February 28, 2008

Wrestling with my own classism

FULL DISCLOSURE: I had shown a near-final draft of this post to Jeanne before posting it here.
One thing I am scared to tell you about myself is how much I feel like I don't "get" classism.

I say this because of risks I have taken in comments I have made on the Quakers & Social Class blog--a blog written by my own partner--and how my comments there and elsewhere have been met with difficult things for me to read and receive.

In my own case, I felt like I had started to see a bit of the L/light about class(ism) based on things that I had been told or had read about at home. For example, I now understand that not all public education was carried out the same as my upper-middle class education was, which was very much about critical thinking and learning about the process of analyzing and problem-solving.

It turns out that apparently not all of my peers were taught to think and problem-solve like I was: a number of my peers from low-income and working class neighborhoods were apparently instructed only to work to get the right answer, not to learn about how to think a problem through in order to consider what the answers might be.

So when I wrote a comment that later would be excerpted and appear on the Social Class blog, and then pointed to as an example of classism, I was a bit horrified:

I thought I had integrated a new understanding of institutional or systemic classism, and yet the hypothetical I had lifted up could be taken as classist itself.

What had I said? What had I done wrong?

It all reminds me of the time when my closest Deaf friend told me, in no uncertain terms told me:
What?!? Me, an oppressor? Me, who was near fluent in American Sign Language and was sought after as an interpreter by the Deaf community?

I knew intuitively to accept as valid that person's perspective and then do the personal work of looking for the Truth that existed in that finger-pointing.

While I am completely baffled at times by Jeanne's public and private pointing at my classism, I find myself taking deep breaths, scratching my head in confusion, and beginning (or resisting to begin!) the hard work of learning about classism as another form of oppression.

Another thing I'm reluctant to tell you is, as one of the contributors to QuakerQuaker, I struggle with deciding whether or not to add certain posts to it, especially posts that are about class or race that are offshoots of original posts and are from the same blog.

Some of these "secondary posts" don't seem to have the same oomph as the original, yet I worry about perceptions:
What does it mean when those additional posts don't appear on QuakerQuaker? What perceptions are out there as a result of the absence of those posts' listings?
While it's in my power as a contributor to QuakerQuaker to "protect" readers and commenters who might be stung or made uncomfortable, as I was, by some of these blog exchanges by excluding "ouchy posts" from QuakerQuaker, I must ask myself, is it my place?

Is it my own classism that leads to an unintended sense of power, of what personal authority I think I have when deciding what to identify for QQ?

Inwardly, I hear the soft whisper:
In fact, writing those very words about real and perceived power have now reminded me about an important book I read long, long ago: Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

It is this element--power over as compared to power with--that over the years has helped me begin to grasp institutional oppression--and it is an element that I think comes from the book's Brazilian author, Paulo Freire.

I'm going to sign off and give QuakerBooks a call: I think I need to have this book on my bookshelf and give it another look.


February 25, 2008

Panel discussion: Living Our Leadings

This past Saturday, I participated on a panel of Friends to talk about our experience of living with and receiving support for being faithful to a leading or concern we had come under the weight of.

The evening was described this way:

PURPOSE: To make transparent a Quaker process that is often invisible to the community, as well as to learn a bit of how the Spirit has been moving within and among Friends within the meeting.

Panelists will share their experiences of testing a leading, struggling to stay faithful to God’s call, dealing with their own humanness, and receiving support from an ongoing committee of elders.
With the help of a facilitator, the panel had a chance to share with the wider meeting community the tenderness, vulnerability, intimacy, and challenge of working with an ongoing care-and-accountability committee (a.k.a. "committee of elders" or "anchor committees").

Among us were a young adult Friend who is coming into a ministry of listening to plants, trees, and other parts of Creation; an older Friend who, for about 15 years, has been providing public ministry through workshops and presentations to Friends; a 50-something Friend who has a concern for the Earth and sees himself as a Gaia troubador; another 50-something Friend who has been leading workshops in the meeting about historical Quakers and spiritual formation; and myself, 40-something, carrying a concern for how we convey our faith and sustain our identity as Friends.

We covered a wide range of topics, including:
  • the struggle to name and be birthed into the leading or concern we were each given;

  • the process of seeking and receiving support from the meeting to be faithful to God's call;

  • the gifts and ministries that we are bringing forward are in fact gifts and ministries that belong to the community and not to any individual, per se;

  • the feeling that those of us on the panel are no different from those who were sitting in front of the panel; and

  • the experience of being brought low and facing our humanness over the course of working with our committees.
  • Five or ten minutes before the panel was to get started, there were about 10-12 other Friends already gathered, but by the end of the evening, there were probably 35-40 people who attended, including some of the most senior members of the meeting, some of the newest attenders, and at least one friend-of-Friends who had never been to a meeting for worship.

    No one really expected such a good turnout for a Saturday night in late February, and a number of Friends I spoke with afterward told me and other panelists how rich and moving they found the experience.

    The idea for such a panel came in what now seems like a momentary eruption of the Spirit, one afternoon when I was meeting with my own care-and-accountability committee late last fall.

    I was in a bit of a rant about my own frustration that I knew there were other committees going on within the meeting, and that other Friends were struggling to live into their leadings and be obedient to God's call. But since the meeting as a body never hears reports from these ongoing committees--presumably for the sake of maintaining confidentiality--there is no way for the meeting to know how the Spirit is moving among us, corporately, let alone how our individual lives, concerns, and leadings might be intertwined.

    For example, in the years leading up to this event, I had been puzzled, confused, and even angry to find out through channels other than the meeting about one Friend in particular who travels one or more times a year across the country as a sought-after workshop leader and speaker.

    Though the travel itself and the sharing of gifts in this way is something I am easy with, it is the lack of corporate process and corporate accountability that concerns me: the Friend's name is attached to the monthly meeting while traveling (e.g. in flyers, brochures, etc.), yet the monthly meeting hasn't received endorsed letters of travel, reports from the Friend's committee of elders, etc.

    My own belief is that if the meeting were to hear reports of how this Friend is being used and transformed by the Spirit through his encounters with other Friends, perhaps the meeting itself would invite Friends from beyond our own meeting to share their experience with us and grow into other areas that cannot be foreseen when we "keep to ourselves."

    (I have spoken directly with this Friend about all of this, by the way.)

    Anyway, during my rant with my own committee about all this, I think I probably blurted out something like, "I know I'm not the only one who has this sort of committee going on, and I think it robs the meeting of a chance to learn how the Spirit might be working through us! Can't we set up something like an event where there'd be a panel of Friends who have been doing this for some time... and let them share their experience?"

    And what did my committee say...?

    Great idea! Do it!

    It nearly was as simple as that, and so the faciliator and panelists were identified and the announcements went out and the people came.

    Back to the panel:

    One of the things that struck me was how varied our experience had been about getting involved with an ongoing committee. For a couple of us, it was because an individual had spoken up and had said, "You need to ask M&C for a committee."

    For another one of us, it was because one or two Friends had offered simply to begin meeting with the person, and only later were those monthly get-togethers recognized as a committee of elders.

    For myself, it was because a few years earlier, in a meeting I was visiting, I had been invited to sit in on and observe another fFriends' care-and-accountability committee, and that experience planted a seed in me that such support was possible. Shortly after that, I sought a clearness committee from my own meeting to help me test the veracity of a concern was carrying, which in turn led to being appointed an ongoing committee of my own.

    I don't remember the questions we were asked, but I do remember that the whole evening was conducted in a worshipful frame, with pauses between speakers and between questions.

    I remember how most of us touched on the theme of our lives becoming turned upside down in order to accommodate the leading, especially if the leading seemed to be a red herring, with Friends and family wondering how they could have felt so clearly led and have things seemingly go so terribly wrong.

    When a Friend asked how any of us have "matured" as a result of having an ongoing committee to help us in this part of the journey, I remember speaking to the fact that in my experience, there is a different sort of joy that comes from being well-used in service to the Spirit. There is a joy that comes from being faithful and obedient, despite the difficulty of doing so at times.

    I added that I feel I also have grown in my capacity to be obedient, in that I believe we are given small and frequent opportunities to be faithful to how God directs us, like when we're driving home from somewhere and we have a nudge to go to the grocery store. It's easy to ignore those nudges--after all, weren't we planning to go to the store in another day or two, why go now? But it may also be that as we are faithful to yielding to the small nudges, we are being prepared to receive and yield to the larger ones.

    God knows that we humans need lots of practice!

    In closing, I want to acknowledge that the seed of the idea to have this panel has to do with the Quaker Heritage Day that Robin and others have written about. In some ways, having a format that didn't fit into a predictable one allowed the plan for the evening to be developed outside of the meeting's committee structure--which at times can simply talk or "discern" a good thing to death.

    I heard a few folks say they are hopeful that something else like this panel can be provided in the future. My sense is that the panel was well received because this sort of event speaks to a yearning that long-time attenders and dedicated members have, about their knowing there is more to Quakerism than meets the eye... and somehow Quakerism 101 and hour-long adult education programs don't address that yearning adequately.

    Now that the panel is behind me, I'll be awaiting any new nudges--or rants--that might make themselves known to me!


    February 8, 2008

    2008 Midyear Meeting at Iowa Conservative

    I am excited by this year's presenter at the Midyear Meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)! Callie Marsh is the presenter and she's a friend of mine.

    The topic she'll be addressing, in three separate sessions, is:

    Stand Still in the Light: How the Light Can Do Its Work Within Us.
    In Callie's short bio, it says that Callie is writing about how IYM(C) is a Conservative Meeting, which of course is right up my alley!

    In recent years, I've attended several of the annual sessions and midyear meetings of IYMC. While the annual sessions focus on addressing the business of the yearly meeting and allows for concurrent committee sessions--and a bit of fellowship and singing--IYMC's Midyear Meeting brings in a Friend to explore a topic in depth in a workshop or presentation format. I'd say about as many Friends from the yearly meeting come to Midyear Meeting as they do for annual sessions, maybe about 100 or so.

    Also, IYMC alternates the speaker each year, with one year bringing in a Friend from within the yearly meeting, like Deborah Fisch in 2005(?); and the next year bringing in a Friend from beyond the yearly meeting, like Paul Buckley in 2006.

    I'm already making plans to attend and I hope a few others from my neck of the city and from the worship group will join me, April 12-13, 2008.


    February 6, 2008

    Updating the Quaker Oats guy!

    I've been chuckling to myself while reading some of the comments on Robin's post about window signs in her meetinghouse.

    The comments in particular that have me chuckling are about references to the Quaker Oats guy, because for about two weeks now, I have been wondering if today's Friends might somehow rebuke Quaker Oats by designing a contest for Friends and submitting new designs of the outdated logo.

    I really think we could do this!

    Get the newspapers and television media involved, announcing the contest and "taking on" the Quaker Oats company... Get kids involved... Get whole meetings involved, and even reach beyond our schisms to get all of the Religious Society of Friends involved!

    I'm giddy just thinking about it. And wouldn't it be nice to have a way to reflect the global Religious Society of Friends more accurately in today's times?

    Here are a few ideas off the top of my unbonneted head:

  • A group "photo" [sketch] of headshots, but of modern, diverse Friends, in a similar artistic style as the original, wearing our khakis, jeans, simple dresses--and large brimmed hats, of course!--with the ol' Quaker Oats guy mixed in (maybe standing in the back?)

  • The famous "Presence in the Midst" painting, but with Quaker Oats guy as Jesus (is that sacrilegious?)

  • Same image as the original "Presence in the Midst," in the same style as the original, but with the worshipers in khakis, blue jeans, simple dresses, etc.

  • Have a different Quaker Oats guy or gal on the different products, and change up the faces from time to time, like the classic Wheaties boxes
  • Please feel free to share your own ideas on how to get this iconic figure updated. For those who have capabilities of scanning and posting their own artistic "entries" on their blog, please go ahead and do that, and be sure to link back here and let us know about it!

    Omigosh, I can hardly keep from chuckling, just thinking about the possibilities!

    And I'll add that what really put me over the edge with this idea was the other day when I saw an ad for a product that Quaker Oats has out, and the ad included kids--kids who weren't white! And it felt like such a mockery to me, that there was ol' Mr (Master?) Quaker White Guy, beaming at the kids from his cardboard pedestal.

    I thought to myself: THAT has GOT to change.


    Second Month 2008 - While doing a search for other items related to this post and a few of the early comments, I came across this 2007 post from a Latino blogger, who shares a similar concern that I have about the presence of the Quaker Oats guy in an ad that features children of color.

    February 1, 2008

    Breaking bread at a mixed wedding

    Over on Aj Schwanz's blog, she's written a post about Quakers, symbols, and communion--with a dash of consumerism thrown in, too.

    I left a comment there but wanted to expand it a bit further.

    Aj's post reminds me of a "mixed wedding" I went to a few years ago, where one partner of the couple was very active as a Quaker and the other was very active in the United Church of Christ (UCC).

    I didn't mind the initial rituals that were leading up to the Quaker part of the wedding--the Meeting for Worship--given the one partner's religious practice... but where the rubber really met the road for me was when the person presiding over the programmed part of the afternoon--a UCC minister?--invited all of the attenders to "break bread" and participate in a form of expanded or secularized communion.

    Before offering the communion, there was a long and careful explanation of what the couple's intention was in offering this breaking of bread, as well as a carefully worded statement that it would be okay if Quakers didn't didn't participate.

    I watched Quaker after Quaker rise to receive the bread and drink, along with family members and other friends of the couple. And I sank further and further into my chair, wishing that my own sweetie could have been sitting next to me to confer with, rather than being off in the reception hall, setting things up as part of the arrangements committee...

    Granted, I knew that many of these Friends who were approaching the front had had a Christian upbringing--Lutheran, Methodist, etc. And I believed that many of these Friends accepted the intention of the ritual, feeling in their hearts they could lay their concerns aside ("Quakers don't do this, but the couple is inviting us to join them in this sacred act, so I shall honor their request").

    But in the end, I just couldn't join in. A lot of it was because I had had a Jewish upbringing, not a Christian one. But I also flashed on Woolman's experience with Native Americans and still found no comfort or instruction there for myself in my current situation.

    In the last few moments when the ceremony was wrapping up, I understood that it didn't matter to God what I did; that the couple would know my love for them, regardless.

    And I knew that God already accepted me, whether I broke bread or not: I was already Loved.

    So, since I couldn't resolve the inner conflict I was experiencing at the time, and since Quakers avoid taking action when they are not clear, I stayed in my seat and fell into worship for a few moments. It was one of the most difficult things I've had to do among Friends.

    Those who know me know that I often worry that my deep regard for Quaker tradition and practice--including the stripping away of empty forms in order to keep a clear path between ourselves and God--sets me apart from many others. But recently I shared with a committee on which I serve that as a Quaker, I'm not called to be faithful to other Friends in the meeting:

    I am called to be faithful to how God leads me, and I seek support from Friends in the community to help me in my faithfulness and obedience.

    Often, rituals or not, it's the only way I know how to be me, deeply.


    My posts about FGC Gatherings

    Since I've switched formats for The Good Raised Up, I've had to relocate certain items, including the links to the posts I've written about the annual summer Gathering of Friends General Conference.

    The original posts and their corresponding links are below.


    Blacksburg, Virginia

    Initial reflections
    Quaker identity workshop, Part I
    Quaker identity workshop, Part II
    Young Friends
    Marriage equality witness

    Tacoma, Washington

    Interest group: On Fire!
    After the Gathering
    Freedom Friends at Gathering

    River Falls, Wisconsin

    A fragrance-free Gathering?
    Workshop evaluation: Being a Servant
    Meetinghouse with two doors
    An unexpected meet-up
    ...But who is my family?
    Workshop selection process

    Johnstown, Pennsylvania

    Jan Hoffman; return to volleyball
    Convergent Friends interest group; Faith & Play


    The webpage of the current year's Gathering
    The homepage of Friends General Conference