October 22, 2007

Three trips in three weeks

This week I head to the eastern U.S. to visit my folks in their new digs, have lunch with my 102-year-old grandmother, and attend the Central Committee meetings of Friends General Conference.

What's particularly interesting to me is that this year, I am attending Central Committee as a visitor, in part to see if there is still Life for me among these Friends and if I am called to reengage with this committee somehow.

Two days after I return, our small worship group gathers for our first-ever retreat, during which we plan to discover God's call for how to expand our relationships and our outward witness corporately, and how to live into God's plan for us as a worship group.

We've been using Tenth Month to offer activities and to lift up queries to children and adults to prepare ourselves:

  • What is our existing network of relationships? In our current network of relationships, what diversity exists? What cross-cultural relationships exist, across lines of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities? Are we called into relationships that we aren’t currently in, either with particular individuals or groups, or to build cross-cultural relationships in a particular direction?

  • What are the gifts and ministries that we each carry? Are there gifts and ministries has the worship group not yet seen? As a worship group, what are our collective gifts and ministries?

  • How do we name and bring life to the divine order that God calls us to bring forth? What life do the following phrases have for us: Beloved community... City of God... Kingdom of God... Gospel Order? Beyond the names, how does this vision become specific, motivating, and vivid for us and others?

  • What are the needs in the communities that we are connected with? What unmet needs weigh most heavily on our hearts? Is there a concrete need or task to be completed in the local community and/or neighborhood that can help us begin the work? In the communities we are connected with, who is most marginalized?
It's unclear just exactly how to structure the retreat itself, what activities to provide because the planning committee itself isn't clear. So we will wait until God gives us a clear instruction... In the meantime, the planning committee is filling up its "toolbox" with a number of ideas of discussion topics, worship opportunities, and more. As I have heard elsewhere among Quakers, "The Spirit favors the well-prepared."

Then, a few days after the retreat, I hit the road again and have plans to participate in FGC's consultation on gospel ministry. In FGC lingo, consultations are smallish to medium-in-size weekend gatherings of Friends around a particular topic, and the Friends who participate are there primarily by invitation by the sponsoring committee(s) or by FGC affiliated meetings at the committee's prompting (as best as I can understand, at least).

This particular consultation is being co-coordinated by the FGC Youth Ministries Program and by the FGC Traveling Ministries Program. I suspect there'll be a wonderful variety of Friends from the U.S. and Canada, as well as a mix of age-ranges, from pre-college teenage Friends to Friends in their 70s... or possibly beyond.

My personal, self-designated task is to let go of expectations and let these events unfold. But it's so easy for me to get superexcited about what might happen, who I might see, etc etc, so I hope to have the discipline to wait on the Lord, to breathe, to stay centered.

I hope to keep The Good Raised Up updated as I'm able.


October 16, 2007

The creeds I've known - Being Faithful, Being Loving

Ahh, another First Day, another business session.

...Another opportunity for taking a good hard look at myself.

One of the items on this month's agenda for our (continued) consideration was about paid staff, and whether to work with them as independent contractors or as employees of the meeting. As can sometimes happen with items that embody the intersection between the secular world (e.g. legal requirements and definitions) and our faith community (e.g. committee structure and God's leading), we got bogged down.

As someone who was participating in the Meeting for Worship with attention to Business, I didn't handle myself well.

I considered long and hard about leaving the session without saying a word, but I had that niggle. That niggle that says if I say nothing, I will know that I will not have been faithful.

So I said something. And I feel like I was faithful...

...but I didn't feel like I was loving.

Later that afternoon, during the worship group's pre-meeting activity, we were asked to reflect on this passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body [to hardship] that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
I fell deeply into the Presence during worship soon afterwards and reflected again on my action during the monthly meeting earlier that day.

I began to wonder what it would require for me to seek to be loving with the same earnestness and obedience with which I already seek to be faithful.

The creeds I've known

In turn, I found myself reflecting on the messages I was raised with and the messages I had been encouraged to embrace as I grew older.
  • From Mom: Be honest.

    My mom in particular frequently expressed how important it was to tell the truth, even if the truth was that I did draw on the floor with permanent magic marker. (I was about six.)
  • From Judaism: Be dutiful.

    The religion of my childhood put a great deal of emphasis on participating in the rituals of the Sabbath and of the various Jewish holidays. The mystical side of Judaism was given very little attention both in the synagogue where I received my religious education and among the Orthodox Jewish part of my family. (Thankfully, there are others who have written about, and are writing about, the mystical side of Judaism.)
  • From the women's community in which I participated: Be supportive and challenging.

    This comes close to "Be loving" but in the end... it was close but no cigar.
  • From the early part of my Quakerism: Be faithful. Be truthful.

    Nothing explicitly about love, except when Scripture is quoted.
But this matter of "Be loving," especially in relation to Quakers, is tricky, because certainly Love is in fact embodied and reflected in the actions by so many dear Friends around me.

Has something gone wrong?

So what's gone missing? Why haven't I internalized the message of "Be love" to the same degree that I have with "Be faithful"?

I could point to my religious upbringing and say I wasn't raised in the Christian faith, where perhaps one Rabbi's message of radical love would have been reinforced... but that wouldn't explain why I have internalized and embraced other parts of the Quaker discipline.

I wonder now if it's because as Friends we often encourage one another in our faithfulness by affirming, "Thee was faithful." My gosh, how many times have I myself commented on another's post, "It sounds like you are being faithful to what you have been given"?!

Yet I don't recall a time--ever--when I heard one Friend say to another, "Thee was loving."

Do I need to hear the words as well as see the actions that express and connote love? Am I that obtuse, that human, to need such repetition and reinforced modeling by so many others over such a long period of time?

Apparently so.

At the same time, I am struck over and over again by the tenderness, care, and love expressed in the letters and epistles of early Friends like Penington, Fox, Woolman. (The book I'm reading now, Quaker Spirituality, is feeding into all these questions I am having about the (unnamed) testimony of Love)

A Hebrew prayer, revisited

For the past few weeks, for a reason that is apparent only now, I have found myself recalling bits and pieces of a Jewish prayer known as the V'ahavta.

The V'ahavta is a prayer that as a young person, you end up memorizing the Hebrew rather than understanding what it actually says.

But there is one phrase in particular which I recall the rabbi lifted up, each Sabbath service, and this is the phrase that has arisen for me in recent weeks:
You shalt love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might... And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart... and you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates....
I find I am being called to remember that it is not enough to be faithful or to speak the Truth as it is revealed to me.

It is important to be faithful, to speak the Truth ...and to do so in Love.


RELATED POST: Faith without love?

October 10, 2007

Worship and visits among early Friends

For whatever reason, the last few weeks in Meeting for Worship I have found my mind resting on how our participation in meetings and in worship perhaps has changed since the first few generations of Friends:

  • Without cars or mass transit, would people have traveled more than 10-15 miles on any given First Day to attend worship? Or would people naturally have gathered as a local meeting or worship group, making it easier for more Friends to attend a meeting for worship that was held in closer proximity to where they lived?

    Would there have been many more meetings and worship groups across the land as a result of needing to rely on our own feet or maybe a horse?

    Would it have been that much more important, then, to make the effort to attend the monthly meeting's Meeting for Worship with attention to Business, knowing that the Spirit was moving amongst so many small groups in a region? Would it have been refreshing to hear those experiences from other Friends, in the next town over?

    And would such proximity have lent itself to a local, more sustainable faith community, relying on one another for mutual support and accountability; and helping one another get to know each another "in that which is Eternal"?

  • If a traveling minister or other traveling Friend had arrived in town, would a good many more Friends attend Meeting and social or public events in order to listen to and worship with the visitor(s), knowing that such visits required an additional measure of spiritual faithfulness and physical endurance?

  • Without the huge media network that we have today, would worshipers be more likely to listen inwardly to that still, small voice, rather than mull over what they heard that morning on public radio or read in the newspaper?

  • Without the tremendous number of books available to them on psycho-spiritual matters, other faith traditions, or Quakers who had lived before them, did early Friends at the time gain inspiration from the Scriptures and from the living ministers among them?
  • I wonder sometimes if I have become a bit lazy in my Quakerism. I use the internet to search for another Quaker's words about a concept with which I am wrestling--but should I be carving out more time to listen inwardly or wait patiently in the Light for understanding and revelation to come to me?

    I underline the pages of the pamphlets and books that I read, grateful that someone is able to speak to my condition--but should I be allowing myself more time to sink into the Seed more deeply and allow the Spirit to speak directly to me?


    October 8, 2007

    The Gathering's workshop selection process

    "The purpose of the FGC Gathering is to help Friends know and deepen their relationship with the Spirit and with each other; to strengthen their identification as Friends among other Friends; and to testify to the continued presence of unprogrammed Friends as a vital and unique faith community."

    --FGC Long Range Conference Planning Committee, 2002

    Being behind the scenes for a massive project like helping pull off the annual summer Gathering for Friends General Conference is an eye-opening experience.

    The phrase "Ignorance is bliss" comes to mind.

    Many readers know that I served as clerk of the Workshops Committee for the 2007 Gathering Committee. Now that preparation for the 2008 Gathering is underway, this is a good time to put a call out to readers to encourage one another to submit a workshop proposal.
    The deadline is October 29, 2007!*
    This is also as good a time as any to explain a bit about the workshop selection process, even though the selection process probably differs slightly from year to year. Making the process more transparent might help us understand how to navigate the system, especially as we come into new leadings and openings, corporately and individually.

    What guides the work?

    First of all, as future Gathering Committees and their subcommittees consider the approved statement about the Purpose of the Gathering (above), more committees will be able to connect their own piece of the work to the overall work and vision of FGC as it relates to the Gathering.

    Beyond that, and until FGC's Long Term Plan becomes more visible to FGC-affiliated meetings, there doesn't appear to be any tried-and-true way to sort through the proposals. The recent introduction of a handbook to be passed along from year to year might help Workshops Committees engage in their selection process, though.

    Some of what we did for the 2007 Gathering included having the committee discern out of the silence a list of items or attributes that would be given weight when considering workshop proposals. The list included things like a workshop's sense of ministry and the capacity to transform participants and/or Quakerism in general. Lifting up that list ahead of time seemed to help us stay grounded when narrowing the selections got dicey.

    Other factors might be popularity and past success of the workshop leader; interweaving of the Gathering theme, plenary speakers' focus, and workshop activities; or a workshop that seems to fill a gap in some way--whether it's about our faith, current events, or a potentially marginalized subset of Friends.

    How big is the workshop pool?

    Towards the start of my service as clerk of the Workshops Committee, I found out that in a typical year, there are usually not many more proposals turned in than there are actual slots for workshops to be offered.

    (The exception is when Gathering was held in Tacoma, Washington: there were twice as many proposals as there were slots.)

    That fact alone has helped me understand how it is that such a wide variety of offerings (e.g. from the seemingly recreational to the scholarly), and a high number of "repeat" workshops, occur during the Gathering.

    How might the workshop offerings change?

    Here are some of the questions I have been holding now that I've gone through this process as part of the Gathering Committee:
  • Would the nature of proposals change if Friends knew more widely what the purpose of FGC's Gathering is?

  • Would the nature of proposals change if experienced Gathering workshop leaders stepped back and provided eldering to less experienced Friends who clearly have a ministry to share?

  • Would the submissions and workshop offerings change if the Nominating Committees and Committees of Ministry & Counsel from all FGC-affiliated monthly meetings--and other monthly meeting "cousins"--received a request that THEY identify 1-4 Friends from their meeting who may have a ministry that should be brought forward through the Gathering? Certainly the Workshops Committee would see some fresh names and new topics reach their notebooks as a result.

  • What might be next?

    I'm sure there are other ways to increase the pool of workshop proposals and shift the overall direction or scope of what the workshops, as a whole, would present.

    I'm also sure that a large number of Friends who are accustomed to seeing a wide variety of workshop topics would rebel and be upset to see that scope and variety narrowed, especially if that variety were narrowed too quickly.

    What I'm less sure about is if a more focused scope of workshops (i.e. more workshops that are explicitly Quaker) would appeal to a different set of Friends who have been staying away, because they perhaps have been feeling as though the Gathering hasn't been "strengthening their identification as Friends," or "helping them know and deepen their relationship with the Spirit."

    So, blog readers and blog writers:

    If you know of someone who has been given a ministry from which other Friends might benefit in a setting like FGC's Gathering, I hope you'll encourage them to test if Way is open for them to submit a proposal by the end of the month.

    Or, if you feel that push or pull yourself, please consider submitting a proposal.

    Our faith remains vibrant and sustainable as long as we live into and bring forward the new Life we ourselves are experiencing.


    *The link to the proposal form will likely be invalid after that deadline, fyi.