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.

Friday, February 27, 2009

An unexpected journey

Let me tell you about my friend Bill. He is the gentlest and most self-aware person I know. I have known him for almost 30 years. We both attended Cambridge Meeting and our families both came to Fresh Pond Meeting when it started 20 years ago because we were seeking a more intimate spiritual community. Our kids grew up together. They commiserated with each other about how their parents were always the first to come and the last to leave. When I started leading workshops and traveling, he served as an elder for me and a traveling companion.

We have been participating in the Way of Ministry program of the School of the Spirit this year. We have enjoyed the opportunities to travel to Philadelphia together and to share the experience. Now I have become his traveling companion on a journey that neither one of us expected. In the beginning of January he shared with our support committee that he was going to have a CAT scan the next day because of some neurological symptoms he was experiencing. What they found was an inoperable tumor growing deep in his brain.

He is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments and some of his symptoms have improved. It has been a privilege to see the courage and grace with which he is facing his situation. He talks about his sense of the presence of God with him. He tells about waking in the night and taking his sleeping bag and sitting on his deck watching the stars and being filled with joy. Just being with him, I have learned a lot about what is real and what is not. We had been looking forward to opportunities to share our journeys together. This is not the journey we had been expecting to take together now.

Please pray for Bill and his family.

Blessings to all.

Will T

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Back from Richmond with a quiet heart

I returned on Sunday from the FUM General Board meeting in Richmond, Indiana. There were a number of logistical problems. Because high winds in New York forced the closing of New York airports for several hours on Thursday, some people did not arrive until late on Thursday night. I had a direct flight from Boston to Indianapolis and I did not encounter such a problem. However, when I arrived at Quaker Hill and entered Woodward Lodge, where I expected to be sleeping, I discovered that they were mopping up some very rusty looking water from the floor of the basement where my room was to be. I heard variously that the hot water heater in the building had sprung a leak, or exploded, depending on the dramatic tendencies of the teller. I was moved into Evans House which had hot water but some people had to make do without hot water in their rooms.

Last fall the Superintendents of the 5 Orthodox yearly meetings in North America sent a letter to the clerk expressing concerns about the future of FUM. The letter can be found here. This letter provoked quite a bit of discussion some of which was here and here.

The Executive Committee met in December and on Friday afternoon made their report. They identified a number of questions for us to explore: Is FUM a missionary society or a denomination? Are FUM General Board members responsible for representing the views of their yearly meetings or are they selected to exercise their own discernment? They also named that there are cultural differences between members from the East Coast and the Midwest. Seeing some of the items listed let me see that some of these issues can be separated from our theological differences. This meant that we could, at least in theory, come to some resolution for some our organizational problems without having to resolve the theological ones.

The clerk and the executive committee had planned at this point for us to go into small group discussions. John Smallwood, from Baltimore YM asked us instead to go into prayer as a body. He felt that we were trying to solve the problem using human tools rather than turning to Christ for guidance. We entered into a period of deep worship and prayer. People spoke of how God calls us to love one another. I spoke of how I felt pained by the mentions of being unequally yoked. In the morning session we had been considering various parts of our work and we had worked well together and there were important contributions from people in many different yearly meetings. We had seemed to be working well together and pulling together to carry out the work of FUM. When I hear the phrase being used, I am pained because it feels as if it is excluding me, as if I am some kind of second-class Christian. I offered another image, where Paul suggests that Christians should not divorce an unbelieving spouse so that they may become an instrument of salvation.

Kelley Kellum quoted Jeremiah 6:16-17
This is what the LORD says:
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'
I appointed watchmen over you and said,
'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!'
But you said, 'We will not listen.'

We recognized that we did not know how to proceed and that we needed to stay at the crossroads and ask to be shown the good way and when we find it, walk in it.

We continued in the deep worship until it was time to break for dinner. In the evening session we sang some hymns and prayed for the work of FUM but broke early. Everyone seemed pretty tired and ready for an early evening. No matter what changes spending deep time in the presence of God may work in our hearts, minds and souls, it can be tiring.

On Saturday morning we entered again into worship on the matter and again we went to a deep place. We heard from a number of the superintendents who had signed the letter. I spoke to the idea that the middle does not have to be a mushy place but can in fact be seen as the center of mass around which binary stars revolve. It is the center that holds things together and keeps them from going off in their different directions. The clerk was looking for us to provide some guidance to the Executive Committee on how to proceed but we did not provide much. Mostly we continued in that place of unknowing. We went on to the rest of our business and finished it up by the middle of the afternoon. The Executive Committee met at that point and I believe that they have some thoughts as to next steps but I do not know what they are.

After the Friday afternoon session I felt a change in the dynamics of the board as a whole. There seems to be a greater willingness to work together. There seems to be less of a desire to break FUM apart. There seems to be a willingness to stay in this place of brokenness and unknowing a while longer. There is more of a willingness to name the conflicts and to face them directly. We are just starting on this journey and we have not always found ways to talk with each other without hurting each other. But we have made a start. If we stand at the crossroads long enough, we will see the good way to go. As I have held this image, I think perhaps we are not standing at the crossroads, we are just standing at the Cross.

I am more optimistic about FUM than I have been for a long time. To quote Fox, “The good Lord is at work in this night of darkness that can be felt.”

Continue to pray for FUM and the Society of Friends,

Blessings to all

Will T

Monday, February 09, 2009

The All-New Hampshire Gathering

Last Saturday I attended the All New Hampshire Gathering of Friends. This is an annual meeting for all Friends in New Hampshire. There is no one Quarterly Meeting for the state so it is a meeting for fellowship and discussion of common issues. This year they chose to explore the area of sexual ethics. One of the outcomes of the discussions of the sexual ethics portion of the FUM personnel policy has been a realization that New England Friends have not engaged in an exploration of the nature of their sexual ethics in at least the last half-century. While many Friends are opposed to the sexual ethics embodied in the FUM personnel policy, as a corporate body, NEYM has no statement on the matter. Although a number of monthly and quarterly meetings have taken positions and meetings have conducted many same-sex marriages, especially since they became legal in Massachusetts, the matter has never come before the yearly meeting for a decision. We have also not addressed issues of heterosexual ethics although our Young Friends and Young Adult Friends have asked for guidance in this area. Two years ago, more or less, the Yearly Meeting asked the local meetings to start a consideration of their sexual ethics with the idea that out of this the Yearly Meeting might come to some unity on the subject. This gathering was part of that process.

The keynote speaker was Gene Robinson, the bishop of the Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire. He discussed the difficulties that the Anglican communion is having over issues surrounding acceptance of gays and lesbians. He, of course, has been a lightning rod for this controversy since he is the first openly gay bishop. Even though he was discussing the Episcopal Church, it sounded very much like the situation among Friends.

In the afternoon I led a discussion on homosexuality and the Bible. (You can find my posts on the subject here) There were questions about the so-called “terrible texts” or the clobber verses. These are the 6 passages in the Bible that are the basis of the Biblical case against accepting gays and lesbians. I explained how the context for most of them is not homosexuality as it is practiced in today's society but male temple prostitution in Canaanite religion. I also presented material on the places in the Bible where same sex relationships are portrayed in a positive light.

Another set of questions people had revolved around how to talk about these issues with people who seem them so differently. I stressed that there is nothing in any of these verses that have changed anyone's mind on the issue, in either direction. My beliefs in equality for gays and lesbians are deeply held and would not be easily changed. People who don't agree with me on this are also expressing deeply held beliefs. In any discussion like this we need to assume an equal level of sincerity, conviction and desire to be faithful on all sides. The problem is, what to do when you have sincere, faithful and deeply convicted people who disagree. I wish I knew the answer.. At the workshop I said, this is where miracles happen. On Thursday night I am flying out to Richmond, Indiana, for the FUM General Board meeting. The sexual ethics issue will come up as part of a larger consideration of the entire personnel manual. I am hoping and praying for a miracle.

Blessings to all,

Will T