Sunday, November 2, 2008

Quaker, maverick

At meeting for worship this morning, there were more visitors (5) than regular or irregular attenders (4). One of the visitors held a Bible, and I thought that perhaps he and his two companions were here to see how Friends' worship differed from that of their own church - indeed, it turned out that the three were taking a religious studies course of the Christian Missionaries International, and were fulfilling a course assignment to visit other Christian groups and learn of their ways. It occurred to me that it would be good if these visitors could experience more of our worship than the usual silence that oft fills an entire hour at our meeting for worship, and lo!, the Spirit nurtured some seeds of thought and allowed them to grow into ministry.

The first seed was planted by my reading along the road to meeting an article in the Ursula Franklin Reader entitled "Planning and the Religous Mind: 'Der Mensch Denkt, Gott Lenkt'". In this article Franklin argues that the activity of operational planning in our technological society, which has developed out of the post-WWII transfer of military thinking to civil society, sometimes reaches immoral results (such as replacing the Lord's commandment "Thou shalt not kill" with "Thou shalt not kill inefficiently") because being output-oriented it sees society as a mechanism rather than an organism needing to be sensitive to the needs of its members, and sensitivity implies consultation and adaptability uncompatible with a top-down planning model where planners map out directions for future development without allowing for changing needs and on-going discernment of the proper course of action. In the experience of the Religious Society of Friends, the best decisions are reached through a process of discernment in which all members of the community are allowed an equal say, and allowance is made for divine guidance: such a process is hardly possible when all decisions have been made in advance by "authorities" basing their decisions on the advice of "experts".

Whereas making decisions with divine guidance (or at least asking for divine guidance in the making of decisions) may once have been common, in our technological society it is becoming increasingly uncommon. In insisting on allowing for divine guidance and respecting the voice of the individual in our society, we Quakers thus increasingly stand in contrast to the norm of our larger society. In this we engage in what could be called maverick behaviour, behaviour which, according to the Free Online Dictionary is "independent in thought and action". Now being a maverick has not always been seen as a good thing, but until recently - when he sold out his principles in order to get the support of the Republican Party in his quest for the presidency - US presidential candidate John McCain was proud to call himself a maverick, and our Glenbow museum has a permanent gallery celebrating Alberta mavericks, independent thinking men and women who made many important contributions to their society.

It thus seems to me that if Friends insist on making our decisions with God's guidance and encouraging other members of our society at large (Canadian society, humankind) to defy entrapment in a outcome-based, top-down mode of decision-making, we may be in defiance of societal norms, but we are in good company... and on the right path.

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