Sunday, March 28, 2010
Today is Palm Sunday, the day that Christians remember how Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. As he passed by, people shouted with joy, welcoming him.
Because I am a Quaker, the story of Palm Sunday reminds me of the story of James Nayler, who also rode into town on a donkey.
After that, things did not go well for either of them.
A week later, the same crowd killed Jesus. And although the government did not kill Nayler, it came close. Nayler was branded, tortured, and broken, and his friends deserted him.
Friends tend to tell the story of Nayler as a cautionary tale, that he had delusions of grandeur. But I think that James Naylor knew that if you walk in the steps of Jesus, you may end up suffering the way he did.
The saddest part of the story for me is how Nayler was abandoned by Friends. It seems to me that these early Friends acted out of fear in turning their backs on him. Even if they were convinced that he was mistaken in his leading, he was a part of their community, and doing what he felt led to do.
Sometimes when we follow leadings, others will cheer and welcome us joyfully. It is more likely, though, that others will be confused or even hostile. How can we support each other in our leadings when they are difficult or challenging? How do we hold each other when we make mistakes, as we surely will?
As I venture out in ministry, I want my community to see me when it seems like things are going well. But I need my community more when I mess up. I hope that my mistakes will not be as public and humiliating as James Nayler's, but even if they are, I hope that f/Friends will be there to help catch me when I fall.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I recently had the gift of not having paid employment for two months. This did not always feel like a gift, particularly at 2 a.m. when I worried about money. But most days I was thrilled at the prospect of being able to choose how to spend my time. I had time to pray, time to run, and time to do all of my School of the Spirit readings without feeling rushed.
Then I went back to full-time work and now I am struggling to find balance. Lately, it feels like I work all week, then work all weekend. This past weekend, I spent 9-4 on Saturday clerking a planning committee meeting for the Quaker Women's Theology Conference. In the evening, Sarah P and I planned to go to Bellingham. We had agreed to visit Bellingham Friends Meeting for worship on Sunday morning and then give a second hour presentation. But after being in the committee meeting all day, we couldn't do it.
Around 6 p.m., we started wondering whether we should call our host and say we were not going to be able to make it that night. We decided to go to dinner first and I chose a restaurant less than a mile away from my house.
The drive to the restaurant was terrifying. It felt like cars were coming at us from every direction. Considering we could barely make it to a restaurant that is practically in my neighborhood, we decided that the hour and a half drive to Bellingham was not a good idea. We called our host, apologized, and said that we would be there in the morning.
The next day, we woke up early and drove to Bellingham. We had a great conversation on the way there and found the Bellingham Friends Meeting right away. Everywhere we have traveled, Friends have been wonderful hosts. Bellingham Friends were so welcoming. During worship, Sarah P gave a message. Afterward, we led the second hour discussion. I think it went really well. Friends shared openly about their experiences of the Spirit and their interactions with others who use different language. Then we drove back to Seattle and Sarah P drove to Spokane.
The trip was wonderful, but I woke up Monday morning exhausted. I was having a really hard time facing the prospect of going to work, though I did eventually go.
There are so many things I love about traveling in the ministry. I love the feeling of being led and of things falling into place. I love the way that everyone listens to God and each other when we are there. I love the feeling of being connected to Friends in so many different places. But traveling all weekend and then working all week is not sustainable for me.
Over the spring and summer, I expect to travel quite a bit and I am trying to figure out how to make ends meet while I travel. I have heard many stories of how when early Friends traveled in the ministry, other Friends in their meeting would take care of their families and work while they were gone. I am fortunate to live with two handsome young men who take care of my cats while I travel, but I can't just have someone from the meeting do my job for me.
I do not expect to be paid for ministry, but sometimes it would be nice if I could do ministry and not have to pay for everything else as well.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Since I got back from the last School of the Spirit residency, I have had a strong sense that things are shifting for me. I am having a hard time finding words to describe how I feel, but I will try.
It feels like things are physically changing in my body, or my soul, or maybe both.
One thing that is increasingly clear is that I am called to be a minister. That is terrifying because I don’t know what it means. It feels stronger than being called to ministry, and it is more than the general Quaker idea that we are all ministers. I am afraid that I will screw up, that I will do the wrong thing, that I will not know what I am doing.
I also think that it just means doing what God tells me to do. In some ways, that is comforting, but it is also disconcerting because God and I frequently have different ideas of what I should do.
I did not get any messages to give in meeting between the November and February residencies. It felt like a long time, even though it was just a few months. I noticed my lack of vocal ministry in particular when I visited meetings. For the past year, whenever I have visited meetings, it was more likely than not that I would give vocal ministry. Between November and February, I visited three meetings and didn’t have a thing to say.
Then I gave vocal ministry two weeks in a row, first at the residency and the next week at University Friends Meeting. They were both forms of ministry that I have felt very uncomfortable about in the past: vocal prayer and singing. But they both felt right and good. I also did not experience the days-ahead-of-time dread that I sometimes get when I have to give a message, which was nice. Both messages came very clearly during the meetings, I felt the moment I was supposed to give them, and I did. Even now, I feel okay about them, which is also unusual for me (I tend to second-guess and pick apart vocal ministry a lot, even though I think it’s disrespectful to God).
I had an amazing phone conversation with Noah M last week. I feel like I am still processing a lot of the things we talked about, but one thing in particular felt like a gift. I was saying that I feel comfortable going back and forth between liberal and evangelical Friends because I know the different religious languages, thanks to my childhood in the evangelical church. Noah said that he sees the gift of speaking in tongues as being able to speak different religious languages. I had never thought about that passage that way before and it really resonated with me.
One of the things I feel has been shifting recently is what I feel called to do. The focus I used to have on community doesn’t feel right anymore―it seems like I am called to do something more to do with God. I keep thinking about the message I gave during NPYM annual session last summer, especially this part:
In A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly wrote, “We have mistaken the nature of poverty, and thought it was economic poverty.”
He also said, “The deepest need of men is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God.”
Our service is to turn others toward God, in whatever language you use. To turn others toward the Divine, toward the Light, toward Christ, toward Love. That is our service. And I wonder what our lives would look like if we knew it.
I feel like this is my ministry, what I am called to do. In a spiritually impoverished world, God is calling me to turn others toward God, in whatever language. I don’t have any particular idea how to do this, but it feels right.