July 27, 2009

FGC Gathering 2009: Shane Claiborne

At the start of my previous post, I make some comparisons between the first two plenary speakers at the 2009 FGC Gathering, Ben Pink Dandelion and Shane Claiborne.

Here I'll repeat some of the opening remarks I noted in the last post:

Both Ben Pink Dandelion and Shane Claiborne called us to greater faithfulness and greater care to looking at what we possess and what we profess.

Below, as in the previous post, are a number of quips, ideas, and stories I jotted down during Shane's plenary. Too much time has passed between having heard it and writing about it now, so I giving myself permission to type things into a list of what I noted, rather than formulating a cohesive blogpost.

Initial thoughts

In the notebook I took with me to his plenary, in the margins of the first page, I have these words:

    a sort of caricature
    not humble
It's not that Shane was prideful or boastful as much as he was on fire: He believes in what he says. He professes what he possesses.

I short, I think he reflects the George Fox I carry in my mind: How accepted would Shane Claiborne be if he were to start ministering to us 21st Century Quakers out of the silence during a meeting for worship...?

But being a plenary speaker at Gathering provides the speaker with a great deal of advanced forgiveness from the audience of mostly Liberal Quakers. After all, plenary is not a meeting for worship and there must be a reason why FGC and its Gathering Committee invited him in the first place, right?

By the way, FGC will likely have all the plenaries available in CD later in 2009, through its QuakerBooks.

Shane Claiborne

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a preacher. Then they look at me--Shane is a young white man, wears baggy clothes, and has long dreadlocks--and say, "They don't make preachers like they used to." And I say, "Thank God!"

What I love about Jesus is his imagination, like having the idea to turn water into wine, to keep the party going. Or healing a blind man by spitting on dirt. Jesus brings redemption in unexpected ways.

The gospels spread best not through force but through fascination. Jesus doesn't insist on who he is or isn't. When people asked Jesus, "Are you the Messiah?" he would answer "Tell me what you see, what you hear."

These are the current day perceptions of Christians by people who are outside the Church:
The Church must do something in order for Christians to be seen by others as being connected with:
    Justice and peace.

After telling a story about how he bought an ice cream cone for a child in a very poor village, Shane describes how the child called around all of his friends--and the child passes the ice cream cone to each one so each child may have a lick of it. Then Shane says:
Here is the secret of Jesus: Give away the best things in life to others.
Another tidbit from Shane: Mother Teresa would wear the worst of all the pairs of donated shoes so that she would know no one would have a worse pair than she.

Christians have so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives.

How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore a homeless man on Monday?

The reputation of Christianity and the reputation of America are closely linked, especially outside of America. People are seeing things done in the name of Jesus that didn't look like the love of Jesus.

American didn't invent Christianity. It only domesticated it.

An idea for a T-shirt: Everyone wants a revolution but no one wants to do the dishes.

My own afterthoughts

Less of Shane's plenary spoke to my condition than did Ben's. Some of it may have to do with the fact that I wasn't raised in the Christian faith tradition and Shane isn't Quaker. Many of Shane's stories referred to his own Christian practice and belief, not specifically Quakerism. Ben's stories and remarks, on the other hand, were more directly connected to Quakerism.

I also think social class differences between Shane and me impacted my ability to listen deeply to what he was saying. A number of his stories come from his background having grown up in the poorer parts of the South [in the States] and of his life on a farm or of experiences that his farming family and friends had.

All the words in the world can't adequately convey the experiences that we internalize in our youth, and Shane's storytelling, outrageous humor, and personal decisions about his path simply don't correspond to my own. I left the plenary wondering if Shane's voice is authentic, or if it is a ministry or gift he has to be able to share the voice of so many others through his stories?

I won't know the answer but he made me laugh. And he made me wonder about the judgments that I have about "evangelists" and whether I would have been turned off by George Fox or if the Light would have still reached me, despite the words it was cloaked in...


July 24, 2009

FGC Gathering 2009: Ben Pink Dandelion

I suppose I'm not ready to write about the workshop I took, Quakers & Social Class, because I'm still integrating the experience to a significant degree. That is, I'm wrestling with doing so.

Opening night at the Gathering provides the traditional welcome to the 1,500 participants, and more often than not, I've been skipping that first night, since it's usually a preview of the week, a massive "roll call" of affiliated yearly and monthly meetings, and other things that I'm less interested in.

But this year, I was especially curious to hear two of the plenary speakers: British Friend Ben Pink Dandelion and American Methodist-born preacher-author Shane Claiborne, just because their names have been around the block and then some.

Ben Pink Dandelion spoke the second night; Shane Claiborne the next. Their styles and presentations were quite different.

Ben wore a dress shirt and slacks and spoke with a thick, upper-class British accent, Enunciating Every Consonant And Every Word Completely And Clearly. Shane wore baggy pants and a loose fitting shirt--maybe an undershirt or plain white cotton T-shirt, like what I might wear for doing housework, and his vernacular was clearly "from the South," as we Yankees in the States say. He strung sentences together in a flurry and laughed easily and raised his voice regularly to make his points.

Ben had his humorous moments, to be sure, but it was an "acceptable" humor that White, middle-class, and upper-class Americans could appreciate. Shane's humor was more visceral, more graphic, more let's-get-real, this-is-how-it-is girls-and-boys. I needed to take more deep breaths when I was listening to Shane than to Ben. Chalk it up to differences in social class. (See? It's everywhere.)

Both men called us to greater faithfulness and greater care to looking at what we possess and what we profess.

Below and (hopefully) in the next post are a number of quips, ideas, and stories I jotted down during the two plenaries. Too much time has passed between having heard each one and writing about it now, so I giving myself permission to type things into a list of what I noted, rather than formulating a cohesive blogpost.

By the way, FGC will likely have all the plenaries available in CD later in 2009, through its QuakerBooks. And some of what Ben covered is in this teeny tiny pamphlet of his, Celebrating the Quaker Way, as well as in his 2003 presentation, Convinced Quakerism.

Ben Pink Dandelion

After making a few opening remarks about his background and his name, Ben launched into sharing some of his own spiritual journey, traveling from a life of hedonism to one of faithfulness.

At one point early on in his remarks, he spoke about his sense of having lived "an accompanied life," a sentiment I can often relate to, that there is a Spirit, a Principle that accompanies me...

He spoke about how the desire for a faithful life leads to a more serious life, which in turn leads to a more joyful life, and one with more laughter.

Ben described what he sees as the six stages of convincement, much of which he's also delineated in Convinced Quakerism, pp. 11-12:

1. The breaking-in of God in our lives, allowing us direct and immediate access to the Divine.

2. The Light showing us how things really are, being "convicted of our sin."

3. Our understanding that there is a choice and a possibility for change.

4. Being given the power to live that life, to be transformed.

5. The pulling together of others (Friends) into a community.

6. Sharing with one another and with others what we have found.
Since I am a "process queen"--I love how we develop and move through stages of understanding, of personal and spiritual growth--I was eager to hear more from Ben about these six stages. Sadly, as Ben went spinning into historical quotations by Fox, Penington, and others, I no longer could track which quote was related to what stage. Perhaps I'll take a closer look at his pamphlet...

Some other things Ben spoke to:

The more we surrender, the more we are given.

Fox's experience was inward, not outward and not "inner." Fox's was an interiorized experience.

Early Friends had an intimate relationship with God. We seek a sort of replacement of our old self with God's power, coming through us...

Fox believed in original sin and that all of us can be saved. That is what is meant by "perfectability."

Formal membership in the Religious Society of Friends began in the 1730s as a way to record which Quaker meetings would offer up "poor relief" to Friends who were suffering because of their convictions.

Quakers historically refused to engage in the manners of the world in order to further God's purposes on Earth (plain dress, plain speech; no hat honor, no tithes, no pagan-named months and days; keeping fixed prices... "No eBay!" declared Ben).

Today, many of us and many of our meetings are in fact caught up in the manners of the world, without accountability to our monthly meetings about what is or isn't Quaker.

These days, modern Friends "opt in and out" of certain testimonies, such as saying, "I support the testimony of simplicity but I have trouble with the peace testimony." But in the early days, Friends' Books of Discipline pointed to life as Testimony.

Once convinced, the sense of transformation continued day after day, and every day and every place was seen as sacred.

At one point, Ben spoke directly to us:
    At this Gathering, we look like a luxuried people.
Ben offered a few queries, related to pulling us into community as part of the convincement experience:
How is community realized for us? How do we take the mountaintop experience into our life? How do we transcend the individualism of society?

Why are we always learning to "go elsewhere" and always going away via technology? Why talk about being a 21st Century Friend? Why separate ourselves from the past and the future?
Again, he spoke to us:
    We're not Friends because we're good. We need each other to help us along in our faithfulness and activism.
Defining Liberal Friends... and our creedal ways

Ben draws on John Wilhelm Rowntree and Rufus Jones to look at the characteristics of Liberal Quakers, and these are also explained in Convinced Quakerism, p. 3:
    1. Experience as primary, not Scripture.
    2. Faith is relevant to the age we are in.
    3. Friends are open to new Light.
    4. We know more of God in each age, therefore the new Light we are given has more authority than what came before.
Today as Liberal Friends, we're cautious about what place belief has in Quakerism.

We know we don't have a creed, but we have a credal attitude toward what we believe and how we are.

It is a powerful source of our identity, to have a doctrine of seeking. The tTruth is personal, or it is somehow apportioned to individuals.

Today's Quaker message [from Liberal Friends] is that we are certain that we are a little uncertain of our belief. An "absolute perhaps," if you will.

Total "finders" will be in tension with a group of Liberal Friends. Those Friends who have been eldered [sic: admonished] for certain ministry may in fact have been [admonished] for their certainty.

It may be the "absolute perhaps" that will allow us to transcend the schisms among Friends.

What binds us together
    1. Direct encounter of the Spirit.
    2. Meeting for Worship for Business.
    3. The priesthood of all believers.
    4. Our Testimony [I'm not sure if he meant our life as testimony or "the" testimonies, or something else].
A Young Adult Friend during another presentation or discussion elsewhere pointed out that there are a few other, less pleasant things that also bind us together as a religious society:
    1. Self-righteousness and pride.
    2. Superficial witness in the world.
    3. Ungrounded worship.
A few closing thoughts by Ben

Be careful: Quakerism is the vehicle of our life, not the object of our worship.

We need incarnational spirituality: Are we living in the Power, or are we just saying we are?

We need to be possessing while we are professing.

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

In case that isn't enough to chew on, I hope to be sharing some of Shane's comments in the subsequent post.

As always, thanks for reading me.


July 17, 2009

July is a hard time to write...

Dear wonderful readers.

I thought I'd be long into my third or fourth post by now about the 2009 FGC Gathering.


July has been wrought with travel plans. Followed by recovering from travels. Followed by preparing for more travels.

And in-between all that, there have been the minor things like paying bills, restocking the refrigerator, sorting through mail. Tending to Quaker committee work that has been my responsibility...

You get the idea.

Thanks for your patience. God willing, I'll return to my Gathering reflections later this month or--more likely--early August.



P.S. FGC's QuakerBooks now has Writing Cheerfully on the Web on its website.

July 13, 2009

The starfish... and babies in the river

    Well now, this is strange: I could have sworn I had written this out in my journal, but it's nowhere to be found. Did I dream it...? Has it simply been so vividly alive in my head that I had only thought I had written it out...?

    Well now, here it is.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

The week before I left for Gathering in June, I found myself reflecting on two images that seemed related to each other yet were very different.

(NOTE: Embellishments to the original story and changes in gender and ages of the characters are my own.)

The starfish

There is a popular story about how we can make a difference in life, which basically goes like this:
One day, a little girl walking along the beach notices thousands of starfish just out of reach of the water. Off in the distance, she sees a person who is bending down, reaching for something, and tossing something into the waves. As she approaches, she realizes it's an old woman, tossing starfish one by one back into the ocean.

A bit skeptical about what good any of this will do, given how many starfish lay on the miles and miles of beach, the girl says to the old woman, "There are so many starfish out here, and the waves will just keep dumping more of them here all day, why waste your time, what difference will it make?"

To which the old woman bends down, picks up a starfish, and frisbees it over the water back into the waves.

"Well, I made a difference to that one."

Babies in the river

And then there's the second story, which I embellished quite a bit from a brief remark in Linda Stout's book (p. 106, with a reference to Rosie's Place in Boston).
There is a village of kind folk, living near a river. One day, as a group of children were playing by the river, they noticed something funny coming down to them from upstream.

There were babies in the river!

The children ran into the village, yelling to everyone they came across, "There are babies in the river! There are babies in the river!"

The village emptied out and everyone ran to the river to see for themselves. Those who got there first quickly started wading into the river and grabbed at the infants to pull them out, passing them by their tiny arms and legs to other villagers who had arrived seconds after them.

But the babies kept coming.

After an hour, two hours, three hours of pulling babies from the river, a few of the oldest villagers, too feeble to help with the rescue effort, fell back away from the riverside.

They didn't return to the village though.

They headed upstream instead, to see who was throwing babies into the river and what might be done about that.

I think these two images and stories have been with me because they speak to me about the many times I have taken action that amounts to tossing individual starfish into the ocean or pulling drowning babies from the river. The individual lives of those with whom I interact may in fact be changed, whether it's through a financial donation I've made for flood relief, a few volunteer hours in a women's organization, or starting a mentoring relationship with a depressed and isolated pre-teen.

But I mustn't think my work is done.

These days, I have been wondering what keeps me from investigating "upstream"? What keeps me away from coalitions that work to change policy? What keeps me away from organizations that work to change society and not just provide services that address the results of the current system?

(The other day at Meeting for Worship, I practically prayed to be changed by the Spirit intrinsically--but not by being whacked on the side of the head--just so I could get over my own ignorance and unconscious (or conscious!) privilege.)

These images and stories aren't the only things that speak to me and challenge me.

The social class workshop I took at Gathering is still impacting me, more than a week later. The conversations I'm having with my partner, difficult as they are, are stretching me to think beyond class oppression and instead to consider "internalized superiority"--a multigenerational trait of my family and of white, upper class/owning class society, that is hard to point to and harder to break.

The new discussion that has barely emerged at the monthly meeting around marriage equality--and whether to suspend serving as the state's "legal agent" for straight marriages under the care of the meeting--tests my patience as I listen to straight Friends openly talk about not wanting to give up their privilege.

At the same time, I recognize in myself that even giving up any non-unearned privilege I have would be among the hardest thing I would ever choose to do. (By this last point, I mean practical privileges to which I have access, like an iPhone, cable TV, TV in general, the car, multiple days' worth of clothing, access to food co-ops, etc.)

Living with these two stories, though, of the starfish and the babies in the river, makes me realize that there is always more to do. There is always more we can do, if we can convince ourselves and our faith community that it's worth the effort to work towards social change and not just provide social services.


July 9, 2009

Some initial reflections about FGC Gathering 2009

I'm intending to write separately about my experience in the Quakers & Social Class workshop that George Lakey led at Gathering. Before that, though, here are some less complex events and experiences I had while I was away from home.

A visit to Ploughshares Farm

One of the first people we saw on our 3-day car ride from Minnesota to FGC's Gathering in Virginia was Brent Bill and his wife Nancy--who he sometimes called Liz... very confusing to this Liz!

Brent was someone Jeanne had "met" via good ol' Facebook, though I was somewhat familiar with his blog, Holy Ordinary. I loved telling my parents that we were spending a night with "someone we met through the internet" ...and then waiting half a beat before explaining he was also a Quaker author and the writer of the preface to Writing Cheerfully on the Web.

Brent and Nancy's hospitality would be on the nature of the AAA four- or five-diamond rating. Y'know, when I hear "farm," I think of highly rustic, bugs crawling onto everything, no air conditioning, and a shared bathroom for whoever is there that night and the following morning.

But no: Ploughshares Farm is more like an immaculate Bed & Breakfast, with beautiful gardens, thanks to Nancy, and witty conversation, thanks to Brent. We also got a bit of a driving tour through nearby Plainfield, Indiana and saw where Western Yearly Meeting holds its annual sessions, as well as a former meetinghouse used by Conservative Friends.

We heard many stories about Quakers in central Indiana, which perhaps prompted me to ask Nancy and Brent how long they had been among Friends. I don't know that we ever heard Brent's answer because Nancy answered first:

"Oh, I'm a young Quaker. My family has been Quaker only for four generations."

What?!? I had to make sure she wasn't joking, which she wasn't. Brent went on to explain that Quakers in Indiana--and especially in central Indiana--had settled that area a long, long time ago, so four generations wasn't all that old as far as Indiana Quakers go.

We also heard about the struggles the two of them face regarding their monthly and yearly meeting, and how they began the Friends In Fellowship worship group just over two years ago. We had hoped to pass through Plougshares Farm again on the way back from Virginia in order to worship with these Friends on 5 Seventh Month, but Way was not open for that to happen.

If you ever have a chance to meet Brent or Nancy, or if you have an opportunity to stay with them at the Farm, do take advantage of the occasion!

FGC's Traveling Ministries Program

As I was preparing for the Gathering, I had a sense that I would not be spending my time doing the usual activities I've participated in so many times before. I felt little attraction to attending the worship that was convened daily by Friends for LGBTQ Concerns, even though it's usually quite settled and tender, despite having more than 70 Liberal Friends in the room. So I took things a day at a time.

On First Day afternoon, I attended a session that was offered by the Traveling Ministries Program of FGC (TMP). It was a time for worship and consideration of a few queries. Queries can sometimes be rather dull for me, but these queries seemed to indicate that the TMP is beginning to consider the bigger picture of Friends who travel in the ministry and their relationship to a vibrant Quakerism.

Here are the queries we considered:

    What is the Quaker message for today's hurting world?

    Can we begin to articulate a vision of our corporate experience and message? or is this not appropriate?

    Do we have a sense of what God may be asking of us? or are we each given a different message and task?
We divided into small groups to consider these queries and then reported back to the larger group. From there, the convener summarized the main threads she had heard, which went something like this:
We are called to continue living into a radical Love and our radical faith. The origin of this radical love is deep and ineffable, and we yearn to grow into it.

We also need to nurture its roots and there is work to do. There is work to do in ourselves, in our meetings, in our Religious Society, and in the world.

A number of groups used the metaphor of a tree: being a tree that stands firm as a presence to others; paying attention to the roots and the fruits of our faith and how we are in the world.

We are called to listen well to others and to model to others the Truth we seek to live.

We are also called to share the whole of our stories--not just the pleasant parts--so others can share the fullness of their stories.

We sense that there is a Message, even though we don't know what that Message is. We sense it may have something to do with how we are all part of the same Body; we are all small streams that flow into the same Stream...
Mostly, I was pleased to be worshiping for a short time among Friends, many of whom I treasure.

The tragic death of Bonnie Tinker

Later in the week, on Thursday, word reached the Gathering community that an attender had been struck and killed while riding on her bike. That night, the announcement was made that the cyclist was Bonnie Tinker--a person that MANY at the Gathering knew personally. She had been a plenary speaker back in the late 1990s at Gathering (I remembered I had interpreted into sign language her plenary address); she was very involved in Friends for LGBTQ Concerns; and she was a well known... personality... in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the country and around the world.

Bonnie was someone who advocated for oppressed and disenfranchised individuals, broke the rules in order to draw attention to the issue of the day, and worked tirelessly to change our society for the sake of equality and human dignity.

Though I didn't know Bonnie well, I attended a handful of Gatherings and smaller Midwinter events where she was also involved.

The night the announcement was made, all post-plenary events were cancelled and instead Friends were invited to a special Meeting for Worship, under the care of FLGBTQC. Most of us clearly were still stunned by the news and were in shock. But the convener of the called worship opened the time by explaining that in the 1980s, when so many of our loved ones were dying from the AIDS epidemic, FLGBTQC changed its form of worship and would do so again for that night:

Next to the convener was an empty chair. If someone wanted to express her or his grief--or other emotion, presumably--the worshiper was welcome to sit in the chair and speak from there. After sharing, the convener would then ask if the Friend was open to having a laying on of hands--a symbol that she or he was not alone and that she or he could stay connected with the community during such a tender time.

Some Friends spoke about when they first met Bonnie, or when they had last spoken with her. There were requests to hold Bonnie's family in the Light, some of whom had already been attending the Gathering and others of whom were traveling there because of the accident. One Friend reminded us to pray for the driver of the truck, too.

A few Friends did in fact move to the chair, but the corporal and cathartic release that some maybe were anticipating didn't emerge. It took time to digest the news and understand the implications that in fact Bonnie was gone.

The next day, Friday, during the daily afternoon worship--also under the care of FLGBTQC--Bonnie's sisters attended. Maybe Bonnie's partner Sara was also there, though no one made mention of her presence. It was at this worship when there were many more tears and sobs of grief.

And we sang.

Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Softly and Tenderly. Other hymns I didn't know.

And the news went out by phone, email, and Facebook. From local news broadcasts to articles in the Oregon newspaper and blog posts with additional details and personal reflections. I still come across news bits about the accident, though it's unsatisfying.

Nothing will bring Bonnie Tinker back to us. And there are a good many people who still need care, including the young adult Friend who apparently witnessed the accident, called 911, rushed to Bonnie's side, and held her hand as she died.

As I was finishing this blog post, I saw this open letter from the general secretary of FGC, Bruce Birchard. He writes about the events at the Gathering...

Looking ahead to 2010

Next year's Gathering is scheduled to be held in Bowling Green, Ohio--a new site for FGC, and there'll be a new paradigm for the week. Here is an excerpt of what was printed in the daily bulletin that was distributed toward the end of this year's Gathering:
Beginning in 2010, the FGC Gathering will run from Sunday to Saturday, effectively shortening the entire Gathering by one day. There are two major advantages to this:

- Lower fees for Gathering attenders (we are estimating by approximately 8%).
- More time on the first weekend to travel to the Gathering.

Having the Gathering begin on Sunday will alleviate the need for many Friends to take off work the preceding Friday in order to begin their travel to the Gathering site, and thereby reduce further the total effective cost of attending for those in this situation. We will continue to schedule the Gathering for the week including 4th of July, so that employed Friends need use only 4 vacation days, rather than 5. If reduced fees and a reduced need to use vacation to attend the Gathering result in increased attendance, it may be possible to reduce fees even further since our substantial fixed costs will be spread over more attenders...
FGC experimented with a shortened Gathering in 2006 when the Gathering was held in Tacoma, Washington. At that time, there were significant schedule conflicts between the activities of the Friends of Color Center and those of Friends for LGBTQ Concerns, so hopefully those conflicts will be avoided in upcoming years.

As for me, I'm currently planning to skip next year's Gathering, the first one I will have missed since I started attending in 1995. The Gathering has become a bit predictable for me and I feel my growth in the Spirit has stagnated considerably.

Also, since my partner and I continue to cut back on travels--for financial and earthcare reasons--we are planning to attend the White Privilege Conference next year, which will be held in western Wisconsin.

We also are toying with dipping our toes into the QuakerSpring meet-up that has emerged in the past few years, but we have more to consider about the where, when, how far, and how much sort of questions before committing to adding that particular event to our calendar.

Then again, God might call me elsewhere entirely.

In the meantime, I'll keep writing about my experience at Gathering. More posts to come.


July 7, 2009

Putting ourselves in the Way

A few weeks ago, I started reading the book Bridging the Class Divide, by Quaker author Linda Stout. In the first few pages I came across something (in the introduction?) that has stuck with me ever since:

    As people who are concerned about social justice and equality, we often direct our efforts to impact the field of social services when what we need to do is focus our energy and attention on the concept of social change.
It's that distinction that has been working on me.

[CORRECTION: It isn't in the introduction, though this concept is in the part of the book that I had first started reading, the chapter called "Principles for a New Organizing Model": "Providing services does not result in social change." (p.106; emphasis mine)]

In the monthly meeting, we do fairly well to help feed and shelter people who are homeless--at least when it's "our turn" to do so as a meeting. We go to peace vigils and march along one of the bridges that span the Mississippi to protest the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We often gather a group of us to go to the state capital to participate in the annual Lobby Day on behalf of GLBTQ rights, and we turned out in force to rally against the Republican National Convention when it came to town in the fall of 2008.

It's been years, though, and little has changed, other than--most notably--the administration in Washington D.C. The wars are still going on; same-sex couples are still without equal federal protections under the law, and poor people, including more and more of the "working poor," are lining up at food shelves.

Recipients of social services no doubt appreciate the help, care, and support. Their individual lives are made better, if only for a short time before the oppression, financial destitution, or illness come knocking at their door once again.

But change in the way that social systems work, in the way that our attitudes and perceptions impact those systems: now, THAT would be real change.

The question is how to go about making those sorts of system-wide, integrated, and internalized changes.

It's been happening in Iran, of course, since their elections in June earlier this year. Something new has been struggling to break through, and it's changing the political, social, judicial, religious, international, and technological fabric that had existed there.

And it happened because Iranians began putting themselves in the way.

They put themselves in front of the military. They put themselves in front of television, cell phones, and Twitter. They put themselves in front of their oppressors and the world began to pay attention.

The world began to pay attention, not just the individuals who shout from rooftops each night or the relatives and friends of people who are in Tehran.

And so it was that during the last few minutes of Meeting for Worship, two days before I was to head to FGC's Gathering, that the pieces came together for me: Linda Stout's remark; the revolution in Iran; and the meeting's apparent laissez-faire approach to opportunities that await us:
    We must be willing to put ourselves in the way if we want to affect change.
But as I sat a while longer, I saw this:
    We must be willing to put ourselves in the Way if we want to affect change.
How often do we, as a body, commit ourselves to put ourselves in the Way--in what others have called the Stream or the Unseen Hands--put ourselves in the Way to the extent that we say, This needs to change and we will abide by it no more--this attitude, this system, this rhetoric, this law.

I remember watching the film Iron Jawed Angels and being impressed, not by the Quaker women portrayed in the film but how they put themselves in the Way of Truth, and they put themselves in the Way of Justice.

So many other examples exist in our history as Americans: Martin Luther King, Jr. Harvey Milk. Harriet Tubman.

During worship that morning, I began to wonder just where it is that we are to stand in order to find ourselves in the Way.

And yet...

In the very last few minutes of my afternoon worship, I began to understand that first, for me, I must pray to be changed inwardly and intrinsically. I must be changed at the core so that I might open myself "to be willing to be willing" to stand in the Way.
    Lord, make us an instrument of Thy peace.

    Where there is hatred,
    where there is injury,
    where there is doubt,
    where there is despair,
    where there is darkness,
    and where there is sadness--

    Give us the courage and the faith to be willing to put ourselves in the Way.

P.S. There'll be more to read about "social change" and "social services" both here and at my partner's blog, Quakers & Social Class. Both of us were in George Lakey's workshop at Gathering about, well... Quakers and social class. And we both have something to say about our experience there.

UPDATE: Jeanne has published a post on her thoughts about the "rules" that play into this sort of social service vs. social change paradigm, just moments after I posted this!