12 July 2018

Stepping out of the boat

Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends, May 18, 2018, opening session.
Immediately [after feeding the multitudes; context] Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
When Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends opened its very first annual sessions as an established body, about two months ago in Canby, Oregon, USA, I was practically holding my breath with excitement and anticipation. During our opening worship, Matthew's account of Jesus, the disciples, and the water came to my mind. I quickly realized why: we were Peter, stepping out of the boat. Would we have the necessary faith?

The parallels with Matthew's gospel aren't perfect. We weren't simply on our way to the next stop; our boat was more like a lifeboat dropped from the shifting deck of Northwest Yearly Meeting. (Nautical metaphors might be a bit risky; some would say we were forced to walk the plank!) One thing we had in common with Peter: We had asked Jesus to command us, and he did.

Here we're among those receiving
certificates as recorded ministers.
Step one, conducting business as disciples who love each other: We were a completely new yearly meeting, a new association of Quakers, with only a few quarterly rehearsals under our belts, but I was impressed to see how well we worked together. Important decisions were discussed and approved. (You're invited to access minutes through this page.) We named committees and officers. We received a treasurer's report and approved a budget. We recognized ministers. We received visitors from other parts of the Quaker world.

It seemed to me that we took that first step without sinking. Much of the practical credit goes to clerk Cherice Bock, who led us with grace and patience and sensitivity.

Step two, building our identity: Here we really had to decide whether we as a body were in fact walking toward Jesus. Some of our churches are uncomplicatedly and unaffectedly Christian, culturally indistinguishable from other evangelical Friends congregations, except for the refusal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. None of our meetings identify as non-Christian, but some have more experience providing spiritual hospitality to people who have survived encounters with authoritarian religiosity. Those churches are particularly careful not to use Christian language in ways that could come across as glib and domineering. At our Canby sessions, this issue came up in considering what to require of applicants for membership. Rather than asking applicants to use specific language about themselves, we agreed to describe who we are -- a Christ-centered community -- and leave it up to applicants to decide whether this kind of community was something they wanted to join.

Once again, we grappled with a complex issue ... and did not sink.

We're not out of the water yet, so to speak. We have more decisions to make, including the adoption of a book of discipline. Beyond these important identity-and-boundary concerns ... and intimately related to them ... are the questions that all we Quakers are bound to ask ourselves at all times: what does God want to say and do through us? Given our legacy of Quaker discipleship, what will be the shape of our peace witness, our evangelism, our Lamb's War against racism and elitism, our care for God's creation? What wider associations of Friends might help us in being faithful to God's leadings?

Beyond what is required to protect children and vulnerable members and attenders, we do not claim top-down authority over individual churches, but we will be free to develop shared services and ministries. What might those be? Will we collaborate on Christian education for children? Will we consider joining wider associations of Friends?

Referring to William Barber's message to Friends General Conference (see next item below), we're living in a time where there's just a lot of meanness. There will certainly be temptations to look down at the water, to fear the wind, to fall back on the tired answers of the past. To be honest, I feel those temptations multiple times a day. I want to keep going step by step toward Jesus, knowing that even if I slip, I can still say, with Peter, "Lord, save me!"

FGC plenary session with Rev. Barber
About a week ago, William Barber II, a minister from Goldsboro, NC, and founder of Repairers of the Breach, addressed the annual gathering of Friends General Conference. Basing his message on Ezekiel 22:23-31, Barber traced four enmeshed sins (meanness in politics; misuse of the courts; misdirection of the masses; and theological malpractice) from Ezekiel's time, through the era of Lucretia Mott and Levi Coffin, right up to today.

At 47:40 he says,
And we ended up in America with a president steeped in racism, narcissism, economic isolationism, and we ended up with a majority Congress so paid off by the corporate backers that they would sell their own children's future out to get a tax cut to the wealthy, guns to the NRA, freedom to the insurance companies, deregulation to the polluters, and the right to oppress workers to the corporations, and more money, more money, more money to the military defense contractors and the war economy. That's where we are, that's the analysis.

And here we are, at a time -- we are saying in the Poor People's Campaign -- where once again, like Dr. King said, we have to address systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy, and militarism, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism, if we're going to turn this country around. And you can't separate any one of those from the others.

Why do I say that? Because systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy, and militarism, and the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism, has created a kind of meanness in politics, like in Ezekiel's day, like in Lucretia Mott's. There's a meanness in politics, a meanness we haven't seen as overt for a long time.
Early on, Barber refers to Ezekiel's indictment of false prophets. Toward the end, he returns to this theme: "...What we see now is a boldness of the false prophets, this kind of covering up and being puppets to the Empire rather than being prophets to the Empire." His call to Quakers: be still and quiet long enough to know we're called by God and not by ego and arrogance, and then speak out, act out, as true prophets -- as the moral witness of our time. (I recommend not skipping anything, but to hear his charge to Friends, go to 1:03:09.)

Timing is everything, it seems. Pension reform in Russia. (And related longevity charts.)

Shaun Walker wonders whether the World Cup will change how Russia is covered by foreign press.

Frederica Mathewes-Green's tattoo and related thoughts on faith, visible and persistent.

Sarah Kaplan on ghostly neutrinos from a distant galaxy.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Walter Horton

1 comment:

John H. Maurer said...

I always read your blog, and always find it inspiring, but I have to respond to this one; it moves me,and moves me toward Christ. I wanted to, but wasn't able to attend the yearly meeting. We at Berkeley Friends Church got a report from Keith Barton, who did attend, but yours touched my heart in ways that his didn't. (Sorry, Keith.)

Amen. Let it be so.