MUTED WITNESS

best known for our anti-war witness we could do much more individually and together to summon others to transcendental worship *   *   * if we hesitate to strip naked or don sackcloth to march brazenly into parking lots and through malls or the courthouse or legislature to proclaim Truth to those who reach for a […]

UNCOVERING THE PLACE OF STRUGGLE

In his Pendle Hill pamphlet last year, Marking the Quaker Path: Seven Key Words Plus One, Robert Griswold opens with the term “condition,” which initially seems familiar enough. Quakers often remark to a comment, “This speaks to my condition,” or even “the Friend speaks my mind,” conveying a sense of unity and affirmation.

Griswold, though, gives the concept a darker twist, noting that a meaningful spiritual journey requires seeing ourselves in our places of failure and weakness rather than a state of “being in charge,” as we so often do. Think of Anne Lamott’s “three essential prayers” — Help, Thanks, and Wow — and admit a long personal list invoking the first.

I would extend that awareness of condition not just to ourselves individually but to our families and circles of faith and then the wider society. I’d say there’s great need everywhere.

This, then, leads to the subsequent steps where we turn to the Holy One and our kindred spirits for direction and growth.

Curiously, condition is not a word I find used widely in either Scripture or early Quaker literature – not directly, that is – but it does fit the situation of many people as they set out in faith as recorded in both.

Could it be that in many of our religious circles, we’ve been running away from this very difficult but essential challenge? We go to worship looking for rest and renewal, not more turmoil and suffering.

O, Lord, give us strength!

~*~

More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

WAITING BEYOND PASSIVITY

Another aspect of myself that’s just coming to light is a kind of passiveness that the Asian practice has encouraged – indeed, Yoga and Zen direct the practitioner to become invisible or transparent, egoless, etc. Put that together with my experience in employment, relationships, and so on, and it can become – as it has in my life – a reactive, rather than active, series of events: me as a passive victim rather than standing up on my own. Or when I’d stand up for something, it was to get cut down – again, becoming the victim. At least, that’s a quick overview of the openings at the moment. It’s not quite that severe: I’ve been a lot of places, done a lot of things. But there has been a kind of short-circuit that’s depleted too much energy and maybe even been self-destructive. A passive outlook leading to a victim mentality. Fun stuff. At least – and at last – I’m coming face to face with it. In seeing this, though, some interesting things are beginning to happen.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

WHY HAVE THE YOUTH GONE?

Quakers are not alone in this regard, but what we’ve been enduring is that no matter how much effort we put into raising our children within the faith community, they disappear somewhere in their junior high years. For decades, we’ve been hoping they’d reappear as they started raising their own families, but we’re seeing little of that, and again, we’re not alone.

It’s all too easy to blame competition with Sunday morning soccer leagues and the like, although we might also argue that the values the kids learn in their athletic competition more closely fit those of the larger, secular society than those they are taught in religious settings. Rabbi Michael Lerner makes an extended argument in his 2006 The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, as he contends that too often our children see all too clearly the dichotomy between what we say we believe in faith and what we actually do in a dog-eat-dog marketplace. It’s a harsh criticism. No wonder religion is losing.

As I gaze around our mostly graying worshiping circle, I wonder just where the young adults are today – not just within religious communities, but just about everywhere I venture. Maybe they’re all hidden away working multiple 24/7 jobs trying to make ends meet. I don’t envy them the economic scene they’re contending with.

But I also wonder about the message they carry about faith itself. If the teaching among youths growing up “under the care” of Quaker Meeting has been to build a hopeful, optimistic foundation of values, how do we help them survive the brutal struggles they’ll encounter in the wider world? How do we instill an awareness of the importance of religious community and shared discipline in maintaining a drive toward a more loving and just society?

Perhaps we’ve been too comfortable in our safe, middle-class, largely professional upbringings and neighborhoods and expectation of college and career.

In my own thinking, I keep returning to the concept of the two seeds, one of Christ and the other, call it what you wish – the point is, we face not just “that of God within each person” and its potential, but also a counter element to challenge. It was a line of thinking at the time the Quaker movement erupted in Britain. Think of the parable of the wheat and the tares.

Contending with the two may be what’s been missing in our teaching and example.

~*~

More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

MORE THAN A COMMITTEE, ACTUALLY

Perhaps it will also help to keep in mind that the modern Ministry and Counsel committee reinvents the traditional select meeting of Ministers, Elders, and Overseers: those with recognized gifts in prophetic, free-gospel vocal ministry; in being bishops or anchorites, holding the meeting community in prayer; and in being pastoral caregivers, aware of temporal and spiritual needs and responding to them. At Agamenticus our biggest weakness is on the overseer front. In many pastoral congregations, I would argue, many problems arise because the pastor or minister is expected to embody all three functions, and the “priesthood of all believers” is subsequently lost. That’s a far cry from “releasing” the pastor to fulfill one gift, with the congregation performing the other roles as they, too, are gifted. In an unprogrammed meeting, this means being aware of the ways each person fits into the body of Christ.

I sense that it will be important for you to reach out beyond Orono Meeting, to find within Vasselboro Quarter and the Yearly Meeting the “secret Wilburites” who seem to exist in every meeting, but who often feel isolated; in my travels among Friends, they often come up to me after the hour of worship and express gratitude for hearing a Christ-centered, Bible-based message. One Friend observed that as she grew spiritually, she began to discover that everyone she considered a “Weighty Quake,” a Friend with depth and grounding, was also a devoted Christian. And the traditional Bible Half-Hour each morning at Yearly Meeting has contained some of the best spiritual study I’ve encountered anywhere, arising more “in” the text than “about” it.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

MONTHLY, QUARTERLY, YEARLY

punctual attendance at Meeting for Business is important as worship for to love is finding work also there unmasked, when failing a shining model of uprightness and moderation this purposing of expectation coming to befriend each other in daily labor and dreaming vigilant close labor with any who slight the holy standard purposing a forgiving […]