May 25, 2010

My long overdue commitment to QuakerQuaker

Here in Minnesota, the Public Radio station has added a feature to its annual (feels like monthly!) membership drive:

They now encourage listeners and members who might renew their membership to become "sustaining members" of the station, which means that the listener signs up for monthly automatic withdrawals--which in turn allows MPR to predict more confidently how much money will be coming in on a monthly basis.

Plus, the way that MPR has their drive set up is, that the more sustaining members they get during the drive, the fewer number of hours they spend on the air hounding listeners for new members!*

It's that sort of thinking that led me to consider stepping up my commitment to QuakerQuaker and push the "Donate" button on the homepage. And not just to donate one smallish amount of money, but to click on the other link, the one that's easy to skip, about donating $10 every month--just below the "Donate" button.

Here's the thing:

When I clicked the button, I was sent me to a page that looks nothing at all like QuakerQuaker. If I didn't know that there was a "man behind the curtain" by the name of Martin Kelley, I probably would've thought I was sent to the wrong place, or maybe that it wasn't legit.

Don't be fooled: if you've never met, emailed, chatted, webcammed, or workshopped with Martin Kelley, chances are you know someone who has. Heck, since you're reading The Good Raised Up, there's your one degree of separation... and I think I can say I've done ALL of those activities with the guy. (He's on my short list to design a website for me if/when I get to that point...)

Well, I kinda chuckle at the idea of QuakerQuaker doing something as obnoxious as a membership drive, where, for a week at a time in the dead of winter, automated messages are sent every hour to our inboxes. And on the QQ site itself, every 45 minutes a pop-up window appears, with some talking head to promote the newest feature of QQ, or the most fascinating blog-post that all Convergent and non-Convergent Friends alike simply MUST read...

    And if you donate now, you can receive one of these two great Thank You gifts: You can have an autographed copy of Martin Kelley's Quaker Ranter Reader or you can have an autographed copy of the Quaker blog reader, Writing Cheerfully on the Web. Don't delay: Donate now!
But rather than suggest to Martin that he do something as obnoxious as a membership drive to increase his revenue stream--while simultaneously diminishing the effectiveness of the social network that is QuakerQuaker, I thought I'd testify here as to how much better I feel, knowing that I'm supporting someone to carry out the ministry he's been given--all through the simple click of a single button (followed by a few more simple clicks...) that was long overdue.


*Well, this might not be accurate, but it comes close to what the station has done in the recent past...

Look for this box on the right-hand sidebar of QuakerQuaker, about halfway down the homepage. (The image here is NOT an active link, fyi.)


The QuakerQuaker carnival: a series of individual Quaker bloggers writing about their appreciation for Martin and for QuakerQuaker

My own appreciation as part of the QQ carnival

May 20, 2010

Fear in the face of God's bidding

A few days ago, I offered the second in a series of workshops intended to raise seed money for bringing "bigger and better" workshops to the midwestern part of the U.S. The first workshop generated some new thinking and new materials for me, and the comments from participants were very encouraging.

I called the second workshop Fear Factor: Getting Out of Our Own Way. In hindsight, if I had it all over to do again, I'd change the title of the workshop to Fear in the Face of God's Bidding, because that's what the meat of my remarks were about.

I started the workshop last Saturday with the premise that there are a few basic reasons why we get in our own way--out of pride, ego, a fear of losing control; shame, fear of being successful, etc. From there, I had us consider a few questions:

1. What keeps us in our own way? What are the fears that keep us from surrendering to God's guidance?

2. How do we get out of own way? What do we have to do and how do we go about doing it?

3. Once we get out of our own way, where are we headed?

We did a bit of sharing about our own stories, about how fear has impacted our ability to be faithful. Since each participant was in a different place in her or his understanding and practice of what it means to be faithful, I was challenged to find a way to move us through the material at a pace everyone could appreciate.

It seemed as though what Friends appreciated the most were the long quotations that I shared, including the dreams that impacted early Quaker David Ferris. I lifted him up in particular because he's a wonderful example of what it's like to resist God's call! We modern Friends need more examples of what it's like to be a flawed vessel--and the story of James Nayler is a bit over the top, whereas David Ferris' experience is more akin to what many of us experience. At one point, for example, there is a reference to his being given a message to share in worship and his reluctance to give it because "a man of some note was sitting before me, which increased my reluctance to speak. I supposed he would not be present at the next meeting [for worship]..." (p. 51) How many of us convince ourselves not to share a message at worship "just because"?!

In addition to Ferris, I shared George Fox's Epistle X (at the end of this post), especially to point out that his instruction relates closely to how we get out of our own way. After some discussion and reflection on what it means to "stand still in the Light and submit to it" as well as times when the Light can be piercing and not just comforting, I gave us some time to think of what "trouble" it is that sometimes visits us--fear of letting go, the temptation to blame or shame another, the cruel self-talk and unhelpful second-guessing we engage in--and then I asked us to spend some time holding ourselves in the Light.

The quality of stillness and warmth in the room during and just after that exercise was palpable. After several minutes, it took quite a few verbal prompts from me to get the participants fully present once again. Such a simple activity that can restore us to God's love and grace, yet we partake of it so seldom!

We then spent a few minutes talking about "where we're headed" once we get out of our way and how the two questions--How do we get out out of our own way? and Where are we headed?--can be interrelated. We agreed that we're headed out of our own way and into God's Way, into the Stream, into Gospel Order. But then we had to answer for ourselves what we meant by that.

In particular, we spent time talking about Gospel Order and why contemporary Liberal Friends have, in a way, forsaken it, due to America's love of individualism, capitalism, consumerism, and more.

What surprised me the most, though, was the conversation that emerged when I shared a bit of Margaret Fell's writing. Friends especially liked the last two phrases of this excerpt:

…[If] thou wait in the Light of God in thee and be obedient to it, when it checks and calls and crosses thy own fleshly will, which is an enemy to it, and be low and watchful, and mind that which keeps thy peace, and it will show thee what brings trouble. And it will let thee see the truth of these things which thou never saw, and it will come near to thee in judgment, and raise up the witness in thee. . . And it will lead thee to another kingdom which is not of this world, which is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. And then thou wilt see the vanity, and emptiness of these vanishing things, which all the world is busying themselves about.(p. 11, emphasis added)
The most senior Friend among our small group remarked how surprised she was that "even back then," Quakers were concerned about the petty, insignificant things that they and others were busying themselves with. They maybe didn't have iPods and smart phones, but they still had to make choices about how to live their lives as faithful servants.

It wasn't easy work back then and it isn't easy work for any of us now.

At the end of our time together, I summarized the four responses we had talked about, regarding the fear to do God's bidding:

1. We could take the long way around the fear, as modeled by David Ferris' 15-20 year journey to be faithful to God's call.

2. We could take the hard way, as in "The only way out is through"--what Marty Grundy points out that early Friends called the "refiner's fire."

3. We could engage in a slower, perhaps more gentle way of coping with our fear and resistance by acknowledging if we aren't willing to be faithful just yet, perhaps we could be willing to be willing to yield, in time.

4. Or we could take what I think of as the most loving way through the fear: To hold ourselves in the Light, open ourselves to God's Love, and wait for mercy to come in.



George Fox's Epistle X. (10) To Friends, to stand still in trouble, and see the strength of the Lord
    Friends, Whatever ye are addicted to, the tempter will come in that thing; and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you, and then ye are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes. And when temptations and troubles appear, sink down in that which is pure, and all will be hushed, and fly away. Your strength is to stand still, after ye see yourselves; whatsoever ye see yourselves addicted to, temptations, corruption, uncleanness, etc., then ye think ye shall never overcome. And earthly reason will tell you, what ye shall lose; hearken not to that, but stand still in the light that shows them to you, and then strength comes from the Lord, and help contrary to your expectation. Then ye grow up in peace, and no trouble shall move you. David fretted himself, when he looked out; but when he was still, no trouble could move him. When your thoughts are out, abroad, then troubles move you. But come to stay your minds upon that spirit which was before the letter; here ye learn to read the scriptures aright. If ye do any thing in your own wills, then ye tempt God; but stand still in that power which brings peace.

May 14, 2010

Facing White privilege: Small openings lead to larger ones

Back in early April this year, a group of ten Quakers attended the annual White Privilege Conference, along with 1,700 other attenders. I am still integrating and digesting what happened there, what happened to me, and what is still happening within me.

I know that something is happening because in the five weeks or so since that conference ended, I've had a number of race-based challenges and exchanges:

  • I sat next to an extroverted, self-proclaimed politically Conservative White male* on a 2-1/2 hour plane ride within a week after the conference, and interrupted his racist rhetoric several times. My main tactics were to tell him that I was offended by what he was saying and to ask him "How many Mexicans/Somali/Hmong people do you know personally by name...?"
  • I attended an orientation on my own, about sponsoring refugee families--an orientation that the worship group was able to participate in while I was traveling out of town. This is something I would not have done on my own before the White Privilege Conference.
  • I'm asking people of color who are store clerks and have name tags how to pronounce their name if it's clearly not an Anglo Saxon one. I also immediately offer my own name to them.
The list goes on.....

But my intention isn't to pat myself on the back (as a White, owning class, educated person, I inadvertently do plenty of that, truly). Rather, it's that I'm marveling at how much more I am "seeing" these opportunities to interact with my brothers and sisters that probably have always been in front of me.

I'm seeing these opportunities and I'm participating in them.

Quakers often talk and write about how, when we are faithful in following the small nudges we are given, we are being prepared to follow the larger, more burdensome leadings down the road. This feels similar: now that I've stepped through some small opening about facing my White privilege, I'm being given more opportunities, more openings, to continue to do so.


*I realize not all White men who are politically conservative are racist.

P.S. The 2011 White Privilege Conference is planned to be held in a near-suburb of Minneapolis. w00t w00t!

May 2, 2010

Dirty Words in Modern-Day Quakerism

Yesterday I convened a small group of Friends for the first workshop in a series to raise money to bring notable Quaker presenters to the midwest. The workshop was called Dirty Words in Modern-Day Quakerism and was intended to identify words and practices that seem to be dismissed or underappreciated by Friends today.

The challenge for me as the facilitator was to create a process that would allow participants to reflect on why certain Quaker terms, concepts, or practices left a bad taste in their mouth and then move them towards considering those same things in a new light.

To start us off, after opening worship and introductions, we spent some time talking initially about how the meanings of words change over time in the first place. I broke it down into four steps:

NAME - the word itself, usually with a neutral meaning or positive intention.

STAIN - a distorted understanding or a negative meaning is attached to the word, usually the result of power, schisms, stereotypes, pain, etc.

REFRAME - a new or renewed understanding is attached to the word. Often the negative meaning is removed and substituted with something neutral or positive.

RECLAIM - the new/renewed understanding is integrated into language, behaviors, attitudes, etc. and there is a reengagement of the original word.

Then I read aloud a list of Quaker-related terms, a good many of which are also steeped in the Christian tradition. I asked Friends to identify one or two words from that list which repulsed them. After sharing those words, and before we got into any discussion about the "stain" or personal baggage that led to their rejection, I asked Friends to pair up and focus on one of the words that had been raised. Each pair then worked together to come up with as neutral a definition as possible about that word. In the remaining time, the pairs talked with each other about what had happened in their life that wrought some negativity to the word or that led them to reject it.

Back in the large group, each pair shared the definition for the word they had worked with, along with why the word had become "stained" for them: corporate, salvation, perfection, authority, etc. I think people appreciated having the chance to say some of these pieces aloud and be witnessed in their discomfort and pain around them.

Immediately after that sharing, I asked the pairs to reconvene themselves and spend some time in worship around the word they had worked with, allowing the Light and the Spirit to work on their hearts and to listen and watch for what maybe was the original meaning of the word--the meaning that existed before the stain had occurred, before any personal baggage had attached itself to the word...

And then I asked them, in their pairs, to rewrite the definition.

When we came back to the group, we shared that new understanding--that reframe--and had a conversation about the insights that such a simple exercise had provided. We drifted into looking at other words and topics, too: discipline, evangelize, obedience...

I'll have to revise the list if I offer the workshop again. Other words that we mentioned that aren't currently there are: sin, fundamentalist, and Liberal Friend.

Over the course of the day, we talked about the in-creeping of the secular world into our faith tradition, which also contributes to the staining of certain Quaker concepts. And we reflected a bit on how much to "explain" to other Friends what we mean as we ourselves reclaim some of this language while other Friends are still repelled by it.

In turn, that led to a short conversation about our spiritual development as Friends and how many of us are moving from being a "spiritual refugee"--running from a religious tradition--to being a "spiritual citizen"--consciously moving into, adopting, and integrating a new faith tradition for ourselves.

Towards the end, I spoke a bit more about the subtle difference I've experienced between reframing and reclaiming the words and practices that I had discarded; and we looked again at the list of "words that may cause unease," this time allowing for a Q and A session in case there were words that Friends weren't familiar with in the Quaker vernacular--which there were!

Given that I continue to carry a concern for how we convey our faith to one another and what it is that sustains us in our faith, I felt this was a good next step toward deepening our corporate understanding of Quakerism. Each of the participants mentioned that they had gotten something useful out of our time together, for which I'm glad.

Next up is in two weeks, another workshop for the Seed Series, called Fear Factor: Getting Out of Our Own Way. I've barely begun to think about the sorts of activities and handouts to use but I'm looking forward to what develops!


P.S. These workshops and the work I'm doing to coordinate local and regional presentations is a growing part of what I am calling my work as a Quaker resource coordinator in the midwestern United States. I'd love to hear from you if you want to offer a workshop in this part of the country or if you have ideas of who I can invite here for a presentation.