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.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I Am Called To Take Up Abolition in America Once Again

Dear Friends:

There are two Friends and friends, who I truly love more than life itself. We differ on the subject of slavery in America and the use of unfair labor in China. Tonight, I find myself not able to sleep, listening to the windchimes of the downstairs neighbors. And rather than cursing their windchimes, I find I am seeking words to convince Friends that we must address the reality of slavery in the USA once again.

Our Meeting's shelter uses sheets cleaned by prison labor. I cannot bring myself to touch those packages marked by the label of the slavery which brings it to our place of worship. Friends tell me that those in prison must have work to do, and that the place to address the slavery of prison is at the source, at the inequality of opportunity which leads to lack of equal access to jobs and easy access to drugs.

And yet, I see in these answers a similarity to the past notion that we lift Africans out of ignorance by ... well ... the "well intentioned kindness practiced on Quaker plantations," as the member of our faith said who once claimed ownership over other humans. Like Elias Hicks, I cannot sway these Friends from their conviction that the product of prison labor is not a convenience which we must afford ourselves and there belief that labor is good and meaningful for the laborer who is not free.

And, yet, Friend Elias' final point on slavery, which won out almost two hundred years ago returns to mind. No human entered slavery other than at the point of a sword or a gun, and so, we Friends who deny ourselves prize goods, cannot own these humans and call our selves Friends and Chlidren of Light.

No human behind bars came to that place, other than at the point of a gun and wearing the chains of the wars of crime and the wars on crime. The simple truth is that the production of the prison system are prize goods and we Friends must not touch them.

For that matter, the production of a nation which murders trade unionists outright, shoots them on the factory floor or drags them away to disappear in lonely secret places where extrajudicial killings silence the voice of labor -- such goods are also prize goods and more than advised against in our Quaker traditions, they are forbidden to our souls in the statement of our Peace Testimony.

Let others make war, and let others constructively engage the slave state. I can endorse the inroads, but I cannot touch the product stained with the blood of victims of the savagery of war and slavery.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

May I be faithful to the uncertainty of our Quaker faith

A reply to a request to consider going to two upcoming Powell House retreats has led me to this post ... which is that reply. I thought there might be some value in sharing it with Friends. I hope Friends think so as well.
I always appreciate listening to Arthur Larabe. I have rather a well developed idea about clerking, but hearing others and a tune up is always a good thing. As is sometimes obvious, I am led to older forms of the traditions and culture of our faith and find in that not only did our forebearers show a good deal of wisdom, there is a great practicality in these customs of faith as well. We had to balance the unfettered freedom of the individual spirit with the corporate need to seek together in worship as well as work. This was reinforced by a number of small things. For example, removing one's hat during the message of another Friend during worship reminds one to give weight to the process of listening and hearing. I suppose the key is to be confident of seeking, and ever open to uncertainty of one's own rightness. One older form, which I think might be helpful to consider bringing back, is not to say "yes" or "no" to affirm a minute. An older tradition was to say, "I hope so" or "I hope not." In this form each of us is reminded that we do not know we are right, even as a gathered Meeting, but rather, we hope we approach truth together. It is one more reminder that there is no human leadership in a Quaker community, only eldership as we seek the leadership of truth. Eldership does not equal leadership, only a guidance to each other that together, listening and speaking with care, we might open ourselves to our best hope, a truth.
As to difficult people. Well, personally, I hope I am speaking with some truth led wisdom, when I say that I find the growing cult of individualism some have commented on within modern Meetings, is often tied to individuals being certain about their ability to control property. Corporately we might remember the old Quaker sense of uncertainty. Even "experts" in a field, in a Quaker community might consider the power of uncertainty and placing the power of authority in a truth with we must approach with the greatest humility -- with hope that we, together are correct, rather than individually from the hubris of our credentials. We live in a world today which places great weight on credentials - I am most dubious of my own "authority" when asked to consider something from the weight of those parchment recognitions of my learning -- the dear spirit of Mary Dyer reminds me that authority is seldom my truth.
The matter of Friends who are to some degree imbalanced from illness is another subject that we all must approach with humility and love and a good dose of hope in our ability to do the right thing in the face of that challenge.
So ... this, I hope, speaks to my interest in these subjects, and my hope that I might someday grow to help to be one of the voices of eldership which brings our Meeting to a greater sense of hope and peace.
Thine, very dearly in our funny old faith