March 27, 2007

FGC Gathering registration woes

UPDATE, Thursday, March 29: It appears that FGC's website to register for the Gathering is back up. I haven't heard a peep from anyone about having difficulty today.

UPDATE, Wednesday morning, March 28:

"Online Registration is temporarily Closed.

"We continue to experience technical problems with our site. Our technical staff is working hard to identify and address the specific problems. We do not have an accurate estimate of when registration will resume, but we are hopeful that all will be working smoothly by Thursday morning March 29. You are welcome to check back before then.

"Thank you for patience, and I look forward to seeing you at the Gathering.

--Traci Hjelt Sullivan, Conference Coordinator"
There is also a slight change about mail-in registrations. The website used to say something like, "Mail in registration begins March 26..." Now there is a more generic statement:

"Mail-in registrations will be processed when online registration begins, as staff time allows."

FROM FGC's WEBSITE Tuesday afternoon, March 27:
"Please note: If you are trying to register for the 2007 Gathering of Friends, please note that our web server is unable to process the current number of requests. FGC staff are communicating with our internet server provider in an attempt to solve this problem as quickly as possible. We thank you for your patience and appreciate your effort to complete the registration early."

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a techie, I'm a people person.

Some Friends have found their way to me, asking what I know about the trouble with FGC's online registration process.

FGC has been overhauling its website for some time now, including the registration page for the Gathering (note that I am not including links to FGC or the Gathering for fear that the FGC server is already stressed with visitors wanting to register).

My guess is that some major bugs were not "active" or discovered until a large number of visitors logged in nearly simultaneously when registration opened and maxed out the system, making it crash.

But as I said to one Friend who contacted me privately, I'm not a techie, I'm a people person.

Some suggestions

Don't call FGC. Hold the staff in the Light instead. The staff is probably half-crazed (or worse) themselves.

Give it another day or two. Practice patience. Registration for Gathering used to not start until April!

If you are really chomping on the bit and have an Advance Program, consider paying the extra $10 and mail in the paper copy. Keep in mind, though, that the staff has to open the mail and--don't quote me on this--they MAY have to input the information into a crashed website anyway. A better guess is they would input the information into a database, not necessarily attached to the FGC website. Not sure though.

Revisit FGC's website at an unusual time of day or night, when fewer people might be online. If the problem is due to a heavy volume of traffic, this might help--but remember my disclaimer: I'm not a techie, I'm a people person.

Check back here. I'll post any new information I receive that seems to be credible (i.e. comes from an FGC source).


March 26, 2007

Unraveling the myths about Convergent Friends

When I finally had half a minute to talk with Robin in Boston about her experience at FWCC's Section of the America's gathering in Providence, Rhode Island earlier this month, something she said took a hold of me:

Friends are continuing to ask about, or assume that, Convergent Friends is an internet phenomenon; and there is a concern that the cyber-era of blogs will restrict others who are not connected to the blogosphere from engaging in the conversation.
With three hours of time to whittle away in the airport between flights on my own way home from Boston, I found myself scribbling some thoughts about myths that are already floating out there about Convergent Friends and what, if anything, I have to say about them.

One thing I have come to understand about myths, though, is that more often than not, there is a kernel of truth in even our grossest "myth-perceptions." I hope to root out some of that truth and unravel a myth or two along the way, while also demystifying what it is about Convergent Friends that has some of us confused.

Myth 1: Convergent Friends are only on the internet.

TRUTH 1: The passion for Quaker renewal, around which Friends from across the branches are... converging..., has in fact gotten a big boost from cyberspace and the internet. There's no denying that fact. The internet has helped many of us participate in and be witnesses to a phenomenon that is out there among us.

UNRAVELING THE MYTH: The phenomenon and the miracle of transcending the schisms that we have in our history is taking place because of the people in our meetings, not because of the computers in our living rooms.

Friends in our worship groups, in our monthly meetings, in our yearly meetings, and in our institutions are carrying the concern and are helping advance the conversation about deepening our understanding of our shared Quaker heritage.

Maybe the word "convergent" isn't attached to these particular conversations, but when we lay aside the words, we may recognize the movement of the Spirit, blowing across the branches and across our differences, blowing in the same direction... to paraphrase Robin M.

Myth 2: Convergent Friends is a new thing.

TRUTH 2: The word "convergent" is in fact new to most Friends.

UNRAVELING THE MYTH: The passion and the concern to transcend our differences existed before the word "convergent" ever made its appearance in the Quakersphere.

We may need to look at and learn more about organizations, institutions, gatherings, and print materials that have been pursuing this work or have been otherwised engaged in it before the internet became such a hot phenomenon. For example:
  • Friends World Committee on Consultation,

  • any number of Quaker colleges in the U.S.,

  • Earlham School of Religion,

  • Pendle Hill,

  • Woodbrooke,

  • Quaker Books,

  • the World Gathering of Young Friends,

  • the Quaker Women's Theology Conference (written about in this Pendle Hill pamphlet),

  • Friends Journal (of note is the October 2006 special issue focused on "What Are Friends Called To Today?")

  • and

  • the Pendle Hill pamphlet series
  • .

    Myth 3: Convergent Friends want to purge Quakerism of nontheists.

    TRUTH 3A: Some of what some Friends are wrestling with might be less difficult if all Friends shared a belief in the Divine, but that is not the same as saying nontheists Friends don't or shouldn't have a place at the table.

    TRUTH 3B: I myself believe in a Divine Principle, and it is hard for me to engage in certain threads of the conversation with Friends who are nontheist or polytheist. Maybe the reverse is true. There certainly are times when I don't "get" nontheist Quakers. There is a difference, though, between not seeking someone out for counsel and "purging" them from the community.
    QUESTION: As Convergent Friends dig more deeply into our Quaker heritage and Christian/Spirit-oriented roots, we frequently turn to one other to wrestle with or grapple with ideas that seem to run counter to our current understanding. Do nontheists not feel included in the wrestling...?
    UNRAVELING THE MYTH: Not all Convergent Friends on the internet or in our meetings believe in (one) God, and some of these Friends may not see themselves as Convergent but are contributing greatly to the conversation. A few examples:
  • SPLICE?, in which Pam wonders if Love is a testimony;

  • Christian language and Tolstoy's onion, by Peter; and

  • The place of the past in the Quaker present, by Zach.
  • By the nature of these posts and the number of comments in response to them, it appears to me that nontheist Friends, Quaker Pagans, and others are indeed part of the body.

    Myth 4: Convergent Friends is a Quaker melting pot.

    TRUTH 4. There is indeed a form of "coming together" among Friends from the different branches who are finding tTruth in what we are sharing.

    UNRAVELING THE MYTH: My experience has been that we are encouraging Friends to participate faithfully and fully in their own tradition, to retain it for as long as there is Life in it, whether that tradition be programmed, semi-programmed, or unprogrammed; Evangelical, Conservative, or Liberal; Christ-centered or universalist.

    I continue to believe that the more firmly rooted we are in our own tradition and belief, the less threatened we will be by those who practice and believe differently from ourselves, and the more open we will be to learn from one another without fear of being assimilated, converted, or imposed upon.

    Myth 5: Convergent Friends must be Christian.

    TRUTH 5: Many of us are Christian, some of us are not. I've written about my own wrestling with this myth-perception previously.

    UNRAVELING THE MYTH: All of us who have been seeking to delve more deeply into Quakerism and share our faith more fully seem to care for the condition of the Religious Society of Friends and how Quakerism is expressed within in our tradition, in our own monthly meetings, and across the schisms. Whether or not we are Christian does not seem to impact our desire to be faithful to how we are called.

    Myth 6: Because these myths are out there, that's a problem for Convergent Friends to address.

    TRUTH 6: If Friends still carry the perception that Convergent Friends is an internet-only phenomenon, that you have to be Christian to be part of the Convergent Friends movement (if that's what this is), that there's no place for nontheist Friends, etc., then it IS our problem.

    Those of us who share our concerns primarily via the internet need to help carry the message away from the internet so more Friends may have access to it.

    UNRAVELING THE MYTH: And those of us who are not on the internet as much as others need to broaden our own field of vision and consider that our personal experience may not in fact mesh with the intention of those who are actively engaged in the conversation.
    Thanks, as always, for reading me.


    (as if there weren't enough links scattered throughout the post already!)

  • C. Wess Daniels' article in Quaker Life

  • 2006 FGC Gathering interest group on Quaker renewal and being "on fire"

  • 2008 FGC Gathering interest group on where the Convergent conversation is now

  • (Added just a few days after posting this essay) Robin's initial thoughts about revisiting the definition of convergent
  • March 23, 2007

    Tom Gates at the Weed Lecture

    I like to tell people that a friend of mine from California invited me, who lives in the midwest, to join her at a lecture on the east coast in Boston.

    I was glad I decided to make the trip, although my California friend, Robin, missed the lecture after all that. She had good reason, though, and it worked out since I ended up sitting with and talking to Will T, who I had met once before.

    The annual Beacon Hill Friends House Weed Lecture was given by Tom Gates, a Pennsylvania Friend whose recent pamphlets have helped me understand a bit more about Scripture among Friends and have helped open me to a new way of thinking about membership.

    So when Robin invited me to join her at the lecture and told me Tom Gates would be the speaker, I made an extra effort to get there. I found Tom to be articulate, grounded, tender, and meek in his manner, words, and presence. He was very open about acknowledging that his gift is not in speaking from the silence, and so he asked for forbearance as he read the comments he had written for the occasion.

    "You Must Live a Dying Life": Reflections on Human Mortality and the Spiritual Life

    The topic was a bit off-putting for me, though I hoped Tom's remarks would at least touch on John Woolman's revelation that "John Woolman is dead" (scroll to paragraph 19), which they did.

    Here are some of the points that captured my attention, arranged more by theme than by where they fell in Tom's presentation. My own brief thoughts are included in small, italic print.

    The experience of death:
    Death can isolate us from one another and from God. It can unite us in our experience of dying and of caring for those who are dying.

    Human mortality is central to our spiritual journey. I wish I had written more of his explanation about why this is so. Perhaps because as we approach death, we engage in a new part of our spiritual life...?

    Being allowed to tell one's story about a loved one's death is important. So is being allowed to tell one's story about life and about being drawn closer to God.

    Two important parts of dying are dying well and caring well--topics that are covered tenderly in a small book by Henry Nouwen. There is a trinity or triad of themes within Nouwen's book, both for dying well and for caring well, and the table of contents reflect that triad: being children of God; being brothers and sisters of each other; and being parents of generations to come.
    Being children of God is about being dependent on God in life and in death.

    Being brothers and sisters of one another is about experiencing joy in our shared humanity.

    Being parents of generations to come is about bearing fruit, as reflected in the passage from Scripture about how the grains of wheat must die.
    Care for the dying requires seeing them as beloved children of God. And, when we are less afraid of death ourselves, we care better for those who are dying.

    QUERY: How can I live so that my life will bear fruit when I'm gone? ...This question forces us to change our paradigm, to move from a life of action to passion (from necessary activity to mindful joy?); and from pursuing success to pursuing fruitfulness.

    Death as part of our spiritual journey:
    In the field of medicine, the relationship between life and death is one-way: we move from life to death, not the other way round. In our faith journey, we move back and forth between spiritual life and spiritual death. It is not one-way.

    In the New Testament is the verse "...I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." And in the Hebrew text, in Genesis 3, being cast out of the Garden of Eden is taken to be a form of death, being removed from the Tree of Life.

    In our spiritual journey, we both turn away from God (life) and turn toward God (death). Turning back to God is something we can choose.

    Meister Eckhart tells a story of a woman going down the street with a flaming torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When approached to ask what she is doing, she replies that she has the torch to burn the gates of Heaven and the bucket of water to put out the fires of Hell so that people may love God for God's own self, rather than out of fear of punishment or hope of redemption.

    The Cross and death of the self:
    Living under the Cross is akin to affirming our mortality--a dying of the self. Yes, yes!

    George Fox wrote that we "must die in the silence, to the fleshly wisdom, knowledge, reason..." We must be transformed and be opened into the spiritual life.

    Obedience and death of the self leads to a closeness to the secret of living closer to the will of God. Bill Taber referred to the daily Cross as "the Cross of joy."

    Fox's own references to the Cross are often paired with the mention of the Power of God.

    In summary, Tom closed his remarks by reading from the book Hope for the Flowers and paraphrasing its message:
    We must be willing to give up who we are so we may become what is required of us.
    Afterward, we settled into the Silence and a few Friends spoke of their own experience with death, dying of the self, and living a dying life. Right about that time is when Robin showed up...

    A word about the Convergent Friends dinner

    There were refreshments at the rise of our time together, and a number of us hung around, including Will T, Holly, Raul from El Salvador, Venderlin (sp?) who had arrived from Germany the night before (!), and Ben whose story I missed about traveling to Kenya as part of the 2005 World Gathering of Young Friends. Eventually Jeffrey also came along, having brought Robin from the FWCC meetings in Providence, Rhode Island.

    And THEN, after all that, about 14 of us made our way to the lovely house of Will and Lynn T, where we ultimately were joined by another four Friends, including Amanda and, I hear, Rob, who showed up shortly after I had left, which was well before Quaker midnight...

    Dinner--with the typical Convergent fare of pizza and chocolate chip cookies--was fabulous, and though conversations were easy to come by, the difficulty is mine about how to lift up whatever it was that we all experienced. Still, a few things do linger with me:
  • The gentle presence of Venderlin, who had a round-about trip from Germany via Montreal before arriving in Boston the day before, a stranger to all of us at first, was eager to join us and we welcomed him into our hearts.

  • The amazing hospitality by Will T and his wife Lynn! Did any of us expect there would be eighteen of us crammed into a living room or dining room, just because a few of us knew one another via the internet? I pray I may be as calm and hospitable a presence when Convergent Friends and fFriends of Friends find their way to my place and fill my living room and dining room some day!

  • The shift to a bilingual mode of sharing in order to incorporate Raul into the conversation, especially after we had been gathered in order to consider some queries that were pulled together long ago by Wess Daniels and Robin M for a different occasion. At first one Friend was doing all the translation for Raul, from English to Spanish. But then, bit by bit, those of us who had some or "enough" Spanish would speak our piece bit by bit, first in English and then in Spanish, or vice versa, aware that as clunky as it was to do so, it seemed to help us move together with a bit more grace and intention. ..."caminando juntos," walking together.
  • Blessings,

    RELATED POSTS about the dinner that night:

    Amanda gives a brief overview of the event.

    Will T. reports as host of the Convergent Friends dinner.

    Robin chimes in and reminds us about her "crazy idea of fun."

    March 9, 2007

    Do overs

    One of the fun-but-serious things that my partner and I sometimes do when we've unintentionally hurt each other's feelings is that we request a do over. By the time we're requested the do over, we each have recognized how our own stuff got in the way of deep listening, or how we misinterpreted the other's actions or words, so we really can make different choices, during the do over, "knowing then what we know now."

    It might seem artificial or trivial or even pointless to have a do over, but the proof is in the pudding and the truth is in the experience. Each time we have used a do over, it's been as if we've heard each other for the first time, not the second, and the air between us is clear once again.

    For some reason, there's a moment in my fairly recent life that keeps replaying, and I find I am longing for a do over. This memory has resurfaced because of an anecdote I read recently in Friends Journal, tucked away in a long article by James Fletcher about Black Friends' experience among Quakers.

    The segment tells of an unexpected Opportunity for worship among an AFSC delegation traveling on a segregated train through South Africa. It tells of how, when confronted by an officer to move to the whites' section of the train, the white Friend travelling among the Black delegates

    shouted out firmly that he could not obey that order because he had orders from a Higher Authority that he had to follow. When the policeman asked him to show him those orders, [the white Friend] replied, "I can't, because they are written on my heart."
    My own experience has nothing of a threat of being confronted by police, let alone of being arrested--and arrested in another country at that!--but it is one that called for an Obedience to a Higher Authority that I fear I still lack.

    A few years ago, the partner of a friend of ours had died of AIDS, and it was known that the man's father was a fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstone Christian. In the last week of his partner's life, our friend fretted over how he might respond to his father-in-law had he started with any talk of "repenting for your sins," or "you're damned and going to hell." Thankfully, the last days in the hospital and at home were quiet ones, in every way.

    Then there was the low-key, close-friends-and-family-only memorial service. As low-key as it was--and it wasn't a Quaker memorial--there was a tension in the room as soon as you walked in: Michael's family took up the first three or four pews and was seated on the left; Michael's friends, his partner, and his partner's family took up seven or eight pews (or more) and were seated on the right. I briefly wondered about sitting with Michael's family, but maybe it was some of our grieving friends who waved us over to where they were already seated...

    There were the usual funny and tender stories that a few close friends shared, and our friend had graciously invited Michael's father to say a few things about his son, his only son who had died before he was forty, to close the service.

    The eulogy started quietly enough but quickly turned toward something else. I kept thinking of the Reverend Thrower in Orson Scott Card's Seventh Son, who could not see the innocence and open-heartedness of a young boy named Alvin, and who could only condemn Alvin for sinning and could hurl only the worst condeming passages of Scripture at him during church services...

    I sat in disbelief. Could this man, Michael's father, really be saying what he is saying, condemning those of us who loved Michael, who happen to find Love and God in someone of the same gender as ourselves--could this man really be using such hateful words in the midst of a memorial service for his son?!

    But it was happening, and Michael's family was allowing it to happen and were in fact nodding in agreement to what was being said. And none of us across the aisle moved to counter it.

    Two minutes passed. Five minutes. Ten.

    Hoping that someone else would be the first to leave, but not seeing a hint that that would happen, I excused myself from the middle of the pew and stepped into the anteroom.

    But stepping out to get some space to think didn't help, not to think clearly, anyway. I had all sorts of other thoughts go through my head, though:
    Can I ask the proprieters of the funeral home to interrupt this man in such a way that it won't embarrass the friend who had rented the home in the first place? Did I have that power, especially since I didn't consider myself to be too close of a friend to Michael or to his partner?

    Can I walk back in and ask that Michael's father simply stop and allow us time to resettle before heading back to our homes?

    Can I pull the "Pull in case of emergency" red handle under the glass box on the wall and deal with the consequences of having made a false fire alarm?
    Fifteen minutes turned into twenty, and then finally Michael's partner stood up and interrupted his father-in-law, saying something like, "We have to stop here. I'd like for us to close with saying the Lord's Prayer together."

    Then Michael's family went one way and everyone else went the other and headed to Michael's and his partner's house, where we debriefed, guffawed, vented, and roared with uneasy laughter.

    But I'm still tormented inside by the whole thing, two years later. I want a do over, but I don't know what it would look like or sound like or be like.

    I don't know that I'd have the courage now that I didn't have then, to be able to say, Stop. Stop now. This hurts. This is not what God asks us to do at a time of grieving and loss.

    Maybe what I want, really, is some input on how to change the ending that I had experienced that day.

    Have you ever spoken up at a time of great peer pressure to remain silent?

    Have you ever been among the group that was being verbally or physically attacked, yet had found the will, or had called up the courage, or had felt the Presence strong enough in order to say No More...?

    I find I'm eager to hear your own stories; I'm eager to have this experience re-done in my own heart, if possible.

    Thanks for reading me.