Sunday, October 31, 2010

worship reflection: grumbling vs. crying out to God

I'm a little bit behind in posting my worship reflections, because I was sick with a cold for almost two weeks, and then...I have no excuse. So this worship service was about a month ago. I didn't want to miss it, though, because I thought it was a really profound thing to think about.

We've been doing a series on the Exodus and the desert wandering of the Israelites, found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. So this particular week, Paul gave a message entitled, "Oh, Stop Your Whining." We went through several passages of scripture where the Israelites grumbled and/or someone cried out to God (including Exodus 14:10-15, 15:22-25, 16:1-4, 17:1-6 and Numbers 11:1-20). Paul gave us a chance to "grumble" about something with our neighbor (he specified grumbling about something or someone not present in the room!), and times to reflect out loud what it feels like to grumble, and what we notice about the passages where grumbling occurs.

His main point was that there seems to be a difference between when people grumble, and when people cry out to God. I thought this was a really helpful and profound insight. It's easy to complain, but this is usually under our breath, or out of fear, or wanting things to just be how they were before (even if that was bad) because at least then we know what to expect.

Crying out to God, on the other hand, is a way of remembering God's faithfulness and asking God to be faithful today. Usually when Moses or the people cried out to God, they remembered what God had done for them and their ancestors in the past and the promises God had made to them. Then they asked where God was now, and why something difficult or unfair was happening to them. There are lots of psalms like this as well.

I think maybe the difference is our level of trust. When we trust God, we cry out to God--we know God can and does provide for us, even if in ways we don't understand. We remember how God has dealt with us in the past, and with others. We remember and trust that God is on the side of justice and love. When we grumble, on the other hand, we doubt God's faithfulness. We're afraid that things are going to get worse rather than better.

We also talked in worship about this being a question of control. We want to be in control, and grumbling somehow makes us feel more in control. We think we know better than God, and that "going back to Egypt," wherever our "Egypt" happens to be, would be better than going forward into God's "Promised Land." We want a particular thing to happen. When we cry out to God, we're willing to move forward with God into something new, something we don't understand and over which we have little control.

Paul also asked an excellent question of us: "How do we as a people learn to trust God and not be a grumbling community?" He suggested as a community we need to learn to re-frame things. He gave the example of putting photos in various frames (he's actually my father-in-law and taught my husband a lot about being a photographer...), and how if you have the right color mat or border it brings out different parts of the picture. It's the same picture, but the way you see it changes. A major way we can provide a new "frame" for situations in which we find ourselves is to practice gratefulness. We do this by intentionally noticing things in the "picture" that we might not have noticed otherwise, things that bring spontaneous joy. We also pay attention to the background: God's faithfulness in the past. When I do this I generally feel much more joyful and grateful.

A couple queries still remain:
Do we have places and times to remember our gratefulness for God's faithfulness?
And do we have places and times to honestly cry out to God as a community?

more three-year-old wisdom

I've been thinking lately about the profound things that my son says and does, and the ways we as parents get to guide him, but also learn. It's pretty fun. I don't always think of these things as profound at the time. I need to reflect more so I don't miss anything!

This one wasn't so profound, but it was funny. Today E and I were playing with his barn and animals, and he said something about how the cow was eating meat. I said, "The cow IS meat!" He gave me a blank look. (Since I'm a vegetarian he's only recently been introduced to the world of meat.) I said, "That's what they make hamburgers out of." He then waxed eloquent for a minute about how it's sad that they kill cows who don't want to be made into hamburgers, and isn't it sad, Mama? I said, "Well, I guess so...I mean, I don't eat meat because I don't like to kill animals, and other reasons..." He said, "Well, God wants us to trust him that it's OK to eat meat" (he's only 3 and already calls God "him," although he didn't learn it from his daddy or me!), "so you should trust God."

The more profound thing is thinking about what it means to pray. My F/friend Aj wrote a post here about her kids praying, and it got me thinking about E and prayer. Over a year ago I posted on our family blog about when he first wanted to pray out loud. Since then he hasn't really shown much interest in prayer.

Usually at meals he doesn't want to hold our hands to pray, and he doesn't really want to participate. Yesterday at lunch he held hands with us, but then in the middle of the prayer he leaned down and started eating hands-free, licking peanuts off his plate.

One time when he was at my grandparents' place having lunch, my cousin happened to be there. Later my cousin told me, "E wouldn't pray with us, and he said, 'Mama doesn't make me pray!' I told him I seriously doubted that!" I said, "Well, I don't make him pray--I mean, I want him to be respectful when others are praying, but he doesn't have to pray." "Are you serious?" my cousin asked. "Yeah, well, if I force him to pray, it's not really praying, is it?"

One time he told me he doesn't want to pray until he's bigger and knows what to say. I try to reassure him that he doesn't have to have the right words, and he doesn't have to worry about what to say. He doesn't even have to say anything, he can pray in his head, or just think about God.

But E really wants us to pray with him at bedtime. Maybe it's similar to Aj's kids, who just want to prolong the time before they have to go to sleep--and sometimes that's definitely it, but who can resist a kid who's asking to pray with you? But even though he doesn't want to pray out loud, it's important to him. He asks every night for us to pray with him. The other night he wanted me to pray, and I asked if he'd pray for me, because we were both sick with colds. I told him he didn't have to pray out loud. So I prayed for him, and then asked if he'd pray for me. "I already did, Mama, while you were praying."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

what do you like about your branch of friends?

I'm working on a project where I'm going to describe Quakers in the United States and around the world in the 20th century, so our various US branches (Evangelical Friends, Friends United Mtg, Friends General Conf, Conservative, and independent YMs) and what being a Friend is like in various contexts worldwide. I've met people from all these branches and been somewhat involved in several, but I thought I'd ask for opinions and thoughts from those who are more part of these than I am, or from a different area than I've experienced. So if you'd take a few minutes and just give me some thoughts and feedback, I'd really appreciate it! I think it will be fun to hear various perspectives, too.

If you're a Friend from somewhere other than the United States, I'd welcome your input as well!

Either write a comment, or if it's too long, write something on your own blog and put a link to it in the comments or send me something on Facebook or QuakerQuaker something.

Here are some questions you could answer for me:

1. Which branch of Friends do you worship with?
2. What are some of your favorite things about being part of that organization of Friends?
3. What is most important theologically for your branch of Friends?
4. What is most important to you about the manner of worship in your branch of Friends?
5. In what ways do you see your branch's beliefs and practices reflecting historic values of Friends?
6. What are some weaknesses of your branch of Friends?
7. What concerns do you think Friends should focus on as we continue through the twenty-first century?

Monday, October 18, 2010

response to brent bill's "a modest proposal: part 4"

I'm up way too late catching up on Brent Bill's excellent blog series "A Modest Proposal." So far I've read through part 4, and have really appreciated his thoughtful and insightful suggestions for revitalizing Quakerism in the US, no matter what our branch of Quakerism. I tried to comment on his post but ended up writing a blog entry because Blogger wouldn't let me post a comment that long! So go read his post, then read my response.

I'm from a programmed Yearly Meeting but I've attended unprogrammed meetings for years at a time at various points. I've also been to seminary, so done some major work in thinking about and learning how to program a worship "service." In some ways I like unprogrammed worship better, but there are also things about programmed worship--done well--that I appreciate.

I think if programmed worship is done well, it is planned in the presence of God. This means we listen to God as we're planning and preparing various elements. It also means we hold everything loosely during the worship time: if something doesn't feel right at the time, we're open and responsive to letting God change the plans mid-stream. I've seen this work in incredibly beautiful ways that give rise to worship experiences where people truly encounter God in creative or surprising ways. Also, even though various people have worked hard to plan elements like music or a sermon, they are willing to let go of their need to share that if it's not the right moment.

I like this because people--at least a few of them--actually prepare. I think it's so easy to just come sit in unprogrammed worship unprepared, to not really think about meeting or God or what one experienced last week...of course, as I'm writing this, I recognize that it's just as easy to sit in a pew and let someone talk at you for a while and not be prepared or think of it throughout the week, too. But the point is the preparation. If we truly prepare a service in the presence of God, if we're really listening and trying to seek out how God wants a particular hour or two to go, I think the experience can often be more powerful for people who don't connect as much with God in silence. I personally feel like it's a gift when someone prepares a sermon that is both well-researched as well as attentive to God's calling for that person and those listening. When we're listening in silence without preparing, the things we've studied can come to us and we can speak them, but most of us haven't generally done the work. Also, when we have programmed services that are done well, they often hit on multiple styles of intelligences, whereas unprogrammed worship tends to hit one or two personality types or learning styles. But when we prepare we can have tools on hand to engage people's senses or other ways of connecting with God, like bringing paint and a canvas, or planning some kind of body movement that expresses what we're hearing, or what have you.

I think participation is what is truly the key. Early Friends emphasized that everyone can hear God, that God can speak through anyone. Our programmed meeting has been experimenting lately with "sermons" that are much more interactive. The person giving the sermon (sometimes the released pastor, sometimes someone else) asks questions and genuinely wants to hear people's answers. (We do take a mic around for extensive answers, or repeat people's answers from the speaker's mic, so that everyone can hear! It works for us and isn't distracting to have someone walk the mic around usually--it ends up being a time of waiting and listening so that people can't talk so quickly after one another.) So the person bringing a message sets it up, maybe asks a good question or explains a biblical or contemporary story and invites prayerful, vocal response. Sometimes the response from the congregation is such that the person doesn't end up giving much of a sermon, but the fact that they've thought and prayed about the direction God wants to take the service that day, or the theme to help us focus, makes it possible for us to listen to God together in a way that only seldom happens (in my experience) in completely unprogrammed worship. When done well, the music or whatever else happens in worship is planned to fit around and point to this theme. When we have open worship (either before or after the "sermon"), usually there's a query or something to give permission and encouragement to reflect on the theme for the day in a deeper way, and a communal way.

I don't think we have this all figured out--some weeks go better than others. But I wouldn't throw out programming just because it can be too constricting--just like I wouldn't throw out silence because it can be an end in itself. We need both. Programmed Friends do a bunch of different kinds of elements, but we often get stuck in the same rhythms and don't listen for creative ways of engaging different kinds of people. We also have very strict rituals like not clapping in worship, which is good in some ways (we're not spectators), but also limits the freedom we have for praising God together.

Perhaps what we need to change more than our forms of worship is our own preparation, whether we're involved in programming the worship service or not.

challenged by a 3-year-old

The other day, my 3-year-old son (although he will quickly correct me and say he's "free-and-a-half") and I were driving home from grocery shopping in a nearby town. I saw a homeless man standing on the side of the road with a sign, and had a "homeless kit" in the back seat. E had been climbing over it for weeks when getting in and out of the car, and asking about it. It's a Ziploc bag with non-perishable food and a pair of socks, made by our meeting so that we can have them in our cars to hand out when we see people who need them. I'd explained this to E, that some people don't have homes or places to go to sleep at night, don't have money for food, etc. (How to make a homeless kit: you can find instructions here, although that's more of a hygiene kit. Our meeting made ones with mostly food items--hopefully relatively healthy like peanut butter crackers, a can of tuna, energy bar, water bottle and stuff like that.)

So on this day, I saw this man and decided to pull over to hand him the homeless kit. I did so with E sitting in his car seat in the back. It was about 14 miles to get home from there, and every few miles my son kept asking, "Where is he?"

"Who?" I asked.

"The man we gave the bag to."

I explained that he was probably still back on the side of the road where we'd seen him, but now he had some food and socks.

"But, what else are we going to do, Mom?"

Several times we repeated this conversation, and each time he'd ask, "But what else are we going to do?" I explained different things each time--we did what we could do. We can't give him a place to live, but at least we can help a little bit. We don't have a lot ourselves, but what we have we can share. We can support groups who are helping people without homes have a place to stay, and we can support laws that make it possible for people to stay in their homes and jobs.

"But, what else are we going to do, Mom?"

We got into a humorous conversation when I asked him, "What do you think we would do if we didn't have any money and couldn't buy food or pay for our house?" He said, "We'd go to the bank and get some money." I explained about banks, that you have to put money in if you want to be able to get money out. He told me that he's going to be rich so he doesn't have to worry about that. (I didn't even know he knew what it meant to be rich!) I said, "OK, that's great if you're rich and you don't have to worry about money. But if you're rich, make sure you help out people who don't have enough, alright?" "Alright," he agreed.

And then he said something possibly even more insightful. I said that even though we don't have a lot, we have enough to share, and that if everyone shares, then everyone is OK. If everyone helps out, everyone has enough. He said, "But everyone doesn't help."

How's that for a challenge? At age three, he watched as all the other cars drove past the man by the side of the road. He saw that we gave him something, but that he was still back there on the side of the road while we were going home with our groceries. He could understand that if everyone did something to help, there would be enough--but that we weren't all doing all we could.

"But, what else are we going to do?"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

worship reflection: prophecy from gurneyites?

Stan's message in worship this week gave a powerful sense of permission for people to listen to God and to speak what they hear prophetically. He began from the story of Moses first receiving a call to go to Pharaoh and ask for the release of the Israelites from Egypt, highlighting the fact that Moses wasn't exactly a member of high standing in the Hebrew community. He'd been raised as an Egyptian, he killed a man, and then he spent a number of years in Midian as an obscure shepherd. So really, Moses was probably more afraid of presuming to be the spokesperson for the Israelites than he was to go before Pharaoh. This was in some ways a recurring story throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: the people cried out, God heard them and, in God's own timing, sent a prophet to speak out about the situation, to call out against injustice and to restore Israel to attendance to God. Generally prophets speak not only against “the enemy,” whomever that might be, but they also note that something must change among the chosen people as well—which is never an easy message to give.

After discussing Moses and the role of prophets for a little while, Stan connected this with Friends: in the seventeenth century, Quakers felt called to call Christians away from empty, self-serving rituals into authentic worship—worship that expects to hear from God, and worshipers who expect to act on what they hear. They also felt called to mitigate suffering: to be obedient to God by helping those in need. This called into question the value system of the culture in which they lived, and also the “church” of their day. Christians had become enslaved to the system that oppressed people, and in many instances oppressed them. And yet, most Christians weren't asking for an escape from the system—they were asking to be successful within it. Quakers lived in a way that called that system into question, in a way that emphasized radical equality and love for neighbors and enemies.

As Friends we've had our own problems historically, of course: many early Friends profited from slave labor, and Friends became at least as legalistic as the Anglicans and Puritans their forbears spoke against, with Books of Discipline, elders and overseers controlling people's dress codes and associations, and so forth. At times, prophets have arisen from our Quaker communities and after a time we have listened: John Woolman spoke out against slavery and Friends gave up their slaves.

Stan suggested that Friends lost their prophetic voice during the period of Quietism, so that in the nineteenth century when all the splits happened between Gurneyites, Wilburites, Hicksites, Beanites, and probably some other -ites I'm not thinking of right now, there was no one to speak prophetically and keep those splits from happening. He sees the twentieth century as a time of renewed prophetic voice among Friends, as people have called out against the splits and tried to heal those broken places through organizations such as FWCC.

I think this is true to some degree, except I think there were plenty of people who did speak out against the splits at the time but weren't listened to. I think also there were tons of people listening to God and speaking prophetically among Friends in the nineteenth century—they were perhaps so wrapped up in helping with the abolition and women's rights movements, among others, that they didn't have time or energy to keep the splits from happening internally. Most of those people ended up being Hicksites, which is curious to me.

So—brief explanation: a man named Elias Hicks started preaching, emphasizing the traditional Quaker belief that it is only through direct revelation from God that we can gain any spiritual insight. He did not, it seems, originally intend to get rid of the Bible or Christianity, but his point was that if we don't listen to the Present Spirit, the Bible is meaningless. He also downplayed the need to take a literal interpretation of the Bible. The first split in Quakerism ensued, where Hicks' followers were called the Hicksites, and the others called themselves Orthodox.

About 20 years later another split occurred between the Gurneyites and the Wilburites. Gurneyites came from Joseph John Gurney, who basically spoke the Evangelical message. He was an English Friend, and upon traveling in the United States, found that American Friends had too much focus on the Inner Light to the exclusion of belief in the Bible, the historical Christ, or the necessity of salvation through Christ alone. Then there were the Wilburites, named for John Wilbur, who felt that in emphasizing the Bible so much, Orthodox Friends had lost the sense of listening to the Present Christ, and their religion had become dry and based only on right belief, not on actual experience of God.

Of these the Hicksites were the most liberal, although the Beanites came along later in the century to take that title. It is probably here that Friends started to separate the ideas of evangelism from social action, and yet, Gurney—the most Evangelical and conservative of the crew—was also well-known for his work against capital punishment, for prison reform and for peace (along with his sister, Elizabeth Fry). But the social reformers in the American nineteenth century seem to have been mostly Hicksites.

My point is this: nineteenth-century Quakerism was not without its prophets. Some spoke internally, and one could probably call Hicks, Gurney and Wilbur prophets in this way. These words all needed to be spoken, in my opinion. But there were also numerous prophets who spoke both within and outside the Quaker community, calling the world to act justly toward one another, and taking great personal time, energy and risks to see that reform occurred. Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Levi Coffin, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, and many others spoke the truth regarding abolition and women's rights, and put their money and their lives where their mouth was. Others worked for prison reform, mental health care reform, temperance (a domestic violence issue) and other areas. And most of these people were Hicksites.

Our Yearly Meeting is a descendant of the Orthodox-Gurneyite tradition with a strong focus on the Bible and right belief. Perhaps we lost the ability to listen to the prophets among us for a while, but I don't think Quakerism as a whole did so. The question is, how can we have a strong focus on remaining true to historical Christianity while at the same time living in ways that reflect the present calling of Christ on our lives? Is it possible for us Gurneyites to not get so bogged down in our precious doctrines and declarations (Richmond Declaration) that we actually still listen to Christ speaking?

And if we listen to Christ, are we willing to break away from mainstream Christianity in the United States and live out that calling in more radical ways? Are we willing to be different, to not just be another Protestant denomination with a few quirks, like not taking communion? This is where I come back into agreement with Stan. We definitely need to make space to listen to prophets rising in our midst, and be willing to do the hard things that we hear. If we believe in the Bible and the historical Christ, is this something that actually makes a difference in our lives and the lives of those we come in contact with?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

composting quakerism podcast

I haven't been able to sit down and write about the second day of the immigration conference yet, but I did get to participate in a podcast where I told a bit about my experience at the conference and we discussed the issue of immigration a bit. You can find the Facebook page for it here, and you can download it on iTunes. You can also subscribe to it through Google Reader or RSS of your choice.

While you're at it, check out the other podcasts on Composting Quakerism! They deal with some interesting and important issues, as well as how we can respond as Friends. Here's an archive of last season's podcasts.

Friday, October 01, 2010

"christians & immigration in a land of contradiction" conference

Today was the first day of a 2-day conference at GFU called Christians and Immigration in a Land of Contradiction. (See the Facebook page and the blog if you're interested in learning more or joining the conversation.) If you're in the area, I think you can still come tomorrow if you want to. Just show up at Fox and register--it doesn't cost much. The first session is at 9am.

Anyway, I've been looking forward to this conference for quite a while, and posted a blog entry about it a while back. So it's great for it to actually be here. I guess what's important about it to me is that I care about this issue, but I feel woefully uninformed. I've learned a little Spanish (since that's the main immigrant population around here) and tried to get to know a few people who are recent immigrants, but I'm not sure how to really help make the situation better. So hopefully this conference will give me and the rest of us some ideas, as well as help clarify what the issues are.

Today I went with a group from the conference who visited an organization in Portland called VOZ (the Spanish word for "voice"). It's an organization of recent immigrants who work as day-laborers. The organization provides a place for people to come and wait for employers each day, and also helps ensure that the workers' rights are respected--that they get paid for the work they do and are paid a decent wage. They said previously most of the people who utilized VOZ were Latino, but as the economy has slumped there are more whites, African Americans and others who need work and come to VOZ. The city actually made it possible for them to open a Worker Center, which is of course beneficial to the laborers who have a safe, organized place to wait for work, and for the city, who don't get complaints from families and businesses because there are a bunch of people waiting for work on "their" street corners. So everybody's happy!

One interesting thing I learned today at VOZ is that it's not illegal to hire day-laborers even if they aren't in the country legally, at least in Oregon. (It IS illegal not to pay them.) This is good to know, because it means that any of us could try to help support those families who are having a rough time here by hiring them to do work, and not feel like we're doing something illegal. Our churches could even hire day-laborers to come do jobs like painting or landscaping or whatever our needs are.

If you live in or near Portland, VOZ just opened up a taco stand at the Worker Center where they wait for jobs. The address is 240 NE MLK Jr. Blvd., Portland, OR 97232. It's open M-F, 10-1. So if you need lunch in the Portland area, this is an excellent way to support the work of VOZ--it helps pay to keep the Worker Center open. VOZ also offers English classes and other skills training workshops. It's entirely worker-run, so it sounds almost like Quaker practice: they have a monthly meeting where all the workers are invited to come and share their thoughts and ideas, and they decide together on the course of action. (Quaker process without the faith part, I guess.)

Anyway, it seemed like a great organization. If you're in Portland and interested in a place to volunteer, it sounds like they appreciate volunteers of all kinds.

The other thing I did today at the conference was attend a session where we watched a movie created by the American Friends Service Committee called "Sueños Congelados," or "Frozen Dreams" (see a trailer for the film here). It is a documentary sharing the experiences of women working at a Del Monte food processing plant in Portland. The plant was raided by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in 2007. Over 100 women were detained, many taken to a detention center in Tacoma, WA, and many were deported from there without seeing their families again. The ones who remain formed a group called the Committee for Solidarity and Mutual Support, partially to support each other and partially to learn more about their rights and spread that information in their community. You can read a couple statements about their experience during the raid as well as their gratefulness for this group and AFSC's help in learning their rights and how to organize.

Just because they do not have the proper documentation does not mean these women do not have rights in our country. Just like any of the rest of us, they have the right to remain silent when arrested. They are not required to give self-incriminating evidence. They do not have to sign any papers that are put before them. They have a right to have an attorney present. They do not have to let ICE or any other law enforcement inside their home without a warrant. When they said these things on the film it made me think, "Well, these should be obvious!" and yet, since they're undocumented and scared, it wasn't obvious, even to me. So just by sharing these simple rights, I would imagine life would seem a little safer and less fear-inducing.

Another important thing that was brought up at the session was that we think about the supposed difference between civil and criminal law in our country. When one breaks a civil law, there may be a fine and one may have to appear in court (e.g., traffic court). But unless one commits a criminal offense, one does not end up in jail. Immigration violations are supposed to fit in this category. Not having a green card is not a criminal offense--and yet these women were handcuffed and taken to a detention center. Their families didn't know where they had gone for a while. After their release, many of the women were required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet so that immigration authorities could know their whereabouts at all times, and they were confined to specific geographical areas. Maybe we'd have fewer traffic violations if we treated people this way for speeding, but unless we're willing to undergo that kind of treatment for a similar offense, this way of treating people is actually illegal, not to mention unjust.

These women were mostly mothers, just trying to make enough of a living to feed and house their families. They moved here not because they wanted to live a life of fear from being undocumented, but because they didn't have much of a choice. They could stay in their countries and starve or live in an area that was war-torn and dangerous. Some were kicked off their family's traditional land so that it could be mined or clear cut (or both). What could they do besides come to a place where there was a chance their children would be educated and they could find a job?

How is this so different from most of our ancestors? Have not generations of immigrants--our ancestors included (unless you're Native American)--come to the United States for the same reasons? Why should our laws shut them out now and make it so difficult to be a properly-documented immigrant?

And for those who say immigrants are coming and taking "our" jobs, to me this is a farcical point. Most people who have grown up here in the United States don't want to do jobs like these people are doing. We don't want to do day-laborer jobs; we don't want to nanny people's kids or chop fruit all day or clean hotels all night; we don't want to pick entire crops of strawberries or grapes. Because of our pride and sense of entitlement, we actually need immigrants. I'd like to see what we would do if all the undocumented immigrants just left, or refused to work for a while, and see what happened to our economy and the luxuries we take in stride as "normal."

There's my rant for the evening--more to come after tomorrow's sessions.