The new issue of Friends Journal is available online. This month looks at Giving and Philanthropy. There's some good reflections from Friends on why they give to the causes and institutions they do. There's also a nice piece from Quaker fundraiser Henry Freeman on the "language of Quaker values." If you're trying to unpack what it means to be Quaker, this on-the-ground perspective is one way to parse out the reality of Quaker testimonies.
Over on Nontheist Friends website, there’s an article looking back at ten years of FGC Gathering workshops on their concern. There was also a post somewhere on the blogosphere (sorry I don’t remember where) by a Pagan Friend excited that this year’s Gathering would have a workshop focused on their concerns.
It’s kind of interesting to look at the process by which new theologies are being added into Liberal Quakerism at an ever-increasing rate.
- Membership of individuals in meetings. There are hundreds of meetings in liberal Quakerism that range all over the theological map. Add to that the widespread agreement that theological unity with the meeting is not required and just about anyone believing anything could be admitted somewhere (or “grandfathered in” as a birthright member).
- A workshop at the Friends General Conference Gathering and especially a regular workshop at successive Gatherings. Yet as the very informed comments on a post a few years ago showed, theology is not something the planning workshop committee is allowed to look at and at least one proponent of a new theology has gotten themselves on the deciding committee. The Gathering is essentially built on the nondenominational Chautaqua model and FGC is perfectly happy to sponsor workshops that are in apparent conflict with its own mission statement.
- An article published in Friends Journal. When the the Quaker Sweat Lodge was struggling to claim legitimacy it all but changed its name to the “Quaker Sweat Lodge as featured in the February 2002 Friends Journal.” It’s a good magazine’s job to publish articles that make people think and a smart magazine will know that articles that provoke a little controversy is good for circulation. I very much doubt the editorial team at the Journal considers its agreement to publish to be an inoculation against critique.
- A website and listserv. Fifteen dollars at GoDaddy.com and you’ve got the web address of your dreams. Yahoo Group is free.
There are probably other mechanisms of legitimacy. My point is not to give comprehensive guidelines to would-be campaigners. I simply want to note that none of the actors in these decisions is consciously thinking “hey, I think I’ll expand the definition of liberal Quaker theology today.” In fact I expect they’re mostly passing the buck, thinking “hey, who am I to decide anything like that.”
None of these decision-making processes are meant to serve as tools to dismiss opposition. The organizations involved are not handing out Imprimaturs and would be quite horrified if they realized their agreements were being seen that way. Amy Clark, a commenter on my last post, on this summer’s reunion and camp for the once-young members of Young Friends North America, had a very interesting comment:
I agree that YFNA has become FGC: those previously involved in YFNA have taken leadership with FGC … with both positive and negative results. Well … now we have a chance to look at the legacy we are creating: do we like it?
I have the feeling that the current generation of liberal Quaker leadership doesn’t quite believe it’s leading liberal Quakerism. By “leadership” I don’t mean the small skim of the professional Quaker bureaucracy (whose members can get _too_ self-inflated on the leadership issue) but the committees, clerks and volunteers that get most of the work done from the local to national levels. We are the inheritors of a proud and sometimes foolish tradition and our actions are shaping its future but I don’t think we really know that. I have no clever solution to the issues I’ve outlined here but I think becoming conscious that we’re creating our own legacy is an important first step.
C Wess Daniels has a good “post following up the Quaker Heritage Day events”:http://gatheringinlight.com/2007/03/08/learning-a-new-language-while-building-a-house-reflections-on-quaker-heritage-day/ last weekend in Berkeley. The featured speaker was Brian Drayton, a New England Friend in the liberal unprogrammed tradition who’s been doing a lot of good work around reclaiming traditionally-minded Quaker ministry (at least that’s how _I’d_ pigeon-hole him from afar, I’ve never actually met him!).
The tragedies were reflections not on the power of nature but on the power of our human disregard for one another.
When the ramparts of New Orleans burst and flooded its streets and homes, I was at a hospital preparing to welcome a child. As my partner and I celebrated new life we saw images of people trapped in attics, heard tales of loved ones swept away as they sought to protect their children. We watched other new parents and their vulnerable children caught without food, water or services in a city suddenly unable to operate.
The tragedies show our human disregard. The trapped were almost all African American. They were almost all poor. Stories on the news – shot-at helicopters, mass violence in the Convention center – reflected America’s racist imagination more than reality. The levees failed because our political leaders ignored the recommendations of government engineers and scientists and slashed spending on storm protection. Even the hurricane itself was supercharged by a century of burning fossil fuels, our disregard for nature and our stonewalling over the reality of global warming.
A favorite image of pacifists comes from a line in the Book of Isaiah, that part in that talks about beating the swords into plowshares. But surrounding passages have been echoing in my ears lately. Like this one:
bq. Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hatest; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.… Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings before mine eyes; cease to do evil. Learn to do well; seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, please for the widow. Isaiah 1:13 – 17.
The righteous indigation that followed the images from New Orleans is fading. Life is returning to normal in Washington DC and the high costs of recovery (and the continuing costs of Bush’s wars) will be shifted to the poor. We cannot stay silent to the vain oblations of our government. It is time to do well and protect the poor. It is time to relieve the oppressed and demand justice for the human decisions that led to broken levees.
This isn’t all finger-pointing: we each need to seek a self-judgement about our American lifestyles that have fuelled global warming with its consumeristic disregard for consequences. We need to depend upon each other more, seek a community deeper and more interlaced than that offered by Walmart and McDonalds. We are all part of one another, part of the earth and brethren to our human family. We need to gather together as a people who know that government and consumerism alone can never address our society’s deepest needs and that vain oblations alone will do nothing to put away the evil of our doings. We need to get angry and sing a song of change. We need more Isaiahs.
A guest piece by “Melynda Huskey”:mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
When I was a kid, I yearned for plain dress like the kids in Obadiah’s family wore. I loved the idea of a Quaker uniform and couldn’t imagine why we didn’t still have one… And now, at nearly 40, after 35 years of balancing my convictions and my world, I’m still hankering after a truly distinctive and Quakerly plainness.