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Meanwhile, Back at the Quaker Ranch

There's an immense line for lunch just now, so I'm going to grab a quick blog before trying to get myself fed--again. (Didn't I just eat? Gotta learn not to take one of each as a strategy for dealing with this much food.)

I had been feeling a bit flat, yesterday. Some of that may have been simple fatigue--it turned out that MerryMeet, whatever else it may have been, was ruddy exhausting, at least for me. I can't even imagine what Laura and Jennifer are feeling like today; in comparison, I hardly worked at all.

That flat feeling may also have been due to arriving late. Due to aforesaid exhaustion, Peter and I yielded to reality, and did not pile our weary selves into the car until yesterday morning, almost a day later than we'd planned to leave.

We arrived just in time to hear the Keynote Address, by South African Friend Duduzile Joyce Mtshazo. That was great--I had very much wanted to hear her--but not being at an event from the start may have left me feeling a bit ragged around the edges. I think that things like opening and closing worship together (or ritual, as the case may be)are really important. Walking in in the middle of worship was awkward, as was missing the opening worship and the first meeting for worship for business. It may be that I didn't feel as present, as much a part of the event to start with. (Odd to say, since the other thing I'm noticing as a big change from last year is how many people I do recognize from the yearly meeting, even though I've been connected to it directly for such a short time.)

I did appreciate the keynote, however, and what Duduzile Mtshazo had to say. I especially liked hearing her experiences, as a black South African, as apartheid was beginning to crumble. She shared one story, of the time when the signs labeling which buildings were or were not off-limits to black South Africans were just starting to come down. She said that she had been raised to be a "good, law-abiding citizen" at a time when that meant looking for the signs that let her know whether or not she was welcome... and how she found herself going around and around a building once, because she could not find a sign. That, from her story, seems to have been an "aha" moment for her, when she realized how brainwashed she had been, and resolved not to pass that on to her own children. She spoke of realizing that she had been complicit with the apartheid regime in that--that Nelson Mandela was in jail at a time when she was circling buildings, looking for signs.

This story spoke to me very strongly, because I think that it's altogether too easy for Quakers to become complacent that we are not part of the problem. And think how easy, as a black South African, it would be to shrug your shoulders and say, well, it wasn't me... it wasn't my system, after all. But owning complicity, even when surrounded by people who would not probably even think of such a thing--this strikes me as the kind of integrity we need. There's a kind of humility in examining our own lives for where we have lost track of what we're called to do in the world, rather than shaking a fist at the world for being lost, too. Not that the inner work is a substitute for the outer, but without the inner, self-examination and humility, the chance of blowing it bigtime in whatever activism we undertake probably goes way up...

Duduzile also laid a few stereotypes to rest for me (and probably a few others) in talking about how her meeting had had to struggle, initially, when they were approached to perform an interracial marriage. Not only were there legal hurdles, but, despite the clarity Friends in her meeting had from early on about ending apartheid, there were apparently Friends whose first take on interracial marriage was that it might not be something that should be done--too hard on the children, etc--the same kinds of arguments against racially mixed marriages I remember hearing from my childhood. That Friends who opposed apartheid, as late as the 1980's, would think in this way was a bit of a jolt to me.

Hearing that the meeting not only reached clearness to perform interracial weddings, but also to support same-sex marriages, was a jolt of a different kind.

I had assumed that to struggle with the one issue would mean a refusal to consider the second. But, quite possibly, struggle that is about opening the heart, as opposed to overcoming an opponent, opens many doors together.

I find myself writing and re-writing what I'm trying to say on how that kind of integrity might relate to NEYM as we try to sort out our relationship to FUM and to its personnel policy. If I'm writing and re-writing something this much, it's probably something I'm not ready to write about, so I won't. I will say, though, that I'm trying to learn more, both with my mind and my heart. And I think the folks around me at Sessions this year are mostly also trying. I think we are trying to move past easy assumptions and overcoming opponents, into something that may open a few more doors.

Last night, for instance, we had a "Threshing Session" regarding the personnel policy. The threshing session was very good--as was its beginning, a very, very funny "Simple PowerPoint" by Lisa G and our Young Friends on the history of Friends in New England. The "Simple" aspect of the PowerPoint was that there wasn't one--instead, Young Friends took up postitions on the stage to illustrate every "slide" that went with the 25 minute tour of 350 years of history--yes, including the Richmond Declaration and the infamous personnel policy, but also covering the history of schism and reunion that has punctuated our history. The point was made that, time and again, NEYM has chosen to embrace our diversity (not just difference) and that, somehow, it seems to work.

The point was made this morning in the Bible half-hour that it's wherever two or three are gathered that God can be found in their midst means... more than one! And whenever there's two or more humans together, there's going to be difference and... diversity.

Can it be that it is where there is diversity that creates there is the greatest welcome for the Holy Spirit?

I don't know how to come to unity with Friends around the world; I don't know what the way forward is. But when I reflect on that Light that I experience so often in Meeting, and when I see so many Friends around me trying to trust in it and be open to it and to one another, I get very hopeful.

Maybe we'll manage something far better than reforming a policy. Maybe we'll build some actual bridges, and follow some leadings that would never have come to us if we hadn't struggled to remain in love with each other. Just learning to see one another more clearly will be a good start.

Gradually, that "flat" feeling, whether its from fatigue or deeper causes, seems to be lifting.

More later.


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