Sunday, November 28, 2004

Quaker Politics

One story Quaker parents love to tell their kids is about this time when some native Americans (so-called Indians) barged into a Quaker meeting, tomahawks drawn, looks to kill. The navams were there to rumble, to get rough with the pale faced occupiers who were turning their lives inside out. Well, the story goes, the Quakers just sat there in silent worship, per standard practice, radiating a sense of peace and spiritual depth (OK, some were scared witless, let's be honest). The Injuns "got it" immediately; yeah, Spirit, cool. They sat down amidst the Quakers and together they had a gathered meeting. One imagines a potluck ensued, but the story basically fades out at this point.

Now, the point of this story is not that Quakers were skillfull at converting heathen to Christianity. On the contrary, the point is that Quakers are very clear that humans have this power to attend to the Spirit -- this is part of the generic design. This power is strongly expressed in many traditions, and certainly in pre-colonial North America. What happened, when anglos and natives worshipped together, was mutual recognition of that Inner Light within each individual. Buddhism calls it the Dharma, or Teaching. Personified, one might name it the Christ, or Inner Teacher (cite St. Augustine). In any case, all theology aside, the point of this story is my brand of Quaker considers the Spirit to be essentially innocent of religion and denomination, and all the attending claptrap. Humans (sometimes very gifted) invent these various brands, as much in the religious sphere as in the commercial (and yes, Quaker Oats was our idea: Floyd Schmoe's grandmother gets the credit -- see Lives That Speak, ISBN 2-888305-32-0, pg. 116).

Consequent to all of the above, I'm starting a denomination of Quaker that abandons "membership" as a category and recognizes only the various species of attender, as in "attending to Spirit." The word "Friend" in "Religious Society of Friends" (the more formal name for the Quakers), traces to a Biblical passage (John 15:15) wherein Jesus says he wants friends, not servants, i.e. peers, colleagues, people willing to do hard work without always begging him to boss them around (he's busy enough as it is). But friendship doesn't commensurate with the clubby aesthetics of a membership organization. One may fall out of friendship, stop attending to Spirit.

Yet some Quakers think they're Friends for life, just by virtue of membership in some Society. I say not. Jesus was friendly with all sorts of characters, outside his immediate circle of disciples (they gave him flak for it -- tax collectors? Roman soldiers?). Whether you're a friend of Jesus or not is really up to him, not some clearness committee or business meeting minute. Having served on Oversight for like seven years or something, I'm confidant in saying that Friends spend entirely too much time worrying about membership (who is, who isn't, who might become one, who should no longer be one). It's obsessive-compulsive at this point in history. I'd rather not bother. Attenders only, end of story. And I recognize that my brand of Quaker is taking the minority view here -- a fact which bothers me not one whit.

A side-benefit of tossing out membership is I'm free to export Quaker technology to others without suggesting that I'm seeking their membership in my religion. For example, the Quaker Meeting for Worship for Business is a good invention, has helped many a Quaker company steer its way safely forward through high risk conditions. It's a cybernetic system with Spirit in the loop. Go ahead and study our ways, use the technology, and don't worry that in doing so you'll be trading away Islam for Christianity (for instance). That's not the point. The point is to keep Spirit in the loop, or Allah, or Great Spirit -- use your favorite terminology, and see where it takes you.

Regarding Native Americans, I've suggested we go back to joint venturing, like in the old days. One vehicle I've proposed we evolve together is my Global Data Corporation. I've run this by the US Congress a few times over the years, lobbying for a special loophole that would allow tribal nations to serve in and manage corporate structures not strictly grounded in anglo jurisprudence. Like, we're imitating some of the branding techniques (logo, letterhead, commercials), but we're not an Inc. or LLC in the traditional whiteman sense. Making money for stakeholders is not our primary responsibility (long term sustainability is a goal). Also, we don't buy the doctrine of corporate personhood, a programming error (bug) which lacks realism, seems rooted in superstition.

I don't think my loophole is unreasonable: not everyone should have to master whiteman law before being allowed to do business in this world. Other traditions have their own sense of self-governance, fairness. Furthermore the whiteman model of corporate governance is manifestly broken in so many ways, is so deficient in the role model department.

Bottom line: whiteman legalese is already obsolete in large degree, although the anglos are slow to admit it. The Global Data Corporation is more into using engineering-savvy general systems theory instead. Economists, MBAs, corporate lawyers, may not have the necessary training and background to access our top management positions. That's why we'll need to start a lot of new schools. I'll post more about that some other day (plus there's already a lot on file).

Related reading:
My letter to Friends re becoming an attender (July 24, 2000)

Sneetches Tale