March 19, 2008

Radical inclusion, radical love

Something in me was stirred once again, as it has been stirred in me in recent times... It's the niggle that allows me the chance to consider just what does radical love and radical inclusion look like?

The first time I had that stirring, that niggle, was in the months leading up to the 2007 Midwinter Gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns. That particular February, we met in Greensboro, North Carolina where all branches of Quakerism are represented. It was a confluence of our wider Quaker family, and I feel as though we--the FLGBTQC community--moved beyond being primarily a Liberal community of Quakers, as we met and welcomed into our fold a number of our FUM and Conservative sisters and brothers.

...Or again even more recently at this past Midwinter Gathering, early in 2008, when advance work was done and was sustained throughout the weekend, to increase the likelihood that more of our chemically sensitive sisters and brothers, and more of our transgender/genderqueer sisters and brothers would be more at home among us in more places at the facility where we were...

Now, regarding the actions of FUM's North Carolina Yearly Meeting of laying down a meeting that had affirmed the personhood of people who identify as gay or lesbian:

I admit, while my initial response was "Boo for the yearly meeting; yay for City View Quaker Church," I am thankful to a few Friends whose words remind me of this part of the vision and scope of FLGBTQC:

We are learning that radical inclusion and radical love bring further light to Quaker testimony and life.


When I'm so often away from others who can give me courage to look at my own prejudice and bias, how can I singly live into the promise of radical inclusion and radical love on my own?

When I have no personal relationship with the individuals and groups (who are also my brothers and sisters, distant cousins) who seem to judge unfairly others of us in God's family, how can I do this inward work faithfully and in love?

Wow, do I have work to do.


UPDATE, Fourth Month 2008: I have now posted my own working definition of "radical love." For sure it will continue to evolve as my own experiences change.

March 13, 2008

The birth of an epistle

The first time I heard the word "epistle" was as a young adult attending Milwaukee Meeting. A high school Friend referred to an epistle that had been shared at the meeting some time before that, and I had to ask her what an epistle was.

My Jewish upbringing of course hadn't introduced me to anything about the epistles of the New Testament, and my early involvement in Quakerism hadn't included my attending events from which epistles might be crafted and sent.

It wasn't until I started attending yearly meeting sessions in my late 30s that I became aware of the practice for Friends to send out epistles that reported on the events of those sessions. ...Then again, maybe by then I had heard about the epistles of George Fox at least, even if I hadn't read them.

But my understanding of epistles changed when I was serving on the Central Committee of Friends General Conference. In 2004, that committee of more than 125 Friends from Canada and the U.S. approved sending out an epistle that affirmed that "[our] experience has been that spiritual gifts are not distributed with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity."*

Suddenly, I understood epistles to be a way to lift up matters of the Spirit that reflected, articulated, or otherwise identified a Truth newly revealed to a group of Friends that also needed to be shared with others. I now understood epistles to be a type of witness, from one individual to another; from an individual to a group; or from one group to another group.

Epistles became to me an avenue for Friends to put words to difficult and tender matters--matters that needed additional prayerful consideration by Friends who were somehow geographically, emotionally, or logistically removed from the process or from the event itself that gave rise to the epistle.

So when two fFriends asked me recently what my understanding was of epistles and how they were used, I offered words similar to what I have shared here. Afterwards, one of the two asked if any "outcome" or specific response were expected when sending out an epistle.

I hesitated for a moment. I was searching for the words that would best describe my early and perhaps immature sense of Quaker epistles.

It was one of those moments when you say something that you yourself don't expect to be coming out of your own mouth:

"My understanding is that epistles are about bringing the readers to the Inward Teacher and leaving them there," I said.

But I'm curious: How would others explain what an epistle is, from a Quaker context? What goes into an epistle, and how is it used?


*Click here to read the entire FGC epistle.

March 5, 2008

More about individualism and the corporate nature of Quakerism

NOTE: A slightly different version of these remarks first appeared as a comment in response to the post about individualism on the Friends of Color blog.
I appreciate this dialogue and the many points that Friends have lifted up and have been wrestling with. Thanks, Tania, for opening up a complex topic.

It's true that modern Friends are quick to quote George Fox and consider the relationship between God and the individual:
I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thy condition": and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.
It's also true that we affirm that God can speak directly to any of us, individually, at any time, if we but lay aside our personal ambitions and listen.

George Fox also writes:
Christ has come to teach his people himself.
Where modern Liberal Friends have put emphasis on the individual, other Friends remind us to consider that Christ is teaching us-as-a-people, not us as distinct individuals.

(See Lloyd Lee Wilson's essay "Wrestling with Our Faith Tradition" in his collected writings of the same name or online here, beginning on page 3.)

But there is more to Quakerism than just the belief that God can speak to any of us at any time. I would say that we do an injustice to our faith tradition when we lift up this element above any others.

Perhaps by coincidence but perhaps not, the worship group has begun reading Lloyd Lee's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, and I've just reread a long section that speaks to the "gestalt" of Quakerism (Chapter 2). In that section, Lloyd Lee echoes some of the concern I'm wanting to express:
The faith community as an entity and the individuals who make up the faith community nourish and nurture each other in vital ways... There is a communion with God which takes place in the context of the faith community that can not be replicated in solitude...

There are a number of significant implications of this understanding of Quakerism as a community gestalt; perhaps the most important derives from the fact that a gestalt can not be separated into its component parts without losing its identity. --pp. 20-22; emphasis mine
To me, these words very much speak to the perception that Quakerism focuses on the individual and therefore is an individualistic faith. Not so!

In fact, the importance of maintaining the corporate nature of our faith is stressed to some extent by George Fox, when he exhorts Friends in his 23rd epistle to "keep [our] meetings":
Friends-- Fear not the powers of darkness, but keep your meetings, and meet in that which keeps you over them; and in the power of God ye will have unity.

And dwell in love and unity one with another, and know one another in the power of an endless life, which doth not change...
(emphasis mine)
So I would say that there is an equally strong and relevant place for the corporate body, for worshiping together and not just for keeping the wild ones in check.

It's just that many of us have forgotten about the corporate nature of our faith, or we've downplayed it, or we think we understand it but we really don't, or we begin to scratch the surface of it and wonder how to learn more about it and experience it more fully.

The Quaker gestalt and the corporate nature of Quakerism extends beyond participating in Meeting for Worship and beyond attending Meeting for Worship with attention to Business. It helps point the way for how we interact with one another when we are away from the meetinghouse, when we are laboring with one another in committee work, when we are giving ourselves over to the Light so that we might ourselves be made low and return to the Service to which we are called.

In my case, it's taken me years to begin to grasp the slippery nature of our corporate faith. Also, I find I need to surround myself from time to time with Friends who value this part of our faith: it reminds me that there are multiple dimensions to Quakerism and it brings into balance, to some extent, the two elements of the Quaker gestalt that are most visible to me: the corporate and the individual.

I've mentioned elsewhere the creative tension between the individual and the community, between receiving and testing a leading on our own and bringing that leading to the gathered body (e.g. a clearness committee) for additional testing and discernment.

The trick is that our meetings, as a whole, must be willing to engage in the labor of understanding just how far to tilt the scales, whether it be toward the individual and each of our preferences, beliefs, and practices... or toward the corporate body and our accepted manner of joining together, not only in worship but also in other parts of our active community life.


ADDITIONAL POSTS from The Good Raised Up that continue exploring the corporate nature of Quakerism include:
The slippery nature of a corporate faith
The Great Jigsaw Puzzle
Report about Iowa Conservative's 2006 Midyear Meeting
Understanding what God wants