Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Good Enough for Green: GreenFaith Fellowship first retreat report-back

I was pleased to be sponsored by Westtown School in my application to the GreenFaith Fellowship Program, and upon hearing of my acceptance, was at once excited and had trepidations about being part of a program with ordained clergy. As a Friend who attended an Episcopal seminary, I had the good luck of having fellow Quaker students in my cohort, and the willingness to engage with larger questions of church and justice in a broader Christian landscape.  Learning and leading with fellow travelers who were seeking ordination, I gained an appreciation and respect for those called to lead in congregations, and confirmation in my belief in the priesthood of all, the lack of laity that is at the heart of Friends’ faith.
I should not have been worried with engaging with clergy again. Having just completed the first of three retreats that are part of this program, I can safely say that those called to save our planet through the lens of diverse faiths know that what is at stake is reaching out across faith differences, and committing with whole heart to this shared challenge that our faiths call to us.
This program spans 18 months, includes three face-to-face retreats, and monthly webinars. We write eco-autobiographies, theological research from our faith traditions, and plan and implement leadership projects. This program will offer me space to engage theologically with the ecological and justice commitments that motivate me in my work.
GreenFaith’s mission is “to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.  Our work is based on beliefs shared by the world’s great religions - we believe that protecting the earth is a religious value, and that environmental stewardship is a moral responsibility.” ( This first retreat, focused on stewardship, offered many insights into the diversity of faiths represented, and our common cause of catalyzing our communities for bold faithful environmental work. Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Atheist, Catholic, Episcopal, United  Church of Christ, Baptist, New Church Movement, Lutheran Fellows  were represented from around the USA and Canada—and one Fellow from Finland! It was truly an inspiring and challenging event. 
At the retreat, we met in year cohorts. I am a member of the 2013 cohort, and the 2012 cohort was having their last retreat with us. Although I was the only Friend in attendance, we had ample opportunity to engage Friends values, as we convened at Pendle Hill, and one of our site visits was to the Friends Center to hear about the process and results of the greening of that building. We also toured a green jobs training center in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, and participated in green site audits at a local Presbyterian Church, and synagogue.
It was exciting to hear about the leadership projects that the 2012 fellows are doing. From liturgical music with earth care themes, to lunchtime discussions in faith communities, to online interfaith organizing, to programming on the regional and national level, these fellows modeled the strategic and systematic thinking needed to bring the good word of our environmental moment to communities still unsure of what to do, or how to do it from grounding in faith.
Our next retreat, in May, is at a Buddhist retreat in upstate New York, and the theme is Spirit. We will be surrounded by beauty, and have the chance to hike and reflect on the deep well of our faiths. I cannot wait to see what work becomes clear for me as I embrace my call to be good enough for the greening of our planet and faiths.  I look forward to further reflection and growth with this dynamic program, and the openings that will occur in me as I continue my faithful pursuit of integration of my sense of ministry with the work of the land.
all photos thanks to Jamaal Reavis

Monday, January 14, 2013

Full Circle

I am at Pendle Hill for a retreat on environmental stewardship for religious leaders.  I get to spend three nights in this lovely holy place with religious leaders from many faiths-- Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic-- learning and teaching together from our diverse locations. I am a member of the 2013 GreenFaith Fellowship Program, and I am thrilled to be back at Pendle Hill.

If you don't know Pendle Hill, it's a Quaker retreat, conference, and study center on 24 acres in Wallingford, PA. Folks come for conferences, to study, to do art, to be among Friends.  It's also where I have had some of my greatest spiritual growth. 
me in 2002 at Pendle Hill

I came here first as a student in 1997, for a term in the spring, as a resident student. I then returned in summer of 1999 to be a summer staffer in between my second and third year of seminary. And again, and finally my last return to Pendle Hill was in 2001, to be a seasoned Social Action Social Witness intern, sharing my skills with the community and engaging in non-violence training in prison and community with the Alternatives to Violence Project. I learned bio-intensive gardening here, and worked in the bookstore. I left that work in 2003. 

Pendle Hill is a type of home for me.  A home I left a decade ago and only recently started returning to, now with a child, a partner, a life apart from this place that for quite awhile seemed like the place I was meant to come back to, someday. Come back to stay. Come back to be in community, to live, to grow old and die here. 
This tree was planted in spring 1997 in honor of Wilf Howarth,
at the rise of my first meeting for worship at Pendle Hill. 

This returning, however, is different than I had once imagined. This returning is to a place that holds so much memory, is full of nostalgia and meaning. The space where we are meeting, even this space has many memories-- frenetic drumming circles raising me to crazy heights on a hot June night, meeting Vincent and Rosemarie Harding and their Veterans of Hope elders, experiencing deep healing around the hurts of racism and homophobia with Niyonu Spann in her Beyond Diversity 101 workshop, cleaning bathrooms and making beds as part of my summer housekeeping job with beloved Charlotte and Alison, doing dishes and serving food as a work exchange student with the charismatic Sonya, Costa Rican Quaker chef, teacher, folksinger, friend. All of this happened to me here, in this space where I am writing right now. And there is more that will surface over the next days. And I am ready for it. 

Even the art in this room is made by the amazing Melanie Weidner who I knew when she was here as an arts scholar. I feel like everything here has a person's face connected with it, a beloved face that I cannot keep with me when I am not here. Each memory is a gift.

Now I am seeing that I am living a full circle. I have returned here to be confirmed in my vision for the life and work in my heart. I feel as if I have arrived back where I began, at a place of need and being met in my need, in a place that has much to give. And this returning is telling me that it is time to jump off this wheel, into the blessed unknown of vision and seeking space for that vision. 

This is a post of gratitude for the deep stream that is carrying me, whether or not I recognize it. This deep stream carries these memories, these faces, the souls who have traveled along, for awhile, and touched my life. Here's a moment where I can see the stream clearly, eddying around my feet, calling me on, and downstream, further along this beloved path. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Come Unity

I just came back from a small gathering of Friends in a home, a reunion of the Called to Action 2012 group of which I was a member. This group met monthly for six months for day long workshops led by elders in Friends and movement settings, bringing the good word of integrated spirituality in activism, and strategic organizing as a vehicle of God's grace. 

It was pretty amazing. Many folks were laid low with flu, so that was sad. But among we who could make it,  what we came to, as we worshipped, ate, reflected, settled in together, was a full circle of what one Friend called the mobius strip of activism, the union of the inner and the outer journey that we strove to articulate and embrace in our time together as teachers and learners. 

At one point in the evening, we were discussing loneliness. A number of us shared in some way that loneliness had touched us, and how the convention of gossip and idle chatter were not comfortable for us. I sort of blurted out; "That's why I could never be a priest in a church-- coffee hour. Leading and sharing a deep spiritual experience and then going and drinking coffee afterwards-- that's my definition of a circle of hell. That's what's different about Friends: we are all priests, and so the burden of priesthood is not so heavy when we are all carrying it. It makes coffee hour a bit easier for me." 

This is the gift of Friends, the gift that I find unique and truly Quakerly. It's not owned by Friends, it appears in other faiths, as well-- the sense that we are all called, or could be so, to minister. But this truth is most lived, in my experience, among Friends. And because of this potential, this spark of Spirit in each of us, we all share the burden, the weighty role of holding worship, being the containers of our shared and disparate faith. 

I've traveled in a number of faith traditions, and tried to make my faith fit into those communities. But it is only among Friends that I have found this radical belief in the end of laity-- the true Society of Friends, where we are all potentially charged with the gifts of the Spirit. This I feel more lived among Friends than any other setting I've been in. And so, I am a Quaker.

This speaks to the possibility of continuing revelation. This practice and belief requires of Friends a faith that is strong and openly risking a diffuse and diverse truth! No wonder we look to our histories to give us lived examples of how to handle this hot, uncertain, risky hope. 

Some Friends speak recently of the need to be "ready to die to Quakerism so that the gospel Friends proclaim may find fullest expression." I think, more, that we need to truly live into this Quaker-ism, this mindset and worldview. Not the formalism of correct language, or idolatry of the past (which I will say I have not seen in the main in my experience among Friends), but the event of Friendship, if I can describe it thus.

We need the willingness to wait upon the Spirit, in the diverse ways we are led to do so, and minister to each other, in love and truth. Calls to die to a shared faith community smack of the wearing of hair shirts or the bizarre view that self-harm leads to sanctification. We do not help anyone, least of all the bringing of the kin-dom, through inflicting threats of dispersal and rejection of practices deeply rooted in the gospel. I believe that this shared and disparate faith tradition can move all of us closer to God, without exception or condition. It doesn't look like anything we know, but I have seen small glimmers, like at our dinner table tonight. And I know this experimentally.