Sunday, March 29, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about Quaker rituals lately. I know the theory is that Quakers don't have rituals, but I don't really believe that. I started thinking about this about a month ago when a Friend asked whether I followed any rituals. I answered, "Well, I go to meeting every week. That seems like a ritual to me."

I think we sometimes forget how much we follow an unwritten code until someone comes and disrupts our silence.

We had a difficult meeting for worship this morning. An enthusiastic seeker came to visit and challenged the order of the meeting. We sat in silence for about 20 minutes and a Friend gave a message. Immediately after she sat down, the seeker asked whether he could talk. A Friend asked him to wait for the Spirit to lead.

A few minutes later, the seeker gave his message. A little while later, another Friend had a message. As she finished, the seeker rose to speak again and Friends asked him to stop. The seeker was upset and said that he didn't understand the rules.

Someone who was new to Friends recently asked me whether I ever felt like saying something in meeting just to get things going. I said I did not, but I realized today that the times I want to say something without being led are the times of deep discomfort in meeting. I want to stand and speak to soothe things over, but I know I should not.

After meeting, one of the Friends who had asked the seeker not to speak apologized to the meeting. She said that she had eldered out of a place of fear instead of waiting for the Spirit to guide her and she asked for our help in waiting for the Spirit to lead.

All of this is much easier in theory than in practice. For me, the heart of worship is spending time in the presence of God and waiting for the Spirit to move. But I also value the hour of silence in my week and find myself getting annoyed and impatient when others interrupt the silence with messages that seem more like random thoughts and ideas than true leadings.

At those times, I do my best to hold the speaker in prayer and to listen as deeply as I can. God speaks through the most unlikely sources and I can get so caught up in my own judgment that I miss the message.

It is also important for me to remember the reason for our rituals and testimonies. We listen in silence for the voice of God, but we don't worship silence. We pray for the peace of God, but we don't worship peace. We come together as a community to hold one another in the light of God because it is too difficult for us to do this alone.

We are all learning together. My hope is that while we continue to learn, we will be able to hold each other as tenderly as we would like to be held.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Freedom Friends!

I will post more later, but for now, here are some pictures from Freedom Friends Church's fifth birthday party. It was quite the celebration!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On the Road Again

I haven't put away my suitcase for over a month now because every time I get back from a trip, there's another one around the corner. This weekend, I am happy to be traveling with Sarah P again. The two of us are heading down to Oregon for a big Quaker weekend.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, we will be visiting the Friends World Committee for Consultation annual meeting in Canby, Oregon. The rest of the time, we will be hanging out with folks from Freedom Friends Church because Sunday is Freedom Friends' fifth birthday! Although I've been a member since 2005, I don't think I have ever made it to a birthday party. This should be a really fun birthday because the Faith and Practice is done and we will actually get to see it!

I am a little nervous about the collision of my Quaker worlds this weekend. I know that FWCC is a place for Quakers from all over come to come together, but I have never had so many people from the different groups I am a part of in one place at the same time. There will be Freedom Friends, University Friends, convergent Friends, Friends from the women's conference, and all sorts of others. But if we're all Friends, it will all work out, right?

And when I get back, maybe I'll have a chance to work on that garden I keep thinking about. For now, there are some very resilient flowers in our yard, surviving the Seattle spring snow!

Monday, March 16, 2009

What God Wants

Lately, I have been feeling like I have two lives, my work life and my Quaker life, and it is getting harder for me to tell which is my real life. I have also noticed how easy it is to let Quaker stuff take over my life, even when I don't feel led, and Quaker stuff can be just as distracting from God as anything else.

Last night, I read a passage in Amos that seemed harsh but true. God said,
I can't stand your religious meetings.
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That's what I want. That's all I want.
(Amos 5:21-24)

Now this does not mean that I am going to stop going to meeting or abandon the women's conference. I think it is important for people of God to meet and build community. But God is the point. Even if I have the best intentions, none of the Quaker stuff I do will be any good if I lose sight of God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Only Hope

Last week at meeting, I gave vocal ministry. Afterward, a Friend asked whether it was hard for me. I said that it was, as it always is, but I find that when I am sick and tired, I talk more because I have less energy to fight with God.

Standing next to the ocean has always reminded me of the enormity of God and my own insignificance. Lately, I have felt like God is the ocean and I am in it, being thrown against the rocks. My fights with God usually go something like this: God, I am not going to do that. God, please don't make me do that. God, do I really have to do that? Okay, God, I will do it, but I am not going to be happy about it.

I get really angry with God sometimes, but that's okay. God can take it. And then when I am done, we continue on. At times, I hear a quieter voice from God, saying, "You know, we don't always have to do this the hard way . . ."

As a kid reading the Bible, I had a hard time with the command to love God. It made God seem needy and vain and I didn't want to love anyone who would demand love. This time through, I've started to see this differently. Loving makes us better people, the people God wants us to be.

I also didn't like the idea of God as a father. That description made me think of some distant, invisible disciplinarian. But what occurred to me recently is that God is family. Drive you crazy, call at the wrong time, you're stuck with me kind of family. No one knows you quite like family, and in a pinch, there's no one I would rather have at my side.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ashless Wednesday

I went to an Ash Wednesday service at Plymouth Church this week. Honestly, I completely forgot it was Ash Wednesday. I just went for the jazz service, as I usually do. I like the music and the service helps me get through the work week.

As soon as I looked at the program, I realized what day it was. I also realized that I would not be going forward to get ashes. Even before the pastor started talking about how this was "an outward manifestation of faith," I had worked out that this was the kind of sacrament that as a Quaker, I should not participate in (Quakers also do not take communion or have water baptisms; the idea is that all of life is sacramental or holy). So as everyone went forward, I stayed in my seat, the lone Quaker in the sanctuary with no ashes on my forehead.

In the convergent Friends workshop at Ben Lomond, one of the things we spent a lot of time on was the idea of how to be plain in the modern world. We talked about how some Friends choose to wear plain clothes and made a list of ways that we could be plain. Suggestions included only eating fair trade chocolate, taking an internet sabbath once a week, giving away the clothes we don't really need, and many other ideas.

One Friend commented that although she feels that many of these things are good ideas, she doesn't feel led to do them. As we were talking, I realized that what drew me to the idea of plain dress was the fact that people notice the Friends who wear those clothes and ask them why they dress that way.

I don't wear clothing with writing on it, but that is more about me not wanting to be a billboard or give others a reason to stare at my chest than it is about my Quaker values. I do not feel called to aprons and long skirts. But I wonder what I am doing in my life that makes people ask why. Does my life speak louder than the things I wear?

In the Ash Wednesday service, the pastor quoted Isaiah 58 and suggested that one of the sins we should be thinking about during Lent is the sin of taking more of the earth's resources than our fair share. If she is right that this is a sin, and I think she is, then we all have a lot of repenting to do.

At the same time, I don't want Quakers to start patting ourselves on the back for our conservation efforts. Last week, Timothy wrote a post on Quakers and sin that made me laugh out loud when he said,
Far too many of us are pretty darned self-satisfied and believe that the only transformation that needs to happen is that others need to vote for liberal Democrats, recycle more and listen to NPR. Oh, and lately, drive a Toyota Pious cheerfully across the earth in a socially responsible way that looks out for that of God in everyone.
A lot of the ideas we came up with in our plain discussion are really good ideas. And if we all did them, it would probably make the world a better place. But our task as Friends is not to be the best liberal democrats we can be. As I was reminded last weekend, we are supposed to listen to God and live up to the light we are given. The real question is, what is God calling us to do?