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)
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
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.