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Called Meeting in Monmouth

Posted on Monday, June 5, 2006 at 08:46AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | Comments3 Comments

The Monmouth - Galesburg Friends community is affiliated with Illinois Yearly Meeting (FGC), a liberal unprogrammed yearly meeting descended from the Hicksite branch of Quakerism.

Adult Friends in the Monmouth - Galesburg, Illinois, area, number only five — so that, with my hosts and my hostess’s parents present, eighty percent of the local adult Quaker population was sitting in the room with me. The couple who had driven down from Wisconsin to walk with me, attended the meeting as well.

As I intend to do each time one of these called meetings occurs, I explained what Baltimore Yearly Meeting has asked me to speak on, and described the challenge that it poses for me. I noted how divisive the question of how to live in harmony with nature has been, both for Americans in general (e.g., Congress cannot agree on the answers), and for religious communities in particular (denominations split right down the middle on environmental issues). Friends, I noted, are divided, too; the liberal wing makes little effort to work with the pastoral wing on the matter, the pastoral wing returns the compliment, and even individual Friends meetings and churches are deeply divided in many places.

I asked the Friends in the room with me, therefore, to sit a while with me in attentive waiting on the inward Guide, and help me try to discern the way forward for our Society: to help me seek for insights as to the sort of environmental testimony or witness the Spirit might be calling us to, and also for insights as to how we can unite around a common testimony.

It wound up being a worship-sharing meeting, in which people offered their feelings and opinions about particular environmental matters, rather than the called meeting for discernment I’d requested. Truly, that didn’t much surprise me, since worship-sharing is a familiar practice to Friends in unprogrammed meetings, one in which such Friends consciously train themselves, whereas laboring for discernment, though necessary when a meeting for business tackles a difficult topic, is not an activity in which a lot of Friends do any self-training at all. Thus it was hardly surprising that Friends fell into the pattern they were more accustomed to. (I suspect, though, that I need to think more about this issue, because it is corporate discernment that I am really seeking, not just worship-sharing.)

On the other hand (as I learned later) even the fact that I was hearing free and open worship-sharing was a remarkable thing. The fact that I have deep and public concerns about standard environmental issues like soil erosion, habitat destruction, and global warming, is really no secret. The Friends I was meeting with here, on the other hand, do not believe that some of those concerns are at all serious, nor do they share the standard liberal views dominant in their own yearly meeting. I felt it was a significant act of trust that they were willing to open up in my presence.

One Friend in the room began by sharing his feeling that a lot of environmental causes miss the point. For an example, he pointed to a nearby Monsanto plant where researchers are trying to develop strains of cotton that grow in pure colors — red, green, blue, and so forth. Success in this venture would mean that cloth factories would no longer need to use dyes, which in this Friend’s view are always toxic and undesirable, in order to produce colored fabrics. However, the Friend said, biologists refuse to work on this matter because it involves gene-splicing and recombinant DNA. In this Friend’s view, this is foolish, impeding progress in the quest to reduce pollution.

This same Friend also felt it was wrong of biologists to refuse to engage in recombinant DNA work on corn, for similar reasons. He did not think much of those biologists’ concerns about what he called “Frankenfoods”.

Another Friend expressed his concern that a lot of environmentally-minded Friends neglect the needs of the poor. He pointed out that he himself can afford to be selective feeding his family, and can concentrate on buying more expensive locally-grown food to reduce the waste of shipping food across country. But he felt that many people have trouble putting food on the table at all, and that such people should not be inhibited by Quaker judgmentalism, or by the government, from purchasing food that has been produced and shipped in environmentally-incorrect ways. He said that he does not believe government should be dictating things like the way in which food is produced, or what sort and size of vehicles people should drive.

This Friend also spoke of the difference in taste between meat that is packaged for the mass market by large meat packing firms, in accordance with government standards, and meat that is prepared by private individuals who do their own slaughtering: the latter sort, he said, tastes much better, and he believes that government regulation is at fault.

Several Friends in the room spoke of the importance of recycling, and expressed unhappiness that local government does not enable them to recycle as many sorts of plastics as are recycled elsewhere. Friends also expressed unhappiness about the quality of mass transit in the area, and about the lack of places to park and lock bicycles around town; they described how one of their members has approached local politicians and college administrators to make biker-friendly facilities and find practical ways to maintain and expand mass transit (such as Amtrak). One Friend noted that local administrators in positions of influence are often purblind when it comes to siting buildings and roads to avoid drainage problems in times of heavy rain.

A Friend declared that concerns about materials being dumped in the trash and sent to landfills instead of being recycled were probably short-sighted. The faster we pile up our waste in landfills, he said, the faster we will get to the point where companies start mining our landfills for exploitable resources. So he felt that such waste is not really such a problem.

The visiting Friend stated that in his view some environmental issues cannot be easily dismissed, and offered overpopulation as a problem that particularly concerns him. He pointed out that if population were much smaller, everyone could drive an SUV and live in an 18,000-square-foot home and it wouldn’t be a problem. (He was not really trying to say that SUVs and 18,000-square-foot homes are desirable; he was simply trying to make a point.) There was much agreement with his observation around the room.

About half-way through the evening, I observed that while Friends in the room had discussed a number of popular environnmental issues, they had said nothing of two issues that many environmentalists would rank at the top: greenhouse warming and the destruction of species.

One Friend responded by saying that he felt the greenhouse warming issue was overblown. Only one study, he stated, had predicted any rapid greenhouse warming in the future (he referred to this as the “hockey stick prediction”), and this study had been conducted by a single scientist who refused to explain the way he came up with his projections. This was not good science, the Friend said. All other studies, he said, have predicted no more than a two degree rise in temperature due to greenhouse warming. This Friend also said that coal mine fires in China generate more greenhouse gases than all the automobiles in the United States put together.

Another Friend told me simply that landfills and wasted resources are the only environmental issues that seem to really get her worked up: she felt that that these are two areas in which she could take small but realistic everyday actions toward improving the world in which she lives.

Overall, the views shared by this group of Friends struck me as being very different from the views promoted by most environmental organizations, or by concerned groups of scientists, or even the views promoted in the pages of Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) publications. However, I suspect their views might not be so different from the views of a lot of other Friends in southeast Iowa and western Illinois, both in the unprogrammed and the pastoral traditions. I believe many of their views to be mistaken, but then, I feel many of the views I encounter in QEW are mistaken, too. And I feel it would be very wrong to ignore the views on either side that I regard as mistaken, or deny my respect or my tenderness and affection to the people who hold them. These are my sisters and brothers and my equals, and I could not bear to treat them otherwise.

It troubles me that one side gets its views very prominently heard and promoted at liberal meetings and through the pages of QEW, while the other side sits on the sidelines feeling ignored, forgotten, and alienated. It troubles me even though I am closer to agreement with the side whose views are getting all the publicity.

I heard little if anything in the way of ideas about what sort of environmental testimony Friends should unite around. But there seemed to be general agreement that discussion such as Friends engaged in this evening was a good step forward. And I think that’s enormously important.

Yesterday morning (Sunday), I rose early to write down this record of what was said in the called meeting. Today (Monday, June 5), I went over it a second time, to try to catch and correct any misleading word choices I’d made. I hope and pray that I got it all down correctly. There was a lot said, and it all happened quickly, and I’d feel terrible if I misrepresented anyone.

jun 04-05.jpgYesterday (Sunday) morning I found myself still very stiff and tender in my ankles and heels. I lingered through meeting for worship, which did my heart and soul a world of good, and then accepted a lift from the Wisconsin visitors that took me most of the way to my Galesburg goal.  Walking the remaining distance — a mere five miles — was once again painful and difficult and took me three hours. This morning, I needed ten minutes of painful stretching before I could so much as walk at all. I have some real thinking to do about how I will regain the health of my ankles and heels.

I don’t want to call off the walk. The meetings with Friends have been wonderful, fruitful, invaluable — very much confirming the validity of the leading I felt — and they’re only beginning! And if the walk has been murder on my feet, it has been a blessing for my mind and heart and soul.

But the physical challenge is starting to look like more than my body can handle.

What to do? I honestly don’t know. As of this morning, I plan to rent a car to take myself to the Galesburg Clinic, for their diagnosis and advice.

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Reader Comments (3)

Dear Marshall,

I am so moved by and grateful for this amazing leading of yours. Your humility, faithfulness, and courage are an inspiration. On the other hand, your pain and discomfort are deeply troubling to me as I sit in comfort while reading your electronic journal. You are taking on so much for all of us who care so much about the healing of the human-earth relationship and the hugeness of this undertaking leaves me awestruck and also shamed by your example. My prayers are with you, my F(f)riend, for an easing of the pain and for your continued strength. I’m so glad that you are accepting rides in order to let your feet heal a bit and am glad you are visiting the Galesburg clinic today. Holding you in the Light, Hollister Knowlton

-- comment posted by Hollister Knowlton
June 5th, 2006 at 11:01 a.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 08:56PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Dear Marshall,

I continue to hold you in the Light, and to ask our meeting to do so as I have the last few Sundays. I also reported on your progress. I hope you find healing for your ankles. I sounds like you are making reasonable adjustments, and hopefully you’ll be able to walk at least part of the rest of the way.

I asked you some questions about meeting with you in previous replies, but haven’t heard back. Perhaps you haven’t had time to reply, or maybe haven’t received my messages. I’ll probably call you on your cell phone soon.

For the Earth,
Bill Cahalan

-- comment posted by Bill Cahalan
June 6th, 2006 at 9:37 p.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 08:57PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Hollister, many thanks for your supportive words. I had no desire to shame you in any way! All I’ve done in this current journey is to take one little teensy tiny forward step onto the path that Christ walked all his life, and that the Valiant Sixty walked for years and years — the path of willingness to be faithful to a leading even when it costs or hurts. Even that one little step has had a wonderful, powerful impact on my own heart. But it’s just one little step! Please, let’s not make too much of it.

Bill, I did reply to your earlier question in an answering comment; if you go back to your question and read downward, you’ll find my answer. Essentially my answer was, we need to talk by phone. (402) 319-3934. At your convenience, dear Friend!

-- comment posted by Marshall
June 8th, 2006 at 10:51 a.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 08:58PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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