Joyous Bubbles

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Quakerism Class

Here I am a fresh-faced Young Adult Friend, going to Earlham as a religion major with a minor in Quaker studies. I was all ready to get at it, so when I heard that the 200 level Intro to Quakerism class would be open to not just second years, but also first years, I jumped at it.

The class started, as one would expect, with excerpts from the journal of George Fox. For the first couple of weeks we talked about George Fox, it was in these first weeks that I realized that the Intro to Quakerism would involve some unforeseen challenges.

A couple of classes into Quakerism, our teacher (a very kick-ass Quaker lady), was reviewing some of the stuff we studied earlier in the week. I don't remember exactly how the question was phrased, but it was something like, "So, why was it that George Fox thought that priests weren't necessary?"

Oh! Oh! I know! I know!

'no,' I told myself firmly, 'let one of the other, non-Quaker kids answer.'

No one said anything.

Come on guys.

The teacher rephrased the question.

Silence.

I was sitting on my hand. I was biting my tongue. I realized they weren't Quaker, but we had just talked about this two days ago.

Just as I was about to explode and answer the question (even though I had promised myself I wouldn't answer all of the questions, but respectfully let other people talk), when the teacher answered the question herself. She went back over how George Fox believed that there was that of Christ in everyone, so everyone could communicated with God themselves.

DUH!!!

I realized that day that Quakerism class would not be without its difficulties.

Another difficult moment was when I was talking to a non-Quaker student. I said that when Fox spoke of Truth, with the capital "T" he was speaking of a way of deep, spiritual knowing. It was something that you felt right down at your core was inexplicable right and good. The other student said I was wrong. I was filled with righteous indignation. "I don't THINK so!" I huffed in my mind, "I KNOW I'm right, because God Damnit! I feel it too!"

Now I am entering into my fifth or sixth week of classes, and Quakerism is one of my favorite classes. I have greatly enjoyed our teacher's selection of books (a great mix of journals and general books about Quakerism), and I have really enjoyed working step-by-step through Quaker history and practice. I have been challenged by the texts, and by the teacher and by the papers, and I have felt like I am learning new things. . . . Although there is still a lot of times when I need to bite my tongue and let other people answer. There are still times when a non-Quaker student totally misinterprets a crucial part of my faith, and I want to jump to my feet and say, "YOU'RE SO F---ING WRONG!!"

But over all, Quakerism class is a good time.

College

Many apologies Friends, for my long silence. I had my own apartment over the summer, and that meant that I spent much of my time trying to figure out problems like how to have enough money to buy food and also pay for rent.

So, now I am at college. I am attending Earlham College in Richmond IN, which is as far as I can tell the Quaker capital of the USA.

College, I have found provides some unique challenges to one's spiritual life. The first being finding a whole new community. There are plenty of options around Earlham. There are two meetings on campus (programmed and unprogrammed), and three in the surrounding community. There is a worship group that meet on Mondays and mid-week worship on campus on Wednesday, Earlham Young Friends meets Wednesday evening for worship and fellowship, and another group meets every night. It is a little bit like going shopping for poptarts for the first time on your own, when you have only ever eat strawberry poptarts. There are just so many options.

I started out with the obvious choice, the unprogrammed meeting on campus. I found it a very restful community. The silence was deep and welcoming, but I was not overly impressed by the vocal ministry, and I didn't feel overly welcomed by the community. It certainly wasn't that the Friends were unfriendly, it was just that they get so many students visiting, it doesn't even make a ripple in the community. It almost seems like they feel that there is just too many visitors every week for them to welcome. It is understandable, but I was looking for a place of worship where I couldn't come and go without talking to a single person.

Next I attended the programmed worship on campus. I found this lively, but again with a very transient community of worshipers, there didn't seem to be much continuity. Although there (much the like unprogrammed worship) are many wonderful people, and I heard some beautiful vocal ministry, it left me cold.

Onwards and upwards. I next attened West Richmond Friends. I chose West Richmond for two main reasons, the first was that it was only three blocks away from campus and I could walk there. The second was that the pastor of West Richmond visited my Quakerism class (see next post about Quakerism), and I was very impressed by his friendly open-ness. He seemed very settled spiritually and well grounded in Quaker practice and I was curious to see his faith community.

I had some concerns about West Richmond as well. It was semi-programmed and was part of the FUM tradition. I wasn't entirely sure if it fell under the category of a conservative Quaker Meeting or not, and I wasn't sure how they would feel about a liberal New Yorker with short pink hair. Would there be a place for me (with my Liberal-Christian-Unprogrammed Quaker-Universalist beliefs) in their community? I wasn't sure.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I set out with my Bible firmly in hand, wearing my best slacks and button-up shirt.
When I arrived, I was greeted by two of the friendliest ushers I have ever met and shown into the church. The service was simple, with about half an hour at the end of silence. In many ways it was not very different from a main-stream Christian church, but where it mattered it was all Quaker. The pastor spoke of God's love and how, we as Quakers, should respond to violence. Certainly it was a Christ-centered service (and I would guess that many of the members of the congregation are more on the conservative side then the Quakers from my home meeting), but, being Christian, I don't have a problem with Christ-talk, and I was overwhelmed by the warmness of their welcome. I felt like my presence was appreciated.

So, I decided to go back.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Intern

Well, for the last two weeks I have been an Intern with a Quarterly Renewal Program. The Quarter isn't my own and I have been living with a host family for the last two weeks. I basically had a couple of goals for the internship: the first was just to get a feeling of the spiritual charater of the Quarter, the second is to travel and get an opportunity to elder, and the third is to get together a regional youth program (they don't have any youth program at all, and their kids don't get to Yearly Meeting stuff). So far, the internship seems to be a lot of meeting and talking to folks, going to committee meetings, and getting taken out to eat (ah, my life is rough. . . ;-))

I really enjoyed my meeting with some of the young people from the Quarter. The young people really articulated a feeling of isslocation, and disattachment from any larger Quaker community. They weren't in touch with there region, their Quarter or their Yearly Meeting. What I found very interesting was that there seems to be a parell between the experience of the youth and the experience of the 'older' Friends. This Quarter has seen a huge amount of isolation, especially between the Quarter and the Yearly Meeting.

While working on some of these issues I have come up with some queries about relationships between Monthly Meetings and Quarterly and Yearly Meetings.

Queries:

Where is your spiritual community? Is it in your Monthly Meeting? Is it your Quarter? The Yearly Meeting?

Are you in relationship with your Quarterly Meeting? Your Yearly Meeting? Is your Meeting in relationship with your Quarter? What about the Monthly Meeting?

What can be gained from relationships with Friends from other Meetings?

What can be lost by having a relationship with the Yearly Meeting? What about a relationship with the Quarterly Meeting?

What barriers stand in the way of your Meeting having a relationship with the Quarter or Yearly Meeting? Are they spiritual? Are they finacial? Or is there something else?

What would be your dream relationship with the Quarter? With the Yearly Meeting?

It is generally felt that our spiritual lives are wonderfully enriched by fellowship and prayer with a larger Quaker community. How can we create this larger community? How can we create a Quarterly Community? How can we find our place in an existing Yearly Meeting community? Or perhaps, do we need to re-build a Yearly Meeting community.

How does a disconnect between the Yearly Meeting and MMs hurt our home Monthly Meetings?

Does all of this have to do with bringing our house into order? Is bringing our spiritual homes (both MMs and the Quarterly Meeting) into order the first essential step for creating a relationship with the Yearly Meeting?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Powell House (New York Yearly Meeting's retreat center)

Earthsong 2005: We sat in the warm sun and watched our seniors take flight. Earthsongs are notoriously hard (as a matter of fact our Powell House Youth Director Chris always says she wished she didn’t have to go to Earthsongs, they are too rough on her). We watched with tear-filled eyes as our seniors sat in front of us and told us how much Powell House has changed their lives. They spoke of the love, of the acceptance. They spoke of the beautiful people and the amazing, crystal moments. They told us that they would never leave us in spirit. They would carry Powell House with them for all their lives.

I think this snapshot of one of my Powell House moments holds some of the essence of what makes the Powell House Youth program such an amazing experience. Powell House is life changing. It has changed my life. It has helped me grow fully into myself, in even the three short years that I have been attending conferences. Just ask Chris or Mike, when I first came to Powell House I was very quiet and shy, and didn’t spend much time with the other teenagers. Boy, do friends who know me know laugh when I tell them that. But it is true. Really. Powell House is a safe and loving environment that helped me to see people, not as strangers, but as friends. I am now at a place where I am excited about engaging the world, and I’m not afraid of pushing my limits or stepping out of my comfort zone. I know that this is partly due to the community that I found at Powell House.

We talk a lot at Powell House about the ‘magic ingredient;’ that special something that makes Powell House what it is. Although I know that most likely other Youth Attenders will disagree with me, I think the ‘magic ingredient’ at Powell House is the Spirit. We have not just created a community at Powell House, we have created a Covenant Community based around the Quaker Testimonies and deeply grounded in an experiential knowledge of the Light Within. When we ask ourselves the three nurture questions (for those of you not up on your Powell House slang, they are: “Does it nurture ourselves?” “Does it nurture others?” “Does it nurture the Powell House community?”) we are creating a covenant agreement with ourselves and with the community, an agreement that we will care for ourselves and everyone else.

I would challenge the young Friends who do not think Powell House is based on Quaker testimonies and a uniquely Quaker understanding of God, to tell me what it is that they like the best about Powell House. I think that they would find that what they like the best are the things that are most clearly Quaker. If you were to envision a community that lived by the Quaker Testimonies of equality, simplicity, peace, and integrity, I bet that community would look a lot like the Powell House youth group.

For me, the best thing about Powell House (although it is a tough choice; there are lots of good things about Powell House: the Pata Pata and Wink ‘em spring to mind) is the fact that I can walk through that door at the beginning of a conference and many, many people will come running to give me a hug. The very best thing about Powell House is that EVERYONE is welcomed and loved. Differences do not melt away at Powell House, they become the colors in the tie-dyed tapestry of a community bound by Spirit.
.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Serving as an Elder

I just got back from a workshop on serving as an elder.

Eldering, I have found, although a very old Quaker tradition, has taken on a new meaning lately. An elder is someone who acts as a spiritual guide/ teacher for a minister. An elder also works to help with discernment, practices deep spiritual listening, and is exceptionally good at holding an individual or a meeting (or group) in the light. Although Elders certainly work within the meeting (they are the older Friend who never misses a business meeting, or the Friend who comes in early to worship to prepare the room), they also do a lot of traveling with a minister or acting to support a minister in their work. Traditionally a minister would never travel on their own (or do their ministry) without an elder coming along. An elder sits (and by sits I mean they open themselves to the light and practice discernment and hold the minister and/or the group in the light) with a minister before, during and after they do their work.

A couple of things were very obvious to me during the course of this workshop. The first was that we were dealing with very heavy stuff indeed, and another thing was that we were a VERY weighty bunch of Friends. I felt very small, very inexperienced and very young in comparison to the other Friends who graced the workshop.

I must say that although there was a number of things that I found very meaningful, and I experience wonderful, deep worship, I did spend a large part of the conference feeling uncomfortable. I found that I really liked being eldered but I found myself getting frustrated or feeling like I was, "doing it wrong," when I tried to elder others. I found that I was very good at the holding another (or the meeting) in the light, or the deep, open listening, but I was becoming exhausted when I tried to do some of the other things. I am sitting with these feelings about my weekend, and I have spoken ( or will shortly speak) to those folks who serve as my elders, and I will see what comes of it.

Something positive that I also got from the workshop was the sense that eldering is growing within the Religious Society of Friends, and with this growth comes spiritual renewal. As the number of elders grows so does the number of ministers, and with the elders and the ministers come spiritual renewal. The eldering workshop seemed to me to be another sign that Quakerism is heading towards a huge, and exciting rebirth.

Students for Peace and the wonders of the Puppestistas


This fall I started organizing a student peace activism group, and last weekend we went to our first demonstration as a group. My home community has a fairly good size progressive community, and on March 19th we had at least 200 folks gather for an anti-war rally. We walked a couple as blocks as a group and then we gathered in front of our federal building for the rally. There was a number of speakers (including me! I spoke I young people's involvement in the anti-war movement).

I was incredibly proud of our budding peace group, we managed to get 20 people to participate, and we had a vary cool looking banner and sings. Pretty awesome.

I think, however, that one of the coolest part of the demonstration was the Puppetistas. The Puppestistas are a group of creative individuals who gather once a year at the School of Americas Watch, but also gather at other big demonstrations. They make huge, colorful, puppets and they do street theater. Political street theater, is one of the most vibrant and indeed important parts of the peace movement.

I participated in a workshop that the three Puppetistas provided for our community the night before the demonstration. It embodied at least three of the things that I find core in social justice movements. First of all, it provided a prime example of the power of humor or and joy in social justice. Humor is an incredibly powerful force and so is joy. I think if an activist isn't based in joy they are bound to get discouraged, burnt out, and rapidly become pessimistic and cynical. Likewise a heavy dose of humor can keep the activists sharp, but can also be used as a powerful tool in gaining change.

I think the Puppestistas also are an excellent example of using everyone's gifts. If you utilize what people are gifted at, instead of simply assigning them a task, the work they do will be phenomenal. If you are an artist then you should paint or draw (or make big puppets which includes both. . .along with a fearless agility with a stapler) to bring about peace. If you are a dancer you should dance to stop the war in Iraq, if you are a speaker you should speak, if you are a stilt walker you should walk on stilts (another thing the Puppestistas do). If you are an actor. . .then by all means you should use that to change the world. If everyone could use their gifts then the movement (the peace movement, but also any social justice movement) would be stronger. The Puppestistas give those who have those sorts of artistic gifts a way to use them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Take this heart and make it break." ~U2

Last night I was at a workshop called, "moving faith into action" (and I was, as usual, the only young person, and one of the only Quakers *sigh*). I have some thoughts that I collected from this, the first part of the workshop, (it is a six week long thing), but they are rather scattered and random, so I apologize.

Something that was emphasized again and again, is that God requires us to love everyone. Really. Think about this. It is so easy for us to love the people we are closest to, those people who we are in relationship with, those people in our community, but God asks more. He asks that we see that we are in relationship with everyone and that they are all part of our community. We can not possibly achieve this, but we are lovingly required by our faith to take baby-steps towards this. May God grant me strength.

One of our wonderful guest speakers said something else that struck me (well, lots of the things he said struck me, but I thought this was really cool). He said that the three main themes in the New Testament were:
1) Life is abundance of joy
2)we MUST practice good stewardship of ourselves and everyone else
3)(I think this one is the most important) we all live in covenant community with everyone
This reminds me of something that we discussed at the theology academy I attended, we phrased it as, "I am responsible for you. . .no matter who you are!"

Just a couple more random thoughts: When we are talking about poverty or social injustice, we should not try to make people guilty or make people uncomfortable, but instead we should try to make people ANGRY.

As Christians, we need to ask not what we can do about all of the many problems in our world, but instead we need to ask why our world is the way it is.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I have a great quote from Houston Smith:

"Everything that came from Jesus' lips worked like a magnifying glass to focus human awareness on the two most important facts about life: God's overwhelming love of humanity, and the need for people to accept that love and let it flow through them in the way water passes without obstruction through a sea anemone."

I would like to share three poems that were shared with me at a workshop I went to on drawing out gifts. All three are by a poet called Hafiz. . . .They were translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

Beautiful Creature
There is a beautiful creature living
In a hole you have
Dug,
so at night I set fruit and grains and little pots of wine and milk
Beside your soft earthen
Mound,
And I often sing to you,
Bust still, my dear, you do not come out
I have fallen in love with someone
Who is hiding inside
of you
We should talk about this problem
Otherwise I will never
leave you
Alone!

Some Fill With Each Good Rain
There are different wells within your heart
some fill with each good rain
others are far too deep for that
In one well you have just a few precious cups of water
That "love" is literally something of yourself
It can grow as slow as a diamond
If it is lost
you love
should never be offered to the mouth of a
stranger
only to someone
who has valor and daring
to cut pieces of their soul off with a knife
Then weave them into a blanket
to protect you
There are different wells within us
some fill with each good rain
others are far to deep for that

A Great Need
Out
of a great need
we are all holding hands
and climbing
not loving is letting go
Listen,
the terrain around here
is
far too
dangerous
for
that

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What Canst Thou Say?

This morning I was thinking back on a conversation I had last summer with a friend about comfort and religion. We were both participating in a theological academy, and part of what we did was Bible study. We were considering a truly nasty bit of the Old Testament, where God says to kill every man, woman, and child of a tribe. I was deeply upset that many of my fellow students took this as the truth. For me, the idea that God would do something so blatantly immoral is ridiculous. My friend challenged me saying, "why would your comfort matter at all to God" My answer was, "why wouldn't it?" In my personal theology (Liberal Christian-Quakerism) 'God is still speaking' (to use a wonderful UCC slogan). Why should the 'Truths' of God in the Old Testament have more weight then the Truths that I know? It is basic Quaker belief that the Bible is only one of many sources of knowledge about God, the most important source being the knowledge we gain from listening to the light. I think that my deep discomfort with that passage from the Old Testament was a message-a message that was telling me that the face of God is love.

I labored a great deal over the course of the month-long theology academy with this friend over comfort and discomfort. He saw my emphasis on the love of God, on God being revealed through joy and happiness, on the bliss of being in the light of God, as a comfort with God bordering on complacency. In his personal theology God caused discomfort, God was challenging, terrifying, awesome and difficult. I agree whole-heartily that God can challenge us, God may very well ask of us things that are scary and difficult. I find myself overwhelmed sometimes and brought to tears at the awesomeness of God. Sometimes I quake. However, this is not all of what God is. God is not just discomfort, God is also comfort. God is the little beautiful things in life. Joyous bubbles. So I think that it is OK to be comfortable with God-it is OK to rest peacefully in the knowledge that we are all beloved children of God.