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.