Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The She-Woman Man Haters Club

When word got out that I was co-clerking the planning committee for the next Quaker Women's Theology Conference, a few women asked me whether we were going to invite men to the next one. Some were in favor, others were not. I told them no, we are not going to invite men and regardless, it is not my decision to make. Timothy's comment from a few days ago made me think about all of this again:

I regret that I don't "get" the allusion to the theme of the Quaker Women's Theology Conference.

The label "Male" disqualifies me from attending.

Although it is true that I am not the one who decides whether men are invited to the conference (that is a topic for business meeting and did not come up this time), it is also true that if it were my choice to make, I would keep it as an all women's conference. My reasons for this are personal and I would like to stress my use of "I" in this post. As always, I speak only for myself, and I would never attempt to speak for attenders of the Quaker Women's Theology Conference (past or future) as a whole.

When I was in high school, I really wanted to be an Orthodox Jew. My notions of what this involved were very romantic, based on multiple readings of The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, and a childhood of watching Yentl and Fiddler on the Roof. They certainly were not based on any of the practicing Jews I knew. I envisioned myself sitting in a crowded room, reading the Torah and Talmud all day, and arguing about Hebrew grammar with other students. I eventually realized the world I envisioned probably did not really exist, and probably would not be a very welcoming place for women even if it did.

So I did the next best thing, I went to law school. I was not at all prepared for the kind of boys club I was getting myself into. The school I went to was predominantly male, and so was the faculty (I hear this is changing). For me, the Socratic method involved a lot of male professors proving that they were the smartest person in the room by making me feel like the dumbest. I could not remember a thing after being grilled on a topic (which sometimes lasted the entire hour) and I think it is the least productive way for me to learn.

It was also the first time I had the experience of being the only woman in the room repeatedly. In my third year, I had an externship at a court comprised entirely of male judges. Once when I went to watch oral argument, I looked around the courtroom and realized that all of the judges, lawyers, and spectators were men. I wondered what I was doing there.

There was one other female student in my International Business Transactions class and when she missed a lecture, I felt a lot of pressure as the only woman in the room. One day we were discussing tariffs for different goods and the issue in one case was whether a Barbie should be taxed as a wig or a toy. The professor looked over at me and said, "Well, I don't know much about Barbies . . . ." Actually, I don't either. I grew up in a non-Barbie house. But of course I didn't say that, I just turned red and felt like I had a big "WOMAN" sign flashing over my head.

A few years ago I was watching an episode of Saturday Night Live when Weekend Update came on. It was right around when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler began co-hosting. I was suddenly completely engaged. Part of me knew that it was fake news, told for laughs, but I could not stop watching. There were two women! Talking about the news! And they sounded like me! I was disturbed by how much hearing something in a voice that sounded like mine increased my interest level.

When I went to the Quaker Women's Theology Conference, I was amazed by the women there. They were so strong and passionate and funny and inspiring. I wanted to be just like them when I grew up, even the ones who were about the same age as me. There were women who had been to seminary, who were pastors of their churches and clerks of their meetings, and who were doing important peace work around the world. It was an impressive assembly.

We shared the dining room at Menucha with other groups and one night another big group of women came in to eat. They ranged in age much like our group and some had babies with them. There was one young man in the group, looking very out of place. A friend and I asked him who they were and he said that it was a women's retreat for their church. Confused, I asked him why he was there. He responded, "Oh, I'm their pastor."

My reaction to this is one of the reasons that I feel so strongly that we need to keep the conference for women only, at least for now. The idea that women need a guy in his 20s to teach them about God is still alive and well in our culture, and I think we need to appreciate that Quaker women are equally called to ministry. I also think we need to encourage our women to speak up. A setting like the Quaker Women's Theology Conference is a place where women can feel safe and nurtured as they find their voices.

The night before we left the conference, a Friend described how early Quaker meetinghouses were divided in to men and women's meetings for business, with a wall between the two. She said that this was revolutionary because at the time women were not usually involved in any sort of business. So the women would conduct their business and the men would conduct theirs, and then the clerks of each group would meet. I love this idea.

I suppose I should be grateful to live now and have the opportunities that I have as a woman, and I am, but I also know that equal access does not guarantee equality. We can't undo centuries of repression and segregation simply by allowing women access to the same things men have; sometimes we need a chance to learn and grow on our own. I don't know whether it will be a good idea to invite men to the conference at some point in the future, but for now I believe that we still have business of our own to take care of.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Before anyone starts feeling too sorry for me for being isolated in Seattle, I would like to report that two Quakers (from two different meetings even!) invited me to the Folklife Festival this weekend. So even though I am surrounded by boxes and not nearly as packed as I should be, I am going to head over this afternoon to see some Morris dancing. Thanks for the invitations, Linda and Katherine!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Different Kind of Love Letter

Over the past few months when I have sat in silent worship at University Friends Meeting, I have been filled to overflowing with love for the people there. This powerful swell of love has completely surprised and unnerved me. It also makes me feel a little guilty, like I am being disloyal to Freedom Friends Church by loving people in another meeting.

As I think I made abundantly clear in my love letter to Freedom Friends, that church is easy to love. Freedom Friends is kind of like a puppy. You have to love it because it is so sweet and little, it tries so hard to be good, and it has an enormous amount of energy and potential. I have a strong sense that Freedom Friends need me, and it's hard not to love a church that needs you.

I don't feel like University Friends needs me, or even knows I am there most of the time. It is a meeting with a completely different character than Freedom Friends, to the point that I am sometimes surprised that they both fall under the label of Quaker. University Friends is more like a gruff grandfatheryou know he probably loves you deep down, but sometimes it is hard to tell. The meeting is older in every way; the people who formed the meeting began to meet in the 1930s, and I would guess the average age of attenders on any given Sunday is above 50. There is an underlying sense of loss at the meeting because many of the young families have left for South Seattle Preparative Meeting.

University Friends is also tired. This year has been designated a Year of Discernment for the community because there were not enough people to fill the committee roster. This is not because anyone is lazy. On the contrary, there are many people at the meeting quietly doing an enormous amount of work to keep the meeting going. The Year of Discernment is a time set aside for everyone to reflect on whether University Friends in its current structure is meeting the needs of its members and fulfilling its ministries.

Silent worship is very different at University Friends than at Freedom Friends. It is a more mature meeting and the quality of silence is different. People generally are slower to speak and more likely to have a longer and more polished message than the speakers at Freedom Friends. And if there are more than a few speakers, it makes people question whether the messages are really coming from God or if the person speaking just really wants to talk. This kind of editing makes me sad because I feel like they are not really listening.

One problem that has become clear to me is that University Friends does not do a very good job welcoming Young Adult Friends. Because the meeting is so close to the University of Washington campus, students wander in fairly often. It is easy to dismiss people who do not seem like they are going to come back, and unfortunately many Friends cannot distinguish between a college student coming in for the first time and a late-20s professional who has been attending regularly for months. My soon-to-be-roommate and I have been actively trying to change this by grabbing any new people we see and adding them to the YAF email group, but neither of us are members and we often miss people.

I feel like I am painting a pretty bleak picture of University Friends. That is not my intention. I have met many wonderful people at University Friends who demonstrate God's love in the way they live their lives as well as in the messages they share in worship. Although the meeting is tired right now, it has a rich history and members who are willing to to work to make it a thriving and welcoming community again.

I think this is why I have such a strong sense of love for the meeting. I love the community for what it is, and I love it for what I know it could be. I want to nurture and encourage the people who are there and give them a little extra strength for the work ahead. There are so many people who are searching for a community and a spiritual path. If we become the community I know we can be, they will find us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Big Changes

It was summer for a few days in Seattle and my parents planned their trip down from Anchorage perfectly. I think they've had their quota of 80 degree weather for the season! This was a big week for my family. My brother James graduated from high school on Thursday and my sister Lael graduated from college on Sunday. I am so proud of them! They are hanging out together for the rest of the week and I hope they get some well-deserved rest.

The other big change in my life is that I am moving next Monday. I'm not moving to another state this time, just another neighborhood in Seattle, but moving is never easy even when it is a short distance (one of the hardest moves I ever made was from the downstairs apartment in a building to the apartment directly above it, but that was my own fault because I figured there was no real need to pack).

When I tell people that I am moving, the first response is usually, "But you love that apartment!" The second is, "You're moving in with guys?"

It's true, I do love this apartment. It a beautiful, top floor, spacious apartment that was built in the 40s and has a slight view of the water if you stand in just the right place. I fought for this apartment when I knew I was moving to Seattle and it lent a bit of sanity to my first year here, especially when I was going crazy studying for the bar last summer. I think of it as my first really grown up apartment, and I am sad when I think about leaving it.

But I think it is time to make the (hopefully) more grown up decision to try to live within my means and reduce my carbon footprint. I have enjoyed living by myself for the past three years, but I am looking forward to coming home to someone other than my cats from time to time. I'm sure that there will be an adjustment period as we all get used to each other, but I think it will be a really good change. Maybe actually living with other people will help me sort through this concern for community I seem to be bringing everywhere with me. At least it will give me a good excuse to get rid of some of this junk I have been accumulating!

Please hold me in the Light for this next week. I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in, and I am grateful for all the support I can get.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I have been having a lot of trouble with labels lately. I've never been completely comfortable with the political labels people give me. I am a registered democrat and my political views are pretty liberal, but my personal style, profession, and habits are much more on the conservative side.

I have also run into label issues within the Quaker world. Because I am a member of a semi-programmed, Christ-centered church but regularly attend an unprogrammed, liberal meeting, I suppose I embody "convergent," but I don't really like that label either. It seems trendy and glib, and I have a hard time feeling like it applies to me. And because I come from a Christian background, the language I use is very biblical, which frankly makes some Quakers uncomfortable.

Most of my friends are not Quakers and the last paragraph probably would not mean a lot to them. When I talk to friends about being a Quaker, I spend a lot of time trying to define terms and explaining what the differences are between Quaker groups and why they matter. People seem to think that because we are Quakers, we must be pretty peaceful. This has not been my experience.

Over the past few months, I have been inviting a lot of friends to Quaker meetings. When I do this, I routinely tell my friends, "I'm not trying to convert you." To me, conversion and evangelism have pretty negative connotations and I don't want anyone to think that I am trying to coerce them into doing or believing anything. I don't think I have The Way to God or truth; I just feel like I have found a path that is working for me, and I want to share that with the people who are important to me.

I was talking about faith with a friend recently and he recommended the book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne. I got a copy from the library and started reading it on the train last weekend. In the book, Claiborne describes his experiences of going from a pretty typical Christian youth to a faith-driven life that takes him from working with Mother Theresa to communal living and visiting families in Iraq. Although I do not agree with everything Claiborne says, this passage struck me as very true:
It's a shame that a few conservative evangelicals have had a monopoly on the word conversion. Some of us shiver at the word. But conversion means to change, to alter, after which something looks different than it did beforelike conversion vans or converted currency. We need converts in the best sense of the word, people who are marked by the renewing of their minds and imaginations, who no longer conform to the pattern that is destroying our world. Otherwise, we have only believers, and believers are a dime-a-dozen nowadays. What the world needs is people who believe so much in another world that they cannot help but begin enacting it now.
One of the things that initially drew me to the Quaker faith is how involved in social justice Friends are. I felt like this was a religion that did not conflict with my politics, but instead added a faith component to my political convictions. I feel strongly about Quaker values of equality, peace, simplicity, and service, and I believe that being part of a community that shares those values helps me to live with integrity.

So I want to reclaim the words "convert" and "evangelist." My new definition for "convert" is a person who is willing to change his or her life and follow the direction of the Spirit, and I define "evangelist" as a person who is willing to talk about his or her beliefs openly and honestly. With this in mind, I hope that all of my friends can be converts and evangelists because we can sure do a lot of good in the world if we are.