Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some Thoughts on Lesson Planning for Quakerism 101

Blessing all,

Last fall I started teaching adult religious education at Perry City Monthly Meeting and opened it up to Ithaca Monthly Meeting as well.

A need that had been voiced by Perry City for a Introduction to Quakerism class that would be good for newcomers but would also hold the attention of longtime Friends. Faced with not an easy task I hit the internet and researched FGC's introduction to Quakerism lesson plans as well as others.

The issue I kept running across was the the lesson plans either looked a Quakerism historically or topically: a week or month spent of on each of the Testimonies and so on. Not that I think either way is bad. I am a historian by trade after all, but Friends have a tendency to portray Quakerism as something that happened "back then." We spend a lot of time glorying in the old days of the underground railroad. When it comes right down to it I'm not convinced this is the most important part of Quakerism we can be imparting to new folks. I'm not sold on the Testimonies as being the first things we want to teach new attenders either. After all Testimonies are outward signs of an inward transformation so that transformation should be where we start. So I determined early on that the over arching theme for the class was going to be "what do Quaker's believe and why?"

Considering the theme what I ended up doing was very simple. We read Silence and Witness by Michael Birkel, and Essays on a Quaker Vision of Gospel Order by Lloyd Lee Wilson together. We met for an hour every Firstday morning and read one chapter every week. We started with Michael's book and then after a short break went on to Lloyd Lee's. I felt that Michael's book gave a nice solid foundation on the nuts and bolts of Quakerism while Lloyd Lee offered a more in-depth look at some of the concepts that have been most important to Quaker thought.

Most classes were simply group discussion about the reading which turned out to be very rich for all of us. Friends at Perry City were particularly inspired and challenged by Lloyd Lee's chapter on Meetings for worship with a concern for business. The only times I really had to facilitate and move the class along was during our reading of Essays on a Quaker Vision of Gospel Order where Friends often got upset, bogged down, and confused by the Christian language. However that language is the same I use so the conversation's we had gave us an opportunity to build understanding and community. On average that class had about eight Friends in attendance although who those eight Friends were varied from week to week.

Writing Quaker Lesson Plans

With Blessings,

I have been largely absent from this blog as I struggle to understand what God wants from me in regards to the Young Friends In Residence Program. Over the last year and a half of being part of the program I have encountered many struggles and blessings.

One of the blessings as been the several religious education classes I have taught. The most recent of these classes has been on Quakerism and Mysticism. Because lesson plans about Quaker issues or theology are hard to come by and because I have been mostly writing my own I thought I would share the schedule and reading assignments and whatnot for this most resent class.

Friends from Perry City Monthly Meeting and Ithaca Monthly Meeting in New York Yearly Meeting just finished taking this class. Everything went fine and we had many wonderful and Spirit led conversations. We met for an hour on Sunday mornings and discussed the week's reading. Sometimes we read the readings out loud together. I tried to keep the conversations from becoming too intellectual because the class has a tendency to intellectualize everything and miss the spiritual message being given.

The required reading for this class was Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly and Love Poems From God edited by Daniel Ladinsky

And the Greatest of These is Love:

Thomas Kelly and understanding a mystical experience of God

(Sundays At Perry City Meeting House)

As you read through the passages for each week consider these question:

What does this tell me about the nature of God?

What does this tell me about our relationship with God?

How does these images of God relate to Quakerism as I understand it?

How does it relate to my own understand of /relationship with God?

Week 1:

Getting to know each other.

What is Mysticism?

Quakerism: a pre-enlightenment faith

Modern mysticism: irrational love in a rational world

Week 2:

A Testament of Devotion (TD) pg 3-11

Love Poems From God (LP) pg 31-34, pg 60-63

Drawn Out of the Text:

“In this humanistic age we suppose man is the initiator and God is the responder. But the Living Christ within us is the initiator and we are the responders.” Thomas R. Kelly

“I like when the music happens like this: something in His eye grabs hold of tambourine in me,” Rumi

Week 3:

TD: pg 12-22

LP: pg 180-186

Drawn Out of the Text:

“Here the autonomy of the inner life becomes complete and we are joyfully prayed through by a Seeking Life that flows through us into the world of men” Thomas Kelly

“Divine light entered my heart from His love that did never truly wane.” St. Catherine of Siena

Week 4:

TD: pg 25-34

LP: pg 240-244

Drawn Out of the Text:

“There is a degree of holy and complete obedience and of joyful self-renunciation and of sensitive listening that is breathtaking.” Thomas Kelly

“You should act more responsibly, God, with all that gorgeousness you posses.” Mira

Week 5:

TD: pg 35-47

LP: pg 304-307, 109-113

Drawn Out of the Text:

“The heart is stretched through suffering and enlarged.” Thomas Kelly

“A thorn as entered your foot. That is why you weep at times at night.” St. Catherine of Siena

Week 6:

The Not Real Mid-Term:

Mysticism is an extremely emotional and sometimes abstract relationship between a person or community and God. Understanding or experiencing a mystical relationship with God is completely different from trying to express that relationship to others.

This week try expressing your experiences or understanding of mysticism. You can:

Write a journal entry of your day-to-day relationship with God

Write a mystical poem(s)

Express that experience through art


Or dance

What ever you are led to do!

Week 7:

TD: pg 51-55

LP: pg 68-72, 96-97

Drawn Out of the Text:

“In The Fellowship cultural and educational and national and racial differences are leveled” Thomas Kelly

“A good gauge of spiritual health is to write down three things you most want. If they in any way differ, you are in trouble.” Rumi

Week 8:

TD: pg 56-61

LP: pg 11-12, 40-43

Drawn Out of the Text:

“Can we make all our relations to our fellows relations which pass through Him?” Thomas Kelly

“and we gazed into every heart on this earth and I noticed lingered a bit longer before any face that was weeping.” St. Francis of Assisi

Week 9:

TD: pg 65-75

LP: pg, 302-307

Drawn Out of the Text:

“Between the relinquished past and the untrodden future stands this holy Now, whose bulk has swelled to cosmic size for within the Now is the dwelling place of God Himself.” Thomas Kelly

“I said to God, “what are you?” and He replied “I am what is loved”.” St. John of the Cross

Week 10:

TD: pg 76-85

LP: 114-120

Drawn Out of the Text:

“There is more to the experience of God than that of being plucked out of the world. The fuller experience, I am sure, is of a Love which send us out into the world.” Thomas Kelly

“It is a lie-any talk of God that does not comfort you.” Meister Eckhart

Week 11:

TD: pg 89-95

LP: pg 271 – 276

Drawn Out of the Text:

“But too many of us have heeded the Voice only at times. Only at times he we submitted to His holy guidance.” Thomas Kelly

“No one can near God unless He as prepared a bed for you.” St. Teresa of Avila

Week 12:

TD: pg 96-100

LP: pg 353, 249, 39, 77, 195-197

Drawn Out of the Text:

“It is not we alone who are at work in the world, frantically finishing a work to offered to God.” Thomas Kelly

“How does God keep from fainting looking at Himself all day?” Rumi

Saturday, May 15, 2010

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 two years ago I attended FGC’s FLGBTQCC 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.

Today as a Young Friend in Residence intern I think a lot about having faith. Hagar had faith, when she had no reason to, she trusted God when she was in the worst situation a person could be in and God found her important enough to come down and talk to face to face. I think about having the faith to make changes to go out into the wilderness even when it feels like we don’t know where God is leading us. I think about the faith it takes to come home again. To say “yes this is what God wants for us.” If YFIR has taught me nothing it is as friends it isn’t good enough to have faith in just yourself and your relationship with God. You need to have faith in each other and their relationship with God even if it looks nothing like your own. You have to say, “trust that you are Spirit led too, even if you use completely different language from me.” YFIR has taught me to say, “lets take a change and build something that’s never been there before.” Its also taught me to step back and acknowledge that sometimes you can’t invent the wheel twice and there are Friends out there who have done some of this work before.

Friends we need to have faith: faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in each other. The faith to go our into the wilderness and meet God face to face and the faith to come home

Better Is One Day

Over the years my daily spiritual practice has been a combination of silent prayer and reading. Sometimes the amount I committed to daily would be different, and over time the reads would change. This combination though has always stayed the same.

This year however seems to have heralded a great deal of change of in my life. Different kind of job, different kind of social community, different part of the country. God has also called me to do things I have never done before and in some cases don’t consider myself particularly skilled at. My daily spiritual practice has also changed. Over the last couple months I have been listening to Christian rock as a spiritual practice. I listen to songs for about a hour or so and see where they lead me spiritually.

I have found it surpriseling fruitful. I have always had a strong connection with music and although I do not sing or play any kind of instrument, I find worship through music extremely moving. Often the Christian rock songs that I listen to are joyful, ecstatic expressions of praise. They help remind me that God is good, even when I feel frustrated and burned out. They are fun to listen to and often move me to a deeper understanding of how God is moving in my life. Some of the songs lyrics I disagree with on a theological level but they express such a strong belief in a Church that is bigger then our individual congregation and denomination it reminds me that the Kingdom is not made simply of theological like-minded individuals.

Most of all I think I am learning how diverse the community of young rock musicians who praise God through their music really is. Increasingly I am believing that it isn’t simply that we are all heading in the same direction but that we are in fact all on the same road heading in the same direction.

Christian Rock Songs I Particularly Like:
Undefeated by Audio Adrenaline
Only Grace by Matthew West
If We Are The Body by Casting Crowns
The Center by Matthew West
Better Is One Day by Kutless
We Could Be Brilliant by All Star United
Take You Back by Jeremy Camp
Stand Up by Fireflight
Next Thing You Know by Matthew West
Pray for Me by Plumb
The End by Matthew West
Everything Glorious by David Crowder Band
Praise You In the Storm by Casting Crowns
Kingdom Comes by Sara Groves
Point of Difference by Hillsong United
You Never Let Go by Matt Redman
Beautiful Stranger by Rebecca St. James