Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gossip 'bout the neighbors--right out where they can hear

When I read people's thoughts about their own experiences, their descriptions of their faith and practice and what it's like behind the hedges they maintain between themselves and other Friends I usually learn something and almost always feel some kind of connection between them and me.

It almost seems, sometimes, like holes are appearing in those hedges and that they may, some way in the future time, be coming down.

I mourn when I read some of the stuff in this post and most of the comments attached to it--in which Friends talk about "my" experiences, "my" faith and practice and "my" domain of the Society.  Can they really believe this twisted caricature of me? It's stunning in its chauvinistic and patronizing historical inaccuracy. In this caricature, hurtful and sure to firmly seat wedges driven long ago, is the story, in epitome, of how our Society became the small and insignificant sect it is.

Our religious "parents" forfeited Quaker peculiarity, making themselves completely comfortable in a self-righteous, notionally divided house they built for us to inherit.

We sometimes look quite like we share that comfort in the same kind of "meantime"  world of strife, sniping and factions that our religious "grandparents" were called to reconcile by allowing themselves to be made perfected, matured and fit for that particular purpose.

If we can't talk about others in edifying and constructive ways, saying things that will build them up and that will help connect them to us and us to them as we work out our salvation together, then maybe we should just talk about ourselves--or perhaps wait, and listen.

"Question:  But if I do not presently see that service in a thing that the rest of my brethren [sic] agree in?  In this case what is my duty, and theirs?

"Answer.  It is thy duty to wait upon God in silence and in patience, and as thou abide in the simplicity of Truth thou wilt receive an understanding with the rest of thy brethren [sic] about the thing doubted.  And it is their duty, whilst thou behavest thyself in meekness, to bear with thee, and carry themselves tenderly and lovingly towards thee."

          "True Spiritual Liberty," William Penn, 1681
         (condensed by Lewis Benson), Tract Association of Friends


Hystery said...

Thank you for giving voice to my thoughts here. I was having a hard time understanding the perspective. It seemed so disconnected from my own experience of being a liberal Friend and of my observations of other Friends that I did not know how to respond.

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Timothy, I'm a bit confused. I'm not sure what you're meaning by all the "my" stuff. Brooks forwarded a (overly simplified) thesis that there are two currently-popular ways of thinking about political change and that these competing philosophies underpin some of our current electoral politics.

I thought that the Paine/Burke thesis helped explain some of the different interpretations of continual revelation that we see among liberal Friends today. And of course I concluded it was a false dichotomy that divides us.

Obviously you heard something different. But I'm still not sure what exactly. I did say it was a bit fundamentalist to believe just in continual revelation or just in historical institutionalism, but I don't think either extreme includes you.

Anyway, if you feel like talking, I'd be happy to listen. I didn't mean anything chauvinistic and actually thought I was writing a nice post about liberal Friends could bridge the divides between us.

Tmothy Travis said...

Hi, Martin

My sadness in this is that the tenor of the post and the comments it provoked (especially some of the comments it provoked) were not conducive to bridging any divides among Friends and, as I said, were of the stuff that created and maintain those divides.

I acknowledge what you write, above, and at the same time I see this in your original post:

"Are we in an "eternal now," ready to reinvent liberal Quakerism every thirty years and only willing to read .old Friends to pull quotes out of context? Or are we tinkerers of tradition, trustees keeping the parts oiled for the next generation?"

That is a compound rhetorical question “asked” at Liberal Friends. It’s a charged and slanted either/or to the likes of me: Am I one who "quotes out of context" or am I one of the "trustees keeping the parts oiled?" It is an indictment, not an inquiry.

The inclusion of the reference to the Tea Party, just before a paragraph starting "...especially Liberal Friends..." was not only unnecessary to what you state as your point, it was inflammatory--especially in light of the two part rhetorical question.

So, out from the context marches the innuendo that Liberal Friends are, and thus I am, pretty much the Tea Party of the Society of Friends. One of the comments makes that inference explicit.

I would like to talk about the Burke/Paine model as a means of understanding continuing revelation. At first I thought it was not relevant to the Society but then I realized that it is and that the very fact of its applicability--apart from any analysis that might flow from it--uncovers and highlights the source of the division and resulting disintegration that has so diminished the Quaker witness over the years.

Martin Kelley said...

Still confused. I'm not the Quaker Taliban here. I wasn't talking about "those liberal Friends" but about "us liberal Friends."

I explicitly say that we should seek to avoid either Paine/Burke extreme. My take is that the future of the liberal Quaker enterprise is continuing to find a way to bridge those opposing tendencies. You've always impressed me as a bridge. I've tried to be a bridge but seem to find myself frequently denounced as illiberal. I might have to settle for being a signpost...

Tmothy Travis said...

I never saw you as the Quaker Taliban (now, there's an image!) and I still don't.

I was appalled that the Paine/Burke polarity, two competing notions about self government, should be used to describe the dynamics of Liberal Friends as a body.

After reflecting on this for past few days I realize that Paine/Burke has been at work, not only with Liberal Friends, but throughout the entire Society for a long time, and that this work explains a lot about what has become of us.

This realization brought a lot together, for me, and I am just starting to get a handle on its implications.

Notwithstanding my dislike of it, I don't deny, as I did initially, that this model applies, even though it is to be mourned that it does.

I think I understand how it came to be.

Now I am wondering whether, considering how ingrained into "Quakerism" this all is, there is anything we can, or would even want to, do about that.