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, June 03, 2006

I ( each one of us) is responsible for the present state of the Religious Society of Friends

just as each one of us, individually is responsible for the present state of the world. A dear and treasured fFriend has been writing about his decision to eventually leave the SOF, because of the lack of shepherding in our community. He writes:

I know of the many problems that clergy can create for a community: the risk is that a small group of powerful individuals can regulate and dictate what others must do. However, now I understand how the lack of anyone taking on any sort of ongoing leadership role causes its own problems (such as people constantly challenging any sort of authority, feeling agrieved by decisions they are unhappy with - "Quaker process was not followed!", and having a sense of entitlement that their every whim, slight, or opinion should be somehow addressed by the community). Endless seeking, individualism, and "tribalism" , and reinventing the wheel, anyone?

Well, dear fellow, get up, pull on thy boots, brush off thy jacket, set thy hat straight upon thy head, and be a Shepard in thy community. It is NOT the sole role of Ministry and Counsel to Sheppard our society. In fact, as in many human institutions, Ministry and Counsel ... well, simply put, is not up to the task, just as the many governments of the earth today are not up to the task of world peace and saving the environment. Well, what do we do... go to another planet? Or do we set out on the task of living right, speaking truth to power, even when that power is each other, and more over, acting with firm resolve and love.

My father once responded to some fellow who quoted Churchill at him, ("If you are not a Socialist by twenty you have no soul, if you are a Socialist after thirty you have no head"). My father replied, "if you are a Socialist at twenty and not a Socialist by Thirty, I doubt you ever were a real Socialist at all." Exactly. One may speak of convincement, that we are convinced that there is that of God in each of us... and parrot that we are present to that of God in each of us, but if we need clergy to actively live in that presence, in the form of Ministry and Counsel or any other authority external to ourselves, we have missed the complete meaning of being present.

Now, I am not saying there is no function or role for Ministry and Counsel. It is a vitally needed committee. But, it is in NO WAY responsible to the state of the soul of each one of us. The role of Ministry and Counsel is to create an orderly meeting, and be there when needed to help sort things out. The fFriend should note, that in case of conflict or personal need, it is there only as a dependable recourse, that any one of us is an equal recourse, and that Friends are encouraged to seek out that Friend who ministers to thy condition. There are several Friends who I know I can count upon for sage wisdom and a firm hand to my elbow when I am in need.

Now, I should say, in this blog, I have been very open about the tender parts of my soul. Perhaps to the point that many who read this and do not know me well, think that this is the sum total of who I am, the pain of the past year, perhaps the worst of my life. Yet, in this, I remain convinced that there is no one person who can come and heal my soul, or any idol or image. There is only that of God, that I share with humanity that is up to that task. I can run from meeting to meeting, religion to religion, seeking a stronger hand on the tiller of my soul, and I will find corruption, envy, idolatry and all the other human flaws of my soul in every other place I go, and in all the spiritual masters I seek out to set me right. Only in the Religious Society of Friends, do I find a place that tells me, forget seeking another to set thy soul upon the road... all may help, but buck up, stand up, get up and be present to God.

Today fFriends speak of mantras, speak of spiritual masters, speak of a hundred and one paths to that God within, quote to each other that little time bomb that George Fox built into the peace of our religious community, “‘There is one - even Christ Jesus - that can speak to thy condition"... All, all, all of that is fine and dandy if we also understand, deep in the fiber of our soul that the core of our society, just as the core of living incorporated into the world, is the understanding that to atone for sin, we must be actively present to that of God in each other. Present to that of God in each other. That presence is not handed to thee by any other one, that presence is thine own responsibility and thee can be a Pope or a Papua New Guinea Head Hunter, and if thee is not present to the God in the other as strongly as the God in thy self... it is all emptiness.

Each little idol we place, like a grain of sand close to our soul, will eventually blot out the sun of the light of God in us. If that grain of sand is Jesus, and our need for Yeshua to be our God is so strong that we cannot see the light in the soul of the Friend on the bench next to us, then we have made a idol of Jesus. If that grain of sand is our petty needs for one doctrine, non-theism, to the point that we cannot see the light in the soul of the Christian Friend on the bench next to us, than that non-theism is an idol. We can wear the sole out of a thousand pairs of shoes seeking... but until thee can actively seek that light of God in a lady bug or a Lutheran, thee is not walking with righteousness before God in any religious family, and I am rather sure no person in a robe with incense, feathers and a drum, a golden crown and or miter will lead thee to that light.

Dear fFriend, stay awhile and seek within before thee goes and seeks without.


At 7:09 AM, Blogger Plain Foolish said...


This, to me, is a powerful witness, and yet one that still needs the gentle reminder: and true to that of God in yourself.

I am not a Quaker, and don't know all the subtleties of the current state of the Religious Society of Friends. I am, however, a person who has wandered over a number of paths in an attempt to be true to God's call for me. Oh, how hard a path that is, to put on your cloak and sandals and to leave a house that has been warm for you. How much harder the path of doing so not in anger, but realizing the gift of having been able to gather there, even as you know you must journey on.

(And I say this even as someone who has difficulty with the concept of clergy. I would say also to this person: Beware of the trap of seeing another person as the road to God. That trap is a hard one to climb out of.)

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

I agree, PF, but would go further, the SOF is not the road to God, it is only a faith that recognises that the road to faith is right here and now and we are all complete to find that of God in side us, and in all other things. We are not the only ones to see that of God so directly... but I would say if thee is distracted by the confusion of others here, thee will be anywhere else, all human institutions make a lot of noise that can distract thee from God.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger earthfreak said...

I was really disturbed last summer when the pastor of a local progressive church took his own life. I had visited the church (which has good singing before services, and which my roommate attended at the time) and was unimpressed with his preaching, but he was a good guy, and an activist on many issues that I hold dear to my heart.

What struck me MOST though, was this feeling that of all people, he was supposeed to be able to find his way out of that dark place. He had struggled with despression for a long time, but he had a loving family, and faith enough (in something) to be ordained. I found myself shaken and somewhat angry - this is a person that we have chosen as particular responsible for guiding other people through struggle, and he had gotten lost himself.

In a way it surprised me how much it surprised me. I have never believed that any person has better access to God / spirit /meaning than I do. I have always thought it foolish and perhaps arrogant to lay that burden and glory on some and not others.

I think it's key to remember that quakerism is not a path to God either. It works well for me because it feels like (at its best) a community of seekers who know that the path is revealed slowly, and it's good to have like hearts to help you find your way (and keep your spirit warm when you find yourself out in the cold)

I also find that loving myself, recognizing that of god in myself is consistently the greatest challenge. I believe that it would make it that much more clear, finding that of god in others.


At 6:58 PM, Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Thank you, Pam. You've said much better what I was trying to convey. As I said to you a few weeks ago, my tendency is to ask people how they are ministering to themselves and seeking out what they need.

And yes, I think sometimes it's easier to see the good in others than in ourselves. Wow, Lorcan can really sing, and I'm tone deaf. And you were able to do the rain barrel and simplify down your life in ways I admire. What's the matter with me that I can't live like you, sing like Lorcan, create art like somebody else, and ...

And well, so I can storytell, sew, and cook well. Oh, yeah, and do art like me, and still sing sometimes even though I'm tonedeaf. Who cares? I've been doing that forever...

It's an insidious voice inside us that picks out other people to envy and wish we could have their gifts while our own lay unappreciated.

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Oh thy gifts, PF... from thy cards to thy post about the burden of doing what is done in war... to ... thy reminding me to consentrate on why my songs are the sound of my soul... thy gifts are plain but not simple.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

"All, all, all of that is fine and dandy if we also understand, deep in the fiber of our soul that... atone for sin, we must be actively present to that of God in each other."

I'm not sure I have a place in my head for that word, "sin." But I think there must be something in this concept that matters; these words spoke quite strongly to me. Is the insight that the way out of the messes I make in staying faithful is through openness to the Light in the fellow next to me? Is that it?

I get that I've gotta "actively seek that light of God in a lady bug or a Lutheran," but putting that together with the idea of fixing what has gone wrong within me... hm.

Gonna sit with this.

At 5:19 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Hi Cat:
By sin, I don't mean right or wrong, I mean separation from God and each other. Some of the best things we do can separate us from others, to live we take, and in that taking, we must live for ourselves alone. In that recognition, we atone, we give as well as take.


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