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.