Martin's blog, a collection of distress signals (but also much more than that) and a space to discuss openly our thoughts and feelings about the gaps between ideals and realities among Friends.
His article, "The Witness of Our Lost Twenty-Somethings." (diagnosis)
His blog archive article, "It's My Language Now: Thinking About Youth Ministry." (diagnosis and some tools for recovery)
In Martin's May 16 posting, which links to the two articles above and sets a context for them, he asks, "If we could get a message out to larger Quakerdom, what we want it to be?" I read with great appreciation the responses that have been accumulating as comments to that May 16 item. I am happy that important issues are being raised by Martin and the readers of his blog. I am happy that I don't know most of these people (beyond their familiarity to me as a reader of Martin's blog/forum for over a year) -- this means that a whole new generation of prophetic and creative voices is in the Friends movement, no thanks to previous generations, whose lack of vision and encouragement is frightening. And I am shocked at how many of the diagnoses articulated by these Friends and ex-Friends have arisen in my generation and earlier, remaining unaddressed.
Some of the reflects that arise for me in view of all this:
- Haunting comments from over forty years ago: Albert Fowler in his Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Two Trends in Modern Quaker Thought, said:
Members of the Society of Friends are increasingly disturbed by the comment that Quaker Meeting is a fine place for seeking, but one must go elsewhere if one’s object is finding. (page 12)
Paul Lacey tells of people he has talked with who have found the Society of Friends a kind of incubator where they can develop just enough to realize that the real conditions of life and worship lie outside it. Many of these people, having looked to the Quaker Meeting as a source of inspiration and deepened faith, pass beyond it to find fuller meaning elsewhere. (page 19)
- The tendency to hush up awkward issues (in fairness, not unique to Friends, but we do have an ideal of plain speaking!) has been wreaking havoc for a long time. I remember when a group of us had difficulty recruiting panelists for a 1978 panel discussion on the topic, "Is the Unspoken Message of Friends Racist?" Another incident that is vivid in my memory is the time a meeting responded to a Yearly Meeting query about men's and women's equality with a response along the lines of the following: "This is not a problem in our meeting and we felt it would be a divisive topic."
- I have seen co-dependence to unhealed people - refugees who come to us from oppressive spiritual contexts and are granted veto power over any expressions that might remind them of their past - quench the spirit of several meetings. Over and over, I (and others) have warned: we can and must offer healing and hospitality without losing the distinction between host and guest, and without losing the teaching voice of our church.
I've known many Friends who have promoted a vision of youth ministry, have advanced the concepts of spiritual gifts and Gospel order, have created great syntheses of biblical faithfulness and social justice, have promoted collaboration between mystics and prophets, between stewards and elders; and what do we have to show for it all?
Before I admit that this is a shameless rhetorical question, I ought to answer it straightforwardly: we have thousands of Friends congregations worldwide who, despite all differences, seem to be animated by a wonderful blend of biblical faith and grace, and whose very presence in a community is a precious witness.
We also, however, have a cluster of self-defeating behaviors that may combine with external forces to marginalize and dilute our witness even more than it already is. My message to "larger Quakerdom" would be simply this: confront these issues openly, creatively, publicly, undefensively, or prepare to see the fadeout continue.
Here are some of the internal and external factors:
- elitism ... too many Friends and their meetings are content with being isolated little islands of spiritual adepts of one kind or another, rather than a movement that understands the true universality of the Gospel invitation
- a shockingly casual attitude toward Jesus Christ - content either to relegate him to the status of wise teacher of the past, which is a complete betrayal of our founding insights into the ongoing reality of apostolic Christianity, or to turn him into combination of lucky rabbit's foot and theological trump card, useful for personal reassurance and for trouncing liberals but not for true headship of our church; both problems often compounded in the Western church by the twin poisons of individualism and affluence
- the cult of quakerishness and its in-group language, a self-sufficient enclosed system, sort of like the Pokemon universe or Magic the Gathering, that blinds us to the reality that the discipleship expected by early Friends is now often better exemplified outside Friends
- the demise of denominational structures, replaced in the best cases by functional organizations with clear missions and communicable identities that earn their way by merit; and the parallel demise of denominational loyalties
- weird and unnecessary dysfunctions in our relationship with leaders
Would an end to the Friends movement represent a world crisis? I doubt it; God's Holy Spirit will continue to form and animate communities of disciples. However, the urgency of a call to larger Quakerdom is really a call to integrity: have we been faithful to a vision and heritage of discipleship that once had liberating power, and might still? What is the proper stewardship of the network of relationships and promises that remains of that heritage?
Instead of fixating on the future of that network, or its lack, should we focus on cultivating the discernment and commitment that will help those we influence to find the best spiritual communities for their gifts, inside or outside Friends? To favor a concern for faithful discernment over a concern for survival might be our best chance for survival.