April 4, 2015

Thoughts about the season of Passover and Easter

I've been thinking about this season of Passover and Easter... I'm working hard to "see" the rabbi that these two holidays center on, to see him as the dark-skinned man that he was, and not the whitewashed Americanized version that I've seen in American film and TV, in White Christian houses of worship, etc.

I've been thinking about #BlackLivesMatter and how despite this rabbi's background and supposed centrality to the Judeo-Christian story, my Jewish education cast him out as easily as White mainstream America casts out my Black cis and Black trans and Black GLBTQ sisters and brothers.

I've been thinking about how much I want our collective healing--a deep, meaningful one.

Blessings,
Liz

March 27, 2015

Questions about Whiteness, race, and racism

Dear long-lost readers...

I find that I am still writing about my journey as a Friend, but just not here. I want that to change.  I also want to be transparent and explicit:  my journey as a Friend is now closely entwined with my growth as a White anti-racist and as someone who is working for justice in my area.

My hope is to engage a different practice of writing, one that would basically "cross-post" from things I write on Facebook or share via email or Twitter.

Now, I realize that many White Friends may be more mystical than hands-on-for-justice- or activism-oriented.  I was much more mystical than I am now, and in hindsight I also didn't feel as whole or as connected to a wider group of people as I feel now.  At least, that's where I am currently, on this "journey to be faithful" in the face of my own humanness and the humanness of those who I meet along the way.

So--

For a good many months now, I have been receiving emails from a White Conservative Quaker friend of mine who is involved in both environmental justice and racial justice.  Jeff sends out emails with updates about his experiences. He's inspired me to send emails out as well, especially to keep my long-distance care-and-accountability committee updated as I go more deeply into anti-racism work.

I feel rather clear to be engaging in White-on-White conversations among the Quaker community.  Sometimes the conversations are about Whiteness, race, and racism. Sometimes the conversations are about why the person cares about an issue as much as they* do.  Mostly, I use the conversations to build community around something that inspires us to do a tiny bit more on this earth to bring about justice and fairness.

We who believe in freedom and justice cannot rest.  We must continue to evaluate how our own lives and Quaker practices--and sometimes even our cherished Quaker mysticism--can get in the way of being effective in working for freedom and justice.

My friend started off his most recent group email by sharing this webpage, about "Where White people should start."  In the course of the email exchange among a few of us, I came up with a list of possible questions for Friends to consider, a few other "starting points."  Then I realized I didn't want to hijack or derail the original focus of my friend's original email; and I didn't want to overwhelm my friends with my list of questions.

That's when I reminded myself of my new/renewed intention with The Good Raised Up, and so I post these questions below.

WHERE WHITE QUAKERS MIGHT START

  • When did you first become aware of Whiteness as a race?  How did that awareness get started?
  • How often is Whiteness mentioned in vocal ministry or in committee meetings? Are there code words used for people of color? If so, why?
  • If some of your ancestors are not native (ie not indigenous), what did your ancestors have to give up in order to be considered "White" in this land?
  • When did you first become aware of White privilege?  How did that awareness get started?  
  • When did you first become aware of systemic racism?  How did that awareness get started?
  • Is there anything in your calendar, your email account, your bank account, or your friends list that would indicate your active involvement in working for justice?
  • How often are constructs and concepts like White privilege, White supremacy, or systemic racism mentioned during worship or committee meetings? 
  • What does "socialization" mean to you?  How are White Quakers socialized to think about Whiteness, people of color, racism, equality, etc? Is it different from how "everyone else" is socialized or conditioned?
  • Does our Quaker faith socialize us or otherwise prepare us to get involved or take action against injustice? What helps us get involved? What hinders us? 
  • How do we respond when news of racially based violence comes into our lives and into our meetings? 
  • What is the benefit of exploring these sorts of questions, actions, and topics?  What's the risk of doing so?  What's the risk of not doing so?

Well, those are more than just a "few" questions!

I will say that I feel much more in touch with a sense of Divine Wholeness since I started paying attention to how God was speaking through people of color. I feel like I'm reclaiming a long-lost part of my humanity--a sense of mutual humanity and dignity for long-lost cousins, neighbors, and friends who have been historically oppressed...

And if religion allows for a re-membering of a fragmented body, a reconnection of life in the Spirit, then this justice work certainly has been a doorway for me into that Wholeness.

Blessings,
Liz

*I use the pronouns "they," "them," and "theirs" in order to avoid the clunky "she/he," "hers/his" construction.  These pronouns are being used more frequently within the transgender community, including their supporters/allies.

January 1, 2014

Being known by being vulnerable

In the meeting where I attend occasionally, during the last few minutes of a recent worship, we were invited to share anything that was on our hearts but hadn't risen to the level of speaking out of the silence.  It's a smaller worship in an otherwise large urban meeting, and reserving the last portion of our time together for this type of sharing is often a precious time.

This past First Day, I unexpectedly started thinking about occasions when a few Friends had talked with me individually about the justice work I was doing at the time.  I had invited them to participate in some of the events and activities I was organizing among Friends, and their reply quite plainly was, "Well, I'll think about it but I'm not an activist like you are, Liz."

I held those words and that memory, wondering what their message was for me on this First Day morning.  I kept circling back to the word "activist." ...It felt to me like that word created a separation between us, as if one group of Friends--"activists"--were set apart from and unreachable by all other Friends.

The more I reflected, the more misunderstood I felt:  my experience of stepping into justice work was about making the simple choice to get involved.  Staying disconnected from my sisters and brothers in the Divine Family had become intolerable for me.

I chose to get involved in the lives of people who were suffering at the hands of those in power.  I chose to get involved and share how a proposed measure by the state's legislature would hurt me personally. I chose to get involved in the hopes that my friends, neighbors, and fellow worshipers would also get involved.

At the moment, back in the meetingroom, I didn't feel clear to share any of this.  It felt more like a memory and reflection that I was to hold and sit with on my own for a while. There was no message for the gathered community, no sense of prayer, no internal quivering or indication of the Still Small Voice compelling me to say something.

And then a Friend spoke out of the silence, inviting messages forward that remained on our hearts but weren't weighty enough to be considered messages arising from the waiting worship.

A petite woman across the room from me stood and spoke about the coming of the New Year.  She explained how she and her adult daughters and son have a tradition of sitting down with one another, and as the mom, she asks each one what she could do to have a better relationship with them in the coming year.  The Friend asked for prayers as the time approached to be with her kids again.

She finished and sat down.  I sensed something shift in me.  I waited a few minutes and offered what had been on my heart.

"I too want to know what I could do to have a better relationship with you, as a meeting.  And I also know that there are times when I have to share with you something that I am holding back..."  I take a breath and explain how Friends' use of the word "activist" to describe me and simultaneously to describe themselves as "not-them" had caused a separation for me; that I wasn't feeling understood; that all I was doing was choosing to get involved in an issue that was important to me.  "Wouldn't we all do that for something we cared about...?" I wondered aloud with them.

Then the message left me and I sat down again.

Another few minutes ticked by.  A young man stood and cautiously started to speak.  He spoke of never having felt like he belonged anywhere.  He has been worshiping at this large urban meeting for five years and he still felt like an outsider.  He didn't know what he had to do to be on the inside of the meeting, though he yearned to be there...

But something in the messages that he heard this particular morning allowed him to share the shame he had felt at not feeling like he belonged, and at the rise of meeting, I noted that a few Friends were speaking with him.  A few others of us commented to one another--and I later shared with him as well--that most of us in our Liberal unprogrammed meetings feel like we're outsiders, and many of us are searching for that sense of belonging, even for those of us who have been among the same meeting for two decades.

And yes, a few Friends approached me and said that they would feel complimented if they were called an activist.  I quietly explained that the words we use impact each of us differently, and we need to share the impact of those words (and actions), regardless of the very good intentions that were attached to them. It's one way how we become Known to each other.

I think that particular worship brought the 30 of us closer to the Living Presence among us.  It's a bit of a paradox, that the more vulnerable we are with one another, the more at home we are; the less we fear each other.

Blessings,
Liz

P.S.  Martin Kelley and others have suggested over the years that the single most important thing we can do to offer hospitality and welcome to newcomers among us is to invite them to join us for coffee or a meal.

P.P.S.  In a conversation with a Friend who missed worship and is a sort of spiritual companion to me, she and I spoke about what might happen if we affirmed one another's gifts and ministries, instead of labeling one another as "this sort of Friend" or "that sort of Friend"?  What if we started inviting Friends to share the gifts that we see in them: would they feel a greater sense of belonging? What responsibility do we have to stop excluding ourselves and instead to start inviting ourselves into the life of the meeting, to see ourselves as already belonging?

November 19, 2013

Transfer of membership

Last month, I submitted a transfer of membership request. I have come to understand myself to be a Conservative Friend for a number of reasons and based on a variety of experiences.

Here's the text of my letter, with links included here for easy clicking:

29 Tenth Month 2013

Dear Twin Cities Friends Meeting,

After much prayerful and tender consideration, I am requesting a transfer of membership to Bear Creek Meeting in Iowa, part of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative (IYMC). Like TCFM and other meetings in the Northern Yearly Meeting region, IYMC also practices unprogrammed worship and is socially progressive. (The word “Conservative” refers to the intention of conserving some of the original disciplines of Quaker tradition.)

I’ve attended a number of IYMC’s annual and midyear meeting sessions over the past handful of years, and I have come to understand myself to be a Conservative Friend. In addition, just two years ago, Laughing Waters Friends Preparative Meeting, where I currently serve as its clerk, became formally affiliated with IYMC. When we minuted our affiliation plans, Laughing Waters made special note in the minute that we treasure and intend to maintain our personal connections with NYM Friends.

For me personally, I will continue to worship occasionally at TCFM. I also plan to participate in adult education presentations at this and at other meetings in the metro area.

What is of some concern to me, though, is: What if I am in need of support or care, which is far easier to coordinate among nearby fFriends? I hope that I can still turn to TCFM and its Ministry & Counsel if such a need arises. Regardless of my request to transfer my membership, I see myself and each of us as part of the wider Quaker community, with fFriends near and far, all of us held in God’s loving hands, as part of the same spiritual Family.

Blessings,
Liz