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.