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.