June 18, 2023

Quakers, Moral Injury, and Decolonization

This past week, I participated in the annual conference for the Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE). It had three things going for it that appealed to me, since I had never participated in FAHE before:

    1. It was held in hybrid format.

    2. The host site this year was Haverford College, my father's and my alma mater.

    3. The theme was Quakers, Colonization, and Decolonization--topics that my monthly and yearly meeting have been coming under the weight of.

After more than 30 years of paying little attention to the college because of their lip service to being a Quaker institution and to addressing racial justice issues, the administration now is actually engaged in meaningful work around equity and racial disparities. And the college's website and brochures seem to refer to its Quaker history rather than wrongly asserting that it's a Quaker college.

A few years ago, I learned about the John P. Chesick Scholars Program, which provides a tremendous amount of support through a variety of measures to first generation college students and to low income students--a population that has heavy overlap with the BIPOC community.

In the past year, my mother and I had an opportunity to learn a great deal about the program. That's a longer story for another time, involving some wealth redistribution and laboring with my mother about how to memorialize my father and what could make a meaningful difference to the students there.

But as a result of our conversations, I also noticed the change in racial makeup of the student body and the faculty, so I knew something at the structural level was going on. The FAHE conference gave me a reason to dip another toe into Haverford's waters, even though I've become wary of highly academic conferences: such conferences unintentionally exclude so many among us who have been undereducated because of racism and classism, if not also because of other oppressions. (One notable exception is the White Privilege Conference.)


A few of my takeaways include:

    1. The use of certain words and phrases in everyday discourse about indigenous issues continue to center white colonizer-settlers, which derails harm reduction and perpetuates an unjust narrative. Indigenous presenter tom kunesh explained how saying "America" instead of "the United States" or even "Turtle Island" points to settler-colonizer Americo Vespucci; using the word "Indian" rather than "indigenous people" reinforces colonizer Christopher Columbus' error and alludes to the violence carried out by European colonizer-settlers against the original inhabitants of the land; calling the institutions that forced indgienous children and youth "Native American/Indian boarding schools" erases the horrific reality that these were, in fact and in effect, forced assimilation camps, not schools. These are not my words, though they are now my concern: These are part of the perspective, counsel, and wisdom provided by indigenous peoples who were presenters and ministers during the FAHE conference.

    2. Those of us who are descendants of European settler-colonizers--white peole--aren't able to do the deepest work of decolonizing our hearts and minds on our own, even if in a study group or praxis group. We who are white must humble ourselves to accept the guidance and corrections of our indigenous kin, including descendants of BIPOC people who were forced here and who immigrated here. In many cases, these kin and elders embody ways of life that are much closer to the original ways of being. In mixed groups, we who are white must be willing to observe and not take over or assert. It requires a deep practice and discipline of humility.

    3. Concepts like "repair and restore" must be broader than #landback. They must include language back, culture back, religion back, way of life back. There are a few communities in the U.S.--across Turtle Island--that have an honor tax or a land tax that white residents can pay voluntarily that go toward restoring or returning land back to indigenous stewards as a way to repair the theft of land by the federal government, whether through broken treaty, massacre, forced removal, or other unjust means, even if deemed "legal" back then. After all, even slavery was a legalized institution at some point. Perhaps these sorts of funds are also being used--or will be, soon--to restore other parts of indigenous ways of being. There are also indigenous-led organizations that focus on language and culture preservation; healing from the multigenerational trauma of forced assimilation camps, etc. 
All of this reminds me that my signing emails with a simple land acknowledgment doesn't change or decolonize any of the larger systems that still oppress or even erase indigenous people. Land acknowledgments might make me feel good briefly, knowing that I at least can name the original inhabitants of where I currently live. But I now have added another statement to my electronic signature at the bottom of my email:

    I am living on traditional homelands of the Dakota, and our household makes annual donations to indigenous-led organizations that are engaged in returning land to Native peoples and in preserving/renewing Native language and culture.

An afterthought: Moral injury

In the two weeks leading up to the FAHE conference, the indigenous author-botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer and her book Braiding Sweetgrass appeared in my life a number of times. A fellow worshiper shared a recent essay of Kimmerer's, on harvesting serviceberries; someone in a group I'm in about money and justice mentioned the book shortly after that, as did one or two presenters during the FAHE conference.

Something else was stirring in me, more deeply than I expected. It got agitated during Paula Palmer's remarks, much of which I have heard or seen before. But something was different this time. Maybe it was the intimacy of the group--about 20 people in person and 15 online, with about a third of them being indigenous or of African descent.

Or maybe it was that by being intellectually familiar with some of the facts of these tragic and horrific histories, I could receive the information through emotional, energetic, and spiritual pathways, not solely intellectual ones.

A collective sorrow was welling up within my spirit.

What had we done?! ...What had we white colonizer-settler Quakers done?!

Subconsciously, I was starting to live into that question more fully as the final day of the conference was about to get underway.

That morning, I was reading a news story about doctors in this country who are working within the for-profit healthcare system. They are beginning to come to terms with what some are calling a moral injury: by taking the Hippocratic Oath, they had agreed to work in a profession that commits them to providing beneficial treatments and ethical care while refraining from causing hurt or harm. Yet, at these for-profit medical facilities, they are pressured by "the demands of administrators, hospital executives and insurers [who force] them to stray from the ethical principles that were supposed to govern their profession," ultimately prioritizing profits over patient care when the patients are at their sickest.

At its core, a moral injury has to do with engaging in or being witness to an act that goes against our deepest held beliefs and personal or communal ethics. It seems that if trauma can be secondary--by indirectly experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event--so too moral injury can be secondary: As more white Quakers learn of how our Quaker predecessors promoted and worked in the indigenous boarding school system [forced assimilation camps], brutally stripping indigenous children of their language, culture, hair, clothes, religious, and family, more of us experience deep sorrow, grief, anguish, or even shame. We carry the grief together, learning how just a few generations ago, Quakers participated in activities that would appear to be reprehensible and that would go against our Quaker identity and values of mutual respect. Truthtelling helps begin some healing and offers some accountability but more is needed, as the FAHE conference and its indigenous participants and presenters alluded to.


April 11, 2023

The season of miracles

This past First Day, I was reminded in our pre-meeting discussion that Friends don't keep days or seasons because every day is holy. The discussion was loosely structured as a "brunch," with a metaphorical appetizer or beverage course involving sharing a poem or reading; a main course to allow us time for deeper reflections on spring, renewal, hope, and miracles; and a dessert course to top it off, sharing a favorite recipe for this time of year or what we are looking forward to.

Many of us were aware that the mainstream Christian holiday of Easter, the Jewish holiday of Passover, and the Muslim holiday of Ramadan all overlapped this year. It has nearly always been a sore point for me when a major Christian holiday comes around because I am often left out of those conversations, not having been raised in that tradition. So for us as a meeting to take a beat or two and acknowledge these other holidays and "seasons" warmed my heart.

As the sharing got underway, I was often moved or struck by what we heard from one another. I began taking short notes, jotting down a peculiar phrase that a Friend used, or referencing an image that someone spoke of. By the end of our pre-meeting time, a poem had organically risen from our blessed time together.


    the song of the peepers
    the sighting of the purple violets and white
    among skunk cabbages on the forest floor

    planting peas and parsnips
    old marigold seeds from years ago awaken in zipper bags
    the season of making seeds turn into sprouts amid our miraculous observation

    the migration of gray juncos
    the thinning of ice on ponds
    slivers of open water
    welcoming the return of herons

    the rhizome alive within us
    under the right conditions
    with the right Love
    the people will bloom
    and we unfold and unfurl
    and become again

    joyous day
    wondrous season
    season of miracles


March 23, 2023

The Quaker corporate community and technology

When I began serving on a large Quaker meeting's Ministry & Counsel Committee (M&C)--the meeting had three Meetings for Worship (MfW) a week--I had an inward sense that it was important to at least visit each of the other two that I had never participated in previously. After all, the committee served the whole meeting and not just the Friends who attended the largest worship. In addition, it seemed odd to me that occasionally during Meetings for Worship for Business, some Friends would speak about what occurred at "the 8:30 worship," at the "midweek worship", or at "the 11:00 worship." Each subgroup of Friends seemed to be experiencing something different, despite being all part of the larger Meeting.

Granted, I had enough flexibility in my life to attend more than one MfW a week, and my visits to the "other" meetings helped me know experientially what it meant to be part of one body. My life, committee service, worship, and f/Friendships were enriched unexpectedly, because of all the additional Friends known to me back then who were actively seeking Truth and striving to be faithful to the Guide. They simply did so at different times on First Day and during the week. Had I stayed only at the worship where I was most comfortable and what was most convenient to me individually, I would never have appreciated the other parts of the body that were just as indispensable as the one I had been attending.


I raise this story because recently I read several articles and comments within the March 2023 online edition of Friends Journal, focused on the impact of the first 2-3 years of the Covid-19 pandemic. There were expressions of deep loneliness and of gratitude, seemingly caused by the technology that arose out of a need to "keep our meetings" and to stay connected to our social networks when so much else around us was on short- or long-term lockdown. For some of us, the screens brought greater emotional distance; for others of us, they brought us together in unexpected ways.

Many of the writings seem to propose one of two paths forward as the Covid-19 pandemic evolves to becoming endemic, each of the two main proposals being on opposite sides of the coin:

    Continuing to use video conferencing technology* helps us, therefore continue the use of online and hybrid meetings


    Continuing to use video conferencing hurts us, therefore discontinue hybrid meetings and restore only in-person meetings.
What we lose sight of, though, in the debates of hybrid worship vs in-person only; to mask or not to mask is that we are still part of one larger body, regardless. It is a form of spiritual violence to hold disdain toward someone who yearns to belong and to be in deep community with others and then to press them to conform, change, or go away. It is a form of spiritual generosity, on the other hand, to express care for someone who yearns to belong and then welcome them into deep community with us. This is one part of acting as if we truly are indispensable to one another:

As a corporate body, gathered by the Shepherd,
    we have to become willing

    to be willing

    to change the culture of our worship community

    in order to be wholely inclusive.

But more directly as a result of this particular issue of Friends Journal, I found myself wondering about how earlier technology may have impacted the peculiar people called Friends; and how did Friends stay in community... or did they? I draw on these questions because one principle of Quakerism is that there is Truth based on direct experience, as well as Truth written into sacred texts. Is there something that we can learn and test from other eras of Quakerism?


My thoughts quickly turn to the printing press, which made the Bible more widely available to many in Europe, especially to those in the middle class; and Quakers began publishing their thoughts as tracts and pamphlets. In the back of my mind, though, I wondered about illiterate Friends and seekers who might have been attracted to the faith:

If ministry and testimony weren't accessible by the written or printed word, wouldn't worshipers and traveling ministers rely more heavily on recounting what they knew from their own direct experience of the Divine, in addition to what they remembered having heard? Did those early Quakers have conflict about whether the printed word -- being able to read and write -- was supremely valuable in helping Friends feel "nearer to Thee"? Further, did wealthier, better educated Friends like George Fox and Margaret Fell extend any sort of welcome intentionally to illiterate seekers?

It's a wonder I've had for a while. I'm not a historian, so these questions just float in my brain as I seek to connect the dots and learn from the past. And of course I count on other Friends whose gifts and knowledge include sharing Quaker history and related tidbits.


I want to stop and also consider the automobile and its impact on Quakers. I imagine that having mobility among at least some of its members--those who could afford a car as well as its maintenance--may have changed the nature of the worship community. Wouldn't access to a car mean access and opportunity to attend meetings a bit farther than a few hours walk or buggy ride? Did cars begin to fracture meetings as a result? Or did meetings expand because more Friends were able to participate on First Days and even visit among one another during the week?

Did increased convenience interfere with or aid in preparing heart and mind for worship? Did cars intrude on an individual's or household's sense of simplicity, given the need for maintenance and gasoline? For my rural midwestern yearly meeting in the U.S., I imagine that families had much discussion, discernment, and tension around whether to support growing children who might wish to leave the farm for higher education or for better work opportunities, now that they could with relative ease.


I had a dear older Quaker friend who had been asked to co-clerk a large committee in the late 1990s for a North American Quaker organization. She cautiously accepted, making it clear that she had no intention of communicating by email for committee work, despite how convenient and widespread email had become by then. Apparently there was much frustration expressed by others on the committee and by some personnel on staff, but my friend held her ground. The committee got its work done very effectively, as far as I know, with thanks to phone calls, letters, and the occasional face-to-face meeting.

My friend's experience became a lesson for me on how to stay connected, especially when serving our meetings, when not everyone has the same access to or comfort with the technology that is available. I've clerked a handful of committees for my yearly meeting and monthly meeting, as well as other ad hoc groups, being mindful of when a Friend is dyslexic, can't afford a computer, or is neurodivergent. It remains important to me to demonstrate "equal concern for one another," and so I spend a few extra minutes in preparing for a committee meeting with a variety of accessibility needs, like making calls ahead of time in addition to sending emails.

I'm also thinking about vocal ministry that has arisen in my rural yearly meeting, and ministry that I have been witness to from Friends who were raised on farms or who have done manual labor. Some of those messages have centered on metaphors of farming or of the trades, like the importance of measuring a piece of wood based on an initial "master" piece, in order to make other pieces the same length--and needing to go back to the orginal piece, the master piece, from time to time instead of relying on the secondary pieces... being certain we are listening for the Truth and not for some substitute of it.

My yearly meeting's culture is such that these messages ground us in some ways that more abstract messages cannot. And yet, I more often hear messages that allude to the value of college degrees or white collar work, or how our intention of being welcoming or inclusive comes across as being paternalistic rather than out of a reciprocal relationship. I struggle to put my finger on what doesn't sit well with me...

My yearly meeting's culture includes some oral history and personal experiences of how Friends have dreaded the idea of not being in unity when the tension at a Meeting for Worship for Business is terribly thick and palpable. ("dread" is the word I am using). The struggle to keep all of us in the Fold despite different beliefs and differing values seems to touch all of us eventually. And that includes moments when we ourselves may feel that we do belong, as well as moments when we may feel that we don't.


Although I am not steeped in Scripture, and I don't identify as a Christian Quaker, I have known experimentally the discipline required to live into what Corinthians 12:22-26 requires of us:

    ...those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

    But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

    If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.


*My yearly meeting has a practice that we not name specific corporations, businesses, or brands, lest Friends be misunderstood as somehow supporting a particular company.

March 11, 2023

Witness & Testimony on Gender Expression

Content warning: This post has references to hate, genocide, the Holocaust, queerphobia, and LGBTQ+ issues.

No links are included to news reports nor to other online items that amplify hate and trauma.

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

These days, creating legislation that calls for the suppression or repression of behaviors that don't conform to a person's perceived gender, and calls for the complete eradication of trans people seem to be current ways for some hurt, fearful people in power to be seen as being among the cool kids on the block. Being anti-trans and making threats or bullying anyone who appears to be crossing what used to be considered "normal" gender boundaries is quickly taking hold across the United States.

To say that it's frightening or unsettling would be a severe understatement. This soon-to-be legalized way of oppressing an entire group of people based on who we are and how we show up in the world is dangerous.

Globally, we've been here before--think The Final Solution in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe; the calls for removing the "savage" indigenous people in Turtle Island; the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda; and modern-day Uganda, where there are ongoing open calls for death to anyone who is gay or lesbian.

In the U.S., when I was an adolescent in the 1970s, homophobic language was about as ever-present and blatant as today, but without the viral nature of social media. Nevertheless, the homophobic language and explicit fears in mainstream America were frequent enough and widespread enough that they reached me, and I questioned and doubted myself in my own uncertainty:

Was I a lesbian? How would I know? Would that mean I had a mental illness? If I were mentally ill, what would happen to me?

As a result of today's increasingly hateful, psychologically harmful, and dangerously inciteful rhetoric, memories of my own self expression as a child, a pre-teen, an adolescent, and a young adult seep into my consciousness. I feel a nudge to bear witness because if anyone comes for my transgender friends--some of whom have lived with me--then they also are coming for me.


Query: Did you ever have a time in your life when you wanted to dress and act the way you wanted, even if it was different from how you were raised or from how your peers were dressing and acting? What was that like for you?

I have a twin brother and a brother two years older than us. Growing up, I knew my body was different from my brothers'; I remember thinking at times how I wanted to be like them. I didn't have words for it back then, but it was more an inward response to the restrictions that I saw my mother and her mother living into: they were the cooks, the cleaners, the homemakers, the stay-at-homebodies. And they didn't express a lot of care for each other, either, just misery and bitterness for the life they weren't living, or so it seemed to me as a child. Why would I want to aspire to that life for myself as a woman?

Growing up with two brothers meant I was exposed to a lot of things that boys typically got to do: play outdoors, be loud, aggressively smash Lego bricks against each other, do some home-based science experiments, go to ballgames with Dad. Thankfully, I was frequently encouraged to "go play with the boys." It was one way my mother could grab some peace and quiet after schooldays and on weekends...

...except when my grandmother, Grandma G, came to visit.

She didn't seem to like how much time I was spending outside, learning baseball, football, and frisbee. She didn't seem to like how many pairs of pants I had and how few dresses, and she let me know it. I still remember the bright afternoon when she and my mother stood at the back door overlooking the backyard where we kids were playing--I must have been about 10--and my grandmother called out, "Liz, come inside and put on a dress!" My heart broke. I don't remember if my mom intervened or if I acquiesced or if I stayed put. I don't know if my brothers heard my grandmother--how could they not?!--or what they made of that command.

Come inside and put on a dress!

My grandmother was a force. She had other commandments, more often expressed as loaded questions:

Why don't you put on makeup? You'd look so much prettier.
Why don't you put your hair up?
Why can't you wear a skirt or a dress more often?

But my grandmother was also generous and often took me shopping -- for clothes. I must have gone with at least one of my brothers each time, because she never steered us into the girls' section; we spent a lot of time in the boys' section (back when the gender binary was on full display). I gravitated toward shirts with broad stripes and durable fabric. Nothing frilly or pink or tailored. Surprisingly, after just a single "Don't you want to look at dresses...?," my grandmother would just let me be and paid for the "boys clothes" I had picked out. To my mom's credit, she never criticized me and never made my grandmother take the clothes back. I was reasonably comfortable; I was me as best as I could be back then.

I was a girl-child who liked playing sports with boys and liked wearing comfortable boy clothes. And in my specific case, I also knew inwardly that I was a girl, not a boy. In school and at home, the word "tomboy" was tossed in my direction, and I never minded. But I want to make this point clear right now:

In my own life, I always intuitively understood that I was a girl; I was female. That congruence was and still is right for me.

Much later on, during my coming out process in my 30s as a bisexual woman, I knew experimentally that who I was wasn't a choice I made; it was a matter of wholeness that I affirmed. Similarly, now as a 60-year-old woman looking back at my childhood experiences, I understand that back then, I was seeking my own form of gender expression, an outward expression of my inward self, through what I wore, what activities I participated in, what norms I valued. And I understand experimentally that being transgender -- or cisgender -- isn't a choice. It's simply about being who and how we each are in our respective wholeness.


Query: In what ways is your sense of wholeness, physical well being, and mental wellness affirmed and cared for? What services, relationships, and activities do you regulary participate in that affirm who you are and how you live?

I want to point out that all my life, I have been receiving gender affirming care. I've had ob-gyn appointments. I've purchased and been given supplies to deal with my monthly cycles. I've had mammograms and related imaging done. I've had a hysterectomy for my own health and general well being. I've had haircuts to my liking and rebuffed efforts to get me to buy and use hair product. I get pedicures; I look for ways to address my facial hair as I age. I wear clothes that make feel comfortable in my body. I cut my nails how I like them and occasionally wear nail polish on my toenails.

All of this is care for myself that affirms how I view myself along the gender spectrum.

To me, the idea of disallowing gender affirming care is repugnant. Why does one group of people believe they can decide what is right or acceptable for another group of people? Colonization, patriarchy, apartheid, white supremacy, misogyny... these are all parts of the dynamic of oppression and


I share all this because our personal experiences matter. Sharing our stories of who we are help us demystify and humanize the strangers that we don't know yet: our queer neighbors, our gay or lesbian family members, our transgender friends and fellow worshipers.


Query: Do you know anyone who didn't feel they could be their whole authentic self? Do you know how they felt at the time, or what they thought of themselves?

Testimony is about both how we carry ourself--our "carriage" and letting our life speak--and about the words we use; there should be a consistency between both. Quakers live into the Truth as a way to be a pattern, an example of faithfulness. Living out the wholeness of who we are, what we believe, and whatever our Given measure of Light is a form of embodied preaching that testifies to the Truth of the Divine Principle. George Fox provides a definition of testimony that resonates with me:

    Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them...

That is why I share my own experience of how I transgressed--crossed over a line regarding certain gender norms around dress and behaviors as a young person and how I continue to do so as a 60-something aging Friend.

To be clear, I don't actively push against conforming to gendered dress codes or heteronormative roles for the sake of being rebellious or anti-establishment or counter-cultural. I dress as I do and act as I do and pursue justice as I do because it is my expression of wholeness as I know it. When I am in my wholeness, I am happiest. I am able to walk cheerfully over the earth.


My journey to accept myself as I am--my gender as an athletic, boyish girl/woman in a patriarchal society--was more straightforward than my journey to accept my fellow worshipers, neighbors, and friends as transgender. Being trans used to be as unfamiliar a concept to me as a girl wearing pants and boys' tops was to my grandmother. She couldn't wrap her mind or heart around it at first, but she still saw me as her grandchild. She went on loving me as best she could over the years and eventually stopped criticizing me for who and how I was in the world.

This is how I have come to welcome and love my transgender kin. It's the only way I know to grow, weave together, and strengthen the Beloved Community, by getting to know each other by spending time together. Sometimes it requires intentional changes in my own behaviors, like choosing to be more welcoming outwardly in my day to day life. Sometimes it means I have to educate myself about concepts I wasn't aware of before. Other times, it is by Divine Assistance as I feel my way into an openness and acceptance I hadn't known before-a wordless and mystical exercise between my heart and the Inward Teacher that changes me for the better, opening myself to know a greater slice of humanity I didn't understand or acknowledge before.

Building meaningful relationships with people who are different from ourselves helps us demystify the ways of strangers, and our hearts widen so we may know that Love is the first motion--inclusion, not bullying; love, not fear; welcome, not eradication.

Query: Was there a time when you felt you didn't belong, or when you worried if you would be welcomed into someplace new? What and who helped? When in your life were you made to feel truly safe enough to bring more of your whole self forward over time? Are you doing that for other people? If not, what is getting in the way?

Are there other ways that we can be in the world, encouraging the Good to be raised up?

February 24, 2023

How does the Truth prosper with thee?

I find myself flipping through the few pages of notes I took during Martin Kelley's workshop on Truth, spending the most time rereading those that are related to the age-old Quaker query How does the Truth prosper with thee?

I can count the number of times I've been asked that question on one hand. The rarity of the greeting catches me up short each time. And I feel cared for, valued as a Friend. When I hear it posed to me, I have to slow myself down, take a few breaths, and touch base with the Guide, listening inwardly for the answers to a few related questions:

How has God shown up in my life lately?
Have I been faithful to the nudges and leadings I have been Given?
What do I grapple with and what insight might the Living Principle be bringing to me?

Have I acted out of malice lately rather than love; am I right with God?

In my experience, a cherished friend doesn't ask the question lightly, and so I want to be sure I give an honest reply. 


Since Martin's workshop, I've been teasing out the different parts of the query, starting with --


Sometimes queries that Quakers use for Friends and our meetings to consider start with the word Do: Do we come to meeting for worship with hearts and mind prepared? Do we cultivate a forgiving spirit...?

Would it make a difference if the old-time query were phrased as "Does the Truth prosper with thee?"? Would it be overly easy to answer "Yes" as easily as so many of us now answer "How are you?" with the single, empty word "Fine"? Would we slow ourselves down before replying, sinking into a deeper place within ourselves to ask "Does the Truth prosper with me or not?" And if we were the questioner, how willing and open would we be to ask a follow-up question regardless of the answer:

"Oh...? the Truth prospers with thee. How so?" and "Oh... the Truth doesn't prosper with thee: what is thy concern? what's going on; what troubles thee?"

Instead, the question starts with the word How, which may take more time and space to consider.


I'm aware that the question isn't "How does your truth prosper with thee?" It's "How does the Truth prosper with thee?" The question doesn't ask what new learnings you have uncovered for yourself--about people, about justice, about living in these Covid times--although these individual truths are a part of the capital T Truth. For me, the question presumes that there is a single Truth, the Truth, that is accessible to all of us, and either we move toward it in our lifetime--sometimes in a nonlinear way--or we move away from it, missing the mark.

Perhaps this question asks us to consider if we are being exercised by some spiritual struggle or by a personal dilemma that might help us see more clearly what God is asking of us. Perhaps the few moments of private inward consideration illuminates or begins to incubate the smallest bit of unexpressed spiritual discontent or persistent nudge that we have been feeling and will ultimately need to act on.

Gosh, do I even know what I am wanting to express here...? My words seem so inadequate...


Perhaps the first word HOW connects with this word, PROSPER. If the Truth can prosper, it means it can also languish, so how does the Truth get cultivated within our hearts, minds, and spirits? Is there something in particular that we can do to be sure the Truth does prosper? 

Similarly: How do we keep the Truth from languishing on our watch and in our lives? Are we doing what God asks of us? Are we lagging behind the Guide; are we consistently outrunning it or ignoring it?  Are we living up to our measure of Light in each moment so that more Light and Truth may be given us? 


As God sometimes does while we grapple with and reach for clarity, while writing this post I came across these words from a pamphlet written by Bill and Fran Taber on The Witness of Conservative Friends, 2004:

Truth could mean God, or the will of God, or the whole meaning of the gospel, or Christ the Light, the Life. Truth [for early Conservative Friends] was something to be in, to be lived in. To be in the Truth was to be in touch with the Light and to live according to its guidance. To be in the Truth was to be in living communion not only with the Light but also with all those who are guided by the Light. (p. 16)

How does the Truth prosper with thee? How does the Light--the whole kit-and-caboodle of what we strive for in our flawed wholeness--prosper with thee? How does the Inward Teacher or the Loving Principle prosper within thee? How does the movement of Love prosper with thee? 


February 19, 2023

Re-entry, Truth, and Being Hounded

In the middle part of Second Month 2023, three different Friends on three different occasions, none knowing one another, said to me that they had known of me through The Good Raised Up before having ever met me.

That got my attention.

Back when I started this blog in 2005, I was writing because I felt my experiences among Friends and my take on Quakerism differed from what many other unprogrammed Friends in North America were writing and talking about. Through what came to be known as the Quaker blogosphere, I found other Friends striving to put into words what didn't sit well with them about our shared faith; what Quaker principles seemed to have become watered down or even to have disappeared. I found blogs by Liberal Friends and Conservative-leaning Friends like myself who wanted a more vibrant Quakerism; by programmed Friends who were reaching for something too; and by Conservative Friends who also felt they were Given something to lift up. To this day I still believe we were ministering to one another through our writings, and the Truth of what we shared with one another shaped me then and perhaps shapes me still.

In addition, I have come to believe that I live my life not in a straight line from birth to death but in a series of small and large circles: from birth to learning; from growth to forgetting; from remembering to prideful living; from brokenness to humility; from deep love and connection to separateness; from despair to faithfulness. On and on, round and round. And always the Loving Principle accompanies me, even when I forget or retreat from the Spirit.

So here I am, returned to the first of what might evolve into more frequent online times of writing, reflecting, re-examining, and writing again. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and maybe before that, there have been nudges for me to take up this blog again, putting fingers to keyboard, but Way never seemed to open fully enough, until an Opening came at this time.

Martin Kelley's online retreat on Truth

Perhaps electronic and digital communication have their own large and small circles too. I moved on from blogging and delved into Facebook and Twitter for awhile; my time there seems to have slowed if not run its full course. Through another online platform, though, Martin Kelley and I reconnected at the first part of this month, and in just a couple weeks, I learned he would be facilitating an online event on Truth. I'm not a big fan of online workshops but something about the topic, the person guiding the sessions, and the timing of them all indicated that Way was opening for me to participate.

I thought there would be at least a few dozen of us, given Martin's enormous work over many years in cultivating QuakerQuaker, an online community of Quakers from across the branches of the Religious Society of Friends. I was surprisingly relieved to see fewer than 20 of us online: this was going to be a more intimate experience.

After taking note of the size of the group, I noticed how multiracial it was! Living in the midwestern United States for as long as I have, and worshiping with Quakers here for nearly just as long, has made me forget how much racial diversity there actually is in certain North American cities and in a few Quaker meetings. I also make the assumption that the host organization for the event, the Quaker meetings near it, and Martin have been doing a fair amount of antiracism work, but I may never know how the Spirit led each of us to be with one another on that particular Friday and Saturday.

Anyway, I took some notes and recognized the familiar nudges and yearnings to carve out time to gather my thoughts. I have musings about Truth and its relationship to continuing revelation; who gets to define Truth and how it gets misused in service to oppression and white supremacy; and the relationship between Truth and capital-L Love. I think those topics will wait for another post, along with unpacking the greeting that Martin invited us to use when introducing ourselves: How does the Truth prosper with thee? Just listing these topics here gets me seeking inwardly all over again--the fruit of a worthwhile workshop!

The Hound of Heaven

In the online platform where Martin and I reconnected, and after the workshop-retreat, Martin tagged me, shared a link to a post in The Good Raised Up, and added "...we really should hound her to restart [her blog]." I had to chuckle: another nudge from the community and/or from the Spirit, pointing me to what may be Way opening...? And "hounding" someone sounded familiar, so I looked it up:

The concept of being hounded is one that Thomas Kelly spoke about in Philadelphia in his 1939 William Penn Lecture on Holy Obedience.  In 2005, I too had written about the concept of being hounded, in my post God is a monster with claws. Kelly puts it in the Quaker frame of obedience; I put it in the frame of a brief exchange with a child in my worship community at the time.

Well, it's good to be back online here, for however long or short Way is open. Thanks for reading me once again.