Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Discipline thy self to truth

Discipline thy self to truth These messages which have been being revealed in the past months continue. Today, one led to what others have told me was a very gathered meeting, and one Friend at least was disturbed by... but it follows the messages which stated that one should:

Discipline thy self to love, as it makes all things new Discipline thyself to joy as it makes all things bearable

Discipline thyself to faith as it makes all things possible and

Discipline thyself to worship in every moment.

As I can remember, I said that to give these disciplines meaning, one must discipline thyself to truth. And that this is so hard, as one may centerdown to joy, one may be led to faith, one can... or as Kipling reminds us, one cannot help but fall into love and can learn to be discipline in following that love responsibly, but the truth takes a process of deep discernment. I asked in a world of slave catchers, this posses challenges...

I recalled the Anna Curtis stories of the Underground Railroad she would share with us when I was young. I wished she was here to explain to me the truth in the half truths spoken by conductors when the answered the slave catcher with... "thee will find no slaves in this house..." meaning the person who ran away was well hidden and the Quaker did not accept that anyone was a slave at all... I asked, would not the response which recognizes the God within the slave catcher be, "I will not tell thee, because I love thee too much to allow thee to hurt thy self by being cruel. I said that we often lie or tell half truths in order to serve a good intention. But, that to be present to God we must tell whole truths even to say, I will not tell thee if it is help thee do harm to another and in that do thyself harm, what thee asks, thee has not need to know, yes or no.

There are also great reasons to make avoid the truth, but in avoiding the truth we make traps for ourselves, without the truth we are not present to God in the other person.

I sat down quaking... and did so for most of the rest of the meeting at times...

There was then a message about the need to engage in half truths as we live in the real world of practicalities. I could not help rising again and excusing the breach in our tradition to say this message was roaring in my soul, that the road to hell was far more often paved with practicalities than ever it was paved with good intentions...
messages flew about until a dear friend gave a message, with great feeling that only God is an absolute and calling us to perfect truth was not to recognize that... (and there is me sliding into the cold... a little... )

Another friend gave a long and wonderful message about the trial of Friend Bliss for draft evasion, about a Friend who had to testify to the whole truth and the judge allowed him that latitude, it was a message which was so sweet to my heart as it returned me to those days of fear and hope and faith in the future...

then another Friend arose, a teacher who had taught in a Friends school who now taught in another school. He told of his discomfort in a story told the children in his school about lying about a disability to get a wheel chair to India for tsunami aid, while saving two hundred dollars, a lie for a good reason, that did not sit well with him. He said he had come to New York to see the installation, Doors, but now realized he had come to be at this gathered meeting.

Then a Friend spoke, now at 12 10, about blind people embracing an elephant, each knowing part of the truth.

I felt my Friend was still not right with the message, a few complicated reasons, but the message was very important to all of these, though it was not about these. I was in some turmoil over this, though we both said, no problem we will wait on understanding each other's messages.

A real gift... the Friend called and we met for tea. This friend said, I know this all was metaphoric, it was not a message about the underground railroad, but, lets continue with the metaphor ... "The slave catcher asks, are there slaves in the house ... thee tells him, I will not answer because I love thee, thee should not know ... the knowledge helps thee to hurt thyself... what happens next..."
"The slave catcher punches me in the nose and burns down the house..."
"And the underground railroad looses a station, thy family and slaves thee protects may be killed..."
"Yes. ... or another thing happens. As when John Woolman embraced the Delaware who was running at him with a tomahawk, and the weapon dropped from his hand... we might give a chance for the slaver to answer to God within, and sometimes he does. It is easier when we trust each other, Friends and friends who deserve trust, but sometimes we have to trust the slaver..."

This all is not about secret undergrounds. I know in these days of fear there are folks looking under every bed. This is about the searching of souls for truth among traps of tenderness and fear of harm. But, as Elias Hicks reminded his friends, turning the bible quote around... fear is the greatest barrier to perfect love. Friends love each other and those thee meets with perfect love, if ye can, and if ye can, try to express the truths of thy heart, not the fears of thy heart, embrace each other with all that light.

While writing this I was called away into a night which began to drift down snow, called to an evening of music, red Turkish wine, laughing and talking in Romany (Gypsy) and English with dear friends, and new Sinti friends (a tribe of Romany people). It was a night of great wonderful joy.( Nyes tuka, Jane.)



At 2:55 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

"Double-mindedness in this matter is wholly destructive of the spiritual life. Totalitarian are the claims of Christ. No vestige of reservation of "our" rights can remain. Straddle arrangements and compromises between our allegiences to the surface level and the divine Center cannot endure. Unless the willingness is present to be stripped of our last earthly dignity and hope, and yet still praise Him, we have no message in this our day of refugees, bodily and spiritual. Nor have we yeilded to the motions of the Inner Instructor."

This passage from Testament of Devotion clearly speaks to thy message of no compromise in matters of the spirit.

My understanding of my message this First-Day however, remains. Our allegience to the Inner Instructor, to Christ, to the Light must be without any vestige of compromise. Yes. I am with thee all the way there. But what came to me so powerfully is that this allegience is to that Center, and not to an idea of absolute Truth, or any virtue.

More from Testament"Douglas Steere wiseley says that true religion often appears to be the enemy of the moralist. For religion cuts across the fine distinctions between the several virtues and gathers all virtues into the one supreme quality of love."

I believe we are at unity on these points, though we continue to stress different bits of the same elephant. In true and absolute obedience to Him, all, slavecatcher, Friend, slave alike will all be encompased in true Love. How this Love is manifested, and in what time, and where, is not our concern. When John Woolman embraced the Delaware, he was acting in the Now, under the power of God, and not because of allegience to a law of peace. When I speak the truth, I speak in obedience to the prompting of the Light within me in that Now, and not because of allegience to a law of truth. If we act always under the power of God, these virtues are not so much disciplines as spontanious uprisings prompted by that power. The danger with "disciplines" is that it puts the responsibility on us to exercise the proper action at the proper time through a motion of our fallible (however disciplined) will. I believe that there is a dynamic surrender and obedience beyond our will, through a complete submurgence of even our best goodwill into His.

I am being worked on powerfully in these matters.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Rob said...

It is only now that I've had a chance to consider yesterday's meeting at length. I sensed the quaking in your message and in your heart. I just posted my thoughts on the meeting, but I feel like my words belong here with yours. Many thanks for your courageous witness...

02/21/05: I've just returned from a weighty weekend in New York City. The occasion was initially a chance to meet up with a good friend and former roommate of mine and his partner, who were visiting New York from San Francisco; however, it soon became a chance to reunion with many old friends, either visiting or living in the city, and an opportunity to meet so many wonderfully good people. Despite being tired, I return to Boston excited and inspired.

On Sunday, I attended my first Quaker meeting other than my home meeting. It was a new experience for me, as well as my two San Francisco friends who were visiting a Quaker meeting for the first time. I met them at the front gate and didn't have time to brief them on the style of Quaker meeting other than to say, "Have a seat and listen with an open mind."

What followed was a weighty, difficult and provocative meeting. The first message spoke to me in so many ways; it spoke of the discipline of Truth--Truth in the presence of Power. To the Quaker hiding a slave along the Underground Railroad: "What say ye to the slave catcher who comes to your door?" "Thee will find no slaves in this house," an answer couched in the belief that no person is a slave, or "I will not tell thee, because I love thee too much to allow thee to hurt thy self by being cruel," a direct recognition and ministry of the Holy Spirit's enduring love.

The first response will likely maintain the safety of the slave in hiding and preserve the Quaker's presence on the Underground Railroad. The second response would likely yield some other result--perhaps the recapture of the escaped slave and imprisonment for the Quaker. Which answer is more in keeping with the spirit of the Light? Which answer would Jesus have given? Which answer will you or I give when the proverbial slave catcher stands at our door?

The second message delivered urged practicality when meeting Power with Truth, and the remainder of the meeting was filled with message after message delivered in quick succession, all seeking to consider, to answer, to expand upon the initial messages. How do we reconcile Truthfulness and Lovingness when the result of choosing one path over the other results in ill, harmful, or violent circumstances? Can we accomplish both simultaneously? Are they irreconcilable?

I can't help but think of the nun who was killed in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon rainforest last week. She was 74 and a long-time presence in the area--encouraging land reforms and environmental conservation, providing a voice to the peoples living in and among the forest, and challenging the lumber and oil industries eager to trample on the rights of those people in hopes of vast profits. Speaking Truth to Power eventually cost the nun her life. She certainly feared for her safety, but it did not prevent her from pursuing her divine calling.

I also think of George Fox, boldly entering the English churches and proclaiming the Truth as it was revealed to him. He went to prison time and again for his actions--suffering unspeakable horrors. Fox's teaching and sufferings sparked a movement. Jesus’ sparked a spiritual revolution. Indeed, the Truth is often impractical.

As Quakers then, are we commanded to go forth in peace and non-violence into any and all situations with what we believe to be Truth--even in the face of near certain destruction? I think of a lone Quaker entering the battlefield of war seeking to bring God's message of love to both sides. It seems almost ridiculous--perhaps even fundamentalist suicide. However, what if it's ten Quakers entering the battlefield? One-hundred? One-thousand? What if thousands of non-violent peacemakers, Quakers and Non-Quakers alike, enter the battlefield, do the war-makers cease fighting due to the overpowering presence of God?

I also wonder in what ways the nun, George Fox, Jesus, and other religious leaders and martyrs were guided by God to step forward when the time was right and stand still when the time was wrong. Waiting worship is a good starting point to seek that guidance. That's one reason why I was so dumbfounded and overwhelmed by the speed of the messages delivered on Sunday. When was God getting a word in edgewise? Did we really hear and listen to each message? Did we hold those messages in the Light and in our hearts? I heard one person whispering a contradictory response during the delivery of another's message, as if it were a debate. Quaker tradition may be slow, but its emphasis on Spirit-led deliberation is invaluable. How else are we to interpret the Truth when we each experience and know come to know it differently?

I think my San Francisco friends were in a bit of shock following the meeting. If they approached their first Quaker meeting like I, then perhaps they expected to walk away feeling at peace and in loving harmony.

For me, Sunday reconfirmed a strong suspicion I've been carrying that the Spirit can challenge us during meeting in altogether new ways. I’ve had prayers answered, values and beliefs turned on their head, and have been led in ways both demanding and deafening. I find myself shaken to my core...and I Quake.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Amanda and Rob.

Thy comments, messages in the truest Quaker sense of that word, pull my soul towards the way of truth, Amanda and I are in such unity that the truth lies only with and in God, and that we can only be on the road to approach that truth...

And as we struggle with a metaphor that we Quakers defend so hard, even to often not even whisper that our beloved Quaker ancestors in faith, did not allow their darker brothers and sisters to join our meetings...

but keeping to this metaphor is useful I think, and I thank with all my heart my dear Friend Amanda for saying this is more than about the Underground Railroad, I know, but keep to the metaphor, ...

and I agree for in the one story we do not mix paths and stray about seeking context...

Another thing happens in Anna's stories, Slave catchers go away saying, that these Quakers ... "you have to know you wont get a straight answer out of them..." I am paraphrasing, but she did acknowledge that others knew our Friends obscured the truth behind the truth...

and I DO find this more than disturbing... and in fact, once that is what some of us are known for, then it is a bold face lie to speak in that way and there is no safty in within that lie.

And as such this untruth can result in the death of our passenger, loss of our station and house, and death and injury to our families, and at NO benefit to our souls.


...I am NOT condemning my dear brave (and I mean that with knowledge of one who has KNOWN terror ) BRAVE Friends of the past... Lest we make as big a mistake as the British Military in taking Blake's Hymn as the Hymn of the British Army... let us not over look the meaning of this metaphor...

FEAR robs us of the truth in many ways. Tread carefully towards the truth thee seeks, speak truth with reverence for the truth of others... and for fucksake... try to be truthful as hard as that is.

With such thanks and warm thanks to every heart at that meeting...


At 7:48 AM, Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I, too, was present at this meeting and I brought one of the messages. It felt to me like a very deep meeting where God's power was at work, but that doesn't mean that those of us who ministered were necessarily as grounded as we ought to strive to be.

The first message Lorcan received and faithfully delivered was about the importance of disciplining oneself to truth, and it was an immensely important message that we might have done well to sit with in silence throughout the hour.

Lorcan then reports "There was then a message about the need to engage in half truths as we live in the real world of practicalities. I could not help rising again and excusing the breach in our tradition to say this message was roaring in my soul, that the road to hell was far more often paved with practicalities than ever it was paved with good intentions..."

I remember feeling a bit of disquiet with the message about "practicalities" but I didn't see it, as Lorcan did, as a call to engage in half-truths. Perhaps that's what it was, I don't know. But in any case my "response" was to continue in silence to hold up both these messages before the Light and to ask the Lord for Light for my own path and how to become both more loving and more honest in my own very individual life-situation (details not relevant to anyone else, and thus not mentioned here). Lorcan's response, on the other hand, was to rise a second time and deliver a message that was "roaring in [his] soul", tending to directly contradict the other Friend's message. It is not my place to say whether or not this response was required of him by God (and if it was my place I hope I would do it in private) but since Lorcan has publicly opened up the issue, I offer the following words of caution ("not as a rule or form to walk by" as the Balby eleders said "but that each with the measure of light that is pure and holy may be guided"). I'm sure they apply not only to Lorcan but also to me and to all who frequently appear in the ministry:

caution one: A message "roaring" in the soul should not necessarily be given immediately. Roaring can come from many sources, not only the Spirit. There is deep wisdom and not only dead tradition behind the insight that messages should be held up to the Light of Christ, prayed over, and tested thoroughly. This should be even more the case when a message's timing or content appears to present, as Lorcan puts it, a "breach to our tradition".

caution two: The felt need to speak a second time in meeting is a pretty big warning sign that this need may be coming from something other than the Spirit. If God has a message for a Friend to deliver, God is able to give it whole and in one piece. If there is other truth that the Meeting needs to hear, then God has other ministers available to speak it.

caution three: when one hears something that sounds "wrong" in meeting that doesn't create a need to set it right. George Fox specifically cautioned Friends against doing this. It tends to set us up for jangling and debate rather than for seeking wisdom from the Lord. We need to be aware that there may be something "right" wrapped up in that "wrong" in another's message and open ourselves to receive it. The urge to clarify correct and interpret gets in the way of that process. Also, the need to answer and correct all too often comes from a lack of confidence that others in the meeting can sift and discern for themselves what is valuable and what is not in the message they have heard. In that way it sends the message that the worshipping community cannot trust its Guide.

caution four: I think we should resist the notion that "I could not help..." but give such and such a message. This is often said by Friends, and I understand that it is related to the sense that if God calls us to speak then we are in some sense compelled to do so. But my concern is that this thinking could lead to an irresponsible "it wasn't my fault, God made me do it" attitude. The usual fact is that God does not compel, He impels. Paul wrote, in discussing good order in worship that "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets."

A further reason for the discipline of silence between messages is that it gives us a chance to discern the difference between an urge to speak that comes from our own anxieties and agendas and a leading to speak that comes from God. To wait on a leading is not to disobey it, but to test it. True leadings will not dissipate if the minister waits patiently for inward confirmation of their rightness.

All of that said, I remain truly grateful for the ferment in the Meeting. Better to get a little disordered in the process of grappling with Truth than to be unruffled and complacent and dead.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Some truths thee has always known, and they roar out like the surf... do nothing to another that which is abhorant to thee, THAT is the Torrah and the rest is comentary... for the sake of practicality I cannot ignore God in anyone or anything for that matter. I don't need to sit on that truth... it simply is.
Thy dear friend, who loved thy message AND all the messages that day, though thyne did ring in my heart ... as did the teachers...

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

Thank thee, Rich, for these reminders, they elder my ministry as well, and thank thee for reminding us that "stirring up" is not always a negative.


At 9:06 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Yeah... what she said, Lor

At 3:52 PM, Blogger postliberal said...

I wasn't there - being in a different country doesn't help. But I've been considering all that I've read above and feel the need to give a few crude impressions (of a particular Methodist, unrepresentative of any denomination).

Firstly, I shall confess I was quite amused by the conduct you've described. It sounds a bit like debating by proxy - the equivilent of where people give thier interacting opinions by outloud prayer in a Church. But this is a small matter and my sense of humour is fairly unusual.

It's very easy to deal in the world of abstracts here and talk about high minded ideals. We can make elegent formulations, but we do live in a messy and complicated world. We also live in a world of variety in outlook and expression. One person's view of truth is likely to differ from another. Thus when you and I confess to the truth, we may find that we're inspired to speak at varience. In practice, speaking truth is a compromise. I suspect we have to make the best of how things are, and remeber the precedence of loving practice, when trying to see our way...that'll do for now...

At 11:58 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Well, dear Post Liberal, yes and no. It is not at all a debate, but sometimes listening to God within leads to a trying of principles as we move towards as much truth as is revealed. This conversation continues after meeting. A Friend and I are speaking about music and ministry and how we try... struggle, labor to be Quakers in each moment. And we ask each other, "how in the environment of an Irish American Pub, can we be fully truthful, when all around us there are people born along on their drink, egos as musicians, and so many other things which cut them off from being at one with our attempt at worshipful presentation of our music..." and yet, when we play in the spirit of singing out of the silence, as we try and do, for some reason, folks are responding differently.
Friends for the hundreds of years of our history, and the various Christs from Hill el, and before, and Jesus and after, have not clarified that we open to the light of others unless they are slave catchers or in a bar.

Please dear hearts, don't look to the elements of the metaphor, if we do that with too much attention we will spend so much time looking for bricks in the pyramids of Egypt, that we will over look the lessons of the escape from slavery... a slavery that ... according to original sources ... other than the early part of the old Testament, did not exist, other than in the metaphor of our shared history.

But then, here we are, about to embark on testing the metaphors of the bible, rather than looking at being called to truth and if we are conditionally God's own, when the world gets in the way... On other posts we talk about wether or not we are straying too much from our time honored traditions rather than testing our opening to God in others, again ... straying a little from the question... be present to God in all... when thee is frightened, and I am, dear Friends, and when thee is in pain, and I am dear Friends, and when thee is lost, and I often am, dear Friends... and the question is not, does lor need pastoral care for breaking the traditions of Friends... the burning question in my heart remains... truth, truth truth... speak truth without fear... not proclaim truth as a pedantic, not proclaim truth at the cost of other's light - the great sin of fascism, but speak and LIVE the truths of thy heart so others may know thee well, and fear will not get in the way of love, for it does, dear hearts ... in most people it does. All love, from the basest love to the divine, fear conquers love more often than love conquers fear.

PS As to thy humor... at the cost of sounding like we are farming for souls as other faiths often do, with thy sense of humor... thee should be a Quaker! But, laughter is God's and when we laugh at ourselves, well... what else can we do, Friend?

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Rob said...

Lor said "the burning question in my heart remains... truth, truth truth... speak truth without fear... not proclaim truth as a pedantic, not proclaim truth at the cost of other's light - the great sin of fascism, but speak and LIVE the truths of thy heart so others may know thee well, and fear will not get in the way of love, for it does, dear hearts ... in most people it does. All love, from the basest love to the divine, fear conquers love more often than love conquers fear."

Your words resonate with me Lor. Fear often prevents us from living out the life we are led to live. Each time a Truth-searching voice is quieted, either through violence, censorship or subversion, we feel collective and individual fear. For every silenced voice, my hope is that many more will join the chorus. I've been told that Quakers do not (or shouldn't) proselytize. I couldn't disagree more wholeheartedly.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger postliberal said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger postliberal said...

Oh I don't doubt the fascination of that mysterious reality we all stand before and spend our lives trying to appreciate. What interests me more is how we interact with each other, in the light of that mystery (St Paul put it best, describing the view through the glass darkly, a riddle). You might find a few thoughts lodged in amongst this post.

As for your little evangelistic moment, well I might have my doubts about my denomination from time to time (as those who know me have seen so often) but ultimately I'm very happy within it. I have respect for aspects of pretty much every denomination in the Church - including your own, so am quite happy crossing paths. My soul is Wesley's ;)

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear Rob
We are in unity, there IS a difference between teaching by example and saying another lives in error and must follow OUR vision of God. I hope I can be an example, though of late, dear and true Friends can tell thee how weak and craven I am... I struggle, and labor and in the end, try hard to be and not to teach... and kind'a suck at it.
Thy good friend

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear Post, our posts crossed paths... I am glad thy soul is Wesley's, my soul is currently out to lunch I'm afraid, and seeking me. My liver is in west Kerry, and my heart is on my shirt sleeve ... my nose is often in other peoples biz, my eyes are filled with tears, and my music is found in the park... My sense of humor, well... I don't know. Maybe... well ... Hope to meet thee one day, perhaps at the Witby Music festival... cheers lor

At 7:04 AM, Blogger postliberal said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:06 AM, Blogger postliberal said...

That would be nice, heres to a future encounter...

...talking of music, rather fortuitously, I've got 'Post' by Bjork playing right now.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger QuaCarol said...

Where does stillness come in the list of disciplines thee is considering?

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Why ask about what is not, read what is... for something close, see fare well to much of what I was... But, it IS very odd to read anything and ask why did thee not add XYand Z.... why did I not write about courage, for example, well, that is another message forming, who am I to rush enlightenment, and why must thee ask me why? Look in thy own heart, dear Friend.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear Friend:
Further comments from thee, I will wait in stillness to answer, for, unlike others on this page, I click on thy blog, and find no information, leading me to believe thee to be nothing more than a critic, an empty voice in the wilderness of the e-world, devoid of presence to that of God in the others who stand here, fully informing each other of who they are, thy comment reflects that emptiness, and I feel for thee. I hope thee has the courage soon to step into the light with the rest of us.
Lorcan Otway
15th Street Monthly Meeting of Friends.

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

Perhaps there wasn't criticism but searching in the question? Some people have a blogger account so that they can post respectfully with a name to their posts, but are not moved to blog. Tendering to this question with love and accepting it in the best possible light is important. Love in all things.

At 12:16 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Thee is right. I am well eldered. This has been a hard day. I accept thy light, and ask forgiveness of Carol.

Stillness, well, I am waiting for that particular message. Was thee at the meetings where these messages were given? I think thee might understand any lack, they came over the course of several months, and may still be coming.
Again, forgive the testiness, thee cannot imagine the past few days.
Thy friend


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