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Report from Urbana-Champaign

Posted on Saturday, June 17, 2006 at 06:01PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | Comments3 Comments

The Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting has a typical First Day turnout of about twenty adults.

It’s very much a college-town meeting; many of its members were out of town when I came through, enjoying the freedom that comes with the end of the academic year. Seven members showed up nevertheless for the called meeting I had requested, on a Thursday night — the largest turnout for any called meeting held in the course of my journey so far.

Again I felt moved to spend some extra time at the beginning of the meeting, talking about the process of discernment among Friends — a process in which we hold each thing we feel drawn to say, up to the Inward Guide for approval, before speaking it aloud, to be sure that it is not just an idea or opinion, but actually a potential step toward what God wants of us — the best, the most right, the most nurturing, etc., thing that we can do. Once again this seemed a good thing to have done, for the ensuing discussion felt deep and rich.

With so many Friends present, I dared not trust my memory to retain what was said. So, for the first time, I took notes as the discussion proceeded. I’m glad I did.

The first Friend to speak out of the silence raised the population issue (which has come up in every single meeting I’ve visited in Illinois). Noting what a controversial issue this is, he wondered whether some Friend would be willing to take the lead in working on it.

A Friend then spoke of harmony, which is the term Baltimore Yearly Meeting has chosen in its theme — “Living in Harmony [with All God’s Creation]” — and contrasted it with control. He noted that these two things — harmony and control — cannot coexist; the exertion of control can at most lead to only a false illusion of harmony, while preventing true harmony from emerging. He said that to have genuine harmony with nature, we must be willing to let nature be what it is, respect it, and learn from it. But how do we get there? As with alcoholism, our addiction to the control of nature may not be curable without outside intervention of some sort. People need to hear the message of giving up control from someone of powerful wisdom, someone who sets an example of voluntary surrender of control that we can trust.

A Friend wondered whether we should start on a small scale — as for example by hanging wash to dry instead of running it through a drier. Things like this, she said, might grow, using the power of example instead of preaching.

Another Friend noted that small things are achievable, and easier to imitate than out-and-out sainthood.

A Friend brought us back to the population question, and observed that the problem is not just population, because small populations that consume a great deal can be worse than large populations that live frugally. It’s not just population, but consciousness of what we consume and what we trample upon.

A Friend commented that often when we think of environmental issues we have a feeling of “Oh, no”, and “It’s a big burden, more than I can handle.” She suggested that we think of nature as a gift — for if we do this, working for it becomes something positive, something easier for us to be engaged with.

A Friend commented that life is complex, and that there are no easy answers. We want an easy answer, an effortless formula, but in fact we have to think it through afresh each time.

A Friend spoke of how people argue about ways to increase energy production, but don’t talk about ways to reduce consumption.

A Friend brought up the issue of vested interests, noting that they have a hold on resources and want to get as much money out of it as they can. It’s important to get the vested interests out of the way, he said. Campaign finance reform would help in this regard.

Another Friend observed that there are a lot of little things we can do as individuals — installing LED lights in our homes in place of incandescents and fluorescents, turning off the water faucet while we’re brushing our teeth — but that doing it at the societal level takes more work.

A Friend said that there needs to be a revision in the way corporate production and consumption are defined, so that pollution and similar hidden environmental costs are taken into account. Corporations will not respect these considerations as they are presently designed. We need to re-engineer the corporation.

A Friend observed that nature is patient with us, and slow to respond to what we do, but “grinds very fine”; in the end, we have to take all the minutest consequences of the way we treat her. Thus it behooves us to be equally slow and refined in what we do that impacts nature.

When our meeting finally ran out of steam, I was surprised to see that all of us were resting quite comfortably in the silence, no one seeming to feel any need to get up and leave or even engage in small talk. The exercise of turning again and again to the Guide had brought us to this place without our even noticing. I thought it was an eloquent testimony to the fact that attentiveness and obedience to the Guide are a sure route to peace.

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Reader Comments (3)

Dear Marshall,
Good to read that you are “on the road again” and continuing this rich experience of crossing through corn country–and beyond. I’ve been thinking of your trip quite a bit as we’ve been discussing Rex Ambler’s The End of Words, lead by Ann Smith, at our Lincoln meeting. He has a chapter “Reclaiming the Earth” in which he’s suggesting how we can “develop a new understanding of the living earth which will make it possible for us to live in harmony with it, instead of continuing to live at odds with it.”
We have testimonies of peace, justice, and simplicity that can now be applied to our relations with the earth. “There is still a human commonweath to be hoped for and worked for, . . .but there is also a ‘commonwealth of creatures,’a term he attributes to Augustine. . . This too can be cared for.”
All this is to say we are thinking of you on your journey across our earth witnessing creatures of all kind.
In Friendship,
Mary K.

-- comment posted by Mary K. Stillwell
June 18th, 2006 at 1:11 p.m.
Sep 3, 2006 at 03:49PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
I was struck by the paragraph contrasting harmony with control, especially with “As with alcoholism…” contrasted with our “control of nature.” AA does not speak about a “cure” per se but only of abstinence or sobriety one day at a time. In Overeaters Anonymous each member determines his our sobriety and abstinence whereas in AA alcohol simply is not part of the program at all. In all the “Anonymous” programs, sobriety is attributed to and maintained by “Higher Power,” the God of each person’s understanding, the Steps, meetings, the Big Book, a sponsor, “hitting your knees,” etc. Such a program for enviromental & resource degradation and pollution is an interesting prospect…. Perhaps as part of a larger program of recovery from Western Civilization: “Hello, I’m Alan and I’m addicted to Western civilization, consumption and enviromental abuse. I’ve been in recovery for ____ years and with the Grace of God, the help of these meetings, my sponsor, the power of prayer and the Word of God….”

-- comment posted by Alan Palmer
June 19th, 2006 at 7:27 a.m.
Sep 3, 2006 at 03:50PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Friends, thank you both for your input!

Mary, I have been feeling for some time that there is a big gap between understanding and action — that there are a whole bunch of us who understand just fine but don’t walk the walk. Would you agree? Or no? Your response to this question Very Much Welcome Here.

Alan, all I can say is I love your wit. Yes, I’m Marshall & I too am addicted. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spineless –

-- comment posted by Marshall
June 23rd, 2006 at 10:09 a.m.
Sep 3, 2006 at 03:51PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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