August 17, 2007

IYM(C) 2007, part III:
Marshall Massey

The final post of the 2007 series on the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

In addition to looking forward to attending the business sessions, I was also eager and curious to hear Marshall Massey speak to the yearly meeting about his 2006 walk and journey* from Omaha, Nebraska to Baltimore Yearly Meeting's annual sessions, held in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Marshall was invited to be a plenary speaker, sharing what he was given during his trek.

Since Marshall and I had met each other during other IYM(C) events and annual sessions, it was easy to spot him when I arrived at Scattergood, and we shared a few meals together during the week.

Prior to his evening address, he explained to me that he would be changing into a suit and tie--which really caught me off-guard. Since during our meals together, Marshall had already made it clear to me how much he values honesty and directness, I took a breath and said something like, "A suit and tie? That doesn't seem very humble, Marshall." (My guess is that Marshall may remember more precisely what I said... UPDATE: Check Marshall's comment for more about dress among Friends.)

Marshall took the time to explain to me that Conservative Friends--perhaps other Friends as well--used to dress differently... I can't remember now if he said "for all the evening sessions" or "when they gave a presentation to the body." In the end, since Marshall has been among IYM(C) for a number of years longer than I have (!), I let it go and would wait to see how Friends would respond that evening.

Well, for one thing, when I saw Marshall that night, I realized that what I had pictured when he had said "suit and tie" was a business executive would wear: a power suit, navy blue, maybe even double-breasted, a red tie to boot. Instead, he was dressed in a casual suit and his tie was certainly not red. I let it go and settled in.

Marshall began by explaining that his task as he understood it was to "render an account of the journey"--to make himself accountable to the yearly meeting that had provided him a travel minute, and not just tell a story of how he got from one place to another. Then he lifted up two questions from early Friends (CORRECTION by Marshall: from Fran Taber) by which his sharing would be framed:

How has the Lord dealt with thee since last we met?


What is the teaching given thee for us?
Marshall spoke about the invitation he received from Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Environmental Committee, to help the committee bring forward its environmental concerns to the attention of the yearly meeting.

He also explained why he was considered in the first place to be a plenary speaker, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he had been first a plenary speaker for Pacific Yearly Meeting and then a plenary speaker during the FGC Gathering, both in the mid- and late-1980s, addressing a similar concern about care for the earth and the environment.

In describing a bit about his discernment process as it related to making the trek to Virginia where sessions would be held, Marshall explained that he heard from the Spirit: "If you walk the distance, you will be given what you need to say."

And Marshall did his best to be faithful and obedient to that prompt.

Marshall broke his trek down into three parts: He spoke about the first part of his trek was focused on walking and on being with God. The second part was more about listening, listening to God. And the third part was about preparing, focusing on the query, What have I been given to share with Baltimore Yearly Meeting?

He spoke plainly about his body giving out and his need to complete his trek by car, but in such a way that he still was doing a fair amount of walking. "The obedience mattered more than the form of the walk," Marshall offered.

The one thing that has stayed with me, as Marshall described some of the experiences he had, meeting with small groups of Friends as he traveled, is that individual changes in behavior is not enough to change the course we are on in regards to care for the earth and the environment.
"We need to think very carefully about corporate witness," Marshall said. "Because a community that lives together can model for others what is possible."
He referenced the small community in northeastern Iowa that is living completely off the grid, living a life of voluntary simplicity. (One or two nights earlier, we had heard from a couple who is part of both IYM(C) and this off-the-grid community.)

He also offered five possibilities for a corporate witness towards caring for the earth and for the environment:
  • Provide for full-time lobbying on behalf of Quakers for environmental stewardship, much in the same manner as Friends Committee on National Legislation does for legislative prioritizing.

  • Provide for television ads about "the way out" of our current environmental downward spiral. (Marshall specifically mentioned "ads on Fox TV")

  • Begin to lay the foundations now for how to help the future's homeless population, as more natural disasters devastate more of our country and leave more of the land unliveable.

  • Create programs to get our society away from dependence on fossil fuels and the grid.

  • Re-do community housing in such a way so as to include wildlife shelters and natural habitats for all God's creation.
  • (Marshall, I invite you to correct or expand on these five points: you obviously said much more than what I was able to take down in my notebook...)

    What stayed with me is not so much these five specific possibilities for witnessing as a faith community. Rather, what stayed with me is the realization that if we continue to act as individuals but live in the same overall paradigm; if we continue only to conserve energy and conserve fuel, we are still ultimately driving on the same highway heading to the same perilous cliff. It's just that we are driving there at a much slower speed, but the end we will meet is the same.

    What Marshall lifts up is that we need to get off the road entirely. And not just one by one. We will need each other to model the way forward and to offer support as we go through major changes in lifestyle, in consumerism, in energy consumption.

    If I am left on my own to adapt to a situation that forever seems "over there" and disconnected from myself, I will be less likely to change my ways. But if I am part of a community-wide effort and have support to adapt to an entirely new way of life, in response to a situation that is "right here," I will be more likely to get onboard and be successful in changing and adapting.

    It's a bit of a daunting challenge, and Marshall did well to encourage us to think of where might be "a nucleus of a wider community that could bear witness" to how to live in a self-sustaining community. Some Friends immediately thought of Scattergood itself as being close to that sort of public witness, much like the small community in northeastern Iowa.

    He also reminded us loaves and fishes: We often have more resources than we think, if we but look around and see the world with new glasses.

    My own sense, though, is that there is more for IYM(C), for myself, and for many other faith communities around the globe to hear and experience before we make the necessary paradigm shift. We have not yet had that conversion experience that will lead us to the required "conversion of manners." But sometimes the necessary shift is arrived at by intermediate changes and cumulative experiences, that suddenly "add up" to a new way of being.

    I personally will count Marshall Massey's address among those experiences for myself. I have been given something important to think about and to grow into...


    *Entries are in reverse chronological order.

    Iowa Conservative Sessions 2007, Part I and Part II
    Learning the game Telephone Pictionary at 2007 sessions of IYM(C)


    Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

    Dear Liz, I feel flattered by your attention to my talk!

    Let me speak, if I may, to a few of your points, in the order in which you bring them up.

    First, as regards the suit and tie — not so long ago, indeed as recently as the 1960s, it was pretty much the rule for Friends to dress for meeting for worship every blessed First Day in Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes, which meant a decent (not fancy) suit and tie for men and a decent (not fancy) dress for women. Even as that old dress code broke down, Friends who were invited to give talks or presentations continued to "dress" for them. Indeed, when Gordon Browne of FWCC came to make a presentation to Iowa (Conservative)'s midyear meeting just a few years back, he came in suit and tie.

    Wearing a suit and tie in such circumstances was not regarded as a violation of plain dress. It was, after all, a plain suit and tie, not something showy. But wearing a suit and tie signified a respect for the gravity of the occasion, in which Friends were gathering to meet their Maker, the One who reproved their wrongdoings as a Voice in the place of conscience.

    My own observation was that in the Seventies and Eighties, as the old dress code broke down, some of the sense of gravity was forgotten as well. With more casual dress came more casual attitudes. And as we can see in some of the Quaker blogs, there are now many liberal unprogrammed Friends who do not believe in God-their-Maker at all, and do not regard meeting for worship as being for the express purpose of meeting Him. The combination of such disbelief and casualness has not, I think, served our meetings very well.

    Under such circumstances, I personally feel that wearing the suit and tie for my formal presentations does something healthy. It works on the minds of those attending the event as a reminder of the gravity of the occasion, and silently, very gently reproves any levity that the members of the audience might carry in with them. It also suggests that when I stand to speak, I'm doing so by the old rules — speaking in continuous sober awareness that our divine Friend and Judge is present with us, and that we are continuously accountable to Him for what we decide and do — and it invites the audience to listen to my words in something of that same sober awareness.

    Now, the two traditional questions, "How has the LORD dealt with thee since last we met?" and "What is thy teaching for us this day?", are questions I learned from Fran Taber, of Ohio Yearly Meeting. Fran did not say they were from early Quaker times, but she did say they were traditional among Conservative Friends in decades past. I have come to love these two questions more and more each year; they are the gentlest way I know of helping an unseasoned Friend to get in the habit of perceiving her or his life as an ongoing conversation with God, and of drawing on that divine conversation in her teaching ministry.

    The five possibilities for a corporate witness are set out on my web site at If you are already familiar with tinyurl, then all you need to remember (or write down) is the "2c2s68" part. You will note that this list of five possibilities appears on my site at the end of a journal entry that sets the list in context.

    Many thanks for the care you took in repeating one of the central points I was making — that we cannot just make minor changes in our individual lives, as we are doing now; that we have to, corporately, replace the old community structures within which we all live with a new and quite different set. I do believe you put it better than I did! "[Right now] we are ultimately driving on the same highway headed to the same cliff. It's just that [as a result of making minor changes in our lives] we are driving there more slowly.... We need to get off the road entirely." Very nice!

    Yes, it's a daunting challenge. It's daunting for me, too. But I don't think it would be hard for our yearly meeting, or any yearly meeting for that matter, to rise to the occasion.

    All the meeting would need to do is to agree, in the presence of its Maker (who reproves our wrongdoings, remember) that the time has come to act corporately, as a matter of turning away from the road to destruction — and set up working committees, and start proceeding accordingly. If the meeting does that, all the rest will follow very naturally, and we'll feel very, very good about it.

    Liz Opp said...

    Thanks, Marshall, for "filling in the blanks" and for the gentle correction about where you learned of those two particular queries. I've added notes directly in the post for clarification.

    I also appreciate the depth with which you talk about the use of a different style of dress and from where that comes. As usual, you have given more something to consider more carefully.

    I trust our paths will cross again...


    Paul L said...

    When I first read Liz's comment on Marshall's suit-and-tie attire I was immediately reminded of what was probably the first plenary session I ever attended at FGC at my first Gathering in 1983: It was Gordon Browne speaking, and he was indeed in a tie and coat. But I remember the first thing he did after being introduced was to make some kind of a joke about wearing the tie so as not to be confused with riff-raff, and since the Friend who introduced him was certainly not riff-raff and wasn't wearing a tie, he thought he'd dispense of his own and dramatically, and humorously, took it off.

    So it's funny to me that Marshall uses Gordon as an example of a Friend who (still) dresses more formally while speaking to a formal meeting.

    Although I tend to not give much attention to what I wear to meeting, I do recall African American friends telling me many years ago that they would never consider going to a church where people didn't dress as if it was important to them. It does make me wonder. . . .

    Palace of Leaves said...

    Thank you for this interesting post. The suit and tie issue reminds me of the cold shoulder I have gotten in two specific situations mentioning unusual choices among Friends (where I was employed and living in a gated community). I didn't have a chance to explain myself before being categorized as irresponsible, which was pretty funny.

    Once people explain the reasons behind their choices it makes them much easier to understand, doesn't it? Yet at first we only see what's on the surface and attach our own meanings to it.

    Nancy A said...

    Isn't it strange how something outward, like a suit and tie, becomes something we focus on? This would be a notion in Fox's and Fell's sense. Yet we can't quite shake off the sense that it somehow matters.

    Suits and ties do distress me. I am just suddenly aware of that. I think for me, the suit has become a symbol of some aspects of our culture that are suspect, power-over, uncaring. Paternalism, patriarchy, control.

    And yet, it is just cloth.

    I remember a gentle old-lady activist in our community, who died a few years back. Whenever we were heading out to a protest or demonstration, she used to advise us to "wear our pearls".

    Liz Opp said...

    Thanks to Nancy A and to the author of A Palace of Leaves for dropping by.

    Both of your comments speak to me about the importance of taking time to have a meaningful relationship (or at least a meaningful interaction) with someone whose words, conduct, or appearance may at first be off-putting.

    It did not surprise me to find out that there were in fact reasons and experiences entwined with Marshall's decision to address the YM in a suit and tie. And now those reasons and experiences are a part of my continued Quaker education, thanks in large part to the Quaker blogosphere.