Quaker-pocalypse: Collapse and Renewal in Quaker Social Witness, Part Three

January 31, 2016 § 7 Comments

Radical witness today?

I think the liberal, committee-based approach to Quaker witness has run its race.

The liberal approach: Study the problem, find the causes, develop a program, fund it with public money and action—we’ve been doing this since the New Deal, but since the 1960s, this approach has become increasingly impotent.

The committee-based approach: Someone feels led to engage some new concern—say, earthcare—so you form a working group. If you get enough people behind the concern, form a standing committee. Then spend half your time developing a budget, spend the rest of your time seeking unity over your direction, negotiating your leading with Friends who are maybe led in some other direction within the concern, or who have no direction at all; resort to brainstorming or visioning sessions when the group can’t find its corporate direction; call the seven minutes you sit in silence at the beginning of your meetings “worship”; hope nominating committee can find enough people to keep you going, linger on after the fire has died out because some Friend in the wider body can’t imagine your meeting without an [xyz] committee, become a zombie committee. X years later some Friends feel a new leading for the concern, the committee gets a defibrillator, and the cycle starts over again.

We may be standing today on the cusp of a new stage in the evolution of Quaker witness. I hope so.

We have awakened to the total integration of oppression across all areas of life, culture, economics, and politics. All of our problems are interrelated. The whole system is corrupt. Nothing less than a total social-cultural-economic-political-constitutional revolution will do. Civilization itself must change. How do you do that?

We are paralyzed by the enormity of the challenge. We are bereft of a prophetic vision that could take on this kind of monolithic global evil. We are chipping away at things here and there, and with some remarkable success. But a sense of helplessness and dread often looms over our efforts, as we seem to be losing ground on a number of really important fronts, especially ecologically. The human race seems bent on following the passenger pigeon into oblivion. It is as though the Book of Revelation has become our playbook.

Quaker witness now needs to recover the genius of all four stages of our witness history at once. We still need liberal activism and programs that alleviate the sufferings of the people and the planet. We still need the government—legislative reform and executive regulation and enforcement. We still need the truth and intelligence of science and the leverage of technology. We still need to threaten pharaoh in his own court with the prophecy of the plagues he is bringing upon us all.

But we also need a new evangelism, a message of good news that can bring individual people to the altar of light and life with a new consciousness. And that good news needs to be more than just the truth of salvation from sin in Christ.

And we need to recover, adapt, and embrace the faith and practice of spirit-led Quaker ministry, to rebuild a culture that is adept at recognizing and supporting G*d’s call to prophetic action, as we had in the 18th century. Now that we’ve expanded our understanding of ministry to include witness leadings, we need a robust infrastructure for the discernment and support of that ministry.

And we need a new Lamb’s War, a radical, unreasonable, Spirit-led assault on the roots of our civilization’s downturn, as we had in the 17th century. But with a new focus, a new sense of urgency, a new understanding of what the endtimes and the second coming of the Christ mean now that the seven seals are being opened and the Four Horsemen have been set loose, for real.

In short, we need the Holy Spirit.

We need a new apocalypse, a new revelation, one that gives us some hope and faith with which to overcome the fear and dread we feel and that helps us embrace the failure that we certainly face. For we are going down. The end is near—depending on what you mean by “the end” and “near”. My wife Christine just came back from a planning conference in which scientists studying the New Jersey shore say that the barrier islands won’t be there in 25 to 30 years; South Cape May is already under the Atlantic Ocean.

Climate change, sea level rise, species extinction, the death of our oceans, the spread of ideological evil, the collapse of old institutions, including our own—all this calls for something new, a lamentation that can reach the ears of God, a Seed that can awaken a new consciousness in at least a critical mass of the people.

We may be the only religious community on the planet that is already equipped to receive and nurture that seed, for whom continuing revelation is a concrete reality, a movement that knows that any one of us could hear that call and answer it.

This is very unlikely to happen in our witness committees. We have had committees for a hundred years and they, too, have run their course; they have become part of the problem.

If we take our faith in continuing revelation seriously; if we really believe in Spirit-led ministry, then meditation, prayer, and worship are where we will receive the Seed, not in some committee brainstorming session. Like the Seekers of the 1650s, we need to stand in expectant waiting for the Word to come.

Do we have the discipline, the patience, and the faith to do this? I’m not sure that I do. But I don’t know what else to think. I don’t know where else to turn, except radically, toward G*d, who century after century, has come through for us.

Advertisements

§ 7 Responses to Quaker-pocalypse: Collapse and Renewal in Quaker Social Witness, Part Three

  • Greg Robie says:

    Please ignore/delete the draft that just got away from me. A tough screen misfire. =)

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCeDkezgoyyZAlN7nW1tlfeA

    >

    • Greg Robie says:

      Between yesterday’s touch screen misfire and this posting, I’ve read of INYM’s division, and about NCYM (FUM) schisming, the later from a description by Chuck Fager. (He has a distinctive style. Reading his narrative I was reminded how he reported on the Clintondale Minute chaos of 1989. It seems to me that he has a tin ear toward moral surities beyond his own.)

      At any rate, the additional branching of tree of Quakerism, which these separations are sprouts of, is growth on an already spreading tree of [irreconcilable] dif’rentings (pun attempt). They bear witness to a condition that runs counter to the hope I experience Steven witnessing to for the Society. Furthermore, and since he’s posted my request to delete the misfire, I assume his intent is to share the link in my email signature to some YouTube video mashups I created regarding the Paris Agreement.

      These mashups may be germaine to the substance of the Quaker-pocalypse he’s writing about. For the life of me I can’t see how, with what the US has structured into what the Paris Agreement now frames, that any of the US branches of Quakers can offer a seed for anything beyond how to differently continue to be a loyal opposition within CapitalismFail. To the degree CapitalismFail has triggered abrupt climate change, greenwashed business-as-usual (BAU)–what the Paris Agreement frames–places human society in a shared apocalypse of our own choosing.

      Quakerism arose when British society was transitioning out of an economic reality where a wooden spoon and bowl, a three legged stool, and a homespun garment represented the as-good-as-it-gets for the commoner. When one is materially poor, a radical witness is possible. Once one garners a bit more material wealth, such a witness wains.

      A less comforting way too observe the past 400 years branching Quakerism is, & but for pious motivated reasoning, that it’s been a journey into something other than the bedtime stories the Society tells itself while it’s rocking itself to sleep. The time of pragmatic pious sleepwalking is over…if it ever was. All that is left, and this is [still] after metanoia/perfecting, is a time for living honorably…something there may not have been much of since that first generation of Quakers. There is no comforting economic salvation from the pious mess we have gotten ourselves into…& this is just.

      So here is a song of lament that is a newly composed prayer. I offer it as apophatically overseen ministry. My time among Friends taught me much of what is in the lyrics. http://youtu.be/cqkT4gvBL_4

      • Greg Robie says:

        The committee structure that I saw in a 1898 yearbook for the Hicksite/15th St., NYYM shows that the yearly meeting and the quarterly meeting committee structures were the same. If I remember correctly, there were 13 committees listed. Given what the number of committees are now, this suggests to me that during the intervening century, an established committee structure expanded at the yearly meeting, while it ossified at the quarterly meeting level. Since monthly meetings declined in both membership and wealth durning the first half of the 20th century, this trend is not surprising, especially given the Progressive Yearly Meeting membership’s influence as I outlined in a previous comment (https://throughtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/recording-gifts-in-ministry/#comment-2924).

        I also find it helpful to consider the role that fossil carbon played in making transport affordable to the laboring class. The reduction in the [short-term] costs of travel, in conjunction with newly acquired but limited ‘vacation’ time, means that the replication of the committee structure at both these organizational levels became increasingly irrelevant. As I mentioned in the previous comment concerning DeadQuakerMoney, spending the dividends derived from these funds became a special sort of piety within the Society. Wealthy Friends’ earmarked bequests to the yearly meeting dictated, and increasingly justified, the continued existence of committees. A “special” self-selected yearly meeting Friend, rose to the occasion of the ‘religious’ service that such committees require. Chuck Fager’s observation about the reasons Friends gather–talk, spend DeadQuakerMoney, and sex–is ignored in any discussion about ministry, oversight, eldering, and witness at the risk of getting lost to motivated reasoning. What’s really been going on may witness to something that no one what’s to see.

        Tolles, in his 1960 book _Quakers and the Atlantic Culture_, argues that the ‘evangelism’ of Quietist Period was economic. To the degree that fruits matter for discernment, that economic-centric ministry was ‘loud’ in its practice. Members of the Society on both sides of the Atlantic where trustworthy middlemen within the burgeoning Atlantic rim economy. The saying that Quakers came “to do good, and did well” is something to soberly own. The religious corporate discipline of an overseen spiritual perfecting had unintended consequences…that of greed-as-go[o]d becoming central to its practitioners’ perception of Spirit. This sensibility, as spirit, still imbues the Society.

        To the degree Progressivism was a rebalancing motion of the Holy Spirit, it has run out of steam. And perhaps, in large part, this is because it never had oversight. It might also be that underlying economic assumptions of the wider society, which Friends’ economic practices help amplifiy and are dependent on, are antithetical to a Holy Spirit. Is Friends’ substantive story one of a periodically differently headed effort to pious-ize a love affair with money?

        In the past half a century the Society’s semi-vestigial Progressive structures did self-organize & self-elder within yearly and extra-yearly meeting level organizations, as Steven has outlined. However, those acting from leadings deriving from the Holy Spirit, and being unequally yoked with Fager’s-type Friends at these organizational levels, in conjunction with the keel-like function of endowments, and a discipline to continue with what-is being-done, until there is clarity to replaced such with something new, means that pragmatism and comfort are systemically empowered to trump passion and truth. In truth, the Society is in a place where it can’t get to anywhere else from where it is.

        This past First Day Martin Kelly tweeted a link to a 2015 Washington Post article marking the 50th anniversary of the Quaker, Norman Morrison’s, self-immolation on the steps of the Pentagon (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/vietnam-critics-end-was-the-start-of-familys-pain/2015/11/01/b50e1d54-7cdf-11e5-b575-d8dcfedb4ea1_story.html). In the article Norman is quoted as laboring over the question, “What can we do that we haven’t done?” For me, and in terms of witness, that question begs another: “What are we doing that we don’t want to know?” And while Martin has sinced removed his tweet, my reply is: https://twitter.com/opentoinfo/status/693783739986513921. Those are the opening lyrics to my above lament which I was recording on Sunday. THe calving glacier is a stand-in for CapitalismFail’s Anthropocene.

        If I remember the story correctly, it was the previous year, 1964, that a group of young Friends left the Cape May gathering to go to the Pentagon and protest. When they returned to FGC they were ‘eldered’ by the oldsters for their action. Yet less than a decade latter NYYM found clarity to support innocuous civil disobedience and send medical supplies to North Vietnam through Canada via a parade-of-the-clear across the Peace Bridge, with a ‘supporting’ hymn-sing by the less-than-clear on the southern side.

        At the time the Yearly Meeting also funded a paid staff member to coordinate social action in the Yearly Meeting. After Vietnam, when it was ‘discerned’ that the budget could no longer fund this position. An individual Friend briefly took on the labor involved in this work as a volunteer. The reports about this time are published in the Yearbooks, and are worth a read.

        Regardless, the ’cause du jour’ shifted to our sexuality. The special relationship Quakerism has with Domestic Relations Law in NYS was the strategic reason for this. A generation was spent laboring over rewriting _Faith and Practice_. During this period, trust fund largess kept yearly meeting-centric peace activists busy dispersing funds and writing reports for the Yearbook with the ‘oversight’ of the Witness Section. An exception to this was the establishment of an escrow account for Friends who were led to practice war tax resistance, but its creation and oversight was more a function of a quarterly meeting than the Yearly Meeting.

        AVP is a “successful” witness story enabled by a yearly meeting-centric activism that also unfolded during the sexuality introspect. But it leverages the current condition Friends find themselves in: individualized, pursuing a piety that depends on historic testimonies which suggest an enlightened social witness, yet hamstrung by a trust in greed-[can be made]-good motivated reasoning induced delusions. As the unwitnessed to current social threats which Steven has listed suggest, AVP worked because it do not address itself more systemic injustice of CapitalismFail. It addressed symptoms. And both the Friend given the leading for AVP, and its energizer-bunny enabler were members of the same exceptional-for-a-season monthly meeting.

        Quaker Worship and Action (QuakerWanda) was another effort in NYYM to nurture and inspire witness. It was born of a belief that a revitalizing witness was waiting to be liberated from within better worship. This is much the same as Steven is stating here, but, instead with an emphasis on better discernment and oversight. QuakerWanda never effected that worshiping community beyond the troika that were charged to identify and nurture peace concerns. In spite of faithful service, when nothing of substance was discovered to be needing to be raised up, the QuakerWanda team was laid down. Steven taught me about the traditional concept of a meeting carrying the weight of a concern should it be unable to discern it as a leading. That kind of worshiping community is not the kind that Quakerism is currently disciplined to effect. Ranterism is so much simpler and comfortable to affect.

        Did the “Friends in Unity with Nature” leadings flounder for the past quarter century because the integrity such a unity infers is incompatible with the vacuousness of the piety that informs a Ranteristic Society? Was The School of the Spirit created to train potential servants of the Society’s bureaucracy to help fix the perceived problem that remains a symptom: too much noise? To the degree the source of that noise is a religious-like devotion to CapitalismFail, such would explain much of why its devotees are, within Progressive liberal Quakerism, ensconced in community meditation groups; that activist types within these groups, when not writing and commenting on blogs, liking things on Facebook, & tweeting on Twitter, are, using Chuck’s bluntness, pursuing fossil carbon fueled hookups to talk, spend DeadQuakerMoney, and be open to sex.

        To the degree my bluntness has weight, the “good” and “well” dichotomy regarding Quakers is fundamentally a false one within CapitalismFail. Within it one can only do, and only in the short term, well (…or fail trying). CapitalismFail’s most lasting fruit, the Anthropocene, with its abrupt climate change, indubitably witnesses to the truth of this. We’re–& this is hardly limited to Quakers–supercalifragilisticexpialidociousNOT!

        =)
        Greg

  • Greg Robie says:

    The committee structure that I saw in a 1898 yearbook for the Hicksite/15th St., NYYM shows that the yearly meeting in the quarterly meeting committee structures were the same. If I remember correctly, there were, at that time, 13 committees. In terms of committee numbers, given what was, and now is, this suggests to me that established committee structure expanded at the yearly meeting, and ossified at the Quarterly meeting level. With monthly meetings declining both in membership and wealth durning the first half of the 20th century, this trend is not surprising.

    I find it helpful to also consider the role that fossil carbon played in making transport affordable to the laborer class. The reduction in the [short-term] costs of travel, in conjunction with limited ‘vacation’ time, means that the replication of the committee structure became increasingly insignificant. As I mentioned in a previous comment concerning DeadQuakerMoney, spending the dividends derived from those funds became a special piety within the Society. Wealthy Friends’ earmarked bequests to the yearly meeting level dictated, increasingly justified, the continued existence of committees. The “special” yearly meeting Friend, rose to the occasion of ‘religious’ service to such committees. Chuck Fager’s observation about the reasons Friends gather–talk, spend DeadQuakerMoney, and sex–is ignored in any discussion about ministry, oversight, eldering, witness at the risk of getting lost within motivated reasoning. Well researched and/or considered blunt generalizations tended to be Chuck’s forte, but as ministry, it has a seed of truth. (And I see that after a decade of service at Quaker House, he is back at it, in conjunction with the ‘energizer bunny’ of AVP!)

    Tolles, in his 1960 book _Quakers and the Atlantic Culture_, argues that the ‘evangelism’ of Quietist Period was economic … &, to the degree fruits matter, loud. Members of the Society on both sides of the Atlantic where trustworthy middlemen within the burgeoning Atlantic rim economy. The saying that Quakers came “to do good, and did well” is something to own. The religious corporate discipline of an overseen perfecting had unintended consequences…that of greed-as-go[o]d becoming central to its practioners.

    To the degree Progressivism was a rebalancing motion of the Holy Spirit, it ran out of steam, and perhaps, in large part, because it never had oversight. It might also be that underlying economic assumptions are antithetical to the Holy Spirit. In the last half a century the Society’s structurse did self-organize & self-elder within yearly and extra-yearly meeting level organizations, as you’ve described. However, but being unequally yoked with Fager’s-type Friends at these organization levels, and with the keel-like function of endowments, pragmatism and comfort trumped passion and truth.

    Yesterday Martin Kelly tweeted a link to a 2015 Washington Post article marking the 50th anniversary of the Quaker, Norman Morrison’s, self-immolation on the steps of the Pentagon (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/vietnam-critics-end-was-the-start-of-familys-pain/2015/11/01/b50e1d54-7cdf-11e5-b575-d8dcfedb4ea1_story.html). In the article Norman is quoted as laboring over the question, “what can we do that we haven’t done?” For me the question begs another: “what are we doing that we don’t want to know?” And Martin has winced removed the tweet, but my reply is: https://twitter.com/opentoinfo/status/693783739986513921

    If I remember the story I’ve read correctly, it was the previous year, 1964, that a group of young Friends left the Cape May gathering to go the Pentagon and protest. When they returned to FGC they were ‘eldered’ by the oldsters for their action. Yet less than a decade latter NYYM found clarity to do civil disobedience and send medical supplies to North Vietnam through Canada via a parade-of-the-clear across the Peace Bridge, with a ‘supporting’ hymn-sing of the less-than-clear on the southern side.

    At the time the Yearly Meeting also funded a paid staff member to coordinate social action. After Vietnam, when it felt it could no longer budget for this position, a Friend took on the labor involved as a volunteer. The reports about this time that are published in the Yearbooks are worth a read.

    Regardless, the ’cause du jour’ shifted to our sexuality and the special relationship Quakerism has with Domestic Relations Law in NYS. Trust fund largess kept a yearly meeting peace activists busy dispersing funds and writing reports for the Yearbook. An exception to this was the establishment of a escrow account for Friends led to practice war tax resistance, but it creation and oversight was more a function of a quarterly/half yearly meeting than a yearly meeting. AVP is a “successful” witness story enabled by a yearly meeting-centric activism. But it leverages the current condition Friends find themselves in: individualized, with a piety that depends on historic testimonies that suggest an enlightened social witness, and hamstrung by a trust in greed-[can be made]-good motivated reasoning induced delusion. As the current social threats suggest, AVP worked because it do not address itself more systemic injustice that restorative justice seems to redress.

    Quaker Worship and Action was another effort in NYYM to nurture and inspire witness. It was born of a belief that a revitalizing witness was waiting to be liberated…but was there? The coordinated war tax resistance concept that I sought corporate discernment on was, after being named as one of four idea to promote at QuakerWanda’s organizing conference was shunned. Is the “good” and “well” dichotomy a false one within CapitalismFail? Its most lasting fruit, the Anthropocene, with its abrupt climate change says the answer is indubitably. We’re supercalifragulistic as The School of the Spirit created to train potential servants of the Society’s bureaucracy to help fix the perceived problem that remains a symptom: too much noise? Such a perception was the logic

    The truth I take from this story is that concurrent with this yearly and extra-yearly meeting-centric trust-fund-baby-activism

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCeDkezgoyyZAlN7nW1tlfeA

    >

  • barbarakay1 says:

    In short: we need to get over our fear of being seen as Ranters.

  • treegestalt says:

    Maybe it’s still “salvation from sin through Christ”, except that people don’t understand the scope of either term, read “salvation” to mean merely individual after-life fire insurance, “sin” to mean merely our self-destructive short-sighted personal indulgences — and find the word “Christ” very hard to comprehend at all.

    This whole series is a great summing-up!

    Some of the language, well — Is it really God’s ears we need to reach with our lamentations, or our own? Do we need to lament? — or to hope, putting that hope this time in God — because human agency only works when yoked to divine wisdom?

    The beginning of Richard Wilbur’s ‘Advice to a Prophet’

    “When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
    Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
    Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
    In God’s name to have self-pity,”

    hints at something I think needs to be part of this — Jesus’ compassion for people we don’t want to recognize as ourselves, compassion and acceptance for our own weakness & need to be guided — because our collective ‘hardness of heart’ is at the root of so much of human fear and collective self-destruction, yes?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Quaker-pocalypse: Collapse and Renewal in Quaker Social Witness, Part Three at Through the Flaming Sword.

meta