19 November 2007

Discerning the parts of the Whole

In our meeting's adult RE, we have been discussing discernment, what it is, how it works, what blocks us, and so on. We are relating it to discernment individually and for and in the meeting. It's a big topic!

Yesterday, following my AM blogging, and in that discussion at meeting, I came to see at another level how important the worship sharing that is being encouraged within the monthly meetings of Baltimore Yearly Meeting are.

We are a long way from a sense of how to proceed in our disagreement with the policies of Friends United Meeting. So of course, it makes sense to discuss this at the monthly meeting level, where deeper worship and sharing can take place.

What I realized yesterday, is how much support is needed for those who are truly feeling leadings, myself included, and how much discernment at a meeting and individual level is both desired and required.

Our elders are asking us to go within. They are providing us with a summary of information for the benefit of all of us having like knowledge, but the real calling is for worship and listening for God's leading.

I recognized in this session how much I rely on the guidance and forthrightness of those who know me best in my monthly meeting, to help me test my leadings, and to encourage me to bring them forth. I saw that this is also my own job, to listen intently to that of God in the person next to me.

Some of you may be saying, "of course," and I can even say that today, but yesterday morning it was truly an "aha" moment, a calling back to Spirit, a feeling at one with the whole.

We need each part of the body of Christ in order to be the Whole One.

18 November 2007

Is there a conflict here?

Friends, I posted parts of this comment on Johann Maurer's blog about the BYM/FUM conflict, as it has come to be called. As I wrote, I realized that I wanted to post it here as well, and expand a bit, since I have truly been LABORING with this concern since our summer sessions of BYM.

As a member of BYM who was present as this report (of our BYM representatives to FUM) was read, and who has been laboring under this concern for quite some time, I have read and reread your reports Johann, knowing that I wanted to comment, but not quite being able to state my feelings. I am a liberal Friend, who does believe that we are all one body of Christ, though I admit that we all have many definitions of what that means. It was not until I read that simple sentence in the beginning of sailheaven's comment, "There was no confirmation for me that any of the discussion as brought forward was Spirit led, " that I was able to find words for what is stirring inside of me.

What if the indwelling Spirit IS calling us to join and mend the schism between us, but in that mending we must all call into question the very common habits of our everyday existence as Friends? What if we are called to deep worship with one another, in order to see where God is leading us to a new place? In my own understanding, the main difference between a "liberal" and "conservative" Friend is the question of who is saved. I know I am putting myself out on a limb here, and I welcome comments (I will post this comment on my own blog as well for that purpose).

What if, as Philip Gulley says, God saves all people (See If Grace is True)?

What if it is time to put the biblical tenets that the personnel policies of FUM are founded on, that certain behaviors are sin, to the test of worship as one body?

What if this is truly a matter of where God is leading us to TODAY, which may be very different that what we assume is TRUTH?

Are we open to that test of faith? I have had to ask myself that question. If I ask my Friends of all persuasions to sit in worship with me, seeking direction, can I face that the answer might not be what I THINK is right? I believe so, though I cannot say this with total certainty.

Often when I have felt a leading, I have lead myself off course when my own ego and intellect intercepted my vision before it had time to season. How many of us are prey to that?

This has been the hardest challenge of my spiritual journey as a convinced Friend. Over 25 years I have turned more and more to the indwelling Spirit, and it has truly shaped and molded me. I have been blessed to make major life changes as a result, and to be gifted to be present with others through their own life changes.

At the moment that this issue was first addressed within Baltimore Yearly Meeting, which in my memory was at BYM summer sessions several years ago, when Lamar Matthews and others returned from the Trienniel in Rwanda and informed us that he had been disallowed to lead a worship group because of his relationship status, I began to feel a deep rumbling.

This rumbling has not gone away. How could Friends who encountered the loving spirit of a Friend like Lamar possibly deny the workings of the indwelling Christ in his life? The only way, my mind told me, was if the trappings of our religion were followed at the expense of the leading of Spirit. I had unfortunately just had my own experience with this frailty of our human condition, having let a leading I had in another issue be overrun by my own "knowledge" of how a situation should be handled.

The parallels were undeniable. Therefore, I had no choice but to return to silence, knowing that were I to proceed too quickly, I would most likely fall into the same trap of my ego. I have talked to others, attended information sessions, listened with great curiousity to the reports of our intervisitation program and our FUM representatives, and then continued to return to the silence.

It was not until this summer, when I sat listening to the FUM rep. report, that I felt a leading to step forward and volunteer as an alternative rep. to FUM to fill the void left by Rachel Stacy's resignation. This was purely based on one phrase, "Call them to worship," that I kept and still keep hearing in my deepest parts. I'm not sure I know how to do that, except for myself. I know only too well what happens when I don't listen deeply. And I know that I do not hear enough calls to silence in this process.

Please Friends, return to silence and the indwelling Spirit. Consider the possibility of something new, that may be different than we all can see with our limited minds.

16 November 2007

To everything a season

Probably the best and the worst aspects of blogging are the way it reminds you if you have or haven't been paying attention to your spiritual life.

Lately I've been caught up in the physical aspects of my life. As a landscape designer and installer, it's the time of year when things have to be put to bed, the last bulbs have to be planted, and generally there's a flurry of activity as one feels the chill set more and more into the air each day. At times like this, when I could probably use to be more centered, I arise from bed, mind already racing and rush off to work. Often it is mid-morning before things settle down enough that I mutter a quick "Thank you for this day." At the end of the day, I return, tired and worn out, and fall into bed.

After a few days like this, my mental and spiritual state begins to frazzle, and I am reminded that I need to return to my daily spiritual practices. At least it is only a few days. Used to be that months or weeks would go by, and it would be only when my life was falling apart around me that I would be reminded from deep inside of what it is that gives me my balance, that eternal source of all.

I've been thinking of the text, "To everything there is a season..." The other day, as one of my kids was watching a kids TV show, I heard the Dad of the family say, "That means God is always with you, through hard times and good." I've been raised in my early life as a congregationalist, where the passage was taught as, "God has a reason for that happening, whether you know it or see it now, or not." That was a peaceful thing in my teen years, but I outgrew it as I outgrew that community. It certainly makes more sense to me that God is always with me, through every season.

I've been focusing on accepting myself more, just as I believe the Eternal accepts me, through all the phases of my life. Not what others think, not what the community I am a part of thinks as a whole, but what I believe is the way God made me. I have always had my own rhythms and paces of life (don't we all), but I've spent a lot of time in life fighting against them. It was eye-opening to me when I began to study oriental herbology and my sensei pointed out to me that the philosphy of oriental medicine is to flow with the seasons. It was then that I began to see that I did have my own cycles, and began to listen to them.

Now I feel myself finishing the harvest, preparing for the long winter's nap. In my case, that means slowing the pace, going inward, preparing some indoor projects to feed my mind and body, and resting up before the spring's activity. I'm going to try and focus on renewing my spiritual practices, like yoga, writing, and prayer. I'm going to try and resist filling the days so full as I do in the summer, when the sun and the gardens edge me on. This seems like the season for more listening for me.

29 October 2007

Psalm for a blogging experience

Dear Friends --
How does a non-techhie Friend get linked to you? Blogging and connecting with other Friends around the globe is so appealing to me, yet so elusive.

Like my early experiences of connecting with God in worship, you are so close yet so far away.

I have been searching the web for you, reading, occasionally commenting, writing here, even praying and meditating, yet you elude me.

Even though I cry out for you, I am lost in the wilderness of the online experience, and I cannot reach you. Where are you? What can I do to connect to you?

I will trust in the Lord my God to help me. In all other things he has answered me. I will seek the light and become more quiet. I am listening, Lord.

26 October 2007

Faith of the Harvest

25 October 2007

As the days grow shorter and darker, and with the last week's long-needed gray rain, I find my thoughts turning inward, and my mood growing more interior and intensive. This follows a conscious decision I made several years ago to go with the seasons rather than fighting against them. I am certain that early Friends lived more in this way, by virtue of the fact they did not have all of the amenities we do today.

For a number of years I have grown organic vegetables; several of those years I grew for market. This process has made me ever so much more aware of the turning of the seasons and especially of the harvest. The necessity of getting the food in when it is ready to harvest, picking for market freshness, taking care of the soil in winter and spring so that it will be ready for late spring planting; these have become my focus.

I don't have to imagine then what it was like to have life focus more on the necessities of life. I can envision the prayers that would be said and the reliance on a power so much greater than ones' self to insure the harvest and therefore the survival through the winter. I can feel the dependence on the flow of life and God's hand in the meting out of things. I can sense the pensiveness with which Friends sat in silence. The immense trust in Truth to carry them through.

I want my faith to be as simple and as sure as the growing of my crops. At times I glimpse this, maybe even flow with it for a period of time. But how often my focus on necessary goals leads me to abandon that steadfast pure faith in favor of dogmatically moving toward what I think is right. In times like that, it is only the silence that can lead me home again.

19 September 2007

Grant us Light for our Path

This morning another email arrived about the task before Baltimore Yearly Meeting, to take back to each monthly meeting the concerns over the FUM hiring policy, for their consideration.

We are trying to arrive at a baseline of material to distribute and carry with us, as we endeavor to help monthly meetings to find unity about our position on the hiring policies of FUM that exclude homosexuals in committed relationships. We have continued without any clear sense of how to proceed, for several years, and the issue weighs heavily on many of us.

This brings me to a concern that weighs on my own mind: how sometimes in the midst of a dire concern, and in the midst of our current hasty culture, we are driven more by the desire to solve a problem, rather than raise an issue to the Light for worshipful consideration.

It's something I have personally had experience with, having at least once seen my own leading dissolve into self-defensiveness and erratic problem solving. At the outcome of this I was initially oblivious, although my own clinging to my own position should have told me I was no longer laboring in the light. Only as considerable time passed, was I able to see, with the gentle eldering of my Ministry and Counsel committee, how my own position was affected by my defensiveness.

The heart of the conflict with FUM has appeared to me at present to be a theological one. It will never be solved, as I see it at present, by weighing the policies and procedures, or even by weighty discussion between various groups of Friends. Certainly knowing each other better can only help, as far as trusting that each of us brings to the table our best selves, desiring true kinship with each other in the Light.

I do, however, have complete faith in the Light that illumines all things. I believe that the solution rests in worship and prayerful consideration of this matter. We are at an impass because various individuals and even some whole groups of people differ greatly in their theologies: one group sees the inerrancy of Biblical text in defining what is sin and who can serve as a result, and the other defines who can serve directly as a belief that there is the Light of God in everyone and therefore anyone can and will have a leading to serve.

Certainly everything is not quite so black and white as that, but I think this defines the ends of the spectrum. My own position is somewhere in between, and not totally clear to me as yet. I want to respect the theologies of the different people involved. I am concerned that one group (and many more might follow, if one defines who can serve on the basis of sin and what it is) can be excluded when I have seen the leadings personally. I am concerned that someone who feels so clearly led to ministry might feel that the only way they could serve would be in holding secrets from the greater Meeting (as in the case of other denominational churches).

Perhaps God is leading us to a new place? Perhaps the act of holding the picture of such great theological differences up to the light might show us the way to this new place? Are we as a group of modern Friends, capable of such deep worship? Can we consider that we might be led by God to shed off some of this modern clothing, to return to the place of deep leading, such as George Fox and other early Friends were led?

I am sure that it was no easy task to shed off the physical practice of the sacraments as depicted by the Anglican and Catholic churches, yet early Friends did just that. Was this not against the Word as depicted in the Bible? What about the practice of keeping slaves or carrying weapons? Each of us must listen, truly listen to where God is leading us. Perhaps it is not so clear as we wish it would be.

You might be thinking that I have my own sense of leading, or my own agenda behind this writing. But I truly do not, beyond the fact that I believe when we bring two seemingly irrefutable issues together in the Light, there is the possibility that God may reveal or even create something new that is beyond what we humans can see.

I welcome comments or discussion on this. I am trying to expand my own understanding of the power of worship and prayer.

15 September 2007

Covenant Community: Notes to Ponder

July 2007
I would like to invite you into a discussion I have been having with other individuals, with my monthly meeting, and with God. It involves the manner in which we have been called together into our monthly meeting, yearly meetings and as members of the Religious Society of Friends. As we begin with some gathering moments of silent worship, please hold your own meetings and what themes or currents they have running through them in contemplation...
What is a covenant? It is an expression of the relationship between God and God's people:
Scripture came into being as the expression of the relationship between God and his people. To use the formula that occurs repeatedly in Scripture, "I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 37:27, etc.). The Bible typically portrays this relationship in terms of the covenant or its theological equivalents: the kingdom of God, the family of God, new life through membership in the Son of God. All issues and concerns raised in Scripture have their place within the ebb and flow of the covenant relationship between the Lord and those who have pledged their loyalty to him in worship and obedience. In this sense, covenant is the air we breathe in Scripture. Even where the concept of the covenant recedes into the background, it still supplies the framework and the thematic material for understanding all parts of the Old and New Testaments. In particular, it has profound implications for Christian worship. (http://www.laudemont.org/index.html?MainFrame=http://www.laudemont.org/a-bcacw.htm)

I am hoping to gather together here some snippets of discussions that are happening in many groups, from evangelicals to non-theists, conservatives to universalists. It begins with our early ancestors in the Society, and continues forward to today. Some claim it has skipped generations; I will leave that up to you to decide.

Most importantly, it involves the manner in which you and the Friends within your monthly meeting have been gathered, and the particular gifts which you all possess, that give your meeting its particular flavor. Please feel free to join in at any time, this is really a workshop, not a lecture, so I'm interested to hear from you equally or more than from myself. I see myself as offering some beginning concepts for your consideration and discussion.

My own journey begins with my discovery of the writings of Lloyd Lee Wilson. Lamar Matthews recommended his readings to me several summers ago, following a retreat on gospel order here at Baltimore yearly sessions. (Ask if all understand what gospel order is: the manner in which we understand God asks us to live). As a liberal, non-theist Quaker, I have to admit that I had to struggle through some blocks I had with Lloyd's language and beliefs as a conservative, yet something called to me immediately in his books. He was talking about something I had experienced, yet did not have clarity on. It was the difference between a “welcoming community” of individuals, and a community that is called together by God. This is the community I'm speaking of today.

For years at different times, I've been a member of Ministry and Counsel, Pastoral Care, Advancement and Outreach, Adult and Children's Religious Education. I have observed the ups and downs of attendance and participation, the feeble and courageous attempts at outreach with mixed results and the varied levels of care and comfort offered to our members and attenders. Many times I had meditated and wondered over the seemingly random changes of our meeting makeup and the mysterious disappearances of attenders I thought were clearly engaged. Lloyd Lee Wilson gave me a framework to begin to think differently about all of this:

p. 71 When meeting is understood to be primarily a human community, the unusual is threatening. Newcomers are unusual by definition, and most visitors can feel this sense of threat; they respond by not coming back. Some few, those who are least different from the people who are already in community, stay to become members themselves. When meeting is understood to be a Covenant experience, the unusual is God breaking into our lives in a new way – cause for celebration! Visitors to a Covenant meeting are given a truly heartfelt welcome and are more likely to want to come back again. When we live in a Covenant relationship with God and one another, we offer the spiritual refugees who come to our meetings far more than shelter from the storm – we offer a path to a transforming relationship with the One who makes all things new, who makes of each one of us a new creation in Christ.

p.72 The path to genuine, Spirit-led and Spirit-fed growth in our meetings lies not in contriving to make our meetings as comfortable and nonthreatening as possible to those who may visit, but in accepting with joy the covenant relationship with God that is expressed in the meeting to which one belongs. The most convincing argument one can humanly give to another about the healing, peace and joy that comes from giving up one's refugee mentality and entering into the Divine Covenant is the simple testimony of one's own life, lived in that same covenant.
These concepts began to get at what I have been alternately seeking and wishing to build within my own meeting. It also brought me back to thinking about some processes I'd been involved with in my prior meeting in PYM, where we worked towards visioning what God had planned for our meeting.

So that is the process I'd like to engage you in today – visioning what God has created in calling together all of the members and attenders of your meeting, those you agree with and those you don't, those who appear to fit and those who don't, those with clearly defined gifts, and those who may appear to be floundering. It's my thesis that no one is called by accident to the meeting they begin to attend and continue to attend, and that our work together and individually is all called by God.

“In the covenant community we choose to be in relationship with God, and God gives us to one another and to the community. Our primary bond is to God, which makes the community itself resilient and capable of great healing. The crises and interpersonal failures which would destroy a human community become, in the covenant community, opportunities for the love of God to heal and reconcile us to one another and for the community to witness about God's healing presence in the world.”
--Ogilvie, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, p. 62.

Let's take a moment to think about our own individual meetings, and some recent events in the meetings. It may be a conflict, or it could be an event such as homecoming, a wedding, a memorial...even a major repair. Try to visualize who stepped forward in that instance, and what their gifts were to the meeting. Try to visualize what blocks there were, if any to the event going off smoothly – anyone or anything that stood in the way. What happened in the process of coming to a united sense of the Meeting?

Now imagine that God has gathered each and every person and event that happened for the purpose of the spiritual growth of the corporate whole and possible of the individuals involved. Employ the idea that there are no accidents in order to see if there is any different understanding you can gain of the incident. What do you find?

Imagine what happened to the community of believers who put forward the Declaration of 1660:
We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world. The Spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.
-to Charles II, 1660

Note the phrase “The Spirit of Christ by which we are guided..” This is not a community that believes it is acting as a group of people, it is a group who are being led by a mutual power. This community is gathered for this purpose among others.

In John 15:15, Jesus says to his disciples, “ I have called you Friends. Everything I have learned from the Father I have given to you.” This simple phrase is the basis for the naming of our religion. It is the personal covenant George Fox entered in to and what came to be the basis for the Religious Society of Friends. In Fox's and Ogilvie's language, we are more than people who mediate our relationship with God through Christ. We are Friends of Christ and therefore of God. Our community is based on this friendship and how we respond to it. When we become convinced of our relationship with a meeting, implicit in this is our primary relationship with God.

How do we respond to the way in which God calls us here?
DO we live in covenant community?
Do we weep or rejoice for it in times of trouble or joy?
Do we feel the soul of our own community as the individuals within it struggle or are ill?
What do you feel about the notion that you are tied inextricably to the others in your Monthly meeting, in your Yearly Meeting, to all other Friends?

Recently I learned that some Midwest and Pacific YM Friends are having a discussion about “Convergent Friends.” Robin Mohr of PYM defines these friends as “Friends who are seeking a deeper understanding of our Quaker heritage and a more authentic life in the kingdom of God on Earth, radically inclusive of all who seek to live this life. It includes among others, Friends from the politically liberal end of the evangelical branch and from the Christian end of the unprogrammed branch.” (from her blog)

Convergent Friends is an evolving idea that has been discussed widely in the Quaker blogging community. The conversation emphasizes relationships that foster the building and edification of the Kingdom. It is a return to the beliefs of the early Friends in many ways, and an attempt to live lives that are not secularized or divided by our exposure to modern culture. As a universalist Friend, I take some issue with the language of “the Kingdom,” but I do believe it is only a matter of time until this conversation expands to become more pluralistic.

The evidence I have for this is the work of Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, two evangelical Friends who have come to believe that God will “save” every person on earth. I was first taken with their book, “If God is Love: Rediscovering grace in an ungracious world.” The authors describe their journey from very rigid, right and wrong beliefs, to seeing the grace of God acting in all aspects of life in ways that could not fail to challenge them to move beyond the narrowness of their denomination.

On page 137, they talk about “gracious religion:”
Gracious religion isn't an unbending allegiance to a narrow orthodoxy. It is about approaching our life with God and others in a spirit of gentleness, humility, and openness. These tools become the means by which God fits us for citizenship in the world and God's kingdom. It is about being less committed to a rigid, self-concerned institution and more concerned about authenticity, integrity and faith.

This faith is not about believing the right things about God, but about trusting God to remake us in God's image, full of grace and truth. Its goal i is not dogmatic certainty, but making our peace with a great mystery – that God's simple truth is revealed in a multiplicity of forms. All of these forms reflect a common conviction – that we are most like God when we love each other.
What a glorious day it will be when the Convergent Friends begin to converse with the universalist Friends in a dialogue where each accepts the presence of God in the other.

The FUM conflict over hiring of homosexuals threatens to lead us just to that place. Conflicts over sexual predators in meetings lead us there. Any place where there is no easy solution, God offers us a door to a new creation, and we need only accept that we are called to be with each other for this possibility.