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