A Friend After 50 Years

A record of one journey into a peculiar type of Quaker Christianity, and a bit of silliness to boot.

Location: Arkansas

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Membership Update

Had my clearness committee last Wed. It was more and less than I expected. I felt that I spent a lot of time blurting out longwinded answers to questions -- but then, how often do I get to talk about this stuff (other than on the web!) I'm a little hesitant to try to "evaluate" it-- isn't that sacreligious or something? I think there was a tenderness about it which is what I carry now, and a willingness to even forgive myself for being such a blowhard (I'm a lawyer after all....). I guess I was somewhat nervous -- there was a bit of feeling exposed, on the hot seat, having to defend the "thesis" that I'm worthy of membership! (The movie "Defending Your Life" comes to mind: imagine Albert Brooks trying to get into heaven). But somehow for all that, the Spirit managed to be there -- or rather, I managed to feel its presence. The committee asked some probing and interesting questions, but nothing to really justify or exacerbate the foregoing trepidations.

They asked about the spiritual journey that brought me to Friends (short answer: I married into it!), which testimony I most related to (answer: community), why I wanted to join (feel like I'm already a member so....) , how I thought the meeting might improve (more corporate discernment of individual leadings --myself particularly included--, outreach, and thinking about how we engage with younger members in our predominately graying meeting) and did I consider myself a Christian (I'm exploring Quaker Christianity -- and perhaps experiencing it! -- but not ready to so self-identify at this point). I had the opportunity to ask a question, which was how they felt about membership in the RSOF (I related some of my hesitations as described in the previous post), which was a nice way to get to know a little bit more about them. (The answers to the "improvement" question were highly influenced by my Quaker blog reading, BTW!).

I learned the next day that the committee recommends membership, which will be brought to business meeting Nov. 5. I am blessed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I apply myself....

I have applied for membership in my monthly meeting.

In my original post I mentioned some hesitation about membership. I've pondered this a lot and it has various sources. First, I grew up reading Krishnamurti, who emphatically advised against joining any sort of spiritual or religious organization. I followed this advice for several years with the Unitarians, but broke down one evening after a Christmas eve service --"Christmas always gets 'em," was the Minister's comment. As for Friends, I wondered why we needed "membership." Isn't that sort of a worldly idea? Early Friends didn't have membership -- if you were "convinced" that was enough. I guess I wanted that sort of "purity" -- you are either a "Friend of the Light" or not. I've felt very involved with and moved to be a part of Friends, not to mention just fascinated by the whole phenomenon -- although whether my "convincement" measures up or is even similar in kind to that of early Friends is -- well, perhaps a topic for another post.

Part of my hesitance is my vocation as a public lawyer. What are the standards for membership? In lawyer language, this process looks suspiciously "arbitrary and capricious" -- or at least has that potential. The decision to admit or deny membership could be described as extremely subjective. I would never advise one of my local government clients to engage in a decision-making process like this, for fear that they would be sued.

On the other hand, someone once remarked that in hell, there will be nothing but due process! And I don't mean to suggest that my committee will be arbitrary or capricious. (I've yet to appear before them, so I'd best not impugn their integrity at any rate). Friends rely on the spirit to guide their decisions, and that would be tough to codify.

Another hesitation has been the equality principle. This was raised by a long-time attender in our meeting: if we're all equal, then why make the distinction between attenders/members? If you keep coming back and sharing your gifts year after year, should you be considered any less a part of this religious community simply because you haven't subjected yourself to a committee designed to judge your spiritual fitness? In our postmodern, individual-centered society, there's something quite unusual about this -- why can't I make my own decision whether to be a Friend or not? When I joined the Unitarians, the only requirement was to "sign the book."

And finally, membership can have spiritual disadvantages, such as complaceny, pride/egotism, the setting of one group against others, and so on. (I think this was what Krishnamurti was concerned about).

So why have I applied for membership? For one, there's something to be said for making a commitment. I have a tendency toward the non-committal, and every once in a while it does me good to make a stand. Its what led me to get married as opposed to merely sharing living quarters. Its what keeps me going to work every day, even when I'd rather not. Yes, we can get into a rut, but there's also a danger of never finding the road at all. Committment over time enables the richness of being involved at a deeper level.

Another reason: I was asked to join. This helps. The fact that others would like you to belong takes the question out of the abstract, philosophical realm (see above) into the world of real relationships with fellow human beings.

Finally, this was coupled with a request to consider filling a position with the meeting (the truth will out!) that requires membership. To some extent its just pragmatism: easier to join than to engage in potentially endless airy debates that would most likely go nowhere. But its more than that: I think my philosophical objections were overcome by my desire to be engaged in the life of the meeting -- and to concentrate on weightier matters than the issue of membership.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Reading the Bible for the Very First Time

The subject header here is a paraphrase of Marcus' Borg's book "Reading the Bible Again for the Very First Time." In my case, I've been reading the Bible for the "first" first time as part of my inquiry into the roots of Quakerism. I've started mainly with the Old Testament, which has been often fascinating and rewarding. On the other hand, the slaughter, threats, curses, and extreme punishments get can be hard to take. (I understand things lighten up a bit in the NT). However, I came across this nugget today from Ch. 30 of Deuteronomy:

"11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it."

Sounds Quakerly to me!

(thanks to biblegateway.com for the text)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rocky Raccoon

Her name was MaGill,
but she called herself Lil,
but everyone knew her as Nancy.

Rocky Raccoon,
Lennon & McCartney

I met a guy in law school once who, when asked his name, went into a spiel something like this:
"My name is Bob, but my friends call me Rick, although my family calls me Bud, but you can call me....."

I feel a bit like that, as I've been experimenting with suitable internet user names. I've posted on other blogs as Dave Oschen & Dascho. I've tried a few additional iterations here. I don't actually like using pseudonyms (their "pseudo" after all, meaning false, untrue -- hardly a testament to light and truth!) On the other hand, I'd like a bit of internet anonymity. So, I've settled on Dave Carl, my first and middle names, thereby accomodating my desires for both truth and reticence.

But you can call me Dan, although my friends call me Jack....

'What can I do?' - SiCKO