Thursday, August 27, 2009

Grieving a Loss


Brent Bill, in Holy Ordinary, posted some thoughts on events in Western Yearly Meeting. I encourage you to read his post, and then my response here.

Yes, Brent, what's going on among us in Western is not pretty.

I want to suggest another way of seeing the current events in the Yearly Meeting.

When I was called to pastor at Plainfield, the search committee sent me a copy of Faith & Practice and asked me to indicate my agreement with it. The “Faith and Thought” section is a description of orthodox Gurneyite Quakerism with roots in the Richmond Declaration (it is online at: http://westernym.net/F&PPartII.htm#FaithandThought). I felt at home with it. The Yearly Meeting also made other decisions at the time that seemed to reinforce this basic understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, and how faith is experienced.

As I became part of Western I discovered different understandings of Faith & Practice. One of the more popular is the “Chinese menu” approach. In a traditional Chinese restaurant, you pick an item from “column a” and maybe two items from “column b,” and if your party is big enough they throw in the egg roll. Faith & Practice for some is a set of options to choose from, depending on one's theological preferences. The decision during Yearly Meeting sessions was, in many people's eyes, a de facto endorsement of Faith & Practice as “Chinese Menu.” Faith & Practice is not intended to be a “paper Pope” but it seemed to no longer even be a good description of who we are.

There are some sore losers, but most of the people I am talking to who are unhappy are grieving a loss. There is a feeling that we have let go of an important part of who we are. This is not a new thing among Friends. We have a long history of defining ourselves by what we let go of. Some things, like dress codes, are let go of because they get in the way of being good news for all. Sometimes, though Friends have let go of things at the heart of who we are and that are essential parts of that good news.

For me, integrity in the Yearly Meeting needs to include being who we claim to be. If our description of who we are is not accurate, then the action of integrity is to propose changing it. Instead, I hear people defining and redefining words and phrases in order to “proof-text” a preference. If a person wants to see a Yearly Meeting organized around theological diversity or any other basic principle, then that proposal needs to be presented to the body for action. Then Quaker process can do its work.

About the meeting on Sunday, August 30. I think it is very appropriate for people who are grieving a loss to gather together to look for a way forward in that loss, and that is my understanding of what is going on. Last year, some people in the Central area also gathered in meetings to look for a way forward in affirming who they were in Western Yearly Meeting. At the time I did not hear anybody calling that a threat to the integrity and authority of the Yearly Meeting.

The quotation from Edgar Dunstan challenges us to “define, with such clarity as we can reach, precisely what it is that Friends of this generation have to say that is not, as we believe, being said effectively by others.” As I see it, that is what is going on here.

Bill

8 comments:

Scott Wells said...

Goodness -- I've been following the WYM story and (as it happens) I work around the corner from the menu posted.

It was quiet, erratically managed and now out of business. Not an omen, I hope.

Brent Bill said...

I appreciate Bill's post -- he is a wise, good, and thoughtful man. We two, however, have very different views, it seems, on the nature of what is happening. And I hope it is understood that I am advocating one theological position over another -- I am not. I, myself, am fairly Orthodox Quaker -- I believe in the Trinity, atonement, miracles, etc. I do not agree with the ultra universalist position or the narrow fundamentalist position that sit at the exteme ends of Friends faith.

I, too, am grieving. I am grieving over a Yearly Meeting that I loved for its breadth of caring and diversity now becoming a battleground.

I wish the Yearly Meetinghouse itself would be a place where a Meeting for Worship could be held for ALL Western Friends to join to talk about a way forward. I think all of us feel as if we have lost something valuable.

Lawrence said...

Grief over no sense of the meeting I appreciate. I understand and support your grieving. I, like Brent, wish that a meeting for a way forward was open to all members of WYM.

Bill said...

The meeting on Sunday is open to all. 5pm at Danville Friends.

Tom Smith said...

I dislike "proof texts," but if I had to choose some they would be from what Jesus said about our relationship with God and with each other (paaphrased as well as my memory permits). "Just as I am in the Father and the Father in me, so shall I be in you and you in me." "Greater things than I have done you shall do also." ( It is not the one that says Lord, Lord that follows me but one who does my commandments - Love God, Love everyone, including your enemies.)

It seems to me that hese are at the core of Friends - Christ HAS COME in all his offices, including Prophet, Priest and King. Christ has come to teach his people himself.

Nate said...

The doctrine in the first lines of the cited text from WYM Faith and Practice is clear and cogent, and the present circumstances show why early Friends avoided such doctrinal statements. Holding such perceptions as "essential" leaves no room for investigation of other perceptions that may in no way preclude a devotion to God and to Christ, and that seems to be the question under consideration. Does the Yearly Meeting stick with its statement, or is there a different perception that is being voiced which may or may not violate living in the Way embodied and taught by Jesus.
Your point is well made when you say, "For me, integrity in the Yearly Meeting needs to include being who we claim to be. If our description of who we are is not accurate, then the action of integrity is to propose changing it. Instead, I hear people defining and redefining words and phrases in order to “proof-text” a preference. If a person wants to see a Yearly Meeting organized around theological diversity or any other basic principle, then that proposal needs to be presented to the body for action. Then Quaker process can do its work. I would suggest that "a way forward" should seriously consider a re-examination of the Faith and Practice statement as a requirement. Jesus did not say, By their doctrines ye shall know them."

In His Love,
Nate

Liz Opp said...

It's clear to me that Friends on all sides of the issue care, and I certainly don't know what is or has been involved, since I am not a part of Western YM.

But just as in a marriage that has hit a rocky spell and both partners need time to reach deeply into their faith in God, I would want to know to what extent Friends are willing to sit in the discomfort for a while, let go of any hoped-for outcome, and invite the Spirit in, to be close, and to show everyone a Third Way?

It's a rhetorical question so no need to answer. I just wonder if God is starting to break through to a number of yearly and monthly meetings, because there are a number of issues and topics that are creating pain and even outrage...

We are all one. You are all in my thoughts and prayers today.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

kevin roberts said...

Bill, I'm curious as to the nature of this controversy in WYM, although it's been a little while since you discussed it.

In true Quaker style, all the links and discussions I've located so far talk about the controversy without explaining what it is.

What is the disagreement?