Friday, August 8, 2014

Report from OYM: Breaking Down the Hedge ... Loaves and Fishes

Do we have enough? At Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative* this week we we discussed vision, addressing the question: What are we called to do corporately as a people of God? I hope we can continue this conversation and that more participate, including those outside the fold. 

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:  

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.


Bill Rushby said...

Hello, Dianne!

You wrote:"Not surprisingly, few people respond to our invitation."

Actually, over the years I have known OYM, many people have responded to the invitation to become involved. They have mostly thought that it was a sincere invitation to become part of a "public" group, only to learn later that many insiders considered OYM to be a private party!

I have seen many people frozen out for one reason or another. Not a very good way to grow the church!


Bill Rushby

Anonymous said...

Cynicism and sarcasm are often signs that people care deeply but feel powerless. For example, we hear all sorts of cynicism and sarcastic remarks about the next oil war.
When I hear "Christo-fascism" I hear a term, "fascism", that comes prepackaged with heavy negative freight.

Fascism is first a flimsily constructed set of economic theories, ignored by most modern economists, and second a way of running a government exclusively for the benefit of the rich.

If I take "Christo-fascism" at face value, I see a picture of Christians praising some 1930s economic theories that have to do with land values and crossing lines on graphs. No, not literal. No economic graphs in most churches.

The second definition is a bit more possible, but most Christians would say, no, our church doesn't help the rich to govern. The Good Book talks about the poor, mostly.

Protesters might counter that too many American churches force their members to vote for rich hypocritical crooks. That has been a fair charge, unfortunately. However, most Christians in their hearts don't like the idea of being political dupes. It's more a question of "the public wants what the public gets". People have amazingly little power with their single votes these days, voting for the lesser of two fabulously well-financed evils all the time in gerrymandered districts. Then there's statistical evidence for massive electronic voting machine fraud in some states.

I can understand the cold anger and feelings of betrayal behind the term "Christo-Fascist". Good Christians despise the idea of rich Pharisees being co-opted by a corrupt military government. They weep when a good Christian such as Archbishop Oscar Romero is crucified by gunfire on his church's altar.

However, our Friends' responsibility to be forthstraight urges us to not call other people fascists, if the label doesn't fit. Rather, we need to sometimes cry with them in their own powerlessness, or set up personal principles and standards that they can each try to live up to. That would fulfill Ohio Yearly Meeting's need to be inclusive of every sincere person.

--Paul Klinkman

Diane said...

Dear Paul,

Thanks for the comment. Fascist is a loaded term, and I have often thought only a German theologian alive in that era could get away with using it--but I deeply respect what Sollee is describing. I was careful to define Christo-fascist in a particular way, as a Christianity of worldly power--not as a economic system, though I would argue that economic systems are not necessarily benign. I was using the term as a shorthand to keep the blog short--and feel sometimes strong terms are needed.

Diane said...


As an outsider, having been part of OYM only six years--and it speaks volumes that I can say "only" six years, I both love the meeting and am aware of what a club it is. I struggle with people be understandably drawn to and proud of kinship ties and how important it is to downplay them so not as to alienate people and stymie growth. Constantly hearing about who is related to whom when you have, from the accident of birth, no possibility of inclusion in that club, can reinforce the sense of outsider status. Celebrating and listening to the stories of new members' families--on an ongoing basis--would be a start. When you ask about and really listen to the other, the other begins to feel included.

Bill Rushby said...

Hello, Diane!

The issue here is not so much "hearing about who is related to whom" as it is about excluding people and trying to drive them out.

And then there is the more basic issue of power. Some folks feel that they "own" a meeting, and that anyone outside of their clique should have no input into decision-making about matters of critical significance.

These are contexts in which "you're not one of us" takes on real significance.

Anyway, thanks for your reply. I would like to discuss other matters with you, but not in this public forum. My email address is wfrushbyatyahoodotcom.

Bill Rushby