Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Becoming Whole

This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.  (Matthew 5:23-24)
My first experience of Friends from different traditions coming together was at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference in 2008.  Over the course of that weekend, space opened up for me.  Hearing women from evangelical Friends churches speak reminded me of the evangelical church of my childhood.  For the first time, I really had time to feel how much it hurt me to leave that church and to grieve.  It was hard and painful at the time, but it was also good to face that part of myself and begin to accept it.

I don't think it's an accident that I am frequently called to ministry between the branches of Friends.  As someone who grew up in an evangelical culture but now worships with liberal Friends, I feel myself being drawn to the gaps between the groups.  I know both languages and I can go back and forth between these Friends who don't always speak to each other directly.

As I try to follow the Spirit in my daily life, it is becoming harder for me to compartmentalize parts of myself.  I no longer feel that my work self is so different from the way I am at home or at meeting.  In a recent conversation with a friend, I defined integrity as knowing who you are and bringing your full self to every situation.  I fall short of this often, but I am trying to be more fully myself and I admire those I see around me who are trying to live with integrity.

When I travel to Friends churches and meetings, sometimes the Religious Society of Friends seems very compartmentalized.  Talks about different kinds of worship can quickly become debates over who the "real Quakers" are.  Some worship in silence, some with singing, some with spoken prayer, and some through listening to a prepared message.  But everywhere I go, I meet Friends who have a living relationship with the Spirit and are waiting to hear the voice of God in worship.

At the Quaker Women's Theology Conference, we encourage women to use narrative theology, that is, to tell their own stories of how God is at work in each person's life.  I think sometimes we are afraid of talking about God because we fear that our experiences do not match.  But it makes a lot of sense to me that we would all have different experiences of knowing God.  I think God is like a mutual friend.  For example, I know Sarah, and Sarah's husband knows Sarah, and you may know Sarah, but we would never expect to all know the same things about Sarah.  Narrative theology allows us to recognize God in another person's story, even if that person uses very different language.

As I write this, my heart is with the Friends who are planning the Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita, Kansas next month.  I am still not clear whether I will be able to go to the gathering, but I know that the work they are doing is good and important.  These Friends are doing the hard work of reconciliation, of bringing together the different pieces of the Religious Society of Friends.  We need to know who we are and face all of the parts of ourselves before we can bring the message of peace to a world that so desperately needs to hear that message.  I am proud of these leaders who are trying to go to each other and make things right, and I will continue to pray for all who will gather to worship together.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Daily Bread

Then the Lord said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you.  The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.  In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions."  (Exodus 16:4)
A little over a week ago, I freaked out about money again.  I got a notice in the mail telling me that my forbearance period is ending and I will have to start making payments on my student loans again in July.  I called the lender to ask whether it would be possible to wait to pay until September, when I will have a regular paycheck again.  The person on the phone was sympathetic, but had good reasons for recommending that I start paying at least the interest on my loan in July.

Soon after, I went to Spokane for the weekend.  Sarah P and I were going to visit Sandpoint Friends Meeting in Sandpoint, Idaho, the last of our official meeting visits for the Quaker Women's Theology Conference.  Over the weekend, I said to Sarah that I had been feeling a lot like the Israelites in the wilderness.  Even though God has always provided for me in the past, I worry about having enough for tomorrow.

Sarah and I had a wonderful time visiting Spokane Friends.  We were thrilled to have our friend Leann accompany us as an elder.  Worship was quiet, but filled with the Spirit, and after worship, Friends there welcomed us with a delicious potluck.  We enjoyed sharing about the women's conference and talking about the different ways Friends worship together.

I flew back to Seattle on Sunday evening and got home around 10.  I was hungry from traveling and went to the kitchen to look for a snack.  When I opened the fridge, it was packed with all kinds of fruit and vegetables, much more than we usually have.  I asked my housemates about why we had so much food and they said a CSA box had showed up at our door during the weekend.

Over the next two days, we tried to get in touch with the CSA.  My housemate wrote them an email to let them know that we received the box of food, but had not ordered or paid for the delivery.  We figured it was probably supposed to go to someone in the neighborhood, but had been delivered to our house by mistake.  Finally, someone from the CSA responded.  He said he did not know who the intended recipient of the box was, but to go ahead and eat the produce so it wouldn't go to waste!  

So for the past week, I have been eating an amazing variety of fruit and vegetables from the CSA box.  This is not the first time I have suspected that God has a pretty good sense of humor. I am grateful that sometimes that sense of humor comes in the form of tasty food that mysteriously appears on my doorstep!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Register for the Quaker Women's Theology Conference!

Dear Friends,

We would like to remind you that the early registration deadline for the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference is May 1.  If you have already registered for the conference, we look forward to seeing you!  If not, please consider registering on our website:  Remember, there are three steps to register for the conference: 1. registration, 2. payment, and 3. uploading your paper, and all of these need to be completed by May 1.

Even if you will not be able to attend the conference, please encourage friends to come.  Right now, women from Northwest Yearly Meeting are not proportionately represented.  If you are from Northwest Yearly Meeting, please consider attending.  If you are not, please invite women you know from Northwest Yearly Meeting.  The conference is a place for us to share the best of our Quaker traditions, and we hope that women from Northwest Yearly Meeting will be present to share what is meaningful for them in the programmed and evangelical tradition.

We also ask you to consider donating to our scholarship fund.  We rely entirely on donations to provide scholarships for women to attend the conference.  At this point, because we have not received donations, we are not able to offer any scholarships.  You can donate on our website.

We are excited to see the ways the Spirit is at work as we plan the conference.  Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare to listen to God and to listen to each other this summer.

In peace,
Ashley W and Sarah P
Planning Committee Co-Clerks

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Oh, The Places I'll Go

Earlier this week, I met with my care committee.  As part of my preparation for our meeting, I wrote a list of all of the places I expect to travel between now and the end of July:
One of the things I talked about with my care committee when we met was whether I should go to the Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita.  I feel that this is an important gathering, but I am wary of spreading myself too thin.  I also do not have a lot of extra money right now, and getting to Kansas from Seattle is pretty expensive.  One person on my care committee suggested that I pray for a "burning bush," such as a plane ticket to Wichita.  So I am continuing to hold this in prayer to see if Way opens.

Looking at this list makes me excited and nervous.  Traveling in the ministry can be wonderful, but it is also spiritually, emotionally, and physically exhausting.   Fortunately, I will be leaving my paid employment at the end of this month, so I will be able to dedicate time and energy to this work over the summer.  But leaving my job also means that I will not have a steady income for the next few months.

I am so grateful for my care committee.  Our meetings each month help keep me grounded and give me energy.  I treasure the time we spend in worship and I appreciate that they are willing to ask me challenging questions and listen when I say hard things.  As I go out, I feel them walking alongside me.

I will continue meeting with my care committee as I travel.  I am also looking for other forms of spiritual and financial support for the next few months.  

If you feel so led, I would appreciate it if you would pray for me.  Pray that I would be rightly led as I travel, that I would be where I am supposed to be, that I would be able to maintain my energy, and that I would be given the right words when I am led to speak.  

If you would like to make a financial contribution to support my ministry, please send me an email: ashleymwilcox AT gmail DOT com.

Thank you for your prayers and support.  I will do my best to continue writing here about the ways God is working in my life, and I look forward to seeing God's work in Friends as I travel this spring and summer.