Gathered Meeting Algebra

April 17, 2021 § 5 Comments

This post is just a piece of fun. Don’t take it too seriously.

Because I use some complicated table formatting, I’m not entering the post in this web page, but rather providing it for download as a Word file here. Using a Word doc allowed me to display the mathematical expressions properly. In order to see the formulas properly, you might also need to disable View Gridlines in the Table Layout ribbon tab or wherever that feature is in your version of Word.

Download the post as a Word doc.

“That of God” in the Gathered Meeting

April 1, 2021 § 5 Comments

I suspect that many Friends would agree that the central principle of Quaker religion is the presence and activity of the Light within us. For early Friends, as for us, this is based on our experience, not on some legacy concept from our tradition which we then accept on faith. We know that something within us brings us into direct, unmediated communion with God. 

To express this experience, early Friends did turn to their tradition. They found their experience articulated in the opening sentences of the gospel of John and called it accordingly, the Light: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)

Today, many Friends have a new way to express our experience of the Light Within—“that of God” within. Whatever we call it, this presence, principle, or capacity within us still enlightens us, with its guidance, healing, conviction, forgiveness, renewal, strengthening, and inspiration. Though we rarely get into the metaphysics of how it works, the Light Within, or that of God within us, somehow enables for us holy communion.

The second essential and distinctive principle of the Quaker faith in my opinion is the gathered meeting. Not only can any individual commune directly with God, but also the worshipping community can commune directly with God as a community, without any mediating persons, rituals, or substances. This is the principle behind our worship practice and our discernment and decision making practice. We submit the call to ministry to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We submit the governance of our community to the guidance of the Holy Spirit rather than to human politics. We surrender the gathered body to the Presence in our Midst.

What is this Presence? What enables the collective mysticism so distinctive to Friends? What is the corporate analog to the Light within each individual? Just as “that of God in everyone” is key to individual communion, so something is key to our collective communion. What do we call that something?

The traditional answer, of course, is Christ. It was the spirit of Christ who first gathered those Seekers on Firbank Fell in 1652, as George Fox opened the way for them with his preaching. In the centuries since, Friends have testified that it is the spirit of Christ who has gathered us and guided us as a movement.

However, this formulation no longer works for a lot of Friends. Without the kind of direct experience of Christ that so enlightened early Friends, many of us have become averse to a Christ-centered articulation of our experience. I feel the same way as regards the traditional salvific theology of Christ taught to us by the conventional church. But I have received an opening that reconnects my experience to my tradition in a continuing revelation. I share it only because I hope it will serve others as it does me.

First, as always for me, experience: we still are gathered in the Spirit now and again. Whatever we call it, something still is at the center of our worship, upwelling with Spirit, bringing us into mystical union with each other and with itself. That is, in the gathered meeting, the worshippers share something transpersonal, something that transcends our personal experience in the sharing, something that awakens in us collectively the deepest joy, gratitude, unity, and astonishment. Whatever we call it.

To express their experience of personal revelation of Spirit, early Friends turned to their tradition—to the Bible—and found in John’s gospel a way to express it—the Light. Where would we turn to express our experience of the gathered meeting, if not to our tradition, as well? Granted, we no longer have unity about the Bible’s authority. But the Bible’s authority is not the issue, for three reasons.

First, Friends have never given the Bible ultimate authority; that is the Spirit’s alone. 

Second, where else would we turn? To the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita? To the Quran or the Analects of Confucius? To the humanist philosophies of Bacon, Locke, and Descartes? 

The Christian context and the biblical content are our tradition. They are the only spiritual tradition we have in common. To turn away from them is to hack at our own roots with the axe of perversity, with acts of peevish obstinacy. It’s a kind of collective self-wounding.

And here is my third reason for not denying the value of our tradition: the Bible is a proven vehicle for personal revelation and renewal, even for those who reject its authority or find parts of it disagreeable, as I do and I have. Experience proves that one can find “that of God” in the scriptures. That’s why denying their value is perverse. 

That doesn’t mean that they are above criticism or correction. Nor do I deny how they have been weaponized for oppression and suffering; this was my original reason for turning against Christianity and the Bible. The Bible is not holy, nor would I even call it sacred, except insofar as it can be a channel for revelation. Building on its value as a potential channel for revelation fosters continuing revelation.

Thus, for me, the expression that works to name “that of God” in the gathered meeting is the spirit of Christ. I am making no claims here about Jesus as the Christ, but trying to name a bridge between my experience and my tradition.

Here’s why: “Christ” means, in Greek, “anointed” (as does the Hebrew word “messiah”). So “the spirit of Christ” is the spirit of anointing. The same spirit of anointing that Jesus experienced and declared for himself in the fourth chapter of Luke: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; he has anointed me (christ-ed me) to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18). 

That spirit anointed all the prophets before Jesus. It anointed Jesus. It anointed the disciples at the Pentecost. It anointed the Seekers on Firbank Fell. And it anoints us today, in our vocal ministry and for our other ministries. It anoints us in the gathering of our community into oneness and joy. Whatever we call it.

I call it the spirit of Christ, the spirit of anointing. For me, the spirit of Christ/anointing is “that of God” within the gathered meeting.

True Prophecy, Real Poetry, Spirit-led Ministry

March 4, 2021 § 1 Comment

True prophecy’s job was to invoke the presence of God, to speak in God’s own voice on God’s behalf. This was true in the age of Isaiah and Amos, the time of Jesus, the words of Fox and Pennington. 

One of the criteria for including the work of a prophet in the ancient Hebrew canon, the Law and the Prophets, was the quality of the poetry. God would not speak in bad poetry.

In The White Goddess, the poet, writer, and mythologist Robert Graves’s chaotic and magnificent manifesto masterpiece on the origins and nature of (true) Western poetry, he defines the purpose of poetry thus: “The function of poetry is religious invocation of the Muse; its use is the experience of mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites.” (p. 14)

The Muse is the Goddess, the Mother-Lover-Crone. True poetry, for Graves, is prayer and prophecy.

One knows true poetry when one feels it. The direct experience of the White Goddess is visceral, as Graves describes it: “… the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine …” (p. 24) These signs do bodily manifest the exultation and dread that accompanies all theophanies, all encounters with Truth.

How like the experience of our vocal ministers when the Spirit has truly descended upon them.

Negative Reactions to Jesus and Christianity

January 17, 2021 § 7 Comments

A Friend of mine recently shared that some other Friends in his meeting experience “negative reactions—even visceral ones—when reference is made to Jesus or Christianity during worship”. I’ve been one of these people, actively hostile to Christianity and the Bible, in vocal ministry, in First Day School curriculum, and so on. I’ve changed my mind since then. So I have a tenderness for Friends who feel this way, on the one hand, and a convert’s zeal for pushing back, on the other.

As a result of this transformation, and because I’m a theologian by calling, I have labored a long time and very deeply with how I now identify regarding my own Christianity. I like the response Friend Don Badgley uses when asked whether he is a Christian: What do you mean by “Christian”? But actually, almost no matter how someone might define being Christian, my answer will be no. The main reason is that I have never felt directly called by him into his discipleship.

However, clearly, many, many people have felt so called, some of whom I know intimately and personally, and some of whom, like Fox, have convinced me of the genuineness of their experience through their powerful testimony. Because I respect and trust their testimony, I therefore believe as an article of faith that there is a spirit of Christ who calls some people into his discipleship and who, according to the testimony of the first Friends, originally gathered Friends as a peculiar people of God and has guided the movement for most of its history.

Thus I consider myself a guest in the house that Christ built. I believe he is real and the house is his. Thus, I believe the Religious Society of Friends to be a Christian religious movement. Which is not the same as feeling free to answer unequivocally that Quakers are Christians. The majority of us are Christians, by far. We have been so for most of our history, by far. 

And even those Quaker communities in which some members are deeply uncomfortable identifying as Christian—none of these meetings have, to my knowledge, ever tested their identity in a meeting for worship with attention to the life of the meeting and then declared, by a sense of the meeting gathered under the guidance of the Spirit, that they are no longer Christian. Technically, then, according to “Quaker process”, those meetings retain their ancient historical testimony as Christians until they discover themselves otherwise in a gathered meeting.

Meanwhile, I would describe many meetings in my experience in the liberal branch as post-Christian. They may not have formally declared themselves post-Christian, but most of the members don’t identify as Christian and their testimony—their vocal ministry, their witness, and culture—do not express a Christian worldview, however you might define that. Post-Christians have moved into the master bedroom and Christ has been thrown out onto the living room couch—or out of the house altogether. 

I don’t feel that way, and I can’t act that way anymore. I feel grateful to be included in the Quaker fold as a lamb who has been invited in, and I gladly sleep on the couch in Christ’s gracious big-tent tabernacle. This means two things, a negative and a positive: I do not (any longer) persecute those who testify to their Teacher, and I actively welcome, desire, pray for, Christian and biblical vocal ministry and the other ways in which my Christian Friends testify to their Guide. They are at home in the house he built—or should be.

It is quite weird to be a member of a Christian movement and not be a Christian myself. This paradox has defined my religious life ever since I became a Friend. The only thing that mutes the dissonance this creates is the fact that the meetings I have belonged to and participated in have all been (non-declared) post-Christian in their culture. Which means that they are comfortable with my non-Christian-ness (though they sometimes act surprised when I sound like a Christian).

On the other hand, however, I will not countenance anti-Christian behavior in any meeting I am a part of. Someone should have eldered me when I did that, and Friends who act that way can expect me to ask some questions.

Quakers and Insurrection

January 9, 2021 § 1 Comment

Barry Crossno, General Secretary of Friends General Conference, and FGC’s clerk Marvin Barnes have recently issued an epistle to Friends addressing our stance with respect to the recent insurrection at the nation’s capitol. (You can read it here.)

I very much appreciate their recognition of the racist roots of that insurrection, their commitment to interfaith action toward de-escalation, and their appeal to Friends to reflect in our actions our belief in a “seed of God” existing in each of us. I would have put that last part differently: I would hope our actions would reflect our grounding in and experience of the seed of God that exists within ourselves, rather than in a belief in its existence in others.

Reading this epistle, I could not help but be reminded of the important role political insurrection played in the history of the Quaker movement.

In 1661, Fifth Monarchist insurrectionists seized control of England’s parliament building. Hundreds of Quakers, including most of the movement’s leaders, were swept up by England’s state security forces after the insurrection and put in jail. The state feared dissenters of all stripes and falsely suspected Quaker involvement in the insurrection. This was the beginning of a generation of state-sponsored persecution of Friends and it began a process of radical change in Quakerism.

It annealed the red-hot fervency of the movement, binding Quakers together in a turn toward the spirit of Christ and his teaching and example of love for one’s enemies. This may have been the most important factor in our survival and subsequent direction as a people of God. It also found expression in the extraordinary statement we now call the 1660 Declaration. (The Fifth Monarchist insurrection occurred in January 1661 according to our current calendar, following the calendar reforms made in the 18th century, but it took place in the tenth month of 1660 according to the calendar of the time; hence the Declaration of 1660.)

In response to the persecution, George Fox and a number of other Quakers wrote “A Declaration from the Harmless and Innocent People of God called Quakers” to newly crowned King Charles II defending Quakers from the accusations of participation in insurrection and violence. This document is often cited as the first articulation of our peace testimony. (You can read the text here and a great article in Friends Journal about it here.)

I invite Friends to reread the Declaration as a centering exercise in this weird and troubled time.

Membership, Part 9: Membership and the life of the Spirit

January 3, 2021 § 1 Comment

In an earlier post in this membership series, I ended by posing three basic questions about membership in the Religious Society of Friends, which should form the context for considering alternatives to our current faith and practice regarding membership, especially for young adult Friends. But there should have been four questions:

  • What is membership for?
  • What is religious community for?
  • What holds a religious community together?
  • And, as the foundation for these three concerns, What do we mean by the life of the Spirit in the first place?

Let’s start with the foundation: What do we mean by the life of the Spirit? This is the question that anybody seeking an alternative to regular membership in a monthly meeting should be asking themselves. Well, people seeking monthly meeting membership should ask these questions, too. And for that matter, so should meetings.

We can put the question another way that elicits a different kind of answer: What is the spiritual life for? What do we hope to get out of it?

My own opinion is that the life of the Spirit flows from a temperament. It’s not a choice, but rather more of a drive, something one feels impelled to pursue. For me this impulse expresses itself as a yearning for the transcendental, for experience that transcends the usual directions and boundaries of our everyday lives. It has a lot in common with the artistic temperament, the drive to create.

Furthermore, as their art is for many artists, spirituality is integral to the spiritual person’s identity. It is essential to one’s sense of self and one’s relation to the world and to one’s experience.

And what do we hope to create with the life of the Spirit? My answer: I do not just seek transcendental experience; I seek to transcend my self. I seek my true self, my whole self, my higher self. I seek inner transformation for the better.

And I feel instinctively that this transformation is to be found in the transcendental, in God, in that Spirit, that Mystery Reality that I sense lies within me at the center of my little-“s” self and that I experience in the gathered meeting.

My true self is free of ego investments in my behavior. My true self is free of habitual behavior, programmed and conditioned behavior. The true self is who I am at the center of all that armor.

My whole self includes the broken parts of my self, the parts that are healing and the parts that aren’t healing yet, and even the parts that will never heal. My whole self includes the scars and the burden of the things my un-healed self has done. But my whole self is aspirational, also: it is who I would be if I could wholly heal and become whole.

That is, the life of the spirit draws me into my higher self. It is the path of making the world a better place by being a better me.

Thus the purpose of the spiritual life is to illuminate that path, to project an image of the destination, and to be a walking stick and compass—to provide inward and outward aids for the journey.

The destination is within us; it is to stand within the Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world. And the destination is among us; it is to stand together in the embrace of that Spirit that gathers us as a people of God.

The walking takes place within us, turning ever toward that Light that guides us. And the walking takes place together, not alone, but as members one of another.

For the individual, this means that Quaker membership is a declaration of unity with the way this community defines the path and an embrace of the tools Quakerism provides for the journey. For the meeting, this means that you clearly define that path and you provide the community and the tools that bring support and joy to the journey. You help make members whole.

Now, while Quaker meetings do have a collective spirit and consciousness, it is individuals who actually do the work of supporting members in these ways. This is the genius of the Quaker way, that we minister to each other. So membership means responsibility, not primarily for financial support or committee service or attendance at meetings for business, but for turning ourselves toward the Light, for fostering the gathered meeting, for caring for each other, and for employing our own gifts of the Spirit in the service of each other’s journeys.

Membership, Part 8—Proposal: a new kind of meeting

January 1, 2021 § 1 Comment

Presumably, for people who seek membership in the Religious Society of Friends, the life of the Spirit is important to them, they feel they need to pursue it in the embrace of a community, and the Society of Friends looks like the right community.

None of that requires membership in a monthly meeting. But it does require community. A community that is capable of embracing your spiritual life in a meaningful way. That is, a community that can give you the things I outlined in the second post in this series, namely communion, community, pastoral care, spiritual nurture, and religious identity.

Many of our monthly meetings are not doing that great a job at providing these things. Gathered meetings are infrequent. Opportunities for community may be confined to two hours on Sundays and a local meeting may not have a critical mass of young adults to meet the need for a community of peers. Pastoral care can be spotty, depending on how well you’re known in the community. Proactive, confident, effective spiritual nurture is just as uncommon as gathered meetings. Religious education may or may not take place or have a clear and useful focus.

Yearly meetings are even less equipped to provide these things, because of their population size, geographical scope, and infrequency of shared worship. (I analyzed the problems with yearly meeting membership in more detail in my previous post.) I think many young adult Friends gravitate to the yearly meeting because that is where they build community with their peers; yearly meetings are big enough to provide a critical mass of young people for community.

So I don’t think yearly meeting membership is the answer. A yearly meeting can offer community, communion, and spiritual or religious identity to a degree (more on the difference later), but not meaningful spiritual nurture or pastoral care.

The YAF community itself is really the only “organization” that can minister to all of these member needs in a meaningful way. Thus I propose that yearly meeting YAF communities be given meeting status, with a new set of characteristics that will differentiate them from the traditional monthly meeting:

  • Membership. Membership would mean whoever happens to be there. No clearness committees for membership. This fluidity would mean doing away with the usual responsibility of the meeting recorder (the keeper of the meeting records, not the office of the recording clerk, who keeps the minutes) to report numbers to the yearly meeting. I still think the YAF meeting (shall we call it a pod?) should keep number records for its own self-knowledge and they might report an average annually to the yearly meeting for the YM minutes, but not for the official YM records.
  • Business. The YAF pod would conduct its business in meetings for worship with attention to the life of the pod under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as monthly meetings do, meeting whenever they can, rather than monthly, presumably, online some of the time, at YAF gatherings, and at YM sessions.
  • Gospel order. The YAF pod would relate to the YM organization and business body as if it were a monthly meeting (MM), in all areas of gospel order—facilitating transfer of formal membership to a monthly meeting when and if a “member” seeks membership in a monthly meeting, but perhaps with a careful explanatory letter; seasoning minutes and epistles that are passed on to the YM for approval; providing discernment for leadings and ministries and support for the ministries it endorses; writing minutes of travel and service for its “members” when their ministry takes them outside the pod; endorsing applications by its members for grants from YM funds; recommending members to YM nominating committee for service on YM committees; providing the YM with an annual State of the Pod report, if their YM writes an annual State of the Society Report; encouraging financial support among its “members” for its own activities; passing a portion of its budget on to the YM for support of the YM’s operations as if it were a monthly meeting; and so on.
  • Ministry. The YAF pod would take responsibility for the spiritual nurture of its “members” as it sees fit, providing for its members eldership in all its forms—discernment and support for leadings and ministries,, programs and other efforts towards spiritual formation, spiritual pastoral care, and religious education.
  • Pastoral care. Likewise with pastoral care for the outward lives of its “members”, as they are able.
  • Have I missed anything? I think you get the idea.

Membership, Part 7: Yearly meeting membership

January 1, 2021 § 2 Comments

The one concrete effort I know of to meet YAF needs is New York Yearly Meeting’s approval of individual membership in the yearly meeting itself, as an alternative to monthly meeting membership. However, I worry that a yearly meeting, at least one as big as NYYM, won’t be able to meet those needs either.

A yearly meeting can provide community and a sense of identity and inclusion, which the alternative-seekers yearn for, but it can only do this passively. To a deal-breaking degree, yearly meetings are incapable of ministering effectively, let alone proactively, to the deeper needs of individuals.

If I read the PhYM YAF epistle and other documents from these seekers correctly, these individuals want to be included. They want their gifts acknowledged and employed in meaningful ways, not just through placement on committees as token young people. They bristle at “bureaucratic” membership and seek “spiritual membership”.

But I see three kinds of problems with the yearly meeting membership alternative:

  • First, yearly meetings are not likely to be able to meet YAFs’ stated needs.
  • Second, and more important, I think these seekers have not fully understood their own needs, and yearly meetings are even less equipped to meet these deeper, more important needs.
  • Third, trying to meet them would strain yearly meetings structurally until they fail.

Stated needs

If a yearly still uses clearness committees for membership, I’m not sure how they will avoid the pitfall of “bureaucratic” membership. I suspect that yearly meetings are likely to be even more “bureaucratic” than monthly meetings, because they are too big to be flexible enough to recognize nuances and special circumstances. Recognizing this, NYYM has relegated all aspects of the “bureaucracy” to a committee for Ministry and Pastoral Care, cutting the gathered body and the business meeting out of the deal altogether, which I understand is structurally necessary, but irregular as gospel order.

Similarly, yearly meeting nominating committees are even more over-burdened and distant from the whole membership of the yearly meeting than monthly meeting nominating committees are from their membership. Nominating committees do their best, but the truth is that nominating committees are not well equipped to know and nurture the membership’s spiritual gifts and leadings, and it isn’t their charge, anyway. They fill positions on committees. NYYM’s Ministry and Counsel Committee and its Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee would be the body charged with recognizing and nurturing spiritual gifts. But their charge is to employ those gifts on behalf of the yearly meeting, not to mentor and support the spiritual lives of individuals. That’s the role of a monthly meeting committee for worship and ministry. Yearly meetings are not designed to minister to individuals.

Deeper needs

Which brings me to point number two. I think the Friends seeking an alternative to monthly meeting membership have not quite thought through their needs, just as most meetings have not really thought through how they might meet them. Young adults, especially, presumably seek support with their spiritual formation. Having decided to be Quakers, presumably they want immersion in our tradition and some level of direct personal attention to their individual journey. Yearly meetings are not equipped to provide these things.

Now, to be honest, neither are monthly meetings. But that’s because monthly meetings tend to view membership from only one side of the relationship—what the member owes the meeting. They tend to forget about what the meeting owes the member. But at least a monthly meeting could provide meaningful spiritual nurture, if they applied their imaginations and their resources. Yearly meetings just can’t; their scale, structure, and mission make this almost impossible.

And that’s just the matter of spiritual nurture, which is usually the most overlooked of all of a meeting’s responsibilities to its members. But pastoral care has the same problem—scale prevents a yearly meeting from knowing its broader membership at all, let alone well enough to minister to a Friend who needs pastoral care. NYYM has 4000+ members maybe? 125 regularly attend sessions and work on committees, a number that shrinks every year, while the work only grows. A member in distress will likely go unnoticed, let alone properly cared for.

Structural inadequacy

Reason number three for why yearly meeting membership is not a good alternative to monthly meeting membership: it overburdens the yearly meeting. This is not just a matter of resources, especially human resources and even spiritual resources, though these burdens are already breaking the backs of many yearly meetings. It’s a structural problem. Yearly meetings just are not designed to minister to individual needs. By definition, they minister to the needs of meetings and act on their behalf in the ways that monthly meetings cannot do themselves. Yearly meetings focus on local meetings and on the wider world.

I suspect that yearly meeting membership will turn out to be a good faith effort that proves unsatisfactory in the long term. Something else is required.

I want to make a proposal about that in the next post.

Climate Change Minute

December 14, 2020 § 4 Comments

I carry a ministry that forms a recurring theme in this blog: that our social witness minutes ought to express our Quaker faith explicitly as the heart of our testimonial rhetoric. In my experience, they rarely do.

Instead they use the mindset and rhetoric of social change nonprofits. They employ arguments from science and social science, and use statistics, rather than a straightforwardly moral argument. Very often, you would never know a religious organization had written them, let alone a Quaker meeting.

They often refer to the “testimonies” and often list some, but almost never explain them or recognize that “testimony” is Quaker jargon that does need unpacking, especially since, in the wider Christian world, the word usually refers to testifying to Jesus’ saving grace in your life, and so many people are likely to misunderstand our usage.

Sometimes, they invoke “that of God in everyone” as a foundation for the testimony, when it isn’t historically, and shouldn’t be theologically. They never quote scripture.

And that’s it, usually.

So I’ve raised my concern with this practice for years, here in this blog and on the floor of many business meetings, including just yesterday in my own meeting.

Today, replying to my ministry yesterday, a Friend sent me a minute on climate change that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Eco-Justice Collaborative is preparing to submit to the yearly meeting. It’s a good case in point. You can read it here.

I should say that I fully agree with its intent, I am deeply grateful for the Collaborative’s work, and I do not wish to criticize anybody involved in its writing, though I guess that’s what I’m doing. I pray that I speak and write in faithfulness to God’s leading here, and that these Friends will hear my words in the Light I hope I am following.

Anyway, I was inspired to write an alternative minute on climate change as an exercise in following my leading in these matters. Time to put up or shut up, to stop complaining and offer an alternative. It reeks of the pipe. I suspect my peculiar voice will not appeal to many Friends. And it’s addressed to the world as an epistle, rather than as an appeal for action to the yearly meeting, as the Collaborative’s is. Here is my proposed minute on climate change:

To leaders everywhere:

How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? Because of the wrong mind of those who live in it, the animals and birds are swept away, and because people said, the Word of Creation knows not what we do?  ~ Jeremiah 12:4

In the beginning was the Word . . . [that was] the true light, which enlightens everyone, coming into the world.  ~ John 1:1, 9

Divine Wisdom first manifested as Creation, as the long arc of evolution, and it has found its consummation in a creature that now can self-consciously edit that First Book of Code, the operating system of our world.

Meanwhile, each of us humans has within us a Light that enlightens, a direct link to that Word of Wisdom which animates and guides creation. This experience and knowledge of the Light Within is the foundation of our Quaker faith.

Over the centuries, that Spirit of Love and Truth has consistently shown us that violence is wrong, that justice is necessary, that divine guidance is always trying to break through our ignorance and ignore-ance, and that we should live our outward lives as we are inwardly led by this wisdom. Because the world has been given into our care, that voice of Love and Wisdom within us should guide all our efforts at monkeying with its workings.

Thus we must ask: Does it? Does Divine Wisdom guide our stewardship of the earth? Our Quaker answer is—not yet.

Does Divine Wisdom lovingly guide us toward a hothouse planet? Does it demand that we should both deliberately and ignorantly alter the very chemistry of our only home and permanently destroy its God-given balances and purposes? Our Quaker answer is no.

Does the spirit of the Christ intend that this behavior should harm the most vulnerable of God’s children—the least of us—the most? Our Quaker answer is No.

Does the Wisdom of Creation countenance its collateral damage, urging us to destroy the oceans and so many creatures that have been our divinely generous gift? The Quaker answer is NO.

Will we not be answerable at the very least to the inevitable chastisement of nature’s downfall? The Quaker answer is yes.

And can we correct course by turning toward the Light? Our Quaker answer is YES!

Therefore we Friends fervently pray that the leaders of our communities, our institutions, and our governments will heed the Light within them; that they will do whatever they can to slow the cascading catastrophe that human-made climate change is bringing upon us; and that they will see to the needs of those who suffer as a consequence of our failure to do so thus far. We include our own Quaker institutions in our plea.

In Divine Love, we beg you to act. Soon.

Yours in the Light of God’s Love

Membership, Part 6—Seeking alternatives, part 2: Resistance

December 6, 2020 § Leave a comment

New York Yearly Meeting has been working for several years on this problem of traditional membership not satisfying the needs of some Friends, so we now have some information about how the rest of the Yearly Meeting feels about it. Some were not happy.

The resistance to alternative pathways to membership has in some quarters been quite intense. The fact of intense resistance highlights the underlying fact that our current approach to membership is, in fact, in trouble. People fight back hardest when they think you’re trying to take something away when they believe it’s already under threat. The intensity of the pushback is directly proportional to the intensity of the perceived threat. So, while any given proposal for an alternative may have its problems, the resistance signals the need to do something.

Here are some of the questions they have raised, as reported in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s “Threshing Session on Membership Report”, and my condensed summaries of their answers:

  • Monthly meetings are the basic unit of our Society. Doesn’t that mean that membership should always live there? Well, this is not true for some Friends, and alternatives take nothing away from the sacredness of monthly meeting membership.
  • What about all the practices linked to MM membership (e.g., marriage)? This will have to be worked out.
  • Are the alternative seekers trying to circumvent our tradition? No, they are just seeking a pathway that meets their needs.
  • Won’t this drain people from already struggling monthly meetings? No, we are talking about people who would not be active in a monthly meeting anyway.
  • What does accountability look like without the monthly meeting? Membership in the yearly meeting (the alternative chosen by NYYM) will provide the “services” that monthly meetings provide their members.
  • Will other pathways follow? Who knows. More radical alternatives were considered by NYYM, but the report does not say what those were. Nor am I personally aware of other pathways under consideration by PhYM.

Basically, the NYYM pathway just replicates the process and obligations of membership in a monthly meeting for membership in the yearly meeting. The yearly meeting is still in the process of filling in the details of how it will actually work, beyond naming its Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee as the body responsible for clearness committees, affirming membership (the YM body does not affirm applications, as a monthly meeting for business does), and everything else.

Most importantly, the decision to establish membership in the yearly meeting does not address the basic questions about what membership means, what I call the “ur”-questions. For me, these are:

  • What is membership for?
  • What is religious community for?
  • What holds a religious community together?