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.


August 13, 2006

Canadian Yearly Meeting: Game on!

Well, after nearly a week of fatigue, fever, body aches, headaches, and nausea, I recovered enough in order to get myself to Canadian Yearly Meeting... and only a day late at that!

Much of the week's time is dedicated to business, so perhaps I'll float on over to attend a business session or two for Young Friends, just for a change of pace.

And speaking of Young Friends, just today I have seen three Friends of various ages wearing the Quaker Youth, Speak Thy Truth! t-shirt... and I of course brought my own as well.

In addition, on the large white board that sits in front of this bay of 18 computers, someone has written the URL, and I am sitting here wondering:

Do I dare grab a marker and post as well???
Oooooh, don't tempt me so!


August 8, 2006

The Good Raised Up goes down...
but not out

This post is a brief note to say that I'm not sure when I'll be inspired to write some more, mainly because it seems like I have a contracted "an unspecified virus."

My symptoms have been all over my body-map for the past four days: headache, light nausea, low-grade fever, lethargy... and an odd sensation on my upper back that reminds me of sunburn. The doc says I just need to wait it out, and "waiting it out" might mean up to another 5-7 days.

I had had plans to drive to Winnipeg, Canada to attend Canadian Yearly Meeting sessions which begin this weekend. I'm not saying I'm going, but I'm not saying I'm NOT going either.

What would make all this down-time just a bit more interesting would be an inspirational thought to write about for my next legitimate post... just as long as I don't get worse to the point of needing any additional medical care, thank you.


August 4, 2006

IYM(C) sessions, Part II

NOTE: You can read more about my experience at this year's IYM(C) annual sessions in my previous post.
Annual sessions take place on the grounds of Scattergood Friends School, over four full days, an extra night (at the start), and an extra morning (on First Day, for "pre-meeting" and Meeting for Worship).

Each day, Fourth Day through Seventh Day (Wednesday-Saturday), older Friends attend sessions for MfW with attention to Business, while younger Friends go off for their own activities. Business sessions are often two to two-and-a-half hours, and there are two business sessions on Seventh Day.

Much of the business consists of listening to reports from the various committees within the yearly meeting, which at first glance may appear dry and tedious. But as I listened to the reports, I could hear some of the practice and tradition of Conservative Friends that are not necessarily made explicit:

In two separate reports, the worship group was mentioned by name... and we aren't even affiliated with the yearly meeting! One report was from Ministry & Counsel, acknowledging that there is still contact with a few Friends from IYM(C) while the worship group discerns whether to affiliate there or with Northern Yearly Meeting. A second report was from Religious Education, lifting up some of the questions that the worship group is beginning to entertain about how to approach First Day School for the children.

These reports indicate to me that IYM(C) is responsive and extends care to its meetings and worship groups. The reports also hint at a level of accountability and follow-through that was mirrored in other reports.

Business sessions and interest groups were not the be-all and end-all of annual sessions, though. There were other events that point to the spirit, the fellowship, and the Love that pervaded this year's annual sessions.

Scattergood School alumni panel

Time for confession: When I first saw this event in the schedule for IYM(C), and then when I saw that the panel included at least eight Friends, I thought to myself, "Borrrrrinng." Panels often are too large and have too little time for a rich exchange between the panelists and those attending.

I could not have been more wrong.

As the Friends on the panel began to share their experiences about being a student or administrator at Scattergood, some of them openly wept. The first panelists to speak were two women who are now in or close to their 70s. They each spoke about how they experienced a spiritual awakening while they were at Scattergood, and they made it clear that their ties to the school impacted their ties to the yearly meeting and vice versa.

More than once the word "family" was used. More than once it became clear to me that love of family and love of friends was not the only type of love that was being cultivated and nurtured there. There was a Divine Love that knit Scattergood students and administrators to one another, and to the yearly meeting.

From my journal:
The yearly meeting is a family that transcends family, for their lives are connected through actions, worship, good deeds, study, difficulty, joy, and the Holy Spirit.

This was most especially made clear during the panel of Scattergood Friends School alumni. The oldest panel member had babysat for a child who later would go to Scattergood [and who also sat on the panel]. The parents of a younger panel member had gone to Scattergood with one of the older panel members. And the impact of one Friend in particular provided a multigenerational lineage that also connected the school with the yearly meeting.

[Listening to all the stories pour out and seeing the headnods and smiles among those of us gathered made it] as if I had been invited to attend someone else's family reunion... [a reunion] for a family that is defined by and knit together in love and treasured friendship.
The sense of love extended beyond the years of education that the panelists had accumulated. It was a gift just to have been in the room witnessing the exchanges, laughter, and tears.

Anna Sandidge of Friends Peace Teams and
the African Great Lakes Initiative

I first met Anna while I was at the annual sessions of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association (SAYMA) in early June near Asheville, North Carolina. Then our paths crossed again during the Gathering in Tacoma. But I didn't get to hear her Story until I was in Iowa.

In Rwanda, the tragedy there is known as "genocide." In Burundi, Anna explains, the tragedy there is known as the Crisis.

Anna is a compelling storyteller, in part because she keeps low, making certain that she is telling the story of the people of Burundi, not turning the Crisis into a showcase of U.N. policy--or American failure, for that matter.
Division does not come from God. We must see each other as brothers and sisters in our hearts, she says.
She talks about how, by the grace of God, she was available to listen to the horrors that person after person observed, endured, internalized, and escaped from.

Each person's story is more horrific than the last, and we hear that one woman in particular has walked three hours one way, just because she has a story that needs to be told, a story that needs to be heard. She had not shared it with anyone, yet she finds Anna to share it with.

Anna balances out the horror by sharing how God--or mere humanity--showed up unexpectedly. Like the time when a school teacher was held at gunpoint, thought to be guilty of massacreing school children. At that moment, a man appeared and "vouched" for the teacher, saying that the teacher should not be harmed. The teacher was released. The man who got the teacher off was Tutsi--but passed as Hutu.

We were entranced by the stories of the people of Burundi and how they were moving towards reconciliation, one story at a time.
I have found [that] the tree of mistrust only gives bad fruits. But the tree of trust gives good fruits. The bad tree symbolizes the bad that people do and you have to find them and help them plant the good tree in their hearts. I realize the teachings are powerful. The people who learn this are wise because it is the healing of a traumatized people. --page 15, "After The Guns Have Stopped"
Many of these experiences that Anna relates to us at IYM(C) are available in the written report from the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams.

But the report is much more than a report. It is a narrative of the reconciliation work that is occurring in Burundi, "after the guns have stopped." It is a narrative of the transformative power of Love.

Arthur Meyer Boyd, Friends Committee on National Legislation

The annual sessions were coming to a close on First Day morning. The pre-meeting remarks were given by an associate executive secretary of FCNL, Arthur Meyer Boyd. Not a topic I was looking forward to, since I often experience presentations about peace-and-social-justice work more as rhetoric rather than as evidence of how the Spirit is growing us.

But like the Scattergood panel, I was delighted by what I heard. Arthur had been encouraged to share some of his personal and spiritual journey. He spoke of how an early leading he had--to seek CO status--ultimately led him to work for reform within mental health institutions of his day (aka asylums).

I appreciated the point he made that early Friends did not have a leading to go to jail; they had a leading to stand up to the status quo... and they were imprisoned as a result. Subsequently, these early Friends--and later Arthur himself--were simply being open to applying principles of their faith wherever they happened to find themselves.

Arthur lifted up a few other things that gave me pause.

For example, he offered that it was likely that prominent early Friends had much "ordinariness" in their own lives. They likely wrestled within themselves, sought God's guidance, resisted God's call, and at times, fell into being obedient to the Spirit.

But the journals condense into one volume all the really wonderful things that happened in the lives of these Quakers, and contemporary Friends are left to think we aren't being faithful enough, we aren't doing enough, that it should be possible to lead such amazing, extraordinary lives... but we fall short. There are no more Foxes, Fells, Woolmans, Peningtons, or Motts among us.

Arthur reminded us, though, that chances are their lives were pretty ordinary most of the time. It's just that not a lot of this "ordinariness" was recorded in their journals!

Arthur also spoke about what has sustained him and others at FCNL over the years. He referenced an article by Ed Snyder that had appeared in the magazine Quaker Life, called "Sustaining the Peacemaker." (The only link I could find was to this article, which seems to address a similar theme... and has the citation in the footnotes, item #15.)

Arthur pulls from Ed's article the "false motivators" that appeal to us at first but do not sustain us over the long haul:
  • anger;
  • fear;
  • guilt; and even
  • success.
Then he offered up some of the real motivators, especially based on what has worked for him:
  • love;
  • joy;
  • faithfulness in pursuing a prophetic vision;
  • vision and a long view of things;
  • balance in one's life;
  • maintenance of relationships despite disagreement (as opposed to burning bridges);
  • a spiritual community to belong to; and, similarly,
  • like-minded, like-spirited people to spend time with.
In the end, because of Arthur's remarks and all that I had witnessed and experienced during the course of the week, I would say that Friends within Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), and IYM(C) as a body, seem to be highly dedicated to the pursuit of doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Especially when no one is looking.

Some closing thoughts

From my journal:
[Among Iowa Conservative Friends,] there is an innate consistency of understanding, generosity of time, and discipline of patient waiting that seems lacking among Liberal Friends. There is a sense of WE that is nearly out of place in American culture and that is more often felt among Liberal Friends during weddings and memorials. But imagine that same WE feeling extended for several days, during worship, business, meals, and leisure time.

I have heard how Conservative Friends especially feel a deep and devoted love for one another. I would have thought I was beginning to see and even feel this love, especially during the Scattergood panel. But then I started to feel something else, something deeper, something... MORE.

I noticed it at first when I saw Deborah glancing around the room from the clerks' table... [At first] I thought she was sending her love to each Friend in the room. And then I realized it was not just
her love, but also GOD's Love that, in that moment, had arisen in her and found its release through her.

So it wasn't the clerk who brought us all together: It was God, the Living Presence.
It was a blessed week.


P.S. It wouldn't be a complete report if I didn't mention how I got to spend time with Kody. He and I even had a chance to blow the coop for a bit and get to a co-op nearby.

August 2, 2006

Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative):
Part I

There is so much I could write, regarding my experience among Friends from Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) [IYMC]... I hardly know where to start. At the same time, I can name some themes that emerged during the course of the week:

Discipline. Friendship. Love.

Discipline of the body

Over and over again, I was struck by what I would call the discipline of the gathered body.

In the two years I have attended IYMC events, including annual sessions, I have never heard anyone complain about having too much business and not enough recreation. It's clear to me that Friends come to sessions "with hearts and minds prepared," prepared to address the business of the yearly meeting. Way will open for fellowship and recreation at other times.

There are some specific instances I can point to that demonstrate what I mean by this discipline. For example:

When the clerk recognizes that Friends have been sitting still for a good long while, she will say plainly, "Friends are invited to stand and stretch quietly at this time." And we do.

For about 20 seconds.

Then the clerk carries on: "We now return to the business of the yearly meeting."

No coffee break; no refreshments. And no mass migration to the restrooms.

It isn't oppressive; the clerk doesn't demand or insist that Friends stay put. And neither did I pick up even an inkling of resentment from the 100 or so Friends there. (To be clear: Friends do use the restroom, etc., as they need to!)

I believe it is out of Love--a Love that in many cases has been knit together over a number of years, or over a lifetime--that Friends stay as centered as they do here.

Maybe it is because such discipline is and has been the expectation, the traditional "etiquette" of Conservative Friends, at least during this clerk's tenure, nearing 10 years, I think...

Or maybe it's because of how the clerk wordlessly expresses her deep love for those gathered. As reports are read aloud, she glances around the room from time to time, smiling as she "connects" with the Friends she sees. Sometimes she raises and lowers her eyebrows as she smiles, or nods her head slightly, conveying the silent greeting, "It is so very good to have you here. I see you; I see your love for me, too. Thank you. Isn't it great that we are all gathered here again?!"

I also believe that the clerk, Deborah Fisch, is gifted as a clerk, and that she and the yearly meeting have earned one another's deep trust in one another and in the Guide. She certainly has earned mine!

When there is such love and trust, we are likely to want to give it all we've got, to go the extra mile, to give one-hundred-and-ten percent. The spiritual covenant of the community is superlative and it works both ways: the clerk so clearly loves the Friends who make up the yearly meeting, she wants only to affirm the respect, care, and love she has for them; and the Friends in the yearly meeting so clearly love the clerk, they want only to offer respect, care, and love to her.

And because of that reciprocal L/love, everyone seems to want to work harder, to be faithful, to come under the discipline and the authority of the Living Presence.

I think of the love between a hard-working horse and its long-time beloved trainer; or a group of sled dogs and their experienced and beloved mushers...

Metaphors are inadequate but the love and commitment in the meetinghouse last week was palpable. Put simply:

These Friends love God.

Their life, their words, and their works demonstrate it over and over and over again.

Reining us in

All committees of the yearly meeting give written reports, which are read by pre-appointed readers. This seems to prevent "off the cuff" reporting from the floor and raises the bar in terms of accountability and having your report ready in advance, lest you have no report to present at all.

And the only report that was read where we intentionally paused for questions to be answered on the floor was the treasurer's report. Any questions regarding any of the other reports could be asked after the report was read--and it's assumed that committee clerks are paying attention to any comments made after the report is read--but few questions if any were answered on the floor, as far as I recall.

No answers to questions raised in the face of the meeting likely means no rehashing of work that the committee has already taken up, threshed, and seasoned. Imagine!

But there are a few times when a decision needs to be considered.

At one point, the very active, very respectable Peace and Social Concerns Committee had its report read. It included the text of several drafted letters and a minute that were to be considered by the body.

One letter was about the war in Iraq and referenced Tom Fox and the request made by Langley Hill Friends for meetings to contact their U.S. Senators and Representatives. Another letter was about military recruitment at William Penn University. A third letter was to be sent to the editor of an Iowa newspaper, thanking the paper for printing a full page ad in support of same-sex marriage. The minute to be considered was regarding the rights of immigrants to the U.S.

(And I know there were one or two OTHER items as well, believe it or not.)

First of all, the report itself, which included the text of these items for approval, was long. Very long. As she had for every other report presented, the clerk pulled the report from the table and visibly paged through it. Four, maybe five pages. Single-spaced I believe.

Before she passed the report onto the readers, the clerk said, "Within this report, there are several items that call for action. We will hear the entire report and then we will go back and address each item separately. Are Friends easy with that?"

Which of course we all were.

It took about twenty minutes to have the report read aloud. No one budged; no one hemmed or hawed. But the clerk endeared us once again to her when she slouched in her chair when the reading of the report was complete and she let out a huge sigh of relief.

In that sigh was recognition that we were human; that she was human too. We couldn't sit there perfectly and not acknowledge it was a lot to listen to.

"Friends are invited to stand and stretch quietly."

20 seconds.

"We now return to the business of the yearly meeting."

Now, I don't know about you, but I was expecting that each letter and each minute would have to be re-read in the face of the meeting; and I was expecting that there'd be concerns about one paragraph or another; one sentence or another; one word or another, and that there'd be concerns about one another's concerns, if you know what I mean.

Not so.

It was as if we had received each letter as an indivisible whole. Consequently, during the initial reading, the body had already felt itself come under the weight of approving it or not.

I say this because of how quickly approval happened. The clerk would say, "We first heard a letter to be sent to Congressional representatives and senators about such-and-so. Do Friends approve?" Silence, head nods, and an occasional quietly muttered, "I approve."

The remaining letters were handled and approved the same way. None of the letters was re-read, though my own guess is that if anyone asked to hear the letter again, that would have been provided.

When it got to the minute on immigration, our discipline was tested a bit. Maybe since the minute was short, and maybe since approving a minute provides more weight and significance to the concern than does approving a letter, the minute was re-read before we considered it.

There were a few concerns that Friends raised: We can't predict what would happen if immigration were, in a sense, deregulated... Would open immigration invite a new form of low-wage slavery...? One Friend spoke to the fact that she (or he) supports what is currently being pursued by the administration, which was counter to the spirit of the minute being considered.

It couldn't have been more than after four or five Friends spoke--and they each spoke amazingly briefly, literally no more than three sentences--when the clerk interrupted: "I see there are many hands. Let us settle and return to worship."

No hemming, no hawing. We settled.

And then this is what I saw: The clerk began to write a minute. It took her awhile, maybe two or three times as long as all the other minutes she had prepared up to this point.

No one called out, "Clerk please." No one raised a hand or whispered to a neighbor.

But then again, no one had done this during the previous two hour sessions either.

After quite a few minutes, as is the practice of this clerks' team, the clerk shared the crafted minute with the assistant clerk. Some small changes were noted, and then we heard this: "The clerks would like to try a minute for your consideration."

Up til now, the clerk would say, "The clerks have prepared a minute for your consideration." So we were in somewhat new territory for this item, and that single word-change, from "prepared" to "try," was an invitation for us to listen with an extra measure of care.

According to my somewhat faulty memory, the minute stated simply something to the effect of:
While Friends are not in unity around this minute, we ask that Peace and Social Concerns Committee continue to labor with us around these issues. We ask that the committee help educate us further about immigration/migration. We thank them for their work.
The minute was approved rather quickly and we moved on, knowing that the concerns were not simply dead in the water. I fully believe that at the 2007 sessions of IYM(C), we'll hear a revised minute from the Peace and Social Concerns Committee.

But what struck me with such delight was that Friends could be united in a spirit of care for what had happened; that Friends were willing to be kept under a short rein by the clerk; and that the body was disciplined, yoked together, in such a way that what could have taken up the entire two-hour session took maybe 40 minutes: 20 minutes to read a very long report; maybe 5 minutes to approve a few letters; and another 15 to address the minute on immigration.

Shortly after that session, I was able to visit with Deborah at the end of lunch. I commented on how well I thought she navigated us through what could have been a trying time. She said to me, "Well, y'know how with a horse, you sometimes can let the reins fall loose for awhile, but then when you want more control, you can tighten up the reins...?"


And I must lift up: Being willing to be disciplined, by the Spirit or by a well-led clerk, requires a tremendous amount of love and trust!

Out of curiosity, I looked up in IYM(C)'s 1974 Discipline what it says about Meeting for Worship for Business. Here is one part that affirms what I had witnessed all week:
The Clerk should be a person who has the confidence of the Meeting's membership and who, in turn, has a real respect and warm regard for its individual members and attenders. The Clerk should be able to comprehend, evaluate and state clearly and concisely an item of business or concern. He/she should be able to listen receptively to what is said and gather the sense of the Meeting at the proper time. No doubt few Friends can measure up to the qualifications of an ideal Clerk, but the role is an excellent one for developing leadership. (emphasis mine)
It was made clear to me at that particular session that we really don't have to hear from every Friend who seeks to be recognized during our Meetings for Worship for Business. And by stating the sense of the meeting so quickly when there is so much trust already built up, well, our egos to "have the floor" are also kept in check.

Paying attention to what is right here, right now

In the middle of one of the items being discussed at a business session, a Friend approached the clerks' table and handed the clerk a note. Deborah read it to herself while another Friend was continuing to address whatever it was that was on the floor.

After the Friend had finished speaking, Deborah addressed the body:

I was just handed a note, and I am going to read to you what it says...

The note said that a long-time Friend of the yearly meeting, mentioned by name, had been making his way to annual sessions from Salem, Oregon and had been in a car accident on the interstate, not far from where we were meeting. The note further explained that the Friend had been able to walk around a bit, may only have a broken nose, and was being taken to the hospital.

Deborah was very cool-minded. She asked that someone be in touch with the Friend's daughter, and that someone else go to meet the Friend at the hospital. Once those details were addressed and volunteers had been identified, Deborah then said:

Let us settle into worship and hold this Friend and his caregivers in the Light.

The room settled quickly. We were drawn together in deep prayer and concern. No doubt those who knew this Friend--as Deborah herself knew this Friend--had many questions and maybe even an impulse to drop everything. But at the same time, there was a calm that undergirded the worship, and it was not long before I heard the clerk say:

Let us now return to the work of the yearly meeting.

And we did. Without missing a beat.

Later that night, to everyone's relief, we were given an update that the Friend was doing well, that he did in fact have nothing more than a broken nose, and that he had actually helped divert a number of cars from plowing into an accident that had already occurred at the crest of a hill on the interstate, by having turned his own car abruptly--and at high speed--into the road's median.

Apparently the highway patrol officer had praised the Friend for being attentive and alert enough to have taken such swift life-saving action. And two days later, that Friend arrived at the yearly meeting, a bit purplish around the eyes and nose, but seemingly in good cheer.

Stay tuned for Part II

There is much more for me to write, mostly about some of the non-business events that I attended. I hope I'll get to it all, before I head to Canadian Yearly Meeting next week!

UPDATE: Here's the link to Part II. And here's the link to what I wrote after attending last year's IYM(C)'s sessions.

UPDATE, Eighth Month 2006: As it happens, the clerk of IYMC told me she looked at this post while she and I have been at Canadian Yearly Meeting sessions. So this is my chance to clear up a couple of things.

1. Part of why few committees present written reports is that the committees do much of their work during annual sessions. In addition, there IS a concern about conserving resources, like paper.

2. As Marshall points out in his comment, there has been a multi-year, multi-clerk history of how business is conducted and clerked during IYMC. Deborah herself humbly points out that she has had the opportunity to witness and come under the discipline of these skilled and caring clerks over the years.

Thanks for reading me!