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?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.
What is the teaching given thee for us?
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:
(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...)
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.
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.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
Iowa Conservative Sessions 2007, Part I and Part II
Learning the game Telephone Pictionary at 2007 sessions of IYM(C)