Very different Yearly Meeting from last year. Very different experience, at least. Just came from a Bible Half-Hour lead by Benigno Sanchez-Eppler. I can’t begin to paraphrase or even summarize it. I wish I had a transcript, so I could post it. I hear Cat tap-tap-tapping in the next carrel. Maybe she can capture some of what was said.
I don’t think I’ve done nearly as much writing as I had by this point in the week last year. Partly that’s not having a working laptop this summer. More, though, it’s that I don’t want to miss anything. (Thoreau’s quote, something along the lines of “My life has been the book I would have written if I weren’t so busy living it.”)
It’s been more of a challenge this year just meeting basic bodily needs for food and sleep. Last year I think we heeded the advice pretty well not to try to do everything on the schedule that looked interesting. The meetings for worship for business went as deep as any worship we’d ever experienced, and after two or four or six hours of non-stop deep spiritual mojo, we’d have to retreat to our room to read Batman comics. I brought some Batman this year, but I haven’t unpacked them. The schedule begins at 6:30 AM with Kenyan-style programmed worship, and the ad-hoc threshing session on relations with FUM started at 9:30 last night and overran its allotted hour by at least half, and ALL of it looks vitally important and potentially life-changing.
My body (bless it!) calls me up short and says to me, eat, sleep, do it NOW, and my psyche says WRITE. Thank the Gods there is a library full of computers here, and a two-gig thumb drive on my keychain.
Last year I came to NEYM feeling like an outsider. I kept expecting someone to say to me “You go to eternal Hell now, you hear?” Completely the opposite this year. I feel like I've plunked down exactly where I belong, totally accepted, and I look around and see other groups within the community wondering how welcome they are and if they really belong. The gay and lesbian community is specifically excluded by the personnel policy of Friends United Meeting, and some of the evangelical Christians in FUM are really feeling the heat and wondering if they'll get drummed out of NEYM all together. NEYM could, this year, withhold its customary funding for FUM out of ethical concerns with funding overt, institutionalized homophobia. If we do, we cut off funding for schools, hospitals, and orphanages in Kenya. I remember Noam Chomsky once using the phrase “liberal humanitarian imperialism” and thinking that was an outrageous oxymoron. It’s not.
I’ve been going to the GLTB concerns worship sharing group this week, as well as learning as much as I can about the whole FUM personnel policy controversy, and, well, here are a few things I said in worship sharing:
- “Unity” is a really loaded word for me, at least in the context of different religious bodies putting aside their differences and uniting, because so often it seems that what it means is that everybody gets together to decide they all really agree and what they all agree on is to kick me out.
- There is a huge range of sexual behavior and sexual ethics among “straight people” that goes unnoticed and unquestioned. Nobody asks my wife and me what we do behind closed doors, because we look so normal that we can effortlessly go invisible. The gay and lesbian community are the ones who, when the rest of us all go invisible, are left still standing out in the open to get shot at. I’m very grateful to the gay and lesbian community for forcing us to remember to see and honor our diversity.
- “My work” in all of the controversies this week—and always and everywhere—is to stay rooted in the stirrings of my own heart and my own body, and to honor and celebrate that root within myself, and from that place of rootedness to take the passion to defend the rights of others to honor and celebrate their own hearts and their own bodies. Although I’m a “straight guy,” the issue of GLBTQ rights is not at all distant from me. Anything that threatens their right to think and act and feel from their own deep center threatens me as well.
I kind of feel like there’s no need for us to consider severing ties with FUM, that all we need to do is sit here and be who we are, and if they really have that much trouble with gays and lesbians (and Pagans and Witches and Buddhists and Jews and atheists and…) then they’ll be the ones to make the schism. And it will be a very sad thing if they do.
Yes, it is outrageous that FUM has a personnel policy that institutionalizes homophobia, and it is galling to think of our contributions supporting a policy of hate and discrimination.
But economic boycott (which some among us are calling for) is a tool developed by the civil rights movement for the many and the small to use against the economically and politically powerful.
Africa was overrun and colonized by European imperialists in the 19th century, and as a direct result of that, we who sit in comfortable, air conditioned meetinghouses in North America have the luxury of providing charity to those-less-fortunate-than-us. We get to feel especially good about it because those poor folks over in Africa are so socially backward on issues like gay rights about which we Americans have been enlightened for, oh, months now. Years, in some states.
Sorry. That was sarcastic and cynical and sarcasm does not further communication.
This year’s keynote speaker was a South African woman, and I’m in a three-day workshop on Quaker missionary work in Kenya, and I’m feeling (I’m talking about me now, Peter Bishop, not us Quakers or us liberals or us Americans—just me) I’m feeling a little ashamed that I’m this involved with such an intense conflict and I’ve had so little knowledge of who it is we’re dealing with. Like we (and now I do mean us liberal American Quakers) have been pulling on one end of a rope that stretches through a door into a darkened room, while piously reminding ourselves that the people pulling on the other end of it are our brothers and sisters but having no clue why they’re tugging so hard.