Today (Oct. 2) I am at a conference of Quaker superintendents and general/executive secretaries or other names for YM leaders. The topic under discussion is spiritual unity. For some reason, this put me in mind of Mark Twain’s short story “The Siamese Twins.” In this story, the brothers thought very differently from each other, fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War and taking each other prisoner, for example. Additionally, one was a teetotaler while the other liked strong drink. Unfortunately, when the second got drunk, so did the first, which interfered considerably with the first one’s work in the Temperance movement.
Twain’s story is bitingly funny (though I have taken that part out of it), and partly so because in his time Siamese twins were inseparable. So unity was a condition of life for these two.
At our conference, our small groups were asked to share thoughts addressing the idea of spiritual unity. This seemed appropriate to share with NWYM generally, so here are the thoughts of my small group, framed in the time-honored Quaker query form.
Are we called into unity? If so, are we called to Faith and Practice unity or is our unity on some other level? What if we differentiate between Faith and Practice unity and spiritual unity?
Is there one truth for everyone? If so, is it possible for finite human beings to know that one truth with certainty? And then, does a belief that there is one truth actually lead us into divisions? Does it help to be more transparent within our more local communities so that we are aware of differences?
How does being a denomination contribute to division or unity? Is there a difference between how we need to respond individually to other individuals and how our denomination needs to respond to an issue?
Can we experience unity by focusing on how we experience the present Christ? Can we have unity when we do not all read the Bible the same way?
How can we accept those who interpret spiritual experience or scripture differently from us? Is acceptance different from love? Can we be together in doing the work of God?
How can we affirm individual leadings arising out of a genuine presence of Christ and also exercise discernment to hold each other accountable without quenching the Spirit?
What form of relationship do we choose to have with each other and how is it grounded in love and the presence of Christ? What value derives from struggling through our divisions?
Is unity based on an inexpressible experience? How do we live out the truth that is deeper than language? Do we need to share vocabulary in order to recognize spiritual unity?
What can we do together so that unity is the byproduct? What are we called to that is deeper than our differences? How do we live that out?
Our understanding that Jesus is present today to teach us himself and that all believers share in the universal priesthood that reconciles the world to God is just what some of our neighbors in Washington, Idaho and Oregon need to hear. My prayer is that we in NWYM will find that we are called together to work that is bigger than our divisions, bigger than our individual churches, and that what we are to do for God’s kingdom is so important we don’t have time to argue.