Tuesday, December 23, 2008
On the way home from the airport, mom and I stopped by my parents' church to pick up my dad and sister Rachel. They had spent the evening at the church helping needy families pick out food and Christmas presents. Spending time at my parents' evangelical church always makes me think of how different it is from my Quaker meetings. After we left, I told my parents that a Friend had asked me whether my parents were upset that I had become a Quaker. Mom said, "I really don't care what you are, as long as it is Christian!"
I didn't say anything, but all I could think about were all of the discussions I have heard lately about whether Quakers are Christians. As far as I can tell, the answer seems to be, "it depends."
I have always loved Christmas. I love taking time off to spend with family and friends, sharing good meals, singing Christmas carols, and the excitement in the air. But this year I felt more aware of the tensions that many Quakers feel about celebrating Christmas, and that has made me a little sad.
For many liberal Friends, there seem to be two options: ignore Christmas altogether or just accept that it is a secular, commercial holiday and let the kids have their fun. I am not ready to accept either of these positions.
Christmas in my parents' house has always been a deeply religious holiday. I never believed in Santa, and that never particularly bothered me. I participated in Christmas pageants long before I could follow the Christmas story, beginning with my starring role as the Christ child at two months. The first spoken lines I had in a play were as the angel telling the shepherds the good news, which was quite a lot to remember when I was in kindergarten. In the following years, I played nearly every other role in dozens of Christmas pageants.
For many people, Christmas is one of the few times a year that they go to church. At this point, we all know the story, so why do people keep going back year after year? I can't say for sure, but I feel that there is more than just habit or guilt bringing people back into churches for Christmas. There is something about the story that compels us to go, to witness the miracle of a baby who came to save the world so long ago.
I think most people who know me wouldn't give a second thought to whether I am a Christian, but it is a question I have thought about a lot over the past year. I admit, it is much easier for me to say that I am a Quaker than that I am a Christian―the word has some serious baggage. But when it comes down to it, a living Christ is at the center of my beliefs. For me, being Quaker means being Christian, and living as a Quaker is how I have been able to find my way back to being Christian.
I think the question for me now is, how can I engage with my Christianity and live in a way that demonstrates my commitment to a Christ-centered life? If I cede the Christian label to people I disagree with, what am I losing in the process? If I am open and share my beliefs, what good can I do?
I have also been struggling with questions of equality and sameness. I fervently believe in equality, but I do not believe that being equal means that we all have equal gifts and abilities. I worry that Friends sometimes pretend like we are all the same to avoid an appearance of inequality, but we should not. Our communities will benefit if we choose to celebrate our differences and use our individual talents to their full potential.
I feel similarly about celebrating Christmas. It is true that every day is sacred, but why should we pretend that Christmas day is exactly the same as every other day? Instead, I choose to celebrate it as a day of joy and love, and a reminder of Christ on earth and Christ with us. My hope is that this bright day in the middle of winter will help sustain us through these long, cold months so that we can all celebrate together again in the spring.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Each time I am invited somewhere to speak, I struggle to get to the inward place where I am willing to be kept stopped up, to be silent or otherwise made a fool of, if that is God's purpose to reach this particular group. (133)My experience related but opposite. I struggle to get to a place where I am willing to speak, if that is God's purpose to reach the group.
Over the past few months when I have been in meeting, I have prayed that I will be willing to be ridiculous, if that is what God wants. Then I read about how God told Isaiah to walk around naked and barefoot for three years as a lesson to Egypt and Ethiopia (Isaiah 20:1-6). My first thought was, "Please, God, not that ridiculous!"
Earlier this week, Friends held a potluck to welcome me as a sojourning member of University Friends Meeting. Shortly after I arrived, my host asked me quietly how I was doing as the center of attention, which she knows is not my favorite thing. I said that it wasn't easy, but it helped that everyone was talking to each other.
When we sat down to eat, a Friend announced that I had to tell everyone there why I became a Quaker. I hoped he was kidding, but apparently that's their way of being welcoming. I did my best, saying that I became a member because I read the Freedom Friends Church Faith and Practice and agreed with all of it. It really is much easier to explain how I became a Quaker than why. I feel like the only true answer to the question is that I was led, but I don't think that is what they were looking for.
After my stilted and incomplete answer, the others went around the table and shared the experiences that made them want to become a member. It was interesting to hear their stories and I think they enjoyed talking about some of their shared memories.
Then the conversation moved on to other topics, including language and music. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about both language and music, but I stayed pretty quiet, as I tend to do in groups of that size. There were others there who clearly enjoyed talking, so I don't know that anyone really noticed.
Afterward, I had a milder sense of the feeling I get when I have a message in meeting and I do not have the courage to share it, that my heart was not clear. I felt like I was being stingy and taking something away from the gathering by not sharing my responses and stories.
But then I remembered that these were people who gathered to welcome me, and that I am now officially part of their community. Even though I didn't say as much as I could have at the potluck, that was not my last chance. There will be time for us to get to know each other better and I am glad.
Monday, December 15, 2008
"Hey man, what are you going to do today?"My heart sank. The ROOTS shelter provides beds for homeless young adults (age 18 to 25), but they only have room for 25 guests. When more than 25 people need a place to stay, the shelter has to have a lottery to decide who gets to come in. Being stuck on the street for the night is referred to as "lottoed."
"I don't know, same old. There's an open mic I want to go to, but I'm going to wait until I get lottoed."
"Why don't you just go tonight?"
"Nah, I'll just wait to get lottoed sometime this week."
Because I volunteer in the morning, I don't usually have to think about the young people who are turned away from the shelter. I just see the ones who are there at breakfast. But it has been really cold in Seattle this week (I can see snow on the ground from where I am sitting at my computer right now) and there just isn't enough room for all of the people who need a warm bed.
For most of the day after I heard this conversation, I was very sad. Then I got mad. This Christmas season, there seems to be an air of desperation. The economy is in bad shape, and it seems like everywhere I go, there are messages about how we need to buy more stuff to save it.
I'm not buying it. I am making most of my presents this Christmas and contributing to Heifer International or other charities for the rest. I do not want to be a part of a culture that would let children sleep in the snow in exchange for cheap iPods. And if the economy depends on me spending more than I can afford to pay back, that's not an economy that I want to save.
And yet, I believe the Christmas story still has incredible power and relevance. A message that has come up several times over the past months at University Friends Meeting is what it means to be held in the Light. Friends agree that this is not really the gentle, benign platitude that we sometimes think it is. The Light of God can be a stark and disturbing place, showing who we really are and not allowing us to hide any of our flaws.
I was thinking about this yesterday at meeting, and the following verses came to me:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid." (Luke 2:9-10).Being surrounded by the glory of God can be a terrifying prospect. But my prayer for all of us this Christmas season is that we will stand in the glory of God and we will not be afraid.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I had heard about Sarah long before I met her. Sarah is also a member of Freedom Friends Church, but we missed each other by a few months because she started attending Freedom Friends a few months after I moved to Seattle. We finally met at the Quaker Women's Theology Conference and I have been lucky enough to see her several times since then.
Sarah came up to Seattle to spread the word about the Quaker Youth Book Project. She is a member of the very impressive editorial board for the project and they are all going out to various meetings and churches to inform Friends age 15 to 35 about how to submit their writing, art, and photography for publication.
Sarah was elated when she found out that another member of the editorial board, Katrina M, is now living in Seattle. I am always happy to meet friends of friends, so we all congregated at my house on Friday night and went out for Chinese food. Because all Quakers know each other within a degree or two, I shouldn't have been surprised that Katrina is also friends with my roommate.
The next day, Sarah, Katrina, Katrina's cousin Erica, my roommate, and I all headed downtown to go on the underground tour. We all enjoyed learning about the history of Seattle, but I think the funniest moment for us was when our tour guide turned to my roommate and said, "You know, I went to a Quaker college and just about all of the guys there had a beard like yours." Sarah responded, "We're all Quakers!" and Katrina quickly established that she and the tour guide knew the same family in Indiana.
After the tour was over, I left Sarah to wander around downtown and went to catch the bus to go to choir practice. As I was leaving, I stopped to thank the tour guide and overheard him telling a friend about the Quaker connection.
On the bus a few minutes later, I couldn't stop smiling. I was amused by the proof that the Quaker world was so small, and happy to spend time with Sarah, but I was also filled with a greater sense of joy. It is so comforting to me to spend time with other Quakers my own age. It makes me feel less alone or crazy to talk with others about how God influences their decisions and to hear them talk in terms of callings and leadings. These are people who care about the future of the Religious Society of Friends and their place in it. It is also pretty fun to spend time with others who get as excited as I do about a local band singing about Mary Dyer!
The next night, I hosted a potluck for Young Adult Friends so that Sarah could tell them about the book project. We got started talking about upcoming events and I mentioned the FWCC Annual Meeting and the Convergent Friends gathering that I am planning to attend. One of the YAFs commented that I seemed really involved and my roommate quipped that I am a Quaker lightning rod. Sarah thought that was hilarious and referred to me as a Quaker lightning rod for the rest of the weekend.
At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about being compared to a lightning rod. It is flattering, but attracting lightning seems a little on the dangerous side. And I have been getting more attention lately than I really feel comfortable with. But at the same time, it is exciting to be the conduit for people to come together, like Friends did over the weekend.
I have decided that I do like the analogy, though, because for a lightning rod to work correctly, it has to be grounded. I was thinking about that today and feeling grateful for all of the things in my life that keep me grounded. I am blessed to have the help of generous friends, a strong family, two active faith communities, and an incredible God to keep my feet on the ground. With all of that to rely on, I feel ready to face the storms ahead.
[For pictures of our adventures, see Sarah's blog post about her trip]
Friday, December 5, 2008
Being single is still kind of a novelty for me. I was in one relationship or another virtually continuously from the age of 14 to 25. My most recent relationship lasted for about six years and we both really thought that was it. We talked about marriage, children, real estate, you name it.
Then, right around the time I moved to Seattle, it all fell apart. It wasn't anyone's fault and we both felt really bad about it, but it just wasn't working anymore. I was devastated, but I was also studying for the bar exam, so I alternated between being devastated and being really studious, sometimes by the hour.
After some time had passed, I discovered that I really like being single. I have so much time to do things I want to do! And when I make plans, I really only have to think about myself. I tried casual dating for a while, but I hate small talk and I found that I was just having meals with very nice guys that I didn't care about, so I stopped.
I think my mother is about to despair at the prospect of ever having grandchildren. Whenever this comes up, I remind her that considering she had four children, it is bound to happen sooner or later. And I do want to get married and have children, eventually.
Over the summer, I had a moment of inspiration about the kind of husband that I would like to eventually have. Here is what I wrote in my journal about it:
An ideal husband: A man who is creative and kind. He is cute, but not cocky, and he thinks I am beautiful. He is not afraid of talking about faith and he seeks God. He wants to have a family and is committed to raising children with clear values and a sense of social responsibility. He has a great sense of humor and sees the irony in everyday life. He inspires me to be the best version of myself and sees clearly which choices are right for me, even when I don't see them myself. He loves the arts and good food and enjoys cooking with me. He likes to sing. He is good at managing money and helps us to live within our means. He comes from a large family and gets along with his relatives. He is as smart as me, but in a different and complementary way. He has interests that he is passionate about and a career that gives him time to pursue those interests. He loves me and is excited about spending time with me.I believe that he is out there and that someday I will find him. This does not mean that I am looking or want you to start setting me up (you know who you are!). For now, I have plenty to do and I am willing to wait until the right person comes along.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I made three little hats for the occasion.
They weren't technically secondhand, but I did already have the yarn, so I figured that was close enough. I really liked the way they turned out and I think my cats did too!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Most of my Quaker-related writing has been for this blog, so I thought a good place to start would be with some posts that I particularly liked. A few months ago, I created a special "Quaker Youth Book Project" folder on my computer and put a few files in there. Then I ignored them.
Earlier this week, I finally printed out a few of the posts and sat down to edit them. I thought it would be nice to put two posts together, contrasting Freedom Friends Church and University Friends Meeting. But when I got to the piece I had written about University Friends, I felt like I was crossing out more than I was leaving. So much has changed since I wrote it.
I had written all about how I felt like no one knew who I was at University Friends, how unwelcoming they were to young adults, and how I felt that sometimes Friends were doing more editing than listening. This simply has not been my experience at University Friends lately.
A Friend who helped to found our Young Adult Friend group recently visited meeting for worship after a long absence. After meeting she asked, "when did the YAF population at the meeting explode?" It's true. A few weeks ago, I counted ten Friends between the ages of 18 and 35 at meeting, and none of them were there for the first time. Most weeks, we have young visitors and many of them visit repeatedly.
In this Year of Discernment, University Friends Meeting is trying to answer two questions: Who are we as a community? and What are we called to do? When I first started working with the other members of the Steering Committee, I didn't feel like the "we" in those questions applied to me. I was a member of another meeting, and I felt like my role in the process of discernment was to provide an outsider perspective.
This has changed too. Even before I formally became a sojourning member of University Friends Meeting, I began to realize that this was my community too. I have been honored and a little embarrased by the warm welcome I have received from so many members of the meeting. They have given me so many gifts and I feel grateful to have them as friends as well as Friends.
A message from meeting on Sunday has stayed with me through the week. A Friend said that he was struggling with what he was called to do and mentioned, almost as an aside, that he was called to love. This rang true to me. We are called to love. In fact, we are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor.
Today, it occurred to me that this message provides one answer to the questions that University Friends is asking. Who are we as a community? Friends. What are we called to do? Love. I know that there is still a lot of work to do and I doubt that University Friends will be able to simplify in the way that some hope by the end of this Year of Discernment. But if we can do all of the things we are doing with love, maybe that will be enough.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The day before, I had my first experience clerking and it did not go well. A variety of factors contributed to a difficult and frustrating committee meeting, and as the numbness after the meeting wore off, I felt extremely vulnerable.
After singing, North Seattle Friends shared God stories, expressing the ways that God is working in their lives. When I am feeling fragile, I am like a sponge for others' sorrow, and the stories about tragedies, both that had occurred or were averted, were hard for me to hear. At the same time, the stories reminded me of how we ask God for help at the beginning of worship at Freedom Friends Church, and that made me feel better.
I couldn't believe it had taken me this long to visit North Seattle Friends Church. When I moved to Seattle, Peggy sent emails of introduction along with me to University Friends Meeting and North Seattle Friends Church, suggesting that I visit both meetings and decide which was a better fit for me. Between studying for the bar exam and sparse Sunday bus schedules, I never quite got around to visiting North Seattle Friends Church.
So there I was, a year and a half late, struggling to hold back tears.
In her message, the pastor asked Friends to share how they experience leadings and what God's nudges feel like to them. This message was especially poignant for me because I was sitting next to Sarah P, who was visiting the meeting with me, and who probably would not be a friend of mine if I had not followed clear leadings.
I met Sarah at the Quaker Women's Theology Conference and we are now friends because God told me that we were both supposed to be on the epistle committee. I was sure that she was going to think I was crazy when I walked up to her, practically a stranger, and said, "I feel led to be on the epistle committee, and I feel led to tell you that you should be too." Instead, she thought for a minute and then nodded. And I am pretty sure that our work together on that committee made us feel that we could accept the responsibility of co-clerking the next conference.
After worship ended, I surrendered to tears. I cried because I was tired and disappointed, because the meeting had been hard, and because I had space to let go. A woman that I did not know sat with me and held my hand. Without asking what was wrong, she prayed for me, that God would help me get through whatever was going on in my life. It felt good.
I am still trying to work through my conflicting feelings about the committee meeting, but I also feel so grateful for all of the support I have had in the past few days. In addition to the Friend who prayed for me, I have received phone calls and emails from friends, family, mentors, and elders, letting me know that they are here to help. I also learned that my sojourning membership with University Friends Meeting was accepted, and I am especially grateful to be under the care of the meeting.
I know that there will be difficult times ahead, but I also know that God is with me. I pray that I can continue to pay attention and follow when I feel God leading.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
A couple months ago, I listened to a Joyce Meyer podcast about the fruit of the spirit that really caught my attention. She said that whatever you pray for, that's what will be tested. She was specifically talking about patience, but I knew as soon as I heard her that this would apply to any of them. Since I had already been praying for joy for a few months by then, I was a little worried about what testing my joy might look like.
Turns out, it looks like pneumonia, financial crises (both in the country and personal), political scandal in my home state, a frustrating job search, and a lot of feeling overwhelmed. Now, I'm not saying that my prayers are somehow responsible for all of those things, but it has been a little difficult to work on joy in the midst of them.
And yet, there is joy. I have been grateful for so many things this week. The retreat at University Friends Meeting on Saturday went so much better than I could ever have hoped, and I can feel the excitement in the air there about the Year of Discernment.
Last night, I met with my clearness committee again and I am having trouble finding words to describe how wonderful that was. At one point during the clearness committee, a Friend suggested that an experience I had was an example of way opening. As soon as she said it, I had the indescribable feeling that I get when way opens, and I feel led to the next clear step. It was so helpful to be reminded of that feeling because I feel like so much of what I have been doing lately has been because I feel like I have to, not because I feel led.
I am also grateful that I got a chance to talk to Alivia last night. I have been sorely missing music in my life lately, and I was excited to tell her that I am planning on joining a Christmas choir. When I told her, she said that it was good for me to get some music back into the mix, but asked what was I planning on giving up. I knew immediately what needed to go, a committee that has felt wrong for me from the beginning. This morning, I sent an email explaining that I did not feel called to that particular ministry at this time. It felt very good.
I know that the fruit of the spirit is not something that I can force. But I believe that if I am faithful and follow where God leads me, the fruit of the spirit will come. I am also working on letting go of things, including my ideas of what I should be doing. For now, Cat Stevens speaks to my condition:
I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up well I think,
Only God really knows
I've sat upon the setting sun
But never, never never never
I never wanted water once
No, never, never, never
I listen to my words but
They fall far below
I let my music take me where
My heart wants to go
I swam upon the devil's lake
But never, never never never
I'll never make the same mistake
No, never, never, never
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Friends settle into silent worship. The Holy Spirit walks around slowly. Friends leave some silence between speaking.
Friend One: Did I remember to turn my cell phone off? At least my ring tone is set to Simple Gifts!
Friend Two: What does “hold in the light” mean?
Friend Three walks in late.
Friend Three: I really hate being late to meeting. I hope no one noticed!
The Holy Spirit walks toward Friend Four and taps her on the shoulder.
Friend Four: Is this really a message? Do I have to stand up? I don’t see what this has to do with anything―maybe I’m just hungry.
The Holy Spirit taps more insistently, then tries to pull Friend Four out of her seat.
Friend Four: I really don’t want to talk, so I don’t think it’s a message for the group. Maybe next week . . .
Friend Five: I really liked that book I read last week. Maybe I should talk about it and give folks something to think about during meeting.
As the Holy Spirit is still trying to pull Friend Four out of her seat, Friend Five starts to stand. The Holy Spirit is surprised. The Holy Spirit walks over to Friend Five and tries to make Friend Five sit.
Friend Six: Oh no, not another political message!
The Holy Spirit gives up on trying to quiet Friend Five.
Friend One: Not more of that Jesus talk!
Friend Two: I wonder what’s for light lunch?
The Holy Spirit shakes his head and puts a finger to his lips. The Holy Spirit puts his hand on A Friend’s shoulder. A Friend stands to speak, a little uncertainly.
[Concept and script developed by the Steering Committee for University Friends Meeting's Year of Discernment. Editorial and moral support by QB. Friends performed this skit for the First All-Meeting Retreat in the Year of Discernment.]
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I have been blessed with many visitors in the past few weeks. Two weeks ago, my friend Kirsten came to stay for the night. We skipped meeting and went wedding dress shopping instead. Unfortunately, I took all of the wedding dress pictures on her camera, so I don't have any to share. I can say that she looked beautiful in all of them.
Last weekend, my friend Andrea came to visit from the Bay Area. She works for a non-profit that created a documentary about public health. One of the featured areas was the High Point Neighborhood in Seattle, so we took the bus over to check it out.
Then my Mom came for a visit this weekend! We had a great time going to see Spring Awakening and going out to eat. Yesterday, we visited Snoqualmie Falls. It was beautiful and we had a lot of fun walking around.
Today, we met up with my friends Emily and Myles for breakfast. It is always great to see Emily and Myles and I wish we could see each other more often, but they are pretty busy with this little guy!
And because Emily, Myles, and Mom came to University Friends Meeting today, I got to show off our new sign.
Thank you to everyone who came to visit. I feel so fortunate to have you in my life!
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
For those of you who follow the Quaker blogosphere, you are probably well aware that we are about halfway through Convergent October. For those of you who are saying to yourself "Quaker blogo-what?", you may want to skip this post altogether. It's going to get awfully Quakery very quickly. If you are torn, you may want to read Robin M's excellent description of Convergent Friends, a phrase she coined.
This demonstrates my first problem in trying to talk about convergence. While my blog is unabashedly Quaker, I always hope that my writing will have some value for friends who are not also Friends. As soon as I wade into discussions about different kinds of Quakers, I feel like it is a little too insider, and less meaningful.
A few weeks ago, I attended the local arrangements committee meeting for the FWCC Section of the Americas Annual Meeting. I wasn't really that surprised that I ended up as the Young Adult Friend on the committee. It's not a role I am particularly fond of, but it is one that has at least become familiar. I was surprised that I was also put in charge of gathering information for a potential Convergent Friends gathering at the meeting.
Since then, I have been trying to sort out my conflicting feelings about convergence.
I am a young Friend. I have a blog. I am a member of Freedom Friends Church. I feel called to bring different kinds of Quakers together to at least talk about their differences, if not resolve them. I believe that Quaker values are worthwhile and that many people would be interested in the Religious Society of Friends if they knew more about us.
But do these things make me Convergent? Does it really matter what I think? If I write potentially negative things about Convergent Friends, will I hurt people I respect and admire? Will I be shunned by a group I am interested in, though do not necessarily fully identify with? If so, does that mean I am off the hook with FWCC?
I am drawn to the concept of combining Conservative Quaker faith and practice with the Emerging Church. I like imagining boundaries blurring as Quakers converge. The popularity of Convergent ideas suggests that there are many Friends who are willing to challenge their assumptions as they seek God, and are trying to build the kind of community they want to be a part of, and I find that exciting.
And yet, I worry that we are wasting time and getting distracted by definitions and labels, arguing about what convergence means and who is in or out. I also get frustrated when Friends seem to see me as Convergent by default because I do not fit into any of the neat Quaker categories.
Maybe all of this talk about Convergent Friends is a sign that we need to reexamine what it means to be a modern Quaker and put more effort into figuring out how we are going to relate to all those other folks who are not like us, but are still Quakers.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
This letter serves as a Minute of Sojourn for Ashley W from Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon.
On behalf of Freedom Friends, I greet you with peace and love. You already know Ashley W, and know that she is a generous and committed person: willing to roll up her sleeves and serve as she is called. While she has been serving your community so faithfully, she has also remained steadfast in her commitment and support of Freedom Friends Church, which is her spiritual home, and the Pacific NW Quaker Women's Theology Conference, of which she serves currently as co-clerk. Ashley is a beloved member of our community and we long to support her in her life and her service to God.
It is to this end that we give her this Minute of Sojourn. As she remains loving and steadfast with us, she has a full life in Seattle serving with you. She considers University Friends her second home. We approve her sojourning minute and encourage you to receive her as a sojourning member and take her under your care. Please continue your tender support of her and assist her in every way that you can. The world will be a better place for your love and your efforts.
Thank you for receiving and replying to our earlier correspondence, and for your support and love for Ashley.
Clerk, Freedom Friends Church
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I have always wanted to be in a book club, and now I kind of am. Quaker Buddy* and I have started reading A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister, by Samuel Bownas and having long-distance conversations about it each week. When I told my Mom the name of the book, she groaned and suggested that we pick something a little lighter. Despite the very long title, the book is only 104 pages and, at two chapters a week, it is really not a lot of reading.
We have "met" twice now, and I have been amazed by how much we both have to say. Many of the themes Bownas discusses have been important in our lives lately, including what it means to be a minister, the purposes of traveling in the ministry, and how to discern a true leading.
By "gospel minister," Bownas means vocal minister. The other day, QB and I discussed whether we would identify as vocal ministers. Neither of us speaks in meeting very often, but we both do at times, and I think we each could have easily said yes or no.
QB decided that if asked, she would say that she considers herself a vocal minister because she has had the experience of being led to speak, and would be able to articulate that experience. I said that I would say no for similar reasons: I have had profound experiences in meetings when I did not feel led to vocal ministry and I could talk about the ways in which silent members participate.
After our conversation, I started thinking about how sometimes when I post, I have an experience similar to how I feel when I give vocal ministry―I feel strongly led. Even so, I have a hard time thinking of my blogging as a ministry.
The next topic for the Adult Religious Education class at University Friends Meeting is "Being a Connected Friend," and the discussion will be about how Friends use the internet to connect and interact, locally, regionally, and nationally. In keeping with my renewed commitment not to take on any more, I am not speaking. I am interested in the topic, though, and I think two of the queries for discussion are particularly good:
- Can you find real Quaker community on the internet?
- Can blogs actually help you center into the Light?
*QB asked to remain anonymous and we agreed that "Quaker Buddy" is funnier than "Spiritual Friend," but with the same basic idea.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I believe that God is everywhere. I see God in nature and in the good that people do around me―especially when they don't think anyone is paying attention.
I believe in the Trinity. I believe that Jesus is a physical incarnation of God, but also that "son of God" is too restrictive a label. I recognize the Holy Spirit as the feminine side of God and I feel her all around me. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, but written by men, with all the mistakes that men make when they are trying to understand the Divine.
I believe that God loves me and wants me to be the best version of myself. I believe that God speaks to me and sometimes uses me to speak to others. I believe that God has plans for me and that God is proud of me when I am faithful.
Because I am human, I know that I will make mistakes. But I will do my best to follow God's will, and I know that God will do great things.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Much of our acceptance of multitudes of obligations is due to our inability to say No. We calculated that the task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it. We calculated the need, and then calculated our time, and decided maybe we could squeeze it in somewhere. But the decision was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul. When we say Yes or No to calls for service on the basis of heady decisions, we have to give reasons, to ourselves and to others. But when we say Yes or No to calls on the basis of inner guidance and whispered promptings of encouragement from the Center of our life, or on the basis of a lack of any inward "rising" of that Life to encourages us in the call, we have no reason to give except one―the will of God as we discern it. (99-100)When I read this, I recognized myself. Far too frequently, I agree to do things because it seems like I am the only one who can or will, but I know that is not the best use of my time or talents. I do intend to follow through with the commitments I have already made, but I feel clear that I should not take on any more.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The topic was "Cross Generation Sharing: Three Friends from different generations share their experiences of how the Quakerism has influenced and helped them in the challenges of their life." I, of course, was representing the younger generation of Friends.
Which was my first problem. I do not feel representative of Young Adult Friends, except as an example of how different we all are. To begin with, the Young Adult Friends group in Seattle includes people ages 18-35, which is a huge range. We have some members who are just starting college and others who are married and having kids.
I also do not feel especially representative of University Friends Meeting because of my membership at Freedom Friends Church. It is sometimes hard for me to believe that both of these meetings are part of the Religious Society of Friends, they are so different.
I tried to express all of this in the panel. I started with the story of how I became a Quaker, then described worship at Freedom Friends, and how much culture shock I felt when I came to University Friends.
I also said that I had realized, in preparing for the panel, that I hadn't planned to say anything about God. I found this very troubling because God is such a huge part of my life, and because I sometimes feel like I can't talk about God at University Friends. I ended by saying that I wished people at University Friends would talk about God more.
I would say that statement got more of a reaction than anything else I said.
To be clear, it's not that I want everyone to believe the same things that I do. I just want to be able to talk about what we believe. I think it can be easy for unprogrammed Friends to let the silence seep into everything we do together and avoid any real conversations about what is happening in our spiritual lives.
If we don't talk about what we believe, it is easy to assume that everyone is having the same experience, or thinks the same things. I also think that some Friends are so worried about offending others that they just stay away from controversial language and topics altogether.
In reading through the Bible, I have finally made it to Psalms. I am having fun reading these chapters that I heard and read so many times as a child, and it is especially entertaining to read several of them at a time. I love how one will end with
Show your strength, God, so no one can miss it. We are singing out the good news!(Psalm 21:13), and the next will begin with
God, God . . . my God! Why did you dump me miles from nowhere? Doubled up with pain, I call to God all the day long. No answer. Nothing. I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.(Psalm 22:1-2).
These Psalms really are like my prayers. One day I am on top of the world and strongly feel God's presence, and the next, I feel like I am wandering blind. I feel that way about being a Quaker too―some days I feel such a sense of community and like I am where I am supposed to be, at other times, I just feel frustrated and alienated.
I don't know whether the adult religious education class would want me to talk again, but I have to give them credit―even when it was clear that I was making them uncomfortable, everyone was really trying to be supportive of me. I appreciate Friends' willingness to have me as part of their community even if I sometimes seem a little too evangelical to quite fit in.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I have come to the conclusion that I would not do very well on Top Chef. Last week, I began volunteering at ROOTS, a local shelter for young adults, age 18-25. When deciding which shift I would like to take, I thought breakfast would probably be best―I could come in and help out and still get to work on time.
When I arrived on my first day, the night volunteer who let me in informed me that I was on my own for breakfast. I must have looked a little panicked, because she said that she would try to get one of the night managers to come help me.
I surveyed the completely unfamiliar kitchen, trying to figure out what I could make for 20 people. The night volunteer suggested eggs, which seemed like a good idea until I realized that there were only three eggs in the refrigerator. The meal I finally pulled together consisted of watery coffee, fried ham, cold cereal, juice, and donated pastries. The shelter guests were unimpressed.
When I arrived this week, I was a little more prepared. I was determined to make a breakfast that I would want to eat, and oatmeal seemed like a good idea. This time, when I opened the fridge, there were 18 eggs! I set to work, making the largest batch of scrambled eggs I have ever made and coffee that appeared to be the right color at least. I don't know that I have ever been so proud of a meal in my life, and the only complaint I got was that we ran out of eggs.
My kitchen mis-adventures have made me think about all of the good food I have had lately. In the past month, I have had dinner at Local Roots Farm (the farm that grows the vegetables for my CSA), I went to a potluck for Young Adult Friends, and my roommate and I have started cooking and eating together more often.
These meals remind me of all the family dinners I had growing up, and how there was always room at the table for whoever happened to be around. I am so grateful to live in a place with such an abundance of food, and to have people to share the food with. Although I sometimes miss watching Top Chef, I'll take a good meal with friends over a quick dinner in front of the TV any day.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
This letter is an introduction to Ashley W and a Minute of Service from our meeting, Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon.
Ashley is a member of Freedom Friends Church in good standing. Ashley is a beloved and highly respected member of our community. She is currently living in Seattle, Washington, is a regular attender at University Friends Meeting and is involved in ministry there. She is carrying a concern for the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference, and for peace and justice in our world. Ashley is co-clerk of the next PNWQWT Conference and she has good news to share and encouragement to bring to you. We believe she will bless all those with whom she interacts. Following is a short introduction to the conference, from the website at
The 8th Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference will take place June 16-20, 2010, at Seabeck Christian Conference Center in Seabeck, Washington.
Our purposes in coming together are:
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Then my brother James arrived yesterday. He is here for the week before setting off on a tour of the U.S. Did you know that Amtrak sells month passes? It is fun to spend time with James and he treated me to a lovely Indian dinner tonight. I think maybe it's a good idea to have so many boys around, they seem to feed me!
Good news on the job search. I was just settling down after getting all of my applications done when I found out that I have an interview next Tuesday! It's only a first-round interview, but I am excited about it. And if this doesn't work out, I still have year to find something else . . .
Finally, I have my first volunteer shift serving breakfast at ROOTS tomorrow. I went to training ages ago, but I had to wait until the beginning of the month to get on the schedule. Of course, this means that I have to get up pretty early, so I think I'd better head to bed.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
God's Troublemakers: How Women of Faith are Changing the World, by Katharine Rhodes Henderson
The women leaders in this book often knew nothing about the public issues that caught their attention. It was opening their hearts to human need and risking a response that was the catalyst. Opting out is not viable, for God can use all of us, however incapable we may feel.In God's Troublemakers, Katharine Rhodes Henderson describes the lives and ministries of women of faith who are actively working to change the world around them. Henderson interviewed these women and found recurring themes in their work, including the energy they gain from working with individuals, their thoughts on redefining leadership, and their practical responses to the problems they face.
Although I found the organization of the book a little hard to follow, the stories of the women are fascinating. Henderson captures the experiences that led these women to begin grass-roots organizations, as well as the ways these leaders challenge their religious communities while remaining deeply committed to their faith. It is inspiring to see how these women are building bridges between the secular and the spiritual by helping the people around them.
Henderson concludes with her own story of how these interviews inspired her to create Face to Face/Faith to Faith, a program that brings teenagers from different faiths together each summer to promote activism and social change. Henderson's story demonstrates how she personally used the lessons she learned from the religious leaders in the book and encourages readers to do the same.
Monday, September 1, 2008
I started thinking about gathering again yesterday after meeting. I try not to miss silent worship on Sundays if I can help it. I didn't always feel the need to be there every week. During law school, I was doing pretty well if I made it once or twice a month. But now that I have more time, I feel like I have lost something if I don't get to sit with others in worship, even if the meeting is completely silent.
Beyond just being in a room with others, I am starting to feel like actually sitting next to another person is important for me. Since I started attending University Friends Meeting, I haven't usually sat next to anyone. I think I started sitting alone mostly because I didn't know anyone. I also have an overdeveloped desire for symmetry, so I have gravitated toward a section of the room that usually has fewer people in it, trying to fill up the space. And even though I usually close my eyes, I find others distracting when I am trying to center.
Of course, when a friend of mine comes to visit the meeting, I sit next to her. And I have noticed an alarming trend: three times when I have had a friend sitting next to me, I have felt led to share vocal ministry. I am not sure what to make of this. It seems counterintuitive to me―I would expect to be less talkative when a friend is watching, it feels like there is more at stake somehow. But I think having someone there who cares gives me the support I need to stand, and I am grateful that my friends have been there for me.
Yesterday, I felt led to sit next to a Friend who also often sits alone. I was a little nervous because I didn't want to impose and I also didn't want to have to speak, but I think she was pleased to have me there. And about halfway through the meeting, the Friend next to me rose to speak. Then I got to sit next to her as she shared her message, supporting her and holding her in the Light.
Today, I looked up the verse about two or three gathering, and I love the translation in The Message translation of the Bible of this passage as well: "When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there." Matthew 18:20.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
This chick flick, naturally, features a wild stroke of fate, when the two-year governor of an oversized igloo becomes commander in chief after the president-elect chokes on a pretzel on day one.Fine. Make fun of her hair and her shoes, her lack of experience, and the fact that she repeatedly calls herself a "hockey mom." But making fun of Alaska? That's just low.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I feel like this is a pattern for me: I do too much, then I get sick. It's like I can't relax until I am completely worn out. This is frustrating because I have recognized this pattern for quite a while, but I keep going through it. I try to rest and I love to sleep, but there are always so many other things to do. Even when I go on vacation, I always seem to find things to keep me busy.
Fortunately, I have time to rest now. I am staying in town for the three day weekend and I am not going in to work at all. As always, there are things I want to get done (laundry, a job application, a trip to the farmers market), but I plan on taking it easy for the next few days. If I got any channels, I would consider watching hours of random television. Maybe I will look through my roommate's DVD collection and see if anything seems sufficiently mindless. I am definitely looking forward to not going on any long runs!
Sunday, August 24, 2008
The Blog of Discernment
I also wanted to say that although it looks like I am completely responsible for posting so far, I didn't actually write the content on the blog. The Year of Discernment description comes from UFM's Nominating Committee and the article about the first retreat was written by our good Friend, Dorsey G.
My hope is that this blog will answer some of the questions people have about the Year of Discernment and provide a forum for comments and feedback from the UFM community.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
As soon as I got off the bus on Monday evening, I knew I was locked out of the house. I also knew exactly where my key was: on top of the bookshelf inside the door. I wasn’t really surprised. I am a creature of habit and whenever my schedule gets off, I do things like forget my keys. Between the heat, recovering from my trip, changes at work, and Alivia coming to visit, I was feeling pretty scattered.
I was also distracted by a Friend’s request after meeting that I participate in a panel and talk about my experience as a Quaker. The idea was to have Quakers of different ages speak, and I am supposed to be the token 20-something.
As I have mentioned before, I have a deep and abiding dread of public speaking. Also, I am not sure where to begin to describe my experience at the meeting―it sometimes makes me feel like I have multiple personalities. I feel like people see me as anywhere in the range from some sort of Hope for the Future mascot to wayward college student. I feel like a Friend summed it up when introducing me by saying, “This is Ashley. She will be weighty when she grows up.”
I called my roommate to see when he would be home and he told me he would be there in about an hour. It had been raining off and on all day and I was hungry, so I decided to go to the local Chinese restaurant for dinner in the meantime.
On my way out, I checked the mail and discovered that the pamphlet Aimee recommended, Coming Into Friendship as a Gift: The Journey of a Young Adult Friend, by Christina Van Regenmorter, had arrived, so I brought it with me.
As I ate delicious shrimp chow mein with homemade noodles, I read, and got chills from recognizing myself in Van Regenmorter’s writing. It wasn’t just that our backgrounds are similar―rejecting the faith one grew up in and becoming a Quaker as an adult seems like a common theme for a lot of people―it was the experiences she had as a Young Adult Friend.
Van Regenmorter talked about being the only person between 16-30 that she saw in most Quaker meetings. She finally spent time with Quakers her own age at FGC Gathering and said,
That week, with the young adult friends, I was caught between the twin emotions of "These are my people!" and "Will I ever belong?" I felt at times like I’d fallen in love with a guy named Quakerism, gotten married to him, and had just now come home to meet the family―most of whom had lived with Quakerism their entire lives and weren’t that impressed.
When I read that portion, I laughed out loud, sitting by myself in the Chinese restaurant. It was so similar to how I felt when I first moved to Seattle and spent time with the Young Adult Friends here. I knew we were all Quakers, but it seemed like they were speaking in a different language, relying on acronyms and places that they all knew and I did not.
A difference between Van Regenmorter’s story and mine is that her meeting did not immediately accept her request for membership. Instead, they told her to visit several other meetings before they would call a clearness committee. This proved to be a wonderful experience for Van Regenmorter, but it would have been devastating for me. When I joined Freedom Friends, I needed a place to just be, and they embraced me as I was.
Van Regenmorter describes her experiences as gifts her meeting gave her: sincerity, trust, affirmation, accountability, support, friendship, play, and love. I too feel blessed to have received these gifts from Friends. I am especially grateful right now for the support I have from Freedom Friends Church. One of the things Alivia brought up to Seattle was a minute of service for me. I do not have words to express how much it means to me that Freedom Friends considers me a “beloved and highly respected member.”
On the lack of younger people at meetings, Van Regenmorter writes,
It can be tempting to look at the absence of young faces in our meeting houses and blame it on the "digital age" or on young people needing "something more lively." However, I would like to hold up the possibility that people coming into Quaker meetings are not looking for a certain prevailing skin phenotype or age presence, but for the Spirit to be evident in the lives of the Friends who are there. I believe that they, like me, ache to have a spiritual community where they feel truly seen, truly, held, and deeply challenged.
Last Sunday at University Friends Meeting, another Young Adult Friend shared a powerful message, asking what happens when we settle into the silence. She described members as fires, some were like small embers and others glowed. She invited us all to join the bonfire.
I have had many different experiences in the silence of meeting, but lately I have felt nearly overwhelmed by the presence of God. This is a struggle for me. I want to be there, but I am worried that I will not be able to handle it. Sometimes I feel like I will not be able to stay upright. And yet, I feel like I am only experiencing the smallest portion of a vast and incredible God. Struggling with God is not easy, but I believe that if we take the challenge and really engage, God will bless us.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
It seems strange to me that I have not had a bike for over a year now. When I was in law school, I was known as "that girl who bikes to school/church/work." I had a very cushy commuter bike, with a rack on the back for my messenger bag (it had to be pretty sturdy, considering I was usually carrying a laptop and a case book or two). One sad day, I walked out of the law school, helmet in hand, to find that someone had cut the lock and taken my bike.
Having my bike stolen was only the first of a series of transportation mishaps. Soon after, a friend loaned me his bike, but I crashed it when I swerved to miss a dog. The dog and I both recovered, but the bike did not. Then another friend gave me a Buick, which lasted for about a month and then died on the side of I-5.
Since then, I have been walking, using public transportation and zipcar, and mooching rides from friends. But soon I will be able to bike again! According to my friendly local bike shop, my new bike should be put together and ready to go on Wednesday! I am not planning to bike to work (the drivers in downtown Seattle make me nervous), but I am excited about riding to places like the farmers market and University Friends Meeting.
Lately, I have definitely noticed a difference in reactions to the fact that I don't have a car. A few years ago, most people seemed to think that I didn't have a car because I did not know how to drive or was a bad driver (I got my license when I was 16 and I am a fine driver, I just choose not to drive most of the time). But recently, with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, not having a car seems like a pretty good idea. Maybe someday I will want a car, but for now I am pretty excited about speeding around on my new bike.