June 29, 2005

Some last minute reading

Before heading to the FGC Gathering, I'm doing what I can to catch up with web-reading. Here are some snippets and summaries.

A new Quaker blog, Riding the Whale, has an important post about rites of passage among Friends. Be sure to poke around in Danny's other posts, too, where he mentions, for example...

Friendly Pilgrim. This website has some interesting things to say about aspects of a pilgrimage, other words and concepts related to pilgrimage as a rite of passage, etc. The link Aspects of Pilgrimage reminds me of some of what I hope to be addressing in the Gathering workshop about Quaker identity. Very exciting!

I'm also about halfway through the new Philip Gulley & James Mulholland book, If God Is Love. I came across this quote, which reminded me of a comment Robin M. had made elsewhere (I'm not even gonna look for where that comment is, at this point):

God has no grandchildren. My children cannot inherit my faith. I can't save them. Each of us is on a journey. My role as a parent is not to convert my children, but to live a life consistent with my experience of God's radical love and trust that such a life will attract them... I do this realizing the paths my children choose may not be mine. My response to their choices is not to panic or control, but to love them unconditionally, as God loves me.

UPDATE: Here's another interesting post, at Consider the Lilies, about young Friends, being Quaker in name or in practice, and asking some Really Big Questions.

June 23, 2005

Busy, busy, busy

God seems to want me to be in several places at once... and some of those places don't line up with where I thought I was meant to be.

As I write this, I am seven days out from traveling to the FGC Gathering, where I am scheduled to lead a workshop. Though I have prepared a significant number of handouts, being the visual learner that I am, I have had little success in joining all the thoughts, ideas, concepts, and diagrams together into a cohesive whole. Perhaps that is the work of the Lord to do, when the time comes.

Perhaps I am called to be present to a few other things going on in my life right now, such as eye surgery for my honey and helping with subsequent care, both predicted and unexpected; attending to tendonitis in my foot (of all things); and helping direct a landscaping project that sometimes goes in an unfortunate direction (like when a four-foot structural root of our favorite tree is lopped off for no good reason).

I have enough energy to check in with and comment on various other Quaker blogs, but posts on The Good Raised Up are likely to be few between now and when I return from—and recover from—the Gathering.

All this to say:

         More later, as Way opens.


June 14, 2005

Paul L: Quakers and the Bible

A Guest Piece by Paul L., used with permission

Paul had shared this articulate and important comment about Friends and the Bible after reading the post and other comments about dualities within Quakerism. I am thankful that Friends like Paul are teaching me about elements of Quakerism in such an organic way, so that I am not overwhelmed or shut down by overly high expectations of what I "should" know as a Friend. It's become clear to me, through Paul's remarks, that I hadn't fully understood the place of Scripture among Friends, or its relation to the Truth.  — Liz
I don't think any Friends branch would accept the formulation that Scripture/Bible = Word of God. Jesus is the Word; the Bible is the "words OF God", according to Barclay & Fox (and John 1). These words tell about and reveal the Truth about the Word but are reflections of the Light, not a source of Light itself. From what I read of the most Bibically based evangelical Friends, they would accept this as true (but would hasten to point out the dangers of taking it too far).

The original concept of "continuing revelation" that I think [Liz is] referring to meant that the the Bible continues to reflect the Light throughout time and space, if only we have eyes to see. This idea permitted reform and revision of various church doctrines, based on new understandings of the Bible that proved them wrong or inapplicable to present circumstances. Thus, the God revealed by the Bible is a Living God who is at work in human lives and history here-and-now just as he was to Abraham & Sarah, Moses, Isaiah, Mary, Paul, and the rest. Their stories continue to reveal the Truth to us today, here, but only if we read and tell them under the inspiration of the same Living God whom they reveal.

Nowadays, though, many Friends use the term "continuing revelation" to mean that God's nature and will can be and is being continually revealed in many ways in addition to the Bible, often non-verbally, and (to take it one step farther) that these non-verbal revelations can be relied upon even if they contradict the plain Biblical text, if they are judged true and authentic by (choose one: the individual or the meeting -- one of your other dichotomies).

So I'd phrase the duality [that Liz is] identifying as

       Perfect Reflection of Truth <---> Imperfect Reflection of Truth.

Actually, though, I wonder if it isn't more of a triality, if you will, more of a continuum. I'd suggest that contemporary Friends have three general views of the authority of the Bible and its place in our religious life:

1. The Bible is divinely inspired and contains the actual words of God. As such, it is the best, most reliable authority against which to test whether a concern or leading is indeed of God; no leading that contradicts Scripture could possibly be divine, no matter how deeply felt or widely accepted by an individual or group. The Bible reflects historic and spiritual Truth, but perfectly.

2. The Bible is a highly accurate and authoritative revelation and reflection of spiritual Truth, but it is not a perfect reflection, especially in its historic aspect. It is a valid and indespensible authority against which a leading may be tested for authenticity, but because it is a reflection of the Truth (i.e., the Living God), not the Truth itself, it cannot be considered the exclusive, final authority. (We don't worship the mirror but the Reality that it reflects.) While divinely inspired, the Bible was written by human beings who had biases and cultural conditioning (just as its readers have) and thus is a flawed reflection unless it is read with the same inspiration with which it was written. Reading it in this way enables the faithful reader to see and hear the Truth directly, in continually relevant and fresh ways. Other sacred texts may reveal and reflect Truth as well, but the Bible has particular power and authority for Friends.

3. The Bible is but one sacred book among many whose authority derives from the people who hold it sacred, not from any objective, divine inspiration. It may reflect Truth, but its reflection is deeply distorted by those who wrote it. While it may be useful as a source of spiritual Truth (this group would say "truths"), the Bible has no more inherent authority than its believers are willing to give it. Furthermore, in a world in which the Christian world view no longer predominates (or under which its predominance is under attack), it is offensive to other traditions to assign any special authority to the Bible. In other words, the experience of the Inner Light is not only necessary, it is sufficient and does not have to be validated or corroborated by the Bible or any other text to prove its authenticity.

If it isn't clear from my description of the positions, I'm pretty firmly in the #2 camp (and believe that it is also the most authentically Quaker view, but that's at best an informed opinion).

One image I can't resist sharing in this context: In the Last Temptation of Christ, there's a beautiful passage where Jesus as a young man is reading the Bible and begins to see the letters on the page as bars on a prison that is trying to keep the Truth from breaking out into the world. (In one of the many ways that I'm different than Jesus, I usually see the words as a window through which I can see the Truth. Another interesting paradox?)

June 11, 2005

Dualities and paradoxes

I find that the more experience I have among Friends and as a committee clerk, the more I must face a sort of push-pull phenomenon around various facets within Quakerism that seem to oppose one another. I have learned by watching and listening to gifted clerks and recording clerks that unity among Friends at a business session can often be achieved by acknowledging the conflicts with which we labor.

It's been said that one of the most stressful psychological tasks in our lifetime is to be in limbo—to live in the space between trapezes, between the trapeze from which we have just let go and the one for which we grab. [For related reading, here's an article online about dealing with ambiguity in families.]

In my Quaker reading and reflection, I am now beginning to believe that the ability of an individual—or of a corporate body—to be in limbo, to live with the stress of ambiguity, to hold the tension and accept the duality of a situation are signs of a certain developing maturity.

In preparation for the upcoming workshop on Quaker identity, I have created a handout about the dualities, paradoxes, and tensions that occur within Quakerism. Many of these conflicts and dualities are described or alluded to in a variety of sources. Below is the list I've compiled, and feel free to add your own. I use the following combination of characters <--> to represent a double-sided arrow between the opposing (complementary?) elements of Quakerism:

Authentic individuality <--> Communal faith, beliefs, practices

Individual leading <--> Corporate discernment, weight

Local independence of monthly meetings <-->
Group cohesion of the yearly meeting

Private, inward (prayer and worship) <-->
Public, outward (ministry and witness)

Prayer in solitude <--> Worship in community

Meeting as a place of welcome and acceptance <-->
Meeting as a place of support for transformation

Tolerance of differing views <-->
Creation of boundaries for sustaining identity

No doctrine or creed <-->
Set of shared beliefs, collective experiences, shared values

Journey of seeking <--> Discovery of finding

Non-verbal, inward experience <-->
Explicit language and articulation of the experience

Prophetic, open to new truth <--> Conserving tradition and practice

Word of God is Scripture <--> Word of God still speaking to us

Mystical, contemplative <--> Practical, active

Warm, nurturing, encompassing Light <--> Piercing, insistent Light

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

The more I understand the interplay between these dualities, the more I can articulate the difficulty I might be experiencing, like when I am feeling pulled in two directions simultaneously. And naming what is going on is a key part of the process to reconciling the duality, as Way opens.


P.S. Some of the sources where I came upon certain dualities are:
Living the Way: Quaker Spirituality and Community
Searching the Depths
Deepening the Spiritual Life of the Meeting

UPDATE: I forgot to add the reference for the specific example of
"Meeting as a place of welcome and acceptance <-->
Meeting as a place of support for transformation."
This duality refers to concepts used from Thomas Gates' Members One of Another. Also, Beppeblog has a series of posts about Gates' pamphlet, the first of which is here, followed by two others.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Martin Kelley, commenting below as the webmaster for Friends General Conference, adds this additional information:

"I think these are some version of the pieces from Bill and Fran Taber that you all are remembering:

The Unity of Paradoxical Quaker Extremes, by Bill Taber

Paradoxical Understandings to Hold in Creative Tension, by Frances Irene Taber
Both are online as part of FGC's Fostering Meetings resources."

Thanks, Martin!

June 4, 2005

Worship for graduating seniors

Several weeks ago, the monthly meeting announced a Meeting for Worship with attention to Graduating High School Seniors. I was thrilled! It seemed like such an appropriate form to mark that significant transition for these young adults. I put it in my calendar and offered to bring food for afterwards.

When I walked into the meetingroom last night, I had to come face to face with an expectation I hadn't known I was carrying. I had given this event the same weight as a Quaker wedding or Quaker memorial, an event where nearly the entire community comes out to bear witness to the occasion.

Not so last night. Those who showed up who were not related to or dating one of the graduating seniors numbered fewer than 10. Those who didn't show up? About another 100-150 Friends.

Thankfully, I was able to lay my sadness and frustration aside, staying present to the occasion that brought us together. Memories of Martin Kelley's ministry around integrating young adult Friends into our meetings rested themselves next to my own quiet thoughts, as a few parents spoke through tears about seeing their babies all grown up and about to leave the nest. I wasn't going to be surprised if a message arose within me to send these young adults on their way, but I didn't want to be pedantic, gushy, or ageist.

I listened.

The two First Day School teachers spoke very movingly about how these young Friends "modeled" for them the passion each of them had for being spiritual seekers. These older Friends also spoke about how they often chose to opt out of worship when they were not scheduled to be with the high school program, and sneak off to the high schoolers' room anyway, just to be with them. I noted how each of the young Friends smiled at the older Friends' words, nodded their heads occasionally, and simply looked more attentive. It was clear to me that the connections between the teachers and the teens were authentic, were valued, and were reciprocal.

There were many tears that night, mostly from parents. Apart from the welcoming remarks made by the M&C member, no one from the larger community had spoken. I was in that familiar place, sensing that what was occurring was, in the manner of weddings and memorials, akin to worship sharing rather than traditional waiting worship.

I risked standing, having a nudge to lift up something the First Day School teachers had said—and what they hadn't:

I want to lift up what I'm hearing from those Friends who worked with you this past year. They didn't use this word, but it's what I've been hearing:

      Each of you has ministered to these Friends.

Each of you has brought forward your view of things, your unique take on whatever the topic was, and these two Friends have been moved by your ministry.

As you continue walking along your path, you will not be released from being true to how you are called. Whether or not you stay among Quakers, or you leave and return, or go elsewhere, you still will be responsible for being who you are, at that deep level. You still will be challenged to be faithful to that inward level of knowing how you are called to be in the world...
I said some other things, about inviting them to consider that they are released from the expectations that others have put on them, such as their parents and those Friends in Meeting who have known them for so many years.

A few minutes later, worship was broken and most of us headed downstairs for fellowship.

One graduating Friend in particular sought me out and said something I never expected to hear:
Liz, will you come to the high school program's Meetings for Worship with attention to Business during the Gathering?
I've put the two evenings on my calendar.


June 3, 2005

A good read: Wordspinning

Thanks to a brief note from Martin at Quaker Ranter, I spent quite a while catching up on the archives and recents posts on Wordspinning, by Kiara.

Kiara has a number of posts about her experience among Friends, religion, and her writing... which might be considered a religion for some. Enjoy!