October 26, 2009

Home is where the limits are

Over on Plainly Pagan, Hystery has written about her stance against* becoming a member of a Quaker meeting that is affiliated with a larger body that has discriminatory policies against GLBTQ persons.

I began to leave a long comment to her post that drifted from her reflections into some of my own, so I'm continuing my train of thought below.

At one point in her post, Hystery asks a question that I myself had been thinking, regarding her experience among Friends.  She writes:

Is it possible that my reaction to FUM is different than other liberals within the Quaker fold because I am so new? I honestly did not know that NY had affiliations with a religious organization that had anti-gay language.
I begin my comment by affirming that yes, I would say that this is very likely, since as convinced Friends our connections with our monthly meeting often provides our primary understanding of and initial exposure to what Quakerism is (or isn't) about.

And that understanding often is incredibly limited--and limiting.  We base our understanding and build relationships with the Friends in the meeting and then we unknowingly internalize the thought that all Quakers must be like this.

After all, I continue explaining to her, "you are certainly not alone among the many attenders who don't find out for years after worshiping with Friends that there are other branches of Friends out there! I was among those attenders, and you have (1) good reason to be shocked at the way things are in New York Yearly Meeting; and (2) no reason to fear that "you should have known better." Chalk it up to Quakerism's quietist behavior."

After sharing that comment, though, I began to consider my early ignorance as an attender at Quaker meetings with my Jewish upbringing.

On the one hand, I readily understood how it was I gained a very early awareness about Judaism:

I grew up knowing there were (back then) three main branches of Judaism because my Jewish education as a child made sure I knew it. And because I had in my family Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, and Reform Jews.

On the other hand, how could I have been among Friends for months if not years before learning that Quakerism also has its splits and branches?  Why was that?  Why hadn't I learned that sooner, within my first 12 months of attending worship? 

The question concerns me because I came to Quakerism twice:  once as a college student (I attended worship twice a week but did absolutely no reading about the faith and no traveling among Friends, either), and again when I was 30.

It took me maybe a year or more to feel comfortable as a 30-something before I started going to Adult First Day School, and that's probably where I first heard about the other Quakers, the ones who had programmed worship and about the evangelical Friends...  And then later, I participated in a Quakerism 101 session and learned about the historic splits and schisms.

Some of that late learning is my own fault.  I didn't seek out adult education among Friends for quite some time.  Some of the problem--maybe much of it, for non-pastored meetings--rests with the meeting itself.  Are we too focused on worship, social justice, and welcoming families that we dedicate too few resources to "bringing worshipers into the fold" by offering regular book groups, Bible study, and adult education?

It would probably be different if I lived or worked as an adult in a Quaker hub while also attending meeting.  If I had lived in Greensboro, North Carolina or in Plainfield, Indiana, or Des Moines, Iowa, I think I would have had a better chance of discovering at least two worlds of Quakerism:  programmed and unprogrammed.  Maybe I would have discovered Conservative, Liberal, and Evangelical Friends, too.

But with Hystery's experience as an example, it worries me to see new attenders, seekers, and young families come into our meetinghouses, maybe even get involved in the life of the meeting--the person's "home meeting"--without some early integration of the awareness of just who makes up the Religious Society of Friends.

(Not to mention that it isn't solely or even originally or primarily an American religion, but we do better in pointing out that Quakerism's roots are in Europe and the largest portion of today's Quakers are in Africa.)

I don't know if adults who, out of the blue, start attending Shabbat services necessarily know that there are such distinct branches among Jews, but I've heard that adults who begin to attend services are usually steered into taking Judaica classes to learn about the Jewish faith.

It's clear to me that something's amiss among American Quaker meetings and how we talk about today's Quakerism with new attenders.  What do we tell them after we've invited them to have coffee and join in the fellowship hour...?


*Shortly after seeing Hystery's comment below, I imagine the phrase "stance against" would have been more accurate had I written "struggle about." Apologies to you, Hystery...

October 18, 2009

Putting God into SPICE

A couple of times in recent Meetings for Worship--once at the monthly meeting and another at the worship group--a worshiper at each place made reference to the nifty little acronym SPICE. A lot has already been written about that acronym and the modern take on the Quaker Testimonies, and I've included a partial list of related blog posts below.

I agree that the mnemonic acronym--Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality--is a sort of tool to help our youngest Friends and our newest attenders understand what some of our key principles are.  But it's like a mechanic who pulls out a Phillips screwdriver, a flat-head screwdriver, and a hammer and says, "Every mechanic should have a complete tool set like this!"

Well, of course it isn't quite like that.

One of the Friends who talked about SPICE has long-time connections with Friends education. To be fair, the Friend did say something about helping the young students understand some of the values that make the school what it is. And yet: at the rise of worship, an attender acknowledged that the acronym helped him finally understand what Quakerism is about...

Do we really want worshipers to leave meeting with an acronym? Or do we want them--and ourselves--to leave worship with a renewed sense of God's love, guidance, and presence in our individual and corporate lives?

The short-hand of SPICE doesn't relieve us of our responsibility to convey our faith and its invisible doctrines, principles, and complexities to those who worship among us.

What is it we really want those who find us to understand about our peculiar faith tradition? How can we share the fabric of Quakerism and not just a few of its individual threads?

The other person who recently spoke about SPICE has been worshiping with Quakers for a handful of months, and he talked about the acronym as if it was the best thing he'd seen or heard since sliced bread. I think he was disappointed to find out that the acronym has been around for at least a few years...

The thing is, if we stop at SPICE--as others have pointed out in their posts to which I link below--if we say in essence, "The testimonies are the crux of what we need to share when we talk about Quakerism with others," then it is as if we have pulled out a single thread that leaves marred the entire Quaker tapestry. In essence, we unintentionally sever these spiritual fruits from the deep root of our faith: the Inward Teacher, the Light, the Divine Principle that guides us to outward action that offers testimony to what it is we know inwardly.

If we are going to talk about SPICE in reference to the Testimonies, then we must also, and at the same time, and in the same breath, talk about the concept of the transformative power of the Light. Quakers would have no Testimony to the Truth had we not made ourselves low enough to submit to the Light's searching out of our shortcomings, yielded to it, and subsequently found ourselves changed.

So I want to suggest a new acronym, in order to put God first:

    GPS ICE.
That's God, Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Community, and Equality.

But really, the acronym should be
    GPS G ICE G.

Putting God first, last, and in the center of our Quakerism.


Martin's essay on the Quaker Testimonies
Chris M's thoughts on Creeds and Quakers
Melanie Douty-Snipes thoughts on Devotion as a Testimony (scroll down)
Pam's thoughts on Love as a Testimony
My own cautions about overreliance on an acronym
A more recent post by Quaker Jane, reminding Friends that Love is the fount from which the Testimonies rise

October 14, 2009

Ashley's meme: God told me to.

I just read a fabulous post by Ashley W that reminds me of my own story of when God "told me to."

At some point during my senior year in college, I had decided that I wasn't going to live on the east coast after I graduated. I had grown up in New Jersey, had visited many relatives in Baltimore and in Washington DC, and had spent summer vacations in New England. I didn't feel much desire to do more of what I had already done.

I quickly eliminated living in the southeast (hurricanes), or the west (earthquakes), or the south (heat and humidity). Then I realized that nearly all of my good friends from college were from the midwestern part of the U.S. and THAT seemed worthwhile to pay attention to!

During that last year of college, I made plans to spend my breaks visiting parts of the midwest where my college friends were from, including Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio as well as Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

But there was something else that was significant about my college years: Canada geese.

You see, I grew up in a very suburban area outside of New York City. The geese that I saw in my childhood were geese that I fed at a pond in New England during summer vacations. They were quiet geese, mostly white, and I certainly never saw them fly in a V.

But at college, there was the type of pond and semi-rural campus that attracted Canada geese, and the campus was part of a fly-zone during migrations. Every time I heard the honks of geese, I would interrupt my walk to class and look into the sky to see where the honks were coming from. Day after day, I'd spy the wedges of geese and stop and listen to them as they flew by.

Something about these Canada geese was calling to me, but what....?

Fast forward to my visits to friends in the midwest during my senior year. In October, I traveled to Milwaukee to see Linda, my closest college buddy, who had already been out of school for a while. While there in the city, wouldn't you know it, a flock of geese flew overhead and I was practically sold on relocating then and there.

But I had at least another semester to get through, so shortly after seeing Linda, I wrote her a letter that said, in part:

"I'm beginning to think about where I want to be after I graduate, and I'm thinking about moving to the midwest. I don't know what your plans are for the next year, but I might be in the area, looking for a roommate..."
It turns out that Linda was also writing me a letter at about the same time:
"I just found out that my folks are leaving Milwaukee to move to Indiana. I'll be staying in Wisconsin, and even though I don't know what your plans are when you graduate, if you need a place to live and want to come to Milwaukee, I'll be looking for a roommate..."

And the letters literally crossed in the mail.

So when people find out that I grew up on the east coast but have been living in the midwest since 1985, they often ask me, "Why'd you move to the midwest?" And I tell them:

God brought me here.

I've never looked back and God is still speaking to me, even here.


October 2, 2009

QuakerBooks highlights two Quaker blogger-authors

This afternoon I received an email from one of the co-managers of QuakerBooks of FGC. Lucy Duncan wrote me to tell me that the website is once again featuring Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader. What is extra special for me, though, is that Eileen Flanagan's newest book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference, is also being highlighted!

In addition, the third book that's accompanies Eileen's and mine is The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong.

Wow, I'm humbled to be in such good company...