Thursday, March 20, 2008

Radical Inclusiveness -- Beanite Tradition -- Part One

Just to emphasize, at the outset, that this is One Quaker Take and not an "official" statement adopted by North Pacific Yearly Meeting...

North Pacific Yearly Meeting traces its genesis back to Joel and Hannah Bean. For reasons too complicated to relate, here, they began a worshipping group that invited all Friends to fellowship, regardless of where they held membership in the Society of Friends. When they did that, in 1889, it was a radical move because it followed on the better part of a hundred years of schism and division that left the Society of Friends divided and in disarray and it was a direct and intentional response to that division and disarray.

The group was characterized as "united" (in the sense that Friends from all domains of the Society were welcome) and "independent" (in the sense that it was not affiliated with any of the then existing domains of the Society). My understanding is that the Beans preferred "united" and that seems consistent with some of Joel's earlier writing encouraging re-gathering Friends.

Updating our Faith and Practice here in North Pacific Yearly Meeting we have looked back on this beginning, and the intervening development of that group into Pacific, and Inter-mountain Yearly Meetings, as well as into our own.

Although there is not a general knowledge or understanding of the history of all of this among us, the term "independent" is still used by many to characterize North Pacific Yearly Meeting. This term became more important recently with discussion among Friends here about affiliation with Friends General Conference.

The term "united" is far less well known or important to Friends in North Pacific Yearly Meeting, even though, it occurs to me, it may be the more important, as it seems to have been for the Beans, for an understanding, by us and by those who see us from the "outside," the basis of our unity as a yearly meeting.

As radically inclusive as it was a hundred and twenty years or so ago, a "united" group in which any Christian Friend is welcome is far less radical today.

My own survey and analysis of our yearly meeting, and my experience as a member, makes apparent to me that we are a "united" meeting in the sense that Friends are in fellowship here whose spiritual orientation is Christian (we'd probably say "Christo-centric"), something spiritual other than Christian, and even orientations the holder s of which would not characterize as spiritual, at all.

That is radical inclusiveness, indeed.

And it causes us some issues.

First among those is the fascinating phenomenon that in a group where no one would claim that there is a creed or set of beliefs that one must embrace to belong some of us have become insistent, at times, that certain terminology (and the beliefs they reflect) must be or not be used in the Faith and Practice.

Another of these issues is, given such a radical inclusiveness, where are the limits? While it is likely (although not certain) than none would say that one can believe anything and share in the unity of North Pacific Yearly Meeting none can say, either, what is beyond the pale.

Struggling with this first issue has brought many of us to understand that the Faith and Practice must have an "and/also" orientation. Friends must see themselves in the book and must accept that they will also see things that are not descriptive of them but are descriptive of others in the yearly meeting. This is how it will be in a "united" meeting based on a radical inclusiveness. Understanding the nature of this inclusiveness is essential to getting a Faith and Practice written without dividing us. Sometimes, as one Friend put it, Quakers just have to get over "themselves."

The second issue will not be resolved in the writing of the Faith and Practice, nor can it be. The last time, for example, the Faith and Practice was revised the issue of taking same sex marriages under the care of meetings in North Pacific Yearly Meeting was, in hindsight, only moving within the pale. Such things are not worked out by writing minutes; they are worked out in the hearts and lives of this Community of Friends and only then manifested in minutes and in the Faith and Practice.

This means that it will likely always be unclear what one would have to do (although it may be more clear that it would be what one would have to do, as opposed to what one would have to believe) in order to be "disowned" or be deemed a "heretic" here in this liberal (or the Liberal liberal) yearly meeting . (No, there is no process for disownment or for declaring someone a heretic included in our Faith and Practice nor, to my knowledge, in the faith and practice of any among us, although, as I say, it might seem from some of what some of us say sometimes that there might be).

It is important that these issues be "named" among Friends within North Pacific Yearly Meeting as they are crucial to our understanding of the internal, mutual "enculturation" process that defines us and in protecting and nurturing that process. This is a spiritual community built more on a way of being religious together than it is built on a set of specific beliefs. That means it is a highly participatory spirituality that becomes a husk if that participation flags.

This yearly meeting did not become what it is, what it is struggling to become, through some decision that was made, somewhere, sometime by some group of people. It is what it is because there is something at work among us. (Please don't ask for a definition of that "something" because it seems to me that trying to define it stops its work.) This is leading us in ways we cannot comprehend or appreciate until it becomes a-borning. We cannot see what has moved to and is moving toward Bethlehem to be born. We can only see that it did and still is.

I realize, by the way, that some in the broader Society of Friends might claim that this which is at work among us is not really of God or the Spirit. I can only acknowledge their concern, ask their prayers and refer them to Gamaliel's advice in Acts 5:38-40.

It is incumbent upon us to say what we know, in so far as we know it, which means, at a minimum, making clear to the Society of Friends as a whole what is the latitude and longitude of North Pacific Yearly Meeting. That is part of what writing a Faith and Practice is about.

We know that there are Friends who shake their heads in wonder at what we are and what we do, but we also know that there are Friends who see their own reflection in our condition. We know that these others in the Society will be supported and encouraged by us, as we have been supported and encouraged all along by them.

It takes a long time to write a Faith and Practice because it involves individual Friends sharing their developing faiths and practices with one another, and learning from and teaching one another and, above all, developing the love and appreciation they have for one another and for their way of being religious together, for the radically inclusive community they create together by living it out.


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Not responding to comments may cut off debates, but it also cuts off conversation. I'm sorry you've come to feel that way; I used to enjoy conversing with you!

Timothy Travis said...


I have revised my "box." Please feel free to leave me an e mail address that works and I'd be please to re-connect with you.


Allison said...

Yay for radical inclusivity! It makes me sad people would think this is not Spirit/God led. Jesus talked to everybody, EVERYBODY: soldiers, politicans, priests, pharisees, prostitutes, tax collectors, criminals, children, women, fishermen, beggars, lepers, etc.

Liz Opp said...

Timothy, I particularly appreciate the history of Beanite Friends. I have wondered off-and-on about them, and even though I have heard others describe them, explain them, put them on the Quaker tree, I find that it is through reading blog posts like this one that help me the most with understanding who they were/are and how they/you came to be.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Marshall Massey said...

Timothy, old friend, you can always e-mail me at mmassey (at) earthwitness (dot) org.

Or if you lose my e-mail address, you can click on my name where it appears at the top of my comment on your site, and it will take you to my journal site, and there's a form right there, accessible from the control panel on the left-hand side of the page, that you can use to write me.

Os said...

Timothy, your last line particularly moved me and I thank you for that. You wrote of the "community they create together by living it out." Different faiths can accompany the living out and often do as in a mixed marriage. Let us in our meetings be examples of this. The world certainly needs it as we struggle to emerge from bondage to the view that love and cooperation requires agreement on doctrine. Let's get on with the living - for me that is evidence enough of a common faith.

Thank you, Timothy, for struggling toward the light and for sharing it with others.