November 23, 2009

The Convergent Friends talk I didn't give

The previous week had been lesson after lesson about waiting for God to give me direction: what should I bring to the yearly meeting's high school group?

I had been asked to talk with them about Convergent Friends but I was having trouble sinking into the topic and understanding what it was I was to pull out and share.

For each of five or six days leading up to the presentation, I would spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour a half, writing notes, making lists, reading blog posts, asking Friends for ideas, searching the internet for interactive activities...

And the next day, I would get the feeling that what I had done the day before just wasn't what God was asking me to do.

By the event's eve, I started to let go and submit:

I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what the group is going to need. I don't know what materials will come in handy. And I'm not going to know until I get to the site where the teens are and be among them.

So that morning, I packed up everything I thought I might be able to use if Way opened--markers, blank paper, flipchart boards, my favorite Quaker books, ALL of my notes, handouts from an earlier workshop...

And I surrendered.

I'm not sure yet if I'll write a separate blogpost about how things turned out and what activities I ended up using. Overall, though, I feel things were... satisfactory.

But along the way, with all the planning and threshing and note-jotting, I ended up with a chart that summarizes my own take on how the Convergent conversation addresses certain topics.

Convergent responses

Jesus Convergent Friends (Conv Fs) are not afraid to talk about or wrestle openly about Jesus. Whether Jesus is a teacher that we follow, a figure that we praise, or a legend that we acknowledge has relevance to our peers, we are willing to ask one another questions and listen thoughtfully for the Truth and Light that might be there for ourselves.
God or the Divine Similar to Jesus, above. Most Conv Fs speak openly about an actively present God, Living Christ, or Divine Figure in our life, but a few are questioning: Is there a God? Can I call myself a Christian? Conv Fs are willing to ask the questions and listen for Truth that may speak to our condition.
Scripture Many Conv Fs have some familiarity with Scripture. Part of the Quaker renewal that Conv Fs are coming into includes a growing openness to talk about and refer to Scripture. Some Conv Fs reference the importance of the Bible and the impact it's making in our lives.
Nontheists There appear to be very few nontheists engaged in the Convergent conversation currently, but the ones who are involved challenge theist Quakers--or at the very least, they challenge me--to watch for how any of us live our life rather than listen solely to the theology we profess. Nontheist Convergent Friends are part of the Quaker family.
Pastors & Programmed Worship Conv Fs recognize that Friends churches and programmed worship can bring Quakers closer to the Living God. Pastors explain Scripture, practices, terms, and history related to the faith tradition in a way that prevent or slow the loss of these pieces, unlike what may be happening among Liberal unprogrammed "Quietist-leaning" Friends.
Open Worship Conv Fs recognize that this form of worship provides a powerful opportunity for worshipers to know God directly and to know God as a corporate body within a gathered meeting.
Faithfulness Conv Fs often speak of a yearning to be faithful and obedient to the Spirit, and how that yearning needs to be pursued and needs to be helped. Conv Fs not only speak of our spiritual yearnings but also offer ourselves to one another for spiritual nurture and prayer support.
Accountability & Eldership Many Conv Fs have established a shared trust that allows us to open to one another for this sort of spiritual exercise.
Power & Humility The danger is that any Friend--Convergent or otherwise--may start to believe "I'm right, you're wrong" (or "We're right, you're wrong"). When we are low and keep love and God at the center of our searching, worship, and finding, we are more able to reach across the branches of our Quaker family tree and help mend the schisms.
Intervisitation Conv Fs feel known in that which is Eternal, even on the internet, and so we often seek one another out as the Opportunity arises. Meet-ups that parallel other events allow Conv Fs to strengthen ties and experience the Presence together.
Finding Conv Fs testify with one another, to the wider body of Friends, and beyond what we have found. Conv Fs testify to the Truth and Love experienced during our spiritual journey.

Not all my thoughts are fleshed out thoroughly, and though I use the words "we" and "our" when referencing Convergent Friends, I also recognize that I myself do not identify as a Convergent Friend!

I will say that I am involved in the conversation. I will explain what being part of the Convergent movement might mean. I will even devote a section of a book to the subject of Convergent Friends. But I find that I am not clear to name myself "Convergent."

That said, maybe I need to add one more part to the table above:

Attitude If the yearning to go deeper into the Quaker tradition is coupled with an openness to the many forms that Quakerism takes; and if that yearning leads a Friend to pursue more time and experience among similarly oriented Quakers, all the while remembering the Source and Inward Teacher that others earnestly strive to Know, then that Friend may well be embracing the Convergent spirit and sensibility...


November 22, 2009

Approved minute on marriage equality

The following minute from Twin Cities Friends Meeting was approved last month. The approval came after several months of threshing, discussion, and prayerful consideration.

Regarding item #6 in the minute, a few Friends have already come forward to coordinate and/or pursue particular actions that may help the meeting bear witness to the importance and right order of marriage equality.

NOTE: The phrases "same-sex couples" and "same-gender couples" are used interchangeably.

Many of us were holding our breath as this minute was considered because in previous discussions, Friends raised a number of concerns. It's my sense that Friends were put somewhat at ease because the minute includes a trial period of three years to test how rightly led this witness is and to have time to address any unexpected outcomes.

Time will tell...


Minute for Marriage Equality

Holding to our longstanding Testimonies of equality and integrity as they relate to justice for all peoples, we recognize the discomfort we feel when we provide civil marriage for straight couples but are unable to do the same for same-sex couples within the state of Minnesota.

The Quaker tradition is one of Spirit-led activism on behalf of civil rights and justice. Given that a foremost civil rights issue today concerns the right for all couples to marry, regardless of gender, [Twin Cities Friends Meeting] unites with a growing number of Quaker and other faith communities who are working for marriage equality.

We affirm the right for all caring couples to marry religiously and civilly. TCFM is not against the right of the state to give legal sanction to marriage. Rather we are called to witness against the injustice of the system as currently practiced.

In light of this searching, and because we often learn God’s Truth based on direct experience, we recommend a period of testing the following actions.

That TCFM:
    1. Choose to lay aside for a period of three years--while still retaining--its legal right to perform the civil part of marriage.
In addition, TCFM will:
    2. Continue to provide clearness committees for all couples who request one for marriage;
    3. Continue to witness religious weddings in the manner of Friends, that is, bearing witness to God’s marriage of two people;
    4. Continue to take under its care all relationships and marriages that exist within the community;
    5. Continue to support all couples who seek civil marriage, regardless of the gender of the partners;
    6. Seek opportunities to bear witness outwardly until equal treatment under the law exist for all couples.
We search for ways to expand the rights of some couples without restricting the rights of others. In the midst of wrestling within our meeting and in our state, we support marriage equality for all caring, committed couples. We trust that by TCFM’s action and witness, we will help hasten progress toward marriage equality for all.

Twin Cities Friends Meeting
Eleventh Month 2009

RELATED ITEM: Twelfth Month 2009, Minnesota Public Radio interviews the clerk, Paul L, about what this approved minute means from a practical viewpoint.

November 17, 2009

Wanted: Ideas for working with high school teens

Hey there--

I'm working with the Northern Yearly Meeting high school program on Saturday for a couple of hours and I'm looking for ideas of activities to do with them (Topic: Quakers, the Internet, and Convergent Friends).

I've been in touch with two of the teen organizers who have assured me that all shall will be well, especially if I focus on the INTENTION, which I typically do anyway. They also mentioned on their own that having some worship is also welcome.

I find I'm having a hard time thinking of just what to do and was wondering if any of you blog readers have any thoughts or resources to share with me.

I've been thinking of questions to use with the "Four Corners" exercise, a spectrum exercise, and/or a fishbowl around some question. I've also been toying with a sort of "Chalk Talk" exercise that I know Peterson has used...

Have any of you ever done concentric circles with high schoolers? How was that...? Any other ideas you can offer....?

I'm really tired and have a bit too much on my plate, or so it seems. So I'm reaching out to gain some additional stimulation. I know many of us are busy too, but hey, two or more busy minds are better than my one!

Blessings, and thanks for the help,

November 12, 2009

Visibility of established Friends

As I've been catching up a teeny bit on my blog reading, a thread has been piecing itself together for me. Or maybe it's been two or three threads, coming together to add some heft to an observation I've been mullling over...

First, as I mention in my previous post, I came across the proceedings from the 2009 conference on the Emergent and Convergent trends among Friends. The proceedings appear to lack a point of connection or a direct reference to the Quaker blogosphere that had promoted the concept of "Convergent." That apparent omission from the printed proceedings has not left me.

Then I read Martin's comment to that post, in which he explains,

I have a great concern that some of the most embedded institutional Friends (like some of those at the conference) are all but invisible online. Maybe they should jump into more blog conversations...
Shortly after reading his comment, I read Robin M's post on the essentials of Quaker practice, followed by a quick look at the list of blog posts lining up on QuakerQuaker.

Not only is the online community of Quaker bloggers and blog-readers missing out on the voices and perspectives of those long-time established Friends--whether "institutional" or not--but as the number of Quaker blogs grows, it seems that we, as Quaker bloggers, have been falling away from what had been a bit of online etiquette--that of using our name when first introducing the blog or when leaving a comment. Or, if we didn't use our full name, the practice had been that we'd use at least a recognizable part of it.

While crafting this blog post, I updated my post about online etiquette to include my thoughts about the value of using our names when blogging and commenting:
9. Use your real name, or at least a portion of it. Part of what reduces the anonymity of the internet and helps us to be known to one another in the Quaker blogosphere is that many of us have been using our name. Of course, for some of us who have a concern for privacy and internet security--myself included--that gets to be a bit tricky, which is why some of us use our first name and last initial, or we shorten our last name so it won't be [as] searchable through Google.

In addition to the disciplines of accountability and speaking plainly so that we might support one another on- and offline, using our names has been a great help in practical matters to find one another when traveling to events, such as the FGC Gathering. There's one less layer of society to have to peel away when I can know a blogger right away as "Robin" or "Martin" and not as "QuakerFriend" or "FriendlyWorshiper."
The name stuff is fairly straight-forward to address, but I'm harder pressed to think about the involvement and visibility of long-time, well-known Friends.

Here's part of a comment I left in response to Martin's remarks:
I'm conflicted about the degree of online visibility to afford to "embedded institutional Friends." On the one hand, these long-time Friends and educators most likely have a long and broad perspective that many of us "free-roaming," less institutionalized Friends don't have. It would be wonderful to have their experience reflected in the blogosphere, much like Brent Bill has been offering.

I recall that for a while, Friends' pastor Scott Wagoner was maintaining a blog, and also that every now and then, even Lloyd Lee Wilson would offer a comment.

On the other hand, I also think it's important that more established members of the Religious Society of Friends give space for less established Friends to find their voice and grow into whatever gifts and ministry may have been Given to them. Not to mention that some of [us] early Quaker bloggers have taken up new things--families and careers included--that reduce [our] visibility and presence online...
Maybe it falls to the less established, less institutional Quakers to say plainly, "Hey, we need a guidepost right about now. We're feeling a bit lost. What can you bring to the discussion and conversation that might help...?"

I'd like to think, as the years go by and as my hair is turning whiter, that I'll still be connected to Friends within the meeting and via the Internet. I'd like to think that I'll be willing to speak openly to an issue of concern--all while being "appropriately visible" to the Friends around me and to the body of Friends that may be treading just a few steps behind, to the side, or in front of me.


November 4, 2009

Pride and privilege

God is wanting to teach me about the dangers of pride and the downside of privilege.

I'm a slow learner.

I know this because I am getting lessons about pride and privilege nearly every day it seems, from different people, over and over and over again. So it must be important and I need to pay closer attention.

Most recently the lesson came to light as I was reading the proceedings from a recent conference at Guilford College on a "new kind of Quaker" and the Emergent and Convergent movements that are influencing modern American Friends.

I found myself getting angry that Friends--Friends that I don't know personally--were talking about Convergent Quakers. That's when I realized I had unknowingly "bestowed" upon myself and a handful of others the "privilege" and the "right" to talk about Convergent Friends.


My ego and pride had become overinvested in my (very ephemeral) place in the online conversation.

I needed to change my thinking about all of this: Many Friends all over the world have begun learning about Convergent Friends, and of course this isn't a new phenomenon at all. It's just a new word.

It took reading about this conference to burst my ballooning ego, and I'm the first to say I needed that particular balloon popped (again). If there is Truth and Life enough in what is going on to help Quakers reclaim and live into our vibrant faith tradition, then that is enough, and that fruit is of the Spirit, not of any single person's efforts or own good thinking.

It's painful to look in the mirror--but it also makes for good blogging fodder.


I am thinking once more about being meek and staying low.

Oh, how frequently my pride and vanity get in the way!

So many times I do think I have really good ideas or I do think I know how to navigate through conflict and tense moments or I do think I know how to help convey Quakerism in meaningful ways to new attenders.

One of the dangers of this sort of pride, though, is that if I believe that I'm "so good," that often goes along with a deep and unspoken belief that so many others. . . aren't.

If in fact these are gifts that I carry--creativity, bridge-building, guidance--they are gifts from the Spirit and not of my own making. And these gifts aren't exclusively given only to me.

I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free
I will bow and be humble
Yea bow like the willow tree.

I will bow this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and be broken,
Yea I'll fall upon the rock.
Thinking that I am really good at a task can make me too quick to act when someone else may have an equally valuable--or even greater!--skill to offer or an important perspective to add. So many times I am reminded that we each have different gifts, different perspectives--and all are needed!

In my humanness, though, my pride often makes me blind and deaf to the gifts that others bring or that others may be developing, and I end up trampling on my comrades rather than "lifting them up."

Pride too can make me think I know what's best, and I become quick to discount or dismiss the opinions and ideas that others wish to contribute.

And then God steps in, or sends a messenger, to remind me...

Most recently, we hired Pete (not his real name) in the neighborhood for some fall yard clean-up. The leaves were many and were still somewhat wet from the recent rain. More rain was called for overnight, just before our morning pick-up for yard waste. I was glad that Pete was available and he filled up three-and-a-half of those extra-large paper sacks with the leaves from just our front yard.

In fact, Pete had filled the bags so full that there was no extra bag to fold over to keep out the upcoming rain.

I began to say something to him, like "Could you leave a bit of room at the top so the bag could be folded over...?" and he replied, "It'll be fine." A few days later, Pete told me he wouldn't do any more work for me, that I was too nit-picky.


I am wondering if there were other interactions that Pete and I have had in recent years that led to his perception that I was nit-picky, but the main thing is, my ego was bruised. My pride was hurt and I wanted to get angry at Pete for... for calling me names....?

I had thought I had been treating Pete well and with respect, but his comment to me has forced me to look at myself through his eyes. Am I too nit-picky? Do I insist too frequently that things be done my way?

Am I too prideful in thinking I have the right to interject what I think about any given situation?


Privilege pairs with pride for that reason, I think. Because I have privilege, I have access to any number of things--or at least I assume I do--and I internalize the message lived out by others of privilege:
    The world at large and its institutions revolve around, and keep in power, those with privilege.
Privilege extends a number of assumed "rights" to those who have it and prevents access to those same rights to those who don't have "enough" privilege or the "right kind" of privilege.

The right to speak my mind--not only to interject my point of view but also to impose my worldview unwittingly onto others--without fear of retaliation, ridicule, harassment, or violence is among the rights that I seem to abuse the most.

When I stay awake to that abuse--entitling myself to have more power than I do, to take advantage of the access to more power than others have, to give myself more decision-making opportunities than others have--I am humbled.
    I will bow and be broken Yea I fall upon the rock.
But staying awake, remembering that privilege begets privilege, is very hard in a society that whispers into my unconscious,
    "There's nothing wrong, there's nothing wrong. You don't have to give anything up. Just help others to get a little bit more." You don't have to change because there's nothing wrong, nothing wrong..."
My worldview is formed by the unearned privileges with which I grew up, namely being white, being born into wealth, and being raised in an area that had families that looked and acted a lot like my own family.

I have to work hard to remember that racial privilege and social class privilege can only exist where there is racism and classism.

Where there is oppression, there is privilege. Where there is disenfranchisement, there is entitlement.

And because I am a person of privilege, I must resist the tendency to become defensive when I am pointed to as acting entitled or as being part of the systemic, societal oppression.

This particular sentence from Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack haunts me, as I continue to become aware of my deeply embedded classism as well as continued racism:
Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in women's studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, "having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?"
The phrase "what will I do to lessen or end it?" has a resonance in me the way I imagine Samuel Bownas' inward cry--"...Lord, what shall I do to help it?"--was called forth in response to the minister who chided him.

These are deep and difficult issues, tangled in my subconscious and in my heart. More and more these days, I work to untangle them.

Here's a piece from my journal, when I was taking a hard look at my unearned privilege as a white, well-educated, owning class American:
Privilege puts ME at the center.

MY needs.
MY wants.
MY preferences.
MY communication style.
MY comfort.
MY lifestyle.
MY feelings.
MY worldview.
MY advancement.

But my "needs" aren't necessarily needs at all.

And as I let go of any individual privilege, I go against the unspoken American Middle Class Norm--to be better, to have more, to keep more, to expect more, to be given more.

Once I have a privilege--earned or unearned--it's hard to choose to let it go for the sake of standing in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who have less.
The Light pierces my heart and reveals to me my ego's tight grasp on pride and privilege.

Ahh, break me Lord, if you must. But I pray it be gentle and that I be willing to yield, to bow like the willow tree.