August 10, 2011

A new focus, a new blog. At least for now.

Dear friends and readers of The Good Raised Up,

It seems that God is asking me to engage in a new witness, and so much of my time and energy and concern has shifted to the issue of marriage equality.

The new blog I am maintaining is Equality Is Coming. Feel free to take a peek there, but don't cross this blog off your list just yet. As Way opens, I may occasionally be posting here--

I really hope Way will open for me to return to a more regular practice of writing here. I miss so many of you!


June 20, 2011

Racism, Quaker theology, and my own liberation

Over the years, as Friends General Conference has established programs to eradicate racism among the Religious Society of Friends, I have heard the statement, "Racism hurts everyone."

I've been confused by that, since I myself am not a person of color and I didn't see how I was being hurt.

For the past two years, I've attended the annual national White Privilege Conference and that statement--Racism hurts everyone--has worked on me. But it wasn't until the intersection of two things coming together that my heart and spirit opened to that Truth.

First, a local Quaker friend of European descent pointed me to a quote by White Philadelphia Friend Arlene Kelly:

We are not a homogenous group seeking to become more diverse; we are an incomplete organization seeking to become more whole. --Friends Journal, October 2010
The second thing was that I began reflecting on Quakerism's doctrine of the Inner Light. In particular I was thinking of the concept that the more we listen together, and the more we hear from different individuals gathered in worship as to their own discernment and understanding of God's guidance, the closer we get to understanding the full Truth that God wishes for us to know.

When I disallow myself the opportunity to listen to, worship with, and befriend people who are different from me--people of color, immigrants or "new Americans," people who are poor or working class--when I disallow those connections, I am automatically cutting myself off from the Love and Truth that my brothers and sisters in the Spirit have for me and for my White middle-class, US-born peers.

The whole of the Truth cannot be understood without the Whole of people.

If I am regularly worshiping with and seeking Truth primarily with only some of God's children, then I am likely not able to know the Truth that others who are different from me hold, because I won't have access to understanding their experience of the world, of the Light.

In that case, the Truth itself is less than whole, particularly as Quakers of European descent strive to undo racism, understand the complexity of White privilege, and work for justice in the world.

As that awareness began to sink into my heart, I felt a lot of energy and space open up within me. It was as if all those spoken and unspoken cautions about watching out for "this group" or for "that group" just floated away.

While I was "being socialized without my consent"* and without my knowledge, to keep "those people" at arm's length and in a box labeled "CAUTION: Others," I didn't know that I myself was being boxed in, with messages of what I was supposed to think, what I was supposed to say, and how I was supposed to be.

When I came into the Truth that all of us are needed in order to know the Whole of God, I indeed felt freed. And I have never looked back.


*I have looked for a source for the concept of "being socialized without our consent," which I first heard at the White Privilege Conference in 2011 (WPC12) but haven't been able to find who to attribute it to.

June 10, 2011

Plenary session of Northern Yearly Meeting 2011

Over the years, I'd lost interest in going to yearly meeting sessions, largely because I was enamored instead by the discipline and approach to Meeting for Worship for Business that I had experienced at Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative.*

This year, Way isn't open for me to attend IYMC sessions, but I would say Way was very open for me to attend Northern Yearly Meeting. The writing was on the wall--and more literally, on the flyer: the theme was "Beyond Othering...To Loving."

Over the years, NYM has had plenaries and workshops dedicated to understanding racism, oppression, and inclusion. And over those same years, there's been a lot of talking and worshiping and listening to one another, but little outward change. As Friends, we sure do know a lot of stuff, but we don't seem to act on it too often--a sentiment recently raised up by another blogger, about how we Quakers engage in a bumper-sticker or banner-at-the-meetinghouse sort of activism.

Bit by bit, I wondered if the presence of so many Friends at the recent White Privilege Conference (WPC), which was held in NYM territory, would somehow lend itself to a different sort of experience this year.

And then I was invited to be part of the plenary that would be offered at NYM, working in collaboration with three others who had also attended the WPC this year. To add to Way opening, in case I had missed the earlier cues, I had a nudge to propose a workshop, Moving Through White Guilt. For the first time in a number of years, it was pretty easy to say Yes to the plenary and Yes to going to the yearly meeting.

During a conference call just a few weeks before the session, the four of us plenary planners/facilitators realized that we didn't have a feel or idea of how to frame the whole-gathering session. We had the theme to work with, and we had the guidance that the plenary not be a panel discussion about the WPC, since "Othering" occurs in many arenas: gay/straight; middle class/working class; able-bodied/disabled, etc.

So during the conference call, unsure what to do, we simply fell into worship... and we began to articulate how we were being led.

In the end, here's how the plenary unfolded:

1. We asked Friends to enter the large room in a worshipful manner, and the room had been arranged in large concentric circles, with a long table in the middle and a big aisle that led from the table to the hallway. We also asked for two visiting Friends to hold in the Light the group, the plenary facilitators, and the process for the evening.

2. On the table were many small pieces of tape and a number of pairs of name tags. Each pair of nametags represented an element of social power or privilege that a person either had or lacked.

For example, one pair was MALE/FEMALE (for the purpose of the plenary, we intentionally used a binary for each pairing); another pair was CHRISTIAN/NON-CHRISTIAN; a third pair was WHITE/PERSON OF COLOR. The items that had social power (in the U.S.) were on one color paper; those without power were on a different color.

3. After Friends were seated--there were about 100-120 adults--we asked them to come up to the table and take ONE nametag that represented some social power or privilege that they had in their life; and ONE nametag that represented some power or privileged that they didn't have. We asked them to tape the two tags onto their shirt and sit back down, paying attention to how they felt as they attached the tags while waiting for everyone else to do the same.

4. After everyone had taken their tags and was seated, we then moved the center table out to the hall (hence the large aisle leading to the hallway!). We went over some guidelines for the evening. We were careful not to say that we wanted to create a "safe space" because we made it clear that we wanted Friends to take risks, to "lean into your discomfort, because that's usually where the learning and growth are." Then we asked people to get into pairs and talk with each other briefly about why they picked the tags that they did and what it was like to do so. After just four or five minutes, we gathered back into a large group again for the next piece.

5. The biggest chunk of time for the evening, we explained, was dedicated to having individuals acknowledge, one at a time and in front of the whole group, one of three different experiences. In the large, central empty space in the room, on the right we placed a sign on the floor that said "Experience of having privilege." In the middle we placed "Experience of having less privilege." And on the left was "A request or something learned." We explained that, as in worship sharing, one Friend at a time would speak for a short time and then we'd return to silence before another person was to speak.

In addition, as Friends were ready, when someone wanted to share, she or he would come to the place on the floor (if able) that represented the "position" from which she or he was speaking: If it was to admit a time when she or he misused social power, the person would stand at the right. If it was to acknowledge a time when something was hurtful as a result of being in a place of less or no privilege, the person would stand in the center. And if it was to share something that was learned from either having privilege or from not having privilege; or it if was to make a specific, concrete request, the person would stand on the left: "As a person with a disability, ask me if I want help before you jump to help me..."

And we gave one last bit of guidance: We weren't asking people to share their most horrific moment, or their most shameful experience. After all, this wasn't intended to be a group therapy session or a cathartic experience. So we asked people to find an experience or memory that had a bit of a zing to it, a bit of energy attached to it, so that it wouldn't be an empty experience for them but neither would they be overwhelmed once they started to speak.

Then we waited.

The sharing was deep and rich, insightful and pained. Friends were attentive and moved. Some cried as the person in the central space shared an experience through tears.

It was powerful. And the Living Presence was with us.

6. As we had planned the evening, we had considered how to move from one part of the plenary to the next, especially how to close this particular piece, not knowing how tender the group might be. We had agreed that at each transition, we would insert a song that would be familiar to most Friends there. After all, NYM is the yearly meeting that is known for its fellowship-through-singing group, Nightingales.

Earlier in the plenary we had sung a verse from "Holy Ground," and two verses from "We Are A Gentle Loving People" (We are whole and we are broken...). At this point, we sang "Peace I Ask of Thee O River." It was so sweet, so perfect...

7. We quietly explained that before we'd move into closing worship, we wanted folks to get together with one other person and take a few minutes to talk about the experience: what was surprising, what was new; and to consider how what was shared that night might apply to either the person's own worship community or to the yearly meeting as a whole.

WoW, the room became all abuzz and it was hard to bring us back together! But we had another song in mind to do just that, and it took about three or four times to sing through "Woyaya" before we were ready to join in worship for the last 20-30 minutes.

The whole evening was such a gift... The worship was rich and built on themes and experiences that resonated for many that night.

When we four debriefed with the two Friends who had been holding the space, we each acknowledged how well-used we felt; how we never could have come up with this plenary if we had actually tried to plan it; how open we were to being led and how trusted we each felt as the different pieces emerged and fell into place.

During the four-hour drive home, I found myself wondering if I'd be back in 2012. After all, I'm curious to see if there is any fruit of the Spirit that may have been seeded as a result of that two-hour session.


*I've written quite a bit about my experiences at IYMC annual sessions. This link takes you to every post that has the tag "IYMC."

June 4, 2011

This is what Loving-kindness looks like

I acknowledge that The Good Raised Up has taken a bit of a turn lately. Recent blog posts--which are more rare than even a year ago--are less about explicit Quakerism and more about marriage equality in Minnesota* and the White Privilege Conference that was held in April.

These topics and my involvement in them are more about social change than they are about conveying our Quaker faith to one another. At the same time, my life and where I am called is still about faithfulness as a Friend and, now more than ever, about Love.

Since late May 2011, I've been keeping a list of creative ways to respond to organizations, individuals, and messages that promote stereotypes of GLBTQ people, that denigrate us and our families, that distort the truth, prey on fears, and undermine the very nature of who we are and how we love.

I keep this list because the struggle over marriage equality is coming to my state, in the form of a proposed constitutional restriction that "marriage" be reserved for only a man and a woman. Granted, the struggle is already in my yearly meeting, though in much less strident form.

So I make lists of what a public witness, a campaign, an act of civil disobedience, a movement might look like, to interrupt the perpetuation of unchecked, unquestioned straight privilege.

One theme that recurs throughout my list is this:

    If we could be socialized from a very young age with a message of our choosing, what would that message be?
It probably wouldn't be a message about getting the most toys by the time we die, or about traveling the world, or even about "living happily ever after." Probably not a message that would be dependent on our station in life or on the color of our skin or on the dollars in our bank account.

If I could choose the message that I would have been socialized into, it would go something like this:
    Above all else, love one another. Treat others with loving-kindness and insist that you and all others also be treated with loving-kindness. Everyone is worthy of love; each of you is capable to give love; and each of you is to do your best to give it--and give it generously--while respecting and loving yourself as well.
Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing even truly remarkable, when you think about it.

Yet I have the faith that this simple, fundamental message of unconditional love, of loving-kindness, can and ultimately will transcend the negative and subversive voices that are coming to Minnesota soon. Love is a powerful transformative force of its own, if we but choose it over and over and over again.

I have the faith that a message of love will make us want to turn toward the Light and give energy toward love rather than spend energy on refuting million-dollar ad campaigns that distort the Truth and hurt both the participants in and the targets of the campaign.

I have the faith that God loves love, that the yearning to love, to be loved, and to share in the expression of love--and to do so generously--is universal, regardless of gender, political party, age, or even legislation.

The way I see it these days, the fastest way to implement meaningful social change is to socialize everyone we meet--whether adversary or lover, for each is our sister and our brother--to reprogram all of us to "download" messages of loving-kindness and delete internalized, socialized messages of meanness, exclusion, and scarcity.

I believe God calls us, all of us, to greater love, to our greater measure of Light.

How do we reprogram ourselves, then, how are we to reboot our lifelong internal system and insert a new message, a new HTML, for us all?

We do so bit by bit, mindfully and with the intention to answer that of God in everyone, according to the Loving Principle that is innately within us. Many of us already know this...

I was heartened recently by an article I saw about a progressive political scientist Melissa Harris-Perry. In the article, she advocates that, when speaking on a number of social justice issues and to counter the rhetoric that is out there, we can do so by drawing on our own faith-based message of God's love and the overall liberation narrative of Scripture.

I like her message. It has nothing to do with sin, ex-gay therapy, or vying for scarce resources.

Indeed, if we are going to speak from a renewed center and grounding of Love and of loving-kindness, we are going to have to know what it feels like in our own body; what it sounds like to our own ear; what it smells like and what it looks like.

We must be on the lookout for it. Nurture it. Cultivate it. Teach it to our children, to our parents, to our neighbors, to strangers, to one another--for we are our own sisters and brothers, and we have been socialized over many generations to forget that universal connection.

I'll end this post with two lists: The first is about how we have been taught to disregard loving-kindness. The second is what loving-kindness looks like. We all have an opportunity to choose which one to pay attention to.

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

Signs of being taught to disregard loving-kindness
(In no particular order)

Invalidation of someone's personal experience or the cumulative experience of a group.
Division, separation, avoidance, alienation.
Lack of deep, meaningful connections.
Certainty of one right answer, one way to be.
Better than/less than thinking.
Increased defensiveness.
Name-calling and stereotyping.
Blame or responsibility placed on those who have less or on those who have fewer privileges.
Rigidity and long-time refusal to consider alternate possibilities.
Black and white thinking; either-or rhetoric.
A longer view of history is used to distort current issues and to undermine facts or cumulative experience.
Use of religion, history, legislation, etc. to tear down, divide, and coerce.
Exploiting doubt in order to cause harm or make others less-than.
Anger that is disproportionate to a given situation.
Guilt is evoked or exploited to tell others what to think, how to act, etc.
Limited or no direct, meaningful experience with members of the group that is or will be affected.
Behaviors and words that indicate it's okay to disparage a group in the name of "Truth."

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

Okay. Deep breath.

That list was hard for me to write, but it's also been empowering for me to articulate all of that and to have the veils of harmful, disconnective socialization come off of my face. Thanks to the White Privilege Conference experience in 2010 and 2011 to help me "wake up"!

And now to the brighter side of Life:

This is what loving-kindness looks like
(In no particular order)

Unity in heart and spirit.
Caring for one another.
Affirmation of our wholeness.
Kindness in the face of adversity and hatred.
Belief in our own and in each other's fullest potential to do better, to do right by others.
Unconditional acceptance of another's inward and outward condition in the moment.
A value of expansiveness; a growth-oriented spirit; a desire for mutual liberation.
Generosity of spirit, time, and energy.
To be in deep, meaningful relationship, even with those who are different or who disagree with us.
A lifting up of a higher, universal Truth.
Use of religion, history, legislation, etc. to build up and enrich society.
Allowing and encouraging one another to view history, experience, and even Scripture as pointing toward faith, hope, and love.
Willingness to struggle with gray areas, for out of the compassionate struggle comes new Light.
Being gentle with oneself and with others during challenging times.
Compassion for those who do the hurting and oppressing.
Solidarity with oppressed peoples and individuals.
Light, light-heartedness, unrestricted joy.
A glint in one's eye, just because.

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

Thanks, as always, for reading me.


*The video to which this link connects is raw footage of the scene at the Minnesota capitol just as the final vote of the House was being taken and immediately afterward. ...Does this look like a group of people defeated? Jeanne and I were inside the House's chambers, in the balcony ("gallery") as the entire event played out. We could clearly hear the chants "Just vote No! Just vote No!" inside. In the foreground of the first few seconds of the video is a White man holding a sign that says "Same-sex couples supported our marriage. Let's return the favor." He's a Quaker, and he and his opposite-sex partner, along with about 20 other straight Quaker allies, were at the capitol nearly the entire week, shouting and singing their hearts out. Despite the outcome of the week, Love was there, and it was palpable.

June 2, 2011

Guest piece: Witnessing to nonviolence on the eve of a long struggle


Some of you know that here in Minnesota, the Republican-run legislature voted last month in May to place a question on next year's ballot that would define within the state's constitution that a marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The Human Rights Campaign is working with statewide organizations that advocate and lobby on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. No doubt many progressive faith communities will be involved, too.

But HRC's recruitment email included the sentence "...[We] have enough time to build the infrastructure needed to win – and that means recruiting throngs of foot soldiers to fight the amendment." [emphasis mine]

One local Friend, whom I'll simply refer to as Heather, cc'd me on her personal reply to HRC's National Field Director, Marty Rouse, whose name is attributed to the recruitment email.

Here's Heather's reply, with her permission.


Dear Marty,

Words can not express the gratitude I feel as a Minnesotan, knowing that HRC will help us accurately portray families headed by same-sex couples as loving, healthy, American, and deserving of the same legal protections that other families take for granted.

Your letter did however raise concern for me in one area. I can not abide the conceptualization of this as a "war." Even if "war" was declared on our families*, I do not agree to "fight." In my household, in my same-sex marriage-affirming faith community, there will be no "foot soldiers." There will be people earnestly engaged in non-violent resistance; there will be courage manifested in speaking truth to power; there will be "sweat-equity" invested in our democracy; there will be sacrifice and hard work and returning again and again to the belief that hate does not overcome hate -- only love can do that.

I ask you, on behalf of those of us who commit our lives to nonviolence, to please resist using the imagery of war to characterize the commitment I deeply believe that you and I share, to overcome the constitutional ban on gay marriage in Minnesota. We know the power of love, and I can not think of a better time to witness than this.


*which it was -- I understand -- the MN Representative we have come to know through an extended family member told us, the morning of the vote, that his constituents are like "young recruits before the Civil War, hounding him with the refrain, 'Just let us fight!!'"

May 19, 2011

A testimony for marriage equality; a day in the struggle

    When has anyone ever voted on YOUR life?
It's after 11:00 pm on Wednesday night. Here's how I spent my day:

1. Up before 7:00 am (I usually wake around 8:00).

2. Carpool to the Minnesota capitol at 8:00 am.

3. 8:30-10:30 am, listen to Minnesota House of Representatives' Committee on House Rules: Shall the proposed constitutional amendment to define [restrict] marriage be advanced to the full House for a vote, the outcome of which, if it passes there, will be to let the people vote in 2012? Vote is 13-12 in favor. There are many tears, sobs, and shouts. One woman stands and says, "I shall not be moved. This is not my Minnesota." Bailiffs ask her to be silent and calm down. She does not. She sits on the floor and says "I shall not be moved." She is picked up and carried out of the room. More tears and sobs.

4. 10:45-11:30 am. Two GLBTQ advocacy groups tell those of us gathered what our next steps are: Call legislators in the House who are wavering. Prepare for a House vote as early as Thursday. Come to the office to make phone calls to Minnesotans.

5. 12:00-1:00 pm. Send emails and messages to friends throughout Minnesota, asking them to call legislators. Clear my schedule for Thursday.

6. 1:00-2:00 pm. Lunch break.

7. 2:00-3:45 pm More emails and calls; break up the monotony by looking at Facebook.

8. 3:45 pm Head to office for phone calling.

9. 4:30-7:00 pm Phone calls.

10. 8:00-9:15 pm. Conference call about Quaker event planning, unrelated to the amendment. None of us on the call identify as straight.

11. 8:45 pm Jeanne interrupts my call: The House has announced it will vote on the bill on Thursday; rally to begin at 10:00 am; expect the debate to go on all day. [UPDATE: Early on Thursday morning, the news goes out that the rally and House session is pushed back until the afternoon. Stop jerking our chain!]

12. 9:15-10:15 pm Call who I can to tell them about the vote.

13. 11:00 pm Write my family.

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

As I got ready for bed, I felt rise up in me so many emotions. A great sadness that my life is something that someone else can vote on. A great hurt that so few of my friends--my straight allies--will cancel their plans in order to stand with us at the capitol. A great hole and deep sorrow...

...And at last I understand why women suffragists and laborers and Gandhi go on hunger strikes:
    No one but myself can control my life, MY life, and I will use it or lose it as *I* choose.
Am I ready to go on a hunger strike for the sake of freedom to marry? I don't think so.

But my bones, my heart aches.

They ache for justice.


May 8, 2011

A busy life of service, ministry, and mourning

For several weeks I have been waiting to have a bit of time to catch up on The Good Raised Up; thanks for your patience!

White Privilege Conference

In First Month 2011, I began working with Vanessa Julye of Friends General Conference to arrange for a group discount for Quakers who would attend the 12th annual White Privilege Conference. Vanessa, myself, and at least eight other Friends attended the previous year's conference, and all of us committed to work toward getting at least sixty Quakers to attend this year.

Through Facebook, personal invitations, sending flyers and Frequently Asked Questions to a number of individuals and yearly meetings, and with the help of my partner Jeanne, a few of us pulled together a group of nearly seventy Quakers from at least nine yearly meetings and were able to receive more than half off of the regular registration fee for the conference. Based on the evaluations we've received, it seems like it was energy, time, money, and human resources well spent!

Some highlights from my own experience include...

  1. A wonderful and intense keynote by Michelle Alexander, whose remarks about mass incarceration of African Americans and the new Jim Crow paralleled what is on this video--with thanks to FGC for posting this or a similar video on their Facebook page, prior to the conference;
  2. An engaging workshop on how to assess your community's or organization's success (or lack of success) in incorporating "best practices" toward becoming a multicultural organization [pdf];
  3. Another workshop --which was set up to be more like a round-table--about the extent to which White people in the U.S. who are engaged in antiracism consultation work are making money off the backs of people of color. Ooh-la-la, it was inspiring to have people of color and people of European descent really labor and challenge one another, and see how we White people stayed present when called out on our privilege. A number of White consultants openly humbled themselves in order to listen deeply to the perspectives of their peers who are people of color. It's vital to see these accountability measures in place and to have models of how to engage in the tough questions. Quakers do not have a monopoly on Love being the first motion!
  4. Having a room dedicated to the Quaker group, to allow so many of us to collapse during lunch breaks, have worship sharing when we were in need of some shared reflection time, and have a closing worship to bring it all together;
  5. Finding out that there is already at least one Friend in InterMountain Yearly Meeting who is considering helping coordinate a similar Quaker group for WPC13 in Albuquerque in 2012!
I came away from this year's conference with a belief that there is the potential for some significant systemic change among Quakers and how we can address, collectively, racism and White privilege in order to bring about healing and reconciliation--from a place not of self-righteousness but of humility and love.

Ministry after WPC12

One of the advantages of attending the White Privilege Conference when it was just 20 minutes from my home is that I could then attend meeting for worship the morning after the conference ended.

I was exhausted and very full, and I was still playing host to an out-of-town Quaker friend who had stayed with us. If I was lucky, I'd be able to stay awake during worship, which had about 6-8 other Friends who had attended the conference.

Well, maybe God uses exhausted people sometimes to be a messenger.

I was Given one of those messages that not only made me shake in my boots but also made my voice, legs, and arms quiver... one of those messages where I was given just a fragment of what I was supposed to say, and then having said it, I was Given a bit more, and so on, for about 4-5 minutes.

The bit that I can recall went something like this:
Today as we sit here in worship, we are committing a radical act: we are praying and worshiping and listening for God together. It is indeed a radical act to be able to companion one another, in joy and in sorrow, whether we look like one another or not; whether one of us is old and the other young; one of us is light-skinned and the other is dark-skinned; one of us is wealthy and the other poor. It is a radical act to choose to companion one another, at a time when society says to be afraid of the stranger, to avoid the person you don't know, to be separate, to go it alone, to be independent. It is a radical act, instead, to choose to be a companion to someone in need, or to open ourselves and allow someone to companion us, so that we may truly be One Family...
I sat down and wept, grasping the hand of my friend sitting next to me: the Power was so fierce and truly dread-full. I was overcome...

The unexpected death of a Friend

Three days after the White Privilege Conference ended, I traveled to New Jersey for the better part of a week to help my aging parents prepare to move to the Boston area.

And shortly before I left New Jersey, I saw news online that a Friend in the meeting had died in his sleep, unexpectedly. He was leaving behind two young children, and he had already buried a daughter a few years earlier, after a boating accident.

So when I came home, one of the first things I did was attend this Friend's memorial Meeting for Worship.

The meetingroom was overflowing, with friends, coworkers, and fellow Quakers taking seats in the hall and in the meeting's library. For each Quaker in attendance, it seemed like there were at least two, if not three other friends, colleagues, or family members also.

Most of the people who spoke out of the silence weren't part of the meeting. They spoke, though, of how Steve's life was a testament of living a principled life and of how very present he was to whoever he was talking with at the time. Men spoke of how Steve's words and actions touched them; women spoke of how Steve's outbursts of singing made them laugh; and young and not-so-young people spoke of missing their Uncle Steve or of cherishing the lessons that they had learned, literally, from their schoolteacher so many years ago...

The messages that came during the worship got me to thinking that we as a meeting really didn't know Steve at all. In fact, we had opportunities to learn about the witness he was carrying out--giving up his car and encouraging Friends to take the bus to worship on First Day--and pretty much turned a deaf ear to him, with an occasional "Walk/Bus/Carpool to worship Day." I think we didn't want to be inconvenienced by what he was asking of us, or we didn't care for how he appeared to be pressuring us to live differently.

And when we stopped listening to Steve, we also stopped listening to how God was moving in his life. More importantly, we stopped listening for how God was asking to be in our lives, too.

Ministry after Steve

A few days later, it was First Day again, and I had made it to early worship, where I could settle a bit more readily into the waiting stillness.

I followed my thoughts as they wove themselves around Steve and the memorial, the things we knew about Steve and the things we didn't know that we didn't know. I wondered who else in the meeting wasn't known and yet wanted to be.

And I thought about my own yearning as an eight-year-old.

I followed my thoughts some more, and remembered an epistle that Ministry & Counsel had presented to the meeting a few years ago, which included a section on how we respond to ministry that is hard to receive.

Before long, the various threads came together, and a message rose out of me. I spoke about Steve and the stories we heard during the memorial. I spoke about myself, being an eight-year-old girl who yearned to be famous, because that was the only way I knew how I could be known by those around me. Famous people are known by everyone: I wanted to be known, therefore I wanted to be famous.

I spoke about how Steve's witness to the meeting was the kind that was like a big stone that is plopped into the middle of a still pond: At first, we are upset that our tranquility is shattered by the plop and splash of that stone, and we focus our anger and upset on the dropping of the stone itself.

But if we are disciplined and grounded enough in the Spirit, we can sit back and be mindful of the ripples of that stone, as they lap at our ankles, and we can understand what messages those ripples carry for us as a community. We can forgive the disruption of the stone itself because we welcome how the witness of that stone and its ripples may be speaking to us and may be bringing us into right relationship with the Spirit.

And so Steve has left us with his stone, and I am left wondering if Steve felt Known by us in the way that his family, friends, and colleagues seemed to Know him, in That Which Is Eternal.

And even if Steve felt Known by the meeting, are there others in the meeting who yearn to be Known but don't know how to reach out?

Do we, as a meeting, make ourselves vulnerable in order to allow the ministry and witness of others to reach us and change us in the Spirit? Do we, as a meeting, practice the sort of Love that is required of us, to know one another deeply, and to open ourselves to one another?

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

The days of the White Privilege Conference are over, and my parents are now settled into their new home as they enter this next stage of their life. I look ahead toward the rest of spring, toward opportunities to be of service, and toward some travel both among Friends and with family.

Thanks for reading me.


April 2, 2011

Revisiting my Jewish identity

This past week has provided another doorway into my Jewish upbringing. Jeanne and I have been going to a few films that are part of the local Jewish Film Festival.


It's the first time since 1986 or 1987--when I left that faith tradition--that I've been surrounded by so many Jewish people.

I was nearly overwhelmed. In the few hours I spent at the community center one evening, I began to wonder--again--how my life would have been different had I been exposed to a different kind of Judaism when I was growing up.

...Or how my life would have been different had I actually followed the kind of Judaism that my family practiced!

At the first film we went to, it was hard to stay present: the crowd that gathered could have been the same people from the New Jersey synagogue I grew up in. Most people were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s; a number of women were rather dressed up for just a movie; some were even wearing furs (!).

And the women and men were LOUD. They greeted each other loudly, they interrupted loudly, they took their seats in the theater loudly, they whispered loudly, as if every utterance of theirs had an exclamation point at its end. ("Are you saving that seat?! Are there enough seats for all of us to sit there?! I don't like sitting so close, can't we move back another few rows...?!")

That's when it hit me:

    Jews were extroverts.
And as if to affirm my observation, within two minutes of my mentioning that to Jeanne, a stranger sat down and struck up a conversation with her. Amazing!

In one of the venues, at a suburban Jewish community center, there was a small art gallery off the lobby. We had about 40 minutes of wait time before the film and so I went into the gallery, giving myself some space away from the throng of the enthusiastically loud extroverts.

The exhibit was about the mystical part of Judaism known as Kabbalah. As the explanatory material in the exhibit pointed out, the Kabbalah traditionally is/was studied only by men, and only after decades of study of the Torah and of the Talmud. But for this exhibit, these art pieces were all done by women, and their expression of this deep, forbidden part of Judaism that had long been cut off from me and my Jewish sisters, moved me deeply.

A week later, reflecting on what I saw and what I read, something still stirs in my soul...

Was it a wonder that my twenty-some years of experience of Judaism was so empty, if as a child or young adult I didn't have access to the mystical part of the Living Presence that speaks to my condition?

Is it a wonder that Quakerism--a mystical faith tradition that is accessible even to children and youth--is it a wonder that Quakerism continues to speak to me, thirty years after I was exposed to its manner of worship?

Having just had that opening and wondering, I entered the theater with Jeanne--and watched a film that was focused on true events from the Holocaust.

Raw would be an apt word to describe how I felt after that experience.

Seeing La Rafle with a Jewish audience--the persecution, the horror, the hope-against-hope even though we know how it ends--definitely has a visceral power that binds the nonobservant Jew with the devout one; the cultural American Jew with the practicing Israeli Jew, the Reformed Jew with the Orthodox.

With the Jews depicted in the film, their story was our story; their pain was our pain. This I had been taught religiously while growing up, not by words but by everything but words.

It seems that in Judaism, the Holocaust is one of those topics where it's whispered about within earshot of Jewish children, making them curious about what the grown-ups are talking about and never spoken of directly until the kids are older. Then, when we do find out, we are horrified and we don't have the skills or the mentors to help us learn what to do with our pain. We turn into adults who whisper within earshot of Jewish children about the atrocities that no one ought to have lived through, and the cycle and the connection-through-pain continues.

So it was hard for me to come up out of that shared event of the film. I had a familiar but awful feeling about the experience. It took me about ten minutes of silence and of averting Jeanne's concerned gaze before I could say anything:
    The thing is, growing up and learning about the Holocaust, it's all about an identity that's sustained through pain and suffering. This is what happened to so many Jewish people, even though both sides of my family had been safely in the U.S. long before World War II, and yet I was taught verbally and nonverbally to accept this as part of who I am. And if I don't connect with the suffering, if I don't stay connected with the Jewish community, than who am I?
    In Sunday school, I have no memory of ever having been taught about the joy of being Jewish. I had no models of that until I was in graduate school when I connected with one Jewish family who had showed me a different way to be Jewish. But I wasn't surrounded or immersed by that sort of community and so it never took.
    And now I realize and remember that Quakers were also persecuted. Yet even while they were imprisoned and starving, they apparently still experienced such joy in the Spirit. A joy that I myself have experienced directly! And I see how much modern Quakers talk about the joy that comes with being faithful! It's such a different message, a different experience...

Somehow I feel I was denied a Jewish experience that could have been mine, which I suppose is exactly what happened, even if no one set out to make it like that.

And while I was having my real-time flashbacks to my life as a Jew, I was also getting reconnected a bit with my Quaker blogging friends, and my experience of worship has been having a new quality of depth to it...

Where God is taking me I cannot know. I do seem to be drawn into the community that is available to me at the time, provided there is authenticity, mystical experience, reflection, and joy.

Thanks for reading me.


March 24, 2011

Quaker bloggers move to the head of the class

In the past few weeks, two Quaker bloggers have been appointed to serve a couple of international Quaker institutions.

First was Barry Crossno, who is the incoming General Secretary of Friends General Conference, an organization that provides programming and services to Friends across the U.S. and Canada, and regardless of branch affiliation (though most folks in the U.S. forget about Canada and misinterpret FGC's reach). Martin Kelley has a nice write-up about Barry's earlier place in the Quaker blogosphere.

There's also Robin Mohr, recently appointed as the next Executive Secretary of the Section of the Americas for Friends World Committee on Consultation. I consider Robin to be a personal friend of mine: we've talked by phone on a number of occasions and had a chance to meet up in person a couple of times, both at three FGC Gatherings and at one or two Convergent Friends events.

(Now is as good a time as any to throw in a mention that these two Friends also have personal essays in the print collection of Quaker blog posts, Writing Cheerfully on the Web.)

So what are the possible implications of having two Friends, previously or currently active in blogging--not to mention Twitter--at the servant-leadership helm of groups such as FGC and FWCC Section of the Americas?

For me, it gives me hope that regardless of branch affiliation, form of worship, language of theology, or system of belief, Barry and Robin will invite all of us to a deeper place of mutual respect for one another's authenticity of faith.

They'll likely affirm our previous and current participation in our own Quaker worship communities, be they Friends churches or fledgling unprogrammed worship groups--and then they'll ask us to consider the Inward Teacher more fully, side by side with messages that are from Scripture and with experiences that come from the perfectly imperfect realm of human experience.

I hope Robin and Barry will continue to let us peek into their lives a bit, too, letting us know what they are struggling with; inviting perspectives from beyond their own institutional circles in order to be true to the Loving Principle that draws all of us into the family that is the Religious Society of Friends.

God is good. All the time.


March 14, 2011

Tom "Bigfoot" Tannehill and his ministry to me

The other day I had the opportunity to reflect on a person whose life ministered to me in ways I had not understood before. I suppose the passage of time and learning about someone's death provides the right opportunity for such hindsight to be made clear.

Tom Tannehill stood about 6-foot-four, and looked like a perfect candidate for a college wrestling heavy-weight championship team. He was so huge that his nickname was Bigfoot. Back in the late 1980s, I didn't know his real name for several weeks after I met him, I think.

Tom was born Deaf, and his friendship with me as a new sign language interpreter gave me a doorway into American Sign Language that few inexperienced interpreters would have access to.

I think our friendship was cemented at the time when we met each other, at the local Deaf club, which at that time was the main hangout for Deaf people--before fast internet connections, social networking, and webcams reduced the need for face-to-face communication.

While having a nice introductory sort of conversation, Tom inserted a sexual joke--something that a number of Deaf people do as a discreet way to check the comprehension level of new interpreters.

I not only understood the joke, I also sharply replied that I didn't care for it.

I think Tom was taken aback by what I said--not only because it indicated that I had understood what he had signed but also because for the most part, non-Deaf people aren't as blunt or as "plain speaking" as Deaf people themselves. So I caught him off-guard on those two points.

I turned to leave the conversation, but Tom apologized, we changed the subject, and became friends.

During the early years of our friendship, and as my own interpreting skills in American Sign Language advanced, I learned that Tom was a cherished Boy Scout Troop leader, beloved by non-Deaf troop leaders, by non-Deaf council members, and of course by the dozens of Deaf scouts who made up nearly all of his troop over the years.

When Tom asked me to interpret at the week-long Boy Scout camp that was 45 minutes outside of Milwaukee, I agreed. A year later, and for a few other years, I helped coordinate a small cadre of other interpreters for the camp. We interpreted everything from announcements at meals to classes about astronomy--I had to figure out how to sign concepts like "solar eclipse"--and lessons held on sailboats.

Tom's joy at being a Scout as a child and a Troop Leader, mentor, and role model to other Deaf scouts was contagious. He was using his gifts; his work was bearing good fruit.

And then he made a poor, terrible, unconscious choice when a scout in his troop came into his tent one night and manipulated Tom to touch him.

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

A year ago this month, news broke that the Catholic priest at St. John's School for the Deaf near Milwaukee had molested hundreds of Deaf boys during their time there as students.

Among his victims was Tom Tannehill.

I remembered that Tom told me about Father Murphy; he told me about having gone to school at St. John's--which was closed a short while before I moved to Milwaukee out of college. Deaf people in the community identified the priest by using the sign for PRIEST, followed by the hand-spelled letter M, tapped at the breastbone two or three times.

When I heard the news about the molestation, my heart went out to Tom: over the years, I had heard he had moved to Indiana somewhere; that he wasn't working with Scouts any more.

At one point, I had managed to learn that Tom was back in Milwaukee, briefly, and I made my way to where he was staying--I want to say it was with his parents at the time.

When Tom came to the door and saw I was there, we hugged each other hard. He invited me in; we sat down to catch up.

And out came his story.

He had been molested by Father Murphy at St. John's long ago. He also had loved Boy Scouts as a kid, and he had gone on to become an Eagle Scout and to live out the Boy Scout's oath in his personal life and in his life as a Troop Leader.

He never suspected his lifelong passion to be stripped away years or even decades later by the unconscious actions taken by a Boy Scout who himself had been molested. But when that scout sneaked into Tom's tent one night, Tom's unconscious found a way out, and unfortunately, Tom couldn't cope, didn't think to reach out for help.

Did Tom go on to molest other scouts...? I honestly don't know; maybe it's better that way. But I do know that someone reported him to the Boy Scout Council, that he was barred from participating in Scouts again, and that he was sentenced to jail when he was in Indiana.

His days as a scout leader, and as a member of the venerated Order of the Arrow,* were gone. And until now, so was his story, perhaps.

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

My move away from Wisconsin and from the interpreting profession in the late 1990s had long muted my desire to stay in touch with all sorts of people from that part of my life. So when the story about Father Murphy's molestation made its way to the mainstream media last year, I decided it was time for me to look up my old friend again.

I did a Google search and learned that my friend Tom had died in 2007. My opportunity to reach out to him in light of the news--which included an article from Milwaukee, saying that Tom also had molested students at the school--was gone. Time was up.

Despite the news that could have tarnished my view of Tom, my love for him and my friendship with him are still teaching me. Many who didn't know Tom, and many who did, may now think of him as a monster. But Tom was a friend to me long before I knew of his actions, and Tom was also somebody's son, somebody's brother.

God's love for him--including God's love through me--isn't diminished because of his shortfalls. Maybe God's love for us, and God's love through one another, even becomes more necessary, more warranted when we fail.

These days, when I have an opportunity to respond to someone who I'd rather view as a monster or think as someone to be fearful of, I will need God's grace to remind me that we are each a Beloved Child of God, with a story that at the very least might need telling, and at the very most, might need healing.

Thanks for reading me.


*This was long before I understood about cultural appropriation.

March 5, 2011

Epistle from a new committee in FGC

In recent months and during 2010, Friends General Conference has overhauled its committee structure and trimmed its gifted staff, feeling its own economic crunch. The epistle below is from one subcommittee of the new Committee for Nurturing Ministries, and it addresses how earlier initiatives are being addressed within FGC's new structure.

In addition to the epistle, at the bottom of this post, I have included links to just a sampling of related articles. --Liz

First Month 2011

To Friends Everywhere:

After months of wondering and praying, the new Transforming Subcommittee of the Committee for Nurturing Ministries has had two opportunities to meet—once face-to-face at [FGC's] Central Committee in New Windsor, Maryland 10th Month 2010 and again just this past month by teleconference. We want to let Friends know that we are under the weight of our work and excited for what lies ahead.

When Friends General Conference (FGC) undertook reorganization of our committees last year, there was much concern from Friends that the important work of many of our committees might disappear in the transition. Friends of Color and young Friends and young adult Friends who had been so hopeful with the establishment of the Committee for Ministry on Racism* and the Youth Ministries Committee* feared that perhaps FGC was creating a way to slide out of the commitments we had made to eradicating racism in the Religious Society of Friends and to creating the radical transformation needed to make meaningful space for younger Friends in the structures of our Society.

We are clear that the same Spirit which led to the formation of these committees is alive and well among us today. We are clear that the work will go on. We wanted to take this opportunity to let you know about the work in which we are engaged currently and the road ahead as we see it at this time.

First, we have heard from some Friends that the name of our group does not speak to them. Although the name may not lift up the groups we serve, it does acknowledge the nature of the work before us. We are clear that transformation is required if we are to become a community of seekers who are led by Spirit and who reflect the richness of the tapestry of our human family. At Central Committee several years ago, some of you may have heard about the need for a paradigm shift—for change at the deepest level if we are to develop intergenerational community successfully. Some of you may have heard about the profound change in assumptions required to make our meetings hospitable for People of Color. This transformational work—work which opens us to enact our belief that the Spirit speaks through each and any of us as Spirit chooses—is the work being undertaken by the Transforming Subcommittee of the Committee for Nurture Ministries. And, it is transformational work.

We know that for our society to come to reflect the blessed diversity of God’s creation will require each of us to open ourselves to the workings of the Spirit— We know that making our meetings hospitable places for People of Color and for youth enhances the fabric of the meeting and deepens our shared faith journey and we are engaged in seeking and developing those tools which will help us each move successfully on that journey to transform ourselves and our meetings.

Let us share with you some of the specifics of the work which is under way.

  • ”Build It”: The project to create tools for Monthly Meetings to build more meaningful intergenerational community begun by the Youth Ministries Committee in response to articulated need in our meetings is continuing under the stewardship of a working group of the Transforming Subcommittee. We expect that the tools will be available for Friends by mid-year.

  • Templates, workshop materials, facilitators and facilitation training: Meetings who wish to understand the history of the relationship between Friends and People of Color in this country need support; using some of the understanding which has come from how we have worked effectively with intergenerational concerns, we are continuing to support this anti-racism work and to develop other programs in addition to the Fit for Freedom Facilitators already trained to carry forward this crucial initiative.

  • Participation of Friends in the White Privilege Conference: The 12th annual White Privilege Conference (WPC12) will take place in Bloomington, Minnesota, April 13-16, 2011. We will offer a workshop in order to share some of our work on racism and some support for Friends who choose to attend including a major discount on your registration fee. If you are interested in participation in this Conference, see the FGC website for more information.

  • Opportunities for Friends of Color to gather: We are continuing to plan Gatherings of Friends of Color which are so important for mutual support and expect to hold one before the end of this calendar year.

  • The People of Color Center at the Gathering: We continue to support the Center which provides important opportunities for Friends of Color and their family members and allies to come together, rest, share and plan for the future.

  • Opportunities for young People of Color at the Gathering: We intend to build on our initial attempts last year to provide particularly welcoming space for Youth of Color at the Gathering and to explore the ways in which we may address their particular needs, a project which seems entirely suitable for this new committee with its amalgamated portfolio to serve Youth and Persons of Color.

  • Support for Cross-branch inter-visitation: We continue to seek ways to support those Young Adults who are so committed to this work. We are exploring and planning new ways to advance this important undertaking.

  • The possibility for collaboration: We continue to explore the possibilities for ways we could join with the fledgling Quaker Volunteer Services group to help “incubate” this fledgling organization for the benefit of Friends and those communities of need they would serve.

  • You can find out about activities which relate to our Programs: Ministry on Racism or Youth Ministry just as before by finding these programs listed on the FGC website. As we engage in ongoing service to Youth and People of Color in the Religious Society of Friends we will have opportunities for Friends and seekers to join in the work in new ways. If you are interested in participating in this transformational work, please contact us through the website.(

    With divine guidance, we will continue to engage the need to “Transform our awareness so that our corporate and individual attitudes and actions fully value and encompass the blessed diversity of our human family.” (Goal 4, Friends General Conference Statement of Purpose and Goals 2009). We envision, and will continue to work toward the blessed community—where neither age nor color are criteria on which people are judged and where seekers can find welcome and nurture to grow in the Spirit no matter their race or their age. This is the transformation FGC seeks and to which we are dedicated. We ask that you join your prayers with ours, Friends, as we continue on this journey.

    Jean-Marie P. Barch, clerk, Transforming Subcommittee (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting)

    Beckey Phipps, clerk, Committee for Nurturing Ministries (New England Yearly Meeting)

    Vanessa Julye, Ministry Coordinator, Ministry on Racism Program (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting)

    Deborah Fisch, FGC Associate Secretary for Ministries (Iowa Yearly Meeting-Conservative)

    Members of the Subcommittee: Seth Barch, (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting); Janice Domanik, (Illinois Yearly Meeting); Jaya Karsemeyer, (Canadian Yearly Meeting); Katrina McQuail, (Canadian Yearly Meeting); Miyo Moriuchi, (Baltimore Yearly Meeting); Miriam Mulsow, (South Central Yearly Meeting); Alma Sanchez-Eppler (New England Yearly Meeting)


    *These links will likely become inactive at some point...


    An article from Friends Journal on how White Quakers might work toward ending racism
    An article from Quaker Life on the extent to which our Quaker meetings and Friends churches really want racial diversity
    Martin Kelley's post about what young people want from their meetings
    An FGC post about building intergenerational community among Friends

    February 10, 2011

    Spiritual accompaniment and joy from faithfulness

      This is the last of a three-part series, focused on the workshop provided by Margery Post Abbott. --Liz


    In the afternoon of her workshop, Margery Post Abbott asked us to get into pairs and reflect together on a number of questions about spiritual accompaniment:
    1. Where do I need accompaniment?
    2. What is nurturing and valuable for me, even if it is difficult to hear?
    3. What kinds of words or behaviors make me withdraw or reject accompaniment?
    4. What makes accompanying others difficult for me? What causes me to say "I can't do this work"?

    Being safe and being known

    Something I thought of as we returned to the large group and shared what came up for us was that there is a tension between wanting to be safe and wanting to be known. This too is a form of taking up the Cross.

    To be safe, we withdraw a bit from our community, we don't risk being vulnerable or sharing how we might be struggling with some element of Quakerism.

    But by keeping silent about our inward struggle, our doubt, our spiritual loneliness, we miss opportunities for others to know us at a deeply personal level.

    I'm a believer in the concept that when one of us takes a risk and shares something vulnerable, it allows others to take a similar risk, too.

    Here's an example of the Cross we live into:
      We love ourselves enough to protect ourselves from potential harm. And we love our worship community enough to allow ourselves to lean into the Everlasting Arms and let ourselves be loved a bit more deeply than we feared was possible.
    Soon after our large group sharing, we identified a few ways we provide spiritual accompaniment for one another in our meetings:
    • Spiritual friendships.
    • Care committees and clearness committees.
    • Care-and-accountability committees (aka anchor committees).
    • Having a concern actively taken up by the meeting.
    • Meeting for Worship for Healing.

    Faithfulness, freedom, and joy

    I think I am not spiritually mature enough to grasp the connection between the taking up the Cross and experiencing joy...

    I do know that when I am faithful, especially when I have feared or dreaded giving up my own will in a situation, in the end, I experience a visceral or emotional sense of release. Sometimes it's coupled with relief--"Whew, glad that's over!"--but more often, the feeling is of a burden being lifted, and in turn, a freedom of spiritual movement.

    I've heard that for some people, when that happens, there is a subsequent sense of being uplifted, of feeling joy.

    We tossed around a few comments and reflections about joy and the Cross:
    • "My yoke is easy and my burden, light." This might be a call to do the hard stuff joyfully. Not for the sake of suffering or for martyrdom but because we know we are doing God's bidding and we know that God loves us.
    • The Cross of Love, if we can see it as this, means the transcendent power of God and joy.
    • Taking up the Cross means laying down one's willfulness, and in this way, we can grow closer to God.
    • If we open to Love, even in difficult moments, we may ultimately find joy.
    In the end, in the closing moments of the day, I jotted down this query for myself:
    What barriers to love, faithfulness, and humility have I put in front of myself or between me and God?
    Am I willing to stand in the Cross and await God's direction...?

    Thanks for reading me. The time with Marge was so very fruitful!



    My own reflection on Taking up the Cross
    More reflections and other tidbits from Marge's workshop

    Other tidbits and reflections from Margery Post Abbott workshop

    In many ways, this post is a continuation of my previous post, about the workshop on Taking up the Cross, offered by Margery Post Abbott. I'm not sure how organized I'll make these pieces, but I believe they are worth sharing, even if rough form.

    What is it to be a Friend?

    This question is what Marge started us with, speaking out of the opening worship. Here is some of what she offered, to set the tone:

    1. It involves an attitude of waiting and attending: This form of waiting is waiting for something to happen, as well as being ready to serve, as in waiting tables.

    2. To know Christ inwardly, we need to take up the Cross and live into the Kingdom of God.

    3. We seek the Truth by turning inward: By engaging in times of retirement as individuals, and by engaging in times of worship as a community.

    When these three things happen, they can build a broken and tender community that will allow for the in-breaking of the Spirit.

    Love... and the paradox of the Cross

    Within the Cross is an intersection of horrible suffering and infinite love. Marge's companion in ministry, Ken Jacobsen, spent some time talking about Love and its relationship with the Cross:

    The Cross is the consequence of taking up the way of Love.
    I took this to mean that when we take up the Cross, we are tested to love one another beyond what we ever believed we would be asked to do. At one point, Ken added this:
    Love may lead us into some horrible places, but that same Love will also sustain us and lift us up.
    Later, the group returned to the theme of love and noted a few other things:
    • The fact that we try to love brings us closer to doing just that.
    • When something rises up in us to resist the Love that is offered, and because God is Love, we must be willing to lay aside our ego and instead follow God's will.
    • Love is transcendent. Even death cannot stop Love's transcendent nature, and the Love of those who have passed away can reach across death's threshold and be among us.

    Taking up the Cross and our relationship with God

    At one point, someone raised the question, "What's the difference between having a relationship with God and taking up the Cross?" My own reflections in response to that question are these:
    • There are lots of different ways to be in relationship with God. Taking up the Cross is a specific experience that we hadn't expected or, for many of us, hadn't been told about and certainly don't ask for.
    • The experience of being pierced by the Light might also be connected with taking up the Cross. It's not about being shown something that we hadn't been ready to see or know before: It's more about recognizing that to deny God's call brings us more pain than being faithful to the call itself.
    • When we take up the Cross, we rely more heavily on the Guide to lead us through the difficulty. It may be days, weeks, or years later before we can understand what that trial was about, but if we have carried it out in love and humility, knowing we have been faithful despite the burning pain, our relationship with God will have been deepened.

    The Cross as symbol?

    At one point later in the day, a Friend challenged all of us to consider that the Cross is a symbol and that "Quakers don't do symbols."

    It's true that unprogrammed Friends engage in a form of worship that focuses on the stripping away of outward symbols. We don't establish alters, use incense, ring bells, or even sing hymns to prepare ourselves. Rather, we are to leave the matters of the world behind as we approach our place of worship, opening our hearts and minds to the Spirit.

    The danger of having outward symbols is that a symbol and even the story around it can become an idol, and we can mistakenly begin to worship the symbol rather than the Living Presence to which that symbol points.

    It's often hard for me in the moment to find the words I want to say, but reflecting on this piece brings me back to this element of Quakerism:
      Quakers embody and internalize all sorts of outward symbols inwardly.
    There is the element of communion, when we are gathered together in the Spirit. ...The experience of baptism, when we feel anointed and blessed by the Holy. ...And the symbol of the Light itself, which is described in detail--not to encourage idolatry of it but to help us understand how it functions as a Living and Loving Principle.

    The Christian story and the Quaker tradition

    During the workshop, we were reminded that even Christ wasn't an outward symbol for early Friends. They believed and experienced the Living Christ as real and immediate.

    For all of our wrestling with our modern version of Quaker tradition, theology, and spirituality, I think it was Marge who made this point:
    Early Friends didn't have a tradition to wrestle with! But modern Friends wrestle with what we understand to be the Quaker tradition.
    Early Friends encountered the Christian story in a new way, forgoing both the established tradition and the recognized authority--the Church--of their time.

    Today's Friends also wrestle with what we perceive to be authority, establishment, and tradition. We don't care for being put into boxes or identified by labels, let alone being told what to do and how to do it. Maybe it's because so many Quakers are White or because we are American or because we are primarily middle class that we have to take something that is given to us and re-make it, rejecting and casting out some elements while reshaping and even elaborating on others.

    But I unite with what Ken Jacobsen stated, and I'm paraphrasing here: To retain its vitality, the Quaker tradition must be transformed into our lives.


    P.S. I hope to wind up this series of posts with a shorter one about spiritual accompaniment and the joy that comes from faithfulness.



    My own reflection on Taking up the Cross
    Some thoughts about spiritual accompaniment and joy out of faithfulness

    February 6, 2011

    Reflection on Taking up the Cross

    Yesterday I participated in a one-day workshop with Quaker author Margery Post Abbott. Much of the day focused on taking up the Cross and what that might mean for today's Quakers. Marge gave us lots of time to reflect and talk with one another about that concept, how we wrestle with it, and how early Friends used the phrase.

    Early in the day we were asked to spend a few minutes journaling our thoughts in response to three questions:

    1. What is your intellectual definition of "Taking up the Cross"?

    2. What is your emotional response to it?

    3. What blocks rise up when you hear that phrase?

    Here's my response:

    Taking up the Cross means choosing to be obedient to the will of God, to be willing to sacrifice at a time when we greatly and intensely don't wish to--either because of societal pressures/expectations, our own fear or dread, or even distaste for what God has put in our laps. In essence, as Eleanor Roosevelt has said, taking up the Cross means "To do the thing we think we cannot do."

    Over time I have grown into the phrase. I have come to cherish it, as one does when coming across a faded photograph of a dear family member, around whom there are stories and happy lore. The phrase "take up the Cross" captures so much about the human condition of the "push-pull" of obedience, of wanting to be a faithful servant and fearing how doing just that might turn out. The phrase gives words to an inward condition that contemporary American society resists, denies, squelches, minimizes, ridicules, or demeans--yet it is an inward condition that, when acted upon faithfully, can bring healing, transformation, and new Light to an individual, group, community, or the world.

    Of course, there are blocks that rise within me when I hear the phrase. My Jewish upbringing generates tremendous cognitive dissonance within me, since all references to Jesus, even as teacher or rabbi, were kept out of my early religious education. And who can hear the word "cross" or see it in print and not also see the body of this historical figure being crucified...? In addition, my own dread arises: When will God call me to take up the Cross again? what will that task or ministry or witness look like? Who will be there to accompany me?

    To me, there are phrases among Friends that are remnants of a way of life, an attitude, a body of disciplines that are on the brink of disappearing. These remnants give us a way to look through the looking glass of time and piece together much of the rest of the pattern that was and is traditional Quakerism. At least, this has been my experience. These remnants inform how I might be in the world, if I am faithful to what the Spirit gives me.

    There were lots of tidbits about the Cross that others shared.
    • Taking up the Cross involves crucifying the ego and self-will.
    • It is about involuntarily carrying a burden that has been placed on us.
    • It is the intersection where Heaven and Earth meet.
    • It requires surrender.
    • The Cross is the consequence of taking up the way of Love: Love may lead us into some horrible places, but that Love will also sustain us and lift us up.
    • It is an attraction that can't be ignored without having serious consequences.
    • Taking up the Cross is being obedient to the power of God.
    • It is to be bold in spirit and gentle in action.
    Through the respectful and authentic, energetic sharing, we were drawn together, and the boundaries of our individual meetings and worship groups, the boundaries of our individual lives, began to melt away...

    Marge is a gentle presence with a gift for inviting deep and tender conversation about complex subjects and hard questions that live within and are the fabric of our Quaker faith.

    I hope to write a bit more about other themes we touched on during the workshop. In the meantime, I'll continue to digest what was shared and reflect on how my spirit has been refreshed by the conversation yesterday.



    I wrote about other tidbits I gleaned from the workshop.
    I also wrote about spiritual accompaniment and the joy that comes from being faithful.

    January 24, 2011

    Sixty or more Quakers to attend 2011 White Privilege Conference

    NOTE: In addition to reading about my experience at last year's conference, below, you can contact me to receive a "teaser" flyer, an FAQ sheet, and other information on how to register for the conference! Email me at lizopp AT gmail DOT com

    The twelfth annual White Privilege Conference (WPC12) will be held in the Minneapolis area, April 13-16, 2011. Early indications are that as many as 60 Quakers (and presumably attenders!) may be participating, allowing Friends General Conference to work with conference organizers and local volunteers to arrange for a sizeable discount for Friends.

    Regular conference rates for an individual are $315. The FGC discounted rate for Friends who go through FGC's pre-registration process, are as low as $144--because a handful of Friends and FGC staff have committed to bringing sixty or more of us there.

    All of the information in the teaser and FAQs is also on FGC's website, but only as text.

    By the way, there are already 15 Friends who have already pre-registered or who have indicated they are planning to attend! That's already 25% of what we are striving for, and FGC's webpage has been up only for three days!
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    My 2010 Experience as a White Friend

    As a Friend of European descent, I probably first heard the phrase “White privilege” in the 1990s when I was working as a sign language interpreter. One resource that was inevitably reprinted, passed out, and discussed at each diversity training that I interpreted was the essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."

    One night in April 2010, I sat listening to the remarks of the woman who wrote that seminal essay, Peggy McIntosh. She was no longer a byline beneath the title of a photocopied essay: She was an attender at the eleventh annual White Privilege Conference--and 11 Quakers from the United States, including my partner and me, attended that conference.

    Whiteness and White privilege aren’t topics that most North American Quakers talk about easily, even though our meetinghouse benches and chairs are filled nearly entirely with White worshipers on First Days in Canada and the U.S. Maybe Friends don’t talk much about White privilege because we mistakenly equate it with White supremacy, but more likely it’s because we Quakers of European descent don’t see or pay any mind to the Whiteness that we live, breathe, and incarnate. Many of us at one point believed that when it came to racial and ethnic differences among us, being “colorblind” was a goal we were to pursue.

    Those four April days in La Crosse, Wisconsin early in 2010, however, changed my understanding radically--that is, at the root--of what White privilege means, as well as its relation to meaningful social change. Where once I had been stymied by how to engage in anti-racism work, now I am finding my voice to raise questions of how unearned privilege has been keeping me, my meeting, and my family unintentionally engaged in reinforcing oppressive social, political, financial, and educational structures.

    I am moving from being a well-intentioned bystander to becoming an engaged agitator of sorts.

    Quakers and non-Quakers ask me why I went to the White Privilege Conference and why I plan to go again in 2011.

    About two years ago, I realized that when it came to “walking the talk” about anti-racism work and working toward equality, I was “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.” That’s about the same time when a long-time non-Quaker acquaintance started telling me that the White Privilege Conference (WPC) that she had been attending would be coming to my part of the country and that I ought to consider attending it.

    A year later, I found out that a few Quakers of European descent had also attended, or had been thinking of attending the conference. Then, in the last half of 2009, as Jeanne and I were reviewing our end-of-the-year donations, we agreed to devote more of our resources--time, money, and energy--to addressing racism, equality, and social change. It was an opportunity for both of us to walk the walk, and we made plans to attend the conference.

    We soon learned that the White Privilege Conference offered discounts for groups as small as five. I thought to myself, “How hard could it be to round up another three Quakers from the area?” Then I learned that two Quakers from a nearby meeting were also planning to attend; that would make four of us. I sent emails to Quaker friends around the U.S.--I realize now that I need to work on building more relationships with Canadian Friends!--about the conference.

    Given that the year before, FGC’s Quaker Press had printed Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship, and given that FGC had a standing Committee for Ministry on Racism, I asked the organization if we could identify FGC as our “group” in order to take advantage of the discount, which was okayed.

    These days when I talk about being Quaker and looking at White privilege, I explain that White privilege and racism are two sides of the same coin: Racism exists because White privilege is safe-guarded by those systems and individuals who have their hands on the reins. White privilege exists because racism is institutionalized, thereby retaining as well as passing along power and control to people of European descent.

    Talking about anti-racism work quickly becomes politicized, intellectualized, and somewhat removed from our immediate circumstance as White people; but learning about White privilege as a White person becomes immediate and highly personalized. It creates a healthy cognitive dissonance for many of us of European descent: What is this THING that immediately seems to relate to who I am...?

    The conference transformed my approach to anti-racism work, helping me realize that there’s a harmful way to engage my privilege, and there’s also a useful way to leverage my privilege as a White, educated, wealthy person.

    For well-intentioned White Friends, the White Privilege Conference can open a door into anti-racism work that is personal, interpersonal, meaningful, systemic, and transformative. Just as Peggy McIntosh’s essay helped shift the focus in the last two decades from “diversity training” to “unlearning racism,” so too in this decade, we are shifting from “unlearning racism” to “looking at and dismantling White privilege.”

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

    If you are a Friend, or if you are a regular or frequent attender at Quaker worship, you can pre-register for the 2011 White Privilege Conference. After completing the pre-registration process, you will receive an email with more information about the FGC discount and how to apply it to the conference's own registration form.

    DEADLINE: We are asking Friends to pre-register through FGC's process by March 7, 2011.

    For more information, contact me at lizopp AT gmail DOT com, or Vanessa Julye at vanessaj AT fgcquaker DOT com.

    And please do contact me if you want to receive the PDFs of the "teaser" and/or the FAQs.

    January 7, 2011

    Workshop with Margery Post Abbott

    To Be Broken and Tender. Sitting with Hard Questions.

    Talk and Workshop with Quaker author Margery Post Abbott. Supported by Ken and Katharine Jacobsen.
    February 4 & 5, 2011
    Minneapolis, Minnesota

    The location of this workshop is still being finalized. Registration fee will be a sliding scale. Copies of Marge's book To Be Broken and Tender, will be available for purchase.


    Minneapols Friends Meeting
    4001 York Ave South, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    SLIDING FEE SCALE: If 15 participants attend, that is an average of $38/person to cover minimal expenses. Some will likely pay less; others will likely pay more.
    $0 Low income; inability to pay
    $20 Suggested for people on fixed income
    $38 Standard registration
    $40-100 To support future workshops like this

    ONLINE REGISTRATION is now available!
    While this workshop is primarily for Friends in the plains and upper midwest of the U.S.--Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, e.g.--others are welcome to attend.

    More details forthcoming, or send me an email at lizopp AT gmail DOT com if you wish to receive registration information directly.

    Friday evening, February 4: To Be Broken and Tender
    7:00-9:00 pm.
    Minneapolis, Minnesota. Details TBA
    Good will donations to be taken at the door.

    In a talk on her new book To Be Broken and Tender, Marge Abbott will share about the strong leading she experienced to speak about the way the Spirit has been at work in her life. Her understanding of Quakerism is shaped by her efforts, as a very pragmatic, inarticulate person, to find language for a mystical opening. She found words in the writings of early Friends and found that because of her friendships with evangelical Quaker women, that she had to wrestle with the Christianity that they found so dear. Her book offers a perspective on being a Friend which grows out of long efforts to articulate who we are in a way that is true to the universal nature of Love while respecting our Christian heritage.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Saturday, February 5:
    One-day Workshop, To Be Broken and Tender
    9:00 am-5:00 pm; bring your own lunch.
    In Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sliding fee TBA.

    Sitting With Hard Questions.
    Is the Cross obsolete dogma, harmful unwanted baggage or a living symbol of paradox at the intersection of heaven and earth? Marge Abbott and Ken Jacobsen.

    Marge writes:
    ...I hope to make clear that I don’t use history as an entity in itself, but engaging with early Friends offers language for experience (mine and theirs), it helps me enter into the dynamics of their experience and bring it to life, and because of its biblical nature, it has helped hugely in breaking down my blocks to interacting with evangelical Friends. At this point I call myself a very unorthodox Christian if someone pushes me on this, but am not into such labels.

    Preliminary Schedule for the day

    8:30 Registration and settling in

    9:00 Opening Worship

    SESSION I. 9:15-10:45 Hard Words.
      “Taking Up the Cross” is a phrase important to early Friends. What were they trying to get at? How might we hear these words with the inner ear if our own baggage gets in the way? From these early Friends we find the thread in Christianity which seems closest to the Buddhist way of compassion and self-emptying.

    SESSION II – 11:00 – 12:30 Acting from a Place of Unconditional Love.
      Marge’s spiritual ancestors have been opening her to the prospect of a way of letting love take first place, trusting that we will each be given the strength to walk into whatever situation that arises as a consequence.

    12:30-1:15 LUNCH (Brown bag; bring your own lunch)

    1:15 – 1:30 WORSHIP

    SESSION III – 1:30-3:00 Walking With Others Who are Suffering or in Pain
      What a gift it is to be with people who can stand with us and listen to harsh things or to the depths of pain without flinching. And without trying to fix everything. This becomes even more impressive when they are willing to take action which addresses the root causes of what is wrong.

    SESSION IV – 3:15–4:00 Freedom, Power, Mystery: The Cross of Joy.
      One paradox of being a Friend is what Bill Taber named the Cross of Joy. This involves many dimensions: knowing the joy and liberation which come with taking up the Cross; experiencing the Cross as the Power of God. We will engage with how we experience the Motion of Love in our lives and in our communities.

    CLOSING 4:00-closing Sharing on “Where is the life and energy among us?”
      Offering our hopes as we return to our meetings.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Tales (p. 171)
    Joy - is the unconditional wish to live
    - Aliveness more than happiness: joy is less vulnerable than happiness
    - Means not with-holding ourselves because life doesn't meet our preferences
    - Is lack of attachment to a particular outcome: the less attached we are to life, the more alive we become
    - A willingness to accept the whole, to show up and meet whatever is there
    - It is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of loss
    - knowing that playing is more important than winning or losing

    January 1, 2011

    Silence and dying

    Sometimes this time of year can have a quality of silence to it... The silence of a twilight, windless snowfall, or the silence of a three-generation family gathered around a table just before the golden roast turkey is delivered from the oven to it's audience.

    For me, this year in particular, I've noticed the silence of The Good Raised Up.

    Blogging started for me as a way to connect with other Quaker bloggers: when their blogs were active, so was mine. (Yes, even Quakers are not immune to being codependent.) I've struggled to carve out time to write--which in turn means one of at least two things:

    1. I've struggled to carve out time to reflect or

    2. I've struggled to find time to dedicate to Quaker things--attend events, read Quaker writings, even attend business sessions.

    To be fair--and gentle on myself--my dad has had two significant medical events occur in the past four weeks. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, and three weeks later, he had a mild heart attack.

    Each of us three kids are coping with the realization that we are losing our dad. There's a certain type of silence now when we are talking among ourselves that didn't exist before. Leave it to me to ask the question that pulls us into what is weighing on our hearts or drifting in our minds.

    One recent conference call among us--we are spread across the country, in Boston, Minneapolis, and southern Oregon--began with my suggesting, "How about we just take a minute and share what it's been like for each of us, what our inward and outward reactions have been in the last week or so...?"

    That's when I learned that out of the three of us, though we are only two years apart and I'm not the oldest, I've had the most exposure to people who I see regularly as they face end-of-life issues: sudden illness, slow, progressive illness, emergency rooms, rehabilitation after a long hospital stay, and hospice care.

    Even watching my parents cope with their own immortality, I now more fully appreciate the witness that my Quaker friends have been living out--or more aptly, dying into. Aging Friends seem more willing to accept the physical limitations that their chronological age displays in their bodies and expresses through their intellect. They give up their car keys and ask for rides. They stop trying to lift the metal chairs in the meetingroom. They use the elevator in the building instead of insisting that they are steady enough on their feet to take the stairs.

    And they surrender to their mortality with grace and dignity.

    They're sad when they're sad, and they let their fellow Friends into a rather intimate period of their life. Rather than putting up a strong front for the sake of appearance, they come to worship and sit in a heap if they must. They welcome Friends to come to where they live, for fellowship and worship, sometimes to sing or share a meal; other times to just be, in the silence, the Great Silence, so holy...

    I find I ache for the silence my parents cannot lean into at this tender time. And I pay close attention to how I wish to live into dying, when my time comes. With divine assistance.