Visiting cheerfully over the earth...

Two weeks ago I did indeed travel to Indiana Yearly Meeting, got my letter of introduction endorsed by the Recording Clerk (none other than Tom Hamm, Quaker historian super-hero), visited cheerfully with sundry Friends at IYM's Quaker Haven Camp, and attended every worship session, every business session, and especially every meal!

Then I flew home to Rindge, and the next day hosted two Friends from Kenya in their stop at the school (as they traveled New England between the USFW Triennial and NEYM sessions). Four days later, after doing some actual work on school administration, I left for New England Yearly Meeting.

At NEYM I wore a sticker on my shirt saying "Ask me about Indiana Yearly Meeting" and many friends (and acquaintances, and strangers sitting with me at meals) obliged. And what did I say?

Everyone at IYM was kind and welcoming to me. I felt very included, and I learned a lot. Of course, I knew that most of the worship would be programmed. But they also had an hour of fully unprogrammed worship every day, first thing in the morning. And each programmed service had some open periods of silence when anyone could speak. I've been to programmed worship services before, with Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists (UCC), and Unitarian-Universalists, but never before with Friends (except once at Pendle Hill!). I will say that the style was more evangelical than I expected -- oriented toward praise hymns and stories of conversion. And I didn't agree with the theology of every message. But that's okay. And I wept for joy during some other parts of the services. The Holy Spirit blessed us, I would say, several times, and not only during the "services of praise and worship" but with spontaneous prayer and song during business sessions! I have been present for such during NEYM business sessions, and I was privileged to be present when IYM found similar centered-ness.

Friend, hast thee read Samuel Bownas' A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister? Okay, okay, I've come clean now: see, I was emulating someone I admired from 250 years ago. I'm a history teacher, go figure. Or maybe --maybe the same spiritual stream runs through the Society from then to now. Anyway, I brought the book with me and read over his advice for how I should act. Some of it was surprisingly applicable. And I wondered whether some events during my journey were signs of way opening: after I missed my early-morning flight (my fault!) the attendant at the ticket counter found me an option that hadn't been available on the Internet (way opening?). I found IYM's Quaker Haven Camp driving from Detroit with no directions. (Now that's guidance...) On my way home, the attendant at a different ticket counter told me that my ticket was technically invalid and he could have charged me $900 for a new ticket, but that he'd let me through anyway (way opening?). In truth, one has to be super-careful in ascribing events to Providence (no, not Rhode Island), since it could lead one out of humility --but it's fun to speculate; and just maybe... I was grateful, too, that while no traveling companion had appeared for me, I was assigned lodging with another traveling Friend from Baltimore YM, which gave me some of the debriefing, support, and daily clearness that a traveling companion traditionally offers.

Back at New England Yearly Meeting, I found myself using explicitly-Christian language much more than I normally do. (Or, as they might say in IYM, "witnessing to Christ.") It felt a bit funny, because I usually use much more metaphorical language. But perhaps we were all prepared for that by our Bible Half-Hour speaker, Benigno Sanchez-Eppler, who spoke movingly about the translation we need to do when speaking and hearing about the Friend of Friends. In any case, I quoted the Bible in my worship-sharing group -twice!- and attended a workshop on missionaries hosted by Eden and Jim Grace (they're awesome!). It felt very natural among my NEYM friends, who know how liberal I am. And it felt natural to be at IYM, gratefully listening. Here on the Internet, trying to explain it to unknown readers with unknown commitments, it's so much harder. But my thoughts about inclusivity, universalism, and the "Christian" label, will have to wait for another post.


Traveling in the elder-y?

I had another clearness yesterday. But this time it was to see if I was clear to travel for religious service. And joyfully, we were clear that I am clear. I plan to visit Indiana Yearly Meeting, and perhaps another, in addition to my now-home-base at New Engand YM. Here are some excerpts from the letter I wrote to the committee to explain myself:

".... I am considering traveling to various Quaker events this summer. I want your help in discerning whether this is a leading. And the reason I want your help with that, is that in proper Friends’ practice (and in proper Friends’ theology, I might provocatively add), a Friend does not declare his/her individual idea to be a divine leading, but seeks the concurrence of his/her spiritual community.

"What are the dimensions of my proposed travel? What kind of leading am I feeling? Well, I would like to foster increased dialogue among the different branches of the Religious Society of Friends. I would like to participate in making the branches feel less alien to each other. I have been following currents of increased dialogue like this among Friends for some time. Some of it is stuff I read on the Internet: the blog website quakerquaker.org, the “movement,” also really a collection of bloggers, calling itself Convergent Friends (ConvergentFriends.org). Some of it is news I hear from young adult Friends such as friends of mine who went to the World Gathering of Young Friends, and the gathering of Young Adult Friends from all branches held in New Jersey this February. Some of it is conversations I’ve had over the years at SAYMA, at Celo, at the FGC Gathering, and at NEYM. They all express a yearning to know more about the other branches, and a yearning that the other branches would wish to know more about one’s own branch. ...

"What about a label for this leading? What’s the correct terminology? I think it’s best labeled as “intervisitation.” Other possible labels include, traveling with a concern (for... dialogue?), and traveling in the ministry. ... This last category –what some refer to as “the free gospel ministry” to distinguish it from, say, teaching high school as a ministry– is much too weighty and august for me to feel it’s what I’m doing. More to the point, I haven’t been feeling lots of clear urgent leadings to speak messages in meetings for worship recently... that’s what I call ministry, and while I’ve had periods of my life where I spoke more frequently in meetings than I do these days, they’ve never bubbled over into an urgency to travel to somewhere else to speak.

"I’ve also sometimes joked that while others may travel in the ministry, I should be traveling in the elder-y (elder-ship?). When I’ve looked over the categories of the traditional gifts and offices in old-time Quakerism –four: the gifts of ministry and eldering, the offices of clerking and oversight– I’ve often felt that my strength is in eldering: helping to identify, draw out, and develop others’ gifts. That’s what a good teacher does, after all. Elders also check bad ministry... and encourage discipline, a role they became unpopular for in the late 19th century, but a natural role at a boarding school. Elders also have a role of encouraging healing and unity in a meeting. [I once served on a yearly meeting committee] whose task when it was created really was to heal suspicions and divisions among different segments of the yearly meeting which weren’t talking to each other about their assumptions and concerns. So visiting meetings seems like a way to participate in this movement of dialogue –and spread it– through face to face contact."


I can't keep up with all these bloggers. Just reading all the interesting posts on QuakerQuaker could take me all evening sometimes; and writing for the public takes more from me. But significant things have been happening. To wit:

I finally did it. (This was back in May, actually; letter dated May 13th.) I transfered my membership. It was kind of a leap of faith. But the results have been encouraging so far.


What I Would Have Said in Meeting for Worship Today

... if it had gone on a little longer. (Or perhaps if I had been a little braver, or "faster," or perhaps the experience wasn't meant for that Meeting, but for me. Or for this blog?)

So there I was visiting Providence Meeting, reasonably centered, in a reasonably centered meeting in which two or three people had spoken already, when apropos of nothing, I started thinking about the offices of Christ. The thought was one of those little pop-up thoughts one has in unprogrammed meeting for worship (that is, I have them and I hear others do too), where I think, "oh, I could speak about that" but the very thinking of that second thought shows that the first idea isn't (at least not yet) so much a message for the group --the Spirit speaking through me-- as an idea I had -- my ego wanting to do something. Well, I toyed for a moment with what I would say --there were four main offices that I could remember: priest, ruler, prophet, teacher/counselor; that usually popular Christian theology in the U.S. focuses on the office of priest, dwelling on the atonement, the blood, the sacrifice, all that stuff I have such a hard time with; while liberal Friends might perhaps be more interested in the other offices.

Then I got amused by how I might be misunderstood if a listener in the meeting wasn't familiar with the use of the word office to mean "job" or "function" or "capability," and instead might imagine Jesus in his office, doing paperwork. I phrased a joke in my mind: "Mr. Christ, please call your office..." Then the phone rang. In the meetinghouse. Behind my right shoulder. (I thought it was a cell phone, but it turned out later that they have a phone in another room divided from the meetingroom by only a shutter.)

So I was left with a question: which office of Christ is a Friends' meetinghouse?

It's probably the one where he exercises his teaching capabilities; wasn't it Fox who said, "Christ is come to teach his people himself"? And then, if a meeting for business is being held in a rightly ordered way, I suppose it would be held in the office where he's the ruler. (Does Jesus use inches or centimeters on his office rulers? Sorry...)

I was first introduced to the usefulness of thinking about the offices of Christ through the short book Douglas Gwyn contributed to about the peace testimony: A Declaration on Peace: in God's people the world's renewal has begun (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1991). You could look it up here at Herald Press. They begin the book by explaining how the meeting/congregation as a body ("God's people") participates in, or embodies, God's work (these offices), pursuing a "collective vocation." Great stuff.



Evangelizing -- let's DO it!

....that was the essence of the spirit I was overcome with two weekends ago. I caused a bit of a stir: I was at this workshop about spiritually-grounded social action for interested folks within New England Yearly Meeting -- they weren't really expecting that word, I think. You could feel that frisson of naughtiness circulate in the room... Oooo... feel the freedom of speaking what you believe, I might say... but more the point: what if it's a service for others, that speaks to their needs and yearnings? We were talking about building a broad movement of political activism (which I do work on) that would speak to the average person and de-polarize our society. But this in a context of The Lamb's War. Spiritual struggle. The 1650's Quakers who actually quaked -- and lobbied their government, and did sit-ins, and preached in public, and prayed for their enemies, and did all sorts of outlandish things. (We brought in Gandhi in this workshop too --and he saw his movement as a spiritual struggle, too, if I understand rightly.)

Well... if we're talking about reaching people politically, in a struggle against oppression that's both political and spiritual.... shouldn't we be reaching them spiritually, too?

More later... in accordance with my community's minute on technology, our Internet server is about to close down for the night...


I just had a clearness

On Saturday I had a clearness meeting, in hopes of helping me discern what to do about my meeting membership. It was very moving for me. I didn't reach clarity about what to do; but we had less than an hour and I hope to continue. Currently, you see, I'm a member of monthly meeting (Celo) a thousand miles away from where I live; I haven't seen anyone from Celo for a year now. I feel I should transfer; but matters are complicated because my local meeting doesn't satisfy me in some ways. About the clearness, there are two points I'd like to log here on the web:

Clearnesses are great and everyone should have one in their lives soon. I feel so grateful for being listened to so carefully. And they can really help you get in touch.

Meeting membership: an invitation to take it more seriously. Some folks have been surprised that I'm taking it so seriously. Many weighty Friends do urge me to transfer. But I've run into some folks (usually older than I) who are against the very idea of membership, on grounds that it's restrictive or elitist. Others say, oh, I grew up Quaker (go to FGC/a Quaker school/yearly meeting/etc), I don't need to sign a paper in order to be a Friend. And indeed, indeed, the truth of the matter is an inner t(T)ruth. But membership is about commitment, and declaration; and being taken care of. I committed to help Celo; and attended business meeting regularly, and volunteered, and gave them money (and still do!). I declared my commitment to Friends' practices and beliefs {beliefs? which ones are those?...}. And being taken care of: an element many folks don't take heed of. Celo has held clearnesses for me before (three!); has given me money for Quakerly travel; they always asked me how I was doing. Most of all, it's a spiritual joining. I loved them; they loved me. When I sat, one of the group, in worship, I could feel their thoughts around me, as we joined a subterranean river, communicating without words. I want that again.


On reading Friends' Peace Witness in a Time of Crisis

[This is old news, but in re-reading it I still liked it so I thought I'd let y'all read it if you want.]
Originally written 8/20/2005.

I ended up weeping with joy during this year's [2005] New England Yearly Meeting closing session, while we all sang as the Young Friends came into the auditorium. Some Quaker bloggers have been [were] discussing the minute that NEYM's Young Friends wrote eldering the adult yearly meeting for the quality of worship; but they approved another general minute, about peace. That was the minute that really moved me, because in it they each renounce violence, individually. Now I have no illusions about the process of minute-writing, especially among high-schoolers; doubtless there were a few among them who agreed to it through sleepiness or conformity rather than a profound change of heart. Yet it's a declaration of an ideal, and a membership in an ideal, and I trusted that most of them felt it deeply and meant it deeply.

Now, what I was all choked up about wasn't the Peace Testimony per se; it wasn't that I was overjoyed that there would be more folks at the protests or whatever. Pacifism is the result of a change of heart. A convincement, conviction, conversion, realization. According to their minute, they were all, to one degree or another, feeling convinced about it, and I was happy that they were joining the fold. Trying out the vulnerable power, allowing their hearts to be broken and reborn.

I know someone who got the pulp beaten out of him --went to the hospital-- when he was 14 because he refused to fight back. (Now if he had taken an AVP or HIPP course he might have outwitted or converted his attackers instead! But still, he had the commitment.)

I know a soldier who did his duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and wrestled with it in every letter he wrote me. And I prayed after every letter --and later, every week-- that his soul wouldn't get twisted by the violence he did. [And he's back home now, hurray, safe, whole, and a good and growing person.]

The first time I ever really prayed was before the start of the first Persian Gulf war, because I knew that I'd be complicit in the bombings of Iraq, just by being an American citizen.

I read some of the essays in Friends' Peace Witness in a Time of Crisis (FWCC Section of the Americas, 2005 --report of the January 2003 conference at Guilford) today [2005], and I was left feeling a bit empty. Maybe it's because I didn't read the right essays; or maybe it's because I was skimming and didn't let things sink in. But I missed a sense of what Douglas Gwynn calls "the spirituality of desolation" --a sense of the sacrifice needed for growth, or of the real fear and awe and majesty one feels in trusting to transform death through love. God's love, that is, that we participate in.