Monday, July 27, 2015

On Quaker community: A dose of humility?

Micah Bales recently posted a blog on  the Quaker tendency to turn inward and focus on our own communities.

I agree that it can't stop there. The problem may be that we have confused the beginning with the end. We don't exist to be nurturing communities. But it helps to nurture people. People need love intrinsically. Love is the glue that holds the universe together.

That being said, Quakers need to keep examining the following:

Is the nurture we offer one another leading us back out to change the world?

Or does it cause us, especially the people in leadership, to have a false view of themselves?

Especially if we are leaders or insiders, how are we judging the people who want to enter our group? On the basis of how they fit in or, assuming they are not quite "right," on how "fixable" they are? Too often, Quakers are quick to TEACH but unwilling to learn. We are a tribe of chiefs. We want people to follow us. But what if we tried to learn from others? What would it take to actually listen and hear what another person said--not just use what they are saying as a a prelude to correcting them or as an echo chamber confirming what we already know? Or become completely defensive?

Who wants to be fixed?  Very few people: we crave love and acceptance. Yet often our unconscious thought towards others seems to be, "if only we could fix that person to be more like us, we could accept him." Thus we lose the opportunity to be transformed--and often the ability to transform other lives when people flee us.

Sometimes I have been literally jaw-droppingly astonished that people, often leaders, have sometimes become so insular, cosseted and protected, that, although  by the standards of the larger society they lack social skills, looks, etc (though often wonderful people!) they only want to be around the "beautiful people:" those highly socially adept and attractive. Sometimes I can only say to myself: Really? Really? Listen to yourself. Look in the mirror. Guess what? You (me) are not so great. Not as individuals. Not by ourselves.

On a like note,  coming from Lutheranism, I have never been able to get over the pride people often have in being Quaker. It's good to be proud of your tribe, but often this goes over the top, into what I will call the "we are the cat's pajamas--we are QUAKERS" mentality. Often, it seems, we expect people to be impressed, if not bowled over into speechless, rapt wonder,  if not to swoon and possibly have a near death experience, just because we are QUAKERS. In reality, the rest of the world doesn't care. How long do we have to wait for the masses NOT to come storming the gates, panting to be QUAKERS, before we get the memo?

Much of this, I would argue, roots in having lost our Christ center [and rather than start a firestorm, I ask you to interpret that as you will] rooted in the values Jesus espoused. Liberal Friends have often become a politically progressive action group and conservative Friends sometimes act like a plain- dressing antiquarian society, more interested in projecting an old-fashioned ethos than looking outward and walking humbly with the Lord.

That beings said, Quakerism retains so much behavior, so much action, so many people, so much, dare I say, theology, that is loving, kind, and also Christlike, that we have a great gift to offer the world--if only we could get over ourselves.


Johan Maurer said...


Marshall Massey said...

I agree, Friend. And it is good to see the somewhat humbled reassessments of ourselves taking place at your yearly meeting and mine.

forrest said...

By the time someone has arrived at a way of being they feel half-way comfortable in -- It would be unusual to want to change.

But anyone who can't change is, of course, dead. To go on breathing in such a state is a waste of time -- unless it's a profound act of faith.

But people, fortunately, are far from consistent. Thus there is hope for us!

Bill Rushby said...

Hello, Diane! This essay offers lots of food for thought. I continue to marvel at the high opinion Friends have of themselves. This self-congratulatory assessment makes objectivity difficult and convinces us that we have little to learn from others. Drastically shrinking numbers should raise questions about whether we are "getting it right," but I don't see much critical self-examination happening. In relation to Conservative Friends, I am reminded of Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results!

I do question some of your statements; for instance, "We don't exist to be nurturing communities." I would say that nurturing Christian community should be our primary mission! When we can't make our own communities work well, what business do we have trying "to change the world?" To my way of thinking, nurturing a genuine and compassionate community of faith is what would really "change the world."

My best to you!

Diane said...

Thanks Bill! And I should have said we don't exist SOLELY to be nurturing communities--I was thinking that we nurture for a purpose ... to pay it forward perhaps?