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, March 22, 2010

The last gasps of our former faith

I would post these words to the 15th Street Meeting’s Google group, however, they now employ Richard A. Evans, as a censor and as a child of the McCarthite America, and proud son of a father who resisted the banal evils of that day, I refuse to write in censored forums.

Leadership always seeks the last word, if not a monologue when power is threatened. Quakerism rose out of a need to break the patterned thinking of power’s culture through the empowerment of the individual voice in a disciplined community, disciplined by eldership, not leadership seeking power over the souls of the membership.

This is no longer true of Quakerism in the New York Quarterly Meeting. Today, leadership seeks to entrench its power by the same old banal evil which a small band of courageous souls risked death to oppose in our early days. Today, these leaders do not have the tools of the pillory, the scourge or the hangman’s noose, but they have the law and they have the closed committee doors.

We are plagued today by closed committee meetings which spread untruths about members, and destroy the comfort and involvement of the best of us. Why is this happening? Because great amounts of money are at stake as the emergent leadership in our Meetings squander the accomplishments of generations of Friends by giving over more and more of what Friends built in the past to non-Quaker businesses. Our schools are now bastions of elitism and classism, and the few voices in our Meetings which cry out for transparency in the dealings in these matters are branded as trouble makers and opposed by a controlling few in all nominations to positions of eldership in the Meetings.

We once sought to empower diverse voices, in a sort of spontaneous act of genius, early Friends realized that God’s plan centered around diversity, and in order to be truly a diverse community of freed minds, we must empower each voice to bring light to the whole. We also realized that the law of states must not constrain that diversity of conscience. As a result we placed our faith over laws which bound others to slavery, which sent us to war… However, today, there is a committee in the Quarter which seeks to overturn the expressed unity of the Quarter on the role of Trustees. Two years ago, during the Seventh Month business meeting, we were in unity on following the British Yearly Meeting lead, that Trustees had no power, other than to rubberstamp for the State the decisions of the gathered meeting in unity.
Now, however, Trustees claim power given them by the State is in conflict with that minute and have put together a committee of Friends and Lawyers to define their powers. This is one more nail in the coffin of Quakerism in this quarter.


At 5:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

soYes, it's dispiriting to say the least. Rich should just pop a papal crown upon his head and be done with it.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I don't want to comment at length on Lorcan's post, some of which I agree with. I do want to dispute his claim that I have been "employed" by 15th Street Meeting as a "censor" of its google group email list.

I have not been "employed" in the sense of "hired" to do anything. I have been asked to act voluntarily for an interim period as the "moderator" of the group. As the temporary moderator I am not authorized to screen out dissenting opinions about anything. In particular, and in contrast to the impression this post may give, I will not and do not screen out any particular views about decisions of our Meeting, about the relationship between our Meeting and the Friends Seminary, about proper uses of Meeting funds, etc. etc. I am authorized only to screen out messages that insult or defame people in or out of our community.

Anyone who nevertheless wants to insult and defame people (notwithstanding that most of us would think this highly unFriendly behavior) is still free to do so in other forums, so this is not a matter of censorship but of responsible editing.

The reason this came about is that several subscribers to the list complained that they had signed up in order to trade certain kinds of information with each other but did not want to continue receiving some of the toxic messages that sometimes come through. For example, Lorcan had in one email implied that one of our members is "out of his mind" and had branded a well-known Quaker blogger (not in our Meeting) as a "self promoting ego maniacal so and so who never did anything for peace other than sit at a computer and blow his own horn at the expense of others."
In some subsequent communications Lorcan has implied that this "censorship" is a form of "cowardice". I do not feel like a coward, I find that it has tested my possibly limited courage to persist in doing what the Meeting asks, given some abusive messages I have received as a result from one or two Friends.

However righteous Lorcan may feel about his views, I think he should recognize that in throwing around insults he closes off more lines of communication than he opens, and also risks doing real hurt to people in our community.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Lorcan Otway said...

Frankly, I think that it would be a little more brave to use the word censor... when in fact you are the censor for that particular forum. What you describe is censorship.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Lorcan Otway said...

Oh, as the the "implied comments..." they aren't emplied at all, and I stand by both of them as fully true. There are times you have to speak truth to power, and other times you have to speak truth to foolishness. I am not the first to question that first person's sanity in public, nor will I be the last, I am sure. As to the other, more than I have found him to be more of a pain than a peacemaker, and if in fact you know of overt actions he has taken for peace, as has thee and me, feel free to mention them here.

You, dear friend and Friend, are allways free to speak thy mind here - even if I am not free to do the same in place thee has control.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Lorcan Otway said...

PS (It is only defamation if it is untrue)

At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me, that the statement RIchard makes about Friends not wanting toxic messages is not completely true. First let me say that NO ONE, least of all Lorcan wants toxicity in the meeting.

If you know anything about natural healing, you know often the potion used to heal the illness is made of the same stuff that caused it.

Ugliness, deception, unloving behavior is alive and well at 15th Street, but only if it is veiled, hidden, behind a closed committee room door and whispered amongst friends. Then it's perfectly OK.

The 15th Street Google Group is meetings face to the world, and as such they want it clean and friendly-looking. Under no circumstances should it show its two-faced, unloving heart.

At 7:02 PM, Anonymous Peter G. said...

Rich is not the problem. He tries to do the right thing. It's the entire culture over there now. It's gone rancid. You walk into that meeting house and it looks like the meeting of the damned.
Grim faced, unkempt, unhealthy looking friends for the most part. The building is still decent. But it looks like all the Quakers who built the place have left town.

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

To Anonymous:
Whatever else the google group is, it is not our face to the world. It is an internal communications medium, and only people who are members or attenders or otherwise close to the Meeting are able to join it.

Some people use it to announce events they think will be of general use to Friends, some use it to share personal reflections of one kind or another, some use it to discuss issues. A few have asked that it be limited to announcements of meeting events. Others have asked that it be terminated altogether. The monthly meeting for business will determine whether we continue it under the Meeting's auspices, what guidelines if any will apply to it, and who if anyone will moderate it.

In the meantime I am the temporary moderator and will screen out ONLY insults and personal attacks.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

To Peter G:
Thanks for saying I am trying to do the right thing. I am trying, as I assume most all of us are.

I don't see the Friends at 15th Street in the same way you do. Many of the newer ones I don't know very well yet. When I look at those I do know I almost always see someone who has at some time done an act of kindness to me or others, or who has undertaken a difficult witness at some personal cost. There are some who I know have health problems, some who are going through hard times financially or emotionally, and many who are coping heroically with conditions the world has thrown at them. In general I try not to sit in judgement on anyone's manner of dressing or on how grim they may appear on a given occasion.
I do think it would help if we all spent more time building each other up and less being critical of each other.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Lorcan Otway said...

Censors always seem to be qualifing the what and why, the list of whys is always the self justification of those only doing the banal evil of their jobs, eh Richard?

At 7:56 AM, Blogger Lorcan Otway said...

I am adding Hannah Arendt to thy reading list this month, Richard... it will be on the exam!

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Lorcan Otway said...

You know I love you Richard, but I am just mystified at times at where you direct your talents and attentions and where you turn two blind eyes. The fellow you say I defame has been the subject of not only numerous committee meetings, and meetings for business attempting to call for his fundraising on his own behalf in the name of the meeting to end, but was a major factor in the meeting undertaking talks on Quakers and Money… all of which has led to naught. When the meeting passed a minute saying friends must clear requests for funding on the behalf of committees or individuals in their capacity as representatives of the meeting past the meeting, he and his wife stood aside, the only ones who did. Now he continues to travel around the world on funding he claims he is too poor to have, so we can only assume it is on funding he continues to get from others, and we should know if it is under a claim of work for the meeting… this bothers you not at all, nor the queries I have received from Friends in other meetings asking if he is in fact “crazy” That when anyone questions his financial hijinks, they are put on his and his wife’s hate and hit list, also does not seem to bother you. What bothers you, is a friend saying, enough is enough. We need real discipline in this meeting not petty control games.

At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Peter G. said...

Of course you can never judge books by their covers. But when visiting 15th St after a long while, on a few different occasions, we were struck by the abundance of, as I said before, grim, unkempt, and quite frankly unfriendly people. The second time we actually thought that they'd brought in a homeless shelter group. Which to our mind made it acceptable.

But, we didn't want to join a group where you don't see anyone who looks like they can hold up their end of a conversation, not to mention the monthly monetary monthly contributions and effort an urban meeting requires. In other words, we didn't want to be the only family of means. We do recall shaking Richard's hand. His was the only smiling face we saw.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Lorcan Otway said...

Richard: ... "God said to Moses, 'Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him: Thus says God, the God of the Hebrews: Let My people go, that they may serve Me," and now that thee puts on the mantle of leadership, the crown of the Pharaoh, I say to thee, and those who inflict leadership on the children of light, thus says God, the God of our people, the God of the children of light, Let My people go, that they may serve God.

At 6:00 AM, Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I probably shouldn't let myself get drawn back into this, but I can't resist pointing out to Lorcan that I am not Pharoah any more than he is Moses.

I'm not even a "leader" in the pejorative sense he uses here, just a Friend who accepted a job the meeting gave me (and the abuse that has come along with it).

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