At its best, the Quaker business method enables human beings to set aside our egos and desires for the good of all, and to choose that Good. Sometimes it is dialectic: from thesis and antithesis comes synthesis, something better, revealed in the Meeting. I feel this is so difficult that it needs religious belief: while Respect for Reality, and Trust, might get us there, Reverence for God, and Faith, help me to set aside my ego.
And I have repeatedly seen it go wrong, traumatising people. In one group we could feel community until we tried to accomplish tasks together. I came back from Thailand, where I had my vaginaplasty, and M emailed the group- “Ah, Clare. Welcome back- what’s left of you.” I have not forgiven him. I do not want to see him, and I wish him ill. And a group of people whom I had thought mostly decent cannot bear the presence of my friend, and exclude her despite the efforts of many “weighty” Quakers, over years, to reconcile them.
What am I to say of R leaving in September? He thought the Society he had sojourned with for decades was turning away from Christianity to such an extent that he no longer felt comfortable with us. Or, as it seemed to me, he did not trust (have faith in) our business method, so that he had to control our meetings. He misunderstood so much I call him delusional and when others blocked him, he walked out. The trouble is that I don’t have that faith either: rather than humans emptying ourselves of Self for the good of Community together, I see egos tiptoeing round each other to minimise confrontation.
But some decisions seem to evince a conservative clinging to the familiar.
Oh, faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen? Not for me, taking the step forward which must be taken now, though I have no certainty of the end I seek. Part of why I am unemployed is that I have little faith in myself or in my apparently atomised society.
Yet it can work. As the clerk, my role in recording the decision gives me power to influence it, and the duty to take that decision from the words of Friends present, with at least acquiescence. I thought I should not influence, just be a clear glass through which the decision of Friends is seen, then I realised how much I wanted particular decisions. I see the uncertainty and fear and Will to Good of my fallible Friends, and have faith that it will be alright- until it isn’t.
Be not too curious of Good and Evil;
Seek not to count the future waves of Time;
But be ye satisfied that you have light
Enough to take your step and find your foothold.
Charles Carter finds a strong, sure faith an overrated virtue. Given the complexities of life, it is a comfort blanket, not a valid protection in the time of trial.