July 24, 2007

Gospel order and traveling to Iowa (again!)

As I continue to work on at least one more post related to FGC's 2007 Gathering, I interrupt that thread so I can prepare to head to Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s annual sessions.

This year, though, it seemed that the closer the trip became, the more doubt was cast on whether or not I was truly clear to travel.

First, a minor health concern emerged for my partner (it's since cleared up). Then, a week before I was to leave for Iowa, a significant concern arose for the monthly meeting that perhaps would have implications for its Ministry & Counsel Committee, on which I serve and which is meeting later this week.

I am not in a place to go into detail about what the concern is but I may return to that question after the minutes are made available. What I'm grateful for, though, is the clearness that came when I was sitting in Meeting for Worship, opening myself for Guidance as to how to respond to the emerging concerns for the meeting and for M&C, and whether or not I would be released to travel.

Here's part of an email I sent to my care-and-accountability committee:

I wanted you to know that I am in fact headed to Iowa this week and leave in just a short while today. Clearness to travel for Iowa Conservative's sessions came primarily during early worship this past First Day, when I found myself reflecting on what Gospel Order means: re-ordering our lives around God, God's will, and God's Love.

And I began considering what that looks like for me at this point in time, especially when considering what M&C has on its plate and what [the meeting] was going to be considering at its business session that afternoon.

As I was beginning to settle into the initial clearness that heading to Iowa's annual sessions would help me return to God-at-the-Center, Paul L rose and offered vocal ministry about "re-Orienting" ourselves: turning ourselves in such a way that Jerusalem, the City of God, would become the internal compass by which/toward which we would steer.

Since then, the clearness to travel has only felt more true.
I had been hoping to speak with Paul at the rise of worship, to let him know how the ministry he offered spoke to my condition... but the "rise of worship," which includes introductions, took much longer than usual, and a Friend had summoned me out of the meetingroom before I had the chance to approach Paul.

So it goes.

And perhaps I will be able to write a bit about IYM(C) after I return, God willing.


P.S. It is not lost on me that a good many posts have come and gone within the Quaker blogosphere that I have not commented on, let alone read! Though the Gathering has ended, my responsibilities to FGC have not. I hope to have time in August to have a major push for catching up!

P.P.S. I recently found my long-lost copy of Sandra Cronk's pamphlet, Gospel Order. Certainly NOT a coincidence!

July 17, 2007

...But who is my family?

This post is based on a message I had been carrying for a number of days leading up to the FGC Gathering. I felt an opening and offered it during Meeting for Worship held under the care of Friends for LGBTQ Concerns on Friday that week. -Liz
Y'know how sometimes you are given a message and it stays with you for awhile before Way opens and you feel the nudge to speak it during Meeting for Worship...?

For about a year now, I have been serving on the Gathering Committee to help prepare the Gathering this year. And the theme has been, "...But who is my neighbor?"

Ever since the committee came under the weight of that theme last year, it has been working on me and changing me. As the Gathering has approached, I found myself living into a different question. It changed from "...But who is my neighbor?" to "...But who is my family?"

I think of my own "little-f" family. It's not that mine is a perfect family or a family that has been easy to love. But in the sense that we are all part of the "big-F" Family, we are all called to love one another, as part of God's family.

. . . . . . . .

Sometimes my partner and I get into these little discussions about just which one of us is the Center of the Universe. And recently as we were having at it one more time, I joked that clearly the word "universe" is wrong: that it really should be the ME-niverse, because the U-niverse is all about YOU, but the ME-niverse is all about ME.

We had been joking back and forth about that for some time, but earlier this week during Gathering, I found out something new about the YOU-niverse and the ME-niverse.

After a very long and tiring day, I was rewarded by coming across a table in the dining room filled with people I love who I didn't know knew each other. I joined them and we started talking excitedly about how we each knew one another and what was going on for each of us.

Soon I was telling them of course I had stumbled across this wonderful table because after all, I was the center of all things, and that in fact the word "universe" was a misnomer: The correct word should be the ME-niverse, not the YOU-niverse, because the YOU-niverse is all about you and the ME-niverse is all about me.

We laughed about that, and then suddenly, we hit on a new word, recognizing that all of us had something to do with having found each other that evening at just that moment:
The WE-niverse.

July 13, 2007

An unexpected meet-up at Gathering

FGC's Gathering is sometimes talked about as being a sort of greenhouse or hothouse, where you are opened by the Spirit, where you feel things more deeply. You get close with folks you normally wouldn't have time for, and you are exposed to intense ideas and conversations that can either light you up or burn you out.

In one case in particular, I would say I was lit up.

A long time ago, at my first and second Gatherings (1995 - Kalamazoo, Michigan; 1996 - Hamilton, Ontario if you're keeping track), I spent a lot of my free time playing volleyball with Friends I met while there. We so loved playing with one another: we called each other out into our best selves, both as recreational volleyball players and as members of a small spiritual fellowship. Some of us thought of it as Meeting for Worship for Volleyball.

Among the Friends on the volleyball court was BaM. Her smile was infectious and her care for each person there was deep and genuine. When BaM stopped coming to Gathering, I missed her sorely. My volleyball playing stopped a year or two later, for different reasons.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

About seven years ago, I resisted the nudge to attend yearly meeting for the first time. But God pushed me out of bed early on a Saturday morning and directed me to the site. I stood around wondering why God had brought me here--to River Falls, Wisconsin of all places!--and then I spotted a young girl, about five or six years old, standing alone and sullen in the midst of a room full of buzz and activity.

I approached her, gave her my name, and asked if she would play with me. She did, and soon she was telling me about how sad she was that her family had moved and now she would be in a different school and she'd miss her friends.

I listened carefully and soon enough we went back to playing. Then it was time to come together as a big group again, and I worried about what the girl's parents might think of their daughter playing with a stranger. It was, after all, my first yearly meeting experience and I didn't know what to expect. So I was relieved when the father smiled at me and asked his daughter, MC, if she had had a good time.

She eventually told her dad what she had told me, and I offered to be in touch over the summer, which delighted MC to no end. That was the beginning of a dear friendship, one which still goes on today, even if we see each other only at yearly meeting sessions and at Gatherings.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Serving as clerk of the Workshops Committee this year for Gathering, the first few days and nights of were hectic and tiring.

After a particularly long and tense Monday, the next day was also busy and with 40 minutes to spare for dinner and preparation for Tuesday night's interest group, I made my way into the quietest part of the big dining hall with my tray. "If I tuck myself way in the corner, I might be able to have a quiet dinner and calm down a bit," I thought to myself.

God had other plans, of course.

I saw a table that had familiar faces at it, but something was out of place: Why were BaM and MC sitting together, looking so happy and chummy?

Wait, what??? BaM and MC!?!

Now, I had already seen BaM earlier in the week, which was just a great delight; and I had also already seen MC and her family, which was very tender and sweet too.

But this, this was a combination that would not have occurred to me, and yet there they were, BaM and MC, now thirteen, smiling and laughing with each other, clearly friends. MC's older sister and BaM's mother were also there, as joyfully connected as MC and BaM.

And there was an empty seat at the table, with my name on it.

I joined BaM and MC with a rather loud and obnoxious, "Now how is THIS possible, that you two--two of my most favorite people who I've seen at this Gathering--know each other?!?"

And they replied in equal astonishment and exuberance, "How do YOU know each other?!?"

All of us immediately fell into a round of hearty hugs and excited explanations, and we were full-up with the Joy of the Great Giver.


July 11, 2007

The meetinghouse with two doors

During the week of FGC's Gathering in River Falls, it was rare for me to be able to attend any afternoon event, especially early in the week when there were a number of workshop-related campfires to put out. I say "campfires" because they were very manageable and contained, but should not have been left burning for too long.

On Monday of the Gathering, I attended a brief presentation by Michael Wajda ("WHY-dah") and Deborah Fisch, both of whom I consider dear personal friends. Michael is the author of the Pendle Hill pamphlet, Expectant Waiting: Finding God's Thread of Guidance; and Deborah's talk, given for the 2006 Weed Lecture, was recorded, transcribed, and printed as the pamphlet, Being Faithful as Friends: Individually and Corporately.

Both Deborah and Michael are very good storytellers. That is, they have many experiences and personal stories that they lift up to illustrate their lives and struggles as Friends. And they tell a good story well. Plus, their delight in God and their joy in sharing their delight was in turn a delight for me to witness.

After the hour, though, and now more than a week later, there has been one image and one question that still lingers with me from that afternoon.

Michael had placed a large piece of paper behind him, and on it was a very simple but large drawing of a house--the kind of house a child might draw: a roof line, the outer walls, a few squares for windows, a rectangle for a door.

But in Michael's drawing--a typical meetinghouse, he explained--there are two doors, with a sign over each. Over the first door is a sign that says "Meeting for Worship." Over the second door is a sign that says "Meeting for Good Ideas."

The question Michael asked is,

Which meetinghouse door do we usually walk through in our meetings?

July 8, 2007

Workshop Evaluation:
Being A Servant

NOTE: My long blog silence is attributed to the service I was doing for the Workshops Committee in preparation for FGC's 2007 Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin.

What follows below is the evaluation of the quote-unquote "workshop" I seemed to have been given by the Spirit as the week of Gathering played out. What I came to know as "my workshop" was, it turned out, a series of assignments that God was giving me--to support Friends through unexpected events, to be faithful despite my own tiredness, etc.

I hope to write other posts about specific events and topics--the interest group with Robin M and myself; God's reward after a long day of faithful service; the YOUniverse, the MEniverse, and more--as time goes on. -Liz

Workshop Evaluation - Gathering of Friends 2007

Participant's Name . . . Liz Opp
Workshop # . . . ALL... and none at all
Title . . . Being a Servant*
Workshop Leader . . . God

*not offered among the general listings of workshops.

For numbers 1-8, please answer YES or NO.

1. Did the workshop cover the topics that you expected?
comment: The topics were very unpredictable!

2. Did the workshop stick to the subject?
comment: It changed every day.

3. Was the workshop a safe place for you to share?

4. Was the workshop spiritually nurturing?
YES and NO
comment: "Nurturing" is not the word I would use!

5. Was the workshop fun and/or interesting?
YES and NO
comment: FUN? unsure ...INTERESTING? YES

6. Was the Advance Program description accurate?
(left blank)
comment: What Advance Program description?!?

7. Did you use the information posted on the website in making a workshop selection?
(left blank)
comment: God doesn't seem to give long descriptions.

8. If you used the website, was the information helpful?

For questions #9-13, please answer using ALWAYS, SOMETIMES, or NOT AT ALL.

9. Was the quality of worship within the workshop appropriate?

10. Was the leader prepared and knowledgeable?

11. Was the leader appropriately flexible?

12. Did the leader interact well with the group?
WHAT GROUP?! If you mean "participant," the answer is SOMETIMES

13. Did the material speak to your condition?
ALWAYS, but I usually understood that too late to appreciate it in the moment.

Questions 14-17 are multiple choice.

14. To what extent was the amount of worship and/or worship-sharing in the workshop appropriate for you?
__ Not enough
XX About right
__ Too much

15. How much daily worship and/or worship-sharing do you expect in a workshop?
__ Less than 20 minutes
__ 20-40 minutes
__ More than 40 minutes
What?!? With this sort of workshop, when am I NOT in worship?!?

16. Would you recommend this workshop to a Friend if it was offered again at a future Gathering?
__ Yes
__ No
Only with a strong caution about what the Friend might be getting into!

17. Is this leader skilled enough so that you would take another workshop offered by him/her, if the topic were of interest?
XX Yes but I think what this question really is asking is if I would take another ASSIGNMENT from this leader!
__ No

For questions #19-27, please answer with a short comment.

19. Comment on the workshop leader.
Good assignments, but I could have used more direction!

20. What was the best thing that happened during the workshop?
Seeing the fruits of my faithfulness.

21. What, if anything, troubled you about the workshop?
Some group members were not cooperative in the assignments.

22. Were there ways that the workshop did not meet your expectations?
I'm learning to let go of my expectations with this leader.

23. If there was a guest speaker, field trip, video, or some other "special event," please comment on it.
The "listening session assignment" was particularly powerful--but only because it seemed to have turned out satisfactorily for everyone.

24. What new skill, knowledge, or understanding will you take home from this workshop?
That when I yield to the call and be of service, the workshop leader takes advantage of me and knows how to put me to work!

25. How has this workshop affected you as a Friend?
I have been given a strong reminder that being of service can bring unforeseen joy and energy.

26. What other comments do you have for the workshop leader?
Thanks for the helpers you sent my way, for speaking clearly, and for giving me just enough sleep!