March 19, 2006

Lost traditions?

At a recent party where nearly all the guests were Friends--and friends or acquaintances of one another--the conversation of course had to ultimately turn to Quakerism.

Among us were twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, and one fortysomething; lifelong Friends, convinced Friends, and relatively new to Friends; Friends who had drifted away from the monthly meeting and Friends who are still very much engaged.

What most struck me were the questions that were raised. Some questions were made outright; others were implied or inferred.

Here's a partial list of what I compiled when I returned home that night:

How do we learn to support each other in our Quakerism when there is no training manual?

How do we hold one another accountable, and just what does that mean exactly?

When Friends seem to value being able to "disappear" or be anonymous in a large meeting, how do we help a meeting (or individual Friends) become okay with "being Known" so we can better care for one another and better tend to the life of the s/Spirit within one another?

How do we teach (or learn) the concept of listening for Truth in what others say?

How do we teach (or learn) the concept that resistance may be an indication of needing to hold a thing tenderly and prayerfully, allowing for the possibility that we ourselves, and our version of "the truth," can be transformed?

How do we teach (or learn) the value and belief that inward transformation is possible; that "giving up" to That Which Is Within Us And Beyond Us is a Quaker discipline which needs to be modeled, practiced, and openly talked about if it is to be retained?

(What do we do if our meetings don't value transformation and yielding to our Inward Teacher?!)

Among unprogrammed Friends, does affirming equality mean not "seeing" difference, including not acknowledging or calling out the gifts or measure of Light that individual Friends may have?

Among unprogrammed Friends, does having no clergy really mean having no ministers?
When I was done writing my questions, I thought about the lost traditions or weakened disciplines that could have addressed these concerns, had they been practiced, modeled, integrated, and talked about over the course of the life of the meeting:

  • Eldership.


  • Accountability.


  • Care and nurture of emerging gifts.


  • Intervisitation.

  • I feel as though these questions are already starting to haunt me. And I feel as though there is a deep, deep hunger that is driving these questions, too. One of the younger, newer Friends said, "I get a lot out of meeting, but I also want more."

    One final question: Now what?

    Blessings,
    Liz

    7 comments:

    Rebecca Sullivan said...

    Liz
    i think this is something that we have to think about and is not always clear what the answer is. my meeting in Santa Cruz California spent the weekend trying to answer some of these questions. i wish i had been able to talk with them more.

    rebecca

    cherice said...

    I think about these things--eldership, accountability, care and nurture of gifts, and intervisitation--often as well, and think they are exactly the things we as a body of Friends need to focus a great deal of attention on.

    An "adult Friend" said a year or two ago at a "young Friend" discussion that when he was a young Friend he noticed that these things often came out of projects that Friends felt drawn to and invested in, things they had discerned they shoudl do and did together as a community. So they didn't just get together for the purpose of building community, drawing out gifts, holding each other accountable, etc., but out of the space of listening and acting together these things emerged. Maybe that's part of the answer...maybe we just need to come together around a common goal and let leadership and connectedness happen out of that concern and action.

    But I too feel the deep desire for these things to be rekindled in our meetings, and it's something young Friends in my home yearly meeting (Northwest) have been spending a lot of time thinking about.

    Anonymous said...

    These questions are pretty tall order -- so many of them, so deep, so problematic, so vital.

    It won't be possible for the community to adequately respond to them, but I think you know that and hope to do some good by waiting for the partial responses which are possible.

    Your last two questions spoke to my condition. Perhaps they're also more tractable than the others. "Among unprogrammed Friends, does affirming equality mean not 'seeing' difference, including not acknowledging or calling out the gifts or measure of Light that individual Friends may have? Among unprogrammed Friends, does having no clergy really mean having no ministers?"

    I would suggest that we all know the answer to the second question is "no." All of us know it, theoretically speaking. But some of us also know this experientially. We know what it means to be a minister, to be positively possessed by "That Which Is Within Us And Beyond Us."

    Which leads to the previous query, concerning the potential for a Meeting to be unable to discern gifts among its members. What a serious and complex problem this is! I can't shed much light on this, but I can say that I believe that one of the most underappreciated parts of the task of Ministry is for the minister to labor with Meeting (or with the Society itself) to recognize a gift, a ministry.

    It can be a long, painful, frustrating, heartbreaking labor.

    And -- this is important to add -- it comes with no guarantee of success, no more than any aspect of life comes with a guarantee.

    It must not be mistaken, however.

    This labor may be part of the calling.

    -- Mitch

    Liz Opp said...

    Rebecca - I am glad to know that your meeting and others are taking up some of these questions. I'd like to think it's all about planting seeds... and being prepared that we ourselves may not be around to see the tree that grows, the flower that blooms, or the fruit that ultimately is produced.

    Cherice - I agree, that one of the most vital things Friends can do is gather formally and informally and listen.

    I find it's tricky to feel my own deep desire for certain things and then be disciplined enough to test and discern if in fact I am being led to a certain task, effort, or action. It is so terribly hard to wait sometimes, inn't?

    Mitch - speaking from recent experience, yes, the labor is heartbreaking. Yet each time I consider laying the d*** thing down--because I'm tired of it, not because God says I may--I feel even sicker.

    Here's something I came across a number of years ago, about guarantees. It was put on our wedding program:

    There are no guarantees.
    From a place of fear, none are strong enough.
    From a place of love, none are needed.


    I need more love, I think.

    Thanks for leaving your comments, Friends.

    Blessings,
    Liz

    Mark Wutka said...

    Liz,
    I got to chat with Lloyd Lee Wilson, a Friend from N.C Yearly Meeting (Conservative) over the weekend and he is a recorded minister in NCYM(C). One thing he pointed out is that recording someone as a minister or an elder is not elevating that person to a place of special importance, but is the meeting entrusting the care of that gift to particular people. While anyone can minister, having the gift of ministry recorded requires faithful stewardship by the minister.

    It is funny, as I look at your list with "Eldership", "Accountability" and "Care and nurture of emerging gifts", it seems that what LLW described has a lot of those elements. He has a "support committee" of Friends to whom he is accountable for his ministry. This committee helps him with discernment about various calls to ministry that he might feel, and also in evaluating whether he has been a faithful steward of his gift - that's what I think "accountability" means when it comes to spiritual gifts.

    Lloyd Lee Wilson has a lot more to say about gifts in his book "Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order" and I am hesitant to try and repeat them here because I fear I will not do them justice.

    I think I have more to say on this, but I am not ready.

    Liz Opp said...

    Mark - I'm glad to hear you had an opportunity to talk with Lloyd Lee. I'm familiar with his book and other forms of his writtten ministry. I am changed inwardly, in part because of his faithfulness and my own search for and discovery of these traditions and disciplines.

    I lift up these questions because these questions are out there, maybe moreso among liberal Friends than among other branches, and that I myself am at a loss with how to respond, other than to engage in these traditions as I learn about them, because they speak to me, they teach me, they are my guideposts along my journey among Friends.

    Blessings,
    Liz

    Robin M. said...

    "I get a lot out of meeting, but I also want more."

    this is my attitude too!

    "I find it's tricky to feel my own deep desire for certain things and then be disciplined enough to test and discern if in fact I am being led to a certain task, effort, or action."

    this IS the hard part for me too, right now!

    "How do we teach (or learn) the value and belief that inward transformation is possible; that "giving up" to That Which Is Within Us And Beyond Us is a Quaker discipline which needs to be modeled, practiced, and openly talked about if it is to be retained?"

    this will be a focus for our Meeting's adult religious education programming for the next year. this is well articulated and helpful. I am copying it down so that I can articulate it to our M&O committee at next month's meeting. Thanks!!!!