December 31, 2009

The core and gestalt of Quakerism

A few weeks ago, a new attender to the worship group was hospitalized and he desperately wanted some of us to bring him some books. I brought him a spare copy I had of Lloyd Lee Wilson's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, in part because he had read on our website that this book was one of the threads that had brought many of us together.

A week or two later, I visited the Friend and he started talking about the book and about the concept of a Quaker gestalt, mentioned in Chapter 2.* When he asked me how I myself would define the Quaker gestalt, I replied something like this:

    I think of a gestalt as something that is bigger than the whole and all of its parts. And when I think about Quakerism, I often think of it as a tapestry.
    The thing is, for many modern Liberal Friends, we think we can pull out one or even a few of the tapestry's threads and still have the pattern or image of the tapestry intact, especially when looking at it from a distance. What I believe, though, is that the interwoven quality of the tapestry, of the Quaker gestalt, is in fact hurt by pulling out any of its threads, by discarding any of its practices, disciplines, or doctrines.
    I also believe that from an outsider's perspective, the tapestry won't look different when a thread is removed. But from the inside, from those long-time Friends who have lived and breathed Quakerism, they have known it deeply and wordlessly as a thing-of-the-whole, and so by changing one thread of the pattern, the whole pattern is changed.
    As for the primary threads that make up the Quaker gestalt, I name them as the immediacy and centrality of God in our lives; the place of corporate worship and meetings for worship for business; the covenant community; and the transformative power of the Inner Light on our individual and corporate lives.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Now that I've typed this out here, I can add some additional thoughts to the initial answer I offered a few days ago.

For one thing, I don't know that the Quaker gestalt is "hurt" as much as it is changed--for better or for worse--when we start pulling out threads of our Quaker tapestry. Clearly, some early outward forms for many of us Quakers have become empty and we've discarded them or otherwise rely on them much less than our predecessors did, such as convening a meeting of elders or wearing plain dress.

Secondly, I continue to acknowledge fairly openly that I was not raised in the Christian tradition and I don't identify as Christian. Yet I certainly acknowledge that Quakerism's Christian roots are also a vital part of Quakerism's tapestry.

I would say in my earlier days among Friends, I yanked the "Quakerism is a part of Christianity" thread pretty hard, insisting that Quakerism could exist just fine without it being Christian. In hindsight, that was my way of saying I felt I belonged and was accepted by my local Quaker community, and it therefore followed that a belief Jesus didn't have to be a requirement for being Quaker.

Nowadays, as a more mature Friend, others have held my feet to the fire, saying that to be Quaker, I have to at least be willing to wrestle with the faith's Christian roots. And I do.

I wrestle with being Quaker while not identifying as Christian. Sometimes I scratch my head in confusion: How did I end up here?! On my better days, I understand it is not a matter of how we name that Loving Principle: it is how we live by it.

I also recognize that the more time I spend with Quakers--in worship and in fellowship--the deeper I sink into the Seed and the more I learn about how the threads of the tapestry are intertwined. Over the years, I seem to understand more deeply and intuitively that when one thread is changed, the whole pattern of the tapestry is intrinsically changed, even if not noticeably so until years or generations later.

It is a lesson I need to revisit from time to time, and another indication that when I think I understand the wholeness and prophetic ministry of Quakerism, I really have so much more to learn.


P.S. As I was crafting this post in my mind, I also was reading Marty Grundy's newest pamphlet, Early Friends & Ministry. In some ways, her review of how Friends' travel in the ministry has changed over the centuries speaks to the historical changes of the gestalt of Quakerism. I hope to write about this pamphlet very soon.

*I include a quote from this chapter about the Quaker gestalt in an earlier post.

December 25, 2009

One hand blogging

I jammed my wrist very badly while shoveling during our holiday snowstorm, making it very tedious to type with my non-dominant hand while I rest my right hand.

There are some things I wish to write about: a conversation I had with a Friend about what makes up the "gestalt" of Quakerism, the upcoming Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theological Conference, and thoughts about open worship and the related discussion going on at QuakerQuaker (click on Forum)...

But it's taxing me to type even this much.

I hope to be back online soon...


December 3, 2009

What I did with the high school teens

A few of you have wondered how things went for me when I met with the high schoolers during their retreat a couple of weeks ago. Below is pretty much the response I gave to one person who asked me "How was it?"

If you were a teen who participated, I hope you'll add your own thoughts and perspective on what it was like.


First off, I mention a teeny bit about how my preparation went (or didn't) in the start of my previous post.

Parts of it fell pretty flat, but other parts went really really well.


1. I'd like to ask a few days before the event how many people were already registered! I had been planning for about 12 teens--and there were 22 of 'em!! The day before the retreat got started, I learned there were 17, so I had a little bit of time to rethink things.

2. I would have liked to have been better prepared to make explicit that if the same person (or persons) frequently wanted to comment, I'll stop inviting that person to speak--and encourage the person (or persons, in this case) to practice some discernment about whether or not that thing needed to be said. But with only a 2-hour timeslot, I didn't recognize the pattern of two of the teens until we were halfway through the morning.

3. I'd take more time--MUCH more time--to talk about how Quakers aren't perfect. I'd like to figure out a way to ask more effectively what gets talked about too much and what doesn't get talked about enough. Maybe I would search for a way to get a few of the teens who were registered to answer this question ahead of time...

4. When I started talking a bit about my own experience about God, some of the teens seemed to tune in and perk up. Wish I had stayed in touch with that energy and pursued it a bit more: how often do they hear about God/Jesus/faith from Quaker adults...?


1. Following the nudges and hunches I had. For example, the teens were still eating breakfast 15 min before we were supposed to start--and they were still in sleeping bags, etc. about 15 min before that! So I ditched my high-energy ice breaker and instead had them do a step-forward exercise. All the questions were about family, since I was going to talk about Quakers and the RSoF as extended family.
  • Who here has a family? (After stepping forward and looking around, then we'd create the line again.)
  • Who has a large extended family?
  • Who doesn't feel like they know their extended family that well?
  • Who feels like they don't fit in with their own family?
  • Who is holding a grudge against someone in their family?
  • Who would want to know their family better, if the opportunity came up?
I also ditched the Four Corners idea I had been thinking about because there were so many chairs in the room, and the open spaces were very spread out.

And I didn't spend a lot of time talking about Convergent Friends, just because it didn't seem like where they were at. And it turns out, none of them write or read blogs (or so they told me when I asked).

2. There were a few times when I had a chance to talk about the importance of being authentic, honest, and real--not just as Quaker youth, but as people in general. I didn't know if this was an important point to make or not--but by the end of the time, two teens acknowledged to the group that they were atheist. Folks wanted to talk right over that, but I held the space and had all of us slow down and acknowledge what was just said. An opening, even if a small one.

3. BEST EXERCISE: A modified version of Chalk Talk, the exercise I've heard Peterson do with folks. I had three large pieces of paper (made up of 4 sheets of flipchart paper), each with a different word or phrase in the middle:

Evangelical Friends

Quakers aren't perfect


Then I gave each of them a marker and let them loose to write their own comments on each paper, and their own comments to each other, too.

Gave them about 15 minutes and they could have used 25. Two teens later told me that they really liked that exercise. (I also found out that none of them had done a Chalk Talk exercise before, so I hope I did it justice.)

4. Second best exercise, to wrap up: I gave everyone a piece of paper and asked them to write one or two WORDS or CONCEPTS that really had been lingering with them during our time together. Make the word (or words) big on the page. Then place the papers in the center, going every which-way, to form like a mosaic. After everyone has had a chance to add their page, then stand around and take a look at what's there, noticing what made you smile, squirm, or appreciate. All done in silence.

We closed with worship. I was hoping someone would be moved to say something, but that didn't happen. The things that were on the Chalk Talk papers and the mosaic sheets, though, were powerful evidence of things being stirred up in the group, and I made sure to tell the FAPs (Friendly Adult Presence) and coordinators to look over the papers, there might be opportunities for more discussion if the teens wanted.

...I was tempted to take photos of the mosaic and of the Chalk Talk papers, but I decided against it. There was a tender energy in the room and I felt it was important to "leave in the room" what had been shared in the room.


1. At some point, after enough trust had been built within the group and between the group and me, I'd like to start a check-in round with "One thing I don't want you to know about me is..." I've used this check-in before and it encourages folks to get real authentic real quick.

2. Flesh out how Quakers are not perfect. Explore the "nice and pure" image of early Quakers (i.e. that all Quakers were abolitionists) as well as modern examples of our imperfections--as individuals and as meetings.

3. Do a spectrum about degree of belief in a Divine Principle and/or Four Corners about those beliefs (God - Jesus - Love - nothing, eg.)

4. Worship sharing instead of/in addition to worship.

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

I have to say, just having those 2 hours to feel the group out a bit gave me a peek into what might be possible with a WEEK of them during an FGC Gathering workshop.



This post about raising young children as Friends from Amy of How'd I End Up Here?