19 July 2012

Yearly Meeting shorts

Yearly Meeting 2009: even financial reports are matters of discipleship
It is a few days from the start of Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions. For my own Quaker soul, this is the high point of the church year. Yearly Meeting sessions are where we put our faith to the test: can 67 diverse congregations encourage each other, hold each other accountable, and collaborate effectively? Can we talk about sexual ethics and biblical interpretation without the sky falling in? Will young people and new Friends find places of inspiration and service? Can an introvert like me, regularly attending a Meeting of usually less than twenty worshippers, hang out with hundreds of Friends all at once and not go crazy?

Becky Ankeny in Elektrostal
(The answer to the last question, based on many happy experiences over 37 years, visiting yearly meetings in annual session in seven countries, is emphatically "yes.")

This year, we will have a chance to talk about life in Russia in one of the workshops, and consider the role of prayer in our lives in another. Instead of hearing a visiting speaker in the evening sessions, we will have a chance to be taught by our new superintendent, Becky Ankeny. We will pass by tempting displays of Quaker books several times each day. We will worship in quiet waiting and we'll sing. Among the best features of yearly meeting, we'll have meals with people we see far too rarely, and whose company and ideas we cherish.

This year, our agenda will include time to consider the current state of affairs in the Yearly Meeting in the area of sexual ethics and same-sex relationships--but, as presiding clerk Tom Stave says, without making decisions this year, or making changes in Faith and Practice. "Our aim is to create a productive ongoing process, to build our trust and respect for each other, and to make plenty of room for Christ to work with us." These conversations will take place during the business sessions but in a small-group format. Given that some Friends think that these conversations are long overdue, while others can't believe we are even opening up these topics in view of Faith and Practice's clear Scriptural guidelines, I'm committing myself to pray for the Yearly Meeting's leaders instead of getting caught up in verbal crosscurrents. Being intensely verbal, and more argumentative than I like to admit, I think this will be a good discipline for me.

I'm one of the peculiar Friends who actually loves business meetings. The process by which strong-minded individuals manage to transcend their initial viewpoints, allowing the Holy Spirit to shape a unifying decision, is an amazing thing to witness. I've also seen times when it simply doesn't happen that way, but (without doing a count) I've probably seen more successes than failures. The Quaker conduct of church business is one of the things that unites most of our diverse branches. I can cite meetings from meetings that have no pastor and use waiting worship, and meetings that do have pastors and have programmed worship--and if I pick out the right pairs, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the programmed and the unprogrammed meeting based on the business meeting. (Well, the programmed meeting, if it's pastoral, might have a report from the pastor.)

The actual tone and energy of discussions might vary widely from place to place. Discussions in Moscow Meeting are considerably more lively than might be considered optimal in Anglo-Saxon-majority meetings, for example. But in either case, if a clerk can discern and propose minutes that reflect a Spirit-led sense of the meeting, no matter how loud or lively the process has been, the result is equally "Quaker." 

"Challenging our century's faux-tolerance." David Koyzis, reviewing The Intolerance of Tolerance by D. A. Carson, starts out by distinguishing the traditional definition of tolerance ("...to willingly endure ideas and practices with which one strongly disagreed...") with what he and the book author assert is the new variation: "...to imply a general nonjudgemental attitude towards the conflicting truth claims of different worldviews. To express disagreement at all [given this new definition] is to risk the accusation of intolerance."

Trying to gain rhetorical advantage in a dispute by giving the other side a negative label (such as "intolerant") is nothing new. The technique joins many others in current service in both church politics and secular politics, such as fake outrage, fake antiquity, and fake naivete, unfair comparisons (my best ideals with your worst practices), arguing from consequences, selective quotations without context, and the ever-popular false dichotomy. And possibly the all-time champion: logical linkages that subvert God's loving intent (Mark 7:10-12; context).

"Another Look: Mark Galli on 'Transformation'." "Now, some people would say that it’s depressing that I can’t change. Well, it’s not depressing, it’s freeing! It’s depressing and oppressive to think every morning that I somehow have to be better than I was the day before to justify my Christian religion and to justify my faith. That’s the oppressive thing." Yet another clipping to add to my dossier on evangelical machismo and its treatment.

For American readers: "Ten Election-Year Reality Checks."

A follow-up to "A Time To Die"--Anne Jackson, age 32, writes about her own recent experiences. "I’m faced with the reality of my own transience now—not that I am any more or less at risk with these events than I am driving to the grocery store, but it feels that way when death has been speaking into my consciousness more repeatedly than usual."

In the aftermath of the tragic flooding in Krymsk, Russia's Internet innovators are doing their part to organize grassroots response.

Syria's Calvary Walk continues. Helena Cobban thinks about wider implications: "Sarajevo, 1914; Damascus 2012?"

Not far away, the Pilgrims of Ibillin present their redesigned Web site.

To avoid ending this post on a down note, Big Daddy Wilson sings "Don't ever let nobody drag your spirit down" ... (from the 2012 Åmål Blues Fest in Sweden)

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