Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Deus Ibi Est

It has been hard for me to think about how to describe the convergent Friends program at Ben Lomond last weekend. Overall, it was an amazing experience. I loved traveling with Sarah P, the times in worship were rich, Quaker Center was beautiful, and I am excited about the Friends I met who also care about the future of the Religious Society of Friends.

But I am still not sure about the label "convergent Friends." When I wrote about convergent Friends before, I said,
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.
After this past weekend, I am more convinced this is true.

A theme that ran through the workshops was that although those there feel strongly that Quakerism has something powerful and something to offer a hungry world, we were all missing something too. If we were completely spiritually fed in our own meetings and faith communities, we would not be drawn to this kind of gathering.

Throughout the weekend, some found bits that they had been missing through expectant worship, prayer, reading the Bible, singing, and talking to others. But it also seemed clear by the end that we had not resolved anything and there was still a lot of work to do.

In reading through the Bible, I have been deep in Ezekiel for several weeks now. It was poignant for me that themes from Ezekiel came up over the weekend, particularly the story of Ezekiel raising the bones, prophesying to them, and breathing life into them. (Ezekiel 37).

A passage in the chapter before that also spoke to me. God said,
I'll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I'll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I'll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that's God-willed, not self-willed. I'll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. (Ezekiel 36: 25-27).
One of the things we did that moved me the most was walking through stations of the Lord's prayer. Instead of rushing through it, we actively participated in different parts, including a place where we washed our hands and asked God to cleanse us.

I came out of the weekend with the sense that convergent Friends are not a new kind of Friend. Our gathering was a group of people searching for Quaker renewal. If a catchy title like "convergent" gets people to come together and think about the future of Friends, that's great. But I am more interested in what we are going to do next than how to define convergent.

While I was in Ben Lomond, I thought about a series of questions that I wrote last year at the Quaker Women's Theology Conference. They seem to fit, so I will end with those.
What are we afraid of? What is fear keeping us from doing? What do we hope will happen in the future? Why do we meet? What can we do to help each other to grow in faith and community? What do we need as a group? What roles need to be filled and who are the people led to fill those roles? What can we do to nurture this sense of bridging the gaps when we go back to our meetings?
I am grateful to Friends for spending time with me in the presence of God over the weekend. God may not always be nice, but God is there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

California Dreamin'

Tomorrow, I head down to California for the weekend. Sarah P and I will be flying together into Oakland to spend the night at my Grandmother's house and meet my new cousin. On Friday afternoon, we are getting a ride from Friends down to Quaker Center for the weekend program "Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century." I posted this note in the QuakerQuaker discussion about the program:
Hello all and greetings from Seattle. I am really excited about this event and I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I am not sure what to expect, but I am looking forward to meeting everyone, worship, time in the woods, and talking with others who are interested in where Friends are going. I am also thrilled to be traveling with my f/Friend Sarah P because I hardly ever get to see her. We'll do what we can to represent all the good folks in the Pacific Northwest!
Because I am hoping to spend as little time online as possible over the weekend, I doubt I will be blogging from Ben Lomond. I have this funny image in my head of all the Quaker bloggers running for their computers at the end of each workshop. Not my idea of a relaxing time! I hope that we will have time to settle and listen, in spite of the siren song of technology. And although I am not planning on posting while I'm there, I expect I will have a lot to write about when I get back!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Support and Accountability

A few months ago, when Quaker Buddy and I were reading A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister, we talked about how we both really liked a story from the introduction describing an experience Samuel Bownas had as a young minister. When Bownas felt a concern to prophesy, he asked experienced Friends for their advice.
After a time of quiet, they gently told Samuel their sense that he was probably more influenced by his love for his friend Isaac than by the Holy Spirit. They did not, however, forbid him to preach; they simply advised him to wait, for if his concern were truly from God, it would grow stronger; if not, it would decrease. And so it proved; the concern gradually went away, and Samuel and Isaac were both much wiser ministers and more kindly spiritual guides because they themselves had been treated with such tenderness. (xxxii)
As we discussed this story, QB raised the question of whether this would happen now. We both felt like it probably would not. QB suggested that we don't know each other well enough in our spiritual communities to be able to know whether what one person believes to be a leading is truly from God.

Over the past few months, the group that started out as my clearness committee has agreed to be an ongoing support and accountability committee for me. Last week, I met with the three women from three generations who are now on the committee and I am again having a hard time finding the words to express my gratitude.

This meeting reminded me of the best parts of Quaker process. We worshiped together and listened and asked questions and tried to answer some. We also talked about how for Friends, feeling like God is telling you to do something is the first step, but it is crucial to test that leading in the community to see if others agree that the leading is truly from God. If Friends have that kind of support and accountability from our communities, we can then go forth to do God's work in the world with joy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Traveling Minute

To Friends Gathered at Ben Lomond and everywhere,

This letter is a traveling minute on behalf of Ashley W. She is a member of Freedom Friends Church and a sojourning member of University Friends Meeting in Seattle, Washington. Ashley is traveling to participate in "Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century."

We commend Ashley to you. She is a beloved member of our community, in good standing. She is a bright, astute, creative, and well-spoken Friend, who carries a concern for peace, justice, and the life of the Spirit. Please care for her tenderly, and encourage her heart. She will carry our care and encouragement to you as well.

We are well pleased to send her to you as a representative of Freedom Friends Church and you may trust the testimony she brings to you.

Blessings of Peace, Love and Joy to you all in Christ Jesus,

Alivia B
Presiding Clerk, Freedom Friends Church

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Friendly Guide to Young Friends

Nearly every Quaker group I know is concerned about getting more young people involved. Older Friends frequently ask me how they can get to know Young Adult Friends (YAFs) and how to talk to them. I usually suggest talking to YAFs like you would talk to anyone else. Considering that YAFs range in age from 18 to 35, come from very different backgrounds, and all have their own reasons for coming to meeting, there is never going to be one right way to approach a YAF. However, I have compiled some suggestions based on my own experiences with Quakers, most of which seem pretty obvious. Any YAFs who happen to read my blog are welcome to add to this list.

1. Say hi. This should probably go without saying, but I have heard more than one older Friend say that they are nervous about approaching YAFs. If you are feeling especially brave, consider saying "Hi, I don't think we've met." I think this opening is better than asking if the young person is new to the meeting, which can be alienating if she has been attending unnoticed for a while.

2. Remember why you became a Quaker. What was it that initially drew you to Friends? Were there particular values or an event that made you want to become a Friend? In what ways does your church or meeting embody that experience?

3. Talk about your experience of the Spirit. A lot of young people are searching for authentic spiritual experiences and want to know what Friends are experiencing during silent worship, how others hear that still, small voice, and how that affects the choices Friends make in their daily lives. If Friends are timid about talking for fear of seeming too evangelical, young people will go elsewhere to find these answers.

4. Offer food, rides, and financial support. Everyone likes food and eating together is a great way to get to know someone. Sit next to YAFs at a meal or invite them over for dinner. If there is a YAF group in your church or meeting, offer to host a potluck. If a young person who lives near you does not have a car, offer him a ride. Have funds available for Quaker events and let YAFs know how to apply for scholarships.

5. Provide literature about Friends. Have copies of your Faith and Practice available as well as other texts about Friends, either in lists or a library. Recommend books or pamphlets that have been meaningful to you.

6. Use the internet. Seekers use google. Create and maintain a website for your meeting or church with information about meeting times and upcoming events.

7. Be flexible. YAFs are often in transition. A young person may wish to volunteer, but not know how long she will be in a particular location. Provide a variety of volunteer opportunities and community activities that allow those whose time is limited to participate.

8. Give young Friends meaningful responsibility. Many Friends say that being on committees is one of the best ways to get involved in the community and meet others. Like anyone else, put YAFs on committees that draw on their strengths and interests.

9. Have more than one young Friend on a committee. This will help YAFs feel like they are more than a token presence on a committee and remind the other committee members of the diversity among young people.

10. Don't expect overnight change. Like all relationships, getting to know YAFs takes time. If you put in some effort, though, I think getting to know young people in the meeting will be easier than you expected.