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.
- Name: Will T
- 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.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
A change of pace and convergence - NEYM Part 4
In the morning business session the representatives to the FUM Triennial made our report. We read the epistle from the Triennial. A Friend from Maine spoke to how Ramallah Friends School had been founded by Friends from Maine and it had been operated by New England Yearly Meeting until it was transferred to the Board of Missions which later brought it under the care of FUM. Eden Grace, who is FUM Field Staff in Kenya and a member of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting, then gave a five minute report on all of the work being done in Kenya.
Tuesday night we did not have a business meeting. Instead we had a concert by Anais Mitchell who had grown up as a Young Friend in New England. I enjoyed the music and it felt restorative to not be discussing difficult issues – either inside or outside of worship. I had advertised an interest group on Convergent Friends for that evening after the concert. Lynn said that she knew what we needed and went to the store and got chocolate chip cookies and strawberries and lemonade. About 15 people showed up. We talked about what Convergent Friends were and the place of the Bible in our spiritual lives. The question I had that we didn't get to discuss much was what does it mean to be a Convergent Friend in New England. Is it just a discussion that happens on-line and at interest groups at other conferences or is there something more that we are called to do. Whoever we is.
One of the things I realize is that New England YM probably has as broad a range of theological diversity of any Yearly Meeting, at least in North America. We have pagans and vocal non-theists. We a plain Friend who taught for years in Kenya. We have pastoral meetings that identify strongly with FUM. We have liberal unprogrammed college meetings. We have committed social activists. We have recorded ministers. We have meetings on record that they do not record ministers. And somehow we manage to hold together and work together and worship together and be strengthened and nourished and nurtured by each other. Sometimes this is in spite of our differences and sometimes it is because of them.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Things heat up. NEYM – Part 3
No sooner were the words out of my mouth and a Friend stood and asked the clerk again when the threshing on FUM was going to begin. Once again, the clerk said that this was the time to bring up any issues that might be on people's hearts. This brought forth a series of speakers with concerns about the FUM personnel policy, the perceived homophobia of FUM and how people could not see their money going to support this organization any longer. There was a lot of pain and anger expressed. At least one person got up and read a brief extract from the Richmond Declaration and part of the General Board minute from February, 2007 which reaffirmed it. He used this to support his position that NEYM should withdraw from FUM. As he read the minute, my first reaction surprised me a bit. I found myself saying to myself, “Hey, I wrote that minute-don't read it back to me and tell me what it means.” Fortunately I had spent the week or two before sessions began recalling James 1:19-20, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness.” Sometimes I think that these words should be projected on a screen above the clerk's head at every business session everywhere.
Towards the end of the meeting I was able to speak to remind Friends that FUM was more than just a personnel policy. It includes people who, when faced with violence in their own communities, sheltered and protected people in their own homes, brought food and blankets to the displaced, and helped facilitate reconciliation when displaced people returned to the communities they had fled. They had thought that the peace testimony did not apply to them because they lived in a peaceful country but when they needed to, they rose to a witness in their lives, at considerable risk, that we in America would be hard pressed to match. I spoke of the need to remain in dialog. I spoke of the need for spiritual hospitality. I encouraged people to look to see whether their need to maintain their own purity in not associating with the homophobes of FUM was not prompted in part by the same spirit that caused Friends elsewhere to not want to associate with the sinful homosexuals. Based on later comments, I don't think that suggestion gained much traction among Friends.
In the evening we heard the reports from the Quarterly Meetings on their consideration of the minute of commitment and how they had begun the process of exploring their understanding of sexual ethics. There was more discussion of all the issues at that time as well. Sylvia Graves, FUM General Secretary, arrived fresh from Western Yearly Meeting, in time for the evening session. She remained with us for the rest of our sessions. I do not remember many specifics of that session. My memories of some of the details is already getting a little hazy. One thing I do know was that by this point I had a number of appointments to discuss these issues over meals later on.
Monday morning my wife and I skipped the business session and went for a bike ride. The weather was sunny, dry and not too warm. It was the most enjoyable part of sessions for me. Monday night was the first presentation of the budget. This was where people started talking about wanting a mechanism so that they could contribute to the Yearly Meeting but not have their contributions go to FUM. The budget issue I found myself speaking to was the elimination of the representatives travel budget. I am fortunate enough that I can afford the extra expense that this would mean for me. I was concerned that this restriction would limit who would be able to serve the Yearly Meeting as a representative to the larger Quaker bodies. I also felt that it was changing the terms under which I had accepted a three year appointment last year. The hardest part for me was that it felt like the Finance Committee was devaluing the work of the various representatives. More precisely, they were setting a value of $0 for all of the time and energy I have put into being one of the representatives to the General Board. I described the job to some friends like this: “I go to the FUM General Board meetings and say things that some people there don't want to hear and then I come back to New England and say things that people here don't want to hear.” I am getting an increasing appreciation for the work of mediators and diplomats.
More to come.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Setting the Stage - NEYM Part 2
The theme of the sessions was “War, God Help Us.” The idea was that we would look at our response to the current wars that have been going on for 7 years without much response from Friends in New England. At least not corporately. There were references to the Peace Testimony but they as often related to divisions among Friends as they did to our external condition. The greater part of our corporate discernment was devoted to our finances and our relationship to FUM and our reaction to the personnel policy of FUM which restricts employment by FUM to people who are celibate or in a heterosexual marriage with only one other partner. One can look at this as a valuable exploration of our condition and a continuing exploration of our differences, something that a regular reader of this blog will know that I generally favor. Or you can look at it as another victory for the forces behind the war who have skillfully managed to distract their opponents into disputes on the topic of sexuality. As far as I can tell, both are true. God will have to help us sort this out.
Last year NEYM had begun addressing the issue of the FUM personnel policy. We had realized that we could not address the statement of sexual ethics contained in the personnel policy when we, as a yearly meeting, had not examined our own sexual ethics. We have been asked a number of times by our Young Friends to provide some guidance but we have so far not done so. The Yearly Meeting had minuted our commitment to begin exploring these issues. On Sunday night we heard reports from all eight of the Quarterly Meetings about the progress that had been made on this issue. There was a range of responses. Some meetings actively embraced the discussion. Some meetings felt that other issues were of higher priority and had done nothing. Many meetings fell somewhere in between.
There was a group of people, who came with a concern that they could not, in good conscience, see their money go to FUM because they felt that it would make them complicit in the discrimination that they see being practiced by FUM. There were some who went so far as to say that New England should disaffiliate with FUM because of the reaffirmation of the Richmond Declaration.
In addition to these issues there were issues with the Yearly Meeting budget. There was a significant shortfall in donations both from monthly meetings and from individuals. The Finance Committee presented a budget that contained some deep cuts. One area that was eliminated completely in the initial presentation was representative travel. Another significant cut was that our donations to both FGC and FUM were cut in half.
The stage was set for a difficult Yearly Meeting Sessions.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Laying down and taking up burdens. NEYM Pt 1
As I sat with this some more, it appeared to me that the question arose from a truncated view of the spiritual life. As we begin our spiritual journey we carry many burdens that come from the pain and injuries that we have received in the course of our lives. The first part of our journey is to find the healing that allows us to lay those burdens down. The progressive laying down of burdens of pain and sin is a lifetime process. But at some point there is a change. We have healed and grown enough that we start getting burdens offered to us. These are the burdens of the concerns that we come under that shape our spiritual life's work. They are the ways in which we turn our healing and our growth into gifts for the larger community. There is a sense of rightness about undertaking these things that makes the work bearable. They provides a focus that allows us to let go of things that we are not called to. They are the way in which we find our place in the body of Christ. Sometimes we are carried and held in the work in a way that it seems effortless. Other times it is still hard work. The yoke may be easy – meaning that it fits comfortably and doesn't chafe or hurt – but sometimes the load is heavy. You do not need a yoke to carry something light. You need a yoke to carry something heavy and bulky. Of course a yoke implies that you are not working alone. Oxen are yoked in tandem, so part of taking on the yoke is knowing that you will have help. But there is still work to do.
It seems to me that many Friends seem to think that the spiritual life consists exclusively of the first part, of the laying down of our personal burdens. We do not talk so much about the second part of the journey where we take up the burdens of the work that God would have us do. Do we like to stay at the level of Quakerism 101? Are we reluctant to move on the higher level courses? Where is Quakerism 322 or 453? Where are the graduate courses? In our meetings do we even acknowledge the advanced curricula in the school of Christ? Are we content to welcome newcomers and provide them with a basic introduction to Quakerism and let them find their way after that or do we demonstrate and teach the challenges and joys of living a life of faithfulness? Do we demonstrate that we are finders or do we wish to remain seekers forever?