November 19, 2013

Transfer of membership

Last month, I submitted a transfer of membership request. I have come to understand myself to be a Conservative Friend for a number of reasons and based on a variety of experiences.

Here's the text of my letter, with links included here for easy clicking:

29 Tenth Month 2013

Dear Twin Cities Friends Meeting,

After much prayerful and tender consideration, I am requesting a transfer of membership to Bear Creek Meeting in Iowa, part of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative (IYMC). Like TCFM and other meetings in the Northern Yearly Meeting region, IYMC also practices unprogrammed worship and is socially progressive. (The word “Conservative” refers to the intention of conserving some of the original disciplines of Quaker tradition.)

I’ve attended a number of IYMC’s annual and midyear meeting sessions over the past handful of years, and I have come to understand myself to be a Conservative Friend. In addition, just two years ago, Laughing Waters Friends Preparative Meeting, where I currently serve as its clerk, became formally affiliated with IYMC. When we minuted our affiliation plans, Laughing Waters made special note in the minute that we treasure and intend to maintain our personal connections with NYM Friends.

For me personally, I will continue to worship occasionally at TCFM. I also plan to participate in adult education presentations at this and at other meetings in the metro area.

What is of some concern to me, though, is: What if I am in need of support or care, which is far easier to coordinate among nearby fFriends? I hope that I can still turn to TCFM and its Ministry & Counsel if such a need arises. Regardless of my request to transfer my membership, I see myself and each of us as part of the wider Quaker community, with fFriends near and far, all of us held in God’s loving hands, as part of the same spiritual Family.


May 16, 2013

Social justice and getting off the Quaker porch

A week ago my spouse Jeanne and I boarded a bus with about 20 Jews and headed into Cedar Rapids, Iowa to stand in solidarity with the immigrant workers whose lives were disrupted in May 2008 when the kosher meat-packing plant, Agriprocessors, was raided in Postville.

It was a 4-1/2 hour bus ride each way, with a 30-minute march and a 90-minute worship service before turning around and heading back home.  On the way down, we watched on the bus' video system the documentary abUSed: The Postville Raid.  Toward the end of the video there were a few minutes of footage that included information of how one Jewish organization from Minnesota got involved and navigated the important work of standing with the immigrant families while also laboring with the rabbis behind Agriprocessors' illegal hiring of immigrants and children.

During the nine hours of travel, there were conversations about additional Jewish involvement with the people and workers of Postville since the raid; the history of Quakerism (with those who were sitting near Jeanne and me); learning about White privilege; talking about oppression based on social class; and sharing stories of our own ancestry, of how our families and European ancestors made their way to the United States and under what conditions.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Since May 2011, my interaction with people of faith beyond my Quaker community has grown rapidly, mostly due to the work to prevent amending the state's constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. I've experienced much joy in the new connections. Seeing humble and active religious people engaged in meaningful, hands-on social justice work makes me realize how much more we as progressive Quakers could be doing.

As Friends, we often tell ourselves--and one another--that we must wait to be led by the Spirit before acting.  But what I'm continuing to awaken to is that the intention to wait for such a leading has a harmful impact on entire communities that are suffering at the hands of oppressive bureaucratic systems--systems that are founded on unexamined privileged based on skin color, social class status, sexual orientation, etc.

More than once I have been reminded by White people engaged in social justice work, by people of color, by working-class people, that it is part of the privilege that White, well-educated, well-off people have, to take time--lots of time--to sit and think, talk about, thresh, plan, discuss, and minute what we believe and what we might do.

We call all of that activity part of our work to witness to equality and justice; I worry that our brothers and sisters of color would call it empty, less than helpful, and an example of a system that favors people like ourselves who have the luxury of time rather than working in solidarity with the communities who have a day-to-day urgency for action.  For all the time that we take to "wait to be led," African Americans are being stopped and frisked without justification, Muslims are being unfairly profiled for terrorism, and young students who are perceived to be gay are being bullied to the point of suicide, with few adults intervening on their behalf.

So it is that recently, I have begun questioning certain elements of our Quaker faith.  Some of our best-known stories are lifted up to demonstrate the importance of waiting to be led. It certainly appears that way when we learn about John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, and Bayard Rustin. But these days, can we know if they were compelled by the Spirit all at once to take a stand against an oppressive system? or were they simply living their lives, taking up the Cross, and acting out of conscience and the promptings of the Inward Teacher on a day-to-day basis?

Perhaps the Way was simply open to them, similar to how it has been for me, to speak up, raise questions, and get involved.  The Way was open and they simply stepped onto the Path and tested each step as they went.

I tell you, Friends, my life has been Opened because of the new connections I have made, because of the stories I have heard from people whose lives are so very different from most of our own.  I no longer view my upbringing as I once did; I no longer view Quakerism as I once did.

I hope to write a companion post to this one, going into details about how our own practices as Friends might be perpetuating oppression and unknowingly reinforcing White privilege.


April 24, 2013

IYMC Midyear Meeting 2013: The Bible In Our Midst

20-21 Fourth Month 2013

During my years among Friends, I often have shied away from topics that are explicitly Bible-focused or Christ-centered, given my Jewish upbringing and the more recent baggage I have accumulated about how "right-wing Christians" have co-opted Christianity in recent years.

But it has been Conservative and Conservative-leaning Friends whose comfort with Scripture--and how they use it to guide or affirm their spiritual lives--that has made me curious to understand more deeply why they value the Bible as much as they do.

A few months ago, I saw that Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s Midyear Meeting session was going to focus on the Bible. Then when I saw that the session's usual three-segment format was going to break the topic into "The Bible among Friends," "What the Bible has to say about sin," and "What the Bible has to say about love," I felt my heart soften, and Way seemed to open for me to attend.

The evening before the Midyear session was to begin, I joined a group of local Friends and a few early arrivals for supper at a nearby restaurant. Some of these Friends I've known now for six or seven years, and their kindness, friendship, and spiritual hospitality is something I treasure.

At the meal was also the presenter for the sessions, Doug Bennett, past president of Earlham College. First things first, I greeted my friends with warm hugs, broad smiles, and hearty handshakes. Then I looked over to Doug, and introduced myself. He smiled when he heard my name: "Are you the Liz Opp who blogs?!" he asked excitedly. I was humbled to think that after such a long lapse of my own activity online, my name and blog are still recognized by some beyond my local Quaker community...

And when I said that a presentation on the Bible was not something I ever would have thought I would attend, Doug chuckled and nodded, adding that it wasn't a presentation he ever would have thought he would give!

I settled in that night with a good feeling, being among these fFriends again.

Opening questions

On Seventh Day, Doug started off addressing the gathered Friends by saying he was no scholar or expert about Scripture; that he had little or no knowledge of ancient Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew; that he didn't have a clear understanding of just what he was to share over the course of the weekend, so he would be taking some of his cues from us.

His humility seemed genuine, and I appreciated that. I saw a few other Friends nodding in appreciation, too.

In each of the segments of his presentation that I was able to attend--I was with the children during the final one on First Day morning--Doug began by sharing some of his own thoughts, then allowed Friends to ask questions, make observations, and otherwise add to the discussion. Doug closed the first two parts by asking Friends to write on an index card one or two "honest sentences" in response to a question he posed. I include those questions below.

(Overall, I'd say Doug raised more questions than he offered clear answers.)

Questions from Part 1: The Bible among Friends

Should we think of the Bible as having authority among us? Why or why not?

How should we make use of this important Book?

To what extent do we as Friends talk with one another about Scripture; or if we don't, why not?

What does the Inward Light have to do with the Bible?

Doug didn't just give us questions to consider, he also shared with us some of his own thoughts that he's wrestled with or wondered about:
Since the New Testament wasn't available all the time, what parts of Scripture did folks wrestle with way back then?

The issues of slavery, the role of women in the Church, and homosexuality [sic*] are part of this book's unpleasant history that we need to be honest about. The Bible has been the source of division, wars, and religious schisms.

The Bible can pull us apart, so why do we need the Bible if there's an indwelling of the Spirit?

Doug answered that last question by offering us this:
Because it's the best source for learning about Jesus that we have. And because the Hebrew Scriptures are the only source that Jesus considers and uses as teaching texts.

Part 2: What does the Bible have to say about sin?

Doug started us off by reading some of the things that Friends wrote down regarding the authority of Scripture, and then began Part 2 by offering this:

There is a reciprocal relationship (my word) between the concept that "The Light Within helps me make sense of Scripture" and the concept that "Scripture helps me make sense of the Light Within."

Doug also suggested that Friends generally are more tolerant about our views on the authority of Scripture than we are about how sin is defined and what behaviors are considered to be sins. He suggested we only have to look at recent developments within Indiana Yearly Meeting and the issue of homosexuality [sic].

We then reviewed together a few of the "lists of sins" that are enumerated in the Bible, such as Exodus 20, Proverbs 6:16-19, Galatians 5:19-21, and Galatians 3:5-6.

During the discussion portion of that part, a respected Friend stood and offered a story of an interaction he had had with a rabbi quite some time ago. The rabbi pointed out that Exodus 20 itself isn't about enumerating sins against God: it's about how to live in community. By telling the truth; by honoring our parents; by not killing or stealing...

On a related note about Exodus 20, for my time with the children at Midyear Meeting, I was preparing to tell them the Godly Play story that's based on how God gave the Ten Commandments to the people. It's a story called The Ten Best Ways To Live.

These are the questions that Doug lifted up, for Part 2: What does the Bible have to say about sin?
What makes something a sin?

Should we rely on the lists of sins that are in the Bible? Or are there some general characteristics of sins that help make sense of why they are sins?

Does the Bible tell us all we need to know about sin?

Since I wasn't present for the final section, I am offering here what was on Doug's handout, and then will wrap up with additional remarks and thoughts I was able to capture.

Part 3: Scripture references and questions on What does the Bible have to say about Love?

Matthew 22:34-40
1 Corinthians 13

What does loving your God "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" have to do with loving your neighbor as yourself"?

How do we know that "loving your neighbor as yourself" means in specific circumstances? Should we always do what our neighbor wants us to do? If not, what makes an act loving?

Does the Bible tell us all we need to know about love?

Other remarks

Earlier in the weekend, Doug spoke on a long tangent about the nature of divine inspiration. He ultimately asked--and this is my Most Meager Attempt To Paraphrase--"Is that which inspired a beloved Friend of mine who offered precious vocal ministry the same thing which inspired people to write long ago what is now known as Scripture? Did such inspired writing emerge from a community gathered in worship?"

Our experience with the Bible today is that it was already codified into a whole, into a "closed book," which we received without question and without understanding that it arose out of a context of community... There are layers of inspiration out of which the Bible emerges, but the initial power of divine inspiration that was available back then simply isn't believed to be available today.

...To which I say: Friends don't believe this! Doug and I (and other Friends) seem to unite with the belief that the original inspiration of the Bible--the Living Spirit--is still available to us today.

Doug brought up an important excerpt from Robert Barclay's third proposition of his Apology, reminding us not to mistake Scripture as the Source; that Scripture only points to the Source; that the Spirit is the primary rule of faith.

Doug compared the Bible to "starter yeast" for Friends: It helps connect us back to the original inspiration, the inspiration of the Divine.

Doug also ties in Woolman and his ministry and witness to abolish slavery. "Woolman doesn't argue with the existing verses in Scripture that were used to justify enslaving human beings," Doug offers. "Instead, Woolman looks for a deeper message of Providence that would point to how slavery wasn't Gospel Order."

Hmmm, yes: much of our work for social change in which we rail against religiously conservative brothers and sisters who rely on individual verses of Scripture will hear from us the larger arc, narrative, and theme of the Bible, lifting up concepts like love, redemption, liberation, and reconciliation.

To close this blog post, I'm including below what I wrote and submitted on the index cards in response to the questions Doug asked:

From Part 1, about the Bible among Friends:
Q. Should we think of the Bible as having authority among us? How should we make use of it?

My A. The Bible has authority for me when someone with whom I have a meaningful relationship tells me how the Bible--or a part of it--has spoken to her or his condition. It's a relational authority, not a creedal one.

From Part 2, about what the Bible says about sin:
Q. What makes something a sin?

My A. Anything that breaks a relationship--with God, with oneself, with another person, with a community (or with the earth--added later)... especially after a person/individual tells us that our "good intentions" are harmful or are part of a harmful system and we don't look at it critically from that person's perspective, or we don't change our behavior, knowing it is causing harm.


*In 2011, I stopped using the word "homosexuality." To me, that word is loaded with history of a time when members of the dominant group regularly pathologized and stigmatized an oppressed minority group of people.

March 4, 2013

Dominoes, Matthew 18, and healing as a worship community

Part of my continued absence from the Quaker blogosphere is that my worship community is in need of healing. Like other, more established Quaker meetings, the community can be fragmented when one or more Friends interpret something that's happened as a betrayal, while other Friends interpret "the same something" as acceptable, not problematic, or something that doesn't warrant attention at all.

The sense of betrayal or the experience of sudden disillusionment can be the result of the meeting's taking a stance on practical matters, like how to prioritize its funds--"We should give money to non-profits that are doing important work" vs. "We need to spend money on maintaining the building so we can continue doing important work."

But more often, the feeling of being let down--hard--is the result of some spiritual matter gone awry, especially when it relates to the condition or the implicit sense of covenant community, such as when to set a limit with a visitor who speaks frequently during worship against an historically oppressed group--"We affirm GLBTQ people and we need to prevent this Friend from attending worship because she is saying hurtful and hateful things against them, making our community unsafe" vs. "We affirm that there is that of God in everyone, so how can we obstruct that person from worshiping among us?" is an example I witnessed personally quite a few years ago.

Such conflict and potential schism seem to be the result of two conflicting principles or practices. If we are not careful, we may end up knowingly or not, unintentionally or not, taking sides.

What is more helpful, I have found, is to be disciplined, patient, and even willing--or, just as important, willing to be willing--to live into the discomfort of being caught in the pull between the two.

We must be humble enough to recognize when we don't know and can't know what is needed...

My experience has been that when a critical mass of Friends in the worship community encourage one another to "be cool in [their] own mind" and to "wait in the Light," a third way eventually presents itself. Or sometimes just naming the tension and making explicit the two (or more) things that are vying for our "vote" also makes the tension and conflict easier to bear.

But still, we are human, and not everyone has the capacity to bear that tension and conflict for long. Sometimes, Friends have to step away from the community, maybe for a short break, maybe forever.

Quite some time ago, Friends General Conference published a pamphlet initially titled The Wounded Meeting. It has since been retitled Dealing with Difficult Behavior in Meeting for Worship, more accurately reflecting the pamphlet's content.

That pamphlet was one attempt to provide ideas and options on how meetings might address disruptive behavior--though specifically behavior that might arise during worship. Of course, things happen outside of Meeting for Worship too, and the need for reconciliation and healing is sometimes the result of something that impacts and tears the fabric of the community and the connection among Friends.

Not only that, but also the community has its immediate response to the initial situation, and then there might be a decision made because of that initial response that others then, in turn, respond to. It's like dominoes that topple one on top of another, and we might often feel helpless or horrified as things go from bad to worse. All the more reason to go as slowly as possible...

A recent pamphlet, Matthew 18: Wisdom for Living in Community, looks at the process that is outlined in Matthew 18, puts it in Quaker context, and applies Jesus' advice more broadly than just to what might occur in worship. I've begun reading it and am struck by a number of passages, as well as how frequently authors Connie McPeak Green and Marty Grundy refer to the need for humility, a willingness to be vulnerable.

When there's a tear in our community's social and spiritual fabric, we have to address it. Sometimes addressing it means having 1-to-1 conversations; or a called session; or a set of new policies or explicitly stated expectations; or a meeting for worship for healing; or a combination of all these things; or something else entirely. Some Friends don't want to see new limits put into place; other Friends need those new limits in order to re-establish trust.

And sometimes, we are given Grace and we find our way through the eye of the needle. (I realize I'm mixing metaphors; so be it.)

The work of healing and repairing relationships is messy. It's painful. But when done with much care, it also helps us grow in our capacity to love one another. Connie McPeak Green's and Marty Grundy's pamphlet speaks to this.

Here are a few things that I currently have in my personal Toolbox for Healing, given my own experiences. Some of these might overlap with the Matthew 18 pamphlet, I suppose:

1. Accept the feelings I have, and acknowledge the feelings that others have, too. We can have different feelings at the same time, and no single feeling is more right or better than any other.

2. Seek pieces of the Truth that exist in the stories and experiences of the person(s) who see things differently from how I do. This is different from seeking common ground. We all have a need to be validated for what we experience, and it's a gift I can give to the person with whom I'm laboring if I can put aside my own desire to be "right" and affirm the piece of Truth that exists in the other person's perspective, perception, and experience.

3. Allow for multiple truths to co-exist, even when my logical mind tells me they can't. Lean into the cognitive dissonance that these multiple, co-existing truths evoke.

4. Worship often, and hold the community, myself, and the other people involved in the Light, especially those with whom I disagree.

5. Stay connected as best I can, even though it's hard. Send a brief message that says, at the very least, "I care about what's happened and I'm not in a place yet to talk about it."

6. Ask the people who are hurting what they think might help... and then be ready to provide at least the smallest, most significant portion of it in order to rebuild trust.  This may require some negotiating, if a request is clearly unreasonable. But I need to be low enough to let go of my assumption that I know what is or isn't unreasonable.

7. Ask God to show how I have been unhelpful or have unknowingly carried out harm to others in the situation. Ask God to show me those items in the most gentle way possible. Connie and Marty in their pamphlet take a long look at the phrase "stumbling block" that appears in some translations of Matthew 18.

8. Discipline myself from gossiping, casting blame, sharing someone else's version of what happened. Discipline myself to let the Spirit exercise my own self by saying less and by listening inwardly more.

What's in your own toolbox or that of your spiritual community? What tools have you discarded? What tools do you draw on regularly?

How has your meeting or worship community successfully navigated a potential division or rift? What stories of the Way opening can you share?



Treasuring one another through difficulty
Qualities of a Quaker worship community

February 6, 2013

Equality, one conversation at a time

What follows is an article I wrote for Northern Yearly Meeting's newsletter.

First Month 2013

The first conversation I had was with Carol (not her real name), the neighbor who lives behind us, across the alley.  It was May 2011, a week before that year’s NYM annual sessions.

Carol and I always greeted each other when we’d see the other working in the backyard or setting out recycling bins. 

“Hey, Liz, how are you doing?” she asked me this particular spring morning.  “Honestly, not very well,” I told her.  It was only a day or two after the Minnesota legislature had moved onto the November 2012 ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman.* Carol had known Jeanne and me as a couple for two years, ever since she moved into the neighborhood.

“Oh no, what’s wrong?” she asked. I explained that Jeanne and I had been at the Capitol all week, protesting against the amendment.  Because of our friendship, Carol was able to affirm my hurt and then shared her own perspective:  “You know that I really like both of you; you’ve been great block club captains.  You also know that I’m a conservative Christian and that I work in the arts, so of course I know a lot of other gay and lesbian artists.  I’m really conflicted about gay marriage…”

That conversation was one of about 200 that I would have over the next 18 months; one of nearly 1,000 conversations that Minnesota Quakers would engage in; and one of about a million conversations statewide.  For 18 months between May 2011-November 2012, Minnesota became one of the first testing grounds that would avoid rhetoric and legal debates focusing on discrimination and “civil rights” for GLBTQ people. Instead, a coalition that included national and statewide partners, faith communities and businesses, would develop and rely on a research-based strategy that required one-on-one conversations about “what does marriage mean to you?” and about the gay and lesbian people, and the same-sex couples, we know personally.

During a phone bank with Minnesotans United for All Families, I engage a voter: “You mentioned that you and your wife have been married for nearly 25 years. That’s great.  And when you think back to that day when one of you proposed to the other, what do you remember about why you wanted to get married?”  After hearing his answer, I gently moved into the next part of the phone script:  “Do you know any gay or lesbian people, or people in same-sex relationships?”  (“Yes, my son has gay friends…”)  “Do you think gay and lesbian people, like your son’s friends, may one day fall in love like you did, and want to get married for similar reasons that you just mentioned?”

During the 18 months between when the Republican-led legislature moved the marriage amendment onto the ballot in May 2011 and the time when Minnesotans voted on the amendment this past November, communities of faith across the state, including Quakers, took an active role in the work to defeat the proposed amendment.  Pro-LGBTQ Minnesota clergy, including a Catholic priest and a Lutheran bishop, had letters to the editor printed in major newspapers; clergy held press conferences affirming that their religious communities supported marriage for same-sex couples as a matter of faith and belief; and many rabbis and pastors actively preached from their respective pulpits about how God’s love for God’s people is an ever-inclusive and ever-expansive love—a Love that strives for justice. 

I was preparing to speak with a group called Grandmothers for Peace.  They had asked me to talk about how the proposed marriage amendment was unjust, discriminatory, and an infringement of civil rights.  But such messages ran directly counter to what research was showing to be effective in changing people’s hearts and minds.  I prayed for a way to speak respectfully to these elders who had been involved in justice work and social change movements far longer than the few months I had been involved with Minnesotans United.  When it was my turn to speak, I asked the Grandmothers—with a few Grandfathers participating too—how many of them had done any baking for their family and grandkids.  Many indicated they had—cakes, cookies, bread—and I asked them, “Well, how many times would any of you use a recipe that you had already baked with, where over and over again, the result had been disastrous rather than delicious?  And what if you had tried that recipe two, three, or four times, never getting it the way you wanted it to turn out?  Would you ever go back to using that recipe again?”  I continued:  So if we know that the recipe for talking about this sort of proposed amendment has been based on talking about discrimination, equal rights, and the purpose of the Constitution; and if we know that this recipe has already turned out a disastrous result more than 30 times, why in the world would we draw on the same old recipe in Minnesota and hope that this time the recipe would turn out okay?  

Grandmothers for Peace, along with tens of thousands of other Minnesotans, were ready to learn about and try out the newest “test recipe” that would allow us to be the first state in the U.S. to defeat a proposed amendment that would have singled out a certain group of people from all others in order to limit their freedom to marry the person they love.

Even Scripture was renewed for some, not as an old tool for beating one group down, but as a vehicle for bringing new Light to lift all of us up.  In my own experience, I was opened to verses like Genesis 2:18, around the concept of a “helpmeet”–that God didn’t pair a man, Adam, with a woman, Eve; but rather that God created “suitable helpers” for one another, because it is not good for any of us to be alone. For our GLBTQ members and attenders, a suitable helper has to do with love, commitment, and responsibility; not exclusively about differences in body parts or even gender identity.

Quakers of course participated in the statewide work all along, too.  Meetings across Minnesota sent Friends to participate in phone banks; invited trained presenters to speak with them; or participated in interfaith groups that had gathered to learn how to transcend the unspoken rule of “Minnesota nice” and engage in conversations that would ultimately set tens of thousands of conflicted and undecided voters on a journey of deeper consideration of the issues that impact loving, committed same-sex couples.

Another phone-caller’s story was shared online:  “I was on the phone with an older Catholic woman. It was really important for her to be faithful to the Catholic Church, but she also saw the suffering that her gay and lesbian friends were going through.  I told her that she could leave the question on the ballot blank.  By doing that, she’d be able to say she didn’t go against the teachings of the church, and the blank vote would help her friends because it would be counted among the No votes. The woman ended the call by saying, ‘I think God may have sent you to me, because I really didn’t know what to do, and you’ve given me something to think about.’”

Members of the Marriage Equality Committee (MEC) of Twin Cities Friends Meeting (TCFM) became active in the interfaith group that was formed in St. Paul.  Other Friends sat on the interfaith roundtable sponsored by OutFront Minnesota—a roundtable that had been convened from about 2004-2008 as the Faith Family Fairness Alliance. As time went by, dozens of Minnesota Friends became visibly engaged in the work of the Vote NOcampaign; many others held their own conversations privately, put up Vote NO lawn signs, wore Vote NO t-shirts, gave money to the campaign, and much more.

Faith-based activities included wearing and distributing buttons that read “I’m a Minnesotan of faith voting NO on the marriage amendment”; having houses of worship, including TCFM, display large orange signs that declared “People of Faith Vote NO on limiting the freedom to marry”; and having churches, meetings, and synagogues speak with fellow worshipers to be sure they knew not only what the wording of the proposed amendment was and why it was important to vote No.  In the case of TCFM, the MEC also did the work of reaching out to every single worshiper personally; to explain that the meeting had minuted its support for marriage equality; and to have a conversation about the proposed amendment and about the GLBTQ people we knew in the meeting.

The ripples of MEC’s Spirit-led work also reached NYM-affiliated meetings in 2011 as well as the gathered body of Northern Yearly Meeting in 2012, where the work was taken further and deeper into NYM’s Meetings for Worship for Business during the annual session.

It’s now about three months after the historic results from the November 2012 election. The affirmation of civil marriage for same-sex couples took place in the states of Washington, Maine, and Maryland, in addition to the defeat of Minnesota’s proposed anti-LGBTQ marriage amendment. 

After all that, Jeanne and I don’t know how our neighbor Carol voted, but we were able to talk with her several times during the year-and-a-half, accompanying her on her own journey of wrestling with how to be faithful to her religious beliefs while also affirming the love she saw among her friends and neighbors. 

Lots of Friends label me an activist now.  But I like to think of myself as someone who simply decided to get involved.  That’s a lot of what engaging in social change movements is about, really: inviting one another on a journey and into a new type of conversation.  When we do that, we can interrupt our own and others’ automatic thinking that we’ve been socialized to accept without question.  We can begin to listen more deeply to what God is telling us and begin to live out a new order, growing closer to God and to the Light within all of God’s beloved children.

*Like many other states, Minnesota has in place a “Defense of Marriage Act” [DOMA] statute that since 1997 has prevented loving, committed same-sex couples from being able to marry legally. 

UPDATE Second Month 2013:  Currently, a re-configured Minnesotans United for All Families is working with the Minnesota legislature to present a bill that, if approved, would provide marriage for all loving committed couples, regardless of the gender of each partner.

February 2, 2013

Love one another

One of the local stores in town often has fresh bakery items for sale near the front of the store (where else would they be?!).  When I'm down in the dumps and need to go shopping, if I end up at the co-op, I inevitably buy one of their chocolate chip cookies and one of their chocolate-espresso-with-white-chocolate-chips cookies.  Somehow I feel better when I give myself permission to have a treat.

These past few weeks, I've gotten quite a few treats.

There are tough and tender times going on in my life, both at home and where I worship.  I'm currently serving as clerk of Laughing Waters Friends Preparative Meeting, and out of respect for our process, I won't share what's going on, other than to say I've had nudges to remind Friends at various times that we are called to love God and love one another, including during difficulty.

At home, God has nudged me to remember these two commandments and to follow my own advice.  And when I'm not paying attention, when I'm caught up in self-righteousness, God knows how to get my attention.

In recent months, we've been participating in a local program for homeless youth, which means we have a teenager/young adult living with us.  We are getting to know each other in fits and starts.  For every few days that go by smoothly, there is at least half a day when our home-life is turned topsy-turvy and we have a house meeting to clarify some ground rules ("no taking food into your room"), set limits ("no having friends over past 9:00 on a week night"), or make requests ("please tell us when you want something from the grocery store"; "please invite me to go grocery shopping with you").  There are fun times, too.  Often our house meetings and other evenings end with us taking turns reading to each other some Maya Angelou or e.e. cummings or Hafiz.

One night when we as a household were getting ready to sit down together and watch--well, indulge in watching the show Scandal, I realized there were a few key household items that were needed before the weekend, and it seemed to me that I was the only one who cared that we didn't have them.

I grumpily put on my boots, hat, coat, and mittens and headed out to the store just 15 minutes before the show was going to start.

I made a lot of green lights that night, and felt hopeful about missing just a few minutes of the episode.  But I was also crabby that no one volunteered to go with me, that I was doing this one errand on my own because keeping my word was more important to me than watching 60 minutes of a TV drama about lust, power, and presidential politics.

I decided I was going to treat myself to those cookies.  I deserved them... and I wasn't in any mood to share.

I tucked the two cookies I had taken from the self-serve counter into a parchment sleeve and had the cashier ring them up, along with the fragrance-free products and packets of dried blueberries.  As I always do, I kept the cookies out of the tote bag I had brought so I could snack on them on the way home--and righteously so.

I climbed into the car, which I had parked just 4 minutes earlier particularly close to the icy curb.  From the driver's seat, I placed the tote onto the passenger seat... and watched as the cookies' sleeve silently slipped out in slow motion from my clumsy mittened hand...

...landing gently with its papery mouth open and facing toward the floor...

...and watched as the tasty discs, one by delicious one, emerged briefly into sight, and then silently slid off the seat and into the small slot between it and the passenger door, lost from sight and leaving me salivating and seething.

Love one another, I hear God say.  Love one another, including those whom ye are closest to, even when grumpy.

January 27, 2013

Searching for where to start

I've been reflecting on how easy it is and how hard it is to write a blog post for The Good Raised Up these days.

It's easy because I have had so many rich, Spirit-led experiences as well as heart-wrenching trials since the start of 2011.

It's hard because the experiences I've had between May 2011 and November 2012 have given me a view of American Quakerism that I could not have had until now... of how White we really are... of how invested we unconsciously are as a whole in not examining our own Whiteness... of how powerless and ill-equipped I feel to shine the little glow of Light I may have into some very dark, cobwebby corners...

As a peculiar people in America, we are broken.  We are separated from our brothers and sisters of color in the struggle of their lives.  Maybe not all of us, maybe not each day, but systemically as a people of faith.

So I'm searching for the stories I can share of how I myself have been transformed, of how the Spirit called me to tasks I couldn't have dreamed of--or wanted to do!

In the meantime, the beginning of this TED Talk taps into a reason why, even when we are intently reflecting on the story of the Good Samaritan itself, for example, we can walk right by a person who is in pain.

I have found in the past 20 months that the more humility I practice, the more likely I am to risk moving out of my own comfort zone.  The more I move out of my comfort zone, the more God can use me in unexpected ways.  The more I am used in unexpected ways, the more I learn about the kin(g)dom of God and all who are a part of it.

And that makes me more humble.