Monday, December 3, 2007

Out of the Silence There is a Voice Calling

“We have a long, long way to go. So let us hasten along the road, the roads of human tenderness and generosity. Groping, we may find one another’s hands in the dark.” (Emily Greene Balch, 1955)

I can’t remember the first time I came into contact with the controversy surrounding FUM and the Yearly Meetings who are duel affiliated with FUM and FGC. I do come from one of those Meeting, New York Yearly Meeting, and my monthly meeting, although unprogramed, has close personal ties to Farmington Meeting one of the programmed meeting under NY Yearly Meeting. I also go to Earlham College, in Richmond IN, and although I attend an unprogramed worship group, I am surrounded by FUM affiliated meetings and Friends.
I know I must have thought about it, even written about it, but I did not really sit with it until attending New York Yearly Meeting sessions this summer. There I heard people speak from many different perspectives on the question of our duel affiliation with FUM and FGC. I did not at that time feel called to speak on the subject although I did talk with Friends about it, and prayed intensely on the subject. I have sat with these issues for months now and spoken with even more Friends on the subject. I do believe that we are all one in the body of Christ and the body of the Church under God. I also believe that God is calling us to address these issues raised by our relationship with FUM now. Over and over again I have felt that we are called to address our differences among Friends both within our own monthly meetings and Yearly Meetings and between FGC and FUM. I do believe that instead of drawing away from each other, such as the question of NYYM breaking it’s affiliation with FUM, we are called to move closer, to engage in prayer and dialogue with one another. I also believe we need to move forward in our work within our Yearly Meetings on issues of inter-dialogue and inclusiveness.
During New York Yearly Meeting sessions and the conversations I have had with Friends, I have heard mainly two different opinions on the subject of NY Yearly Meetings and other dual affiliated Yearly Meetings. First I have heard many people speak out against our continued relationship with FUM. This opinion is often based on FUM’s policies and stances on the LGBTQ community, on the literal interpretation of the Bible, and on their over all Christ centered theology and worship. I am myself a Christ centered Friend, however I do not believe in the literal truth of the Bible. I am also a Queer identifying Friend and FUM’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community does concern and sadden me. Yet I feel that often the opinions that have been expressed to me about the need to cut our connection with FUM have come from a place of anger, grief and pain. Although I too feel, understand, and struggle with this anger, grief and pain as well I feel very strongly that we cannot act from such a place. Not only is it not a place of Spirit, but also it is a place that too often blinds us to what is good about our relationships with others not like ourselves, and also blinds us to the areas where we as Yearly Meetings are lacking and need to grow.
Another attitude I have encountered, is that we must not break our duel affiliation with FUM at any cost. I am not sure about the extent to which these Friends mean that we should go to retain our affiliation but I personally am just as uncomfortable with this stance as I am saying we must have nothing to do with FUM. I wish us to think deeply, guided always by the Spirit, about us, in dual affiliated meetings, relationship with FUM. I feel we should delve deeply in to what the Spirit is calling us to do within our own Yearly Meeting as well. I feel that we in NYYM are far from answering the questions surrounding our affiliation with FUM, and in the end I hope the Spirit leads us to see our way to remaining part of this organization. However I want our relationship with FUM to be meaningful and fruitful one, with us all united within the body of Christ. I do not wish us to remain affiliated simply because we have been in the past or simply for the sake of being so, but because the relationship is fruitful and nurturing for all of us. I know we as a Yearly Meeting body are beginning to grapple with these issues in all faithfulness under God and with the leading of the Spirit. This issue I feel is something we all must pray on and grapple within every Monthly Meeting, and Quarterly Meeting for this is an issue which concerns us all. I pray we all act in love and faithfulness.
During meeting for worship I spoke on the topic of the Church as a body and how I felt the body of the Religious Society of Friends was a broken or jumbled body, but that Christ was coming moving among us to heal us. I spoke that soon would come a time when God would tell us “you are healed, stand up and walk” and we as a body will stand whole and healed anew. The time Friends is coming for us to stand and walk.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In the Hands of the Lord: A Message from the first days of NY Yearly Meeting

On Sunday NY Yearly Meeting convened to begin our weeklong session. While sitting in Meeting on Sunday at the opening Meeting for worship this message came to me. I was drawn to give special thanks to those who work for NY Yearly Meeting full time and for every other Quaker organization in the country. I am reminded that for me it is a particularly scary concept to dedicate ones entire life and time to God’s calling. I, who am plagued by doubts and questions about what it is God calls me to do within the Religious Society of Friends, have a hard time imagining a calling so strong that one would give up other options of jobs and life styles to dedicate themselves to the workings of our religious society and community. I personally always wonder and worry if I chose a life focused entirely on my religious community my other gifts and my other callings to work in other communities would be lost. On the other hand I sometimes wonder if I hide behind other things I do, as a way of escaping what God is calling me to do, because it scares me.
I thank God that there are people with the strength, wisdom and courage to make that choice to become “full-time Quakers” as it where. Yet I remind myself that God’s callings are often frightening and not easy. Religion especially Quakerism is not easy and often frightening. Too often I think we let ourselves think of Quakerism as an easy safe thing. We sometimes forget that in its demand that we all open ourselves to God and dedicate every facet of our lives to Her grace and glory, Quakerism is the very antithesis of safe and easy.
My prayer for myself and NY Yearly Meeting would be that we do not loose sight of the fact that ours is a strong, rich, powerful, living, demanding, frightening, enlightening and beautiful faith. We must not be afraid of doing what is hard or spiritually frightening. God often calls us to move out of the space we feel comfortable and walk a hard and sometimes dangerous road. I hope that we all listen for, discern and except our leadings as God gives them to us, no matter what they might be. Even if they scare us. Let us all be open to the Spirit, to move among us. Make us a vessel of Your light and Your will. We must trust that God loves us, watches over us and will not lead us astray. No matter how huge a jump God seems to be requiring of us, She is always there protecting us and making sure we come down where we need to be. We must trust God knows the path, even if we don’t, and that is the most frightening thing of all, and also the most joyful and beautiful.
I am reminded of a passage from Paul. Paul new what it meant to be called by God to do what he thought he could not do. When God called Paul, God called him to go against everything he had previously believed, everything he had been taught, everything he valued, everything he defined himself as, everything his community and his family defined themselves as. God called Paul to do what he had previously believed would be impossible for him to do. Paul knew the power of the Spirit of God, and knew how it can shape, reshape and set afire your life when you surrender to it. Paul writes in Second Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Freedom” and I believe that. I believe that.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

standing by for the spirit

Hopefully I will post something soon. I have been gone to NY Yearly Meeting for the last week. Also between my experience at Yearly Meeting and going through Clearness I am grappling with some things about my writing and the nature of my writing. Therefore I probably won’t post until I have reached some clearness about some things. I also will not be posting as often on this blog in the future. However I hope for my posts to be more Spirit led if not as frequent.

Peace and Joy,

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Liberal Christian Young Adult Friend

For the last two years I have divided my time between Indiana and New York State. I attend four different Meetings all with very different and unique qualities. Yet I cannot help noticing the overall difference between being a young adult Friend in Richmond, Indiana and being a young adult Friend in New York. In some ways I am very much like most young Friends in New York Yearly Meeting. I attend college. I am politically very liberal and socially live an alternative life style. I identify as a queer woman, am against the war in Iraq, and care about the environment. However, unlike most young adult Friends in New York Yearly Meeting I also consider myself a Christian.
When I am in Indiana, Christian Quakerism is the norm. While worshiping with students from Earlham School of Religion, I have grown comfortable in assuming that every Friend there is, like me, Christian and deeply religious. Therefore our conversations can move on to tackle the hard questions of specific pieces of theology and Quaker practice. When I am in NY however the truth is, conversations with young Friends will probably never get past the fact that I am Christian. Even more unfortunately I have found young and young adult Friends to be openly hostile towards me because I am Christian. I have been told over and over again by young adult Friends that Quakers are not Christian, that we have moved beyond such backwards ways, that all Christians are closed-minded, that it makes them uncomfortable to be around Christians. Over and over again I have been asked to explain why I could possibly want to be Christian? How I
could possibly be both Christian and Quaker, Christian and queer, or liberal and Christian?
More uncomfortably for me, many young Friends just assume that there is no
such thing as a liberal Christian Friend, and therefore feel free to make fun of other Christian denominations while in a group of Friends, to tell insulting jokes about Jesus and other Christian figures, or to complain about how horrible Evangelical Friends are, largely because they are Christian. The assumption has been made over and over again that the only reason I could possibly be Christian is because I was raised that way. This is in fact untrue because although I was raised a Friend, I was neither particularly religious, nor Christian for many years, considering myself first atheist then agnostic. In fact it
has only been within the last three years that I have considered myself Christian. Yet in the last three years I have been nothing but happy with my decision and the faith that I have found.
There are many days when I feel out of place in the liberal branch of Quakerism. I realize that, what are vital and exciting questions of Quaker practice and theology for me, would be found confusing, uninteresting and in some case even insulting to many liberal Friends. Over and over again I have thought that my philosophy and outlook on Quakerism much more reflected the Conservative rather then the Liberal branch. Yet no matter how hard I want to run to a Conservative Yearly Meeting and have done with Liberal Quakerism, I stay. Partly because I was raised a Liberal Friend, more importantly however is the fact that I am a Liberal Friend. Liberal Quakerism prides its self upon being open and accepting. It stresses learning about and from others. Therefore, I
challenge it to do just that. As many times as people tell me I'm not really a Liberal Friend or Liberal Quakerism is not really Christian I challenge then to think that maybe I can be right, or maybe the liberal branch is not as open and welcoming as it seem.
Furthermore although I truly believe that Liberal Quakerism has much to offer, the time has come for change. Liberal Quakerism is losing its vitality and strength. It needs to be revitalized, to re-embrace practices and traditions it has left behind. We need to change and rediscover ways of being Quaker that might frighten and challenge many Liberal Friends.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reading the Bible: a personal story of scripture

The last entery in my New Testament Journal:

“This is the repeated discovery of generations of Bible readers. “I meet that in Scripture,” said Coleridge “which finds me”. (Henry Cadbury, 1959)

“I don’t read Scripture to learn doctrine.
I don’t read it to find answers to every question.
I read it to find God.” (Carole Spencer 1999)

I read the Bible both as a scholar and as a person of faith. As a historian I have
found it impossible to look at anything without looking at it through the lenses of a scholar. However as a person of faith I am also constantly searching for my own faith throughout the Bible. When I come right down to it, I feel that I am examine the Bible both from the perspective of understanding it historically as an ancient text and all of the things that go with this and as the holy scripture of my faith. Does this work, is the question many Biblical scholars ask them selves and some like Ehrman, would say no.
However I believe that it can and must be done. Christians who’s faith is weak enough that it will crumble by discovering the historical truths behind the Bible and carefully reading scripture, should already be seriously questioning what it is that their faith in built on. I personally only find my faith strengthened from studying the Bible from a historical perspective, it not only adds layers of meaning I had not thought of previously, but also gives me answers to parts of the Bible I would other wise find troubling or confusing. I also study the Bible as a person of faith. According to my faith I do not believe that the Bible is the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I believe it is a sacred text that reflects my personal faith beliefs and experiences. While having a discussion with some of my (F)friends about New Testament classes at Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion I mentioned Ehrman’s particular tendency to be as my friend put it “evangelically atheist”. We talked about some of the examples I feel Ehrman uses for no academic reason except to shock Christian readers. My friend pointed out that most main stream Protestants probably would be shocked by studying the Bible historically. I responded that no matter what I found out about historical Bible study or the historical Jesus my faith would stay in tact because that was not what my faith was based on.
In the end after all it comes down to this, really, my faith is based on my personal experience of God. Therefore when I experience God through scripture that is a blessing when I don’t, I don’t, that is all. Through reading the Bible I have found parts that frustrate me, and parts so beautiful they move me to tears, in this way reading the Bible is like experiencing God.
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” ( Galatians 6:18)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

God is in the Grayness

"... What would happen if every time we did something we disapproved of, we opened our heart to heaven?” (by Alan Lew)

“You never know who will be your witness. You never know who grants forgiveness. Look to heaven or sit with us.” (Betty’s Diner by Carrie Newcomer)

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” (Henry James)

Forest of A Quaker Watering Hole posted this quote by Alan Lew as a writing starter for us Quaker bloggers. After reading it I felt called to write in response.
"... What would happen if every time we did something we disapproved of, we opened our heart to heaven? What would happen if every time we felt an impulse we didn't like, we acknowledged its divine origin?...

"Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that it's all right to keep on being mean to people. I am saying that if you keep beating yourself up for being mean, your meanness is just going to keep striking back, getting stronger and more vicious with each blow. If on the other hand you were to fill up your meanness with attention and presence, it might just begin to cool down...

"When we experience ourselves exactly as we are, we sense our oneness with everything and we realize there is no such thing as a mistake. When we pay attention, everything enlightens us, even the things we think of as mistakes."
I grew up, and in many ways continue to live, in a black and white moral world. Throughout my life there has always been, right and wrong, the right way to live and wrong ways to live, good things to spend your money/time/energy on and a waste of time, money and energy. There have been good life style choices and bad life style choices, the right things to believe and stupid ways to behave. In my family of strong-minded women, our way always had to be the right way and everyone else had to be, pretty much, wrong. Guilt is an emotion I am well acquainted with. Furthermore, I have carried this black and white attitude into my work, there are things worth fighting for, and things that are just a waste of time. Yet recently I have begun to examine my tendency to see the world in a moral pattern of black and white. When a friend of mine asked me what I thought constituted a “good and righteous life” I struggled with the question. I fought my instinct to tern to strict moral definitions of what made a good and righteous life, realizing that these moral frameworks were in many ways static and unbending. I instead tried to base my answer on the good and righteous people I know and had known, the people I feel do live good lives. I finally came up with an answer that was not based on traditional black and white moral values. "A good and righteous life," I told my friend, "was one where people dared to push themselves to their personal limits to become the most they could possibly be." I realized that my definition was based largely on the illiterate, disabled and mentally ill communities I have worked with. These people do not live good lives in many peoples eyes, some had made bad choices, others lived in incredibly poverty, but over and over again I have encountered the willingness and the strength to put their lives back together and push themselves to be the most they could possibly be as people.
The other day I picked up a bottle of Honest Tea and read a quote from Henry James on the inside of the lid “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” This quote stuck with me, so much so that it is now one of my new signature lines for my e-mail. I am drawn to the message that the most important thing we can to with our lives is to be kind. The more I think about these two incidences the more I am sure that they are intrinsically connected. I am being drawn away from judging everything by a strict moral code. To see the world in black and white is to lose the ability to see the grayness. To see the places where the people unlike us are good and kind. Where people who make mistakes are still capable of good and great things. It draws me away from truly seeing God in everyone because I am so worried about weather they fit into my narrow definitions of right and wrong. Most of all however it stops me from seeing God in myself.
If I am constantly plagued by guilt because of badly spend money there, time that should have been spent studying here, then I begin the slow process of losing sight of the fact that I am a child of God. The more I beat up on myself for being human, the more I forget that God made me that way and loves me just the same. The more I stop loving myself because I can not be perfect, more I lose sight of God’s love. When I became a Quaker and a Christian, I did it under a belief that changed my life. The belief that God loved me and wanted only for me to love myself just as unconditionally. The day in Meeting when I was faced by this realization I made a promise to God that I would try to love myself and care for myself with the same reverence that She showed to me. I must never lose sight of that promise. Every time I make a mistake I must open my heart to God instead of beating myself around the head with my own guilt. Only through this quiet surrender can I come to understand the beauty and fullness of God’s plan for my life.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Blog Writing as Ministry: My Personal Journey Thus Far.

I have been told that whether or not Quaker blogging is considered ministry, is a hot topic in the Quaker online world. I have also been told most Friend do not consider blog writing as ministry. Instead they tie it more closely to journaling. This however, is not my experience. For over two years I had been feeling a strong call to write about Quakerism in general and the state of The Religious Society of Friends in particular. However because of college and other distractions I did not start writing until the end of last year. Immediately I knew that I had to publish , in some form, my work. I was not merely being called to write, but called to write things that other Friend could and would read. About six months ago I started Raised in the Light. As I have written my blog and been requested to write for several other forms of publication, my sense of a calling has only increased. Last week I finally requested from my Meeting a clearness committee to help me discern the shape and nature of by calling.
I do not know what the outcome of this discernment process will be, but I do know that I feel called to ministry through writing, and am ready and willing to take on such a calling. Yet I am also scared, I have taken the first steps towards committing myself to my writing not just as a form of spiritual journaling for myself, but as ministry for the entire Quaker community. I know that if I reach the decision that I am in deed called to ministry, my whole life will change, and I will be called on to take responsibilities within the Quaker community as a whole. Further more my disabilities will make writing for the general public particularly challenging.
Yet for all me fears, worries and trepidations, I feel I have done the right things. The Spirit is with me, and I have set my course.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Quakerism and the issue of Queerness

For the first time I am addressing the question of Quakerism and homosexuality. In some ways I find this post has been a long time in coming. On one hand I feel it would only have been natural for me to write on this subject. After all the topic of Quakerism and homosexual community is one of great concern for many young and young adult Friends. On the other hand I have never seen it as making it on to the list of issues in Quakerism that I feel called to address. However I am addressing it now because it has only continued to be an escalating and divisive issue for Friends. That said, it is important to understand that I usually identify as lesbian although sometime prefer to use the term queer, and therefore I have a very personal stake in this particular issue. I find it interesting that the divide between FGC and FUM was brought up as much as it was, at the young adult conference in New Jersey I attended earlier this year. As FUM met, reviewed and reaffirmed their hiring guidelines which states that an unmarried employee of FUM must be celibate until marriage, which effectively and at this point intentionally discriminates against the gay and lesbian community as well as unmarried couples, the controversy between the two Quaker communities has only grown. It is commonly held that all FGC Friends feel FUM Friend are conservative, Bible thumpers, blatantly discriminating against minority groups. While many FUM Friends have stereotyped FGC Quakers as liberal hippies, trying to tell everyone what to do, and too quick to pass judgment. I myself am from New York Yearly meeting, which holds double memberships with FUM and FGC, but leans much closer to FGC’s general beliefs and policies. Although I agree with the decision to open up more dialogue between FUM and FGC Friends, which the New Jersey conference came to, I have serious problems with FUM’s continued adherence to discriminatory policies. I personally feel my anger at being discriminated against by my own religious group is justified. Further more I do not address this issue as just one more topic in my politically liberal agenda but as a legitimate theological problem for all Friends to deal with. At this point the question of equality for the queer community is not just the difference between liberals and conservatives, as everyone seems to assume. I wonder if I have to remind Friends that equality is the eyes of God and community is one of the core theological tenants of our faith. I would ask FUM Friends whether they seriously feel that a person's ability to give spoken ministry depends on their sexual orientation? I am well aware that not all FUM members by far, support such policies, however I would prefer that instead of becoming defensive about it, some Friends would understand and respect my problems with a Quaker organization that openly, knowingly and blatantly discriminates against me. FUM is not the only Quaker organization that falls victim to homophobia since NY Yearly Meeting has no over arching policy on marriage for homosexual Friends. Because there is that of God within me and because I strive to live my life within the love and grace of Jesus Christ, I sincerely hope
that I will be able to be married within the Quaker community and my ability to speak God’s truth will not be denied based on my sexual orientation.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Even in the Dark (draft)

“We never know what might blow through the door like silent prayer, and how many of us entertain angles unaware” (Angles Unaware by Carrie Newcomer)

“The truth is not that it is going to be alright,
The truth is, it already is.” (Fredric Evans 1994)

Mostly when my life goes down hill I turn to my faith. For me, my faith and the worships I often turn to when in need is a very personal, individual kind of faith. I have had a hard time relying on my friends to help me through hard patches and it had never occurred to me to think of relying on others as a form of spirituality. For some reason however with my last bout of troubles I have been indeed turning to friends for guidance and support. Through this I have begun to learn how support from those who are close to you can be it a faith experience.
It is strange; the core of my belief, the most important fact in my faith journey has been the simple promise, and incredible leap that God is love. That, to know God one knows love and where love is that is God, is the very bases for my theology on so many levels. Yet accepting love and the caring that comes out of love, finding that an important and indispensable part of who I am and of my faith has been extremely hard for me. Partly I think this is because I don’t except help or the fact that I might need help easily and because I still find it hard, in this cynical world, to expect people to give help and act in love. So certainly when people do act in love and kindness I find this a blessing, but as incredible as this might sound I never quite made the mental connection that when people act in kindness toward me this is God, and we are experiencing a touching of personal faiths. I have long thought it extremely necessary on my faith journey to show kindness and love for others. However I am beginning to see that for my own theology and faith to bloom, I must also receive kindness and love from others. I can not only experience God through loving others and being kind to others, although this is certainly a powerful and necessary way of experiencing the divine, but I also must experience God be finding those who will also act with love towards me. To know God, then, I must love and be loved, both by people and the divine. I have already taken the leap of accepting and assuming Gods love, now I must take the leap of accepting and assuming the love of my friends, partner, and family. This I believe will bring me closer to God. As I write this, a small rose bush sits next to my compute. It was bought for me for no other reason then I was feeling down and love flowers. Someone was kind, and this is a blessing, this is God.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

little thoughts

A friend of mine has posted the first prayer on her facebook. I thought it was beautiful. One of these quotes I got from my sister the others I found.
"O God! refresh and gladden my spirit. purify my heart. illumine my powers. i lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. i will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; i will be a happy and joyful being. O God! i will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will i let trouble harass me. i will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. O God! Thou art more friend to me than i am to myself. i dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord." ~ Abdul-Baha

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive." -Howard Thurman

Like the deer that pants
for the flowing stream,
so we thirst
for the living Spring
~ Richard J. Foster

I don't read Scripture to learn doctrine.
I don't read it to find answers to every question.
I read it to find God.
~ Carole Spencer

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Short Rant on versions of the Bible

I have always used The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version. I prefer this Bible over all others that I’ve read. While the King James Bible is beautifully written the translation is so dated and poor I find it only usefully except within it’s own historical context. While other Bibles like the New Standard Version International Bible that they supply in my meetinghouse just makes me mad and frustrated. There are no footnotes, no notes about how or why the translators translated a word or verse the way they did, no alternatives in Greek or Arabic, so I can see the translating choices that were made. Plus all of the sections in these Bibles have captions before each chapter, things like Jesus Heals a Leper, or On Marriage, or Jesus tells about the end-times captions like these annoy me because they distract me from my reading of the actual Bible. The captions also make me feel as if I’m reading Cliff-Notes version of the Bible, and I feel as if I am being told what exactly I should be getting out of each section of the Bible. As if the translators feel like they have to tell me the punch line to everyone of Jesus’ messages, and it also bothers me because some times what I think is the most important part of a Bible passage is not what is commonly thought to be the important part. I hate having how I should pray and what I should think about God dictated to me in any way, from a minister or other wise, and particularly don’t like it coming from the version of the Bible I read. In summery I like The New Oxford Annotated Bible because it allows me, as a scholar, to make my own decisions about how I will read the Bible and how I will fully and scholarly study each passage and their meanings.

Monday, April 2, 2007

A Living Faith (draft)

Unlike most of the posts I make to this blog, this post is not, I feel, complete. I have been working on it on and off for a while but feel I have a lot more to say on the subject. However as my life as gotten crazy again I don't know when I will be able to work on it. So I'm posting it now in it's draft form. both of the quotes are taken from songs by two of my very favoret artists.

“The hardest thing I ever tried to do was stay in one place and just try to come through. I love me some, now I want to love you too, and spend some time in the garden.” (Maya by Ferron)

“Centered down and moving outward sometimes almost too sweet to bear. There are endless ways to reach home, just keep walking and I’ll meet you there” (All Saints’ Day by Carrie Newcomer)

Several days ago I began reading my new devotional “A Year with Thomas Merton: daily meditations from his journals”. The first entry I read for March 27th was entitled “a preference for the chant of frogs”, the entry recounts Merton’s decision to remain at his hermitage and not go on a lecturing circuit as he was being pressed to do by other religious leaders and scholars. He writes about how one must know and do what will be most spiritually beneficial to them and what will not distract them from God. This too has been a question I have striven to answer for myself, what is it that I am called to do with my life that is both spiritually beneficial and does not distract from my nearness to God? I have come to realize that for me one of the most important things in my life will be to do what brings me spiritual wholeness and a sense of God’s love. I have also come to realize this may mean giving up things that I might be good at or enjoy. Looking towards my future as I reach the half-way point in my college education, I have begun to ask myself what I can I do that will spiritually center and fulfill me, even if that means turning from paths that I might derive pleasure from or be good at. Not that God’s work should be joyless or I am turning way from things that I enjoy and am talented at simply because I enjoy them or am good at them, but rather it is about redirecting my priorities and not automatically choosing the path of least resistance.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Out of our brokenness make us a blessing"

“Out of our brokenness make us a blessing. . .”(Judith L. Brutz, 1990)
“Rise radiant in the sacrament of pain” (Thomas Kelly 1939)
I have been thinking and praying on the idea of brokenness lately. When I was at the Young Adult Friends Conference in New Jersey a Friend spoke in meeting, and said that the Religious Society of Friends was broken and it was we who had broken it. Later several Friends encouraged me to view the idea of brokenness not merely as negative, something is broken and we must work to fix it, but as a more positive sensitizing and opening to God. The idea of hearing God and being opened to the Spirit only after one has known great suffering and pain is an idea with very Biblical roots. After much prayer I have come to see brokenness as being broken open to God, having one’s inner walls torn down to experience God’s love and grace, and to be torn from the roots to find freedom in the Lord. As I was praying on brokenness in meeting this Sunday, two things kept coming to me. The first thing was a variation on a line from the prayer I had just written; “let us know suffering so we might find your strength Oh God and ours”. I also continuously kept returning to the image of fire and burning as representing the Holy Spirit. I was reminded of such images as the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire in Acts, the idea of being baptized in fire as representing the Holy Spirit and the line from Thomas “Jesus said ‘I have cast fire upon the world’” (Thomas Saying 10), as well as Paul when he said “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Also during meeting I was reminded of a story another Friend at the YAF Conference had told about a group of early Friends who gathered one Sunday only to discover that their Meeting House had been burnt to the ground during the night by people hostile towards Quakers. Instead of going home these Friends chose to worship standing on top of the burnt rubble of what had once been their Meeting House. I am drawn once more to the question of what does it mean that the Religious Society of Friends is broken and it is we who have broken it. I now believe that we have broken ourselves open to the power and grace of the Lord. That we have struggled and suffered and cried out for guidance and have been torn open to Her divine will. We have lit ourselves afire with the power of the Spirit and we are made free. I believe that when the smoke clears we will find ourselves standing among the rubble of that burning, made new in the simplicity of what we truly are a group of people bound together by the expectant waiting and witness of the Lord. And we will know our strength. And we will know God’s.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


today I was moved to sit down and try to write a prayer. It's the first prayer I've ever written, so bare with me.

Let us pray
that we remember God’s grace.
Even on the good days
when the sun shines and life seems good.
That we give praise for all that we have
on the days when we are stricken
by grief, or anger, or frustration
and all things seems against us.

God let us remember
those that love us.
Who will never leave
and forgive even our
greatest faults and most annoying habits.
And Lord let us remember
those who are not loved.
Who live in fear, and
have nowhere to turn.

Lord give us patients
with those who act in anger
and those who turn way from help we try to give
let us see that we all have faults
and we all turn away sometimes.

God gives us strength
to face our days,
and to perform
your work with grace.
Let us know laughter
and bring laughter to those we love.
And let us know grief
so we can find our strength and yours
Oh Lord
when we are lost
bring us home.

In Christ’s name I pray

Monday, March 12, 2007

Simple Things

The last week or so has been hard for me, I’ve been stressed out by work and other commitments seem to have come pilling up on me just now. But this Sunday I took the time to worship with Friends from Earlham School of Religion over on ESR campus. The room we worshiped in Quigg I found very beautiful and settled. I was reminded of the first time I had worship at Earlham when I was a freshman. I had been worshiping with Clear Creek Meeting then, but because there was construction being done on their meetinghouse they had met in Quigg. I had been struck then by the simple beauty and tranquility of the room. I found myself feeling very blessed to being worshiping there again. Every time I lapse in attendence of meeting (something I find all too easy to do while I’m at school and spend my weekends studying and catching up on work) I end up forgetting how much I enjoy and need Quaker worship. This Sunday although I came to meeting stressed and anxious I felt myself relaxing while I sat in the silence. Meeting for me has always been one of the few places I can successfully leave my work at the door and concentrate on other things. A Friend spoke during meeting reading allowed a Psalm that particularly spoke to me that day, and by the time the rise of meeting was called I was happier then I had been in a long time.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Taking the Time: Praying and letting ideas and calls settle

I am not a patient person. This is interesting because those times in my life when I have been forced or forced myself to be patient the outcome as proven to be well worth the irritation I experience. Next to my bed I keep a small stone slab on which the word “patience” is inscribed to remind me to try to be patient with myself and others, throughout my day. When I get an idea I want to act on it immediately, the very day sometimes the very minute, I think of it. However looking back over the course of time that I have been slowly called to ministry through writing I realize that sometimes it is good to let an idea age slightly. I first was drawn to communicate with other Friends through writing the summer before I came to college. However I was working that summer and packing to move from New York to Indiana, so instead of writing I contented myself with having long and heated talks with my mother and sister about issues of theology and Quakerism. Later that year again I was drawn to writing but my schoolwork always seemed to get in the way. Finally a year and a half year after I initially became interested in writing about Quakerism, I attended a Powell House workshop on writing, that weekend I started writing an article about Quakerism and the idea of Blessed Community, and I haven’t stopped since. My point is however I seriously doubt I would have had the power or strength of calling in my work if I had started writing my senior year. First because I would have had to interrupt my writing to transition into college life, but more importantly because at that time I had just become a full member of my meeting and my personal journey through faith was still in an experimental stage. Looking back now I see how critical it was for me to have debates with other about Quakerism, to read as may Friends Journals as I could find, to re-look at some of the Christian and Quaker theology and mysticism I hadn’t studied for a while, and to spend the summer of my freshman year reading and re-reading the Bible and coming to personal understandings about parts of it. When I first was called to write I was not spiritually certain enough to do so, however my strong calling forced me to take my own spiritual and theological beliefs seriously and learn to articulate them to others I am by no means done this work of personally discovery and probably never will be but when I did start writing I was at a place where that was spiritually possible for me. When I am called next to take action within the Religious Society of Friends I will endeavor to take a step back and give the calling a little prayer and time to mature. After all, all time is God’s and we must trust she will lead us to where we need to be in the end.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Crossing the Line: Meeting of generations in the Religious Society of Friends

Too often in our society I’ve discovered generations, build up walls against each other. Often it is too easy to fall into a pattern of assuming that one generation will not care or be interested in what the other generation values and visa versa. The Religious Society of Friends can and does fall pray to this lack of communication among the generations all too often. It seems to easy for the older generation of Friends to assume that younger generations have no interest in ministry, or sitting on committees or even going to business meeting. Like wise it is all too easy for the younger generation to take the easy out and not to step up to bat, not offer their gifts and services. All too often we choose to take a back seat and a passive role in the workings of Friends. But I feel this is changing slowly but surely. The Young Adult Friends Conference in New Jersey confirmed my belief that things between the generations are starting to change. I have to admit when I went to the conference I expected or hoped to encounter a lot of frustration among young adult Friends about the state of the Religious Society of Friends and their own lack of activeness. I also expected, but did not hope to encounter a lot of negative energy directed at older members of the community. First for allowing the Religious Society to move in ways Young Adult Friends were disagreeing with, to become less radically active in witness, less spiritually centered, less religiously minded, less bound to tradition, less involved with theology and Quaker history. I expected to encounter hostility towards the older generation for also failing to include the younger members of their Meeting or Yearly Meeting in the decision making process and work of the Meeting. However I was surprised, the attenders of the conference were mad at themselves more then anyone. More then blaming the older generation for not letting them get involved most YAFs were blaming themselves for not demanding to be included, not offering their services, and not taking a firmer stand to follow up on their callings. Not once, that I can remember, was a negative word said about the older members of the community in particular.
I, myself know that the things I find wrong with the Religious Society of Friends are not just the older generations fault but all of ours. After all we are all Friends, we do all contribute to the negative just as we all contribute to the positive, just as we all can and should work to move The Religious Society of Friends toward a better more Spirit-filled place. While sitting in Meeting on Sunday morning at the YAFs Conference I received a strong calling, to start putting together an inter-generational workshop in my Yearly Meeting about the writings and ministries of early Friends to help us better understand our own calls to ministry. I want the workshop to first bring together generations of Friends. Second get the idea of ministry as being something all generations of Friends have in common out there. Finally I want it to bring multiple perspectives of how to make ourselves stronger through re-understanding the examples of early Friends. The last objective is one I feel is extremely important for the Religious Society of Friends to do, but I also feel it is work that must be done by all generations not just by the younger or the older generations of Friends. The time is coming when we as Friends will be called to redefine the meaning of Quakerism and I truly believe that this is work which can only been done by all generations of Friends. The call is coming even louder then before and we must learn, to work, grow, and worship together.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Reporting Live from Young Adult Friends Gathering

I pace back and forth across the balcony of the Burlington New Jersey Friends meetinghouse, one of the most beautiful meetinghouses I have ever been in, but right now I barely notice. I am so over whelmed with what has been going own, the conversations I have been hearing, and the changes taking place within me. This is the first full day of the first ever Young Adult Friends (YAF) Gathering, right before lunch. We, gathered here, have just finished responding to the questions: what direction do we think the Religious Society of Friends needs to go in? And what do we thing young adult friends can contribute to the Religious Society of Friends? The answers and emotions in response to those questions had been intense and varied. Yet as I stand before one of the windows high up in the balcony of the meetinghouse what goes through my head is that everyone has, had the same concerns I have. Thinking about this I realized it’s not true. No one had expressed the exact same needs and desires I had, what had been there in each and every one of us was our deep, almost palpable intensity and need that we took to Quakerism. Everyone who spoke and many others who didn’t, expressed the same sentiment; they loved Quakerism, loved the religion, loved the people, loved the work, loved being Friends, yet each and everyone of us where expressing a feeling of unfulfillment. Ever single one of us where saying, “we know that Quakerism can be, should be, more then what we are experiencing now, and we want, need, demand, and work for Quakerism to grow. We where all asking Quakerism, both in our own meeting and in general, to become more meaningful, more spiritual, more active, more radical, more intense. There was anger and frustration in some of the massages and concerns raised, but not as much as I had expect, for the most part the young adult Friends there where saying “yes there are problems, things need to change, we are no longer contented with the way things are, but we see the problems, we acknowledge the problems, and now we are ready to act to change them”. There was no blaming, no finger pointing, and most surprisingly no feeling of helplessness.
I realize now as I write this, it has been one of the most hope-filled experiences I have ever had with Friends. There was no sense that because we where all Quaker we should not have been criticizing Quakerism, no unfounded or false sense of Quaker solidarity, no brushing differences of goals and opinions under the rug, as one young Friend said as he rose to speak “I agree with a lot of what you said but some of what I have to say contradicts it too”, we each spoke truly, however critically, of Quakerism, of our own Meetings, of the Religious Society of Friends as a whole, of our selves. Yet there was hope, lots of it. There was no sense that the changes we where saying needed to happen wouldn’t happen, no sense that the cause was hopeless, no sense that their was nothing that we could do. Every Friend there was, I felt, filled with the Spirit and ready, willing and able to become the next generation of the writers, ministers, elders, and leaders of the Religious Society of Friends. The things I will take away at the end of YAF Gathering will be that there will be change within the Religious Society of Friends, intense, long lasting change, and that we will only grow stronger for it The next generation of Friends are alive and hungry for what God has to offer us, and the Spirit does move among us.

Monday, February 5, 2007

“Search and you will find”: eldering, ministry and our responsibility as teachers within the Religious Society of Friends

Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; nock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” This passage is the ultimate response to those who seek spiritually. God’s promise to all of us searching for a spiritual home and that one day we will find it. However God is not the only one in charge of caring for and maintaining a spiritual community. As Friends we function as a religious community through each of us taking on spiritual responsibilities for the business, care and ministry in our individual meeting and the wider religious community. Ministry is the calling most Friends find they are called to do most often within their meetings, even if it is simply speaking in their monthly meeting every few months. I am however concerned that we as community are loosing track of what it means when we are called, as we often are on Sunday to stand before out meeting and speak our messages. I would ask that we all take a minute to reflect on some points to the position and responsibility we take on when we speak in meeting. First it main not occur to us that when we speak in meeting we are taking on the role a minister holds in other churches. We have become a direct line to God and her grace, therefore we have a responsibility to speak only what we truly believe is God’s words not our own, and that we are doing God’s work. Therefore from the first time we give spoke ministry we have been called to be one of God’s chosen ministers, and have certain responsibilities toward our religious community because of this. By becoming ministers we have also agreed to become teachers and guidance towards those in our community who seek it. Therefore by taking on the responsibility to give ministry we are also taken on the responsibility to study theology and religious questions, to deeply question our own callings, believes and religious feelings, to constantly ask ourselves does this calling come from the Spirit or from our own thoughts. Importantly however, give guidance to seekers and the youth of the meeting if either should wish it. Although to some Friends this might seem like a lot to ask, I would like to point out that these are roles held by ministers under other religious denominations and I don’t really believe that Friends should be excluded from these responsibilities, if anything this should only mean that more of us must take on these callings.
Teaching of others is known as eldering although any age group can be so called. Eldering is an essential part of Quakerism that has fallen out of use among many meeting. Eldering is when a more spiritually centered Friend who has taken on the calling to ministry helps a seeker or less spiritually certain Friend to better understand Quakerism and their own relationship with God. Traditionally eldering is a one on one relationship between a religious seeker and a more spiritually stable Friend. I would argue however that eldering can also take the form of organizing and participating in Bible study, or Religious education for children and/or adults, in discussions on spiritual matters between generations within meetings, or organizing committees to address issues in the larger Quaker world on a monthly meeting level. Many Friends might feel that they are called to speak in meeting but do not have to time to dedicates to eldering, to them I would ask; are you really ready to take on ministry in the religious community? After all Jesus does ask his religious community, with regard to religious seekers, “Is there anyone among you who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” All of us who take on the responsibility of ministry but refuse to elder, or turn down a chance to talk to a seeker about Quakerism, or don’t take the time to answer question regarding the spirit, are like those who would give children stones.

The light of the world: Matthew and John and the meaning of faith

One passage in Matthew jumped out at me while I was reading. Matthew 5:14 reads “You are the light of the world.” A very simple phrase but it instantly reminded me of John 8:12 “Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world’.” To me the comparison of the two sentences in very interesting. Both are supposedly spoken by Jesus to his followers, both are the same except for two words, yet these two sentences hold very different religious meaning. To say that some one is the light of the world, I tend to believe means that they are so full of God’s presence and grace that they stand as an undeniable example of God’s work in the world. They are a living example of God’s grace. Thus to have Jesus tell those that followed his teachings that they were living examples of God love is very very different from a Jesus who proclaims that he is the leaving example of God’s love and only through him can people truly experience God. The sentence that comes after 4:12 is “A city on a hill can not be hid” while the next sentence in John is “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. While Matthew seems to be urging Christians to be living examples of God’s love so that all might see them and be moved, John seems to be saying that only Jesus contains God’s light and only though belief in his divinity can one find God.
However I guess both passages are really speaking to faithfulness. What does it mean to be faithful to Matthew or to John? I think the two quotes illustrate what faithfulness means in these two gospels perfectly. For Matthew to be faithful is to fulfill God’s law, to become as it were like God in striving for a superhuman level of moral perfection. Matthew’s Jesus wants us to go beyond the law, and become the new law, one that channels God’s grace directly and allows it to affect every aspect of ones life. Matthew’s Christ is not interested in exact, obsessive adherence to the law as it is written only obsessive adherence to its spirit and the spirit of God’s divine love and grace. John on the other hand is involved in a completely different theological question, is Jesus Christ God come to Earth and if so how should we respond to him? Therefore to John being faithful is believing totally and utterly in Jesus’ divinity and trusting in him that he will save those who truly believe. For John then faithfulness is this complete trust in Jesus’ and a willingness to give one’s life for him.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

an empty tomb, and a human God: the gospel of Mark

Who is Jesus according to the gospel of Mark?
According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus is a mysterious character. He comes into the story fully grown almost out of nowhere since the gospel starts with his baptism by John. He is a figure of secrets, some things he reveals, some things he tells only in parables and then only explains there meaning to certain people. He performs miracles as one of his main function in this gospel. He heals the sick and casts out demons, he prophecies and walks on water, calms storms. Although he claims to come to men as a servant, not a political leader or warrior, there seems to be very little warmth to Mark’s Jesus. When they comes to arrest him he is calm and in control of the situation. On the cross in dying he seems to be at his most human, as he doubts God. The gospel ends with the women find an empty tomb.
In some ways I don’t think I like Mark’s Jesus very much. He seems too mysterious and distant, I also don’t agree with the idea of Jesus hiding knowledge from some but giving it to others. The fig tree is something I cannot understand and find rather silly. Yet there are some parts of Mark I like, I like the ending with the empty tomb, I find it preferable to the endings of the other gospels. I like the fact that Jesus as he dies doubts, the supreme mark of humanness, to question our God in the hour of our greatest suffering. I personally believe that Jesus and through him God can be both completely human and completely divine, why after all should we believe God is in any way limited, and while Jesus’ teaching, life and miracles prove him to be more then human, the fact that he doubts in death marks him more then anything else truly human. Also the fact that even Jesus in his moment of supreme humanness doubts proves that doubt does not keep one from attaining God’s grace, and should be nothing that we are ashamed of or that holds us back. We doubt because we are human, Jesus doubted because he too was human. But in the end of Mark the women find an empty tomb, because Jesus was also truly divine. The empty tomb also for me represent a promise, of God’s love, and ability to over come everything even great suffering, doubt and agonizing death. Jesus himself was God’s promise of love and grace to us, a promise to all of us.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

another post from my New Testament journal

Reflections on the Gospel Q:
The Gospel Q is the over lapping parts of Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. Some of my favorite parts of Matthew and Thomas make it into Gospel Q but not all. Many of the Beatitudes make it into the Gospel Q, which is interesting. As does one of my very favorite parts of Matthew and Thomas, “ But on being asked when the kingdom of God is coming, he answered them and said: The kingdom of God is not coming visibly. Nor will not say: Look here! Or: There! For, Look, the kingdom of God is within you!” (Matthew 24:23, Thomas 3:1-3) Also part of one of my favorite verses Matthew 10:40. On the other hand some verses that I particularly don’t agree with also made it into the Gospel Q. For instance the verse on divorce is in the Gospel Q as is one extremely disturbing verse about those who will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven Q 13:24-27. I find it interesting that the Gospel of Thomas is included in the Saying of the Gospel Q but not the Gospel of John. I can see the reasons for this Thomas over laps much more with Matthew and Luke then John does. On the other hand Thomas is considered a Gnostic text while John is part of the canon body. However I do enjoy and see relevance in many points in the Gospel of Thomas and am troubled by many points in the Gospel of John.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Christ, the Lamb of God: Christianity and Sacrifice

The Theological Question of the class: What does sacrifice say about God, about our relationship to God?

The idea of sacrifice might seem rather pagan to most Christians. After all sacrifice usually mean and has usually meant animal, or human sacrifice to a God or Gods. Yet the Judaism that Christianity derives from practice animal sacrifice. Christianity also believes in sacrifice, after all to most Christians Christ is the Lamb of God who takes way the Sins of the World. Christ died for our sins, is a phrase heard often in Christian churches. Therefore Christians, if there faith is based on the concept that Christ sacrificed his life to save us from hell, not only believe in sacrifice but also in human sacrifice by torture.
As a Christian and an intellectual I am less interested in weather Christians believe in human sacrifice and more interested in what the idea of sacrifice means about the nature of God and our relationship to God. The whole idea of sacrifice assumes that God needs something from us, or is demanding that we suffer in some way to prove something to her. It also means that we fear God, that we fear some sort of wrath or punishment from God if we do not satisfy her in some way. I cannot in good faith believe in a God that needs something physical from us, besides from our love. I cannot believe in a God that demands us to suffer simply for the sack of suffering, and I cannot in any way believe in a relationship of fear between God and humans. Jesus preached, love, caring and compassion. Again and again he emphasized that helping others and living a good life was what God wanted from us. Jesus taught of a loving God. I therefore feel I cannot be Christian and believe in sacrifice with its relationship of fear and pettiness.
My God is loving not wrathful. Therefore I cannot believe that Jesus was sacrificed to God for our sins or for any other reason. I cannot imagine my God wanting or condoning the sacrifice of a human life especially one as beloved as Jesus. Jesus died because certain parts of the powers of his time where not open minded enough to understand his message, and like so many other good people died for political and social reasons not because God wanted him tortured to death.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Bible as I read it

Since I am a college student and the semester has started I have been taking a theology class on the study of the New Testament. One of the assignments for this class is to journal as we read the Bible and grapple with theological question in and out of class. I thought I would post of the entries I make in my journal:

The Theological Question of the class: How do we reconcile the historical qualities of the Bible and our personal faith?
Originally when I came to the Bible I was not a person of faith. Early in high school I studied the Bible, reading most of it on two different occasions. I studied both the old and new testaments as historical works, and viewed them strictly as examples of how oral history changes as it is set down in writing. Only later did I come to the New Testament as a person who believed that Jesus was in fact Christ, and the essences of God made human. Therefore I have always looked at the Bible has being a very historical, very human, text. I interact with it is from a scholarly perspective. The question posed to me therefore is, how do I know what is divinely inspired and actually God’s plan, and how to I distinguish this from what a Jewish scribe two thousand years ago thought? My answer to this question is simply faith. Some parts of the New Testament feel so right and so full of God’s love and grace that I must believe them to be her divine will, although I have no scholarly grounds to base this on. On the other hand some parts of the New Testament, Revelations for instance, I cannot see divine inspiration in because it does not reflect what I have personally experienced God to be. Finally, as a member of the Religious Society of Friends my faith is not Bible based, Instead I rely on a personal understanding of God. Therefore it does not really matter to me weather large parts of the Bible do not reflect Gods plan. I know one day the Bible will be forgotten, but God will always be there.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

words God speaks

I was looking through an old creative writing note book and found this poem writen in the inside of the cover. It was shared with me by my sister Margaret who is also active in the Quaker community as a traveling young adult minister. She found it on one of her travels:

When we speak
words come out.
When God speaks
birds come out.
You are a word
that God spoke too
what do you think
God means by you?
- Polly Berends

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

reading the gospel of Thomas

Jesus said, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all.”
I’ve been reading several translation of the Gospel of Thomas over the last week or so. The Gospel of Thomas has many passages I agree with and many that intrigue me. As I read I’ve been pondering the question of weather what I see as the central truths of Thomas are also unique to this Gospel or weather they are also found in other Gospels within the Bible. I have so fare come to the conclusion that many of the parts of Thomas I find meaningful; the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, that of God in every person, the need for a personal relationship with God, and what good you do with more important that revering religious creed, is also discussed in other Gospels if not in the same way. I am, however by no means done with studying this very interesting text.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Blessed Community and Gospel Order: Or we as Friends must have the strength not only to act but also to believe

It is one thing to want to bring about a Blessed Community, but how as Friends do we do this? Quakers especially in the early years of the Religious Society of Friends spoke of something called gospel order. Gospel order is what Friends believed was the way God designed the world to be and the way it will be when we have succeeded in making a heaven on earth, where everything will exist in a state of God’s grace. However as we are human we have strayed from the right order of things. Friend originally practiced living with the testimonies and following callings in an attempt to rediscover that gospel order and place it once more in their lives. As Lloyd Lee Wilson writes “ for early Friends to admonish one another to keep to the gospel order, therefore, was to remind themselves that they were citizens of the Kingdom of God, not a worldly government, and should act accordingly.” However, in recent years the term gospel order has become almost unused by Friends, especially among the liberal unprogramed tradition of which I am a part. To these meeting I would pose several questions. Do Friends still work in the spirit of gospel order? Do Friends still work in the light of the Spirit? Do we as Friends know the answers to these questions and most importantly do we, as a community, have the strength to ask them? It is one thing to say that “I work for change in the world because I feel it is a good and righteous thing to do”, but it is very different to say “I work for change in the world because I feel called by the light of God to do so, for she wishes us to create a good and righteous world in her name.” I would argue that there are two differences between these two statements, first one makes you a good person and the other makes you a Quaker, and second it is comparatively easy to say one while the other would, I can imagine, be extremely difficult for most liberal Friends to admit. To live in gospel order, however, we must admit that we are in fact living in gospel order. What will become of Friends if we cannot admit acting in the name and will of God even to ourselves personally and one another, as a community. Most Friends are worried that admitting to the religious aspect of our religion will discriminate against those who do not believe in God yet attend meetings, that if we even personally admit to a deeper more spirit-led understanding of Quakerism we will lose the openness and respect for diversity we cherish. The question I would ask is, do we really lose our respect for diversity when we admit we live in the grace of a loving God? And what are we giving up by denying everything religious. If we deny the fact that as Quakers we are led by God then we can not believe in gospel order which is the reason why we strive, as Quakers, for Blessed Community in the first place. Do we as Friends truly believe we become bad people when we teach our children the Bible, or mention God’s Grace or the spirit of Christ in our messages? How timid we’ve become. Isn’t it time to ask what would George Fox do?
I do not charge Friends with not holding to Quaker principals, or not sincerely wanting to change the world and make it a better place. I am concerned, however, by a spiritual dullness I have sensed in many meeting. I am equally concerned by Friends inability to educate the children of the meeting and seekers about Quakerism as a religion and a faith rather then a philosophy or a nice way to live one's life. Quakerism is and has always been so much richer, so much more then a philosophy, we are not just a community, but a spiritual community of believers. I worry we have forgotten this. Early Friends believed that God had called on them to return gospel order to the world. I am afraid and saddened by the thought that modern Friends have lost the passion and fire that came to those early Friends. I know that thinking about, and most importantly standing up and saying, that we are called by God to create the Blessed Community can seem intimidating and overwhelming some times. I will admit to any one who asks that I am routinely intimidated and overwhelmed. After all I am only one young college student what can I possibly do to make a heaven on earth? In is part of my faith journey however, I must simply trust in God, I will live my life in grace as best I can, and understand that some time I will make mistakes and I will not always live up to the gospel order of things, however I know that step by step we will get there. However, I also know we will never get there until we know how to step forward. We as Friends must learn to let go of our fear, and let the spirit guide us.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

"Who God possess in nothing is wanting"

While reading through The World's Wisdom: sacred texts of the world's religions, by Philip Novak, I found a poem in the grace notes for Christianity. It was written by Teresa of Avila a Spanish mystic in the sixteenth century. I had underlined it the last time I had read the book several years ago.

Lines Written In Her Breviary

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you;
All things are passing;
God never changes;
Patient endurance
Obtains all things;
Who God possess
In nothing is wanting;
God alone suffices.

Blessed Community: a vision among Friends

For a long time I have pondered the question of the Blessed Community. New York Yearly Meeting met in 2006 on the topic of Blessed Community. The idea of my yearly meeting questioning the place of Blessed Community in the life of the Religious Society of Friends is interesting to me. My own understanding of Quaker thought and practice is based on the idea of Blessed Community. I truly think this concept must be central to the way Friends think and act. Many Friends find it difficult to reconcile the many faces of Quakerism, the practice of worship, the calling to social justice, living ones life by the testimonies, and understand Quakerism as a religion and as a faith with theology, and beliefs even if most Friends do not agree on what these beliefs are. When I think of the idea of Blessed Community, I see in this idea a coming together of these beliefs, practices, and testimonies.
The puritans when they came to America spoke of building The City on a Hill. Once I told a f(F)riend that Quakers were the same as puritans only Quakers had lasted longer. To which my f(F)riend replied jokingly, “I hope there are more differences then that”. Of course there are many differences between the puritans’ beliefs and those of Friends but the idea of building The City on a Hill is one that drove both groups in their early years, and I hope still drives us. The City on the Hill is a phrase that is found in Matthew 5:14 “ You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” Most groups have interpreted the City on a Hill as another way of stating the idea behind the Blessed Community. The idea of the blessed community is well documented in the founding principles of early Quakerism. The Blessed Community is heaven on earth and in that single idea Quakerism in its essence exists. First it is important to understand that I see Quakerism as Protestant Christian denomination. This does not mean that non Christian Friends are not good Friends or do not follow Quaker practice, but I believe that it is important to understand that Quakerism was originally a Christian denomination and many of its ideas are necessarily rooted in the Christian faith.
To me Quakerism and being Quaker is to believe that there will be no second coming, no day of judgment, no rapture, no amidogen. Instead I believe that Christ has already come again and that Gods essence in all of us is in fact the tangible proof of his coming. This then changes what we are on earth to do. Many Christian denominations focus their whole beliefs on the idea that believers will go to heaven and one day Jesus will come again, therefore alleviating any need to make real lasting changes in the way the world is now, this is where I think Friends are different. Friends base their beliefs on the Blessed Community, City on a Hill, a Heaven on Earth, or put simply bringing God’s love, grace, and joy to the world now. If we are not waiting for Jesus to one day magically show up and solve all our problems for us, but instead realize that if he is in all of us, then it is our job to make our world in God’s image and according to her will ourselves. In my personal belief God is present now, in our lives and the world. It is her grace and love in each of us that if we listen to, and act on, can and will bring about the Blessed Community.