December 31, 2009

The core and gestalt of Quakerism

A few weeks ago, a new attender to the worship group was hospitalized and he desperately wanted some of us to bring him some books. I brought him a spare copy I had of Lloyd Lee Wilson's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, in part because he had read on our website that this book was one of the threads that had brought many of us together.

A week or two later, I visited the Friend and he started talking about the book and about the concept of a Quaker gestalt, mentioned in Chapter 2.* When he asked me how I myself would define the Quaker gestalt, I replied something like this:

    I think of a gestalt as something that is bigger than the whole and all of its parts. And when I think about Quakerism, I often think of it as a tapestry.
    The thing is, for many modern Liberal Friends, we think we can pull out one or even a few of the tapestry's threads and still have the pattern or image of the tapestry intact, especially when looking at it from a distance. What I believe, though, is that the interwoven quality of the tapestry, of the Quaker gestalt, is in fact hurt by pulling out any of its threads, by discarding any of its practices, disciplines, or doctrines.
    I also believe that from an outsider's perspective, the tapestry won't look different when a thread is removed. But from the inside, from those long-time Friends who have lived and breathed Quakerism, they have known it deeply and wordlessly as a thing-of-the-whole, and so by changing one thread of the pattern, the whole pattern is changed.
    As for the primary threads that make up the Quaker gestalt, I name them as the immediacy and centrality of God in our lives; the place of corporate worship and meetings for worship for business; the covenant community; and the transformative power of the Inner Light on our individual and corporate lives.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Now that I've typed this out here, I can add some additional thoughts to the initial answer I offered a few days ago.

For one thing, I don't know that the Quaker gestalt is "hurt" as much as it is changed--for better or for worse--when we start pulling out threads of our Quaker tapestry. Clearly, some early outward forms for many of us Quakers have become empty and we've discarded them or otherwise rely on them much less than our predecessors did, such as convening a meeting of elders or wearing plain dress.

Secondly, I continue to acknowledge fairly openly that I was not raised in the Christian tradition and I don't identify as Christian. Yet I certainly acknowledge that Quakerism's Christian roots are also a vital part of Quakerism's tapestry.

I would say in my earlier days among Friends, I yanked the "Quakerism is a part of Christianity" thread pretty hard, insisting that Quakerism could exist just fine without it being Christian. In hindsight, that was my way of saying I felt I belonged and was accepted by my local Quaker community, and it therefore followed that a belief Jesus didn't have to be a requirement for being Quaker.

Nowadays, as a more mature Friend, others have held my feet to the fire, saying that to be Quaker, I have to at least be willing to wrestle with the faith's Christian roots. And I do.

I wrestle with being Quaker while not identifying as Christian. Sometimes I scratch my head in confusion: How did I end up here?! On my better days, I understand it is not a matter of how we name that Loving Principle: it is how we live by it.

I also recognize that the more time I spend with Quakers--in worship and in fellowship--the deeper I sink into the Seed and the more I learn about how the threads of the tapestry are intertwined. Over the years, I seem to understand more deeply and intuitively that when one thread is changed, the whole pattern of the tapestry is intrinsically changed, even if not noticeably so until years or generations later.

It is a lesson I need to revisit from time to time, and another indication that when I think I understand the wholeness and prophetic ministry of Quakerism, I really have so much more to learn.


P.S. As I was crafting this post in my mind, I also was reading Marty Grundy's newest pamphlet, Early Friends & Ministry. In some ways, her review of how Friends' travel in the ministry has changed over the centuries speaks to the historical changes of the gestalt of Quakerism. I hope to write about this pamphlet very soon.

*I include a quote from this chapter about the Quaker gestalt in an earlier post.

December 25, 2009

One hand blogging

I jammed my wrist very badly while shoveling during our holiday snowstorm, making it very tedious to type with my non-dominant hand while I rest my right hand.

There are some things I wish to write about: a conversation I had with a Friend about what makes up the "gestalt" of Quakerism, the upcoming Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theological Conference, and thoughts about open worship and the related discussion going on at QuakerQuaker (click on Forum)...

But it's taxing me to type even this much.

I hope to be back online soon...


December 3, 2009

What I did with the high school teens

A few of you have wondered how things went for me when I met with the high schoolers during their retreat a couple of weeks ago. Below is pretty much the response I gave to one person who asked me "How was it?"

If you were a teen who participated, I hope you'll add your own thoughts and perspective on what it was like.


First off, I mention a teeny bit about how my preparation went (or didn't) in the start of my previous post.

Parts of it fell pretty flat, but other parts went really really well.


1. I'd like to ask a few days before the event how many people were already registered! I had been planning for about 12 teens--and there were 22 of 'em!! The day before the retreat got started, I learned there were 17, so I had a little bit of time to rethink things.

2. I would have liked to have been better prepared to make explicit that if the same person (or persons) frequently wanted to comment, I'll stop inviting that person to speak--and encourage the person (or persons, in this case) to practice some discernment about whether or not that thing needed to be said. But with only a 2-hour timeslot, I didn't recognize the pattern of two of the teens until we were halfway through the morning.

3. I'd take more time--MUCH more time--to talk about how Quakers aren't perfect. I'd like to figure out a way to ask more effectively what gets talked about too much and what doesn't get talked about enough. Maybe I would search for a way to get a few of the teens who were registered to answer this question ahead of time...

4. When I started talking a bit about my own experience about God, some of the teens seemed to tune in and perk up. Wish I had stayed in touch with that energy and pursued it a bit more: how often do they hear about God/Jesus/faith from Quaker adults...?


1. Following the nudges and hunches I had. For example, the teens were still eating breakfast 15 min before we were supposed to start--and they were still in sleeping bags, etc. about 15 min before that! So I ditched my high-energy ice breaker and instead had them do a step-forward exercise. All the questions were about family, since I was going to talk about Quakers and the RSoF as extended family.
  • Who here has a family? (After stepping forward and looking around, then we'd create the line again.)
  • Who has a large extended family?
  • Who doesn't feel like they know their extended family that well?
  • Who feels like they don't fit in with their own family?
  • Who is holding a grudge against someone in their family?
  • Who would want to know their family better, if the opportunity came up?
I also ditched the Four Corners idea I had been thinking about because there were so many chairs in the room, and the open spaces were very spread out.

And I didn't spend a lot of time talking about Convergent Friends, just because it didn't seem like where they were at. And it turns out, none of them write or read blogs (or so they told me when I asked).

2. There were a few times when I had a chance to talk about the importance of being authentic, honest, and real--not just as Quaker youth, but as people in general. I didn't know if this was an important point to make or not--but by the end of the time, two teens acknowledged to the group that they were atheist. Folks wanted to talk right over that, but I held the space and had all of us slow down and acknowledge what was just said. An opening, even if a small one.

3. BEST EXERCISE: A modified version of Chalk Talk, the exercise I've heard Peterson do with folks. I had three large pieces of paper (made up of 4 sheets of flipchart paper), each with a different word or phrase in the middle:

Evangelical Friends

Quakers aren't perfect


Then I gave each of them a marker and let them loose to write their own comments on each paper, and their own comments to each other, too.

Gave them about 15 minutes and they could have used 25. Two teens later told me that they really liked that exercise. (I also found out that none of them had done a Chalk Talk exercise before, so I hope I did it justice.)

4. Second best exercise, to wrap up: I gave everyone a piece of paper and asked them to write one or two WORDS or CONCEPTS that really had been lingering with them during our time together. Make the word (or words) big on the page. Then place the papers in the center, going every which-way, to form like a mosaic. After everyone has had a chance to add their page, then stand around and take a look at what's there, noticing what made you smile, squirm, or appreciate. All done in silence.

We closed with worship. I was hoping someone would be moved to say something, but that didn't happen. The things that were on the Chalk Talk papers and the mosaic sheets, though, were powerful evidence of things being stirred up in the group, and I made sure to tell the FAPs (Friendly Adult Presence) and coordinators to look over the papers, there might be opportunities for more discussion if the teens wanted.

...I was tempted to take photos of the mosaic and of the Chalk Talk papers, but I decided against it. There was a tender energy in the room and I felt it was important to "leave in the room" what had been shared in the room.


1. At some point, after enough trust had been built within the group and between the group and me, I'd like to start a check-in round with "One thing I don't want you to know about me is..." I've used this check-in before and it encourages folks to get real authentic real quick.

2. Flesh out how Quakers are not perfect. Explore the "nice and pure" image of early Quakers (i.e. that all Quakers were abolitionists) as well as modern examples of our imperfections--as individuals and as meetings.

3. Do a spectrum about degree of belief in a Divine Principle and/or Four Corners about those beliefs (God - Jesus - Love - nothing, eg.)

4. Worship sharing instead of/in addition to worship.

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

I have to say, just having those 2 hours to feel the group out a bit gave me a peek into what might be possible with a WEEK of them during an FGC Gathering workshop.



This post about raising young children as Friends from Amy of How'd I End Up Here?

November 23, 2009

The Convergent Friends talk I didn't give

The previous week had been lesson after lesson about waiting for God to give me direction: what should I bring to the yearly meeting's high school group?

I had been asked to talk with them about Convergent Friends but I was having trouble sinking into the topic and understanding what it was I was to pull out and share.

For each of five or six days leading up to the presentation, I would spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour a half, writing notes, making lists, reading blog posts, asking Friends for ideas, searching the internet for interactive activities...

And the next day, I would get the feeling that what I had done the day before just wasn't what God was asking me to do.

By the event's eve, I started to let go and submit:

I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what the group is going to need. I don't know what materials will come in handy. And I'm not going to know until I get to the site where the teens are and be among them.

So that morning, I packed up everything I thought I might be able to use if Way opened--markers, blank paper, flipchart boards, my favorite Quaker books, ALL of my notes, handouts from an earlier workshop...

And I surrendered.

I'm not sure yet if I'll write a separate blogpost about how things turned out and what activities I ended up using. Overall, though, I feel things were... satisfactory.

But along the way, with all the planning and threshing and note-jotting, I ended up with a chart that summarizes my own take on how the Convergent conversation addresses certain topics.

Convergent responses

Jesus Convergent Friends (Conv Fs) are not afraid to talk about or wrestle openly about Jesus. Whether Jesus is a teacher that we follow, a figure that we praise, or a legend that we acknowledge has relevance to our peers, we are willing to ask one another questions and listen thoughtfully for the Truth and Light that might be there for ourselves.
God or the Divine Similar to Jesus, above. Most Conv Fs speak openly about an actively present God, Living Christ, or Divine Figure in our life, but a few are questioning: Is there a God? Can I call myself a Christian? Conv Fs are willing to ask the questions and listen for Truth that may speak to our condition.
Scripture Many Conv Fs have some familiarity with Scripture. Part of the Quaker renewal that Conv Fs are coming into includes a growing openness to talk about and refer to Scripture. Some Conv Fs reference the importance of the Bible and the impact it's making in our lives.
Nontheists There appear to be very few nontheists engaged in the Convergent conversation currently, but the ones who are involved challenge theist Quakers--or at the very least, they challenge me--to watch for how any of us live our life rather than listen solely to the theology we profess. Nontheist Convergent Friends are part of the Quaker family.
Pastors & Programmed Worship Conv Fs recognize that Friends churches and programmed worship can bring Quakers closer to the Living God. Pastors explain Scripture, practices, terms, and history related to the faith tradition in a way that prevent or slow the loss of these pieces, unlike what may be happening among Liberal unprogrammed "Quietist-leaning" Friends.
Open Worship Conv Fs recognize that this form of worship provides a powerful opportunity for worshipers to know God directly and to know God as a corporate body within a gathered meeting.
Faithfulness Conv Fs often speak of a yearning to be faithful and obedient to the Spirit, and how that yearning needs to be pursued and needs to be helped. Conv Fs not only speak of our spiritual yearnings but also offer ourselves to one another for spiritual nurture and prayer support.
Accountability & Eldership Many Conv Fs have established a shared trust that allows us to open to one another for this sort of spiritual exercise.
Power & Humility The danger is that any Friend--Convergent or otherwise--may start to believe "I'm right, you're wrong" (or "We're right, you're wrong"). When we are low and keep love and God at the center of our searching, worship, and finding, we are more able to reach across the branches of our Quaker family tree and help mend the schisms.
Intervisitation Conv Fs feel known in that which is Eternal, even on the internet, and so we often seek one another out as the Opportunity arises. Meet-ups that parallel other events allow Conv Fs to strengthen ties and experience the Presence together.
Finding Conv Fs testify with one another, to the wider body of Friends, and beyond what we have found. Conv Fs testify to the Truth and Love experienced during our spiritual journey.

Not all my thoughts are fleshed out thoroughly, and though I use the words "we" and "our" when referencing Convergent Friends, I also recognize that I myself do not identify as a Convergent Friend!

I will say that I am involved in the conversation. I will explain what being part of the Convergent movement might mean. I will even devote a section of a book to the subject of Convergent Friends. But I find that I am not clear to name myself "Convergent."

That said, maybe I need to add one more part to the table above:

Attitude If the yearning to go deeper into the Quaker tradition is coupled with an openness to the many forms that Quakerism takes; and if that yearning leads a Friend to pursue more time and experience among similarly oriented Quakers, all the while remembering the Source and Inward Teacher that others earnestly strive to Know, then that Friend may well be embracing the Convergent spirit and sensibility...


November 22, 2009

Approved minute on marriage equality

The following minute from Twin Cities Friends Meeting was approved last month. The approval came after several months of threshing, discussion, and prayerful consideration.

Regarding item #6 in the minute, a few Friends have already come forward to coordinate and/or pursue particular actions that may help the meeting bear witness to the importance and right order of marriage equality.

NOTE: The phrases "same-sex couples" and "same-gender couples" are used interchangeably.

Many of us were holding our breath as this minute was considered because in previous discussions, Friends raised a number of concerns. It's my sense that Friends were put somewhat at ease because the minute includes a trial period of three years to test how rightly led this witness is and to have time to address any unexpected outcomes.

Time will tell...


Minute for Marriage Equality

Holding to our longstanding Testimonies of equality and integrity as they relate to justice for all peoples, we recognize the discomfort we feel when we provide civil marriage for straight couples but are unable to do the same for same-sex couples within the state of Minnesota.

The Quaker tradition is one of Spirit-led activism on behalf of civil rights and justice. Given that a foremost civil rights issue today concerns the right for all couples to marry, regardless of gender, [Twin Cities Friends Meeting] unites with a growing number of Quaker and other faith communities who are working for marriage equality.

We affirm the right for all caring couples to marry religiously and civilly. TCFM is not against the right of the state to give legal sanction to marriage. Rather we are called to witness against the injustice of the system as currently practiced.

In light of this searching, and because we often learn God’s Truth based on direct experience, we recommend a period of testing the following actions.

That TCFM:
    1. Choose to lay aside for a period of three years--while still retaining--its legal right to perform the civil part of marriage.
In addition, TCFM will:
    2. Continue to provide clearness committees for all couples who request one for marriage;
    3. Continue to witness religious weddings in the manner of Friends, that is, bearing witness to God’s marriage of two people;
    4. Continue to take under its care all relationships and marriages that exist within the community;
    5. Continue to support all couples who seek civil marriage, regardless of the gender of the partners;
    6. Seek opportunities to bear witness outwardly until equal treatment under the law exist for all couples.
We search for ways to expand the rights of some couples without restricting the rights of others. In the midst of wrestling within our meeting and in our state, we support marriage equality for all caring, committed couples. We trust that by TCFM’s action and witness, we will help hasten progress toward marriage equality for all.

Twin Cities Friends Meeting
Eleventh Month 2009

RELATED ITEM: Twelfth Month 2009, Minnesota Public Radio interviews the clerk, Paul L, about what this approved minute means from a practical viewpoint.

November 17, 2009

Wanted: Ideas for working with high school teens

Hey there--

I'm working with the Northern Yearly Meeting high school program on Saturday for a couple of hours and I'm looking for ideas of activities to do with them (Topic: Quakers, the Internet, and Convergent Friends).

I've been in touch with two of the teen organizers who have assured me that all shall will be well, especially if I focus on the INTENTION, which I typically do anyway. They also mentioned on their own that having some worship is also welcome.

I find I'm having a hard time thinking of just what to do and was wondering if any of you blog readers have any thoughts or resources to share with me.

I've been thinking of questions to use with the "Four Corners" exercise, a spectrum exercise, and/or a fishbowl around some question. I've also been toying with a sort of "Chalk Talk" exercise that I know Peterson has used...

Have any of you ever done concentric circles with high schoolers? How was that...? Any other ideas you can offer....?

I'm really tired and have a bit too much on my plate, or so it seems. So I'm reaching out to gain some additional stimulation. I know many of us are busy too, but hey, two or more busy minds are better than my one!

Blessings, and thanks for the help,

November 12, 2009

Visibility of established Friends

As I've been catching up a teeny bit on my blog reading, a thread has been piecing itself together for me. Or maybe it's been two or three threads, coming together to add some heft to an observation I've been mullling over...

First, as I mention in my previous post, I came across the proceedings from the 2009 conference on the Emergent and Convergent trends among Friends. The proceedings appear to lack a point of connection or a direct reference to the Quaker blogosphere that had promoted the concept of "Convergent." That apparent omission from the printed proceedings has not left me.

Then I read Martin's comment to that post, in which he explains,

I have a great concern that some of the most embedded institutional Friends (like some of those at the conference) are all but invisible online. Maybe they should jump into more blog conversations...
Shortly after reading his comment, I read Robin M's post on the essentials of Quaker practice, followed by a quick look at the list of blog posts lining up on QuakerQuaker.

Not only is the online community of Quaker bloggers and blog-readers missing out on the voices and perspectives of those long-time established Friends--whether "institutional" or not--but as the number of Quaker blogs grows, it seems that we, as Quaker bloggers, have been falling away from what had been a bit of online etiquette--that of using our name when first introducing the blog or when leaving a comment. Or, if we didn't use our full name, the practice had been that we'd use at least a recognizable part of it.

While crafting this blog post, I updated my post about online etiquette to include my thoughts about the value of using our names when blogging and commenting:
9. Use your real name, or at least a portion of it. Part of what reduces the anonymity of the internet and helps us to be known to one another in the Quaker blogosphere is that many of us have been using our name. Of course, for some of us who have a concern for privacy and internet security--myself included--that gets to be a bit tricky, which is why some of us use our first name and last initial, or we shorten our last name so it won't be [as] searchable through Google.

In addition to the disciplines of accountability and speaking plainly so that we might support one another on- and offline, using our names has been a great help in practical matters to find one another when traveling to events, such as the FGC Gathering. There's one less layer of society to have to peel away when I can know a blogger right away as "Robin" or "Martin" and not as "QuakerFriend" or "FriendlyWorshiper."
The name stuff is fairly straight-forward to address, but I'm harder pressed to think about the involvement and visibility of long-time, well-known Friends.

Here's part of a comment I left in response to Martin's remarks:
I'm conflicted about the degree of online visibility to afford to "embedded institutional Friends." On the one hand, these long-time Friends and educators most likely have a long and broad perspective that many of us "free-roaming," less institutionalized Friends don't have. It would be wonderful to have their experience reflected in the blogosphere, much like Brent Bill has been offering.

I recall that for a while, Friends' pastor Scott Wagoner was maintaining a blog, and also that every now and then, even Lloyd Lee Wilson would offer a comment.

On the other hand, I also think it's important that more established members of the Religious Society of Friends give space for less established Friends to find their voice and grow into whatever gifts and ministry may have been Given to them. Not to mention that some of [us] early Quaker bloggers have taken up new things--families and careers included--that reduce [our] visibility and presence online...
Maybe it falls to the less established, less institutional Quakers to say plainly, "Hey, we need a guidepost right about now. We're feeling a bit lost. What can you bring to the discussion and conversation that might help...?"

I'd like to think, as the years go by and as my hair is turning whiter, that I'll still be connected to Friends within the meeting and via the Internet. I'd like to think that I'll be willing to speak openly to an issue of concern--all while being "appropriately visible" to the Friends around me and to the body of Friends that may be treading just a few steps behind, to the side, or in front of me.


November 4, 2009

Pride and privilege

God is wanting to teach me about the dangers of pride and the downside of privilege.

I'm a slow learner.

I know this because I am getting lessons about pride and privilege nearly every day it seems, from different people, over and over and over again. So it must be important and I need to pay closer attention.

Most recently the lesson came to light as I was reading the proceedings from a recent conference at Guilford College on a "new kind of Quaker" and the Emergent and Convergent movements that are influencing modern American Friends.

I found myself getting angry that Friends--Friends that I don't know personally--were talking about Convergent Quakers. That's when I realized I had unknowingly "bestowed" upon myself and a handful of others the "privilege" and the "right" to talk about Convergent Friends.


My ego and pride had become overinvested in my (very ephemeral) place in the online conversation.

I needed to change my thinking about all of this: Many Friends all over the world have begun learning about Convergent Friends, and of course this isn't a new phenomenon at all. It's just a new word.

It took reading about this conference to burst my ballooning ego, and I'm the first to say I needed that particular balloon popped (again). If there is Truth and Life enough in what is going on to help Quakers reclaim and live into our vibrant faith tradition, then that is enough, and that fruit is of the Spirit, not of any single person's efforts or own good thinking.

It's painful to look in the mirror--but it also makes for good blogging fodder.


I am thinking once more about being meek and staying low.

Oh, how frequently my pride and vanity get in the way!

So many times I do think I have really good ideas or I do think I know how to navigate through conflict and tense moments or I do think I know how to help convey Quakerism in meaningful ways to new attenders.

One of the dangers of this sort of pride, though, is that if I believe that I'm "so good," that often goes along with a deep and unspoken belief that so many others. . . aren't.

If in fact these are gifts that I carry--creativity, bridge-building, guidance--they are gifts from the Spirit and not of my own making. And these gifts aren't exclusively given only to me.

I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free
I will bow and be humble
Yea bow like the willow tree.

I will bow this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and be broken,
Yea I'll fall upon the rock.
Thinking that I am really good at a task can make me too quick to act when someone else may have an equally valuable--or even greater!--skill to offer or an important perspective to add. So many times I am reminded that we each have different gifts, different perspectives--and all are needed!

In my humanness, though, my pride often makes me blind and deaf to the gifts that others bring or that others may be developing, and I end up trampling on my comrades rather than "lifting them up."

Pride too can make me think I know what's best, and I become quick to discount or dismiss the opinions and ideas that others wish to contribute.

And then God steps in, or sends a messenger, to remind me...

Most recently, we hired Pete (not his real name) in the neighborhood for some fall yard clean-up. The leaves were many and were still somewhat wet from the recent rain. More rain was called for overnight, just before our morning pick-up for yard waste. I was glad that Pete was available and he filled up three-and-a-half of those extra-large paper sacks with the leaves from just our front yard.

In fact, Pete had filled the bags so full that there was no extra bag to fold over to keep out the upcoming rain.

I began to say something to him, like "Could you leave a bit of room at the top so the bag could be folded over...?" and he replied, "It'll be fine." A few days later, Pete told me he wouldn't do any more work for me, that I was too nit-picky.


I am wondering if there were other interactions that Pete and I have had in recent years that led to his perception that I was nit-picky, but the main thing is, my ego was bruised. My pride was hurt and I wanted to get angry at Pete for... for calling me names....?

I had thought I had been treating Pete well and with respect, but his comment to me has forced me to look at myself through his eyes. Am I too nit-picky? Do I insist too frequently that things be done my way?

Am I too prideful in thinking I have the right to interject what I think about any given situation?


Privilege pairs with pride for that reason, I think. Because I have privilege, I have access to any number of things--or at least I assume I do--and I internalize the message lived out by others of privilege:
    The world at large and its institutions revolve around, and keep in power, those with privilege.
Privilege extends a number of assumed "rights" to those who have it and prevents access to those same rights to those who don't have "enough" privilege or the "right kind" of privilege.

The right to speak my mind--not only to interject my point of view but also to impose my worldview unwittingly onto others--without fear of retaliation, ridicule, harassment, or violence is among the rights that I seem to abuse the most.

When I stay awake to that abuse--entitling myself to have more power than I do, to take advantage of the access to more power than others have, to give myself more decision-making opportunities than others have--I am humbled.
    I will bow and be broken Yea I fall upon the rock.
But staying awake, remembering that privilege begets privilege, is very hard in a society that whispers into my unconscious,
    "There's nothing wrong, there's nothing wrong. You don't have to give anything up. Just help others to get a little bit more." You don't have to change because there's nothing wrong, nothing wrong..."
My worldview is formed by the unearned privileges with which I grew up, namely being white, being born into wealth, and being raised in an area that had families that looked and acted a lot like my own family.

I have to work hard to remember that racial privilege and social class privilege can only exist where there is racism and classism.

Where there is oppression, there is privilege. Where there is disenfranchisement, there is entitlement.

And because I am a person of privilege, I must resist the tendency to become defensive when I am pointed to as acting entitled or as being part of the systemic, societal oppression.

This particular sentence from Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack haunts me, as I continue to become aware of my deeply embedded classism as well as continued racism:
Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in women's studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, "having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?"
The phrase "what will I do to lessen or end it?" has a resonance in me the way I imagine Samuel Bownas' inward cry--"...Lord, what shall I do to help it?"--was called forth in response to the minister who chided him.

These are deep and difficult issues, tangled in my subconscious and in my heart. More and more these days, I work to untangle them.

Here's a piece from my journal, when I was taking a hard look at my unearned privilege as a white, well-educated, owning class American:
Privilege puts ME at the center.

MY needs.
MY wants.
MY preferences.
MY communication style.
MY comfort.
MY lifestyle.
MY feelings.
MY worldview.
MY advancement.

But my "needs" aren't necessarily needs at all.

And as I let go of any individual privilege, I go against the unspoken American Middle Class Norm--to be better, to have more, to keep more, to expect more, to be given more.

Once I have a privilege--earned or unearned--it's hard to choose to let it go for the sake of standing in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who have less.
The Light pierces my heart and reveals to me my ego's tight grasp on pride and privilege.

Ahh, break me Lord, if you must. But I pray it be gentle and that I be willing to yield, to bow like the willow tree.


October 26, 2009

Home is where the limits are

Over on Plainly Pagan, Hystery has written about her stance against* becoming a member of a Quaker meeting that is affiliated with a larger body that has discriminatory policies against GLBTQ persons.

I began to leave a long comment to her post that drifted from her reflections into some of my own, so I'm continuing my train of thought below.

At one point in her post, Hystery asks a question that I myself had been thinking, regarding her experience among Friends.  She writes:

Is it possible that my reaction to FUM is different than other liberals within the Quaker fold because I am so new? I honestly did not know that NY had affiliations with a religious organization that had anti-gay language.
I begin my comment by affirming that yes, I would say that this is very likely, since as convinced Friends our connections with our monthly meeting often provides our primary understanding of and initial exposure to what Quakerism is (or isn't) about.

And that understanding often is incredibly limited--and limiting.  We base our understanding and build relationships with the Friends in the meeting and then we unknowingly internalize the thought that all Quakers must be like this.

After all, I continue explaining to her, "you are certainly not alone among the many attenders who don't find out for years after worshiping with Friends that there are other branches of Friends out there! I was among those attenders, and you have (1) good reason to be shocked at the way things are in New York Yearly Meeting; and (2) no reason to fear that "you should have known better." Chalk it up to Quakerism's quietist behavior."

After sharing that comment, though, I began to consider my early ignorance as an attender at Quaker meetings with my Jewish upbringing.

On the one hand, I readily understood how it was I gained a very early awareness about Judaism:

I grew up knowing there were (back then) three main branches of Judaism because my Jewish education as a child made sure I knew it. And because I had in my family Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, and Reform Jews.

On the other hand, how could I have been among Friends for months if not years before learning that Quakerism also has its splits and branches?  Why was that?  Why hadn't I learned that sooner, within my first 12 months of attending worship? 

The question concerns me because I came to Quakerism twice:  once as a college student (I attended worship twice a week but did absolutely no reading about the faith and no traveling among Friends, either), and again when I was 30.

It took me maybe a year or more to feel comfortable as a 30-something before I started going to Adult First Day School, and that's probably where I first heard about the other Quakers, the ones who had programmed worship and about the evangelical Friends...  And then later, I participated in a Quakerism 101 session and learned about the historic splits and schisms.

Some of that late learning is my own fault.  I didn't seek out adult education among Friends for quite some time.  Some of the problem--maybe much of it, for non-pastored meetings--rests with the meeting itself.  Are we too focused on worship, social justice, and welcoming families that we dedicate too few resources to "bringing worshipers into the fold" by offering regular book groups, Bible study, and adult education?

It would probably be different if I lived or worked as an adult in a Quaker hub while also attending meeting.  If I had lived in Greensboro, North Carolina or in Plainfield, Indiana, or Des Moines, Iowa, I think I would have had a better chance of discovering at least two worlds of Quakerism:  programmed and unprogrammed.  Maybe I would have discovered Conservative, Liberal, and Evangelical Friends, too.

But with Hystery's experience as an example, it worries me to see new attenders, seekers, and young families come into our meetinghouses, maybe even get involved in the life of the meeting--the person's "home meeting"--without some early integration of the awareness of just who makes up the Religious Society of Friends.

(Not to mention that it isn't solely or even originally or primarily an American religion, but we do better in pointing out that Quakerism's roots are in Europe and the largest portion of today's Quakers are in Africa.)

I don't know if adults who, out of the blue, start attending Shabbat services necessarily know that there are such distinct branches among Jews, but I've heard that adults who begin to attend services are usually steered into taking Judaica classes to learn about the Jewish faith.

It's clear to me that something's amiss among American Quaker meetings and how we talk about today's Quakerism with new attenders.  What do we tell them after we've invited them to have coffee and join in the fellowship hour...?


*Shortly after seeing Hystery's comment below, I imagine the phrase "stance against" would have been more accurate had I written "struggle about." Apologies to you, Hystery...

October 18, 2009

Putting God into SPICE

A couple of times in recent Meetings for Worship--once at the monthly meeting and another at the worship group--a worshiper at each place made reference to the nifty little acronym SPICE. A lot has already been written about that acronym and the modern take on the Quaker Testimonies, and I've included a partial list of related blog posts below.

I agree that the mnemonic acronym--Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality--is a sort of tool to help our youngest Friends and our newest attenders understand what some of our key principles are.  But it's like a mechanic who pulls out a Phillips screwdriver, a flat-head screwdriver, and a hammer and says, "Every mechanic should have a complete tool set like this!"

Well, of course it isn't quite like that.

One of the Friends who talked about SPICE has long-time connections with Friends education. To be fair, the Friend did say something about helping the young students understand some of the values that make the school what it is. And yet: at the rise of worship, an attender acknowledged that the acronym helped him finally understand what Quakerism is about...

Do we really want worshipers to leave meeting with an acronym? Or do we want them--and ourselves--to leave worship with a renewed sense of God's love, guidance, and presence in our individual and corporate lives?

The short-hand of SPICE doesn't relieve us of our responsibility to convey our faith and its invisible doctrines, principles, and complexities to those who worship among us.

What is it we really want those who find us to understand about our peculiar faith tradition? How can we share the fabric of Quakerism and not just a few of its individual threads?

The other person who recently spoke about SPICE has been worshiping with Quakers for a handful of months, and he talked about the acronym as if it was the best thing he'd seen or heard since sliced bread. I think he was disappointed to find out that the acronym has been around for at least a few years...

The thing is, if we stop at SPICE--as others have pointed out in their posts to which I link below--if we say in essence, "The testimonies are the crux of what we need to share when we talk about Quakerism with others," then it is as if we have pulled out a single thread that leaves marred the entire Quaker tapestry. In essence, we unintentionally sever these spiritual fruits from the deep root of our faith: the Inward Teacher, the Light, the Divine Principle that guides us to outward action that offers testimony to what it is we know inwardly.

If we are going to talk about SPICE in reference to the Testimonies, then we must also, and at the same time, and in the same breath, talk about the concept of the transformative power of the Light. Quakers would have no Testimony to the Truth had we not made ourselves low enough to submit to the Light's searching out of our shortcomings, yielded to it, and subsequently found ourselves changed.

So I want to suggest a new acronym, in order to put God first:

    GPS ICE.
That's God, Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Community, and Equality.

But really, the acronym should be
    GPS G ICE G.

Putting God first, last, and in the center of our Quakerism.


Martin's essay on the Quaker Testimonies
Chris M's thoughts on Creeds and Quakers
Melanie Douty-Snipes thoughts on Devotion as a Testimony (scroll down)
Pam's thoughts on Love as a Testimony
My own cautions about overreliance on an acronym
A more recent post by Quaker Jane, reminding Friends that Love is the fount from which the Testimonies rise

October 14, 2009

Ashley's meme: God told me to.

I just read a fabulous post by Ashley W that reminds me of my own story of when God "told me to."

At some point during my senior year in college, I had decided that I wasn't going to live on the east coast after I graduated. I had grown up in New Jersey, had visited many relatives in Baltimore and in Washington DC, and had spent summer vacations in New England. I didn't feel much desire to do more of what I had already done.

I quickly eliminated living in the southeast (hurricanes), or the west (earthquakes), or the south (heat and humidity). Then I realized that nearly all of my good friends from college were from the midwestern part of the U.S. and THAT seemed worthwhile to pay attention to!

During that last year of college, I made plans to spend my breaks visiting parts of the midwest where my college friends were from, including Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio as well as Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

But there was something else that was significant about my college years: Canada geese.

You see, I grew up in a very suburban area outside of New York City. The geese that I saw in my childhood were geese that I fed at a pond in New England during summer vacations. They were quiet geese, mostly white, and I certainly never saw them fly in a V.

But at college, there was the type of pond and semi-rural campus that attracted Canada geese, and the campus was part of a fly-zone during migrations. Every time I heard the honks of geese, I would interrupt my walk to class and look into the sky to see where the honks were coming from. Day after day, I'd spy the wedges of geese and stop and listen to them as they flew by.

Something about these Canada geese was calling to me, but what....?

Fast forward to my visits to friends in the midwest during my senior year. In October, I traveled to Milwaukee to see Linda, my closest college buddy, who had already been out of school for a while. While there in the city, wouldn't you know it, a flock of geese flew overhead and I was practically sold on relocating then and there.

But I had at least another semester to get through, so shortly after seeing Linda, I wrote her a letter that said, in part:

"I'm beginning to think about where I want to be after I graduate, and I'm thinking about moving to the midwest. I don't know what your plans are for the next year, but I might be in the area, looking for a roommate..."
It turns out that Linda was also writing me a letter at about the same time:
"I just found out that my folks are leaving Milwaukee to move to Indiana. I'll be staying in Wisconsin, and even though I don't know what your plans are when you graduate, if you need a place to live and want to come to Milwaukee, I'll be looking for a roommate..."

And the letters literally crossed in the mail.

So when people find out that I grew up on the east coast but have been living in the midwest since 1985, they often ask me, "Why'd you move to the midwest?" And I tell them:

God brought me here.

I've never looked back and God is still speaking to me, even here.


October 2, 2009

QuakerBooks highlights two Quaker blogger-authors

This afternoon I received an email from one of the co-managers of QuakerBooks of FGC. Lucy Duncan wrote me to tell me that the website is once again featuring Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader. What is extra special for me, though, is that Eileen Flanagan's newest book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference, is also being highlighted!

In addition, the third book that's accompanies Eileen's and mine is The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong.

Wow, I'm humbled to be in such good company...


September 25, 2009

Reflections on my committee service

The other night was my last night serving as clerk of a large committee within the monthly meeting. I've been taking some time reflecting on my service, both as a participant on that committee and as one of its co-clerks over the last year.

It so happens that I'm one of the few Quakers, it seems, who enjoys clerking. So many times when I've clerked, I have felt as though God has acted through me in a clear, unhindered way. With God's grace and assistance, I have been able to call the group I am clerking at the time to dig deeper, listen more carefully, and practice the corporate discipline of spiritual discernment that uniquely defines our faith.

During private conversations that I had with both of the incoming co-clerks of this particular committee, I mentioned to each that I believe that the best clerking comes out of the gifts we ourselves bring. The more awareness we have of our own gifts--and of our own shortcomings--the more grounded and effective our clerking will be.

In my case, my organizational skills were affirmed because they helped me track what items to have on the agenda, what items were to be brought to Meeting for Worship for Business, and what items needed some greater attention and exploration before bringing them before the committee.

But my experience also shows me that my spiritual gifts include listening between the words of what committee members say; a willingness to test with others what I'm hearing, feeling, and sensing; and an ability to let fellow committee members correct me when I test the sense of the committee and the members have heard something different.

These are not gifts that I came to Quakers with. No: these are gifts that, with God's love and with the piercing and firm eldership of the wider world of Friends for over more than 15 years, I have grown into.

Here are a few specific reflections about my experience, both as clerk of the committee as well as being a participant of it:

Naming when there isn't unity

For a few years, I have come to understand that one of the hardest tasks that a clerk has is recognizing when there isn't unity and what to do about it.

When there's unity, there's a feel-good sense about the whole room. Our energy is up, our sense of stress is low. At the very least, there is a perceived and shared sense of calm among us. At its best, there are smiles among us and sparkles in our eyes.

Many times, unity comes when an unforeseen way forward through a difficult situation has been articulated. I often say that one sign of being rightly led is that we end up in a place that no one could have predicted earlier, once the Way opens to us.

But when there isn't unity... When there are disagreements about how to address a concern, chances are the group will spin its wheels, rehashing the same material several times without having new insight.

It's important for the clerk to identify when this is happening, and there are a few indicators of such wheel-spinning:

  • when there's little silence or worship between speakers;
  • when several people speak more than once or indicate that they want to speak an additional time;
  • when more than one or two themes, ideas, or possible solutions are repeated;
  • when testing the sense of the meeting is met not with correction or approval but with even more input from committee members.

I seem to have been able to name when there isn't unity, but on reflection, I found that I didn't leave it at that.

I don't know why this was Given to me, but after testing that in fact, we had no unity around how to proceed, I would often find myself saying to committee members something like this:
    As much as we are eager to move forward and take action, I'm going to ask that we exercise a spiritual muscle that sometimes gets overlooked: This is a time when we need to sit with this piece, unfinished as it is. We need to trust that with time, as we revisit this item, some new Light will come to us and make it clear how we are to proceed. For now, as uncomfortable as we might be, let us settle into a brief period of worship before we move onto the next item...
Mostly, my experience has been that Friends will stop pushing the river when someone reminds us that we strive for unity with God's Direction, but that the waiting in the blankness of a way forward is not always comfortable for us to do.

Settling into worship

Some of the most fluid, effective, grounded committees I've either clerked or have served on have been those during which there is worship or a just plain ol' "settling" that envelopes each item on the agenda. I have found that such settling and recentering of the group throughout the course of the committee meeting somehow reminds us that there is an important intangible quality about our manner as Friends that lends itself to our decision-making process.

We seem to listen better--inwardly, to the Spirit, and to each other--and we seem to have a bit more personal "space" to reflect on what just happened when we insert those few bits of worship. In addition, for those of us who need an extra beat or two to figure out why something is niggling at us, these moments of resettling can give us that extra time we need.

Halfway through co-clerking this particular committee, the two of us as co-clerks agreed to insert more "transitional worship" between agenda items. I would say that not much clock-time was sacrificed, and the quality of our work and sense of caring presence to one another and to our tasks improved as a result.

Interestingly enough, given my own serious nature, I found that the more willing we as a committee were to engage in short bits of worship, the more willing I was, as a co-clerk, to allow us to get off-track or use what otherwise would be inappropriate laughter to let off steam about a frustrating situation. I count that as one of God's little mysteries I've encountered while I've been clerking...

Needing the group to help temper me

When I first started serving on this large committee, I found that I felt very separate from other committee members. I seemed to hold a different perspective from many of them, sometimes with great judgment against who was speaking.

As I disciplined myself to say less and listen more--no easy task, believe me!--I would find that either someone else spoke to what I myself had been holding, or someone I greatly respected would offer a viewpoint I either had previously dismissed or had never considered.

Over time, I began to understand that I needed to hear what others on the committee thought or sensed or felt so that my own judgments--whether the positive kind or the negative kind--could be tempered by the committee as a whole.

I also understood that there were times when the committee needed me to add what I was thinking or perceiving or discerning.

Over time, I began to feel less isolated and more integrated into the fabric of the committee: my voice and perspective wasn't better than anyone else's. It was simply different and still had validity, as long as I was testing what it was I had to say against what it was that God wanted me to say.

Ultimately, I grew into the discipline of waiting--no matter how uncomfortable I felt--to feel some motion of love, kindness, or compassion before asking to be recognized to speak. That degree of waiting, of sinking down into the Seed, allowed me just enough grace to speak what was on my heart in a way that others could hear my concern.

Leaving the committee

As I was driving to the final committee meeting I'd attend, I remember thinking to myself, "What will my role be in the meeting now?" It may be that this committee service was the only thing that kept me attached and connected to the meeting, since I had reports to make nearly once a month and I had announcements to share at the rise of a few meetings for worship.

Now that a few days have gone by, I worry less about that question and its time-will-tell answer.

During the transitional meeting, when outgoing members had a chance to remark on their experience of service on the committee, I was the last to speak.

"One thing I've learned while I've been here," I said, "is that no matter what the difficulty, it's been so important to hold that difficulty in the Light and to respond out of a place of Love for all those involved."

That seems to make all the difference, no matter where I worship or how I serve.


September 21, 2009

Past due: Reflections on book reading at FGC Gathering

Thanks to Robin, who wanted to know how the reading went when I introduced the book Writing Cheerfully on the Web during this past summer's FGC Gathering.
I was on the phone with QuakerBooks' co-manager Lucy Duncan in the early fall of 2008:

"That sounds like a worthwhile project, Liz," she may have said to me back then. "If you can finish the book in time for the summer Gathering, we can give you a reading slot to help promote it during the week."

When I first realized that the seed of an idea had taken root in me at the 2008 Gathering in Johnstown, Pennsylvania--to self-publish a collection of Quaker blogposts--I hadn't given it any thought as to how to get the word out. The steps that were directly in front of me included flying the idea of such a book by a few other blogging friends, and figuring out a way to identify potential blog posts to be included.

But Lucy's offer gave me incentive to stick with the project, and in February of 2009, I got an unexpected call from her:

"I'm calling to find out if you want a slot during the Gathering to promote your book. How's it coming? We're finalizing the schedule now for book readings because we have to get information about our events to the university..."

I was relieved that I could tell her, in fact, that the book project was moving right along and I thought I could have it complete by mid-June. I offered to read during the Monday slot that was available. The only other time slot I was offered, best as I can recall, was a Friday afternoon one--but I worried that Gathering attenders would fizzle out after the long week.

When I arrived at the Gathering in Blacksburg this year, I took time to find the handout that listed all the pre-scheduled events for Monday. The book reading was there--and so was another event, a panel of well-respected Friends, speaking on the topic "Living into Prophetic Witness."

Now, it's true that at every afternoon and evening time slot available at Gathering, there usually are two or three great-sounding events going on at the same time and people just have to pick one, based on intuition, discernment, or the Fear of Missing Something.

In this case, ooooooh, I seriously thought about canceling my book reading so I could attend the panel. I remember that Amanda Kemp was one of the panelists, along with Noah Baker Merrill and a few others.

But no, I had a commitment and I kept it. Plus, I had known that a few bloggers who are represented in the book would also attend, and I was curious who would show up and what I would say.

As I usually do, I looked at the room where the reading was going to be the day before. It wasn't a room at all: it was a loft area over the main part of the Gathering store, and wow, did the conversations in the bookstore below carry! I went into problem-solving mode: when I have too much noise in the background, I have a hard time focusing.

After I got the green light to move the chairs, I took time to rearrange the room about half an hour before the reading was to begin, facing the chairs toward a corner that I hoped would help absorb the voices and noise of the activity below. It did.

The next thing I had to face, like the upward carriage of the noise from below, was the rising of my own ego. I wasn't feeling grounded at all, and I could tell my hubris wanted to insist that I was better than this room arrangement and deserved more attention than what I was getting.

Bleah, how I dislike myself when I feel that sort of entitlement rising within me. I think that's when I made the decision that I'd start the reading with worship and ask for prayer support during my remarks.

Kody and Peterson came in as Jeanne and I were finishing organizing chairs. I was glad to see both of them and felt that familiar unspoken motion of Love pass between us, deeply appreciating their presence as well as the support I had from Jeanne.

A few others came in--maybe a dozen or so Friends--and a few minutes later, FGC's Publications Manager Barbara Mays introduced me, and we were off. I decided not to read anything from the book directly, though I spoke about topics that were in the introduction and where the idea for the Quaker blog reader came from.

Then I opened it up for questions, and at times I turned to my fellow bloggers to respond. That was a relief, to not feel like I had to have The Perfect Answer to a question and instead to allow others to contribute. In some ways, it felt like an online conversation, with Friends chipping in to speak to pieces I had overlooked, or to expand on something that had caught the attention of someone else. Unfortunately, I don't recall the questions that were asked. I think I was working so hard to stay present and to keep low...

By the end of the discussion, the room was filled, if not with people, then with intense curiosity and energized attentiveness from those who had come and who had truly wanted to learn more about the Quaker blogosphere and its part on the sense of renewal that has been rippling throughout our meetings and worship groups.

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

It's been more than two-and-a-half months since the book made its debut, and a few people have been asking me how sales have been going. In a recent call to QuakerBooks, a staff person there told me that he thought sales were going very well: in addition to the books they had sold to Gathering attenders, they had sold others to people who called in orders or placed orders online, with other copies being sold through booktables at various yearly meeting sessions.

I'll toss out a reminder here that there is a 20% discount available for books that are ordered for use by book study groups, as described on QuakerBook's page on Customer Service.

A few people have written up their own thoughts about the book, including Tania of the Friendly Funnel and Robin from What Canst Thou Say. If others of you have written about Writing Cheerfully on the Web, I hope you'll speak up and point us to your post!

Thanks again to so many of you for your support, encouragement, and involvement in this project, whether it was suggesting a blog post to be included, completing the survey that helped shape the final product, attending one of the interest groups about Convergent Friends that were held at the Gathering, or actually buying a copy of the book for yourself, a friend, or your meeting's library.

It's been absolutely humbling to be able to serve the wider Quaker community in this way.


August 30, 2009

Two tips for clerks

Not too long ago, I began compiling a collection of brief handouts to pass along to the incoming clerks of the monthly meeting's Committee on Ministry & Counsel. Among the items I wrote up was a sheet that included a few random tips--things that any clerk might be helped by having.

Tracking items during meetings

Each clerk will have a different way to track the “who,” “when,” and “what,” such as WHO will convene a clearness committee; WHEN there should be any follow-up to an item; or WHAT should be brought before Meeting for Worship for Business.

Sometimes the clerk is able to track these pieces by herself/himself. Sometimes the clerk may need to ask a specific person—such as the assistant clerk or the recorder—to help “check” that these details are noted, if not in the minutes then in the clerk’s own notes.

Sometimes there isn’t clearness on how to move forward but there’s a desire to continue discussion at a future meeting (or business session). For accountability to both the specific committee and the meeting as a whole, having a separate way to track these items can be helpful so they don’t “go missing.”

Listening for unity—and being prepared to articulate if there isn’t unity

There are at least three possible outcomes when discussing an item.

  • There is clarity and unity to move forward in a certain direction.
  • There isn’t clarity but there is a desire to continue discussion the next time or at a later date.
  • There has been significant discussion and the sense of the committee is that there is no unity on the issue or direction. When unity or clearness cannot be found, it can be helpful to encourage the group to settle into a few moments of worship as a way to reestablish the corporate connection with one another and with the Presence before continuing.
These are specific items that, as I've grown into my service as clerk, have helped me test the sense of the group while also paying attention to the practicalities of committee work.


August 25, 2009

The power of facing social class issues

I will witness your growth through muddy and tender times.
I will grow you and grow with you, lovingly and faithfully.

These are two of the affirmations my partner and I exchanged with each other during our wedding in 2000. We made them with the faith that by carrying our intentions--to open ourselves to Divine Assistance and stay with one another regardless of difficulty--we would be okay.

It's nine years later and the last two years have been muddy and tender indeed. The multiple veils and blindfolds that have hidden my awareness of social class oppression are being peeled away, with varying degrees of insistence, as the Spirit prompts, as the Way opens, and as I "give over [my] own willing."

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

Quakerism allows for an unfolding of one's journey without pushing the river. Quakerism emerges out of a Seed of Love that calls us to labor with one another and to listen inwardly and deeply to the messages we receive from the Spirit and through others who may minister to us.

One of the things I know about myself is that I don't change when I'm in isolation. I change when I am in community and when I am in relationship with someone I care about. I change because the people around me are different from me and therefore view the world differently from how I view it.

Two people in my life have taken the extraordinary step of telling me how I have not only reinforced their [world]view but how I have contributed to the oppression they have known all their life.

One was a Deaf woman in Milwaukee. When I was at the height of my sign language interpreting career, she said to me, point blank:

At the time, I had had just enough training in those days about the dynamics of power and oppression, and about identity development, and about the history of American Deaf culture that I knew not to get defensive or blaming, but to listen more deeply to this person who was a dear friend of mine and whose version of the Truth had a validity I needed not only to understand but also embrace.

The other person was my partner. It's taken time for me to hear from her just the right phrase to address the thick blindfold that had been placed over my eyes--and the earplugs in my ears--by my owning class family:
The words in this case weren't enough for me to take a hard-and-long look at myself. Just a short and shallow one.

I didn't understand how I was "managing" her or what that even meant. I needed a weeklong workshop with George Lakey, dedicated to the topic of Quakers and Social Change. I needed to read at least two books about social class in America and reconsider Peggy McIntosh's well-known essay in light of social class.

And I needed--and still need on a near-daily basis--a good talking-to by my partner. (I still don't fully get what "managing her" means...)

This awakening to class oppression is powerful for me because social class and classism had been invisible to me before now, as has been my unintentional part in contributing to institutional and societal classism. This is powerful for me because I can begin to see how classism is embedded in our meetings, especially among Liberal Friends.

As Friends,* our actions indicate that we value individualism ("I don't want to give up my preference/privilege") over solidarity ("Let's stand with our brothers and sisters who have less"); we often write letters to legislators and make financial contributions to organizations for their good work rather than strive to engage in the good work ourselves, even at a local level.

We "talk about" doing things rather than taking action and doing things. Or we rationalize why we do or don't do things and label that as corporate discernment, even if we aren't in fact tending to "the least of these."

I'm learning... slowly... that much of these behaviors can be attributed to our collective middle-class/wealthy-class backgrounds--something that Jeanne has been telling me/us for a while.

Amidst all of this, I am sorting out the intrinsic values, expectations, and worldview that my parents and grandparents instilled in me and those that are reinforced by American Liberal Quakerism (which is the part I'm most familiar with), not to mention most of America's institutions, of which organized religion is a part.

God asks me to again to grow, to risk, to consider, to pray for more Light. What's my place in this work, where am I called?

Can I ever stop writing about this stuff and just start doing...?


*NOTE: A Friend outside of the U.S. contacted me privately a day after I posted this and makes this worthwhile point: I am indeed speaking of my own experience among Liberal Quakers in the States. Various forms of oppression exist differently--or perhaps not at all...?--in different countries and in different cultural contexts because of institutions, social structures, etc.

During my time in George Lakey's workshop, George spoke at length about Norway and some of its social, political, and economic structures that influence that country's social class dynamic. Similarly I was grateful for the Canadian Friend who shared from her experience that Canada's social systems and institutions (e.g. health care, education) made for very different dynamics around social class than what she has observed and experienced here in the U.S. --Liz, 26 Eighth Month 2009

August 14, 2009

Going from meeting as we have come to it

In recent days, one of my Quaker "buttons" has gotten pushed a few times, so I thought I'd pay attention to it and write about it.

It's the one about to what extent we listen deeply to another Friend's spoken message, whether given during worship, during a committee meeting, or over a potluck meal. How often do we ask ourselves if a particular minister is embodying the voice of God that says:

"You, in the corner: This message is for you."
A few weeks ago, during the part of our worship where "messages that didn't rise to the level of vocal ministry" are welcome, I found myself rising to speak to the metaphor of babies in the river and how that relates to social change. I didn't know that I would be moved to tears as I was telling the story. Clearly, though, Something had been working on me during worship.

When worship ended, a number of people approached me to "thank" me for what I had shared. Most of them took time to affirm me for the good work I was already doing and told me not be hard on myself for not doing more.

As I recall, only one Friend mentioned that the message I offered that day had given her something to think about. And she is already in her 80s, has worked in the Congo, and has been a long-time war-tax resister.

I had already begun wrestling with the question if I'm called to "go upriver" or if I'm called to "pull out the babies" (see the above link), but I left that Meeting for Worship wondering how many worshipers would consider what Light may be in that story for them to wrestle with. I felt disconnected from all but that one person who had approached me after worship. Why?

And then I realized that I worry about and am anguished by the possibility that many Friends who worship in the unprogrammed tradition--many, not all--seem to keep themselves an arm's length away from considering the question, "What Light or Truth might be in that Friend's message for me?"

These days, it's unlikely that we're going to have the experience that Anne Wilson and Samuel Bownas had, when she arose during worship and spoke plainly.

Here's what Samuel writes:
...fixing her eye upon me, she with a great zeal pointed her finger at me, uttering these words with much power: "A traditional Quaker, thou comest to meeting as thou went from it, and goes from it as thou came to it but art no better for thy coming; what wilt thou do in the end?"
In Samuel's case, he was able to listen to the message--if not right away, then at some point later--and not blame the messenger-minister for literally singling him out (if not right away, then at some point later!). He was able to allow the Light to work on him inwardly and over time, and ultimately he grew into his own measure of Light.

But as Liz Gates asks in remarks she made in 2005:
How many of us sit on the bench next to Samuel, comfortable and quiet?
Indeed: How many of us would think that the message Anne gave was only for Samuel, since she pointed directly to him?

Sometimes I fear that we don't listen deeply to a message from a minister because we really don't want to be changed, challenged, or exercised spiritually.

Or if we do open ourselves to the possibility of growth and change, so often it's got to be on our own terms--during summer vacation, or after the baby comes, or after I get done with painting the house.

Have we lost the discipline of coming to waiting worship, expecting we could be changed?


July 27, 2009

FGC Gathering 2009: Shane Claiborne

At the start of my previous post, I make some comparisons between the first two plenary speakers at the 2009 FGC Gathering, Ben Pink Dandelion and Shane Claiborne.

Here I'll repeat some of the opening remarks I noted in the last post:

Both Ben Pink Dandelion and Shane Claiborne called us to greater faithfulness and greater care to looking at what we possess and what we profess.

Below, as in the previous post, are a number of quips, ideas, and stories I jotted down during Shane's plenary. Too much time has passed between having heard it and writing about it now, so I giving myself permission to type things into a list of what I noted, rather than formulating a cohesive blogpost.

Initial thoughts

In the notebook I took with me to his plenary, in the margins of the first page, I have these words:

    a sort of caricature
    not humble
It's not that Shane was prideful or boastful as much as he was on fire: He believes in what he says. He professes what he possesses.

I short, I think he reflects the George Fox I carry in my mind: How accepted would Shane Claiborne be if he were to start ministering to us 21st Century Quakers out of the silence during a meeting for worship...?

But being a plenary speaker at Gathering provides the speaker with a great deal of advanced forgiveness from the audience of mostly Liberal Quakers. After all, plenary is not a meeting for worship and there must be a reason why FGC and its Gathering Committee invited him in the first place, right?

By the way, FGC will likely have all the plenaries available in CD later in 2009, through its QuakerBooks.

Shane Claiborne

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a preacher. Then they look at me--Shane is a young white man, wears baggy clothes, and has long dreadlocks--and say, "They don't make preachers like they used to." And I say, "Thank God!"

What I love about Jesus is his imagination, like having the idea to turn water into wine, to keep the party going. Or healing a blind man by spitting on dirt. Jesus brings redemption in unexpected ways.

The gospels spread best not through force but through fascination. Jesus doesn't insist on who he is or isn't. When people asked Jesus, "Are you the Messiah?" he would answer "Tell me what you see, what you hear."

These are the current day perceptions of Christians by people who are outside the Church:
The Church must do something in order for Christians to be seen by others as being connected with:
    Justice and peace.

After telling a story about how he bought an ice cream cone for a child in a very poor village, Shane describes how the child called around all of his friends--and the child passes the ice cream cone to each one so each child may have a lick of it. Then Shane says:
Here is the secret of Jesus: Give away the best things in life to others.
Another tidbit from Shane: Mother Teresa would wear the worst of all the pairs of donated shoes so that she would know no one would have a worse pair than she.

Christians have so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives.

How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore a homeless man on Monday?

The reputation of Christianity and the reputation of America are closely linked, especially outside of America. People are seeing things done in the name of Jesus that didn't look like the love of Jesus.

American didn't invent Christianity. It only domesticated it.

An idea for a T-shirt: Everyone wants a revolution but no one wants to do the dishes.

My own afterthoughts

Less of Shane's plenary spoke to my condition than did Ben's. Some of it may have to do with the fact that I wasn't raised in the Christian faith tradition and Shane isn't Quaker. Many of Shane's stories referred to his own Christian practice and belief, not specifically Quakerism. Ben's stories and remarks, on the other hand, were more directly connected to Quakerism.

I also think social class differences between Shane and me impacted my ability to listen deeply to what he was saying. A number of his stories come from his background having grown up in the poorer parts of the South [in the States] and of his life on a farm or of experiences that his farming family and friends had.

All the words in the world can't adequately convey the experiences that we internalize in our youth, and Shane's storytelling, outrageous humor, and personal decisions about his path simply don't correspond to my own. I left the plenary wondering if Shane's voice is authentic, or if it is a ministry or gift he has to be able to share the voice of so many others through his stories?

I won't know the answer but he made me laugh. And he made me wonder about the judgments that I have about "evangelists" and whether I would have been turned off by George Fox or if the Light would have still reached me, despite the words it was cloaked in...


July 24, 2009

FGC Gathering 2009: Ben Pink Dandelion

I suppose I'm not ready to write about the workshop I took, Quakers & Social Class, because I'm still integrating the experience to a significant degree. That is, I'm wrestling with doing so.

Opening night at the Gathering provides the traditional welcome to the 1,500 participants, and more often than not, I've been skipping that first night, since it's usually a preview of the week, a massive "roll call" of affiliated yearly and monthly meetings, and other things that I'm less interested in.

But this year, I was especially curious to hear two of the plenary speakers: British Friend Ben Pink Dandelion and American Methodist-born preacher-author Shane Claiborne, just because their names have been around the block and then some.

Ben Pink Dandelion spoke the second night; Shane Claiborne the next. Their styles and presentations were quite different.

Ben wore a dress shirt and slacks and spoke with a thick, upper-class British accent, Enunciating Every Consonant And Every Word Completely And Clearly. Shane wore baggy pants and a loose fitting shirt--maybe an undershirt or plain white cotton T-shirt, like what I might wear for doing housework, and his vernacular was clearly "from the South," as we Yankees in the States say. He strung sentences together in a flurry and laughed easily and raised his voice regularly to make his points.

Ben had his humorous moments, to be sure, but it was an "acceptable" humor that White, middle-class, and upper-class Americans could appreciate. Shane's humor was more visceral, more graphic, more let's-get-real, this-is-how-it-is girls-and-boys. I needed to take more deep breaths when I was listening to Shane than to Ben. Chalk it up to differences in social class. (See? It's everywhere.)

Both men called us to greater faithfulness and greater care to looking at what we possess and what we profess.

Below and (hopefully) in the next post are a number of quips, ideas, and stories I jotted down during the two plenaries. Too much time has passed between having heard each one and writing about it now, so I giving myself permission to type things into a list of what I noted, rather than formulating a cohesive blogpost.

By the way, FGC will likely have all the plenaries available in CD later in 2009, through its QuakerBooks. And some of what Ben covered is in this teeny tiny pamphlet of his, Celebrating the Quaker Way, as well as in his 2003 presentation, Convinced Quakerism.

Ben Pink Dandelion

After making a few opening remarks about his background and his name, Ben launched into sharing some of his own spiritual journey, traveling from a life of hedonism to one of faithfulness.

At one point early on in his remarks, he spoke about his sense of having lived "an accompanied life," a sentiment I can often relate to, that there is a Spirit, a Principle that accompanies me...

He spoke about how the desire for a faithful life leads to a more serious life, which in turn leads to a more joyful life, and one with more laughter.

Ben described what he sees as the six stages of convincement, much of which he's also delineated in Convinced Quakerism, pp. 11-12:

1. The breaking-in of God in our lives, allowing us direct and immediate access to the Divine.

2. The Light showing us how things really are, being "convicted of our sin."

3. Our understanding that there is a choice and a possibility for change.

4. Being given the power to live that life, to be transformed.

5. The pulling together of others (Friends) into a community.

6. Sharing with one another and with others what we have found.
Since I am a "process queen"--I love how we develop and move through stages of understanding, of personal and spiritual growth--I was eager to hear more from Ben about these six stages. Sadly, as Ben went spinning into historical quotations by Fox, Penington, and others, I no longer could track which quote was related to what stage. Perhaps I'll take a closer look at his pamphlet...

Some other things Ben spoke to:

The more we surrender, the more we are given.

Fox's experience was inward, not outward and not "inner." Fox's was an interiorized experience.

Early Friends had an intimate relationship with God. We seek a sort of replacement of our old self with God's power, coming through us...

Fox believed in original sin and that all of us can be saved. That is what is meant by "perfectability."

Formal membership in the Religious Society of Friends began in the 1730s as a way to record which Quaker meetings would offer up "poor relief" to Friends who were suffering because of their convictions.

Quakers historically refused to engage in the manners of the world in order to further God's purposes on Earth (plain dress, plain speech; no hat honor, no tithes, no pagan-named months and days; keeping fixed prices... "No eBay!" declared Ben).

Today, many of us and many of our meetings are in fact caught up in the manners of the world, without accountability to our monthly meetings about what is or isn't Quaker.

These days, modern Friends "opt in and out" of certain testimonies, such as saying, "I support the testimony of simplicity but I have trouble with the peace testimony." But in the early days, Friends' Books of Discipline pointed to life as Testimony.

Once convinced, the sense of transformation continued day after day, and every day and every place was seen as sacred.

At one point, Ben spoke directly to us:
    At this Gathering, we look like a luxuried people.
Ben offered a few queries, related to pulling us into community as part of the convincement experience:
How is community realized for us? How do we take the mountaintop experience into our life? How do we transcend the individualism of society?

Why are we always learning to "go elsewhere" and always going away via technology? Why talk about being a 21st Century Friend? Why separate ourselves from the past and the future?
Again, he spoke to us:
    We're not Friends because we're good. We need each other to help us along in our faithfulness and activism.
Defining Liberal Friends... and our creedal ways

Ben draws on John Wilhelm Rowntree and Rufus Jones to look at the characteristics of Liberal Quakers, and these are also explained in Convinced Quakerism, p. 3:
    1. Experience as primary, not Scripture.
    2. Faith is relevant to the age we are in.
    3. Friends are open to new Light.
    4. We know more of God in each age, therefore the new Light we are given has more authority than what came before.
Today as Liberal Friends, we're cautious about what place belief has in Quakerism.

We know we don't have a creed, but we have a credal attitude toward what we believe and how we are.

It is a powerful source of our identity, to have a doctrine of seeking. The tTruth is personal, or it is somehow apportioned to individuals.

Today's Quaker message [from Liberal Friends] is that we are certain that we are a little uncertain of our belief. An "absolute perhaps," if you will.

Total "finders" will be in tension with a group of Liberal Friends. Those Friends who have been eldered [sic: admonished] for certain ministry may in fact have been [admonished] for their certainty.

It may be the "absolute perhaps" that will allow us to transcend the schisms among Friends.

What binds us together
    1. Direct encounter of the Spirit.
    2. Meeting for Worship for Business.
    3. The priesthood of all believers.
    4. Our Testimony [I'm not sure if he meant our life as testimony or "the" testimonies, or something else].
A Young Adult Friend during another presentation or discussion elsewhere pointed out that there are a few other, less pleasant things that also bind us together as a religious society:
    1. Self-righteousness and pride.
    2. Superficial witness in the world.
    3. Ungrounded worship.
A few closing thoughts by Ben

Be careful: Quakerism is the vehicle of our life, not the object of our worship.

We need incarnational spirituality: Are we living in the Power, or are we just saying we are?

We need to be possessing while we are professing.

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

In case that isn't enough to chew on, I hope to be sharing some of Shane's comments in the subsequent post.

As always, thanks for reading me.