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.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

An Answer To Davd Carl's Question - Democracy of God in Quakerism (or lack thereof)

David's comment to my most recent post assumed that I was not in unity with a proposal and what happened next... Well, Friend, it was far more complicated than that. I apologise before hand to non-Quaker readers, as this must seem very complicated and odd with talk about quarterly and monthly meetings, and to my Quaker readers, also an apology, as I have tried to make this simple, but the story is rather complex...

Some thoughts first. There is always a struggle in any society to keep the fashions of the day from replacing the transcendent values of our founders. For some in the Religious society of Friends this is a struggle over doctrine. For me, however, it is a struggle over process. What makes us unique is the way we do business by laboring towards unity.

The USA today has become obsessed with secrecy, in order to insure outcome. Many have noted that one cannot have a functioning democracy without all the facts being laid on the table. The struggle in the USA over freedoms of the press, for example the attempt to suppress the publication of the "Pentagon Papers" by Richard Nixon, in order to hide the real policies concerning the extension of the Vietnam war into Laos and Cambodia pales at the classification as secret everything possible, the most mundane business of government today.

Times like these affect the day to day thinking about business as usual, even in Quaker Meetings. The security conscious state has led, for example, our Quaker school to festoon itself with a large number of video surveillance cameras ... compare this with the faith of the Amish in Nicole Mines, where the horrible events of last year did not change them at all. We struggle with concerns that our school committee is not allowed to share much of the mundane business with the Meeting and has closed meetings.

Recently, a nomination was held up because of anonymous and unspesific concerns raised to the nominating committee, in the case of this nomination, our Pastoral Care committee (Our Meeting as a bifurcated Ministry so instead of Ministry and Council, we have a Ministry and Worship committee and a Pastoral Care Committee). Placed before the full monthly Meeting, during a meeting for worship with a concern for business there was some real concern expressed about this.

Coincidentally, the clerk of Pastoral Care, was nominated to be clerk of the Meeting at the same meeting. Our Meeting has had some difficulty with the whole nominating process. When there was an objection to a nominee for clerk, it split the Meeting in half and we could not come to clearness on a clerk for 18 months. Frankly, I think this was all because of outcome driven Meetings and poor process in general. In response to this we created a process whereby any objection to a nominee must be addressed, not to the floor of the meeting, but to the nominee and or the nominating committee.

Well, the nomination of the Clerk of Pastoral Care raised some concerns over amalgamation of power in a single person in our Meeting. There had been a tradition of nominees stepping down from other weighty clerkships in order to concentrate on the work of Clerk of the Meeting as well as to preserve the Clerk's position of neutrality.

This was raised on the floor of the meeting (not by me), and our Meeting was not in unity on wither or not there should be a rule about this. Further, it was pointed out, the proposed clerk was a member of the school committee, a committee about which there is a concern over undue secrecy. So, it was decided that the next business meeting, we would first address the concern about the proposed rule, then have the second reading of the nomination. I felt this was bad form, but I did not stand in the way of it, as it foreclosed meeting with Nominations, if the decision went either way on the proposed rule.

Well, for a variety of reasons, most who objected to a clerk of the meeting being clerk of pastoral care were out of town for this past business meeting. Our present clerk opened the issue stating that concerns were raised over "Meeting clerks being clerk of weighty Quarterly committees." The school committee is a Quarterly committee. And that in this case the issue was moot as the nominee had asked release from the School Committee. As such, could we put over discussion of the proposed rule until the next months meeting.

I said that I was not in unity with the proposal as the request for release only cured half the concerns raised at the previous meeting. It left an important issue unresolved which I would have addressed to nominations, if I had known before hand that the agenda would have been revised without previous notice, and lacking that notice, we are now asked to decide on a nomination without full knowledge of governing events, as most of the objections centered on the clerk of pastoral care ( a monthly meeting committee, not a quarterly committee) being also clerk of the Meeting.

This alone, the idea of manipulating the agenda, not only is an outcome based maneuver, but removes the process of building on the light of previous meetings. I just think it is not becoming of our tradition of well meaning in our attempts at real unity rather than manufactured consent.
I have no objection to the outcome, and support this new clerk, but I am offended to the marrow of my bones and roots of my faith at the process which brought this about. I also extend to the outgoing clerk the best assumption that this all might have been oversight. However, especially in the light of a deeply expressed concern more thought should have been given as well as care, so that even the appearance of manipulation should not take place.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Are We Still Quakers When... (and where did we come from)

Simply put, there were four great epochs of ownership of the commons which bring us to this place. Once, in England, most was owned commonly. Then, in 1066 William the Bastard arrived with a rowdy bunch and proclaimed that all that was commonly held was now owned by the sovereign, and granted to the commoners be used by that sovereign.

Well, it is not a good thing to vest power in one person, and so eventually those bully boys who made this taking possible said, "We want a part of the action, and Magna Carta was drawn up, recognizing that the sovereign was also made up of peers.
Well, as we began the modern age of industrialization, there arouse economic bully boys, who were the industrial bullies who took over the role of enforcers from the fellows in armor, the old peers. They were as good at taking from the commons as a bloke on a horse with a sword and bad intentions for your land.

Out of those times rose a number of simple commoners who said to the old and new enforcers of the king and corporation, "No, this world is owned by God for the good of the common, and we are all equal under God." Some where called Ranters, some Diggers, and some where called Quakers. We were dedicated to recognise God's dirrect ownership over the universe by our actions, not by some warm and fuzzy liberal notions, but by striving to build lives where we recognised the great democracy of seeking God's guidence together in all things. The process of coming to unity is core to what we are as Quakers.

It is this corporate ownership of the institution and the democracy of God which made us unique. There were a lot of Christian sects which sought plainness of one sort of another. Many of these were deeply vested in the modern move to vest power in the merchant peers. For example, Cromwell and his modern army, whose zeal murdered so many in Ireland. The refugees of his army, the Puritans came to New England and hanged Quakers. Christian and plain is not the unique aspect of our founding, the democracy of God in our dealings as a religious organization is our founding nature.

Well, ... even in this world of change, today, there still exists corporate thieves who would take from the common with the lance of economic power, institutional persuasion, and when all else fails, manipulation of process in order to transfer more and more from the commons to the new sovereign, the institution of wealth.

Without going into details, as I am just too tired to put down the story, it is a long one, (time to write a book?) I have watched over the years the infiltration of my Meeting by corporate thinking, again and again I am told by Friends that Quaker process does not work for the day to day economic exigencies of running a school, or even interaction between the school and the Meeting. So, more and more, the school, the tail of the dog of the Meeting, wags that dog, and not only sets us into kayos, but destroys the spiritual integrity of the Meeting, all the while seeking more and more independence from Quakerism, with fewer and fewer restraints from the Meeting, or ties through membership to that Meeting, while insisting that it is a Quaker school, when in fact, it is destroying the core faith of Quakerism in the Meeting, as well as the Quaker values of both. In short, Quakerism is not just being a liberal institution, it is being a body of Friends who do business as Friends, in every matter big or small.

I sat in Meeting for Business today, I cannot call it a Meeting for worship with an intent for business at all, it was simply a hoax, a manipulation of process to transfer more of the common from the many to the few, and the many bought it. I just don't know if Quakerism can survive the times.

I am reminded of the old Phariseean story about process. First of all, let us remember who the Pharisees were. Saducees were literalists, fundamentalists. The believed in the letter of the law, the rule defines the relationship in society. The Pharisees believed that the relationship defined the rule... "Do nothing to another, which you find abhorrent, that is the Torah and the rest is commentary." And as with true liberals today, that liberal voice in Judea, believed that in order to maintain rule and relationship, one needed to have, no unquestionable law, but unquestionable process. The reason is that in common process which treats the weak by the process as the strong, fairness transcends politics and greed. There were a number of judges needed to decide a case in a Phariseean court. For an economic outcome a majority was needed. But, for a physical punishment one needed a unanimous decision. So, one day a man is being tried for a crime that would bring about a sentence of a beating. The court is not unanimous for guilt, when the voice of God is heard saying, "This man is guilty.""My Lord, You are out of order," says the chief judge."How can I be out of order?" replies God."You created this court and set down the procedure, and so, you are out of order."

What greater statement of faith can there be, then to remind God that we all need to approach God in the same process, not the same outcome. It is never about outcome, it is always about process. What greater betrayal of our founding faith than to manipulate process. We poor poor children, who once called ourselves the children of light.