface. That being the case, and since all the factions in FUM are convinced that God is on their side, perhaps the best thing to do is to wait expectantly to see what God will bring forth instead of seeking a political victory based on our own efforts.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Renewing the Peace Testimony - FUM Triennial Part 2

On Thursday night at the Landrum Bolling, former president of Earlham College, gave the Betty Carter Peace Lecture on the subject of Renewing the Peace Testimony. One can only hope to be as fit and sharp at age 94 as Landrum Bolling is. He told a number of stories from his experience in peacemaking in the Middle East. He told stories of faith and redemption. He told stories of non-Friends whose actions made an impact. He told stories of change and transformation. The transcript of his talk can be found here.
He also called on Friends to examine what the peace testimony really means to us today, where we are going in our lives and what we want to accomplish. What does it mean and do we really believe it? Do we really try to live it out?

He said:
I come back to reformation, not asking us to change the testimony. Just look at the major principles of the testimony. You know what they are: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Love your neighbors as you love yourself. … Pray for those who spitefully use you. Recompense no man evil for evil. As much as lies within you live peaceably with all men. If your enemy hungers, feed him. If he thirsts, give him drink. Blessed are peacemaker for they shall be called children of God.

He called for Friends to recognize that there are consequences to our ideas and beliefs. You cannot make a clear division between religious faith and practice and political action. They are not the same exactly but there are political consequences to our beliefs. He spoke of the trend that started before the election of George Bush that the president as commander-in-chief as unlimited power to decide what should be done about peace. The president has usurped the power from the Secretary of State and the diplomatic corps. As we witness for peace, do we have anything to say about this? The United States spends more on arms than all the other countries in the world combined. What are we doing about this?

He ended by quoting his favorite bumper sticker: “God bless everybody, no exceptions.”

At the end of his talk I couldn't help thinking that if we believe that Israelis and Palestinians should reconcile their differences, what about the differences between Indiana Yearly Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting? What about the differences between Elgon-North Yearly Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting? What about Iowa Yearly Meeting(FUM) and Iowa Yearly Meeting( Conservative) or North Carolina Yearly Meeting(FUM) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting(Conservative)? If we are serious about making peace in the world shouldn't we start with our own house?

Since I come from a liberal background, nothing that I said sounded very controversial. But I spoke with another Friend afterwards who said that there was an implied challenge in the message, especially in the words about what has been done by the Republicans to usurp power from the diplomats. There are some Friends who believe that the wars between Israel and the Arabs and Palestinians should be understood in light of Biblical prophecy. These are precursors of the end times and the second coming of Christ. I don't know how Landrum's message was received by those Friends. It was another conversation that didn't happen. At least not where I was.

So are we willing to live the peace testimony in our lives or is it just a hook for political action? Are we willing to remove the logs and beams from our own eyes, both personally and as Quakers, as part of our witness to the world of the need for reconciliation? Are we willing to undertake the work to resolve the conflicts among us? Are we willing to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously? Are we willing to trust God even when we don't know the way or when we are afraid of what might happen?

More to come.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And now a word from our sponsor - FUM Triennial Part 1

I returned on Sunday from the FUM Triennial sessions held this year in High Point, NC. If you want the excruciating detail, they had a court reporter transcribing the sessions as they went and displaying the text on a screen for the hearing impaired. They have published the transcripts here. These are not corrected transcripts so there are transcription errors and there are spots where they missed things. The missing parts are mostly marked by ellipsis. While it is not perfect it is the most complete recording of the events of any Friends gathering I have ever seen. So if you want all of the gory details of what happened, go there. I will try to give a more impressionistic view.

The meetings were held at High Point Friends Church and the attached Friends School. The facilities were excellent and the welcome was most warm. I wish to commend the local arrangements committee for their hard work and the care they provided.

If anyone had been expecting some sort of pyrotechnics because of the simmering tensions within FUM they would have been disappointed. All the tensions were left to simmer just below the surface. While there are business sessions at the triennial they are mostly used to present reports. There is little substantive business conducted, or at least there hasn't been any at the last two, which are the only ones I have attended. Someone described the FUM Triennials as a family reunion for Orthodox Friends. It is an opportunity to meet and spend time with friends that you might not see otherwise and to make new contacts with people from other yearly meetings. This being my second triennial and since I have served on the General Board the past two years I had a number of people I was glad to see there.

At the Wednesday night keynote, Sylvia Graves presented what was, in essence, a state of society report for FUM. She candidly acknowledged the tensions and differences that face us. That was, however, the last time those issues were raised. In the rest of the sessions the time was mostly spent hearing reports from the various missions of FUM. They were fascinating and it sounds as if a lot of good work is happening. All of the foreign missions are facing a number of problems, not the least of which is that the ongoing devaluation of the dollar means that the funds we send abroad do not get us as much as they used to. This is particularly true when paying salaries. As a result of the financial difficulties of FUM, most of the reports had a subtle, or not so subtle, subtext of please contribute to this mission. There were times when I felt as if I had stumbled into the middle of a PBS pledge week. But there are significant needs and there is a lot of good work happening so if you are inclined, go to the FUM web site and see what you are led to do.

I realize that some of my discomfort with the fundraising is cultural. Liberal Quakers are much more diffident about asking for money and we never take a collection during worship. Here there was a collection during every worship service. I remember a time a number of years ago at New England Yearly Meeting when the Finance Committee reported that there was going to be shortfall in the budget that year. Someone suggested that they pass the hat right there in the session. Then the Treasurer said that she was uncomfortable with doing that. I don't recall the exact nature of her scruple but was the only time I have heard of a treasurer being reluctant to collect money. Some other method was found to collect money from Friends at the sessions and they more than met the shortfall. I suppose it depends some what in what you are used to. I suspect liberal Friends may have something to learn from Orthodox Friends in this regards.

There is a lot more to write about, including a meeting of Convergent Friends and my visit to North Caroline YM – Conservative. Tune in again next time for another episode in the ongoing saga of FUM.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth of July

If the rain holds off, we will go into Cambridge tonight and watch the fireworks. We will sit on Memorial Drive, listen to the Boston Pops concert on the speakers and then look across the Charles River at the fireworks with the buildings of Boston's Back Bay in the background. We get to see the light of the fireworks reflecting off of the glass of the Hancock and Prudential buildings. Fireworks are one of my guilty pleasures. I know that they are derived from military technology. But I enjoy the colors and the explosions. I like the scale of the displays. I like it that they take up so much of the sky. I like to be close enough to feel the thump of the explosions on my chest. I like the transitoriness of the experience. There is no going back to see it later. It is not something you can enjoy on television. You have to be there. And part of the enjoyment is sharing it with a large number of other people. I even enjoy sharing the subway ride home even though the trains are packed.

But I have a real ambivalence about the holiday that is the occasion for the fireworks. The ideals of freedom, equality and justice that we claim for the United States – as if we have a monopoly on them – are all to often used as a justification and motivation for wars that do not promote those ideals. More and more it seems that the laws of the United States are being written to favor the rich and the powerful over the poor or even the average. I don't know if this is a change in how things are or if I have just become more sensitive to it. I think the turning point in this regard happened a number of years ago when Lynn and I went to the lawyer to draw up our wills. What he said in effect was, these are the rules. And then, if you want to spend the money and the time, here are all of the ways you can get around the rules. In other words, one set of rules for most people and another set for those who can afford to hire lawyers and establish trusts.

The real issue is that my ultimate allegiance is not to the United States or to any country. My ultimate allegiance is to God. Now politicians like to invoke God to bless the country and to insinuate that we somehow have a favored spot in God's heart. Certainly the God of ancient Israel and Judah is portrayed like that. The infidelity of Judah and Israel to that God is also amply documented. But the aspect of God that speaks to me is the God of the prophets who remind the rich and the powerful to remember the poor and the needy, who advocate for widows and orphans, who condemn those who join house to house and field to field so that there is no room for the poor, and who call to account those who use false weights and measures in the marketplace.

There are people who equate patriotism with wearing a flag pin on your lapel. This is a patriotism of outward forms. It seems often to be used as a mask to cover up our own infidelity to our ideals. To me the ultimate patriots are people like Martin Luther King who challenged us to live up to our ideals, who said that if we want the blessings of God on us and our posterity, that we need to build a society that embodies God's justice and compassion. We need a patriotism that is based on something more than a celebration of our military power and economic might. At a time when we see economic and environmental dislocations in our immediate future, how do we respond with compassion. How do we build a society based on justice and sharing equitably when our natural response is to seek security by holding on to as much as we can for ourselves.

Happy Fourth of July.

Will T