Our beliefs and practices travel with us as we go on vacations and travel to both new and familiar places. But as I was growing up, I never once saw my parents look into attending Shabbat services while they were away.
Somehow, Quakerism has instilled in me an understanding that I can call on Quakers at any time, in any place--and not just for worship but for pastoral care and support as well. And so that is why I called on Summit-Chatham Meeting when my sweetie developed significant pain while we have been traveling. We've camped out at my folks' place for a while, and when I realized that I needed care and attention, it was easy for me to look up the local Quakers, make a call, and explain what was going on.
Within four hours, I met with two women who simply sat with me, worshipped with me, and heard me out.
Given the situation--and yes, I'm intentionally being vague in order to respect certain privacies--it's likely I'll see or talk with these Friends again soon.
Or at the very least, perhaps Way will open for me to worship with Summit-Chatham Meeting tomorrow.
P.S. Prayers are welcome. It's been a long haul...
December 29, 2007
Our beliefs and practices travel with us as we go on vacations and travel to both new and familiar places. But as I was growing up, I never once saw my parents look into attending Shabbat services while they were away.
December 18, 2007
Every Who down in WhovilleI had a rather obvious-in-hindsight thought the other day, while talking with a Friend about my experience at a recent Quaker event.
The tall and the small
Was singing without any presents at all!
He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming.
Somehow or other it came just the same.
And the Grinch with his Grinch feet, ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling:
"How could it be so?
It came without ribbons!
It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"
--from How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Despite the fact that many meetings have stopped using the practice to name, record, or otherwise formally acknowledge Friends who have gifts of ministry and eldership, these gifts still exist among us.
The Spirit moves within our meetings, speaks to our condition, and calls forth from us those gifts that the body of the meeting needs. Such gifts might be to provide a nurturing presence to young children; to maintain accurate financial records; to be available to coordinate visits to Friends who are ill; or to have the temperament and time to work in the kitchen during a busy potluck.
None of these gifts get the flack or attention that gifts of ministry and eldership seem to get from meetings. Then again, many of these other gifts seem to go unacknowledged or are taken for granted, which could be seen as a different sort of flack--the flack of unintended neglect.
Yet the gifts of ministry and eldership, like the gifts of caring for our children and coordinating potlucks, still exist within our meetings--even if we as a body never name them or acknowledge them; even if there is no meeting of ministers and elders to be convened or if a meeting doesn't craft a letter of introduction for a Friend who travels beyond the meeting in service to the Spirit.
A number of Liberal Friends meetings and others have done away with recording of elders, ministers, and overseers. Yet Friends with vocal gifts, gifts of counsel, and gifts of expressing care for one another, coupled with the yearning to be obedient to how the God calls us, will strive to be faithful to the leadings of the Spirit, not to how meetings do or don't affirm one another.
And yes, all gifts are equal in terms of importance to bringing about the Kin(g)dom of God, but all gifts are not identical. So it is that each gift requires a different sort of support, a different sort of care and accountability, in order to ensure that the gifts are being put to right use.
Even without formal acknowledgment, the support of care-and-accountability committees*, or informal appreciation, all the gifts of First Day School teachers, pastoral caregivers, childcare providers, treasurers, elders, ministers, and cooks will still come into service to the meeting community and to the Living God:
We will come without ribbonsBlessings,
We will come without tags
We will come without packages, boxes or bags!
*FGC calls these committees anchor committees.
December 5, 2007
Friend and fellow blogger Marshall Massey sent me a lengthy email in response to my earlier post about a set of queries that were shared at the November 2007 FGC consultation. His replies, offered from the perspective of "an eighteenth-century Quaker minister," struck a chord with me.
Even though I have shared with him my own take on the role of a human community within a Quaker meeting as that role relates to these questions, I find Marshall's words--and those of a hypothetical early Quaker minister--valuable enough that I don't wish to have them buried within a comment or isolated in an email.
Through no fault of his own, Marshall's "relationship" to Blogger seems to have changed, in that Blogger doesn't seem to allow him to participate as he once had. With his permission, then, I am posting his comments in this guest piece. --Liz
Most of the questions on the list you posted seem to me to be grounded in an idea that gospel ministry is something I decide to do in my own way, according to my own program and agenda.
This is different from the traditional Quaker understanding. Traditionally, Friends have regarded gospel ministry as being what happens when the Holy Spirit decides to use someone according to Its plans, not his.
I can imagine a dialogue between the author of the questions you posted, and an eighteenth-century Quaker minister:
AUTHOR: How do we let our Light shine without our fire consuming those we are trying to warm?
EARLY MINISTER: If thee is doing the letting and the trying, thee is not acting in the gospel ministry! Gospel ministry does not begin until thee is able to honestly say to God: God, use me as thou pleasest, I do not resist thee longer.AUTHOR: Who elders the ministers? Who elders the elders?
EARLY MINISTER: Why does thee think that the eldering has to be done by humans? It is Christ our Lord who does all the eldering, anyway; the humans who seem to thee to do it are just his instruments. Hast thee not felt Christ in thy heart and conscience, reproving thee for the wrongs thee hast done, the ways in which thee has crucified him afresh? We choose our ministers and elders in accordance with the signs we are given that they are listening very carefully to Christ and actually hearing him; and when we, or they, see that they are no longer hearing him daily, they step down from their positions, or are asked to step down. This is of course not a complete guarantee that things will never go wrong — does not the Psalmist say, put not thy trust in men? — but if thee cannot ground thy trust in Christ, what can thee ground thy trust in?AUTHOR: How do we discern the ministry we are called to? How do we discern if we are still called? How do we discern if we are called to travel in the ministry... or if we are to stay in our meeting?
EARLY MINISTER: When thee experiences the sense of being drawn or led to minister at a particular place and time (we Friends do not speak of "callings to the ministry", since callings are understood to be for one's whole life, and we do not believe that this is the way the Holy Spirit operates) — that sense of being drawn or led, is itself the discernment. Why should there be anything more?AUTHOR: If we are called to travel, how do we discern a companion?
EARLY MINISTER: If God wants thee to have a companion, God will raise up a companion for thee. The companion will know she is called to be thy companion because she will feel the leading in her heart and conscience, just as thee feels thy leading in thine own.
Just speaking personally, Liz, it seems to me that the answers to all these questions become fairly obvious, once we understand that it is God who is in charge and not ourselves!
All the best,
November 23, 2007
Surrounding us in the large conference room during the consultation on emerging gifts of gospel ministry were these queries:
What is the reception of gospel ministry in our monthly meeting?A few other queries were added to this original list, but it is the queries from the original list that drew and held my attention for much of the weekend.
How do we let our Light shine without our fire consuming those we are trying to warm?
Who elders the ministers? Who elders the elders?
How do we discern the ministry we are called to? How do we discern if we are still called?
How do we discern if we are called to travel in the ministry... or if we are to stay in our meeting?
If we are called to travel, how do we discern a companion? How do we affirm those who companion in the ministry?
P.S. Links to related posts are listed at the bottom of this post which includes the epistle from the consultation.
November 18, 2007
I continue to digest and sift through what I experienced during the recent FGC consultation on gospel ministry.
Here are three items I wish to remember and have often reflected on:
1. Practicing gratitude rather than supplication. When we believe that we have been forsaken, when we believe that our meetings are not helping us and that Friends have turned away or otherwise reject the gospel ministry we have been called to, then is the time for us to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God, for God is already with us. God is already helping us and accompanying us. When we practice gratitude, we begin to see the things that are already in front of us, helping us in our struggles.
2. Turning the soil versus planting the seed. When we insist that our monthly and yearly meetings are not providing us with the care and accountability that we yearn for, we must ask ourselves if we are being humble, if we are keeping low. Do we think we can take a whole apple, place it in the ground, and expect it to bear good fruit so quickly? Perhaps instead, what is being required of those of us engaged in this service is that we take the rake or the pitchfork and simply turn the soil. Maybe remove a stone or two. It will fall to another, after we have moved on, to place the seed in the soil. Perhaps ours is the responsibility to help clear the brush, not blaze the trail...
3. Fulfilling wholeness needs rather than ego needs. At times we may mistakenly place our own ego needs in the Center, insisting that our needs be addressed before we can move forward in our service to the Life and the Light. This is dangerous. We must take care to restore God at the Center and then move once again into a low place so that we may be best be available for to be called upon.
We must be clear, though, that it is when we give attention to our ego needs--wanting our hurts to be relieved right now, wanting our gifts to be named prior to freely offering our gifts for the Service, wanting things to be different--that we fail to listen further for Instruction; we fail to be Obedient.
There are other needs, however--needs of wholeness--that help us understand who God calls us to be so that we might live into our measure of Light. These are needs such as time for reflection; time for self-care and spiritual nurture after we are spent; and time for renewal and praise after a time of dryness or struggle. These wholeness needs also help us move closer to God and free us to love one another more deeply, becoming more than who we already have understood ourselves to be.
November 14, 2007
Below is the epistle that arose out of the FGC consultation on emerging gifts of gospel ministry, held 9-11 November 2007. I hope to write of my experience there, though my heart remains tender and full from the consultation.
Many of the activities, conversations, and events are still settling with me, and many go beyond words, at least for the time-being. Still, perhaps this epistle will shed even a dim light on the experience, pointing readers in a general direction of how things went...
Though there were other bloggers there, I felt no nudge or call to convene us formally. Neither do I feel clear now to identify those bloggers (who I recognized, at least) who also attended. I want to be careful to allow the space for each of us to digest and sift through what we were given and what we experienced.
But watch the blogs: I'm guessing some posts will be emerging shortly.
Also, it's worth noting here:
Since the epistle specifically addresses yearly and monthly meetings, I tested the appropriateness of posting this epistle here with two Friends who helped plan the consultation. None of us felt a stop, and it was for me a valuable exercise in practicing this sort of discernment, when the lines between being part of the Quaker blogosphere and and being part of this small, spiritually intimate group experience are blurred.
Eleventh Month 11, 2007
We are to use our gifts in accordance to the amount of faith that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so.
Romans 12: 6-7
We send loving greetings to you our monthly and yearly meetings, from the Gilmary Retreat Center near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We have gathered at the invitation of the Friends General Conference Youth Ministries & Traveling Ministries Committees for a consultation of Friends with emerging gifts of gospel ministry. We have been richly blessed by God during our time together and we write to thank you, our meetings, for lifting up our names as Friends with emerging gifts of gospel ministry, and helping provide us with spiritual and other support so we could be a part of this. We also want to share some of what we have learned and the joys we have experienced in our time together.
As a group of 56 younger and older adults (and to our great delight one five-month-old) from 18 different yearly meetings, we have shared in worship, small groups, one-to-one conversations, and meals. Eight Friends, seasoned in gospel ministry, served as resource people during the consultation. They shared of their journeys in the ministry, including the challenges they have faced and how their meetings, and in some instances, support/accountability committees, have helped them be faithful in the Work of the Spirit.
We have felt blessed to have Opportunities to meet face to face with each other. Although we are in varying places in our spiritual journeys as ministers and elders, and come from small and large, rural and urban meetings and worship groups, we have found we all labor together in a common Work of Divine Love.
We have heard Gospel ministry described as that which brings us closer to God, and we have been reminded that the Good News we are invited to share has not changed from the time of early Friends: the kingdom of God is still at hand, Christ still comes to teach his people himself, and we are still a people waiting to be gathered. We have also been reminded that all spiritual gifts, including those we might be stewarding, are gifts of and for the Body – our meetings, yearly meetings, and this aching world.
We have found we share a Love for God, the Religious Society of Friends, and our dear meetings, and a call to help others come closer to that Love. We have learned we also share a common hunger for accountability, affirmation, and support from our meetings. We have talked about the need for recognizing and naming gifts of the Spirit; the work of nominating and ministry & counsel committees; and clearness committees and anchor/accountability/oversight committees. We have considered ways we can give each other support and have touched the Bedrock of support.
As we have sought together to discern answers to various queries, we have often found that the words of early Friends, the Hebrew scriptures, the teachings of Jesus, and the letters of the apostles give us counsel, comfort and clearness. We have tenderly ministered to each other and come under the weight of the Work we are called to do. We understand that we have been invited to be faithful witness of God’s Love to the world. It can seem overwhelming, but we are clear that we must begin by being convicted by Truth in our own hearts and lives, and by being willing to let God change us. Then we, as Friends, will have a mighty witness in a world desperate to know God’s liberating Love. Breath by breath, step by step, with God’s help we can bear witness to the power of Truth and Life and Love.
We closed our time together in worship, renewed of Spirit and more clear about the Work we have been called to take up together. We hope Way opens for our paths to continue to cross, and we hold each other and you, our beloved meetings, in the tender Love of Christ.
With love and on behalf of the Friends gathered here this weekend,
Beckey Phipps, clerk
The Traveling Ministries Committee of Friends General Conference
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1. The clerk of the Youth Ministries Committee was not in attendance, otherwise perhaps she too would have signed the epistle.
2. There were at least 12-15 high school and young adult Friends.
3. There were a handful of Friends from Conservative meetings and at least one Friend with connections to FUM. Other Friends were from dually affiliated yearly meetings (i.e. Baltimore, New England, and Southeastern Yearly Meetings) and FGC affiliated yearly meetings.
4. Resource people were Elisabeth Dearborn, Brian Drayton, Jan Hoffman, Mary Lord, Connie McPeak Green, Bob Schmitt, Deborah Shaw, and Lloyd Lee Wilson.
5. I hope to post separately a list of various queries that were shared with us.
Reflections from Callid, on the FGC Quaker Youth webpage
Initial reflections from Mark, of Ear of the Soul
Holy obedience and more reflections from Mark, Ear of the Soul
Three additional reflections I've had
Queries from the consultation
In a guest piece, One Friend's replies to the queries
November 5, 2007
This fall I traveled as a visitor to FGC's Central Committee sessions as the final step in testing if I am to lay down my service to Friends General Conference for the time being.
After six years of having been appointed as a yearly meeting representative to its Central Committee, and another 18 months or so of serving as clerk of the Workshops Subcommittee for the 2007 Gathering, I was unclear if I was called to further service or not.
The only way to find out was to travel to this year's sessions and see for myself.
The plenary business sessions were wonderfully grounded and in some instances felt covered. I felt like I belonged and had a place.
But when subcommittees dispersed for their own time and planning, I felt lost. I visited one committee for a short while and that's when I became clear that, as much as I personally wish to continue being engaged with this body, Way is not open for me to do so.
Nevertheless, I'll share here some of the more interesting items that were reported and that seem to have Life in them.
Youth Ministries CommitteeThe newest committee for FGC, the Youth Ministries Committee, has much going for it. For one thing, the number of young Friends who are serving on Central Committee has been increasing.
This year, there were perhaps as many as 20-25 high school and young adult Friends in attendance, some of whom have been serving on the committee for more than four or five years. (Thanks in part to Martin Kelley.)
And I want to put in a plug for the CD of the amazing plenary that was given by Friends Kody Hersh and Joanna Hoyt at the Gathering this summer. They received spiritual support and nurture from the very capable Zachary Moon, also a young adult Friend.
By their example, it's clear that young Friends are not "the future" of Quakerism. They are already a vibrant part of our current condition, and there is much to be hopeful for as a result.
Here are some remarks made by the clerk of the Youth Ministries Committee, Robin Greenler:
Young Friends who have a place at "the FGC table" will change FGC's worldview, and we [older Friends] will be made uncomfortable as a result.
Young Friends deserve to have a living faith, and many of these Friends are clear that the schisms in Quakerism are part of another generation; not theirs. They hunger to know what it is that binds us together across the branches, not what it was that drove us apart.
Young Friends wish to look at where there is authentic Truth, where there is Power, including looking at Scripture. They also wish to look at where there is unity, including among Friends internationally.
There are other ways to look at the metaphor of "having a place at the table." What if we push the tables together? What if we table-hop? Is the work about providing a place at the table for these Friends, or is it about our connections to each other in God? Do we even need a table?
Report by the general secretary of FGCI have always found Bruce Birchard's reports to be a good, qualitative summary of significant events that have impacted FGC and unprogrammed North American Friends over the past year. I'd rather link directly to a webpage that has his report but there doesn't seem to be one (yet).
One of the recent developments is that FGC, with Bruce's help, has been among the group of Friends that has helped launch the Friends Mutual Health Group. This cooperative health insurance plan for Quaker employers, according to Bruce's report, currently includes 24 Quaker organizations, including FGC, FUM, yearly meetings, monthly meetings, Quaker retirement communities, and Quaker schools.
The impetus for setting up this health group was in response to escalating health care premiums and a desire to "balance affordable, high-quality health care with reasonable premiums." Not to mention, there's something to be said for self-determination and independence from a health care system that's gone haywire.
One of the largest sections of Bruce's remarks focused on his view of the state of the constituent meetings within FGC.
He expressed concern for the need for Friends to "go beyond being Sunday morning Quakers." Like some of us who blog about modern day Quakerism, Bruce spoke about the apparent lack of understanding of and lack of support for ministry carried out by Friends in our meetings.
He lifted up that there is a corporate role for meetings to undertake, including articulating how it is that God moves among us as a body (and I would add, how meetings provide care, nurture, and accountability to Friends who are pursuing leadings and who have come under the weight of a concern).
Bruce also pointed to what may be a growing lack of commitment among Friends to Quakerism; that the center of our life is no longer our house of worship and its communal activities. We are no longer carving out the time to come together as a spiritual family, and the lack of commitment, coupled with the lack of understanding, can be a real threat to the health of the Religious Society of Friends.
He closed this part of his remarks by reflecting on ways that FGC's work can impact these two concerns.
First, FGC can and will continue to recognize elements of our faith such as the role of elders in our meetings; supporting ministry that is undertaken by individuals and by committees or subgroups; and the discipline of the corporate body within our faith and practice.
Second, FGC must continue to conduct its outreach to isolated Friends, worship groups, meetings, and others with a sense of Divine Love and compassion for all, regardless of their degree of understanding and commitment.
And last, FGC must continue to discipline itself to keep Love at the center of its work and to offer a generosity of spirit in all that it does and hopes to do.
Other bits and piecesHere are a couple of final tidbits I'll mention. One is that as a past member of Central Committee, and as a Friend whose Quakerism was significantly and positively impacted by serving on the committee, I have made inquiries about creating a mechanism for "Central Committee alumni."
For Friends who have served on Central Committee and who would like to have access to news about program activities and events, such a mechanism would help with that, especially while a large number of affiliated monthly and yearly meetings are not getting the word out effectively to their own members and attenders. I like to think of it along the lines of how colleges and universities maintain contact with their graduates...
Lastly, I really liked the queries that were prepared for worship sharing this year:
Consider the following quote from 1 Peter 4:8-10:Blessings,
Above all keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.
How do I show hospitality of the Spirit in my meeting and in other places I serve?
How can I be a "good steward of God's varied grace?"
When asked to serve, do I discern where I can lovingly and freely employ my gifts?
How can we nurture good stewardship of gifts in our midst?
November 4, 2007
To support my sweetie, and with encouragement from another fFriend, I'm posting my responses here to an exercise about looking at privilege.
Here's the relevant information for you to know:
1. This exercise is based on one developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University (see the "looking at privilege" post in the above paragraph, for additional links).
2. The exercise's developers hold the copyright and have given permission for it to be posted, with links, on the Quakers and Social Class blog. They ask that those of us who participate in this blog exercise acknowledge their copyright, which I'm doing here.
3. If you cut-and-paste this exercise on your own blog, please leave a comment on the relevant post, pointing readers to your own post.
4. Copy and paste the list below into your blog (or as a comment in the relevant post), remove my own personal comments, and bold the items that are true for you. My own replies are below.
The ExerciseNOTE: I have bolded so many of these items (27-1/2 out of 34) that I am indenting the ones I have experienced to make them more visually distinctive from those items I didn't experience. --Liz
Father went to collegeHad a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Father finished college (and law school)
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor (father, uncle, cousin)
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home (I actually don't recall books except for children's books and my father's tax books)
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18 (art, tennis, swimming)
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (???) (though these days, some wealthy characters in the media are portrayed as greedy)
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costsWent to a private high school
Went to summer campHad a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels (eh-hem: NOT hotels but a family-owned vacation house)Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them (No, but I used the hand-me-down family car for a year or two when I was an upperclassman at college. And the three kids shared a used car, purchased by my folks, once we were all old enough to drive.)
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
There was original art in your house when you were a child (a small Picasso, a small Calder print; plus much original art from my grandmother and family friends)Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family houseHad your own TV in your room in High School
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College (Eh-hem: My parents and grandparents had invested in equities and savings bonds for me and my brothers, not mutual funds or IRAs). . . . . . . . . . .
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
In going over this list, it strikes me that I could have bolded nearly all of the remaining items, meaning that my parents had the means to provide a television for me, a phone, a credit card. I think my parents--especially my mother--had a sense of appropriate boundaries around what young children, adolescents, and teens should or shouldn't have access to.
It's also clear to me that I have to work very hard to see past the privileges I myself grew up with and learn from people who experienced the world differently from how I did. For example, I had unknowingly internalized the message that a wealthy person can have a great deal of control in a relationship by controlling the flow of money. Eeew!
At the same time, I found myself drawn to television shows that had a message about caring for one another (e.g. Little House on the Prairie). As an innocent child, it appears I didn't aspire to be wealthy and control money: I aspired to be a person with a kind heart and a gentle, moral lifestyle.
October 22, 2007
This week I head to the eastern U.S. to visit my folks in their new digs, have lunch with my 102-year-old grandmother, and attend the Central Committee meetings of Friends General Conference.
What's particularly interesting to me is that this year, I am attending Central Committee as a visitor, in part to see if there is still Life for me among these Friends and if I am called to reengage with this committee somehow.
Two days after I return, our small worship group gathers for our first-ever retreat, during which we plan to discover God's call for how to expand our relationships and our outward witness corporately, and how to live into God's plan for us as a worship group.
We've been using Tenth Month to offer activities and to lift up queries to children and adults to prepare ourselves:
It's unclear just exactly how to structure the retreat itself, what activities to provide because the planning committee itself isn't clear. So we will wait until God gives us a clear instruction... In the meantime, the planning committee is filling up its "toolbox" with a number of ideas of discussion topics, worship opportunities, and more. As I have heard elsewhere among Quakers, "The Spirit favors the well-prepared."
- What is our existing network of relationships? In our current network of relationships, what diversity exists? What cross-cultural relationships exist, across lines of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities? Are we called into relationships that we aren’t currently in, either with particular individuals or groups, or to build cross-cultural relationships in a particular direction?
- What are the gifts and ministries that we each carry? Are there gifts and ministries has the worship group not yet seen? As a worship group, what are our collective gifts and ministries?
- How do we name and bring life to the divine order that God calls us to bring forth? What life do the following phrases have for us: Beloved community... City of God... Kingdom of God... Gospel Order? Beyond the names, how does this vision become specific, motivating, and vivid for us and others?
- What are the needs in the communities that we are connected with? What unmet needs weigh most heavily on our hearts? Is there a concrete need or task to be completed in the local community and/or neighborhood that can help us begin the work? In the communities we are connected with, who is most marginalized?
Then, a few days after the retreat, I hit the road again and have plans to participate in FGC's consultation on gospel ministry. In FGC lingo, consultations are smallish to medium-in-size weekend gatherings of Friends around a particular topic, and the Friends who participate are there primarily by invitation by the sponsoring committee(s) or by FGC affiliated meetings at the committee's prompting (as best as I can understand, at least).
This particular consultation is being co-coordinated by the FGC Youth Ministries Program and by the FGC Traveling Ministries Program. I suspect there'll be a wonderful variety of Friends from the U.S. and Canada, as well as a mix of age-ranges, from pre-college teenage Friends to Friends in their 70s... or possibly beyond.
My personal, self-designated task is to let go of expectations and let these events unfold. But it's so easy for me to get superexcited about what might happen, who I might see, etc etc, so I hope to have the discipline to wait on the Lord, to breathe, to stay centered.
I hope to keep The Good Raised Up updated as I'm able.
October 16, 2007
Ahh, another First Day, another business session.
...Another opportunity for taking a good hard look at myself.
One of the items on this month's agenda for our (continued) consideration was about paid staff, and whether to work with them as independent contractors or as employees of the meeting. As can sometimes happen with items that embody the intersection between the secular world (e.g. legal requirements and definitions) and our faith community (e.g. committee structure and God's leading), we got bogged down.
As someone who was participating in the Meeting for Worship with attention to Business, I didn't handle myself well.
I considered long and hard about leaving the session without saying a word, but I had that niggle. That niggle that says if I say nothing, I will know that I will not have been faithful.
So I said something. And I feel like I was faithful...
...but I didn't feel like I was loving.
Later that afternoon, during the worship group's pre-meeting activity, we were asked to reflect on this passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.I fell deeply into the Presence during worship soon afterwards and reflected again on my action during the monthly meeting earlier that day.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body [to hardship] that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (NIV)
I began to wonder what it would require for me to seek to be loving with the same earnestness and obedience with which I already seek to be faithful.
The creeds I've known
In turn, I found myself reflecting on the messages I was raised with and the messages I had been encouraged to embrace as I grew older.
But this matter of "Be loving," especially in relation to Quakers, is tricky, because certainly Love is in fact embodied and reflected in the actions by so many dear Friends around me.
- From Mom: Be honest.
My mom in particular frequently expressed how important it was to tell the truth, even if the truth was that I did draw on the floor with permanent magic marker. (I was about six.)
- From Judaism: Be dutiful.
The religion of my childhood put a great deal of emphasis on participating in the rituals of the Sabbath and of the various Jewish holidays. The mystical side of Judaism was given very little attention both in the synagogue where I received my religious education and among the Orthodox Jewish part of my family. (Thankfully, there are others who have written about, and are writing about, the mystical side of Judaism.)
- From the women's community in which I participated: Be supportive and challenging.
This comes close to "Be loving" but in the end... it was close but no cigar.
- From the early part of my Quakerism: Be faithful. Be truthful.
Nothing explicitly about love, except when Scripture is quoted.
Has something gone wrong?
So what's gone missing? Why haven't I internalized the message of "Be love" to the same degree that I have with "Be faithful"?
I could point to my religious upbringing and say I wasn't raised in the Christian faith, where perhaps one Rabbi's message of radical love would have been reinforced... but that wouldn't explain why I have internalized and embraced other parts of the Quaker discipline.
I wonder now if it's because as Friends we often encourage one another in our faithfulness by affirming, "Thee was faithful." My gosh, how many times have I myself commented on another's post, "It sounds like you are being faithful to what you have been given"?!
Yet I don't recall a time--ever--when I heard one Friend say to another, "Thee was loving."
Do I need to hear the words as well as see the actions that express and connote love? Am I that obtuse, that human, to need such repetition and reinforced modeling by so many others over such a long period of time?
At the same time, I am struck over and over again by the tenderness, care, and love expressed in the letters and epistles of early Friends like Penington, Fox, Woolman. (The book I'm reading now, Quaker Spirituality, is feeding into all these questions I am having about the (unnamed) testimony of Love)
A Hebrew prayer, revisited
For the past few weeks, for a reason that is apparent only now, I have found myself recalling bits and pieces of a Jewish prayer known as the V'ahavta.
The V'ahavta is a prayer that as a young person, you end up memorizing the Hebrew rather than understanding what it actually says.
But there is one phrase in particular which I recall the rabbi lifted up, each Sabbath service, and this is the phrase that has arisen for me in recent weeks:
You shalt love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might... And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart... and you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates....I find I am being called to remember that it is not enough to be faithful or to speak the Truth as it is revealed to me.
It is important to be faithful, to speak the Truth ...and to do so in Love.
RELATED POST: Faith without love?
October 10, 2007
For whatever reason, the last few weeks in Meeting for Worship I have found my mind resting on how our participation in meetings and in worship perhaps has changed since the first few generations of Friends:
I wonder sometimes if I have become a bit lazy in my Quakerism. I use the internet to search for another Quaker's words about a concept with which I am wrestling--but should I be carving out more time to listen inwardly or wait patiently in the Light for understanding and revelation to come to me?
Without cars or mass transit, would people have traveled more than 10-15 miles on any given First Day to attend worship? Or would people naturally have gathered as a local meeting or worship group, making it easier for more Friends to attend a meeting for worship that was held in closer proximity to where they lived?
Would there have been many more meetings and worship groups across the land as a result of needing to rely on our own feet or maybe a horse?
Would it have been that much more important, then, to make the effort to attend the monthly meeting's Meeting for Worship with attention to Business, knowing that the Spirit was moving amongst so many small groups in a region? Would it have been refreshing to hear those experiences from other Friends, in the next town over?
And would such proximity have lent itself to a local, more sustainable faith community, relying on one another for mutual support and accountability; and helping one another get to know each another "in that which is Eternal"?
If a traveling minister or other traveling Friend had arrived in town, would a good many more Friends attend Meeting and social or public events in order to listen to and worship with the visitor(s), knowing that such visits required an additional measure of spiritual faithfulness and physical endurance? Without the huge media network that we have today, would worshipers be more likely to listen inwardly to that still, small voice, rather than mull over what they heard that morning on public radio or read in the newspaper? Without the tremendous number of books available to them on psycho-spiritual matters, other faith traditions, or Quakers who had lived before them, did early Friends at the time gain inspiration from the Scriptures and from the living ministers among them?
I underline the pages of the pamphlets and books that I read, grateful that someone is able to speak to my condition--but should I be allowing myself more time to sink into the Seed more deeply and allow the Spirit to speak directly to me?
October 8, 2007
"The purpose of the FGC Gathering is to help Friends know and deepen their relationship with the Spirit and with each other; to strengthen their identification as Friends among other Friends; and to testify to the continued presence of unprogrammed Friends as a vital and unique faith community."
--FGC Long Range Conference Planning Committee, 2002
Being behind the scenes for a massive project like helping pull off the annual summer Gathering for Friends General Conference is an eye-opening experience.
The phrase "Ignorance is bliss" comes to mind.
Many readers know that I served as clerk of the Workshops Committee for the 2007 Gathering Committee. Now that preparation for the 2008 Gathering is underway, this is a good time to put a call out to readers to encourage one another to submit a workshop proposal.
The deadline is October 29, 2007!*This is also as good a time as any to explain a bit about the workshop selection process, even though the selection process probably differs slightly from year to year. Making the process more transparent might help us understand how to navigate the system, especially as we come into new leadings and openings, corporately and individually.
What guides the work?First of all, as future Gathering Committees and their subcommittees consider the approved statement about the Purpose of the Gathering (above), more committees will be able to connect their own piece of the work to the overall work and vision of FGC as it relates to the Gathering.
Beyond that, and until FGC's Long Term Plan becomes more visible to FGC-affiliated meetings, there doesn't appear to be any tried-and-true way to sort through the proposals. The recent introduction of a handbook to be passed along from year to year might help Workshops Committees engage in their selection process, though.
Some of what we did for the 2007 Gathering included having the committee discern out of the silence a list of items or attributes that would be given weight when considering workshop proposals. The list included things like a workshop's sense of ministry and the capacity to transform participants and/or Quakerism in general. Lifting up that list ahead of time seemed to help us stay grounded when narrowing the selections got dicey.
Other factors might be popularity and past success of the workshop leader; interweaving of the Gathering theme, plenary speakers' focus, and workshop activities; or a workshop that seems to fill a gap in some way--whether it's about our faith, current events, or a potentially marginalized subset of Friends.
How big is the workshop pool?Towards the start of my service as clerk of the Workshops Committee, I found out that in a typical year, there are usually not many more proposals turned in than there are actual slots for workshops to be offered.
(The exception is when Gathering was held in Tacoma, Washington: there were twice as many proposals as there were slots.)
That fact alone has helped me understand how it is that such a wide variety of offerings (e.g. from the seemingly recreational to the scholarly), and a high number of "repeat" workshops, occur during the Gathering.
How might the workshop offerings change?Here are some of the questions I have been holding now that I've gone through this process as part of the Gathering Committee:
Would the nature of proposals change if Friends knew more widely what the purpose of FGC's Gathering is? Would the nature of proposals change if experienced Gathering workshop leaders stepped back and provided eldering to less experienced Friends who clearly have a ministry to share? Would the submissions and workshop offerings change if the Nominating Committees and Committees of Ministry & Counsel from all FGC-affiliated monthly meetings--and other monthly meeting "cousins"--received a request that THEY identify 1-4 Friends from their meeting who may have a ministry that should be brought forward through the Gathering? Certainly the Workshops Committee would see some fresh names and new topics reach their notebooks as a result.
What might be next?I'm sure there are other ways to increase the pool of workshop proposals and shift the overall direction or scope of what the workshops, as a whole, would present.
I'm also sure that a large number of Friends who are accustomed to seeing a wide variety of workshop topics would rebel and be upset to see that scope and variety narrowed, especially if that variety were narrowed too quickly.
What I'm less sure about is if a more focused scope of workshops (i.e. more workshops that are explicitly Quaker) would appeal to a different set of Friends who have been staying away, because they perhaps have been feeling as though the Gathering hasn't been "strengthening their identification as Friends," or "helping them know and deepen their relationship with the Spirit."
So, blog readers and blog writers:
If you know of someone who has been given a ministry from which other Friends might benefit in a setting like FGC's Gathering, I hope you'll encourage them to test if Way is open for them to submit a proposal by the end of the month.
Or, if you feel that push or pull yourself, please consider submitting a proposal.
Our faith remains vibrant and sustainable as long as we live into and bring forward the new Life we ourselves are experiencing.
*The link to the proposal form will likely be invalid after that deadline, fyi.
September 30, 2007
In Meeting for Worship this First Day morning, I found myself resting on two phrases:
Yes, I hear you.
Did you do your best?The first phrase, as I understand how I received it today, is almost like the answer to the popular joke, "God always answers your prayers. Sometimes the answer is No."
In this case, though, my own sense is that Yes, I hear you is the reply we are given when we wonder if God is really listening:
"God, do you know how much anguish this situation is causing me right now?"
"God, can't you do anything about what is going on in the world/in our neighborhood/with my family?"
Yes, I hear you.It's not meant to be a cold, thoughtless retort with a hidden subtext of "Get outta my way, you speck of dust." It's truly meant to be a compassionate response:
Yes, I hear you... and I struggle with you in your pain; I weep with you in your struggle...The second phrase, Did you do your best? is a question I once heard a Friend lift up.
The Friend offered it as a way to nurture the children among us--and to nurture one another--whether they (we) are preparing for a test in school or are auditioning for a play. There is much more significance to the question Did you do your best? than there is to the better known, somewhat empty gesture of uttering, "Well, good luck."
For one thing, the question Did you do your best? invites us to look inward and ask ourselves if in fact we did our best. The person asking the question doesn't really need to know the answer, but the person who hears the question will quickly recognize the truthful reply.
Sometimes I wonder if God simply wants us to ask ourselves, Did I do my best? Was I faithful...? If we know we didn't do our best, if we know we weren't in fact faithful, we will have the consequence of living with that knowledge... and the opportunity to do something about it when we have a chance.
September 28, 2007
Historically for me, the fall has been a season of increased activity, new ideas, and the pursuit of inspired projects. This year, the end of summer comes with a host of unexpected opportunities:
New cat.We adopted a cat from the local Humane Society--and soon found out that she had a rather severe upper respiratory infection, a persistent fever, and a "mystery mass" in her abdomen.
Two courses of antibiotics seem to have addressed the fever and infection (they often go hand-in-hand), but even an ultrasound for our one-year-old Inky leaves two vets puzzled: "We've never seen anything like this before and we are completely baffled as to what this could be."
The good news is (1) our veterinary clinic has been great, reducing the cost of the ultrasound from nearly $300 to $50, and (2) all of Inky's major organs and vital signs are normal.
Since putting our previous cat down, I had forgotten how much delight there is in figuring out that the most successful entertainment device for the cat--in this case, anyway--is a simple scrunched up ball of paper, flicked across the room, enticing Inky to bat at it and chase it the length of the house, at amazingly high speeds.
I would say that I have put nearly as much time into caring for and playing with the cat as I used to put into blog reading and blog writing. Now that Inky seems to be doing better, despite the mystery mass, I hope to become active again in the blogosphere.
New bike.Towards the end of the summer, I got rid of the traditional two-wheeled upright "diamond frame" bike I had acquired at a garage sale and bought a three-wheeled recumbent trike. It has been a huge amount of fun, now that I don't have to focus on balancing and getting the front wheel caught in a seam on the road! And since you need to pedal quite a bit more on a recumbent than on a traditional bike, my legs and abs are getting quite the workout!
Don't get me wrong: I am not an avid biker, though having the trike has helped me get away from using the car for those short little neighborhood errands I'd been doing otherwise.
I've been averaging about 10 miles a week on the trike--small potatoes compared to what Paul L does on his two-wheeled recumbent each day! But 10 miles on the trike is better than nothing and it's better than 10 miles by car, as long as the weather holds out.
New adventures among Friends.Now that I've recovered from the 2007 FGC Gathering and the "post partem" that followed it, I'm returning to my responsibilities and activities among Friends that had been on hold for awhile.
I have plans to attend the sessions of FGC's Central Committee in October--as a visitor, since my term of service had expired in 2006. I find I am called to remain connected somehow to that committee and its work, though I cannot know if I will be called into additional service there.
I am slowly becoming more active in the monthly meeting's Ministry & Counsel Committee. There is an annual retreat for the committee to be planned; clearness and support committees to be convened; and other concerns to be addressed, some of which capture my attention.
For the first six months of my service on M&C, I was an interested and concerned committee member who attended meetings and refrained from offering to do work outside of our committee time. Now I can open myself to listening for how God asks me to serve the local faith community and be more available to pursue those opportunities for service.
And my involvement in the worship group is increasing again, as we prepare to have a retreat this fall. We'll consider what our witness and our call to service might be, and we'll find ways to include the children in some of our activities. It will be good to break out of the routine of weekly worship, and my hope is we'll have the opportunity to sink a bit more deeply into our searching for and listening to our Guide.
September 23, 2007
Today at Meeting for Worship at the monthly meeting, I found myself settling into this reflection:
I frequently come to worship hoping the meeting will serve my needs. What I need to do is come to meeting helping my meeting to serve God.I sat with this awareness--and the sadness underlying it, which I won't go into here--for quite a while.
And then I realized I was being given something more, and I was humbled. I did not wish to give ministry today, but isn't that often how God works: those who are the most reluctant to serve are called upon...?
. . . . . . . . . .
In the spring I decided to prepare a small garden bed for some bergamot (monarda) I was wanting to plant. I noticed that there weren't any earthworms in that particular area of the yard, but I didn't make much of it: most of our backyard has very rich, fertile soil with lots of earthworms, and even though I think of myself as an amateur gardener, I was confident that I could grow bergamot without much trouble. I'm told that it's a very easy-to-grow, low-maintenance perennial.
So I made sure to buy a few plants during the annual Friends School plant sale this year--always a danger to go there, despite the list you've created ahead of time!--and I put them in the bed I had prepared.
Well, during the summer, nothing happened. The bergamot didn't grow, didn't put out any flowers. In fact, the leaves were starting to turn yellow, so I headed to my local garden store and asked for advice. Like me, she was surprised that the bergamot hadn't taken off. "It can grow almost anywhere!" she said, and I went home with a take-home soil test kit.
The test... well, let's just say that the soil failed in every category: No nitrogen, no phosphorus, no potash. The soil was dead, and I went back to the garden store. I was told to use some liquid plant food to get them through the summer but be prepared to dig the plants up in the fall and amend the living daylights out of the soil before replanting them.
That's what I did yesterday: I dug the bergamot up, added compost, green sand, and kelp (who knew?!), and then replanted them.
All this has made me consider the parable of the sower and my own condition:
Am I prepared to receive the Seeds of God that are tossed my way?Blessings,
Am I hard and rocky? Am I too dry?
What can I do to prepare myself better to receive God?
How can any of us know what will help?
September 13, 2007
Let us try what Love will do.This popular quotation from William Penn is a favorite of mine. For one thing, in the secular world, I have learned to avoid the use of the word "try," as in "Try not to read this sentence."
Now, now: you either did read the sentence or you didn't. You didn't just "try."
1. Take a pen or pencil in your hand.
2. Try to drop it.
You likely eitiher DID drop it or you DIDN'T drop it. There is no "try."
The use of the word "try" in William Penn's quote, Let us try what Love will do, however, means "put to the test" or "experiment with." Here is a story where my "trying Love"--or where Love has tried me--has helped me understand and appreciate the power of the practice.
A number of years ago, maybe four or maybe eight, I struggled and wrestled and labored with a Friend who viewed Quakerism and God and the world in a very different way from how I did. The more I sought to understand the Friend, his world view, and his theology, the more knotted my relationship with this Friend became.
Each time the Friend and I sat at a meal or attended an adult education session, my heart ached at the degree to which we disagreed--about where God was leading the meeting around a specific decision, about what the nature of worship was, about how Friends were to participate in the life of the meeting.
Some times I left our interaction with much anger; other times I left while weeping.
I could not see the way out; I could not see the way forward. And ultimately, I simply removed myself from the Friend's presence entirely as best I could. In a big urban meeting, that's pretty easy to do.
At the time that I was removing myself, I unknowingly was also giving the situation, the "knot" of the relationship, over to God. I had tugged at it, pulled at it, gnawed at it as much as I was going to. I had "tried" to resolve it on my own, and my efforts were fruitless.
Then, a few years went by. Years.
At that time, it happened that another Friend in the meeting had lost her partner to cancer, and there was a large memorial/reception/wake held. People were coming and going--relatives, neighbors, friends and friends of friends. And more than a few Quakers.
The house where the gathering was held was spacious, and it was only on my way out that I ran into the Friend whose presence I had been avoiding. I had thought to keep on walking but something deeper within me said not to. I greeted the Friend, and we spoke amiably--and I thought, comfortably--about how we were each doing, what we were each up to.
When I headed to the car a few minutes later, I reflected on that little "miracle-mystery": Without doing anything consciously at my end, I was quietly and unexpectedly reconciled with this Friend, who perhaps knew nothing of my own angst that had preceded that particular moment.
Since that reception/wake, the Friend and I continue to cross paths in the meeting. Though our respective views on God and Quakerism continue to differ, my heart remains softened and I feel I have been given a gift of the Spirit.
September 3, 2007
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend "the big meeting"--the second of two Meetings for Worship on First Day, which during the school year accommodates up to 100 children and youth, in addition to their families and other regular worshipers.
I settled easily, since the meeting was small because of the U.S. holiday weekend.
A few minutes later, though, the gathering of the meeting was changed by the addition of the laughter and squeals of a few children and adults playing outside on the field next to the meetinghouse.
Then a lawn mower started up nearby, annoying at first but which later I realized provided a constant hum that masked the other outdoor distractions.
I managed to resettle and rested a bit in the arms of the Everlasting Presence.
A while later, the lawn mower stopped, and I felt a loosening within me that I hadn't been aware of. I guess the noise of the mower had unknowingly distressed me, at least at some level.
And as the children's peals of laughter also quieted, the ensuing silence became that much more noticeable and for me, that much more grounding.
It was a clear reminder to me of the fundamental nature of Quaker worship: to strip away the "noise" of our interior and exterior life, the empty forms of religion and hollow doctrine, so that what remains is a clear pathway between ourselves and God.
August 31, 2007
In recent weeks, I've been holding the concepts of faithfulness and obedience side by side. I sense intuitively--or maybe it's that I know experimentally--that the two are different in some way, and I haven't been quite ready to explore how.
And then I came across a short post from Friendly Mama, in which Mary Linda reflects on her own inward turning to a readiness of being obedient and of service.
Here's an excerpt of a comment I left:
Obedience has been a word that has been "traveling" with me, too, of late....The distinction feels important to me, so I'm going to take a whack at pulling the threads apart and see what comes of it.
Like you, I went through a subtle but important turning point in my faith journey among Friends, during which I shifted from "participating in the meeting" to "offering myself to the Spirit," making myself available to serve.
Need I say that my life as a Friend really hasn't been the same since...?!
It seems to me that it is a weightier matter to be obedient than it is to be faithful, though both are important within Quakerism. At first glance, I might attribute the sense of weightiness to the frequency with which these two words are used among Friends: it's almost as though the less frequent a word is used (i.e. "obedience"), the more weight is given to it.
The early query, which still is used here and there among Friends today, is "Was thee faithful, did thee yield?" It wasn't "Was thee obedient, did thee yield?"
Is there a reason why the one query exists in Quaker vernacular but not the other?
Is there an implied greater degree of difficulty, that to lay aside one's own ambition in order to be obedient is more difficult when compared to acting faithfully to an inward prompt, for example?
Does the faithful act already draw upon an unspoken or innate "alignment" between what we personally wish to pursue and what we understand God asks or instructs us to pursue? Does being obedient entail acknowledging and feeling our inner tantrum in the face of recognizing that God wants us to do the very thing we don't want to do?
So when it is "compared" to faithfulness, does obedience point to more intense labor and wrestling before we finally yield, before our own will is broken in order that we might follow God's? Does obedience require more of us--more humility and being low in order to allow ourselves to become an instrument of the Spirit?
Of course, the questions and the answers to them are rather insignificant in the Big Picture. It is far more important that we live into being faithful and obedient servants than it is to understand why or how faithfulness and obedience differ.
But these questions have been with me, and now they are with you as well. Thanks, as always, for reading me.
August 27, 2007
Recently in worship at the monthly meeting, I spent much time turning over in my mind a comment that a Friend had emailed me.
The situation that led to the comment involved a number of things, including an interaction with that same Friend from a few years prior, a subsequent mutual look at our "emotional leftovers" from then, and more recently, a request I made to the Friend in which I sought clarification about possible committee service.
For me, my request was completely detached from the initial interaction and "emotional leftovers" conversation, but for the other Friend, they remained intertwined, and the Friend expressed concerns to me about how I engage in corporate process.
This new twist has made me wonder whose responsibility it is to evaluate and/or affirm any sort of transformation or "conversion of manners" that I myself may have experienced.
In my own heart, I know that such evaluation is between me and my Guide. But as a human being who sometimes loses her spiritual grounding, it often happens that I worry about what some Friends may think of me if I don't "see things their way."
So in my worship yesterday, I found myself settling into a few things:
Do we treasure one another, even during difficulties between us? Do we reflect on a person's gifts and history of being faithful before we confront that person? Are we prepared to affirm a person's measure of Light and give that person space to grow into greater Light?
Stay close to the root . . . Friends help Friends mind the Light . . . Stand still in the Light, submit to it, let it search you . . .
Have I allowed myself to be thoroughly searched by the Light for any wrongdoing I may have done regarding this particular situation? . . . What or who do I have in the Center right now? . . . To what or to whom am I giving over my power, my sense of self-worth? . . .What or who seems to be impacting my self-esteem and capacity for self-love?
Contemplation and Imagining:
I see God standing in front of me, looking into my eyes, saying nothing, and sending me only Love.
I melt. My heart is made tender, and I wonder how I will face Friends who may ask me to engage with them about concerns I thought had been put to rest. How might I answer to and call out that of God within others, whether or not they are capable of answering to and calling out that of God within me?
God, thank you for helping me remember who my Shepherd is, my Guide, and my Inward Teacher.
August 17, 2007
The final post of the 2007 series on the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).
In addition to looking forward to attending the business sessions, I was also eager and curious to hear Marshall Massey speak to the yearly meeting about his 2006 walk and journey* from Omaha, Nebraska to Baltimore Yearly Meeting's annual sessions, held in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Marshall was invited to be a plenary speaker, sharing what he was given during his trek.
Since Marshall and I had met each other during other IYM(C) events and annual sessions, it was easy to spot him when I arrived at Scattergood, and we shared a few meals together during the week.
Prior to his evening address, he explained to me that he would be changing into a suit and tie--which really caught me off-guard. Since during our meals together, Marshall had already made it clear to me how much he values honesty and directness, I took a breath and said something like, "A suit and tie? That doesn't seem very humble, Marshall." (My guess is that Marshall may remember more precisely what I said... UPDATE: Check Marshall's comment for more about dress among Friends.)
Marshall took the time to explain to me that Conservative Friends--perhaps other Friends as well--used to dress differently... I can't remember now if he said "for all the evening sessions" or "when they gave a presentation to the body." In the end, since Marshall has been among IYM(C) for a number of years longer than I have (!), I let it go and would wait to see how Friends would respond that evening.
Well, for one thing, when I saw Marshall that night, I realized that what I had pictured when he had said "suit and tie" was a business executive would wear: a power suit, navy blue, maybe even double-breasted, a red tie to boot. Instead, he was dressed in a casual suit and his tie was certainly not red. I let it go and settled in.
Marshall began by explaining that his task as he understood it was to "render an account of the journey"--to make himself accountable to the yearly meeting that had provided him a travel minute, and not just tell a story of how he got from one place to another. Then he lifted up two questions from early Friends (CORRECTION by Marshall: from Fran Taber) by which his sharing would be framed:
How has the Lord dealt with thee since last we met?Marshall spoke about the invitation he received from Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Environmental Committee, to help the committee bring forward its environmental concerns to the attention of the yearly meeting.
What is the teaching given thee for us?
He also explained why he was considered in the first place to be a plenary speaker, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he had been first a plenary speaker for Pacific Yearly Meeting and then a plenary speaker during the FGC Gathering, both in the mid- and late-1980s, addressing a similar concern about care for the earth and the environment.
In describing a bit about his discernment process as it related to making the trek to Virginia where sessions would be held, Marshall explained that he heard from the Spirit: "If you walk the distance, you will be given what you need to say."
And Marshall did his best to be faithful and obedient to that prompt.
Marshall broke his trek down into three parts: He spoke about the first part of his trek was focused on walking and on being with God. The second part was more about listening, listening to God. And the third part was about preparing, focusing on the query, What have I been given to share with Baltimore Yearly Meeting?
He spoke plainly about his body giving out and his need to complete his trek by car, but in such a way that he still was doing a fair amount of walking. "The obedience mattered more than the form of the walk," Marshall offered.
The one thing that has stayed with me, as Marshall described some of the experiences he had, meeting with small groups of Friends as he traveled, is that individual changes in behavior is not enough to change the course we are on in regards to care for the earth and the environment.
"We need to think very carefully about corporate witness," Marshall said. "Because a community that lives together can model for others what is possible."He referenced the small community in northeastern Iowa that is living completely off the grid, living a life of voluntary simplicity. (One or two nights earlier, we had heard from a couple who is part of both IYM(C) and this off-the-grid community.)
He also offered five possibilities for a corporate witness towards caring for the earth and for the environment:
(Marshall, I invite you to correct or expand on these five points: you obviously said much more than what I was able to take down in my notebook...)
Provide for full-time lobbying on behalf of Quakers for environmental stewardship, much in the same manner as Friends Committee on National Legislation does for legislative prioritizing. Provide for television ads about "the way out" of our current environmental downward spiral. (Marshall specifically mentioned "ads on Fox TV") Begin to lay the foundations now for how to help the future's homeless population, as more natural disasters devastate more of our country and leave more of the land unliveable. Create programs to get our society away from dependence on fossil fuels and the grid. Re-do community housing in such a way so as to include wildlife shelters and natural habitats for all God's creation.
What stayed with me is not so much these five specific possibilities for witnessing as a faith community. Rather, what stayed with me is the realization that if we continue to act as individuals but live in the same overall paradigm; if we continue only to conserve energy and conserve fuel, we are still ultimately driving on the same highway heading to the same perilous cliff. It's just that we are driving there at a much slower speed, but the end we will meet is the same.
What Marshall lifts up is that we need to get off the road entirely. And not just one by one. We will need each other to model the way forward and to offer support as we go through major changes in lifestyle, in consumerism, in energy consumption.
If I am left on my own to adapt to a situation that forever seems "over there" and disconnected from myself, I will be less likely to change my ways. But if I am part of a community-wide effort and have support to adapt to an entirely new way of life, in response to a situation that is "right here," I will be more likely to get onboard and be successful in changing and adapting.
It's a bit of a daunting challenge, and Marshall did well to encourage us to think of where might be "a nucleus of a wider community that could bear witness" to how to live in a self-sustaining community. Some Friends immediately thought of Scattergood itself as being close to that sort of public witness, much like the small community in northeastern Iowa.
He also reminded us loaves and fishes: We often have more resources than we think, if we but look around and see the world with new glasses.
My own sense, though, is that there is more for IYM(C), for myself, and for many other faith communities around the globe to hear and experience before we make the necessary paradigm shift. We have not yet had that conversion experience that will lead us to the required "conversion of manners." But sometimes the necessary shift is arrived at by intermediate changes and cumulative experiences, that suddenly "add up" to a new way of being.
I personally will count Marshall Massey's address among those experiences for myself. I have been given something important to think about and to grow into...
*Entries are in reverse chronological order.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
Iowa Conservative Sessions 2007, Part I and Part II
Learning the game Telephone Pictionary at 2007 sessions of IYM(C)
August 15, 2007
...Continuing from where I left off...
TIDBITSEpistles. During its annual sessions, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) reads excerpts from a variety of epistles that have been received from around the world.
I was struck by what I heard because I felt that the excerpts were of Friends who were bearing witness to the movement of the Spirit, whether responding to the wrestling that continues among more liberal Friends who are a part of FUM, or lifting up prophetic voices.
There was no way for me to record what each excerpt held because I was so focused on just receiving and taking in what I was hearing... I did manage to make a list of many of the yearly meetings from which we heard, though:
There were probably a few other yearly meetings we heard from, but as I sat there and listened, I realized that these excerpts perhaps helped "place" IYM(C) in the wider context of the Religious Society of Friends.
Holland Kenya Baltimore Japan Illinois Southeastern New England Philadelphia Germany
What I mean by that, in part, is that IYM(C) isn't itself directly connected to Friends United Meeting or German Friends or Friends in the Netherlands, and yet it opens itself to receive news of what is on the hearts of Friends everywhere. The yearly meeting gains a sense of connection and of being part of a religious body larger than itself.
By extension, it is easier for me to imagine, then, why these Friends value intervisitation so highly. Intervisitation provides a similar though unspoken message that welcoming other Friends and visitors from beyond our own borders is a part of our responsibility of being members one of another. What one part of the body is experiencing and reporting may have a direct impact on what another part of the body is going through or may go through over time.
Scattergood ties. This year, my third consecutive year of attending IYM(C) sessions, I found I have a growing appreciation for Scattergood School and its ties to the yearly meeting. For one thing, there is a farm that is part of the school, and Friends are reminded that the farm provides much of the meat, eggs, and produce that we eat during the week.
(The freshly picked corn-on-the-cob was the best corn I've had in years!)
For another thing, the reports that are related to Scattergood lift up the "field experience" the students receive. The hands-on experience is built into the curriculum, and students work the farm and school grounds in any number of ways. Here are examples, pulled from the 2006 report:
Students have weeded rows, witnessed births, cared for young birds, processed produce, reseeded parts of the prairie, put in new fencing, gleaned fields, written grants, tested sheep feces for parasitic cysts... They are involved... through biology and advanced biology classes, farm project and farm crew, chicken and egg crew, poultry project and food preservation project...It's clear that there is a symbiotic relationship between the school and the farm, and this year it became clearer to me that there is a strong relationship between the farm (and therefore the school) and the local community. Items from the farm are taken into town and sold to local stores, for example, so the farm and school are doing its own part of outreach.. and by extension, Iowa Friends are made a bit more visible as well.
--2006 Scattergood Farm Report
(FYI - I've written more about the connection of the yearly meeting with Scattergood in one of last year's posts.)
So it is that I too am finding a fondness in my heart for Scattergood, because I see some of the fruit it bears each year: not in the current students but in the teachers, administrators, and fFriends of the school who attend these annual sessions... and in the many older Friends in the yearly meeting who themselves were students years ago.
Two other "take-aways." In my small notebook where I jotted my thoughts during sessions, I have these two items:
Iowa Yearly Meeting is, as a body, skewed/directed more than my own yearly meeting is, toward faith-in-action. Not because it's a good idea but because Friends are so convinced/convicted by the movement of the Spirit.Blessings,
In the business sessions I have experienced, there seems to be a qualitative difference between these Conservative Friends and Liberal Friends. Sometimes among Liberal Friends, as we struggle to find the way forward, I imagine we are all pointing in different directions. But during these and other sessions of IYM(C), there is more often a sense of a collective "reaching together"--in the same direction, seeking unity with God's will.
P.S. I believe I have one more post in me, regarding these sessions: comments on Marshall Massey's report to the yearly meeting.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
Iowa Conservative Sessions 2007: Part I and Part III: Marshall Massey
Learning the game Telephone Pictionary at 2007 sessions of IYM(C)
August 9, 2007
One evening during this year's annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), a group of Friends gathered for games of all sorts--card games, board games, and even Friendly made-up games.
One such game I was introduced to is called Telephone Pictionary, which emerged (as I understood it) out of Yahara Friends (currently Preparative) Meeting.
You might readily imagine the two major components of the game:
1. Something having to do with passing a message from one person to the next, to see if you end up with the same message with which you started (Telephone); and
2. Something having to do with drawing a picture that represents an object and hoping that another person guesses what it is you are drawing (Pictionary).
I think the group had eight or nine Friends, all seated around a long table. We tore up MANY blank pieces of paper, which were divided into small stacks for each of us, and everyone found a pen or pencil to use. Then we were given the instruction to think of a common phrase, a popular saying, a proverb, a short Bible verse.
Each of us then wrote whatever the phrase or saying was on our own sheet of paper, turned it upside down, and passed it one person to the left, so everyone had their right-hand neighbor's paper.
Then we turned over the paper we had just received, read what was there, turned it back over so others couldn't see it, grabbed another blank piece of paper, and proceeded to draw a representation of that phrase, verse, or saying.
When we were done, then we turned our own drawing over, face down on top of the already-face-down quote from our neighbor. And once again we each passed our drawing, resting on top of the original quote, one person to the left, and we each received a new item from our neighbor to the right.
Here's where it gets tricky:
At this point, all the players must be diligent about turning over only the piece of paper that rests on TOP of the mini-pile that is passed to them. No fair peeking at the other pieces of paper!
Next, each player is required to look at the drawing that their right-hand neighbor had just sketched (based on the original phrase from two neighbors down) and write a phrase that they think the drawing represents.
And of course when done, turn the paper with the drawing over, and then place the newly written guessed-at phrase upside-down on the pile as well. Pass all mini-piles one person to the left; receive a new mini-pile from your right-hand neighbor.
So the rhythm of the game should be:
WRITE PHRASE - flip over - pass along/receiveThe game continues until all the mini-piles have made a complete circle and end up where they began. (Actually, you can stop whenever you are ready for what I call The Reveal. Just be sure that the piles end up with the originator of the phrase.)
Look at phrase - DRAW - flip over - pass along/receive
Look at drawing - flip over - WRITE PHRASE - flip over - pass/receive
Look at new phrase - flip over- DRAW - flip over - pass/receive
Look at new drawing - flip over - WRITE - flip over - pass/receive
For the "reveal," it's fun for everyone to turn over her or his own pile at the same time, first looking at the end result and then taking a minute to look over the progression that occurred, from phrase to drawing to phrase... Then be sure to take turns, one person at a time, showing everyone else the progression from how things started to how things ended.
My own contribution and its related sequence started and ended like this:
START: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
FINISH: The presence in our midst.
In-between were beautiful drawings of an oblong figure sitting atop some high-up structure. But by the end, the drawings became less egg-like and more... ambiguous. So did the structure. Hence the end result.
The beauty of the game rests in a number of aspects:
1. Children and adults can play together. There is very little set-up involved and very few rules.
2. There is no upper limit as to how many can play, because the game can stop at any point. Just return the mini-piles of paper to the correct person when you stop!
3. Everyone is engaged all the time.
4. If a player doesn't like to draw, she or he doesn't have to draw all the time. Alternately, if a player doesn't like to guess at words, she or he doesn't have to do that all the time.
5. There are no losers.
6. There is much laughter.
I can't wait to share this game at the next party I go to!
P.S. While doing a search for "Telephone" and "Pictionary," I came upon an actual link to this very game (though it goes by a variety of other names, it turns out). And here I thought Wisconsin Friends had really hit on something unique!
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
Iowa Conservative Sessions 2007: Part I; Part II; and Part III: Marshall Massey
August 8, 2007
This summer was the third consecutive year I attended the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Though my membership is at a monthly meeting where I am still active and which is a part of Northern Yearly Meeting, and though the worship group where I also worship remains unaffiliated currently, my spiritual affinity continues among Conservative Friends.
Whether it is because I am that much more familiar with how things are done at IYM(C), or because I have had a particularly busy summer, or because of something else entirely, I found this year's sessions to be even-keeled. I had no "Wow, cool!" moments as I have had the other two years, but neither have I had any disillusioning "Eew, yuck!" moments. Maybe that accounts for my slowness to blog about my experiences, and for having a series of "tidbits" to offer.
TIDBITSAn invitation. The evening I had arrived, I sat underneath the large tree around which a circular bench was built any number of years ago. I was chatting with a Friend who I had seen at sessions the other two years and whose parents were long-time attenders of the yearly meeting. One of the Friends who helps arrange for and carry out the sessions this year approached the two of us from behind, put a hand on our shoulders, and said, "How would you both like to serve on the Exercise Committee?"
Here's Iowa's practice: Every year during annual sessions, the Yearly Meeting appoints an Exercise Committee to record the vocal ministry that arises during times of waiting worship as well as during Meetings for Worship with attention to Business--should something arise during business session that feels like spiritual counsel to the body. The committee gathers from time to time during sessions to compare notes on what was said and what the sense was of what the Spirit was intending for the body--how the body is exercised by the Spirit. Or such is my understanding, anyway.
Jeff and I looked at each other and shrugged. Jeff was quick to say, "Sure, I can do that." At first I added my own, "Sure." Then a half-beat later, before the Friend released her hand from our shoulders, I asked, "Is there any concern that I'm not affiliated with the yearly meeting?"
The Friend stood upright and said with a smile, "Liz, anyone can hear the Voice of God!"
It was just the right sort of committee to start to get involved in the life of the yearly meeting: I got to know a handful of Friends a bit better through the committee service, and I knew the work was completely done by the time yearly meeting ended!
Reminders of our roots. As we moved from our opening worship on Fourth Day and moved into the taking up of the business of the yearly meeting, the assistant clerk read this quote from William Penn's Primitive Christianity Revived:
That which the people called Quakers lay down as a main fundamental in religion is this— That God, through Christ, hath placed a principle in every man, to inform him of his duty, and to enable him to do it; and that those that live up to this principle are the people of God, and those that live in disobedience to it, are not God's people, whatever name they may bear, or profession they may make of religion. This is their ancient, first, and standing testimony: with this they began, and this they bore, and do bear to the world.I was struck to hear that the "main fundamental" is that God "[has] placed a principle in [us]" which we strive to to live up to--and that this is in fact the "ancient, first, and standing testimony" from which the Quaker faith and the other testimonies among Friends emerge.
Hearing these words was one of those times when I realized that I knew something experientially, intuitively, and viscerally--that the basis of all Friends' testimonies are an outgrowth of this single one--before I understood that there were already words out there that described my own understanding.
Then there was this additional quote, lifted up another time during MfWfB, and also by William Penn:
"A good End cannot sanctify evil Means; nor must we ever do Evil, that Good may come of it.”We were reminded of this quote when the yearly meeting considered approving a minute that supported the work of the Quaker Initiative to End Torture (QUIT), when Friends were wrestling with the intention of the minute, which in part to say that it is never right to use torture, regardless of the end result (e.g. acquiring information that is deemed "necessary").
A third time when I was struck by the call to remember some of our early roots was when the yearly meeting again took up the question of responding to immigration in the U.S. (see my 2006 IYMC post, about halfway down).
This year's report from the Peace and Social Concerns Committee--which meets everyday during sessions--lifted up as example how John Woolman stepped out of the existing paradigm of slavery in order to call Friends to work towards abolition. The committee called on the yearly meeting to step outside of the existing paradigm of whether to regulate or legalize immigration and work towards fulfilling a vision in which all people live into a decent life, and all nations have trade policies that would in effect help bring that vision to fruition.
Of course, words remain words unless and until the actions of the individual and of the body come into play. Still, I consider important and relevant the step of finding the words that clearly express the burden we carry, the vision we hold, the yearnings we feel.
And I won't be surprised at all if in 2008 the yearly meeting hears again from the Peace and Social Concerns Committee on this or related issues.
NEXT UP: Impact of epistles; a summary of Marshall Massey's accounting to the yearly meeting; a few other things, perhaps.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
Iowa Conservative Sessions 2007: Part II and Part III: Marshall Massey
Learning the game Telephone Pictionary at 2007 sessions of IYM(C)