April 30, 2006

An unexpected opportunity

About two or three weeks ago, I was asked by a Friend to serve on a panel during the Rainbow Families Conference in Minnesota. The topic would be about how to pursue "equal civil marriage" peacefully among people of faith. Two or three weeks ago, I had plans to be out of town during that event, but I said if my plans changed, I'd let the Friend--also serving as the panel's facilitator--know.

Three days before I was to head out of town, my plans changed. They now included an evening get-together in town with a fFriend who had just learned she needed surgery; and a morning birthday party for the two-year-old son of other fFriends.

I called the panel's facilitator and said, "My plans changed." I found out the panel would be in the afternoon--how perfect!--and that the conference was being held in the totally opposite end of town.

Fine, I thought: I'll leave lots of time to catch a bus.

I look at the bus schedule. Basically, there's no way to get from here to there by bus. On a weekend.

I call the Friend, explain the situation, and ask half-heartedly, "Any chance you know of anyone who would be going to the second part of the conference who I could catch a ride from?"

The Friend says, "Actually, one of the other panelists is coming in only for the panel, like you are... And he lives in your part of town. Let me give you his name and number..."

Now that's what I call Way opening!

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

Well, the panel--put together by Minnesota's Faith, Family, Fairness Alliance--is over now, and I've been reflecting a bit about how things went.

The short answer is, I feel as though I was faithful.

The longer, more specific comments I can make are these:

1. I don't recall the last time I was part of a group where we intentionally spoke about our faith and faith tradition, and where I was the only Quaker. So I was "pleasantly uncomfortable" with hearing the panelists introduce themselves as "Reverend" and speaking about the ministry of "their" church, congregation, or program. I am grateful that I was the 4th of five panelists to offer introductions, so I was able to acknowledge the difficulty of how to frame Quakerism and my place in it in a way that paralleled what had already been offered.

2. I was surprised to hear myself speak about John Woolman ("Love is the first motion") and how he labored initially with individuals around the concern of holding slaves. I don't recall what the question was that led me into that sharing, but I do recall that leading up to that particular comment, I had been talking about the importance of being yoked to one another; that we remember that we are brothers and sisters to one another; that we must be willing to stay in relationship with one another as we struggle with our different beliefs, understandings, and experiences.

3. I will say that the language and image of speaking with dignity with and about "our brothers and sisters" who might not agree with us is language that some within Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns have modeled and lifted up for me. So in a very real way, they all were with me yesterday afternoon, too.

4. The most significant question of the afternoon, I think, was the one that came from a young man. Referring back to specific language that another panelist had used to summarize the polarization over the issue of same-sex marriage, he asked:

So if the conversation is basically between "perverts and bigots," how do I even begin to step into the middle of that and start talking to anyone?
Yes indeed: How DO we start talking to one another when such hateful, hurtful judgments precede any sort of real and respectful dialogue?


April 24, 2006

An epistle: Come to be known

What follows is the written response to an exercise for a Quaker workshop I am attending. The assignment was to write a statement of my "rock-bottom truths." Maybe it's because of reading Samuel Bownas, or maybe it's because of some excerpts from Fox that I'm reading, but I found myself writing something that felt more like an epistle--sharing the experience as a whole with others--rather than writing a list of This-I-believe's.

The epistle is written in the first person plural rather than the first person singular. I find that both voices work for me, yet each carries a separate energy. Since the words came to me in the "we" form rather than the "I" form, that is how I am presenting this piece to you.

Epistle, Fourth Month 2006

When we are come to be known by the Living Presence, that which is eternal and lives within us and gives life beyond us, when we are free with our vulnerabilities and with our failings, then shall we be opened even moreso to the Love and Compassionate Power that we seek.

Yet God does not ask us to be weak or timid; God prods us and nudges us into our awakened state so that we may know our measure of Light and we may yield unto it and we may live up unto it, giving ourselves completely to it so that we may be well used, exhausted with our joy of having lived a faithful life.

And even as we fall spiritually asleep in our daytime lives of busyness and city errands, yet the Spirit travels with us and does not abandon us. Like a parent who is at a loss for how to care for a daughter or son who has strayed from the family’s values and manner, into a world of material temptation, God frets with loving concern over our drifting away from the holy values and manner of love, spiritual obedience, and communal generosity.

God waits up for us into the quiet hours of dawn, sneaks up the stairs with us, catching the secret smells of the world’s pressures in our clothes and on our breath. This is how close God is to us, ourselves unknowing and skeptical. We go through our despairing days and our frenetic lives, never seeing that God has slipped into our back-pocket, like a spare twenty.

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

The Great Comforter presents itself most clearly when we stop pursuing material goals, when we lay down our reaching for trophies that set ourselves one against another, when we give up insisting that our personal rights must be preserved regardless of the brokenness and care of others.

We are all in this together. We are yoked together with God.

There is no law greater than the Single Law to love one another, to nurture the Seed in one another through preserving dignity, offering respect, and demonstrating authentic humility. This Law does not go away in times of duress or struggle. In fact its need is greatest at the worst of these times, and we are bridled to this work...

And so: how ought we to prepare ourselves for God’s compassion? The preparation is in the practice and discipline of receiving.

To say Thank You when one offers a compliment. To yield into an embrace when one is offered. To meet the tender gaze of another’s eyes without turning away in discomfort.

God says Thank You and Bless You and I Am With You more often than we can know. God embraces us secretly and openly in each moment of our days. God gazes softly at us in wonder and in tenderness. All this and more does God bring to us, and we must be careful not to shirk it off, turn our heads, cool our hearts, fill our days, and wait for God to strike us down with lightning, or whack us smartly on the head so that we may know for certain that God is paying attention.

Instead, we must discipline ourselves to be with the discomfort of welcoming and receiving God’s love, grace, and blessing. We must discipline ourselves to be with the discomfort of being good enough, of being seen, of being known. Somehow we are taught to believe that if we are truly known, we will be abandoned. But I say, when we are truly known, we shall be embraced and uplifted, we shall go out with joy and be met with laughter, we shall shine like the sun and we shall spill our measure of Light onto the sidewalks, and the hearts of those around us shall catch the fire of the Spirit, and their rough edges will be made smooth and the good in them will be raised up.

April 20, 2006

Another great read from Thomas Gates

I just finished reading the "Bible half-hours" that were offered by Tom Gates as FGC's 2005 Gathering. Since I consider myself Scripturally illiterate, I was hesistant about buying and cracking open this small, humble pamphlet that FGC put out after that Gathering... But then it showed up at an FGC event I attended recently and, well, Opening the Scriptures came home with me.

Just as in his earlier pamphlet Members One of Another, Tom Gates gives voice to dynamics and concepts that many Friends are slow to articulate or even explore.

Rather than rewrite and paraphrase this Friend, I include a few direct quotes here and add the page numbers from the pamphlet, Opening the Scriptures.

On the difficulty of using what he calls "religious language"

I can't help seeing a contrast between the rich spiritual language of early Friends and our modern spiritual reticence, a poverty of language, a reluctance to put into words that which is most important in our lives... Our modern dilemma in a nutshell: unable to find the perfect word, we lapse into silence. (pp. 14, 15)
[There] is a very stark realization, that we do not always know how to talk about God, or at least how to talk about God together, as a community. We often seem to be speaking different languages, or just as as commonly, no language at all.... As a consequence, we say less and less, and our shared language is reduced to platitudes...(p. 18)
Gates also writes very clearly about Fox's understanding of the Light, its properties and its functions; and the Seed as metaphor.

For me personally, though, the other gem that is in this pamphlet, in addition to his remarks about religious language, is what Tom Gates writes about "the yoke of our tradition" as Friends.

Understanding the yoke of our tradition

In our time, we... find the image of a yoke difficult to swallow because it implies some kind of limit on our freedom, and deep down we are heirs to the enlightenment idea that there can be no legitimate limits to human freedom.... But perhaps unlimited freedom is not our highest purpose.... Perhaps there is a certain amount of irreducible suffering that every person must bear, and if that is true, something to help us bear that burden might be a good thing. A yoke is exactly that: something that helps us bear a burden.... [In Matthew 11:28-30], we might see this yoke as something which Jesus imposes upon us, but I prefer to see it as the yoke which Jesus himself wears, and which he offers to share with us. A young and inexperienced work horse is trained by first being yoked together wtih a more experienced animal. (pp. 54-55)
In this way, as we delve more deeply into the early tradition of Friends, not only might we come to understand how we are yoked to God but we might also come to understand how we can grow in the Spirit by allowing ourselves to be yoked to one another, so we might learn what it means to be faithful, what it means to nurture the Seed within us, what it means to be made low and wait humbly on the Lord, to know the Light.

I know for me, in my experience, it is only when I stop wrestling with God, when I yield, give over my stubbornness, and receive the burden--that is, take up the yoke that God is presenting to me--it is only then that I feel a weight lifted from me. The weight is not entirely removed, but it is somehow made lighter, and I can breathe and move forward again.


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

Related posts*

Beppe on Gates' other pamphlet
My own post on opening myself to scripture
Another, more recent post of mine that has a reference to the concept of being yoked together

*This is certainly a partial list--I know I've missed quite a few posts that exist in the archives of the Quaker blogosphere. For example, I know Kwakersaur recently raised a question about Friends' infrequent mention of Scripture as part of vocal ministry, but I couldn't find it!

I hope readers will use the comments section to refer us to other posts that reflect these themes. Thanks. -Liz

April 18, 2006

After Barbara Greenler's memorial

I am still so very tender. Her life spoke; her life preached.

I pull back from the world to listen to her fill my heart once more. Here are some memories, some lessons, some great one-liners I have heard about this remarkable meek woman.

  • "If you want to see Quakers mad, just draw a line somewhere."

  • Back in the 1950s, when Barbara was in her 20s, she was arrested in Washington, D.C. for walking down the street, singing with an interracial group. The charge was disturbing the peace. The song? Jacob's Ladder. When she was brought to the jail, she and the other white woman involved refused to go to the segregated cell. They stayed where they were and spent the night in jail, singing.

  • "We're all in this together."

  • Barbara had a collection of prairie insects that she helped put together for the Riveredge Nature Center.

  • Barbara had six grandchildren. She seemed to put aside time to spend with each one, separately. Sometimes it was for a chat, sometimes it was for an overnight. But when Barbara was with you, she was entirely and devotedly with you.

  • There were about 300 people at her memorial. The memorial lasted about two hours and included a number of songs. These are the ones that Barbara had requested:

    O God of All Creation, #18 in the Friends Hymnal.
    I Celebrate the Inward Light, #149 in the Friends Hymnal.
    Song of Peace
    Old Man River, with words slightly modified. Barbara had asked Dave French to sing this as a solo.

    At the potluck following the meeting for worship for memorial, about 150 people showed up. Towards the end, we began to sing in the manner of Nightingales, the Quaker group for fellowship-and-singing that Barbara helped found a few decades ago. All of us sitting in a circle. No books to sing from. Singing to each other, love and tears in our eyes. Children on laps. Arms around shoulders.

    Swing Low Sweet Chariot
    Mary Ellen Carter
    All God's Critters
    Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain
    Music in My Mother's House
    Whispering Hope.

    I miss her. Her love made the rough edges smooth for so many of us. Barbara lived by the Law of Love.

    At Meeting for Worship the next day, which was First Day, an old and dear friend of Barbara's rose:
    I was thinking: When I die, I want a memorial like Barbara's. But if I want a memorial like that, then I have to live like that.

    April 10, 2006

    Ken Stockbridge:
    Friends' history with confession

    A Guest Piece by Ken Stockbridge, used with permission.

    As so often happens in the Quaker blogosphere, a post might draw out information or reflection that advances the electronic conversation that we're having. In this case, Ken's comment to the original post lifts up some historical information about confession, even if it was not called "confession" back then. Where appropriate, I include links to books and pamphlets that Ken has referenced, as well as a couple references that he later supplied me with via email, which are [in italics and offset in brackets]. -Liz

    I was intrigued by the topic and the question, "Do Friends Have Confession?" I appreciate the thoughts people have shared about what Friends might want to do today. But for now, I would simply like to share some reflections on Friends' history with confession in the first couple of centuries.

    Friends definitely *used* to have confession, though they may never have called it that. It was part of Gospel Order, and Lloyd Lee Wilson's essays provide some insight into it, as does a Pendle Hill pamphlet #297 by Sandra Cronk, "Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community." And according to Rex Ambler's Light to Live By, early Friends did not have totally warm and fuzzy feelings about the Light. The Light searched them out and exposed their flaws and weaknesses (and sin, gasp!) so that they could be drawn more perfectly to God.

    [Here's a quote from Margaret Fell, found on page 5 of Rex Ambler's book, above:
    "Now, Friends, deal plainly with yourselves, and let the eternal light search you...for this will deal plainly with you; it will rip you up, and lay you open... naked and bare before the Lord God from whom you cannot hide yourselves... Therefore give over deceiving of your souls..."]
    I first became aware of how confession worked for early Quakers when I was doing some research and reading minutes from the late 1600s and the 1700s. I stumbled across these odd things called "Letters of Condemnation" (early on) and then "Letters of Acknowledgment" (by the mid-1700s or so). (I really knew so little about Quakers then and only a little more now.) What I discovered, contrary to my intuition, was that these letters were not written by the meeting to member who had faltered in observing Friends' principles. They were written by the Friends who had faltered and been called to account to the meeting, and the letters condemned or acknowledged their own behavior. And I realized this was really a practice of confession, which when followed restored the faltering Friend to the loving embrace of their meeting. Friends were disowned only after failing to provide a satisfactory letter.

    For example, I stumbled across one such letter of acknowledgment, and it went something like this... (I wish I had transcribed it.)

    "To Chesterfield Meeting, NJ. On my recent visit among you, I now realize, I was not sufficiently low in the truth when I spoke. I thank Friends for making me mindful of this, and I ask that you pass by my offense."

    This letter (as roughly recalled) was signed by John Woolman in the mid 1700s.

    That kind of blew me away. "Low in the truth" was an expression Friends of that day used to refer to being humble; it acknowledged that the closer we are to knowing truth, the more humbled we will be by knowing it. I wish I knew the rest of the story, but that's all I know.

    Now, I do not for a minute suggest that we return to the Quaker practices of that day, which resulted in so many being read out of meeting for various offenses, many of which seem laughable or quaint or even cruel to us today. But I have been intrigued by those practices, and the more I have learned, the more I think there are insights we can glean from them for today.

    While it may be true that over time in some places, those practices degenerated into petty meddling and judgmentalism, I have a sense that the ideal, which may never have been fully realized, was quite loving and perhaps even a wonderful thing. I cannot say for sure how those Friends actually felt and thought about those practices, but I can imagine how the discipline might have made sense in its ideal form. What may be misunderstood today is that when meetings brought people before the meeting for discipline (by sending a committee to visit with them), the presumption was not how to punish them and make a case for kicking them out. The presumption was that through loving labor, the people would come to understand why their behavior was wrong and be brought back into right order among Friends. Moreover, even after a Friend was disowned, they were still welcome to worship with Friends and the meeting would still return a person to membership, once a satisfactory acknowledgment had been received. [Johns Hopkins was disowned in the 1820s for selling liquor. He continued to worship with Friends. Though I would like to confirm this, I understand that late in life he felt that selling liquor was one of the greatest regrets of his life (though it was essential to the fortune he made), and that he did seek to be rejoined to his meeting. I'm not sure if he was or not.]

    In this ideal that I can imagine, the practice was more about healing than it was about judgment. In support of this possibility, I could point you to many examples where a meeting labored with an individual month after month after month, only giving up when they concluded that further labor "would not be availing." And I could point you to many examples when Friends were retained in membership. [Sadly, I can also point you to later examples where it seemed quite clear that such a spirit was not present.] Do Friends realize this about those practices of discipline used in those days? On those rare occasions today when meetings disown individuals (I have heard of a few), do the meetings work from the same presumption that they dearly want to retain the people in membership?

    In any case, so it is with confession, as the other posts suggest. Confession, in the ideal, is a healing practice. My impression is that the "guilt" that Catholics (and Jews?) have a reputation for stems at least partly from perceptions about confession practices in those churches. If that is true, I think it is tragic. Because my sense is that the teachings of those faiths do acknowledge that confession is a path to forgiveness, an unburdening that frees us and returns us to right relationship to God. For example, the Jewish New Year follows a holy week, of which atonement is perhaps the key element.

    In recent years, I have been hearing more and more Friends use the word "accountability." [Here's a quote about accountability from Sandra Cronk's pamphlet.] When we have leadings, part of the support that is expected from our support committees and supporting community is to be held accountable to our leadings. For early Friends, the disciplinary practices of Gospel Order were a central part of their system of accountability.

    Would we not all benefit if our loving and supportive spiritual community held us accountable, not just for our discerned leadings, but for the witness and testimonies and values that we embrace when we claim ourselves to be Friends?

    What role would a Friendly approach to confession play in the process? Is there more we can learn from early Friends and Gospel Order?

    I hope this helps and is of interest.

    Ken Stockbridge
    Patapsco Friends Meeting
    Ellicott City, Maryland, USA

    April 5, 2006

    Midyear Meeting at Iowa Conservative

    It's been several days since my return from Midyear Meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s day-and-a-half program of worship, fellowship, presentation, singing, and a teeny bit of business.

    It has taken me some time to carve out the space to write about my experience: The "splat" of the larger world hitting against my spiritual windshield after immersing myself in such a lovely time of refreshment and nurture is a bit of a shock to my system. I needed some time to recalibrate my inward grounding. Something like that.

    Being Yoked Together: The bench and the chair

    For some time now, I've been struggling with how to articulate the corporate nature of Quakerism. I was hopeful that speaker Deborah Fisch would refer to corporate and individual experiences among Friends, and as I suspected, her ministry came in the form of stories drawn from her own experience. One such story gave me pause...

    Deborah shared an experience she had had in Paullina Meeting, where every year the whole of meeting came together to harvest corn, shuck it, remove the kernels from the cob, take the corn to the mill, grind it... and eventually bake cornbread for the surrounding community as a fundraiser.

    (You can read a bit about Corn Bread Day if you look for the heading "Paullina Monthly Meeting to host...," about halfway down the page.)

    Though the tradition of Corn Bread Day has been laid down by the meeting--and according to Deborah and other Iowa Friends, picked up by some local community members and held at the town's junior high school--part of the experience of that work was, as Deborah put it, that Friends were "yoked together" in their labor and in their love.

    The phrase "yoked together" and the example provided, strummed a chord in my heart. These were not Friends who felt imposed upon by giving up some time away from their routine of watching television, hanging out with friends, or crossing things off their To Do Lists.

    These were Friends who brought their whole family into the process, where folks worked long and hard, side by side, young and old, convinced and birthright, man and woman.

    I imagine they also laughed a lot. And they knew they were doing a service for the community.

    I took that story into worship with me on First Day.

    Bear Creek Meeting, in rural Iowa and about 25 minutes west of Des Moines, is one of those charming old meetinghouses that has benches in its meetingroom.

    In worship I reflected on Deborah's kind words of gratitude for those benches, aware of the many Friends who had sat upon them for decades, in waiting worship, seeking to brought into the Arms of the Divine. Despite their hardness, even beneath the hand-sewn foam cushion that ran the length of each bench, the benches provided me with some comfort, and a peculiar sense of being connected with the Friends with whom I shared that bench for that hour.

    On the bench, I could not move my seat to a spot I favored. No, I had to make due with the Friends sitting on either side of me. All through the day-and-a-half, I had to submit to sharing a bench with at least three Friends, and often it was more like four or even five. I never had a bench to myself, and unless I was sitting on an aisle, I was always sitting next to someone less than a crooked arm's reach away.

    The few benches that remained empty were the facing benches, yet even those were well used at one of the sessions. The space fit the number of Friends in attendance, and we were suffered to be brought closer to one another as a result.

    Now it occurred to me that elsewhere where I had worshiped among Friends, there were primarily chairs set up. And I sunk into the Seed and felt the unity of being yoked together on that bench, in worship as well as in labor. Yoked that is, yet not shackled.

    And I wondered how easy it is for us as modern Friends to slip into chairs that can be moved slightly this way or that, in rooms that are large enough to accommodate not just our worshipers but also all of our supersized Americanized personal space, which sometimes keeps us separate from knowing one another in that which is eternal.

    The bench became a symbol of the yoke for me, and I felt opened to experience being yoked together in labor, in worship, and in love.

    First Day's Meeting for Worship

    In a room filled with 80-100 Friends, most of them Conservative, there were quite a few pieces of vocal ministry, something I did not expect. Nevertheless, what caught my attention in retrospect was just how many of those pieces of ministry referred to God, or Jesus, or Scripture, or Love...

    Had I been a new attender or a visiting seeker (which, in a way, I was), I think I would have gotten the message that there is a Principle that can be known, that can be shared if we but listen to one another and share with one another and seek one another out during our faith journey.

    If I had been (too) hurt by a Christian upbringing, maybe that message would have spurred me to get up-and-out as quick as I could. But maybe that message also would have offered me a different sort of Christian message, one that I hadn't heard, had I been raised in a typical Christian household.

    Something beneath or beyond those spoken messages had a Living Presence that had breathed life into these Friends. Something had been breathed into life by these Friends.

    It had breathed life into me.

    In hindsight, I wish that the Midyear Meeting had had what IYM(C) calls an "Exercise Committee," which hand-records ministry that is offered during MfW and during MfWfB. (There are a few examples on the internet of such a report).

    I have no recollection of what was said, except for the ministry about the difference between preserving and conserving our Quakerism--the very words I explored in a post of my own just a few weeks ago!

    But the felt-sense I had had of that worship was very sweet, very deep, very rich. Perhaps, by virtue of having engaged in the interior work of opening ourselves to the minstry that Deborah shared with us, we had become yoked together, and perhaps we carried ourselves and our yoke into that particular Meeting for Worship. We shared the work and the labor of listening for that still small voice.

    If I have not Love...

    First Corinthians, chapters 12-13. What a treat to hear Deborah paraphrase and quote these poetic verses. But even more precious was to hear the tremble in her voice, to hear her speak of the Love that is at the center of the practice and fellowship of Conservative Friends.
    ...if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

    Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

    So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
    Throughout the weekend, Deborah reminded us that we are called to love. We are called to capital-L Love. And I don't believe Deborah meant a goopy, saccharine, naive love.

    This I know experimentally

    Well, in the end, as I have said many times to Friends here at home, I cannot describe the experience of being among these gentle, loving people.

    On the ride home, the Friend I was riding with said to me, "I am so glad I went! Liz, you were right: It was different from our own yearly meeting, and I did have to experience it for myself."

    THAT was the best thing I could have heard. It affirmed what I had experienced on my own, and the fact that language cannot encapsulate what was there among these Friends, at least for some of us.

    Maybe it's because it's still so new to me. Maybe this is a honeymoon period. But what if it's not? There's only one way to find out: keep coming back.

    Iowa Conservative's annual sessions are scheduled for July 2006. I hope to write more about this continued "experiment" then.


    P.S. The low point of the weekend came when one of the youngest Friends in the Minnesota group got terribly sick on Saturday morning. The family felt it best to drive the 4-1/2 hours back home in order to care for him.

    In hindsight, I recognized that I could have offered more care to that family, or more care to the kids of the Friends who were supporting that family. I still have a lot to learn about submitting to sharing a yoke versus holding onto the yoke of my own personal desires.

    P.P.S. I hope to write a second post that has other little tidbits from Midyear Meeting.

    April 2, 2006

    Confessions, part II

    In my previous post, I lifted up the question, "Do Friends have a practice of confession?"

    Once I began writing that post, and as often happens with me, I started sifting through a number of awarenesses and questions that bubbled up around that very topic:

    What is it that I have not confessed, that I have not shared with trusted Friends out of arrogance, pride, shame, or self-righteousness?

    How is what I am safeguarding for myself and keeping from others interfering with my ability to keep low?
    It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and having sat with the first post, I find there is more for me to say.

    There are behaviors and attitudes I have taken on that in recent weeks have been brought to light for me, thanks to some of the reading that I have been doing:

  • Hero worship. There are a few Friends whose words and ministry I value so highly that I have fallen into accepting what they say as theirs, rather than remembering that what they offer is of the LORD.

    I can appreciate their faithfulness as a gospel minister, but to do more than that is dangerous. It puts them on a pedestal that sooner or later, by virtue of their being human or by virtue of my being human, must come out from under them.

  • Coveting another's ministry. This is similar to hero worship, except it is not so much that I "adore" the other Friend as much as I adore their ministry and the attention that is given to them.

    Recently, I've been aware of my coveting nature because it's shown up like this in my internal dialogue: Wow, look at all those comments that So-and-So's post generated. ...Why don't my own posts get so much attention and acclaim?!

    Thou Shalt Not Covet has taken on new meaning to me... But just because it's a Commandment doesn't mean that it's easy to stop coveting, now that I'm aware of having coveted. *sigh*

  • Lacking humility and meekness. This is the hardest one of the three for me to articulate, and it is something I have become aware of only because the phrase is repeated so frequently in the writings of Samuel Bownas.

    Before reading Bownas, I had understood that being faithful meant putting myself aside and waiting to feel and know inwardly the leading and guidance of the Divine. But after reading Bownas, there seems to be something more than that, something that I have been missing within myself that can best be expressed as this element of meekness.

    Not a doormat meekness, and not a low self-esteem meekness, but something else: a not-needing-to-insert-myself-into-every-conversation-about-Quakerism meekness.

    I think about the Friends for whom I have hero worship. They seem to have an element of this meekness. One of them has light-heartedly presented her knowledge of Scripture to me as "this isn't exactly what the Bible says but..." and then has gone on to give a very paraphrased version of the passage, almost like describing a scene that could have occurred on a TV drama or sitcom. In this way, she was the first Friend who made Scripture accessible and non-threatening to me.

    Another Friend presents his meekness to me by sharing parts of his life that are well outside the realm of the Religious Society of Friends. I have been caught completely off-guard when he has told me about a certain rock band he's fond of and about his (near?) devotion to baseball.

    And a third Friend who recently passed away, well, she was meek in how she approached you if she was dissatisfied with something that was said or if she was confused by a turn of events that left her feeling cast aside. She led with her concern rather than her anger; she brought forward questions rather than chastisement.

    I had thought I had learned something from each of these Friends, but perhaps the learning needs to sink more deeply into my heart and soul. In difficult situations, I know I seek to do the right thing right, but by acknowledging that practice, am I letting myself off the hook from considering how to be "slow to speak and ready to hear and receive instruction"? (Bownas, p. 22)

    When I look at the examples of Friends who I consider meek or low, I wonder if maybe being meek also has to do with letting others see more into our non-Quaker lives. Not just our struggles and crises, but our diversions and pleasures.

    Do I do enough of that sort of sharing, or do I write it off as being too "chit-chatty"? What's the balance to be struck over a potluck meal that follows Meeting for Worship: do we talk about the Presence of God within the meeting and in our lives, or do we talk about how we fill our time when we are not doing Quaker things?

    And in my case, where much of my time is dedicated to Quaker pursuits, then what?

  • Blech. It leaves a heaviness in my heart to acknowledge these things, to confess these things.

    (Does online confession get me any additional "points"? ...smile)


    UPDATE, 10 Fourth Month 2006: I have lifted up one comment that is made on the previous post and posted it separately, since I feel that the Friend's remarks advance the conversation around the topic of Quakers and confession. Consider it "Part III" of the series on confession...