Sunday, August 31, 2008

All I'm Going to Say About Palin

I was catching up on the New York Times this morning and happened across Maureen Dowd's column. I was somewhat amused until I got to this:
This chick flick, naturally, features a wild stroke of fate, when the two-year governor of an oversized igloo becomes commander in chief after the president-elect chokes on a pretzel on day one.
Fine. Make fun of her hair and her shoes, her lack of experience, and the fact that she repeatedly calls herself a "hockey mom." But making fun of Alaska? That's just low.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Slowing Down

This week, I decided not to run the Portland Marathon. Overall, I feel relieved, but part of me is a little bummed about this decision. The marathon was my New Year's resolution, and I got pretty far toward my goal. I have never run a marathon, but I think I probably could, and back in January it seemed like ten months was a good amount of time to get ready. I really had no concept of how much time it would take to train, though, and I realized a few days ago that I just didn't want to do it. And I got the flu, so it seemed like my body was telling me to take a break.

I feel like this is a pattern for me: I do too much, then I get sick. It's like I can't relax until I am completely worn out. This is frustrating because I have recognized this pattern for quite a while, but I keep going through it. I try to rest and I love to sleep, but there are always so many other things to do. Even when I go on vacation, I always seem to find things to keep me busy.

Fortunately, I have time to rest now. I am staying in town for the three day weekend and I am not going in to work at all. As always, there are things I want to get done (laundry, a job application, a trip to the farmers market), but I plan on taking it easy for the next few days. If I got any channels, I would consider watching hours of random television. Maybe I will look through my roommate's DVD collection and see if anything seems sufficiently mindless. I am definitely looking forward to not going on any long runs!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Blog of Discernment

As many of you know, I am on the Steering Committee for University Friends Meeting's Year of Discernment. We are experimenting with different methods of getting the word out about what we are doing and how the Year of Discernment is going. As part of this, I offered to set up a blog:

The Blog of Discernment

I also wanted to say that although it looks like I am completely responsible for posting so far, I didn't actually write the content on the blog. The Year of Discernment description comes from UFM's Nominating Committee and the article about the first retreat was written by our good Friend, Dorsey G.

My hope is that this blog will answer some of the questions people have about the Year of Discernment and provide a forum for comments and feedback from the UFM community.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Gifts From Friends

As soon as I got off the bus on Monday evening, I knew I was locked out of the house. I also knew exactly where my key was: on top of the bookshelf inside the door. I wasn’t really surprised. I am a creature of habit and whenever my schedule gets off, I do things like forget my keys. Between the heat, recovering from my trip, changes at work, and Alivia coming to visit, I was feeling pretty scattered.

I was also distracted by a Friend’s request after meeting that I participate in a panel and talk about my experience as a Quaker. The idea was to have Quakers of different ages speak, and I am supposed to be the token 20-something.

As I have mentioned before, I have a deep and abiding dread of public speaking. Also, I am not sure where to begin to describe my experience at the meeting―it sometimes makes me feel like I have multiple personalities. I feel like people see me as anywhere in the range from some sort of Hope for the Future mascot to wayward college student. I feel like a Friend summed it up when introducing me by saying, “This is Ashley. She will be weighty when she grows up.”

I called my roommate to see when he would be home and he told me he would be there in about an hour. It had been raining off and on all day and I was hungry, so I decided to go to the local Chinese restaurant for dinner in the meantime.

On my way out, I checked the mail and discovered that the pamphlet Aimee recommended, Coming Into Friendship as a Gift: The Journey of a Young Adult Friend, by Christina Van Regenmorter, had arrived, so I brought it with me.

As I ate delicious shrimp chow mein with homemade noodles, I read, and got chills from recognizing myself in Van Regenmorter’s writing. It wasn’t just that our backgrounds are similar―rejecting the faith one grew up in and becoming a Quaker as an adult seems like a common theme for a lot of people―it was the experiences she had as a Young Adult Friend.

Van Regenmorter talked about being the only person between 16-30 that she saw in most Quaker meetings. She finally spent time with Quakers her own age at FGC Gathering and said,

That week, with the young adult friends, I was caught between the twin emotions of "These are my people!" and "Will I ever belong?" I felt at times like I’d fallen in love with a guy named Quakerism, gotten married to him, and had just now come home to meet the family―most of whom had lived with Quakerism their entire lives and weren’t that impressed.

When I read that portion, I laughed out loud, sitting by myself in the Chinese restaurant. It was so similar to how I felt when I first moved to Seattle and spent time with the Young Adult Friends here. I knew we were all Quakers, but it seemed like they were speaking in a different language, relying on acronyms and places that they all knew and I did not.

A difference between Van Regenmorter’s story and mine is that her meeting did not immediately accept her request for membership. Instead, they told her to visit several other meetings before they would call a clearness committee. This proved to be a wonderful experience for Van Regenmorter, but it would have been devastating for me. When I joined Freedom Friends, I needed a place to just be, and they embraced me as I was.

Van Regenmorter describes her experiences as gifts her meeting gave her: sincerity, trust, affirmation, accountability, support, friendship, play, and love. I too feel blessed to have received these gifts from Friends. I am especially grateful right now for the support I have from Freedom Friends Church. One of the things Alivia brought up to Seattle was a minute of service for me. I do not have words to express how much it means to me that Freedom Friends considers me a “beloved and highly respected member.”

On the lack of younger people at meetings, Van Regenmorter writes,

It can be tempting to look at the absence of young faces in our meeting houses and blame it on the "digital age" or on young people needing "something more lively." However, I would like to hold up the possibility that people coming into Quaker meetings are not looking for a certain prevailing skin phenotype or age presence, but for the Spirit to be evident in the lives of the Friends who are there. I believe that they, like me, ache to have a spiritual community where they feel truly seen, truly, held, and deeply challenged.

Last Sunday at University Friends Meeting, another Young Adult Friend shared a powerful message, asking what happens when we settle into the silence. She described members as fires, some were like small embers and others glowed. She invited us all to join the bonfire.

I have had many different experiences in the silence of meeting, but lately I have felt nearly overwhelmed by the presence of God. This is a struggle for me. I want to be there, but I am worried that I will not be able to handle it. Sometimes I feel like I will not be able to stay upright. And yet, I feel like I am only experiencing the smallest portion of a vast and incredible God. Struggling with God is not easy, but I believe that if we take the challenge and really engage, God will bless us.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

One of many perks of going to visit my parents is that I often return with really nice stuff that they don't want anymore. Last Christmas, I inherited their Bose ipod dock and this time I got my Mom's bike! My parents have become incredible bikers in the past few years, and my Mom decided to upgrade from her lovely road bike to an even lighter and faster one. Everyone wins!

It seems strange to me that I have not had a bike for over a year now. When I was in law school, I was known as "that girl who bikes to school/church/work." I had a very cushy commuter bike, with a rack on the back for my messenger bag (it had to be pretty sturdy, considering I was usually carrying a laptop and a case book or two). One sad day, I walked out of the law school, helmet in hand, to find that someone had cut the lock and taken my bike.

Having my bike stolen was only the first of a series of transportation mishaps. Soon after, a friend loaned me his bike, but I crashed it when I swerved to miss a dog. The dog and I both recovered, but the bike did not. Then another friend gave me a Buick, which lasted for about a month and then died on the side of I-5.

Since then, I have been walking, using public transportation and zipcar, and mooching rides from friends. But soon I will be able to bike again! According to my friendly local bike shop, my new bike should be put together and ready to go on Wednesday! I am not planning to bike to work (the drivers in downtown Seattle make me nervous), but I am excited about riding to places like the farmers market and University Friends Meeting.

Lately, I have definitely noticed a difference in reactions to the fact that I don't have a car. A few years ago, most people seemed to think that I didn't have a car because I did not know how to drive or was a bad driver (I got my license when I was 16 and I am a fine driver, I just choose not to drive most of the time). But recently, with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, not having a car seems like a pretty good idea. Maybe someday I will want a car, but for now I am pretty excited about speeding around on my new bike.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I'm back in Seattle again and exhausted, but happy to be here. My trip was wonderful and went by very quickly. Maybe I'll try to write more about it after I have had a decent night's sleep. For now (and because Emily suggested that I should have some more visual interest), here is a word cloud that my Southern Alter Ego made for me on, using a live feed from my blog:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Joyful Alaskan Friends

I've been in Anchorage for four days now and while I've been here, I've been in four different churches. Maybe I'm making up for all the time I didn't go to church when I was in college!

Yesterday I was feeling like I didn't really fit in anywhere. On Thursday night, I went to First Tap at the Bear Tooth Theater. I was thrilled to see two of my oldest friends, Meghan and Inger (by oldest, I mean that I have known them the longest, not that they are old), but it really isn't my kind of thing. The next night, I went to a Christian concert at Anchorage's very own megachurch―even less my scene. And yesterday was filled with activities related to my parents' church: in the morning, we all did a 5K to raise money for oppressed people in Burma; later, we went to the Saturday night service.

But I am happy to say I have had great success connecting with Alaskan Friends. I did not become a Quaker until after I left Alaska, so I did not have any ties with Alaskan Quakers before this week. On Friday, Shannon H met me for coffee and had lots of great ideas for the next Quaker Women's Theology Conference. It was wonderful to talk to her, but it also reminded me how much this conference has meant to women over the years. I hope I don't let everyone down!

Shannon warned me that I might have trouble getting in touch with Anchorage Friends Church and she was right. The first number I found was disconnected, the second connected to a voicemail, but I never heard back after leaving a message. This morning, I thought I would try one more time and amazingly, someone picked up. I asked when worship started and the response was 10 a.m. I looked up at the clock: 9:50. I threw on some clothes, grabbed a bagel, and was out the door.

When I walked into Anchorage Friends Church, the service had already started. I sat down and tried to follow the speaker, only to realize that he was speaking in Inupiat. The woman I was sitting next to smiled at me and whispered that the English class was next door. Gratefully, I went over to attend a lesson in a language I could understand about not showing favoritism.

After Sunday school, I approached the teacher and told her that I was organizing the women's conference and asked whether she was the one to talk to about inviting others. She told me to go into the sanctuary and she would let me know.

The service began with reports from each of the Sunday school classes: children, English, and Inupiat. We also sang several songs, mostly in English. There were about 45 people present and I would guess that I was one of three or four non-Native Alaskans. I had heard that Friends were very active missionaries in Alaska and the membership of Anchorage Friends Church definitely supports that!

Then there was time for announcements. After a few people spoke, the woman at the microphone looked at me and said, "Don't you have an announcement?" So I went up to the front, explained who I am, and invited all of the women present to come to the next women's conference. As I sat down, I heard several people murmuring about the conference and one person said, "What a blessing it would be for our women to go to that conference!"

The message for the morning was from a woman who had recently attended an Alaskan Friends conference. She was a wonderful speaker, and conveyed a message that another woman had given at the conference about getting to know people who are different. At one point, she encouraged everyone to walk around and greet others, and she specifically said to welcome the Friend who had come from Washington to tell them about the women's conference. Several women came up to me and gave me hugs. I was touched by how open and welcoming everyone was.

After the service, a woman asked whether I was going to come back for the evening service. I told her that I would like to, but I had plans to attend Anchorage Friends Meeting. I was looking forward to this meeting because it is held in St. Mary's Episcopal Church, where I starred as baby Jesus when I was two months old.

I arrived at the church a little early and helped a Friend set up chairs in a circle. He looked outside and wondered aloud whether anyone else would come on such a beautiful day. The two of us began worship and over the hour, three others joined us.

During worship, I felt led to share a breathing prayer I learned from Peggy. There are many ways to say the prayer, but in that space I prayed, "Lord, you are here in this place. Your presence fills it. Your presence is joy." Later, another Friend shared a message about joy, and after the meeting, I learned that it is the custom at Anchorage Friends Meeting to share their joys and concerns. I have been thinking about joy a lot lately, and the meeting spoke to my condition.

After worship, we had tea and truffles and got to know each other. I learned that one of the attenders came from Twin Cities Friends Meeting and we talked about how they recently had a year of discernment. I also talked up the women's conference and they said they would spread the word. I am very hopeful that we will get a few Alaskans at the next conference―everyone seems interested!

A few days ago, I was listening to an interview of a Benedictine nun on my way to work. As Sister Chittister described how purposeful and spiritual her life is, I was daydreaming about how joining a convent might be nice. In the midst of my musing, I got a very clear message: "That is NOT the plan I have for your life." Now, it is one thing to hear from God when I am sitting in Quaker meeting, but it is quite another to get divine messages when I am taking the MT41 Express Downtown. I was a little shaken, but pretty clear that monastic life is not for me.

Today, at Anchorage Friends Meeting, I got another message: "This is what I want you to do." I feel clear that going to visit other meetings and churches is what I am supposed to be doing right now, and organizing the women's conference gives me a reason to do that. Even though I hate the idea of talking in front of groups, each time I go to another meeting or church, I feel blessed. I am also beginning to see a benefit to having moved so many times: I am connected to so many people and places, even if I don't fit perfectly in any one place.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Time to Get Away

Now that it is finally starting to seem like summer in Seattle, I'm headed back up to Anchorage. I don't think it will be quite as warm there, but I am looking forward to a week of doing very little. So far, my plan include sleeping a lot, spending time with my family, reading, and running (I also heard a rumor that a screening of Mama Mia! might be in my immediate future).

Of course, no vacation would be complete without some Quaker networking, so I am going to try to finally make it to Anchorage Friends Meeting. I am also hoping to check out Anchorage Friends Church, but so far all I have been able to find is a disconnected number. I am hopeful that if I talk to enough Friends I might not be the only Alaskan at the next Quaker Women's Theology Conference, but I guess we'll have to see!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Taking Care of Business

I'm not sure when it happened, but I realized today that I have come to enjoy business meeting. Maybe I am just some special kind of masochist, but I don't think so. I used to dread or avoid business meetings. They seemed to take forever and all I could think about was what I needed to do after the meeting was over. Now I really appreciate Quaker process, though I do sometimes wish the meetings were a little shorter!

For my non-Quaker friends, a little background. Quaker meetings hold meetings for worship for business once a month. Anyone who wants to attend may participate. The business of the meeting is conducted in a spirit of worship. The clerk guides the meeting and calls on individuals who wish to address a particular issue. The goal is corporate discernment and unity. This does not necessarily mean consensus, but a clear sense of what the meeting is led to do.

This morning, I was looking forward to business meeting, and not just because I needed to get some knitting done on a baby hat. University Friends Meeting has a new clerk and this was the first time I was going to see her in action (she did a great job). I had also made a raspberry buckle with some of the berries I picked yesterday and I was looking forward to seeing how it turned out (a little dry, but not too bad for a first attempt).

One of the first items on the agenda was a report from the treasurer and I am thrilled to say that University Friends Meeting exceeded its contribution goal for the year. I think the letter the Finance Committee sent out really reminded members that the meeting needs their help.

We also had a deep discussion about the wording of a declaration against torture. Although everyone was clear that Quakers oppose all torture, the meeting initially was not in unity about the wording of a Declaration of Principles for an Executive Order on Torture. It was lovely to see Friends speak from their convictions, listen to each other, pray together, and find unity.

I felt led to join an ad hoc committee to welcome Junior Friends. My friend Asia was wagging her finger at me when she saw me raise my hand, saying that I am already doing too much. I keep saying that I am not going to take on any more, but then I do anyway. I think this is important, though, and I really felt like the committee needed someone who is closer in age to the Junior Friends.

I also volunteered to read and review God's Troublemakers: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World, by Katharine Rhodes Henderson. That project seems more like fun than work, though. I read the first chapter out in the sun this afternoon and I am looking forward to learning all the women's stories. Hopefully saying yes to these two things will help renew my commitment to saying no!

During the final worship in business meeting, I felt led to speak. All through the opening worship, the lines from a song I sang as a child were going through my head. By the end of the meeting, those lines had become a prayer for the meeting and for all of us: may we have peace like a river, joy like a fountain, and love like an ocean.