15 January 2010

Come with me and I will make you...

"The early Friends were experiencing something so totally new, that it rocked them. It was so big and life-changing that they were willing to die for it, to be tortured, to be put in prison, to have the right to listen expectantly for the voice of Christ and worship together waiting for direction."

Something on this order was said in a committee meeting I attended last week, and it has been with me ever since, dogging me, ripping open my own status quo. The speaker said he doubted he would have the courage those early Friends had, that he was not sure if he would go the distance or quietly leave and go worship in the church the state dictated, were we to be told we had to give up our religion today.

We were talking about how 'milk-toast' Quakers have become compared to our forebears. We were talking about the notion of people who felt so called to ministry that they felt they had no choice but to travel in ministry to others, like the early apostles.

'Come with me and I will make you fishers of men.' They laid down their nets and followed, so powerful was the felt response. Is there anything that speaks so powerfully today?

Then my fellow committee member asked, "What is there that could call us to that kind of strength and devotion today?"

My mind has not been quiet since.

I can say that over the years, I have tried to deny my calling to ministry. Whole years, maybe even a decade have gone by where I was successful, feeling safer and more productive following the cultural norm of career, family, husband, children, house, dogs, car. Once a pastor even said to me, "Maybe your calling is to be a wife and mother," and I sighed relief, left seminary, and put the voice away for a year or more.

But always the inner voice returns, 'You are a minister.'

I confess, I don't even really know what that means. We are all ministers. I want a little more info here, God...just what do you mean by that?

So I have a calling. I'm coming to see that many of us do. The question is whether we listen, and even bigger, what do we do?

And now I'm asking, 'If our government outlawed ministry without a license, would I have the courage to minister?'

What is it that could deliver to me the power to stand up so strongly for what I believe?

Would the destruction of the planet be enough for me to consider taking myself off the grid and living a life that demonstrates simplicity?

Would the war efforts ever become so immoral to me that I would consider facing prison by denying payment of my taxes to a government that has become unethical and power-hungry?

Would ministering to the poor ever become so omnipresent that I would leave my home, give away my possessions and put my life in danger to be of assistance?

I know there are Friends and others who do these things. I know there are people who stand up to power and put their lives in danger. I believe this is something of what the convergent Friends movement is about. I even knew one person who lost his life to his beliefs.

But it is rare in our world. Mostly we are middle-class or more, comfortable, housed, (dare I say it) white, and middle of the road. I am one of you.
Even though I hear that voice calling me to ministry, most of the time I am content to sit in meeting, to do internal things that feed my spiritual need but do not take me out of my comfort zone.

So it was a good thing to have this passing remark rock me.
Now instead of just hearing the voice that says, 'you are a minister,'
I hear: "You are a minister, what are you going to do about it?"

What is it that is powerful enough that it could call you to move beyond your comfort zone and make a life-altering difference in your world?

14 January 2010

Community and Responsibility

In true community, we will not choose our companions, for our choices are often limited by self-serving motives. Instead our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as the place where that person we least want to live with always lives! (Parker Palmer, in A Place called Community, PH Pamphlet 212)

A number of years ago I experienced what would become a pivotal event in my spiritual life. It was directly a part of my experience of living in community with my monthly meeting and experiencing all of our limitations to do so. It brought my idealistic view of what living in community meant directly into conflict with the reality of the limitations of our community. I could not reconcile it in my mind, and the result was a journey that still continues, a journey of resolution, dissolutionment, acceptance and commitment.

Growing up in an insular small town farm community, in a severely dysfunctional family of origin and extended family, I suppose I came by my desires for a different kind of community honestly. It would not be unfair to say that I was seeking what I lacked in my life, and that I was deeply attracted to the notion of intentional community as a corrective for the felt losses of my early life. It is also true that I found the commune efforts I sought out in the 70s to be lacking in spiritual center. This then was the covenant I brought to Friends when I became convinced: I will give you my all, and I will help you to build community, in return, I expect you to accept the underdog (like me) and to help right the injustice of the world. In fairness, I must say that it is only in retrospect that I can see this.

Still, it makes me wonder: What are the covenants we each carry with us when we join a spiritual community? I am fairly certain none of us entertains the thought as we start out that Parker Palmer posits: that true community is the place where the person we least want to live with will be found. Rather, the opposite is more often true, that we are seeking a community of like minded individuals where we can feel supported, loved and nurtured.

In fact, I didn't know that I desired anything different until a convicted sexual offender, who had served his time, gone through three psychological rehabilitation programs, and been released from prison, began to attend our meeting. At first none of us knew his history, and we experienced him as a rather eccentric but very intelligent man, with a gift for music and story, and a vast knowledge of Quaker history which was a gift to our second hours of worship. He had elected not to tell us at first, as he'd been summarily rejected from other communities and was trying a different way. I wondered when we asked him to share his music with the youth program and he declined. His history would only come into the public light gradually as he took the risk to share with some individuals, and eventually publicly when he was recognized by some members of a distant meeting he'd been written out of, at an annual session gathering. There, alarm was the resounding feeling, and he was asked to leave the session.

The accounts that follow would differ from person to person in our meeting, and I can really only tell mine, as it has evolved over the years. My purpose here is not to find fault or right or wrong in this matter, or to open wounds, but to expound on my personal journey and what it has brought me to in my understanding of true community.

I fell into prayer when I heard the news of my friend being put out of annual session. In this time of silent expectation, I heard that I should be a voice for the person, as our meeting had asked him to not attend while we sorted out the path we should take. I did not seek clearness on this with others, my first misstep in my community. Instead, in our emergency meeting I announced that I felt the man should have a voice, and that God had called me to be this voice.

I was unprepared for the outrage and indignation that followed. In taking the voice of the person, I had unwittingly become the target for all the feelings our community was experiencing: victimization, betrayal, fear, anger, and a host of other feelings. Not all of the community felt this negative response, and as a result we became polarized. Moreover, one friend felt so threatened that she felt obliged to warn me off that night, and I responded with a human, not god-led reaction of righteous indignation and anger.

I believe now that in that moment I lost my ability to be the voice of Spirit. I began responding out of my own fear and feelings of injustice, not from the place God was calling me. However, it would take years for me to see this clearly. I was feeling so defensive, that I was not open to eldering or leading from other members who tried to offer me help. Now I had begun to be a part of the problem, not a part of the solution as I believe God intended me to.

I am grateful that I did not abandon the meeting during this time, as continuing revelation and leading from the Light has brought me to a much deeper understanding as the years following have evolved. If it is true, as Parker shows us, that true community is God's attempt to help us grow and evolve, this was truly a potential growth experience for our entire meeting. Would that I had committed to a clearness committee then as I have now, and this journey might have been much clearer on my part. Some who fled the meeting in fear for themselves of their children, have, in my observation, not nearly reached the peace that God has graced me with.

It was a sad, sad time for our meeting. Our visiting Friend fared not much better, except that the salvation of this event was a core group who continued to meet with him, off the meeting property, to help him to find a place to worship, and to clarify his responsibility in the series of events. I believe we were able to help him gain some insight in to his responsibilities in community: to care for his own mental health, to be honest and forthright in entering a new community, to uphold the tenants of his parole, and to work to seek God's truth for himself. Eventually we did find a worship group which had no children as a part of it, where he was welcomed in.

I grieved that we could not find a way to incorporate him into our own meeting. It is not that I did not share the fears for our children, and for others who felt unsafe with him in our midst. It is that I strongly felt that we do not choose our neighbors or community members, and that God had delivered this man to our midst for the purpose of our own spiritual growth. I could not reconcile my idealistic view of this with the realities of the spiritual life and community in our meeting and its individuals.

The first gift that came out of this event for me was the realization that in accepting that I had always been a Friend in my soul, I was also part of a much larger community, and that community was able to meet some of my deepest needs while my own home community could not. I went to the following annual sessions, bleeding from the woundedness I felt, seeking a vision or a message, or some hope that I could remain a Friend. I certainly did not feel worthy. Friends I did not know well seemed to sense my need, and I was brought to conversations and tasks that began to help me see that God was still leading me.

One friend sat with me over lunch one day and helped me to frame the event in the larger picture of our meeting and Friends in general. He was a person that I had previously found to be challenging and in this instance I found his kindness, gentleness and nurture to be somewhat of a paradox, albeit a welcome one.

Some friends who were members of our meeting that I had not been so close with before sat with me numerous evenings, helping me sort out my pain. Friends from neighboring monthly meetings experiencing similar dilemmas shared their experiences which were far different than ours. We brainstormed how issues could be addressed differently and how healing could be sought.

I was asked to serve in a number of tasks that brought to the Light my gifts rather than just my woundedness. In this, I began to feel the Light moving within me.

I left that annual session knowing that the god of my understanding was still present and ministering through the greater whole. It was a revelation that began my calling to understand what true community is.

I resolved to return to worship. I intuitively knew that if I did not resume my role as a part of the mystery that is Hopewell Centre, I could not contribute or receive healing. I went when I was able, but I did not yet understand that the healing for my anger, grief and woundedness could be found in sitting with the discomfort in corporate worship.

This is not the end of my story. It is only the beginning. After that first year, I came to worship whenever I could. I also sought other spiritual teachers outside of meeting. I had to come to terms with the idea that although I dearly needed clearness, something inside of me did not feel worthy of a clearness committee, or thought that the meeting had other more pressing needs than to minister to me. From the position of my woundedness, I could not feel anything but weakness and fear in seeking the help of others.

One or two members of the meeting emerged as my caregivers and mentors. Their gentleness allowed me to hear them, and as I healed, I began to hear the messages that had tormented me in a different light. I began to have compassion for those who had disagreed with me, and to cease competing for the “right” way.

Intuitively, I had always known that as we continued to worship, God would create something new in us. This is one of the most powerful elements of my faith: that there is much that is a mystery to us and can only be revealed through grace and our willingness to be shown something new.

Years before I became a Friend, I understood the power of community. It is simultaneously the glue that holds us together and the water that washes us and pulls us apart and shapes us into something new. As Friends perhaps the most unique gift we possess is our ability to sit in corporate silence, waiting for God to reveal to us what we must know to survive and evolve.

Now, through this desert experience, and the incredible prodigal return, I have begun to understand how integral this is to our survival of the planet and all of its inhabitants. I do not mean this in a grandiose way, but in the most simplest of ways. Community will call us to learn new ways to live together, if we let it.

What I desired was a community where we could welcome anyone brought to our doorstep as God's gift, possessing yet another kernel of light necessary to our wholeness. What I found was the reality that neither I nor most of our community had arrived at a point of acceptance of that gift.

I am a little closer now.

Thankfully, God has not stopped speaking to me and directing me. The call to understand true community has become stronger and stronger. It has begun to feel like a gift that we should offer ourselves and the world around us: to understand how standing in conflict and in love, seeking Truth, can reveal new ways. God is still creating, and community is the canvas.

I am continuing to listen, research, learn and seek guidance as to how God wants me to minister to others about community. Once again, from out of the darkness has come a pinprick of light, which has spread to cover the darkness for me. The god of my understanding is constantly creating, growing, and revealing and for that I am grateful.

06 January 2010

Live what you believe

Happy New Year, Friends!
I'm sure that many of you would join me in saying it has been a tough year!  Many of us will be glad to see the new year come in, hoping it will carry with it a change for the better, a trend towards a better economy, good health, creative new endeavors.  Maybe even an overhaul of health care!

Have you made that list of resolutions in the past?  I used to start every year with a list of things I would like to manifest in the coming year.  I would write it in the front of my new calendar each year, and I would try to read over it once a week.  I was often amazed at the end of that year that even if I'd forgotten to "work" on those things, some of them came to be, simply by my putting them in my line of view.  The mind is amazing that way.

Then I had another period in my life (we all have them, don't we?) where everything that could go wrong did.  No amount of manifesting or positive thinking seemed to bring about a change to the pattern.  Was I doing something wrong?  Was this bad karma?  It was a major upset to my belief system that nothing I could seem to do had a visible effect on the events surrounding me.  I felt periods of doom and gloom.  When that new year rolled around, I simply didn't have the energy to muster up a list of resolutions or manifestations.  Since my monumental efforts had produced no change, I felt a bit...well...hopeless.

As a result, on that New Year's Eve, I found myself ponderous.  I had no desire to participate in a First Night, watch fireworks or the ball dropping, or even commune with friends.  I was at home, quiet, not even realizing I had fallen into worship. (Worship can be that kind of thing...the Light can sneak up on you when you're not even paying attention and draw you inward, have you noticed?)  In my inner sanctum a voice began to call, quietly repeating it self:  "Live what you believe."

What?  "Live what you believe."  It was almost too simple.  Yet with it came a peace and a strength, a feeling of something dawning. 

"Live what you believe."  This would become my mantra.  In times of darkness, it would come back to me.  In times of light, it would celebrate with me.

"Live what you believe."  Simple yes, but easy, not quite.  This was over 20 years ago.  I am still aiming at this simple goal in my life.  It's simple, powerful call has awakened Spirit in me, and called me to look at every aspect of my life.

DO I live what I believe?  Sometimes.  More now than before.  As the Light has called me to reveal my beliefs to myself and others, it has called me to be more genuine.  It has also called me to look deeper, to reveal what lies in the shadows.  I often had glimpses of those shadows in the past, and I ran from them.  Now I know that God is calling me to love and nurture myself to the place where I can live what I believe, and that means illuminating those shadows.

Do you live what you believe?  I know that I could not have moved to live so directly in the Light were it not for my spiritual community here at Hopewell Centre.  When my light is weak, you hold the beacon.  When I am weak you carry me, and hopefully you allow me to do the same for you.  God's Light calls us into community with each other, so that we can lead each other in the dark times, and celebrate with each other in the Light.  You ask me the difficult questions.  Send me a meal for nourishment.  Offer words of encouragement.  Through you, God calls to the rest of the community.  You are an integral part of this puzzle of community that nurtures us all.