April 2, 2006

Confessions, part II

In my previous post, I lifted up the question, "Do Friends have a practice of confession?"

Once I began writing that post, and as often happens with me, I started sifting through a number of awarenesses and questions that bubbled up around that very topic:

What is it that I have not confessed, that I have not shared with trusted Friends out of arrogance, pride, shame, or self-righteousness?

How is what I am safeguarding for myself and keeping from others interfering with my ability to keep low?
It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and having sat with the first post, I find there is more for me to say.

There are behaviors and attitudes I have taken on that in recent weeks have been brought to light for me, thanks to some of the reading that I have been doing:

  • Hero worship. There are a few Friends whose words and ministry I value so highly that I have fallen into accepting what they say as theirs, rather than remembering that what they offer is of the LORD.

    I can appreciate their faithfulness as a gospel minister, but to do more than that is dangerous. It puts them on a pedestal that sooner or later, by virtue of their being human or by virtue of my being human, must come out from under them.

  • Coveting another's ministry. This is similar to hero worship, except it is not so much that I "adore" the other Friend as much as I adore their ministry and the attention that is given to them.

    Recently, I've been aware of my coveting nature because it's shown up like this in my internal dialogue: Wow, look at all those comments that So-and-So's post generated. ...Why don't my own posts get so much attention and acclaim?!

    Thou Shalt Not Covet has taken on new meaning to me... But just because it's a Commandment doesn't mean that it's easy to stop coveting, now that I'm aware of having coveted. *sigh*

  • Lacking humility and meekness. This is the hardest one of the three for me to articulate, and it is something I have become aware of only because the phrase is repeated so frequently in the writings of Samuel Bownas.

    Before reading Bownas, I had understood that being faithful meant putting myself aside and waiting to feel and know inwardly the leading and guidance of the Divine. But after reading Bownas, there seems to be something more than that, something that I have been missing within myself that can best be expressed as this element of meekness.

    Not a doormat meekness, and not a low self-esteem meekness, but something else: a not-needing-to-insert-myself-into-every-conversation-about-Quakerism meekness.

    I think about the Friends for whom I have hero worship. They seem to have an element of this meekness. One of them has light-heartedly presented her knowledge of Scripture to me as "this isn't exactly what the Bible says but..." and then has gone on to give a very paraphrased version of the passage, almost like describing a scene that could have occurred on a TV drama or sitcom. In this way, she was the first Friend who made Scripture accessible and non-threatening to me.

    Another Friend presents his meekness to me by sharing parts of his life that are well outside the realm of the Religious Society of Friends. I have been caught completely off-guard when he has told me about a certain rock band he's fond of and about his (near?) devotion to baseball.

    And a third Friend who recently passed away, well, she was meek in how she approached you if she was dissatisfied with something that was said or if she was confused by a turn of events that left her feeling cast aside. She led with her concern rather than her anger; she brought forward questions rather than chastisement.

    I had thought I had learned something from each of these Friends, but perhaps the learning needs to sink more deeply into my heart and soul. In difficult situations, I know I seek to do the right thing right, but by acknowledging that practice, am I letting myself off the hook from considering how to be "slow to speak and ready to hear and receive instruction"? (Bownas, p. 22)

    When I look at the examples of Friends who I consider meek or low, I wonder if maybe being meek also has to do with letting others see more into our non-Quaker lives. Not just our struggles and crises, but our diversions and pleasures.

    Do I do enough of that sort of sharing, or do I write it off as being too "chit-chatty"? What's the balance to be struck over a potluck meal that follows Meeting for Worship: do we talk about the Presence of God within the meeting and in our lives, or do we talk about how we fill our time when we are not doing Quaker things?

    And in my case, where much of my time is dedicated to Quaker pursuits, then what?

  • Blech. It leaves a heaviness in my heart to acknowledge these things, to confess these things.

    (Does online confession get me any additional "points"? ...smile)


    UPDATE, 10 Fourth Month 2006: I have lifted up one comment that is made on the previous post and posted it separately, since I feel that the Friend's remarks advance the conversation around the topic of Quakers and confession. Consider it "Part III" of the series on confession...


    Robin M. said...

    I think that coveting another's comments is rampant. At least in my own heart, but I have heard this from other bloggers as well.

    Did they consider that confession? It's not a formal version, just a simple admission of fact and often comes with a commitment to try to write with less attention to the possible commentary and to be glad for the wider success of Quaker blogs, not just the setting up of a few on pedestals.

    There are no extra points for online confession. In fact, I think it is much easier to do online than face to face. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

    earthfreak said...


    What great things to mull....

    (and comment-getters to boot!)

    I have to admit that not only have I been envious of other people's abundance of comments, I distinctly recall choosing to delve into one subject, of the three or four bopping around in my mind because I thought it would be essentially the most "popular".

    (Now, I don't see blogging as akin to MFW, so that's not a huge problem for me, but it does seem, well, misled...)

    do we talk about the Presence of God within the meeting and in our lives, or do we talk about how we fill our time when we are not doing Quaker things?

    What I am struggling with is, what's "quaker things"??? I feel this divide, and I feel very much like I'm not as ????????? as many bloggers (I don't read scripture, well, ever really. I dont' tend to read about being a quaker much, but novels, or nonfiction about politics or the environment)

    But then, I don't feel called to, either. I appreciate that you and others read "quaker things" or "spiritual things" and that I can benefit from some of what you glean in blogs or in-person conversations.

    But it's not my path. And I don't tend to think of my life as divided between "quaker time" and "non quaker time"

    My ideal, my hope, is that I will live my life as a quaker. That when I read the comics, or eat dinner, or go to the state fair, or flirt, it is a "quaker thing" because I am doing it.

    Of course that brings the immense pressure that I can feel (but often ignore) to do all these things "as a good quaker"

    When I am crabby with my girlfriend, or yell at my hyper dog for being simply too lively for me right now, is it a "quaker thing" if I see it as such am I besmirching the name of quakers?


    GMC said...

    Again, thank you for your posts, it gives my heart great joy to know that others are struggling with some of the "big problems" of the day that I am.

    Where does admire stop and covet begain? I have known meek Friends and admiried them and wished I could be more like them, but I don't think I coveted them; your writting and insight I may covet though.

    I read your online confession and believe you are confessing to being human. Welcome,I believe that Quakers are a subset of humans that I now belong to.(Quakers that is, I was human several years before I became Quaker, though there are some that would question that). I think that perhaps we worry to much about being good Quakers and not enough about being good Christians or good human beings. God made us human and rejoiced in it, it would be a shame not to live up to our full potential as humans.

    I know there are Quakers that are all wound up in theology. One morning in Meeting for Whorship I was all wrapped up in some dilemma and I heard in my mind "shut-up and listen";on reflection that has become my understanding of Quaker theology. There is that of God in every person; if we will "shut up and listen" God will instruct. I don't think that my instructions will be the same as yours; and having said this I know how valuable a clearness committee is, to be sure the message is understood.

    Pam, in her comments brings up a good point for us to remember; not everyone is called to be everything.

    I am starting to ramble, please forgive me my humanness.
    Enjoy yours, it is God given.

    Martin Kelley said...

    Hi Liz,
    Such good stuff. Glad to see Bownas coming more into the blogging conversation, he's got some interesting things to say that I think do speak to some of this.

    I love the idea about coveting one another's comments. One thing to remember about all this is that it's a VERY SMALL pond and that no one's really getting that many comments. Sometimes too it seems that comment volume is related to sensationalism. Reading the logs from QuakerQuaker I see that the best way to get readers is to write an article about "what's wrong with those so-and-so Quakers". That's a shame, because it's not the most grounded topic. It divides up into camps, promotes a culture of victimhood, and keeps us talking about theology & identity rather than sharing our experiences (in whatever language we have). I laugh at myself writing this: we're talking about the INTERNET, for goodness gracious, a very hot-and-bothered medium if ever there was one.

    I think coveting is fine, well at least it's very human. Acting on coveting is the problem. When we feel that in ourselves it's a good indication that it's time to settle for awhile. There are many times where I see a post and don't comment on it because I know I'm feeling it too much, that it hits on something that's part of my ego and I don't have the distance to be able to respond without being involved.

    Of course these days it's easy not to respond because I'm way too busy. I should go. Thanks for the post,
    Your Friend, Martin

    Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

    "a not-needing-to-insert-myself-into-every-conversation-about-Quakerism meekness"

    And here I've been chiding myself for not commenting enough on the Quaker blogs I read, and comparing myself with you, who comment so much more freely :-).

    Mark Wutka said...

    Hi Liz,
    I just started reading Bownas as well last week, after LLW mentioned it in "Essays ..." (which I just finished). Lately I have been seeing so many flaws in myself that I don't even want to start listing them. There was one thing that came to mind, though, when I read your observation about coveting the attention paid to your ministry, especially with respect to comments.

    Certainly, recognizing covetousness would bring into focus one's motivation for ministry in the first place - is it truly out of service, or for the gratification of the ego? I imagine that most of us still have a problem with that from time to time. I do think, however, that there is also some desire for feedback that is not a bad thing. I have only spoken in meeting a few times, and only once did anyone say anything to me about it. I finally asked my wife if my messages made any sense - I tend to be very brief. She attributed the shortness of my messages to the fact that I don't start out with "Well, I was reading this book yesterday..." and so forth. What I am getting at, I guess, is that while you are worried about coveting, don't also condemn yourself for wanting feedback in order to recognize those times when you are straying, or when you are clear. Bownas talks about the need to nurture ministers, and I don't think the desire for nurture is a bad thing.
    With Love,

    Liz Opp said...

    First of all, a big thank you to ALL of you for making me nod, smile, and even chuckle with some of your responses. There's a lot to weigh, re-read, and respond to here.

    Robin - I agree that there is a distinction between "admission of fact" and the type of inward confession to which I've been referring.

    Pam (aka Earthfreak) - Thanks for lifting up the possibility of looking at my life as a single, unified whole, rather than having it compartmentalized into "My Quaker Life" and "My Other Life." Perhaps "living my life as a Quaker" is akin to praying without ceasing.

    And, as is pointed out in another comment, being Quaker doesn't minimize or trump our experience of being human. It's just that much of my life seems to look different from the life of an individual who has a conventional job, 2.3 children, a dog (or cat), loves to cook or crochet... What do I do? I write blog posts, read blog posts, read Quaker literature, serve on Quaker committees, travel to Quaker events, speak to Quaker friends on the phone... You get the picture. Anyway, thanks for staying in touch.

    GMC - You raise a good question right off the bat: "Where does admire stop and covet begin?" For me, it's about my internal dialogue and "lusts." When I admire someone or something, I retain an emotional but caring separation: "I'm okay, you're okay." But when I privately covet something that another person has, I lose that separation: "I'm not okay, I want what you have, then I'll be better." Does that make sense?

    To covet is not rational, that's for dang sure. A part of Martin's comment, below, touches on a similar theme.

    And yes, I am indeed "confessing to being human." I was very intentional and clear when I decided on the tag for this blog, to include the phrase "A Quaker woman's journey to be faithful in the face of her and others' humanness." So you are right-on-the-button with the reminder to live up to our human potential!

    Also, GMC, I love how you summarize Quaker theology as it impacts our form of (unprogrammed) worship--or at least my own understanding of it: "if I shut up and listen, God will instruct me." Yet another example of being human while seeking to open ourselves to the Divine.

    Well, Martin - it's nice to hear from you! Y'know, as far as the "what's wrong with those Quakers!" posts (and comments), and having written my share of them, I know for me I needed a place to share my concerns, get some "neutral" comments and responses to consider, and then move along in my journey as a Friend. Being given reality checks and the occasion of being called on the carpet in Love are all a part of growing into our measure of Light, I think.

    What's disconcerting for me is if any of us get stuck and show no signs of being open to the possibility of being transformed. Maybe, though, I need more patience and compassion when that happens...

    And, since you bring it up, I am one of those Friendly bloggers who does "keep us talking about theology and identity," though I've had my own share of reminders and invitations to bring my direct experience into the fray as well.

    In addition, your comment reflects my own clarification to GMC (above), though you state it differently of course: having too much feeling about a post or comment is an indicator to take time away--to seek to be cool in your own mind, to use an older Quaker phrase--before responding.

    Lynn - Well, your short-but-sweet comment just made me chuckle! Thanks.

    Mark - Thanks for reiterating that the desire for nurture and feedback is perfectly natural, especially as "infant ministers," as Bownas refers to them. It is sometimes scary to be faithful to what we are given, to "put it out there..." And it can be lonely to hear nothing at all from those with whom we worship. "Did I outrun my Guide?" "Did I lag behind?" "How can I know if I was faithful?"

    All are important questions, and my hope is that by sharing what we learn about "how we know what we know, experimentally" that we can offer guideposts to one another and normalize the experiences we have--anything from feeling ashamed of coveting another's ministry to how to test a leading.

    Bownas talks about ministers who become mature in their ministry and who may have opportunity to serve as a parent ("father") to emerging infant ministers. We need to help one another, as you've already pointed out.

    And now that I've made it through reading all these comments, I think I'll go off and read some of the wonderful posts that I've not yet had a chance to look at!