Report of the General Secretary, Fall Sessions 2014 (Oral)
Community, Communion, and Living in Truth
This is our first time back together as a community since summer sessions. There, after days of real difficult wrestling with one another, we came to a powerful sense of unity, one which I can still touch back on in my heart. Friends who were there used language such as “a powerful movement of the Spirit,” “a Pentecostal experience,” and “conflict transformation.” While many of us who are here today were present then, many also were not, and I feel a need to perhaps help us bridge back to that time, that energy, that powerful presence of the Spirit aflame in open hearts. I hope we can touch back on that. And I hope that our sessions here, and our work going forward, are tempered by that experience of openness, joy, and spiritual power.
Summer Sessions – conflict, resolution, and what arose in me afterwards:
The words Community and Communion. And the sense that much of the conflict I had been witnessing revolved around an orientation to one or the other.
Description of Community – a powerful sense of connectedness: a ‘conference high’
Description of Communion – the powerful feeling of gathered worship when ‘the power of the Lord is overall’.
I have been holding questions about these two experiences. Are they flip sides of the same coin? Part of a continuum? The same thing as experienced by different spiritual types? Does one lead to another? We need to become more conscious of these two different spiritual modalities, and how they play out in our life in community.
I am uncomfortable with the sense of “Community” as an end in itself, understood only as this nice thing that happens between people. Like all testimonies, it is rooted in something deeper. This wonderful experience we call “Community,” is not just something happening between individuals. There is a spiritual dimension as well. As we open profoundly to each other, we also open to the Divine. I can feel that shift when it happens in a group I am facilitating. I can feel it when the whole temporary community at an FGC (Friends General Conference) Gathering makes this shift. It usually happens on Wednesday of that week, but sometimes on Thursday. And it is palpable, and huge. We need to understand and acknowledge the spiritual dimension of this experience.
My concern is that I experience those who favor one or the other- Community or Communion- as their way in to the Divine, as being often in conflict with one another. These are different entry points into participation in the Divine. But I see us looking past this in one another, not understanding their complementary nature.
If our richest spiritual experiences are happening away from our Monthly Meetings, what does that call us to?
Now I am going to make a broad generalization, and all generalizations are false in some degree, including this one. Most of our experiences of profound community are happening away from our Monthly Meetings communities. And most of our experiences of communion happen within our Monthly Meeting communities.
What does it mean that most of our experiences of deep community are happening away from our Monthly Meetings? What does this require of us?
As the goal of our worship is communion, and that is how I understand our practice as Friends, and that is not happening as often as we would like, what does that require of us?
Let me state a radical position: Without our Monthly Meetings, there is no reason to have a yearly meeting, or its sessions. There is no reason to have Powell House, its conferences, or its youth program. There is no reason to have FGC or its Gathering. How can we, how do we, take the spiritual riches we experience in these places, and live them out in our home communities? If our richest spiritual experiences are happening away from our Monthly Meetings, what does that call us to? How do we sustain that sense of openness, and bring it back to our Monthly Meetings?
There is a third strand to our communities, which I would call living in Truth. This is the dimension of our witness work. Recently, I had a refresher in that spiritual dimension.
Witness of Sandra Steingraber, Roland Micklem, and many others. And then a comfortable dinner in a good restaurant. I became aware of, I could feel the dissonance between those two, and a palpable sense of what in Seminary we called “Middle Class numbness” in the latter. That numbness denied the truth of the larger situation. In that restaurant, the world was a fine place, the current order benign, just and good. We could enjoy our meal in peace, not needing to worry. And, it ignored the Truth that forces are actively at work that are destroying our planet, that money have corrupted both science and politics, and that the Empire will defend those forces against any who challenge them.
We have many Friends whose experience spiritually centers on having the courage to live in the Truth of our situation, to see clearly the school to prison pipeline, to see clearly our racism, to see clearly the destruction of our planet, to see clearly the genocide of peoples at home and abroad, to see clearly that we are a country that tortures, that we send out drones to kill those we perceive to be our enemies, killing others in the process, to see clearly that we live amidst vast and accelerating economic disparity, Friends who are unwilling and unable to live out the numbness that says that all is well, fine, just and good, when it is not.
And in this yearly meeting, I have seen an attitude of conflict between “Witness Friends” and “Ministry Friends,” and could tell you stories about that.
We need all of these three strands, and more. We need all of us. These three strands complement, complete each other. We need to be conscious of when we are feeling in competition or conflict with those who come from a different spiritual orientation, and pause, and remember how they are a vital part of our community.
That is the unity that embraced us at summer sessions, and that is the unity we need to live out, consciously and fully.
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