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Report from Richmond

Posted on Tuesday, July 4, 2006 at 09:09AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | CommentsPost a Comment

Long before my journey began, I had tried to set up a meeting with the good folks at the FUM offices in Richmond, on the day that my walk would take me through their town. It wasn’t easy!

The FUM offices were in disarray as a result of the controversies tearing at FUM’s constituent yearly meetings. There were staff cut-backs underway. The incumbent general secretary of FUM had given notice and was very near her departure date. Her primary assistant was leaving, too.

So I’d write the folks at the FUM offices, and get no reply. I’d call and leave messages in vain. It wasn’t anyone’s fault there, really. It was just that the place was in upheaval, everyone was overworked, and I was one more distraction they didn’t have the time or staff to deal with.

Ultimately I reached the new Acting General Secretary. “Sure, we’d love to meet with you,” she said; “come on by.” But she didn’t set a specific time, and when I called later to set one, I couldn’t reach her. I chalked it up to the general confusion of the time.

fum office.jpgOn the morning of Friday, June 30, our day in Richmond, my walking companion Charlotte and I stopped in at the FUM offices to see if a meeting was possible. The Acting General Secretary wasn’t there. But the people who were there, smilingly dropped everything. “We have two deadlines later today, but we can at least give you forty-five minutes. Let’s use the conference room downstairs.”

And so we wound up with the meeting for discernment I’d asked for — attended by only three staffers, to be sure, but nonetheless, just what I’d hoped for. And the quality of the sharings was very high indeed.

The day flew by. We visited the Quaker Hill bookstore (a fine place, though with many empty spaces on the shelves); we met with the head of Right Sharing of World Resources; we visited with the staff of the Earlham School of Religion. And in the evening we met in a called meeting for discernment with eight members of Richmond First Friends, plus one member of Clear Creek Meeting (the unprogrammed, FGC-affiliated Friends community in Richmond) and two visiting members of Community Friends (FGC) in Cincinnati.

The following is an amalgamation of comments gathered from these meetings. I haven’t broken them out by source, because I didn’t want to give anyone a reason to think “FUM staff endorse these specific views” or “ESR people hold those views”. No one was speaking for an organization here; everyone was just doing her or his best to help us all discern the will of Christ.

One Friend spoke of how she has two sons, one of whom does everything with environmental consciousness — he recycles, drives an old car, etc. — and the other of whom doesn’t show any such concerns at all, and how she herself is in the middle. “I do have a Creation theology,” she said; “we are clearly each responsible for our particular piece of the Creation.” Recycling, she said, may be the only place we can start right now. Global warming is “something I’d like to disbelieve; but one has only to look at the news to see that something’s happening — all those floods in New England, for example.”

A Friend asked a simple question — looking about America, “where are the windmills?”

A Friend stated, “if this discussion descends into intellectual argument, it becomes divisive. When we’re formed into a Church by the Holy Spirit, it unites us and leads us. Our duty is to be faithful to it and be led. We may be led to challenge someone’s position, but in that case, it’s not because he’s wrong but because the position needs to be thought through.” The answer to the problem of Friends’ dividedness on environmental matters, therefore, is “the same answer as always: begin with the Holy Spirit and with faithfulness.” This Friend added, “I’m hesitant about taking on new testimonies without first wrestling with these things for a long time.”

A Friend compared the environmental issues we face now to those that Friends faced during the (anti-slavery) abolitionist era. John Woolman, he said, could see clearly that slavery was wrong when others did not; he was able to model being unable to live with slavery in a loving way. At a later time there were Indiana meetings very divided about how fast to move on the slavery issue. “When you’re living history, it’s messy. When something’s divisive, that doesn’t mean God isn’t in it.” If we can proceed in some way that isn’t judgmental and critical, but filled with joy and integrity, we can succeed. We’re addicted to many of our creature comforts, but we’re also spiritually uneasy as a Society, and that’s our starting place.

A Friend suggested that there might be an earthcare testimony trying to happen as an outcome of other testimonies, particularly integrity. “I’ve believed for a long time that we’re in a crisis,” this Friend said. “Our corporate system must grow spiritually to survive; it’s not nurturing the earth processes that support us.”

A Friend spoke of how diamonds are formed by great pressures deep in the Earth. He had seen a film about it, in which the statement was made, “It takes the whole earth to make a diamond.” He compared this to the situation we Friends are in, regarding environmental matters. “The whole Creation is part of our spiritual existence. Each one of us is like the diamond that forms, in the presence of all that, as well as in the presence of God who is beyond all that.” He added, “When God said (in Genesis), Let us make humans in our image, he was talking to the whole Creation.”

A Friend observed that religion is good at breaking down boundaries and divisions — divisions between our selves and our environment, as much as divisions between our selves and one another.

A Friend said, “I’m one of those people who have to have to-do lists. Are there any such lists from yearly meetings?” Another Friend responded that, in a sense, God has given us all pieces of the to-do list — and not the same piece for every individual.

A Friend spoke about trying to find a balance between “doing what feels comfortable to us as individuals” and the discomforting callings to share with one another and to proselytize.

A Friend remarked that education is the key. “I think of the smoking issue: it’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt how harmful it is, yet people who know this still smoke. You have a duty to educate people, especially the young, to the dangers out there. If you don’t know, you can’t be accountable.”

A Friend spoke of how “we have to discern a sense of how-I-have-to-respond-to-this-situation. People in countries that are starving may have very different life experiences and very different duties as a result. It’s important for me not to impose my answers on them. I must recognize that this is an issue with many facets to it.”

A Friend spoke of how her child had once remarked to her, “Mom, we (in the United States) have so much and the others (people elsewhere) don’t have so much.” She had responded by speaking of how, the greater the gifts, the greater are the responsibilities.”

A Friend said that deep listening to nature is a prerequisite — and that love, in turn, must precede listening.

A Friend asked, “How do you recognize a sufficiency? And what right do you have to any surplus?”

A Friend said, “I think that there is no one more vulnerable than the children. Of course, we have to learn ourselves before we can teach them.”

A Friend spoke of a called meeting, in her yearly meeting, to deal with the divisive issue of communion rites involving the physical elements (bread and wine), and how people who favored such communion rites, although numerous in the yearly meeting, didn’t come to the called meeting, because they felt they wouldn’t be heard. This parallels the challenge in environmental matters —

There was a great deal of energy, as well as a great deal of centeredness, in our Richmond meetings. And I thought the sharings were very insightful and provocative.

I was sorry to be leaving the next morning —

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