8.10.2005

Jubilee!

On Friday, fifth day of the 59th annual sessions of Pacific Yearly Meeting (PYM), after some people left to attend an observance of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and the rest of us considered our own experience of religious education as children and held a discussion of the PYM response to the discriminatory hiring practices of Friends United Meeting, our Ministry and Oversight committee (M&O) made, in my opinion, a brilliant proposal.

They proposed that starting now, the M&O committee will convene a series of Right Holding of PYM discussions. All Friends and especially all PYM committees will take this year as a planning period for a sabbath year, a year of jubilee starting with next year’s annual sessions.

The clerk of M&O referred to a Friends Journal article from February 2004 relating the experiences of Central Philadelphia, 57th Street and Beacon Hill Monthly Meetings and New York Yearly Meeting in having their own jubilee or sabbath years.

The original concept of a sabbath or jubilee year is from the Bible, Leviticus 25:1-55. The idea is that every seventh year, as a sabbath, the land will be allowed to lie fallow, and the people and all their animals will eat just what the land produces by itself. After 7 cycles, or every 50 years, a jubilee would be declared and all the people would return to their home and family. Slaves would be released from service, debts will be forgiven, leases of land and other property will expire. This is to acknowledge that humans are ultimately free except in their duty to God, and that land belongs only to God thus we hold it as tenants.

M&O offered these models of a sabbath year for our yearly meeting:

1. No work, just community building and re-creation activities
2. Deep spiritual formation, study groups, etc.
3. Threshing large community issues (race, money, children’s education)
4. Restructuring work and committee models

The reality of my week is that I had to leave to pick up my children from their programs after the first response, but I heard later that Friends went on and on. And at least one member of M&O was surprised at the degree of opposition to the idea. I suspect there were four main themes of opposition:

1. “But we already started planning for next year! Friday morning is too late to start this.”
2. Related to that is the concern that this was a coup, a power grab by M&O
3. I didn’t actuallly hear this but I expect it was said: “We’re already not doing enough and now we’re going to do less?”
4. Objections are also related to people who have staked their identity on the current structure: “What will happen to people who worked hard to get to be Clerk of a committee that may not exist next year?” No one will actually say this out loud, but I believe it is a strong factor.

It was clear to me that this was a proposal for consideration by the yearly meeting. That it is the intention of M&O to have a different kind of annual session next year, but they are not planning to dictate just how it will be, hence the year of discussions and planning.

This project appeals to me on two levels.

First, PYM needs a new vision of itself.
We were reminded at some point that Pacific Yearly Meeting started out with Anna Brinton’s vision of a Pacific Rim association of Friends, including the western United States and Canada, Latin America, China, Japan, Korea, etc. At one time, PYM included meetings in all of these places. But the communication has proved unwieldy over such a wide area, and now there are at least five yearly meetings in that area. (I’m not sure of the actual number) There are even hints that PYM might split again into North and South, basically along the lines of the two Quarterly Meetings. In any case, it is high time we acknowledged that we have changed.

For years, PYM has prided itself on being an Independent Yearly Meeting, and many (some?) have cherished the idea that by being unaffiliated with any of the larger bodies of Friends (FGC, FUM, EFI) we might serve as a bridge between branches of Friends. Ha! On any number of issues, we are so far from being a bridge, we might even be the far extreme among yearly meetings. So many of our Friends are already involved in the work of FGC, it is time for PYM to acknowledge this relationship. We’re like a long time attender that hasn’t come to clearness on membership, for a whole variety of reasons, none of which are valid anymore.

We need to consider what relationship the Yearly Meeting should have with its constituent Monthly Meetings. Does PYM provide any service to the monthly meetings in exchange for their assessments? Does PYM have any authority over the monthly meetings? Does PYM carry out the greater will of the monthly meetings?

We need to take the idea of forgiveness of debts and restructuring of resources seriously. I’d throw out the whole committee structure until we have some better sense of what work we are called to do. Then we could figure out what needs to have a committee and what resources would they need. I was VERY inspired by Johan Maurer’s proposal of an ideal yearly meeting, available here.

Secondly, this concept speaks to me on a very personal level.

At this point in my life, I am ready for a serious vision process. From a traditional standpoint, I have achieved the expected milestones: happy marriage, two cute kids, meaningful and well remunerated work. This is a good point for me to take stock of my life. What do I want to achieve in my life? What work is God calling me to? How do I avoid uber-Quaker burnout (to quote Evan Welkin and beppeblog)? It is good for me to remember that this process might take two years, which would conveniently overlap with the two years to go before my youngest child is in kindergarten.

It is important for me to remember that this process was not conceived and will not be designed specifically with me in mind. It will not meet all my needs, and I should not be too disappointed when it doesn’t. (Darn.)


Anyhow, my deep gratitude and admiration for the Ministry and Oversight Committee that both perceived this need in the yearly meeting and had the courage to lead the way out of it.

I wonder if any readers of this new blog have any experience with a Meeting Sabbath or Jubilee year? Would you like to?

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22 Comments:

Blogger Joe G. said...

Just the fact that it was put forth by M&O, which I had no idea was lead in this direction, is an amazing fact. Wow, how exciting.

I'm sure there was a lot of howling and gnashing of teeth. Some may see this as a way to forgo our "responsibilities" to advocate for a (particular politic) issue. I'm feeling some eldering coming on...:)

Anywho, I'm very happy to read this. Thanks for letting others know. Who knew?

I say, let the Jubilee Year begin, baby! (Maybe that's what I'm personally going through, now that I think about it...).

SO good to read you blogging!

8/10/2005 12:21 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Beppe, nice to see you at my house. How did you know it was here? I thought I was being all stealthy and trying it out before I started spreading the news. But I'm so excited, I can hardly stand myself. Thanks for commenting!

Someone in my worship sharing group expressed the concern that Friends not see this as a year to be less involved in Quaker stuff and so have more time for their worldly concerns. This would seem a great loss to me. It is important to me that this not be just a yearly meeting level activity. If this doesn't impact the monthly meetings and individual Friends' lives, it will really be a waste.

8/10/2005 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Alice M. said...

Robin, it's lovely to read your blog. :)

I've been thinking a lot about this burnout/uberFriends thing. My perspective is that burnout is a consequence of unfaithfulness. What God requires of us is provided for, and burnout happens when we are ignoring the true leading in order to do "what we think is right" instead of what the power and love of God make possible. Kind of the difference between "in our own strength" and "through God's power".

The Jubilee sounds exciting. They way you are talking about it, it actually seems to me to fit in well with the characteristic "Second Coming" theology of Early Friends. Christ has come to teach his people himself, and the consequence is a "slow-burn" Second Coming which is unfolding in our hearts and lives and through the world, releasing us from the bonds of industrial growth society and setting us up in God's order under God's leadership.

8/11/2005 1:59 AM  
Blogger Joe G. said...

I discovered you blog via my stats program. Someone must have happened upon your blog and clicked on the link to my blog (or maybe you had done this to test the link). When I saw the "Robin M: What Canst Thou Say?" as a referrer I clicked on it and found your little place on the blogosphere.

Alice -
Wow, you really put that so well. I think of burn out as a sign of "running ahead of your Guide". Wow! I hope you don't mind me quoting you on my blog.

8/11/2005 8:46 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Beppe,
Obviously, I still have a lot to learn about how to make this blog technology work.

Alice,
Thank you so much for your kind words and as always, an important insight. Your blog has been an inspiration and a good source of thinking for me.

Have you read the book Heaven on Earth: Quakers and the Second Coming? (Dandelion, Gwyn and Peat; Curlew and Woodbrooke, 1998)

"setting us up in God's order under God's leadership" That's what I hope for in this time of jubilee.

8/11/2005 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Alice M. said...

Hi Robin and everyone

Yes, "Heaven on Earth" is one of my favourite ever Quaker books. An important part of my religious education. Highly recommended. :) :)

Joe, it's fine for you to quote me on your blog. Thanks, glad you liked my comment.

Alice M.

8/11/2005 12:09 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Alice writes: My perspective is that burnout is a consequence of unfaithfulness.

Here, here! Err, this Friend speaks my mind.

Robin, as to your specfic question about experience with a sabbath year, here's what I can speak to:

The monthly meeting that holds my membership has been in the process of preparing for a sabbath year by engaging in a "year of discernment," which began about 4 or 6 months ago.

I would say that the year of discernment started off well but has been slowed and possibly stymied by many of the attitudes you list.

The recommendation made by an ad hoc committee was for the meeting to engage in a year of discernment around two queries, followed by a sabbath (jubilee) year.

The queries, presented by the ad hoc committee, are:

What are the ministries of the meeting?

What are the structures needed to support those ministries?

In a mini-process akin to a sabbath year, a small trio of committees was laid down in order to allow discernment, threshing, and clearness around establishing a more effective system to care for the meetinghouse itself.

The Friends whose lifeblood was symbiotic with the pulse and healthy of the physical structures needed to give voice to their fears and anger: "How can I be a part of the meeting if there is no committee to attend to maintenance of the building and grounds?"

This was somewhat successfully reframed to "We acknowledge the long-time ministry and care provided by a few Friends over the years. We wish to have a system in place that continues to make good and right use of the gifts and skills of these Friends, while also helping them pass on their knowledge of the 'nitty gritty details' of care for the meetinghouse to others."

It also helped to have these particular Friends involved in the process, with lots of care and attention given to them and to group dynamics, so that they felt safe enough to speak as honestly as they did...

Generally, though, in my own faulty humanness, I cannot see the way clear for the monthly meeting--and yet there may be a Way--when the meeting seeks many ideas from Friends rather than seeking guidance from God, as to how to move forward into a year of sabbath.

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

8/11/2005 1:57 PM  
Blogger Joe G. said...

Liz wrote:

...I cannot see the way clear for [any - my addition] monthly [quarterly, Yearly - my addition] meeting--and yet there may be a Way--when the meeting seeks many ideas from Friends rather than seeking guidance from God, as to how to move forward into a year of sabbath.

Beppe responds:

Amen, girlfriend!

8/11/2005 3:51 PM  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Great to see you blogging! (I found your site through Martin Kelly's Quaker Blog Watch)

Re the topic of this particular post: While the Jubilee year may well be a good (even great) idea, I would urge some cautions:

First, it seems somewhat out of the spirit of jubiliee to be in a hurry to start it. One year may not be enough time for Friends to discern whether and how they are called as a body to do this.

Second, I'm not clear from your description whether the YM M&O has unilaterally decreed this or has only suggested it to the YM itself for final action. In NYYM the latter would be seen as more rightly ordered.

Third, I think it's important not to be dismissive of concerns from Friends who resist this idea. The proposal can probably be improved by incorporating insights of some who are initially opposed. After all, they may actually have some valid concerns that need to be considered. For example, I know that some Friends in other yearly meetings are already worried about a tendency toward corporate narcissism among Friends as opposed to faithful discipleship and witness. How would the year of Jubilee avoid this danger?

Just some thoughts.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans
Brooklyn Quaker

8/11/2005 4:29 PM  
Blogger C. Wess Daniels said...

This concept of jubilee for the PYM to pick up on is really great, i think it would be equally amazing if the entire quaker church considered endorsing something like this - the practices along with seeking jubilee for certain people or people groups, could you imagine?

8/11/2005 5:48 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Welcome Rich and Wess. I strongly encourage your questions and suggestions, practical or not.

Alice, Chris M strongly recommended Heaven on Earth to me, but I only read the Ben Pink Dandelion essay, I think.

Rich, these are good points. It is my understanding that the Presiding Clerk of PYM with the M&O set the agenda of the yearly meeting sessions. I expect that next year's gathering will be different than the last several. But it is not up to them to decide whether PYM will actually move into a sabbath year after that. That is what the next year's discernment is all about. I heard that they have some suggestions to circulate, based on the committee's experience, but I don't know what they are. I am not on the yearly meeting's M&O.

Liz and Rich both brought up the need to work with the Friends who are initially opposed to the idea. Of course, I'd say. I'm sure some people were caught off guard that they hadn't heard about this before, but may like it better once they've thought about it, and gotten back to their regular beds and their regular foods. I'm not so worried about people who like the way things are. We should pay attention to where we are already faithful. And some people will just complain no matter what, because something will inconvenience them (see Beppe and the FGConnections Martin Kelley recommended for classic examples)

It concerns me much more that there is the perception of a power grab, which I heard from more than one person, and which smacks to me of long standing rivalries of which I am generally unaware, having only started going to yearly meeting sessions about six years ago. Are Friends really worried that they won't get a chance to have input? Did they not hear that M&O asked everyone to start thinking about this, and they'll be sending out their ideas and listening to new ideas?

Or are they worried that our Oversight Committee might be exercising some authority? It is this resistance to any kind of authority that worries me. I read something recently (was it on one of the blogs?) about how modern Friends fail to distinguish between yielding to the authority of national governments and yielding to the authority of spiritual leaders. I mean, we asked these Friends to serve on our Ministry & Oversight committee. We send them our reports on the state of our Monthly Meetings and ask them to minister to us. I think they have hit the nail on the head by reading this need that has been building in our yearly (and monthly) meeting and I'm glad they aren't waiting any longer to do something about it.

It will certainly take more than a year to discern our true calling - we don't even meet together for another year. But there's no time like the present to start talking about the elephant in the middle of the room.

And if the entire Religious Society of Friends decided to seek God's will together??? The idea gives me chills up my spine and a big grin. The communication beginning in the blogosphere is a very hopeful sign to me.

P.S. to Beppe: was this too long for a comment? Should this have been a post all by itself?

8/12/2005 1:15 AM  
Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Just visited your site for the first time and inhaled the rich contents. (Yes, I inhaled. Guess I won't be running for office.) Thanks for everything.

Johan

8/12/2005 2:11 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you Johan.

I am so excited to see so many of my favorite bloggers actually reading my blog. I will try not to let it go to my head.

8/12/2005 5:38 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Oh no. I'm so depressed: not Pacific too. I thought you guys were more immune to jumping the flakey Quaker bandwagon.

I'll just say I left my long-time attendance at Central Philadelphia when they were going through their "Sabbath Year." At this point I would pretty much automatically leave any Quaker body that decided to do something like this. In my experience this concept is full of classic generational and theological hang-ups.

The "Quaker Sabbath Year" concept is wrapped up in that sixties-generation lefty anti-denominational spirituality that distrusts serious religious identity. It's part of the heritage of liberal Friends, granted, and one that I certainly share to some extent. But I find it hard to believe that Pacific Yearly Meeting needs a shot of groundless baby-boomer spirituality at this point in its history.

Looking to progressive Catholic/Jewish sources for Quaker renewal is just... Well, the medium is the message, right? I'm glad to hear you're excited by this but I just don't see how you go from what we have to what we dream of having by backing up into generic progressive spirituality.

I'm into live and let live. But in my experience Quakers turning to the "Sabbath Year" isn't so very different from Quakers turning to the sweat lodge. If that floats your boat, then fine. But I'll just slide on over to look for people who want to be Quaker.

And what about the younger Friends. Are they on board with the Sabbath Year? This is such a generational thing. Don't be surprised if you find the younger Friends drifting away, not to come back after everyone assembles in 2007.

Maybe you all will do this differently than we did in Philadelphia (and hey, I'm sure a lot of people got something out of it). I'll hold your deliberations in my prayers.


PS: A quick Google search finds the Sabbath Year inspiration: a 1998 article in the Other Side Magazine by Arthur Waskow. Arthur is Jewish, founder of the Shalom Center, the Other Side (RIP) was a lefty spiritual-not-religious more-or-less Catholic-flavored magazine with lots of Central Philly Monthly Meeting members involved.

8/13/2005 2:00 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

In lengthy response to Martin:

Pacific YM immune to flakiness? Since when? Whatever gave you that idea? There are some shining lights around here, but the shadows are deep too.

In my very new impressions of a sabbath year among PYM, it is actually being put forward and most celebrated by some of the younger folks (not teens maybe, I don't know what they think yet, but under 50 let's say) and our older but Christocentric clerk of M&O.

I think it's a reaction against the "sixties-generation lefty anti-denominational spirituality that distrusts serious religious identity" that has plagued our yearly meeting for a generation or so. That's why it's exciting to me.

I see the point of a sabbath year as making the time to listen directly to God, to discern who and what and where God is calling us to be. As far as I can tell, I expect to see longer periods of waiting worship at next year's annual sessions. I hope to see us really wrestle with our outdated committee structure. I hope to see us spend more time as an intergenerational Society and less in age-segregated Programs. I expect that among the few items of business we will consider will be the proposal of a permanent home for PYM, which has highlighted all the questions of identity and stewardship and purpose in the decade long consideration of this idea. I don't know what the outcome of this will be, I'm somewhat in the middle on the idea of a permanent site and the particular site that has been proposed, but I know that we have to answer some of these other questions first.

And I think that acknowledging that we can't keep bumbling along in the same way is a good start.

But I will read the article you recommended and I will keep my eyes open for "groundless baby-boomer spirituality" raising its ugly head. And your prayers are definitely welcome. I recognize that we will need all the help we can get to avoid the pitfalls sent by the Tempter.

8/13/2005 4:00 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Robin. Like any religious practice, it's less what you do than what spirit you do it in. If the Sabbath Year is coming from groundedness then it will be fine I'm sure or at least different than the Sabbath Year I experienced.

8/13/2005 9:57 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

The conversation here between Martin and Robin reminds me of a comment made by a Friend who attended the workshop on Quaker identity in July.

In the workshop, we were sharing ideas about what makes up a Quaker identity, what might help meetings renew and restore their faith and their corporate practice as Friends, etc.

This particular Friend spoke up towards the end of that sharing. I recall he said something to the effect of, "These exercises and activities and questions are all fine and good, but they don't ultimately help me, personally, to be a better Quaker. My Quakerism comes from my practice of waiting on God in open worship, and from seeking Guidance by centering down and listening."

If the workshop participants were a microcosm of North American liberal Friends, I'd say this one Friend, perhaps like Martin, was in a clear minority of how to strengthen one's Quaker identity. No doubt some of us (most of us?) do need the stepping stones in order to understand how best to enter into the covenant relationship with one another and with God.

Even George Fox spoke with and wrote epistles to seekers and new Friends about how to listen for and be faithful to the Inward Teacher, didn't he?

Others of us, like the Friend in the workshop, are able to engage in a rich, meaningful Quakerism simply by, as Martin puts it, being Quaker.

It seems to me that this wonderful series of comments reflects on one of the living dualities with which Friends are faced: explicit explanations/opportunities to seek-and-find, and inward reliance on the promptings of the Spirit.

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

8/14/2005 3:55 PM  
Blogger Joe G. said...

Actually, I was surprised by your response, Martin. I guess I was thinking that the "Sabbath Year" was a sort of corporate listening for the direction of God, ala what Liz remarked on. Maybe using the "Sabbath Year" from the Bible is a way of creating a "symbol" or "metaphor" for the process. The lovely thing about the Sabbath Year was that it was a communal practice of rest, restarting, and worshipping God.

My impression was more akin to what you wrote Robin, where you remark:

I see the point of a sabbath year as making the time to listen directly to God, to discern who and what and where God is calling us to be. As far as I can tell, I expect to see longer periods of waiting worship at next year's annual sessions. I hope to see us really wrestle with our outdated committee structure. I hope to see us spend more time as an intergenerational Society and less in age-segregated Programs.

OTH, I'm not completely familiar with how this might have proceded back east in PhYM. Perhaps it was more a "doing" sort of thing, kind of like "here are the steps we take to relax and renew...". Now that I've read all of these comments I'd definitely like to learn more about it.

Great topic, Robin!

8/15/2005 12:15 AM  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I have just one more comment on the "sabbath year" concept: I hope that Friends in PacYM will strongly consider calling this something else if they do go ahead with it. I say this in light of what I understand to be the classical Christian Quaker understanding of the Sabbath.

With its emphasis on resting from our own work and resting in the work of God, the Biblical Sabbath offers us a powerful and radical symbol for liberation and justice. Ditto the "jubilee year". I can very well understand why progressive Christians and Jews would turn to it for inspiration.

If I understand the Quaker witness about the outward Sabbath, however, it was that this weekly one-day observance was a shadow or "type" of the Sabbath rest available to all believers at all times once Christ had come. And now that Christ has come we are invited to move beyond this shadow and enjoy the substance. Or to put it more pithily: Christ is our Sabbath, we have no need to keep a day (or a year) as an outward observance. For that reason early Friends denied that either the 7th day or the 1st day of the week was truly a Sabbath Day for Christians.

Of course I realize that many contemporary Friends may not think of Christ as their Sabbath (or think of Christ much at all). And those who thirst for more acknowledgement of our Judaeo-Christian roots can hardly be blamed for rejoicing when Biblical concepts, perhaps imported from non-Quaker sources, are seemingly embraced by other Friends. Still, it would be sad if Quakers could accept these concepts only in their non-Quaker (Protestant,Catholic or Jewish) form.

So a year for reflection or rededication or whatever one wants to call it might be a very fine thing. But it would not in itself be the Sabbath or the Jubilee of Christ Jesus. That would be something more radical still.

8/15/2005 8:54 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I have said before in other places that Rich's vocal ministry at 15th Street Meeting was an important part of my early Quaker religious education. His blogging continues to be. [a moment of silence to reflect on this]

I think this question of what is a sabbath for a Quaker gets at the soul of what Martin is worried about. Perhaps we need to be more radical (in both the rooted and outrageous senses) indeed. Perhaps we need to distinguish between a sabbath and the Sabbath.

I should say again that I have no direct responsibility for the sabbath/jubilee idea within PYM - I'm just jazzed about the idea. But I hope to be able to share the questions and reflections offered here to the folks who will do more of the direct planning of the next years' work.

I'll let you know how this idea progresses, as I learn more about it.

8/15/2005 1:45 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

In a personal email to me, a Friend told me about a visitor to our Meeting who reported that the Northside Chicago Meeting was "having a very difficult time trying to get back together after a taking a year's sabbatical or jubilee; I forget the term"

I think this is a signficant concern and worth holding in the Light. How will we know when the sabbath is over? When we can tell a black thread from a white? When the appointed hour arrives? When the Spirit says stop? When the Spirit says Go?

8/15/2005 11:35 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Rich, thank you for taking the time to write about the "classical Christian Quaker understanding of the Sabbath.

This is such an important teaching for me, to understand the concept of keeping all days holy, and relating it to how "Christ is the Sabbath" and the keeping of the inward and outward sabbaths.

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

8/16/2005 10:03 PM  

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