29 June 2023

Grace and peace, part three: cherishing the seed


(Part one, part two.)

Now the kingdom of God could be no otherways in them than in a seed, even as the thirty-fold and the hundred-fold is wrapt up in a small seed, lying in a barren ground, which springs not forth because it wants nourishment: and as the whole body of a great tree is wrapped up potentially in the seed of the tree, and so is brought forth in due season; and as the capacity of a man or woman is not only in a child, but even in the very embryo, even so the kingdom of Jesus Christ, yea Jesus Christ himself, Christ within, who is the hope of glory, and becometh wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, is in every man's and woman's heart, in that little incorruptible seed, ready to be brought forth, as it is cherished and received in the love of it.

— Robert Barclay, Apology for the True Christian Divinity, Propositions V and VI.

We spent last weekend on the campus of Western Oregon University, in Monmouth, at our seventh annual sessions of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Our agenda included a number of items on which we didn't have immediate unity. For example, the Safeguarding Committee proposed several changes to our yearly meeting's Safeguarding Policy for cases when a possible abuse is committed by a pastor or other "person in charge." The first draft of the revisions caused a lively discussion, and the committee went back to work on some new wording.

The first draft of the budget (a document we call a "spending plan") also raised some concerns. Those concerns, too, led to some late-night work. The Finance Committee brought a revised spending plan the next day.

We had a visitor from another yearly meeting who was observing all of these discussions. Toward the end of our sessions, she told us how impressed she was with the tenor of these discussions. I was surprised and delighted with her observations, because (as I realized) I had begun to take our relatively calm style for granted.

Another interesting incident: During previous gatherings, the yearly meeting had made several appointments of representatives to other Friends gatherings and bodies. These representatives made reports to last weekend's sessions. 

Then, during the discussion of the Faith and Practice Committee's report, a member of that committee reminded us that at our very first session as a yearly meeting, we had adopted a policy of not appointing "representatives." She suggested that this policy originated in our associating "representatives" with a structure in our old yearly meeting that had been used to impose an unacceptable degree of control over us. She suggested that our unpremeditated and gradual re-adoption of the term "representative" was a sign of healing.

I've said before that my dream is for us to form a church that is known to be, and really is, trustworthy. Could it be that our small and young group of churches is making actual progress toward this goal?

And ... is it possible to link this experience of a consistently gracious tone in our business sessions with my two previous blog posts on grace? If grace is God's unconditional, ever-available power and favor, doesn't it make sense that, to the extent we are open to this energy and allow it to shape how we see ourselves and each other—how we "cherish and receive" the precious seed of God's witness in each other—we become more trustworthy?

As I said before in my "grace" posts, the history of the church includes a long series of filters and structures to make grace manageable. Are we Quakers ready to be among the people of faith who want to live in the immediacy of grace, and given a trustworthy setting, become more ready to risk?

What do I mean by "risk"? Two examples: 

One, our readiness to share our experiences of grief, hopelessness, anger, injury—whether as sufferers ourselves, or as witnesses to the suffering of others. Readiness to ask for help, including labor and money. Readiness to confess we can't see God at all today; readiness to listen tenderly to another's confession tomorrow.

Artist: Sally Wern Comport.
Two (and for Friends, this may be the deal-breaker!), readiness to be enthusiastic, outrageously joyful, to work our hearts out to find ways to make our grace-shaped community more accessible to people who might be blessed by our churches, whether these potential newcomers fit the stereotypes of "Quaker" or not. Let them decide!

This is not a call to rest contentedly in a state of self-congratulatory irrelevance. It's a call to uphold our best feature as Christians: gracious transparency.

At our best, we Friends have the ability to keep access to grace uncluttered. We don't let theology, ceremony, or structures get in the way. Let's not allow self-defeating diffidence or subterranean elitism to get in the way, either.

"...That every one's cup may run over." Recalling my favorite quotation from George Fox, 1669:

All Friends every where, in the living spirit, and living power, and in the heavenly light dwell, and quench not the motions of it in yourselves, nor the movings of it in others; though many have run out, and gone beyond their measures, yet many more have quenched the measure of the spirit of God, and after became dead and dull, and questioned through a false fear: and so there hath been hurt both ways. And therefore be obedient to the power of the Lord, and his spirit, and his spiritual weapons; war with that Philistine that would stop up your wells and springs. Jacob's well was in the mountain, (read that within,) he was the second birth. And the belief in the power keeps the spring open. And none to despise prophecy, neither to quench the spirit; so that all may be kept open to the spring, that every one's cup may run over.

There is much more to tell about our recent yearly meeting sessions, particularly about the central theme of trauma and hard-won hope. Stay tuned!

A small selection of commentaries on the Prigozhin affair:

Jeremy Morris, "When Is a Coup Not a Coup?"
Timothy Snyder, "Ten Lessons from a Mutiny."
Meduza on Lukashenko's negotiations with Prigozhin, in Lukashenko's own words.

Noah Merrill, "As Oil from Gethsemane"

... I know from experience that it is in the driest of times that our roots learn to reach more deeply to seek the Living Water, more deeply than they ever have before.

Heather Cox Richardson on today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions.

Detecting low-frequency gravitational waves that seem to stretch and squeeze time (while scientists try to avoid letting our planet's politics get in the way...).

One of the bands I'm looking forward to hearing in the next few days, at the Waterfront Blues Festival: Rick Estrin and the Nightcats. If I don't answer e-mails or pick up the phone, now you know why....

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