The Overview Effect: Love for all God’s creation
Thomas Kelly wrote in A Testament of Devotion, that: “A concern is God-initiated, often surprising, always holy, for the Life of God is breaking through into the world.”
Have you been carrying a concern about how violent our world is? In these past few months the nearly unfathomable violence that we’ve heard of almost daily, raises for most of us deep concern. Could this be God’s concern that we are feeling? Thomas Kelly went on to say: “Social concern is the dynamic Life of God at work in the world… particularized in each individual or group who is sensitive and tender in the leading—strings of love.”
Yet, it seems hard, if not impossible, to stay sensitive and tender and also to be receptive to the “strings of love” in the face of so much violence. Rather, as we face the horror of all this violence most of us close down or turn away. How then can we be vehicles for God’s concern?
I’ve been speaking about this with Friends and friends alike lately and a number of people have made comments. Some have said: “The world has always been this brutal.” Or: “It’s just that the world seems to be smaller now,” “there are so many of us here,” or “we get all the news so quickly.” But, none of these explanations have helped. I am still carrying a God concern.
Do you remember those first photographs taken of the Earth from space? The Earth, where we live, appeared to be a beautiful, small blue marble floating there. When the astronauts who have seen our Earth from space describe their experience, they report an almost mystical state that transforms their minds. After viewing earth from space they all speak of a deep sense of awe and wonder. This state of awe has been named the ‘overview effect.’ One NASA spaceman gazing down upon our earth, this place where we live, and move, and have our being, said: “We are but “a fragile oasis” …
Those space travelers say that once you’ve seen our earth from out there you see that everything IS interconnected; there’s a breaking down of boundaries – personal, religious, international, transcending any sense of separation – a new appreciation of how precious is the earth and all who live here.
Isn’t this just exactly what our religion is supposed to be doing for us? Lifting us up, giving us this kind of an overview, so that we may experience unity – not separation, awe and love – not fear and hatred. Isn’t this what our religion should do? Since most of us will never have the opportunity to be space travelers, because we will not in our lifetimes get to view the earth from out there, we need our religion to help us behold that beauty, and feel that kind of awe and unity with all of God’s creation; help us to break down the boundaries, dissolving the divisions that separate us. And here I am not thinking about the differences that naturally arise between people who worship and work together, because that kind of difference can be the sort of ‘concern’ that Thomas Kelly is naming “the life of God at work” among us. No, it’s the boundaries and divisions between “us & them.” You know, the seemingly inseparable divisions between us and all the people who seem so very different and who worship in such different ways – so different that many people even suspect that they could be worshiping a different God. But that’s thing that the astronaut space travelers seem to really understand, that has been so hard for us who remain earth bound … And that is: We all live, and move and have our being on this fragile oasis of a planet together. What we most need now is for every human being alive today to gain this kind of ‘over-view:’ the unified feeling of Love – the kind of Love for all of God’s creation that can help us to stop hating each other – the kind of Love that can help us to stop killing each other.
Let us pray for our world, for the whole world. This surely is God’s concern.
Thanks for the fine issue on the arts among Quakers (FJ May). The variety of art represented was excellent. I particularly enjoyed Melanie Weidner’s art, “Listening for Joy,” and Jon Watts interview, “Bum-Rush the Internet.” The day after receiving the Journal I was scheduled to hear Jon (and Maggie Harrison) speak and sing their challenge to Quakers for a “nakedness” as demonstrated by early friends. The interview came as a great introduction to their program at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Caln Quarter Camp Swatara weekend.
I would like your readers to know about the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts, which produces a quarterly journal of Quaker art for artists and art supporters. For a free copy of Types and Shadows, readers may send an e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
West Reading, Pa.
Spice and Light
I was intrigued that the June/July issue of Friends Journal contains three articles questioning SPICE, the formulation of Quaker testimonies that Howard Brinton developed in the 1940s. I think Brinton would have been appalled (as I often am) that many Friends have come to see his formulation of the Testimonies almost as a creed or dogma, rather than as a way of explaining how God is at work within and among us. Brinton utterly rejected creedalism in all its forms. For him, true religion sprang from a direct experience of the Divine, not statements about the Divine. For Howard, as for early Friends, the Testimonies are not about what we believe, or even what we do, they are about what Spirit is doing through us.
In Friends for 300 Years, Chapter 4, Brinton explained the origin of social concerns by using the image of Divine Light streaming down from above, entering a meeting, and scattering into four “testimonies,” almost like light refracted through a prism becoming a rainbow. I love this fluid, dynamic image, especially after having seen a retrospective of the work of James Turrell, an artist who grew up in a Quaker family in Pasadena and uses light as a medium of art. As Turrell’s work discloses, physical light is mysterious energy, transforming everything, yet often taken for granted. The same is true of Divine Light. When the invisible, yet omnipresent Divine Light is refracted through the silent, centered worship of a meeting or an individual, it becomes visible through action.
Having been raised on the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, I was relieved to learn, more than thirty years ago, that Quakers do not adhere to creeds but look to their own Inward Light and, secondarily, to testimonies, advices, and queries. About then, Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years was the main book that convinced me I belonged among Quakers. So it was a bit disconcerting to read both Eric Moon and Michael D. Levi argue in their articles in the June/July FJ that the testimonies are in fact restrictive creeds that seem to have originated largely with Howard Brinton.
But the nature of the testimonies appears to be in the eye of the beholder. Both authors also call them principles and values, which is precisely how I see them. As such, they obviously antedate Howard Brinton, and if he started listing them in a way that a great many Quakers have found useful, that was progress.
Too much focus on who isn’t a Quaker
Decades ago I became attracted to my grandparents’ Quakerism because it was a faith that appeared to include all. In silent worship there was an incredible unity. Peace and social justice opened arms to the world. Simplicity asked what was essential in life. In recent years I have become disenchanted with Meeting because of energy in the Religious Society of Friends that seems focused on who is not a Quaker. It is one thing to say, “This we strongly believe. Join us.” It is another to say, even tacitly, “If you do not cleave to this you are ‘not a Quaker’.” Testimonies should be tenets we feel are wonderful, not walls that separate the dross from the righteous.
Don’t forget Rufus Jones
I very much enjoyed the June/July issue themed on the testimonies. I read all the articles with interest, and while I cannot dispute the content of “Working for Peace for 96 Years,” I would like to correct what I see as a significant omission in the section called “AFSC History.”
When that first group of 100 men gathered at Haverford College for training, it was Rufus Jones who arranged to use the campus. Rufus Jones and two other Friends selected the hundred from many applications. The AFSC’s creation came out of the convergence of the work of several groups, that is true, and required participation from the American Red Cross and the British Ambulance Unit. It was Rufus Jones’ existing relationships with the head of the Red Cross and members of the committee that oversaw the British Ambulance Unit that facilitated the creation.
The article correctly states that AFSC won the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize. It was Rufus Jones who accepted the price; indeed, the Committee had chosen him as its first chair in 1917, and he resumed that seat several times throughout his life. In fact, there was no period of his life from 1917 until his death in 1948 that Rufus Jones did not work for the AFSC in some way. I don’t intend to make it sound like Jones did all the work, but I can’t be comfortable with it left out of the telling, especially as we approach the centenary.
I would like to thank Mr. Jim Pettyjohn for his letter (included in “More Views of Abortion,” April, 2013). In response to his comment, I would say that an abortion is necessary when the woman deems it to be so. In that sense, yes, every abortion of which I am personally aware was necessary.
Additionally, I do not find Jeremiah particularly helpful in resolving the question of when the Inward Light becomes part of the fetus: beginning with chapter 1, verse 4, the passage reads, “The word of The Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’” This is Jeremiah’s explanation to the reader of how he came to be a prophet. This is not a universal message about the process of the creation of humankind, but an account of the spiritual heritage of one particular man. And how do we know that the fetus aborted today wouldn’t have become a great prophet? For two reasons: first, I believe that raising up prophets is part of God’s plan, and that we could not stop God from publishing the Word even if we wanted to; and second, challenging though the thought may be, I believe that abortion is also sometimes part of God’s plan. In short, I trust in the goodness and grace of God and in the thoughtful discernment of women.
I just got the February issue and I wanted to tell you how incredible the article about abortion is (Benjamin P. Brown, “Necessary, Not Evil”). I’m sure there will be responses to it, but as someone who works in this area as an advocate, i just want to appreciate that this article was printed and how thoughtful it is. I would really love to share it among my reproductive justice colleagues—this piece has the potential to be really impactful far outside the Quaker community.
The point of being a Friend
In reading Micah Bales wonderful article in Friend Journal. “Being Quaker Is Not the Point” my heart and spirit leap with joy. Our Quaker forebears were devoted like others who grew out of the left wing of the Protestant Reformation to the concept of spiritual liberty. This particular precept was rooted in Matthew 18:19 and 2 Cor. 3:17: “Where the spirit of the eternal is, there is freedom.” No one interpretive tradition or creed can adequately capture the meaning of and movement of Spirit. Or as our sisters and brothers in Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), say, ”No creed but Christ.” I would add” No tradition but Christ.”
Unfortunately the “Quakerese” culture is deeply embedded in class and race. It has been slowly suffocating the very spirit of freedom we seek to experience the fresh workings of the Spirit. I share Micah concern while our traditions may be born from a sincere attempt to clarify a perception of truth, they inevitably have the potential function within life of the Religious Society of Friends to constrain freedom, or to coerce those of us whose traditions and truth are on the margins of the Religious Society of Friends.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
In my experience as a member of a very young monthly meeting in a western Liberal unprogrammed independent yearly meeting, most people participate in our meetings because they aspire to do things (worship, build community, make decisions, celebrate life’s passages, work for peace-justice-environmental-sustainability) the way Quakers (apparently) do. Membership in the Religious Society of Friends (that is, formally being a “Quaker”) means, for the most part, being recognized for doing things the way other people in the same monthly meeting do things.
Some of us experience leadings, some of which some of us believe might come from something some of us might call “God,” others have no faith in anything by that name. I agree with Micah, which is to say that I would suggest that there would be little (spiritual or secular) unity around the idea of corporate faithfulness to a revelation of any “God,” unless that means doing things the way Quakers (apparently) do.
Heaven knows we can be legalistic about most anything, and allow it to suffocate the Spirit, but it is important to me that I am a Quaker. I love our traditions and testimonies, and hope that they always point me towards life and listening to my present Teacher.
It has taken about 300 years to develop Quaker practice as it is today, and to deviate from it requires considerable understanding of the movement of “living Spirit”. I have seen what deviation from Quaker practice can lead to, and then the amount of damage control required as a consequence. All Quaker practice is not necessary all the time, but it does keep the community safe from harm, most of the time.
Morris Plains, N.J.
It sure would be nice if a Quaker denomination affiliation was a guarantee of solid Quaker teaching. I was excited to move to a town in rural western Kansas that had a church affiliated with Evangelical Friends Church International. I had no experience with EFCI, but from what I had read prior to coming, I thought the Quaker teaching was something I could really get on board with. However I have discovered that they have left all the Quaker distinctives behind and are now indistinguishable from any other Evangelical Protestant church. Very disappointing.
Simplicity of dress and society
When I became a hospitalist seeing patients admitted from the emergency room I initially dressed casually and comfortably. After some feedback it was clear that the patients felt much more comfortable when I wore a jacket and a tie and appreared very conventional. There is nothing garish about my outfits but one might say this is not simplicity. The difference it made with patients who did not know me and were meeting me for the first time has been striking.
The nurses also respond better to me with my conventional dress.
I guess one must live with one’s society.
Jensen Beach, Fla.
Eric Moon’s article, “Categorically Not the Testimonies” (FJ, June/July) mentioned King James II’s Authorized Version Bible. It was actually King James I who commissioned the famous translation.
The final quote of Patricia Barber’s article “Reclaiming Our Divine Birthright” is attributed to John Wilhelm Rowntree; it actually comes from Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion.
The Journal of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) reviewed in the June/July books column can be found at www.ncymc.org/journal.
I was raised in the extremely conservative South. But I spent 30+ years in New Jersey and the Philadelphia area (where i became a convinced Quaker) before moving back to Georgia in 2004. I have struggled with extreme conservatism here. But the South is a culture of extremes — extreme religion, extreme politics, etc. Oddly, because of it, I have been driven ever more liberal. That being said, I also have understood for the first time the real meaning of our value to “see that of God in everyone.” Doing so is easy when we are around people we like and enjoy. It’s quite difficult around people who are insulting, abrasive or just plain contrary. And while I ache for the homosexual community (having a dear friend or two who happen to be gay), I also struggle with my attitude towards those who are also my friends, but who truly believe that homosexuality is a choice,not a condition of birth. I hold the Indiana Yearly Meeting in the Light (“Q&A: Thomas Hamm on Division in Indiana,” Feb.), and hope that we can all come to a consensus about this hurtful issue sometime in this century. My friends who are gay are so creative, brilliant, caring and generous. I personally believe that truth didn’t stop 2,000 years ago or so when the Bible texts were written. Quakers really are seekers of truth, and truth continues to unfold. We didn’t (or shouldn’t have) shut down our brains and creative processes when the Bible was written, otherwise we would still believe in slavery, bigamy, etc. From my friends who are gay, I know they never chose to be. One of them said to me, “Why would I choose to hurt my family or live underground, never acknowledging who I really am? My professional life is carefully plotted.” That’s just so sad. I choose to accept others as they are, even if they believe differently from me. And that’s hard when they reject as acceptable my wonderful friends (who happen to be gay).
Charlotte (N.C.) Meeting (Liberal unprogrammed) struggled for years with North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), which is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriages and would not agree to bring the issue up in any meeting. Kicking the can down the road never works. The situation came to a head when Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns wanted to meet at Quaker Lake Camp and were denied at the last minute. This, coupled with our meeting’s passing a minute embracing same sex marriage, led to our leaving the yearly meeting. There was some division in our own meeting. Some wanted to remain in the yearly and work from within while others opposed leaving altogether. The vast majority of Charlotte Meeting members never felt in unity with NCYM (FUM); for us it was an honest solution to the problem. Today we are joining with other meetings to create a new yearly meeting in North Carolina. I applaud Indiana Yearly Meeting for trying to maintain unity, but the fact that many IYM members are shocked that there are Quakers who do not take the Bible literally tells me that they lack any knowledge of the many divisions among Quakers in America. Quakers have a rich history, and it is important for all members and attenders to be aware of Quaker practice from the beginning. IYM practices rose out of the many schisms in our history. It is a shame that American Quakers will never reach unity, but there must be a reason. One day, way will open for us to see that reason.
Charlotte, N.C.From Friendsjournal.org comments
Inner vs Inward Light
Recently my men’s group discussed the importance of the differences between ‘Inward Light’ and ‘Inner Light’. I think these terms imply an interesting theological divide.
In an exotheistic world we human beings do not have light of our own, so Light must enter inwardly from above/out there; in endotheism, Light is already inside, waiting to shine. I do not believe that endotheism is the same as the humanism more traditional Christians so decry. The Inner Light, evolved in everybody to some extent, is divine, is not under any possible control of ourselves—not ego, not emotions, not will. Mystics for millennia have witnessed to the fact that if we but still ourselves we can approach Light, anybody can. All it takes is an intention and the work of “crossing a mountain.”
Queries for fossil fuel divestment
Recently I received an email from Dover (N.H.) Meeting describing their efforts to divest from holdings in the fossil fuel industry and to encourage other Quaker meetings to do the same. I thank them for bringing the issue to the fore. But a few queries come to mind:
(1) Which, if any, of our investments do not depend on fossil fuel? Is it consistent to divest of fossil fuel producers while supporting major fossil fuel consumers? Is a holding in dairy products fossil fuel neutral?
(2) Is it conscionable to claim to divest while still being significant consumers ourselves? Wwning homes dependent on fossil fuel heating and cooling? Eating food reliant on fossil fuel resources? Flying to Friends conferences? Are we and our Meetings willing to discern and enforce appropriate discipline in these matters? If not, how is this divestiture consonant with a testimony of integrity?
(3) Have we engaged deeply with experts on the issue, with Friends who may be connected to the industry and with communities dependent on that industry? Are we able to stand with and/or offer hope to the rural farmer dependent on the system for access to markets and for whom oil and gas leasing is currently a tremendous relief from debt?
(4) Is it time to divest or invest? Is our role a quietist one of separating from the hopeless world or a prophetic role, using our time and energy to call toward worthy alternatives? In the past, Quaker testimony included raising up whole new industries along with generations of scientists and entrepreneurs who helped make major changes in the world’s institutions. Why is that no longer an option?
Quaker Web Addresses
Far too often, a Quaker meeting will have the best of intentions. They will spend money on a domain name, arrange for hosting, put up a site, and publish the domain name. Then, somebody forgets to renew the domain name. It then goes to a spammer or some unrelated site. This is failure, and I don’t like it.
If, instead, you ask me (via email@example.com) for a domain name underneath quaker.org, two pleasant things will happen. First, you will have that domain name in perpetuity. Second, it’s free! You aren’t locked into renewing a domain name forever. I also offer free web hosting for people willing to upload their site by FTP, and who can write their own website. But this is not tied to the domain name. Please stop wasting money and losing domain names! Get your domain name from Quaker.org!
The Way to World Peace
There will never be world peace until there is a total commitment by everyone to not use violence, Violence is not the answer to anything. The great tragedy that has just happened in Boston and the shooting of the children in Newton are easily agreed upon as wrong. Equally wrong are wars or drone strikes or the death penalty. Equally wrong are the weapons of mass destruction that are so freely owned by so many people in the United States that cause so many deaths. There should not be violent movies or video games. Children should be taught non-violent ways to solve their problems and be treated kindly by all adults. If everyone agreed to non-violence so much money could be channeled into heathcare and education. People could live without fear and never be afraid to help anyone. The answer is really so simple, Violence is never an option. Quakers have such an important testimony to share.
Responses to Anthony Manousos
Well, Anthony is on to something, but he doesn’t quite get his facts right.
The biggest reason, on the Orthodox side, for the rejection of Hicks and his followers, was not “Bible societies and other outreach efforts”, nor was it that Hicks and his followers “wanted to stick with traditional Quaker doctrines, such as the Inward Light, which seemed strange to mainstream Christians.” Nor was it that “Hicks argued that that it is the Holy Spirit, not the Bible, that makes you a ‘real Christian.’”
Rather, the biggest reason — and this is well documented in Larry Ingle’s Quakers in Conflict — was that Hicks and his followers refused to embrace the doctrine of the Atonement, which, as it happens, was a traditional Quaker doctrine, about which George Fox wrote a great deal.
It is the Atonement, obviously, that gives the instructions of the historical Christ and his first apostles a unique, imperative weight in believers’ minds, a weight that the words of Buddha, the words of Muhammad, the words of Krishna, and the collective thinking of Pagans and nontheists, can never really share. For believers in the Atonement, there are crucial parts of path to salvation that are revealed and not simply discerned.
Orthodox Friends did not reject the doctrine of the inward light. They simply did not see it as being in conflict with the Atonement, or the Bible, any more than Fox and the first generation of Friends did, because they, like Fox and the first generation of Friends, saw the light as uniquely proceeding from the historical Christ Jesus, rather than being as something that existed independently of the historical Jesus in the breast of every human being. Many universalist Friends, in particular, would far prefer to detach the path to salvation from the Atonement altogether, so as to say with full assurance, you can get there by being Buddhist, or by being Pagan.
The Atonement remains the dividing issue to this day. Liberal Friends just have a doggone hard time sitting still with the idea that Jesus’s death was the pivotal historical event through which complete human reconciliation with God became possible.
What Zablon Isaac Malenge says, in the passage Anthony quotes, is absolutely agreeable to the first principles of early Quakerism. But evangelical, pastoral, and Conservative Friends will still regard it with a bit of wariness, because these ideas can be misused to justify approaches to Quakerism that are divorced from the Atonement and from the implications of the Atonement.
And so, although liberal Friends are certainly able to work with evangelical Friends (and pastoral and Conservative Friends) on issues that are soundly agreeable to orthodox doctrine, there remains this issue between them. They may be able to avoid talking about it while they work on peace and nonviolence together, but that doesn’t make the matter any less a powder keg.
I thought these ideas might be a helpful post-script to the ideas in the issue about “Conflict and Eldering. They are specific tools that if used well can help make conflicts more constructive.
1) Use “I statements” rather than “you statements.” For example, “ I am angry with you about…” rather than “You’re a jerk because…”
2) Talk about issues when they are tiny. For example, “As I’m sitting here talking to you I am a little uncomfortable about…”
3 )No yelling. People yell when they are frustrated and do not feel like they are being heard. I suggest that if someone is yelling at you, rather than yelling right back say something like “You must not feel like I’ve heard you. Here’s what I’ve heard; is that accurate?”
If that doesn’t work take a 15 minute break and then try again. If that doesn’t work take another 15 minute break and try again. If that doesn’t work communicate with each other via notes.
4) Help people talk about their feelings that are expressed via facial expression, tone of voice and body language. For example, “Your tone of voice just became very sharp. Are you angry with what I just said?”
5) Don’t try to prove the other person wrong. There are different points of view and each deserves respect. Try to find out where the other person is coming from. For example, “Why do you believe that?”
6) Don’t say things like “Don’t feel sad.” It usually comes from a concerned place. However, it is much better to say, “I’m sorry you are feeling so sad. Tell me about it.” I hope you find these ideas helpful.
I have been trying to interest U.S. Friends for some years in linking with the black churches and the environmental justice movement. The result has been (with one or two exceptions) a resounding silence. Any advice?
I have only one satisfactory experience with a meeting connecting with a black church. The church (Episcopal) was composed primarily of middle class, educated people. A member of our meeting regularly played music (jazz, folk) with a group of musicians mostly from this church, and we scheduled an evening of music and talent with the two groups. We made it a potluck and called it a dinner theatre. It was a combination concert and talent show and we had a lot of fun. The keys: similar class backgrounds, the music group with members from the two churches. We were not good white people coming to help poor black people, which just is going to run into mistrust based on too many people coming in out of guilt and then leaving before anything was really established. It is just uncomfortable on all sides, strained, and not very productive. Now if there has been a church burning or something like that and people from other churches come in and rebuild the church, that is real. That is substantial and neighborly.
Couples and Money continued
I was intrigued by the question raised in your December 2012 issue by Jackie DeCarlo, about couples disagreeing on money. Also I very much appreciate the articles on handling conflicts in the March 2013 issue, and the article “Becoming One Flesh” in the April 2013 issue.
In response, here are some general thoughts (based partly on my having been married for 43 years—we’ve had big disagreements, though not on money).
If the disagreement is intractable for months and years, of course it might be best to get professional help, say from a psychotherapist, mediator, etc.
Whatever the couple do about professional help, they might consider doing the following.
1. Try to find some common spiritual ground, even if you have different belief systems. Once you have found this common ground, if possible express it not just in words but in some kind of shared and meaningful ritual.
2. Have some kind of daily shared spiritual practice that may be based on your common ground. A possible example is to tell each other about something you’re grateful for that day, before going to bed.
3. Within that common ground, each person should have an intention of seeing the other one as a partner on life’s journey together, with both partners constructively handling whatever difficulties arise. Hopefully this will bring about a deeper awareness of some kind of divine force connecting you both, which is greater than either of your individual egos.
4. Explore one or more of the techniques for handling conflicts constructively. One example is listening to one’s partner without interruption. I find this very helpful both for minor issues and for deeper, long-standing disagreements. I think it can have a powerful impact on both partners. Also very useful are the techniques of Nonviolent Communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg.
5. Keep reminding each other that addressing deep-seated problems takes time.
Friend Benjamin’s experience at various meeting’s is not mine within Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Although the meetings I’ve participated in have not had authoritative leaders, there has been a loving circle of Friends that accept, nurture, and guide each other on their spiritual journeys. Although disruptive Friends have not always been delt with as quickly as I would like, they have been corrected in a loving, patient way; perhaps not in a way I alone would have handled it. But in hindsight, in the way I’d expect God to handle it.
These meetings have also had room for all types of spiritual approaches, from Friends who are Christ-centered to Friends who are not, and everything in between. They have been environments of support and growth that have made a big difference in my life.
We do not need a “core set of beliefs” to see and to love one another deeply. We need to, um, see and love one another deeply. God is felt in the relationships that we build, in the divine that we behold in one another, not by “defining” or “getting clear” about what that experience means.
The fact is, people hurt one another all of the time, inside and outside of Quaker meeting. Our duty is not to become more like a church (which clearly has not solved the problem of hurt), or to avoid conflict. And it is certainly not our duty to make sure that all of the psychologically disturbed visitors are shut out of our Meetings. (If we’re attempting to create communities free from the “psychologically disturbed,” we are doing a disservice to every spiritual teacher, like, ever). It’s our task to wrestle with conflict, to get hurt and move forward together.
Perhaps the problem is not that we do not have “elders,” but rather that not enough people take leadership around conflict, with faith that the community can survive that conflict. We don’t step into the spirit and lean into one another with true faith in the wisdom of that spirit.
I read this article with an increasing sense of peace and of intrigue! (I cheered because I felt it is certainly a message our American Society needs to embrace; furthermore it was a “religious society of friends” that I sought when I first stepped into a meeting house.)
I am one of those late comers. I need more spiritual guidance, without the judgment and straight jacket of Catholicism, and more discussion of interpretation, foundations and core beliefs. (Additionally, I do not think anyone can expect a ‘norm of behavior’ in our century of travel and communication. I have met too many adults who are reconsidering the behavior they have been exposed to, and the behavior they want to carry themselves into the world.)
In the meeting house I joined, I felt closest to and moved (enriched, touched) by the Friends Meeting when I have had the opportunity to listen to the people (I have observed as the elders – mentors) of the meetinghouse talk of: courtesies of a meeting, what is a covered meeting, how to listen to God (not yourself!), and the presence and works of God around us/thru us; I feel distracted by vocal ministries which only reveal the presence of pain and frustration related to the presence of rape, war and political conflict in the world.
From Benjamin’s article, I cried when I read the premise to”answer that of God to those we meet”, attributed to Fox. (It was a pain of awareness, like a chastisement or a guiding hand of a parent who hopes for more out of me.)
Thank you. I may not be able to remain with you, but I appreciate the touch and glimpse of God working among us and I hope I can continue to hold this close to my surface and consciousness as I continue to grow. I appreciate your example. I also agree with Maia that respect for others, does not require a dilution of core values or a weakening of integrity of purpose. Respect of another’s beliefs (non-theists) is more genuine (candid, sincere) when you know who you are and where a compromise is made. Please continue to guide.
Friends should not scorn a group of people because of mental illness. In fact we should grab up these deep feelers if only for the opportunity of helping them heal with us, because Meeting is inherently healthy. Quakers should be at the forefront of stigma busting. In fact Friend should be sure to offer a welcome place for people with mental illness to sit in their Meetings, to join their Meetings.
When I first went to Berea Meeting, I initially experienced waves of feeling unpleasant about the Meeting. In general my thoughts were antisocial, self defeating, and not geared towards success. Somehow I attended that Meeting for the duration of my time in the nearby school. I do think that I became a more mentally healthy person during my time at Berea and I do attribute a large part of that to my extracurricular activity of choice, Berea Meeting. By the time of my graduation, I was a happier person and more social with the other Friends. Sometimes I would sit in Meeting and feel a deep eagerness to dance, to move, to stir, to say something, jump up and down, to be manic even. Sitting through that helped me measure the weight of the words that did come out, it emphasize the might of those words that other people said, I could sort through a whirlwind of thoughts, or concentrate on nothing. Quaker Meeting reminds me of being sent to my room as a child, going in with a head of steam, opening a journal or diary, and pouring out my stream of consciousness there. People don’t spend enough silent time in this age of computers and constant multitasking. In the end I usually feel better and am glad I spent that time in the captivity of wrestling with my own thoughts.