edited on june 6, 2008… and again on june 9, 2008

my meeting has had a long history with difficult and complicated man. i’ve only known him for a year and half, but many people from the meeting have known him for at least three years. he has a personality that many people find abrasive, a bluntness that many people find arrogant, and a presence that’s a little larger than life.

or at least on that latter point, he did. i met him for breakfast yesterday morning and his wild hair and beard had been shorn down, and he was a little more subdued than usual.

i guess he’s leaving town because after six months of many many membership meetings, it looks like he’s not going to get to be one. he says he’s tired of knowing people don’t want him around, and he’s ready to go.

of course there are other factors, of course it seems a little melodramatic, of course there are complicated feelings brought up because of some of the ways his personality is like my dad’s, of course i romanticize things, of course it’s never that simple…

but i’m pretty angry. and embarrassed. i KNOW that not everything is for everyone, but this guy has always been open and honest and has integrity down to the bone, and our meeting has hurt him and sent him on his way. he’s hurt people, it’s true. but it seems like he’s only ever hurt people by challenging people to be their best selves. maybe it’s his opinion of what their best selves are and not the Truth of their best selves or something, but he’s given us his best. he’s changed. and he’s changed us. but he still has to go.

let me clarify that the meeting is not actually sending him away. he’s making that choice. but with some of the treatment he’s got, it’s surprising he’s stayed this long.

quakerism seems very small to me today.

we walked down the street together, and i talked about how opposite my experience has been from this. how i’ve found only love and acceptance and opportunity for growth within this community. we laughed about my “palatable” personality and the ways that has eased things. he’s pushed people away, it’s true, and i don’t want to do that, but what am i doing with my palatable personality that’s changing people.

today i doubt quakerism’s ability to do much anything good. today i feel embarrassed for all the good things i say about it. it’s changed me, but how far?

right now i feel like the enabling friend of quakers. “yeah, they beat you up sometimes, but that’ll change tomorrow, they’re not always like that, give them another chance.” they’ve never beat me up, but today i do feel bruised.

as i go deeper into this flawed community that i do so tremendously love, let me keep my honesty, my integrity, my love, and my self. let me change things that need to be changed, let me have the honor to face them, and let me hold the hands of people who get hurt because of the things that are stuck. help me grow my voice so that i can have some of that honesty that is leaving– but only let me speak my own truth. which includes receiving so much love and seeing so much pain.

… since my initial posting of this, there’s been some confusion about what i’m saying happened. and i think part of that is because i was confused in myself somewhat about what happened. the membership committee did not come to unity about this person’s membership. he was not told he couldn’t be a member. i give that impression in this post, though it’s not what i actually mean to say. he gave up on his side of membership meetings and that’s sad and i think says things about our meeting and about him. but the membership meetings would have still been going on if he hadn’t left.


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  1. Indeed, i know the feeling! My spouse and i joined within months or so of each other. She was open, trusting more than she ever had before, and giving deeply of her skills and time. She was also much newer to spiritual community than i, much newer to Quakerism than i.

    I don’t think folks recognize how often they can state they will do something or aim to behave in such a way and fail to follow through. Many of us, i suspect, don’t concern ourselves with these missed targets — because we’re too self absorbed and because we forget? Or out of tolerance and compassion? Or because we’re struggling on our own? When members of our community notice those missed targets, they might call us on them. That’s the ideal, but hard to receive. Or they might be hurt by those missed targets, feeling misled and betrayed. I think i have observes an expectation from individuals that the community will give allowances. It seems that while someone might hold themselves to particular standards out in the world (in practicing listening, or nonviolent speaking, or giving of time), they are “sloppy” in our comfortable community, trusting that everyone knows they mean well.

    Since my call to Quakerism is in that practice of community, keep practicing. But my wounded spouse continues to witness to some of the inconsistencies and clumsiness in the community. It’s a lesson and a witness to keep close.

  2. I’ve been doing some evaluating of Who I Am and I am thinking a lot about my childhood before I even knew what an activist was, or before I knew of any causes to root for.

    I remembered a time in 4th grade. I was part of the “regular” crowd but I was nice to the other kids. And one of the “outcasts” had a birthday party. She invited two people – another girl who was an “outcast”, and me. And I went.

    That was a time when I was authentic. That was a time before cliques got brutal (middle school), and I participated in the brutality. I didn’t save the world. But I was nice. And I think that is what matters most. More than belonging to the group. And more than religion.

    I feel the same way about the man you wrote about. You said he reminds you of your dad… for me, he reminds me of me, stripped of my upbringing. I’ve been watching from the sidelines and wonder what good are all the peace vigils, the war protests, the Bible studies, the committees, when a person needing community walks in and applies to be a part of the group… and the group says no? I don’t strive to be in a spiritually elite version of a college fraternity.

    I am glad that the aforementioned person knows how I personally feel about him, but sorry that it has become tinged with politics and causation. Back in 4th grade it was so much simpler… my goal in life is to become that 4th grader again.

  3. My new religion is this quote, I read it in a book about Jimmy Carter:

    “Love God, and the person right in front of you.”

  4. Let’s remember that we’re talking about a real person on the internet. And despite that, I want to highlight that no one in our meeting has received more care or loving consideration than the person you are talking about. That it wasn’t enough for him is a reflection on him as much as the rest of us. I don’t think I want this to go any farther, I think I’ve dignified this with too much participation already.

  5. thank you everyone for your comments.

    judielaine, thank you for staying open to quakers and to your spouse. i’m sure that can be difficult. it’s like in young adult novels when a person’s two best friends can’t get along… but worse. it sounds like you are doing a good job with the community kaleidoscope.

    allison, i was an outside kid. and sometimes i’d be mean to the other outside kids because being on the outside was so scary. there was this one boy with developmental disabilities who everyone said had a crush on me, and who sat next to me on the bus. and sometimes i’d talk with him and sometimes i just really wished he’d go away and i’d freeze him out. i think about that a lot still. i really want to be an advocate, but i don’t want to be captain pity either, because that’s exhausting.

    robin, yes. it makes me nervous. mostly about airing our meeting’s dirty laundry on the internet. i think our meeting would know who i mean and it could upset people, but i don’t think i wrote anything that would shock or upset this man, or anything that is really too identifying outside of our small meeting. let me know here or elsewhere if you think there are specific things that should be changed, for the safety’s sake of anyone involved. in terms of the other part, i know it has a lot to do with him (and so does he). i think my sorrow comes from the fact that someone who seems to do some aspects of quakerism better than many others was not accepted as a member of our meeting. that’s just my perspective and i’ve got lots of learning to do still, of course, but i still can’t help hurting.

  6. I wrestle with the boundaries between telling my own truths, rooted in my experience, and where to draw that boundary between my story and that of another person. I catch echoes of that struggle in the discussion here.

    I’ve got no wisdom to offer… just: I do feel that deep truth telling is often rooted in experience. And witnessing to it is important.

    And it is hard to do that, and also to be tender of all of our F/friends’ reputations, and respectful of the rights of others to speak for themselves… or not.

    It’s hard. At least, it’s hard for me.


  7. cat, thank you for your comment. i also just want to keep inspired by this person, without being… influenced?

    and everyone, i’ve been contacted by someone on his clearness committee who said that the committee did not actually come to unity about his membership. this is my formal clarification of my last comment, in which it sounded like that happened.

  8. From personal correspondence with the person in question, which happened to be about personal privacy and email (I wanted privacy, he didn’t), he gave full permission for people to disclose anything about him to anyone else. He told me he hates hates hates secrets and that they drive him insane.


    My younger brother has learning disabilities and I’ve seen him over the course of his life try to be “normal” but “normal” entailed avoiding association with other people with more extreme disabilities. I did the same thing with Asian people – for a long time I would disassociate myself because I didn’t want to be “too Asian.” I don’t think I meant that I want to fetishize outsiders, like ooh they’re so edgy… but to be inclusive of them and treat them as anybody should be treated… decently.

  9. In my own meeting, we have a occasional history of “not coming to unity” on issues that we want to avoid, or don’t want to accept responsibility for. It’s been a struggle on occasion over the last 200 years, as we deal with things like the 1828 separation, or the 1850 through 1880 separation that followed it. There are uncomfortable issues we’re hiding from right now. I try to bring them up enough to keep the processes from stalling, and I take heat from folks in my meeting who would rather not think about them.

    Staying engaged is the important part. Presumably, God has an opinion on most topics, and if all parties concerned stick with it, then “not coming to unity” will be a temporary pause on the way to clearness in perceiving what He wants. Returning to the process after an intermission is good–resting permanently in the state of lacking unity is not good.

    I hope everybody is able to come back to the table on this one.

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