Friday, April 1, 2011

Dialogue

One of the things that has been keeping me from writing much lately is that I have been serving as an elder for Noah M while he is serving as Friend in Residence for Multnomah Monthly Meeting.  I knew this was going to be hard work, but I didn't realize how hard.  

Part of what is making it hard for me is that I am continuing to do my full-time job while trying to elder for Noah, which is not easy for either of us.  He would like more support and I would like to give more support, but it's just not possible for me to be with him all the time in this ministry.

I also feel like I don't understand everything that is going on right now.  Noah and I are both around 30 years old, and most of the Friends we have been spending time with are more than twice our age.  I am feeling the generational disconnect more strongly than I usually do, and this is some of what it feels like for me:*

ME & NOAH:  Hey guys!

OLDER FRIENDS:  Wow, look at these cute little ministers!  Let's feed them.

ME & NOAH:  Things have to change.

OLDER FRIENDS:  Yes!  What do you think should change?

ME & NOAH:  Everything.

OLDER FRIENDS:  Huh.  But how do we get young people to be on our committees?

ME & NOAH:  No, seriously, you are going to die if you keep this up.  [You = The Religious Society of Friends]

OLDER FRIENDS:  Wait, what was the agenda for the workshop again?

ME & NOAH:  You will be surrounded by flames and overcome by floods and God is your only hope.

OLDER FRIENDS:  By "god," do you mean "nothingness"?

ME & NOAH:  No.  We mean God.

OLDER FRIENDS:  Well, that language makes me feel uncomfortable.  Let's meditate or talk about activism or something instead.

Please keep all of us in your prayers.


*I want to be very clear that, even though I am using Noah's name, these are a reflection of my experiences.  I am not in any way trying to speak for him.

33 comments:

  1. Been there (MMM), done that(Frustration). My thoughts are with you.

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  2. I laughed out loud when I read this post! This very much reflects experiences I have had among Friends. I'll be holding you and Noah in prayer as you do this important work.

    In Christ,

    Micah Bales
    The Lamb's War

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  3. I hear ya' on this. One of my frustrations has been that we don't have younger people or people who are not part of the church's established clique more involved in the governing of the church. What happens is when people cease looking at things in a fresh way, the way in which they do things becomes normal and they cease being able to see what could be done differently or better. I'm a firm believer that a place needs to be made for the younger and for those who think differently, but it's going to take some brave person who already has the credibility of the clique to propose the changes.

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  4. This is seriously one of the funniest dialogs I've read in awhile. But the aftertaste is sad. I almost qualify for a full generation older than you 30yo whipper-snappers but the non-conversation is depressingly familiar. I know a lot of younger Friends who tried to engage their meetings in God talk but got so rebuffed they finally left the RSoF. Our faithfulness comes not from convincing, but from discharging our duties to witness. There are places of barren rock where the seed might never take hold. Our effectiveness will only come in His time, on His terms. Jesus' death was the ultimate lost cause yet somehow he won in the end--won not just for himself but for all of us and for the Kingdom of God.

    But do take care of yourselves. You have to know when to hold them and know when the fold them, right? There are places of more fertile ground. They might not be in the best neighborhoods and they probably won't come with travel funds or credentialed papers to hang on the wall. But they might just have that true gold: two or more people gathered in the Teacher's presence, ears open and hearts yearning to learn.

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  5. Thanks for the encouragement, everyone! I shared this with Noah this morning and he said the one thing he would add is a reminder of how much God loves them. And us. God loves all of us, no matter what we do or say, and that is especially important to remember when things are hard. Thank you for your prayers and support.

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  6. Thanks for sharing about your experience. I think its so important for young adult Friends to talk about this. It's very familiar for me - both from my own experience and from all that I hear in my ministry among young adult Friends and in advocating on their behalf. Which is why it's so sad that PhYM is proposing to cut the YAF Coordinator position. Yes there is a fiscal crisis. but we haven't made enough progress towards full inclusion yet. One YAF said this week that he felt like we'd made alot of progress up the mountain of validity in the last few years, and just when the summit was in sight, the engine was taken out. Thank you for your faithfulness, even in these hard times. You and Noah remain in my prayers. And for other YAFs who may be reading this, Noah and I are leading a workshop at the FGC Gathering this year for YAFs who travel in the ministry. Please consider joining us.

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  7. Beautifully said, Martin.

    I've recently begun to think that maybe my role is that of a catalyst who might not see or be part of the change that happens, but maybe, just maybe, I stir others to think and change in God's time. I think knowing what role we play without getting the results we hope for can be somewhat comforting. At least I'm beginning to embrace that for myself.

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  8. Quite a post Ashley. I agree with Martin: funny and sad.
    Sometimes there is a weird disconnect between wanting more "young people," but not taking them seriously. How many "young people" have felt like the token young person on a committee? Sure we're young and full of energy and crazy ideas. Do older people not remember what it's like to be young? Do they only want us for our energy? This is a difficult thing.

    For some reason this line (from a movie??) is sticking in my head:
    "I don't believe in God."
    "That's okay. God believes in you."

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  9. Thanks again for the comments, all!

    *A note to any folks who would like to comment in the next day or two*

    I am leaving momentarily for Portland and I do not plan to be online again until Monday. I will moderate and post your comments when I return (I moderate comments because I have had some problems with spam in the past). Blessings!

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  10. Oops. I do NOT take back my comments but I did reread and click through to the links. I can definitely hold all that in the Light!

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  11. (a blogger blip causes me to suspect this did not get posted the first time I tried. Feel free to delete if it's a duplicate.)

    Friend Ashley,

    If you post the themes Noah is trying to address, I am happy to hold the whole process in the Light. As I dodder into a new decade (a few months away yet) I am getting better and better at "Just hold it in the Light," especially since that's most likely what I have energy and time to do.

    Plus there is that whole matter of silent worship and a lot of time on the city bus and what the heck to say to Steven Colbert, but that is a different problem.

    I am interested in your observations about God and activism. At least at my Meeting, a fair number of people of various ages find Quakers BECAUSE of activism. I certainly count myself in that number but I wonder whether Multonomah Friends are able to articulate anything about movements of the spirit or living what they believe and how their activism intersects with how they got drawn to Quakers.

    Do Multonomah Friends have any sense of young people in the activism projects they participate in who might be seeking spiritual community that could be found among Friends? (Rotten truth: at least in Seattle, there are some generation and culture gaps here as well, but PERHAPS Portland is different.)

    Are Friends in Multonomah able to speak of what ages they were when they came to Friends and what specifically spoke to them at different phases of life? MAYBE RantWoman will get a longer reflection on such themes posted but no promises.

    Did any Friends go to the Salt and Light events in Portland? If so, how does the Quaker witness the Arevalos spoke of intersect with their other activism concerns? Another theme I kind of mean to post about, but...

    Let me guess, do they also say "oops, we forgot to invite the young adults"?

    Anyway, assuredly holding Noah, you, and Multonomah Friends all in the Light and

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  12. Even older Friends (like me) feel what you are talking about. I'm a "young" Boomer and I missed the 60s--I was alive, but a child--and I do feel there's a generation just ahead of me who are bottling up change (depending on old wineskins) because on some level they have never moved beyond the glory days of 1970. And, of course, that means "God" is uncool! Doubtless, I'm being unfair, and I have to be loving, but I know the feeling that nothing will ever change. However, I keep praying ... know that's uncool too. :)

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  13. :) Two words..."Quaker Time"

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  14. Yes, I remember when I was young and I wish you were both ministering in my meeting.

    A little advice--learn to listen. They have to trust you before they can get out of their comfort zone. They have to know that you love them. Trust me on this--I'm one of the old ones.

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  15. Dear Friends, the spirit of God that resides within us is ageless.

    It is neither "old" nor "young." Nor is it some human reckoning in between — some "mid-life" existence.

    Life is indivisible; the spirit eternal.

    Likewise, the spirit is neither "male" nor "female," "black" nor "white." "Yellow" nor "brown." It is not liberal or conservative, programmed or unprogrammed.

    Experience and rejoice in God's timeless, poly-chromatic, apolitical, non-sectarian and varied manifestation.

    At times, the entirety of the spirit of God appears rife with divisions. Appearances deceive. God is one. The spirit unites and lights the way to Truth. We, Friends of all ages, are one on this illuminated path.

    Trust that we are blessed, even when we blind ourselves to God's blessings.

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  16. I was going to comment but I think it needs a blog.

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  17. Both Noah and Ashley know how old I am! I feel the same things...

    Folks my age seem to be too "rooted" or perhaps root-bound. I went through the "God is uncool" phase, until the Infinite Spirit of the Living Christ caught me out, gave me a few shakes and demanded that I follow Him...

    Most recently, that has meant resigning from all committees which I thought defined me, and I'm free-floating in grace just now. With some chagrin, I was probably not considered "experienced enough" to serve on committees until I was 50-something, even though I'd served as clerk of a half-yearly meeting in my early 30s; the recording clerk was 20-something. The reverse age-ism among Friends needs to disappear, or we will remain stuck -- and appropriately die out.

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  18. Dale, you're right about people having to trust you first, but it's a shame when you've spent time in a meeting and you're already part of the team but not accepted.

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  19. Dale,

    I love the advice to listen, but I ask how long? And when does it become a two-way street? I sometimes feel that Quakers are all chiefs, no Indians.

    Christine,

    Blessings to you on your journey.

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  20. Ashley, Thank you for this post which expresses the truth of the experience you and Noah are having in such a clear and light-hearted way. I hear your frustration. Trust in the slow work of God. Accept that you are not responsible for results. Simply walking faithfully each day is sufficient. God does the work. We simply need to be present in Love, a living witness to Truth and Love. I know that is the Life in which you and Noah live your individual ministries, wherever you may be. May you accept each moment as a gift from God and trust that all will be well. Love, Janis

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  21. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (Amplified Bible)

    19 Do not quench (suppress or subdue) the [Holy] Spirit;

    20 Do not spurn the gifts and utterances of the prophets [do not depreciate prophetic revelations nor despise inspired instruction or exhortation or warning].

    21 But test and prove all things [until you can recognize] what is good; [to that] hold fast.

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  22. Ashley

    your post seems to be part of a very important conversation. Here is another thread in the same conversation.

    http://williampennhouse.blogspot.com/2011/04/fragmentation-of-friends.html

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  23. Overheard out in the hallway.

    Lucretia: Well, here they are again, telling us we're too old and oppressive and going to hell.

    George: Really? They're so, I don't know, winsome when they do that Jeremiah thing.

    Lucretia: Oh yes. And I love the way they know everything.

    George: Especially how "everything" has to "change."

    Lucretia: Everything--you sure? I was kind of hoping to keep the silence and stuff.

    George: Nope, everything. Otherwise we'll be flooded and surrounded by flames.

    Lucretia: Gosh. At the same time?

    George: I wondered about that too. But don't worry, they said God can save us.

    Lucretia: Really? You mean like God saved all those people in northern Japan when the tsunami came?

    George: There you go, getting uncomfortable with God talk again. They can explain all that.

    Lucretia: Well that's a relief. And then will they tell us how they built so many big strong meetings?

    George: Of course. And all their vibrant, self-supporting new Quaker organizations too.

    Lucretia: Oh, I can't wait to hear it. This must be the "change" we can believe in.

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  24. Thank you for the continued dialogue, Chuck. I'm not sure it has been clear in all of this that I am poking as much fun at myself in this as the "Older Friends." Neither side here is listening very well.

    Also, I had a conversation with a Friend yesterday in which I said this was about two things: There is a storm brewing (or maybe already here?) between YAFs and older Friends. But in a bigger sense, this is a conversation between those who are willing to acknowledge the presence of God and those who do not seem to be willing to do so.

    Friends need to figure out why we are here.

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  25. Ashley, there is something basically unreal to me about an argument between generations. Between people of different ages about something specific, yes ("God" will do fine for this), even if some of the various positions are clustered in identifiable age groups.

    But generations are a function of the clock, which is something none of us can do anything about.

    I mean, believe it or not, I was a "Young Adult Friend" once. Really. And I didn't "resign" from that status, or get disowned from it, or change my mind, as I did about listening to NPR (quit in 2004).

    But I remember a night in December 1972 when I couldn't sleep. Actually had a bout of the shivers. Why? The next day was my 30th birthday, and my generation's motto was, "Don't Trust Anyone Over 30." And here I was, irrevocably crossing the line -- and there was nothing I could do about it.

    That was, not to put too fine a point on it, silly. Yet one benefit of this self-inflicted trauma was, I soon noticed that nobody else could do anything about it either. And I'm almost certain that same fate awaits the noisiest YAFS of today.

    Bottom line: Youth is not a virtue. Neither is age. And vice versa. (Bible verse for today: Matthew 6:27)

    So if we're gonna argue, can't we argue about something we can actually change or resolve??

    (Hmmmm. That might leave God out of the discussion, mightn't it? Or have you YAFs really figured out answers to the questions about God? If you have, tho my hearing is not what it once was, I'm all ears.)

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  26. Chuck, while we can't change our ages, we can change our attitudes and perspectives which often (but not always) are tied to age.

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  27. I think we all have something to say about God. Don't you?

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  28. Friend speaks my mind...trend lines for membership #s don't look good for Religious Society of Friends.. see chart of life cycle of organizations @ http://www.sas.umd.edu/~jlemich/architecture/lifecycle.html

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  29. things i’ve heard in my meeting during the last two years of discussions: god is a myth. we don’t need unity for corporate worship. i’m not interested in quaker faith or practice or history. the gathered meeting is a pipe dream. i can’t believe the average age of this meeting is 60. we’ve always done things our way. we can’t change. we’ve always been a small meeting. meditating and corporate worship are the same thing. it is my understanding that i can do what ever i want during worship, sleep, knit, meditate, compose my shopping list. you have a few minutes of quaker process and then let’s pass this thing. your so negative.

    i’m not sure it’s an age thing except that maybe young people, and those people who have never gotten over their aversion to hypocrisy, have a harder time dealing with the disconnect between what we say we are and what we actually are.

    npym’s faith and practice tells me that worship is more than meditation, that it’s more than an individual pursuit. faith and practice tells me that the inward light is mystical and signifies a direct communion with god. this is also my experience, but how do i jive this with the fact that half of my meeting does not believe in anything divine residing outside of themselves?

    should npym’s next rewrite of faith and practice reflect the beliefs of those with god and those without. this would make it less hypocritical. but what does this mean for corporate worship in the manner of friends? that’s the big question. what are we doing here if we are not, together, connecting to god and sharing god’s message amongst ourselves? what are even liberal, unprogrammed friends without god?

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  30. Ashley,

    I wrote a lengthy comment on here, then realized I wasn't signed in yet, and when I went to do that, blogspot ate my comment. So I can't go into the great detail and exploration I did before. Perhaps at another time, though, I will.

    One thing that I will say is that, generation gaps aside, I think many, if not most, people who attend Multnomah Meeting embrace alternative understandings of God. Based on conversations I've had with members of our vibrant and active YAF group, I can only think of one or two who consider themselves Christians and believe in "God the Father." I think it's important not to confuse the very real cultural differences between generations at Multnomah (and in that direction, I think you and I share the same frustrations) with the sometimes sharp theological divides between programmed and unprogrammed Friends. More commentary to follow perhaps.

    In the meantime, be well and held by the Universe.

    -Ethan Friend

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  31. As a person just wading into Quaker waters, I'm finding this interesting. In the meetings I've attended (I live in the northeast), it is the older folks who have quoted scripture and talked about God (one time, at least, the fellow sounded defensive, which surprised me as I had no idea anyone would object), and the younger ones who have testified to being uncomfortable with/offended by any language associated with Christianity because they've been wounded in the past by it.

    Just as it happens...

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  32. OLDER FRIENDS: Wait, what was the agenda for the workshop again?
    ME & NOAH: You will be surrounded by flames and overcome by floods and God is your only hope.
    OLDER FRIENDS: By "god," do you mean "nothingness"?
    ME & NOAH: No. We mean God.



    Um, er wait a minute. Wasn't the workshop right after that tsunami hit that nuclear power plant?

    Now was that God smiting humanity for having the hubris to build a nuclear power plant on a fault line? Or was it an act of God that things so far have not been a whole lot worse????

    No clue. Is the problem that God was not there or that people do not know how to talk about...?

    Uhhhh....

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