Thursday, September 12, 2013

Practicing Democracy

Quakers bring skills from their professional lives to the life of their Meeting.  At the start of a recent meeting the clerk said "I'd like to start this call by..." and then self-corrected (this wasn't a conference call).  Another committee member started talking about the integrity of "the firm" as she's a lawyer at work or in some such professional practice.

The profile of a typical Quaker some hundred plus years ago, might be "slave owning businessman" with a conflicted conscience.  The anti-slavery movement was strong in England right from the get go.  And yet where did Jesus ever come out against "slavery"?  We talk about "human trafficking" today which should alert the more sensitive that we're in stormy waters:  the meaning is in the usage pattern, less so in the "word itself" (whatever that means).  "Slavery" is alive and well today (unfortunately) but goes by different monikers.

The profile of a typical Quaker today might be more "social worker" or perhaps "school teacher".  We have become less of an entrepreneurial class, charged with running big institutions, and now frequent the world of "nonprofits" and "NGOs".  That was my professional sphere, starting with CUE, though also Project VOTE! (Americans for Civic Participation, 501(c)(3)) before that.  Then I became a self-employed entrepreneur (1990) with Dawn (we created DWA, like a law firm) but we both continued to serve the same clientele:  the non-profits of Greater Portland (and beyond -- e.g. Clackamas and Washington counties).  We had a business license and everything (DWA was literally a "partnership" in IRS jargon, filing a 1065 every year, Dawn the experienced bookkeeper of the two).

Our Quaker Meetings are a lot like theme parks, like Oaks Park.   The committees are the rides.  In joining the life of a Meeting, you get to "simulate democracy" by involving yourself in a business process that's probably not run like your place of work is run.  Lots more rotation.  Lots more volunteerism.  The metaphysics is not particularly money-focused but there is a focus on paying the bills and planning for the future.  Whatever it's like "at work", here you get to play on Quaker-designed "monkey-bars" and that may stimulate fantasies of a future utopia in which more of the world works by these principles. 

Serving on Oversight is like riding the ferris wheel (the Big O):  you get the great overview.  Birth, marriage, death -- it's all there in microcosm.  Go on and go off, then go on again.  That's what I've been doing (going off in 2014).

Just got a call from The Open Bastion.  One of the interns has found a new job and we're taking her out to lunch to celebrate.  She was recruited from Code Scouts as I recall, a nonprofit Michelle manages.  My daughter interned here this summer, earning her keep in helping to scout out sponsorships for Djangocon.  So there's a lot of continuity in what I do, even though I'm more the standard for-profit sector worker in 2013, with DWA retired as a partnership (my wife died of IBC).  My level of volunteerism is still high.  Food Not Bombs.  Quakers.  AFSC.

The conspiracy (a weak one) to rebrand Oversight Committee as Pastoral Care Committee within NPYM has something to do with the trend towards Pastoral / Protestant Christianity more generally, among more reactionary older groups, mostly grays, like me.  The gist is "Oversight" and "Overseer" sound "too severe" or even "slave owny".  To me, it's a deliberate shying away from plain speech in favor of corporate "word-smithing".  Protestant Christians are spiritually immature (witness the Baptists of Buckman).

Fortunately, Quakerism is no longer completely controlled by the exclusively Christian among us, so we have some stronger overeers than you'd likely find among average Xtians of more mediocre faith.  Quakerism stands well-protected against too much dumbing down I'd hazard.  We must remain vigilant.