Monday, October 24, 2005

Stay home, young Friend; stay home.

I ran across this advice from The Old Discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (1806) and thought that, while quaint and tied to a particular time and place, the advice nevertheless has a great deal of wisdom for us in it.

Friends are advised to be very cautious in changing their
places of residence: it having been observed that the dissolving
of old, and the forming of new connections, have in many instances
been attended with effects prejudicial to a growth in the truth
and the service thereof, both in the heads and younger branches
of families; we therefore recommend to all, that on these
occasions a strict attention be paid to the pointings of Divine
Wisdom; and that before any determine to change their places
of abode, they consult with their experienced fellow members.


Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
What does this say to you? It says a lot to me because I've lived in the Twin Cities all my life and let me tell you, it's quite a discipline sometimes. It isn't that easy. I often dream of moving far away -- like Northfield or maybe (gasp) Decorah! To hear my mom talk, you'd think I was dreaming about moving to Japan.

But I wonder of all the things you read there, why did this jump out at you? It must have spoken to you.

Paul L said...

I posted the advice for a couple of reasons, one being that it just struck my sense of whimsey and irony. I happened to run across it and it struck me as such a stark contrast to Friends' current practices where we're reluctant to advise anyone (except the US government) to do anything.

But this particular one also spoke to me because our present day experience seems to have confirmed its fundamental wisdom. I have observed and kind of worry that Friends have ceased to be a People, a kind of organic community that continues over time and space. Instead, we've become more of a voluntary association of like-minded persons that has no necessary connection or continuity with our past (or future). This is why the covenential nature of our meetings is so weak.

I was struck that Friends 200 years ago foresaw this development.

But I don't want to uncritically endorse the 1806 bloom-where-you're-planted advice or wax nostolgic for the good old days. Friends who followed (or enforced) the advice too rigidly contributed to the decline in vitality among Friends and fostered a sense of stultifying ingrowness which turned Friends into a sect instead of the Church.

Mobility is a fact of life in 21st Century America, and it would be foolish and futile to expend much energy discouraging it. But I do think the advice calls to our attention that such mobility carries a cost, personal and collective, and that we should simply be conscious of that fact.

I should be the last one to discourage uprooting and moving to a new place. Our move to Minnesota from my previous 20-year home in Valparaiso 14 years ago was one of the most liberating decisions I've ever made, and I can't say that I've regretted it. Yet no one here knows me as well as I was known in Valparaiso where they saw me grow up.