Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Search: Jamaica

Guided Search: Jamaica

My earliest memories are as a preacher’s kid in Amboy, IN. However, the first lessons that I truly remember were on the island of Jamaica. My father had been called to serve Jamaica Yearly Meeting as Superintendent and doing ministry at the large “church” in Hector’s River. There I learned that I was not special or different from others because of the color of my skin, my father’s occupation, or my position.

My brother and I were sent to the local elementary school where we were the only “white” children in attendance. This was obvious, but became an item for discussion in the family when the other children called us “white feet.” We were asked by our parents why we were being called that. We explained that when we started attending the school we had been sent to school wearing shoes, but realizing that no other children were wearing shoes we had decided to take off our shoes. Being fairly respectful of our parents’ wishes, we dutifully put on our shoes in the morning, but took them off on the way to school and went barefoot at school. Since our schoolmates saw “white” people go barefoot only on the beach, our bare feet became an identifying attribute. Of course when my parents heard this, they said then don’t bother to put shoes on in the first place. This seemed to be contrary to what other “whites” expected but seemed quite natural to our family. Other missionary children were not “allowed” to go to the local school. I am not quite sure why, but it obviously was not due to lack of “education.” In Jamaica I started in “second” grade and when we returned to the States 4 years later, I was placed in 7th grade. This placement was agreed to reluctantly by the principal at the school I entered in Ohio, but I had already been introduced to the basics of algebra and was reading at a high school level.

However, apart from the social and educational advantages of being in Jamaica, The most important lesson I learned was that love was to be the basis for action and that those who love most, served most. My father and mother, rather than wanting others to become like “Americans,” strove to assist others in learning to lead and tried to work themselves “out of a job.” I learned that missionaries should see themselves as temporarily filling in where colonial powers had failed to develop leadership, and that “we” had much to learn from each other.

In the subsequent years as a pastor in Ohio, my father would more explicitly state that he saw his role as not “working” on Sunday but rather sharing in worship. He continued to believe as a Friends’ pastor that his “job” was to work himself out of a “job” by developing leadership and ministers within the congregation. This seemed a different interpretation of ministry than most other Christians and Quakers that I knew. I saw my father and mother as very caring persons who tended to preach what they lived and to live what they preached. This was different than most preachers I knew who told others to practice what they preached but seemed to live as if preaching was what counted and not practice, especially not their practice.

Up to this point I had followed the path that my parents set before me. I did not see much need to “strike out on my own,” although we were encouraged to read, study, and question what we were being taught. I accepted much of what was taught in Sunday School, but was also taught at home that I needed to think for myself. This included looking at the Bible as a source of spiritual truth and not as a science or history text. As I was soon to discover this was quite different from the view of many others.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Braided Rug theory

I started my “Guided Search” thread using as a basis a paper written for an Earlham School of Religion course in 1980. I wrote another paper for a second course dealing with Old Testament studies. The paper was entitled “In the Beginning: There were many beginnings.” As I reflected on starting a series of posts based on “A Guided Search” as somewhat of a memoir, I recognized that I would be leaving out a large portion of what I really feel a need to record. Recalling “In the Beginning” I realized that it might be appropriate to take some of the ideas behind that paper and apply them to a second thread of my “memoirs.”
As I spent some sleepless time last night, a relatively frequent middle of the night occurrence, my thoughts went to a metaphor, analogy, picture, or “whatever” to use as a gathering point for my memories. The image of a tapestry has been used to portray the entwining threads that are quite distinct but become a beautiful whole. I have used this image in the past to illustrate my concept of a community, school, or Meeting uniting people who retain their individual diversity into a beautiful unity. I also thought of a quilt as putting together various pieces into patterns that then are placed in a larger pattern. Both of these images seemed too patterned to fit the way I view my life.
Then an image came to mind that seemed to fit both a “guided search” and “many beginnings,” a braided rag rug. From a collection of strips of cloth, a braid is formed into what appears to be a long rope that is then coiled to form a rug. Some are relatively small like doormats while others are room size, but even the larger ones can be extended by additional braid. Sometimes strips of similar color are placed together to form a length of a unique color while at other times a mixture of color and textures produce a stretch that seems nondescript. Some transitions between sections blend well while at other times there may be a fairly abrupt change in color and appearance. This image seems to fit the way I view my life in retrospect.
There were periods when the direction and “color” of my life seemed very straightforward and uniform with relatively smooth transitions. At other times there were abrupt changes and apparent confusion. As I recall these times and relate them in somewhat of a narrative, I must add some strong advisories. My memory is quite selective. My view of events is clearly biased. I will attempt to be true in my descriptions. However, my perception of the truth may not be the same as another person’s perception of the same events and, as contradictory as it may seem, both perceptions may be true.
My intention is to write what I feel needs to be said and spend at least some time editing the writing. This is a process I do not like. My “style” has been much more of writing my thoughts out, editing as I go, and then leaving the result as the product. This provides a “flow of consciousness” of my thoughts at the time, that is normally my intent, but if I am to synthesize a collection of memories into a whole it would seem that I should utilize some editorial control. Thus the appearance of posts from either the “Guided Search” or “Braided Rug” series may be sporadic, at best. In addition, some posts may fit both categories while others seem incongruous. It is my hope that as I sew the pieces together, the thread I use will be essentially invisible and the end result will be functional, at least for myself.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Guided Search 1

30 years ago while at Earlham School of Religion for 2 summer courses I wrote a paper for one of them which attempted to trace some of my spiritual development up to that point. As I "settle" into "retirement" I am revisiting that "paper" with major editing and planning to extend the "search" over the last 30 years. I will be taking this process at a measured pace. I may intersperse the continuations with other more responsive posts, but I plan to work more carefully at the "Guided Search" thread.

In examining my life’s journey I find that there were a number of guides along the way. Some of these were individuals that I knew who had a strong influence on the direction of my journey. Others, from ancient to modern times, I knew through written descriptions of their experiences and advice. These guides were ones to whom I could look consistently and confidently, as well as being able to refer others to them. It was important to me that I found some relationship with these guides similar to that described in the following:

Do not walk in front of me, I may not follow.

Do not walk behind me, I may not lead.

Just walk beside me and be my friend. (Anon?)

A critical aspect of my journey that has varied over many twists and turns has been that of finding or rather, in a more complete sense, being found by, a spiritual guide that has walked with me my entire life. I learned that the people I most trusted and who served as the truest guides followed the recommendation of early Friends in their advice to those who would be guides: “Take them to Christ and leave them there.” These true friends did not ask that I follow in their footsteps nor that I take the lead but rather they walked with me for a while as I found the trail markings they helped me to learn and bore witness to the one guide to whom I could listen and walk with regardless of how rough the terrain or obscure the path seemed to be.

My earliest guides were my father, Logan Smith, and my mother, Opal Perry Smith.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

God IS

(Adonai, Elohim, Allah, Collective Unconscious, Deus, God,
Great Spirit, Light, Nirvana, Brahman, Truth, YHWH, I AM THAT I AM)

Α - Ω







Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Friends School as a Community

This was written a number of years ago. I might use slightly different language today, but it still reflects my general views so I am posting it basically unedited.

A Friends School as a Whole Community

If we love God, we will be satisfied with nothing less than a fellowship which hears and obeys the call of Christ to righteousness within the community. The life of this fellowship will be grounded in the corporate experience of obedience and suffering for the sake of obedience. This does not happen when we are with those who tell us only what we want to hear of our own accomplishments and glory, nor does it happen in a community whose intent is to glorify or build up specific individuals. An obedient fellowship is clearly evident only in a primary community, one in which the first claim on our corporate loyalty is the community that has become the social force that has the greatest influence in our lives. As faculty in a Friends school this means viewing our position not as a job to finance what we really want to do nor one to trade-in for a “better” position, but rather as an experience in forming and belonging to a whole community. As students it is not putting up with the situation until graduation, but it is considering the school as our community now. This is not to say that faculty and others may not be led to other opportunities or that students should not prepare for further study or “life after school,” but that these occurrences are outcomes of the experience rather than immediate goals. It also does not mean that all of the members must agree with everything that the school stands for or in reality does. However, it does mean exerting our present efforts toward achieving a primary community in which each one is a whole person. This is not making the school what we want or what a select group of persons want, but rather what God wants and we need.

Now for some tough questions. How do we know what is needed? How do we know how to meet these needs? How do we know God’s will for our school? Friends have insisted that it is in corporate meeting that we can find the truth, in coming together, all of us, seeking unity not uniformity, as a community sharing our concerns, our successes and our problems. The source of Power for early Friends was discovered and experienced in Meeting one another and God at a depth beyond words. Discovered in meeting across all disciplines, ages and positions within the community.

The prophetic tradition placed the direct experience of God as the most critical point in the relationship of persons with God and with each other. From this experience comes personal righteousness and active involvement in meeting and sharing with others. The major barrier to a right relationship with God and one another has been proclaimed as our resistance and down right rebellion against the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth. We have, just as institutional churches past and present, substituted intermediaries, symbols, rituals and forms for a direct relationship within our community. We expect certain individuals or groups to perform special acts while others are mere spectators. We have set aside time for the form of meeting without incorporating Meeting into the classroom or business of running the school. Friends found that it was in Meeting with everyone as active participants in a direct immediate relationship that Power came for personal and corporate righteousness through the sense of unity and power essential to a whole community.

If we are to develop a living primary community, we must meet each other under the leadership of the Spirit of Christ. We must meet each other not as students, staff, alumni, administrators, or teachers of one discipline or another. In other words, we must meet as individuals rather than on the basis of position, title or experience. Each one of us is capable of listening to the teaching of Christ and of contributing in a Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Business, and Meeting for Learning. It is in this context that we can become whole persons in a whole community. Some of the results that might be expected from such a school community, with thanks and apologies to Howard Brinton, are: 1) A sense of belonging to a community that implies cooperation rather than competition; 2) A sense of inclusive wholeness rather than exclusive separation or compartmentalization; 3) A renewed sense of dedication and commitment on the part of students, staff and administration; 4) A sense of caring with nonviolent discipline and methods emphasizing persons more than facts or things; 5) An inward sense of rightness in individuals with values meaning more than material value; 6) A sense of equality among academic areas with interdisciplinary inclusion rather than exclusiveness or possessiveness; 7) A sense of simplicity in life styles and corporate direction with emphasis on the needs of individuals rather than corporate or individual prestige; 8) A sense of honesty in achieving creativity rather than conformity in academic standards and interpersonal relationships; and 9) A sense of broadening and strengthening the skills students need for life rather than refining and narrowing limited areas of interest.

In such a community, the goals will not be differentiated from the means by which these goals are attained. The process of education will be the product of the school and students will become part of the process of the community. Meeting will be for Worship, Business, and Learning in a whole community which is made up of whole persons.