Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Keeping our eyes on the prize

As requested, I'm posting here a lightly revised comment I made at The Good Raised Up the other day and mentioned in my previous post. It was written in response to Liz's discussion of the FGC Long Term Plan, and may make more sense if your read her post first. (But then you wouldn't need to read my comment here. . . .)

I'm just back from a Friends Journal board meeting where we did some soul-searching -- Who are we? What is our job? What would happen if we didn't exist? What should we look like in ten years? Etc.

This led to questions about whether the market for what we had to offer was inherently small (i.e., Quakers) -- which implies certain business and financial realities (i.e., Friends Journal will always depend on financial contributions over and above the cost of subscriptions and advertising revenue) -- or is it potentially very large (i.e., those who are hungry to hear the Everlasting Gospel) for which another business model is possible?
I was reminded of the chestnut about the janitor at NASA who was asked, "What do you do for a living?" And he answered, "I'm helping to put a man on the moon."*

I think the problem with Quaker organizations -- from the smallest worship group to the largest yearly meeting and all of the alphabet organizations -- is that they tend to act as if they're sweeping floors instead of putting men on the moon. (This is true for all religious organizations, of course.) Sweeping floors is honorable work and needs to be done, but it is not the end in itself. I see FGC's long-range plan as intimating some sense of its place in God's larger plan, but it isn't as explicit as it might be. It doesn't do much good to help people find Quakers if Quaker meetings are Lifeless and impotent.

If a Quaker Organization sees its primary mission as serving its own constituents, as FGC appears to have done (for perfectly understandable reasons) that implies a certain approach. But if its primary purpose is to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth (or however you would state the mission of the Church), it will think of itself and go about its work in a different way.

In other words, is FGC seeking to serve the Society of Friends (or a certain branch of it) and do what those Friends want? Or is FGC's primary mission is to serve God and the church and God is telling FGC at the moment to help strengthen monthly and yearly meetings in all the ways its strategic plan says? These are very different questions and eventually produce different fruit.

The same questions could be asked of our monthly and yearly meetings.

I suspect that our Friend Martin Kelly's critique of FGC in particular and of the RSoF as a whole is that they (we) see our mission as sweeping floors: publishing curriculum and books, increasing intervisitation, creating a presence on the web, increasing our size and racial diversity, holding potluck suppers, making sure everybody feels comfortable, etc. -- instead of manifesting the Kingdom promised by the Gospel by these particular means. One reason is that we can't seem to agree on what the larger purpose is, and to avoid resolving that question we work on the best methods of keeping the kitchen floor clean.

I largely share that critique, though I see evidence that FGC is getting it right in some ways and that it's not a lost cause by any means. But neither is it inevitable. Watch and pray.

* I realize that the janitor's answer might just as well have been, "I'm helping to maintain and preserve U.S. hegemony over the world", but that wouldn't have made quite the same point, would it?


quakerboy said...

This last issue of Friends Journal was awesome! The best since I have been a subscriber.

I suggest that this issue should answer the question where the Journal should go and why it should exist.

Even the editor seemed amazed at the deep level of spiritual hunger that is out there in Quaker circles. It is time to reclaim our distinctively Quaker spirituality and build upon the foundations that have been laid by our foreparents.

It seems this reclaimation/renewal is happening. It appears that Friends Journal is one with this new move of the Spirit. Everlasting Gospel, indeed!

Liz Opp said...


Glad you didn't wait for me to make your comment a guest piece. It would have been a few more days, I think! And its Light shows itself much better here, IMHO. smile

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Bowen said...


Your post speaks my mind. Friends are a midwife to the Kingdom of God. And, most of the time, we don't act that way.

At the same time, getting to see (and live) that this is our mission, is the business of ministry. It's not easy.

We (not just Friend, all of us on the planet) are in deep dispair about achieving the Kingdom. So, we cover our dispair in denial that we are even trying. It is so much easier to mop the floors and sit down in front of the TV.

Cutting through that denial and dispair, in ourselves and in those around us, is hard steady work.

We do a disservice when we chide ourselves and each other that it somehow ought to be easier.

much love,


Emelyn said...

Thanks, so much, Paul!
I read your comment because a month or so ago I was admiring the latest Nature Conservancy magazine. I started to wonder, "Why can't the Society of Friends" be more like the Nature Conservancy?" The secret of TNC's success is that they know what their goal is: preserving every square inch of the natural envaironment that they possibly can. What is our goal as Friends? My own personal goal as a Friend is to love and worship God and to work for the establishment of Gospel Order--that Order which brings about the harmony in all creation and in human society which God which was God's intention at creation and continues to be God's intention. How does being a Friend help me to reach that goal? Often it's a struggle.

Peggy Senger Parsons said...

My goal is to literally freeze Hell.

Emelyn said...

I have some further thoughts. Actually this came together for me in the form of vocal ministry in my main meeting (Live Oak Preparative, Monterey County, CA)
Nurturing ourselves and bringing about the Reign of God on Earth are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are two halves of the same process, like breating in and breating out.

Phil Grove said...

Your post reminds me of a favorite bumper sticker: "God laughs when we make plans." Quaker meetings are not supposed to be churches. There are plenty of Churches that think they collectively know what God is, what the Kingdom of God is, and how to plan to make it happen on Earth. Quaker meetings are not churches. We don't come to agreement (Ha!) on what the Kingdom of God is and plan to make it happen (How? By force?) on Earth. We wait in silence, we follow our inner light on matters of the spirit, not some plan handed down by the fathers of Churchianity. What you suggest seems like the opposite of Quakerism to me. Aren't you just yearning for a standard Christian church? If you try to create and implement your Church plan, you might just find out that modern Quakers are more like George Fox than you thought!

My advice: FORGET about planning. You want to breathe some life into your Quaker meeting? Go to meeting for worship with no preconceived notion about what God is or what God wants you to do. Absolutely, mercilessly search your heart. You find something, blurt it out. Don't worry about looking like a hypocrite -- Dare to be a hypocrite! Don't worry about looking like an idiot -- Dare to be an idiot! You find something, blurt it out! Then do what you must.

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