Friday, July 14, 2006


All of this very hot afternoon and evening (and between innings), I've been writing a post inspired by this excerpt from Johan Mauer's Can You Believe? :

Once I was a member of a meeting of ministry and counsel, and we were encouraging a thoughtful seeker to consider membership. I was startled by her response: "You don't require enough of me. You need to have a deeper and more challenging dialogue with me, or I might not believe either you or I are worth it." Since one of the ministry and counsel members at the time was uncomfortable with even the minor threshold we already had, her objection led to some interesting discussions! To risk a bit of overinterpretation (I believe I'm on solid ground), I heard her saying that invitation without repentance either demeans membership or demeans the member. Don't take me for granted!
Under the title of "Why should I join a church that will take me as a member?," I examined my meeting's membership packet and showed how it confirms this Friend's complaint: We don't require very much to be a member of our meeting.

But I'm setting that aside because I realize it's a cheap shot. I realized while writing it that I was falling into the Christian glee club trap identified in the Convergent Friends On Fire interest group. That is, it was so easy to complain about how generic and flaccid our membership requirements, but that turned out to be my way of avoiding the commitment I was advocating that others have to join the meeting, a more difficult undertaking.

This is a sin I am too often guilty of: finding the flaws in others, their shortcomings, and analyzing them to death -- it's a tendency that is dangerously close to cynicism and isn't very helpful to anyone. I can do it only when I feel alienated enough from my target that I am actually saying, "Thank you, God, that I am not as other men are." I hate it when that happens.

This reminds me of a meeting of our clerks team several years ago. We were discussing concerns about the lack of depth in our meetings for worship and various proposals to fix the problem. After a lot of discussion, one of my colleagues said simply, "The way to deepen our worship is to worship more deeply." It really was that simple.

The way to make membership in my meeting more covenential is to be more covenantal with Friends who belong to my meeting. The way to make a commitment to understanding and living the authentic Quaker gospel a criterion of membership in my meeting is is to understand and live that gospel myself.


I'm looking forward to our potluck and meeting tomorrow night with Friends from the Twin Cities area who attended the Gathering (more than 45 were invited). We'll have a meal and then a centered sharing of our experiences. We did this last year and it proved to be very valuable. I hope that the predicted warm temperature (90+ F) won't keep people away or wither us too soon. To try to keep cool, I'm making this.


Liz Opp said...

Well, Paul, thanks for lifting this up, and thanks for the link to the meeting's Membership packet.

I feel sad at the thought that there are so many ways in which we are not holding ourselves accountable to the very things that are listed in the packet, such as how we conduct ourselves during MfW for Business...

I do not disagree with some of your observations, such as "The way to deepen worship is to worship more deeply." But this does not help the new worshiper, or the worshiper who has been yearning for something and doesn't know what that something is.

I have learned to "worship more deeply" because I have heard the stories of how other Friends have opened themselves to allow for the transformative power of the Spirit to touch them. Friends have told me of their struggle with getting themselves out of their own way and returning God to the center of their worship and their lives.

By hearing such touching narratives, by exchanging with one another what our experience of worship and of The Presence has been, and by talking openly about what I myself wrestle with, I am brought into the fabric of the Blessed Community... and then I want to live into the communal covenant more regularly and more intentionally.

All that said, I'm wondering what "being more covenantal" with one another means to you? It's an interesting concept that resonates with me and I'd like to know more about your vision of what that might look like.

Maybe you already have such a relationship, either with Lovely Wife or with another fFriend.

...My partner once told me something she learned in her writing classes, which speaks to what I am pointing to here: Many of us mistakenly think that by speaking in the abstract and without specifics, that we therefore address what is universal.

In fact, more often than not, the opposite is true: when we use specifics as we share our stories, then the stories we share become more universal.

Go figure.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Dear Friend, I agree that being more covenantal is part of the goal here, but I do not believe it is the whole of the goal. Likewise, I agree with Johan that being repentant is part of the goal here, but not that it is the whole of the goal.

Knowing what qualifies the applicant for membership -- and what qualifies the meeting to be worthy of new members -- is not an easy task. But I agree with all those who say that a meeting that accepts new members too easily, does not deserve them.

James Riemermann said...

I just got back from the potluck and sharing in Paul's and Mary Beth's back yard. It was a lovely gathering with lovely people, conversations in the shade on a hot, hot day. Thanks so much, Paul, for calling this together.

I absolutely agree that clearness committees for membership should go deep, ask probing and challenging questions about everything we feel is important to Quakerism. Most of those I've been on have done that, and have been deeply rewarding in that sense. But never, not once, has it felt to me like a group of people trying to discern whether an applicant meets the requirements of being a Quaker. I basically don't accept that understanding of the process. In every case, I was fairly confident that the applicant was already a Quaker, and saw the committee as a blessed opportunity to deeply explore what that means to them. I can imagine instances--have not experienced such as of yet--where the applicant learns through the process that the community is not quite the right fit for them, or they personally feel a need to spend more time learning about what it means. But for a group of people to decide, no, you can't be a Quaker--well, they'd have to be pretty bad. Hell, they let me in, bless their hearts.

I appreciate the self-knowledge you show, Paul, in challenging your own understandings in this post. That's one of the things that make you a good Quaker, and a good man. I don't think this is quite where you are, but your line about building deeper worship by worshipping more deeply almost feels to me like the whole damn thing, not just one important aspect of it. I want us to do what we do together as deeply as we know how, to build that strong circle of love, and to work toward bringing the world into that circle. Not just those who are good enough, or Quakerly enough, but everyone. I don't quite mean making everyone a Quaker, but it's almost that radical. I want us to use our love and our practice to erase boundaries between people, not to create them.

Robin M. said...

ooh, I want to come to your potluck, or maybe I just want my Meeting (or me?) to host something similar. There certainly weren't 40 of us at FGC, but maybe 10 or so.

On membership, I personally go back and forth on what should be a benefit of membership vs. what should be an obligation of any church to any seeker.

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Paul,
Umm... why isn't it okay to talk about your membership packet? I looked at it and found it pretty depressing. It starts off with the 1952 FWCC statement that questions of faith and/or practice are off limits and as I read it I got the impression that the most important qualification for membership was one's willingness to sit on committees and sit quiet for an hour. Is that really honest? And if everyone can be a Quaker then what's the meaning of Quakerism? This isn't an abstract question.

Paul L said...

I have the same feeling about our membership packet, but I feel I should take my concerns about it to my meeting before trashing it on the Internet. That's what I mean by being more covential with my meeting.

(I have plenty of material from other meetings to criticize if I need to.)

earthfreak said...

I'm a little befuddled about the membership packet thing. I remember being less than impressed by ours, but if it had simply been more christian I would simply not be a member (which may be essentially the goal of some)

Liz was actually the one person on my membership committee who took it upon herself to expect something of me, and, while I found it scary at the time, I appreciate it in retrospect. She did not, however, expect me to conform to some doctirnal statement, but simply to be able to state my spirituality such as it was - to explain why I'm a "quaker" as opposed to simply a liberal who wants somewhere to hang out on sunday. That wasn't easy to do, but it was worth it.

Along those lines (but very different) I don't mind "christian glee clubs" if they actually share something that feels meaningful to me. I love to hear about folks' deep experience of the power of christ spirit.

What I am not interested in, and what worries me about some of the discussion of christianity and quaker roots and all, is when people DON'T share their ACTUAL experience, and simply go on and on about how non christians are doing it wrong, or how christianity is better, or the only way.

If you want me to try strawberry ice cream you can talk about its wonderful tartness, how fresh it can taste, perhaps the joys of local berries, or even the fact that chocolate ice cream has sketchier roots (slave labor, etc) What's NOT going to influence me at all (except to avoid you) is a tirade about how strawberry is the only real ice cream, it's just better than chocolate, I'm stupid for liking what I like, etc.

I have heard incredibly little from people who think liberal (and/or non-christian, non-theist) Friends are DOING IT WRONG about what's so wonderful about what they're doing. Some of this is the "detail" that Liz is talking about. But I also know that I find it easier to talk about how annoyed I am by a call for christianity and traditionalism than about what I find magical and powerful about the quakerism that is not constrained by such things. I'm not sure why that is, but it is. I think we'd all be a lot happier if we'd put in the effort though.


GMC said...

Interesting discussion. I attended Meeting for about ten years and never thought about asking for membership
until after someone had been turned down on thier request for membership. I never thought that happened!

Pam, strawberry ice cream is ok but for real happiness I hope that someday you can let the light of christ
into your heart. Christ will find you if you let him (/her or what ever, I hope we don't have to argue gender).