Jay was billed as speaking about Climate Change, and although he has, he has even more called us to be a Gathered People listening to Divine Authority. He has challenged us to examine where we have empty forms that are keeping us stuck and driving away young Friends and where to go more deeply towards our traditions of receiving spiritual guidance, and centering our actions and life together in that Power. For me it is a very welcome eldering of our whole body.
In my last few blogs I have written about ways in which our committee structure and nominating process can become empty forms, or limiting structures. I often hear Friends lament why are we an older, graying religion? Why are numbers dwindling and "where are the young people?" I often also hear older Friends attribute to the youth that there disappearance as soon as they are old enough to not go to Meeting is because they have better things to do, are more interested in hanging out with peers, or have been swallowed by wide world values. While certainly that is true in some cases, or may even be expressed as "better things to do"...I want to say as someone who has spent time listening to Young Adult Friends in their 20's and 30's, there is a certain blindness here operating about why they leave.
The male privilege and class privilege and racial privilege is readily apparent to anyone who has those lens and enters our Meetings. If they speak up about these things they can be treated like a "child" of the Meeting and dismissed, or because they are a distinct minority they can find it daunting to try to raise this alone. And if they do raise for example a complaint about mansplaining (if you do not know what this is please look it up) and are responded to with defensiveness, no support by whoever is clerking and a continuation of the behavior, they can wind up feeling so frustrated and trapped as to just decide that the benefits don't out weigh the pain.
How then do we go towards Living Waters? There is a bit of a what comes first the chicken or the egg problem. When people experience authentic Spirit voiced ministry and the experience of a covered Meeting, they are hungry for more. They themselves are opened up spirituality and you thus get more Spirit moved vocal ministry. There is a synergy that moves things deeper. But when we experience inauthentic ministry, that which is driven from head and from ego, it is dampening to the worship and to the soul. There is a disorientation from sorting the wheat from the chaff. There is a discouragement - like a pollution in water.
This takes me to eldering. Eldering in its orginal and intended form was to hold each other accountable to the faithfully minding of the Light. People were eldered if they spoke from head and ego and not from an inward prompting. They were also eldered/mentored in how to listen to the inward promptings. People were eldered if they behaved in ways that blocked the corporate experience of true worship. They were given experiences of true worship so they knew what to aim for. And they were eldered if their behaviors in the world were oppressive to the Light in others. They were provided patterns and examples of how not to do this. As I have written about in other previous posts, eldering has gotten a bad name among Friends. We need to return to this as a living practice, not a badly applied censoring of something we personally dislike.
I understand that the discernment of what is a living form and what is an empty form is a confusing thing for many people - perhaps in the eyes of the beholder. All of us have experienced somewhere empty forms that are maddening to have to comply with and feel simply like "because I said so" dictates of a power over parent. If forms in their original creation were ever useful, ever life giving it was because they were created to try to name and protect a way of doing things that had discovered to be life giving. But when we teach people "how to" do something, without teaching them why to do it that way (and maybe do not even know ourselves) then we teach an empty form, something which has simply become a ritual. Some of our forms made sense before copy machines, phones, facetime technologies, internet, etc. But they now are forms frozen in time, trying to serve a purpose which maybe better served by new forms.
So just as I have written about our committee structures, we have to go back to questions about what are we trying to achieve and apply those to our structures to see if they do serve. If Fox was saying to the religions of his times "These rituals are empty forms" then we need to examine carefully whether 350 years of practice has rendered us some empty forms. If some of our forms serve valued purposes we need to start being able to articulate and practice those forms in ways that make that clear to all beholders.