December 6, 2017

Requiring membership dues?! and a minute on racism and white supremacy

NOTE: This post is based on something I put in a Facebook group in Eleventh Month 2017. 

For weeks, I have been shaking my head in sadness and disbelief at the fact that at least two monthly meetings in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have insensitively sent letters to low-income Friends, asking (telling?) them that they owe membership dues of several hundred dollars or more. How is this in keeping with the practice of not requiring tithes?

Then I went looking for the "dues" of Abington Meeting, since that is one meeting where I've heard of these letters going out. (I don't know if these fees are called "dues" or something else.)

Before I found what I was looking for on the meeting's website, I had to click on the link about Benjamin Lay. I was so glad to see an excerpt from an approved minute from Quakers in North London in the U.K., naming racism and white supremacy! Such minutes are a start.

Once we name an injustice, we can see the injustice--and vice versa. Once we name and see an injustice, we can begin to respond to it. Once we respond to an injustice, we can begin to work to prevent it. Once we prevent an injustice, we can work toward healing. As we work toward healing, we can build the treasured multiracial community we yearn for.

  • See injustice --> Name it
  • Name the injustice --> Respond to it
  • Respond to injustice --> Work to prevent similar injustice
  • Prevent similar injustice --> Work toward healing 
  • See, name, and build on the healing --> Build multiracial community

But if we are conditioned by our Quaker communities and by the wider society to ignore or make invisible an injustice, let alone never name it and to stay silent around it, we will have lost a bit of our shared humanity.

Here's the language of the minute from North London Area Quakers.

"In the UK, the North London Area Meeting minute, Agreed on 18 November 2017 reads as follows:
Quakers are proud of the times in history we have been ahead of our time on progressive social issues – but preceding those moments, there have often been long periods when we have not walked the path we would later understand to be the just one. At a time when racism seems as present and ugly as ever – both globally and nationally – and the structures of white supremacy are being defended and strengthened by powerful forces in our societies, this seems a timely moment for North London Area Meeting to reflect on its involvement in the struggle for racial justice.
"North London Area Meeting recognises Benjamin Lay’s dedication to equality – and his willingness to repeatedly speak his messages of Truth. We also recognise Benjamin Lay as being a Friend of the Truth – and as being in unity with the spirit of our Area Meeting. We ask our Clerking team to write to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Abington Monthly Meeting and Southern East Anglia Area Meeting (successor to Colchester; Coggeshall Monthly Meeting) to clarify that Lay is in good standing with North London Area Meeting (successor to Devonshire House Monthly Meeting).”


A little more digging turns up the "Basic guidelines for giving" at Abington Meeting. That said, this is such a clear case of good intention ("for the upkeep and continued vitality" of the meeting) and harmful impact (lower income Friends feeling either pressured to give beyond their means or feeling/believing that if they cannot contribute at the "suggested" level, their membership could be revoked--if already a member--or blocked/slowed if they wish to pursue membership in the future.)

It is not lost on me that one meeting within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting listed as an excuse that they terminated its only Friend of Color's membership in part because the Friend didn't contribute financially to the meeting. That sounds to me like requiring a form of tithes, which Friends have eschewed; it goes against the Quakerism I have practiced in the midwestern United States; and it goes against the oft-quoted Scripture about how we are all of one body, and all that we bring to the community are gifts of the Spirit.

The more I see and name injustices, such as implying that members of our meetings "ought" to contribute financially at a certain level, the more I see how Friends carry out injustice in a manner that is not so very different from what occurs outside of our Quaker communities.


November 27, 2017

Queries that help me dig deeper

A few weeks ago, I posted about the queries that Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) uses.  That post was prompted by some writing that my Quaker friend Jeff Kisling has done, especially about the possibility of updating the regional body's treasured queries. On Facebook, as part of a go-around that a few of us were doing to put words to queries that might be more appropriate to today, I replied with this:

When God and I query myself during times of struggle or of spiritual desert, many times the query is 
“Have I experienced something like this before? If so, what helped and what hindered? Am I able to do more of what worked and avoid what didn’t?” 
Another go-to query for me, especially around justice work, has been 
“If I am not clear on the Way forward and yet there is a clear injustice being committed [including inaction/absence of witness], where is the Way open that I might act or address the injustice?” 
One Conservative-leaning Quaker friend of mine often lifts that sort of query up as “What is mine (or ours) to do?”

I also want to be explicit that these personal queries I’ve written here seldom appear/occur/are Given to me in this manner. More often, they are Given to me as a singular piece, in my heart, wordless, until I sit long enough and they exercise me and convict me inwardly.

Along those lines, another query that rises in me from time to time is 
“Where do I understand that my good intentions have had harmful impacts, across race, social class, gender, ability, age, and the like? What is required of me to repair the harm and to help me avoid such behavior and transform such attitudes going forward?”
I’m also aware that queries that work for me and are Given to me may not speak to the condition of anyone else. I think that may go without saying.

So many important, life-giving considerations to hold, reflect on, and act upon, as Way opens...


November 19, 2017

Sexual harassment, Al Franken, and a Quaker view

Amidst revelations about sexual assault by one of our Minnesota senators, I stand with Al Franken. Here’s my first go at explaining why.*

In my life, Native Americans ask us white people to return the stolen land to them, to safeguard it from the Black Snake, and to honor the treaties. More and more of us white people are acknowledging our complicity in widespread oppression of indigenous people and are working to do as the Native community asks, as part of our penance and reconciliation. We don’t do it perfectly or immediately or all at once. We begin and keep going.

In my life, Black Americans ask us white people to turn up when there’s police brutality and another Black person is murdered by cops; to work to end mass incarceration and predatory lending, to address systemic disparities in education, employment, and home ownership. More and more of us white people are acknowledging our complicity in widespread oppression and are working to do as the Black community asks as part of our penance and reconciliation. We don’t do it perfectly or immediately or all at once. We begin and keep going.

As a Quaker, in my faith tradition, we believe in continuing revelation—the ability to understand more and more of how we are intended to lead our lives and are able to see more and more of God’s Truth as time goes by. We begin and keep going.

We also believe that it is the Loving Principle that brings a person into redemption, and that we are required to “answer that of God” in anyone we come in contact with who is falling short, has “missed the mark.”

I stand with Al Franken because his actions today—admitting his sexual misconduct; asking for an ethics probe; and working on a bill to address rape—indicate to me that as a man, he is working to repair the lives of women harmed by his and others’ sexual misconduct, rather than remain complicit in male supremacy.

Personally, I believe that we women want men to be sharing the burden of addressing and challenging sexism, don't we?

Could Al Franken have done more? or done better sooner? Yes.

So could I, in my anti-racism and anti-classism work.

I seem to be in a different place around Al Franken than many other Minnesotans. As I see it, we are all on our journey of accepting, rejecting, or delaying redemption, reconciliation, and repair for the harm we’ve caused.

I can be mad at and disappointed in Al Franken, and at the same time, I can hold him accountable and press him to do more, to do better, to keep going.


*This post is based heavily on my own post on Facebook about this topic. 

November 15, 2017

Renewed justice work (Fall 2017)

There are two justice-related issues I am dedicating some time and energy to currently.

One is related to what a queer Black UU [BLUU] organizer is calling "returning stolen wealth," in this case to African American organizers and activists who are carrying crushing student loan debt. (My spouse and I are also participating in other, less organized activities for reparations related to stolen land and the indigenous community.)

The other is exploring role Quakers could play, if any, in ending the practice of corrupted and inhumane solitary confinement--since solitary confinement--and penitentiaries themselves--are cruel distortions of what they were originally intended for. I heard that a Jewish group to which I'm connected in the Twin Cities might begin to tackle this issue, and this might be an important opportunity for local Friends to engage and partner in as well.

Thanks to Friend Marshall Massey for sharing with me his knowledge of some of the early history of Friends with prison reform and solitary confinement. Much of his remarks to me in an email are mirrored in the story about solitary confinement, from 2006, linked above.

I'm hoping my energy keeps going, though with our government's extreme dysfunction the way it is, I'm in and out of slogging my way through the days and weeks, staying connected mostly through social media and a few face-to-face visits with justice-oriented F/friends.