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Monday, August 1, 2016

Letters and Epistles and Quaker Process and Friendship

I am moved to share (and thus save) pieces from this year's PYM Sessions where I went and invested in the work of our undoing racism group (URG), hoping that we could put a structure in place to help our meeting(s) remain faithful to our determination of January 10th, 2015:   
  • Commit to increase our consciousness as Friends about the intersection of privilege and race in our culture and spiritual community. We know our knowledge is often limited by our own experiences and that we have much to learn from each other and from outside resources.
  • Commit to move forward with our entire community.  The yearly meeting is the community of all our individual Friends and monthly meetings and this work needs to be done with the involvement of all of us.
  • Commit to integrate this work into what we do in an ongoing way at the yearly meeting level. We want this work to become part of the fabric of what we do whenever we get together as yearly meeting members and attenders.
As a Yearly Meeting, PYM had asked ourselves this query, and still ask it:  What is God calling PYM Quakers to do next to end racism and white supremacy in the Religious Society of Friends and Beyond?
The Undoing Racism Group formed at PYM sessions in 2014 and has been meeting ever since to learn and share learning about how we experience racism, privilege and white supremacy within PYM. We are an open group of about 30 with a diverse core attendance. Originally we had worked in 4 subgroups for Accountability/Networking, Supporting POC, Education, and Community Outreach. Over the last two years we have contributed greatly to PYM--in Lucy's words: 
The Undoing Racism Group of Philadelphia YM has been working for two years to support the yearly meeting's central corporate witness expressed in this query, "What is God calling PYM Quakers to do next to end racism and white supremacy in the Religious Society of Friends and beyond?" We have offered 10 workshops at sessions last year and this, provided learning materials, a group of traveling workshop leaders, hosted a YM wide viewing of "I am not racist, am I?," hosted affinity groups and led events at YM annual sessions and continuing sessions, led events at Quarterly meetings and young adult Friends gatherings, held a retreat for Friends of Color last year, created a vision and plan for our work going forward, held open monthly meetings that always included learning activities... all while having no formal relationship or place at the table of the new PYM structure. (##‎wearepym‬)
This year we proposed an accountability relationship within our yearly meeting.  We brought it first to the Implementation Committee which didn't accept it but offered suggestions and questions.  Then we introduced it at sessions where it was also challenged.  We educated and held a NVA in support of the proposal, and--in response to feedback--brought in a softened, revised version suggesting a two-year experiment.  PYM could not unify behind this either despite an empassioned plea for unity from the Clerk of PYM.  The opposition and disapproval was (to me) surprisingly diverse and shocking.  Here are links to our two proposals:  
Undoing Racism Group- Proposed Structure and Leadership
Proposed Structure and Leadership, Revised Sunday July 31, 2016

These are my two notes to my Facebook self, separated by two days, from PYM:
First:  Essential conversations and change are underway at PYM Religious Society of Friends. Nothing comes easily--especially not seeing and then altering or abandoning structures that hold power in white middle class hands. Someday "we" will be all of us, through the love and grace of the Light that moves us to action. And, no, PYM is not a "big bad" racist organization, but it can and will be better when the testimonies we speak match our hearts, speech and behavior. We have the diseases of our time and place. When we begin to heal, we will be more effective and expressive in all areas important to us. We will be so rich! 
Second:  Sadness. Such Sadness. I'm at home again (and a very sweet ride it was!) after 4 days of Sessions with the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Many wonderful moments occurred, but we didn't reach unity on the major proposal to establish a new UnDoing Racism aspect to the administration of our yearly meeting--a proposal many of us developed after months of discernment. I am trying to understand how working a proposal through a business meeting harms a meeting for worship as some said, how trying this experimentally harms Quaker process. What are the alternatives? Maybe a staff person in this area? I wonder how that has worked out for AFSC? I suspect that expecting one person to be everywhere is a bit much. Can the undoing racism group stay together for the years it will take for Quakers to find our way to Unity? 
My letter to the presiding clerk of PYM:  
Thank you!  I am sending good will and Light and joy in your direction.  I’m sending this note in case you can’t feel it.  Your clerking on Sunday helped me to  see God in our midst—in all of PYM—in the body which is holy, every part necessary.  You grew so tall and full of grace as you stood there alone (but not alone) and asked for help and opened your heart.  I do believe some of the “Nos” were gut reactions to such an outrageous and faithfully authentic act.  And some were not.  You are right that there is as of yet no unity.  Yet we made incredible progress with your help and faithfulness.  People are talking about their learning and teaching—some have melted and some have hardened, and of course you know the rest.  I am listening to many points of view from white and non-white peoples and find  new understanding that will help me to move forward. Thank you for being a leader and for being part of all. I cannot send enough words of gratitude and love to express how I feel.

I include my letter to a F/friend who has experienced racism and has the courage to stand up for doing the right thing in both her town and her meeting, and has asked for Friends to accompany her for safety and support.  I did not understand what seemed to me to be her contradictory responses to URG:
I’m hoping this note will help us to know each other better.  Maybe for the last 2 years we weren’t really letting each other know who we were.  Maybe we’ve just changed over that time.  I know this time at PYM, I saw another part of you.  I’ve always seen you as loving and intelligent.  Now I see you as a person of power.  And this is wonderful to see. But I am also confused.  Maybe you can explain and maybe there is no explanation.  I don’t want to talk about the Upper Dublin Friends Meeting.  I want to talk about how I’ve seen you as a public speaker since July 12th Before the Commissioner’s Meeting on 7/12, I suggested that I come with you and your God Mother and asked your permission to let PYM know you were doing this and that you could use support.  Lots of people came at your call through me and others.  Your testimony was powerful. That wasn’t confusing.  But then, on Saturday at PYM business meeting, you testified that URG/PYM hadn’t done anything to support you.  And on Sunday at PYM,  when you voted “NO” to the revised proposal and said “Don’t piss on me and call it Rain” I felt that you were telling URG and PYM that you didn’t want anything done—or paradoxically wanted more done.  I didn’t understand. I felt that what you said Saturday wasn’t true—but if you believed it was true for the moment, what you said Sunday contradicted what you said Saturday.  I am asking you to explain. If I knew you better I wouldn’t have been so surprised.  I wouldn’t have felt undermined.  We should know what to expect from each other.
The PYM Young Adult Friends Epistle 2016 discussed the events of the weekend in an insightful appraisal of their work, a portion of which I quote here. Follow the link above for the entire letter:
This year, the Undoing Racism Group offered a proposal to establish the group’s role in the yearly meeting. During Saturday’s business sessions, members of the Undoing Racism Group called on the clerks’ table and the body to address where they fit in the new Philadelphia Yearly Meeting structure—business that was long overdue. Many Friends (literally or metaphorically) stood in solidarity with the Undoing Racism Group. Many members of our community were among the supporters of the call to amend the agenda and continue discernment. This clear leading of Spirit was shut down due to concerns about timing and process. We mourn our yearly meeting’s unwillingness to sacrifice the agenda for the movement of Spirit. We recognize the challenge of agenda-building, while at the same time holding a concern for the ways that rigid time structures perpetuate privilege and white supremacy in our yearly meeting. 
The PYM itself issued a worthy Outgoing Epistle which says, in part:  
Most importantly, throughout Annual Sessions we have talked, thought, prayed, and worshipped about how we will address racism and white supremacy. We disagreed; we protested; we were frustrated, angry, and discouraged. We are being held in the light and we seek its guidance. In all our conversations we made great efforts to speak our Truth with a goal of transforming ourselves and our yearly meeting. Our Young Friends testified that the phrase “people of color” did not resonate with them, to the extent that it should be changed.The Undoing Racism Group presented a proposal for formalizing the structure, leadership, and governance of Undoing Racism Group in relationship with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Using a tool, “Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Institution,” we attempted to place our Yearly Meeting along a spectrum of structural racism.  Many of our conversations about racism continued long into the night, in big and small groups, during meals, and in the hallways outside our formal sessions.. . . . The Undoing Racism Group has asked us to envision a blessed community. We will continue our labors to discern how to move rightly toward achieving that end.
I expect URG will also have an Epistle soon.  Much analysis of things said and unsaid has already been done through the group "Quakers Talk about Racism" on Facebook and through Instagram where the link is #wearepym.  
My friend responded to my letter (above) that she doesn't understand my letter and is unwilling to explain and wants me simply to accept this as her friend.  We have different views of friendship, but I will try.  

And I tried to write out my response to the entire event:
     Well it turns out that I cannot write rationally on PYM Sessions and URG. I am still emotional because my friend and I are fighting. I asked her to explain why Saturday she said PYM/URG did nothing to help her and then Sunday said “Don’t piss on me and call it rain.” I thought I might understand more about my friend and her perceptions since I got to know her and became friends through PYM, and that I felt she had the support she asked for. I have come to know her as smart and funny but most of all loving. We hang out—one of my few real friends. But her answer to me was that she didn’t owe me an explanation. True as this might be, I think we at least try to explain things to friends. So we are fighting. I keep thinking I have more to “get” here about how white supremacy limits friendship. She seems angry that I even ask!      
     I may use reason too much when what I want is love in community/communion/Friends and friendship. I will always stand to support when I finally understand. Thus my work in URG. I will always stand up. Even now I stand when I think we are getting the conversation we have wanted for two years—but trust the connections of URG that say it is not enough! The PYM community leans on its members of color and should trust them and those of us who “get it.” I am still standing, but think that this is a healthy time of truth-saying. I am still standing though perplexed. If only we can stay the course.  
   There are aspects of URG that are in process—the whole history many of you express (workshops, learning, etc) AND a means of networking (and setting a baseline for accountability) among all Friends Meetings. 1 2/3 years ago, the Networking subgroup asked for access to the data base of PYM members who came to the called meeting on the subject, and URG’s own clerks told us to drop it after a meeting with PYM leadership. Now, thanks to the PYM staff. this is HAPPENING, but it is undervalued as a way forward and a way of communicating. Dear Walter, Suzanne, Richie, Tricia, Christie, etc! I have been given a few pats on the head—which is not the point at all—but putting out the proposal could have been part of this ground-level bottom-up interaction. No one needed to be left to discover the proposals for the first time in Sessions. But since it was the first time, the push back has some logic to it.  
     I regret that URG began to operate without subgroup clerks' meetings and the brainstorming that was involved. I think, given this mistake, other mistakes were bound to happen. And other amazingly beautiful things as well, like Richie and Vanessa leading the full-session exercise, like Gabriella standing up and speaking truth to power, like finding the standing URG committee was more than 1/3 of those in attendance and like Penny standing on the end of the stage also speaking her truth to power. WOW!    
I am happy now to have Viv and Lucy lead us into conversations—happy about the participation. Let’s save it and report from it as way opens. Let us continue on this way. I am praying that we don’t lose the people we love as URG changes to go on and PYM changes too. If only we can stay the course‪#‎wearepym‬
I will write more as way opens.  

Way opens 8/12/2016:  

We are still knocking heads, my friend and I.  We are equally stubborn, and maybe she hurts at this loss as much as I.  I cannot know as she hasn't said.  I woke up to another email/text that says don't come back until you've changed.  

But today's meditation has been opening my heart to see where I have done wrong.  So I sent it to her, too.  
Beginning with Yes
Author: Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Yesterday, the URG Networking Committee met and determined to move forward.  Since the URG Clerks had already initiated a mailing through PYM, we may be no longer necessary as a committee.  This is good, but I see some use in continuing to call it URG networking so PYM sees the work of URG more clearly.

I will write more as way opens.

Way opens--and, be warned, this is personal.  No more butting heads.  My "friend" writes in her last note:
Susan, "we are both wrong"? Really? No, I am not wrong for saying I didn't want to talk about an issue. I am not wrong for, two years ago, not driving to see you. You have pulled all the tricks out of the hat: guilt, talking with people on FB about our alleged situation (one you created),  threatening friendship, going in the past to bring up a sore point for you, and now saying we are both to blame. No, this "I am wrong, you were wrong" approach is unfair to me. I recognize all the tactics you are using to get me to admit guilt or shame so YOU can feel better about an unnecessary situation you created. 
Again, I am not wrong. I am not going to discuss Undoing Racism.
This is my last email about this.
I am your friend. 

Is this friendship?  It's definitely clear speaking. I don't understand how or why it is wrong to ask a friend's feelings/position on something we are both involved in.  Maybe someday she will tell me, but right now she wants me to accept an absolute "no."  At first I thought she mistakenly believed I needed her to agree with me.  I no longer believe that is so.  Argh! 
My funny, hurting, loving friend (who hadmore hope for genuine Quaker justicethan you can imagine) has left me—andan angry mistrusting accuser hastaken her place.  While I don’t find myselffree from error, I’m not the trickster shedescribes. And she was never mean before. She who used to be kind, critiques with cruelintent, not caring what is lost.  Maybesomeone else speaks through her?  I miss her so!I can’t withstand the accusations.  I’mbewildered and speechless.  And I am done. Maybe in less intense days, we can try again.Right now I am hurting too much to know.

I will write more as way opens.

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