Monday, August 23, 2010

"A Year of Peace" by Tony Lowe

I was very glad to hear that NCYM-FUM decided to make peace our theme for 2010. For a religious group that is supposed to be about peace and reconciliation, we Quakers have a very clouded history, marked with bitter divisions and splits. And each time this has happened, we have lost something of who we are. We have become evangelical/social justice or programmed/unprogrammed Friends, and then had the audacity to act like our particular group is the only one upon whom the mantle of early Quakerism fell, that we are the only “real Quakers” and all other groups who claim the same name have no right to use it.. The truth is all of us together are the bearers of that mantle, but none of us have an exclusive right to its use. Since our beginning, all our various branches have incorporated ideas and practices into our own faith tradition that we have borrowed from others. And we have all found the place under the mantle that is most comfortable for us, whether it is working for peace and social justice or feeding the hungry or preaching the gospel message. All of these are part of the message and ministry that came out of the Friends movement. We often fail to see or even choose not to see the good Friends groups other than our own are doing. And that’s because we tend to focus on one part of the Quaker message, sometimes to the point of ignoring other parts.. But that does not makes us more right, or better Quakers than another group who has a different emphasis. As Paul told the church at Corinth, the body has many parts, the foot and the hand both belong to that body but they function in different ways. So it is with the Society of Friends.

Our own attitudes may be our worst enemy since they negatively impact both our integrity and our credibility. It is very difficult for people outside the Society of Friends to accept all our talk about the possibilities for peace and reconciliation throughout the world when we are not able to practice it effectively among ourselves. No matter how “right” someone believes they are theologically or in terms of their understanding of who Friends are, when it leads to drawing lines in the sand and further division, the entire Society of Friends suffers as does our witness to the world as reconcilers and peace makers.

There is also the very practical consideration of finances. Due to the current economic crisis, Quaker organizations everywhere are cutting staff and diminishing both the number and scope of the programs they offer. This is exacerbated by Friends’ refusal to support the efforts of other Quaker groups with whom they have differences over social or theological issues. How many once strong Quaker organizations will become victims of our inability to work together?

In the last two or three years, there have been folks from all across Quakerism who have been very actively involved with convergent/emergent Friends. During the FUM triennial sessions in High Point, almost 50 Quakers from seven or eight Yearly Meetings gathered for an afternoon discussion about convergent Friends. These Friends were from a variety of Yearly Meetings -Baltimore, North Carolina, Iowa, New England, Wilmington, and Great Britain to name some of them. There was even a couple who were affiliated with Evangelical Friends. All these folks gathered for one reason. They were tired of hearing about our differences and all the things that separate us and wanted instead to explore how our common heritage as Quakers might provide opportunities for us to learn from one another, to celebrate those beliefs and practices around which we can unite, and develop mutual respect and appreciation for one another’s differences. This was of course the same triennial session in which one of our speakers, a highly respected and weighty Friend with many years of knowledge and experience with Quakers, said point blank that if Friends were going to have a future, Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference should plan some joint sessions.

Maybe the time has come for us all to follow the example of convergent Friends and focus on those things around which we can find unity rather than those which divide us. One thing that unites us is that we all still believe there is a great work in the world to be done by Friends. But can we not accomplish more working together than any one group of us can on our own? So, if we are going to make this a year of peace, we must commit ourselves to the hard work of making peace, not just in the world, but among ourselves. As the song says, “let peace begin with me.” In this year of peace, let us all work together for peace and reconciliation, for unity and tolerance, and for mutual respect and understanding among Friends everywhere


Linda (haven) said...

Friend, thee speaks my mind, and I hope the mind of many other Friends.

forrest said...

Sorry, I have been thinking about this matter for some long time, and have had to conclude-- that the time has come for us to focus on the things that divide us! Some of these issues are simply too urgent to remain blithely unresolved.

The challenge, of course, is to hold together in mutual love while facing things that many of us don't want to face.

It's important that we remain able to sit together with Friends with whom we have vehement disagreement.

Being able to voice our disagreements with them, and deeply consider their disagreements with us, to really let God lead everyone to right understanding, rather than 'consensus'... That's an impossible task, but how long can we endure if we can't face it?

KnittinStix said...

I think Tony and Forrest both have a point. On Tony's side, to paraphrase the apostle Paul, we shouldn't argue over things that are debatable, which Friends have done time and again in the past 150 years or so. However, we need to do some serious discernment to figure out what things are essential and hold one another in love as we dialogue around them.

I think that "radical Quakerism," a Quakerism that goes to our roots, would be the result of such dialogue and intervisitation, and that's what I understand Tony to be referring to. This stands in sharp contrast to a shallow "consensus," which, alas, we have all too much of in some of our monthly meetings.

~Adria Gulizia

RichardM said...

North Carolina Conservative discussed North Carolina FUM's naming of 2010 as the Year of Peace and we felt led to reach out to you and offer to work on peace issues together. We've contacted the superintendent of NCYM(FUM) and individuals from Jamestown Meeting. I hope we are able to find ways to work together.

Tony said...

I appreciate your comments Adria. It seems to me also that we sometimes walk carefully around elephants in the room and either pretend we're in unity, or we walk away. The key phrase is holding one another in love and remaining open to the possibility that there may be those who do see some things more clearly than we do.
And Richard, it would be great to see NCYM -FUM and NCYM Conservative come together around a conversation about peace. Let's hope way will open for it

RichardM said...

A concrete step would be for you to contact FUM Friends in Jamestown. That seems to be a place where there is already an FUM/Conservative exchange started.