Reach up high, clear off the dust, time to get started

It’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing edu­ca­tion learn­ing about insti­tu­tion­al Catholi­cism these past few weeks. I won’t reveal how and what I know, but I think I have a good pic­ture of the cul­ture inside the bishop’s inner cir­cle and I’m pret­ty sure I under­stand his long-term agen­da. The cur­rent lightening-fast clo­sure of sixty-some church­es is the first step of an ambi­tious plan; man­u­fac­tured priest short­ages and soon-to-be over­crowd­ed church­es will be used to jus­ti­fy even more rad­i­cal changes. In about twen­ty years time, the 125 church­es that exist today will have been sold off. What’s left of a half mil­lion faith­ful will be herd­ed into a dozen or so mega-churches, with the­ol­o­gy bor­rowed from gener­ic lib­er­al­ism, style from feel-good evan­gel­i­cal­ism, and orga­ni­za­tion from con­sul­tant cul­ture.

When dioce­san offi­cials come by to read this blog (and they do now), they will smile at that last sen­tence and nod their heads approv­ing­ly. The con­spir­a­cy is real.

But I don’t want to talk about Catholi­cism again. Let’s talk Quak­ers instead, why not? I should be in some meet­ing for wor­ship right now any­way. Julie left Friends and returned to the faith of her upbring­ing after eleven years with us because she want­ed a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty that shared a basic faith and that wasn’t afraid to talk about that faith as a cor­po­rate “we.” It seems that Catholi­cism won’t be able to offer that in a few years. Will she run then run off to the East­ern Ortho­dox church? For that mat­ter should I be run­ning off to the Men­non­ites? See though, the prob­lem is that the same issues will face us wher­ev­er we try to go. It’s mod­ernism, baby. No focused and authen­tic faith seems to be safe from the Forces of the Bland. Lord help us.

We can blog the ques­tions of course. Why would some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture and wants to dis­man­tle its infra­struc­ture become a priest and a career bureau­crat? For that mat­ter why do so many peo­ple want to call them­selves Quak­ers when they can’t stand basic Quak­er the­ol­o­gy? If I want­ed lots of com­ments I could go on blah-blah-blah, but ulti­mate­ly the ques­tion is futile and beyond my fig­ur­ing.

Anoth­er piece to this issue came in some ques­tions Wess Daniels sent around to me and a few oth­ers this past week in prepa­ra­tion for his upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion at Wood­brooke. He asked about how a par­tic­u­lar Quak­er insti­tu­tion did or did not rep­re­sent or might or might not be able to con­tain the so-called “Con­ver­gent” Friends move­ment. I don’t want to bust on any­one so I won’t name the orga­ni­za­tion. Let’s just say that like pret­ty much all Quak­er bureau­cra­cies it’s inward-focused, shal­low in its pub­lic state­ments, slow to take ini­tia­tive and more or less irrel­e­vant to any cam­paign to gath­er a great peo­ple. A more suc­cess­ful Quak­er bureau­cra­cy I could name seems to be doing well in fundrais­ing but is doing less and less with more and more staff and seems more inter­est­ed in donor-focused hype than long-term pro­gram imple­men­ta­tion.

One ene­my of the faith is bureau­cra­cy. Real lead­er­ship has been replaced by con­sul­tants and fundrais­ers. Finan­cial and staffing crises – real and cre­at­ed – are used to jus­ti­fy a water­ing down of the mes­sage. Pro­grams are dri­ven by donor mon­ey rather than clear need and when real work might require con­tro­ver­sy, it’s tabled for the façade of feel-goodism. Quak­er read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers: no I’m talk­ing about Catholics. Catholic read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Catholics: no, I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers. My point is that these forces are tear­ing down reli­gios­i­ty all over. Some cheer this devel­op­ment on. I think it’s evil at work, the Tempter using our leader’s desires for posi­tion and respect and our the desires of our laity’s (for lack of a bet­ter word) to trust and think the best of its lead­ers.

So where does that leave us? I’m tired of think­ing that maybe if I try one more Quak­er meet­ing I’ll find the com­mu­ni­ty where I can prac­tice and deep­en my faith as a Chris­t­ian Friend. I’m stumped. That first batch of Friends knew this feel­ing: Fox and the Pen­ing­tons and all the rest talked about iso­la­tion and about reli­gious pro­fes­sion­als who were in it for the career. I know from the blo­gos­phere and from count­less one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions that there are a lot of us – a lot – who either drift away or stay in meet­ings out of a sense of guilt.

So what would a spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty for these out­sider Friends look like? If we had real vision rather than donor vision, what would our struc­tures look like? If we let the gener­ic church­es go off to out-compete one oth­er to see who can be the bland­est, what would be left for the rest of us to do?

20080608-xcjchpscnwekhsh85kg2hr7nbf.previewI guess this last para­graph is the new revised mis­sion state­ment for the Quak­er part of this blog. Okay kids, get a step stool, go to your meet­ing library, reach up high, clear away the dust and pull out vol­ume one of “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Tak­en from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civ­il and polit­i­cal econ­o­my, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends” by Thomas Clark­son. Yes the 1806 ver­sion, stop the grum­bling. Get out the ribbed pack­ing tape and put its cov­er back togeth­er – this isn’t the frig­ging Library of Con­gress and we’re actu­al­ly going to read this thing. Don’t even waste your time check­ing it out in the meeting’s log­book: no one’s pulled it down off the shelf in fifty years and no one’s going to miss it now. Real­ly stuck?, okay Google’s got it too. Class will start short­ly.

  • Okay — I’m going to read it on Google as I’m a Quak­er with­out a meet­ing and I just don’t have the ener­gy to try out the ONE I have access to in fear I’ll find it dis­ap­point­ing.

  • Mar­tin, I agree with you on this. Insti­tu­tions over the long haul just strip the life out of things, of course it’s not the inten­tion, but I think it is what hap­pens. You know I agree we need a new vision too, the same ol’ same ol’ is killing me. I look for­ward to read­ing a long too with you.

  • Oh, and what can you tell us about this dude?

  • AliceM

    I think ‘find­ing a meet­ing’ might be over­rat­ed. What would it be like instead to just start in your street, your area, gath­er togeth­er a group of peo­ple who want to try the rad­i­cal sim­ple Quak­er way of liv­ing with God? Reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the found­ing charism. Just a thought.

  • Alice said: “What would it be like instead to just start in your street, your area, gath­er togeth­er a group of peo­ple who want to try the rad­i­cal sim­ple Quak­er way of liv­ing with God? Reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the found­ing charism.”
    I’m hip to that idea, I’ve actu­al­ly been a part of group like this and it was incred­i­ble.

  • Oh goody. A webi­nar on ancient Quak­er prac­tices.
    Are we going to start with a dis­cus­sion of mar­riage? I’m in!
    On one hand, I’m clear that I’m hap­py with my month­ly meet­ing. It’s not per­fect, but it’s try­ing. Oppor­tu­ni­ties to grow in the Light and to prac­tice Jesus’s teach­ings are a nor­mal part of it.
    On the oth­er hand, I now live 12 miles away, instead of around the cor­ner or on a direct trol­ley line, and I’m poten­tial­ly inter­est­ed in start­ing some­thing clos­er.

  • Nate Swift

    “Oh, and what can you tell us about this dude?”
    Thomas Clark­son was not a Quak­er, but worked close­ly with Quak­ers for many years in his efforts for the abo­li­tion of the slave trade, and seems to have devel­oped an inter­est in what drove all those Quak­ers to be so active in such social caus­es.

  • Jeff

    Sounds great! I’m in the midst of Barclay’s “Apol­o­gy” right now, but shouldn’t take me *too* long to catch up with the read­ing.
    An apple for the teacher,
    -Jeff (South Jer­sey ex-patriot)

  • No I will NOT leave Catholi­cism, even though it appears that some of the pow­ers that be in the Dio­cese have. How­ev­er, depend­ing on how this whole thing plays out, there’s the pos­si­bil­i­ty of leav­ing the dio­cese to attend a church that is accept­able, or even leav­ing ROMAN Catholi­cism for anoth­er RITE, like the Byzan­tine rite, which is of course still Catholic and under the author­i­ty of His Holi­ness Pope Bene­dict XVI. Catholicism’s still Catholi­cism, Christianity’s still Chris­tian­i­ty, and God’s still God, whether cer­tain dioce­san author­i­ties acknowl­edge it or not. It just becomes hard­er to explain and jus­ti­fy one’s faith when, from with­in, there is seri­ous mis­un­der­stand­ing and mis­in­for­ma­tion, when heresy is being pro­mot­ed from on high. But we must remem­ber Matthew 16:18 “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not pre­vail against it.” SHALL NOT. We must take God at His word and stay on the bark of Peter. Amaz­ing­ly, the Church has seen worse than the likes of Bish­op Galante and sur­vived. Just want­ed to clear that up.

  • Sounds like fun. Not sure whether our meet­ing has Clark­son in our library, but I’ll check. The Google link you pro­vid­ed begins w vol­ume 2 — hence Robin’s excite­ment about mar­riage, which is a fun­ny place to start, it seems to me — was that inten­tion­al, Mar­tin?
    I’ve read ch 1 – 2 already. What delight­ful clar­i­ty of expres­sion and think­ing, is my first thought.…

    • cath

      AliceM said:
      I think ‘find­ing a meet­ing’ might be over­rat­ed. What would it be like instead to just start in your street, your area, gath­er togeth­er a group of peo­ple who want to try the rad­i­cal sim­ple Quak­er way of liv­ing with God? Reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the found­ing charism. Just a thought.
       — — -
      Thank you for post­ing this! I wish more Friends were thinking/acting on this con­cept (I know some are, but I wish more were). I’m work­ing my way there, myself.
      Cath

  • Craig

    I sup­pose I’m one of the lucky ones. The Month­ly Meet­ing to which I belong is quite Chris­to­cen­tric for the most part. When my part­ner and I want to be “über-Conservative”, we attend West Grove Meet­ing (http://​west​grove​friend​snc​.org/​d​e​f​a​u​l​t​.​a​spx) in Snow Camp. There, it is not too uncom­mon to have such read­ings as the “Let­ter to the Gov­er­nor of Bar­ba­dos” after Meet­ing for Wor­ship.
    All this AND they recent­ly put a wel­com­ing state­ment on their web­site stat­ing they are “Open and Affirm­ing.” Now, if they’d only get indoor bath­rooms and air con­di­tion­ing.
    It sad­dens my heart that there are folks like your­self that can’t find a Meet­ing in which they feel com­fort­able (that invi­ta­tion to move to NC is still open). I have no advise on what to do oth­er than to let you know you con­tin­ue to be in my prayers. And don’t you DARE go the way of Rome (just pick­ing Julie).
    What strength­ens my faith is read­ing the old Friends’ works such as “The Jour­nal of John Wilber” and “The Jour­nal of Joseph Hoag”. They wres­tled with some of the very things you wres­tle with today. It lets me know you, we, are not alone…we are sur­round­ed by “so great a cloud of wit­ness­es”.
    God bless ya, Mar­tin. Glad to see you’re back to doing some reg­u­lar bloging.
    Love and peace,
    Craig

  • So why turn to an outsider’s descrip­tion of the vis­i­ble exter­nals of the Quak­er move­ment some time ago?
    If you want to have what the ear­ly Friends had, do what they did! Turn to the Spir­it that lives in us, which does new things because it is intrin­si­cal­ly cre­ative, bureaucrat-repellant, and able even to heal the bland!
    The men­tal­i­ty we need to strug­gle with is all-pervasive & dead­ly! It is right under our noses, and in them! And so very rea­son­able…
    What do you do when faced with a deci­sion? Sit down and think about what’s like­ly to be most effec­tive? Thou are a Mod­ern! (And obvi­ous­ly, it is not only par­tic­u­lar­ly clue­less peo­ple who suf­fer from that con­di­tion!)
    God is present, and avail­able for con­sul­ta­tion, charg­ing no more for his ser­vices than all you have and are! You can’t use him to for­ward your plans… but if he uses you, remark­able things hap­pen! Quak­erism with­out the knowl­edge of divine guid­ance and help is a dead husk – but you don’t need to be Quak­er to live in that knowl­edge!

  • Mar­tin, your words
    Let’s just say that like pret­ty much all Quak­er bureau­cra­cies it’s inward-focused, shal­low in its pub­lic state­ments, slow to take ini­tia­tive and more or less irrel­e­vant to any cam­paign to gath­er a great peo­ple.
    made me think of a recent New York­er arti­cle about the impend­ing fall of con­ser­vatism.
    Pat Buchanan was less polite, para­phras­ing the social crit­ic Eric Hof­fer: “Every great cause begins as a move­ment, becomes a busi­ness, and even­tu­al­ly degen­er­ates into a rack­et.”
    So then my ques­tion back is, how do you insti­tu­tion­al­ize change? Because that’s what’s need­ed to keep the momen­tum of the Spir­it alive.
    But that’s the conun­drum. Change, by its very nature, is opposed to insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion.
    I won’t be par­tic­i­pat­ing in your study group, but I’ll keep check­ing back here to see what mod­ern Friends have to say about Clarkson’s words.