Listening and Acting In Quaker Communities

There is so much back and forth on Quaker process. So many jokes. So many who easily dismiss it because it “takes a long time.” And outcomes are all that REALLY matter. (I have plenty of examples of Quakers being faithful quickly, taking challenging stands, going against the flow of the status quo in costly ways, and being truly led by the Present Teacher that I have personally witnessed in my own life). My hope is that we can get past these dismissals and learn or re-learn what it means to truly be guided by the Spirit of Life in our meetings, yearly meetings and institutions. My hope is that we will not miss out on the opportunity that faithful meeting for worship for business has given us so many times in the past and present. I think that we sometimes dismiss it because we don’t know it, or understand it, aren’t committed to it, think it’s weird, have experienced it done in wrong or even painful ways, or we are even afraid of it.

I love what Dorsey says here about process vs. outcome and I think she is spot on. I like that she says:

“It’s not what to figure out what everybody thinks will work, it is what we feel led to do as a group.”

“We are looking for, ‘What are we supposed to do here?'”

Process is so important, but even the word “process” reduces down what is actually happening when we sit and listen for God’s guidance together. Words and phrases like surrender, vulnerability, holding my tongue, breathing, paying attention, joining, “yes and…” and revolution, dear God help us, what is it we are missing here, when I think of what happens in the expectant waiting.

In my estimation there are at least three things that make our decision-making difficult today: First, we are not all coming from the same place theologically and we lack a shared understanding of the practice itself. A second is that we are often all working as individuals trying to get the best and most pragmatic idea lobbied for rather than recognizing that we are individuals listening together for the One Voice. It is easy to lack the wherewithal to be patient enough to wait for it and brave enough to act on it when it comes. Third, it is easy to forget that Listening and Action are inextricably linked. I’m not sure if “Quaker process” exists where this chain is broken. If all that is happening is listening with no action, then we are paralyzed by fear or “failure of nerve” or we are just stuck. But this is not “Quaker process.” And if all we do is act all the time than we are just working from a reactive and shallow place.

My hope and prayer is that we will have enough curiosity, wherewithal, and courage to be a people who listen and act.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

One thought on “Listening and Acting In Quaker Communities”

Comments are closed.