Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Honey-Glazed Carrots and Vegetable Stew

I have been talking with people about preparing for the upcoming yearly meeting.  I also received a copy of a minute from Indianapolis First Friends.  I am anticipating other minutes, expressions and opportunities for discussion in the next few weeks

It seems to me that part of what is going on involves different ways of seeing.

Western Yearly Meeting is a faith centered organization.  It is a faith that has changed form since its beginnings in the seventeenth century.  There have been disagreements and separations as various Friends chose to emphasize some elements of their faith and let go of others.  This is a process of development, growth and change that continues today.

The current stress within the Yearly Meeting involves two significantly different ways of seeing our faith.

I am not fond of cooked carrots, but I do enjoy honey-glazed carrots.  Good honey glazed carrots have a honey flavored sweetness that still allows the flavor of the carrots to come through.  There also needs to be a slight saltiness or tartness to set off the sweetness, sometimes from the addition of a little mustard.  While there can be variations in the recipe, there are some basics that need to be there for the dish to be identified as honey-glazed carrots.  And if too many other things are added, it begins to look like something other than honey-glazed carrots

Carrots are also often used as a basic part of vegetable stew.  Good vegetable stew will be seasoned in ways to maximize the flavors of the ingredients but there is a lot of flexibility in what those ingredients can be.  Some people like more potatoes.  Others prefer more exotic ingredients.  I like a little garlic thrown in.  My wife would much rather have onions.  Some would always add tomatoes and others would never add tomatoes.  Some prefer more pepper or spice.  A good stew has a variety of flavors to be explored.

My understanding of who we are as Western Yearly Meeting is like honey-glazed carrots.  There are some basic elements that identify who we are and that I see expressed in the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice.  Two of those elements that make up who we are an understanding that Jesus is uniquely divine and that his sacrificial death uniquely saves.  There are variations in emphasis and differences in expression, but for me these basic elements identify who we are.

Othes see us as vegetable stew.  Faith and Practice is a collection of ingredients to select from or add to.  I would suggest that the June 2009 "Indianapolis Monthly Meeting Minute Regarding Theological Differences between Meetings and Individuals within WYM" expresses this way of understanding who we are (the minute is not available online).  This minute affirms that the basic ingredient is Jesus ("We take our relationship with Jesus seriously, and affirm that being a Christian entails being like-minded with Him as we strive to take on His nature in our daily lives").  The minute goes on to argue that, "Since spiritual revelation is an ongoing, inward process and not a result of static dogma, we do not strive for uniformity of belief, but rather we center ourselves upon the guidance of Divine Love as we listen together for God's leading,"  with a goal of becoming "an ever more broad and living example of vibrant theological diversity." 

So where is the conflict?  Isn't it just a matter of preference?  After all, combining the honey-glazed carrots and the vegetable stew would combine flavors in new ways. And the stew would still be stew.

But the honey-glazed carrots would no longer be identifiable. 

That is the heart of my concern and the concern of many others.  What identifies us as Western Yearly Meeting?


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Preparing for Yearly Meeting

Western Yearly Meeting Sessions begin on Friday, July 31. The Yearly Meeting Program Committee has put together a schedule of worship, workshops and times for fellowship along with the usual business sessions. The program for children and youth has been expanded. I encourage you to attend as much of Yearly Meeting as possible. Registration information is available at the Meeting House.

Keep our Yearly Meeting sessions in prayer. Yearly Meeting is not just a business meeting. It is, in Friends terms, “a meeting for worship with a concern for business.” Pray for Jim Crew, Clerk of the Yearly Meeting, that he will be sensitive to Lord’s leading as he prepares for the meetings and as he presides. Pray for all the others in leadership as well.

There will be one item of business that has already drawn a lot of interest and generated a lot of discussion. The Yearly Meeting Board on Christian Ministries and Evangelism is recommending that Phil Gulley's recording as a minister with WYM be rescinded because of substantial disunity with WYM Faith and Practice. This is the culmination of a process that began six years ago when concerns were raised about Phil's theology as expressed in If Grace is True, written by Phil Gulley and Jim Mulholland. This minute is scheduled to be presented on Saturday, August 1, in the morning business session.

Unfortunately, over the years this process seems to have generated more heat than light. There has been anger and name-calling. Motives on all sides have been questioned. This is all the more reason that we need to be praying for wisdom, patience and God's grace on all who are involved in this issue.

I want to share a few of my thoughts on this issue as I prepare for Yearly Meeting:

Some see this as a personality clash between people who just don't like each other or who can't seem to get along. This is not true. I know from my involvement that the people at the heart of this issue deeply care for each other.

Some see it as a power struggle – a battle for the control of the Yearly Meeting. While it is true that we all deal with control issues on some level in our lives, I have not met anybody in this process whose goal is to “run the Yearly Meeting.”

As I see it, the immediate issue has grown out of some some deeper questions about the nature of a Yearly Meeting, and about Western Yearly Meeting in particular:

  • Is the Yearly Meeting primarily an administrative body concerned with taking care of property, managing endowments and running programs, or is it a body with some degree of authority over constituent meetings and issues of faith? Historically, Yearly Meetings have had a fair amount of authority but beginning in the twentieth century that understanding began to change. Meeting autonomy has become a more important value. Is this a good thing?

  • Where does the “Faith and Thought” portion of the WYM Faith and Practice fit in? Is it a description of who we are? Is it a set of faith statements that we pick and choose from? Do we want to have a common expression of faith? There has always been a tendency to emphasize some parts and pay less attention to others. Our contemporary desire for personal autonomy runs counter to the idea of a common faith.

  • Is the Yearly Meeting structured for ministry or are we just structured for maintenance? There is a lot of good ministry going but a lot of resources, time and energy are spent maintaining the organization.

Connected to all of these questions is the bigger question of community. What kind of community is Western Yearly Meeting? Communities can choose to organize themselves around many things -- common beliefs, a common history, common tasks, or common needs. What kind of community are we and what are we organized around?

These are challenging questions. I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Wait, pray, trust

pastor Bill