Questpost 3: initiative


And what of initiative? What of impulse? What of the creative act, which separates itself from conventional thinking and blazes a new trail? If we look at early Friends, we might say, yes – that describes them well. But it seems to me that we have lost our sense of respect for the individual’s vision in my Yearly Meeting. It also seems to me that this resistance to initiative – to change – is changing.

Part of the confusion lies with a fundamental misunderstanding about how Quakers are supposed to make decisions. I think many Friends have adopted the notion that decisions can only be made collectively, and they follow this notion to a more oppressive one: that individuals can’t make decisions, can’t have initiative, can’t be prophets or visionaries. I have referred to this tendency before as “hyper-egalitarianism”. It is a syndrome born of the wounds of oppression. Many convinced Friends come to our Society wounded by the oppression of former religious affiliations, wounded by academic or political hierarchies, wounded by family dysfunction. I fear that we have too often let these wounds define our actions and set our agendas. And so these individual wounds create a collective one, in which the prophet is marginalized and muted, and the the collective trundles along in a state of constant confusion, waiting for direction but suspicious of anyone who gives it.

But Friends, we are a congregation of prophetic ministers, and our entire tradition is based on one man’s vision of an ocean of light over a sea of darkness, and the direct communication he received from his Lord and Savior. This man is our role model. I think we must give ourselves permission to more intentionally walk in his footsteps. Recently, I have witnessed the Truth at work. In my own meeting, long plagued by difficult and often angry meetings for business, we have empowered our clerks to be leaders and learned to trust them. And so I left last week’s meeting for business with a smile on my face. Not that everything passed with flying colors, no, there was an item in which there was no unity, and so it was sent back to the committee which proposed it for more seasoning. A year ago, this might have been an occasion for raised voices and high blood-pressure. At meeting for business it felt, for the first time, like business as usual.

And yesterday during a committee meeting at my Yearly Meeting, we confronted an issue with great emotion swirling around it. We were fortunate to have the clerk of our Yearly Meeting sitting in with us. We spoke at great length about to handle the situation. Then, showing initiative, our Yearly Meeting clerk proposed going to meet with the person in question. Like lightening, another Friend offered to go along. Just as quickly, I proposed minute of support of these two Friends. The Spirit moved with such force through us, and so quickly, some had tears in their eyes. But it was one person’s impulse which moved it forward. If we had waited for “the group to decide” we would be waiting still.

And Quaker Quest too, is a story of individual initiative, which was then adopted and carried by a small group. I can sense the energy of the individual in my own Core Group: the attender who made an executive decision in order to avert a child care disaster, the excitement the seasoned Friend feels in proposing topics for our Quaker Quest sessions, my joy in organizing tasks and sending individuals out to make decisions and gather information about advertising.

What makes it possible to follow individual initiative is trust. If I don’t trust my Friend, then I won’t trust her initiative and I will resist her ideas. Trust, finally, is the trust we give the Holy Spirit, the trust we give to Jesus, the trust of handing our will and our lives over to a power greater than ourselves, to borrow an idea from another fellowship. If there really is God in all of us, then we are called to be faithful when that of God makes itself known through her or him, individually, through creative initiative, and to trust the sense we feel (if we feel it) that yes, we can safely and joyfully follow.