September 28, 2010

Dangers of today's implicit Quakerism

This post is an extension of a comment I left on my previous post. My apologies for bouncing readers around...
The discussion around Martin K's low-tech outreach program--invite a newcomer to lunch--has a few of us sharing our own experience of being newcomers at one point and having received that sort of invitation to linger, to join a group for lunch on First Day, to learn more about Quakerism by way of simple gestures of fellowship.

It's easy these days for any of us as individuals to bow out of such opportunities, though, for First Day fellowship because of our responsibilities to children, to partners, to preparation for the upcoming week's grind...

But we are missing the role of the larger community--the Quaker worship community--when we consider ourselves as individuals, disconnected from the larger group:

A healthy, vibrant meeting will have a critical mass of Friends who are available to do the work that not every individual can. It's that critical mass--made up of individual Friends, but with a shared understanding of the whole--that can regularly provide outreach and opportunities to talk about Quakerism with others.

It's that same sort of critical mass that recognizes and acts upon the need for Friends to attend Quaker weddings and memorials that are taken under the care of the meeting, something I have written about previously.

When we as a community stop talking openly among ourselves about the responsibilities of membership (or of long-term attendance-ship!), then those responsibilities become implicit and invisible--which used to be okay when we would spend oodles of time with one another during the rest of the week.

It used to be okay because during our time together away from Meeting, we'd learn that Friends would be making plans to go to committee meetings, or to attend Meeting for Worship for Business, or to check in on a Friend who was going through a particularly painful time, etc etc. We saw and heard about the interweaving of Quakerism through the fabric of the lives of those around us.

But when we see each other and interact with each other only (primarily) on First Days, we lose our direct exposure to how Quakerism impacts our day-to-day lives: how we might pull out the Scriptures to remind ourselves of a story that can help us through difficulty; how we might call on one another to discern this-or-that; how we might quiet ourselves to settle into worship during a spiritually dark time so that the Light may reveal something to us that we need to know and we may submit to it, letting mercy come in...

Our isolated, individualized brand of Quakerism is likely in stark contrast to the religion of our youth--for those of us who grew up in a religious household. That "earlier religion" was probably made explicit to us in all sorts of ways, perhaps many of them as empty forms: references to certain members of the clergy; traditions, ceremonies, and meals that followed a certain calendar of holidays; prayers that were recited on specific occasions; and lessons that were taught so we'd understand the history, struggle, accomplishments, and teachings of our particular faith.

But today, the implicit nature of today's Quakerism is not one that will allow our faith tradition to be passed onto future generations, because we have confused an embodied or "implicit Quakerism" with not knowing how to talk about our faith--or not being willing to do so, out of fear that others will be turned off by our forthrightness.

An active, receptive, participatory silence is expected during our unprogrammed periods of worship. But we fail our Quaker ancestors and our Quaker tradition when we remain silent about our faith away from our meetingroom's doors.


September 26, 2010

Invite a visitor to lunch (a la Martin Kelley)

The other day, I started catching up on some overdue Quaker blog reading, and I came across Martin's post on The Biggest Most Vibranty Most Outreachiest Program Ever. Like other readers, I chuckled as I read how EXTREME a program like his could be.

I wanted to comment, to share a bit of my own story with this sort of OUTRAGEOUS approach to outreach, except at the time, there was a message that said "Comments are closed." What better way is there to get me into a blogging mode, than to realize I can't post a comment on someone else's blog?!

(Comments appear to be open now, by the way. But this is too good of an opportunity for me to pass up.)

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

I was exposed to Quaker worship while I was at a private college whose origins have its roots in Quakerism. A handful of students would attend worship on First Days, but if someone from the nearby Meeting invited us students to lunch, I don't recall taking the Friend up on the offer.

Years later, I would find myself among Milwaukee Friends in Wisconsin. Theirs is a warm, friendly environment, with one greeter in particular who often hugs the long-time worshipers as they arrive on First Day. (She appropriately offers a handshake if you are unknown to her!)

After worshiping a couple of years there, I attended my first FGC Gathering, where I was struck by the number of people who invited one another to go to lunch together, following the morning activities.

The first First Day immediately after I got back from the Gathering, I rose my hand during announcements and said something like, "I got so used to going to lunch with Friends while I was away, I want to ask others here to go to lunch with me after worship, if anyone's interested."

I think three or four worshipers approached me afterward... and we ended up going to lunch weekly after that, with others joining us occasionally, for at least a couple years!

Later, that practice of inviting someone to lunch morphed into my asking an older, experienced Friend to provide me with eldership--which we did, of course, over lunch each month.

Now it's even years after that: When Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group happens to have a visitor, we always have some fellowship afterward--and we have at least one Friend who has a gift for inviting visitors and newcomers into the conversation. Plus, when we have a potluck, we welcome visitors and newcomers to join us for that, even if the meal is small. When we have a planned guest or speaker, we typically have a potluck at that time, too.

But Martin in his post goes beyond the action of inviting a person to lunch. The next step involves the preparedness and the willingness to talk about Quakerism, to explain our peculiar faith tradition, to connect our activities with our beliefs and vice versa. Again, the worship group is blessed to have a few experienced Friends who can move us from introductions to answering questions about Quakerism and then back to more casual conversation.

If we skip that step--asking the visitor, "Do you have any questions about Quakerism?" or "What was your experience like during worship?" or even "What did you know about Quakerism before you came here?--we risk perpetuating the perception that Quaker meetings are really more like a social club where we don't talk about God in our lives, a perception which in turn can be carried by visitors into meetings for worship.

These days, especially when I attend the larger worship at the monthly meeting on First Days, I've noticed in myself a growing willingness to introduce myself to someone I don't know when worship breaks. After all, we're shaking hands anyway, so why not just add a quick, "G'morning. I'm Liz; nice to meet you"? So far, folks have been willing to tell me their name in return.

From there, it's just a short reach to add an additional ten words or so that Martin suggests:

Would you like to join me for a bite afterward?


September 16, 2010

An open letter to George W. Bush

16 September 2010

George W. Bush
Office of George W. Bush
P.O. Box 259000
Dallas, TX 75225-9000

Dear George Bush:

Ramadan is over; Eid has brought countless numbers of American Muslims together this month, and I have been wondering why no one in the United States has heard your voice to calm the recent hysteria that so many politicians and even members of the clergy have been demonstrating toward American Muslims and toward their faith.

Yours was the voice of calm, respect, and Christian love in the days that followed those horrific attacks on September 11, 2001:

    The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam... 
    I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. 
    The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.  
I respectfully say to you, Friend, that your silence during this time of grave misperception, harmful stereotyping, and fear-based rhetoric is like the Santa Ana wind: it cannot be seen, but when there is fire, that which cannot be seen adds to the enormity of the destruction and ruin of American lives.

As a Quaker, I am reminded that my faith’s practice of silent, open worship cannot take the place of speaking out, of showing up, of offering myself as a grounded presence in times of wrongful action and hate-filled speech.

I pray that the Loving Presence stirs thy heart and lifts thy spirit so that thee may remember our Muslim brothers and sisters in this country and around the world; that thee may remind our wider American family that American Muslims are Americans; that Islam is a way to peace.

Thy shoulders may well carry a burden specific unto thee, thy voice a message to speak unto a nation that is in distress. Do not bury thy talent and believe it is being well-used.

September 7, 2010

Taking responsibility for learning about Islam

Recent sobering news about how one house of worship in Florida wants to "acknowledge" the events of 9-11 has gotten me to start thinking about what I can do, as one person.

At least for the remainder of September, each day I am going to read a passage from the Qur'an. (I've changed my homepage on my computer to this link as a commitment to doing so.)

I got to thinking about this after I learned from Robin M. that San Francisco Meeting will be talking with some of their young Friends about recent developments around the proposed Islamic Center in New York and historical examples of religious persecution. Sounds like a good way to teach and learn about tolerance.

I also find myself wondering: If we can take the time to talk with our children and youngest Friends about Islam and the religious persecution that Muslims in America are currently facing, maybe I can start educating myself too.

Perhaps others will join me.


September 1, 2010

Silence on a stick?!

Here where I am, the end of the summer is marked by what is called the Great Minnesota Get-Together: the Minnesota State Fair.

One theme for the food that is sold at the fair is "food-on-a-stick": fried Twinkies, chocolate-dipped cheesecake, and caramelized bacon--on a stick.

The other day while hanging out with some Quaker friends, one of them suggested we could have a Quaker booth at the fair next year and sell Silence-on-a-Stick.

The idea got some laughs, but in light of what is happening with the increase in "Islamophobia" in the U.S., I was struck by our initial corporate Quaker silence across the country. When I started this post a few days ago, I took heart at what rabbinic student Rachel Barenblat wrote shortly after a drunk man urinated on the rugs of a New York mosque. I left the following comment:

...Not only did I post the link on my Facebook page but I also called my local TV station and referred them to your blog, asking that some air time be dedicated to the GOOD THINGS that Americans can do for one another.

One downside to the portion of Quakers that has no formally recognized clergy is that we sometimes lack the leadership such as what you and apparently Stu provided in this instance: in a moment of inspiration, to act and not just pray.
While I search my own heart for how I might be led in these horrifying times, I also ask that others point me to positive responses and goodwill outreach that is taking place.

What are the Quakers in your corner of the world doing to refute the blame and the hate that is going on?

What does our faith call us to do, in addition to pray?

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

I'm grateful to see messages now put out by New York Yearly Meeting in collaboration with AFSC, as well as a statement from Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Some highlights from these statements:

    We dare to imagine the site of the World TradeTowers surrounded by the evidence of our nation’s commitment to religious freedom, and our nation’s pluralism. We welcome it alongside current mosques and other houses of worship, and other interfaith and community centers near the site and throughout our city.
    To counter the distrust and misinformation, more people need to state publicly that they support the freedom of American Muslims to worship and to gather together.
But I also return to this haunting piece, which could just as easily begin with "First they came for the Muslims..."
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.
What do these melancholic words impel us to do, at the very least...?