July 2, 2010

Notes from the presentation "On Being A Quaker"

At the end of June, I met with Friends and spoke (mostly) out of the silence on the topic On Being A Quaker. Normally for a presentation or workshop, I use a combination of outline and mindmap, but the closer I got to actually opening my mouth for this event, the more strongly I understood that I was supposed to lay aside my handwritten notes and speak out of the silence.

The outward preparation

Originally, I was thinking of what it means to be "a new kind of Quaker" as compared to "an old kind of Quaker." But I kept coming back to the theme of belonging to one another, belonging to Quakerism, and belonging to God.

As I was rereading Thomas Gates' pamphlet Members One of Another, I found myself drawn into considering how his themes of transformation and obedience intersect with the theme of belonging, and so I took some time to clarify what was beginning to take shape in me by creating a chart, which I've included below.

The inward preparation

A few things caught me by surprise.

One was that a few weeks prior to the 2-hour presentation, I became clear that I needed to have a companion in ministry--what used to be called an elder. I hadn't requested that sort of spiritual companionship for a short thing like this but I'm glad I did for this occasion. One person's name rose up for the Friend who was providing all the arrangements--and it was a person I had met literally just three or four week's prior. It all felt rightly ordered.

I also put out a number of prayer requests--again, not something I had done for other presentations. One Friend offered to bring the prayer request to a group of Friends she knew who intentionally prayed for traveling ministers.

And just a few minutes before I was to begin speaking at the event, I sat with my companion in ministry on the back stoop of the meetinghouse, overlooking the Meeting's very old cemetery. I felt myself being called out by the presence of those Friends long buried, and I sensed their affirmation of the need for me to "go deep" and stay deep during my remarks.

The last thing that caught me off-guard was the number of times that I myself was moved to tears as I was speaking! I recall the Power that was expressed, for example, when I spoke about the need for us to make ourselves vulnerable with one another, to be deeply authentic, as a way for us to belong to one another and to understand how it is that the Spirit is moving among us... that we cannot keep the stories of how the Spirit is prospering in our lives out of a secular need confidentiality, for if I, as a new or maturing Friend, never or seldom hear these stories from my Quaker brothers and sisters, from my Quaker parents and grandparents, how am I to know what such movement of the Spirit looks like or feels like or is like? How is a newer Friend supposed to learn these things...?

A synopsis of what I shared

As what sometimes happens when I speak out of the silence during a Meeting for Worship, I don't recall exactly what I said, though I did touch on a number of things I had previously written down for myself, about how we might go about inviting one another to consider how we as Friends belong to one another, to Quakerism, and to God, regardless of how long we have been among Friends--that is, regardless of whether we are a "new kind of Quaker" or an "old kind of Quaker."

And after organizing my notes and my thoughts into a systematic whole--a chart!--I realized that if I had had the opportunity, I may have changed the title of the presentation:

    Love and Belonging: Consideration of how we as Friends belong to one another, to Quakerism, and to God, regardless of how long we have been among Friends.
Or maybe I would have called it "Transformation and Obedience," since those are the threads I seemed to return to...

Anyway, below is the main part of the chart I created and referred to during my message. It's not complete by any means, so feel free to shape it and rework it and fill it in or expand it as you feel led.

In particular, I paid attention to the "cautions" and the challenges or "inconveniences" of each of these layers of spiritual development and belonging. I also emphasized the word "belonging" by breaking that word apart:


as in:
    Be longing for one another;
    Be longing for Quakerism; and
    BE longing for God.
At the very end of the evening, I closed with a number of queries that had arisen for me as I was finishing up my outward preparation, so I share those after the chart.

NOTE: In the chart, I use the notation TG, in brackets, to refer to language used by Tom Gates in his pamphlet.

(UPDATE: If you have trouble viewing the chart below, or to view a more extensive version of this chart, click here.)

TOPIC Belong to one another Belong to Quakerism Belong to God
WELCOME & ACCEPTANCE [TG] Provide and request care and nurture; be curious about the movement of the Spirit, of Love, in one another's lives
SHARED VALUES [TG] Act together and reflect together on the Root and fruit of the Testimonies, on indiv and corporate levels; commit to engage in Quaker practices and disciplines Maintain Love at the center of our life and faith; wait upon the Light in times of difficulty
TRANSFORMATION [TG] Share our ministries, leadings, and struggles with one another; be vulnerable with each other and bear witness to the transformation of one another Be willing to seek new Light in difficult times and from difficult people; be willing to labor with others Be willing to wrestle with God; be willing to grow into our measure of Light
OBEDIENCE [TG] "Exhort one another daily" to be faithful to how we are called Test our leadings with one another; provide mutual accountability and mutual encouragement Engage in faithfulness and a humble obedience; be willing to yield
CAUTION Feeling accepted does not provide an automatic "in" for membership; feeling accepted does not mean individualism and secularism should replace tending to the Root and minding the Light Can the Meeting allow itself to grow because of a Friend's ministry/new Light? "what is important is not how far one has traveled, but rather one's commitment to travel this particular path we call Quakerism" [TG, p. 36] Can the Meeting allow its members to grow beyond the confines of the Meeting; can we avoid pressuring one another to conform to the Meeting's "culture"?
CHALLENGE Inconvenience ourselves to make time for others Inconvenience ourselves to uphold Quaker practices and to grow as a Meeting Inconvenience ourselves to receive God's love, to be broken open, to be obedient to God's call

The queries I shared

What new ministries or new messages are emerging, or are struggling to emerge in the meeting? Who is carrying them? Are the Friends who resist the new Light being held in Love? How ready is the meeting to outgrow its old skin? Can the meeting allow its members to grow beyond the abilities and even the identity or culture of the meeting? What would help?

What ministries have long-time Friends brought into the current life of the meeting? What of their Light and spiritual gifts still needs attention and nurture? Can the meeting live into the tension between supporting the emerging ministries and laying down the ones that may be outliving their usefulness, and can that be done with compassion and care for all involved? Can the meeting embrace both fresh and “institutionalized” perspectives, allowing each to inform the other? Does the meeting grieve together what was, in fair balance with rejoicing what is being birthed?

What would it mean if we saw Quakers as one family? How do we wish to treat our younger and older brothers and sisters? Do we feel like we belong to one another, that we belong to God? What would help?

If your meeting and you heard that Quakerism offers you and the meeting more than what you and the meeting are currently experiencing, would you be interested? Would your meeting be interested? When has God called you to be More than Who You Are, and to what extent were you able to live into that call? Are you willing to let go of “your version” of Quakerism to discover how else the Spirit is moving through Friends?

As always, thanks for reading me.



Mary Ellen said...

Wow, Liz. There's so much packed in here that is rich and thoughtful - and challenging, too. Speaking for myself, I would hope that my meeting would be receptive to any among us who are growing to (or past) the limit of our meeting culture - because that's how Quakerism has remained both fresh and faithful in the past. I would be very open to further conversation about this.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Liz,

Thanks for sharing of your powerful experience of living open to God rather than the more secular tradition--good as that is--of a highly structured, outlined speech.

Your reflection, especially the questions, are like a 3 year meal;-)

I'm printing this out for further reflection.


In the Light,

mil gracias said...

Thanks again, Liz. I especially love your queries.


Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

A technical note: perhaps it is just me or my browser, but the table is cut off on the right hand column. Changing my font size does not clear the problem up, and I wonder if the table has a fixed width which is incompatible with your blogger template?

Could you link to a pdf or other format for this part of your post, if it is difficult to fix? I am viewing your page in Firefox, fwiw.

Liz Opp said...

Mary Ellen -

You've been a faithful reader, and I've appreciated your comments. Thanks.

Daniel -

I myself continue to reflect on what was Given to me... at least, the parts that I remember!

I hope you'll write some of your own reflections, if you are so led.

Nancy -

A treat to hear from you again! I hope to catch up on reading Mil Gracias in the very near future.

Cat -

Hmm, sorry there's been trouble viewing the chart. I've taken the step of reproducing the original chart--which is longer--as a separate post (mostly because I had trouble uploading a pdf file... but using Google Docs made it a snap!).

Hope the separate post works for you.


Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for sharing this. I've been thinking more deliberately this year about how I prepare to speak. Asking for an elder or companion is not something I've done much before, though I have found it helpful, especially in pointing out my blind spots. I've also found that the places where I got teary are the places listeners remember most, so you probably gave a very memorable talk!

Blessings on your continued work,

Hystery said...

I keep revisiting this, Liz, because it is just so cool. It is seemingly such a simple device, and yet when you look more closely at each component, you can see so much unfolding potential in every phrase. Thank you.

Liz Opp said...

Eileen -

I think I became more aware of the value and of the importance of having a companion in ministry after participating on the workshops' subcommittee for the FGC Gathering one year.

Plus I've seen far more experienced Friends who have traveled with a companion, giving me something to think about more seriously. Just another reason why we need to see and visit with Friends from beyond our own meetings.

Hystery -

Thanks for your comment. And yes, I felt like the message I was Given to share during the presentation was a sort of unfolding in and of itself. One piece led to another, and the Truth of how we as Friends might know one another more deeply and in the Spirit just seemed to come to me.

It was a gift in more ways than one.