Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One Year Old

When I was visiting Freedom Friends Church last month, we started our fifth birthday party by reading from the newly completed Faith and Practice. We didn't read the whole thing, but everyone chose parts that spoke to them. I read the section on integrity:
(2-5) Integrity
We hold dear the expression of faith through integrity and truthfulness. We attempt to be honest in all our dealings, as a group and individually. We attempt to live the life we profess. We take personal responsibility for our thoughts and behaviors, believing this to be the path to sobriety, sanity, and spirituality. We work at resolving our own problems before we address the problems we see in others. This is our witness of Christ; without integrity, our preaching and practice are useless.
It has been a year since I started writing on this blog. I am pretty surprised that I have managed to keep it up for this long. When I first started, I figured it would last for a few months at most. About once a week, I think I will never have anything to write about again, but then I find that I do have more to say.

I think one of the things that keeps me posting is that it is the one place where all of my Quaker sides come together. Being a member of two such different meetings makes me feel torn a lot of the time, and here I can write about how much I miss Freedom Friends while also appreciating the relationships I have with Friends at University Friends Meeting.

My blog also gives me an outlet for the things I wrestle with (God, writing, money, the Bible, music, being a young Friend, trying to live up to the light I have been given . . .). I think that being able to write about all of these things publicly helps me to live with more integrity.

After a year, I know that I am a baby blogger (really, I think I am still a baby Quaker) and I am grateful for all of the support everyone has given me. Thank you for reading. I really appreciate your comments, even though I am usually pretty bad at responding to them. Writing for the past year has been fun, challenging, and exhilarating, and I hope that I will feel led to keep it up for a while.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Oh Very Young

For the past few days, I have been reading updates about the editorial board meeting for the Quaker Youth Book Project.

I am excited about this book project for several reasons. One is the people who are on the editorial board. I first heard about the book project when Sarah H announced that she was on the editorial board. Although we are both members of Freedom Friends Church, I hadn't met her yet because she started attending after I moved to Seattle. I was excited for her, though, and I was glad when I did eventually meet her at the Quaker Women's Theology Conference.

Since then, I have had the pleasure of meeting three other members of the editorial board: Katrina M, Angelina C, and Wess D. Next week, John L will be coming up to Seattle so I will get to meet him as well. I have to say, they seem like a very fun group and I am a little envious that they all get to work together (not that I need any more to do!).

I am also excited about the book because there is a possibility that something I wrote may be included. After months of putting it off, I finally sent off some pieces I had written. Although I write all the time for work and on this blog, most of my writing is not published under my own name, and I would be thrilled to be part of the the final product.

I am really happy that the editorial board meeting in Oregon. Although I couldn't make it down to Oregon for the QUIP Annual Meeting, it is nice to know that they are so close by.

On the whole, I am excited about Friends in the Pacific Northwest. I think it is a place with unusually close ties between the different branches of Friends. There are also some awesome young Quaker leaders here. I feel fortunate to know some of them, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the Religious Society of Friends.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Space Between

Yesterday was Good Friday, tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and today I am thinking about suffering. The story of Jesus dying on the cross is one I know well. Between my nine years at an Evangelical Christian school, church, summer camps, and youth groups, I have probably heard this story more than any other, except maybe the Christmas story.

When I was very young, the crucifixion gave me nightmares. But as I got older, I got so used to hearing the story that it didn't make much of an impression on me. I would go through the motions of being chastened by it, but it seemed much more like trivia. I learned how the nails actually had to go through Christ's wrists and the mechanics of actually dying on a cross (suffocation).

For the past several years, I haven't heard the story as much. Last night, I went to a neighborhood Good Friday service where they were reading aloud the chapters about Jesus's death from John. I was struck by the details.

I thought about the Roman soldiers dividing up Jesus's clothes and it occurred to me that this was all that Jesus had with him. If he had anything else, they would have divided that up as well, but he only had the clothes on his back. His friends had abandoned and betrayed him, the soldiers had beaten and mocked him, and in the end, he even felt that God had forsaken him. Jesus had nothing left when he died.

I also thought about Mary standing at the foot of the cross. I have known mothers who have lost their children, and I can imagine few things more devastating than seeing your child tortured and killed. Although Jesus suffered greatly, this story is also about the suffering of those who loved him.

The detail that really upset me was how casually the soldiers broke the legs of the men on either side of Jesus. Breaking a grown man's legs is such a violent image, it really made me realize how excruciating Jesus's death must have been.

There is so much suffering in the world. The recent troubles we have had in this country are small compared to the violence, hunger, fear, and despair that so many people face on a daily basis. Because the suffering of the world is so overwhelming, we hide from it by putting it into institutions or ignoring those places in need. The story of the crucifixion forces us to confront suffering, but it also reminds us that even in our greatest pain, God is there too.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Traveling Minute Report

Traveling Minute Report to Freedom Friends Church
Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century

Ben Lomond Quaker Center, February 20-22, 2009
What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

Are you listening to this? Really listening?
(Matthew 13:3-8).
The workshop Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century focused on Quaker renewal out of our tradition. I could feel the presence of God in the gathering from our first night there and it did my heart good to hear Friends speaking passionately about God, their faith, and their hopes for the future of the Religious Society of Friends. However, the workshop raised more questions than it answered.

One of the traditions we talked about was Friends’ plain dress. The workshop leaders talked about the history of plain dress and its recent reappearance, and we listed ideas for how we can live plainly. This discussion brought out the tension between the things that God is calling us to do and things we do merely because they are a good idea. A Friend reminded us that our task is to live up to the light God gives us, and the choices we make should be consequences of our encounter with Christ. By practicing obedience in small decisions, such as what we put on and take off, we are preparing ourselves to follow God in bigger things. This also gives us an opportunity to practice grace and humility when we fail to live up to our leadings. What are the things that we as Friends are doing, individually and collectively, that makes people ask us why? And when they do, what are we going to say?

In beginning the conversation about convergent Friends, Martin K talked about people who have challenged and reinvigorated traditions while crossing boundaries, beginning with Jesus, as well as Friends such as Samuel Bownas, John Woolman, Thomas Kelly, and Lloyd Lee Wilson. Why do we do the things we do? Who don’t we talk to and why not? C. Wess D encouraged us to creatively rethink Friends missions and to see ourselves as heralds sent by a king to give a message. How can we demonstrate the culture of God’s kingdom? Robin M urged us to reach out to others by telling our stories in our own voices and not pre-judge how others will respond. What do we have to say that someone else might need to hear?

There was also a tension between what we had found in the Religious Society of Friends and what we are still searching for. We were all there because we had experienced something in Friends that made us stay, we had tasted something real, but we were also there because we were missing something in our own meetings and churches. What are we missing in our faith communities that makes us feel drawn to gatherings like this one?

Friends expressed how we need to be grounded in our traditions. A Friend spoke about a group of young jazz musicians who learned the jazz standards so that they could improvise. Mastering our canon includes reading the Bible and the writings of early Friends. We talked about how we can support each other in this by staying connected between gatherings and reading these works together. New technology has given us new ways to stay connected and communicate in the modern world. What from Friends traditions still speaks to us? What do we want to reclaim?

On Sunday morning, there was time for an extended meeting for worship, beginning with Bible reading in the manner of conservative Friends. Friends read about Ezekiel raising the bones and making them dance, putting burned offerings on the fire, the parable of the sower and the seeds, and how Jesus has named us friends.

In the unprogrammed worship, I felt led to speak. I spoke about how I had heard that not all Friends opposed slavery, it was a small group that worked to end it, and I thought about God commanding Gideon to get rid of the vast majority of his army to do his work. I said, I don’t think that we will see Friends come together and speak with one voice, but it doesn’t matter. We can still do a lot of good.

During worship, a Friend reminded us to tend to the fire. The fire in the wood stove had gone down, but there were still embers burning. Robin M later said that she tried to quickly build up the fire, but it went out. She realized with chagrin that you can’t build a fire on the cheap. When she shared this with the group, another Friend informed us that fires burn better when you add two logs at a time.

Over the weekend, I especially enjoyed traveling with Sarah P, walking the stations of the Lord’s Prayer, singing with the group, and late night conversations with Friends. Quaker Center is in a beautiful location with wonderful food and I hope to go there again someday. I also enjoyed attending the workshop as a representative of Freedom Friends Church and talking to people there about our community.

The weekend was also challenging for me. For months before the workshop, I had been struggling with the idea of being a Public Friend. While I was there, began to feel clear that I am called to be a Public Friend. I don’t know yet what that means or what it will look like, but it feels right. It is hard for me to spend time in big groups of people and to speak in front of them. Feeling led to speak during meetings for worship was a stretch for me. I also noticed how defensive of evangelicals I become when I am among liberal Friends. Events like this remind me that I do not fit comfortably into the usual Quaker categories.

I was extremely grateful to Freedom Friends Church and University Friends Meeting for supporting me with a traveling minute and financial aid. Traveling with the minute made me feel grounded and gave me a reason to interact with the workshop leaders more than I otherwise would have. The things Robin, Martin, Wess, and Sarah wrote on my minute were lovely and humbling―it was scary to put myself out there like that and I appreciated the feedback immensely.

I am glad that I went to this workshop and I felt that I was well used while I was there. I hope this report gives a sense of that. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to talk more about my experiences. Thank you for sending me.

With Love and Gratitude,

Ashley W

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nothing New

In reading through the Bible, I am almost done with the Old Testament. The stories I have read over the past several months have served as a reminder of how everything changes, but everything stays the same. God does miraculous things, people do stupid things, rulers abuse their power, and prophets tell the people to turn back to God.

At times while reading the Old Testament, I couldn't wait to get to the New Testament. So many of the stories in the Old Testament are violent and hard to understand, I was eager to go back to the familiar.

But now that I am almost there, I am nervous about what will happen when I read the New Testament. Will it all just be too weird and make me reject Christianity as a whole? Or will this be the reading that makes me go all Jesus-y and give all my possessions to the poor? Or worse, will I stay exactly the same?

These thoughts were going through my head a few days ago as I read a few chapters in Zechariah. Then I read this:
Well, the message hasn't changed. God-of-the-Angel-Armies said then and says now:

"Treat one another justly.
Love your neighbors.
Be compassionate with each other.
Don't take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor.
Don't plot and scheme against one another—that's evil." (Zechariah 7:9-10).
It's true, God says the same things over and over. And we need to hear them every time.

I know the New Testament well enough to know that these lessons will come up again. I don't know what my response to the New Testament will be this time, but I am ready to start reading and see where it leads me.