A strong sense of the way forward came out of my small group. This echoed an inner voice I have been hearing: We need to break down the hedge. Since the eighteenth century, Quakers have tended often to "hedge" themselves against an evil world in order to maintain their traditions and purity.
Admittedly, protecting ourselves is important--and our spiritual home ideally functions as a place of comfort and acceptance. However, a spiritual home, like a family, exists, as we mature, as a place where we find support and nurture, including food and shelter, so that we can go out into the world and do our work. From the beginning, from the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, we have been called to work. Their work in the garden was good and balanced and literally fruitful, for they tended plants and trees. Our work may be more problematic, but we are still called to it. If we are a family that never or seldom leaves the house, people might rightly label us dysfunctional or mentally ill.
Numbers have dwindled in OYM, and we tend to stay in our old-fashioned house. When we invite people in, we assume they want to be fixed to become good members of our family. We tell them all about ourselves as Quakers but don't ask them much about themselves. Rather than learn from them, we want to teach them how to be like us. Not surprisingly, few people respond to our invitation.
Nevertheless, and for all our blunders, we represent a form of Christianity with a message that the world desperately needs. We are not the Christianity of power, politics and prestige that Dorothy Sollee has deemed "Christo-fascism." Instead, we are a group following a gentle agent of peace and forgiveness who cared for the broken and called them his friends. In a society in which it seems the first, second and last solution to any problem is violence, where screaming voices repeat the same soul-killing messages, and where cynicism routinely trumps idealism, Quakers can pour out a healing witness of peace, quiet and gentleness.
Then why is it so hard for us to venture out into the world?
As I flipped through Patheos blogs this morning, I came across "The Sarcastic Lutheran." In it, Nadia Bolz Weber blogs on the parable of the Loaves and the Fishes: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/08/sermon-on-lembas-bread-the-feeding-of-the-5000-and-why-i-hated-pastoral-care-classes/
If Quakers can bear to learn from a Lutheran, Nadia's insights offer wisdom. (As an aside, even Nadia talks of her own cynicism: it is pervasisve.)
Why were the the disciples afraid a few loaves and fishes weren't "enough" to feed the 5,000? Clearly, the numbers didn't add up, but beyond that perhaps the disciples felt more comfortable in a cozy corner off with Jesus and didn't want to mess up the arrangement by inviting strangers to share. They wanted to be a clique.
Or perhaps, Bolz Weber says, the disciples perhaps, unconsciously, experienced "greed ... They wanted to keep their food (and their church) and their Jesus all to themselves" As Quakers, we don't think of our inwardness as greedy, but I imagine a strong case could be made that it is.
Or, perhaps, says Nadia, the disciples experienced a "total lack of imagination ....The old sin of thinking that all there is is all there is."The reality is, there's always more than we have or think we have. The Divine source offers abundance.
I also wonder if pride doesn't enter the equation. Quakers are often so proud of being Quakers. Do we want to face that in the wide world people might not be in the least impressed?
I hope Quakers--myself included-- can hold onto the truth that there's always more than what we have and feel bold to step outside of the hedge. But how? What is our first step?
*Conservative indicates conserving a tradition, not a political stance.