April 27, 2007

From spiritual refugee to spiritual citizen

In recent weeks, I have been musing about the phrase "spiritual refugee." While I was traveling in-and-around Boston to get to certain Quaker events, I jotted down this brief phrase:

spiritual refugee -->
spiritual immigrant -->
spiritual citizen
These phrases won't leave me alone, so I take that to mean it is time for me to pay attention to them and see what comes of it.

I often see the phrase "spiritual refugee" in contemporary Quaker writings, about worshipers who find their way to Quakerism after some sort of fallout they had with their church--either in childhood or as an adult, or both. These worshipers often seek refuge from having a certain form of their religious practice or creed having been forced onto them, or they seek refuge from having been disillusioned or even betrayed by their faith community and religious leaders.

It wasn't until recently that I had considered myself a spiritual refugee, despite my obvious-to-me disillusionment with the Jewish tradition I grew up with. Maybe because I never felt personally mistreated by that faith; I didn't feel like I had to "flee for [spiritual] safety." As a disillusioned Jew, one day I just ambled into a meetinghouse and I ended up staying.

I've stayed for more than 14 years.

Still, I do have my hang-ups. Early on and for a number of years as a spiritual refugee, I would cringe whenever I heard vocal ministry that referred to Jesus or the saving power of Christ, no matter how sweet the minister or what sort of relationship I had with the Friend.

After four or five years among Friends, though, something silently, subtly shifted within myself. I found that I could abide with the more Christian language contained within some vocal ministry, or the Christ-centered frame that was presented by a Friend who led an adult education program. I could begin to let the Christian roots of Quakerism have their space for "the other Friends" who could relate to it, but I no longer felt threatened by it personally.

I began to understand, wordlessly and by that "secret power" that reached me (see 19.21 here), that when a Friend (or non-Friend) brings a message that she or he has been given, isn't about me. It isn't about my need to be protected from the spiritual and religious wounding I received as a younger person.

It's about the minister being faithful to the message that she or he has been given. It's about God calling a great people to be gathered... Typically, vocal ministry is simply going to be entwined with the Friend's own religious experience, not mine.

With that understanding, along with a growing realization that Quakerism was a good place for me to be, I began to think about applying for membership, some six or seven years after having begun worshiping regularly among Friends.

I had unknowingly transitioned from being a spiritual refugee to being a spiritual immigrant.

It really wasn't until I was more of a spiritual immigrant among Friends that I began to work more consciously and more conscientiously at seeking to reconcile my religious upbringing as a Jew with my current religious and spiritual yearnings as a Friend. It's not that I wanted to deny my spiritual hang-ups as much as I wanted to reconcile, integrate, or transcend the two parts of me at the time: Quakerly Jew and Jewish Quaker.

I began to read George Fox's journal [I read the Rufus Jones' edition] and a teeny tiny, unimposing book about John Woolman and found myself neither repulsed by the references to Christ nor necessarily enraptured by them. At the same time, I felt as if some new part of me was soaking in the Light of their words and experiences.

I was being opened; I was being changed. I was getting a new "lay of the [spiritual] land" that is Quakerism, its historical and theological connection to the Christian faith. Quakerism was no longer a religious ground in which I could find safe harbor. It was now religious territory in which I was putting down some pretty significant roots.

It seemed I had moved from spiritual immigrant to spiritual citizen.

Some four or five years after having been approved for membership in the monthly meeting, I have clearly taken up Quakerism as a faith tradition I call my own, at a intellectual, emotional, intuitive, and spiritual level. I hear the outer word "Christ" but receive it inwardly as "the Living Presence"; I hear the outer word "Savior" and know its meaning within myself as "the Light that calls me out."

When I struggle with a decision I must make, or when I have "missed the mark" in my committee participation; when I have spoken meanly of another, or have been boastful and arrogant, I have looked to Quaker disciplines rather than Jewish or even secular ones to help return myself to a sense of harmony and right relationship with God and with those around me.

All of these experiences remind me that each of us will likely pass through stages of spiritual development and spiritual maturity as we journey among Friends--or among whichever faith community where we find ourselves. We will each move from being a spiritual refugee, to a spiritual immigrant...

And, if we stay long enough and educate ourselves thoroughly enough and embrace certain principles and disciplines about Quakerism long enough, we may find ourselves spiritual citizens of the Religious Society of Friends.

We may in fact seek to become formal members, or live into the fullness of what being a member means.


April 23, 2007

Interest group at 2007 Gathering?

So ---

Robin M and I are toying with the idea of proposing an interest group, but not as a repeat or sequel to the one that was offered last year with Martin Kelley on Convergent Friends....

...and I have just realized that there are only two more weeks before proposals for interest groups at this summer's Gathering are due! The deadline is May 7th... Yipes!

Unlike the list of workshops that is made available before Gathering's registration opens, no one will know what the interest groups will be until we arrive on campus for the start of Gathering... which leads me to write this brief post and ask:

Who among the blogging community and among young adult Friends might be submitting a proposal for an interest group this year?
I want to know ahead of time because last year, it turned out that a number of us were offering interest groups and we couldn't attend each other's!

A few things to consider:

1. If you are submitting or have submitted a proposal for an interest group for the 2007 Gathering, could you add a comment to this post to let us know? Hopefully that way, we will find a way to support one another and we could generate a sort of mini-list here as well, to help prime the pump.

2. A large majority of proposed interest groups apparently are accepted, since interest groups are not a major component of the week, in the way that workshops are. So if you've got an idea for an interest group brewing, don't be shy to say so!

3. If you would like to submit a proposal and would like to have some support around either testing it or fleshing it out or even presenting it (either with a co-facilitator or with a prayer-support person to hold you in the Light), be sure to ask for that sort of support--online or at your own meeting. If it would help you to make that request here, please go right ahead and do just that.

So ---

Maybe some of you are wondering if Robin and I going to submit a proposal...? And if so, what would it be an interest group on...?

Good questions. Questions we ourselves are wondering right now. (*See the UPDATE at the bottom of this post.)

I would say that we're not ready to say anything publicly about what we are considering, given how fresh this idea is that has just emerged.

Minutes before I crafted this post, Robin and I were on the phone talking about this, that's how fresh it is! Robin had to take her son to school and I didn't think to ask permission to name the topic before she left. I don't even know that Robin and I have conferred with our respective partners about any of this, it happened so fast. But I was able to get Robin's okay to create this post to get the word out and to ask if others are hoping to offer interest groups.

I think it's safe to say that we'd be looking at an element of traditional or "classic" Quakerism. As if that were a surprise! (*See UPDATE)

Check back here before May 7, 2007 for updates and --hopefully--additional information about possible interest groups that are growing out of the Quaker blogosphere!


Robin and I have conferred just a teeny bit more. We both find ourselves living into exciting questions of faithfulness and how, to paraphrase an email I received from Robin, "faithfulness in the small things is what makes faithfulness in the big things possible." So the interest group would perhaps revolve around the concept of "faithfulness in the small things."

Once Robin and I have fleshed out something more significant, if the prompt to propose such a thing holds fast, another post will be shared with the relevant description, etc.

  • the full description that was included in our proposal for the interest group

  • Robin M's own post on faithful obedience and early preparations for the Gathering
  • April 18, 2007

    QuakerQuaker helps connect Quakers with Quakers

    When I was asked to write a piece for the QuakerQuaker Blog Carnival, I immediately thought of the evolution of QuakerQuaker, and what QuakerQuaker was like before it became its current system. What follows below is my own recollection of how things grew, but I'm fairly certain it is neither complete nor accurate. Nonetheless, it is my recollection. -Liz

    What started out as a simple idea by Friend Martin Kelley to start a web-log about his faith journey and then invite others to take a look at what he had been writing has turned into a rather comprehensive, ever-changing bit of internet infrastructure: QuakerQuaker.

    QuakerQuaker now helps Quakers and other seekers from around the globe connect with one another, share their stories and struggles, and on occasion, join together face to face for fellowship.

    When I came across Martin Kelley's blog after talking with him at FGC's 2004 Gathering, I was immediately drawn into a conversation that was thoughtful, rich, and provocative. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the twists and turns that that conversation has since taken and all that Martin has done to help advance that conversation--most notably, through the creation of QuakerQuaker.
    in·fra·struc·ture (ĭn'frə-strŭk'chər), n.

    1. An underlying base or foundation especially for an organization or system.

    2. The basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society, such as transportation and communications systems, water and power lines, and public institutions including schools, post offices, and prisons.

    source: The American Heritage Dictionary
    In preparing this post for the QuakerQuaker Blog Carnival, I gave some thought to how the infrastructure that Martin has created also mirrors elements of our everyday faith among Friends.

    For example:

    1. Before there was QuakerQuaker, Martin used a plain ol' blog technique of what I think of as cross-posting. Martin's posts--then and now--include links to other emerging Quaker bloggers and to posts relevant to the current topic. Once a reader got intrigued by Martin's own writing, when the reader saw that Martin added a link to "Q Blogger," it was as if Martin was saying, "Oh, you've got to go over to that Friend's digs and check out what's being said over there!" ...The mirror to real live Quaker folk?
    INTERVISITATION AMONG FRIENDS provides much joy and wonderful new learning.

    2. Every so often, Martin will lift up a commenter's own remarks in a guest piece, often taken from lengthy, meaty comments on Quaker Ranter. ...The mirror to live Quaker folk?
    PERSONAL EPISTLES that are lifted up and sent out allow others to know how the Spirit moves among all of us.

    3. Readership has grown within the Quaker blogosphere since 2005 and so, it seems, has the number of Quaker blogs. And early on, Martin stayed on top of that growth by creating his own subjective guide to Quaker blogs, to help Quaker bloggers and blog readers track who's writing what and how to find them. ...The mirror?
    LEND SUPPORT TO HELP ONE ANOTHER KEEP IN TOUCH so we may grow one another and help one another be faithful.

    4. And then along came a predecessor to QuakerQuaker: Martin's own summary of posts in the Quaker blogosphere, when it was called Quaker Blog Watch. The mirror:
    Like a daily or weekly MEETING FOR READING, a Friend or seeker might come to the Meetinghouse, seek out its library, and pull a book of the shelf for spiritual nurture.

    5. All these little stepping stones of faithfulness that Martin has followed... and voila! QuakerQuaker emerges, as a way to bring in more eyes to help scan the Quaker blogosphere for meaningful posts that are timely and explicitly Quaker. The mirror of everday Friends:
    EXPERIENCED FRIENDS help visitors and one another navigate the Quaker faith.

    Martin, one of the most valuable things you have taught me through Quaker Ranter and QuakerQuaker is that when we give caring, thoughtful attention to the people with whom we interact, we will wish to provide a system that will nurture and nourish those relationships long into the future.


    April 17, 2007

    Membership and identity

    Over on the nontheist Friends website, James R has posted his take on the basis of Quaker membership. I find that while I feel I have something to say about membership in the Religious Society of Friends, Way is not open for me to explore that topic head-on just yet.

    Instead, I found myself turning to consider membership and identity side by side.

    I think of one's membership as one's participation in a group to which she or he has chosen to belong; and I think of identity as one's self-concept or self-identification in relation to a group that reflects that person's own self-understanding.

    Yet the concepts of membership and identity can be thought of as close cousins, or two sides of the same coin, especially when one's membership in a group stretches over a long period of time... to the extent that the person's identity may become intricately knit or wedded to being an active, long-time member of the group.

    Similarities and differences between membership and identity

    I have realized that there appears to be much in common between membership and identity:

  • Both membership in a group and an identity with a group develop and evolve over time.

  • The evolution of one's membership and of one's identity over time is impacted by personal experiences within the group and by shared experiences of the group (e.g. life transitions, handling of conflicts, celebration of holidays, response to world events, etc.).

  • Membership and identity involve a peer group or cohort--others who are going through what we are going through, and others with whom we might check out our assumptions, our reactions, our concerns.

  • Membership and identity could be multigenerational, carried from one generation to the next.

  • Membership and identity carry expressions of implicit and explicit norms, expectations, and values held by the group.

  • One's membership and one's identity imply that the individual is headed in the same general direction and faces the same challenges as the rest of the group, at least most of the time.

  • On the other hand, there are some important differences between membership and identity:
  • One's membership to a group is typically only part of one's life, whereas one's identity is the grounding of one's life. We might find that we must give up our membership to a group because of some violation to our core principles, for example, but we will retain our identity nonetheless. On the other hand, if we give up our identity, we lose ourselves, and membership in a group may become superficial or may be an attempt to meet our psychological need to belong.

  • Membership is often consciously chosen or even pursued, especially after childhood or adolescence, and it evolves for as long as the membership is intact; but one's identity is, at least initially, unconsciously acquired and developed from infancy, shifting and evolving from birth to death.

  • Similarly, the behaviors, norms, and expectations are often learned or even studied as part of one's membership, whereas the behaviors, norms, and expectations that extend from a person's identity are most likely acquired unknowingly.

  • With membership, there is usually some form of self-selected give-and-take, such as paying dues in exchange for receiving benefits. With one's identity, there is a sort of unconditional, often automatic inclusion within the group.

  • With membership, the individual is a part of the group because of what she or he does: "You're a part of us because of how you participate." For one's identity, though, the individual is a part of the group because of who the individual is: "You're a part of us because of who you are."
  • My membership among Friends and my identity as a Friend

    My own membership among Friends is a bit tricky since I feel I have integrated my membership in the Religious Society of Friends as part of my identity, part of my grounding for who and how I am.

    When I first sought membership in the monthly meeting, I was going through an identity shift from being a Quakerly Jew to being a Jewish Quaker. The membership clearness process lasted several months as I sought to reconcile my initial identity as a Jew with my developing identity--my consideration of membership--as a Friend.

    The tipping point for me was when I realized and accepted that I could not be happy, I could not "live up to my measure of Light," I could not become what God was asking me to become by holding onto Judaism.

    (The story is much longer than that, but this post is long enough as it is!)

    As I have said, I didn't automatically claim the identity "Quaker" when I became a member of the meeting. What changed, though, with my membership was that I more intentionally became part of the world of Quakers: I involved myself with committee work; I attended Meetings for Worship with attention to Business; I read more about Quakerism.

    These were conscious choices, made over time.

    But Quakerism didn't become part of the grounding of my being until years after I had started worshiping among Friends.

    I unknowingly took up the identity of "Quaker" some time after I began serving on a large (120+ Friends), Spirit-led committee that helped me link my own deeply held, then-unnamed values with specific outward practices I had not previously understood or knew about.

    The combination of many years among Friends; years of service on a disciplined committee that drew on Quaker traditions and vernacular to carry out its business; and personal relationships with Friends who supported my growth as a Friend all aligned with my experience-based faith in a loving Principle that binds us together.

    Even though there is great theological diversity across the spread of the Religious Society of Friends, I regularly see my own best self reflected in the lives and words of Friends for whom I have a great deal of love and tenderness. Unknowingly, my identity as a Quaker has been consistently affirmed by these other Friends, who also live (or in one case, had lived) their lives from their grounding as Quakers.

    Many of them are Conservative or Conservative-leaning Friends, and I now understand why I speak of my membership within Liberal Friends but I speak of my identity as a Conservative-leaning Friend.

    What I am reaching for

    I think what I am reaching for here is that, understanding the close connection between membership and identity, I find myself less eager to judge Friends who treasure their participation in and their identification with Quakerism.

    So I must live into the paradox of carrying a concern for how we convey our faith and its traditions while also caring for persons whose identity is Quaker, just like my own.

    I sense I have not quite arrived at the core of what drew me to write about membership and identity, yet I have worked on this post for a number of days and then have let it season a while. My hope is that many of you in your comments will help advance the conversation, which may in turn help to draw out what it is that lives in me that I am still laboring to reach.

    As always, thanks for reading me.


    Here's a related post from Cat that offers more to chew on, at Quaker Pagan Reflections...

    ...and a subsequent quick-to-follow post from the other half of Quaker Pagan Reflections, Peter.

    April 4, 2007

    The internet, Quakerism, and me

    The following post is in fact the text of a reply I left in response to a question raised by an anonymous commenter. The comments originally appeared in a post about unraveling the myths of Convergent Quakerism. --Liz

    "If the internet is not a place for Friends to engage in a Spirit-centered process, then how can it influence our Quaker process in any effective way if spirit-centered process is the most important part of the Meeting...?" --Anonymous

    I will speak about my own experience with how the internet has influenced my Quakerism and my involvement in Quaker process. Perhaps others will share their own reflections on your question.

    First, as I understand it, Quaker process--both of worship and of decision-making--is grounded in corporate discernment--that is, a group of Friends come together, intentionally listening for God's instruction on the way forward, regarding a particular concern or item.

    So when I read Quaker blogs, I am not coming to engage in worship or in decision-making. But God still may speak to me through what I read, just as the words of George Fox's epistles most likely spoke to Friends and seekers of his day. And clearly his epistles, and the Light that comes through the words on the page, still speak to us in modern times.

    So early on, as I began to get involved in the internet (email and blogs), I began to think of Quaker blogs as a vehicle for electronic epistles--not always, but on occasion.

    But even Fox's epistles were not worship in-and-of themselves; they did not engage the Quaker decision-making process over a specific item either. But they answered that of God that had been residing in the hearts of Fox's readers...

    When I am impacted by what I read, when the Light finds its way into my heart so that I might soften and understand the manner of Love that I am newly called to, I am changed; my own manners are converted.

    And when I am changed, how I participate in the world and in my Quaker meeting is also changed. God does not wait only for us to arrive at MfW in order to change us in that weekly hour!

    We are available to God's Love at any moment; we are capable of being transformed at even the least expected time!

    That "least expected time" might well be while a new seeker is doing a Google search for Quakers; or while an experienced Friend is reading a series of blog posts of how God has moved through the lives of a number of adult young Friends...

    That said, if the computer were to get in my way of hearing God--as television had been doing in my life a few years ago--I would in fact leave the computer as I have left the television.

    It is very much why I do not travel with the computer when I attend Quaker events out of town.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to articulate these things. It's questions and observations like yours that can grow me and make me reconsider...


    April 2, 2007

    Kitty woes slow down The Good Raised Up


    This past weekend our Maine Coon cat, Kitty, showed great signs of respiratory distress and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

    He made a surprisingly fast recovery at first--to the extent that the vets wondered if he had congestive heart failure after all--but a progression of symptoms within the next 24 hours made the diagnosis definitive: cardiomyopathy with thromboembolic disease (see info in previous link).

    We put Kitty down this morning.

    I'll get to responding to remarks made elsewhere as I have the energy.