Monday, April 18, 2011

General Query 6 - Staying Focused

(Another post in a series on the Western Yearly Meeting General Queries)

General Query 6 in the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice:

Standards of Life-Do you observe simplicity and moderation in your manner of living? Do you give proper attention to the rules of health? Are you careful to avoid all places of amusement that are inconsistent with Christian character? Do you practice total abstinence from tobacco, narcotics, and alcoholic beverages?

We live in a “newer, better, bigger” culture. Enterprises spend incredible amounts of money to convince us that we need the newer electronic gadget, the better laundry soap and the bigger television. We are persuaded that we need things that we have gotten along fine without. We are eager to adopt the latest opinions and ideas and jump on to the “newer, better, bigger” bandwagon.

General Query 6 addresses this cultural issue as it presents three traditional Friends testimonies – simplicity, moderation and abstinence.

Simplicity is the spiritual discipline of being focused and staying focused -- organizing one's life for a purpose. In a world that tries to distract us in thousands of ways and invents needs that never existed before, maintaining a focused center in our lives is hard work.

There are magazines and books that will tell us how to simplify our lives, get back to basics and recover simpler ways of doing things, but the spiritual discipline of simplicity cannot be put on like a set of new clothes. I see it growing organically out of our spiritual priorities. Are we honest with ourselves about our faith? Are we willing to be open to God's leading and are we trusting God's paths? As our inward path becomes more focused and simple, our outward paths will change as well. We will be less easily distracted by the “newer, better, bigger” culture that we are part of.

Moderation is one way we express the discipline of simplicity. As we disconnect from the “newer, bigger, better” culture we are less inclined to jump on the latest fad or invented need. As we maintain our focus on what is important we are able to remain calm and quiet in the middle of a world of invented needs.

But the focused life of simplicity can lead us to do immoderate things. The history of the Christianity is a history of people being immoderate in following God – St. Patrick, Francis of Assisi, George Fox, and more contemporary activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence Jordan, and Millard Fuller. Twenty years ago, Kathy and I adopted three sisters. It was an immoderate thing to do (at least one person called us “crazy”) but it grew out of our desire to do what God wanted us to do. It complicated our lives incredibly, but at the same time helped us stay focused on what was important. A complicated action that was an expression of simplicity.

Abstinence can be another expression of the discipline of simplicity. This General Query calls us to abstain from a few specific items, but there are many things that do not need to be part of our lives for our own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Practicing the discipline of simplicity means asking ourselves over and over again, “Does this activity/pursuit/interest/possession bring me closer to where God wants me to be? Does this need to be part of my life?” It's a tough question that we need to ask over and over again.  And these are questions we need to involve our community as well - family, friends and congregation.

General Query 6 as written is too narrow. Simplicity is not simple, moderation is not necessarily the outcome and abstinence is too shallow a word.

Here is my suggestion for rewriting General Query 6:
Standards of Life - Is my life focused on God's leading and am I trusting God's path? Is my outward path consistent with my inward path? Am I being distracted by the “newer, bigger, better” culture around me? Do my activities/pursuits/interests/possessions bring me closer to where God wants me to be? What do I need to let go of?


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