Harmony within the meeting and community beyond

SYCAMORE GROVE: Too often, I find myself dividing the world into “them versus us” categories, regardless of whether the “us” is a group of professionals, Christians, Quakers, Americans, artists, single white heterosexuals, or whatever. Whenever that way of viewing a situation arises, the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 is present. “Them” never seem to have our good virtues of knowledge, understanding, competence, purity …

Yet Christ comes to save the sinner. His love works among us fully once we let down our best-face-forward masks and let ourselves be known as frail and often fallible individuals. He forgives our sins only as we come to recognize them, name them, and then confess them. None of us is so perfect that we dare look down on others; even in moments of perfection, we must remember that Satan sets his snares.

One of the problems facing contemporary Friends Meetings is that we really don’t know each other that well. We come by convincement from many different backgrounds and locales, rather than being raised together within one neighborhood and educational system. Many of us live at a distance from one another, and so we rarely see each other except at Meeting functions. Often, we don’t even know what others do for a living, much less how they live. Such anonymity makes superficial harmony easy, but also allows erroneous impressions and images to substitute for a real and loving knowledge of one another. “Prompt action” requires knowledge, trust, and unity that are largely missing in today’s highly individualistic society.

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. “He told me everything I ever did.” John 4: 39

AGAMENTICUS LANDING: The outreach of our meeting ultimately rests on the integrity of our daily lives, how faithfully we uphold the principles we proclaim.

As we go about in our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces, too often we fall short of Friends’ ideals: there are moments when we exhibit pettiness, spleen, or egotism rather than “walking cheerfully … addressing that of God in all.” We return again to that challenge: “If you were charged with being a Quaker, would there be enough evidence to convict?”

We see a related challenge: “Why are Friends ineffective? How do we disempower ourselves? How do we choose not to be pro-active?”

Too often, it seems we’re not willing to be a shining example of faith. We can ask, “What am I willing to give up to follow a leading?” We need to recognize how much modern Friends are both “in the world” and “of the world,” rather than being “not of the world.”

People’s lives speak in unique ways when they respond faithfully to the Light. Our Quaker testimonies find their source and nourishment in that focus. They are an offshoot of its guidance.

We need to recognize exactly what we are proclaiming as a Society of Friends. In the absence of dogma or creed, the queries and advices provide a personal checklist and a community sharpener. Have we stopped “publishing the Truth,” as early Friends did so boldly? What has happened to their greeting, “Have you heard the Good News?”

It’s hard of us to evangelize if we really don’t know what we believe as a meeting – what we stand for. For starters, it’s important for us to know what we believe as individuals and then, as a meeting, to align ourselves to that. We perceive there is a lot of unresolved, underlying tension in that regard.

In modern American society, discussion of faith is difficult. (How much of our situation in meeting a reflection of that?) Other people may feel insulted when personal beliefs become the topic of conversation: there may be a perception of appearing superior. We are reminded to focus on the other person first, and to wait until others are ready to hear.

We recognize the power of active listening, the power of speaking honestly from what we’ve witnessed, rather than from a party line or rant. We are more effective conversing as equals, without intimidation or becoming judgmental.

Do we all share the same Spirit? Divine love? How do we develop and maintain a prayer life? How deep do we go? Can other people feel that when they walk through the meetinghouse door?

“If we’re true to that, people would be flocking to meeting – and the meetinghouse would be overflowing.”

There may be reasons, then, to rename a committee “Peace and Social Action” rather than “Concerns.”

We are reminded of a recent message in worship, “Our best recruiting is when the bombs are falling,” and its reminder that there are many other times and places when we could be publicly expressing our faith.

How deep do we go, individually, with our testimonies, such as peace? If we don’t live them, why should anyone believe us? We are reminded to ask: “I say this; do I live it?” The response everyone of us can admit: “Not as much as I would like.”

As Friends, we need to address the spiritual realities of today. For instance, in William Penn’s time, he was willing to go to prison as a consequence of his interpretation of the doctrine of Trinity. What has replaced such religious topics for us in terms of intensity? What occupies the public consciousness and conscience to a similar degree?

We see in joining with meeting a drawing away from false gods. There is, for instance, great violence is in the air of our nation, and while most people would claim to want peace, “the devil is in the details” – the peace testimony we declare stands at odds with the Pentagon’s.

Often, we sense, other people feel insulted In addition, there are few opportunities for sharing one’s faith. Even so, we can look for opportunities for carrying our Quaker principles into our worldly affairs, for example, in dealing with our neighbors or coworkers. We can let people know a little more explicitly what we’re about. Quaker identity, after all, is unique: how often do we hear someone referred to as a Methodist or a Catholic as part of their personality?

We recognize that the way Christianity is interpreted by many people can differ from Friends’ experiences of the Spirit of Christ. We wonder how we bring that to bear in our conversations.

We think too, of people who have visited or attended with us and then slipped away. On occasion, we do send cards or make phone calls to encourage their resumed attendance, though we don’t do this as often as we’d like. In recognizing the impact of our own inreach on meeting’s outreach, we are prompted to ever greater faithfulness in our daily practice.

If we’re being true to tradition, they’ll come back.

WILLOW BROOK: The matter of outreach – and teaching – is one place I feel increasingly drawn, and it’s one our current activities typically fail to uphold. Will I have the energy and devotion to follow through? What do I release from my own affairs and those of the Meeting to allow this?

I am sensing a major turn in my daily routine a year or two down the path.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

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Winthrop Center

Winthrop Friends Church in central Maine has opened its doors to an Anglican congregation. The arrangement seems to suit both worshiping bodies.
Winthrop Friends Church in central Maine has opened its doors to an Anglican congregation. The arrangement seems to suit both worshiping bodies.

The uncharacteristic spire and bell were at the insistence of the donor who underwrote the costs of constructing the meetinghouse. Change was in the air, not just for Friends.

Christian harmony with others

SYCAMORE GROVE: A week ago, sitting in a restaurant and finding myself silently criticizing my waitress (who seemed far more interested in dancing to the music, talking on the telephone, etc., than in her duties), I came to a dreaded realization: I challenged myself to find one good thing to say about her – and couldn’t. A few minutes later, on the street, I ran into one of our reporters, who was so busy talking to one of her friends she didn’t see me as I tried to say hello; once again, I tried this exercise of finding one good quality and failed. This is not acceptable for a person who professes a faith that affirms “that of God in each person”! I’m recognizing that this exercise demands regular practice.

I find myself too often judgmental, in error when my faith separates me from other people. That is not “walk(ing) in love, as Christ also hath loved us.”

Agamenticus Meeting this week had three messages, all focusing on this. The first was a testimony of an individual’s struggle to be centered in all he does (a real challenge for a public television producer, somebody whose job can be pretty chaotic); he has come to ask not just “What can I do for the Lord?” but “Lord, what does thee want me to do now?” – with the emphasis on the now. The second message recalled Jesus’ advice to the man who came before the altar but still carried a grudge against his brother; the speaker reminded us of three steps in forgiveness: (a) Ask forgiveness, and begin this process in prayer; (b) Give a present, food or whatever; and (c), the hardest, Ask for something from that brother. The third message was from a man who has learned that the most important thing God wants him to do right now is TO LOVE – time after time. Perhaps this is some of what is meant by “pray without ceasing.”

The first sentence of this second query links forgiveness and love. I am finding, to my surprise, that forgiveness is much more difficult than I had thought and am sensing, buried somewhere deep within my psyche, some hurts that need to be located and dealt with. Until these are forgiven properly, loving myself as well as my neighbor may remain elusive. Professional counseling is helping in this struggle. At times, an individual may need to forgive and fully accept himself before he can do the same to others.

In living as a community of faith, where is the fine line between guarding the reputation of others and speaking up so that prompt action might be taken when members require counsel and care? Are we too often reticent to help one another within the Meeting community? Love is work, too.

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” – Romans 7:6

WILLOW BROOK:  I recognize I’m getting old and more set in my ways, on one hand, and, paradoxically, less zealous, on the other. For now, I’m feeling less drawn to maintaining the local community. There is much on my plate demanding my attention.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.