Thursday, October 30, 2008

Joy to the World

When I was in Anchorage over the summer, my sister Rachel asked me which fruit of the spirit I was working on. Without even having to think about it, I responded, "Joy." For a few years, I was actively working on peacetrying to figure out what I think peace means, and what it would look like to have real peace instead of just avoiding conflicts. I don't know that I really answered either of those questions, but now I am asking them about joy.

A couple months ago, I listened to a Joyce Meyer podcast about the fruit of the spirit that really caught my attention. She said that whatever you pray for, that's what will be tested. She was specifically talking about patience, but I knew as soon as I heard her that this would apply to any of them. Since I had already been praying for joy for a few months by then, I was a little worried about what testing my joy might look like.

Turns out, it looks like pneumonia, financial crises (both in the country and personal), political scandal in my home state, a frustrating job search, and a lot of feeling overwhelmed. Now, I'm not saying that my prayers are somehow responsible for all of those things, but it has been a little difficult to work on joy in the midst of them.

And yet, there is joy. I have been grateful for so many things this week. The retreat at University Friends Meeting on Saturday went so much better than I could ever have hoped, and I can feel the excitement in the air there about the Year of Discernment.

Last night, I met with my clearness committee again and I am having trouble finding words to describe how wonderful that was. At one point during the clearness committee, a Friend suggested that an experience I had was an example of way opening. As soon as she said it, I had the indescribable feeling that I get when way opens, and I feel led to the next clear step. It was so helpful to be reminded of that feeling because I feel like so much of what I have been doing lately has been because I feel like I have to, not because I feel led.

I am also grateful that I got a chance to talk to Alivia last night. I have been sorely missing music in my life lately, and I was excited to tell her that I am planning on joining a Christmas choir. When I told her, she said that it was good for me to get some music back into the mix, but asked what was I planning on giving up. I knew immediately what needed to go, a committee that has felt wrong for me from the beginning. This morning, I sent an email explaining that I did not feel called to that particular ministry at this time. It felt very good.

I know that the fruit of the spirit is not something that I can force. But I believe that if I am faithful and follow where God leads me, the fruit of the spirit will come. I am also working on letting go of things, including my ideas of what I should be doing. For now, Cat Stevens speaks to my condition:

I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up well I think,
Only God really knows
I've sat upon the setting sun
But never, never never never
I never wanted water once
No, never, never, never

I listen to my words but
They fall far below
I let my music take me where
My heart wants to go
I swam upon the devil's lake
But never, never never never
I'll never make the same mistake
No, never, never, never

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Not So Silent Worship

Scene: University Friends Meeting

Friends settle into silent worship. The Holy Spirit walks around slowly. Friends leave some silence between speaking.

Friend One: Did I remember to turn my cell phone off? At least my ring tone is set to Simple Gifts!

Friend Two: What does “hold in the light” mean?

Friend Three walks in late.

Friend Three: I really hate being late to meeting. I hope no one noticed!

The Holy Spirit walks toward Friend Four and taps her on the shoulder.

Friend Four: Is this really a message? Do I have to stand up? I don’t see what this has to do with anything―maybe I’m just hungry.

The Holy Spirit taps more insistently, then tries to pull Friend Four out of her seat.

Friend Four: I really don’t want to talk, so I don’t think it’s a message for the group. Maybe next week . . .

Friend Five: I really liked that book I read last week. Maybe I should talk about it and give folks something to think about during meeting.

As the Holy Spirit is still trying to pull Friend Four out of her seat, Friend Five starts to stand. The Holy Spirit is surprised. The Holy Spirit walks over to Friend Five and tries to make Friend Five sit.

Friend Six: Oh no, not another political message!

The Holy Spirit gives up on trying to quiet Friend Five.

Friend One: Not more of that Jesus talk!

Friend Two: I wonder what’s for light lunch?

The Holy Spirit shakes his head and puts a finger to his lips. The Holy Spirit puts his hand on A Friend’s shoulder. A Friend stands to speak, a little uncertainly.

[Concept and script developed by the Steering Committee for University Friends Meeting's Year of Discernment. Editorial and moral support by QB. Friends performed this skit for the First All-Meeting Retreat in the Year of Discernment.]

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Visual Interest

I recently had a birthday and my parents gave me a digital camera! When I called to thank them, my Mom said, "Now you can put some pictures on your blog!" So I will.

I have been blessed with many visitors in the past few weeks. Two weeks ago, my friend Kirsten came to stay for the night. We skipped meeting and went wedding dress shopping instead. Unfortunately, I took all of the wedding dress pictures on her camera, so I don't have any to share. I can say that she looked beautiful in all of them.

Last weekend, my friend Andrea came to visit from the Bay Area. She works for a non-profit that created a documentary about public health. One of the featured areas was the High Point Neighborhood in Seattle, so we took the bus over to check it out.

Then my Mom came for a visit this weekend! We had a great time going to see Spring Awakening and going out to eat. Yesterday, we visited Snoqualmie Falls. It was beautiful and we had a lot of fun walking around.

Today, we met up with my friends Emily and Myles for breakfast. It is always great to see Emily and Myles and I wish we could see each other more often, but they are pretty busy with this little guy!

And because Emily, Myles, and Mom came to University Friends Meeting today, I got to show off our new sign.

Thank you to everyone who came to visit. I feel so fortunate to have you in my life!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Reluctant Convergent

Some Friends choose to be Convergent, others have convergence thrust upon them.

For those of you who follow the Quaker blogosphere, you are probably well aware that we are about halfway through Convergent October. For those of you who are saying to yourself "Quaker blogo-what?", you may want to skip this post altogether. It's going to get awfully Quakery very quickly. If you are torn, you may want to read Robin M's excellent description of Convergent Friends, a phrase she coined.

This demonstrates my first problem in trying to talk about convergence. While my blog is unabashedly Quaker, I always hope that my writing will have some value for friends who are not also Friends. As soon as I wade into discussions about different kinds of Quakers, I feel like it is a little too insider, and less meaningful.

A few weeks ago, I attended the local arrangements committee meeting for the FWCC Section of the Americas Annual Meeting. I wasn't really that surprised that I ended up as the Young Adult Friend on the committee. It's not a role I am particularly fond of, but it is one that has at least become familiar. I was surprised that I was also put in charge of gathering information for a potential Convergent Friends gathering at the meeting.

Since then, I have been trying to sort out my conflicting feelings about convergence.

I am a young Friend. I have a blog. I am a member of Freedom Friends Church. I feel called to bring different kinds of Quakers together to at least talk about their differences, if not resolve them. I believe that Quaker values are worthwhile and that many people would be interested in the Religious Society of Friends if they knew more about us.

But do these things make me Convergent? Does it really matter what I think? If I write potentially negative things about Convergent Friends, will I hurt people I respect and admire? Will I be shunned by a group I am interested in, though do not necessarily fully identify with? If so, does that mean I am off the hook with FWCC?

I am drawn to the concept of combining Conservative Quaker faith and practice with the Emerging Church. I like imagining boundaries blurring as Quakers converge. The popularity of Convergent ideas suggests that there are many Friends who are willing to challenge their assumptions as they seek God, and are trying to build the kind of community they want to be a part of, and I find that exciting.

And yet, I worry that we are wasting time and getting distracted by definitions and labels, arguing about what convergence means and who is in or out. I also get frustrated when Friends seem to see me as Convergent by default because I do not fit into any of the neat Quaker categories.

Maybe all of this talk about Convergent Friends is a sign that we need to reexamine what it means to be a modern Quaker and put more effort into figuring out how we are going to relate to all those other folks who are not like us, but are still Quakers.

Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Minute of Sojourn

To University Friends Meeting of Seattle, Washington,

This letter serves as a Minute of Sojourn for Ashley W from Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon.

On behalf of Freedom Friends, I greet you with peace and love. You already know Ashley W, and know that she is a generous and committed person: willing to roll up her sleeves and serve as she is called. While she has been serving your community so faithfully, she has also remained steadfast in her commitment and support of Freedom Friends Church, which is her spiritual home, and the Pacific NW Quaker Women's Theology Conference, of which she serves currently as co-clerk. Ashley is a beloved member of our community and we long to support her in her life and her service to God.

It is to this end that we give her this Minute of Sojourn. As she remains loving and steadfast with us, she has a full life in Seattle serving with you. She considers University Friends her second home. We approve her sojourning minute and encourage you to receive her as a sojourning member and take her under your care. Please continue your tender support of her and assist her in every way that you can. The world will be a better place for your love and your efforts.

Thank you for receiving and replying to our earlier correspondence, and for your support and love for Ashley.

Alivia B

Clerk, Freedom Friends Church

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Connected Friends

First, happy birthday, Dad! I hear 60 is the new . . . something. Anyway, I hope you had a great day!

I have always wanted to be in a book club, and now I kind of am. Quaker Buddy* and I have started reading A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister, by Samuel Bownas and having long-distance conversations about it each week. When I told my Mom the name of the book, she groaned and suggested that we pick something a little lighter. Despite the very long title, the book is only 104 pages and, at two chapters a week, it is really not a lot of reading.

We have "met" twice now, and I have been amazed by how much we both have to say. Many of the themes Bownas discusses have been important in our lives lately, including what it means to be a minister, the purposes of traveling in the ministry, and how to discern a true leading.

By "gospel minister," Bownas means vocal minister. The other day, QB and I discussed whether we would identify as vocal ministers. Neither of us speaks in meeting very often, but we both do at times, and I think we each could have easily said yes or no.

QB decided that if asked, she would say that she considers herself a vocal minister because she has had the experience of being led to speak, and would be able to articulate that experience. I said that I would say no for similar reasons: I have had profound experiences in meetings when I did not feel led to vocal ministry and I could talk about the ways in which silent members participate.

After our conversation, I started thinking about how sometimes when I post, I have an experience similar to how I feel when I give vocal ministryI feel strongly led. Even so, I have a hard time thinking of my blogging as a ministry.

The next topic for the Adult Religious Education class at University Friends Meeting is "Being a Connected Friend," and the discussion will be about how Friends use the internet to connect and interact, locally, regionally, and nationally. In keeping with my renewed commitment not to take on any more, I am not speaking. I am interested in the topic, though, and I think two of the queries for discussion are particularly good:
  • Can you find real Quaker community on the internet?
  • Can blogs actually help you center into the Light?
For me, the answer to both is yes. I doubt that I would have been able to stay as involved in the Freedom Friends community without the internet, and I probably would not have found them in the first place if they did not have a web site. I have also found that reading other Quaker blogs and taking the time to write about my experiences has helped me center as I try to not outrun my Guide.

*QB asked to remain anonymous and we agreed that "Quaker Buddy" is funnier than "Spiritual Friend," but with the same basic idea.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

This I Believe

I believe that God is perfect and beyond comprehension. I believe that there is that of God in everyone, but no one other than God is perfect. I believe that if people surrender to God's will, God will lead them.

I believe that God is everywhere. I see God in nature and in the good that people do around meespecially when they don't think anyone is paying attention.

I believe in the Trinity. I believe that Jesus is a physical incarnation of God, but also that "son of God" is too restrictive a label. I recognize the Holy Spirit as the feminine side of God and I feel her all around me. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, but written by men, with all the mistakes that men make when they are trying to understand the Divine.

I believe that God loves me and wants me to be the best version of myself. I believe that God speaks to me and sometimes uses me to speak to others. I believe that God has plans for me and that God is proud of me when I am faithful.

Because I am human, I know that I will make mistakes. But I will do my best to follow God's will, and I know that God will do great things.