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Report from Bloomington-Normal

Posted on Thursday, June 15, 2006 at 09:13AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | Comments5 Comments

Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, where Illinois State University is located — and where I met with Friends the night before last — is home to a remarkably diverse small Quaker population.

There are about a dozen Friends involved in various ways in the local meeting — a liberal unprogrammed meeting, affiliated with Illinois Yearly Meeting and FGC, which hosted my visit to the town. Two other families in town attend an older, rural meeting with ancient Hicksite roots, also Illinois YM-affiliated, fifty miles away. There is one Friends household from an FUM background who do not presently worship with unprogrammed Friends of either sort. And there are a few Friends who are more closely tied to yearly meeting or broader Friends’ organizations than to any local group whatsoever.

I regret that I was unable to meet with any Friends but those in the local meeting. To my hosts’ credit, they tried to draw in other Friends, but without success. All the same, four Friends did take the time to meet with me, and together they comprised about one-third of the local meeting: a very good turnout, I believe.

Since we’d had a hard time getting focused on discernment in both the previous two communities I’d visited, I thought it might be good to begin with a longer discussion of the process of corporate discernment in the Friends tradition this time around. This seemed to be helpful to everyone, myself included. And yet we still had trouble staying on topic — and I confess that I was at least as guilty as anyone else there! So I think one of my top priorities is going to have to be to work on my own behavior. (Nothing new there.)

As before, I asked Friends present for their help in discerning answers to these two questions: First, What sort of testimony or testimonies might we be called to by God’s Spirit, that would speak to the question of how to live in harmony with all God’s creation? And second, How might we unite as Friends around a common testimony or testimonies in this area? — for we Friends are badly divided on such matters at the present time.

One Friend responded by asking, What is “harmony”? He offered the example of wind farms — they initial seem like a step toward harmony with nature, but there may be complications; harmony may turn out to be not what one expects.

Another Friend mused about harmony in the musical sense, about polyphony, and about discords that build to a resolution. He wondered whether living in harmony with nature might be a similar sort of thing.

A Friend offered the endangering and extinction of human languages (e.g., Hmong) as an analogy for the endangering and extinction of species, suggesting that the right responses to these two classes of problems might also be similar. She spoke of her struggles to preserve endangered spoken languages.

A Friend offered, as a step toward answering both the questions I raised: We are called to show up as love. This can be hard: in the context of nuclear power and nuclear waste, loving plutonium may not be possible. But being present as loving individuals is possible even when loving plutonium is not.

A Friend observed that part of the answer may be, We give back to the earth and to nature what we have taken from it. He talked about how we will need to learn to consume less, and how difficult that will be for us.

A Friend asked us to consider testimonies as processes, rather than as goals.

One Friend spoke of the frustration of being driven by a concern about an environmental issue, and finding no one in the larger community willing to listen. She had tried every sort of outreach without success. Indeed, one person’s response to her expressions of concern — asserting that she was perhaps not succeeding because she was not acting out of total love — had caused her to question whether she was led by the Spirit in this matter or not.

So much was said at this meeting that I cannot remember it all. (Should any Bloomington-Normal Friends chance to read this report, and remember some of the things I’ve left out, I hope they will help me fill in the missing pieces.)

After our meeting concluded, one Friend commented that the local Friends meeting had never really labored for discernment before. Another Friend said that the evening’s practice in discernment may have been one of the bigger benefits of the occasion. I was quite struck by these comments — and as a matter of fact, I’m still pondering them.

The Friends meetings where I spent most of my own adult life had to labor, while I was there, for corporate discernment on many, many matters: illegal immigration (“Sanctuary”) questions, gay and lesbian rights questions, questions of proper versus improper eldering, questions of granting or refusing membership to applicants who didn’t fit meeting expectations, and of course environmental questions as well. Some of these questions divided us deeply, and the fact that they did so divide us, took us by surprise, so that we could not evade the questions and pretend they didn’t exist, but were plunged into debate and crisis and forced to work the questions through.

I have been assuming that other Friends elsewhere have had similar experiences with divisive issues in their own meetings, but now I am realizing: perhaps this isn’t true. And while I wouldn’t have thought of my old meetings’ often agonized struggles toward discernment as a blessing, now, in retrospect, I am forced to think that perhaps they were.

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Reader Comments (5)


I am so glad to see you are once again afoot in the land.

I have just been listening to a radio program where the author of a new book was being interviewed. He wrote a book called the ‘Party of Death’ and he was pro-life, both as to the death penalty and abortion. He was having a very hard time, both from the host and the callers. At no time did I hear any mention of other kinds of life, only human life.

It seems American culture is so tied to a Puritan perfectionist view of the world (I may be incorrectly identifying this as Puritan so correct me if needed!) that we cannot live with the fact that our very living causes harm. We must wrestle with the question that separates the killing a wolf, or hawk, or the phoebe nesting in our garage does in a homest search for a day’s food, from wanton destruction that is satisfying MORE than a need. My father taught me early to distinguish between want and need, but I hear that rarely, if ever, discussed.

Several observations on your post. The person who spoke about the wind towers is on to something that is endemic in our culture. We think that more manipulation by us will fix the problems left over from previous manipulations. Sometimes, a lot of benefit does come, but there is always a side effect or two.

Why do we think if we just keep tinkering we can make things work better. What I see is that the more we have tinkered, the worse things have gotten, and at an increasing pace. When do we say ‘Enough!’

One person said we should just show up in Love. I agree. And that is the first step. Then as we wrestle with our learning, we need to begin to wrestle with others whose commitment to Truth we trust. We must be humble enough to serve first in Love, and let our ‘rough edges’ be made smooth by the ministrations of others.

You, my friend, seem to be modeling this last in a very fresh and visible way.

Be blessed as you journey forward, and may those you have met and will meet be likewise blessed.


-- comment posted by Don Campbell
June 15th, 2006 at 11:10 a.m.
Sep 3, 2006 at 03:11PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
I am waiting for some bank to offer me a Plutonium credit card!

-- comment posted by Brian Treadway
June 16th, 2006 at 11:59 a.m.
Sep 3, 2006 at 03:13PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Friend Marshall, your progress and flexibility to the learnings about your spiritual and physical conditions are noted with much appreciation. The constructionist way of finding meaning and truth experientially sits well with me. Isn’t that the way God works with us as we accept and respond to her/his Leadings. I perceive that you have moved us Friends more closely into Community by engaging in this listening and responding dialogue, while decrying the loss of responses from those who are out there but are not habitually gathered into called discerning workship groups.

This distinquishes you from the pilgrim who is on a spiritual pilgrimage to a holy city for the sole purpose of pleasing themselves in their disciplines or pleasing a deity, or those who contribute and offer alms to the poor traveler and achieve merit from a diety for doing so.

This was the case of the pilgrims that Pamela Logan met in Tibet as she bicycled there looking for the Warriors who had assisted the Dali Lama to escape into India. As you may recall I had just finished reading Among Warriors on the very day that you announced your Leading. She met a group of pilgrims who traveled from Kham 2000 k to Lhasa, a holy buddhist city, a long long road where every millimeter would be measured in outstretched body lengths. (Pg 119) She was invited eventually into their camp which they too had moved their supplies in advance, like you now keep your means of travel closer to you, and then they returned to the spot where they had left off to continue the prostrations up to where they had left their supplies.

Howard Brinton says in the chapter Reaching Decisions in ‘Friends for 300 years’ (pg. 112) “unity through obedience, unity through emotion, unity through friendship are all deep aspects of human experience. The Quaker emphasis allows greater significance to individuality and freedom.” But we have too often fled corporate discernment, fearing perhaps the human tendency towards corporate personality expections in decision making and this may account for some of the difficulties you may be having with Friends groups. We have lost much of our weighty corporate quality- “binding-loosing” “(Whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven).” Or in other words when we do not hold each other accountable to a testimony of an ecological or enviornmental shared reality we no longer attract the sanctioning or releasing of each other to minister to that reality. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. Has the Brinton type of individuality helped us into an easing into isolation from each other, is another way I am asking the question?

Our Meeting continues to hold you in the Light as you trod our round earth. I regret that I was not able to join you in Galesburg, your hosts who recently moved there are members of our Meeting still. I checked the map when I returned home from Puttnam Co where I touched base with you from a conservation site there to your cell phone, and discovered that Monmouth was quite a bit west and not due south of us as I visualized in my head. I have again only yesterday returned from Ilym site where some of us observed the moving onto new pillars the Jr High Dorm which was built in 1883. I assume that you met with Roy Treadway Ilym’s enviornmental concerns clerk.

Maybe some of our Quaker traditions and testimonies can also be reconstructed on newly built foundations that can bring us together into Unity upon the realities of the cosmic/global realities that are evolving.

But for the pain, thank you for your humble diligent efforts along these lines.

For the earth and all who dwell thereon, as well
as life that may exist on other undiscovered planets.

John Hackman, Clerk
Upper Fox Valley Quaker Meeting

-- comment posted by John Hackman
June 16th, 2006 at 2:07 p.m.
Sep 3, 2006 at 03:14PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Don Campbell speaks very eloquently some of my thoughts. So many of the problems we face today are the result of our dependence on technology to isolate and separate us from the real physical world around us. We eventually recognize the problem and then expect that a new level of technology will be developed to solve it. Once each new level of technology becomes embedded into our culture then we may begin to recognize the problems it creates, after it is very difficult to back away from it.

Compact flourescent light bulbs and hybrid cars are two currently popular technologies that are widely recommended. While both may have some advantages over the older products they replace, they also have disadvantages, some of which we may not even be aware of yet. They also fail to address the bigger issues of whether we should be driving around in automobiles of any variety and whether living in a world of artificial light is an appropriate way to live.

The other underrecognized issue, in my mind, is that of population. Any environmental issue, whether land use, global warming, air or water pollution, loss of habitat, hazardous waste disposal, or whatever your particular concern is, is made worse by the sheer pressure of human beings. Any solution we can come up with will be soon rendered moot if the population continues to grow at anticipated levels.

The United Nations projects that world population will rise by 40 percent to 9.1 billion by 2050. Even if we could magically solve all of today’s environmental problems overnight, that growing population will make our solutions ineffective.


-- comment posted by Ken Lawrence
June 17th, 2006 at 6:27 p.m.
Sep 3, 2006 at 03:15PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Some very fine comments here! I don’t think there’s any real need for me to respond to specifics, so I will just say, thank you, all of you. What you contribute, in comments like these, enriches this blog site enormously.

-- comment posted by Marshall
June 22nd, 2006 at 8:22 p.m.
Sep 3, 2006 at 03:16PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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