Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Changing the "Me" to "We"

This column is written by Benjamin Lloyd and is featured in the April 2013 edition of Friends Journal.

If you read the minutes of Quaker meetings past, you will see that the disturbances caused by Friends’ behavior have been a sore spot for meetings since meetings began. Even before there were “meetings” as we know them today, one of George Fox’s closest followers, James Nayler, created a crisis for the fledgling religion by riding naked on a donkey into Bristol, England, in imitation of Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem.

It was that event that convinced Fox and Margaret Fell to create collective structures of Friends that would hold individuals accountable. Since the misbehavior of Friends has been vexing us for almost 400 years, it should be comforting for us to know that our struggle to balance the individual and the community is nothing new.

Yet I believe we have a unique set of challenges in our intensely secular and individualistic twenty-first century America. A dear Friend I know in my yearly meeting jokes that the T-shirt we sell at annual sessions should read “You’re Not The Boss Of Me.” We have made a fetish of individuality in our Quaker meetings, and it has cost us our collective identity and safety. We have become a school with no teachers, a team with no coaches, a community with no leaders.

There is no longer human authority in our Quaker meetings, no longer a group of people that the meeting has put in a position of power and authority to pass judgment on individual behavior that Friends might find impossible to deal with in other ways. Meetings used to have these groups; they were usually called the Meeting of Ministers and Elders, a group within the meeting composed of Friends of great collective experience and spiritual gravitas who dealt with the thorny issues of bullying, lying, name-calling and other behavior outside the bounds of our testimonies. This behavior is part and parcel of any spiritual community; indeed, it is part of being human.

The entire post is here.

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