February 26, 2010

Western Friend's review of Writing Cheerfully

Book Review: Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader

The complete title of the London Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice is Christian faith and practice in the experience of the Society of Friends.

While reading Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader, I realized I was reading the same book written from a different perspective—a contemporary account of faith and practice in the experience of the Society of Friends.

The Friends represented in this anthology cover a large geographic area, as well as a wide swath of the Quaker spectrum, ranging from Britain Yearly Meeting, North Carolina (Conservative), and Northwest (affiliated with Evangelical Friends International), to Freedom Friends, a Friends church not affiliated with any yearly meetings at all.

One uniting factor is that these writings all first appeared on the internet, on Quaker blogs. One blogger describes the virtual community shared on the web as an example of “electronic intervisitation,” a term once used for Friendly visits to other meetings to see how truth prospered there.

Another uniting characteristic of these Friends' musings is a shared frustration that the witness of today's Society of Friends feels so fragmentary and weak. Despite fluency in the Bible and in Quaker history displayed by individual contributors, they still yearn for a more immediate and more unified experience of the Friends witness today.

Editor Liz Opp provides a nice introduction to the world of blogging, and some suggestions about how blog writings might be understood from a Quaker perspective (as messages shared in open worship, for example), making this collection accessible for non-bloggers. And the personable, conversational tone of the writers offers a timely invitation to reflect on where each of us find ourselves in the faith and practice of the fragmentary, postmodern world of twenty-first century Friends.
Reviewed for Western Friend by Sarah Peterson, a member of Spokane Friends, Spokane, WA (NWYM).

February 13, 2010

Worship, community service, and a meeting's identity

At Meeting for Worship with attention to Business today--at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday, an experiment that we as a meeting are engaged in--a Friend reflected on the dualism that Quakers are about two things: worship and service.

There is a balance to be struck between the two. If we worship for too long without taking ourselves out of our meetinghouses, we cannot do God's work in the world. If we only participate in acts of service, we potentially exhaust ourselves and risk losing our spiritual grounding and connection to the Inward Teacher, the Inner Light.

The comment about worship and service was made when Nominating Committee asked us to reflect on what it's been like since we as a meeting have gone without an active Community Service Committee and without an active Peace and Social Action Committee for a few years.

Friends spoke about a couple of larger projects that we no longer participate in because of the lack of logistical support that the committees used to provide. Other Friends spoke about the good works and steady witness provided by individuals in the meeting--Joe Friend attends peace vigils regularly; Lisa Friend writes letters to elected officials; Chris Friend drops off food at the local food pantry; Annie Friend every once in a while helps out with feeding people who are homeless.

After several minutes, I was stirred to bring up a different point, though we were asked to move on to consider other business.

What I see is that if we are to revive either the Peace and Social Action Committee or the Community Service Committee, then we must be willing to step into and work to sustain a new identity for ourselves, as a meeting--an identity that says We care about the communities in which we live and worship; we are witnessing to the world a way of peace and love; and we will not tolerate injustice.

It would be a tremendous experiment, and it would take time, effort, and commitment--not by a committee but from the corporate body.

Then again, it was a risky experiment to hold Meeting for Worship for Business on a Saturday morning, after decades of conducting business on First Day afternoons or on a weekday evening. Though many Friends suspected that the turn-out would be small and inconsequential, there were in fact more Friends there this morning than there have been in a good many years.

The clerk said to me during the break, "I think our energy is better in the morning, and that is helping us tend to business." I agreed with him. After the initial worry passed of how tired or small in number we'd be, we seemed to settle well and remained grounded for much of the morning.

Could we actually embrace, as a meeting, the "new way of doing business"--or at least the new time?

This is a question very similar to what I felt we were being asked by Nominating Committee:

    Could we see ourselves, as a meeting, engaging in new or revived forms of service? Could we knit ourselves together in the name of lifting others up? Could we shift our energy away from the meeting activities and family busyness in which we are typically involved in order to make ourselves available to a different Purpose?
Still, something troubled me.

Another Friend offered a question--or at least this is the question that I heard, even if it wasn't the question that the Friend stated: What about the committees that Friends are currently serving on? What if we need those gifts on those committees at this time?

Yes, well...

If we are going to shift the balance from worship and inward service (e.g. committees) to witness and outward service (e.g. community), then we are going to have to be willing to use our "discretionary time" differently. We are going to have to be willing to have smaller or fewer committees, to do fewer social activities within meeting, and perhaps to do fewer social activities outside of meeting.

When I say "we," I don't mean the Friends in the meeting we know who always show up at political events or at peace marches. I mean the Friends who talk about how important it is to engage in service or to have a peace witness--and that has included Your Truly--and we need to hold ourselves accountable to talk less and walk-the-talk, walk the walk more.

That's where the corporate life of the Quaker community comes in. I have been helped to step outside of myself and move beyond my comfort zone by those with whom I worship. They have invited me to participate in an activity that otherwise would intimidate me; they have been there for me, spiritually holding my hand.

I've gone to another faith community's open house and I've visited in the hospital someone who was barely an acquaintance. And when I've felt vulnerable or unsafe or uneasy in those circumstances, I was able to share that openly with my fellow worshipers. I could keep on the path, putting one foot in front of the other.

We need each other. We need to invite one another and encourage one another to "do the thing we think we cannot do." We need to work with one another as we grow into our new possibility, shed our previous identity, and explore our new identity as a faith community, as a worship group, as a meeting.


P.S. For a post that touches on a similar theme, read Mary Linda's My discomfort is my lack of discomfort.

February 10, 2010

More reflections on ministry, leadings, and gifts

In recent weeks, I've been given more opportunities to reflect on the nature of spiritual gifts, ministry, and leadings. Other bloggers and I have written on these subjects before, but these additional reflections, borne of recent and revisited conversations, seem to want a bit of air, too.

Claiming versus having stewardship of a ministry, leading, or gift

I shared with Friends how I have been wrestling with whether or not I am acting out of ego or out of a true leading, as I sit with the vision of a Quaker resource center in my part of the U.S.

I had been talking with a Friend about this question at the rise of worship one First Day a few weeks ago. That Friend's response was "You have to CLAIM it; it's yours!"

My response was something like, "Well, that sounds like it's coming from a socialized white-American-male view of things." (I felt I could speak plainly to this particular socialized white American male Friend.)

Something about the energy of "claiming a leading as mine" didn't fit for me, I countered, and the Friend wisely suggested I look again at Lloyd Lee Wilson's book, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order.

The next day, I did in fact pull out good ol' LLW:

    ...the gifted individual has become steward of a spiritual gift which God has given to the faith community for a particular task or occasion, and must learn how to be a good steward of that gift. The community in turn needs to learn how to encourage and nurture its gifted members... (p. 92)
    ...the task of claiming our giftedness has more to do with the individual's willingness to accept the gift being named as something for which (s)he is intended to be the steward... [Until] I claim, or accept that gift, it is bound up and incapable of being fully developed or exercised... We are stewards, not owners of our spiritual gifts, and to be a steward... of a spiritual gift is [to be] the servant of God who has bestowed the gift... [One] must exchange a portion of one's apparent independence for intentional servanthood. (p. 101)
Reading these two sections helps me understand that claiming a gift or a leading without the humility to use it in service to God is vastly different from accepting stewardship of that gift or leading.

I feel better for having wrestled about the line between the two, and for having that understanding affirmed by how Lloyd Lee has articulated it.

The Great River and a tether

In a committee meeting the day after the conversation I had with the "socialized white American male Friend," I was reminded of how living in the Spirit is often compared to being in the stream or in a river: There is a current, and we can either swim against it--tiring ourselves--or we can swim with it. Or we can float along and perhaps be tussled onto the banks.

This reminder strongly reflected some writing I had done the previous week.

The committee explored the River metaphor more fully, and I became aware of the helpfulness of being tethered. I sat with that felt-sense, of what it had been like for me to have been "tethered" to the monthly meeting over a three year period as I explored the concern I had, about how we convey our faith as Friends and what sustains us in our Quakerism.

I understood that night that having a committee of care-and-accountability, particularly under the care of a worshiping community, is in fact that sort of tether.* I went to bed feeling very full and enriched, both by the topics we had explored and by the spiritual hospitality that Friends provided me that night.


P.S. Friends General Conference calls these sorts of committees anchor committees.

February 5, 2010

What is dear to me about Quakerism

What follows below is the major part of a letter I sent to a couple of Friends shortly after we saw one another at a local Quaker event.

I wrote them because they wanted to hear what I shared with a different small group. It is based on some journaling we were asked to do during the event, following which we were asked to "prepare a message" inspired by our writing. --Liz

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What is dear to me about Quakerism

When we gather for worship, the living Silence embraces us and we are joined to one another: we are yoked together with the Spirit.

It is such a precious time.

And when, out of the silence, someone feels moved by the Spirit... when the Living Spirit speaks through one of us while we worship, we are being offered such a gift.

I wait to hear what my fellow worshiper has to offer. Perhaps it is a message of how God has reached that person and has helped her or him be transformed, broken open, brought closer to the Spirit.

And it is in the silence that the community who hears such vocal ministry will come to bear witness to that person's transformation and healing. We will help hold the Friend prayerfully as she, or he, sinks down into the Seed and begins to share the story...

So of course I become expectant in the waiting: How is God speaking to me, to us, through this person? What is God calling me, or us, to do?

When I hear of someone's experience of how God has been speaking to him or her, of being broken open, of wrestling to yield to God's guidance, of being transformed; when I hear how God has spoken so deeply to that person that her or his life is changed, then I myself am somehow also changed, at a deep and wordless level.

It is as if I am being made ready for God to open me, too.

Maybe not immediately, maybe not the next day, but at some point.

When that time comes, I know that I will be called upon to speak out of the living Silence, to share how it is that God has worked on my soul, has broken me open, and has helped me be transformed.

And when that time comes, not only do I know that the gathered body will bear witness to my words during worship, but I also know that I will be held tenderly by God.


February 1, 2010

On being an agent of God

    This is a short piece I wrote during a local Quaker event where we were given just a few minutes to journal about any part of our Quakerism. --Liz
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The Power of God--the Loving Principle and Inward Teacher--lives and flows through me. It is a living current and I may step into it and follow its direction, or I may resist or struggle against it, or I may remove myself from it and watch it go by, at least for a time.

But when I am in that Stream, when I add my energy to the Great Current, I feel alive, ready, engaged, and attentive--able to risk in ways I hadn't before, and able to see how God is leading me--sometimes gently and sometimes insistently--into a measure greater than who I thought I was.

I am called into More--more of who I am, more fullness of Life, more depth of Love, more willingness to be an agent of the Living Loving God.