Sunday, July 27, 2008

In God's Hands

A few days ago, I was surprised to see a blog entry describing Freedom Friends Church as an example of convergent worship. I was curious to see what other folks at Freedom Friends thought about this, so I posted a question on our forum asking others whether they think we are convergent. Several days went by and I could see that others were looking at my post, but no one responded. I don't think I can consider silence to be a no, but it definitely was not a resounding yes.

I'm not sure what I was expecting. As I wrote in a previous post, I am conflicted about the idea of being considered "convergent" as an individual, but I hadn't given too much thought to whether I was a member of a convergent church.

Yesterday, Alivia wrote a lovely and detailed response to my question. I doubt I can do it justice by summarizing it, but what I took out of it is that it doesn't really matter what labels others give us, the important thing is to do what God is calling us to do and welcome others who are looking for a community like ours.

This idea seems related to the question Martin Kelley posed at the end of his most recent post about convergent Friends:

What are we being called to do to send this work into the world?

I don't know what the Quaker community is being called to do as a whole, but I am trying to work out what it is that I am being called to do. This is an ongoing process; here are some thoughts that I have had so far.

First, I feel that I am being called to create, nurture, and inspire community among friends and Friends.

This is a big and somewhat overwhelming task when I think about it generally, so it is helpful for me to think about smaller, related leadings:
  • I feel led to hold the meetings I am a part of, Freedom Friends Church and University Friends Meeting, in the Light and help them grow
  • I feel led to support these meetings financially and encourage others to do the same
  • I feel led to visit other Friends meetings and churches and worship with them
  • I feel led to work on saying no, and to limit my involvement so that I will be able to do the things I am doing well
  • I feel led to take care of myself and to be aware when I am doing too much
  • I feel led to write about my journey, experiences, and reflections in my blog
This morning at meeting I was looking at my hands and noticing how small they are. I feel like the things I can do are so small. But I know that God's hands are large, and if I am in God's hands, maybe what I do is enough.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Put Your Money Where Your Faith Is

A few months ago when I was down in Salem, Peggy suggested that I dedicate my blog entirely to the topic of Quaker tithing. I think she may have been kidding (it is sometimes hard to tell with her), but clearly I have not chosen to take that route. I think I would probably lose interest in talking about money eventually, and I doubt that even my closest friends and family would keep reading after months of nothing but suggestions that people give to their faith communities.

But today I am all fired up to talk about money again, so consider yourself warned. If you are already giving as much as you can, bless you. If you will not give under any circumstances, you may as well stop reading now because this post is not going to be about some cute Quakerisms or my strange attachment to emo musicfor this post at least, it's all tithing, all the time.

Yesterday I received a letter from the treasurer of Freedom Friends Church, letting me know that if the financial situation does not improve, it may not be possible for the church to stay in its current meetinghouse. This made me very sad because I was there when we went through the process of deciding to move, looking for a new place, and negotiating the lease on the building. I know how much work that was. And I think it was a good move because Freedom Friends is growing to fill the space. Freedom Friends is not making any decisions now, but taking the next few months to discern the best direction for the meeting.

As I read this letter, I also had a sense of déjà vu. About a month ago, University Friends Meeting sent out a very similar letter to its members and attenders. Although University Friends does not need money for rent, there are many long overdue repairs and maintenance that the building needs and not enough funds to cover the costs.

Now I am sitting in front of my computer with both letters and a Bible in front of me, trying to figure out why these meetings are in such dire straits. I know the economy is bad, gas prices are up, and everyone is broke, but I think the problem runs deeper than that. I think that this is one situation where the tendency of some Quakers to shy away from biblical language is actually hurting the meetings. Asking members to give donations is not the same as asking them to tithe, and Quaker meetings need members to tithe.

I have met so many Quakers who are absolutely committed to social justice. And in the meetings there are committees and individuals who are doing so much good work. Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to meet with several committees at University Friends and talk to them about what they do and what they need. I think I can safely say that the top two things committees would like to have is more people and more money.

But it seems like when Quakers give money to support social justice causes, a lot of it goes to organizations other than their meetings. I believe that most meetings would like to do more work in social justice, but they are limited by the funds that they have. It is very difficult to try to change the world when you can't make rent, and that applies to communities as well as individuals.

One of the reasons that we form Quaker meetings is to meet with others who have the same values and goals. If our meetings are not making the changes in the world that we want, we need to fix that. And we need to give as we are able to ensure that the meeting can take care of its own needs as well as meet the needs of others.

When I was discussing tithing with my sister Rachel, she told me that Jesus talked about money more than any other topic. I have not gone through the Gospels to see if she is correct, but it seems likely. The verse that keeps going through my head is the one I have always heard in relation to taxes and tithing: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matt. 22:21).

As I was thinking about this verse, it occurred to me that money does not mean anything on its own. It is what money represents that is important, whether it is food, shelter, security, or toys. And then I was wondering what we can give to Godit seems like God pretty much has everything already. The answer I have come up with seems too simple to even say: we can give God our faith. God needs us to have faith that even if we give some of our money to the meeting, we will be ok.

So please consider giving some money. It would do the meetings good, and I believe it would do you good too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why I Own a Banjo

After I graduated from college, many people asked me what I had majored in. When I told them I had a degree in literature, their next question was, "Well, what are you planning to do with that?" Much to my parents' chagrin, I did not tell them that I was planning to go to law school (which was true, but still a year away). Instead I said, "Work in a music store." They would laugh, having confirmed their belief that I had a useless degree.

Part of the reason I highlighted the music store plan was because I felt the need to lower everyone's expectations. I also really wanted to separate my literature degree from my law school plans. I did not major in literature with any intention of going to law school; I chose that major because I love literature. It wasn't until I was a senior in college and realized that I could probably do more good in the world as a lawyer than a literature professor that I decided to give law school a try.

Taking a year off and working in a music store was one of the best decisions I ever made. I worked at Tupper & Reed music on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, along with other college graduates who had majored in humanities or music and were trying to figure out what to do next. Imagine the characters in High Fidelity, only younger, dirtier, and more frequently high.

I learned some interesting lessons between tuning violins and writing inventory orders. First, I discovered that I had a natural gift for selling pianos (particularly grand pianos). This was especially strange because although I have played the violin since I was five, I couldn't name a single note on the piano keyboard, much less play anything. I also learned that most people who walk into a music store regret they stopped playing an instrument at some point in their life.

I think my recognition of this longing to return to an instrument was my secret to selling so many pianos. Customers wanted music in their lives, especially music that they or their children played. Unlike other instruments, you can't really tuck a piano into a corner or under a bed. Having a piano in your home shows that you are committed to playing music.

When business was slow, we would teach each other how to play instruments. Between us, we had experts on trumpet, flute, percussion, voice, violin, guitar, bass, trombone, embira, and piano. Most employees played more than one instrument and several supplemented their income by teaching students. We also got a really good discount, so we spent a large portion of our paychecks on new instruments that we were trying to learn (hence the banjo).

I recently heard a music teacher bemoaning the fact that parents put their children in music lessons just so that they will be well-rounded. I was thinking about this later and realized that I think that is fine. It doesn't matter why parents want their children to play, the important thing is that they are exposed to music and have a chance to decide whether they want to pursue it. Although I will never be a professional violinist, I am so grateful for all the friends I have made over the years by playing in orchestras. And I feel blessed to have been a part of beautiful music.

In reading through the Bible, I have made it to Solomon. Before re-reading these chapters, I remembered that Solomon was wise, but this passage took me by surprise:

"God gave Solomon wisdomthe deepest of understanding and the largest of hearts . . . He created 3,000 proverbs; his songs added up to 1,005. He knew all about plants, from the huge cedar that grows in Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows in the cracks of a wall. He understood everything about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Sent by kings from all over the earth who had heard of his reputation, people came from far and near to listen to the wisdom of Solomon." (I Kings 4:29-34).

Here is the wisest king of Israel, and he demonstrates his wisdom is writing poems, singing songs, and learning about plants and animals. I believe this is true wisdom and I hope we have not completely lost sight of it.