The time called Christmas is when my Jewish upbringing butts heads with my Quakerism. Every year, without fail.
Growing up in a Jewish household, December 24th and 25th were some of the loneliest times for me as a kid. I was forbidden to call or visit any of my friends. I was told they were celebrating Christmas with their families.
There was nothing good on TV, since most of the Christmas specials were done (Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch...). And the caroling party on December 23 that my friend Sally and her family always hosted--complete with hot chocolate and cookies after a night of singing to neighbors for an hour or two--only fanned the flames of my wanting to be around friends when December 25 came around just two days later.
My mom was glad I was included in Sally's caroling parties--every year since 3rd grade and through my first year in Milwaukee after college, from age 9 to 19. Not bad.
And then came Christmas and my lonely time. Every year, without fail.
This past Sunday, on the 25th, a few of us gathered for worship. I was glad for being with friends who were Friends. The kids were quick to show off some of their new loot--insulated lunch boxes for school and a kid's set of cleaning tools, like a push-broom, dustpan, and mop. "So we can all clean together as a family," Mama explained.
At one point during worship, one of the parents swept up the children and took them upstairs for some storytelling and play-acting. It was easy to eavesdrop, since one of the children is very excited to be part of any story, and she knew this one particularly well. And upstairs isn't that far from downstairs when it comes to eavesdropping on the delightful squeals of the kids.
As I was listening to the older Friend tell the story about Mary and Joseph's search for shelter in the night, up came that familiar pang. This is a story that has led me into great pain as a child: I was different and everyone in my class knew it.
The fact that my mother would invite herself into the classroom to talk about Hanukkah didn't help me blend into the wallpaper, either. And the teachers were all too happy to have Mrs. Opp come by and point out that not every family celebrates Christmas and the story of Jesus' birth.
During worship, I heard the child say to the parent, "Jesus is coming to Earth to keep out the devil." Or something like that. I heard the parent continue the story, asking questions about how to keep the baby Jesus warm; or wasn't that an unusual star in the sky, perhaps we should follow it; or where should the shepherd stand, and did the angel sing?
In my own head, I was replaying the story of my childhood:
Girls from my class coming up to me and telling me I was going to hell because I didn't believe in Jesus.
Not knowing what to say when a store's clerk in town said "Merry Christmas" to me.
Knowing nothing about decorating a tree, and the very first chance I have to do so, with the very first ornament I ever hang, the bright red glass ball falls off the tip of the limb and shatters on the linoleum floor of the school--in front of the 6th-grade Japanese exchange student who is with me, when I had been asked to show him what it meant in the U.S. to decorate a Christmas tree...
But now, hearing the questions that the Friend is asking the children, where should the shepherd stand and does the angel sing?, like the Grinch's conversion experience, my own heart grew that day: I was learning that the story of Jesus's birth was told in play and with great love to the children, rather than being told with hatred or malice against Jews.
The schoolgirls who teased me and the store clerk who wished me a Merry Christmas probably didn't intend to cause me pain or to exclude me, and they probably weren't taught to do so by their parents, either.
Even though the time called Christmas has become a time of supporting those causes in which I believe, I still struggle to remind myself that I am included and connected to others these days; that there is a Light that was shining when the world began, and that it shines in you AND in me.
I would love it if as Quakers we could find symbols and traditions that reflected the universality, indivisibility, and continuity of the Light at this time of year. Maybe a modern-day re-telling of La Befana, in which the message could be lifted up that none of us know who the Christ Child is--it could be you, it could be me, it could be all of us!--or that all of us are the Christ Child, so we must treat one another as the Child of God that we each are.
P.S. Thanks to Nancy A, her recent post Yule is Cool, and the comments that were made there. Reading that post has opened me....
UPDATE: Kenneth S. of Homefries adds his experience of being with family at this time called Christmas. In his post, he links to a great thread on Live Journal about this topic, which begins with the question "Why should a non-practicing Jew be expected to default to a secular Christmas instead of a secular Channukah?"
December 27, 2005
The time called Christmas is when my Jewish upbringing butts heads with my Quakerism. Every year, without fail.
Sometimes this time of year is a fallow time for me. The quiet of the snowfall, along with the lengthened nights and cold days call to me, and I leave behind some of the busyness that helped get me through the late days of fall.
My attention and energy will no doubt come back to me and to The Good Raised Up over time. Thank you for your patience, as the days slowly get longer again and the hubbub of the season dies down a bit.
In looking through a number of older drafts of unposted writings, I found a couple pieces that I could link together here, about the renewal movement among some of us who have been blogging and otherwise active in our local Quaker communities.
Back in September I wrote the first draft of this post, which had elaborated on a comment I made to Beppe over on his blog. I had been thinking that part of the reason for the renewal among Friends is that liberal Quakerism, for some Friends, has become too liberal--that is, too undisciplined.
My own understanding is that among earlier Friends and those who wish to return to or conserve earlier practices and traditions of Quakerism, Friends had sought, or now seek, to come under the discipline of the Holy Spirit; to wait on the Lord for guidance and direction. As Friends with a conservative bent, we desire also to be in accord with Gospel Order, in a greater harmony in which all things are experienced as being in right relationship with one another and within God's Order.
I've written elsewhere about my summer's experience among Iowa Conservative Friends, an experience that reflects that sense of discipline, that waiting until the way forward is made clear. Over time, as I have been talking more earnestly with Conservative Friends, I come back to the observation that there appears to be a sense of "okayness" among Conservative Friends--and with some independent Friends as well--with establishing boundaries. There appears to be an intentionality in holding one another accountable to Spirit-led practice and corporate discernment.
And that intentionality and boundary-setting seems to work for me.
For me, I have discovered that I do not thrive in a community where general permissiveness is the norm, where there is no clear set of standards or limits. I like to know there are limits that I will run up against, which will then help me check and reevaluate my intentions, my motives, and my willingness or ability to maintain practices in a community that is important to me. I am coming to understand that boundaries and limits form the scaffold of one's identity: one's identity is contained within a larger group, community, or culture as defined by those limits.
(Of course, there are limits and standards that stifle one's spirit, and there are those that hone us and exercise us spiritually. Perhaps a sign of spiritual maturity is knowing the difference between the two...?)
Those of us within contemporary Quakerism who are seeking and finding joy in a Holy Discipline may be experiencing for ourselves that which lit the fire within the hearts and souls of earlier Friends: the direct experience of the Divine; the inward knowledge that when we listen for Guidance, we shall unmistakeably receive it; and the renewed understanding of the value of our Quaker practice, which in part is to help us be faithful servants to God.
I am humbled to be reminded, though, that each of us experiences joy and the Holy Spirit through different modes and through different forms of worship: programmed or unprogrammed worship; hymns or silence; Christ Jesus or Earth Mother.
For me, I experience renewal because I feel the Light increase within me and around me when I lay aside what are my own desires and instead wait for that "felt sense" that I have come to recognize as being from Somewhere other than my own good ideas. My individual discipline of waiting on God is reflected back to me by the corporate body's practiced discipline of doing the same, at least among the Friends with whom I frequently worship.
10 Ways to Renew and Strengthen Our QuakerismIn the past year or so, at one point I began considering how it was that I felt my Quakerism was growing: What had I been doing differently, what sort of conversations and activities had been holding my attention?
And then, with all the posts among Quaker bloggers out there, some of which focus on, or allude to, a renewal of deep, meaningful Quakerism, I thought I'd generate a list of possible ways to "plug ourselves back in" to the fire of the Spirit that undergirds Quakerism.
I hope you'll add your own suggestion, too, or share a bit of your own story that illuminates for others what seems to help you "stay close to the root" of Quakerism. For now, here's what I have come up with.
1. Ask a trusted Friend in your area to meet with you regularly as an elder, spiritual companion, or spiritual friend.Hmm... some of these are still on my To Do List (e.g. numbers 5, 8, and 9). I better get this post up and keep listening for Opportunities to pursue them!
2. Begin reading books, pamphlets, and articles that other Friends are not only reading but are excited about.
3. As Way opens, ask a trusted Friend about her or his navigation through struggles and spiritual dry spells as well as about Spirit-fed times.
4. If you are an isolated Friend, ask other isolated Friends to exchange letters or emails with you on a regular basis, to share your spiritual lives and your journey among Friends with one another.
5. Make a commitment to travel to a workshop, program, or event for Friends that is outside of your monthly meeting's or worship group's geographical area. Consider inviting another Friend to join you!
6. Hold yourself in the Light for several days in a row, 5-15 minutes at a time.
7. Find a way to "give back" to the Quaker community in a way that holds power for you and is meaningful to you.
8. Set up a study group, discussion group, or "Friendly Four or Friendly Eight" group about a book, pamphlet, or topic that speaks to your condition. Or ask for help from an appropriate committee to do so.
9. Convene a Meeting for Worship with attention to Renewing Quakerism, or a Meeting for Worship with attention to Eldership and Ministry.
10. Start a blog, write out your honest thoughts, questions, and struggles, and watch what happens.
December 9, 2005
In recent years, I have considered how to approach the holidays. Each year I do a teeny bit better at letting go of expectations, laying aside the "need" for all the cookies, treats, and presents, and lessening the overall stress of the holidays.
There is one question, though, that visits me each year at this time:
What do contemporary Friends have to say about celebrating at this time of year?I find that I long for some discussion and even a model of truly living as if each day is holy, but the pull of bringing family together in late December--between college semesters, taking a few extra days off at work, or traveling to see frail loved ones--clearly has a strong hold on even the most faithful of Quakers.
Like striving to sustain a personal discipline of daily worship without experiencing worship among a corporate body, it is hard for me to let go of the trappings of the holidays on my own. Maybe these days we're not meant to or not called to lay down the festivities, but I still want the discussion in order to discern if that's the case.
One topic I hear about at this time of year, almost as a surrogate for the larger topic, is that of simplifying. Simplifying is not the same as practicing simplicity, but it seems as if the former has also nearly become a surrogate for the latter.
Simplifying does not address the same question as What distractions might I remove, especially at this time of year, so that I might better hear God and God's guidance for me? For me, I'd like an adult education program, or an agenda item at a business session, to address the faith community's understanding of and commitment to how each day is sacred and how we are led to respond to the Christmases, Easters, and Thanksgivings of each year.
Of course, I have to acknowledge my own shortcomings with participating in the holidays. I have sought a balance, or more precisely, a "canceling out factor" that somehow would assuage my guilt for having held this holiday season as more special than other times of the year.
I recognize that lessening my guilt doesn't equate an increased faithfulness, but still I am drawn to share my experience:
One tradition that seems to have crept into this time of year for our household, by way of the "canceling out factor," is attending to our philanthropy, our charitable giving. My partner and I consider new non-profits that we've learned about and that do work that reflects our values and address our concerns. Every second or third year, we seem to engage in our own version of a "budget summit" to update our philanthropic plan. It's a way for us to connect as a couple and check that we are helping address the needs of the world in some small but hopefully significant way.
And just to reiterate--I absolutely LOVED the book Inspired Philanthropy. It helped me confirm that money can be an ally and not something to be ashamed of. This book helps remind me that when I identify my values and philanthropic concerns, I become a more effective philanthropist. I find that I look forward to making charitable gifts, and consequently, I seek out new non-profits to support. And the holidays become a time of focusing on what I can give rather than on what I can get.
Here's my short list of organizations I feel great about supporting:
I'm still awaiting that adult education program, though. Or that approved minute from Meeting for Worship with attention to Business...
In the meantime, and while starting the early draft of this post, I came across a set of personal stories--four to five webpages of them--from Friends and from friends of Friends, about how they approach the holidays, namely Christmas. I thought the web-reference was worth sharing.
I'm also wanting to find out what organizations you support, what groups inspire your own philanthropy. Please identify them in your comments, because each year, I feel I could be doing more, and maybe you can inspire me to do just that.
And not just in December.
December 4, 2005
Here are some resources, activities, and letters you might consider sharing or participating in, regarding the members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who were taken hostage in Iraq. Thanks to Lorcan for helping stir me out of my slumber...
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First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.
- by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945
November 29, 2005
November 27, 2005
I spent some time on First Day reflecting on the concept of being a spiritual refugee. Such a concept was alluded to during Meeting for Worship today, and I realized that in order for one to seek refuge--to be a refugee--one must feel unsafe in existing circumstances and therefore take action to protect oneself, often by fleeing, by heading "anywhere but here."
Those of us who come to Friends are occasionally referred to as spiritual refugees, not religious ones. So what's the difference?
My guess is that there is a difference of degree and of level of systemization. My understanding is that a religious refugee has experienced a great deal of persecution, oppression, and trauma from a religious institution that likely can be identified as intentionally having inflicted harm--physically, emotionally, or psychologically--under the guise of religion.
But what has a spiritual refugee experienced? Perhaps the spiritual refugee has also experienced a degree of suffering or dissatisfaction, but not as severe and not as systemically institutionalized as what is caused by the abuse of religious power in the case of religious persecution.
In my case, the synagogue of my childhood did not intentionally harm me. Nevertheless, as a young adult I was disillusioned by the lack of integrity between prayer and deed, and by the distance between their God Up There and my God Down Here.
The religion and practices of my youth never really spoke to me. My Judaism was hollow; my Quakerism is alive and vibrant. It is not so much that I fled Judaism as much as it was that I sought a different, more integrated experience between the faith and the worshiper.
Another facet of this topic relates to a similar difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is institutionalized, systematized, and impacts a body of worshipers; spirituality is kept more to the individual level and the personal I-Thou relationship. A religious refugee comes out of a systemic experience; a spiritual refugee comes out of a personal one.
Part of what Quakerism offers me, I have found, is a sort of spiritual safety that addresses my personal spiritual concerns. I am talking about something else beyond the initial "I feel as though I am Home" experience. There is something that exists and is experienced after we have come through the doors of our Meetinghouses and have decided to stay awhile.
For me, the open worship of unprogrammed meeting creates a safe space that allows me to connect with the Divine without being told how I might make that inward journey. It is up to me, and at last, I have the space to participate in that journey on my own. It is up to me, and between me and my God, for me to discover what I believe, what I will stand for, and how I will live in integrity.
It is as though the silence commands it.
Having said that, given my experience that the silence is where God lives and can be heard, why wouldn't I want to protect that worshipful space?
Here's another element of how a sense of spiritual safety is created for me during meeting for worship: I find that there is a "leveling" that occurs within the silence of open worship. The silence makes us equal to one another, and equal to God who also sits amongst us.
When I have risen to offer vocal ministry, all I have feared is whether or not I was being faithful to the message I had been given, not how I might be judged or challenged after I sit back down. Somehow the silence embraces me and cradles me, like a loving parent who knows that her or his child has done well, even if nothing comes of it.
Again I ask: Why wouldn't I want to protect that worshipful space, where I feel such unconditional love?
Well, sometimes we are slow to act. We may not know that our spiritual safety has been threatened or encroached upon. I don't think American society understands what spiritual safety is. If that is so, then how can we care for something that we don't have awareness of yet?
On top of that, take that lack of corporate clarity about what creates and maintains a sense of spiritual safety and add to it a practice of "love one another first, confront one another later," and our meetings become ripe for intentional or unintentional spiritual disruption.
A few years ago, when a visitor stood in the middle of one Meeting for Worship and began to pass out flyers about an activity he was wanting us to know about, I expected the spiritual safety of the worship to be protected. It took a while--a few Friends stumbled with how to address this man's insistence on sharing the papers he had brought--but in the end, I felt the meeting responded well.
The spiritual safety of our meetings is precious, and I worry that we spend too little time affirming it and being intentional in how to safeguard it.
To be clear, I personally don't want our meetings to become nothing more than sanctuaries for spiritual refugees. I want the walls of our spiritual river banks to be free of holes and outlets so that we can sink into deep waters... and trust that we are still spiritually safe with one another.
P.S. For more specific examples of real-life creative, spontaneous solutions to spiritual disruptions in Quaker meetings, there is this pamphlet that focuses on just that: example, solutions, and healing.
November 16, 2005
I am nearing a crossroads.
I feel the inward pull of the Spirit to put certain thoughts to paper, to put fingers to the keyboard. To be obedient to this call, to test it and dwell deep in it, I sense I must lay down some other activity and make room.
I find I am living with the question:
Were I not to read these Quaker blogs, nor spend time writing for The Good Raised Up, might I turn my attention more fully to the writing that God now calls me to?
My heart feels a bit heavy and I begin to bargain.
Might I not blend the two?I know I must give up these questions. I must give up my own wants and preferences. I must give up myself to God and to God's work, and the rest will follow.
Might I allow a day (or two...?) for blog reading and blog writing, and reserve the other days for pursuing the new work?
If I were granted another Opportunity to share what I feel I am holding, would I not feel more certain of dedicating more time to this new writing?
My heart knows this but my body, my fingers resist.
I'll close this brief post with two quotes from the journal of John Woolman.
The more fully our lives are conformable to the will of God, the better it is for us; ...to consider whether we employ our time only in such things as are consistent with perfect wisdom and goodness. (Chapter six, during the time of a smallpox epidemic)Blessings,
Then the mystery was opened and I perceived there was joy in heaven over a sinner who had repented, and that the language "John Woolman is dead," meant no more than the death of my own will. (Chapter twelve, the 26th of Eighth Month)
November 12, 2005
I'm excited to share the fruits of one fFriend's labor and faithfulness to her call:
Friend Laura Matanah has just helped launch an online magazine, Rainbow Rumpus, an internet resource for kids of LGBTQ parents, their families, and their friends. You can read Laura's announcement below, and under that there is a press release.
I took a look briefly at the website and enjoyed reading the section that is for parents. I learned how much work there is yet to do, all because of a search to have a children's choir record Fred Small's song Everything Possible.
Please consider sharing this announcement and website with others, especially with children and families.
Let us try what love will do.
. . . . . . . .
Message from the editor:
Dear Rainbow Rumpus supporters-. . . . . . . . . .
We've done it! The first issue is online. Thanks to all of you for your support. Click beneath my name to view the issue. Sit down with your kids and surf through it. Let us know what you think.
Then pass the word along. Send the press release below to your local paper if you're not in Minneapolis. Join us as a sponsor. Put content from our site on your own. Let's make sure every child in the country with LGBT parents, and all their friends, know we're here.
Laura Matanah, Publisher
Email: editor AT rainbowrumpus DOT org
MINNEAPOLIS. Rainbow Rumpus, a new on-line magazine for kids with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parents, debuted Thursday, November 10, 2005. Rainbow Rumpus features children's stories, poetry, drawings, cartoons, songs and videos. The magazine breaks new ground as it is the first publication by and for young children with LGBT parents.
"Rainbow Rumpus has attracted an amazing level of talent," says Laura Matanah, the magazine's publisher. "The members of our author advisory board--Marion Dane Bauer, Nancy Garden, Gregory Maguire, and Jacqueline Woodson--are all noted authors in the world of children's literature. The magazine also will feature music for children. The first issue will include a song by two-time Grammy Award winning children's musicians Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer."
How Rainbow Rumpus Began
Rainbow Rumpus was conceived when Matanah's daughter was looking at a small photo in the Human Rights Campaign's magazine Equality. She exclaimed, "Look Mommy! A picture of two moms and twins! It's just like us!"
Thus the light bulb went off for the need for a magazine for children of LGBT parents.
"I'm so excited to provide a venue for this work," Matanah said. "Our children want to see images of their families. So far there haven't been many places for people to publish. The controversy surrounding the 'Postcards with Buster' episode [a PBS television show featuring a cartoon rabbit who in one episode visits a Vermont dairy farm run by a lesbian couple and their children] shows how hard it is to distribute work featuring families with LGBT parents."
The first issue of Rainbow Rumpus contains an essay by Emma Riesner, one of the children featured in the Buster episode, about having her family be the focus of a national controversy regarding images of same-sex parents.
In addition to artistic content, Rainbow Rumpus will have a bulletin board for children to create a virtual community. "It will be a great way for children in rural areas or suburbs to connect without fear of being teased about their family," Matanah said. There will also be age-appropriate information on political issues affecting LGBT headed families.
Rainbow Rumpus has incorporated a non-profit in Minnesota. Board members are Matanah, Patt Ligman and Laura Rede. Matanah and Ligman have previous publishing experience. Rede is a children's author.
The magazine is soliciting work from both established and emerging children's authors and artists. Readers, authors and artists can get more information by emailing
November 6, 2005
Over on Paul L's Showers of Blessings, there is a conversation about the well-known analogy of the elephant and a group of blind men describing it to one another. Within the comments, Friend Phil raises this beautiful question:
What I really fail to understand is, why can't we all love one another and worship together?Here he and I are, standing side by side, hands on the elephant.
I would say to my neighbor Phil: Quakerism and the search for Truth does allow us to love one another, and we can and do worship together.
AND, I would add, in Quakerism, and in the search for Truth, and in the experience of Truth, and in the hands-on-the-elephant analogy, talking about the elephant is different from getting to know the elephant; and how we each get to know the elephant is different for each of us.
For me, I want to come close to the Living Presence and listen for its loving direction--and that may not be what some Friends are seeking to do, or even are able to do, in Meeting for Worship, because of their religious beliefs.
Leaving or staying from a place of love
I can worship with my neighbor, yes, but I wish to open myself to an experience with a Presence that a different neighbor also shares; to open myself, in fact, to an experience that a good many "neighbors" have shared over the past 350 years.
And when I seek to worship with these other neighbors, with these other Friends, and when such worship brings me a new joy and a new path, I will hope that Friends like Friend Phil might say, "Oh, how wonderful that you have that experience with the elephant! Keep at it! I am so enjoying my own experience as well..."
Why would I not seek to continue to worship amidst a group that, for me, so frequently brings me closer to what I call God or the Holy Spirit? Who would deny me such joy?
And yes, I can still return to worship with Friend Phil. My leave-taking from a particular meeting community does not mean I condemn it or disown it--though I can understand that Friends may perceive that I do.
Just this First Day, yesterday, at the rise of meeting (at the monthly meeting), an older Friend who had noticed my absence over recent weeks approached me and said, "I hope you aren't thinking of leaving the meeting..."
I took a deep breath and replied, "The truth is, I probably will." (It hadn't occurred to me just then to say, "I am being led elsewhere, I believe.")
The Friend kindly added, "But I would like to think that the meeting has a broad enough diversity to embrace you and your beliefs."
Now: I know her intentions are in the right place. The words of this Friend mirrors the question that Friend Phil lifts up:
Why can't we all love one another and worship together?I took another deep breath: "I am the type of Friend who needs a narrower experience of Quakerism for me to grow as a Friend, not a broad diversity of belief. But I understand that this meeting brings you much joy in your experience as a Friend, as does the worship group for me."
I don't know to what extent this Friend understands my experience, yet the question remains for me to hold and discern:
If the Way is shut for me to experience a corporate faith in a particular meeting, how do I leave--or stay--and do so from a place of love?I can love many within meeting, and I can worship with many within meeting, but God calls me, today, to worship regularly in a community where corporately we listen for God.
Sometimes among Friends, we fall unawares into a shared spiritual individualism: We each practice our own spiritual discipline on First Day during worship and appreciate how we can come to meeting and worship together, despite our differences of belief and even practice.
In unprogrammed worship, some of us may engage in meditation that is borrowed from one discipline or another; others simply let the outer world slip away and enjoy the meetingroom's stillness; still others may pursue a form of therapeutic self-talk (this was a former practice of mine, for example).
I have to wonder if we create this shared hour of unprogrammed individual spiritual practice because the first nature of a Quaker community is to be open and welcoming to worshipers of all faiths: "Love is the first motion," to quote John Woolman completely out of context.
Moreover, because we in fact share the experience of unprogrammed worship over the course of weeks and years, many of us believe that unprogrammed worship is enough, that Meeting for Worship with our individual disciplines is the core of Quakerism, and we should love one another and therefore continue to worship together.
I do believe that, yes, for many Friends, this experience is the core of their Quakerism. I also am concerned that it has become taboo for Friends like me, who have another experience of Quakerism and of worship, to call into question where that apparent core of Quakerism comes from:
the corporate experience of listening for and seeking Truth together.But when a boundary is articulated as I have just done, that boundary is often interpreted as passing judgement: right--wrong; good--bad; Quaker--not Quaker.
I'm beginning to wonder if that boundary can be reframed as distinctive between liberal Friend--Conservative Friend. But even this distinction is overly simplistic.
Historical faith, contemporary faith
From my experience, I have come to question if Quakerism as an historical faith is a corporate faith; and Quakerism as a contemporary faith is, among liberal Friends, an individualistic one.
By historical, I do not mean that it is dead and exists only in the past. I mean that it has a rich tradition, cultivated over history, that exists today. Sometimes the historical Quaker faith exists in disconnected pieces today, like the Biblical authority of some evangelical Friends, and the power of continuing revelation of some Conservative and liberal Friends. Sometimes the historical and contemporary elements of Quakerism are integrated into a balanced whole, referencing the Bible while also identifying some new Light that has been revealed to them.
Furthermore, among some Friends, an historical Quakerism is being renewed, and the yearning of a Spirit-led, shared faith experience is reigniting individuals, small communities, and Quaker publishers.
Putting "corporate faith" into words
A corporate faith is hard to put into words, in part because we as Americans are inundated with individualism in our culture. Just look on the streets as you walk, bike, or drive, and see how many cars have a single passenger in them. Or count how many televisions are in the household of our non-Quaker brothers and sisters, or even how many computers there are in our own (one TV--without cable or satellite--but three computers in my own household, for example).
I know we're not in the Me Generation any longer, but we remain in the Me culture.
A corporate faith puts That Which Is Eternal ahead of me, myself, and I. A corporate faith goes beyond a shared weekly hour of unprogrammed worship. In Meeting for Worship for Business, we do not seek to know what each individual desires for an outcome and work towards consensus, but we seek to know how Spirit, the Light, a Higher Love is moving among us, and we work towards understanding the the sense of the meeting.
I am grateful for the Friend who in business session speaks up to remind us that we must practice the discipline of laying aside what it is that we each want for ourselves and listen for what it is that God wants for us corporately, as a body.
The nature of explaining a corporate faith, even to those of us who practice it, is very slippery. I often fall into language that betrays my own personal preference, rather than weigh my preference with God's guidance or test my preference against the practiced discernment of the group.
But I very much lean on the truth of my experience of the quality of worship when I am worshiping with Friends who believe there is a Living Presence among us, and we rest in that Presence and open ourselves to that Presence together, as a body, each First Day.
The damsel in distress
In writing this piece, I have come across this question:
Do we love only the worship experience, or do we also love the faith tradition that gives birth to the worship?The love that we have developed for spiritual individualism, for unprogrammed worship, for the apparent freedom to worship and believe as we wish, becomes the damsel in distress that we mistakenly believe we must protect, even at the expense of losing our kingdom.
Perhaps we don't need to protect the damsel. Perhaps we need to protect the kingdom in which she lives.
ADDITIONAL POSTS from The Good Raised Up that continue exploring the corporate nature of Quakerism include:
The Great Jigsaw Puzzle
Report about Iowa Conservative's 2006 Midyear Meeting
Understanding what God wants
More about individualism and the corporate nature of Quakerism
UPDATE: Seventh Month 2006. ANOTHER POST that speaks to the corporate ethic of Friends is from Marshall's Earthwitness Journal.
The first half of this particular post provides excellent descriptions of the corporate practice and nature of Quakerism. Also worthwhile in this post is an excerpt from Rufus Jones about an incident on the farm where Jones grew up.UPDATE: Fourth Month 2008. This is great: ANOTHER POST that continues the exploration about corporate worship, by Peter at Quaker Pagan Reflections.
November 3, 2005
One of the better things that I came away with from this year's FGC's Central Committee was the Pendle Hill Pamphlet (#307) by Barry Morley, Beyond Consensus: Salvaging Sense of the Meeting.
In keeping with the concern I carry for making our faith explicit and conveying our faith to others, this pamphlet does well to take a very abstract element of Quakerism--sense of the meeting--and put it in contexts that clarify how it differs from the secular concept of consensus.
I knew I would want to read this pamphlet when I read "About the Author," which says in part: "He has become increasingly concerned about... a process by which Quakers dedicate themselves to Quaker values and concerns but diminish the spiritual core from which the values and concerns originally emanated."
Towards the beginning of the pamphlet, I come across another phrase that is very close to what I have begun to share with other Friends: "Many of us are adults before we become Quakers. We are not steeped in the process..."
But these are the glimpses I came across that led me into reading the pamphlet altogether. There are stories of Friends laboring with one another, seeking a solution to difficult, personal concerns that would resonate with the deepest inward nature of a Quaker meeting. There are stories of elegant transformation when Friends are faithful to pursuing the sense of the meeting; and examples of disappointing let-downs when Friends settle for its secular cousin, consensus.
Here are a few elements of sense of the meeting, paraphrased, that I hope more of us will restore:
In sense of the meeting, God gets a voice. -p. 5
Seeking consensus is an intellectual process. Sense of the meeting is a commitment to faith. -p. 5
With consensus, we will ourselves to a decision. In sense of the meeting, we will ourselves to allow ourselves to be led. -p. 5
Consensus fosters a weak commitment because it's based on shared compromises. Sense of the meeting fosters a powerful commitment because it's based on a shared inward experience of God's power over all. -pp. 6, 11.
With consensus, we never really let go of our personal agenda. In sense of the meeting, we seek to understand the agenda that is intended for us, which is delivered to us from out of the Light. -p. 12
There is a lot in this 32-page pamphlet... It refreshes my spirit to see language and stories attached to a concept that is in some ways endangered by the secularism that is creeping into some of our meetings.
And Morley makes a very important statement about the challenge of conveying a faith that is often defined by what it does NOT have, does NOT do, does NOT believe. He writes:
A psychologist and Friend with whom I discuss these things says: "The Quakers have a great thing going and they don't teach anyone. They don't even teach themselves." We must become willing to teach each other to learn what can't be taught. (pp. 30-31, emphasis added)Blessings,
October 21, 2005
October 18, 2005
What was your experience for applying for membership? Why did you do it when you did?Here's the text of the letter I sent to the monthly meeting, requesting membership under their care:
What are some of your favorite questions from any membership clearness committee in which you participated?
I am writing you to request membership, and for the Meeting to provide oversight, care, and nurture for my membership.
Why do I seek membership now, after 7-plus years of involvement among Quakers, including more than five years at another Friends Meeting?
Well, one morning a few weeks ago I woke up and heard myself say to myself, “I’m ready to request membership.” Another morning, shortly afterward, I woke up and asked myself, “Would I have regrets if I died tomorrow and had not requested membership?” and the answer came back, “Yes.”
And so what is my struggle, what do I wrestle with, and what shadows do I wish to bring out into the light as I request membership?
One. I fear losing my identity, that I will be clumped in with all the other Quakers, thereby in a sense erasing my history with the Friends Meeting where I originally attended as a young adult.
Two. I fear and resist being placed in the same small box of assumptions, presumptions, and preconceptions that I have been placing on some Quakers. I don’t seem to have such worrisome assumptions about all Quakers, though.
Three. My heart, in many ways, still belongs to the Meeting where I first attended. At times I miss these Friends terribly.
Four. I want to define MY membership and participation among Quakers MY way. Ahh, the adolescent within me is alive and well.
Five. I am not feeling ready to surrender to this “awakening.” I still wrestle with God about it.
Six. I wish to honor my Jewish upbringing, and I am still in the process of resolving being a Jewish Quaker. Sometimes when I say, “I’m Quaker,” I feel I am betraying my Jewish heritage. Saying “I’m a Jewish Quaker” doesn’t feel entirely right either.
While there is much more about my 7+ years of involvement among Quakers that I could include here, I’ll leave the rest of it for the clearness process, and for any personal conversations with me that are to follow.
October 14, 2005
Dear readers, dear Friends.
I have been reluctant to write another post for The Good Raised Up, and it has taken me some time to articulate why. But when I spoke with my partner the other morning about all the stress I have in my life and shared that I have felt the tickle of the Spirit asking me to write, I said:
I feel as though I am being asked to write about how I am being exercised by the Spirit, but I don't want to say too much because of the people involved in the situation, so I haven't written anything. And I need to.I don't know for sure that what I've been experiencing is in fact me being "exercised by the Spirit," but it's language that speaks to my condition.
I first came across that phrase, I think, when I was reading a little John Woolman. I haven't heard Friends in the monthly or yearly meeting--or anywhere, actually--use that phrase. But it certainly feels like I am being stretched, like I am being asked to do things with my spiritual life, with my faith, with my being, in ways that I haven't moved, practiced, stretched, or "been" before. And I feel a bit heart-sore as a result.
It's a soreness like the day after I've started a new fitness workout, and my body is so sore I just want to stay in bed or get a massage or take a long, hot bath... and certainly, absolutely, not have to move my body again, at all, for at least, say, about 60-90 days.
But I have to roll out of bed and get busy doing God's work again--being faithful--no matter how sore I feel. And I moan and groan at first, and the soreness catches me at unexpected times, like when I reach for a book on the shelf or when I go up a flight of stairs or when I pick up the cat (he is, after all, 16 pounds).
So. What's been going on with me that I can share here; what does God ask me to share; what does God ask me not to share...?
My recent "exercise of the Spirit" has revolved around the question
"How might I be faithful to the True Authority and not fall sway to an individual's worldly authority?"My heart still aches over that one, given the details of who has been involved and what reactions I have been met with when I have said to a Friend, "But God does not ask me to do this thing you ask of me..."
And so I found myself drawing on a number of resources and individuals for G/guidance and support:
I have understood this practice to be based in the belief that no single individual knows the Truth; that God is still speaking to us and that if we quiet ourselves enough, we will understand more clearly what that still, small voice is saying; that many individuals are needed to test how pieces might fit together and see if they are consistent with the Truth, in part by testing if those pieces are consistent with Scripture, with tradition, with experience, and with each other; that by seeking right action together, as a body, there is accountability to the group (and to the historical practices of Friends) and therefore, supposedly, less chance that an individual will take her or his own good "imaginations," run with them, and possibly spoil the reputation of Friends, a la James Naylor.
I have had to slow myself down, to listen to the discernment of other Friends, to weigh with them a variety of options, and to seek the way forward as best as possible.
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
My guess is there is more for Scripture to show me; there is more Scripture for me to be opened to, but this is the passage I know and this is what came to me.
Our worship is a deep exercise of our spirits before the Lord, which doth not consist in an exercising the natural part or natural mind, either to hear or speak words, or in praying according to what we, of ourselves, can apprehend or comprehend concerning our needs; but we wait, in silence of the fleshly part, to hear with the new ear, what God shall please to speak inwardly in our own hearts; or outwardly through others, who speak with the new tongue, which he unlooseth, and teacheth to speak; and we pray in the Spirit, and with the new understanding, as God pleaseth to quicken, draw forth, and open our hearts towards himself.
We often struggle to differentiate between God's voice and our own. A group that listens well can receive our thoughts and our emotions and assist us to sift them for the presence of God. Perhaps that's a vital part of the process that we have lost as we have moved away from the regular practice of "threshing meetings." It was at such meetings where people could come together and without the pressure to make a decision, share their thoughts and questions and opinions, gain information regarding the facts of the situation, and get a sense of where other people were coming from. Time was then spent over the course of the week, carefully holding this awareness in a prayerful attentiveness to the fullness of the issues involved.
When I remember myself as an inexperienced Friend, a sense of compassion and concern is restored within me for the Friend with whom I am journeying right now. And it is thoughts like these that illuminate the question I have been carrying since starting this Quaker blog:
How do we convey our faith, how do we talk about our practices with one another?Not just me; not just Robin M. or Barry or Quakerism 101 teachers, but our meetings as a whole.
Well, I began this post when I was in the midst of the exercise, and now the exercise seems to be almost over. My concerns have been shared with Friends within the appropriate committee and I am feeling a bit unburdened.
I am grateful for those Friends and non-Friends from whom I have drawn support over the past 2-1/2 weeks. Friends have gently weighed, threshed, and tested options with me, options that would demonstrate care and respect for those involved. When I lamented to one Friend that I did not see an easy or "clean" way to resolve the concern that I am facing, she gently reminded me:
There may be no way for this to be easy, so at least you can be faithful.Despite the soreness, I sense that there is something deep within me, alongside my sore heart, that is healing. And also despite the soreness, or maybe because of it, there is another something within me that seems to be growing and... maturing, ripening.
Maybe it's my heart muscle.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
This was not an easy post to write, given the nature of the concern; yet I felt the call to bring forward what I could. I don't even know if there is enough "meat" left on the "bones" of this post--bones I have picked over quite a bit in the past 48 hours or so.
[UPDATE: For another, more detailed pass at describing this experience, see my lengthy remarks in the comments section.]
Thanks for reading me.
October 13, 2005
Oh my. I was testing some Blogger email-related technology and it seems to have gone awry. The post that I was composing was displayed here long before I had finished writing it, seasoned it, edited it, and seasoned it some more.
My apologies to those who have caught the sneak preview, raw and unedited, and also to those who wondered where that post has gone to! I will certainly not be using that Blogger technology, despite its mention that "if you don't check the 'Publish' box, it won't publish on your blog." Hah! My experience tells me and shows me--and the rest of you--otherwise!
Stay tuned. This post will be coming.
October 2, 2005
Over the weekend, Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group met with two couples from Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). This intervisitation was arranged as part of the worship group's ongoing discernment around "what sort of Quakers we are"--Hicksite or Conservative.
It was delightful to have four Friends, as a committee from the yearly meeting, visit with us. Such a visit reinforces my growing sense that, for IYM(C) Friends, intervisitation among meetings and between Friends is highly valued--in addition to exchanging letters, postcards, epistles, phone calls, emails, and blog postings. Such intervisitation seems to help prevent meetings from becoming insular or from getting caught in a loop of all-too-comfortable thinking or "same-old, same-old" activity.
Well, I am left with these memories and snippets.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the weekend happened during the reflection and sharing that occurred just after worship on First Day. One Friend, whose Quaker lineage extends backward several generations, spoke with tears in his eyes:
Worship is at the center. Worship comes first. Extending from worship, Friends consider and address secular concerns. IYM(C) "is still evolving from a center."
[I loved seeing a number of us from the worship group nod our heads, as if this statement spoke viscerally to us, surpassing intellectual understanding...]
In the late 1860s, as part of the Gurneyite-Wilburite split, Friends who preferred a more "traditional" form of Quaker worship walked out of Iowa Yearly Meeting sessions and met elsewhere, away from Friends who had grown to prefer a more "active" worship that had greater emotional fervor. Apparently, this second group of Friends referred to those who had walked out as being "conservative."
[Until I heard this story, I had always heard that Conservative Friends are so named because they wish to conserve the early practices and forms of Quakerism. Which I suppose points to the same thing...]
One of the more recent pieces of history among Iowa Conservative is that as universities grew, so did urban populations, which increased the attendance of younger people at Meeting for Worship. These younger people didn't always know what the unspoken "rules" were among Iowa Conservative Friends, especially when it came to answering queries, a part of the Conservative tradition. Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) found itself being challenged by these younger Friends about the growing acceptance of use of tobacco and alcohol, which is now reflected in a query on personal responsibility. The Iowa visitors asked the worship group, "Do you have any Friends in the worship group who have grown up in a Quaker family?" We all automatically answered "No." And then someone added: Wait, that's not true. All of the kids have grown up in a Quaker family!" That got a nice chuckle all around.
When we settled into worship, I felt something I hadn't felt in a long time: like I was home.I had felt this to be a witness, a testimony to the Living Presence having been among us, and I was greatly moved by this Friend's quiet words...
I remembered back to 45 years ago, when I was a boy... Daddy, why are they all sitting there...? "They are listening," he answered.
To what? Nobody's talking. "They're listening to that still, small voice inside."
But why are they so quiet? "It's hard to listen when we're talking."
By the way, First Day worship was attended by a total of 18 adult Friends and 5 young Friends. That's nine regular adult attenders of Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group, four Friends visiting from Iowa, and five other visiting Friends, plus one visiting young Friend. WoW!
Overall, with these Friends from Iowa, there was an ease in talking about God and about God's loving presence in our lives. After the events of the weekend, and the conversations and the worship, I find it hard to imagine myself returning to a more liberal form of Quaker worship and practice.
But that's "me" talking, and I have some more listening to do!
September 25, 2005
Today after an adult education program called "Quakerism Then and Now," I was driving home and yearning for Friends to be able to speak to the connections between our contemporary practice and the roots of faith. I guess that's why the phrase "There and back again," borrowed from a certain popular Hobbit, came to me:
I am hungry for more Friends to return to early Friends about the origin of our testimonies and practices--"There"--so that we might corporately keep close(r) to the roots of our faith today--"and back again."
This morning I listened to Friends identify what is meant by simplicity; what in our life as Friends is "simple" today, and what in our life is "complex."
On the "simple" list were items like:
a walk in the woodsOn the "complex" list were:
an easy recipe
direct contact to help people.
televisionOn the surface, I can agree with these items, but I had a rising concern that this presentation of what is simple and what is not is disconnected from and falls short of what early Friends understood and practiced in terms of simplicity.
Thankfully, another Friend from the worship group in which I participate lifted up that, for him, that which is simple has the leading of the Divine, and that which is complex often does not (at least, this is how I remember the Friend's contribution, anyway).
Little else was said about the historical roots of simplicity among Friends, which I have come to understand include the stripping away of all that is "not God" so that what is left is only "of God," and the removal of ornate adornments and empty rituals in order to enhance the immediate and direct connection to the Divine.
I was stretched to be still during that hour this morning. I fear I didn't do well in that regard, and I left before the hour was completed as a result.
As I drove away from that adult education program, I found myself revisiting the question of what the kernel, the heart of the ministry I carry is. What came to me is this:
There and back again:Blessings,
Renewing and conveying my Quaker faith.
UPDATE: Over at Embracing Complexity, Contemplative Scholar expands on her comment below and offers resources about testing our leadings.
September 23, 2005
The Conservative-leaning worship group that I have been a part of now has a name! At our August Meeting for Worship for Business, we approved and warmly embraced the name Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group.
Our next step is to find clearness around whether to affiliate with Northern Yearly Meeting or with Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), a question we have been holding and discerning for nearly two years. In early October, Laughing Waters Friends will be meeting with two couples from IYM(C), in the hopes to learn more about Conservative Quakerism.
If anyone finds themselves in the Twin Cities area and wants to visit and worship with Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group, please get in touch with me at "lizopp AT gmail DOT com."
Or perhaps in a short while, we'll have a website of our very own... although there are no promises around what "a short while" means!
September 16, 2005
When I was a kid, one of my fondest memories of summer vacation was when there was bad weather. As a family, my brothers and parents and I would gather around a bridge table and pull out a multiple-sided jigsaw puzzle, tipping over the box to empty the 500 or 1,000 pieces onto the table.
We'd pick out all the straight-edged pieces first, of course, and while one or two of us began piecing together the border, others of us would look for pieces that had distinguishing characteristics, which could easily be matched to the puzzle's boxtop: the bright blue eyes of a kitten; the weave of a basket; the sunny yellow of a goldfinch's wings.
Bit by bit, images from within the center of the puzzle would be pieced together as mini-puzzles. Simultaneously, the border of the puzzle would be brought together according to its edges, bumps, and colors. Eventually, inevitably, some part of the border would match up with one of these mini-puzzles and we'd move together to join the two that had been rent asunder from last summer when we had worked on it...
Each of us in my family had a different knack or preference for what part of the puzzle to focus on. My mom and older brother would reach for the border pieces. My dad might stretch open his large hands to grasp all the pieces that had a smidgeon of a certain color, them pile them up near him, creating little piles of colors along the edge of the table. My twin brother and I would attend more to the details of a certain bird or flower or castle on the boxtop.
As the regions of the puzzle were pieced together by our individual talents, at some point one of us would recognize that two of the regions could be joined, and we'd redouble our efforts to figure out how to make them fit. I often found myself sifting through individual pieces not yet designated to an area or to an individual, looking for the connective piece that would join the regions together.
Each summer, with each puzzle we worked on, I would experience the success of working together to restore a thousand scattered pieces into a cohesive whole once more. It was one of the few tasks we did as a family.
These days, some 30 years later, I am still surprised by how much I enjoy working on a jigsaw puzzle when someone else is working with me, despite our different approaches to piecing the thing together.
I sometimes think of corporate discernment like this:
God's will is like the picture on the boxtop of a great jigsaw puzzle. And each Friend engaged in the discernment process around a specific topic may have a few of the pieces in her or his hand. Bit by bit, then, we share the pieces of the Divine puzzle, placing them on the community table around which we have gathered. We take turns handling the pieces, twisting them, gathering them, moving them together or apart, wanting to make sense of them:
Do the pieces seem to fit together as part of a micro-whole?It seems to me that ultimately, we have to rely on each other's ability to discern when pieces fit together well and when they seem to be forced.
Do patterns carry over from one piece to another?
Who might be holding a piece but has not yet had an opportunity to place it on the table?
Do we share our ideas openly of what other pieces to look for, of what other processes are needed in order to fill in the missing pieces?
Do we think that we have all the necessary pieces rather than allowing that perhaps someone else has a needed piece to bring to the table?
How do we know what picture is on the Divine Boxtop anyway?
How do we agree we are piecing the "right" Boxtop together?
It seems to me that some of us have the gift of being able to see the Divine Boxtop earlier than others. And it seems to me that some of us have the gift of being able to extrapolate what the Boxtop might be from even a single piece of the puzzle.
But this is a given: if we keep our pieces to ourselves, we are likely to draw the wrong conclusion, piece together an incomplete puzzle, or force pieces into places that don't belong.
September 11, 2005
Corporate change can only occur with corporate leading.
— Jeffrey Hipp
Earlier this year, I had allowed some comments from a few Friends in my life to haunt me. While Jeffrey Hipp's words remind me of an earlier time in my Quaker process, when Jesus language and Christ language and a strict code of how Quakers do things would have repelled me from Quakerism, I find that the remarks made by some nontheist Friends make me sigh inwardly these days.
As a result, it has become required of me to continue to reflect on my own relationship with liberal Friends. All these reactions--of being haunted, of being repelled, and of being frustrated--are signs that there has been something going on within me that I have needed to pay attention to.
It is hard for me not to take the remarks of some nontheist Friends personally, because of my belief and experience that God and God's Love are at the center of Quaker faith and practice. With further contemplation, I realize it is more likely the Light itself that is searching me and having me lay naked and bare before God:
I have not had God's Love at the center of my growth as a Friend. Instead, I have had my desire for a Spirit-led process and grounded-in-God worship experience at the center.
Not the same thing, and I feel humbled by the realization.
September 4, 2005
Answering that of God in everyone.
The peace testimony.
The letter killeth but the Spirit giveth life. (1656 Epistle from the Elders at Balby)
These Quaker phrases are examples of language used so frequently that much of the original life and meaning of them - and the contexts from which they first emerged - have been lost.
I'm concerned that these phrases are not being given the weight they once were by Friends. As a result, we may end up describing some of our key principles with phrases and acronyms ("SPICE") that are barely connected to the undergirding structure of our faith and practice.
By way of metaphorI've been thinking that using and even acting from such automatic phrases, without considering the historical and theological roots from where they come, might be like living in a multi-story house and never checking the electrical, gas, heating, and water systems that keep the house running.
Or maybe it's more like caring for a tree, but only tending to the visible part--its bark, branches, leaves, blossoms, and fruit--but never watering the roots....
I'm not sure these metaphors hold, though. They are just beginnings of my wanting to understand what's going on with the contemporary use of our language of faith.
Language and registersAmong linguists, the phrases at the start of this post might be considered examples of "frozen register." I learned about registers and a language's level of formality when I was working as a professional sign language interpreter.
Often sign language interpreters cringe at interpreting the dreaded Star Spangled Banner, or worse: the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm not kidding.
Here's a worksheet for the Star Spangled Banner. How would you write these phrases in modern English? How would you explain what this song means to a foreigner or to your 4-year-old grandchild? Most of us don't think about what this anthem means anymore.
It's become rote.
And I would venture to say that some of our Quaker phrases have become rote. We say them and we are often out of touch with their connection to the Light Within and the Light's impact on us, personally and corporately.
Eventually, if we are not mindful, we will no longer speak from our own direct and personal experience of "answering that of God in everyone," for example. If we are not mindful, we will begin parroting the words that beloved Friends have used with us for years and years, because we seldom make our faith explicit to one another.
An experimentI wonder what might happen if we intentionally drop certain phrases from our Quaker vernacular, at least for a time, and do this as a discipline when interacting with new attenders and with seasoned Friends.
Phrases that I am currently avoiding are "Quakers have a (blank) Testimony that says..." and "Quakers have no creed."
What descriptions and new expressions might take the place of pat phrases? Might we be more inclined to offer an experience we had among Friends, from our spiritual journey, as a way to illustrate the point we wish to make? Might we take a bit more time, describing the connections between practice, belief, and tradition among Friends?
My personal hope is that the additional explanations will ground us more completely in our Quakerism and will help convey our faith as a complete gestalt, rather than as segments or individual threads of a tapestry.
September 1, 2005
Here are a few random blogs, briefly screened by me. Be mindful of taking breaks to digest what you read, it might be different from what is being reported in the mainstream media.
Ray in Austin: includes reports of famous jazz musicians who are missing
Metroblogging New Orleans: nine bloggers share a blog near New Orleans
Joe's Razor: This list of offers from around the country, by people who are opening up their homes to hurricane survivors, brought tears to my eyes. His other post has some horrifying details about the situation at the Superdome...
What's particularly unnerving for me is to see that many blogs about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina have as their last entry something dated August 28 or August 29.
"We're riding out the storm."
"We see lights going out across the street."
"We've heard to expect the storm to pass by around 11:00 tonight."
From Craig's List, to offer aid, volunteer, open your home, etc. http://neworleans.craigslist.org/about/help/katrina_cl.html
August 31, 2005
NOTE: I have shared my own consideration of the qualities of the Light in my previous post. Originally these two posts were blended into one long one. I felt a nudge to separate them.
Let us all Walk in the Light, remembering and cherishing what that has meant to Friends over the centuries and across the generations.
From Samuel Caldwell:
Numerous Friends, among them George Fox and Robert Barclay, have been urgent in cautioning us against confusing the Inner Light with such natural phenomena as reason or conscience, both of which are physically and socially conditioned. Rather, they have emphasized that the Light is God's eternal and indwelling power resident within our mortal frames, there to enlighten and inform the natural reason and conscience with truth of a higher order.
1. This Light is personal. It is no mindless, purposeless, undifferentiated force or power. It is the mind and will of God - the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah - who indwells our souls. To claim, as we do, that we are led or taught by the Light is to accept by inference that the power by which we are led or taught is capable of actively leading or teaching us. This requires a personal or theistic conception of the Spirit, which Friends have traditionally held.
2. This Light is saving. It is the instrument or means by which we are drawn into fullness and wholeness of life and right relationship to God, ourselves, and one another. It is not primarily through the mechanism of assent to certain theological propositions, however heartfelt, nor by participation in certain established rituals, however sincere, that one comes to be "saved" in- Quaker faith and practice; it is chiefly through the operation of this Saving Light in human hearts - in the hearing and doing of the Living Word as inwardly revealed in the course of common life.
3. This Light is eternal. It was before time, is now, and will be forevermore. As the writer of John says, "in the beginning was the Word." Friends have always identified the Inner Light with this "logos" or Eternal Word. It is by this Eternal Light and Word that all of the saints and sages down through the ages have known and spoken the Truth. It is by this Light that the Holy Scriptures of the ages have been written (and must be read). It is by this Light that whatever is true, good, and beautiful has been brought forth in human community over time. This Light is and has always been the source and fountain of all human creativity.
4. This Light is resistible. It is not an inevitable force or automatic power; it can be resisted, ignored, or otherwise denied in the human heart. To quote C. S. Lewis, "God does not ravish; He only woos." Although we receive this Light freely and from birth, we are free to choose whether or not and how to respond to its promptings. As someone once remarked, "We are predestinated and foreordained to decide for ourselves!"
5. This Light is persistent. The Light never ceases to make its Living Witness within each and every human heart, even when it is resisted. Although stubborn resistance and persistent disobedience may greatly dim its luminosity, the Light can never be fully extinguished within us. This is the unfailing love and mercy of God which passes all understanding.
6. This Light is pure. It is utterly infallible and perfectly good. Although we may err in our discernment of the Light's witness within us, for any and all who turn to it in humility of heart, the Light is an inerrant guide to truth and wisdom. And, because it is the pure love of God within us, this Light is completely good and trustworthy.
7. This Light is ineffable. It defies complete and accurate description. Like much in the realm of spirit, the Light cannot be completely understood, but it can be experienced and known.
8. Lastly, and perhaps most important to the present discussion, this Light is unequivocally universal. It is freely given by God to each and every human being who comes into the world, regardless of race, sex, nationality, philosophical orientation, religious creed, or station in life. It is the divine birthright and inheritance of all, not the privileged possession of a few. To paraphrase the scripture, it is the Good News of God "preached to every creature under heaven" (Colossians 1:23).
From Wilmer Cooper and his book A Living Faith, pp. 17-19:
Early Friends believed that if they waited in the Light and walked in the Light, they would be... empowered to live up to the measure of the Light that was given them... [Some of the Light Within's] distinguishing characteristics [are]:
1. The Light is experienced as the direct and immediate presence of God. Robert Barclay identified our capacity to receive the Light with what he called the Seed of God within,... which by God's grace makes possible the divine-human encounter. Fox frequently used the term "that of God in everyone" to suggest the same meaning. This meaning is prerequisite to understanding the other usages of the term.
2. As already indicated, the Light was identified with Christ by early Friends and was referred to as the LIght of Christ WIthin. It is always from God or Christ and therefore is divine in origin. Likewise, it is transcendent in the sense that it stands apart from and beyond our finite existence.
3. The Light was understood by early Friends to be universal. Taking their clue from John 1:9, they maintained that the Light of Christ enlightened "every man," which included believers and nonbelievers alike...
4. The Light of Christ was understood to be the Inward Teacher of righteousness. This assumed a dynamic personal connection between oneself and God that allowed one to enter a "hearing and obeying" relationship with God, to use a figure of speech drawn from Lewis Benson... Benson has repeatedly pointed out that the essence of Fox's understanding of the Light of Christ is expressed in his oft-repeated phrase, "Christ has come to teach his people himself."
5. The Light Within is not to be identified with or confused with conscience and reason, but both can and need to be illuminated by the Light of Christ. In order to clarify this distinction Barclay compared conscience to a lantern and the Lght to a candle that burns within the lantern. Both Fox and Barclay believed conscience and reason were natural capacities that needed to be illuminated by the divine Light of Christ before they could become dependable guides for human action.
6. Response to the Light is also to be discerned in the community of faith. Fox and other early Friends formulated a doctrine of the church that found expression in the concept of the Gospel Order. Christ was not only the Inward Teacher for the individual, but also the one who ordered the fellowship of believers....
August 30, 2005
Sometimes what helps me articulate my faith and my belief is what I call having something to push against. At times, that "something" takes the form of another individual who sees things very differently from how I see them. Friends recently have pointed out to me that perhaps I am being "honed" spiritually and theologically as a Friend as a result.
I find I am being exercised by the Spirit as I step into the space between the differences of belief and practice that exist between myself and more liberal Friends. It is in that space, the space between our differences, where continued seeking, deep listening, and long struggle occur.
I more and more frequently encounter Friends who appreciate the theological diversity within liberal Quakerism; I encounter fewer and fewer Friends who, like me, talk about the discipline of waiting for God's guidance or even the centrality of God/Christ/Spirit/the Light in their faith.
What's going on here?
Apparently, early Friends spoke so frequently about the Inward Light, the Inner Light, the Light Within that they were known by others as Children of Light.
The other day, as I was remembering a few traits about the Light, I came across a couple references that speak to these traits. I've been going back and forth on whether to cut-and-paste long quotes from certain Quaker authors and have that be the post itself, but it seems to me that Quaker bloggers and their readers prefer to read firsthand what the blogger herself has to say on a subject. So:
Qualities of the Inner Light1. The Light is constant; the Light is forever. When I center down and strip away all distraction, when I sense a clear pulse and direction around where to bring my life, I believe I am experiencing the same Light, the same Spirit that was available to early Friends, to early Christians, to Jesus the carpenter-turned-rabbi, to the peoples on the planet before Jesus... And it is the same guiding Light that my niece will experience at times of her greatest distress and during her clearest moments; the same Light that I am experiencing today.
2. The Light cannot be extinguished. Though it can be ignored or neglected.
3. The Light is free. It cannot be commanded, it cannot be purchased, it cannot be chained. The Light cannot be manipulated or deceived. Neither does it manipulate nor deceive those who seek the Light or those who deny it. The Light is free in much the same way that the air is free. We do not choose to breathe the air, we just do. We do not manufacture air for our own gain; it simply exists.
4. The Light is accessible, directly. When we pay attention to the Light, when we open ourselves to receive the Light, we can engage with it in a way that transforms us. We need no go-between to listen on our behalf or to interpret the Light to us. It matters not if we are well-read in Scripture, if we can speak in tongues, if we have the gift of vocal prayer, or if we are a preacher's kid. As soon as we begin to seek or to listen, we gain access to the Light Within.
5. The Light is with us. It is neither above us, like God on a mountain or angels in the heavens; nor is the Light away from us, like a light at the outer rim of a tunnel. We and the Light are part of the same thread that weaves humanity together, that holds our cells together. We do not need to search for the Light nor pray that it be with us, for it already is with us. We need only pay attention to it, remembering that the Light is already with us, next to us, within us, surrounding us.
6. The Light is indivisible. This point is tricky. The fullness of the Light is within each of us, yet we each have our own measure of light. But the Light cannot be divided so that one individual or country or religion has "more," leaving another with "less." The Light is whole within each of us, and it is the same Light within each of us. The metaphor of the candle flame comes to mind, in that the flame from one candle can be passed onto another candle, and each flame is whole unto itself, yet each flame has the same characteristics as its brother and sister flames.
7. The Light favors harmony, wholeness, and balance. It desires harmony among all creation, and when that harmony is fractured, the Light travels both with the bringer of disharmony and with those who are harmed by the disharmony, for the purpose of healing and of reunification.
Other writings about the LightHaving shared my own thoughts about the Light, there are a variety of brief summaries online, such as this one; and I also will lift up these two other writings, by Samuel Caldwell and Wilmer Cooper (adding numbers, boldface, and italics to help pull out parallel threads), in a separate post.
August 25, 2005
Tonight I saw a performance piece called Letters To, Letters
From . . . Letters Never Written. It was put together by a Friend who is a professional actor and who has pursued a leading to put her theater skills, knowledge, and experience to work by creating The War Plays Project.
The Project is, according to its mission statement,
a non-profit organization whose goal is to educate and enlighten people on the reality of violence and war through theater, spoken word, and the facilitation of open community dialogue...This is the second or third performance piece that Friend Fran has put together since the war in Afghanistan began, following September Eleventh.
Fran doesn't proclaim that she is creating these plays because of the peace testimony; she appears to be working on the War Plays Project as an extension of herself, of her faith.
I would say that she is being led.
What most impresses me is the quality of her leading:
1. It taps her creativity and is "outside the box."
2. It energizes her and feels bigger than herself.
3. It draws people in and knits people together.
4. It brings forward information that is otherwise stale or "out of reach"--something many folks might not pursue on our own.
5. It has its roots in her faith and experience as a Friend, without imposing values or dictating what action one should or shouldn't engage in.
6. It compels her to do more, not less.
7. It is a natural extension of her gifts and of her connection to the world beyond the walls of the meetinghouse.
The particular performance piece I saw tonight, Letters To, Letters From . . . Letters Never Written, is based on dozens if not hundreds of letters written by and sent to veterans over the years; letters that Fran solicited, read through, and selected for inclusion in this performance.
Parts of letters that my partner's family had exchanged were included. I'm hoping I'll see it again, with my partner, next month at a local college.
There were excerpts from vets who were exposed to Agent Orange, who had PTSD, who had lost a limb or worse. There were excerpts from World War II vets; veterans from VietNam and Korea; and vets from the first Gulf War, including the voices of a couple women veterans. Some letters ended with the words EDITED BY BASE COMMAND; some looped back on themselves, the poetic license of Fran pulling the individual letters together while illustrating the inanity of war...
To be fair, I acknowledge that I haven't asked Fran if she's had a clearness committee, or asked her how she has gone about testing her leading. On the other hand, the meeting has, in a fashion, sponsored the performances that she has put together. And there is a minute of support from the meeting's Peace and Social Action Committee, which often serves as an informal clearness committee for an individual who has a leading that relates to, well..., peace and social action.
What most lifted my soul, though, was when I first heard of Friend Fran's War Plays Project. It had "leading" written all over it. ...I often consider that one way to know if God is moving among us is when items emerge that no one could have predicted or planned for.
And bearing witness has oh so many forms...