Friday, April 27, 2007

Convergent Humility

My husband and I sat down last weekened with the iPod download screen and the words of about 100 rock songs that I'd picked out for the church thingie. We went through them one after another, nixing this one, taking that one. There were a few good laughs. We ended up with about 20 songs for the first year.

Since then, said husband decided that it was going to be too difficult to wait to get a band together. He's looking for computer equipment to allow him to set down tracks and record over them so that he can be a one-man band in the short term.

I thought that sounded kind of funky.

But later, as I was admiring our new download CD, it suddenly hit me.

He was in charge of this whole project, not me.

He who never goes to meeting or church. He who thinks religion is stupid. He's the one that the Light is moving to build a new church.

Yeah. Like, not me.

I was awash in sudden humility.

Okay, sure, I'm intimately involved in it. I wanted this church thingie to be targeted at precisely the kind of person my husband is -- nonreligious. This meant that I had to listen very closely to what he was saying (and not saying) while I was developing the ideas.

But it all makes me wonder, in general, who is thinking whose thoughts. When I think a set of thoughts, am I actually just hearing and reflecting the thoughts of someone else? Or is the Spirit doing a co-nudge? Or is that was a spiritual co-nudge is?

Was it my listening to my husband that moved my thoughts into his head? Or was it how his thoughts moved into my head? Or are our two heads just corks floating in one larger Head?

Does our Quaker training in receptivity to the Spirit give us a leg-up in this area? Or are the world's people becoming like one big Mind due to media and the Internet? Is what we do in our blogs self-expression or co-expression?

This week I read the kudos to Martin and all the thanks messages about the Quaker blogosphere. How much influence have each of us had on each other's ideas and spiritual directions? How much is our own, and how much is part of this big Oneness?

I went out for a walk yesterday to think about this idea, and I saw it everywhere. The trees are not individual trees, but rather out-pushings of the Earth, where they will return when they die. The soil is not earth, but old trees. The wind here is the air from far away, with air molecules that the ancients breathed. When I touch anything on the Earth, I am connected with the whole of it. People are not born: birth is just the process of breaking off a chunk of life to become more life. When I speak to you, I am not speaking to you, but with you and in you. It's like the Catholic prayer before communion: Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honours is yours forever and ever.

This slightly Zen "Aha" moment is the realization that so much of what we call our own--our thoughts, minds, ideas, identities--is collective, not individual. When we get the courage to surrender our individualism, we let ourselves live more fully because our lives become rooted in reality.

We're going to start meeting next week. Just him and me for now. This is something we have never done before. I guess after 12 years of marriage, it's about time we started. I think way will open from there.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

QuakerQuaker & Me

I came upon the QuakerQuaker scene two years ago. I still feel like a relative newcomer, but folks have made me feel very welcome. Martin Kelley was especially helpful in getting me, an unknown, established in the community.

Communication is an adventure. People have never been able to communicate like this before. I love being able to talk to you, having never seen your faces, knowing most of you live in different countries that me. My husband calls it the "self-expression revolution." But I think of it as a realm of collective thought. Sure, people can misconstrue a post or a musing comment because words as communication are incomplete; even so, we get to think collectively. The QuakerQuaker community is a bit like a clearness committee. Through our blogs and comments to each other, we draw ourselves to greater clarity.

To use the old Quaker greeting, "how doth truth prosper in our parts"? I think it doth prosper very well.

I see things as having relevance for the time period in which they occur. It strikes me that we have this never-before capacity to communicate with each other because we have a never-before need to communicate at this level. There is so much that needs to be done. We need to be able to think collectively and communicate instantly. An idea starts as a nudge in someone's head, turns into a meme as it connects with other nudges in other heads, then becomes a worldwide movement that can't be stopped. There's hope in the way that the international interconnected community has taken on roles in wresting power away from those who don't care.

QuakerQuaker is a part of that movement.

Since starting my blog, I've been really pleased and touched by the people who have visited it. NonQuakers have dropped in from time to time -- that's always intrigued me. How did they find my blog? Why did they come? Who are they? I follow their link back to their site to see who they are, these individual people who have no connection to me but who by some miracle shared in my thoughts this one day.

What's changed for me since starting this blog? Greater clarity. This blog community has pulled at me in a way that regular meeting hasn't in a long time. It's prompted me to read books that people have recommended, follow links to articles that crystalize new ideas. Even the task of putting a vague nudge into words makes it take a form and shape, sometimes something new.

As if something speaks to us through nudges.

I'm glad to be here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Letter to the Editor

The following letter to the editor appeared in our local paper two days ago, written by a local Friend. It expresses a fundamental idea with pithy eloquence:

With the grievous loss of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan at the same time as rededicating the Vimy Ridge Memorial, much has been made of the "direct line" between those two conflicts ("PM honours Vimy legacy," April 9, 2007). The connection is not one so much one of glorious nationalism as it is a cult of death.

If Vimy was our defining moment it defined us as a people steeped in the blood of both friend and foe. Like other warlike people we love to teach our young to kill and be killed. We dress death with splendid monuments, flags, parades, doleful laments on pipes and bugles, volleys over open graves and floods of tears. We promise never to forget. And we initiate each new generation into the cult which ensures further occasion for remembrance. We dress the causes and results of death with noble but false words.

The great irony is that these events come together at Easter when Christians might be expected to champion most strongly a cult of peace and life. Our beloved country has followed the wrong line from Vimy to Afghanistan. We should seek out and follow the difficult paths of non-violent service both at home and abroad. We need a moral equivalent of war.

The next day, the CBC had a heartbreaking story about the deteriorating mental health of the children of soldiers in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why We Go

Why go to meeting/church?

Why not not go?

My husband and I are currently looking around for band-mates to start up the band for the church thingie (see Prism link in the sidebar), Our little posters are pinned up willy-nilly all over town and stuffed in the pockets of almost everyone we know. Since Husband is very representative of our "target market" so to speak, I am letting him lead on this project. But it takes a great deal of patience on my part.

I suggested that maybe we could start without the band.

He gave me an odd look. "What would be the point in that? Why go?"

Why go indeed. He explained:

"The band is what makes it real. The point is relevance. We're not trying to impress anyone, just trying to say religion is where we are and where we live. So we need to start the way we mean to carry on."

Translation: If there's no band, then I won't go.

The medium is the message.

Okay. This is important. Husband is representative of the general population, and if Husband isn't interested in going to a church thingie of his own creation unless it has a band, then others won't come either. Maybe people aren't really searching for religion: they're searching for relevance--action, connection. Whatever -- it doesn't matter. What matters is that we create this church thingie for them, not for some theoretical reason. We do it on their terms, in their language.

The last thing the world needs is another lame church.

Husband and I ended up talking about why people go to church.

For catholics, the answer came easy (since we were both raised catholic). They go for that piece of bread. It's called "the bread of life" in RC circles. Many people skip out as they walk back to their seats from communion, just making a bee-line for that back door, because it's essentially over. It's not about the homily or the muttered liturgy or the hymns -- it's about that bread.

For fundamentalists, the answer came easy too. They need the scaffolding. Being a fundamentalist is hard work. You have to keep your brain contorted and block out contrary thoughts. So you need weekly reinforcement of doctrine, quotes, and the "holy hootenanny" to keep yourself immersed in your belief system. It's what Thomas Carlysle called "our spasmodic efforts to believe that we believe."

For quakers in the silent tradition, the answer is communion. Right? That's the point of the silence. It's not supposed to be individual silence, but rather, collective silence, in the form of an inward journey of sorts.

And what of the quakers who no longer experience this communion, but just find they sit in the silence, directionless, forcing themselves to centre, crossing and re-crossing their legs, week after week?

They take a break from meeting.

I mention this because as past clerk of nominating committee, I had the task of contacting everyone in the meeting to talk to them about their roles in the upcoming year. What I found was that all of the under-45s in the meeting were "taking a break" from meeting this year.


This age-group only. All of them. Hm.

My sense is that the under-45s have to work hard at getting the culture of meeting to work for them, which creates a barrier to communion. They also inwardly resent that culture (which developed in another time) and the fact that it's not part of their worldview (which is current and probably postmodern), which adds a further barrier. But that's just a guess.

In addition, people change. It's called the spiritual journey. Few religions (and meetings) leave room for a full spiritual journey, with all its detours and dulled periods. Most have only one focal point. If your journey takes you in a different direction, your batteries start to drain, and you drift away.

There's nothing to make you stay.

Husband and I did talk a bit about mainstream protestant churches too, why people go to them. The answers were elusive to us. We really can't figure out why people go.

It could be any of the above reasons, in a kind of watered-down way (but then, why not just go to one of those other churches/meetings and get the non-watered-down version?).

It could be to hear a sermon (but then, why not just read a good spiritual book at home?).

It could be to meet and talk to people (but then, why settle for sitting in pews all facing the front, not talking to each other--except for a brief coffee afterwards? why not just come for the coffee and skip the service?).

It could be for the music, but only if you are into high-brow classical music, pipe organ, and/or plodding 19th-century hymns (percentage of population: probably less than 1 percent).

It could be to recite those bold-lettered responses written into the program so that they can all say them together in that church rhythm.

Most mainstreamers I know who go to church say they go for their children, so that their children will have a religious education. Their children, of course, would much rather not go. They go only because their parents make them go.


I know why I'm no longer going to meeting. It was draining my batteries. Said batteries were dead. If I hadn't started this blog and met all of you, I would have become one messed-up quaker. Instead, I'm trying to start up something that has relevance.

Husband says it's going to start with the band.

There's the light. I'm following it.

It's already charging my batteries.

Monday, April 02, 2007

History of Friends

I visited Cherice's blog, and then Martin's blog, and they both got me thinking about the history of Friends, the whispery winds of long ago that keep wrapping themselves around us. Those whispery, controversial, dividing, confusing, niggling winds...

How much do we owe to our religious forebears?

Some cultures engage in ancestor worship. Some nations do too. What was there that started everything is sacred in people's minds. The first president, the first constitution...

Religions do a form of ancestor worship too.

The first book of Christianity eventually became known as the Bible, the ultimate reference book of Christianity.

The first person of Quakerism was George Fox, whose written words, for many Friends, are the ultimate reference point for Quakerism.

The first doctrines of Christianity were those of the what-was-to-become-the-Catholic Church, which eventually became the ultimate doctrines of Christianity. Their first interpretations of the Jesus story have become the ultimate interpretations.

I could go on. Basically, whatever happened first becomes the determiner of what should be allowed to follow. And people ever after use that First as the measure.

How much loyalty do we owe to these firsts? How much loyalty do today's Quakers owe to George Fox? To what extent must they allign themselves with his theologies and worldviews? Some Friends would say: completely. But is old better than new?

Are we called to stick by the original?

I call this whole concept Firstism. Firstism is a cultural thing, a worldview. To me, Firstism is a notion. It has three definite features:

1. Firstism is based on illusion or self-delusion. Nations embroider their histories to make their first leader seem like a god out of a Greek legend. They build folklore around the creation of key cultural icons (like flags and constitutions). They ignore or airbrush all the imperfections. Religions do this about their founders, their first books, their first doctrines. Only the Firsts are God-inspired; everything else that comes later is subordinate.

2. Firstism reflects collective ego. By having grandly embroidered First stories, correct in every detail from the very first minute, we express our superiority to others. If we don't uphold our Firsts, then we admit ours is a human story, full of faults and foibles, rather than a legendary narrative.

3. Firstism expresses itself with centuries of dogged loyalty. The longer the loyalty, the more valued the First becomes. A 300-year-old constitution is better than a 20-year-old constitution. An ancient church doctrine is better than a theology book published last year. The King James Bible is better than the New International Version.

I am not a Firstist.

My brain says: whatever was first was the wonky prototype. With centuries of care, things improve a great deal.

We owe reflection to those old Firsts. Such as perhaps attempting to read George Fox's journal, but don't sweat it if you can't stand it.

Or attempting to understand how the early church ever understood those theologies of trinities and personal salvation through crucifixions and how they managed to connect it all to Jesus's life and teachings. But again, don't sweat it if you can't do it.

Many of Jesus's parables were about seeds. Quakers talk about truth as a seed, not a pearl.

Firsts are seeds. They're small and hard, not pretty like pearls. George Fox's teachings were seeds. The early church's teachings were seeds. Many of Jesus's teachings were seeds. The bible was a seed.

But they're not seeds anymore. They've grown into living, growing plants. Yay. That's what they were supposed to do. A seed that doesn't grow is a dead seed.

But when the seed grows, it's no longer a seed anymore. It's a plant. Different thing entirely.

I just don't see how the seed could be considered superior to the plant that it grew into.

But then again, an oak seed should grow into an oak tree. If the tree suddenly starts sprouting maple leaves, then there's been a mutation. Maybe that's not good. But can we really undo a mutation?