Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Berkeley helicopter nights, Part I

After four nights of helicopters over Berkeley, tonight the fog brought silence. I have been glued to Twitter and live streams most of those evenings, finally venturing out to join part of a march last night against police killings.

I hope to write more about the stories that stick with me most from the past several days. Here is the first.


Todd Zimmer. (December 7, 2014). Berkeley Cops Beat Protestors 12/6/2014 #BlackLivesMatter

The words of Todd Zimmer and nearby protestors, as they were being pushed backwards by police on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, stuck with me as queries and lessons for all of us:
“Use your words.” “That is totally unnecessary.” “You're just attacking people. For no reason.” [Calling individuals by their names.] “Why do you do this?” “Why are you hitting us? We’re not attacking you.” “Do you see anybody beating you?” “That was an unprovoked attack.” “You’re not in danger in any way. We are in danger from you.” “What’s your problem?” “What are you doing?” “You’re not in combat. We can’t back up farther.” “Who do you protect?” “People can’t back up, because there’s obstacles behind us.” “They’re aggressive to the point of absurdity.” “Can you identify yourself?”

Sunday morning at Strawberry Creek Meeting, there were many moving messages about the protests, and the injustices that motivated them. I found myself reflecting on this video, and how hard it is not to get stuck in opposition when people all around you are saying the same thing over and over. While I would never choose to carry a weapon or practice physical violence, I’m sure there are times when my own actions back people up into confrontation.

What came to me in meeting was that my white privilege, and the Quaker practice of “answering to that of God in everyone”, make me the kind of person who might be able to reach out and talk to police as human beings. Maybe even to give them a way out of confrontation. If Todd (who I don’t know) can do this in a peaceful way while walking backwards and filming a video, surely I can find opportunities to do so. Yes, I’m afraid of police in riot gear. But I don’t live in fear of them every day of my life. And that means I can take action in ways that many others cannot.

On the way home from meeting, I tested this possibility. I saw two officers in uniform, leaning against a black-and-white patrol car. So I took a deep breath and walked up to them and said this: “Hey, I don’t know if you were out on the streets last night, but I just want to acknowledge that it must be hard to just stay human when a lot of people are yelling at you. I want to encourage you to take care of yourselves in your own lives in ways that help you stay human on the job.” They smiled, thanked me, chatted a little, and I went on my way. Not so hard for me to do.

I would love to hear of other efforts to help give the police a way out. Out of confrontation. Out of escalation. Out of militarization. And what action can each of us take?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cubism, the Human Microphone, and Beginning to See Fragments as a Whole

A couple of weeks ago, my sweetheart and I went to visit a Picasso exhibit at the DeYoung Museum. We walked slowly through each room, taking time to look closely at many artworks, often sitting down to rest or to look even longer. Early in the exhibit, we talked about a sketch that seemed to capture the potential for movement in the knees and arms and torso, more than what I expect a body to look like. The room that had cubist paintings (which I had never quite “gotten”) did not have a bench. So we went on to the next room and sat there, taking a break from seeing so much, and talked about other things for a while.

At one point, I looked back towards the cubist paintings, five or six yards away. One of them had an overall shape that reminded me of the Tower of Babel, with a band of light across one of its stories near the top. Curious, we walked back to it for a closer look. Its title was Man with a Guitar. Standing a few feet away, we could clearly see a face at the top, and a body at about the scale of our own bodies. The band of light was where the arms would be, and maybe the neck of the guitar. I began to see in it the potential for movement I had seen in the earlier sketch, almost a spiritual possibility for what the person in the painting could express. Where before I would have tried to pick out single fragments, comparing them to my own picture of whether they looked realistic, I was opened to see quite differently, to feel a powerful energy that wasn’t bound to a particular moment but could keep growing as the light shone through.

A week after that museum visit, I spent a few hours at the Federal Reserve Bank with Occupy San Francisco. I had seen videos of Occupy Wall Street, and had been very impressed with the human microphone, by which the people close enough to hear a speaker repeat his or her words, phrase by phrase, so the rest of the crowd can hear. Some people claim that this slows down the process, with everything being said twice. (My experience of many other meetings is that things get said much more than twice.)

I find a great deal that is positive in this practice. (I use the “we” pronoun in the next few sentences not to speak for others, but to express my own sense of being part of something larger than myself.) The human microphone gives space for each person to be heard. In repeating the words of others, we listen attentively, not turning to what we would say next before really taking them in. In considering our own words, we can ask ourselves what bears repeating, and what our own statements add to what has already been said. The need to be heard is partly satisfied by having voiced others’ thoughts and feelings. What is spoken becomes collective, rather than an individual fragment that has to be identified with one person’s point of view.

I find myself opened by taking the time to see and hear shapes and voices, which I once perceived as disparate small pieces, gathered together into a larger whole. These experiences move me beyond previous expectations of what appeared realistic and possible.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Participatory culture: frameworks & sensibility

Several of us have already blogged about Wess Daniels’ recent talk on Quakers and participatory culture at Quaker Heritage Day. (See posts by Wess, Robin, Rik, and me.)

After hearing Wess’ ideas, I recommended that he look up the work of Nina Simon, author of The Participatory Museum and the blog Museum 2.0. Now I’m trying to draw parallels to Quakerism from a blog post by Nina about museums. She writes:

At one point, [Mark Allen] commented that there's a difference between the "framework" and the "sensibility" for engagement. The framework is the format or setup for how community members are invited to participate. The sensibility is the content and the style with which the engagement happens.

In terms of Quakerism, I think “framework” would apply to the forms of our practice: how we worship, how we conduct our business meetings, how we nominate people to committee service. “Sensibility” might apply to how we welcome newcomers, how transparent we make our practices, how we handle announcements and e-mail within the meeting, what kinds of events we schedule and where they are held. (Any thoughts on whether these are the right analogies?)

After sharing some museum examples, Nina writes:

It's easy to assume that an informal sensibility implies an open framework and vice versa--but that assumption doesn't bear out in reality. A museum can be friendly, or serious, or funny, while maintaining a traditional relationship with visitors as consumers of experiences. And alternatively, an institution can conduct co-creative projects with community members without altering its external sensibility or institutional tone.

I’m aware that our Quaker frameworks have a lot of hidden structure, in many ways quite formal, but we’re somewhat reluctant to define it clearly. Some of it is spelled out in the Faith and Practice of various Yearly Meetings, but we often expect people (including our children) to observe our peculiar ways and figure them out by osmosis, and may only offer explanations when we think someone is doing it wrong.

Our sensibility varies widely from one monthly meeting to another:

* In general, we’re not very welcoming. Vanessa Julye’s ministry has raised up for many of us how this can alienate people of color, but it’s broader than that. Many visitors come once, and don’t find anyone approachable during coffee hour.

* Newcomers who do stick around can easily fall into the assumption Nina points out, “that an informal sensibility implies an open framework”. It can look like our framework is more “do it yourself” than it really is, so hackles and misunderstandings can be raised when someone with little seasoning among Quakers plunges in enthusiastically.

Do we expect people not to be full participants until they’ve been around us for a while? Isn’t this a mystery to most people new to Quakerism? There’s clearly some hurdle to membership; how do people know when they’re ready to leap over it?

Nina closes her post with some queries:

These days, I spend a lot of time working on new models for both framework and sensibility. It's hard to say which is more important--or challenging--to transform. What's more interesting to you--changing the voice and sensibility with which you engage audiences, or changing the framework for doing so? Do you see these as separate, connected, or conflated?

Some meetings, such as those pointed out by Micah, are experimenting with different frameworks. I suspect most of our meetings would be reluctant to make changes that go beyond how we do our announcements. Are we willing to experiment with our sensibility, and how we reach out to engage newcomers?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quakers and Remix Culture, Part I

This past weekend, Berkeley Friends Church brought C. Wess Daniels to be the speaker at their annual Quaker Heritage Day. I love the format of this event: a full Saturday morning and afternoon, with someone who has thought a lot about Quakerism sharing some background on a topic (often from Quaker history), and inviting the whole group to reflect on how this fits with our experience as Friends. People attend from programmed and unprogrammed meetings across California. The same speaker gives a sermon at the church on Sunday.

Wess is the pastor of Camas Friends Church in Washington, and a doctoral student in theology at Fuller Seminary. He talked about the characteristics of participatory culture, and the parallels he sees to Quaker tradition. I’m looking forward to whatever Wess posts about that on his blog, and won’t try to reiterate it all here. Some of the writers he cited were Vail Palmer, Lawrence Lessig, and Henry Jenkins.

One of the most intriguing (and perhaps the most approachable) of the characteristics was “remix culture.” Wess’ basic description was that many people are moving from a “read-only” encounter with texts, to a collage or remix which brings their own experience into an interaction with pieces of different existing works. The resulting new creation may challenge the intent of the original works. Some of Wess’ examples of remix were:

• YouTube videos that sample classic songs, and reinterpret them in combination with newer ones
• Early Friends’ epistles that quoted the Bible extensively without citing sources
• James Nayler’s 1656 re-enactment of Palm Sunday
• A disciple needing to integrate and live a master’s teachings, rather than trying to preserve them unaltered.

It strikes me that Quakers are actually quite well-practiced at remix culture. Ever since George Fox wrote that “this I knew experimentally”, we have been challenged to integrate spiritual messages into our own lived experience. And his spoken ministry of “What canst thou say?” gave Margaret Fell the conviction not just to listen to others’ professions of faith, but to seek and speak of what she learned through continuing revelation. The juxtaposition of many voices in our messages in worship and business, and responses to queries, have most of us in the habit of contributing to collages.

I am challenged by ministry that was given to me on Sunday, in the open worship after Wess’ sermon. I had a visual image of a kaleidoscope, in which we are all pieces of different colored glass. In our business meetings, we are shaken up and moved into different arrangements, and our decisions settle into an order which none of us might have imagined. We let our meetings start to die if we stop seeing each other as translucent, if we assume that anyone is opaque, or do not let ourselves be open to the Light that might shine through us.

When have I seen others as opaque, in my meeting, my family, my workplaces? When do I appreciate that “my” light can blend with and be changed by that which shines through others?

Quakers and Remix Culture, Part II

In my experience, remix happens when I’m willing to let ministry work on me over time. Sometimes a message comes to me in worship half-formed, and I discern that it needs more seasoning, so I carry it with me for a week or more between meetings to see what I have to learn from it, before it rises (or doesn’t) to the level of spoken ministry. Many times, I’m worked on by a lesson that keeps presenting itself in multiple forms: messages in meeting, conversations, and ideas I hear or read. God often gets my attention through a convergence of coincidences.

Here is a personal example of experiencing, creating and sharing a remix.

Early in 2008, I heard Laura Magnani speak at an adult education session on Quaker testimonies, sharing some of what she learned while serving on the Discipline Committee that produced Pacific Yearly Meeting’s 2001 Faith and Practice. What I understood from her was that written testimonies have traditionally been statements of what Friends were already practicing in their lives. Thus, the process of arriving at a written testimony required us to first to live into it.

Soon after her talk, the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror” got stuck in my head, and wouldn’t go away for months. The chorus says:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer:
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make that change

I felt a strong leading to sing this for Family Night at Yearly Meeting, which required a group who could hold their parts on dissonant harmonies. The chorus spoke to me strongly, but the verses didn’t address what moved me to share the song with PYM: our ongoing discussions about a testimony on unity with nature. I thought about trying to write new verses, but nothing came.

A week or so before Yearly Meeting, I heard Holly Near’s song “I Am Willing” for the first time. The lyrics spoke very much to my condition and to the idea of living the testimonies, but I found its hymn-like melody too repetitive. Soon the idea arose of combining Holly’s song with the chorus of “Man in the Mirror.” I went to the library for sheet music to “Man in the Mirror” and typed the lyrics to “I Am Willing” to bring to Yearly Meeting. A few Friends worked out the harmonies and sang this medley/mash-up together for Family Night.

There was a lot of energy in moving from Holly’s last line into Michael’s first: her “lift me up… to the light of change” would have held out “change” like a prayer, but instead it became the first beat of a driving rhythmic line describing a first step to bring that prayer into action. Others told me they experienced what we sang as ministry.

There’s no video or recording I know of from the PYM 2008 Family Night, but here are the pieces:

Video of Holly Near and Emma’s Revolution singing “I Am Willing” at the School of the Americas Watch (2007)

Video of Michael Jackson and choir singing “Man in the Mirror” at the Grammys (1998)

Lots of sparks of inspiration can feed into a remix. Many thanks to Laura for her talk; to Michael and Holly for their songs; to Carl, Kristina, Callid, Hannah and anyone else whose ear I bent while the remix was seasoning; to Faith, Gail, Mark and Stephen for collaborating on the arrangement and singing with me at Family Night; to Kathy for taking this picture; and to Wess for inspiring me to think through this example.

Does remix work on any of you in similar ways? How do you let messages season over time? How do lessons present themselves? When is it important to create and share something to express what moves you?

Friday, June 12, 2009

"This" as a Divine Pronoun

I've been doing a practice lately of singing for 15 minutes a day from Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal, choosing hymns that speak to whatever lessons I'm working on at the time. One that has been of great comfort and inspiration lately is #251, "If Thou But Trust in God to Guide Thee." As with many of the songs in the FGC hymnal, I suspect the words have been changed to eliminate gender bias in reference to the divine.

If thou but trust in God to guide thee,
And place thy confidence within,
God will give strength, whate'er betide thee,
To give thee hope and strength within.

Here, the same word appears as a rhyme with itself, which jars my sensibilities as a songwriter, and leads me to wonder both about the original text and about about what language reflects my own experience of God. "In Him" would make a nice near-rhyme to "within," but doesn't fit my experience. I generally don't mind female or male language for the divine, but my feeling sense of God is as a presence, an energy that is not limited by personification or gender.

So what has come to me to sing is, "And place thy confidence in This." Already, the song feels much stronger to me, a clearer encouragement to trust God to accompany me through any situation. "This," to me, is not the reliance on God's guidance, but a rich pronoun that conveys my sense of God's presence and availability. The initial "th" of "This" shares the familiarity and intimacy of "thee/thou/thy/thine." I think the capitalization works to mark "This" as a divine pronoun, not just any old this-or-that.

How does "This" fit with thy experience?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Songs as queries

A couple of months ago, Strawberry Creek's First Day School committee asked me to do two sessions on songwriting with the upper elementary group. We sang some peace songs together, and I brought in Margaret Fell's account of hearing George Fox speak for the first time ("We are all thieves" and "What canst thou say?"). We talked a lot about finding one's own voice, letting songs work on you experientially and making them your own, possible parallels between the folk process and Quaker process.

The second time we met, we knew that the teen group was working on responses to a set of queries and advices from Faith and Practice. Upper elementary was small that day, but didn't want to join the teens. One of the kids requested "Blowing in the Wind," and after we sang it I pointed out that the verses were entirely made up of questions. The same kid who had requested it said he'd always wondered about the question [paraphrasing Dylan here] "How many times can we all turn our heads, pretending that we just don't see?", and this led quite naturally into Quaker dialogue and discussion.

So my question for you all is: Are there songs that pose queries which lead you to reflect on your own experience? Do they move you, provoke you, guide or change you? What songs, if any, have been traveling companions on your spiritual journey?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Vatican document on pastoral care of the road

Here is a link to a long document titled Guidelines for Pastoral Care of the Road released this June by the Pontifical Council for the Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

It has four major parts:
• The Pastoral Care of Road Users
• Pastoral Ministry for the Liberation of Street Women
• The Pastoral Care of Street Children
• The Pastoral Care of Homeless (Tramps)

I found Part One quite thought-provoking in relation to the Quaker peace testimony, particularly its subsections 3-5. The seeds of war inherent in driving go beyond exploitation of fossil fuels, and this Vatican document has a lot to say about emotions (including road rage), and spiritual opportunities related to driving. It even includes a “Drivers’ Ten Commandments”:

I. You shall not kill.

II. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

III. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

IV. Be charitable and help your neighbour in need, especially victims of accidents.

V. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

VI. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

VII. Support the families of accident victims.

VIII. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

IX. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

X. Feel responsible towards others.

Some queries on ministry

Lately I've been on a committee for the ministry of another Friend in my meeting. One morning I woke up with several queries for her to reflect on, and quickly realized I needed to examine them for myself as well. In case they're of use to others:

• (The old Quaker nuggets to ponder after being given ministry to share with others: Was thee faithful? Did thee yield?)

• What does it feel like to you to be guided?

• How do you find yourself turning away from God?

• What is your experience of consciously turning back to God, or being turned back by grace?

• How does living with your ministry fit with Step 3: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God"?

• What messages in your ministry to others do you most need to hear or let in for yourself?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Quaker Heritage Day is still working on me

The amazing thing for me, since hearing Brian Drayton speak at Quaker Heritage Day, has been to watch how little seeds that he planted have integrated with lessons that God was bringing into my life in other ways at the same time. The surprising piece to me is the depth and ongoing working of my reflection on those lessons, and my willingness to take action on them. Those who know me well might recognize that I can easily get caught up in something in the moment that it's happening, and just as easily move on to the next thing. But these lessons are really working on me, week after week.

Here and there throughout the day, Brian mentioned having lived in a group house south of Boston with several other Quakers in his younger years. They would talk about leadings, and were a strong support and encouragement to each other's ministry. The people in the house felt called to be of service to the Society of Friends in a broader way, sharing what they knew of the meetings in the area, and discerning together who might best minister to the needs of those meetings. So he and his wife Darcy ended up actively participating in a small struggling meeting north of Boston.

So you might think my lesson from that would be something about that group support of ministry, or the openness to service. Actually, the piece that struck me was a small aside: that a friend once pointed out to him that the distance they traveled in their one-hour drive to meeting each Sunday would, in days long past, have been a two-day carriage ride. I think the point he was making was that we often set up our lives to do things because they are possible, when they might not be the simplest choices.

For me, this tied in with my 9-year-old daughter's growing concern about global warming: it is clear to her how utterly wrong it is to contribute to it by using fossil fuels. Neither she nor I drive, but we usually accept rides to meeting with my 75-year-old mother, who lives downstairs. We've been having lots of thoughtful conversations about this. My mother says that she would drive anyway, as it's too far for her to walk the distances between our house and public transportation and meeting. We've questioned whether she might carpool with other Friends if my daughter and I weren't in the car. Some Sundays we're running too late for other options to get us to meeting on time, as we've fallen into the timing of going by car.

But the day after Quaker Heritage Day, my daughter and I walked to meeting. We left the house at 8:45, and got there at 9:30. (When we take public transportation, with about 10 minutes of walking on either end, we leave the house at 9:10 and get there at 9:45, so it only took 10 minutes longer on foot.) Several Friends were already gathering, particularly the Loaves and Fishes committee busy in the kitchen, and as other Friends arrived we watched the fabric of the meeting community being woven together with hugs and personal check-ins, setup for First Day School and worship, some Friends going into the meeting room early to settle into silence. After those little tender moments, it was a bit jarring to experience the rush to get in the door by 10:00, at which point our Worship & Ministry committee has someone at the door holding latecomers back until 10:15. (Many of those who did come in at 10:15 had been at meeting early, and had remained present to what they were doing beyond the 10:00 cutoff.)

One of the big pieces that is still working on me is the idea of taking Sunday as a Sabbath--not something I remember Brian talking about, but what strongly arose from my experience the day after. I wish we could stop looking at meeting for worship as a scheduled event from 10:00 to 11:00, something to be on time for, and to hope to escape the announcements within 20 minutes afterwards. Rather, I want to hold a sense of gratitude for that opportunity to gather together, and to un-structure my day so that I am available to Spirit and to the opportunities that arise. I want to leave early for meeting as we did on that day, to breathe deeply and be open to my surroundings on the way there, to arrive with heart and mind prepared, to be present to dear friends and to newcomers before and after worship, to hold time lightly so that I leave room to let God in.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Quaker Heritage Day 2007

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can use any reminder I get to be faithful. Brian Drayton offered many, during Quaker Heritage Day at Berkeley Friends Church on Saturday, March 3. Not least was the example of pausing now and then, and choosing to stop talking if he had any sense that he might be outrunning his guide. A gentle presence, so I’m glad I took notes.

There are other blog reports on this event from Wess, Robin, and Chris. Plus Max's photos, including the dinner at my house. Probably more to follow…

Some of the major strands that ran through Brian’s talks:

• There have been varieties of gifts, and varieties of styles of vocal ministry, in every generation of Friends.

• Our meetings need a culture that affirms and supports the development of gifts.

• Our own personal transformation, through walking with God, should be made visible to others in order to encourage them to be faithful.

• An active prayer life is essential to prepare us for ministry.

A few historical zingers that stood out for me:

• Historical accounts of early Friends’ ministry included a description of people falling in fits on the floor during vocal ministry, with a sense of conviction of the power of sin.

• One British officer said he felt more terror at James Nayler’s preaching than in battle.

• Many women traveled in the ministry because their husbands were able to support them, but not able to leave their own work.

• Joshua Evans, a follower of John Woolman, had a witness of vegetarianism in the 1770s.

• Some Yearly Meetings (or representative committees?) hold business meetings without agendas, waiting for what arises. [If anyone has more detail on this, please fill me in.]

The moment that had me shaking in my seat--if not writhing on the floor for all to see--was Brian’s reading from Isaac Pennington’s “Some Directions to the Panting Soul” (bolding below mine; available in full here):

Now to the soul that hath felt breathings towards the Lord formerly, and in whom there are yet any true breathings left after his living presence, and after the feeling of his eternal virtue in the heart, I have this to say: Where art thou? Art thou in thy soul's rest? Dost thou feel the virtue and power of the gospel? Dost thou feel the ease which comes from the living arm, to the heart which is joined to it in the light of the gospel? Is thy laboring for life in a good degree at an end? And dost thou feel the life and power flowing in upon thee from the free fountain? Is the load really taken off from thy back? Dost thou find the captive redeemed and set free from the power of sin, and the captivity broken, and he which led thee captive from the life and from the eternal power, now led captive by the life, and by the redeeming power, which is eternal? Hast thou found this, or hast thou missed of it? Let thine heart answer. Ah! do not imagine and talk away the rest and salvation of thy soul. The gospel state is a state of substance, a state of enjoying the life, a state of feeling the presence and power of the Lord in his pure, holy Spirit, a state of binding-up, a state of healing, a state of knowing the Lord, and walking with him in the light of his own Spirit. It begins in a sweet, powerful touch of life, and there is a growth in the life (in the power, in the divine virtue, in the rest, peace, and satisfaction of the soul in God) to be administered and waited for daily. Now art thou here, in the living power, in the divine life, joined to the spring of life, drawing water of life out of the well of life with joy? Or art thou dry, dead, barren, sapless, or at best but unsatisfiedly mourning after what thou wantest?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Family Night and Ministry

Perhaps the most powerful piece for me to work on personally at Pacific Yearly Meeting was granting my daughter’s heart’s desire to sing at Family Night (the PYM talent show) with my group Sacred Ground.

While one of my songs clicked back beautifully into familiar three-part harmonies with little rehearsal, we were less clear on which others needed to be sung. But my daughter repeatedly suggested a newer song of mine, which she and I have sung together many times for fun, and she chimed in on teaching it to the trio.

Her desire to perform it with us challenged me at first. I had a preconceived idea that this would probably happen much later: perhaps in her teenage years, after I was fully confident of her ability to carry a part on her own.

What rose up in holding her request, and my resistance to it, was that I had to listen more deeply to the vocal ministry I had been giving during the week, which was mostly about how meetings nurture the ministry of individuals. Finally—and partly through sharing this struggle with my worship-fellowship group—it became clear that I had no business squashing my daughter’s gifts.

And so we walked on stage as four rather than three. I started the performance by naming what was obvious to me: that a large part of what a Family Night audience does is to support those on stage in developing our ministries. Someone immediately yelled back, “That’s our job!”

Colin has posted some lovely pictures of Family Night, and of Young Friends at PYM.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Quaker by Osmosis

What I remember learning about Quakerism as a child is much more by osmosis than through First Day School. For instance, these were my direct experiences of Quaker testimonies growing up in a small meeting:

Equality: we all called each other by first names, regardless of age
Simplicity: it was normal—almost desirable—to wear our worst clothes to meeting
Peace: everybody was against the war in Vietnam; we went to lots of peace marches and always ran into other Quakers there
Community: Yearly Meeting and Quarterly Meeting were the only places in our lives where my brother and I felt truly accepted for who we were
Right sharing of world resources: this came up so often that I always thought it was a testimony
(I didn’t run into unity or harmony expressed as testimonies until I was in my ‘20s)
Integrity: occasional role models, many as inconsistent as I am, so I’m still working on it…

Most of these were good ways in to a later, deeper understanding of the testimonies, especially when I started reading lots of pamphlets and biographies at about age 12. But my meeting didn’t really engage with the kids around theology, and I still haven’t traced back many of the indirect influences of early Friends’ writings on my convictions. So as I enter this conversation with you all, I expect I’ll be asking questions as much as sharing my own experiences. Stay tuned, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Closet Christians

One of the things that inspired me at FGC was hearing more Friends from my own Pacific Yearly Meeting speak openly about identifying as Christian. My sense is that it's almost like coming out for many of us. I've struggled with it a lot over the years, going through a very outspoken period in my teenage years, but later often largely in the closet. (Yes, the parallels to gender identification are deliberate.)

It has been easy for me to give in to fears of people thinking I'm one of "them", sharing the name of Christian with all those who have perpetrated evil in God's name. But I think we sell Jesus short if we are not visible to others as witnesses to his love. I have been powerfully moved by the example of the Friends and Christians I know who are living examples of faithfulness to God's guidance, of turning readily to prayer, of trust in God's providence, of willingness to take risks in the eyes of the world. And when I hear such role models speak openly of the source of their strength and confidence (not always Jesus, but often), I am inspired to walk further on that same path.

One step at a time...

Friday, July 14, 2006

En route to FGC

It was my first time going to Friends General Conference. My daughter was excited to ride Amtrak again, especially for a chance to go on the Coast Starlight. (We had planned to ride it south to Santa Barbara in February, but were re-routed to the inland San Joaquin and connecting buses that time because the CS was running 5 hours late.) We found 9 others from Strawberry Creek and our friend Catharine from Berkeley Meeting waiting at the Emeryville station, bubbling with excitement to embark on this adventure together. They seated 8 of us in a clump together at the back of the train, 2 more a few rows forward, and over the course of the evening and the morning we explored the rest of the train. My running tally came to 43 Friends I recognized from Pacific Yearly Meeting, plus one brave soul from New Mexico.

Rebecca has already written of the meeting for worship on the train: a happy opportunity, and a joy to find the Amtrak staff so cooperative and helpful. (Although they wouldn't allow religious announcements, I overhead one of the dining car staff say to another during breakfast: "You got the devil in you this morning; are you sure you read your Book?") 45 minutes was enough time to get pretty warm sitting on the floor of that room, and to inspire mostly train-related messages. Meeting was broken after a couple of people had gotten up to leave, and I found myself wishing we had stayed much longer, missing what could have been a deeper level of worship, since we had all the time in the world that day on the train.

The long day afforded conversations with many Friends, heartfelt and silly singing, lots of play with outgoing children, glorious views, a running commentary from Carl A. about landmarks and how Amtrak works; and a lot of opportunity to move around through the observation car, the dining car, and the sleeping cars where some of our friends were. With that many of us together, we developed a sense of family that extended to welcome neighboring strangers.

But we learned that Amtrak doesn't own the rails, and that their main performance measure is the percentage of trains that arrive on time; so once your train is running about half an hour late, you are doomed to stop and yield to every freight train, and it doesn't matter to Amtrak how late you arrive. So the scheduled evening arrival (7-ish) became a morning arrival (3-ish), 8 hours late on what was supposed to be a 21-hour trip, and it was already light when our shuttle arrived and PLU staff assigned us temporary rooms where we could lie down.

Two nights "sleeping" in coach, in a partially reclining seat with the aisle lights on, left me groggy and a bit grumpy at FGC until I'd had another two nights to catch up. I found myself reflecting that I tend to think of sustainability mostly in terms of reducing our ecological footprint, but that a holistic sustainability would include a balance where possible with the needs of the body and spirit. (And from the workshop with Rachel, it sounds like John Woolman would likely agree.) In this case, paying a bit more for a horizontal bunk bed would have had about the same impact on the environment, but much less wear and tear on my tired body and my availability to be present at my first FGC. (Next time, how about chartering a Green Tortoise bus, so we could all lie down without paying extra, and eat healthy hippie food that could even be vegan?)

So for the first couple of days of FGC, I had a poem by the Sufi poet Hafiz stuck in my head:
Is only possible
When living in the suburbs
Of God

I was stuck in the suburbs until I caught up on sleep, and shared that poem in many of my conversations. One delightful bump to the side of the head came when Dorothy from Sierra Friends Center responded, "So when are you moving to the country?"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Previous appearances on Quaker blogs

My Epistle to the Distracted appeared on Chris M's blog Tables, Chairs and Oaken Chests.

My description of offering spoken and sung ministry, during the Convergent Friends interest group at Friends General Conference, appeared in the comments on Paul L's blog Showers of Blessings.


The title for this blog comes from my song of the same name (#216 in Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal), which is based on the prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21, and other favorite passages in Paul's epistles.

I hope to write about my own experiences as a Quaker, including my growth into a ministry of music.