Thursday, October 9, 2008

Quakers and Radical Hospitality

There is a Methodist church I know that has a sign out front that says all are welcome. More than that anyone who walks off the street will truly be welcomed, and the church makes sure there is always someone there to sit and talk with people who come to them. They also run a soup kitchen, many religious education groups, a daycare program, and the pastor is very active in local activism. This year they hosted the People of Blessings Service an ecumenical service celebrating the local GLBTQ community. Not everyone who belongs to this church is in favor of their stance towards radical inclusiveness but the pastor feels that inclusiveness is her duty as a servant of God. One day she told us all, at one of the book discussion groups that I attend, about a Methodist church she interned at. This church had sunk down to a tiny congregation of elderly churchgoers. When the diocese sent people down to see if they could revive the church they realized that the church stood in the middle of a very impoverished community. So they started a soup kitchen, and a food bank, and a free meal system where on Sunday they would set up tables outside of the church and handout free meals. The whole congregation participated and the church grew. They funded these good works and revival by declaring themselves a mission church and trusting other churches would support their work financially.

Radical Hospitality is, in the words of Saint Benedict, “to invite all into your house as if they where Christ.” In my experience Quakers are real horrifically bad at it. My own meeting can’t be bothered to give food to the local food pantry. While I know of one meeting who keeps their building locked at all times because they are situated in an impoverished community and are
afraid of getting stuff stolen. They also have on going debate about turning people away when they come asking for food. I don’t drive, due to my disabilities. In the town I was staying at for two summers I only got one ride once to meeting and that was after a lot of trouble and very grudgingly offered. Furthermore it took me a solid month to track down someone willing to give me a ride to Meeting this summer. I would have been happy to take the bus but it didn’t run on Sundays. Over all though it’s not surprising that if Friends are this unwilling to go out of their way to welcome a young adult Friend, that they wouldn’t be at all willing to help a non Quaker. I find this strange and very sad because we as Friends are supposed to be bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, as far as I can tell, we are phenomenally bad at welcoming people into our midst or reaching out to our communities. In a resent book group I read the chapter on Hospitality, in Christianity for the Rest of Us, about a church that welcomed, ex-convicts, the elderly, gay and lesbian couples, troubled teens, and anyone seeking God into their church and their hearts, taking special time to talk and pray with them and learn their individual needs. I came to the conclusion that Friends aren’t good at hospitality because we don’t want to be.

I have always gotten the feeling that when Friends talked about the Kingdom they were really talking about a time when everyone on the planet would be just like them. As I reflect more though, I think I have come to the conclusion that the Kingdom won’t be so much like your average Quaker meeting and more like a city bus. On, say a down town bus you will have, white collar commuters, shoppers, college students, elderly woman and men, the mentally ill community, the disabled community, punks and Goths, high school kids, hippies, children, troubled teens, people just out of prison or rehab, there are homeless people who are paying the last money the have in bus fare, there are blue collar workers, housewives, college professors, grad students, and perhaps the one young transgendered woman I knew who has been routinely kicked out of all
the homeless shelters in town for being transgendered. Some of these people come and are welcomed into our Meetings, but not all. Many Friends have pointed out that these people do not come to meeting, which is why they are not
there. Yet I would wonder why don’t our meeting look more like city buses? Why are ninety-nine present of all Friends I know white, middle classed and middle aged? There are many, many churches that are made up of members of other communities and groups so why are Quaker meetings not serving as a spiritual home to a more diverse population. Even if we are not attracting people into our meeting why are we not reaching out to our communities? Why do meeting not run soup kitchens,food pantries, and homeless shelters? Why are there no Quaker inner city mission churches? Why are there no Quaker mission churches in America at all? These are not impossible feats. Many other churches of many other denominations do this work. Some churches have dedicated themselves to doing this work. Large numbers of Christians affirm that this work, reaching out to those in need all around us, is God’s work. If this is God’s work then why isn’t it work Friends are doing? Money is not a question when facing God’s work. Friends go to Africa and South America with nothing and do good works. Many other churches raise money to help fund their works. Some churches reach out to other churches to help supply them with funds. I know from experience that community non-profits raise enough money to survive all the time. Perhaps it is fear that holds Friends back from radical hospitality. Perhaps it is spiritual apathy. I only know that until we listen to that of Christ within our hearts and reach out to the communities we are a part of we will move no further in the building of the Kingdom towards which we strive.

Monday, October 6, 2008

When God comes to Pot-Lucks

Ok so I'm sure I am not the only liberal religious person who has had to both balance a plate of food on my knees and explain my beliefs to a group of skeptics. Whether it's in bookstores, pot-lucks, coffee shops or other activist rallies often we as people of faith are expected to be able to give good and convincing answers to the nitty-gritty theological questions.
So I'm wondering what are the questions about faith you are called on to answer the most? How do you answer them?

For me it would be:

-but you're not Christian right? (after I say that I'm Quaker)

-as a Christian what is your views on homosexuality?

-how can you talk about your religious experience without making people feel like your trying to convert them?

-but you're not evangelical right?

-do you believe the Bible is the word of God?

-what about all the horrible things people do and have done in the name of God?

-how can you be both Universalist and Christian?

What are the questions about faith you get asked the most?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

When God Goes to Starbucks?

When I first saw the title in my local library the first think that popped into my head was ‘what is God doing in some place as chain-store oriented and big business as Starbucks; known for totally destroying locally owned businesses.’ My second thought was to chide my self for falling into the old trap of assuming God is somehow politically motivated, and one side or another ‘gets’ God on their team. God no doubt spends a lot of time in Starbucks and where ever else God is needed. I picked the book up and flipped through it while spending time studying and writing my most recent paper. When God Goes to Starbucks by Paul Copan is supposed to be a easy to read little book about good, Christian-grounded answers to the kind of questions most believers get every day: Do people really believe in miracles? is it ok to lie if your lying to a Nazi? doesn’t the Bible condone holy war? what about the Bible and homosexuality? and on. All of these questions are good question and they are questions I have found I have to answer quite often as I move in cycles of young people where being Christian is akin to having a disfiguring disease. The book is also well thought out and easy to read, light in tone and engaging. However I found as I began to read it, for me, a huge glaring problem that ultimately made me have to put the book down.

The problem was simply that the author assumed when he said Christian he was talking about a group of people who believed pretty much the same thing. Yet what he called Christian and what I believe to be Christianity was not even remotely the same thing. His God was not my God (although they may both buy coffee at the same play on occasion). Paul Copan is an extremely gifted writer, a man who holds multiple degrees including a professorship, yet he assumes that he speaks for all Christians when really he only speaks for some, mostly more fundamentalist leaning, conservatively minded, Christians.

I have tried to keep a good sense of humor throughout writing this, ultimately I didn’t walk away from When God Goes to Starbucks feeling angry that Paul and I didn’t see eye to eye on our Christian beliefs. I did walk way feeling sad though; sad because I know of no equally engaging little book that forthrightly examines the hard Christian questions for Christians like me. I know we exist, there are other liberal and/or ecstatic Christians out there, I have met so many and look forward to meeting many more. Yet when we look at the book shelves in our libraries and Barns and Nobles (God might hangout there too) we see books that assume there is only one kind of Christianity. Books that assume these Christians can speak for all Christians, although I know there are many of us where that’s not true. Yet we still let them. For many years I have been trying to understand why. Why do we stand quiet when other more fundamentalist Christians don’t? I have come to think that we are all, on some level, afraid and ashamed. Afraid to unwittingly hurt others and ashamed that we are Christians in a society where to be liberal often means to be against Christianity. I know I always pause before telling someone about my faith, especially if they know my sexual orientation or the kind of social activism I do, inwardly bracing myself for the onslaught of questions. Well I think it’s time, overdue actually to knuckle down. That kind of fear is not going to cut it, we can’t write books that way.

Copan points out that there are many important theological conversation taking place at Starbucks and his book might help many having those conversation, but there are some of us who will be giving different answers.

Monday, August 18, 2008

In God's Hands

I have a lot of anxieties. In fact I’m a rather anxious person by nature. I worry about just about everything. So pretty much as soon as I when through clearness a little under a year ago for a call to ministry through writing I began to worry. My worries weren’t really founded in anything in particular, but they did cause me to pretty much freeze up inside. For a few months I totally spiritually froze refusing to open up to God at all in anyway without realizing that was what I was doing. I was like a small child curled up in bed under the covers in terror; terror of my calling and terror of the fact that I had publicly acknowledged that calling. Slowly though, through prayer and the ministry of other Friends I began to uncurl. Still my writing remained difficult and rare. Where as before my clearness committee my writing flowed through me much as vocal ministry in meeting did, after my clearness committee writing became slow and painful with me second-guessing myself at every step. What I should have done was seek out other Friends to help guide and elder me through my fears, but even the prospect of that was frightening. So I decided this fear of my own gifts and callings was going to have to be between myself and God. If God wanted my to minister in that way then God would have to see me through my fear so I could do it. I still attended Quaker functions, I still participate in Quaker life, I still spoke in Meeting, I still conversed with Friends but part of me, the part of me that my writing had come out of seemed to be listening instead of speaking. Slowly, over time my fear lessened. I began to write. At first the writing took the form of poetry, my first love. Over time though I began to write more like I had before I went through clearness. At Baltimore Yearly meeting I wrote three articles and edited an earlier piece within a twenty-four hour period. The writing I did then was incredibly easy, flowing through me almost faster then I could write it down. I was also filled with the overwhelming sense that what I was writing was Truth as I experienced it. At the end of writing one piece I sat back and realized I had no anxiety about what I had written. I did not feel the need to second-guess myself, or worry about how others would perceive my message; I had been faithful that was all that mattered. To me writing is serving God and if we trust serving God is our greatest

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stewards of Christ

“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves”(James 1:22)

I am attending Baltimore Yearly Meeting and once more I am reminded of the message I received throughout the young adult Friends conference in Richmond IN. There has been such an emphasis in these yearly meeting sessions on work taking place over seas, including long discussions in business meeting and interest groups. I had several long discussions with Friends regarding African Friends, and have thought more and more about the nature of the mission work carried out by FUM and Evangelical Friends. Yet the more I think and talk about this work the more a message comes to me. The same message that came to me in Richmond IN. The work we need to do is here. Right now, right here in our monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting.

I remember from the Richmond conference one young adult Friend recounted her struggle to acknowledge that her calling was still real and Spirit led even though it would entail work here in America instead of traveling to work abroad as all her other Quaker friends where doing. As much as I think the work we do aboard is wonderful, needful, and truly Spirit led, I wonder how much work within our own American communities both Quaker and otherwise goes undone. I feel we spend so much time concentrating our attention and energy else where that it does not leave us much of either to tackle problems closer to home. I am not advocating us ending our services all over the globe. I just feel a mounting unease. All I ever here of is work friends are doing else where when I personally witness the suffering and need here in America everyday.

In a list of services Friends where engaged in one Friend mentioned services in America then hastily explained that he was speaking of prison ministry. We are all truly blessed by every Friend who feels and heeds the call to prison ministries, but I wonder about our lack of commitment to other areas of suffering in America. I think it is some times easier for us to pretend, subconsciously, that the only poverty, hunger, death, homelessness, discrimination, and inhuman violence is taking place in other countries not our own. However as we all intellectually know this is not the truth. Yet as we struggle to build the kingdom of God we must reach out to all people at home and abroad. Nor do I think one group more needful then the other.

There is also the issue of the state of the Religious Society of Friends. I find it uncomfortable to watch Friends spending so much time worrying and discussing Friends in African or South America when we have our own troubles and needs here in America. I think dialog between us and Africans Friends is both needful and a blessing but I worry when a whole discussion on FUM only ever focuses the African Friends when there are plenty of FUM Friends here in America. I also feel uncomfortable when Friends spend all there time discussing work abroad and money to be sent abroad while real problems and needs exist within their own Yearly Meeting I feel for the sake of all Friends, the spiritual health of the Religious Society of Friends should be addressed first. I feel it is hard for us to aid others when we are in desperate need of spiritual aid ourselves.

When I was in Richmond IN I received a simple message over and over again. The message was that the real work of the Religious Society of Friends needed to happen at the month, quarterly and yearly meeting levels. That the spiritual well being of the society as a whole could only be preserved by working from these levels, by healing and renewing on a more intimate community level. I also received the very strong message that Friends needed to spend more time working in their own communities at large. We as Friends I believe tend to struggle with the ideals of radical Christian hospitality, and I would like to see more of an emphasis paid to that within our meeting bodies. We acts with such loving, nurturing kindness, and grace towards those in need throughout the world. I would dearly love, and truly wish to see the same grace offered other Friends here in our home meetings and the communities these meeting are located in. May the Spirit of Christ guide us abroad, at home and within our hearts.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Water to Wine

This is the first straight out piece of poetry I have ever posted hear. That's kind of hard to believe. This piece came to me after seeing an article by the same name on a GLBTQ Christian website. I also reflected on a religious education group I attend at my local Methodist church back in NY, and how much other Christians have to teach us Friends about being gracious.

Water To Wine
The miracle of water into wine is an image of change that has never really spoken to me until now. I thank and dedicate this piece to every liberal Christian I know, of all denominations. You are not afraid to have faith.

There is a billboard close to where I lived that shows water being pored, changing into wine in the glass. Come see a miracle it says, advertising a church I have never been to.

Such a powerful image; water into wine.

I am a generation born of a generation of spiritual refugees. A generation who left the church, or where thrown out, fleeing hate, prejudice, fear, and a God without mercy. Like all refugees they brought with them, memories more painful then they could bare, hidden scars and fear of the dark. I was born into a world without the Bible, without God, without grace. I was raised into a religion that had almost forgotten how to pray. There were rules unspoken here; you do not go the church if you are a woman, you do not go to church if you are a liberal, you do not go to church if you are queer. They will only turn you away.

Come see a miracle.

But God does not rest, or take heed to human politics, and God found me when I was seventeen and afraid. I am a child of a generation of refugees, but this war is ending and times are changing. We are coming back to the Church. Welcomed or not, this space is ours, this grace freely given to us, and God speaks to us too. One by one we are listening. See me, liberal, queer woman that I am, I have faith, and this is my church too. The Church is changing.

Water to wine, come see a miracle.

It is raining grace a GLBTQ Christian blogger wrote when California legalized same-sex unions.

It is raining grace.

We are no longer refugees. We are coming home now.

From water into wine.

It is time to take communion again, and this time we are offering the chalice.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Me, The Bible, and the Question of Sexuality: The Really Short Version

I sometimes find myself in rather an interesting position. I am young, very politically liberal, queer identified woman. I am also very much a Christian, and rather theologically conservative especially for a Quaker. I do a lot of talking with and traveling among other Christian denominations. I am also a dedicated scholar of the Bible. Often therefore I am called to talk about my feeling about the Bible and homosexuality. This is the very short version of the answer I usually give Christians who ask:

First off I am a queer woman. Secondly I am very, very much a Christian. I love the church, I love God and I really, really love the Bible. I love reading it for personal strength and understand of God and also studying it academically.
The first think I notice when I approach the subject of homosexuality and the Bible is it’s really not talked a lot about, given the enter length of the Bible. Secondly at least one of the passages usually pointed to as speaking about homosexuality I believe actually doesn’t. It’s been read that way by the church but taken out of theological context I really don’t see how that’s what it’s talking about. There are some parts of the Bible that are however unequivocally condemning homosexuality. I have no answer for this, no more then I have an answer for the parts of the Bible, about war, murder, blood sacrifice and genocide or God’s rather. I don’t believe any of these things are part of God’s Plan but they are in the Bible.
There is something I do know about the Bible though, and that is that its talks about love a lot. All the time in fact, over and over again, Old Testament and New. The Bible talks about love almost constantly, about love for ourselves, for each other and for God. That I know to be Truth, God’s Truth given to us through the Bible. Love, real love, is wonderful, and beautiful. It heals us, builds us up, helps us to be stronger and better then we thought we could be, it sustains us, and lets us do the work that God meant us to do. That love is God and the Spirit with us every day. That love, I believe, doesn’t worry about sexuality. When love is healthy, consensual and nurturing to us, others and God, it doesn’t matter what gender our partner is. Love is a gift from God and I don’t question the gifts God gives me.
Sin is when we turn away form God and Truth and act in ways that are harmful, unloving and ungracious towards others and ourselves. Anyone can act without grace, no matter what their sexuality. In turn though love that healthy and brings us closer to God is not confined by one sexuality, one kind of experience. I believe that is o.k., with me, and with God.

Monday, June 23, 2008

When We cannot Turn Away

He said, “I'm moved to tenderness by what we cannot bare
Humbled by what we can and do and learn to share . . .”
~Carrie Newcomer

I don’t talk about Friends’ call to service and social action very much. Usually when I write or speak it’s on more inward solitary matters of the Spirit. Yet recently I have felt a need to reflect and consider on Friends’ religious call to act within the world. The work I do is not particularly trendy work for the up and coming liberal activists of my generation. I work in law; human rights investigation and legal aid. I wear a dress-suit to work. I work at a desk, in an office. Not really as glamorous as taking to the streets or traveling to South America, but it is a calling, and it is work that needs to be done. The people I serve come from impoverished communities; they are disadvantaged and discriminated against. I have no doubt in my mind that the work I do is helping to build the Kingdom here on earth. Like any direct service though it can be emotionally, physically, and spiritually challenging.
About a week and a half ago I moved to Virginia and started my summer internship with a legal aid non-profit. About a week or so into it, I was starting to get tired. Change isn’t something I deal well with, and I was adjusting to a new house, new housemates, a new city and a new job. I was getting that; I’d rather be anywhere else, feeling. Then around Thursday I was reminded of why I do the job I do and why although it seems tempting sometimes to quit and do something else, I know I wont.
The actual events that led to this renewal were unimportant and rather mundane. I was typing up forms for people seeking disability benefits under Social Security when I came to the one for “mental retardation.” It occurred to me that the term was no longer politically correct (PC) and probably shouldn’t be used. I then asked myself why the term was no longer appropriate and the answer was because it has been used in a derogatory fashion so often it has become a bad word in our society. Then I got mad. I never have and never will understand why our society judges people’s worth based on things they can’t help, things they where born with. It seems so horrible to me that we could judge people’s worth as less simply because they have a lower than average IQ. Yet we, as a society, do and to the point where the mere comparison of another person to a person with a lower IQ is considered a hurtful insult. Sitting in my office I suddenly had to fight the urge not to burst into tears at the horrible unfairness of a society that accepts, even condones such judgment. In New York State where I am from the state government pulled all services to disabled children who are being home schooled. Often children with sever disability will be taught at home because the school can not provide for there needs or because physically being in the school building would be a major health risk. I to this day cannot understand how my state government justified to themselves and to the media taking advantage of severely disabled children in the name of budget cuts. It makes me angry, it makes me sad, and I do believe that is the appropriate response. It breaks my heart, and not in the way our society uses the term.
There are many reactions people have to injustice, they can ignore it, they can get angry and rant about it, or they can work hard to fix but end up getting burnt out when the problem doesn’t go away. All these responses though, are short term superficial ones. Yet there is another response, a response I believe comes from the Spirit working within us. I believe that when you are confronted with something that truly breaks your heart, you cannot turn away, you can not ignore it and you most certainly can not go back to living you’re life the way it was before that moment. God does this; it is God who opens you up to that moment, to that realization. When I am opened like that I cannot, refuse to act, I could not live with myself if I did not do that work. That is your work, the work God wants you to do and it’s almost physically impossible not to. Your life as been transformed, you have been transformed. Sometimes we all feel burnt out and sometimes we all need rest but when you are faced with work that you are called to do, when God breaks your heart open, you won’t just get burnt out and drop it. God will sustain you better then that.
I have watched a lot of other people my own age attempted to do the job I do. I have watched them get discouraged by the larger picture, by how much still needs to be done and just stop trying. That doesn’t happen to me. Because when I feel tired, when I feel burnt out by what still needs to be done, I ask my if I’ve helped at least one person in one way, and if I can say that I have, if at least one person’s life is a little better because I tried, because I cared, than that will be good enough. I do this work because I could not walk way from it, no matter how hard it is, no matter how much I will have to work to do it. I am a disabled student considering law school I have not illusions about how hard it will be. I also know though, that when my work is done if even one person’s life is better because of the work I have done, than it will have been worth it. Good enough for me, and good enough for God.

"Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you..for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me...Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:43)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Interest Group: The Contemplative Path?

I lead an interest group for the Young Adult Friends conference in Richmond IN. I have decided to put the description and queries on here. Friends might find it interesting or helpful.
Interest Group: The Contemplative Path?
There are many visible forms of ministry within the Religious Society of Friends. Friends can be called to travel among meetings, organize youth programs, work for Quaker organizations and live in intentional communities. While these are all wonderful forms of ministry others are called to more scholarly or contemplative paths. Some Friends feel called to ministry through writing, theology, history, biblical study, and other more academic ministries. Is there a place within the Religious Society of Friends for such callings? If so what is the role of the Young Adult Friends who are called to such a path?

Interest Group Queries
"And thou, faithful babe, though thou stutter and stammer forth a few words in the dread of the Lord, they are accepted." ~ William Dewsbury 1660

1. Quaker tradition teaches us that we are all ministers in the Religious Society of Friends. What ministry do you feel called to?

2. Most other religious faiths have traditions of scholars, contemplatives, historians, and theologians. Does the Religious Society of Friends also have such a tradition? If not can we see a need for people called to such ministry?

3. Traditionally Friends have shied away from systematic theology. Is there becoming an need for such a theology in today’s Quakerism?

4. What kind of oversight or support do those of us called to a more contemplative path need? Is it provided? If not how could it be provided?

5. How might your gifts as scholars and thinkers fit into and enrich the larger structure of the Religious Society of Friends?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

This Matter Which Weighs Upon My Heart

Friends, I labor. I struggle within myself and within my Yearly Meeting with the issue of FUM. I come from New York Yearly Meeting, and we are duel affiliated with FGC and FUM. Right now there is a lot of anger within New York Yearly Meeting towards FUM because of some homophobic statements that have been made. Much of this anger comes out of misinformation and miscommunication; much of it also comes out of a legitimate sense of anger and pain. Pain that GLBTQ Friends that we love and hold dear are being hurt. I too take these concerns very seriously, I am both a Christian Friend and a queer identified Friend and this is an issue very close to my heart. However I don’t feel like we can walk away from FUM or this pain. As Quakers we are called to love and cherish all people, not matter who they are or what they’ve done in there lives and other Friends, Friends who might not hold the same beliefs as we dos, should be no different. I feel strongly that if we as a Yearly Meeting walk away from FUM we clearly state that we cannot love, cannot connect, and labor with, Friends who do choose to be affiliated with FUM. I know that this not our intention, but I fear that will be the out come. I also feel that anger and pain is not a place from which good healthy decisions are made. Anger is good, it can lead to passion, which can in turn and in time lead to compassion and love, but we cannot act directly from anger. We cannot go with our first reaction to distance ourselves from things we don’t agree with. That would not and does not do justice to us as people, any of us. We are FUM, we can not say they are some ‘other’ doing and saying things we find hurtful because we are a FUM Yearly Meeting. They are us, we are them, and I would grieve deeply if that were to change. I also fear that by leaving FUM we set ourselves up, as a Yearly Meeting, on a moral high ground I don’t believe we actually stand on. Can we, in all honesty and with our heart open to God, say that we are so loving and open we can point fingers elsewhere and accuse others? I am a young queer Friend in New York Yearly Meeting and I do not see any Yearly Meeting Minute affirming our love and commitment to our GLBTQ Friends. I do see any Yearly Meeting Marriage Minute guaranteeing I will be able if I choose, to be married under any New York Yearly Meeting. As my brother, who is an agnostic liberal young Friend said to me, he (and I ) can think of no better message to other FUM meeting about our pain towards homophobic comments made then for New York Yearly Meeting to come out with an affirming Minute on our love for our GLBTQ Friends, made as a FUM meeting. We have work we need to do and we cannot do it from outside of FUM, we must labor with them and with each other on these issues.
I am at a crossroads, Friends. For over a year I have brought my need to continue this dialog with ourselves and with other FUM meetings to every meeting and gathering of Friends I have attended. Still I feel as if New York Yearly Meeting is moving toward a place where we will act out of pain and fear and leave FUM. I also feel as if none of us quite know what to do, on either side. We are stuck, hurt and divided, and I’m not sure were to go or what to do. I am part of a task group on our involvement with FUM but still that task group seems to be at loss about how best to serve New York Yearly Meeting in this. Friends I labor, with my own pain, with my own love, and I do not know what to do. Only that we must listen to God in this matter, and that seems to be the hardest course of all.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Standing on the Path

While reading over the notes on the last meeting of New York Yearly Meeting’s Task Group on FUM I was struck by a seemingly simple, yet vastly important question. In the notes it was stated that a Friend asked the question, what is FUM doing for us? as in New York Yearly Meeting. I found myself drawn to that question and like a massages coming in Meeting an answer came upon me and I found myself writing it.
If FUM has not given us anything else it has brought us to this place and this point. It has moved us as a Yearly Meeting to the point here we sit here, having this conversation, discussing these issues, asking these questions. I know, we all know, that is it one thing to say we all have a place at the table, we all come as servants to the feet of Christ, we are all equal in the eyes of God and the movements of the Spirit. Yet it is so much harder to live this, truly believe this. As Friends though we have to Know this, we have to know that when we say there is a place for you at the table of God, we do not then raise our hands and push some away. We are members of the Kingdom of Heaven we must know that when we say we are all equal in the eyes of God what we say is Truth and not just pretty words. I know that there will be a time when we can say God is with our Friends who struggle in Kenya, with our Friends who worship in Indiana, with our Friends all across New York, with our LGBTQ Friends. Yet I believe we are not there yet, I am not there yet, but we are on that path and we are moving forward. Through our relationship with FUM we have come to this place where we as a body tern our hearts and eyes to God and say now the time has come, for us to listen, for us to speak, for us to change. And that, I feel, is a gift indeed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Strength to Go Into the Wilderness

“I have been asked many times
to take leaps I did not feel ready to do.
But when I’ve done that I’ve been held
And I have been an agent for God
In ways I never could have been
If I didn’t trust and take that leap.”
- Jean-Marie P. Barch 1998.

Who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to God “My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.” For God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilences; God will cover you with pinions and under God’s wings you will find refuge. – Psalm 91:1-4.

About a week ago I attended FGC’s FLGBTQC Mid-Winter Gathering. While there we were asked to consider several queries every day in our small group worship sharing. One of these queries was something along the lines of, “How do we tell the difference between acts of love and acts of fear?” In my worship sharing I felt moved to speak about this query and then again during worship. As the Spirit usually does I started out focusing on the query and then was led to speak to deeper questions. When considering the difference between acts of love and acts of fear I am led to believe that Friends generally have a hard time distinguishing between the two. Maybe not on a personal level, but as a group we tend to see praise as coming from a place of love and criticize more need for change as coming from a place of fear. In my own experience among Friends I have not found this to be the case. Instead, I have often found that we want to hear praise and only praise about our meetings and the Religious Society of Friends because we are afraid of what might happen if we begin to take criticism seriously and move to change the way things are. Often I have found praise alone comes from a place of fear of change, a fear that we will make things worse or break things beyond repair. Whereas often I have found those who offer criticism and ask for change are doing so out of love, love for their faith and a need that that faith should live up to what they know it is capable of being.
I have been moved to think that there is another image and another question behind this concept of acts of love and acts of fear. I am then called to the image of the wilderness as expressed many times in the Bible and the concept of Blessed Community. I believe that if we are truly a Blessed Community under God, guided by the Spirit, then we should have enough trust and love for each other that will allow us to know what cannot break what was not meant to be broken. I believe that when we act with love and faith in God and in each other we can never make things worse, only better. If some things break, or change, we must have faith that this is what God has meant to happen and all things will be made right and whole in the end. We as a community must not be afraid to go out into the wilderness. We must trust in one another, in ourselves that we might wander, and suffer, and it might be hard and our faith might be tested but in the end we will come out a community, whole and faithful. This ability to go out into the wilderness is not just an act of faith in one another but an act of faith in God. We must believe that God loves us enough that we can go into the dark, into the wilderness, to do things that we are afraid of doing, and God will bring us home. I believe that we are never truly lost, and that God will always bring us home, but we as a religious community must also believe this.
I gave this message in Meeting for Worship on Sunday. After Meeting I attended a Bible study session. The Friend who was leading the session told us the story of how she came to choose the passage we were going to read. She said she had written everything out after being told she was going to lead Bible study at the conference, but then one Firstday she had been sitting in Meeting and had gotten a leading for us to read Genesis 16 in Bible study. She said she had no idea why the Spirit was leading her to this passage but she trusted in the Spirit and changed her plans for the Bible study. Genesis 16 is the story of Hagar, who is a slave to Sarai, and conceives a child by Abram. She then looks with contempt on her mistress who cannot conceive, so Sarai deals harshly with her and Hagar runs away into the wilderness. There she sees an Angel of the Lord who tells her she will have a son and what to name him. Hagar then realizes she is talking to the Lord and names him El-roi or literally “God who sees.” She is the only Old Testament figure that I know of to directly name God. The fact that we were called to read a passage about a slave girl gone into the wilderness who sees and names God, after the messages I was called to give, I do not see as a coincidence. Neither do I see the fact that both of these messages were given at Mid-Winter Gathering as a coincidence. To me the Lord is clearly trying to tell the LGBTQ Friends community something, and I now struggle to discern for myself what it is. What wilderness we are being called to travel into? Are we as a community being called to see and be seen by God, name and be named? As of now I do not have answers that satisfy me, but I trust that in time God will lead us to the Truth.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

God Constantly Waiting

“Knock and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7)
Several months ago I went through clearness for a call to ministry through writing. I had felt strongly for several months before this that the writing I was doing on different subjects within Quakerism was Spirit led. However after going through clearness I stopped writing. I could and did sit in front of my computer while no words came. Part of my mind was concerned by this, but other parts brushed it aside, I was and still am looking for an Elder to help me with discernment about my writing. I was also overwhelmingly busy with school and work and so it was easy for me just to let my writing or lack of it slide to the back of my life. However last weekend I attended the FGC traveling ministries consultation in Pittsburg PA. While in meeting for worship on Friday night I received a strong sensation of a voice speaking to me. It said, “I have given you words but know it is time for you to listen.” Almost immediately afterwards a Friend rose and spoke of the things in our life we use as excuses for not following through with what God is leading us to do. Then another Friend spoke saying that we as gospel ministers need to not be afraid of taking risks and being wrong, trusting that our community will catch us when we fell. Later that weekend another Friend spoke of how it can feel as if God gives you a feeling that there is something She wants you to do then leaves you waiting for directions and how frustrating that can be. As she spoke I through that yes, this reminded me a lot of what had happened to me about my writing, as I thought this I had the physical sensation of turning around and there was a door held open.
I realized that God had not abandoned me and my writing, but I had been so set on expecting it to proceed in a certain way I had been blinded to God’s actual plan. I had been looking for the Spirit in all the wrong places. I have come to believe that God never simply leaves us just hanging as it were. Instead God is always there waiting just not always in the places we expect. Often we become so set in an idea that we will find God by doing this or in this place that we actually stop listening to all the hints and messages God is sending us. I know in my life sometimes it takes a while of fumbling around and missed opportunities on my part before I finial in my human imperfection realizing what it is I am being asked to do. It is also so easy for us to procrastinate to let other things eat up our time and take away our energy. What I always try to remember though is that God is always there, holding the door open patiently waiting for us to turn around.