Thursday, June 09, 2016


My Wife Answers the Call

Back to the Pisac Minute (sorry for the delay, but I conveyed misinformation in the previous version of this post). We gave a panel presentation Friday evening, inviting QEW Friends to open their hearts and widen their minds to come to unity with a minute entitled “Sustaining Life on Earth” that begins with this paragraph, “The Light of Christ has inspired Quakers throughout the generations. As we gather together in Pisac, Peru in 2016, we feel this light stronger than ever in our calling to care for the Earth on which we live. It is calling us from all traditions: programmed, unprogrammed, liberal, and evangelical. It calls us to preserve this Earth for our children, our grandchildren, and all future generations to come, working as though life were to continue for 10,000 years...”

In Pisac, the minute was presented at the very last business session, after eight days in a world plenary. The clerks' table initially balked at taking up the minute, since they had only reserved fifteen minutes to hear from four different committees who had met throughout the week. But a young man from our home meeting in Celo, NC, Matt Riley, got up and gave an impassioned speech which shamed the clerks' table into delaying lunch and taking up the minute (he was supported by many in the audience). After a few revisions, the minute was adopted, which included, among seven requests, this action item for all Yearly Meetings: Initiate at least two concrete actions on sustainability within the next 12 months.

Though the Pisac plenary was able to come to unity on this minute while lunch was suspended, Friends in Chicago did not get the opportunity. In both cases, the agenda for business meeting was crowded. We knew this, and preferred not to muddy the waters by bringing up a minute than might be contentious. Both we and the clerk knew there could be no swift unity over a minute that identified the Light as Christ's, and ended with a reference to Jesus in the last paragraph, so we decided not to bring it before the body. However, Geeta asked that the steering committee consider QEW's sponsoring visitors to yearly meetings beyond FGC. I was late to this session, arriving to find Geeta standing, waiting for the clerk to rule on her request. My heart sank as he decided not to bring it before the body, noting simply, “Clerk appreciates your passion,” as she slowly sat down.

As they had in Kabarak, Kenya four years earlier, FWCC Friends across the Quaker spectrum had come to unity, but Chicago initially felt like another example of Quaker liberals not being able to agree on a course of action in unity with their overtly Christian brothers and sisters within the Quaker world. Yes, I had misunderstood what was being asked of the clerk. Nevertheless, liberal Friends holding strong but finely-graduated positions find difficulty achieving a greater unity by sacrificing nuanced stances. This feels disturbingly like political liberals in the same circumstances. The difference from political liberals, and it is a significant one, is that Friends hold these matters in the Light of prayer as they deliberate.

The irony is that I am more comfortable with North American liberal Friends than the multicultural polyglot I encountered during the last day and half of the Pisac convocation, the vast majority of whom were Christocentric, programmed Friends from foreign lands. But in Pisac, Friends labored with one another to hear the Spirit behind the letter, whereas in Chicago, it felt like Friends were more comfortably tribal about their liberalism. In the midst of huge theological diversity in Pisac, Friends were willing to bend, to translate theological language (as I had requested a somewhat skeptical audience in Chicago to do in our presentation of the Pisac Minute). In the midst of a crowded agenda in Chicago, the clerk, knowing the assembled body, decided it was not worth taking that risk. Of course, in Pisac, the body rose up before the clerks' table and demanded that the minute be considered.

This QEW clerk had previously asked Geeta and me how it was that FWCC can pass action minutes such as this from Pisac and the magnificent Kabarak Call in Kenya, whereas QEW has labored for years without doing so. The key, it seems to me, is that these delegates are expecting as well as experienced in a diversity far greater than we encounter in QEW, trusting the Spirit over the word. Within QEW, many of us strive for ideological purity, and, since we are also somewhat diverse, experience disunity as an organization, though some individuals within it are performing excellent works and powerful witnesses.

Not to be deterred, Geeta returned from Chicago and brought what had ripened into a call to ministry to our Ministry and Care Committee, who, being satisfied as to her leading, brought the matter to a called Meeting.
“A clearness committee met with Geeta McGahey on May 16, 2016. They met to help Geeta test her leading as a traveling minister with a concern for living sustainably in the context of deepening our connection as Friends. This concern arose out of her attendance at FWCC World Plenary Meetings in Kabarak, Kenya and Pisac, Peru. Having tested her concern, we are satisfied that her leading is rightly ordered.”

Her application goes this weekend before the Ministry and Nurture Committee of our yearly meeting, SAYMA, for discernment before going to FWCC. I can speak for the body of Celo Meeting in wishing her well with her leading, as we came into palpable, tender unity in our support of her on First Day, 29 Fifth Month.

Meanwhile, as new clerk of SAYMA's Earthcare Action Network, I will bring the Pisac action request before our yearly meeting this coming weekend. I am strongly considering travel ingamong its constitutive meetings to ask them to do the same. And I am happy to report that QEW is a co-sponsor for bringing the Pisac Minute, and its strong ask for each yearly meeting to perform two actions in support of sustainability over the next year, to Pacific Yearly Meeting's annual sessions June 17-22. the unity that I did not experience in Chicago is gaining ground. I will try to report on this process as it unfolds, especially among FGC yearly meetings.

The cultural divide between those of us who can truthfully say, “Christ is at the center,” and those who cannot, is so much more profound than we often realize. The call of the first Friends, to hear the Christ in our hearts and consciences reproving us for the evils that we have done, and affirming the good choices we can make, is tremendously confronting. It requires not only that we really face up to painful truths about ourselves, but also that we give up control of our lives to a power that does not indulge our desires and to a light from which nothing can be hid. This is a powerful force for ecological transformation, at least if we let it be so. And there are those of us who do find the courage to heed the call, listen to the voice, and yield to the changes it demands.

Those of us that pass through that narrow gate, find ourselves wrenched by the critique of Christ out of our comfort zone, and are sent careering in unforeseen directions. But there are also those of us who shy away from the Christ within, and who, still calling themselves Quakers, remain self-justifying and, as you put it, tribal. Both groups believe they are forces for the good, but the two groups often see concrete choices very differently.

I am deeply grateful to you and Geeta for making the effort to bridge the divide. But I suspect what you have mainly accomplished is to show us all how deep the divide really is.
I was also disappointed that QEW didn't come to Unity with the Pisac Minute in Chicago in April 2016. Your two blogs on this subject convey to me the underwater quality and total lack of discussion in Chicago about why or why not come to Unity with the Pisac minute.

I haven't given up on bridging the divide. As I commented in your previous blog, it is about talking together and reasoning things out without gossip, criticism, or judgment.

You wrote,
"Nevertheless, liberal Friends holding strong but finely-graduated positions find difficulty achieving a greater unity by sacrificing nuanced stances." ... and
"But in Pisac, Friends labored with one another to hear the Spirit behind the letter, whereas in Chicago, it felt like Friends were more comfortably tribal about their liberalism.'

To me, the real divide is between those who believe in Reality and action and those who believe in words. For the former, many fingers (words) can point at the moon (reality). To believers of silence and action, it doesn't matter exactly what words you choose. You come to Unity with Intent.

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