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Cat on NEYM: Love and Grief

(Note: this entry may be of little interest to non-Quakers, unless you find the ways Quakers do business of interest. It also may make little sense to anyone who isn't somewhat familiar with the story of the tensions with and within Friends United Meeting over its position on the hiring of gays and lesbians. I have posted a separate summary of how I see that situation to fill you in if you are interested.)
So, sessions is over and done for another year. Unlike in past years, I've really been unable to post during sessions. And while I'm still in Smithfield, RI, until such time as the f/Friend we're carpooling with completes her business and we can head home, the campus is quiet now--not empty of Quakers, by any means (Deb Humphries just walked past, and the Permanent Board is still in session) but quiet.

I think I may have a touch of re-entry syndrome when I get home this year. This was an intense week, for me and for a lot of other people.

Our theme was War: God Help Us.

I'm not a big "theme" fan--not in my own life, not just around Quaker gatherings. I always feel as though they are artificial and I generally have difficulty relating to them. However, I did hear a number of people express the strong wish many Friends have, seven years into an aggressive war that shows no signs of stopping, to focus this year explicitly on working together for peace. I also heard a number of Friends express unhappiness that, as concerns about the FUM personnel policy continued to receive a lot of time and attention during sessions, there was little time to focus on efforts to end the war, stop torture, or work for peace. There was at least some disappointment with that.

I, however, was grateful for the focus on the peace testimony, and for the ministry on it we received this week, that kept pointing us back to the deep spiritual ground of it--not a testimony of the brain and ideas, but one that burns in the bone, placed there by Spirit. We needed this reminder, because we found our ability to remain in peaceful and loving connection with one another deeply challenged this year.

I was saddened at the lack of tenderness I saw a number of Friends show for one another during discussions relating to the FUM Personnel policy, particularly at last night's meeting for worship for business.

Several Friends expressed a strong sense that they needed to individually opt out of paying that portion of their dues to NEYM that goes toward FUM. Others felt that it is important not to be seen as using money coercively--given that so many of the members of FUM live in very poor countries, it seems imperialistic to some to use money as a means of communicating. Others reminded us that we committed as a yearly meeting last year to exploring our own sexual ethics--a project Peter and been pursuing quite diligently within the Ministry and Counsel Working Party on Spirituality and Sexual Ethics, as have many others--and to revisiting in our monthly and quarterly meetings, a minute from the Connecticut Valley Quarter from 2005, which affirmed our support for same sex marriages. (I long for the day my yearly meeting is in unity to adopt that minute or a similar minute!) Many spoke of the importance of listening to one another tenderly and lovingly, and of reaching across differences in theology, in culture, and--most excruciatingly, between us as we labored with this issue.

As some spoke, I thought I heard a seed of Spirit within their messages; as others spoke, I at least could not discern that seed, that Light, and it seemed to me that many who began speaking from a deep prompting did not stay close to the root, but drifted into rhetoric and argument. I saw that from people I personally agreed with, and I saw it from people I personally did not agree with. I think that at least some of us were making idols of our individual consciences and ideas, and stopped hearing the small, still voice of God.

I know I did, for long periods of time. Gratefully, I had seen enough of the pain and hurt that was coming out of attempts at eldering and prophetic ministry that did not emerge entirely from a Spirit of love and tenderness that I was at least able to keep my own damn mouth shut. And I did try to stay low, stay tender, and to rest in that Light.

It was extraordinarily hard. There are absolutely Friends I am struggling to love today. And given how very powerful the love and tenderness that was expressed among us this week was--and it truly, truly was!--that is really saddening. Because there were times this week when I was better able to find that sweet and generous place inside than ever. There were times of really wonderful unity and joy this week.

And that's the impression that a number of Friends that I have talked to since last night's meeting took away from it, in fact. While, for whatever reason, I seem to have felt most intensely the pain and the missteps, others felt most the deep tenderness which many Friends did continue to show to one another. There was a lot of love there. There were many members who remained deeply open to God and tender with one another.

Indeed, I am made both humble and proud--not the contradiction it sounds, somehow--when I reflect on the faithfulness and patience of many of our gay and lesbian members in particular. Year after year, this issue gives them extraordinary pain. As one woman put it, we have a process right now, in place since last year, to work together to unite in support of the glbtq members of our yearly meeting, by engaging in the work of the working party and by working together at the monthly and quarterly meeting level to season a minute on same-gender marriage.

The minuted sense of the meeting was to have the Permanent Board develop the mechanism by which those with deep individual objections of conscience to financially contributing to FUM can avoid doing so, while continuing in the work we began last year, and while continuing to engage with FUM. There were angry voices, however, from individuals that felt that this did not go far enough. More than one person felt that their anger should have been reason enough for the yearly meeting to take more radical action immediately.

It was a hard, hard meeting.

One piece of vocal ministry given this morning by Deb Humphries really captures my sense of our labor together: she spoke of sensing that God is grieving, deeply grieving, for us and with us, because we have not been able to follow Her as far as She is ready to lead us. And, right this second, I'm just really feeling the grief.

I think that we could have been more faithful to one another, to God and to our covenant, our communal body. I feel bowed down with sadness that we lost the chance to be more with one another, and to trust more deeply in the Light that leads us and weaves us together.


Jeanne said…

Thanks so much for posting this. I really got a sense of what NEYM sessions was like this year.

It actually sounds like the theme War: God Help Us was apt. Only it wasn't about a war "over there," and instead one inside the Religious Society of Friends.

I think it's a little ironic that the sessions planners came up with a theme with one thought and God gave you all that theme indeed. Just the one perhaps you needed rather than the one you thought you needed.

But isn't that always the case?
Bright Crow said…
Dear Cat,

I'm not trying to follow all the comments on the posts you and Peter have posted about NEYM sessions, since I'm not part of that YM.

I do, though, want to affirm and lift up again your longing for tenderness on the matter of FUM and LJBT people.

Sometimes I feel alone in Meeting, especially during Meeting for Business, because too few Friends seem to grasp the peculiar and mysterious power of doing business after the manner of Friends.

Too much opinion, too much ideology. Not enough listening and waiting.

For the 12+ years during which I was part of American Friends Service Committee's thrice-annual Community Relations Unit meetings, I did witness that miracle...even though a fair number of committee members were not convinced Quakers.

They all understood. As distressed and angered as we might become over various conflicts--either within the committee, within the larger organization, or out in the world--F/friends knew how to settle into silence, how to allow silence between speakers, how to wait...wait...wait...for the sense of the meeting.

Spirit does work in this way.

Bless you for waiting.

Michael Bright Crow

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