How do we articulate the difference between the ideal and where we are?

At a recent gathering for extended worship, I felt called to pray:

Dear God—we are listening. Many of us are already faithfully doing all that we can imagine . . . help us to open up to what you might do that is beyond what we can imagine.

My yearly meeting recently adopted a set of six “leadings and priorities.” These six statements, derived from a multi-year process of visiting and listening to every one of our monthly meetings and worship groups, are meant to guide the work of the yearly meeting organization. And although these particular statements are New York Yearly Meeting specific, the spiritual callings behind them are not, so I feel comfortable saying that what I’m about to share will be applicable to other Friends.

They read as follows:

We envision a yearly meeting deeply grounded in the practice of our faith.

We envision a yearly meeting made up of strong, vital monthly meetings.

We envision a yearly meeting gathered together into one body.

We envision a yearly meeting that nurtures our children, youth, and young adults.

We envision a yearly meeting that supports and amplifies our witness.

We envision a yearly meeting that is accountable and transparent.

I identify with these priorities because they line up nicely with my own ministry, which I have come to know as hearth building. I am called to the work of creating a home for Friends, a community rich with opportunities that are so nourishing that each person can then turn around and minister unto the world, fully fed.

Here are some things I’ve heard from Friends since we adopted the leadings and priorities:

“Okay—we acknowledged that these things are important. But who decides how to make them happen?”

“And aren’t these things obvious, anyway? Isn’t this what we’ve been trying to do the whole time?”

“Clearly, we’re all doing the best we can. Nobody has two extra seconds to rub together, so we can’t do more.”

“We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.  We’re pretty good at all this already.”

And now I’m going to say it.

No—we are not.  Although, in general, we are good people trying hard to be faithful, we’re not doing a phenomenal job, collectively, of being deeply grounded in the practice of our faith; of developing strong, vital monthly meetings; of gathering together into one body; of nurturing our children, youth, and young adults; of supporting and amplifying our witness; or of being accountable and transparent.

I say this because I can imagine the ideal, and I’m going to articulate my vision of what that would be. Visions matter–knowing where we might be someday.  I hope that in the comments, you’ll add your visions, as well.

We envision a yearly meeting deeply grounded in the practice of our faith. 

We will have reached this ideal when every Friend, regardless of age, is in worship almost every week; when every Friend, regardless of age, has a personal daily spiritual practice; when every Friend middle school and up has read Faith and Practice or learned about it in some other way; when committees arise and are laid down solely in response to the direction of Spirit; when all Friends understand what spiritual gifts are and make a practice of naming, nurturing, and supporting them; when all Friends know how to recognize and live faithfully into ministries; and when all Friends use discernment in all areas of their daily lives.

We envision a yearly meeting made up of strong, vital monthly meetings. 

We will have reached this ideal when every monthly meeting experiences deeply gathered worship; when every monthly meeting has robust religious education for all ages; when every monthly meeting has a highly functioning ministry and counsel; when every monthly meeting behaves in a spiritually grounded manner around questions of budget and property; when every monthly meeting is rigorously engaged in outreach; and when every monthly meeting plays a meaningful role in its neighborhood community.

We envision a yearly meeting gathered into one body.

We will have reached this ideal when neither age nor gender nor race nor class nor level of education is an obstacle in any way to a sense of full belonging in the Religious Society of Friends; when Friends from every monthly meeting are ready to ask for help from other monthly meetings and are able to fully trust that help will arrive as needed; when it is never necessary for any Friend to ask for financial assistance to attend a Quaker event; when the majority of Friends practice intervisitation or travel in the ministry at some point in their lives; and when Friends from pastoral meetings and Friends from unprogrammed meetings are equally assured of their full acceptance in all parts of our Beloved Community.

We envision a yearly meeting that nurtures our children, youth, and young adults.

We will have reached this ideal when 100% of Quaker gatherings are either multigenerational or include meaningful parallel programming for children and youth; when children, youth, and young adults are encouraged to participate in any Quaker activity they like and are provided the support they need to participate meaningfully; when older adults are welcomed into traditionally “younger” spaces and are provided the support they need to participate meaningfully; when we develop systems of communication that are genuinely accessible to younger generations; when we explain our Quaker terminology as we use it, without fail; and when programming for children and youth is designed to ensure that our young Friends have all the information and experiences they need to be full adult participants in our community by the time they turn eighteen.

We envision a yearly meeting that supports and amplifies our witness.

We will have reached this ideal when our Quaker culture puts multiracial culture, not white culture, in the center; when our decisions about allocating time and money are fully in keeping with our testimonies; when we speak truth with love in all times and in all places, both individually and collectively; when we learn to speak and live courageously; and when each one of us lives a life that is 100% climate-sustainable.

We envision a yearly meeting that is accountable and transparent.

We will have reached this ideal when our budgets are easy to understand; when our reports and presentations are comprehensible to all Friends pre-teen and older, regardless of level of education or length of time the person has been a Friend; when it is extremely easy to find answers to questions about committee structures or other institutional information online; when we respond to each other’s questions within days, not weeks or months; when newcomers to yearly meeting sessions are supported sufficiently to participate meaningfully in business meetings; and when every Friend knows, without doing extensive research, what is done with all financial contributions.

I’ll return to the prayer I started with:

Dear God—we are listening. Many of us are already faithfully doing all that we can imagine . . . help us to open up to what you might do that is beyond what we can imagine.

The obvious next question, when we’ve spelled out the ideal, is this: How do we get from here to there? But for this blog, at least, that’s not my point. Instead, the question I’m posing is this: Why have we stopped behaving as though we’re working toward the ideal? Why have we stopped comparing what is to what could be? Why is it that, instead, we compare what is to what was ten years ago, or what would be nice, or what seems doable?

Why do we not talk about what is in the context of what God would have us be?

Systems theory has an answer to this. It’s called eroding goals, and it connects back to a blog I posted a few days ago—A Conversation About Delay.

Humans find it uncomfortable to perceive a gap between what is and what could be. And if there is a gap, there are really only two ways to make it go away. One way is to change what is, but this is often difficult, and even if we can change what is effectively, it almost always involves delay. And delay itself leads to further discomfort. Am I really having an effect? Have I done enough? What if I’ve done too much? Ack! The uncertainty!

But there’s another way to solve the gap between what is and what could be, and that’s to simply change what could be. This is so much easier than changing what is, because after all, what could be is a theoretical (or in the case of Friends, a spiritual) thing. All we have to do is change the way we think about it, and—poof!—we’ve changed it! So we redefine what could be so that it feels like something that’s easier to reach. We equate what could be to what was before, or what would be nice, or what seems doable. And we do this again and again and again until our goals (and our vision) have eroded to something that barely compares to what we named originally.

I want to challenge us, instead, to hold the vision, to really, really, really hang onto what could be. This is uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s even painful. If it is, I’m asking us to sit in that pain. I’m asking us to remind ourselves again and again of what really could be, to articulate it, to repeat it, to share it, to treasure it. We should be striving toward a God-sized vision.

What vision are you carrying?

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4 thoughts on “How do we articulate the difference between the ideal and where we are?

  1. Since last weekend I’ve been thinking in kind of the opposite direction–what is all that’s needed to be deeply fulfilling out of our often large infrastructure of committees etc. from monthly to yearly meeting. We need deep deep worship; we need to be known and loved and to share that back; we need to support ministry & witness and to follow our guide.

  2. – The Vision is Come

    You ask; What is your Vision? Those of us who are come into the sufficiency of the inshining Light itself in itself to guide and inform our conscience “hold to the Vision” in the very act and process of idenitification with the Life itself in itself. We are come into the vision and live it in our daily existience on this earth. We do not look to outward visions or ideals of what could be in the future, we are living the ideal now in this very moment. We do not look to some future moment when an outward vision may happen or could be. We are the vision and the vision is in us now. It is come and it is coming in and through the appearance of immanent Presence itself in itself in our conscious and conscience.

    – Calling

    We too have a calling or burden which is to support and encourage those who, through the inshining appearance of immanent presence in their lives, have come out of and are coming out idenitification with all outward forms, ideals, and institutions as systems of socialization. This is not to question or to reflect negatively on your calling. It is to hold before you the reality that there are those, who gather as Quaker, and are come out of and are coming out of the very process of identification with outward insitutional forms according to that measure of the inshining Spirit that is directing them. In that sense, you will come up against people who just do not share your foundational experience. For example, there are many who have come out of valuing the traditional constructs some of the early Quakers instituted for the profit of all. It is not that those of us who have come out of idenitification with outward forms seek a re-creation or re-formation of traditional constructs, like Yearly Meeting or Monthly Meeting, it is that we do not value them as sufficient and sustainable in our spiritual endeavors. They are become as shadows that are a stumbling block in our participation in and relationship with the inshining Light. In fact, participation in the process of identification with Yearly Meeting (for example) brings us into conviction as dissemblers.

    – Eroding goals

    You speak of eroding goals as a negative. In our experience, eroding goals can be a positive when those outward goals are re-placed by the direct experience of the inshining Light as sufficient goal and guide itself in itself. We are come out of looking toward outward goals, ideals, social, or ideological constructs to re-form our social or cultural order; because the inshining Light itself in itself has taken the place of outward instrumentalities, similitudes, teachers, or guides. In being led out of outward forms, we are free from the need to be led back into outward social, political, or religious forms. The inshining Light itself in itself in our conscious and conscience is discovered to be sufficient and sustainable foundation for order and community. We are not led from one outward form or social system into another. We are led out of the process of identification with outward social constructs and institutions and into identification with inward immanent Presence in our conscious and conscience. All reference to, hope for, or faith in, outward social constructs is laid down and is being laid down through the inward workings of the inshining Light that is eroding the influence of outward forms upon our conscious and conscience.

    – Role of Yearly Meeting

    Where you find a role for yearly meeting, we do not. Truly, through the appearance of the inshining Light in our conscious and conscience we are come out of identification with and value for Yearly Meeting and the outwardly codified Faith and Practice. By the appearance of the inshining Life in our conscious and conscience, is discovered unto us a life independent of outward systems of socialization and culture. The inshining Light itself in itself is the foundation of our socialization without regard for outward persons, ideals, social or cultural constructs. All things and activities in our life manifest the appearance of the Light itself in itself. The Life itself in itself is our Yearly Meeting, our Monthly Meeting, and our community. The Life itself in itself is our nourishment and through the Life itself we experience opportunities for ministry without regard for or in the context of any outward institutional, social, or cultural forms. The Life itself works opportunity in all moments. In the life itself in itself, we are the ideal and the vision and through patience and long-suffering we realize the Life itself in each moment. Each of us can say now and in this moment we are the ideal and the vision is in us and to that measure the ideal already is and is coming.

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