Provocative post over at Martin Kelley, Ranter: The Lost Quaker Generation, where Martin recounts a conversation with a friend and former Friend who served time in prison for a Plowshares action and has returned to his parents’ religious tradition.
Martin’s friend told Martin “He didn’t feel supported in his Plowshares action by his Meeting.” But he doesn’t say (or Martin doesn’t relate) whether he asked his meeting for a clearness committee before taking the action. Corporate discernment is central to my understanding of Quaker life, and is all too often neglected by contemporary Friends. It is too easy to assume that because there’s a hefty risk, the leading must be genuine. So, did he ask his meeting for a clearness committee as a step in asking them to support his action?
Martin’s friend concludes that
[T]he Friends in his Meeting didnâ€™t think the Peace Testimony could actually inspire us to be so bold. He said two of his Quaker heroes were John Woolman and Mary Dyer but realized that the passion of witness that drove them wasnâ€™t appreciated by todayâ€™s peace and social concerns committees. The radical mysticism that is supposed to drive Friendsâ€™ practice and actions have been replaced by a blandness that felt threatened by someone who could choose to spend years in jail for his witness.
I suspect he’s right about Mary Dyer’s passion not being appreciated as a model for our own lives today. But plenty of stodgy, unmystical old Friends have spent time in jail (or worse) themselves. Not knowing what the Plowshares action was, I suspect Friends’ fault was actually being unable to support destruction of property. In leading a nonviolence exercise in several Quakerism classes, I’ve found that a majority of contemporary “liberal” Friends and seekers in those classes disapprove of actions that involve trespassing, cutting fences, or hammering nosecones. Neither John Woolman nor Mary Dyer harmed the property of others. And John Woolman writes extensively about the corporate discipline to which he submitted.
Martin begins to draw to a close:
But back to my friend, the ex-Friend. I feel like heâ€™s just another eroded-away grain of sand in the delta of Quaker decline. Heâ€™s yet another Friend that Quakerism canâ€™t afford to loose, but which Quakerism has lost. No oneâ€™s mourning the fact that heâ€™s lost, no one has barely noticed. Knowing Friends, the few that have noticed have probably not spent any time reaching out to him to ask why or see if things could change and they probably defend their inaction with self-congratulatory pap about how Friends donâ€™t proselytize and look how liberal we are that we say nothing when Friends leave.
This is all too true of how stand-offish we can be in our meetings. But Martin–did you not notice? Are you not mourning? Did you not reach out to him and ask why (and even write about it)?
I know what you mean, but this is another common failing among us. We want “the meeting” or “Friends” to do something and overlook the things that we ourselves are doing or might do. Pastoral care is a big blindspot in this way. When I broke my ankle, Friends and friends stepped right up to give me transportation, company, and food. At the time, Beacon Hill Meeting didn’t even have a pastoral care committee, the meeting never took any action, and I don’t remember receiving a phone call “on behalf of the meeting.” (There were drugs involved…) Does that mean I didn’t receive pastoral care from the meeting? NO WAY. The meeting came through for me in a big way, discernably more so than my other communities. But I’ve heard others who received the same kind of loving care complain that the meeting didn’t do anything.
In spite of my contrary comments on elements of Martin’s post, I am worried by the same issues (just interpreting some of the elements differently). I came to Quakerism as a twenty-something, almost twenty years ago now. I was shocked then to be consistently among the youngest in many committees or gatherings. I’m shocked and saddened now to find that that is still all too often so. I’m glad that Martin and others like him are trying to make our Quaker home more welcoming and nurturing (and challenging) to all.