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...
- 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;
- 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];
- 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!
- 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;
- 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!
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.