Tuesday, May 17, 2011

as Friends, how do we care?

This month's Quaker blog carnival on QuakerQuaker asks the question, "How do we care?" The writing prompt suggests we think about what we mean when we say we are putting someone or something "under the care of" the meeting. I don't think I've ever heard this term used in my yearly meeting, but I've heard it elsewhere in Friends circles. I'm not sure we have an equivalent term or meaning. But that doesn't mean we don't care for one another!

I'm sometimes torn between being really grateful that meetings I've been a part of care for their members fairly well, and the fact that sometimes it's hard to see what we do for anyone outside our meeting. I wonder often what our role is supposed to be as the Church (universal): are we to care for one another in such a way that others are drawn to our community and want to become part of a group that cares so well for each other? Or does that make us seem like a clique that would be hard to be accepted into? Are we supposed to go outside our group of those we worship with on Sunday mornings and care for others in order to draw them in and help them learn to be part of a community they might not have found otherwise? Or, as is often the case, is the answer, "Yes, both"? But how do we find the time and energy to be that kind of caring community to those both inside and outside our worship group?

I guess we just do what we can, and hopefully what we're called to do.

I've felt cared for by my meeting community in many ways, but one of the biggest was when our first son was born. We were totally overwhelmed trying to figure out parenting a newborn and a huge life change. We were so grateful for the people who brought us meals and helped out in other ways. This prompted me to pay more attention when people in our meeting ask for others to provide meals for families when there are births, deaths, illnesses or other major events in which not having to think about cooking would be a huge blessing. This way of caring for each other is simple, but also profound in its effects and in the feeling of being cared for that people receive.

Something else I noticed when we lived away from the Northwest for a while: it's hard to get to know people in a new meeting, and those people who go out of their way to go beyond just a "Good morning" at meeting are really appreciated by newcomers or outsiders. We went to a Friends meeting where we didn't know anyone or have any connections, and it took a while for us to really get to know anyone. But there were a few individuals and families who really reached out to us. Some invited us over for dinner, some introduced us to another family who had a baby our son's age, some took us hiking, some simply made a point of talking to us and remembering our names, some took care of our kiddo faithfully in First Day School, week after week.

Since returning home, I've tried to be much more intentional about seeking people out who I don't know in meeting and making sure they feel welcome. This is not natural for me--it pushes me out of my comfort zone. We usually have a greeting time during our worship service where everyone gets up and walks around and says hello to people. I'm kind of an introvert, so normally I would just sit there and talk to whoever came to me, or talk to a friend next to me. But I'm trying to be intentional about scanning the group and looking for someone whose name I don't know. Sometimes we even have enough energy and forethought to invite people over for lunch to a house in some semblance of orderliness!

Some fellowship opportunities I really enjoy at our meeting are Wednesday night dinners together and community dances. These are caring opportunities in that they create space for us to get to know each other better, invite friends to come and be drawn into the community without any God-language being used, and they are places where we can have fun and play together. They are also intergenerational, which our meeting attempts to be good at. We want our meeting to be a place where all ages are welcome.

Our meeting also does some things to care for those who aren't part of our worshiping community. I'll just name a few. We have a clothes closet where those who need it can come get clothes for free. We keep gas vouchers and energy vouchers in the office so that when people come asking for help. we can give it. We created a path around our property so people can use it for walking and running, and there is an almost-finished labyrinth for people to use as a space to connect with God. Also, many individuals in our meeting work on projects either volunteer or paid that help others in one way or another.

I feel like our meeting is a caring place, and I try to listen to God when prompted to know how to care for others better. I'm grateful for the care I've received.

I wonder, though, if there are still more ways we could intentionally reach out with care for the larger community. We don't necessarily do anything risky, and we spend a lot of our time-resources on projects for ourselves. This is good in many ways, but is it the best use of our resources? How can we make sure we don't just get enmeshed in our own little community to the degree that we aren't available to care for those "outside"? Are there better ways of drawing people in that we aren't doing, or can't do because we spend too much time in our building?

When we "release" ministers, we mainly release them to work for us. Maybe as pastoral Friends we should create a model where we do all the internal work ourselves, and release those called to do social justice work in our communities, or to organize us to do that kind of work together.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


By popular demand (from my grandma!), I'll let you know that North Valley Friends Church now has a podcast, which you can listen to weekly if you'd like, but also you could listen to me give the message I wrote about last month.

To subscribe to the podcast through iTunes, go here.
To view and listen to individual sessions of the podcast, go here.
To hear my message from April 3, go here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

book review part 2: without apology

If you missed part 1, you can find it here.

I wanted to interact with the "Modest Postscript" at the end of Chuck Fager's work, Without Apology: The Heroes, The Heritage and the Hope of LIberal Quakerism. He gives a rather glowing conclusion to his work, filled with optimism and hope for the direction and ideals of liberal Quakerism. He states: "Yes, we can do it better. Yet if Liberal Quakers stay the course and mind the Light, our movement's future as a growing and vital part of the people of God should be bright and fruitful. We can face the challenges of a new century with ope, with confidence, and without apology" (Fager,1996, 149).

Then he turns the page and presents "A Modest Postscript," in which he gives some criticisms and some suggestions for ways Liberal Friends could live their faith more effectively. As I read through the list I was surprised to find myself agreeing with the list not only for Liberal Friends, but also for Friends in my evangelical yearly meeting (Northwest).

1. Fager speaks of a lack of good religious education and spiritual formation opportunities, and for us, even though we release ministers, we still struggle to do this work effectively.

2. Many who come to programmed Friends meetings have no knowledge of the history of Friends, as he says of Liberal Friends.

3. He says evangelicals do better than Liberal Friends at evangelism, but I'm not really sure this is the case. True, it's sometimes really difficult to find Friends meetings, but people actually look for them! And people come to a Friends meeting who wouldn't set foot in a church building because of being wounded by "the church." Many times, when people hear about Quakers, they feel immediately drawn to them, and if they can find a Quaker meeting they'll try it out.

4. Communication across distances--this one isn't so bad now that we live in the "digital age," because obviously the Internets keep us all connected and make it much easier to find Friends wherever we go. So I would imagine this isn't as big of a problem now as it was in 1996. It seems like the online presence of FWCC and QuakerQuaker help Friends to stay connected with one another not just across distances, but across the spectrum of Friends in a way that wasn't as possible before the World Wide Web.

5. Fager talks about fear of anger and conflict, and although evangelicals might have different reasons, we still have this problem. We don't want to rock the boat. It's sometimes easier to just focus on the lowest common denominator ("I like Jesus, how 'bout you? Great!") than to dig any deeper. We don't want to cause any more splits! But then we don't actually know each other so it's a false community.

6. Fager cites "anti-Christian prejudice," which isn't so much the case in evangelical circles...but we do have issues of other prejudices. We could even say "anti-liberal prejudice." You should have seen the debate about whether we would affiliate with FWCC! Yoking ourselves with unbelievers??? And Liberal Friends are the worst because they stole our name! People might confuse us with them! We forget that Christ is at work in the lives of Liberal Friends, and that we have much to learn from them, as they do from us. We need a little more humility, perhaps.

7. Number 7 made me laugh: "American Liberal Quakers are almost universally afflicted with what I call the NPR Syndrome" (Fager, 1996, 154). (NPR = National Public Radio.) He means that many (most) Liberal Friends get their information from NPR and it's easy to confuse God's voice with that voice you hear on the radio, and assign the level of importance to an issue as it is assigned on NPR, etc. It's a way of making oneself feel smart and educated, and to look down on others who don't listen to NPR. This creates a mono-culture that views everything similarly to each other, through the lens created by those running NPR rather than through Spirit-leading. Yes, Liberal Friends are guilty of this...but many of us Evangelical Friends have this same disease!

8. Fager criticizes "the collapse of Quaker volunteer service." Although I hadn't thought about it in these terms, Evangelical Friends have similar problems. Sure, we have short-term missions opportunities, to get people out of their comfort zone for a few weeks and experience poverty or what have you. But besides missionaries, how many Friends spend a significant amount of time serving others, at home or abroad, in a social justice-oriented way? We as Friends aren't really creating those opportunities, or supporting those who choose them very effectively.

In a way, the mandatory draft forced Friends (and Mennonites, etc.) to live out our faith more than we do if we have a choice. Since those drafted had to either go into the army or do voluntary service, those Friends organizations that used to offer voluntary service opportunities had plenty of people ready to serve. Now that we don't have to face that choice, most of us just stay home and find a nice, safe job.

I guess what I'm trying to say in this review is that perhaps as Friends we have more in common than we think. We have similar strengths and weaknesses; we don't get everything right. But we do have a focus on a personal and communal experience of the Living God. Hopefully this focus will continue to heal our schisms and allow us to work together for God's glory, helping others and ourselves recognize God's activity in the world around us.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

book review part 1: without apology

This book is, to some degree, on the other end of the Quaker spectrum from the last book I reviewed. And yet, both have truth to tell about us as a Society of Friends, historically and presently. I read this one about a year ago as well, and found it really interesting and helpful.

Written in 1996, this book by Chuck Fager is entitled Without Apology: The Heroes, The Heritage and the Hope of Liberal Quakerism. He states as his thesis, "Liberal Quakerism is an authentic and vibrant part of the people of God known as the Religious Society of Friends. We have many failings, but God is not finished with us yet--far from it. The Spirit is active here, we are still being called to renewal and witness, and many of us, in various places and various ways are responding" (Fager, x). I find it encouraging and somewhat humorous that if we substituted the word "liberal" for the word "evangelical" in that quote in my Evangelical Friends Yearly Meeting (NWYM), we would say that's what we've been working on lately, too. I've heard the exact same language used--in fact, I believe our keynote address from our yearly meeting superintendent a couple years ago was entitled, "God's not done with us yet." Fager states that his body of Friends struggles to hold together the words "liberal" and "Quaker," while those in NWYM struggle to figure out how to live out the best of the terms "evangelical" and "Quaker." Fager's book reminds me of all we have in common. Fager uses God-language and speaks of the true Church.

Sure, we have differences. The most important difference, of course, in this whole debate, is the role of Jesus. But here is Fager's definition of Liberal Quakerism:

"An ongoing effort to make visible a particular portion of the true Church, by means of the specific traditions and disciplines of the Religious Society of Friends. This very idea of manifesting the true Church is, we believe, rooted in the early Quakers' unique and inclusive understanding of the Society's Christian background and origins. The key Quaker disciplines by which this part of the Church is constituted are: silence-based, unprogrammed worship; a free ministry led by the spirit; decision-making by the worshipful sense of the meeting; church structures kept to a spartan, decentralized minimum; cultivation of the inward life of both individual and the group; a preference for unfolding experience of truth, or 'continuing revelation,' over creeds and doctrinal systems; and devotion to the historic but evolving Quaker testimonies, especially peace, simplicity and equality." (Fager, xi-xii)

This is something I feel that many in NWYM, at least, would also stand behind as being a definition of who we are (or want to be).

Fager starts off his book with a story about a gathering of the various streams of Friends to be held in 1977--the first to happen in over 50 years, due to evangelical Friends not wanting to associate with non-Christ centered folk (Fager says this much more kindly). The issue of homosexuality came up before the conference, and evangelical Friends refused to even come to the conference if the issue was even acknowledged. Evangelicals did eventually come, there was news coverage, no exhibits about sexual orientation were alllowed, although there was a workshop held off-site.

Fager points out that the real issue isn't homosexuality--and perhaps he would debate my contention stated earlier that the real issue is the role of Jesus. He says the real issue is ecclesiology, the nature of the church--who gets in, and who gets out. He puts his finger on the heart of the matter, I believe, because he shows that it is the desire to control access to God that really defines evangelicalism. He doesn't say it that way--he's actually very grace-filled in the way he deals with evangelicals. But since I'm a member of an evangelical yearly meeting I'll be a little more harsh with my own people. I think this point is so important! It's not that we really care who people are sleeping with or what they're drinking or any of those things that we endlessly debate. It's that we want to control access to God, and this is inherently un-Quakerly. Quakers historically stood for unmediated access to the real Presence of a God who can and does speak to and through each and every one of us. The question is, are we willing to let go long enough to trust God to speak to and through those with whom we disagree?

Of course this is a slippery slope...how do we know where to stop? Fager addresses this with, what else?, the Quaker idea of the Inner Light of Christ. We listen to the Inner Light of Christ in ourselves and in others. We allow God to choose who's "in" and who's "out," and we simply "Mind the Light"--in other words, we do as we're called to do and journey with others to try to help them make that journey as well. This is a concept found in Quakerism from very early on. Although early Friends were embarrassingly evangelistic, even for most modern-day evangelicals, they were also "universalist" in terms of their belief that God is speaking to and in all people. Fox and others recognized the same Spirit of Christ they knew at work in Native American tribes before they knew the name "Jesus."

Fager asks, "Which one is Quaker? or Christian?" in his third chapter. I personally conclude, "Both...and neither." I think both groups are doing good things, and both are doing some things we could improve upon. Fager tells a "parable" about the Golden Gate Bridge that I think is helpful. He says that, just like Jesus being the "narrow road," one doesn't have to know the whole origins of how the Golden Gate Bridge came into existence, what it's made of, its structure, etc. One simply has to find it and get onto it, and drive straight until one reaches the other side.

I guess to me it seems like in my yearly meeting it's too easy to get sidetracked on issues that don't matter, issues that seem too close to control issues and don't allow enough trust of God and God's ability to work in the world. We get sidetracked with debates about whether x or y behavior is OK, and we forget to do the work of actually showing Christ's love to people. We need to remember that it's not what we profess with our mouths that's important. Jesus said there will be people who cry, "Lord, Lord," but who didn't follow his teachings, and others who say, "Who the heck are you?" but whom Jesus knows because of their deeds. This parable is not about heaven and hell. It's about whether we're willing to do the hard work of following Jesus' teachings and example, or whether we're just going to talk about it. And I think a lot of times, Liberal Friends do a much better job of showing God's love and acceptance to people than Evangelical Friends.

OK, there's my rant for the evening. This post is long enough and I'm tired enough that I'd better stop here. Tomorrow (or sometime soon) I'll write an additional post about Fager's criticisms of Liberal Friends, and compare that to Evangelical Friends. I also might say some nice things about Evangelical Friends at some point...I haven't done that much here. But obviously there has to be something good about them, since I've chosen to align myself with them, right? And there is. But I think criticism from within is healthy, even if it's hard to hear.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

book review: through flaming sword

About a year ago I read the recently re-published edition of Aruthur Roberts' Through Flaming Sword. I was in my first trimester of pregnancy at the time so I read a bunch of books, laying in bed moaning because I felt sick, and didn't have enough energy to write anything about them. So now that I have a 5-month-old, I'm getting back around to writing this entry.

I enjoyed reading Through Flaming Sword. It's a brief overview of George Fox's life, ministry and Journal. For someone who hasn't read Fox's Journal and isn't planning on wading through 600+ pages of 17th century text, this book is a good speed, I would imagine. It covers the highs and lows of Fox's experience, and connects his ministry with Friends testimony and sense of calling in the 350 years since. I would definitely recommend this book to people interested in learning about Fox and the beginnings of Quakerism.

That said, even if Arthur didn't attend my meeting, I would definitely have been able to tell he's an Evangelical Friend. The things he chose to emphasize about Fox's life and the things he pointed to as most important about his writing are things that most closely align with the beliefs of Evangelical Friends. In that way it seemed somewhat preachy, if one knows the broader context of Friends (as Arthur does, quite well). It seemed like perhaps he was writing to convince people of the direct line of connection between Fox and Evangelical Friends. While I agree that Evangelical Friends do come in a direct line of tradition from Fox and his teachings, I also know that there are other things Fox said and did that don't fit as well with the Evangelical message! That's why I feel like Evangelical Friends hold an unique tension, since we're not exactly Evangelicals, nor are we exactly Friends, in the way many people stereotype either of these groups. I feel that when we try to convince people that we're really not that different--really we're pretty normal, just your average non-denominational, nice evangelical group--we lose something of importance. It's not that we just want to be different, but it's that we have truth to share with the wider body of the Church. I think Arthur definitely believes this as well, but perhaps was somewhat tired of seeing Fox claimed by those who don't consider themselves Christians.

At any rate, I found this to be a helpful book, and one that I would use in a course on Quakerism, or perhaps a small group that wanted to learn more about Fox and the history of Friends. You can buy this book from Barclay Press.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

death in various forms

I've been thinking about death over the last several days for various reasons.

First, I read a book by Elizabeth Berg called Talk Before Sleep. It's a decent book about a woman going through the death of her friend by breast cancer. I like Elizabeth Berg, and although I don't think this was her strongest piece, it was well-written. She has a way of drawing you in to the characters and their stories that makes even a story about the mundane rhythms of waiting for death into a page-turner.

Second, my great-uncle passed away last week. I haven't seen him for several years, but I always liked him. He loved Mustangs, and he fixed up several and took them to car shows. I remember the first time I ever rode in a convertible, he drove one up from California and I had a great time riding around with my hair blowing in my face. He died while out camping alone, of natural causes. I think it's great that he died doing something he loved, and being out in nature. I hope when I'm in my 70s I'm still doing the things I love. If you're going to die, that seems like a pretty good way to do it.

Third, there's Osama bin Laden. It's been interesting hearing people's responses on Facebook or on NPR (those are probably my two main sources of news information...). Here's what I posted as my Facebook status when I figured out what had happened:

"Just looked at FB updates about how it was weird people were rejoicing over someone's death...figured it must be bin Laden before anyone mentioned his name. Who else would it be? Here's hoping God knows how to work good from this whole situation, and that we can start rebuilding instead of destroying."

Then, when I read a few other people's status updates, I added:

"...and may blind patriotism not take over our country again just b/c we managed to, after 10 yrs of destruction, get this one bad guy. Do Americans realize how many more terrorists we've created by our response? And how like terrorists we've become???"

It's kind of surreal knowing he's died. I keep thinking about how he had a mother who at one point (presumably) thought he was the most beautiful baby ever born, who held him and kissed him and lovingly changed his diapers. I hope he experienced that kind of love, anyway. Now I'm not saying that he was a good person or anything, just wondering at what point in life a beautiful child can turn into a twisted man who believes killing innocent people will make the world a better place. I think this about our own soldiers, too, when they choose to follow orders to drop bombs that will kill innocent people, or to state those orders.

Fourth, our experiment with chicken "farming" took a turn for the worse today. Last night something got three of our six chickens! We had brought Wet and Blanket outside in their own little pen (our 4-year-old son named them), and until last night they'd had a heat lamp on them each night. Joel made a roost for them but it didn't have a door. The other chickens had been fine the nights we'd forgotten to close their door, so we stopped closing it, so they wouldn't get annoyed with each other, sitting confined in their coop until we finally roll out of bed. Anyway, something got the two little ones. They were adolescent-ish with feathers growing in. I found pieces of them on the ground and then most of their remains in the crotch of a big oak tree right outside the fence. One of the big chickens is still missing, but I didn't see any of it, not even feathers, so it might have gotten away and just gotten lost.

Being one of the ones responsible for their survival, I feel pretty bad! The poor things were pretty helpless out there in the dark, on the first night without their heat lamp. What a way to go...

Pondering all of these deaths, it's interesting how the death of each of these individuals hits me differently because of their different situations. They're all sad (even the fictitious one, because people die of cancer every day similarly to the story). But the sense of sadness is different for each. It puts life into perspective, though--its fragility and its beauty, and the immensity of the effects of our choices on the lives of others and ourselves, and the immensity of the lack of control we have about so many things.