December 26, 2008

A response to Nat's musings on theological diversity

NOTE: This post is an expansion on a comment I left on Nat's blog, mapHead. The expanded remarks begin about halfway down.

Hey, Nat.

Thanks for the heads up about your post. I particularly like this part:

[There] is an explicit statement like "we're all on the same team here, and we don't believe in Hell, and the afterlife is an open question, and we love and support each other." But somehow following this up with a question like "What's our team song?" sets off some weird stuff.
Like you, I have had many opportunities to reflect on and talk with other Friends about theological diversity in our meeting and in our larger faith tradition as Quakers.

I find I am continually being exercised at a deep level to "listen to where the words come from." But on a closer reading, apparently the phrase isn't about the discipline or the practice of the worshiper to listen to where the words came from, but that he merely loved to feel where the words came from.

It's a challenge to describe the difference, and often I find I can only point to experiences that I and others have gone through. For example, I found this post by Brent Bill, writing about how his worship sharing group stays in unity in the Spirit because of their own depth of religious belief, not because of striving to be inclusive.

If we all allowed ourselves to be and feel included in our theologically diverse meetings, and trusted that we were in fact welcome and included, I think we'd feel a similar sort of unity that Brent Bill describes.

But as you allude to, Nat, trust is a different sort of inner and personal work that takes time and tending.

In my own journey among Friends, it's been easier for me to get defensive out of my fear of being tossed out because I, in my own imperfect mind, had decided that I don't "fit"--and I can easily project that conclusion onto my fellow worshipers instead of owning it myself.

(Of course, in Perfect Love, we all fit, we all belong.)

I've written of similar things elsewhere, and the deeper I've gone into Quakerism and into my belief in a Divine Loving Principle (aka God), the more I can stretch and even be opened by the Christ-centered language used by my friends who are both Liberal and Conservative Quakers.

I had an opportunity recently to speak with someone--I can't remember who--about the more subtle differences I am finding between many Liberal Friends and the Conservative Friends with whom I have fallen into fellowship.

It's the only way I can explain how touched I was when a Conservative Friend, whom I love dearly, introduced me to a Quaker friend of hers and included a remark like, "The Light of Christ is very sweet within this Friend..."

There was a time, 5 or 6 years ago, where I would have been offended by that remark, since I don't believe in Christ Jesus and I wasn't raised in the Christian tradition.

But what mattered in that split second was that to my friend, she cared about the language she used to express her love of me in a way that was meaningful to both her and her friend. And she gave me a great compliment by using language that was natural and in a sense native to her, rather than changing it to "make me comfortable."

For what it's worth, I'm glad you are continuing to look at your reaction to the topic of theological diversity, as uncomfortable as that may be. I think the danger occurs when we make ourselves to be "right" and others "wrong."

I know I have sinned mightily in that regard, and I still have work to do, remembering that we are of one Family, in a sense.


December 20, 2008

What story can Quakers tell at Christmas time?

I was going through old papers the other day, hoping to trim down the items in my file cabinet. One of the things I came across was a correspondence of sorts between a Friend in the meeting and an ad hoc committee, focused on looking at how the meeting "does" Christmas and Easter. I was part of the committee and it appears that the Friend was serving as clerk of the First Day School Committee at the time.

("The pageant" she refers to was a holiday program put on by the children on a First Day close to the Christmas holiday.)

As I was reading, I realized that not much seems to have changed since 2002: the concerns that the Friend raised more than five years ago in response to the committee's work are still relevant today.

On the other hand, looking at my own response from back then, I can see how much I myself have changed. I've clearly shifted from being a multi-faith Liberal Quaker to a Conservative-leaning Friend over the years.

Now that the season called Christmas is upon us, I thought I'd post the original letter and the response I crafted back then. Both are shared with the permission of the individual Friend who first wrote the committee.

Dear Committee on Christian Holidays,

I have appreciated receiving your minutes and appreciate the time you have each taken to address the myriad of interrelated questions that arise as you define and set about your task. I feel so led to add my own comments to the discussion, although it is unlikely I will be able to join you on Wednesday. These are my personal thoughts and are not intended to claim to represent First Day School committee.

I want to address the question through the eyes of a parent of young children--a perspective directly related to my absence in person from your meetings. I wish to have a response to my sons when they ask me, "What is Christmas? What is Easter?" The secular culture tells them, "commercialism." Their grandparents show them with toys and sugar. Does their faith community have a response?

I want to be careful not to get lost into how big or small Christmas is relative to other events in our spiritual lives. When Christmas arrives, Christmas exists. The fact that neither I nor my faith community have a Christocentric faith does not erase the existence of Christmas as a cultural happening. I have the choice to pooh-pooh Christmas or find a way to claim it. As someone brought up in a Christian faith and claiming as an adult Quakerism, a faith with roots in Christianity, I find it my path to find a story for Christmas, a meaningful story that I want to tell.

My four year old is entranced with story. One of the refrains of his life is "Tell me a story." I assume he is moderately typical in this regard; that requesting stories is how children developmentally find ways to learn and describe their world. He is wildly picky about his stories. He nixes fairy tales--too much bad stuff happens (Why was Goldilocks so mean?.). Fables don't work for him. They are built around mistakes. At two he cried when the characters painfully learn their lessons. He loves the classic moral story: where people are truly good to each other. When we happen upon one, we tell it 50, 60, 70 times. I receive the opportunity to craft and shape it until it truly works.

I have had a tendency to roll my eyes when he asks me for another story. I'm not a natural story teller. I don't have a good repertoire. It taxes both my time and my imagination. My better self, however, has realized that the time is limited when he will ask to listen to what I have to say. This is my opportunity to build for him a set of characters, morals and stories that form a foundation for how he sees and interprets the world. I find myself wildly relieved when I discover a story that truly works. Good King Wenceslas was a great success. So was the Christmas story. It was not so much me that chose them as the stories to be crafted in their telling as that my son did. I assume that something in them speaks to him.

This brings me to the pageant. I see it not so much as a celebration, as a telling of a story. I see it not as what it does or does not represent in my faith as an adult, but as what participation in it or a similar event can mean to a child. For my child it was his first awareness of a community of children older than him and as a foreshadowing of a community he gets to grow into. It was an opportunity to see a story belong to a community, not just to a family. It was a way to give Christmas a story that was bigger and better than, "your grandmas and grandpas like to buy you a lot of toys." Next year he wants to be a shepherd. I interpret that as that he's claiming the story, the event and most importantly the community. He sees a role for himself. OK, we may not really need shepherds here--but he was only three. It's a sense of connection to the larger meeting. To me the pageant was my faith community helping me recreate and reclaim a holiday, that I see trivialized, manipulated and misquoted, but not abandoned by the secular culture.

If the Meeting community does not tell this story corporately next year my son will ask me why. I am fine with relaying the answer to him, but I want it to be an answer I can proudly tell him. I am happy to tell him we're telling a story in a different way. I am happy to tell him we chose to tell a different story. I may even be fine with telling him that some people don't like that story, but when he asks me why I'll need an answer. I could tell him that they don't like the cultural baggage that hangs around the story and that I don't either, but he'll ask me why again. To him the story hasn't yet acquired cultural baggage. It's about a baby who grew up to make a difference in the world. That's a transferable message. Can we give that story some good baggage?

Other stories may convey love, compassion or empowerment in a more meaningful way. Other stories may be more important. Other stories have a lot less cultural baggage attached. But when the question comes up, "Why tell the story?", I'd like to add the question, "Why not tell the story?" Children are hungry for stories. Let's find more not less stories to tell each in all their glory.

For a lot of children, the pageant worked. Does this offend us? Does this scare us? Do we not want them to know the Christmas story? Is it that we want them to put the story in its proper perspective or is it really that we don't want them to know or claim it at all. As we struggle with the question how do we acknowledge Christian holidays in our Quaker community, I want to be careful to not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The baby part I mean somewhat literally; let's not overlook the perspectives of the babes as we sort out our own philosophic interpretations of some of the stories that intrigue them. Let's concentrate our efforts on finding them more stories that speak to them; that they can claim as individuals and as a community.

Thank you for your time and attention. Once again I appreciate the time and tenderness that each of you are taking to help our community define and deepen itself through discussion about how to identify, acknowledge, tell and celebrate the values that bring us together as a community.

Holding your discussion in the light,

Annika Fjelstad

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dear Fellow Members on the ad hoc Committee on Christian Holidays,

I am touched by Annika's letter, and I am opened by it as well. I sense some wonderful possibilities emerging from her questions.

I find we as a committee often labor over a series of questions: What is to be our response when we or our young children are asked, "Why don't we celebrate Christmas?” and “Why are we different from everybody else?"

Many times, our work as a committee challenges us to consider related questions and concerns: What do we as Quakers believe, and how do we bring our Quaker beliefs forward in response to the pressures and activities of the larger society, especially around popular [secularized] holidays?

I have been amazed at how readily we, as a committee, acknowledge how little we truly know about BEING Quaker, yet there is more to Quakerism than worship into which we can immerse ourselves in order to understand how to answer these rich questions.

Like Annika, I too wish to find a meaningful story that can be told to young Friends, and reinforced among grown Friends as well, especially at the time of year when children want to feel like they belong, or at least understand why they might not. As a convinced Friend who was raised in a Jewish household, I wish for young Friends to have a strong sense of "where we hang our hat” throughout the year, without discounting or diminishing Christian stories, Jewish stories, Islamic stories, Hindu stories, and the like.

As a result of Annika's letter, I have begun living with the question, What might a meaningful Quaker story look like? What Quaker principles might it teach? Like children, I hunger for stories that help me understand how we are the way we are, as Quakers.

Annika's letter prompts me to go deeper into my question about a Quaker story: Who would be its characters? Would it acknowledge its Christian heritage, let alone the stories of other religions and peoples? Does Quakerism even HAVE meaningful stories that still speak to us as Friends today? My heart tells me this is so. And so I must begin to look with new eyes and listen with new ears in order to know these stories in a deep way.

I affirm that there is something in our Quaker history that speaks to us yet today, but we have become disconnected from these stories and therefore distanced from their power. Even though I recognize the names George Fox, John Woolman, William Penn, Margaret Fell, Mary Dyer, and Rufus Jones, I could tell you very little about the stories behind their significance.

Surely a religious society such as ours could not have persevered without its own share of goodness, and without stories that reflect that goodness.

Our task as a Meeting, as I see it, is to reach for these stories, teach these stories, and re-create them in a way that carries meaning for seasoned Friends, new attenders, and young Friends so we can know the place of Christmas and other secular holidays within the broader scope of our Quakerism and not, as we have been, continue to fit Quakerism in its small, peculiar place among the larger world.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I love the truth of Annika's perception, that the story that [such] pageants have told is about a baby who grew up to make a difference in the world.

But so am I, a baby who is growing up to make a difference in the world.

So is the most devout Muslim, and the most dedicated Hasidic Jew. Why hold up one above all others? Why hold up one day above the rest?

I have never wished for our pageants and celebrations to point to a "special" person. Rather, I would want to point to our Quakerism, our faith and our practice, saying, "Of course Jesus became a great teacher. He lived up to his Light and was granted more of it. Gandhi, while not Christian, made a difference too. He too lived up to his Light and was granted more of it. And [the late] Elizabeth Watson, just up the street, she too is a great teacher, and she worships as we worship. And Momma, or those two daddies, or that little girl who is sitting on her father’s knee, they too are able to be great teachers and make a difference in the world. You are able to grow up and make a difference in the world."

I would want what we share with our community to be based in Quaker history, Quaker faith, and Quaker practice, to shine the light onto what is possible today because of what happened yesterday, that we are each capable of embodying the Divine Spirit, by seeking the Light and opening ourselves to the Inward Teacher.

Again and again, Annika asks good, important questions. She asks, Does it scare me that for a lot of children, the pageant worked? Yes, it does.

I am scared that young Friends will see it as a story, not as a way of life. I am scared that young Friends will think Quakers are "just the same" and have the same stories as so many other Christians, when in fact how we come to know the Truth is quite different.

Annika asks, Do we not want our children to know the Christmas story? Well, I want our children to know the Christmas story, the Hanukkah story, the Ramadan story, the Kwaanza story--to know these stories and also to know our own, the Quaker story, even more thoroughly.

Our religious society is Quaker, not Lutheran or Jewish or Hindu or even generically social. At times I wonder if we share the Christmas story and other such holidays, such as Passover, because it is easy, popular, and familiar; because it is accessible in texts and movies; because for many of us it is part of our individual personal experience of growing up; because it gives us a chance to come together socially without having to unpack our religious baggage.

I would say to Friends who wish to focus on the story of Jesus that this is not enough. I want the backdrop of our story-sharing to be a backdrop of our Quaker faith, with the other stories being slides projected onto it, like showing a movie on the wall of the Meetinghouse. And in-between each slide we still get to see the wall onto which the other images are shown. We turn the projector off, but the wall remains as part of the structure within which we gather, we learn, we worship.

I am grateful for the experience, questions, and thoughts that Annika brings forward in her letter. It is only by wrestling together with these concerns that we can know them completely and then discern how to live with them into the future, as a faith community and as a religious society.


December 14, 2008

Memorials and weddings in covenant community

The monthly meeting here has had three or four meetings for worship for memorial in the past 18 months or so. All of them have occurred during my stint as a member of the meeting's Ministry & Counsel, with varying degrees of involvement from M&C and from individual members of the meeting.

Attendance at these memorial worships has varied as well. Sometimes there has been a large turnout from the monthly meeting, such as when a particularly visible Friend has passed. Other times there has been a much smaller turnout of Friends, even if the family of the Friend who has died is also a part of the meeting.

What I want to know is: Why is it that at each and every memorial, an overwhelmingly large majority of the meeting community doesn't show up? What gives?

I worry about the impact of the secular world on the nature of our covenant community as Friends. The in-creeping of the world seems to have encroached into our meetings to such an extent that many of us can now feel ourselves simply excused from attending memorials--and even weddings--by saying we don't know the Friend who has died "well enough" or we don't know the couple that is getting married.

I worry that our meeting community has gotten so big that we forget--or worse, we don't even think about--how we are a part of a spiritual family. Getting involved doesn't fall only on "those people over there who knew him better" or "that committee that always takes care of arrangements." It falls to all of us, because we are in a community that has a special relationship to each other and to God.

And yet...

As a meeting community, we seem to continue to devalue or "miss" the importance of the shared experience that occurs when we are brought together in a corporate way, for worship. Add to that the reality that these days, it's harder to sustain even a small web of meaningful relationships. That goes for us as a meeting community, too.

In a world where there is so much competing for our attention, we who are convinced Friends need to hear from long-time Friends about our responsibility to attend and witness weddings and memorials, and to help ground the space in the Spirit. Elders and other Friends in the meeting need to make it clear to newer Friends that this is a part of our work and service as a covenant community.

If we're not there for each other at the best of times and at the worst of times, how can we expect our fellow community members to be spiritually present in the most mediocre or or the most average of times?


P.S. Full disclosure: I feel as though there is more to be shared, but I cannot seem to grasp what it is. Perhaps one of you reading this will bring more Light to the topic...


my post on Qualities of a Quaker worship community

my post on the dangers of not speaking openly about Quakerism

December 1, 2008

Reminder for Quaker Youth Book Project

Here's a quick shout-out to young Friends between the ages of 15-35 from all over the globe:

There is an international project going on to help get the voices and artwork of young Friends "out there," to share their experiences about being a Quaker, being among adult Quakers, how technology like cell phones, YouTube, and blogs are impacting Quakerism, how events like the World Gathering of Young Friends and Young Friends of North America are affecting you, and so on.

Submissions are due at the very end of February 2009--and we all know how quickly time disappears during the winter holidays! So if you've got a blog post drafted and aren't sure when or where to post it, or if you've got a long journal entry that you think is significant but haven't pulled it out for awhile to revise it, or if you've got just an idea for that drawing you wanted to get to, now's as good a time as any.

In case you're interested and you don't want to search too hard for the info that's located on the above linked page, here are the submission guidelines (emphases are my own):

Friends ages 15–35 are invited to submit up to five pieces of writing and/or visual art. We encourage Friends to carefully select the works they submit. Membership in a Quaker meeting or church is not required. Though the primary age range for this project is 15–35, we will also accept pieces from Friends who all outside of that age range but identify as a teenage or young adult Friend.

  • All submissions should include the name, address, phone number, e-mail, and Friends affiliation of the writer and/or artist. A short, two sentence biography of the writer/artist is optional.

  • Prose, essays etc. should be approximately 200 to 2000 words, to a maximum of four typed pages. Handwritten pieces are also welcome. Poems should be a maximum of 100 lines.

  • Visual art such as paintings, collage, photographs, etc. should be submitted in their original form or as a digital scan or photograph with a minimum quality of 300 dpi (dots per inch). Digitized images are preferred but not required. All original works of visual art will be returned to the artist after the selection process has been completed. Visual art will be reproduced in black and white in the book.

  • Friends are invited to submit written pieces in whatever language they feel most comfortable. The editorial board will be working with submissions primarily in English and Spanish, but we are confident we will be able to provide translation services for most languages spoken by Friends.
  • Submissions are due (in case you missed it at the beginning of this post) on February 28, 2009 and they can be sent electronically to the Quaker Youth Book Project or snail-mailed to:

    Quaker Youth Book Project of QUIP*
    1216 Arch Street, 2B
    Philadelphia, PA 19107.

    If you don't think you'll be submitting anything, the least you could do is encourage one or two other young Quakers to take a look at this call for submissions and consider sending something in. Tell 'em the Quaker blogosphere sent you!


    *QUIP stands for Quakers Uniting In Publishing

    November 26, 2008

    Quakerese: Concerns and leadings

    A few recent conversations and emails among Friends, as well as thoughts of my own, have converged within a matter of days, all about what Quakers call concerns and leadings, so I thought it would be worthwhile to do some writing about these two topics.

    The other morning, too, I was pressed to explain the difference between a concern and a leading, within the Quaker vernacular. My off-the-cuff answer went something like this:

    "A concern is something that is laid on a person's heart, or that has arisen from within a person but not out of that person's conscious intent or choice. In addition, a concern has no clear action or direction related to it, no "map" on how to address, resolve, or reconcile it. The Friend who has come under the weight of a concern may be left with the exercise--the inward wrestling--of answering the question Now what?!?

    "By contrast, a leading is a particular prompting of the Spirit that has a specific action attached to it, although oftentimes, like a concern, there is no conscious intent or choice to decide on, or to have thought up, such an action. A leading is often connected to a concern--but not always: early Friends for example were led to visit other meetings but did not necessarily understand why."

    After reflecting on my own impromptu answer for a while, I reached for a seldom-used book on my shelf: The A to Z of the Friends (Quakers). It's a collection of alphabetized entries of nearly all things Quaker, including people, places, historic events, concepts, vocabulary, practices, and more.

    I hesitated to look for an entry for "concern." It's a word that is heavily used these days in the wider world, and I wondered if the word had become completely secularized: We are concerned about the economy, the environment, the planet. We are concerned about how our meetings handle conflict and the low attendance at our meetings for worship for business.

    I was pleased to have seen this entry after all:

    CONCERN. The name, dating from the earliest period of Friends, given to a leading from God "laid upon" an individual as a call to action. Testing the concern with the local meeting provides a check as to its validity. The meeting may also unite with the concern, that is, share the sense of rightness for action. The meeting may then act on its own behalf or take the concern to a wider constituency of Friends. Most new directions for Quaker work and witness have begun life as an individual concern. Some concerns remain within a single person but with meeting support of the individual witness.
    I was surprised to see how closely the entry linked "concerns" with "leadings," so of course I turned to look at what there was to be said on the latter subject.

    That entry was more than twice as long, and while it points to a similar s/Source as in a concern, the entry goes on to address several ways to test a leading, as well as matters of responsibility and leadership within the meeting:
    ...If the spiritual fellowship recognizes the leading as genuine and in good order, the individual may be given both responsibility and authority to take leadership, whether in committee work, as a recorded minister, in a professional capacity, or in following an individual concern.... Such leadership is not a status conferred but a spiritual readiness recognized.

    As the days have gone by and I've returned to the draft of this post a few times, I realize that much of why I make the distinction that I do, and much of why I define the two items as I do, is the result of my own experience.

    As many as seven or eight years ago, I was experiencing what I articulated as a "concern about my relationship with the monthly meeting." In this case, I meant a generic, secular sort of worry; not a spiritually driven concern. Something was amiss and I couldn't put my finger on it. I asked to meet with a few Friends from the meeting, and after a few meetings, the ad hoc group was laid down without a satisfactory result for me.

    The concern persisted, but I still couldn't articulate it. I was spiritually hungry but didn't know what I was hungry for.

    As I began to travel among Friends, mostly in service to Friends General Conference and its Central Committee, I was exposed to language, concepts, and practices that I hadn't heard before--and my spiritual hunger began to ease.

    At last I could name it: I was carrying a concern for how we share our faith with one another, as Friends--a topic I have written much about on The Good Raised Up.

    Now that I knew what my spiritual concern centered on, I looked for an avenue to share it. The concern was morphing from a private, inward motion to a more outward one. But where was I being led? And was it God that was leading me?

    I looked into FGC's Traveling Ministries Program. I asked for and was appointed a clearness committee by the monthly meeting, which heard more about my experience in coming to carry this newly named concern.

    In the end, while the clearness committee affirmed the validity of the concern I had, it did not unite with the pursuit of traveling in the ministry through FGC's program. Instead, to my surprise and to my dismay, the clearness committee affirmed that it was their sense of the committee that I "travel" within the monthly meeting itself and seek ways to bring the concern that had been laid on my heart to the meeting--somehow.

    Thankfully, the committee also minuted its request that I be appointed a committee of elders--a committee for spiritual care and accountability as I continued to sit with the concern and understand how God might be leading me, if anywhere.

    Over time, I was indeed led: I began to speak out of the silence of worship in a new voice. I engaged in an informal listening project to learn how Friends in the meeting had been experiencing me, both before and after I had articulated the concern I was carrying. I began to travel to other monthly and yearly meetings. I developed and presented a workshop about Quaker identity and I began this blog. Most recently, I helped pull together a panel of Friends in the meeting to talk about how they came under the weight of the leadings they had been given.

    These leadings are an outgrowth of the original concern, and I can't envision the events occurring in any other order. But for some Friends, they have specific leadings first, without an understanding of why they are led to those actions, and it's only in retrospect that they come to know the underlying concern that "connects the dots" for them.

    Still, this post has been mostly about my own answer to the question, What's the difference between a concern and a leading? How would any of you answer that question? What personal experience have you had that might shed more L/light on the distinction, if in fact there is one?


    November 23, 2008

    Precious Lord

    Precious Lord, take my hand
    Lead me on, let me stand
    I'm tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
    Through the storm, through the night
    Lead me on to the light
    Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
    I spoke these words during Meeting for Worship this past First Day. Then, after a pause and a few deep breaths, I went on:

    I feel like I have been naughty today. A naughty girl who knows she was being naughty but kept being naughty anyway.

    I have spoken kind words with an unkind intention. I haven't been as kind or as loving as I could have been to others. I haven't extended myself in service to others the way I know I can. When I had an opening to address a concern I have had, I did so with a sense of righteous indignation.

    I know that others didn't see how I have fallen short of my Light, but I know that I have fallen short. And I know that God knows. So I have sat myself in a corner and there I am staying.

    I can see God's hand stretched out to me, but I don't want to reach back. Not yet anyway.

    Except that I do... want to reach back.

    So I need help, Lord. I need your help to lead me Home.

    November 15, 2008

    The great balancing act

    Dear fellow bloggers and readers of The Good Raised Up,

    It's was hard enough to keep this blog active when the 2008 presidential elections and other things had been keeping my attention.

    Now that the elections are behind us and the economy is going nowhere--or nowhere but down--I had hoped I could refocus more seriously on this and other writing. What I have found instead is a barrier in a new form.

    Since September, I have been serving the monthly meeting as a co-clerk of the meeting's Ministry & Counsel Committee. There is plenty that I could write about--but of course, "what happens in M&C stays in M&C."

    Unless it's a report to the meeting.

    Well, even then I'm not so sure.

    M&C has given at least one report to the meeting, and certainly other business of the meeting has been taken up and addressed. What surprises me, though, is that I am discovering that I have an internal stop when I consider writing anything at all about specific items that have been threshed or decisions that have been minuted during Meetings for Worship for Business.

    I think it has something to do with the hat I wear now, the role I play... It's as though I represent the meeting in a different sort of way than before. Or maybe it's that I represent Quaker bloggers in a different way, but I can't be sure.

    When I was a practicing sign language interpreter, my colleagues and I often counseled one another to be mindful that when we were out in the field working, we were, in some odd way, representing all other sign language interpreters, so we had better be mindful of our professional conduct. The sign language interpreter community was so small that we worried that a misstep by any one of us would be seen as a misstep by all of us.

    This kind of feels like that.

    Of course there's the concern for confidentiality within M&C and the meeting. Just because something is minuted during a Meeting for Worship for Business doesn't mean that the meeting as a whole has digested and integrated whatever the situation was that led to the minute. If I write too soon of a situation, it may be unfair to those blog readers who are also a part of the meeting community and who need more time or more privacy or more "cocooning" with local Friends.

    That said, I still have the same buttons that get pushed: I worry that we are making decisions that are more often based on what people want or agree to rather than on how God leads us; I cringe when we seem to be more concerned about efficiency than about faithfulness.

    Here's an example I feel okay about lifting up: At a meeting for worship for business, the hour was late but nearly everyone who had arrived at 7:00 was still there at 9:15, even after a break at 8:45. Though some Friends made it known that they were eager to get home, the fact that there was still an alertness among most of us, and interest in certain agenda items that we had yet to hear, demonstrated to me that something of the Spirit was still present to us. I felt a need to reciprocate and to stay present to it.

    So I don't know what sort of posts I'll be writing here over the next few months. I'd like to think I'll be sharing more of what comes out of the prayerful work I'm doing with my care-and-accountability committee, or bringing forward news of the worship group, as well as posting things that reach my ears and eyes about FGC and its 2009 Gathering.

    I'd like to think that I'll find a way to write about the new juggling act I'm practicing, which includes having my spirit in Ministry & Counsel, my hands in the Quakersphere, one foot in Conservative Friends, the other in Liberal Friends... and my heart with so many of you.


    November 11, 2008

    An open letter to Barack Obama

    This post is a tangent from the usual fare I put here. But my feelings on the issue of gay marriage have only been made more clear in the light of Barack Obama's election to the U.S. presidency and his own comments on the subject.

    The hand-written letter went into the mail this past Friday. My best guess was to send it to his current senatorial office, and I wrote "Please forward" on the envelope.

    I sent a typed copy of the letter to my folks, too: while they didn't sign our wedding certificate, my father did write a letter a few years later to a U.S. senator, explaining his views on why there mustn't be a constitutional amendment that would limit the rights and freedoms of any Americans, including two people who wish to marry each other.


    Barack Obama
    President Elect
    Federal Office Building
    230 South Dearborn St.
    Suite 3900 (39th floor)
    Chicago, Illinois 60604

    November 7, 2008

    Dear Barack Obama:

    I tend not to write these kind of letters, the kind that goes to a president, let alone to a president-elect.

    I find myself in a whirl of conflicting emotions as the news of your being elected to serve as president of the United States sinks in.

    On the one hand, I am thrilled that a man who lives such a principled life, even during such crazy times as running a presidential campaign--how old were Malia and Sasha when this all began in Iowa...?!--has advanced to an office, a station that one would think would also require a principled and moral life.

    Our lives are a testament of our principles that guide us, and I tell you: I am ready to have as president an individual who will ask us to do as he does, to act as he acts, to serve as he serves.

    On the other hand, even as radio reports, television news broadcasts, blogs on the Internet, and individual accounts from around the world affirm the message of this moment in time--that someone other than a White man can reach for and be elected into the presidency of the United States; even as you declare that "This is our moment. This is our time"; even as you say, "Nowhere else in the world is my story even possible"; even as you say, "Change is coming," my heart catches in my throat:

    I can indeed affirm, "Your story is possible. Your achievement is historic." I can affirm, "Anyone, ANYone can be president!"

    But I cannot yet affirm, "Anyone, ANYone can marry."

    I tell you, Barack, this breaks my spirit.

    While it's true that your story as an African American in this country is much longer than my story as a woman in this country who loves another woman, I cannot yet affirm, "Anyone, ANYone can marry."

    Instead, I must tell my seven-year-old niece that I can't marry because... Because not even the man who will become president of the United States says I can.

    A White American man who knows "enough" about the Civil Rights Movement and about Women's Lib can say, "Of course an African American, a woman could become president." But African Americans, American women are the ones who can testify directly to just how possible it really is. Or wasn't.

    A straight American who knows "enough" about gay rights can say, "Of course a committed same-sex couple can enjoy the same freedoms and protections as a straight, married couple can." But gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans in those relationships are the ones who can testify directly to just how possible it really is. Or isn't.

    It's not the same to be told that there will be certain freedoms and protections in place, just as it isn't enough for there to be certain laws in place to protect disabled Americans, young Americans, elderly Americans, and foreign-born Americans. Discrimination in their day-to-day encounters with average Americans still happens.

    It's not about whether or not my partner and I can receive the same ownership rights in property, the same visitation rights in hospitals, and the same inheritance rights in death as my straight counterparts do.

    It's about whether or not my partner and I can receive the same legal status, the same automatic respect, the same cultural opportunity, the same institutionalized access, the same inalienable rights, the same ineffable JOY that straight couples receive when, at their mosque, synagogue, church, or courthouse, they say, "I do."

    I humbly and respectfully ask you to reconsider your views on gay marriage, on the change of the institution of marriage over the decades, and on who is or isn't served, who is or isn't lifted up--legally, financially, emotionally, and spiritually--in marriage.

    Yours sincerely...

    November 10, 2008

    IYMC visits and a high school drop-in

    It's been a busy start to the month, not including the historic presidential election.

    Over the first weekend of the month, the worship group had three Friends from Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative (IYMC) visit with us as we begin seeking affiliation with a yearly meeting.

    Here are a few things that were notable to me:

    1. The visit was arranged in just under three weeks, from the time we were given a date when all the visitors could make it to the time they actually arrived. During the one evening and one morning that the Iowa Friends were with us, all the children and all of the regular adult attenders participated in at least one significant portion of this very short visit--and we have six kids and nearly a dozen adults!

    I consider this an indication that the Way is open for us to continue seeking affiliation with IYMC.

    2. We were reminded to consider that any of us who have attended the annual sessions of IYMC have been witness to the clerking of only one presiding clerk, who has been serving for ten years or so. Since each presiding clerk has a unique style and perspective on how to go about attending to the business of the yearly meeting, the visitors encouraged us to consider that the current clerk is bringing a great deal of discipline (in the good sense of the word, in my opinion) to the body, and that this hasn't always been, and won't always be, the case.

    This was a sobering thought to me, given how much I've appreciated the current manner and discipline of the body during their meetings for worship with attention to business at annual session.

    3. The visitors, who are serving as a sort of membership clearness committee for us on behalf of IYMC--though it's for affiliation of the worship group, not membership of individuals--also cautioned us that IYMC at the level of its monthly meetings may not be all that different from Northern Yearly Meeting at the level of its monthly meetings, especially when considering the breadth of theological diversity of Friends there.

    I find I'm less concerned about that point, given the frequent reference to Scripture and the greater proportion (it seems to me, at least at the yearly meeting level) of Friends who speak humbly of their walk with their God.

    That was all just the first weekend of the month! Next week the worship group will reflect together on our experience with these Friends from Iowa, and we'll see how the Spirit moves among us at that point.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Towards the end of the summer, while I was worshiping at the monthly meeting, a member of the meeting's First Day School Committee announced at the rise of meeting that the committee would be doing something new with the high schoolers this year: they would be seeking adults to be a Friendly Adult Presence (FAP) for that group for a month at a time.

    The concern is that there continues to be a disconnect between the adults of the meeting and the oldest teens among us. For years, the teens haven't come to Meeting for Worship--not even with the younger kids for the first 15 minutes--and the adults don't make time to interact authentically with the teens, with the possible exception of the parents of their friends or their past FDS teachers.

    For as long as I've been an adult among Quakers, I've been aware of my struggle of wanting to connect with teenage Friends but not wanting to "impose" myself on them, not wanting to just pop in and out of a conversation and pretend I've had a meaningful interaction with them.

    I've been seeking a way to be engaged with them through some structured activity, and through my own authentic desire rather than through some "required" event. So when the announcement was made that there was a request for FAPs for the high school program, I volunteered on the spot.

    Yesterday was my first drop-in there, since the first First Day was hang-out time for them at a coffee shop, the Friends from Iowa were visiting the worship group, and I'm no good around strangers when there isn't a structure. Seriously.

    Yesterday was worship-sharing time around a query, and the adult leaders offered up the topic of equality, what that means, and how it may or may not relate to the presidential election. The teens outnumbered the adults by three to one, and I chose to pass the first couple of times, not sure of the lay of the land or what the teens might make of me.

    As they opened up, so did I, and within a few minutes, we were talking about oppression, privilege, gay marriage, Obama, and everything else that would typically come up in a high-energy discussion about the state of things in our country.

    I left that morning emotionally and spiritually spent, having opened myself to share about my relationship with my partner, an open letter I've sent to Barack Obama, and my concern for white privilege, especially among young white Quakers. I learned how seriously this group takes themselves when they're encouraged to share their views of the world.

    The worship-sharing was so rich and intense and worshipful, it reminded me of the open Meetings for Worship that the high schoolers host at the FGC Gathering each year. My only hope is that I didn't outrun my Guide, and I'll be curious to see how the next few First Days in November go...


    October 31, 2008


    My sweetie and I went to Florida this past week to see family, and I viewed it as an opportunity for retirement, in the Quaker sense of the word:

    Friends have known since our beginning that times of retirement from outward activity nourish the soul and allow us to sink deeper into an awareness of God's work in our lives.
    --Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting

    Times of retirement are the times when we pull back from the chatter and busyness of our outward lives, enter that amazing sanctuary, and allow our inner wisdom, the Inward Teacher, to rise up in us... We have to pause, let the static quiet, so that we can hear.
    --Pat McBee's article on Quaker disciplines
    I was glad to be away from the day-to-day responsibilities that have been weighing on me back home, but spiritual retirement to me is more than that.

    It involves intentionally reflecting on the condition of my soul and my heart.

    Where in my life is the sense of the Presence strong or abundant? Where in my life is the Spirit lacking and what can I do to give more attention the Spirit in those places? What brings me joy; what diminishes it? Where do I feel I am being faithful to what I've been given, and where do I feel I could be more faithful?

    It's this last question that has worked on me while I've been away.

    A while ago, maybe two or even three years now, I was encouraged by a few Friends to write more extensively about Quaker identity, what it is, how it's shaped, how it's sustained. I've had a number of false starts, but the sense of feeling "required" to pull something together, something more substantial than individual blogposts, has been consistent and compelling.

    I've taken some time--on the plane ride home, during the layover, before turning out my light and pulling the covers over my head (in my own bed!)--to look at what I can do to hold myself more accountable to this writing project.

    Two months ago I began work with a writing coach who specializes in spiritual and faith-based writing. While this has been an important step in a much larger process, my recent time of retirement illuminated for me that it is not enough. I have a few other "next steps" to do:

    1. Discipline myself to avoid looking at email until the afternoons, so I can focus on blog writing, blog reading, and the more intensive writing for me to do on Quaker identity.

    2. Write daily, even if a writing session is only one hour or less. I'm hoping this will be like priming the pump, so that I get in a groove and won't have to "start cold" every time I feel ready to write a segment.

    3. Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. Just like I continue to go to meeting for worship even when I don't feel like it, I push myself to go anyway, so I don't fall into acedia: not caring that I don't care.

    Retirement can certainly provide refreshment at the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. And in my case, it has provided protected time and an interior personal space for me to be shown the Way forward, and to be given understanding as to what has been in the way of being faithful.


    October 17, 2008


    You will go out in joy
    And be led forth in peace
    The mountains and hills
    Will burst into song before you,
    And all the trees of the field
    Will clap their hands.

    --Isaiah 55:12

    I don't know if cherishment is actually a word, but I like the sound of it. It's like love with a bit of merriment thrown in.

    I'm in a peculiar situation with my grandmother. She turns 103 tomorrow (18th Tenth Month), and for the past year or more, as her dementia has worsened, so has our relationship.

    Granted, I freely acknowledge that I've never really liked my grandmother. She's been miserable for most of her 100+ years and she likes to share her misery freely with others. And of course, those of us closest to her--geographically and geneologically--get the biggest dose of her misery, which in turn often tempts us to steer clear, avoid, don't call, don't visit.

    But at my mother's request, I and my brothers began calling Grandma weekly sometime in 2007 or earlier in 2008, to ease the burden my mother had been carrying at the time when she herself couldn't handle her own mother's complaints. Somewhere during that time, my grandmother began telling me she wouldn't talk to me anymore, "after what I had said."

    My mother eventually learned what it was that Grandma meant: it seems Grandma had attributed to me a cutting remark that my mother actually had made, and no insistence on the truth of that displaced accusation would move Grandma to forgive me.

    It's been about three or four months since I last called my grandmother.

    Instead, I started holding the situation lightly in my heart and occasionally I would hold it up to God and say, "Here. I don't know what to do with it. Help Grandma open to your Love, however it is that she might understand that..."

    In that time, over the weeks and months, I have felt my own heart soften. It's easier for me to feel warmth to a woman like my grandmother when I don't have to force myself upon her, or her upon me.

    And now, because of a suggestion my mother made to honor my grandmother's birthday at a time when she herself doesn't wish to acknowledge me, I am looking into "planting a tree" in Israel.

    Though I no longer practice the Judaism in which my mother and grandmother were raised, I understand at a deep level the importance of finding a symbolic act that also is meaningful to everyone involved.

    But even more important than the symbol or the meaningful gesture is the sense of cherishment for my grandmother in these very late years that has been blooming quietly, miraculously, in my own heart.


    October 13, 2008


    My days are busier than ever. A certain someone in the household--not me!--was put on a concussion watch briefly last week. Our indoor cat got out of the house on a rainy night (she made her way back about 45 minutes later). And a certain someone--again, not me!--broke a bone in her foot in just the right way that it required an ambulance ride to the hospital because she couldn't walk to the car. I've been thinking that if I can get a paragraph onto The Good Raised Up, I'll be pleased. --Liz
    There are a number of categories of service.

    Service to self. Service to strangers. Service to friends and family. Service to community. Service to God.

    Service to God looks a lot like being faithful to how God leads me, paying careful attention to doing things I would not consider doing, just because God asks me.

    Service to community sometimes looks like doing something not because God asks me but because the community needs something done and I'm available and willing to do it. (Think "semi-annual work day at the meetinghouse.")

    Service to friends and family is a different sort of extending myself to be available to them, like answering all the becks-and-calls because someone's laid up with a broken foot. It just comes with the territory.

    Service to strangers is my weakest suit. I need a lot of support--or maybe a lot of faith?--to approach people I don't know or work in a community center that's unfamiliar to me. I've still got room to grow and work to do in this area.

    Service to myself is a paradox: The more I serve others, the more I feel like I receive. When I take myself out of the center of my own life and put God or community or family there, and when I make myself genuinely available to them as a support or as a spiritual servant, I am often lifted from my own ennui, despair, or worry, at least for awhile.

    Well, I've got to go. Someone's calling me, asking for help.


    October 1, 2008

    Distracted from God

    For the first time in about five or six weeks, I attended the midweek evening worship at the monthly meeting. It felt like the first time in about that long since I actually had some time to myself and wasn't doing committee work or rushing to get out of town on a trip or returning someone's phone call.

    During worship, I found myself reflecting on just where the month of September went:

    I hadn't done much blogging--reading or writing.

    I hadn't done much gardening.

    I hadn't done much socializing.

    I hadn't been at worship regularly, either at monthly meeting or at the worship group.

    So what had I been doing? ...A camping trip in late August. ...Helping prepare and host a large barbecue for 40 people. ...A trip to Massachusetts in early September.

    But why was I feeling so drained? Some of those things were fun and even restful.

    The answer came easily unfortunately: I've been drained because the events of the day have taken my focus off of God. I have instead been sucked in by news stories about the U.S. economic downturn and the craziness of this year's presidential election. I had lost my Center bit by bit.

    Many Quakers--but not all!--caution one another about distractions, diversions, and temptations, but historically that's often meant gambling and drinking. More recently, it's included tobacco and even caffeine among some Friends.

    Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative raises this sort of caution in its Advice and Query on personal responsibility. North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative does so too, in its query on our manner of living.


    ADVICE: (excerpt) ...Joining secret organizations, gambling and using addictive and/or consciousness‑altering substances were recognized as practices which diverted resources from useful purposes, distracted attention from the Inner Light, and placed obstacles in the way of Friends seeking to lead lives of integrity. We recognize the spirit of these testimonies and endeavor to apply the same principles in our lives today. ...We need to free ourselves from distractions that interfere with our search for inner peace, and accept with thanksgiving all that promotes fullness and aids in service to the divine Center.

    QUERY: (excerpt) How do we center our lives in the awareness of God the' Spirit, so that all things may take their rightful places? How do we structure our individual lives in order to keep them uncluttered with things and activities? How does Meeting help us examine our personal lives for simplicity?..."
    North Carolina:
    "QUERY: (excerpt) Do we choose those activities which will strengthen our physical, mental, and spiritual life; and do we avoid those harmful to ourselves and others? Are we mindful of Friends testimonies against alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and other harmful drugs; and do we refrain from using them or dealing in them, realizing that abstinence is the clearest witness against overindulgence? Do we seek to avoid all kinds of gambling and places of diversion that tend to be demoralizing?..."

    So in worship tonight, I recalled my time at NCYMC this past summer, when their query was read and we heard responses and then spoke out of the silence. Some of us spoke about how investing in the stock market may be a form of gambling. Others spoke about the use of computers, television, and video games as being modern forms of addiction or diversion.

    And that's what I discovered about myself and these past few weeks: Television and the media became distractions for me. God was no longer at my Center, but the drama of politics and money were.

    So tonight in worship, I lay before God my confession of my actions and I began to feel the slightest bit lighter. In that seed of being transformed, I began to consider what my patterns are like when I am focused on God and when God is at the core of my life.

    Ultimately, three words were given to me:




    When I feel my life is more attuned with Gospel Order, I am doing more to serve the Spirit, or others or both, than I am to serve myself.

    When I feel my life is more aligned with God's desire, I find it is easier for me to cherish those around me, even during difficulty.

    When I have been faithful in service and loving towards others, I find I am more easily refreshed when I also give myself time to retire.

    And retirement, in the Quaker sense of the word, doesn't mean sitting in front of the television for three or four hours straight, watching CNN.

    It's time for me to get back to God. It's time for me to tune in again.


    September 21, 2008

    Mt. Toby Meeting and September reflections

    I feel as though I've been in a time warp: How did it get to be the third week of September already?!?

    Yet, I know it's been a number of weeks since I've been able to do any of my regular blog reading--in case anyone wonders why I haven't appeared in comments, let alone on The Good Raised Up.

    Here's a little bit of what I've been up to, as summer has slipped into fall.

    Being away

    After my return from Iowa Conservative Yearly Meeting sessions, I rested for a short time before Jeanne and I went camping for three days and nights on the north shore of Lake Superior.

    I wasn't raised in a camping family--more like a symphony-and-Broadway-theater one--but the campsite we had booked was, by some camping standards, "cushy," with a nice view of Lake Superior, a walking path down to the lake, toilets nearby, and a fresh water spring, practically next door, with a pump that was always flowing. The weather cooperated for the most part, and we had the requisite hotdogs-over-a-campfire and s'mores.

    A couple of weeks later, we threw a big barbecue for friends and neighbors. We had nearly 45 people in our backyard... until it started to rain, and then we had 40 people in our living room!

    I had thought I'd get back into my blogging routine after that, but not so. I've been dealing with allergies for the first time in my life, ever since coming back from camping. Plus, we've had some house projects going on, including upgrading our overall heating-and-cooling system.

    Mount Toby Meeting

    Just as things were quieting down again, we packed up once more and headed to visit family and Quaker friends in Massachusetts for a week. We were able to attend Mt. Toby Meeting in Amherst, and I was able, at long last, to meet Cat Chapin-Bishop and Peter Bishop.

    (FYI, Cat gives great hugs, if you're ever able to get together with her and are in need of one!)

    As a meeting, Mt. Toby is much larger than I expected it to be, with about 50-60 Friends attending worship in a space filled with benches rather than chairs. I saw some familiar faces among the worshipers, including a family from Northern Yearly Meeting territory.

    Though the announcements ran for nearly another 20 minutes after worship broke (am I exaggerating...? I can't be sure), Mt. Toby has taken up a practice of inviting worshipers to stay behind and settle back into the silence for some additional worship and worship sharing. That practice intrigues me, though only a handful of Friends actually stayed that particular time.

    Another Friend mentioned to me, during fellowship, that the next week would be the week they would permit no announcements at all, so that the meeting might hold worship a while longer and not become so unsettled by all the news of events, etc. It's a shame I wasn't able to worship with them the next First Day (e.g. today).

    Now we've landed again and I don't expect to be traveling until mid- or late-October.

    Sustaining my Quakerism

    Today was my first time in several weeks when I have been in worship at the monthly meeting near my home, and I spent some time reflecting on my own condition. I became aware that I wasn't feeling as easy in worship as I usually do, and that much of my recent time had "disappeared" into watching and reading news about the historic 2008 presidential elections coming up.

    I recognized that I had been feeling out of touch with myself a bit, and during worship, I understood that I had been away from my Quaker community for a bit too long this summer. Or was with it too sporadically. Or something.

    As I sank a bit more deeply into that awareness, I was reminded again that the point of worship in the manner of Friends isn't to connect in the stillness with one's community--though that certainly may be a happy outcome of the time together.

    The purpose of waiting worship is to strip away all that distracts one from knowing the Light directly, from receiving guidance and direction from the Living Presence.

    And so I felt a small sting of conviction, that I had gotten too caught up in my travels and in my distractions-of-choice and had not taken the time to quiet myself and remember God.

    Though my community reflects my Quakerism back to me--a mirror I very much need from time to time--my relationship with God is what sustains me; and ultimately, I am accountable to God in whether I am faithful or not.

    The blessing of that awareness is the reminder that, though my community does not physically travel with me across the country, God always does.


    September 5, 2008

    Broadening the conversation

    I've been reflecting on one of the seeds that was planted for me as the result of the interest group that took place at the 2008 FGC Gathering.

    We had gone around the room, sharing with the group one question we had about the Convergent conversation. A day or two later, as a result of that go-around, the idea took root within me of creating a print publication for meetings and Friends--and possibly for friends of Friends--who have been interested in the topic but who may not spend time on the internet where much of the exchange has been happening.

    I began to wonder what it would be like to pull together a number of Quaker blog posts that touch on convergence, and put them in one place in the form of a "reader." That way, the posts that have started, shaped, and advanced the conversation about restoring Quakerism to a vibrant faith discipline, even before the word Convergent started being used, might make their way into Quaker libraries and into Friends' hands.

    Plus, such a publication might help dispel one of the main myths about Convergent Friends: that it's only an online conversation. Not true!

    When I shared the idea with the Friend who, during the interest group, had raised the question about how to get her meeting involved in the conversation without relying on the internet, her face lit up. She clearly liked the concept.

    More than once since the Gathering, I have pulled Martin Kelley's self-published book, the Quaker Ranter Reader, off my shelf and glanced at its pages. The form is straight-forward; the format seems easy enough.

    It was an easy leap to consider, Why not a collection of blog posts? Why not an easy, self-publishable format?

    I've gone on to share the concept with a few fellow Quaker bloggers, and now I'm wondering what any of you readers out there might think of such a compilation:

    Would you be interested in having such a book on your own bookshelf?

    Do you think your meeting would appreciate having a copy?

    What one or two Quaker blogposts have lingered with you over time? What post is still working on you?
    I raise these questions not so much for help in figuring out what to include, or even how to go about it, but rather as a way to invite you into the growing possibility of such a thing.


    September 1, 2008

    Quakers and politics (RNC)

    There has been lots going on in my town, as Paul L reports better than I could.

    I agree with Paul that the called Meeting for Worship was deep, rich, and in a word, covered. It mattered little that a number of worshipers spoke twice; that questions (and answers) were interspersed in the worship; that Friends trickled in throughout the hour and even after worship broke.

    In our own thick night of darkness, the LORD was felt.

    I was moved to speak about remembering who is our Authority, who is it that we follow; and I offered up a bit of a prayer for strength that I might find a way to embrace even the police who seem to be asserting an authority that I cannot follow.

    I also was struck when another Friend began singing the very same song that I had running through my own mind:

    Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around
    Turn me around
    Turn me around
    Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around
    Gonna keep on a'walking, keep on a'talking
    Marching down to Freedom's land
    For those wishing updates and snippets about police response to protests and demonstrations, go to this Twitter-based website. It's updated frequently and the website helped me understand why the anti-war march was delayed in getting started and why buses stopped running through a certain part of town--both because of police activities in response to a "splinter" group of protesters.

    (The big local newspapers have been spotty with their coverage thus far, in my opinion.)

    On a related topic, I felt as though there has been a thread of a corporate response from the meeting. There was a sense of being gathered together in worship and out of a desire to companion the "well-respected member of our meeting" whom Paul L references, and to participate in the march that occurred today (Paul's post has links).

    It was that sense of corporate action, corporate prayer, and corporate faithfulness that lifted me above my own anxieties and helped me attend the march, despite the 90-degree temperature and my propensity for heat exhaustion.


    UPDATE, 5 Ninth Month 2008:
    There is now a video clip from a press conference held by what has been known as the RNC Welcoming Committee. It addresses topics such as who is and who isn't anarchist or terrorist; conditions in jail for some protesters; and questionable police raids. NOTE: I don't know how long the link will be active.

    August 26, 2008

    Iowa Conservative sessions 2008, Part III

    NOTE: After having read on The Good Raised Up my account of my experience at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) sessions, the clerk of IYMC sent me the following minute, approved at sessions a few weeks ago.

    The minute below illustrates better than I could the care with which the yearly meeting responded to the very different events in Postville, Iowa and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. See my earlier post for more details, particularly the section "Addressing emergent concerns in greater Iowa." --Liz
    From Sixth Day, 1 Eighth Month 2008

    We turned our attention to the two concerns lifted up by Whittier Monthly Meeting by worshipping together to seek leadings of the Divine in how we might be called to respond.

    Flooding in Cedar Rapids and other areas in Iowa – Several ideas of possible action were lifted up. We ask the Yearly Meeting clerk to work with Whittier Friends in sending ideas of how we as individuals and monthly meetings & worship groups speak to the needs of our neighbors suffering from recent flooding. The Meetings asks the clerk to be in touch with Friends United Meeting in Iowa to see if there are ways we can join them in work they may be doing and share that information with monthly meeting clerks of IYMC. We ask Yearly Meeting Representatives to consider what financial contribution we might give as a Yearly Meeting to the organizations suggested by Whittier, and invite Friends to contribute as individuals as well. It might be that we will learn of some intergenerational service project members of the Yearly Meeting can be invited to join. Although the flooding happened over a relatively short amount of time, recovery will be a long process and we understand we may only be beginning to understand what God may be inviting us to do.

    We know we are relatively few and this is a bigger problem than we alone can address, but we are not being asked to address this alone. We can add what we have to what others are giving. Drop by drop we fill the bucket with the waters of Love.

    Considering the concern about the immigration raid at Postville, IA and the conditions in which laborers work and live – Unlike the crisis from the flooding, the crisis in Postville is human made. We see a need to consider both material needs of the movement and to speak out against the oppression that creates it.

    We minute our moral outrage at the treatment of immigrants in the raids at Postville and by the action of our government there and around this country. We ask monthly meetings, worship groups and individuals to be in contact with their State legislators by writing and in person, to ask that fair labor laws be enacted to protect all workers in Iowa including immigrants. We ask Nominating Committee to bring forward names of Friends to serve on an ad hoc committee patterned after Friends Peace Teams to stay informed about what is happening in Postville, and alert Yearly Meeting Friends to what actions might need to be taken by us. We suggest that Representatives consider budgeting $5,000 to be divided between the flood relief and Postville needs. We ask Bill Deutsch and Whittier Friends to be available to consult with Representatives on this. We can only do what is given to us to do, but we do need to do what is given to us.

    . . . . . . . . .


    Part I of my experiences at IYMC 2008
    Part II of my experiences at IYMC 2008
    Other posts in The Good Raised Up tagged with "IYMC"

    August 17, 2008

    Beyond (the language of) Quakerism 101

    For two or three years now, I've been wondering what a "beyond Quakerism 101" course might look like. What topics would be covered? What readings would be recommended?

    But before I address that, I'm acutely aware of the growing attention being given to social class and classism within the Religious Society of Friends.

    Even in the past few days, Jeanne again has raised the class issue in relation to how we speak about adult religious education for ourselves. In particular, she asks how the language of college and graduate studies may come across to those among us--or those who might come among us--who perhaps don't value education as a goal for achievement in and of itself.

    While Friends continue the Quakers-and-class discussion, I do want to share thoughts about, and seek input for, what "Part 2" of our continued learning about Quakerism might look like, assuming we've already learned about the nature of why and how we worship, why and how we conduct business, the history and sequence of the schisms in our 350 years, and so on.

    Endangered practices

    I find I keep coming back to what I think of as practices and concepts that I would place on the "endangered" list for modern Liberal Quakers.

    I'm aware that some of the topics I've included below might surprise some Friends, but given questions and comments I have heard in recent years as I've visited different meetings, I think there's a place to include them and/or review them...

    The corporate nature of our faith
    Sense of the meeting
    Testing a leading
    Coming under the weight of the Cross
    Interrelationship between committees, Meeting for Worship with attention to Business, and the meeting as a whole
    Spiritual development among Friends (e.g. from finding comfort in the silence... to being challenged or "exercised"... to yielding to God's will...?)
    Role and place of Scripture*
    Role and place of Jesus and/or Christ*
    What gave rise to the historic Testimonies
    Truth based on experience (as opposed to individual belief or ideas)
    Gospel Order
    Centrality of Meeting for Worship
    Centrality of and qualities of the Inner Light/Inward Christ
    What other topics would you add?

    What topics would you give the most "air time" for?


    *Added after original post.

    August 12, 2008

    Two quick blips

    1. Pendle Hill programs

    The program for Pendle Hill's 2009 winter session of weekend workshops and short courses is available online, and there are a number of explicitly Quaker offerings:

    On Being Gathered: A Workshop on Meeting Growth and Revitalization, by Deborah Haines, January 30-February 1, 2009.

    Clerking, by Deborah Fisch and Bill Deutsch, February 6-8, 2009.

    The Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment, by Brent Bill, February 6-8, 2009 (this may not be explicitly Quaker by its title, but Brent has received so much attention because of his recent book that I wanted to list this workshop here).

    Listening for God, Finding the Path, a short course with Mary Lord, February 22-26, 2009.
    Unfortunately, Pendle Hill's website doesn't have individual links to each of these courses, so be sure to scroll down through the entire listing of workshops and short courses when you take a look.

    2. New blog: FGC Buzz

    A couple of years ago, I began seeking a way for me to stay more readily connected to the buzz of activity that is going on in FGC. When I was active on its Central Committee, I knew long in advance what small conferences, religious education institutes, and special workshops were being organized, and I helped generate some chatter about those events in my local Quaker community.

    I also knew intuitively that other folks probably wanted an easier way to find out what FGC was up to, without necessarily wading through the overwhelmingly comprehensive FGC website.

    I finally hit on the idea of establishing the blog FGC Buzz as a way to help interested Friends of FGC find out more readily what's going on.

    I've also been having conversations with staff at FGC to explore ways to "channel" appropriate information to the FGC Buzz so that I won't have to spend (too much) time myself on the FGC website.

    And I'm hoping to strike the right balance on the Buzz between organizational information and personal perspective.

    More later, as always.


    August 10, 2008

    Iowa Conservative sessions 2008, Part II

    This is a continuation of my previous post about my reflections on Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s annual sessions.

    Bruce Birchard, John McCutcheon

    Other touching moments came from evening speaker Bruce Birchard of Friends General Conference, and from an interest group led by Quaker singer/songwriter John McCutcheon, who also provided a concert on Wednesday evening.

    In his remarks, Bruce touched on two themes. He spoke about the way the peace testimony has been (nearly?) coopted as a sort of creed among modern day Friends, and Bruce called on us to return to True Root of the testimony, which grows out of being personally convicted by the Spirit.

    Bruce also shared a very tender and emotional story about experiences with his family's coming to terms with having an "out" gay family member--a lesson about perfect Love casting out fear (1 John 4:18.)

    When a Friend asked Bruce about what he thought accounted for a deep change of heart in his father, Bruce put his hands face up, shook his head, and said, "I honestly don't know." But a moment later, another Friend stood and offered this counsel:

    Why don't you just say that he was changed by the Spirit? Why do we Friends not acknowledge that such a change happens because of the workings of the Spirit on us? We say we believe in the transformative power of God, so why are we slow to acknowledge it when it happens?
    Those words hung in the air for the remainder of the week and were reflected upon during the closing worship on First Day.

    John McCutcheon's remarks were also powerful for me, and I was sorry to have missed part of his interest group, during which he spoke to how we might draw deeply from our own culture and on our own faith tradition when confronted with difficulty. John would share a true story of some act of personal courage and then play a song he had written about that act.

    Two examples that stick out for me are the story of SuAnne Big Crow and the story of the cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailović.

    There were a few other gems in John's remarks. For example, at one point he asked us to name two speeches from the Civil Rights Movement. The room was silent after a few offered "I have a dream."

    Then John asked us to name two songs from that same period.

    We Shall Overcome. ...Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. ...We shall not be moved. ...Blowing in the Wind.

    John explained that in any social movement, there are two primary activities: (1) Rallying the masses and (2) practicing the art of persuasion. And one of the best ways to persuade, John offered, is to tap how people feel in a way that joins us to one another. Music and song do just that, and that's why songs from a specific movement or event stay with us longer than many speeches.

    Then John threw out this quip as he started to play a familiar song and encouraged us to sing along, reminding us:
    Without differences, there would be no harmony.
    The only thing I wished was that John himself would have shared something of his own spiritual journey, but still: Having him in concert later that night was a treat.

    Interest Group:
    The spiritual glue for meetings with diversity of belief

    Early during sessions, I met two women from Fayetteville, Arkansas, and we found ourselves engaged in a conversation about just what it is that holds our meetings together, especially in the presence of tremendous theological diversity.

    (Thanks to blog reader David Carl for "sending" Susan and Elizabeth! Maybe I'll see you next year...?)

    We acknowledged our desire to hear from and speak with others on the topic, and since I have attended these sessions for a few years now, I offered to set up an interest group for later in the week.

    About 15 Friends attended, which is a fair number, given that there was also a popular tour of the Scattergood Farm going on at the same time.

    It seemed as though Friends were eager to talk about the condition of their meeting as it relates to theological diversity. Comments ranged from some Friends who are delighted and enriched by the breadth of diversity, while others are challenged and confused by the lack of a shared understanding of just who and how we are.

    A number of times I reminded Friends that we were seeking to know what it is that binds us together, though it was a slippery slope whenever we ventured near the topic of theological diversity instead.

    It reminded me of the challenge we face as Friends to describe our faith tradition in terms of what it is and what we do, rather than what it is not and what we don't do. If that makes any sense.

    The interest group could have continued beyond our allotted time, and so to wrap up, I said something like,

    "It may well be that what binds us together are a few things:
      The history of our faith tradition itself,
      Our manner of worship as unprogrammed Friends,
      Our willingness to speak authentically about our experience, including what we wrestle with; and
      Our laboring together in love, over such concerns like theological diversity."
    In retrospect, I might add that all of us seem to yearn to keep what is dear to us, even if that means different things to different people. But the yearning itself is the same, and when I remember that, my heart is softened and made a bit more light.

    When Bruce Birchard was asked a similar question later that night about what he thought binds us together, he simply remarked, "Our experience of the Divine."

    And even five days after my return home, and after another opportunity for me to consider this topic once more, I would add--
      A recognition that something transformational happens when we live from, and strive to move towards, a center of Love.

    Expecting to be changed

    Also since I've been home, I've begun thinking again about what it is that sustains us in our faith as Quakers.

    These Iowa sessions reiterate for me the very real possibility that the more we live and interact with one another as a covenant community, the more likely we are to adopt behaviors that reflect a larger Gospel Order, a larger rightly ordered manner of living that is in harmony with the rest of the planet.

    More and more Friends within IYMC are actively reducing their reliance on fossil fuel, and the Peace and Social Concerns recommended that Friends consider avoiding air travel and help redesign transit systems.

    I recognized that within myself, if I am separated for too long from people who are bearing witness to a new way of being in the world, it is harder for me to let go of my own way of being in the world, just as I gave up my child-phobia because I saw models of a different way of how non-parents might be a presence to children in a small, manageable setting.

    When I am surrounded by a loving people who are striving to be faithful and obedient followers of God's call, then I too strive to be faithful, obedient, and loving.

    And when I am surrounded by such a people, and I open myself to the Light, I likely will stretch myself and engage a bit more in the corporate life of living into God's kin(g)dom on Earth.

    And that's how I would say I've been changed and transformed by the Spirit during these Iowa sessions this year.


    P.S. I forgot when I first posted this piece to give a shout out to fellow bloggers Micah Bales and Marshall Massey. In addition, I discovered that one of my car companions on this trip, Aimee, also has a blog, which encompasses more than Quaker stuff


    Part I
    of my reflections
    Micah Bales' post on this year's IYM(C) sessions
    Aimee's post, What Would John Woolman Do?
    The minute that was approved that addresses follow-up to the "emergent concerns" of greater Iowa

    August 8, 2008

    Iowa Conservative sessions 2008, Part I

    The very last night of the 131st annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative (IYMC), a Friend said to me:

    So if Iowa Friends hold that when we come to worship, we can expect that we'll be changed by the Spirit, how would you say you've been changed this year at sessions, Liz?
    The question caught me by surprise: It's not every day, even among Friends, when I am asked such a direct question about the movement of the Spirit in my right-here, right-now life!

    Nevertheless, each year that I've come to these sessions, there has been a gentle readiness during the course of the week for many, many Friends to share with one another of how the Spirit has moved in our spiritual lives and in our meetings.

    This Friend's query still works at me, even several days after I've been returned to my home.

    Junior Yearly Meeting

    Junior Yearly Meeting, or JYM, is made up of most of the youngest Friends who attend annual sessions.

    Each year, many of these young Friends have a chance to share a report or epistle with the yearly meeting about their activities. And each year, the gathered Friends have a chance to respond to the report while the children and the adult Friends who guided them are still in the room.

    Many remarked on the joy and presence of the children, and added their genuine appreciation for the report and for the adults who coordinated JYM this year. I felt the rising of a comment, but not to the level of a nudge to share it. In the end, it became a reflection for me during the remainder of sessions and for these past few days:

    Neither of the adults who helped this small group were themselves parents of any of the children. The same was true of many if not all of the previous years, as well as for the adults who guide the high school group.

    This year, I realized that my own prompting from a couple of years ago to stretch myself within my worship group and provide childcare for the handful of children we have there, was an unconscious but direct result of having seen non-parents step in during Iowa's JYM.

    Granted, I had to make known my "child-phobia" as I called it, and I had to ask for support initially, namely that I be accompanied by another adult for a time or two. The gift, though, of having spent time with the children when they were just one or two years old has provided an unforeseen joy of being able to connect comfortably with them as they grow older.

    It used to be that I felt awkward with reaching across an age gap and make a connection with a young person. Now that I've known our kids for 4 or 5 years, the connection is natural and authentic. And it goes both ways:

    During the talent show on the final night, and after her mother had left to put to bed her 4-year-old brother, 7-year-old E from the worship group asked me if I could walk with her to get a glass of water. While she and I were outside on the way from the cooler, she told me she sure hoped that Penny had signed her up to do an act, otherwise she'd be disappointed.

    So of course when we got back to the meetinghouse, I found Penny and asked if she had signed up E on the roster. No, she didn't know that E wanted to be signed up... so I slipped a note to the night's emcee, who graciously and effortlessly slipped E into the line-up. E was a real charmer on the stage, and she was delighted to be there!

    It's clear to me that that moment never would have occurred if I didn't have my own relationship with E and with the other children of the worship group. E now has her own relationship with me, separate from my relationship with E's parents.

    The same is happening with the other five children of our small worship community, and so it is the Spirit changes my heart and casts out a little bit more fear as the days, weeks, and years go by.

    By the end of the week, I found myself lightly considering if I might offer myself as a Friendly presence to JYM or to the high school group ("Young Friends") there in the near future.

    Addressing emergent concerns in greater Iowa

    Earlier this summer, two events occurred in Iowa that captured my attention and made me wonder how IYMC might respond as a yearly meeting.

    The first was the tremendous and devastating flooding in central and eastern Iowa, along the Cedar and Iowa Rivers, the Upper Mississippi, and many other rivers and tributaries. In early June, as I listened to the news of towns like Waterloo and Cedar Rapids being evacuated and submerged, I realized those were the very towns through which I'd be driving on my way to sessions. (The photos in the link are pretty telling.)

    The other event was the raid in mid-May by Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest undocumented workers at the largest kosher-meat processing plant in the country.

    (As I type this part of this post, I find I must pause in my work: I am overcome by the emotions and the stories tied up in these two tragedies--one a natural disaster; the other a human one.)

    Perhaps it was the enormity of these two events that seemed to immobilize the yearly meeting, if only for a short while. We did, however, spend much time one afternoon considering a response from the yearly meeting to both items.

    The greatest concern around the flooding seemed to focus on Cedar Rapids and the loss of its public library. The library apparently won't be receiving any emergency aid from FEMA, since a library isn't considered a "necessary service."

    Other needs in Cedar Rapids were made known, such as the displacement of the entire town's government, many of its non-profit agencies, and schools. There was some consideration of Friends nearby traveling to the area to see for themselves what might be needed. As I recall, I believe the yearly meeting will make contact with Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends United Meeting to see what relief efforts might be underway there.

    The yearly meeting's response to what had happened in Postvillle, Iowa seems equally fuzzy to me, though I was impressed by work that a member of Decorah Friends Meeting had done on his own. Bill Deutsch happened to be in the right place at the right time, it seems: he had already been working with the immigrant population in some fashion and was able to provide a report during an interest group of his direct interaction with workers at Agriprocessor who were impacted by the raid.

    Bill described how these undocumented workers had been arrested under immigration laws but were prosecuted under federal felony laws for identity theft, since apparently they had been given false social security numbers by their employer. Huge questions remain regarding what happens to the U.S.-born children of families where one parent is detained or deported while the other maybe has no employment or is under what basically amounts to house arrest.

    Another Friend from the Iowa Peace Network brought copies of the essay that a Spanish interpreter wrote following his personal and professional experience in Postville--something that the New York Times highlighted as well.

    One of the bright spots that Bill brought to us was the good and faithful service of St. Bridget's Church and its corresponding Hispanic Ministry program. The regional AFSC office now has information on its website, including how to support this faith community's much needed work.

    When the yearly meeting considered how it too might respond, Friends called for new labor laws and immigration reform that would provide greater protection for these workers. In addition, IYMC approved establishing a task force of sorts, to help track the ongoing events and needs around Postville and its devastated community.

    I have mixed feelings about these actions taken. On the one hand, as a corporate body, IYMC spent a good deal of time prayerfully holding these situations and the people involved. On the other hand, I had a sense that we were keeping these situations--and the people involved--somewhat at arm's length.

    I think it reflects my own internal struggle, of wanting to "just show up" and see how God might use me, but also wanting to have a clear leading and the support of the body before jumping into a complex situation that I might make worse for my lack of understanding...

    UPDATE, 26 Eighth Month 2008:
    I've added a separate post that focuses on the minute that was approved that addresses follow-up to the "emergent needs" of greater Iowa.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    In my next post, I plan to share about the remarks made by two presenters--Bruce Birchard and John McCutcheon--and about an interest group that was convened on the "spiritual glue" that holds meetings with theological diversity together.



    Part II
    of my reflections
    Micah Bales' post on this year's IYM(C) sessions
    Another attender and fellow carpooler Aimee wrote What Would John Woolman Do?
    The minute that was approved that addresses follow-up to the "emergent concerns" of greater Iowa