20 December 2009

Community and Individualism

This morning I was snowed in, and unable to get to Meeting for Worship.  I'm always sad when this happens, because I have come to rely deeply on the time spent in corporate silence, to direct my life and focus me for the week ahead.  Why, you ask?  It is because I believe deeply that one cannot live a life of integrity and wholeness devoid of community.

I found this video on youtube this morning, (The Myth of the Individual, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dI4KIos7tuU)  as I was searching for a sort of community with my fellow Friends via Quakerquaker and a variety of other social connection sites.  Parker Palmer talks here about the paradox of community and individualism; that one cannot exist without the other.  In order to bring ourselves into community, he says, we must bring ourselves, our whole individual self, to the table.  This short conversation is well worth listening to as a foundation for your own silent meditation.

I have mostly approached this conversation as a dialectic for our societal culture of individualism.  I want to call to Friends to stand strong and vocal in their communities, to call others to join in, and to speak out in our individualistic society for the need for community.  I have said that I feel that community is the single most powerful tool Quakers bring to the table, whether the conversation be about peace, ecopolitics, world hunger, or any other social justice issue. 

What Parker Palmer speaks about is the paradox of individualism and community:  that one cannot exist without the other.  In fact, a conversation about being a strong individual has no merit spoken in a vacuum.  What he points out is the strength of the many individuals discerned in corporate worship; that in the practice of sharing our silence, we begin to be able to discern the greater good that can be found.

I don't want to digress from this message in too much conversation here.  Rather I would encourage you to listen to Parker's message and spend some time with me in silence.  Then bring to the conversation what you have heard from the Greater Good, the Light within.

05 December 2009

Talk to me about True Community

"The great danger in our utopian dreams of community is that they lead us to want association with people just like ourselves. Here we confront the third myth of community -- that it will be an extension and expansion of our own egos, a confirmation of our own partial view of reality. But in true community we do not choose our companions. Instead, they are given to us by grace. In fact, true community might be defined as that place where the person we least want to live with always lives!"
Parker Palmer, A Place Called Community
Pendle Hill Pamphlet

For a long time, I have been thinking about Friends Community.  In fact, it was the fact that Friends were a 'Religious Society' that played a large part in my feeling this was where I belonged spiritually.  Something inside of me has railed against the notion of rugged individualism, since I was too young to know what that meant.  As I came to understand the concept of ongoing revelation, I came to understand that Spirit had been leading me for a long time regarding this issue.  

In seminary, I was studying pastoral counseling, and I was searching for a way to talk about spirituality and family therapy.  It seemed clear to me that one could not counsel one person in a family without considering the whole.  Gradually it came to me that this was like the passage from 1 Corinthians 12, which refers to the varying spiritual gifts.  Indeed, I came to see that each member of a family possessed different gifts, and these each needed to be brought into the light.  A Meeting functions much in the same way:  those drawn to be a part of each bring different gifts, and the manner in which all of those gifts "fit" together comprises the personality of the Meeting.

I wrote my master's thesis on the Body of Christ as a model for pastoral family therapy.  I can look back now and say honestly that I barely scratched the surface on the use of this metaphor.  I was more a therapist than a Biblical scholar, and really what I was trying to say was how we cannot ignore the whole of any organization, and that if we treated each part of the whole as though it could not simply be ignored because it didn't fit, then we would all be better off.

This is still my theoretical belief, although quite a few years more of living has certainly shown me how much more difficult this is in practice.  In my years as a convinced Friend, I have seen meetings struggle with virtually every kind of community issue, from mental illness, to diversity, to the rights of individuals vs. the rights of the whole, to politics, to religious beliefs.  Often, in practice, we, and I in particular, have come up dreadfully short of the spiritual ideal.  Still, our desire and willingness to struggle with the queries, to worship listening for direction, and to continue to strive towards what we believe God would have us do, has led me to believe more and more that I am a Friend in as many the ways as George Fox and the early Friends were.

I remain convinced that our experience of living community combined with our desire to live our beliefs is the single strongest corrective  we present to the world against the cold shoulder of individualism in our society.  It has led us to develop and practice methods of peaceful resolution to conflict, to see the global issues as our own issues, and to practice creative ways of being Present with others, no matter their condition.  It has led me to begin to study more in the Bible, and to begin to read the history of Friends in community from a desire to live these principals more deeply.. 

Here is where you come in:  As I embark on this project, to write a book about what it means and has meant to be in community over the history of Friends, I am interested in knowing your thoughts.  I would like to hear what it is you have read and the role community plays (or doesn't) in your being a Friend. I am interested in knowing what you have read that has piqued your curiosity about how Friends have lived in community, both the Light and the shadow sides.

As I am doing my own survey of literature, and re-reading the journals of early Friends, like Fox,  Penn, Barclay and Naylor,  on forward into more modern times, reading Parker Palmer, Lloyd Lee Wilson, Douglas Steere, and Thomas Kelly, it occurs to me that you may have resources within your meetings and yearly meetings that would be helpful in this regard.  I found one such resource in this regard in the Faith and Practice of South Eastern Yearly Meeting:

"Each of us has unique and creative contributions to make as we allow the Light to shine through us. A Meeting community needs the God-given leadings and spiritual gifts of each of its members. Individuals, in turn, need the Meeting community to be a safe place to explore whether their leadings are from the Light, and to exercise their gifts and abilities. This individuality and diversity of gifts can develop and be celebrated because the unity of the group resides in the Spirit through real connections and commitments to God and to each other, not in outward conformity. The spiritual understanding of individuality stands in sharp contrast to the “rugged individualism” which is rampant in our culture. For generations, people have abandoned traditional forms of community – small towns and extended families – for various reasons, among them the pursuit of personal economic mobility, “progress” and wealth. Individualism has become a value system in which the rights of the individual are often believed to be in conflict and competition with the needs of the community and the environment."

Knowing the process that  Yearly Meetings go through to reach agreement of what statements will be made public and printed in Faith and Practice, I see this as one very valuable resource to my process.  It also leads me to see that my survey of literature could prove endless, so it is here that I ask for your help.

Please share with me your own leadings about community, and the resources that you have found most helpful.  Full credit will be given to each resource, and it is my hope that the information gleaned through this method will provide a rich and very deep understanding of the nature of Friends' community then and now, that will be useful to us as Friends, and possibly of value to the larger world community.

03 December 2009

Christmas Gifts

Well, it's here-- the inevitable Big Holiday Season is upon us.  And guess what?  I'm not doing IT this year.

That's right, Nada, Zilch, Nothing, Zero, None.  No big holiday season.  What a relief.
After all these years of saying it doesn't matter, that how we treat each other all year is what's important, that it's the simple things that matter, that it is unQuakerly to buy into all the Christmas Hype, I finally get it.  It took my son to say to me, "I'm just not into this Christmas thing this year."  And I felt that big sigh of relief come over me.  "Yeah, me either," I tried to say calmly as I rejoiced inside.  My son had in fact set me free.  This year, we are going to spend time with each other, but we are dispensing with gift giving of any physical sort.

We are all stressed, for money, for our health, for time, for peace, for all the things that matter.
So this Christmas, what I am giving for gifts is this...  Do you need an ear?  A moment of peace? A little heart? A kind touch? A quiet place to be?  A soft place to land?  I have all those things to offer. Friends have offered them to me, as well.

"A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it ... It is as great presumption to send our passions upon God's errands, as it is to palliate them with God's name... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by love and information. And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel."

I've read this passage over and over this year.  William Penn said it in 1693. It has resonated to me on so many levels.  What's also come to mind repeatedly is my favorite passage, in First Corinthians 13:1-13:

 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
 13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Many years I've haunted myself with thoughts of not doing enough, being enough, having enough.  This year I have even less, in terms of things.  I couldn't shower people with presents even if I wanted to.  I don't have money, my health is less than great, and I certainly don't have the energy in the midst of my job search. Yet I am at peace.

I do have this one thing:   LOVE.

I am surrounded by family, friends, community, meeting, god, light -- LOVE.

Let us then try what LOVE will do.

Let us then TRY what love will do.

Let US then try what love will do.

Let us then try WHAT love will do.

The greatest blessing of my life has been to be filled with the Light of God and experience that Love.  It is a gift that cannot be taken away, worn out, used up, or returned.  It is never the wrong size, always just right.

I LOVE each and every one of you, and I am blessed to have you in my life.  Thank you for that gift