July 7, 2008

Report on FGC Gathering 2008 - Part 2

NOTE: This is a continuation of my previous post.

Interest group on Convergent Friends

Robin and Chris M and I helped organize and co-lead an interest group on Wednesday, around the question Where Is The Convergent Conversation Now?

About 35 Friends were there, and I got the sense that a few of them were either fairly new to the conversation or weren't very connected much at all to the Quaker blogosphere. And a handful of participants are themselves active bloggers.

Chris was a wonderful support to Robin and me when we met to finalize our plans. He took notes while Robin and I threshed, brainstormed, and ultimately settled on what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. (Thanks, Chris!)

The process we came up with was this:

1. Chris would hold us in prayer and ground us as Robin and I facilitated the group.

2. Robin and I would introduce ourselves and share a bit of our story, especially around how we got involved in the Convergent conversation.

3. We would pass out index cards to each person and ask them to write a single question they had for us, after listening to our opening remarks.

4. Out of a worshipful frame, the participants would read their questions, one at a time, and then Robin and I--and anyone else who was moved to--would answer a question for which they felt some resonance or prompting.

5. We would close with worship.

I would say the process worked well overall. One Friend in particular commented on how much he liked the use of the index cards as a way to draw out questions without obligating the facilitators or participants to have to answer all of them.

(Personally, I was pleased to have thought to have cautioned Friends that the interest group was fair "blogger fodder" for any of us who had blogs--with the caveat that if there was something tender or sticky that came up, the expectation was that there'd be some extra care taken in how we might address that online...)

Here are some of the questions that were raised. If you attended the session and you see a question here that I've misquoted or have wrongly paraphrased, please let me know!

  • Are there commonalities among universalist, nontheist, and Christian Friends?

  • How can Friends engage in the Convergent conversation if they don't blog?

  • Will the conversation become More?

  • How can monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, and yearly meetings become more involved in the conversation?

  • Are there any formal structures for Convergent Friends?

  • Is "convergence" seen as reforming, renewing, or revolutionary?

  • In your stories, you used words like "renewal" and "reclaiming" [of traditions]. Does that mean you think the Religious Society of Friends is degenerating?

  • Does "convergence" require unity within a monthly meeting?

  • What does the concept of living in the Kingdom of God mean, if none of us have actually lived in a kingdom?

  • What do you think the conversation will look like 50 years from now?

  • Are "inclusive Friends" the same as Convergent Friends?
  • I found myself speaking most directly to two threads that emerged from these questions, namely:

    1. How can individuals and meetings that aren't involved in blogging get engaged in the Convergent conversation?


    2. Is our faith tradition degenerating?

    In response to the first thread, I described how some Friends were printing copies of specific blog posts and using those to focus a discussion during adult education programs.

    I also pointed out that Robin and I (mostly Robin) had put together a handout which included a few printed articles, such as an article from Friends Journal and an article from Quaker Life.

    Somehow I also touched on Friends who travel and make visits to meetings--not necessarily those who travel in the ministry, but that in order to understand the cross-schism and inter-branch conversation that is going on, we need to meet and interact with Friends from outside of our own monthly and yearly meetings.

    I loved some of the other ideas that sprang forth around this topic:

  • Attending sessions of Friends World Committee on Consultation (FWCC);

  • Exploring Quaker Quest* together;

  • Setting up an interest group within monthly, quarterly, and/or yearly meetings around the question, "What do you know about Convergent Friends?" and

  • Carving out time to share not just our spiritual journeys with one another, but also and perhaps more pointedly to share our transformative experiences with one another, too.

  • In response to the second thread, about whether our faith is in fact degenerating, I found myself speaking more passionately than I had expected, about practices and traditions that some Liberal Friends have moved away from.

    I don't recall what exactly I lifted up at the time, but during the course of the interest group, I had compiled my own list of where I fear we are drifting afar and what I believe Convergent Friends are reclaiming and re-affirming:
  • The use of corporate, spiritual discernment;

  • Testing of leadings;

  • Mutual accountability;

  • Place of Scripture;

  • Worship as the faith's central experience; and

  • God's place at the center of our faith, rather than individuals' preferences.
  • In addition, I made a note to myself later that we can view the renewal either as a response to the concern about "fixing" something that is "broken" within the Religious Society of Friends, or we can view the renewal as a commitment to strengthening the core of our religious tradition.

    Maybe it's a bit of both, and in the past I have struggled with how to respond to Friends who have worried that I am acting and speaking as if some monthly and yearly meetings are broken. Maybe I need to start saying, Yes, I think some things among Friends are in fact broken, as far as I see it...

    The most poignant moment of the evening for me, though, was when a Friend addressed the question about none of us having real-life experience of living in a kingdom. An older Friend quietly spoke about his experience of having been in and come out of a spirhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifitual desert:
    "I have never lived in an earthly kingdom," he said, "but I HAVE lived and I DO live in a spiritual kingdom now."

    Faith and Play

    One afternoon, I went to a session on a new approach to First Day School and religious education, called Faith and Play.

    FGC's Religious Education Committee is investing human and financial resources to develop a Quaker curriculum that draws on the methods used in Godly Play.

    In addition, the worship group I attend is considering using Godly Play as a basis for religious education for the six youngest people among us, who range from about 2-11 years old. So I was interested in the topic for a couple of different reasons.

    While Godly Play focuses on stories from Scripture and "wondering together" about the stories, Faith and Play focuses on stories and experiences from Quakerism.

    FGC staff person Michael Gibson, the coordinator of the Religious Education program, presented us with two stories in this fashion. The first was based on the parable of the mustard seed; the second was based on George Fox's initial opening, when he realized that the answers to his deep, weighty questions were not found in steeplehouses and books, but were found when he listened inwardly for the Inward Teacher.

    In both cases, simple props made of wood, paper, and brightly colored felt were used, and the stories and subsequent "wonderings" were shared out of a sense of worship.

    In fact, the whole experience felt to me like a Meeting for Worship with attention to Story.

    There is much technique involved in Godly Play and in Faith and Play. The storyteller focuses all of his or her attention on the props being used, avoiding eye contact with who is in the room. The pace by which the story is told is very deliberate and slow. Words are used at a minimum, so there is much silence--and observation and curiosity--as the story unfolds through manipulating felt figures and other props.

    When it is time to consider the story and whatever lessons it may hold, the storyteller begins by making statements that start with, "I wonder...," which in turn invites the listeners to wonder too, and to offer possible answers. Correction or interpretation is never offered; only more wonderings.

    After some time of "wondering together," the storyteller directs the listeners to art supplies. This is a time of individual "work," a way to express visually something that the story has stirred, and again is carried out in a form of worship.

    Some observations and wonderings of my own

    I found the experience of listening to the story and doing the work afterward very engaging. (There's a video of a sample story on the Godly Play website, toward the very bottom of this page.)

    But I also came away with some questions.

    At what point does the group of listeners--of Quaker listeners--engage in corporate expression of what they observed? The "work" was so individualized, and it was in stark contrast to the sense of being drawn, as a corporate body, into the story and the storytelling itself.

    What happens with members of a culture where collective threshing and reworking of a story is valued over personal reflection and individual consideration?

    Is there something inherently racist about the Montessori method of education on which Godly Play--and Faith and Play--is based? From what little I know, the creators of these three forms are all of European descent.

    If Quakerism is historically based on the stripping away of outward empty forms and distractions, how do we help the youngest ones understand that answers don't lie in felt props and artful self-expression, but in being still and waiting expectantly on the Inward Teacher?

    Despite my own reservations, and given my overall positive experience during the session, I recognize that Faith and Play could in fact be a useful tool for religious education among Friends. Not to mention that there is a training at Pendle Hill for those who are interested in learning more. There isn't an online announcement yet about it, but if you are interested, contact Michael Gibson at FGC, 215-561-1700, or email michaelg AT fgcquaker DOT org.


    P.S. Some other posts about the 2008 FGC Gathering can be found here. I'll have to add related links at a later date, when I have more time and more computer access!

    *FGC now has materials for North American Friends interested in Quaker Quest.

    1 comment:

    Jeanne said...

    About Godly Play, I would also ask if there's something inherently *classist* about it, in part because of the individual focus and the method of teaching and learning. I'm not familiar enough with Montessori to make any sort of judgment about it. It's just a question I have based on the people I know who send their kids to Montessori.