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.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Fear and Friends

I have been sitting here, well, cleaning the house here, and thinking about the negativity, the constant, unrelenting, negativity, of so many Friends. Hicks said that it is fear that keeps us from perfect love, and it seems to me that it is fear behind the constant negativity of Friends, and fear of what? I am not sure... It seems to me that a fear of anarchy, for example, the fear of new thoughts, the fear of so much, is simply a fear of each other. I am thinking over decades of conflict I have seen in meetings, and at the root, there are so many Friends who just dwell in such fear. That fear has caused so many so much pain. I don't know why it hits me so hard today. Perhaps it is because a dear Friend, who has given me such support and light is speaking of leaving our society, because he sees the failure, the lacking of love in our institutions.
Well, we can't be brave for others, and the slings and arrows of the fear of others... well, we just have to keep on keeping on in the face of it. I hope my Friend stays with us, or that he goes to where he hears God's voice the loudest... I pray that we deserve thee, Friend. Thee has been very brave in so many ways.


At 1:38 PM, Blogger Contemplative Scholar said...

Yes, many Friends have fears. Most people have fears. And most people's fears come from painful experiences in their past. It is an unfortunate truth of human existence that people hurt each other quite frequently.

Again and again as I read your recent postings I feel moved to mention the story of George Fox telling William Penn to "wear thy sword as long as thou canst." Whether or not Fox actually said this, it is very powerful, and, I believe, very wise. My interpretation is that Fox knew that, whether it was pride or insecurity, anxiety, or fear that motivated Penn to wear his sword, it wasn't his (Fox's) to make Penn let go of it. He trusted that Penn would let go when he was ready. It was respectful of Fox to realize that it was up to Penn to sort out what it meant and to make his own decisions around it. And it was also pragmatic: as soon as one person tries to pressure another into letting go of his or her sword, the second person has every reason to cling all the more tightly to it, because it is exactly that kind of pressuring that is at the root of the ways that people hurt each other -- well-intentioned or not. The reason is because of the inherent disrespect behind this kind of pressuring: "I know better than you what's good for you." No. We don't know the stories of pain that are behind our friends' fears. We must trust them to find their healing and build their strength, and we must trust God.

I have become increasingly aware of how much we expect each other to be God in our lives. We want everyone to be perfectly wise, strong, and brave: to know our own needs perfectly and address them flawlessly; to care about the problems of the world in exactly the same ways we do, and to respond to those problems in exactly the ways we think would be best. But we fail in our own compassion if this is what we expect of everyone else.

We cannot, must not, expect each other to be God in our lives. It is true that people are wounded and in their fear and brokenness are not always wise enough or strong enough or courageous enough to do what we think is the right thing to do. When this happens, it is our spiritual challenge first to find our own healing from God, and then to learn how to be compassionate and forgiving towards those who let us down.

So, if your friend decides to leave the Quakers because Friends are not perfect enough -- because Friends are human beings who have been hurt and carry pain and therefore are not always able to perceive and respond to others' needs in perfect healing ways, I am greatly saddened.

I've been through such disillusionment myself (we all do eventually, if we are lucky enough to live long enough). My breakthrough was to realize that this was an important transitional moment in my spiritual journey: it was the call for me finally to learn what it is to be a Minister. These others in the Meeting, from whom I had wanted attention, kindess, understanding, and help, themselves need all of this too. What can I give? I can give compassion towards my wounded Friends.

We are a radically non-hierarchical denomination. We don't collectively pay for one person to attend to everyone else's spiritual needs. We must instead help each other. To be Friends is to limp along together as best as we can along this rugged and often painful path called "life."

At 2:14 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Well, all that thee says here is true. I don't expect us all to be brave at all times, I certainly have not been... But, we also have traditions which make it more safe, more easy to be brave and love each other. On line, it seems, is a place where these traditions seem not to be acknowledged, and hurtful practices are not tempered by reliance on such functions as we have employed in the past to build our beloved community. I have seen the polarization of modern life taking more and more a role in the center of our meetings.

Our traditions often help us to resist our very human fears. I know, when I witnessed war, close up, I was called to anger, was called to prove myself, and it was my upbringing in our traditions which informed my heart, and said, stay a Friend, and let others follow their light, and in fact, in the long run, I found it was the right path to have taken. I like thy take on the myth of Penn's sword, but sometimes we also have to rely on the traditions which have grown from our the experience of our forerunners. The story of Penn's sword would have been a different myth, if that sword was close at hand to save another's life. Better not to have had it there, so that he was forced to use his heart in other ways... been there, I know for me, this is the case, it is much better that we have the courage to stand on our traditions borne out of the experience of generations in our faith. Well, that's my experience, thy light on this might well be different, and I am open to thy light on this.

I just wish we would try a little harder with each other to be gentle.

At 6:03 AM, Blogger ash said...

It is my belief that, when a church or christian organisation has fulfilled its mission, or is no longer effective, then that church/ organisation should be obediant to God and close down for the sake of the body of Christ. In the last couple of years, several churches in my town have closed themselves, and rejoined those whom they split from; or their members have dispersed throughout the wider body: bringing with them their unique gifts to bless and sow into other places.

The problem is that noone wants to do this. Because it hurts, and it damages our pride.

Sit, listen to God together, and discern his call on the future of your community. Does God want for you to continue in a spirit of un-co-operation and pain? No, God does not want this.

Either there is a way forward together, or there is a way forward apart. Perhaps your friend is right to leave. Maybe it will shake the church into change.

Someone said recently that us liberals seem to value unity so much it becomes our idol. Other groups see us liberals as people with no real convictions because we will constantly compromise our principles for the sake of appeasing others. I do not believe this is right.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Contemplative Scholar said...

Yes, Lor, I have to agree that I wish we could all try harder to be gentle with each other!

And to Ash: even though I would admit that things are not always perfect within Quakerism, I myself do not think that Quakerism has fulfilled its mission and needs now to be closed down; nor do I think that problems within a given Meeting would indicate that it needs to be closed down.

What is the mission of a Meeting? What is the mission of Quakerism?

Like the story of Jacob and the angel: it is sometimes in our struggles with each other that we all become blessed.

A truly blessed life is not a life without struggle, but a life of handling struggles so well that you and all whom you struggle with are made better people in the end.


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