Friday, July 31, 2009

More Perspective on that dream

All three commenters on my recent post about a dream picked up on the dream's suggestion of some problems with the Religious Society of Friends. Martin also noted my "optimistic view outside of the meetinghouse" and asked how that's sustained. Actually, I think Martin meant "outside of the dream" rather than "outside of the meetinghouse" since he seemed to be referring to my statement in the post that "my conscious waking understanding of where the RSofF reallly is" is different than the picture presented in the dream.

This post is in part an answer to Martin's question. I also want to talk a little more about the dream itself. I generally assume that any dream reveals more about the dreamer than about the dream's ostensible subject. What this dream reveals may be that I was experiencing some discouragement at the time of the dream and possibly also indulging some self-pity. It is true, as the dream implies, that over time the Religious Society of Friends is losing membership and may also in other ways be going downhill and seem to be in danger of falling. But what about the dream's picture of Friends' obliviousness to this problem and what about its picture of my own place in the Society as an unheeded and nearly irrelevant critic? Is this picture accurate? If so, Martin is right to ask how I can in waking life be optimistic about Friends.

Well, as I said in the original post, this has been a period of some discouragement and sense of loss for me. People I've loved have died in the recent past; others are seemingly on a path of self-destruction; I myself have had significant health problems which are not life-threatening but sometimes lead me to feel diminished both mentally and physically. I'm sure that all of this fed into the dream. I do have realistic worries about the Religious Society of Friends, but it has not been my experience that these are ignored or dismissed by other Friends. Nor do I feel in general that my voice is marginalized or ignored. In the dream, I am sitting in the next to last row of the room where a meeting for business is taking place. Note that no one makes me sit there, it's just where I have placed myself. That being the case, it perhaps not be surprising that my dream-self has trouble making himself heard. I think this reflects a general principle: that in order to be heard in the RSofF or in life generally we have to participate as members of the body. (I notice that Martin extends the metaphor to say that he is sitting outside the meetinghouse altogether. I'm not sure whether he is saying that this is by choice or by some action of exclusion by those inside. From where I sit, Martin seems very engaged with Friends - if not in his own Meeting then surely on the internet).

In waking life I generally sit very close to the front or center of any meeting for worship or business that I attend, and I ususally find that if I make a contribution it is accepted and appreciated (though not always united with). The thing is, though, that all of this usually takes place in my own monthly meeting, where I know most Friends and most Friends know me. I have also been active in New York Yearly Meeting in the past, but the limitations on my vacation time, my energy, and my funds have all prevented me from attending in recent years. That may be why I am feeling more powerless in relation to the YM than in relation to my own meeting. It may also be why I felt myself to be in almost the back row when I had this dream. My waking self, considering the objective facts, would have to remember that I have been offered many chances to sit on Yearly Meeting committees, that I have recently even been asked to contribute an article to the Yearly Meeting's newsletter, Spark, and that there are even several Friends who read my blog when I am able to add to it.

What about the spiritual problems that really do face us as Friends? I acknowledge these problems and I acknowledge that I am unable to solve them. BUT when I focus on my own local Meeting and when I focus, within that meeting, on what I am called to do, then I feel empowered by the Spirit of God to do my part - - and to leave to others the responsibilities they have for their parts. It helps me to know that in fact there are many Friends doing wonderful things in my meeting, and it also helps that I have found reason over the years to come to love the Friends I know here, including some with whom I have serious disagreements. My direct answer to Martin's question about what sustains my optimism is this: I find that -- as I keep coming back to worship and I keep engaging in business meeting and in committees and I manage to be faithful to my own leadings --- I am able to see God at work and be serene about it. When I focus instead on major trends and on matters beyond my control then I lose perspective and the mood that pervaded this dream takes hold.

I have no quarrel with anyone who finds that in order to find Christian fellowship they must look outside of the present-day Society of Friends. For myself, however, I sense that Christ is leading me at this time to keep my Quaker ties very much alive.

- - Rich


Blogger Tom Smith said...


Your post strongly resonates with my own condition at the present. I trust the Light will continue to shine in your consciousness.


8:14 PM, July 31, 2009  
Anonymous Licia Kuenning said...

Rich, if you want comments on your blog, you need to post things that are commentable-on. "Actually, everything's fine" doesn't leave much room for comment or interesting discussion. Maybe you don't want discussion? You certainly haven't been very active on this blog in the past year, to my disappointment. I don't think your health problems are the reason. When I'm sick I love to have an interesting internet discussion to participate in: it doesn't take much physical competence and it provides needed mental stimulation. But such discussions are hard to find.

I stopped reading Tom Smith's blog because he kept repeating common cliches and catchwords that reflect historical fallacies about the Society of Friends. I tried to correct him on his history, but he ignored my input. I have majored in Quaker history, so to speak (not in an institution but in my own research and publishing activity); if someone doesn't want what I have to offer, there's not much I can do about it. I know that this isn't my problem with you, Rich; and you don't fall for the common historical fallacies. But a reality gap does appear pretty early on in an exchange with you.

Once again, I don't care whether the Society of Friends loses members. Truth isn't measured by the number of its adherents. I am concerned that the S of F has lost its interest in truth.

Licia Kuenning
Farmington/Quaker Heritage Press

"All my cats are in one basket."

7:05 AM, August 03, 2009  
Anonymous linda said...

hi, i've visited your blog a few times and enjoy it. i'm not a quaker but find quakerism an interesting form of christianity. as a postcharismatic (one who believes in all the gifts of the Spirit without the accompanying hoopla) i wonder if your dream is prophetic. i don't know if it is or not but i think it is good to consider this possibility. if it is, then i would think God gave it to you for the purpose of intercession.

i would love to attend an unprogrammed service but am a bit hesitant because i've heard those services aren't necessarily christian. i'm not sure if i would be comfortable with that especially when one is engaging on a mystical level. if i were to take a stab at interpreting your dream i'd think it might be saying that you or your voice is more in the background these days and not front and center. you feel as if you are being a bit pushed out or silenced perhaps. i think it is quite likely this would be referring to the christian focus of quakerism in its larger context than in your local meeting. also, that because of this quakerism is descending and falling and it is/will be happening rapidly like on a roller coaster. if any of this resonates with your spirit then i'd take it as a nudge from God to pray that this in fact doesn't happen. many times, God gives dreams to people to intercede that the things they dream don't in fact happen.

grace + peace,

6:04 PM, April 01, 2010  

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