September 25, 2005

There and back again

Today after an adult education program called "Quakerism Then and Now," I was driving home and yearning for Friends to be able to speak to the connections between our contemporary practice and the roots of faith. I guess that's why the phrase "There and back again," borrowed from a certain popular Hobbit, came to me:

I am hungry for more Friends to return to early Friends about the origin of our testimonies and practices--"There"--so that we might corporately keep close(r) to the roots of our faith today--"and back again."

This morning I listened to Friends identify what is meant by simplicity; what in our life as Friends is "simple" today, and what in our life is "complex."

On the "simple" list were items like:

a walk in the woods
an easy recipe
direct contact to help people.
On the "complex" list were:
fancy clothes
committee meetings.
On the surface, I can agree with these items, but I had a rising concern that this presentation of what is simple and what is not is disconnected from and falls short of what early Friends understood and practiced in terms of simplicity.

Thankfully, another Friend from the worship group in which I participate lifted up that, for him, that which is simple has the leading of the Divine, and that which is complex often does not (at least, this is how I remember the Friend's contribution, anyway).

Little else was said about the historical roots of simplicity among Friends, which I have come to understand include the stripping away of all that is "not God" so that what is left is only "of God," and the removal of ornate adornments and empty rituals in order to enhance the immediate and direct connection to the Divine.

I was stretched to be still during that hour this morning. I fear I didn't do well in that regard, and I left before the hour was completed as a result.

As I drove away from that adult education program, I found myself revisiting the question of what the kernel, the heart of the ministry I carry is. What came to me is this:
There and back again:
Renewing and conveying my Quaker faith.

UPDATE: Over at Embracing Complexity, Contemplative Scholar expands on her comment below and offers resources about testing our leadings.

September 23, 2005

Worship group has a name

The Conservative-leaning worship group that I have been a part of now has a name! At our August Meeting for Worship for Business, we approved and warmly embraced the name Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group.

Our next step is to find clearness around whether to affiliate with Northern Yearly Meeting or with Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), a question we have been holding and discerning for nearly two years. In early October, Laughing Waters Friends will be meeting with two couples from IYM(C), in the hopes to learn more about Conservative Quakerism.

If anyone finds themselves in the Twin Cities area and wants to visit and worship with Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group, please get in touch with me at "lizopp AT gmail DOT com."

Or perhaps in a short while, we'll have a website of our very own... although there are no promises around what "a short while" means!


September 16, 2005

The Great Jigsaw Puzzle

When I was a kid, one of my fondest memories of summer vacation was when there was bad weather. As a family, my brothers and parents and I would gather around a bridge table and pull out a multiple-sided jigsaw puzzle, tipping over the box to empty the 500 or 1,000 pieces onto the table.

We'd pick out all the straight-edged pieces first, of course, and while one or two of us began piecing together the border, others of us would look for pieces that had distinguishing characteristics, which could easily be matched to the puzzle's boxtop: the bright blue eyes of a kitten; the weave of a basket; the sunny yellow of a goldfinch's wings.

Bit by bit, images from within the center of the puzzle would be pieced together as mini-puzzles. Simultaneously, the border of the puzzle would be brought together according to its edges, bumps, and colors. Eventually, inevitably, some part of the border would match up with one of these mini-puzzles and we'd move together to join the two that had been rent asunder from last summer when we had worked on it...

Each of us in my family had a different knack or preference for what part of the puzzle to focus on. My mom and older brother would reach for the border pieces. My dad might stretch open his large hands to grasp all the pieces that had a smidgeon of a certain color, them pile them up near him, creating little piles of colors along the edge of the table. My twin brother and I would attend more to the details of a certain bird or flower or castle on the boxtop.

As the regions of the puzzle were pieced together by our individual talents, at some point one of us would recognize that two of the regions could be joined, and we'd redouble our efforts to figure out how to make them fit. I often found myself sifting through individual pieces not yet designated to an area or to an individual, looking for the connective piece that would join the regions together.

Each summer, with each puzzle we worked on, I would experience the success of working together to restore a thousand scattered pieces into a cohesive whole once more. It was one of the few tasks we did as a family.

These days, some 30 years later, I am still surprised by how much I enjoy working on a jigsaw puzzle when someone else is working with me, despite our different approaches to piecing the thing together.

I sometimes think of corporate discernment like this:

God's will is like the picture on the boxtop of a great jigsaw puzzle. And each Friend engaged in the discernment process around a specific topic may have a few of the pieces in her or his hand. Bit by bit, then, we share the pieces of the Divine puzzle, placing them on the community table around which we have gathered. We take turns handling the pieces, twisting them, gathering them, moving them together or apart, wanting to make sense of them:

Do the pieces seem to fit together as part of a micro-whole?
Do patterns carry over from one piece to another?
Who might be holding a piece but has not yet had an opportunity to place it on the table?
Do we share our ideas openly of what other pieces to look for, of what other processes are needed in order to fill in the missing pieces?
Do we think that
we have all the necessary pieces rather than allowing that perhaps someone else has a needed piece to bring to the table?
How do we know what picture is on the Divine Boxtop anyway?
How do we agree we are piecing the "right" Boxtop together?
It seems to me that ultimately, we have to rely on each other's ability to discern when pieces fit together well and when they seem to be forced.

It seems to me that some of us have the gift of being able to see the Divine Boxtop earlier than others. And it seems to me that some of us have the gift of being able to extrapolate what the Boxtop might be from even a single piece of the puzzle.

But this is a given: if we keep our pieces to ourselves, we are likely to draw the wrong conclusion, piece together an incomplete puzzle, or force pieces into places that don't belong.


September 11, 2005

God's Love is at the center

Corporate change can only occur with corporate leading.
— Jeffrey Hipp

Earlier this year, I had allowed some comments from a few Friends in my life to haunt me. While Jeffrey Hipp's words remind me of an earlier time in my Quaker process, when Jesus language and Christ language and a strict code of how Quakers do things would have repelled me from Quakerism, I find that the remarks made by some nontheist Friends make me sigh inwardly these days.

As a result, it has become required of me to continue to reflect on my own relationship with liberal Friends. All these reactions--of being haunted, of being repelled, and of being frustrated--are signs that there has been something going on within me that I have needed to pay attention to.

It is hard for me not to take the remarks of some nontheist Friends personally, because of my belief and experience that God and God's Love are at the center of Quaker faith and practice. With further contemplation, I realize it is more likely the Light itself that is searching me and having me lay naked and bare before God:

I have not had God's Love at the center of my growth as a Friend. Instead, I have had my desire for a Spirit-led process and grounded-in-God worship experience at the center.

Not the same thing, and I feel humbled by the realization.


September 4, 2005

Frozen language among Friends

Answering that of God in everyone.
The peace testimony.
The letter killeth but the Spirit giveth life. (1656 Epistle from the Elders at Balby)

These Quaker phrases are examples of language used so frequently that much of the original life and meaning of them - and the contexts from which they first emerged - have been lost.

I'm concerned that these phrases are not being given the weight they once were by Friends. As a result, we may end up describing some of our key principles with phrases and acronyms ("SPICE") that are barely connected to the undergirding structure of our faith and practice.

By way of metaphor

I've been thinking that using and even acting from such automatic phrases, without considering the historical and theological roots from where they come, might be like living in a multi-story house and never checking the electrical, gas, heating, and water systems that keep the house running.

Or maybe it's more like caring for a tree, but only tending to the visible part--its bark, branches, leaves, blossoms, and fruit--but never watering the roots....

I'm not sure these metaphors hold, though. They are just beginnings of my wanting to understand what's going on with the contemporary use of our language of faith.

Language and registers

Among linguists, the phrases at the start of this post might be considered examples of "frozen register." I learned about registers and a language's level of formality when I was working as a professional sign language interpreter.

Often sign language interpreters cringe at interpreting the dreaded Star Spangled Banner, or worse: the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm not kidding.

Here's a worksheet for the Star Spangled Banner. How would you write these phrases in modern English? How would you explain what this song means to a foreigner or to your 4-year-old grandchild? Most of us don't think about what this anthem means anymore.

It's become rote.

And I would venture to say that some of our Quaker phrases have become rote. We say them and we are often out of touch with their connection to the Light Within and the Light's impact on us, personally and corporately.

Eventually, if we are not mindful, we will no longer speak from our own direct and personal experience of "answering that of God in everyone," for example. If we are not mindful, we will begin parroting the words that beloved Friends have used with us for years and years, because we seldom make our faith explicit to one another.

An experiment

I wonder what might happen if we intentionally drop certain phrases from our Quaker vernacular, at least for a time, and do this as a discipline when interacting with new attenders and with seasoned Friends.

Phrases that I am currently avoiding are "Quakers have a (blank) Testimony that says..." and "Quakers have no creed."

What descriptions and new expressions might take the place of pat phrases? Might we be more inclined to offer an experience we had among Friends, from our spiritual journey, as a way to illustrate the point we wish to make? Might we take a bit more time, describing the connections between practice, belief, and tradition among Friends?

My personal hope is that the additional explanations will ground us more completely in our Quakerism and will help convey our faith as a complete gestalt, rather than as segments or individual threads of a tapestry.


September 1, 2005

Blogs about New Orleans/Katrina

Here are a few random blogs, briefly screened by me. Be mindful of taking breaks to digest what you read, it might be different from what is being reported in the mainstream media.

Ray in Austin: includes reports of famous jazz musicians who are missing

Metroblogging New Orleans: nine bloggers share a blog near New Orleans

Joe's Razor: This list of offers from around the country, by people who are opening up their homes to hurricane survivors, brought tears to my eyes. His other post has some horrifying details about the situation at the Superdome...

What's particularly unnerving for me is to see that many blogs about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina have as their last entry something dated August 28 or August 29.

"We're riding out the storm."

"We see lights going out across the street."

"We've heard to expect the storm to pass by around 11:00 tonight."

Prayers, please.


From Craig's List, to offer aid, volunteer, open your home, etc.