I have really wrestled with this post. When I'm not actually writing, I can feel it taking shape in my mind and it seems like it's all there, ready to write down. But when I sit down to write, I can't find my way into it. But I'm tired of carrying it around so I am going to finish it this time even if it doesn't come out right.
I have laid down my membership in my monthly meeting.
That's the short version, and there have been recent days when I thought about just plopping that onto my Facebook wall as a status update and getting it over with. But among the people who already know this, some have asked me to talk about why and how this happened, so I will now attempt the long version.
*stares out window, taps fingers on table for awhile*
The long version is hard.
I'm not interested in talking about any of the specific ways my Friends meeting has been hard for me, or laying out the various problems I see in contemporary unprogrammed Quakerism. I've been wrestling with both of those things for several years, and one of the nice things about finally making the break is that I don't have to keep thinking about them. It's quite a relief, honestly; an end to a long, hard struggle.
Besides, I could just as easily write a long thing about what I think works in Quakerism, and the many ways my monthly meeting is awesome--because it is. This is less a drama than a quiet breakup, like when those two nice people you thought would be together forever announce that they are divorcing but plan to remain friends.
It really does feel like a breakup. Like the breakups I've been through before, the final decision was less in response to a single event or problem and more a moment of clarity after a long period of trying really hard to fix things.
I think the breakup comes now because I have entered a period of lots of movement in my life. For most of the past year, I was feeling stuck and discouraged, wanting to make changes and not feeling able to. But in the last few months, suddently those changes have been not only possible, but easy and joyful. This is one of those changes, I think, a time of movement after being stuck for a long time: annoyed by the same things, hurt by the same things, frustrated by not finding answers to the same tired questions. I felt blocked with Quakerism, not able to find a way forward when something in me was straining at the leash. But I also felt trapped in Quakerism, unable to move away from it because I could not imagine that there was any other spiritual home for me. I assumed that liberal Quakerism was the best fit I would I find, that any other group of religious people would only be a worse fit.
But "she's the best I can hope for" is a bad reason to stay with someone. I have become optimistic about the possibility that there may actually be a spiritual community somewhere else that will serve me better in this new time in my life. There's a point during the ending of a relationship when you start to get excited about the possibilities that open up if the relationship ends. All the opportunities that have been forclosed by the success of that relationship open back up again.
I have been reminded, too, that it is better to be single than to stay in a bad relationship. I'm feeling willing to live with either of those options, open to the kind of changes that worshipping in a new way might bring me, and open to the possibility, too, that I'll wind up unchurched.
I don't quite know what my next step is. Laying down my membership has been a mental and emotional relief, and boy howdy has it cleared my calendar! I'm not sure if I should turn right around and head off to church on Sunday morning, or wait awhile before I start dating. Honestly, the search feels kind of exhausting: it's a lot of work to find your way into a community, and that's after the work of finding one you might want to be part of. I don't know if I'm ready to start yet. On the other hand, I feel eager to find out what's next, and may be too restless to sit around home too many Sundays in a row.
A small group of us began weekday morning worship at the meetinghouse two weeks ago, and I've been going every morning despite this decision. I don't feel quite sure about it; sometimes a clean break is best, for both parties. I've laid down all my responsiblities to the meeting, and maybe it will send a mixed message that I'm still worshipping there five mornings a week. But I don't have a strong feeling that it's wrong for me to be there, so I may wear that sword as long as I am able. It may help with the transition, or it may turn out to be too awkward, or it may ultimately prove to be something that is holding me back. But I like it and I think I'm going to keep doing it for now.
I plan to stay involved with FLGBTQC as well; everyone should plan to see me and the kids in Wisconsin next February for the midwinter gathering. I'm less sure about summer gatherings; we may not be able to afford the summer gathering without the generous stipend my monthly meeting gives to children who are attending. Time will tell.
This is not a bad thing, this breakup. It's a necessary thing. It feels right, like it is the answer to many painful questions I've been carrying for too long. Of course, I've traded those for a whole new set of questions, but I like these new ones.
As usual, our friend Walt Whitman has some words that speak to my condition. This is from section 46 of Song of Myself:
I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.
Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.
Shoulder your duds dear son, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.
If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me,
For after we start we never lie by again.
Sit awhile dear son,
Here are bisuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss you with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress hence.