November 29, 2005

New blog - Moving towards Stillness

Tony B has begun sharing his experience among Friends on the blog Moving Towards Stillness. I find his posts to be tender and personal. Perhaps you will too.


November 27, 2005

Spiritual refugees and spiritual safety

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

Giving myself up to God's work

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?

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?
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.

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; 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)

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

Supporting one Friend's leading:
Rainbow Rumpus

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
Rainbow Rumpus
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

The slippery nature of a corporate faith

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.

Spiritual individualism

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

Pamphlet review:
Beyond Consensus: Salvaging Sense of the Meeting

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)