Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fidelity and infidelity in community

Thinking more about Max's article, or, Part B.

I agree with Max about spiritual community and about how true spiritual community helps us be faithful to the Inner Light, the Goddess Within.  Held by true spiritual community, my spiritual life -- not to mention my ministry -- is one not of contraction, or of artificial growth, but one of expansion and natural growth, of ebb and flow, within the rhythms of nature and the cycle of the seasons. Held by true spiritual community, I have been able to do things I have been led to do, but couldn't otherwise do. 

And yet I have been particularly aware again lately of a number of the ways in which both other Friends and other Pagans have asked me to make myself smaller, or have tried to make me smaller, or have asked or demanded that I be unfaithful, so that they might be less uncomfortable, less disturbed, by my life or my witness or the truth of my experience.  Not just ordinary folks I come across in a given day or week or First Day or committee service or Gathering -- but folks whose "job" it is, as a Friend, friend, co-religionist, or co-clergy member, to help me be faithful to myself and to what the Goddess is asking of me.  Folks with whom I am in spiritual community. 

So I am living very much in the awareness right now of the both/and of spiritual community -- of how good spiritual community can indeed help me be more a more faithful Quaker and Witch, and also of how poor spiritual community not only makes it harder for me to be a faithful Quaker and Witch, but actively inhibits me from doing so.  

When we ask each other to be unfaithful because another's faithfulness makes us uncomfortable, we diminish ourselves.  We diminish our own relationships with ourselves and the Divine within us.  We diminish our own integrity.  We diminish our ability to be in relationship with the Divine with each other -- spiritual communion and spiritual community.  We weaken our Meetings, our circles, our Covens, and our larger spiritual communities.  We weaken our ability to build and participate in interfaith groups and dialogue.  We weaken community, small and larger. 

We create an injury to the spiritbody of the Sacred. 


RantWoman said...

Speaking only for myself, sometimes I find it easier to test thoughts and understandings of issues if I have specific circumstances to consider than if I am trying to find something to grab hold of from general concepts. I think specifics can be tricky in the blogosphere, but my brain still craves situations more than concepts.

When I am testing thoughts such as yours, I sometimes have to consider whether the subject of the conversation is limitations others want to place on me or others being honest about their own limitations. In either case, I may still need to decide to be true to my Light, but shifts in that moment sometimes affect how I deal with others' reactions.

I also find myself testing whether the input will in one way or another deepen what I am trying to do or set me one a surer path or help me trim away something unnecessary.

Max Carter's article is interesting to me because he is talking about radical Christianity while Ann Rice is talking about her relationship with Catholicism.

I am not familiar with her statement, but I wonder whether her background and experience with the Catholic church puts her in a different position with respect to dialogue about its doctrines and practices than Max's. For comparison, my experience with the Catholic church runs heavily toward works of beautiful music, organs, and spectacle and toward the occasional radical Catholic I have met in political activities. That is just a really, really different basis for dialogue than someone who has been steeped for decades in the Church's practices and teachings.

staśa said...

Here what Anne Rice posted when she broke the news (via Facebook):

"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."


"I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

staśa said...

RantWoman, I'm trying to come up with a discrete list for you to ponder of some of the ways people try to make me feel smaller, or be less faithful... but it runs the risk of being overwhelming in its catalog of prejudice and discrimination, unfortunately.

What it basically boils down to for me is that I need to be able to live my life with integrity in spiritual community, at the very least; and at the very best, need my spiritual communities to help me grow and be faithful. To be less worried about what the neighbors / other Meetings / other Covens / etc will think, and more worried about, "How fares the Truth with thee, Friend?," and "How does the Goddess speak to thee in thy heart?"

But I've thought of one example with which you may be familiar. And a counter-example.

When I requested membership in Meeting X, there were all sorts of problems with the process; but my clearness committee eventually met, and found me mostly clear for membership: we were in unity that we were uncertain about one issue; I lived far away from the Meeting.

However, when their recommendation went back to the standing committee of the Meeting and to Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, there were all sorts of concerns about my ministry. Not my ministry with music, healing, counseling or spiritual direction, or intra-faith or interfaith community-building; only with my ministry among Pagan Friends.

Meeting X absolutely did not offer clearness committees for ministry, or support and accountability committees for ministry, to attenders until after I moved away. I'd asked. Repeatedly.

One of the potential blocks to my membership was that my ministry was not under the care of Meeting X -- and one of the reasons for this potential block was that if I became a member, other Meetings might think the Meeting 'endorsed' my ministry.

Well, someone asked, if she becomes a member, would be willing to have a clearness committee and a support and accountability committee?

When Friends asked that question, they didn't ask me, How can we help you be faithful to your leading? How can we help you be a more authentic Quaker?

They were asking, How can we control your Quaker Pagan ministry? How can we make it more acceptable to the neighbors?

To paraphrase Max's words, they were asking, How can we make Stasa's Quaker Pagan ministry fit particular notions of proper social (and theaological) norms?

In the first few months that I was an attender at Meeting B, when I thought I would be there a year and had no notion of requesting membership, at least five different Meeting elders, completely independently, told me I should request a clearness committee regarding the Meeting's relationship with my ministry, "because perhaps we could be supporting you, you know, and even if not, some clarity might be good."

Within a few months, I had a letter of support for my ministry, and a ministry oversight committee. By the time the next summer arrived, I'd also had a challenging, loving, faithful, transformative membership clearness process; and when I was called to ministry at FGC Gathering that really, really stretched me, I felt so incredibly held by the entire Meeting.

That was absolutely one of those times when being held in / by spiritual community helped me do things I hadn't been able to do before -- lead a very tough, very rewarding workshop; provide supervision and support for our spiritual mentoring / listening team at VA Tech; and then still lead the final day of my workshop after Bonnie died. It was very, very good for me, instead of being awful for me. And that is because of the faithfulness, the love, the commitment to Quaker worship and Quaker process, and the willingness to be transformed of folks in our Meeting.

So there's one example and counterexample.

Tea, Thyme and Cozies said...

Stasa, thanks for posting this! I have to admit, I agree wholeheartedly with Ann Rice's statement. And with yours.
I read hers and first thought, gee, what is so controversial about that.... forgetting where I live, LOL.
Sending hugs.... (would go on, but really can't think in a straight line... tangents are way too possible)

staśa said...

Thanks, Michelle!

RantWoman said...

For what it's worth, I love your ministry and I love the way our Meeting has embraced your ministry.

I love "Help me be faithful" and "How fares the Truth with Thee Friend." And one of these days soon I am going to have to help edit one of our welcoming flyers to better reflect the theological reality of our Meeting! Stay tuned?

staśa said...

I look forward to seeing what happens with that...!