Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On the Becoming of a Quaker

A meaningful conversation with a Friend over the weekend has confirmed for me that perhaps, yes, I am a Quaker. It was her fire and anger that showed me the way to move into this identity more fully, to know that Friends can handle and need that fire in their meetings, in their processes, in and among them like so much kindling. By hearing of her anger at injustice among Friends, her visiting another faith in hopes of more integrity, something just sunk in that a mentor shared with me 13 years ago. We were discussing whether or not I could, as a christian, be part of the Unitarian Universalist church. She said, "Deciding on a denomination is about deciding where you want to struggle, because no religious home is ideal." 

Friends speak of an Inner Light, but until I saw the fire of my Friend's anger, I did not believe that the light could be a fire. I'm not sure why it was her anger and expression of betrayal that got me, but it did. You might think that contradictory, but the truth is that I knew, even with her rage and seeking to move faiths, that this Friend is truly a Quaker, truly fired by the Spirit, in a way that I had not seen, had not let myself feel so keenly. 

With this knowledge, I am sitting with the diversity of the gifts of the Spirit, and how to best hold the possibilities. Last night, in gathered worship around the words of Walt Whitman, the refrain from the film Fame would not stop playing in my head-- I Sing the Body Electric, I celebrate the Me yet to come, I toast to my own reunion, when I become one with the sun! And we look back on Venus, we look back on Mars, and we burn with the fire of ten million stars, and in time, and in time, we will all be stars. 

Sometimes it feels like holding the Spirit's working in my life risks the explosion of the celestial. Sometimes it feels like chalk in my mouth. Sometimes it feels like thick sludge. But regardless of the felt sense, whatever this templebody is telling me, the Sprit is always there-- nameless, named, infinite and specific. This journey to Friends and the felt sense of the fire of Spirit is a long one, and I am grateful that I am taking one more step towards the home where, and the people with whom, I can struggle. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What is Our Story? Called to Action and the Us of Ministering Friends

As a member of the 2012 Called to Action cohort, I have been challenged to articulate story as a primary vehicle of persuasion, witness, and strategic beginnings of change. I know intimately the importance of story in feminist circles, particularly as it pertains to what Letty Russell calls 'hearing women into speech,' through the work of listening to each other and calling our voices from the silence of misogyny. This challenge, however, is to take this authentic and sometimes long process of story and to use it strategically, persuasively, and authentically. 

Are all of these things possible? Can story be honed and changed to maximize its effect? In a liberal consciousness, perhaps not. But as I seek to respond to the deep leadings of radical presence, and the deep call to bring all of myself to bear-- even my stories-- on change work, then I say yes. Our full intelligences are needed to hone our voices for this very public struggle for a dominant narrative. Will our stories be told by Fox News? Will our stories be told by the religious right

It's important to realize that we, as a liberal/progressive and diverse faith of Friends, have important stories to tell to the world that, if properly focused and shared, will blow mindless fear mongering out of the water. 

I am aware that not all Friends will identify with their faith as a progressive one. I would welcome thoughts on this from conservative perspectives, as I think that even with this gift of diversity, there are shared values and stories that need to be conveyed, that move beyond the divisions within the faith. Maybe wishful thinking, but I'm sticking to it. 

So here's a try at a story. I italicize story here because it is not simply a story to entertain, but a story to compell. This story is one I tell to you, as Friends seeking greater understanding, perhaps wanting to name the powerful center of our shared and disparate faith. I offer this story to you, as an invitation and challenge. Welcome to my hope and vision of the power of Friends' faith. 


We are seekers all, challenging ourselves to stretch our faith into the work of rightness, right relationship, hope. We are Friends standing on the shoulders of Giants, our ancestors who sought, as we do, to live more rightly in this world. We stand in the long stream of tradition of ministers traveling in the faith-- calling prophecy, raising up justice to fall like mighty waters upon the faithful, the struggling, those with ears to hear.

As Friends in communities, we grieve together, we play together with our children and fellow travelers, we come together to seek that small voice, that voice in worship that is so illusive, that Teacher who whispers, or who yells, but who we are afraid to let use us for His/Her/Their purposes. When we are lucky, or strong, we have ministered deeply to each other in our shared worship. 

But the question remains, in the silence or in speech, is this enough? In my home community at Westtown School, most often students in the Upper School gather in wooden silence weekly for meeting for worship. The voice that is calling goes unheeded, often, and the fear is palpable. It's scary to speak, even when the heart is thumping, even when the words are tripping on our tongues. The sour taste of words denied is somehow easier than the risk of letting the Spirit loose in our hearts and minds. 

This need not be. One Sunday in the fall I brought a group of students to the worship at Occupy Philadelphia, and they were amazed.  The cacophony of the square did not encroach on the power of our circle. The holy noise around us-- drums, drunken argument, crying children and queries for change-- was the space from which our Teacher emerged. The gathered meeting was brought by boldness, by welcome, and by a public faith. The students who experienced it GOT IT in a way that our large meeting could not allow. The gift of that meeting was that the fear was gone. Our bodies were cold, it was hard to hear sometimes, but it did not stop the Spirit from visiting us in word and song. 

And so your choice, dear Friend reading here, in the fire of the Spirit that abides in and around us all, is to say yes to the ministry birthing in you today. Do not let the Spirit's leading sour on your tongue. Be an example of the holy foolishness of the true charge of our faith. Throw off the shackles of our inhibiting selves and move into the power of the ministry of all believers. That means you. Speak, risk, share this practice widely, on city streets, in living rooms, in a visit to a different faith. Invite all to worship, through the silence into speech. Then we will hear the voice of our shared and disparate God. And what a chorus that will be.