May 26, 2008

Northern Yearly Meeting sessions

In recent years as Memorial Day weekend has rolled around, I often debate with myself if I will travel to the annual sessions of Northern Yearly Meeting (NYM). The points of debate are predictable in my case.

PRO: The site for sessions is beautiful and relaxing.
CON: Three times out of four, the weather is lousy.
PRO: The yearly meeting inevitably addresses a wide variety of concerns that, at first blush, interest me.
CON: I tend to let my buttons get pushed, especially during the sessions for Meeting for Worship with attention to Business.
PRO: There are opportunities to worship with Friends whom I cherish.
CON: Worship isn't always central to the sessions, given the competing needs of young families, a growing adult young Friends group, and a desire by many for a relaxed and fun holiday weekend.
This year, after my partner and I learned that one of our dearest fFriends was going to attend, even though he currently lives out of state and his wife is dying, we decided to make the trip.

In preparation, I made a commitment to three things:

1. I gave myself permission to walk away from a business session if I felt my frustration or concern for how things were going would rise excessively. It's often been a hard line for me to walk, the line between yielding to the corporate desire of the group--including "business norms" it has adapted--and speaking up if I feel we as a group are going astray in our corporate discernment process.

2. I decided to use yearly meeting as a place and time to focus on connecting with fFriends whom I seldom see and with whom I share a rich spiritual fellowship. There were conversations I had begun in months or even years past, and I wanted very much to continue them.

3. When it came to workshops and interest groups, I would borrow the technique that an Iowa Friend uses and had shared with me early this year: I would go to the workshop that had a topic about which I was most eager to hear from others, and worry less about what I myself might be able to offer the discussion.

In the end, I had a pretty good time at the sessions overall.

For one thing, I participated in a workshop that allowed Friends to share the leadings they had been given and the extent to which they felt supported by their monthly meetings. The workshop wasn't necessarily billed as that to begin with, but by the end, we were wondering aloud about the possibility of intervisitation as a way to teach meetings about leadings and ongoing care-and-accountability committees.

Also, one of the evening plenaries consisted of a panel of Friends who were invited to speak about the leadings they had come into and what they were doing about them. Following the remarks by the panelists, all of us got into small groups and considered a few basic questions, which went something like this:
Have you ever experienced a leading? How did you know?

Did you have support from the meeting? What was that like?

How did it go?
After about 30-40 minutes, we came back into a large group and were asked to share what had come up. Our observations and musings were very similar:
It seems a leading can be either like a kick in the pants, all of a sudden; or it can be like ripples on a lake after a pebble has been tossed into it, moving outward very, very slowly.

We weren't sure how to know what a leading was.

Some leadings brought results that we could see or otherwise experience. Other leadings seemed like they would do nothing or had no clear purpose, at least not in our lifetime, but it was still important to abide by the leading nevertheless.
As the sharing continued, I felt us move into that rare corporate experience of a gathered meeting. We were brought together in our consideration, and there was a sense of the Spirit "over all."

It wasn't until the afternoon of my last day at the sessions that I realized I had yet to participate in a full hour of waiting worship. I asked around to find out if I had missed something--maybe there was a Meeting for Worship that first night, when I was engaged in catching up with fFriends from out of town...? No, I was told, that first night was an intergenerational activity that had started once enough people were gathered.

I looked at the schedule for sessions. I noted that there was an hour of worship scheduled each day--at 6:30 a.m. I also saw that the second day included an all-gathering worship, though it turned out that the first half was a programmed worship led by visiting Friends from El Salvador Yearly Meeting, followed by a half hour or so of open worship--after the children and youth had left. And the third day--which was First Day--included another opportunity for worship, though it was dedicated to Meeting for Worship for Memorials.

As I was walking to worship on First Day with a memorial minute in my hand to present, I overheard two kids talking to each other as they were walking to the building. The first one asked his buddy, "Where are we going, why are going here?" The second one replied, "It's First Day and there's Meeting for Worship!"

At first I took heart at their awareness of what First Day and Meeting for Worship typically mean... but I didn't see these young Friends hang around when worship got underway, and there were no "junior meeting" groups there at all.

The realization that the centrality of open worship didn't seem to exist at this year's sessions caught my attention, and that realization came on the heels of another Friend having said to me, "Liz, you're active in the yearly meeting, right? What else are you involved in during annual sessions?"

The fact is, I haven't been involved and I have felt no opening or nudge to be active--and that was cause of concern enough for me to seek out a member of the Ministry & Nurture Committee to talk about my lack of earnestness to participate in NYM.

The M&N member and I had a nice conversation: she did well to hear me out and make sure she was understanding my concerns, both about what seems to be a falling away from the central place of worship at the yearly meeting, and about my own uncertainty as to the place of the individual in relation to the corporate body when it comes to a Quaker body as liberal as this one.

Anyway, there were still some items to address within the remaining business session on the final day, but we were headed home by then. What surprises me, though, is how at peace I feel now that I'm home... Perhaps because I didn't expect or insist on a very God-based experience, which brings up sadness in me alongside the sense of peace. But also perhaps because I had set aside time for conversation, so I felt a bit more cared for this year than in previous years.

And now it's onto the rest of the summer.


May 19, 2008

FGC event in August - Religious Education

It's only by chance--err, I mean by Divine Nudge--that I visited FGC's website today and saw that there is a workshop coming up in August, near Indianapolis. The workshop is technically (by FGC's vernacular) a "religious educators' institute" that occurs once every four years... just like the Olympics.

This year's offering has the theme and tag:

Out of the Living Silence: A dynamic conference for religious educators, parents, and other adults.
It runs from August 14-17, 2008 and appears to be like a mini FGC Gathering, with a number of workshop opportunities and interest groups. Some of the presenters I know personally and are great!

(If nothing else, click on the link for the "Event Program" and take a look at what's being offered.)

While the costs are high, hopefully Friends who are interested will take the initiative to approach their monthly and yearly meetings, as well as FGC, to request scholarships to help reduce the cost to participate. Deadline for registration is July 26, 2008.

Also, it's worth noting that this event isn't restricted to First Day School teachers. Parents and non-parents are encouraged to attend, which makes sense to me, given that we are all responsible for the spiritual nurture and religious education of the children who worship and play among us.


May 16, 2008

From sour to sun; from Adversary to Love

I've been in a bit of a spiritual lull, a sort of mild depression. I haven't been feeling well used, and the activities I am currently engaged in have been feeling more like a spiritual drain rather than an energizing filler-upper.

When I brought this to my care-and-accountability committee, there was a great deal of tenderness toward me. We reflected together on familiar experiences, concepts, and images related to emptying oneself, lying fallow, and floating along in the Stream.

One of the Friends on the committee then made an important observation. He mentioned ever so gently that he had recently heard me speak of feeling low in regards to nearly every aspect of my Quaker life: my activities within the monthly meeting; my current experience with some challenges facing the worship group; my choice not to travel to certain Quaker events because of the energy use and fuel involved.

At that moment, something clicked on within me, or maybe it was a remark that the Friend had made. Whatever it was, what stuck and what was illuminated all in the same moment was one word:


I was the common denominator and I was souring my own experiences.

And then, in what felt like the very next instant, I recognized that I come from a long line of "sour women" in my family. My grandmother, still alive at 102-and-a-half, has been the most sour person I think I've known, and I've been deliberate in recent years in approaching her from a loving, compassionate place when I speak with her on the phone--though the temptation is to avoid calling or visiting altogether.

My mother of course is the apple that didn't fall very far from the tree. To her credit, my mom has talked openly with me about her intention to respond to situations with less bitterness and to make very different choices from those my grandmother had made (and continues making).

Still, I've had decades of exposure to and modeling from these two matriarchs of the family. Some of the bitterness and sourness took root in my soul without my knowing it.

Now that I know it's there, I can do something about it.

I spoke with the committee about those Friends in my life who represent the love, warmth, and light that I need to absorb and soak up in order to counter, heal, and transform my own sourness. I could feel God's Love already working deeply in my soul, simply by having named the Adversary that had taken up residence in me in a sort of internal secret-even-to-me safe harbor.

When I got back home after the committee meeting, I took out two pieces of paper and a marker. On one sheet I wrote in very small, lowercase letters

s o u r .
On the other I wrote in large, block, uppercase letters



I've taped the two sheets of paper in the room where I spend a fair amount of leisure time. Their message has been working on me deeply. For example, I very easily become aware of when my mind and thoughts turn sour as I'm speaking or listening to someone, and I'm able to stop myself quickly and recall my intention to receive sun, light, and Love.

I am that seed, cracked open by the God's Love, and that has made all the difference.


May 10, 2008

Answering the questions I asked

I'm one of those people who believe that I should not ask a question that I myself would not answer; I should not ask others to do a thing I myself would not do.

In light of the interview I conducted with Brent Bill recently, I thought I'd have a go at interviewing myself, using the same questions that I asked Brent.

And no, I didn't know I was going to write this post at the time that I sent my questions to Brent.

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

1. What was my first experience when I began to have an inkling about having an inner compass?

I would say I was in 5th or 6th grade, maybe even a year or two younger. I remember that the girls I hung out with on the playground often wanted me to tell them if I liked their dress, if I liked their jewelry, if I liked their new shoes. And because we were all eager to be friends, they would add, "It's okay, you can tell me the truth."

Let's just say that those girls on the playground and I had very different ideas of what "pretty" was. Even though I somehow knew that it would be bad if I answered their questions truthfully (as opposed to tactfully, but what do little girls know about tact?!), I also knew that I didn't want to lie; that somehow lying went against something very deep within me, something without words.

I had very few friends growing up, as you might imagine.

2. What trends have I noticed among contemporary Friends, either towards or away from the understanding of an Inward Teacher? Is there something that seems to move Friends toward a clearer understanding? away from it?

As regular readers of The Good Raised Up know, I am best versed in Liberal Friends and somewhat versed in Conservative Friends. When I think of "contemporary Friends," it's these two groups I consider and speak of.

I've noticed two trends. One is a renewed interest among some Friends, regardless of age or length of time connected with Quakerism, to understand more fully the depth and breadth of our faith tradition.

I have observed Friends asking one another what certain traditional words or phrases mean, everything from "What's a leading?" to "What does 'obedience' mean?" I've also seen a few more Friends begin wrestling within meeting when things get dicey, rather than just disappearing and going elsewhere. I think some of the blogs have lent themselves to this renewal, curiosity, and hunger as well. And a good deal of these Friends seem to able to "fall into worship" and wait for movement of the Spirit if they are having difficulty.

The other trend is towards "More of the same," which includes giving more weight to individual preferences and "good thoughts" as compared to giving more weight to Spirit-led, corporate discernment.

I encounter this attitude among many long-time Liberal Friends who seem to have unknowingly, unintentionally attached their personal sense of who they are as Friends to some institution, committee, or event. If someone younger or newer to the meeting or to Quakerism feels a prompt and suggests that things may be done differently, a number of these older Friends dig in their heels or shake their heads and say, "This isn't how we've done it; I don't think we should do things differently now," almost as if some are saying, "I've been a Quaker for so-many-years, and new openings or leadings have no place here without my consent"; or this: "We've never looked to Quaker history to help us in the past, so why should we start now? Early Quakerism is dead, so how could it help us, the living?"

Being complacent about spiritual growth and turning our backs on our history creates a barrier between us and the Inward Teacher. Being loving and compassionate towards one another, and affirming that each of us has the ability to shed new Light on a situation invites the Inward Teacher in, and we demonstrate a greater willingness to be Taught.

3. What is one thing I am afraid or hesitant to tell other Quakers about myself?

Right now, I would say that one of the things I'm hesitant to tell my meeting about myself is how sad I feel that those who seem to know me best are not Friends at the monthly meeting, with whom I worship once a week, but rather fellow bloggers--Friends who I don't worship with in any regular way and who I don't see but once a year, if that.

Contrary to what some non-blogging Friends may believe, there have been many heartfelt, authentic, deep, and respectful exchanges online that have in turn led to rich and lasting friendships.

I cannot quite put my finger on why I feel known by many Quaker bloggers, particularly the earliest ones, and why I feel less known by Friends in my monthly and yearly meeting. Some of it has to do with feeling as though I am being received with joy, or at least curiosity, when I write a post or when I show up at a gathering of some sort. Some of it has to do with a feeling of mutuality: that I feel as though I know the other person as well as she or he seems to know me.

I think a large part of it, though, has to do with having a shared understanding of what a vigorous and vibrant Quakerism is and then a willingness to engage in it, inviting one another to do the same.

...Why is it that bloggers seem less afraid of words like discipline, obedience, faithfulness, eldering, and minister than do the Friends with whom I worship?

4. Given how much the secular world has crept into our Quaker faith--attending to busy schedules; watching the clock towards the "end" of Meeting for Worship; individualism; etc.--what two or three things of Quakerism might I wish would creep into the secular world?

Sometimes I wish that more of our political leaders and more "everyday Americans" would be comfortable with paradox... or at least be more willing to be in the creative tension of paradox for a little while longer than we currently are. Maybe that would make us more slow to take up arms; more hesitant to leave our partners when times get dicey; more deliberate in slowing ourselves down when our impulses start to "drive the bus."

I also wonder what our society would be like if we spent less time talking, persuading, berating, dictating, indoctrinating... and spent more time listening, observing, tending, nurturing...

5. I was raised in a Jewish household and am only recently beginning to appreciate Scripture and its place in contemporary Quakerism.

Recently I've begun wondering if there are certain stories or passages in the Torah, the "first five books," that Quakers draw on for teachings--aside from "Love thy neighbor" and "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength..." (Deuteronomy 6:5)

It seems as if Quakers don't draw on the Old Testament in anywhere near the same proportion as we do with the New Testament, yet Jesus was Jewish. I'm finding I want to hear from Quakers who are better versed than I in Scripture as to what elements of the Old Testament do Friends look to for guidance; and is there a reason we don't hear many Friends quote these [Hebrew] texts? (...or am I just worshiping in the wrong meeting?)

Now this is a question I truly can't answer fully! For one thing, it's such a new question for myself that I've hardly had time to consider it.

Off the top of my head then, I might conjecture a few things:

1. Is it easier for us, as pacifists, to find a good many more teachings about nonviolence in the life of Jesus and in the Gospels than it is to find similar teachings in the Hebrew texts?

2. Is it that the Hebrew texts, which are three to four times as long as the Christian ones, are harder to plow through because of their length? Also, do the details of who begat whom and the 613 commandments distract us from the meaty stories of Noah, Moses, and Esther?

3. Is it that the many worshipers who find their way to Quakerism come from a Christian background and in their own religious upbringing, were exposed primarily to the New Testament...?

So my question remains:

If Jesus was Jewish, and if two of the primary commandments of Christianity--"Love the Lord your God..." and "Love your neighbor as yourself"--come from the Jewish texts, why do Quakers seem to pay so little attention to the much larger portion of Scripture, the Scripture that Jesus himself presumably drew on?

May 5, 2008


I've been watching an online conversation lately among Friends, about whether or not it is okay to have pride--in who we are, in our accomplishments, in how we raise our families.

It's taken me a while to understand why the direction of the conversation troubled me:

When pride interferes with our direct connection to the Living Presence, or when pride in our sense of self becomes the Center from where we draw inspiration, then I fear that we have lost our grounding in the One.

That said, there is a quiet pride that lends itself to being low, and then there is another sort of pride that lends itself to being high, to pushing God out of our lives because we mistakenly take up the belief that there is no more room.

The line between the two is a razor's edge.

Thankfully, we cannot be so prideful that the Light will not eventually show us how we have given in to what Fox called the Tempter. Thankfully, we have one another to help us in our journey; and so too, eventually, the Light will come in and help us recenter, reground.