December 23, 2006

When a 5-year-old asks if I'm Christian

Last night, while driving to a bowling alley of all places, my five-year-old niece MB asked me out of the blue:

Liz, are you Christian?
It's not as easy a question to answer as one might think!

For one thing, MB's parents are raising her as a Jew. For another thing, MB's family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas. For a third thing, how likely is it for a five-year-old to be able to grasp the difference between "primitive Christianity" and today's secular Christianity? Not to mention my own personal journey with the whole topic!

So I took a breath and answered
Well, I don't believe in anyone named Jesus Christ, if that's what you mean. But I do believe in God, and since I was raised Jewish like you, I guess I still am kind of Jewish. Even more important than if I'm Christian or not, I believe in doing things that are common to both Judaism and Christianity, like treating people well and doing charity or tzedaka.
She seemed to accept my answer.

Then I asked her if she was Christian or Jewish. "I'm Jewish!" she replied. "But my daddy is Christian so we celebrate Christmas for him and Hanukkah for me and Mommy."

I'm waiting for the day when MB, my partner, and I can all talk about belief in God, spirituality, putting our faith into practice, and bringing our practice back into our faith.

But for now, we settle on playing four rounds of Apples to Apples Junior in a day, which is just fine for all of us!


Isaac Penington, anyone?

Away with your notions, and empty husks, O several sorts of professors! come to the thing itself, or rather wait on the Lord to be led to it, that ye may feel the seed, the pure seed, the living seed, the Holy One of God, and may know its planting and growth in you... --Isaac Penington
In the event that Friends or seekers do a search for Isaac Penington and want to be able to see how a handful of us are wrestling with the meaning and interpretation of some of his words from one particular essay, there is an exchange in the comments of the previous post. Just so you know.


P.S. The works of Isaac Penington can be read online.

December 14, 2006

Starting a new thingie

In recent posts by Nancy of Nancy's Apology and by Rob of Consider the Lilies, both these Friends are exploring new forms for worship--or, as Nancy puts it, experimenting with creating a "church thingie."

Experimenting with new things makes sense for those of us who hunger for meaningful experiences that are deep and full of capital-L Life. I suppose that's much of the unstated, unconscious explanation for why the worship group that I participate in got started.

Starting a new faith community "thingie" sometimes requires concrete planning, but I suspect more often it requires a clear leading and rootedness in one's inspiration--hopefully an inspiration that comes from the Spirit and not from one's ego. That's where talking with a few trusted others might be helpful, even if those few others serve as a short-term informal clearness committee.

I admit, though, that sometimes that inspiration can come from disappointment or frustration with the existing community. Sometimes it is easier and empowering for us to know what we want when it's looked at in relation to what we know we don't want.

I have always known inwardly that God does not want us to be unhappy. What is less clear to me is the place of intentional, community-based discernment and testing when one is so discontented and has already wrestled with the community. When is it okay to walk away and look to starting a new thingie?

. . . . . . . . .

Reading Nancy's and Rob's posts reminds me of a frequent conversation I have had with any number of Friends, all of whom had some concerns about how and why the worship group got started.

The worship group has been in place as a worship group for at least two years (before that, we were an informal fellowship group). We've hosted some informational sessions at other meetings to help address some of the most frequently asked questions, hoping to quell misperceptions and have people hear directly from us.

More than a year after those presentations, questions still linger and Friends still wonder. A conversation just last week pretty much followed the same progression as other conversations over the past two years:

Friend: So, why did you all decide to start a worship group when there are already other meetings in the area?

Me: It's not anything that we set out to do, actually. We were just a small group, getting together about once a month for fellowship and maybe for some worship "if the kids were quiet enough..."


Friend: But why have a separate group? Why not be part of one of the existing meetings?

Me: Well, among the group of us, it seems like we get something out of having a belief in common, about the Divine and about how we can listen together for God...

Head nod. Pause.

Friend:Oh. You mean, you don't feel you can get that experience here...?
It's hard and sometimes tiresome for me to hear similar questions put forward from so many different people when I feel like we've done our part to communicate what we're about and why we're around.

On the other hand, the most recent conversation has given me a fresh opportunity to articulate who I am as a Friend and who the worship group is as Quaker body. And it's made me aware--again--that despite the announcements and presentations and one-on-ones, there will probably always be more questions to answer, more puzzlement to clear up.

On top of that, I'll have to think about what would happen if, when asked, "You mean you can't have that experience in the monthly meeting?" I would answer simply, "No, it doesn't seem I can."

Since the meeting is pretty clear about appreciating the theological diversity that exists there, I find myself affirming that I personally benefit from a sort of theological unity rather than spiritual diversity--though theological unity is not to be confused with theological uniformity, in much the same way that unity over an item at a business session is not the same as unanimity.

. . . . . . . . .

Another piece that Nancy's and Rob's posts have made me reflect on is that it seems no matter how careful we are about getting the word out about whatever "new church thingie" might be happening and however open it is, Friends are going to project onto it whatever unresolved issues or fears they still carry:

Divorce: Oh, you're starting a new group... Your splitting off from us.

Failing out of school: Oh, you're starting a new group... You think you've got the right answers and the rest of us are just getting it wrong!?!

Classism: Oh, you're starting a new group... It sounds pretty exclusive to me.

However, the conversations I've had in the past two years with Friends who are curious or genuinely concerned about the worship group have been some of the richest conversations I've had with local Friends in a long time, which feels very nurturing and, well... enriching. And I'd fathom a guess that the one-on-one conversations have had far more impact on these Friends than reading a history of the worship group that's printed in a newsletter or presented in a small pamphlet.

We never know when we'll be called to start a new thingie, and we also may never know that that's where we've been called until after the fact. Some things we just do, in the moment, because that's where God has put down the next stepping stone.

To be clear: the situations that Rob and Nancy are entering into seem very different from times when Friends come under the weight of a concern, or wrestle with seemingly being out of step with the meeting, etc. Theirs may not require the sort of disciplines I have written about, though having the support and mutual accountability that trusted fFriends can provide is still an important piece. We do the best we can with the information we have; we wait and hold and wonder and consider.

I'm not always clear about the need to have a clearness committee to test every single nudge and inward prompt we have. But I remain clear that we will know how well we were led and how faithful we were in following the leading by looking at the fruit that is borne of the thing, after we've walked on a few more stepping stones.


P.S. As an afterthought, I am suddenly reminded of one of my favorite series of books--and I am NOT an avid reader, by any stretch. Somewhat deep into the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card, the reader learns that the protagonist has a leading to build a church.

November 30, 2006

What does a Quaker do at a time like this?

Over on Mark's blog, I left a comment on his post about speaking and listening in Meeting for Worship.

What I posted there got me to thinking:

What are the various Quaker disciplines that exist to help guide us in difficult times?

Are there disciplines or structures in our faith for us to draw upon, even during not-so-difficult times, when we know inwardly that there "ought" to be a way to respond but there's no particular testimony that speaks to the precise circumstance we face?

Aren't there times when any one of us might say to ourselves:

What's a Quaker s'posed to do at a time like this?
"A time like this" might mean:

  • overhearing a racist, sexist, homophobic, or classist comment;

  • reacting negatively and strongly to something that was said in Meeting for Worship, MfWfB, or a committee meeting;

  • feeling out of step with the the rest of the meeting, as the meeting addresses a significant piece of business;

  • having been told something hurtful by someone who is seen as having authority or power within the meeting;

  • seeing a child or children acting inappropriately in the meetinghouse, when the parent (or parents) is nowhere around.

  • Living in America, so much of our media and so many of our peers insist that we do something now:

    Take actions into your own hands! Protect yourself! Protect your investments! Don't wait! Act now! Walk away! Don't just stand there! You don't have to put up with that!

    On and on, one exclamation point after another.

    Many of these secular advices have been creeping into our meetingrooms, and they have crowded out the more challenging, traditional advices:
    to love one another and to stand still in the light and submit to it.
    I like to put things more simply for the moment:

    When in doubt, wait.

    I know it sounds simplistic, but don't be fooled: there is much to be done while waiting. What I've been holding and considering is that perhaps interconnected with the discipline of waiting, there are in turn other Quaker disciplines with which we can engage, disciplines that extend beyond waiting worship.

    Waiting for an opening

    As we are waiting, we must be alert to any Openings that may appear. An opening may be an opportunity to speak with another fFriend about what is occurring, so that an additional point of view can be considered. Or an opening may be a new insight that is given, based on something we are listening to or reading or contemplating. Or an opening may be that the very fFriend with whom you are laboring calls you with some new insight that has tendered her or his own heart.

    We must be careful not to speak or act prematurely, not to speak or act simply because we want to. Is there an opening to speak, an opening to take action? Is my own heart made tender so that I may speak and act out of love rather than judgement; concern rather than fear? Have I been opened by the movement of the Spirit?

    Testing our leadings

    If we are disciplined enough to wait on the Lord, we may use that time more conscientiously to test our leadings and to discern what action, if any, is in harmony with God's will.

    Such a waiting period is important, since Friends believe that if a leading comes from God, it will persist and the sense of rightness will increase over time. If, instead, we begin to doubt our initial thoughts or question our plans of how to respond to a chronic situation, it may be that we have not truly "given ourselves over" to the Spirit for guidance.

    In many cases, testing our leadings while waiting also allows us to tap the community, or at least a segment of it (e.g. a clearness committee), to help us discern the way forward. Since Friends believe that Truth itself does not change, only our understanding of it does, and seeking the sense of even an impromptu clearness committee may shed more light on what is the rightly led course of action to follow.

    Laboring with one another

    I often think that the discipline of laboring with one another is the hardest to engage in. I don't know if it's a reflection of America or a reflection of Quakers--or a reflection of American Quakers--but so many of us are uncomfortable dealing with conflict, being in disagreement with one another, not having an easy answer to resolve a complex and tense situation.

    Such labor among Friends often begins when two or more people who care for each other, or for the process, or for the outcome--or for any combination thereof--find themselves not united around how to move forward with a decision:

    Do we spend the money on improving the meeting's kitchen or on sending a few young Friends to a Quaker gathering halfway around the world? What if one Friend, but not another, wishes to approve membership for an attender who, for three years, has been coming regularly to worship but has never served on a committee or attended a Meeting for Worship for Business?

    How do we move forward when our laboring with one another clearly indicates we are not united?

    Laboring with one another requires an awful lot of waiting. We need to listen to one another; listen for the Holy Spirit's guidance; listen inwardly and honestly to our own human frailties; listen compassionately when another Friend brings her or his humanness to us.

    We need to be able to explore completely where our desire to hold on and not let go comes from; where our fear comes from if we were to let go; and how it is that God asks us to be a servant to the Light rather than a servant to our own ego.

    Sometimes the labor is as much about laboring with ourselves as it is about laboring with another person.

    My favorite example of such labor, and the surprising results that come of it when we are able to wait for our labor, our difficulty, to find its own resolution, is the footwashing at Marlborough, which is also recounted in a pamphlet by Sandra Cronk.

    Waiting to feel the inward motion of Love

    The discipline of waiting until we feel a sense of Love stir within us is perhaps the hardest to observe or learn about from others. That may be because such an inward motion is hard to articulate or point to, let alone observe empirically. It doesn't matter that so many Friends are familiar with John Woolman's words. If we haven't felt the inward motion of Divine Love for ourselves, I don't know that we can know it any other way.

    And since we maybe don't know what the motion of Love feels like, it may be hard to wait while we are stewing over whatever the situation is that has set us off in the first place.

    From my own experience, the motion of Divine Love often comes unexpectedly. I can't force it, I can't will it to come. It comes as I let go, as I surrender.

    But even as I am "giving myself over," I am not doing so in order to beckon the motion of Love. That sort of "agenda" or objective won't work.

    I let go because my heart has been made tender in my waiting, and there is room then for God's Love to do its work, both in me and through me.

    And then I am more comfortable simply waiting.

    Quakerism as a faith discipline

    This post started off as an exploration of various disciplines within Quakerism, and especially how we might engage in the disicipline of waiting. Of course, I want to acknowledge what might seem obvious:
    We must keep in mind that sometimes what is required of us is to do nothing more than wait.
    That said, I sense that there is more to say about these and other disciplines, and about how Quakerism itself is a discipline. It's just that the more I write and explore, the more I want to keep writing and exploring!

    Much like how our language of the Divine cannot encompass the Divine itself, so it is that I can't seem to wrap my writing around the essence of these disciplines. And, much like with learning a second language--"use it or lose it"--so too with these disciplines:

    We must engage in them and practice them if we are to be able to be easy and "fluent" with them, not just within our meetings but also in our day-to-day life.

    Thanks for reading me.


    November 27, 2006

    Seeking and finding together

    Last week, when Deborah Fisch was in town, an unusual incident happened that spoke to me about what it means to accompany one another during our journeys within our meeting communities.

    It was the end of her visit, and Deborah was getting ready to hit the road. A Friend was going to drop me off at my home, and on the way, we were going to lead Deborah back to the freeway. As we headed to our cars, Deborah asked us to wait a moment so she could find her earpiece to her cell phone so she could make hands-free calls.

    She didn't find it.

    The three of us retraced Deborah's steps back into the house where Meeting for Worship had been held. The earpiece wasn't there either. The other Friend and I took turns going through Deborah's car, while Deborah began to empty out her coat pockets, her knapsack, and her suitcase.

    No earpiece.

    Deborah made it clear it wasn't her preference to shell out more money to replace the earpiece, and so she took us up on the offer to head back to my place where she had been staying over the weekend and carry on the search there.

    Once back at my house, I walked through the house all over again, pulled out the sleeper sofa, and looked under the mattress. Meanwhile, Deborah emptied her knapsack and suitcase one more time and picked through everything. A minute later, I headed outside again, empty-handed.

    Then I heard my name called, excitedly: Liz!

    And there was Deborah, on the walkway up to the house, smiling and holding her little trophy high in her hand.

    Deborah explained that the other Friend had suggested maybe the earpiece had fallen out of Deborah's pocket while she was walking to pack up the car that morning, so the Friend had kicked aside some oak leaves that had gathered at the foot of a step... and there it was!

    . . . . . . . . .

    As the day went on and Deborah made her way safely through the freeway system, I thought about how the three of us had worked so hard to find such a simple thing. My thoughts intermixed with a question I've been living with, about what it means to labor with one another or wrestle together over something, and why Friends don't seem to engage in such community-building work as frequently as we might.

    I took a look at what the three of us had just been through:

  • We were searching for a thing that would ease one Friend's journey (looking for the earpiece).

  • When we couldn't find it right away, we stayed engaged; we stayed connected to each other (we kept looking).

  • The search became longer, more difficult (we retraced Deborah's recent steps).

  • Over time, it became harder to understand why we were keeping at it. Did we really have to?

  • One Friend reminded the others why it was important to keep looking (Deborah explained why she didn't want to just go out and buy another earpiece).

  • We recommitted ourselves (we looked through the car, her backpack, her suitcase).

  • A new idea emerged (maybe it's at the other house).

  • We pursued the new idea together.

  • A Friend suggested a new approach (passing her foot through the oak leaves)...

  • ...which ultimately bore fruit! (the long-lost earpiece!)

  • I would like to think that we would have kept searching, "however long it would take," until all of us had agreed to let it go, or until each of us had felt "released" from the need to keep searching. The truth is, I needed to be coaxed to push on, and if either of the other two had wanted to stop, I could easily have been swayed to stop looking, too.

    I needed the other Friends' commitment; I needed their faithfulness.

    It often seems that when Friends undertake a difficult task, and when the going gets tough, we are tempted to stop our efforts; our energy wanes. We maybe even stop paying attention to what is the capital-L Loving thing to do in the situation.

    Maybe we start paying attention to what I call the American anthem of individualism: We start paying attention to "me, me, me..." We start focusing on our own wants and needs, and if something becomes too inconvenient for us, well, we may step away from the task entirely, even while others continue on the sometimes unpleasant journey.

    It's a form of discipline to turn our attention, restrain our impulse, or deter our American nature away from "me, me, me" and make space for, and recommit to, "all of us, all of us, all of us."

    It's a discipline to let go of the pursuit of the individual American dream and hold the intention of moving together, as a body, seeking the way forward together, even while struggling and laboring with one another, until the spiritual debris is kicked aside and the Way forward is revealed.


    UPDATE: An offshoot of this post, I have written more about other disciplines within Quakerism.

    November 22, 2006

    A visit from Deborah Fisch

    This weekend, the worship group was blessed by the visit and presence of Deborah Fisch, clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and coordinator of FGC's Traveling Ministries Program. Aside from the positions she holds, Deborah is also a personal friend to some of us in the worship group, and she has been following the progress of our small group for the past few years.

    The ministry that Deborah shares is often expressed through her personal stories... stories which are slowly finding their way onto paper, not because she is writing them, but because Friends groups are recording the plenary sessions where she speaks, and then producing the transcripts as pamphlets. During the evening presentation that Deborah gave on Saturday night, she again returned to the stories of her life that serve as examples to her and to many Friends about the nature of God's Love; the discipline of corporate practice; and the challenge and reward of being faithful to God's leading.

    This weekend was not the first time I have heard Deborah speak; and her stories that she shared for Beacon Hill Friends House's Weed Lecture are more of the same. There are few Friends who provide a plenary presentation by speaking out of the Silence, without notes or a complete draft of their remarks in front of them. Maybe it is because of Deborah's careful listening for what God lays on her heart that Friends are brought closer to the Inward Teacher as a result of Deborah's tender sharing. It amazes me each time--not just the power of story and personal experience, but also the way that we connect with one another, and with God, as a result.

    At one point, at the close of her evening presentation, Deborah was asked if she had actually experienced a meeting that she described in her stories: a meeting whose members actively nurtured the spiritual gifts of each other and freely welcomed the children into the whole life of the meeting; a meeting whose members regularly companioned one another through crises of faith, without giving answers or trying to fix another's shortcomings; a meeting whose members noticed who had not come to worship and then make a phone call to those Friends on Second Day, asking if all was well.

    I think Deborah's response is indicative of the caring "center" out of which Conservative Friends, as a group, seem to live more intentionally:

    Well, I can say I have traveled to a lot of meetings and I have visited with a lot of Friends. And each meeting has at least a piece, or maybe even a few pieces, of what is possible. Friends are wanting to be faithful to how they are called, and they are hungry to know one another in That Which Is Eternal...
    It was not lost on me that Deborah did not raise her own meeting above any other; and neither did she put any meeting down.

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

    Deborah also referred to a metaphor she had used earlier in the evening, about the "spiritual refrigerator" within our meetings.

    There is plenty of nourishing food already in the spiritual refrigerator of our meetings, but many Friends are at that "hungry" stage of our spiritual journey among, where we open the meeting's refrigerator door, stare past the shelves full of food, and groan, "There's nothing to eat!"

    What we need to do, Deborah explains, is take a closer look at what's inside the fridge; maybe seek out the Friend who has the gift to use what is on the shelves and create a delicious meal from it. Or maybe another Friend has the gift (the patience? the willingness?) to sort through the really old stuff that's in the way back, stuff that maybe has gone bad because it's been ignored or forgotten for so long. And maybe that Friend can recognize if there is something still of value in that old container that's worth saving, while tossing out the stuff that has no Life anymore.

    My own thought is that we need to be careful not to throw out the container itself when throwing out the spoiled food within it. That's a very easy thing to do, so as not to have to deal too closely with what can be so nasty. And yet we need to be careful not to discard the practice--the container of a part of our faith--without first learning where the practice came from, what its roots are, and how might it add to the spiritual banquet if it were to be restored.


    UPDATE: The story of Deborah's visit doesn't quite end there...

    November 3, 2006

    Paul Kelly: How we talk about Quakerism

    A guest piece by Paul Kelly, used with permission.

    The following piece originally appeared in The Good Raised Up as a comment in response to an earlier post. Although I don't consider myself Christian, I appreciate the observations that Paul Kelly makes about how Friends talk about the Christian message, Jesus, etc. –Liz
    We left our episcopal parish this past spring when ... the politics of the parish had become a constant subterranean distraction, and had deepened to differences over "biblical authority." Worship there wasn't working for us anymore, though we still love many of the people, the sincerity of faith, music. Many good memories. I don't regret the 7 year exposure to more traditional Christian preaching, teaching, and spirituality. But to make a long story short, we seem to be back among Friends.

    Thinking about some of the themes in the conversation about "convergence"... A couple of Gordon College students came to meeting Sunday on assignment, and a small group was giving them the run-down on Quakerism. I was struck by how quickly Friends turn to their history to describe themselves, even if they don't know their history very well. It struck me that one problem with this tendency is that it can make it harder to see Friends' history clearly--history becomes too freighted if it becomes the terms in which we describe who we are now.

    One participant offered that Friends were more concerned with the teachings OF Jesus than the teachings ABOUT Jesus. I'd heard this before--actually from the grown daughter of an Indiana Yearly Meeting pastor describing her father's approach. But I was uncomfortable here, too. On the one hand, early Friends did have strong teachings ABOUT Christ Jesus as light, seed, truth, come to teach his people himself. On the other hand, there can be long stretches of time when what makes sense to me (or what I want to challenge myself with) are some of the teachings OF Jesus. But I realized afterward that what made me uneasy was the implicit stake in denying (or at least setting safely aside) a big part of the traditional gospel. Whether or not I can affirm Jesus as Teacher and Lord--and whether or not I expect others to affirm--I want it all available.

    My younger daughter and I attended the annual retreat of the small meeting we are attending. An old woman (she would prefer "old" to "older") born in Germany, lived through Hitler, is an important quiet (sometimes sleeping) elder in the meeting. Her love and faith are very real, and she faces the debilities of age with enormous appreciation for the many good, active years she has enjoyed. But she is one who would rather not even use the word "God." "Life" works for her, and she needed Quakers' non-creedal space to free her natural reverence into something to cherish and share with others. Well, "life" works and doesn't work for me. "God" carries other meanings that somehow go beyond life as shown on this planet, and sometimes I need that beyond in order to maintain faith here. But I have no desire to tell her she is missing the boat or "hiding from the summons of the cross." Fact is, I'm not that sort of evangelical. I am deeply grateful that she is available to the meeting, to me, to my daughters--and she will give her own testimony. Is it too much to want the gospel, the NT, the Hebrew tradition, the history of the church, Quaker history, Ghandi, Buddha, sentimental French moral tales of the 19th century, and you and I today all available as we seek, a la Paul, to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good? Is Jesus too much totalitarian fire in a bottle to be held that way? Always a question for me. But I find from experience that I either hold it lightly or not at all.

    I was thinking the ideal response to an inquirer would not be a disquisition on Quaker history, practices or beliefs, but, as Jesus once said, "Come and see."

    Paul Kelly

    October 25, 2006

    Eldering then and now

    NOTE: Links to related posts are at the bottom of this essay.
    Over on Richard M's blog, he has an important post on recognizing elders within our monthly meetings. What follows below is an extended version of the comment I left there.

    Eldering and eldership is a topic I have thought a bit about for much the same reasons that Richard listed: it is a concept and a practice that is, in some ways, on the "endangered species" list of Quakerism among unprogrammed Friends in the U.S.

    Eldering is still confused with admonishment, an action which some Friends identify as part of mutual accountability and how we engage with each other as part of being a covenant community.

    In my recent consideration of eldering among modern Friends, I have been holding two things:

    1. Many Friends have equated--or still equate--admonishment with eldering. If our experience is that we felt admonished for a certain thing we said or did, let's use that word--"I was admonished"--instead of the word "eldered" (as in "I was eldered").

    2. Within contemporary Quakerism, it seems as if the function of elders is becoming more narrowly defined as the behaviors or activities that a seasoned Friend undertakes in relation to individual members and attenders within or even beyond the meeting.

    As I see it, this narrower definition is also endangering the traditional role of elder. Elders have other functions too.
  • Elders have certain gifts that are specific and responsive to condition of the monthly meeting or yearly meeting. They are gifted with the ability to provide spiritual care and nurture to the meeting as whole, which can be seen as an extension of the elder's being steeped within the Quaker tradition. So it is that if that Friend were to move to another meeting, perhaps other gifts of that same Friend may be called forward, and the Friend's gift of eldership may not transfer to or be required within other meetings.

  • Elders may be "holding the space" during worship, helping ground the meeting as Friends enter the meetingroom and settle into worship.

  • Elders may speak to the "big picture" of how the meeting is or isn't being faithful or obedient to God's call. They may help knit the community together in ways that are often unseen or unheard.
  • Maybe it's because these functions are not as explicit as, say, the function of a minister--one who has a gift to preach, to offer vocal prayer, to articulate our faith, to share the Word of God.

    Recently, the word "elder" began to be used--to some Friends' dismay--to describe the Friend who accompanies a traveling minister on her or his visits among Friends beyond the monthly meeting or during a workshop or presentation.

    I have been hearing rumblings that there is a desire to reserve the word "elder" for its traditional use--relating it to the spiritual role and function within a particular meeting--and to identify those Friends who accompany traveling Friends as "travel companions," "spiritual support persons," or "companions in the ministry."

    More than once I have heard it said that when John Woolman, David Ferris, and other early Quakers traveled among Friends, they did not have "elders" travel with them, yet they were companioned.

    An elder's work traditionally has been in the Friend's own home-meeting.

    Only time will tell what is endangered within Quakerism and what will become extinct. We are early in the process of looking at and understanding how the practice of eldering, the use of admonishment and mutual accountability, and the function of companions in the ministry all intersect and impact one another, as well as how they are shared among Friends and within our meetings.


    P.S. Given the intersection of my service on FGC's Central Committee and my service in helping prepare for the 2007 FGC Gathering, I have discovered that the Traveling Ministries Program has drafted a "working paper" that touches on the distinction between "elder" and "travel companion." The paper reflects some of the points that Richard raises and certainly has informed my own questioning and understanding of yesterday's and today's elders.

    The document doesn't appear to be online, so I'll want to find out if it is available for sharing more widely.


    Eleventh Month 2006: The conversation about eldering continues over on Richard M's blog; click here to go there.

    Second Month 2007: Friends General Conference has a selected bibliography on eldering and ministry, for anyone who doesn't have enough books on their nightstand already.


    Richard M's post on recognizing elders within our monthly meetings

    Chronicler's Minutae's post on eldering as an undervalued gift

    Marshall shares his take on the giftedness of elders and draws on some historical resources.

    Robin writes about her own experience of seeking a travel companion and wonders about the use of that term as compared to the term "elder."

    In February 2009, I found this post by a Quaker veterinarian, raising questions about Friends who read in meeting and other similar concerns.

    Shortly after a retreat on eldership, I've added additional reflections on the topic.

    October 20, 2006

    Soft spots

    God has given me a number of occasions to be of service in the past month, not only to support my parents but most recently to support my partner, who parted with her appendix over the weekend! (Hence, in part, the long spell between recent posts.)

    Thankfully, the appendix had not ruptured but it was giving warning signs that it just might do so in another few days. Also, thankfully, the on-call surgeon in the E-R was able to do the procedure laparoscopically, which meant a very quick surgery (30-45 minutes!) and a much faster recovery period at home. All appears to be going well.

    The other item that has taken up much of my attention, and to which I have been called, has been clerking the Workshops Committee for the 2007 Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin.

    Before anyone jumps to conclusions: No, the slate of workshops for next year's Gathering will not be overrun with workshops about Convergent Friends! In fact, the list of workshop offerings will probably look very much like what has been offered in the past.

    Change comes slowly to well-established systems. Take my parents, for example.

    When I went to New Jersey to support my folks after my dad was diagnosed with sciatica, there was hope that between my two brothers and me, we could sway my parents to make different choices: sell the small apartment they maintain but seldom use; ease my 79-year-old father into (partial) retirement; simplify their complex financial structure.

    Not only did my parents refuse to sway or be swayed, they resisted acknowledging the gentle wind of inevitable change being blown into their house!

    "Yes, our taxes are complicated but there's nothing to be done about it."

    "No, we're not going to sell the apartment in the city."

    "No, I'm not going to take a rest in the middle of the day because a little sciatica never hurt anybody, so I'll keep putting hours of work in at home, even if I have to hobble from room to room, my leg hurts most of the time, and I'll feel worse in the morning."
    My dad makes a perfect Scrooge in some ways. Retirement? Bah, humbug!

    My parents might make each other miserable some of the time, with their long entrenched habits developed over 40 years of marriage, but they'd be more miserable if they were forced to change their lifestyles, their finances, and their mental attitude overnight.

    Being with my folks for even a couple of days showed me how strong the power of love--and entrenchment--can be. Nearly impenetrable.


    After the first day or so with them, I realized that there were what I came to think of as "soft spots" for each of them individually and in their coupleship. Mom at one point said, well, she could probably call off the remodeling of the apartment, since no papers were signed.

    And Dad was able to acknowledge that there may be some benefit for lying down, if only for thirty minutes, to rest before picking up the pace again.

    I had my own soft spot, too. By the end of my visit with them, I had switched my own lens through which I saw them and their situation:

    I started off believing that they were going to have change and change soon (sound familiar?), and I ended up understanding and accepting that very little was going to happen in the immediate future, but some things might be prepared to happen in the next 6-12 months or longer.

    Soft spots: where I can poke and discover some "give" to them; not as much resistance.

    It's an apt analogy as well for my work on behalf of FGC and its Gathering.

    When it comes to seeking and selecting workshop proposals--which is only one part of the work of the Workshops Committee, but a very large part it is!--there are all sorts of Friends who have all sorts of needs, wants, and expectations about what the week of Gathering will hold for them:
    "I work everyday at the office with Friends, so at Gathering, I'd like to take a workshop where I can be out in nature and just slow down."

    "I love to sing, it's how I connect with God."

    "The history of our religious society has a lot to teach us. I always take a workshop on a famous Quaker or the history of Friends. It makes me think."
    Before I started my service on the Workshops Committee, I was an "outsider" to that committee's work and process.

    When I initially started my service on the committee, I assumed it would be easy to incorporate more workshops that were grounded in a rich Quaker tradition: workshops that were about the transformational power of the Light, the covenant of the religious community, the corporate nature of seeking God together in our worship and in our business...

    As is usually the case, though, being on the "inside" of a system presents all sorts of information to the former "outsider" about why things work the way they do. It is eye-opening.

    For one thing, FGC has received over the years a steady flow of comments about how much Friends from across Canada and the U.S. appreciate the breadth of workshop selections as well as the sense of worship that pervades them. And yes, there are many Friends who also are concerned about that breadth: what would happen if the offerings of workshops didn't stray into interfaith studies, recreation, or intellectual presentations?

    The best summarizing statement I came across in my own mini listening project around why the Gathering offers such a wide variety was this:
    Where else can you go, as a Friend, and get together with other Friends, and talk about or explore nearly any subject AS a Friend?
    My heart opened a bit, even though something within me acknowledged that there is still a place for working to restore and renew Quaker practices that are on the brink of being lost.

    Still, I have needed to avoid the pitfalls of polarization. I have needed to ask questions and look for soft spots. And, as one Friend recently put it to me, I need to be wary of seeking to assert my own will when I need to be willing to seek the will and guidance of the Spirit with how to proceed.

    It's been a few months since the preliminary work of this committee has gotten underway. I'm still poking around for the soft spots where new ideas might be introduced into an established system. And in my own case, one of the gifts of being a clerk--at least for me--is that I am reminded, regularly and repeatedly, that the task of the committee is to listen for God, to reach for Love, to be faithful to how we are called.

    It may be a while before anything changes... and it may be that no one even notices how the Wind has shifted.


    P.S. It's likely that my posts will become less frequent, given what I am facing in the weeks and months ahead. But I admit that blog-writing is a nice break and gives me a chance to connect with Friends whose support I feel, regardless of the medium.

    October 8, 2006

    Is FGC Convergent?

    What would you make of this statement:

    "We seek to help Friends engage in a continuing process of renewing and integrating their experiences of the historical, spiritual and theological foundations of Quakerism and our Quaker Testimonies as the basis for our practice, social witness and service."
    Would you think this is a vision statement crafted by a group of Quaker bloggers? or a minute that was approved by the Ministry & Counsel Committee of Friendly Monthly Meeting, U.S.A.?

    It's neither.

    It is a statement that comes from what I believe to be one of the Best Kept Secrets among unprogrammed Friends: the Long Term Plan of Friends General Conference.

    Before I launch into my love for that particular document, I want to underscore a couple things.
      1. Friends General Conference (FGC) is an organization that provides services and programs to Friends in Canada and the U.S., primarily to Friends (and their yearly and monthly meetings) who worship in the unprogrammed tradition (i.e. Liberal and Conservative Friends).

      2. FGC is not intended to be an overarching organization that develops policy and procedures for its constituent affiliated meetings--though many Friends mistakenly put FGC in that role. FGC's history of providing services to unprogrammed Friends comes out of a confluence, of sorts, of concurrent conferences held at the turn of the 20th Century: First Day School associations; Friends' religious conferences; and a gathering for "philanthropic labor."

      3. The policies and procedures that FGC develops, including its Long Term Plan (LTP), are intended to guide the FGC staff and governing body (Central Committee) with carrying out its responsibilities. Yearly meetings and monthly meetings remain responsible for their own decisions and for care of their own responsibilities (e.g. whether or not to marry same-sex couples).

    Okay, back to what I really wanted to write about.

    When it's printed on paper and shared with Friends, the Long Term Plan starts with FGC's Minute of Purpose. The online version includes a whopping six introductory paragraphs (yawn...).
    (Approved by Central Committee, Tenth Month 21, 1995)

    Friends General Conference is a Quaker organization in the unprogrammed tradition of the Religious Society of Friends which primarily serves affiliated yearly and monthly meetings. It is our experience that:

    * Faith is based on direct experience of God.

    * Our lives witness to this experience individually and corporately.

    * By answering that of God in everyone, we build and sustain inclusive community.

    Friends General Conference provides resources and opportunities that educate and invite members and attenders to experience, individually and corporately, God’s living presence, and to discern and follow God’s leadings. Friends General Conference reaches out to seekers and to other religious bodies inside and outside the Religious Society of Friends.
    So how cool is that, that in the Long Term Plan, several key elements of our faith are right there, front and center! And as a newcomer to serving on FGC's Central Committee, when I read that Minute of Purpose, I knew I was in the right place!

    Beyond the opening Minute of Purpose, the LTP includes goals (4); objectives (19) to help us meet the goals; and action steps (half-a-squizzilion of 'em), all of which flesh out the Long Term Plan.

    Now, in my six years of serving on FGC's Central Committee, I would say that Goal IV itself is lifted up a fair amount, probably because the language that it contains reflects some of the yummiest part of Friends' traditions and experience:
    Goal IV:

    Articulate, communicate and model core experiences, values and principles of Friends, such as the direct experience of God, the miracle of the gathered meeting, the meeting for worship for business, the balancing of individual leadings with corporate discernment, and the call to live and witness to our faith.
    Of course, any Quaker who knows me knows that I have come under the weight of making our faith explicit ("articulating" it) and being intentional about modeling Quaker practice and Quaker tradition with integrity, authenticity, and spiritual groundedness as best we can, especially if we want to convey our faith to future generations.

    But THIS is what I'm really excited about, and I think FGC doesn't give enough attention to it:
    Goal IV, Objective 3.

    Help Friends engage in a continuing process of renewing and integrating their experiences of the historical, spiritual and theological foundations of Quakerism and our Quaker Testimonies as the basis for our practice, social witness and service. (emphasis mine)

    Just how do we go about helping Friends "renew and integrate" the primitive Quakerism that is built upon certain "foundations"--foundations that have been undermined by pop culture, oppressive religious dogma, and a quietist form of our faith?

    As I have been living with that question during the past three years or so, I have at last begun to see a few opportunities that could become part of the answer. Some of those opportunities have to do with the Quaker blogosphere and the Convergent conversation. Other opportunities have to do with waiting for an opening to speak with Friends in my local community, about our roots, our foundations, and the basis of Quaker theology.

    Most recently, as I have invested more of my time and energy into helping prepare for FGC's 2007 Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin, I have found that the Gathering Committee* is not necessarily connected to nor has any awareness or understanding of FGC's Long Term Plan. And I just find that to be a shame.

    Thankfully, though, the FGC committee that guided Central Committee through the process of crafting and implementing a long term plan is still in place, and I've forwarded my concern onto them. The clerk of FGC's Committee for Discernment in Long Term Planning--fondly known as DiLTP--was grateful for my bringing it to her attention. (Doesn't everyone like to be let in on the secret?!)


    P.S. Here's my formula for some of what constitutes FGC:

    Quaker youth + books + online directory of meetings +
    + First Day School materials + a reprint of Lloyd Lee Wilson's
    popular writings + week-long summer Gathering =

    Friends General Conference

    More specifically, here are some of FGC's most beloved and sought after services and programs.

    Quaker Finder, for when you are on the road on business or vacation and want to find out what meetings are in the area where you are staying (FGC is including more and more Quaker churches on this service, too!)

    QuakerBooks, formerly known plainly as "The Quaker bookstore." You can get ANY book you want (or CD or DVD or videotape) from QuakerBooks of FGC!

    Traveling Ministries Program, for when your meeting wants to find a qualified, seasoned Friend to address a tender or difficult concern with which it has been holding or wrestling.

    Quaker Youth Ministries, because young Quakers are not necessarily the future of Quakerism; they are right here, right now, the present of Quakerism.

    FGC Gathering, also known to many Friends simply as "FGC," which drives Central Committee members crazy because of course FGC is "more than the Gathering..." I used to get a chuckle out of seeing banners at the Gathering that supported the misnomer. The banners used to read, "Welcome to FGC!" Now they've all been updated to read, "Welcome to the FGC Gathering!"

    *The Gathering Committee is an ad hoc committee that coordinates the nitty-gritty of the Gathering and basically has a two-year life span, one year of which overlaps with another Gathering Committee that is responsible for the subsequent year's Gathering. For example, just as Tacoma's Gathering Committee was halfway through its work for the 2006 Gathering, the River Falls' Gathering Committee began to gear up for 2007. Did you follow that?

    September 29, 2006

    A change in plans

    I have had an idea or two for some additional blog posts, but those will have to wait:

    I am headed to my folks' place on the east coast, where my mother has been caught between caring for my dad who has a bad case of sciatica (and is not the most compliant patient) and caring for my 101-year-old grandmother (well, she turns 101 in just over two weeks). Grandma was hospitalized for a week recently, with pneumonia and gastritis but--amazingly--is back home now (Baltimore area).

    The three of us siblings (southern Oregon, Boston, and me in the Middle) have had one conference call to sort out a plan of action, since we each half-expect the burden of support to fall on us alone: my older brother, for being the oldest; my other brother, for living the closest; and me, for being the daughter.

    So this weekend, for a few days, it's my turn. And based on the report of my Boston brother who was with our folks this past week, it's unlikely that there'll be any real down time to speak of.

    Yeap, I'm definitely Grown Up now. Time to start providing care to those who long ago provided care for me.


    UPDATE, Tenth Month 2006. My grandmother is out of the hospital but clearly is not the same woman she was when she was, say, 95. My mom's stress has shifted from caring for my grandmother to continuing to care for my dad, who is still in some discomfort and has not been able to walk without a walker. My two brothers and I are considering setting up a family meeting, when all of us can gather face to face and share our concerns, hopes, and observations with one another. All in all, I'm feeling less stressed and I'm getting back to the other parts of my life.

    September 25, 2006

    When Quakers meet Mennonites

    Over the weekend on Saturday, I awoke before dawn, ignored the cat, got dressed, and quietly left the house to head to the retreat center where I would meet a group of Mennonites. The pastor had asked me to speak with them for twenty minutes about the Quaker model of decision-making prior to the group's delving into larger questions that they themselves face.

    Here's what I feel good about:

  • Releasing myself, at first, from the idea of having only twenty minutes to present, and instead letting myself write notes at several different times to see what arose, and then holding all of those scratch papers prayerfully and asking for Help to know what to lift up.

  • The handout I pulled together, which included a few quotes about the grounding of Quaker business practice, a very short glossary, a distinction between secular and Quaker process (see Michael Birkel's Silence and Witness, pp. 68-69), and a chart-matrix that describes how degrees of disunity and unity are articulated by individuals, expressed by the corporate body, and reflected by the clerk.

  • My asking to be invited to "speak out of the silence," so that I could have one last chance to quiet myself and pray that I might be faithful.

  • Yielding to a strong prompt I had felt, to caution the group against simply transplanting into their Mennonite tradition the Quaker practice of a God-centered, unity-seeking decision-making process.

  • This last point caught me off-guard, since I wasn't sure if this was an item I should lift up... but there it was, coming out of my mouth. I saw a few head-nods among the group, including from the pastors, so I take that as a good sign.

    I had already described the theological foundation of our business practice, that there is one Light that can be known directly by each of us, and therefore we, as Friends, seek and listen for God together. But I had a feeling that there was more to the Mennonite tradition that could inform their own move away from a Roberts Rules of Order voting model, and I wanted to encourage them to learn about their own history and practice.

    Later I would find out that this particular group of Mennonites, at least, has many members who hail from different faith traditions and that the Mennonites historically were "highly schismatic." ...Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

    Here's what I don't feel so good about:

  • I didn't have anyone travel with me as a spiritual support person. Those who I would typically call on were either dealing with the death of a parent or were out of town. Plus, I was reluctant to ask for someone to get up early on a Saturday, drive more than an hour to the retreat site for that short of a presentation, and then drive back.

  • I underestimated how intensely focused I would be, which left me exhausted as a result. I also didn't know until I was at the retreat that I was expected to listen to some small-group reports and identify what might be "next steps" for this particular Mennonite congregation, in terms of their moving away from a conventional voting model. The listening that was asked of me was "acute," meaning I felt tapped by the Spirit in a way that required of me an intense level of focusing to which I am not typically accustomed.

  • All that said, would I do it again? Absolutely!

    I felt well-used and appreciated; I felt like I was faithful.

    Later this week, one of the pastors and I will get together to reflect on the experience. By that time, he will have heard a bit from the congregation about their own take on how things went.

    The interesting thing is, there are now four of us from the worship group who have direct connections to this particular Mennonite congregation: two of us have done presentations with them; and two others (a couple) had worshiped there for about a year before discovering the worship group. (They happened to have been at the retreat as well, given their earlier commitment to attend.)

    Not to mention that where the worship group meets and where the Mennonite's church building is are within blocks of each other. ...I wonder what else God may have in store for all of us...


    September 16, 2006

    20 minutes, 60 Mennonites

    A week or so ago, the pastor of a local Mennonite church asked if I would provide a short presentation to the congregation on how Quakers conduct business. Specifically, I've been asked "to speak to the questions of history, uniqueness, and benefits" of that practice.

    And to do so in about twenty minutes.

    I thought I'd survey the Quakersphere to get a sense if I'm even on the right track:

    Given twenty minutes, what one, two, or three pieces of the Quaker decision-making process would you talk about?
    Who knows--maybe we'll hit on a sense of the cyber-meeting in response!


    P.S. You should see the handout I'm putting together...

    September 15, 2006

    Something to push against

    Over at The Quaking Harlot there is a post that makes a brief reference to the blogger's concern of being told how to blog, how to be a proper Quaker, how to be "QC" (as opposed to PC).

    I struggle not to take some of what is written there, and within the comments, personally. You see, I was one of the bloggers who engaged in the possibility of a blogging Faith & Practice. And my most recent post describes what I have experienced as a form of Quaker blog etiquette, especially among some early Quaker bloggers who seemed to appreciate each other's care in writing.

    I don't know if the Quaking Harlot was directing a comment at me, but I do see this as an opportunity to share a bit about my choice to engage in the Q-blogosphere in the way I have been, to make explicit some of my process in order to reduce readers' guesswork about why I write some of what I do.

    Here's my theory:

    Quakers need something to push against.
    We're not always so disciplined about entrusting our committees to thresh an idea and to bring back to the meeting a thoroughly seasoned proposal. We'll pick it apart, question why X was explored but not Y, like the idea of carpet rather than linoleum but prefer blue over green.

    But let the proposal season for a month and Friends start to see the care and creativity that went into it. And one more month of seasoning allows the initial resistance to melt away. As if Friends simply needed permission to say No before they could yield to say Yes or even Maybe.

    So it is that some of my posts are launched as trial balloons. After all, an individual does not a committee make. And if a post gives a reader something to push against, to hone her or his own thinking, then some good has come out of it after all.

    Blogging Faith & Practice

    When the idea was broached for a blogging F&P, I was skeptical at first, I admit. But I've been skeptical about other suggestions, including the use of the term convergent and that turned out alright...

    The way that the blogging F&P was "turning out," well, I found I had something to say, so I said it. Not right away, and not frequently. In that way, I feel like I was being a part of someone's clearness committee. The committee doesn't cast a vote and neither does it dismiss the Friend's idea right away. The committee listens. It works to help the Friend understand how God is leading her or him, and the committee helps the Friend test the leading itself:
  • Does the leading persist?

  • Is the Friend's own learning increased somehow?

  • Does the leading bear fruit, such as patience, lovingkindness, self-control?

  • As time goes by, does the Friend have an increased "felt-sense" that she or he is well led?

  • Is the leading congruent with Quaker practice? with Scripture?
  • And then there is the concept of living into the experiment, to see how direct experience of the thing might indicate the rightness of the leading... or not.

    I would say, from my experience, that the concept of an online Faith & Practice is not right for this time, this cyber-place, this current set of bloggers.

    But I'm not sure it will never be right, either.

    No right way to write a Q-blog

    There is no precise, singular way to be a Quaker, though there are practices and processes that are intended to help us discover how to live into the measure of Light we've been given, and how to come together as a community to engage in worship and to tend to business.

    It's also clear to me that there is no precise, singular way to write or maintain a Quaker blog. But I personally don't believe that we Quaker bloggers are doing something completely unrelated to one another, that we use completely disconnected or independent practices.

    In fact, I know my own practice of writing posts and submitting comments is an extension of what I understood, assumed, or interpreted that the original Q-bloggers were doing--even if I couldn't know if any blogger was engaging in careful discernment or in stream-of-consciousness writing.

    So I wrote about the etiquette that seemed to go into the Quaker blogs that kept drawing me back to them, week after week; the comments that got me thinking and seemed to advance the conversation.

    Was it my place to write such a post? Maybe not; maybe it was (or is) too individualistic of me to put my thoughts out there.

    (BTW, I had considered not publishing that post for that very reason: there had been no online "committee" to thresh such a thing... but that gets back to the whole online F&P topic...)

    But I recognize now, days later and with my own finger pointing back at me after reading the post at The Quaking Harlot, that I had also written the post to see how or if others might push against it:
    Was I way off the mark?

    Would what I wrote resonate with others bloggers?

    Would another blogger take a kernel of what was there and turn that kernel into something of significance for the rest of us to read?

    Radical community

    If we see ourselves as separate from one another, with no interconnection between us, then I agree with what Quaking Harlot writes, that the cyber-culture of Quaker blogs will more and more "resemble the current status-quo of Quakerism" (and I assume it's Liberal Quakerism to which QH refers).

    But if we see ourselves as interconnected despite the cyber-distance that separates us; if we allow for the possibility that we may be opened and transformed by the Spirit of God that speaks through our blogposts, then the self-same cyber-culture of Quaker blogs can more and more resemble the radical covenant community that God yearns for and that some of us are working to restore.


    September 9, 2006

    Quaker blog etiquette

    The variety of comments to one of my recent posts has got me thinking and reflecting... Always an indicator that there is more to be said.

    I share with Martin a sensibility about the Quaker blogs I am drawn to.

    What unites my favorite blogs is the care and discernment that goes into them. These bloggers are open to those who use unfamiliar language, listening to where the words come from, and they’re curious and open to learning and tender with their comments.
    - from Martin's "Munching on the Wheat"
    I can't resist wondering if Quaker blogging etiquette is qualitatively different from the "generic" blog etiquette that has already been written about.

    That said, the Quaker blogosphere that I know and appreciate seems to use an etiquette that has more to do with building caring relationships rather than building a web of hypertext links; writing in order to be faithful rather than writing to be popular, politically correct, or controversial; and encouraging one another to mind the Light rather than pressuring one another to support a political platform.

    It's an etiquette based on traditional Quaker practice and Quaker constructs: love, forgiveness, faithfulness, accountability, and Divine prompting.

    For what it's worth, here are my own recommendations for Quaker blog etiquette, both for publishing a post on one's own blog and for submitting a comment elsewhere.

    1. Show care rather than be impersonal and persuasive. Go ahead: be sentimental and encouraging. In the impersonal world of the internet, an extra effort to express a sense of connection and support goes a long way. Insert statements that mirror feelings or are supportive, and ask questions that draw the other person out: "You certainly seem frustrated." ... "Take it one thing at a time and keep listening for God." ... "Can you say more about this particular item?" Avoid questions that embed one's own point of view, which often start out, "Don't you think...?"

    2. Be discerning. Resist the temptation to respond to everything; resist the temptation to make every point that could be made. As a Quaker blogger, one query I return to often is:
    Is what I am about to post really what God is wanting me to?
    3. Self-disclose. The point of self-disclosure, though, is not to step into the lime-light and raise oneself up, but to help the person normalize her or his experience, demonstrating that others have trod a similar path. Sometimes the path of faithfulness can be so lonely, and we maybe can lessen that spiritual aloneness by sharing something equally tender with that person. For example, if a blogger wonders if she or he made the right choice and indicates a feeling of alienation or self-imposed shame, I may include in my comment how I relate to that person: "Your experience reminds me of a time when I went through something similar..."

    4. Check out assumptions ...once you've realized you've made them! One way I have caught myself making assumptions has been when I find myself writing, "I think Jane was really wanting to tell me such-and-so." If Jane is a part of my life, I need to stop writing and call her, email her, hold the post until you I see her next week. When making a comment about what someone else has written, if we find ourselves riled up, we may be helped if we can discipline ourselves to back up a step and consider what has pushed our proverbial button. Allowing for the possibility that I am wrong or have misinterpreted something, and checking out my assumptions before using the "publish" or "submit comment" buttons probably has spared me from many angry responses as a result.

    Which leads to the next, perhaps more obvious suggested practice:

    5. Season the post or comment before putting it on the blog. For comments, preview them (if you have that option; otherwise, re-read them caringly) with the expectation that it is not yet clear what needs to be conveyed or how to convey it. When writing a new post, save a draft of it and return to it at least once or twice for another read-through and revision before publishing it.

    6. Read through God's eyes. Change the emotional filter through which the blog is read. Instead of assuming that an author is "spewing," consider how the post or comment might read if the author in fact has good intentions, holds a deep concern, or is writing out of fear rather than anger. Leaving a short inquiry for the blogger can give you space to change your filter and help the exchange along: "I can't tell if you are angry or if you are worried. Can you clarify before I comment?"

    7. Be accountable. Sometimes, no matter how much etiquette we employ, no matter how long we wait before posting something, we goof. Like a small pebble that finds its way into our shoe, at some point, we need to stop in our tracks and take a look to see what is making us so uncomfortable. Pull out the pebble and, as needed, make it known to the appropriate person whatever the hurtful or inappropriate behavior was. And don't expect others to appreciate the apology or change their behavior for us. Being accountable is as much--or more--about having a clear relationship between ourselves and God as it is about having a clear relationship between ourselves and another person.

    8. GAS CAN: Put the relationship first. This item very much relates back to the first one I mention, about showing care. The acronym GAS CAN is from FGC and it seems it never went anywhere, from what I can tell. I belief it was used for awhile as shorthand to describe the qualities of long-term support committees for Friends who were engaged in ministry:

    In my experience, the Quaker blogosphere thrives when we write to one another out of care, support, and nurture. ...And when we allow the Spirit and Love guide us, even in cyberspace.

    I hope other fFriendly bloggers out there will chime in with your own particular brand of blog etiquette...


    UPDATE, Eleventh Month 2009:

    9. Use your real name, or at least a portion of it. Part of what reduces the anonymity of the internet and helps us to be known to one another in the Quaker blogosphere is that many of us have been using our name. Of course, for some of us who have a concern for privacy and internet security--myself included--that gets to be a bit tricky, which is why some of us use our first name and last initial, or we shorten our last name so it won't be [as] searchable through Google.

    In addition to the disciplines of accountability and speaking plainly so that we might support one another on- and offline, using our names has been a great help in practical matters to find one another when traveling to events, such as the FGC Gathering. There's one less layer of society to have to peel away when I can know a blogger right away as "Robin" or "Martin" and not as "QuakerFriend" or "FriendlyWorshiper."

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


  • Hystery - writes about using a pseudonym.

  • Cat - when a casual wave 'hello' is what's called for.

  • Marshall - advices on making comments... though this content is on Marshall's sidebar and does not allow comments.

  • Zach - offers his own thoughts on the Quaker blogosphere

  • September 8, 2006

    Got toilet paper?

    On Labor Day just a few days ago, some friends of mine and I met at a local park to attend a free bluegrass music festival. The bands were entertaining, the conversation was good, and the burgers, brats, and corn were typical for festival food.

    About twenty minutes prior to the start of the final set--played by a popular band that my friends wanted to stay for--I headed to the Little Ladies Room.

    When I got there, a number of women were waiting (of course!). As others were heading back out, I heard more than a few of them say, "Make sure you bring your own toilet paper. Make sure you have toilet paper with you...."

    Not what a woman likes to hear when she has to pee--even and especially if there are eight or ten stalls to choose from.

    I checked two stalls myself. Can they be serious?!

    It was true.

    Then I thought I might ask to get some from the men's room nearby.

    It took only about thirty seconds to realize that it's awful hard to make eye contact with a man after he's just used the can!

    So I did the next best thing: I went outside to look for a park employee.

    God answered my prayers--and probably the early evening prayers of dozens of women--because right away I saw a woman in a polo shirt with an embroidered Park Board logo on it, and she had a Park Board badge dangling on a lanyard around her neck.

    She was also dragging two enormous bags of music festival garbage behind her.

    No matter. A girl with a small bladder has to do what a girl with a small bladder has to do.

    I boldly walked up to her... and instead of letting her know that the women's restroom was in dire need of t-p, which I had planned to say, these other words came out of my mouth:

    Say, do you want help with that?
    She looked up at me and said, "Sure!" and then added, "...Just don't let any union employees see you doing this."

    We chuckled.

    Then I popped the question.
    Well, seeing as I have you here now, and I'm giving you a hand, can I tell you that the women's restroom is completely out of toilet paper?
    She stopped for half a step, looked up at me, and said, "Are you serious?"

    As if a woman would joke about a thing like that.

    We double-timed getting the garbage to the dumpster and I followed her to the supply closet, which was in the direction of the restroom. Then I had the nudge to head back to the women's room and let women know that t-p was coming in another minute.

    When the Park Board employee came in, she was laden with those massive rolls of toilet paper, twelve inches in diameter, three or four threaded on her left arm. Her right arm held a key, which she would use to open the large canister in each of the stalls to hold the toilet paper.

    The key didn't work.

    She swore and began to head out to look for another key, taking the toilet paper with her. I called out to her and said, "At least leave me with one of the rolls so I can pass out toilet paper!" Once she saw the sense of that, she gladly let me slip one of those huge paper bracelets off her arm, and I took my station at the large, open entrance to the Little Ladies Room.

    I tore off a four-foot piece, called out to the woman who had just passed me by, and said, "There's no toilet paper in any of the stalls. Here ya go."

    Then a woman with two tykes in tow. Several more pieces of t-p. "There's no toilet paper in any of the stalls. Someone has gone to get the key to install some in the canisters."

    A threesome of friends. More toilet paper. More explanation.

    It was surreal. I was given thanks, strange looks, and an occasional laugh or eye-roll. I was a human toilet-paper dispensing machine.

    Is this what God had in mind when I asked how I might be of service?!?

    About six minutes and twenty flushes later, the employee returned, this time with a screwdriver and six more rolls of toilet paper. She managed to get most of the rolls she had brought with her into the stalls before I approached her, with my own paper bracelet extended:
    Well, I guess I'll take my turn now, and you can install this last one.
    She looked up at me, surprised. "Oh, you haven't gone yet?! You've been passing out toilet paper....?! Omigosh, thank you! ....Of course, you go-- oh, and let me give you something as a thank you, Thank You so much!"

    She reached into her pocket and put something in my hand. (It would turn out to be a Park Board keychain.) I looked at her, smiling over the ridiculousness of the moment. You're welcome, I said. Glad I could be of help!

    When I got back outside, my friends looked up at me, their faces and upraised hands full of questions about what took me so long.

    I was glad the music got started up again.

    Just another classic example of the admonition, Be careful what you ask for.


    August 28, 2006

    Popcorn in the Q-blogosphere?

    In a comment I made recently to a post by Richard M on his new blog A Place to Stand, I start off by explaining:

    The Quaker blogosphere didn't used to be so big! When it was smaller, it was easier to go more deeply into (electronic) dialogue with one another... I feel like I got to see the hearts and spirits of my fellow bloggers more easily because many of us commented regularly on each other's writing.

    Much like when a small worship group balloons into a sizeable meeting, I fear the cyber-intimacy of our blogs has been somewhat hurt, as we strive to keep up, to keep our tired fingers on the multiple pulses that are out there.

    And, as in a growing meeting, when visitors become attenders and attenders become members, the norms of the collective may change over time. Or the entire system needs to be reworked.
    In recent weeks, I've noticed the presence of a number of new blogs like Richard's. It also seems like there has been an increase in the number of posts, comments, and cross-references from one to the other, but maybe this perceived increase is the result of the summer season of yearly meetings.

    And of course, the more Quaker bloggers there are, the more comments and posts are going to appear. And when you add to that, the publication of a front-page article about Friends in a major newspaper, well, it all contributes to a slightly hyperactive blogosphere, I suppose.

    Sadly, it's been easy for me to get sucked into the desire to keep up, to read as many of the posts and comments as I can. I often say that the Fear of Missing Something is nearly as powerful as the leading of God. Admittedly for me, it's that Fear of Missing Something that pushes me to catch up on my blog-reading when I've returned from lengthy trips.

    As a result of my playing catch-up, of the increase in new blogs, of the cross-referencing between posts, I find I am not reading blog posts and comments as thoroughly as I used to. I skim them or read comments selectively. Which in and of itself doesn't help knit the online tapestry together.

    From there, it's easy to imagine that my own comments are not as well seasoned as they once were. I also feel as though I have less spiritual and emotional "space" to hear my own thinking and consider my own inner promptings about a post that is struggling to emerge, because I am so full-up on having read other Friends' writing.

    This reminds me of being in a popcorn Meeting for Worship: I want time, space, and stillness for me--for us!--to re-center and re-settle. I need time, space, and stillness to absorb what has already been shared, and I need time, space, and stillness to release it so I can again make room to listen for God.

    I once read somewhere that among the questions and advices to consider before offering a piece of vocal ministry is something like:
    Will what I say deepen the silence? If not, don't say it.
    "We can't listen if we are always talking" is another way to look at it. And the same holds true that I can't listen if I'm always reading or writing.

    I miss the quieter, slower times of the Quaker blogosphere. It was easier to breathe between messages, to take a few days to reflect, to consider a reply, compose it, season it, revise it, and then post it. And it was easier to remember where I had commented, so I could return to the post and see how that specific online dialogue was going.

    I wasn't worried about keeping up with the online Joneses; there were so few of us. I was more focused on building authentic connections and following the threads that were bringing us into a new sort of cyber-communion.

    What used to be a shared, unspoken, easy rhythm is now shaken up and has become for me a fragmented and furied staccato. At first I was excited by it. Now I find I am spiritually tiring from it. I may need to engage in this expanded blogosphere in a new way soon; find a new rhythm that suits me.

    The Quaker blogosphere has grown but our structures to keep us in cyber-harmony with one another have not. I don't mean a harmony in the form of clearness or getting along with one another or even being aligned with the will of the Spirit; but rather a harmony in the form of having a sense of each other's rhythms, concerns, and struggles.

    I've been aware of the individualistic nature of the internet in general and of blogs in particular. But the Quaker blogosphere I stumbled upon only eighteen months ago seemed to transcend that somehow: we seemed to share and practice a discipline both on- and off-line that helped me get to know fellow bloggers in a way that was very rich and spiritually nourishing for me.

    We seemed to come to know something of one another that was known only through an intentional, cumulative experience of reading one another's words with a curiosity of spirit, an openness of heart, and a gentleness of character. And there seemed to be more space, more time, more stillness to do that, "back in the day."

    I can't help thinking of the similarities between the evolution of a small worship group becoming a large monthly meeting and that of a quiet blogosphere of Friends transitioning into a large and active network of Quaker bloggers. How do we stay close? How do we nurture and maintain a spiritual and emotional safety that allows us to open ourselves to one another and to the Light? How do we convey our faith--and our (blogging) practice--to one another and help sustain one another in who we are as Friends?

    But surely I can still tap into that same curiosity, openness, and gentleness that I've used all along as I read new blogs and a long string of comments, right? What gives?

    "What gives" will have to be either the number of blogs I follow on a regular basis or the quality of how I respond to the blogs that I do read. Like so many other things among Friends, a balance will have to be struck, I suppose. Struck and discerned through further listening.

    Thanks for reading me.


    UPDATE: For a related post, see Martin's thoughts on "munching on the wheat."

    UPDATE, Ninth Month 2006: Robin directed me to a recent post by Velveteen Rabbi that has amazing parallels to the presence of Quaker blogs... or what the Velveteen Rabbi might refer to as Q-blogs.

    Meeting for Worship for Memorial

    Last night, my partner and I attended a memorial for the brother of a Quaker friend of ours. He himself wasn't Quaker, but when their father died earlier this year, apparently John said something to Jane about the sort of memorial service he didn't want to have. He apparently also said something about wanting to have a Quaker memorial when it was his time.

    It's just that Jane didn't expect that "his time" and her need to use that information would come so soon.

    John was 43 and was found dead in his apartment about 10 days ago. There's no news yet as to what had happened.

    On First Day evening, there were many unfamiliar faces at the memorial, which meant that there were stories about John that Jane and the family probably never had heard:

    He helped out at the front desk, which is a job no one really likes to do. But any time I needed someone there, he'd volunteer. And he was great at it.

    I was a neighbor of John's. He knew my granddaughter was getting into tough times and every three or four months, he would just call me up and ask me how things were going. I'll miss him.

    One time, I had forgotten to put in my schedule that a dozen Girl Scouts were coming at the end of the day and I hadn't planned any activities for them at all. They were due there in half an hour! I asked John if there was any way he could work with them and come up with something to do. He squinted his eyes, put his fingers end-to-end and drummed them together mischievously. He jumped in with two feet no matter what it was, and the Girl Scouts had a great time. That was John.

    John had a quick wit and a wicked sense of humor. He often claimed he was a single father, especially when he took Jane's kids out for fun. One night, John and I were coming back from downtown in my truck and a cab rudely cut in front of us. John called the cab company from the car and reamed out the dispatcher. "Your cab driver nearly creamed us! We have this new BMW and we're driving along and my friend had to hit the brakes so hard that my kid in the back dropped her sippy cup!"

    At the end of the night, with so many tears shed and good laughs had, I overheard Jane say to someone, "I'm so glad John and I had that talk. I would have never heard these stories otherwise."


    August 21, 2006

    Queries: Crossing the Christian divide

    This post is based on an entry in my journal from Eighth Month 2006, reflecting on my experiences of the summer.
    Liberal Friends are caught between reclaiming (healthy) Christian roots on the one hand and being seen as excluding long-time non-Christian Friends on the other. We must collectively understand and corporately employ healing techniques and practices, such as reframing, compassionate communication, intentional or voluntary vulnerability, asking questions that demonstrate a move from judgment to curiosity, etc.

    To say "You belong here" or "It is safe here" is not enough. Our actions toward one another will reveal our deeper and sometimes unconscious convictions.

    There are several posts and related comments within the Quaker blogosphere that have me concerned over the way we are (or aren't) communicating with one another. Some examples are these:

    Peter's self-disclosing post about his own struggle with Christian language;

    Kwakersaur's post in response to Peter's; and

    Zach's response to a post by James, and the comments that follow therein.

    In some ways, I feel like a child who is overhearing her parents fight, night after night, and being told the next morning, "Oh, Mommy and Daddy are just having a disagreement." The loud voices and the recurrence of the fights are evidence of a genuine love that has gone missing, and all my child-self wants to do is yell out:
    Stop fighting and just LOVE each other!!
    Of course, authentic love doesn't mean ignoring or minimizing our own needs, but it does mean putting the relationship first, practicing loving disciplines (listening first and speaking later, being patient, being respectful, trusting the other's intention, etc.), and being willing to be changed by the encounter.

    The answer

    On a number of occasions during my summer travels, I have heard Friends ask themselves what is at the root of all the branches of Quakerism that binds us together; what is missing from our Meetings for Worship for Business; what has fallen away from some individual monthly meetings or even yearly meetings that has made Friends so uneasy with one another? And on those same occasions, sooner or later, a Friend will provide the answer:
    L O V E .

    Not "God" or "Jesus" or "more worship," but love.

    I have been holding that answer in my heart as I have traveled. I have seen personalities clash; meetings for worship devolve into meetings for self-protection; and worship-sharing where any sense of safety unravels as a result of talking over each other.

    At the same time, I have seen Friends respectfully call each other back to waiting worship; tenderly redirect Friends to consider their words and deeds; and openly shed tears with near-strangers when speaking about broken relationships.

    I am becoming more and more convinced: Love is the answer.

    Queries laid on my heart

    To compare and contrast the variety of experiences I have had among yearly meetings this summer, from Northern to Southern Appalachian; from Iowa Conservative to Canadian, I find my heart filled with concern and with hope. Now that I have stood at the edge of the theological divide that threatens to split most especially Liberal Friends, I begin to hold a new set of questions that may shape my own participation in this thick night.


    Do we invite one another to share our concerns? How do we learn to invite concerns to come forward if our words of invitation are not enough to create safety?

    Do we receive the concerns with genuine interest, or do we switch to defensiveness and rationalization? How do we learn to receive, to receive without retort, to receive and weigh what has been said?

    Do we practice patience, hold tenderly, a thing that was shared with difficulty, rather than respond to it right away?

    Do we give weight to what is shared? Do we listen for the Truth in that which makes us uncomfortable? Or do we speak out of our discomfort in order to ensure we will be remembered and our own individual interests will be protected?

    How do we learn to hold difficult things tenderly, to listen for the Truth even when we ourselves feel uncomfortable by what has been said?

    If we know that the concern that is raised does not "fit" with the practice of the body, how do we lovingly share this information with the Friend? How do we learn to share difficult information in a context and in a manner that expresses love and concern, that invites continued connection and mutual trust, rather than disconnection and dividing?

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

    What I lift up here is not new.
    Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

    - Britain Yearly Meeting, Advices & Queries, 1.02.17
    We cannot cross the divide if we do not learn to listen to one another in love, learn to invite one another to listen with new ears, and learn to receive the challenges of one another as invitations to open ourselves to being transformed, to becoming more than who we are.

    It is tempting to "circle the wagons" and keep close to those Friends who think like us and talk like us. But we cannot cross the divide--we cannot be bridges for one another--if we remain isolated from each other.