June 24, 2008

Learning from our children

This past First Day at worship group, during the first few minutes of worship when the children are with us, I got such a kick out of watching the six kids.

For one thing, it's rare that all of them are there at the same time. For another, there are more opportunities for the kids to interact with one another, across the room, with gestures and facial expressions.

And with loud whispers.

For example, two of the three oldest kids were sitting next to each other, each of them in various stages of having lost a tooth or two while also having a few other teeth wiggly and loose.

As quietly as possible, the two of them compared notes on how many teeth they had each lost and how many were on their way out.

The girl holds up four fingers, and using Really Big Mouth Movements, opens her mouth wide at the same time:

F o u r .
F O U R , she repeats, bigger.

The boy feels the inside of his own mouth, double-checking before answering back, just as big:

T W O .

It was clear they were excited for each other. It wasn't a competition, just a simple telling of where they found themselves.

And it got me to wondering at what point in our growing-up years do we stop being so eager to show someone what's special about ourselves as beloved children of God and start to hide our Light and our spiritual gifts under a bushel?

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

Off I go, to several adventures out east. If Way is open, I'll see if I can get a blog post about some of my experiences in-between major events.


June 19, 2008

Traveling, and a crush on God

Last night I attended the monthly meeting's midweek worship. Attendance was typical: about six or eight of us, including the regular high school attender; the four regular "white hairs," and one of the two middle-age men.

I found myself smiling a lot during worship. I suspect it has a lot to do with the trip I have coming up. Plans include a week at the summer Gathering of FGC, a few days sojourning at Pendle Hill, and then traveling with a few other Quaker friends and acquaintances to North Carolina. Some of us will attend the Friends United Meeting Triennial and others, including myself, will attend the annual sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

As I was allowing myself to be flooded with the Light, I reflected on the initial troubled course I had taken in setting up travel plans.

I had committed myself to register for the sessions in Greensboro, NC before I figured out just what I'd do with the few days between the end of Gathering and the start of the yearly meeting's activities. Options included going to my parents' place in New Jersey (but who would I talk to about the Gathering?!?) or heading directly to North Carolina and staying at a hotel (again: who would I talk to...?).

I finally hit on the idea of staying in the Philadelphia area, which cracked open the possibility of staying at Pendle Hill. A few emails and phone calls later, I had a ride with fFriends from Gathering to Pendle Hill, as well as an invitation to stay there as an invited guest on behalf of one of the staff people--meaning that my room-and-board fees as a sojourner will be significantly reduced.

I also discovered that three or four of us would be traveling from the Philadelphia area on the same train to North Carolina.

That was when I felt I had Listened well in order to understand where and how the Way was opening.

And that was when, during Meeting for Worship, I felt such love and joy at knowing God was present, that I felt like I had a crush on God, and--even better!--that God, too, had a crush on me.

Not like a teenage crush, that can burn brightly for a few days or weeks or even months, but ultimately goes out as quickly as it started. But like a long-into-marriage crush, where you fall in love all over again with your partner, just because you see a new facet of the person, a new element of the relationship, and your eyes are all a-twinkle and your heart beats a little faster, knowing that you are with the one you love who loves you back.

It makes me wonder what else might be possible; how else will God show up in my life, seen or unseen, felt or unfelt...?


June 12, 2008

Upcoming interest group at Gathering

In 2006 and 2007, at FGC's summer Gathering, Robin M and I were among co-leaders for an interest group* about Convergent Friends. In 2008, she and I will again co-lead a similar interest group, on Wednesday night, July 2:

Where Is the Convergent Conversation Now?

Convergent Friends are talking about renewal and a Quakerism that bridges our schisms. Where and how is this conversation happening? Who else is having this conversation? Do you want to be a part of it? Bring your questions and let's share in the answers.
UPDATE: To read about how the interest group went, click here.

Help wanted

As Robin mentions on her own post about the interest group, she and I are looking for Friends who have been somewhat engaged in the conversation, are planning to attend the Gathering, and are interested in helping us out this year in some small fashion--perhaps to serve on a mini-panel, perhaps to facilitate a small group, perhaps just to greet people or hold the space--and us--in worship.

Let us know through the comments or through email [lizopp AT gmail DOT com] if you feel a nudge to help in some way.

Getting ready; staying alert

If you get the sense that we're flying by the seat of our pants, you're partially right--though I would prefer to frame it as "We're waiting for the Spirit to guide us... and to speak up a bit!"

The past two years as co-leaders, we've taken time during the first day or two of Gathering to ground ourselves and finalize our plans. In addition, we intend to stay alert to the movement of the Spirit when Friends do gather that particular evening: Maybe someone will raise a topic that others are eager to consider, or maybe someone will ask us as co-leaders a tangential question that others want to hear a response to.

Maybe, as what happened that first year, we will simply fall into a deep and gathered worship.

In any case, any and all of you are invited to join us if you are on campus on July 2. Robin is the contact person if you aren't planning to attend the Gathering but could stop by for the evening. She's got info on her own post about how best to reach her--presumably before she heads to the Gathering!

In addition to the interest group, I personally hope that another, less formal meet-up will be organized, too--maybe over dinner or after one of the evening plenaries. (By the way, fellow blogger Peterson Toscano is one of the plenary speakers.)

If anyone is interested in organizing such an opportunity for fellowship, do post something either in the comments here or on Robin's blog so that there's less of a chance of duplicating efforts.

Staying informed at Gathering

Last but not least: Just how do Friends find out about any informal meet-ups, the location of the interest group, etc. etc.?

There are several places to look:

1. The daily bulletin. During the Gathering, a bulletin is put out each day and is usually available at breakfast in the dining hall(s). Look in those pages for any announcement about a meet-up or discussion about Convergent Friends.

2. A handout that lists all interest groups. Usually, the list of interest groups and their respective locations are printed on a separate handout that Friends receive when they arrive and sign in on campus. Just remember: You might need to look under "W" if the list is alphabetized by the title of the group ("Where Is the Convergent Conversation Now?"), as opposed to "C" for "Convergent."

3. The message board. The message board is a low-tech but major communication tool at Gathering! It's made up of a series of large bulletin boards, usually set up in some central location, where Friends can post personal messages to each other.

I suppose it's entirely possible that someone could, under the "C" section of the board, put up a piece of paper with large letters that read "Convergent Friends," followed by whatever details are needed to help get folks there (e.g. date, time, location).

I always make the message board a key place to visit at least once a day--and usually more often than that.

Anyway, I hope that Robin and I will see some of you at the Gathering, whether it's during the interest group or elsewhere.


*Martin Kelley was part of it in 2006, as was Laura Melly in 2007.


My posts about reflections on past FGC Gatherings

Jeanne has plans to offer an interest group at Gathering too, on Quakers and social class.

June 6, 2008

Living with a hyphenated identity

A two-part post by Cat Chapin-Bishop has revived in me my interest in identity development among Friends in general and in considering what it means to be "a hyphenated Quaker" in particular.

Cat writes with great detail about the wrestling she's been doing, around identifying either as Quaker or as Pagan... and why she has not truncated her own naming of who she is within one tradition while dismissing the other.

I posted a couple of comments on her blog, which in turn prompted me to flesh out more of my thinking. Of course, I've written earlier about my experience with growing up Jewish and having to figure out the whole Jesus question as it relates to my being Quaker.

But I would say that over time, my view has shifted and evolved as it pertains to the concept of "hyphenated Quakers"--Friends or long-time attenders who call themselves Buddhist Quakers, Jewish Quakers, Pagan Quakers. (Yes, yes, I know: the hyphen is invisible in these cases, but you likely get my point.)

First of all, I have come to interpret that the side-by-side naming of the two faith traditions with which a Friend identifies represents an "in-between" identity, an identity that is valid and whole in its own right.

In fact, I now believe that the hyphen between Religion One and Religion Two, between A and B, represents an important part of a persons' faith journey that deserves care and attention. Whether it's about adopting a new faith tradition and leaving an old one behind, moving from young adulthood to middle age, or transitioning from one gender to another, an identity shift from A to B won't necessarily take if we don't spend enough time wrestling with A and B, or A hyphen B, or even B hyphen A.

I also want to state what to me is rather obvious, that going through an identity shift is a process, not a singular event. Experiencing an identity shift is not segmented and compartmentalized, like the children's game in an old train station that involves leaping from one large linoleum tile on the floor to another, being careful not to touch the lines.

Rather, the process is gradual and fluid, like a traveler who moves through a large airport by progressing on a moving walkway. "Destinations" like Identity A and Identity B are connected by the process of getting from one place to the other; they are interconnected.

In my own case, I myself needed to see myself as both Jewish and Quaker for a number of years, and this in-between hyphenated identity was a large part of my clearness process for membership.

But if Friends had said nothing to me about my hyphenated journey, progressing and regressing between Judaism and Quakerism, I would not have been helped either, and I perhaps would have felt unheard, unseen, not fully understood.

On the other hand, if Friends had pushed me to drop the hyphen, to be "one or the other," I may have left the Religious Society of Friends entirely. Pushing an issue--Where do you stand?! Are you a Quaker or are you a Jew?!--would have likely made me feel bullied rather than companioned; chastised rather than challenged.

To be clear, pushing is different from laboring together and companioning one another, and we ourselves don't always recognize when we could be best helped by having space to "stand still in the Light" (G. Fox, Epistle X) or to "sink down to the Seed..." (I. Penington)

I say this because it is hard to know how much to push, how much to let be, how much to comfort, how much to witness.

What I myself still wrestle with is what to make of Friends who take their hyphenated Quaker identity into their later years. Intellectually, I can acknowledge that the blended or in-between place may, in fact, be an endpoint in and of itself for these Friends. They may never be able to identify fully and solely as Quaker (or as the alternate religious identity).

From a socio-emotional perspective, I can also understand that there may be such a strong sense of family and of being known by both groups, who am I to ask or insist that they cut themselves off from loved ones?

Why do we expect everyone to get off the moving walkway, just because the rest of us do?

At the same time, while I've come to understand the hyphenated identity as part of a longer process of our spiritual development, I continue to have the concern that the Quaker faith tradition is changed prematurely or inappropriately when practices and ideology from other traditions are brought into our meetinghouses without testing the appropriateness of doing so.

For me, the dangerous territory is about what happens when those of us who have claimed both A and B seek to reconcile our own hyphenated identity by knowingly or unknowingly "inserting" or imposing or Quaker elements into our other practice, or elements of our other practice into Quakerism.

And so Cat's post has got me thinking about the interrelationship between the identity development of individual Friends and seekers and the nature of how our faith is passed on, especially within a meeting community.

In the past, I had written about these two themes almost as if they were completely separate--leaping from tile to tile, if you will.

Now I wonder if it's not a moving sidewalk between the two, with lots of interesting stops to get off at and take a longer look around.