Sunday, January 18, 2009

Here They Go Again -- and So Here I Go Again

Well, it's been an interesting day. I was invited to give the morning sermon at a lovely little Meeting just around the corner from the farm. That went pretty well (considering the quality of the preacher) and we had a nice visit over lunch with a couple of F(f)riends from there. As we ate lunch at a local eatery, another Friends pastor walked in -- one who has had some controversy about him. One of the friends we were with is clerk of the Yearly Meeting committee that has been charged with (hmmmm, will try to choose my words wisely here) um, "visiting" with this Friend to ascertain his "fitness" for continuing as a Quaker minister.

Hogwash. The fellow in question's congregation is growing, people are coming to hear about God and faithful living, he is growing spiritually and certain factions want to quibble about nuances of theology? Which, frankly, Quakers have never had as their long-suit. Just try to pin down George Fox or William Penn or Mary Dyer about the subtleties of theological belief. Can't be done.

But anyhoo, I soon learned that this was a big topic of discussion at the local Yearly Meeting's board meetings yesterday. And I was reminded of a response to a post I had made concerning Quakers and the Pastoral System.

In part, the writer said, "Also, the pastoral system itself, of having a paid staff member, seems to tend to cause a Yearly Meeting to move more toward typical Protestant ways. ... In my experience and reading, it would seem that the pastoral system usually leads Yearly Meetings to move away from the testimonies and toward typical Protestant forms, theology and ethical views. And though Friends pastors are called recorded ministers and are supposed to be different from ordained clergy, in day-to-day relations with the members of the Meeting I couldn't see any difference from the ordained ministers in other denominations.I don't think it has to be this way, but a paid staff does seem to lead to such changes."

Well, this seemed a little harsh at the time to me, but after conversations today, I'm beginning to think, regretfully, that perhaps this is too true. Especially at the Yearly Meeting that is located closest to me.

The setting up of a pastoral system is fraught with the potential for abuse and power-grabbing, unless the pastors are wise and able. And the setting up of Yearly Meeting staff (he says, as a former Yearly Meeting staff person) is even more fraught. If, as the conservative Friends warned over 100 years ago that the pastoral system would lead (gasp!) to a seminary, then Yearly Meeting staff could lead to a Pope. Well, at least a Bishop. Or people who think they are bishops and somehow appointed to protect the purity of ... Of what? Does God need protecting? Does thinking about God and how God works in this world and with God's people need parameters placed around it to keep bad theology (as decided by us) out and good theology nice and safe? Do we need protection from the Holy Spirit moving among Friends and possibly calling us to actually live the Gospel message?

The nation and world is in the midst of one of the darkest times in human history. Economics are a mess. Terrorists, in the name of religion, abound. War is everywhere. Incivility is rampant. And many people are calling for Good News -- hmmm, Gospel?

What will they get from us? Assurance that we have, via the Quaker Inquisition, rid ourselves of heretics who claim that God loves everybody as much as God loves us? Is that what they are asking for? Or are they instead hoping to hear a voice, shorn of theological hairsplitting, that is
that of Jesus, softly and tenderly calling, "Come Home."

Would that we would dare move from righteous wrangling to actually being the people of God that Quakers are called to be.

-- Brent

Friday, January 16, 2009

Indulge Me, Please

It seems I'm always hanging around the wrong people. My grandmother worried that I did that too much when I was a teenager. If she were still alive, I doubt that she'd be pleased that I am still hanging around the wrong people.

By wrong, she meant people who were prone to getting into trouble, didn't share the exact same faith as we did (the TRUE Evangelical Quaker faith -- not the more LIBERAL Evangelical Quaker faith as practiced in Oregon or Kansas or other places), and were, well, smart-asses.

Now few of my friends ever got into *real* trouble, but some held different beliefs (Catholics, fer instance), and a great many were smart-asses. Which I found one of their more endearing qualities.

"How will you ever be a minister with that smart-aleck bent you have?" she'd ask. I mostly murmured or mumbled an answer, but if I'd had a bit more chutzpah, I'd have suggested that a little bit of smart-assness helps the pastoral life go down. And that it was really needed if once was going to succeed as a pastor -- especially in the mixed up Quaker pastoral system, which is neither fish nor fowl, dairy or meat. It just ain't kosher. (But that's a whole 'nother blog. To see some of my thoughts on that, check out

But back to hanging around the wrong people. I recently returned from northern California where I got to spend some time with Gretta and Jacob Stone, directors of Quaker Center in Ben Lomond. Now they're the right kind of people in my book, but Grandmother Bill would probably see it different. For one, they believe much differently than I do (which in her book would make them "wrong"). And Jacob especially has this wacky humourous side that edges on smart-assness. Which meant we got along famously.

One night he was sharing one of his fundraising ideas. After all, many Friends groups are struggling for funds, so perhaps it was time for something new -- tithes and offerings and appeal letters don't seem to be working. How about, he suggested, the selling of Quaker indulgences?

Here's how it could work (with apologies, somewhat to Jacob for stealing his idea and going completely wild with it). Let's say you're like me -- a bad Quaker. I don't mean evil, I just mean, not very good at it. And as a bad Quaker someone has really ticked you off and you'd just love to smack some sense into them. Under the Quaker Indulgences Plan, you could donate $500 (in addition to your regular giving) to your favorite Friendly organization and in return they would issue you an one day indulgence from the Peace Testimony. Then you could skip calling your Lutheran brother-in-law, and just go slap the offender silly yourownself.

Or let's say you need to buy a new car. For $100 you could spend a day not looking at hybrids or 10 year old Volvos with millions of miles on them and head directly to the Audi dealer and try out a new S8 -- all 10 cylinders of it. A day off from the Simplicity testimony.

Maybe for $50 you could get an indulgence from taking oaths -- like, say, if you got called for jury duty. "Do you swear" -- and everybody else says "Yes" and you stand there silently while everybody wonders what kind of doofus you are for not raising your right hand and swearing along with the rest of them. The embarrassment saving factor is worth $50.

Well, I could go on -- but I hear Grandmother tsk, tsking in my inner ear. Or was that the Inner Light? They couldn't be in cahoots, could they?

-- Brent