August 8, 2008

Iowa Conservative sessions 2008, Part I

The very last night of the 131st annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative (IYMC), a Friend said to me:

So if Iowa Friends hold that when we come to worship, we can expect that we'll be changed by the Spirit, how would you say you've been changed this year at sessions, Liz?
The question caught me by surprise: It's not every day, even among Friends, when I am asked such a direct question about the movement of the Spirit in my right-here, right-now life!

Nevertheless, each year that I've come to these sessions, there has been a gentle readiness during the course of the week for many, many Friends to share with one another of how the Spirit has moved in our spiritual lives and in our meetings.

This Friend's query still works at me, even several days after I've been returned to my home.

Junior Yearly Meeting

Junior Yearly Meeting, or JYM, is made up of most of the youngest Friends who attend annual sessions.

Each year, many of these young Friends have a chance to share a report or epistle with the yearly meeting about their activities. And each year, the gathered Friends have a chance to respond to the report while the children and the adult Friends who guided them are still in the room.

Many remarked on the joy and presence of the children, and added their genuine appreciation for the report and for the adults who coordinated JYM this year. I felt the rising of a comment, but not to the level of a nudge to share it. In the end, it became a reflection for me during the remainder of sessions and for these past few days:

Neither of the adults who helped this small group were themselves parents of any of the children. The same was true of many if not all of the previous years, as well as for the adults who guide the high school group.

This year, I realized that my own prompting from a couple of years ago to stretch myself within my worship group and provide childcare for the handful of children we have there, was an unconscious but direct result of having seen non-parents step in during Iowa's JYM.

Granted, I had to make known my "child-phobia" as I called it, and I had to ask for support initially, namely that I be accompanied by another adult for a time or two. The gift, though, of having spent time with the children when they were just one or two years old has provided an unforeseen joy of being able to connect comfortably with them as they grow older.

It used to be that I felt awkward with reaching across an age gap and make a connection with a young person. Now that I've known our kids for 4 or 5 years, the connection is natural and authentic. And it goes both ways:

During the talent show on the final night, and after her mother had left to put to bed her 4-year-old brother, 7-year-old E from the worship group asked me if I could walk with her to get a glass of water. While she and I were outside on the way from the cooler, she told me she sure hoped that Penny had signed her up to do an act, otherwise she'd be disappointed.

So of course when we got back to the meetinghouse, I found Penny and asked if she had signed up E on the roster. No, she didn't know that E wanted to be signed up... so I slipped a note to the night's emcee, who graciously and effortlessly slipped E into the line-up. E was a real charmer on the stage, and she was delighted to be there!

It's clear to me that that moment never would have occurred if I didn't have my own relationship with E and with the other children of the worship group. E now has her own relationship with me, separate from my relationship with E's parents.

The same is happening with the other five children of our small worship community, and so it is the Spirit changes my heart and casts out a little bit more fear as the days, weeks, and years go by.

By the end of the week, I found myself lightly considering if I might offer myself as a Friendly presence to JYM or to the high school group ("Young Friends") there in the near future.

Addressing emergent concerns in greater Iowa

Earlier this summer, two events occurred in Iowa that captured my attention and made me wonder how IYMC might respond as a yearly meeting.

The first was the tremendous and devastating flooding in central and eastern Iowa, along the Cedar and Iowa Rivers, the Upper Mississippi, and many other rivers and tributaries. In early June, as I listened to the news of towns like Waterloo and Cedar Rapids being evacuated and submerged, I realized those were the very towns through which I'd be driving on my way to sessions. (The photos in the link are pretty telling.)

The other event was the raid in mid-May by Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest undocumented workers at the largest kosher-meat processing plant in the country.

(As I type this part of this post, I find I must pause in my work: I am overcome by the emotions and the stories tied up in these two tragedies--one a natural disaster; the other a human one.)

Perhaps it was the enormity of these two events that seemed to immobilize the yearly meeting, if only for a short while. We did, however, spend much time one afternoon considering a response from the yearly meeting to both items.

The greatest concern around the flooding seemed to focus on Cedar Rapids and the loss of its public library. The library apparently won't be receiving any emergency aid from FEMA, since a library isn't considered a "necessary service."

Other needs in Cedar Rapids were made known, such as the displacement of the entire town's government, many of its non-profit agencies, and schools. There was some consideration of Friends nearby traveling to the area to see for themselves what might be needed. As I recall, I believe the yearly meeting will make contact with Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends United Meeting to see what relief efforts might be underway there.

The yearly meeting's response to what had happened in Postvillle, Iowa seems equally fuzzy to me, though I was impressed by work that a member of Decorah Friends Meeting had done on his own. Bill Deutsch happened to be in the right place at the right time, it seems: he had already been working with the immigrant population in some fashion and was able to provide a report during an interest group of his direct interaction with workers at Agriprocessor who were impacted by the raid.

Bill described how these undocumented workers had been arrested under immigration laws but were prosecuted under federal felony laws for identity theft, since apparently they had been given false social security numbers by their employer. Huge questions remain regarding what happens to the U.S.-born children of families where one parent is detained or deported while the other maybe has no employment or is under what basically amounts to house arrest.

Another Friend from the Iowa Peace Network brought copies of the essay that a Spanish interpreter wrote following his personal and professional experience in Postville--something that the New York Times highlighted as well.

One of the bright spots that Bill brought to us was the good and faithful service of St. Bridget's Church and its corresponding Hispanic Ministry program. The regional AFSC office now has information on its website, including how to support this faith community's much needed work.

When the yearly meeting considered how it too might respond, Friends called for new labor laws and immigration reform that would provide greater protection for these workers. In addition, IYMC approved establishing a task force of sorts, to help track the ongoing events and needs around Postville and its devastated community.

I have mixed feelings about these actions taken. On the one hand, as a corporate body, IYMC spent a good deal of time prayerfully holding these situations and the people involved. On the other hand, I had a sense that we were keeping these situations--and the people involved--somewhat at arm's length.

I think it reflects my own internal struggle, of wanting to "just show up" and see how God might use me, but also wanting to have a clear leading and the support of the body before jumping into a complex situation that I might make worse for my lack of understanding...

UPDATE, 26 Eighth Month 2008:
I've added a separate post that focuses on the minute that was approved that addresses follow-up to the "emergent needs" of greater Iowa.

. . . . . . . . . . .

In my next post, I plan to share about the remarks made by two presenters--Bruce Birchard and John McCutcheon--and about an interest group that was convened on the "spiritual glue" that holds meetings with theological diversity together.



Part II
of my reflections
Micah Bales' post on this year's IYM(C) sessions
Another attender and fellow carpooler Aimee wrote What Would John Woolman Do?
The minute that was approved that addresses follow-up to the "emergent concerns" of greater Iowa


Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

Hi, Liz,
I have nothing very insightful to post here, except to say that i very much appreciate the flavor of this yearly meeting you have given. Mostly, I just wanted to let you know that I'm still reading your posts faithfully, and that I'm glad you're there, writing about places and times and developments in the world of Quakers that would be abstract and unknown to me without your words.

So--thanks. No big thundering revelations or important ideas to share from reading you, but your posts this summer have meant a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that FEMA does not consider a public library a "necessity." That suggests that they might have a dated idea of what libraries do. Today's libraries function more as centers of of a town or city's common good than ever before.

They often provide free computer access (and in a flood situation, this would be key), literacy tutoring, public programs including meeting rooms for public-issue or public committee work, etc. etc. In our own flood situation, meetings to inform people about how to fill out forms or petition for aid (from FEMA, among other things) were sometimes held at libraries.

As a personal note, Liz--while you are discerning your leading to become more involved when disaster strikes (if that is what you were saying), it might be helpful to know that there are usually people on hand who know exactly what needs to be done and would welcome someone with a general urge to help and no clear idea of where she would be most effective. Just showing up and offering to be of service where most needed could provide you with the same kind of inner realizations you received from helping with the children.

I'm not asking or telling you to become involved if you don't feel a great enough urge to do so--but sometimes it works out that not having a plan is actually more helpful to those you are working with.

It sounds to me that you have received quite a blessing from this Yearly Meeting and have a lot to think about.


Liz Opp said...

Cat -

Thanks for your kind words, especially pointing to my "writing about places and times and developments in the world of Quakers that would be abstract and unknown to [you]..."

Since I've been returned from Iowa, I have thought often of how my views of Quakerism are so very different now, not only because of the travels I've done, but also because of the blogs I've read.

I've come to care about Friends I have never met, simply because they have taken a risk and shared a piece of themselves in their writing, as I have.

And because I know something more intimately about Quakers who don't believe like me, talk like me, or worship like me, the family that is Quakerism can no longer stay abstract; the conversation can no longer be theoretical.

Best of all, perhaps, because of how the Spirit works through these experiences, I am growing into a new understanding of what is meant by the phrase "perfect Love."

Many of your posts, Cat, have meant much to me, too.

Cath -

Your own words shift something in me as well: "...there are usually people on hand who know exactly what needs to be done and would welcome someone with a general urge to help and no clear idea of where she would be most effective."

I think I've been needing permission and encouragement to "just show up" and THEN discover how I might be of service.

A lot like the rest of my life, I suppose. smile