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Civility Can Be Dangerous

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 12:39am

Henry Cadbury in 1932. Photo courtesy of AFSC Archives.

A Quaker perspective on Henry Cadbury’s 1934 remarks on resisting fascism

This June, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because she works for President Trump. In the ensuing debate about “civility,” historian Angus Johnston drew attention in a tweet and follow-up op-ed to a June 14, 1934, New York Times article about a talk by Henry Cadbury, a Quaker founder of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). In the article, Cadbury called on a conference of rabbis to be civil in the face of fascism.

As a Quaker who works for AFSC, I was struck when I saw Cadbury’s words resurface, and I feel the need to reckon with them.

“By hating Hitler and trying to fight back,” Cadbury said, “Jews are only increasing the severity of his policies against them.” He went on: “If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.” Cadbury added, “Boycotts are simply war without bloodshed, and war in any form is not the way to right the wrongs being inflicted on the Jewish people.”

The rabbis published a response the next day condemning Cadbury’s remarks. Rabbi Samuel Shuelman, one signee, said, “If we do not resist evil, we go along with it.”

Cadbury had influence, and his words set a standard for many who would, despite the objection of the rabbis, follow his lead in what they considered effective resistance. Of course, the rise of fascism and the Jewish Holocaust demonstrated the limitations of Cadbury’s stance.

Cadbury was a smart man, and he did many things worthy of admiration. In 1947 on behalf of Quakers worldwide, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for refugee relief work and support of the kindertransport during World War II, as well as for resistance to Japanese internment. Despite these important initiatives, his interpretation of pacifism and his call for civility was harmful, and his position did not actively support those most impacted by fascism’s rise.

All of our resistance work should be led and informed by those most impacted by injustice. If Cadbury had been guided by this principle in 1934, he would never have offered such remarks, as they countered the will of the Jewish audience to whom he spoke and intended (albeit patronizingly) to give support.

Standing up for peace means standing on the side of the oppressed…

When one’s very existence is questioned by an oppressive state, and survival depends on resistance, actions are not constrained by public perception and conceptions of civil discourse. Moral courage becomes a necessity of daily life.

Civility is no substitute for morality. Belief in peace doesn’t mean naively expecting everyone to get along. Being quiet and polite is often all that’s needed to perpetuate white supremacy.

Standing up for peace means standing on the side of the oppressed, not throwing them into the lion’s mouth in the name of civility. And interrupting racist violence takes more than civil discourse: active disruption is needed in order for racism to be revealed and dismantled. What good is ineffective pacifism? My commitment to nonviolence is about saving lives.

So, when the owner of the Red Hen restaurant asked Sanders to leave because of the actions she has taken on behalf of the president, this action interrupted what had been normalized. When people videotape and call out white folks who call the police on African Americans who are barbecuing or selling water, that action interrupts the normal pattern of prejudiced behavior.

 

Author Lucy Duncan leading bystander intervention training session in New York. Photo: Lori Fernald Khamala / AFSC.

I teach bystander intervention through AFSC, so that more and more people know how to stand up for those harassed or targeted by state violence. Sometimes the interventions are simple, but often real disruption is needed in order to stand in the way of oppression.

Confusing nonviolence with passivity is a huge mistake. Nonviolent communication should stop violence, not quietly reinforce it. Confronting oppression isn’t violence; letting oppression progress is.

Boycotts, too, are an active form of nonviolence. AFSC has taken stands to support economic resistance against oppression, from apartheid in South Africa and occupied Palestine to the profiting of private prison and detention companies that feed mass incarceration and immigrant detention. Refusing to support systems of oppression economically is not warfare but active resistance to it.

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is easy to see how inadequate and offensive Cadbury’s words were to the millions who lost their lives in the Holocaust. We have the benefit of history to teach us about the depth of intervention needed today. As a Quaker who lives life from the understanding that all are equal and have inherent dignity, I am committed to disrupting oppression; it is a central spiritual commitment. I hope many more will find the moral courage to actively disrupt state violence and white supremacy, rather than quietly reinforce it.

I don’t want to politely object, as Cadbury proposed. I choose to actively stand in the way of human rights abuses. I envision a world in which all people of conscience understand themselves as co-creators of justice and are willing to do what’s needed to make it a reality.

The post Civility Can Be Dangerous appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Sparking a Quakerish Epidemic

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 12:40am

Those of us who’ve been blessed yet deeply disappointed in the Quaker endeavor often wish it were more widespread. Still, we realize that whatever we’re doing, the present form we’ve created isn’t very contagious.

What is it that we do? In most of the United States, Friends sit together an hour each Sunday, without talking among ourselves—speaking if and only if God has given us a message for the group. (We understand and say this in different ways, but find rough agreement on how it applies.)

We try to avoid having too many messages in a meeting; why is that? Shouldn’t we want messages from God? Well, yes, but we also get messages from other people. How clear can anyone be as to which is which? Can we be certain a message wasn’t from God?

In the winter of 1651, George Fox himself took off his shoes and walked through the cold streets crying with a loud voice, “Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!” and never had a satisfactory reason why the Lord would move him to do so. If we heard such a message today, many Friends would wonder about it, yet Fox was certain of its origin.

 

Friends in worship aren’t supposed to be just thinking (although we can be); we aren’t supposed to be meditating (although we can be); and we aren’t sure whether what we do should be called praying.

There’s an old Quaker saying: “Maybe it wasn’t addressed to you.” When something we hear doesn’t apply, we needn’t dwell on it. Another person, however, may find it clearly intended for them. A whole class may all need to learn certain things, but where God is the teacher, each student can start with whatever he knows, and still have an appropriate lesson.

Sometimes a meeting just sits there … all hour. There are people who strongly prefer such meetings. If we can’t say what happened, maybe we were really deep. “Heavy, man!” as we used to put it in my day.

Friends in worship aren’t supposed to be just thinking (although we can be); we aren’t supposed to be meditating (although we can be); and we aren’t sure whether what we do should be called praying. Very seldom have I heard anyone in our meetings explicitly pray aloud.

We aren’t supposed to sleep, though (like meditators) we may nod out, then jerk abruptly upright, knowing we’ve been mentally away constructing something painstakingly senseless. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves intensely awake, yet empty of thought. And sometimes we approach the kind of dream in which messages came to Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, the Magi, and many others.

Whatever it is we do, couldn’t we do it alone? Certainly, but Quakers tend to agree there’s more happening in worship than people sitting alone in the same place. Sometimes we feel it, sometimes not, but when we do it’s quite palpable.

Isn’t that merely subjective? My wife, Anne, and I were sitting in meeting once while a young autistic woman, the daughter of a recently deceased Friend, rode her bicycle around in the parking lot outside. She’d often done the same when her father was alive, but this week she was to leave and go live with relatives elsewhere. Anne and I had both been wishing (I asked Anne about it later), that this one time she’d sit with the group. That was when she came in and sat down beside us. Is that proof of anything? No, but Spirit connects, and when you’ve seen it happen often enough, there’s little point trying to prove or disprove why or how.

There’s also little point trying to make it happen. As Jesus is quoted as saying: “I, of my own self, can do nothing.” That sums up the drawbacks of trying to make Spirit fulfill even your best personal hopes. This isn’t science, and it isn’t magic either. So far as we’re meeting for worship, we can’t force Spirit’s participation. I’ve been struck by that condition every time I’ve started a worship group, every time I’ve invited a friend to meeting.

Black, white, poor, or prosperous, people may love the idea of Quaker worship, but for one reason or another, the actuality may not move them at first. In 1961, when my best friend invited me, I found it a valuable practice, but being an atheist at the time, I didn’t feel I could honestly continue in it. I fairly soon encountered God through the hippie awakening of the time, but returned to Friends seldom, only briefly over the next several decades.

If we’re going to see a more widespread use of Quakerish modes of worship, more of the people we bring or find among us would need to find a reason to stay. Working against that, Friends have a confused sense of who we are, what we’re called to do, and what we’re intended to be.

 

I visited another meeting in the ’70s, saw their bulletin boards, and heard their announcements: it was all about good works members were doing and worthy causes in need of donations.

Fox was clear on where he thought we fit in. The church Jesus founded, as depicted in several books of the Christian New Testament, had sometime later been corrupted into a spiritual tyranny centered in Rome. Fox, like many among his Puritan contemporaries, had searched the New Testament for clues toward reviving the original form of Christianity, as he thought it had been “before the apostasy.” Friends meetings and the various Protestant churches embody different answers to that challenge.

Early Friends shared a dominant paradigm of Fox’s time: that people are born sinners, misguided and prone to evil ways except for Christ’s intervention within us. Almost everyone agreed that Christ could save us from condemnation and punishment for sin, but to insist, in Fox’s day, that Christ could stop us from sinning at all was risky. Opponents would ask Quaker preachers, “Do you think you are free of sin?” and blasphemy charges would soon follow. But Friends did insist that lives without sin were possible and hoped their own lives would serve as evidence.

Lapses by Friends could be repented and forgiven, but perfection was the expectation. Hence there is a sense, persisting to this day, that Friends belong to something like a spiritual elite. Other churches can invite sinners to join and be saved, but Friends meetings only want new members who’ll fit in and be a credit to us.

I visited another meeting in the ’70s, saw their bulletin boards, and heard their announcements: it was all about good works members were doing and worthy causes in need of donations. From these, for whatever reason, I concluded: “These people can’t bring me any closer to God. I’m no good with people; I’m not a workaholic; and I don’t have money to give them. I’m no use to them either.” So I left. Was that how the group felt about potential new members? Almost certainly not!

What these things do show is our idea of what it means to be a good Quaker. We’re supposed to be educated; professionally employed; and either generous donors or, at least, vicarious activists. That’s our collective self-image, but what do members most typically want? Aren’t Friends in this lonesome secular age looking to meet good people, who are respectably liberal, with the right political belief system and loyalties? Isn’t that what makes the word “community” so popular?

Affiliation is a historical function of churches, synagogues, and religious organizations. If we happen to be mystics or zealots concerned with the practices and beliefs associated with the Quaker movement, then it’s all too natural to miss the importance of that purely social function. A mystic’s specific lonesomeness is the need to find others touched by spiritual grace, but that isn’t the main motive bringing new people to Quaker meetings.

A quest for agreeable company won’t drive Friends to seek strange new members among African Americans, immigrants, or people struggling with poverty. Christianity and Quaker values should move us to help anyone suffering injustice and oppression, but a testimony of equality and a doctrine of “that of God in everyone” might not even help us like each other much. When poor people actually come to our meetings, Friends make a sincere effort to welcome them, but somehow there are usually barriers.

The fact is that Quakers overwhelmingly come from a class insulated from the viewpoints, experiences, and sufferings that most human beings live with. George Fox knew his gospel was intended for everyone, while Friends today, if we’re pressed to think about seeking new members, propose posting notices at the nearest college.

 

Why do I think we’ve been doing it wrong? Because my own concept has been faulty: it’s been like yoga without a teacher.

That’s not like the way Jesus chose his disciples; neither does it sound like an orientation likely to go viral. Individually, all of the Friends I’ve known have been warm-hearted and conscientious, often amazingly so, but as a group, we disappoint anyone who’d hoped to see a movement of heroes and miracle workers.

We and our critics share mistaken ideas of perfection as if human beings had been created to follow Advices and Queries, rather than the other way around. That’s an obstacle between us and God, an obstacle between us and other people. It makes people strive to achieve results that aren’t in our power, and fail to achieve things we otherwise could.

Do Friends have a way to see through illusions and learn what God truly wants? Of course. The technical term for this practice is “prayer,” and we’re already doing it. It’s what’s supposed to happen in meeting for worship, and it doesn’t require any formal education. It’s a practice that really could go viral, and make all the difference in the world!

Why do I think we’ve been doing it wrong? Because my own concept has been faulty: it’s been like yoga without a teacher. Trying to force myself into better posture somehow locked me more firmly into the same lifelong bookworm curl I’d started with, but the teacher in a free class could immediately see my mistake and suggest a better approach.

 

That is not the way to pray, merely a way. But it gives me permission to just think with God.

God is our teacher, everybody’s teacher, though people don’t always recognize where those lessons keep coming from. The most recent attitude adjustment for me was a quote from Roberta C. Bondi: “God is besotted with us.”

That was a hint I had to follow up! Bondi has written extensively on prayer, as a scholar of early Christian monastic writings and as a suffering human being who’s found the monastics’ insights profoundly liberating in her own life. Her writing can be too much in a preacherly style for my taste, but each book of hers I’ve found to help me re-examine what I’m doing when I sit with God.

Nobody wants to be around someone whom you relate to only in terms of duty. I’m willing to relate to people that way some of the time, but don’t expect me to want to do it … for the monastic teachers of the early church, with whom I’ve spent a lot of time, a relationship with God is one of desire and delight. This is really a different basis for prayer. religion-online.org/article/learning-to-pray-an-interview-with-roberta-c-bondi/

There must have been a million preachers by now, encouraging people to converse with God. It doesn’t feel natural; there’s that power imbalance, and besides, God finishes my sentences. But Bondi says:

[In] the ancient monastic materials I work on, prayer is really an entire relationship, and the verbal part is only one element. A lot of what we learn when we pray is to be quiet. We need to stop thinking that a relationship is constituted only by language. The closer we get to other people, and the better our friendships are, the more silence these relationships contain. The people we talk to all the time are probably the people we don’t know terribly well and whom we don’t trust. The issue is not so much “Does God talk back and if so how?” but whether we can learn just to be in God’s presence.

Bondi talks about “kitchen table prayer,” like sitting around a table with people we just like being with. She doesn’t make silence a duty, an ideal, or an ordeal.

For students who are afraid of God, who have emphasized God’s righteousness and their sinfulness, God’s bigness and their wormlikeness, I suggest that they find something that doesn’t occupy their minds but is pleasant to do, like handiwork, or doing a crossword puzzle, or even reading a detective novel, and to just sit in God’s presence. That is a way to begin to learn that God is trustworthy and that God isn’t that person they’re afraid of, but somebody else.

That is not the way to pray, merely a way. But it gives me permission to just think with God when I want to think about some trivial thing and let go of trivial things when I don’t.

It’s about deepening a friendship, that big scary friendship that is our life, and there’s no method to friendship, except for doing things we know will bring us closer, and not letting fear get in the way. For the sake of friendship, God needs us to say what we want. Whether we get it or not is a different matter. You don’t always get what you ask for from your friend—maybe most of the time you don’t get it—but you need to say what it is you need and want.

Sometimes (as I’ve also found) Bondi has had to confront her worst fears about God, and ask “Is this really true?”

A society of Friends ought to be a natural for friendship with God, but it takes something other than what we’ve been doing. For the Desert Fathers, perfectionism was not a virtue but a sin. We should think about that, and pray about it. Above all, we need Bondi’s reminder that God doesn’t see us the same way we see ourselves but “through much gentler eyes.”

The post Sparking a Quakerish Epidemic appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Writing Opp: Quakers and Christianity (due 9/17)

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 8:49am

Fast Facts:

It’s a series of questions that has dogged Friends since we did away with clergy and started calling baptism a “sprinkling,” and it has been an issue of contention in every Quaker schism: Are we Christian? Are we really Christian? Does it matter if we’re Christian? What does it even mean to be Christian in the world?

Quaker history geeks will point out that even the first generation of Friends would waver back and forth on basic Christian doctrines. Our family tree of splits and schisms pretty much always include Christian theology—the importance of the Inward Light, the role of evolution, the inerrancy of the Bible, the acceptability of the sacraments, the possibilities of universal salvation. We’ve long had Friends who have been willing to explore less orthodox spiritualities. Some have left or been forced out of membership, while others have informally remained in Quaker communities.

Over the past hundred years, Liberal Friends have become quite comfortable with non-Christian expressions of Quaker spirituality. We’ve got religious crossovers like Quatholics and Quagans and many weighty Friends who identify as non-theist. Many Evangelical Friends have become theologically indistinguishable from mainstream American Christianity, creating tensions with fellow yearly meeting members who hold onto a Quaker identity.

The rise of blogs and video and social media have led to more cross-branch conversations and friendships, fueling more questions about our collective identity. Is a kind of salad-bowl spirituality which draws from many streams something to be celebrated or denounced? What do we gain or avoid by choosing certain paths?

While there may not be any simple answers to the question of Quakerism’s relationship to Christianity, there are surely many interesting conversations.

Submit a piece for our issue: Quakers and Christianity Learn more general information at Friendsjournal.org/submissions We’re always looking for new voices and perspectives from our community. Is there a side of the story you think isn’t being told or heard among Friends? Contact senior editor Martin Kelley with questions or ideas at martink@friendsjournal.org or message on Facebook or Twitter.

The post Writing Opp: Quakers and Christianity (due 9/17) appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Growing and Evolving the Quaker Way

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:50am

If there’s one good thing we can say about viruses, it’s that they have taught us a great deal. Scientists discovered viruses in the late 1800s and made great strides in stemming or curing deadly viral epidemics in the last century. Some viruses today are even integral to new approaches to treating diseases through immunotherapy. But real viruses aren’t the theme of this issue. The spread of ideas is. The term “going viral” is a way of describing the rapid and “infectious” spread of content on the Internet thanks to the network effect. When we—as a Religious Society in particular, but even as individuals—face stasis or even decline in our fortunes, it’s easy to notice and envy the apparently easy growth we might see elsewhere. What can we learn? How can we make this happen for us?

Luck may factor in, but I don’t believe it’s about catching lightning in a bottle. When George Fox climbed Firbank Fell in 1652, the story goes, he preached to and convinced a crowd of a thousand on the spot. The Westmoreland Seekers he addressed were gathered there on the premise that this iconoclastic hill-wandering Bible minister just might be the teacher for whom they, self-proclaimed Seekers, were seeking. Not every situation can be so ripe for success! But a corps of several dozen early Quakers, who became known as the Valiant Sixty, knew they could grow their numbers by traveling and sharing the way of living and worship they had learned and become convinced of in their souls. Ideas spread. The way of Friends took root. The Quaker way of which we are caretakers today has grown from that original culture, and it has changed, mutated, and evolved into something that must now survive in new conditions. Can it spread and thrive? How?

We face these questions together. In this issue of Friends Journal, we bring together approaches that include the perspectives of Emily Provance and Donald W. McCormick. Provance has a ministry of helping Friends meetings that want to grow identify and effect the cultural shifts that would help them become what they aspire to be. McCormick follows up his much talked-about Friends Journal piece last February with findings from churches that have managed to find growth, not by abandoning the religious tenets at the centers of their traditions, but by aligning their practices with what seekers today are looking for in a church.

A premise shared by several of this issue’s contributors is that Quakerism will change. It has to. If we truly believe that every Friend brings a unique and essential part of God and God’s plan with them, how can we help but change when more are gathered in this community? Fear of change is natural, but we must recognize that fear can be conquered, particularly by love. And we are allowed to grieve, as Provance points out, when elements of what must change were sources of comfort or delight to us.

If there is a certainty in all of this, I believe it is that those people who are seeking a faith and seeking fellowship will find it. Will it be with you and me? If so, we must allow the power of our example and the power of our worship and love to burn through what is inessential, so that it may spread to those we want to walk with us. You might be surprised at how many may be searching. Friends Journal and QuakerSpeak now reach an audience we estimate at 1,000,000 strong each year, fueled by the same power of networks and technology that enables ideas to go viral. It’s our calling to share just what it is of the Quaker way that burns through. Your readership and your support are essential to us in this work.

 

Correction: Donald W. McCormick’s earlier piece with us appeared in the February 2018 edition of Friends Journal.

The post Growing and Evolving the Quaker Way appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

What People Really Want from Church and Quaker Meeting

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:45am

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I deeply love Quakerism and don’t want it to die out, but the number of North American Quakers has been steadily decreasing for three decades. According to statistics from Friends World Committee for Consultation, Quaker membership in the United States and Canada grew modestly over the middle part of the twentieth century to peak at 139,200 in 1987. The latest Quaker census in 2017 counted 81,392 U.S. and Canadian Friends, a loss of over 40 percent. A report published by Earlham School of Religion in 2005 concluded, “If these downward trends in the Society’s membership were to continue unchecked, American Quakers would become extinct sometime late in the twenty-first century.”

We can reverse this downward trend, and this is likely to involve learning from the experience of other churches. A good tool for doing this is the Reveal for Church survey: an extremely large survey of over 2,000 churches and 500,000 congregants. (To find out more about this survey, go to revealforchurch.com or listen to their podcast.)

What do people want from church?

At the core of the survey is an important question: What do people want from church? The answer to this is key to understanding why people join a church. The respondents’ answers are inspiring. Fifty-four percent said that the thing they most want is spiritual guidance, and over 30 percent said they want fellowship.

The survey defined a church that offers spiritual guidance as one that does the following:

  • provides a clear pathway that helps guide congregants’ spiritual growth
  • challenges congregants to grow and take next steps
  • has church leaders who model and consistently reinforce how to grow spiritually
  • helps congregants to understand the Bible in depth
  • helps congregants to develop a personal relationship with Christ

Churches that provided this were generally vibrant and had high levels of congregant satisfaction.

When I read this, I asked myself if we Quakers are providing the equivalent of this type of spiritual guidance. Do newcomers and others see us as meeting their spiritual needs? If they do, do they see this right away, or does it take a while? To answer these questions, I had to learn more about the “clear pathway” that the Reveal literature described. Although Quakerism has great wisdom in the area of spiritual guidance, at first it seemed that it was inconsistent with the spiritual guidance described in the survey. I thought of how listening to and heeding the Spirit may lead one Quaker to refuse to pay any taxes that contribute to war and another to become an army chaplain. It didn’t seem like we Quakers were following one clear pathway. Also, my initial understanding of the Reveal survey model of spiritual guidance didn’t fit with the kind of models of lifelong spiritual growth and maturity that I used to cover when I was a professor teaching courses in psychology of religion.

Then I looked more closely at what the Reveal researchers meant by a “clear pathway” and I realized that their idea of it isn’t so much a nuanced model of lifelong spiritual growth as it is something much more basic and doable. It’s the kind of thing that would get you off the runway of the spiritual path and into the air. It isn’t intended to guide your spiritual plane all the way to its destination. Understanding this, I began to see how a Quaker version of this could be crafted.

Classes that challenge you to take the next steps along a clear spiritual pathway

In the survey, churches that provide spiritual guidance communicate the path, the next steps, and the challenges in different ways. The most common model is a set of four afternoon classes that make up what is probably the most popular adult education curriculum in churches today. It comes from a church known for phenomenal growth: Saddleback Church, headquartered in southern California. In 1980, 40 people attended their first worship service; today over 22,000 people attend weekly services.

The first class covers the church, membership, how to live in accordance with God’s purpose, and the church’s plans for the future. At the end of the class, you are challenged to be baptized and to apply for membership.

The second class is about the path of spiritual maturity and techniques for developing four habits needed for spiritual growth (prayer, Bible reading, tithing, and fellowship). After this class, you are challenged to practice these habits.

The third class is about finding your spiritual gifts and choosing how you will use those in ministry, that is, in serving the church and others. At the end, you are challenged to put these into practice.

The fourth class is about evangelism. At the end you are challenged to begin sharing your faith.

The classes constitute a clear pathway that starts with membership and leads to spiritual maturity, ministry, and evangelism. Each time you finish taking a class, you are asked to accept the challenge at the end of it. The next steps involve putting into practice what you just learned and taking the next class.

Fellowship is the other major thing that people want from church. In the churches from the Reveal survey, it is primarily experienced in small groups of eight to ten people who meet weekly to learn about spiritual matters and to get to know fellow parishioners. These groups are places where people know you, know what’s going on in your life, and know what matters to you. If you wind up in the hospital, it’s the members of your small group that come over and visit, that take care of your kids when you’re in there, and that bring you meals while you are still getting back on your feet after having been discharged. And you are glad to do the same for all of them.

The classes described in the Reveal literature get people moving on their spiritual journey quickly. These churches make their expectations clear right away. They let you know that you are expected to embrace Christ (if you haven’t already); join a small group; and to take the classes that show the path, provide you with next steps, and challenge you to grow spiritually

When you do this, you begin to experience the two main things that people want out of church—spiritual guidance and fellowship. This makes people want to keep coming back.

Can Quaker meetings provide this kind of fellowship and spiritual guidance?

How can newcomers to Quakerism experience a similar kind of fellowship and spiritual guidance without watering down the Quaker experience?

One way would be to encourage newcomers to join a small group and take a comparable set of courses. This would involve reorganizing the way that we introduce people to Quakerism, not changing what Quakerism is.

Newcomers could be encouraged to participate in a small group early on. People want a spiritual home where they experience a sense of belonging, where people care about them and they feel like they fit in. In other words, they want real spiritual community. It can be difficult to feel included in a meeting that has long-term social bonds; small groups can help with this. I should point out that in many meetings, we are already providing the kind of fellowship described in the Reveal survey through the excellent Friends General Conference (FGC) Spiritual Deepening program.

Classes that offer a clear pathway, next steps, and challenges

In addition to fellowship, a meeting could offer classes that form a path, that provide next steps, and that offer regular challenges. Below is one possible way of doing that. (I don’t mean this suggestion to be definitive; there are many other ways that these kinds of classes can be organized.)

The first class could provide a short overview of Quakerism as a whole, but spend most of the time on the meaning of meeting for worship and what to do when you’re in it. At the end, participants could be challenged to take the next steps: regular participation in meeting for worship and enrollment in the next class.

The second class could focus on personal spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, and discernment of leadings. Since the process of discernment can be both individual and corporate, group processes like clearness committees, spiritual accountability groups, and meeting for worship on the occasion of business would also be included. At the end, participants could be challenged to take the next steps: regular engagement in personal spiritual practice, participation in business meeting, and enrollment in the next class.

The third class could be about learning about Quakerism in more depth. It could present some information about Quakerism and offer ways to continue learning about it (e.g., reading Faith and Practice on a regular basis, or participating in quarterly meetings, yearly meetings, the FGC annual gathering, Pendle Hill programs, etc.). At the end, participants could be challenged to commit to some ongoing form of study.

The fourth class could focus on service: serving the meeting (e.g., serving on a committee), directly serving those in need (e.g., feeding the homeless), or activism (e.g., creating systemic change by working for peace, justice, or sustainability). At the end, participants could be challenged to commit to some form of service.

At the end of the four classes that make up this beginner’s path, participants would have most of the tools they need to start living the Quaker life. These are also tools that they can continue to use for the rest of their lives.

Meeting spiritual needs

There is a thirst for greater spirituality in Quaker meetings. I say this for two reasons. The first is because of dissatisfaction with Quaker meetings that have shied away from their spiritual and religious center; this was a common theme in the over 100 online comments about my February Friends Journal article, “Can Quakerism Survive?”

The second reason is that in recent moving and influential speeches, both Parker Palmer and Ben Pink Dandelion called for embracing and communicating the spiritual and religious core of Quakerism.

The model presented here shows one way to help satisfy the spiritual thirst of newcomers by introducing them to the spiritual core and spiritual guidance that they want from a meeting.

People in Quaker meetings and those interested in Quakerism aren’t that different from the people who took the Reveal survey. We Quakers have something to learn from the survey about what people want from church and how to provide it. People may show up at our doors because of various outreach activities, and they may like their initial encounter with Quakerism because various methods from FGC’s Welcoming Meetings program are being used. These are both important, but people won’t keep coming back to meeting if they don’t see how it addresses their needs for spiritual guidance and fellowship. All three activities—outreach, welcoming, and meeting people’s spiritual needs—are essential. If one is missing, the other two won’t get very far. But together, these three activities can defeat the trend of declining membership. Quakerism can grow, and meetings can become more vibrant.

The post What People Really Want from Church and Quaker Meeting appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

The Future Is Accessible

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:40am

©tinx

This spring an almost silent recording of a meeting for worship went viral. The recording was created for the digital radio show I host and produce, Young Quaker Podcast, and was conceived as a way to bring the calm and clarity of Quaker silence into the homes and lives of people who might not have experienced it before. When the idea was first pitched to me by fellow young adult Friend Tim Gee, I was intrigued but could never have anticipated the response and interest that followed.

Within a week, the podcast was covered on local, national, and international media across the world. I was interviewed on several UK radio stations; a short film was made by the BBC; articles were published in The Guardian, Church Times, The Metro, and The Friend, and I was invited to write a piece for iNews about being a young Quaker. I knew the podcast really had “gone viral” (something that “spreads rapidly through a population,” according to Urbandictionary.com) when I heard National Public Radio cover the story and more articles from online news sites began pouring in from across the United States and beyond. Downloads climbed from the usual few hundred to nearly 2,000 within days of the coverage, with listeners tuning in from the United States, Belgium, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Kenya, and beyond to join our small, silent meeting, punctuated with shuffles, creaks, and the methodical ticking of a clock.

At almost 3,000 downloads and counting, the podcast could be considered one of the biggest Quaker meetings ever held. In the aftermath of the media excitement, I began to try and unpick what had made this meeting so successful that Quakers and non-Quakers all over the world had ventured to participate in it. The conclusion I came to was its accessibility.

Meeting for worship isn’t always as accessible as we would like to think. Meetinghouses may declare themselves accessible venues, but accessible for whom exactly? Having a wheelchair ramp is certainly a good start, but how accessible is your meeting to people with severe anxiety, Tourette syndrome, or chronic pain? How accessible is it to single mothers with no childcare options, those who can’t afford the bus fare across town, or people who work night shifts? Does your meeting cater for the turbulent living situations of young people, teenagers who spend their weekends working to save money for college, or those so exhausted and rundown after a 60-hour work week that a Sunday morning is their only time to rest and recover?

The reason that meeting for worship worked so well as a podcast is because it facilitated that quiet worship and contemplation in a way that so many could access. You can download it and listen anytime, anywhere, and with anyone, opening up meeting for worship to entire communities who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. Furthermore, its shortened length and the fact you can listen alone make it less intimidating than walking into a room full of hushed strangers for an hour. Its silence seems less alien and more approachable.

The podcast is a good start, but the experience has taught me that if we truly want Quakerism to grow and flourish, we need to take steps toward broadening the accessibility we strive for.

Let’s Talk about It

One of the best ways we can spread the Quaker message of peace and equality is through having conversations about our faith. Friends’ aversion to proselytizing has led to a fear of being open and excited about Quakerism with others, which creates a culture of reticence that prevents genuine connections and outreach. There is a difference between forcing your views on strangers and sharing your thoughts and experiences of spirituality with others in your life. By opening up about our personal faith journeys in all their complexity, we acknowledge the radical pluralism of Quaker spiritual feeling.

As members of a small group, the instinct and pressure to represent Quakerism when talking to non-Quakers can be stifling. One of the things that I love most about meeting and worshiping with other Quakers is that if someone asks you how you are, they really mean it. Platitudes and small talk have no place in caring Quaker communities, and I sometimes wish we could bring the sincerity, humor, and openness of these post-worship conversations into the way we talk about Quakerism with others.

It isn’t just talking about Quakerism that is important but also how we talk about it; using accessible language is another way we can make our Society more approachable. One of my professors at university once told me that the best communicators can explain complicated ideas in simple ways. By couching our spiritual experiences in academic language and intellectual pretensions, we perpetuate the homogeneity of educational backgrounds found in many Quaker communities. Or perhaps I should say, we make our community unwelcoming to those who don’t use such complicated language! Instead, through embracing our simplicity testimony and communicating our faith with plain speech and a more informal tone, we open up Quakerism as something relatable and available to those from many different backgrounds.

When sharing our faith, let our words be ministry guided by experience, feeling, and warmth.

Different Expressions of Faith

The methods through which we communicate are also important when examining accessibility. Some of the most effective outreach is surprisingly low-tech. By simply having conversations about Quakerism in our day-to-day lives with others, we can leave a positive impression of Quakers without being pushy about our beliefs. Being mindful of George Fox’s famous adage, “be patterns, be examples,” we might consider that you can’t be a good example of a Quaker if no one knows what Quakers are.

The Internet and modern technology provide us with a multitude of ways to open up a dialogue about Quakerism, and we should not be afraid to embrace these new modes of communication. Through a melding of traditional Quaker values and modern communication methods, such as podcasts (online audio shows), memes (humorous pieces of media that are copied and shared rapidly online), or GIFs (repeated video clips), we can communicate the Quaker message in ways that are also accessible and modern. A group unafraid to embrace youth culture and different expressions of faith is a group that will thrive in our dynamic and technologically advancing world.

Embracing younger Quakers and what they have to say is also vitally important for the future of Quakerism and making our Society welcoming and accessible. Young adult Quakers offer a unique perspective within the Religious Society of Friends and can provide valuable insights into how we can become more inclusive both of younger Friends and of others in general. However, a 2016 study carried out by the British group Quaker Life revealed that many young adult Quakers feel belittled, patronized, or devalued because of their age. How can we expect to grow and thrive as a community if we do not look after our next generation of Quaker elders and overseers? How can we claim to be an equal and loving Society when a significant proportion of fellow Friends feel undervalued and unheard? We need to make more of an effort to help our younger Quakers feel respected and appreciated, and that starts with listening to and embracing their perspectives.

Staying True to Our Equality Testimony

Making Quakerism more accessible also includes challenging existing prejudices within the Society, and upholding our testimony of radical equality. This year British Quakerism’s reputation has come under fire when on several occasions meetinghouses were hired by trans-exclusionary radical feminist groups, such as A Woman’s Place UK, for their events. While A Woman’s Place presents itself as a group solely interested in protecting women’s rights and in discussing recently proposed changes to British law that may make it easier for trans people to change their birth certificates, their choice of speakers and the groups they choose to ally themselves with are deeply worrying.

Groups like A Woman’s Place often platform fear-mongering rhetoric and misinformation about trans women, fueling the narrative that the advancement of trans rights will lead to the sexual assault and oppression of women. As Quakers, we should be committed to the equality and safety of every person, including trans individuals, and allowing these objectionable groups to use our venues to spread hate, fear, and false information is not consistent with our Quaker values.

Not only is it ethically problematic to host these events, but it also puts others off from becoming Quakers. A listener of the podcast recently got in touch to say that she was considering attending her first meeting for worship until she saw the Quakers’ track record of hosting this kind of event, and expressed a fear that Friends are perhaps not truly welcoming of all. By allowing organizations like A Woman’s Place into our spaces, we not only go against our principles and damage our reputation, but dissuade the Quaker-curious from reaching out to us, and make ourselves undesirable to those who value the rights of trans individuals.

Another way we can challenge ourselves to make Quakerism more accessible and inclusive is through tackling the unconscious biases and racism we all have, both as individuals and as a society. For those of us who are white, this does not mean feeling horribly guilty, punishing ourselves, and desperately trying to get people of color through the door. Instead, we should examine and challenge our existing assumptions about race, and try to take every opportunity we have of learning from people of color, even if it is uncomfortable at times for us to hear. By addressing our own biases in this way, we take responsibility for the part we play in upholding systemic racism, whether conscious or otherwise. Starting conversations, challenging each other in loving ways, and not being afraid to apologize if we get things wrong are all important parts of becoming a more accessible and aware community, honoring our promise as Quakers to defend equality, peace, friendship, and integrity.

The Future Is Accessible

The success of the Young Quaker Podcast’s silent episode shows us that Quakerism can go viral when we make efforts toward making it more accessible. Perhaps instead of looking outward when we contemplate our future as a society, we should actually be looking inward at ourselves and the existing barriers to Quaker faith that are invisible to us unless we personally face them.

We open the doors of Quakerism when we start dialogues about our spiritual experiences. We should not be afraid of different expressions of faith, of upholding our equality testimony, or of welcoming others with open arms. This isn’t about persuading people to become Quaker; it is about staying true to our values and building a Society that is approachable and accessible. It is about sending the message that even if Quaker faith isn’t for everyone, Quakers are. The future is accessible, and we should strive to be a part of that future.

The post The Future Is Accessible appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Open for Liberation: A View from Britain

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:35am

In recent months, a profusion of articles and blog posts have called for a new vision for Liberal Quakerism. Sometimes the call is in response to the decrease in the number of members; sometimes it’s a response to spiritual hunger which is only partially nourished by the way things are. Discernment at yearly meetings has reflected this hope for a new vision, and Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) has agreed to a process of revising its book of discipline, Quaker Faith and Practice. In so doing, every local member and attender will be able to have a say in the direction of our community and the articulation of our beliefs.

It would be overstating the case to say we don’t have a direction in Britain. There is—at least in theory—a vision for change. The BYM document “Our Faith in the Future” sets out six goals toward which the yearly meeting wants to work, including these three: (1) Quakers are well known and widely understood; (2) Quaker communities are loving, inclusive, and all-age; and (3) Quaker values are active in the world. But, as the adage goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Words are cheap without a change in how we do things.

Culture change is possible, however, and probably simpler than we think. With the right action now, within a few years, every Quaker might be able to say with confidence: we’re here, we’re inclusive, and we make change. But that change needs to begin within ourselves.

We’re here

When we let people know that the door is open, people walk through it. I first learned this whilst part of the small Quaker meeting at Bunhill Fields, built on the site of the first Quaker burial ground that is the resting place of thousands of the earliest Friends, among them George Fox. When the meeting initiated a community day at the site in partnership with local residents’ groups, more than 300 people turned out: to eat, to meet one another, and to hear the story of the garden’s past.

I was reminded of this again when in a team of young Friends who embarked on the journey of recording a podcast of what turned out to be an entirely quiet meeting for worship. It caught the attention of the BBC News, national newspapers, and National Public Radio in the United States. Once again, I learned that if you open the door, people enter, or in this case, will tap on their touchscreens.

More recently, my meeting decided on another local history tour, this time focusing on the inspirational social reformer Ada Salter, a one-time elder of our meeting whose name adorns a walled garden in a South London park. We posted an event on social media and without much effort had so many people that we reluctantly needed to close bookings—to prevent our guide needing to deliver the tour through a megaphone.

I share these three stories because they should be unremarkable. Instead, they are rare because they go against the grain of a culture that prefers to stay quiet. In every case except the most recent, there were weighty Quakers who tried to stop or stifle us. On other occasions, I’ve attended events in Quaker Outreach Week to which nobody except existing Quakers had been invited. At one public event planning meeting, we spent almost as much time asking how to stop too many people from coming (“there might not be enough chairs”) as we spent discussing how to encourage attendance. Unsurprisingly, on this occasion, no one except regular members of the meeting came.

It may come as a surprise, but people are interested in Friends. In a frenzied and unfair world, we offer an open space to connect to that which is eternal, to discern the difference between what could be and how things are, and to act together for change. Yet we often lack confidence in ourselves to share the things we treasure. That we might be mistaken is a caution found in Advices and Queries, but this needn’t mean we need to assume that no one is interested in us.

To be charitable, our reticence could be a modern-day manifestation of the Quaker modesty, which once long ago led us to wear only gray. Seen another way though, our reticence could be reminiscent of the long-abandoned prohibition against marrying out, a racially tinged practice that prioritized purity over openness to transformation through people coming into the community.

Saying “we’re here” means building alliances; showing up; letting people know that if there’s solidarity to be shown, the Quakers will be there; and that everyone is welcome to the meeting for worship. It also means sharing with people why we’re there and working toward the day when the ability to articulate our spiritual journey in public will be as core to the Quakers’ repertoire of capability as it was to the earliest Friends.

Our Society has become accustomed to fundraising, lobbying, and marching on behalf of people, but we need to become better at translating these activities into true solidarity. As a faith group, we need to open up and offer stillness and connection through the precious practices we value. We’d thereby offer a priceless gift to those people on the frontline who might be most in need, rather than continue to clasp our treasure to ourselves.

This isn’t new; such movements are already in train. For example, Friends in Essex recently supported 15 activists who were standing trial in their city after nonviolently disrupting a deportation flight. Local Quakers hosted them in their houses, offered their meetinghouse for events, and organized a powerful meeting for worship to uphold them in their trial. An anti-deportation activist reported afterward in The Friend: “It made a huge impression on everyone. It was beautiful and heartfelt, and soothed and grounded a lot of frayed nerves.” At the end, some of them sang. These are examples of spiritual solidarity in action.

We’re inclusive

Quakers should be the most inclusive denomination there is. Our identity is forged in our history, and our posters explain how Friends were among the first to promote women’s ministry, to campaign against slavery, to embrace same-sex marriage and more. Yet we have a long way to go before embodying George Fox’s recognition that “God who made all pours out of his spirit upon all men and women in the world … upon the whites and blacks, Moors and Turks and Indians, Christians, Jews, and Gentiles.”

In the course of the 2017 Britain Yearly Meetings sessions I gave a lecture in which I suggested that in our present state British Quakerism is less ethnically diverse than the candidates of the xenophobic UK Independence Party (UKIP). It sent a shudder through the room,but it’s a fact we need to wake up to. In the words of Unitarian educator Chris Crass, quoted by Friends General Conference anti-racism coordinator Vanessa Julye in her workshop at the same event:

the key question, for a white/white majority community, is not “how to get people of color to join our faith community,” it is “how can we make a prolonged, spiritually rooted, engaged commitment to uprooting white supremacy within our community and take on-going collective action to challenge it in society.”

However much people may not like to admit it, it is still worryingly common for a well-meaning Friend to enquire of an attender with black or brown skin: “Where are you from?” In the Sanctuary Movement, I’ve heard Friends insensitively asking refugee allies to explain their life stories over post-meeting for worship tea and biscuits. When discriminatory or exclusivist ideas or words are used—whether in Quaker or other movement spaces—our culture does not yet require us to robustly challenge them, especially if the unthinking offender’s feelings might be hurt. In our decision-making structures too, we need to change more quickly in moving toward greater diversity.

At the same time, there are others who declare that “certain kinds of people” just aren’t interested in Quaker meeting because it’s too quiet, too still, or too nuanced. For as long as such attitudes prevail or go unchallenged, Quakerism will not fulfill its potential as the world’s most inclusive church. Things are beginning to change: for example, this spring BYM produced its first publication offering a toolkit for “owning power and privilege.” I hope it will be a step toward living the insights of our faith in our community: that God resides within every person, and that through stillness and solidarity, we can experience true spirit “wherever two or three are gathered.”

We make change

The elder of the meeting where I became a member used to call the New Testament book of James “the Quaker Book.” The writer, who was thought to be Jesus’s brother, is unambiguous in his view:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (2:14–26)

There has been a trend toward categorizing and dividing Friends into activist Quakers and spiritual Quakers. This needs to be quickly nipped in the bud. In a movement for change that inherits the spirit of the early church, such a dichotomy makes no sense at all. Prayerful upholding, financial giving, preparing the meetinghouse, caring for the community, and simply being present are all crucial parts of a movement for change rooted in faith. So too, to suggest that a Friend who engages in activism is somehow less spiritual is way off the mark. There are thousands of progressive organizations working for change. We actively choose to act with our faith community specifically because we want to do so from a place of spiritual connection, in a way that secular campaigning groups ignore or preclude.

All of us are part of a movement for change. And if there’s something Quakers are known for, it’s that we wear it on our sleeves (or perhaps on our bumper stickers and pin badges). Almost half of BYM’s church staff are employed as campaigners and advocates. Making change is part of what we do, as it has been even before the birth of the Quaker movement: when we speak out today against unjust inequalities of power, for wealth redistribution, or for environmental justice, there’s a little bit of the inheritance of the seventeenth-century Diggers and Levellers showing through.

Open for liberation

It’s true that Quakers approach things seriously, but that is not why I am a Quaker. I am a Quaker because at events for teenagers, I experienced a sense of joyful liberation, in contrast to the conformist and sometimes violent culture of the school playground.

In 2014, Ben Pink Dandelion stirred a new wave of conversation with his Swarthmore Lecture “Open for Transformation,” which inspired a still-active Facebook group. I think we can go further though: in making ourselves fully open to the Spirit as experienced in ourselves and our relationships, we can become open for liberation. In stillness, we are able to become open to the liberation of ourselves from the norms and practices which exclude and sow the seeds of discrimination and war. In solidarity with others, we embody the much-loved phrase of George Gorman: “It is in and through all things that we hear God speaking to us. But … it’s in my relationships with people that the deepest religious truths are most vividly disclosed.”

For all that though, Quakers know well that in almost all circumstances, words are secondary to the well-discerned action. I’ve never known that better shown than in the life and witness of the late Scottish peacemaker Helen Steven, whose vibrant presentations at Quaker events made a profound impression on me and many others. As we contemplate culture change, the closing words of her 2005 lecture to yearly meeting seem both relevant and likely to be remembered for a long time:

The important part is the doing, the stepping out in faith. Doing our utmost to the very limit of our being: not to be bound by success, but to hold on to the confidence that the outcome will be picked up by others and the flame continue to burn…and then we have to hand it over, to let go. Let go of the outcome of one’s actions in trust and confidence that they are not in vain and that somewhere in the secret workings of God a change is taking place.

Unexpected as it may seem, this is the point of resurrection.

The post Open for Liberation: A View from Britain appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Tapping a Viral Energy

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:30am

© Robert Henry. Click for full size.

I have been there: no hope, no vision, no sense of purpose, ready to give up. This was also how I felt about Quakers at one time. It is not the way I feel anymore. This revived confidence was sparked in the midst of great challenge and personal weakness. As one who became a Friend after much study and experience in a variety of faith traditions, I realized that Quakers have a great deal to offer our world today, but many are missing out because of a lack of energy. Let me explain.

Quakers across our country have been embroiled in battles over a multitude of issues. The lasting effects cause everything from exhaustion to simply giving up. We all could sit around arguing to get our way or hoping for a better outcome someday, but—let’s be honest—that is not going to get us far.

 

Quakers come from a long history of passionate people who not only argued and hoped but passionately and confidently lived out what they believed. History records them as fearless trailblazers. From women’s rights to the abolition of slavery, they had a clear Quaker voice that made way for change and drew people to be that change. That voice came forth from enthusiastic and willing women and men who went the extra mile and lived against the grain of society. They possessed an energy that is rarely seen in Quakerism today. I would label it a viral energy, one which spreads rapidly through a population by being enthusiastically shared with a number of individuals.

Not only have religious niceties, worldly comforts, overt busy work, and mass consumerism taken a toll on our viral energy, but also many Quakers today find themselves defaulting to religious conformity. What happened to being different, radical, and seeking a truth that can make things happen in the world?

In my lowest moments when I began to give up, I realized my viral energy was starting to wane. As I spoke of looking for “that of God in my neighbor,” I had stopped looking for that of God in myself. I no longer had confidence in the message I had been given, nor did I have the energy to live differently. I had become disconnected, broken, and useless to myself, and thus to Quakerism as well. I was no longer enjoying what had drawn me to the Quaker way in the beginning. The light within had dimmed, and survival had set in. Everything became about arguing positions. Others were treated as enemies, and I lacked personal awareness. Things became rather myopic and all about salvaging me. I no longer possessed a positive viral energy. It was more as if I had a negative virus in my system.

Where was the gathered meeting? Who was discerning with me? What happened to witnessing a life together with my community? That is just it. I was (where I believe much of Quakerism currently is) in bondage. Many Quakers are in bondage to traditions, to the glory days, to a specific experience or set of beliefs, ministry, and leadership. Often, I have found well-meaning Quakers telling stories from 40 to 50 years ago and thinking somehow things will magically change in the present. There is clearly a disconnect. The energy surrounding those stories is not translated into finding new ways to go viral in the present. It’s probably because we chose to tell the same stories for so long that we began worshiping the traditions and the past instead of rendering it for a new generation. This leaves us in bondage to our past, with little hope for going viral in the future.

The darkness of bondage can be overwhelming, but it also can make the light seem much more brilliant. Even though I had hit bottom, I had not been completely destroyed. As I climbed out of my pit of despair, I began to notice my energy increase. I not only rediscovered myself, I began to rediscover my love for the Quaker way. I laid aside the arguing, the reveling in the past, the comforts, and went on a new search for Truth.

 

© Robert Henry

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my journey was very Quaker in nature. Our ancestors found themselves feeling empty within the church of their day and learned to live with viral energy of the foundational virtues of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality.

I realized that if I was to find resurrection, or if Quakerism was to be resurrected, it was first going to take learning to truly live again. My most profound discovery was that Quakerism was not going to change until I did.

Our presence is what will revive Quakerism and break the bondage. When we Quakers awaken to this reality, we start to realize that we are integral to creating a more just, loving, and peaceable world. We are to build healthy communities, not arguing, divisive, proof-seeking, unwelcoming places of fear. Our viral energy should be put into creating spaces where differences are appreciated and where the process of life and living is explored together. When this happens, new stories begin to emerge, new energy flows, the bondage of our past is broken, and the message goes viral in our world.

For several years now, a personal revival has been taking place in my own life. I am seeing young and old being drawn again to Quakerism because new stories, new possibilities, and new people are working together to build the type of community that our ancestors wanted and lived out. I am excited and filled again with a viral energy about what Quakerism has to offer my neighbors and community. It is clear that our world has been desperately crying out for a new way to translate life and find hope. Because I have seen the impact the Quaker way is having in the eyes of youth, college students, and young adults, I have full faith that our future is ripe. These next generations are not in bondage to their past but easily could be if we don’t have a viral energy to embrace hope and possibility for their future.

 

A while back, I was watching the movie Tomorrowland with my youngest son. As I was pondering the future of Quakerism, I could not help but be moved by this quote:

In every moment there is the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it, you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality.

Could it be that Quakerism has lost its belief of a better future?

I do not believe this. I sense now, more than ever, it is time to do whatever is necessary to lift the bondage, embrace the future, gather the people, and make Quakerism a viable reality with a viral impact in our world again. I strongly believe that it is going to take embracing new ways of coming together, new uses of social media, new teaching methods, new activism, and a new translation of our distinctives for today’s society. We will need to explore all the possibilities, not just those that worked in the past. It is going to take living new stories and inviting others to join us, including people we may not have been comfortable with or whom we have rejected in the past. It is going to take a willingness to get up and go and get out of our boxes and to experience new things. It is time to make Quakerism go viral; it is time to believe again.

The post Tapping a Viral Energy appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Handling Change and Creating Communities

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:25am

Focused Relationships in Social Media

Artificial intelligence captures our world in algorithms built to understand all everyday habits and purchases—and now our thoughts. This is a scary world for us who are baby boomers. Not only are we losing our purchasing power but we are also facing a new world. Instead of us having the power of decision, marketers are forcing our decisions. That, my Friends, is uncomfortable.

It’s time to look at how Quakers in this new world are handling these changes. How do we create a community that is within our Quaker testimonies, commonly remembered as SPICE—simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality? I’d like to take you down a path that I am seeing in this new world.

I’ve been in the advertising and communications industry my whole career. I’ve seen print and publishing in a physical form become another commodity. Since Facebook and Twitter have merged onto our path, I’ve spent many years actively working on them.

Simplicity

We could just dump these so-called social media sites and live with one another face to face. Believe me, I get that: I would very much like to go back to that era. However, keeping a presence online with these social media sites allows us to keep in touch with close friends and those family members we do not regularly see. How would we ever be able to hear from a far distant cousin? Without Facebook, the process is more complex and takes more of our time. And, in fact, would we even do it? These sites offer a simple way of finding the light within you while you watch the light in those you remember from decades ago.

We have shared memories with people from our past. To have the ability to reconnect and relive those memories by simply going online is incredibly powerful. Yes, we may not agree with them on all things. As in any relationship, we can agree to disagree but still be friends; this is no different when you use social media.

Peace

I am a big supporter of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and its tradition of building relationships. That is the first step of communication. In any dialogue with people who either do or do not agree, building the relationship is the fulcrum to balanced conversation. You work to either agree or agree to disagree in a way so as to not hurt either party. Nonviolent communication has a foundation in peace. Quakers have the same foundations; in our communication, we practice it.

I’d like to shine a light by sharing two stories which witness FCNL lobbying.

Story 1: My congresswoman gave me tickets to see the Pope at the U.S. Capitol in September 2015. I shared a beautiful morning with my sister and her mother-in-law. We were sitting on the Capitol lawn as the Pope spoke to Congress on the big screen TV. A light turned on me and I went to Twitter to thank my rep using her tag. I said I was holding her in the light and thanked her for this opportunity. Not more than two minutes later she responded to me on Twitter, thanking me for my tweet. The was the start of my lobbying with her.

Story 2: In my communications on Facebook, I post letters to the editors, linking them to my representatives’ Facebook pages. Many of my Quaker friends will share them, and those too are linked to the representatives, building a bigger audience for the letter. When I went on a lobbying visit with one of my congresswoman’s staffers, her chief of staff came out to speak to me about the letter. This again built a new relationship, while showing the strength of my current relationship.

It is important to maintain consistency in all of this and always reinforce the relationship. It is my reason for doing this work: to build a dialogue and to know that it is okay to not agree and still have cared for others. In this way, we constantly build peace within the relationship.

Integrity

By sharing your true self online, you build a base of integrity with others. You may find friends who you have never met. I have over 600 friends on Twitter and an equal number on Facebook. Never could I have dreamed I could be communicating with that many people. Your reach is multiplied when others share your media. When you build your online presence with integrity, the algorithms of artificial intelligence connect you with like-minded readers.

Community

I have built a large community with FCNL’s advocacy team across the country; and I’ve built a community with the staff of my senators and representative, allowing me to build relationships with my senators and representative. I’m building relationships with my yearly meeting staff, quarterly meeting, and with those from other meetings. In building those relationships and developing a community, I help support their efforts. There is a lot of richness in online media, but also a lot of fake news. To build community online—as in real life—you need a solid foundation. Quakerism fits in this new world.

Equality

This may seem like the simplest testimony, but there is work to maintain it within social media. Issues constantly rise up. It can challenge you to see that of God or that of human in others. You can respond in anger or in kindness. You can get trapped in it, but the more you come up to the edge, the more of God you’ll find within you. This is where faith meets action. It is a forever-learning cycle, both online and off.

I do understand that many people do not trust social media platforms and feel there is a dark side to them. That too is an honest vision. And I know not everyone will agree with me. I would ask the reader to view this digital event as our grandparents viewed television. Think what it was like when their children bought a television for their grandchildren. The trepidation had to be similar: that the new medium will manipulate their brains. The same fears were expressed when rock and roll came into our lives. That too changed the way we thought.

I ask you to not be afraid of this new world. It is a place to challenge your being and your commitment to community and to relationships. It is a place to build new and old friendships; a place to give light and receive it. But know it doesn’t come right away: there is a deliberate and patient way to build it. You should always watch and do a bit of research on who you make friendships with (just as you do in the physical world). You will need to go with a leap of faith. To me, it is fully worth it. Look, you are reading this article, most likely, online.

 

The post Handling Change and Creating Communities appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

The Grief and the Promised Land

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:20am

The grief is real.

Imagine if every monthly meeting experienced deeply gathered worship; if every monthly meeting was rigorously engaged in outreach; if every monthly meeting played a meaningful role in its neighboring community; if committees arose and were laid down solely in response to the direction of Spirit; if all Friends understood what spiritual gifts were, and made a practice of naming, nurturing, and supporting them; if all Friends knew how to recognize and live faithfully into ministries; if all Friends used discernment in all areas of their daily lives.

Imagine if neither age nor gender nor race nor class nor level of education was an obstacle in any way to a sense of full belonging in the Religious Society of Friends; if it was never necessary for any Friend to ask for financial assistance to attend a Quaker event; if the majority of Friends practiced intervisitation or traveled in the ministry at some point in their lives; if Friends from pastoral meetings and Friends from unprogrammed meetings were equally assured of their full acceptance in all parts of our beloved community.

Imagine if 100 percent of Quaker gatherings were either multigenerational or included meaningful parallel programming for children and youth; if children, youth, and young adults were encouraged to participate in any Quaker activity they liked, and were provided the support they needed to participate meaningfully; if older adults were welcomed into traditionally younger spaces and were provided the support they needed to participate meaningfully; if we developed systems of communication that were genuinely accessible to younger generations; if we explained our Quaker terminology as we used it, without fail.

Imagine if our Quaker culture put multiracial culture, not white culture, in the center; if our decisions about allocating time and money were fully in keeping with our testimonies; if we spoke truth with love at all times in all places, both individually and collectively; if we learned to speak and live courageously; if each one of us lived a life that was 100 percent climate-sustainable.

I testify that this is possible.

And imagine what a light on the hill we would be.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” —Genesis 12:1

The grief is real.

Those of us who make up the Religious Society of Friends are not what we could be, and the first step to becoming something new is to name the fact that we’re not the new thing yet. There’s so much that could happen if we threw ourselves into the arms of God, if we behaved as though continuing revelation were real, if we declared collectively that we have no idea what our faith community might look like next year, and that the only thing we know for certain is that God is our guide and protector.

But committing to change and flinging open our doors is terrifying. What happens when half the people in my meeting are suddenly people I’ve never seen before? What happens if every other Sunday becomes intergenerational worship? What happens if my committee’s laid down because the meeting is called to redistribute its resources? What if my place of safety isn’t recognizable anymore?

Let’s pull this out of the abstract and look at an example:

Suppose we are called to fully welcome children and families. What might this look like? We might make a commitment to hold no meeting functions—worship, business, social, or service—without a plan for how children will be welcomed in the space. We might develop intergenerational worship. We might create a dedicated physical space for teens. We might put changing tables in all of our bathrooms. We might hire a childcare professional. We might work out a system of rotation so that all Friends, not just the parents, take turns providing a children’s program during business meeting. We might develop a teen accompaniment program to help with the transition from children’s programming to full adult participation. We might even change our worship space to a location that’s more fully family-friendly.

And what might we gain? We might gain a sense of joy; fresh energy and new ideas; the spiritual gifts carried by parents who, right now, cannot be fully present in our communities; a more certain future; a chance to learn by teaching; newness; and intergenerational connection.

But what must we grieve?

I love the absolute silence of child-free worship. If we increase the childcare budget, can we still afford other programming that’s important to me? I haven’t missed a business meeting in 14 years; how can I go facilitate a children’s program instead? I feel uncomfortable in playful environments. I feel safer when I know I’m not going to be asked to sing in worship. It’s much more convenient for me to schedule committee meetings without thinking about childcare.

Every one of these responses is worth hearing and affirming. When we make a change, even if it’s true that we might gain more than we lose, even if it’s true that this new step is a step in faithfulness and living into God’s call, it doesn’t negate the fact that we are losing something familiar, sometimes even something beloved.

We expect to grieve when someone has died. Can we learn to expect to grieve when we’re called into new things? Can we set aside time together in our meetings to grieve the old ways? Can we learn to treat grief as part of rebirth?

The grief is real.

We skip over this sometimes. We envision the glorious could-be and lament that it is not, and yet we never address our fundamental and totally human resistance to change. We cannot reach the land God shows us if we never leave our father’s house. If we do not collectively name this leaving and grieve the loss, however, we’ll contort ourselves into ridiculous shapes in an effort to “leave” without really leaving.

We do this in a number of ways. One way is to declare that we’ve already arrived. We have already reached the promised land. The Religious Society of Friends is perfect, or nearly so, and those imperfections we have are so insignificant (when compared to the glorious experience of the Light) that we cannot imagine why we aren’t growing. It must surely be due to some external circumstances, some influence of the world that we cannot control.

Another way is to diminish the power of God. Yes, there’s a promised land, but we can’t really get there … or not right now; or not with the amount of money we have; or not in the current circumstances. When God says to leave our father’s house, God doesn’t mean now; it wouldn’t be practical.

And yet another way is to hope we can reach the promised land without actually going anywhere. God is so powerful that God will bring the promised land here, now, exactly where we are, without any need for us to change at all—right?

But we have not reached the promised land. We can reach the promised land, but the promised land will not come to us. To get there, we will, at some point, have to leave behind the way things are right now. But the way things are right now feels very safe, or at least a lot safer than tromping through a wilderness we’ve never seen before.

The grief is real.

We are allowed to feel sad when we consider our beloved community’s changing. We are allowed to feel angry when others suggest it. We are allowed to feel frightened of the unknown. We are allowed to crave safety and sameness and security. To pretend we don’t experience these feelings will not make them go away.

The danger is that it’s too easy for us to avoid the grief of leaving the familiar. To do so, we just have to not leave the familiar. Or—and this is more common—maybe we can leave it a little bit but mostly not, and then say, “Look, we’ve changed,” and tell ourselves that the work is finished.

To get to the promised land, we must voluntarily, faithfully, and courageously release everything that feels safe and comfortable: not to immediately change everything (for that would just waste energy), but to put all of our traditions and habits into the category of “could be changed” and then listen to God (and each other) intently. And in this letting go of habits, we must acknowledge the grief that comes with change and walk alongside each other through it.

We must affirm for one another that the grief is real. We can’t skip over it (“we’ve already reached the promised land”), or postpone it (“we can’t really get there right now, so why try?”), or pretend it’s unnecessary (“the promised land will come to us, so we don’t need to change”).

Here’s another example:

Suppose we are called to be fully relevant in our neighborhoods: what might this look like? We might fundraise for the local public school. We might organize a meeting workday to volunteer at the public library. We might host movie nights. We might run GED classes, a mindful parenting meet-up, or job interview workshops for college students, depending on what our neighbors most need. We might add Spanish (or Korean, or Russian, or French) to our signage and find an interpreter for meeting for worship. We might go out into the community and talk with our neighbors.

And what might we gain? We might gain a sense of service-mindedness, new life as new neighbors come through our doors, a chance to learn from those who are unlike us, confidence in our own gifts and skills, human connection, and stronger communities.

But what must we grieve?

I don’t have time for this; I’d have to completely rearrange my schedule. I’d rather stay home on a weekday evening. I don’t like meeting strangers. I’m shy. It’s uncomfortable trying to give vocal ministry with an interpreter. What is our legal liability if we open up our doors? Does this mean laying down a committee that’s important to me? New people challenge the status quo. Suppose I make a mistake and embarrass myself? What if something goes wrong? What if some of our old members get uncomfortable and leave? Our meeting is so imperfect that I’m not sure I feel good about inviting people to come.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Nowhere does God promise that this will be a comfortable process.

When we as Friends are discerning next steps, can we ask explicitly, “In what ways will this new thing be difficult?” Can we affirm and respect the difficulty—the genuine, painful, and justified grieving of what we leave behind—and at the same time commit to continue moving forward?

Let’s do this thing.

Because the grief is real—and so is the promised land.

The post The Grief and the Promised Land appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Forum August 2018

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:08am
What do you want to see in Friends Journal? Since 2012, most of the monthly issues of Friends Journal have been set aside for specific themes. Every 18 months or so we poll readers and dream up ideas for future issues. Sometimes we’ll be inspired by a particular article that struck a chord with readers; other times we’ll look at a topic that Friends aren’t talking about enough. There are some relatively perennial themes (race, art, finance, social witness, outreach), but even with these, we try to find hooks that
Categories: Articles & News

News August 2018

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:05am
Britain Yearly Meeting in session, from the clerks’ table. L to R: Paul Parker, recording clerk; Gavin Burnell, second assistant clerk; and Clare Scott Booth, assistant clerk. Photo by Mike Pinches for Britain Yearly Meeting. Britain Yearly Meeting to revise Faith and Practice On May 6, at
Categories: Articles & News

It’s What I Do

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:04am

© Sergii Moscaliuk

Oh God, I tend to grasp,
control, hold on, as if I
could heave a lasso and pull
You close, corral or snatch,
tether You like a filly on a lead
while I stand front and center
directing you in circles and
threatening the wildness out of You.
I do this to myself. Then what do
I possess? An awkward inflatable
that drapes across a basement floor,
airless. Forgive me. It’s what I do,
when I feel the loss of You.
Amen

The post It’s What I Do appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Innocence Lost

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:02am
Talk of an unhinged jaw sent me plummeting into my twelfth summer at the lake a Brooklyn girl in rubber boots and a barefoot local boy, pants rolled-up to his knees in the muck as we explored the shallows swamped with lily pads resting their crowns on the lake’s skin and
Categories: Articles & News

God Sightings on the Hiking Trail

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:00am
Photo courtesy of the author. The scenery on the trail was spectacular, but just like life, the backpack was a mix of emotions and experiences. As I left the world of worries behind, I could feel myself becoming physically lighter. I was hiking on Oregon’s North Umpqua Trail with a group
Categories: Articles & News

Simple, Relevant, Amusing

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:45am

A recipe for “going viral” with the Quaker message

Urban dictionary defines “viral” as a simple type of marketing message. A viral marketing campaign is often simple, amusing, and relevant to current events. Its  message encourages people to share it with others. How do we share the eternal message of Quakers in modern times? I see this internet marketing formula as prescriptive for how we might frame our invitation of others to our spiritual practices. I believe this definition of viral marketing might serve as touchstones for how we share in both digital and brick-and-mortar spaces.

Simple

We the Quakers seek simplicity. In a cluttered world with much competing for our time, creating space for listening, being together, and quietly seeking guidance in our hearts is a radical shift. It was when Friends simply listened to the Inner Teacher directly, outside the complicated structure of the formal church that Quakerism began. While I am wary of reducing the Quaker Way to a mere checklist of one-word testimonies, a message that is brief and clear can often cut through much of the noise we encounter each day. The message of “Simple faith. Radical witness” might invite others into our practice and seeking together. Four words. Not an end, but a starting invitation. How do you sum up your experience and share it in 5 words or less?

Relevant

There was a time when Friends separated themselves from non-Friends in their communities, seeking to be apart and faithful without worldly influence and distraction. The message of Friends speaks directly to our times, to our place in the world, and our being in community made up of folks of many different backgrounds and experiences. I am often in ecumencial witnesses with people of many faith traditions. I am there as a Friend, bringing my understanding of how my faith calls me to show up and act as God has called me. How do I let my life speak every day, in all spaces? Am I just adding to the chatter and uncivil discourse, or am I speaking from that deeper place of eternal knowing? Our message should have an authenticity and relevance that can cut through the confusion and despair of our time. It extends an invitation to a faith that asks us to live in the moment, to act as if the Kingdom of Love is here.

Amusing

How do we embody joy? The Quaker way is deep and comforting and challenging. I find it to be joyful, lighthearted, and embracing of the humanity in others. In the current time of despair and need, encouraging joy and creating a space for it seems a good fit for many Friends. “Walking cheerfully” can happen in many kinds of places. It is easier for me to be cheerful when I make a conscious effort to see that of God in everyone. I can take myself less seriously this way, and trust that while I am given important and hard work in the world, it is not all mine to do alone: I can trust in the One that accompanies us all. That is joyful indeed!

I see bits of these elements in the stories I share online. Here’s a few examples of my own viral sharing, and why I think they might have been shared so widely. I also hope, in some small way, they have helped to spread the message of a relevant, vital Quaker way that is able to speak to us today.

 

Quaker Kathleen’s top “viral” Quaker shares….. 1. Mary Dyer hanged in Boston!

Every year I share a picture of Boston area Quakers, marching in the Boston Pride Parade, walking right by the statue of Mary Dyer. She was hanged for her religious beliefs on the Boston Common. Over 300 years later, Quakers are still witnessing for love in Boston. A nod to history, but relevant now. How might we faithfully speak and risk in public witness to the needs of all?

2. Don’t sleep in and miss continuing revelation!

I love sharing bits of Quaker history, referring to plain-speaking Quaker tradition while reminding folks of current events. Yes, I could just say “remember to turn your clocks ahead and show up on time Sunday morning” but how much more fun it is to ask thee to remember not to be late for continuing revelation on First-day morning! Religious jargon? Maybe. But often folks are intrigued. I get questions about Quaker faith and how we listen each week, and why we call it First Day. I make sure I am available to answer those questions.

3. Are you ready for yearly meeting sessions? We are!

There are so many variations on this popular meme. The opportunity to share a bit of Quaker faith using modern movie and popular culture themes can be very fun. Sometimes these posts get shared widely among non-Quakers and I get to introduce folks to modern Quakers. Yes, we watch movies.

 

4. Wear what the Spirit requires of thee.

Maybe the Spirit requires we wear a bonnet and plain dress. Or maybe that we go drag and put on heels. The message in this? That we listen to the Spirit to tell us in the moment what to do. That is a very serious charge, with some risk. In the case of clothing the reason behind the Spiritual motivation for each of us in our hearts is more important than historical precedent. Also, it helps to have an colleague who takes himself lightly (while he takes his work seriously) whether in plain dress or a giant crab suit.

5. What do Doctor Who and modern Quakers have in common? (blog post)

Sometimes change is hard. The latest incarnation of the Doctor, the central character in the long-running, popular sci-fi series Doctor Who, has created controversy. The character will reappear for the first time as a woman! Is that allowed? What if God asks us to risk our safety and comfort in that way also. How do we Friends know how and when to take risks and act and change? The decision by the Doctor Who producers is an example of a pop culture news item with direct theological questions. Holy risk and change is deeply uncomfortable. How do Quakers handle it (any better than Doctor Who fans)? I was thrilled when British Quakers shared this “viral” post widely. It spoke to many aspects of their condition.

6. What the world thinks I do….

This was a popular meme last year. It can be challenging to explain what a Quaker is (and what a Quaker social media manager is!). This was a playful way to examine different views. We Friends hold the paradox of representing many things to many people. How do we distill a clear message, and still accept that we are seen through varied lenses?

7. Women have always spoken among the Friends

Politics is already viral. Sharing a Quaker view of current events is popular. Last year, there was great debate on women being “allowed” to speak in the U.S. government. I saw a way to highlight an aspect of the Quaker faith that applies to me personally: women can minister to all as equally as any others called in this way. Quaker women have been ministering since 1660—why not publicize that we are an old religion ahead of its time?

8. Holidays

Quakers traditionally did not keep days—every day was an opening for the Holy breaking in among us. Many Friends do now mark the days of various traditions. I call these posts “the day the world calls…” as a nod to the Quaker path. But what about a day that celebrates love and joy? That seems quite Quaker to me. Thus, a Quaker valentine might have a Friendly quotation about the eternal love we seek in our hearts every day (and some candy hearts too).

 

Quakerism supports radical witness, risk and challenge, and deep listening. This path can be joy filled and playful and fun. To be in the world, and relevant is a calling still worthy of sharing. We may have different communication platforms available to us than we did in 1650, but our message of radical witness and deep listening is timeless and still very much needed.

 

The post Simple, Relevant, Amusing appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

What’s the Point of a Meeting?

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:35am

Photo © Julie Heiland

Before we can make plans for how to revitalize our meetings, we have to know what they’re for. This might sound silly. They’re for spiritual community.

But really, why do we start meetings? Why do we keep them going?

I was having a chat with C. Wess Daniels from Guilford College. He used to be the pastor at Camas Friends Church in Camas, Washington. For reference, I’m over in the Liberal unprogrammed side of things. I was, well, kvetching, to be perfectly honest. Sometimes Friends fret over whether Quakerism will or won’t survive. Sometimes I see someone say online that it’s fine if Quakerism doesn’t survive. Perhaps we’ve outlived our usefulness to the universe or to God. On the one hand, I agree that if our sect’s continuation serves no purpose, then it would be reasonable for God to invest energy elsewhere. On the other hand, not serving God’s purpose seems like something we have the power to change.

Commission and Commandments

If you ask most churches about their mission or vision (that is, how they serve God’s purpose), you will get an answer that reflects the Great Commission (go and make disciples), the Greatest Commandments (love God and love your neighbor), or a combination thereof.

This language and these ideas might seem outdated or irrelevant to some Friends. However, Rufus Jones once wrote:

The [healthy] mystic does not exalt his own experiences over historical revelation, he rather interprets his own openings in light of the master-revelations. He does not foolishly conclude because he has a vision of his own, that “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is outdated and unnecessary.

So, neither the commission nor the commandments have been overturned for Friends. How well are our meetings as covenant communities doing at those?

Commission: Outreach

George Fox wrote in his Journal, “the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.” If we’ve got a great people to be gathered, we’re going to need to do the work of inviting people in and making them feel welcome.

I came across an interesting statistic. A study by Thom S. Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door, found that 82 percent of people who don’t attend more than five religious services per year said they’d be up for accepting an invitation to one. Turns out, they’re just nervous to walk through the door without a buddy. I’ve seen my brother get pulled into an altar call without knowing what it is, so I can confirm that trying a new faith community is scary.

We’ve been having more conversations about this in the Quaker blogosphere in the last year. I know a lot of folks say we should just let our Lights shine and people will be attracted to us. While I’ll come back to that in a bit, I would like to encourage Friends to explore the work of the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative, which has been working on how we teach people what it means to be a Friend: how we make disciples. They’re creating and collecting resources for religious education of both children and adults. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel in every meeting.

Commandments: Love

I’ll leave your position on loving God up to you. I know some people aren’t too into “God talk.” A lot of us who are into it would say that communing with the Spirit during meeting for worship is one way we love God. But the other commandment, loving our neighbors: how well do we do on that?

Now, I don’t know if this is fair, but here’s the impression I tend to get. Most churches are very invested in solving immediate needs. They’ll give you a gift card for the grocery store, run a food pantry or soup kitchen, or open their building as a shelter in the winter for those who’d otherwise be out on the streets. But maybe they’re not so interested in long-term systemic change to prevent people ending up in those situations in the first place. They’re here for charity, not advocacy.

On the other hand, Liberal Quakers seem to really have the advocacy thing down. But when it comes to making sure people can eat between now and when the minimum wage goes up, we seem to handle that differently. I’m not saying we ignore immediate needs, but I think we’re often less hands-on about immediate needs than about advocacy. Rather, we send money to other churches and organizations who will do the messy work for us. Are we loving our neighbors when we hold them at a distance? Does loving them by proxy count?

I would be remiss if I didn’t note the ongoing conversations in many yearly meetings about race, sexual orientation, and class. There doesn’t seem to be much of one going about disability, but it’s worth considering whether your meetinghouse is accessible. Are we loving our neighbors when we make it difficult—mentally or physically—to participate in our meetings?

Neighbor Love: Is it a goal?

Wess Daniels’s “As the Seed Falls: Building a Generative, Convergent Quakerism” was why the chat started. He wrote, “The reality remains that we must, if we have any hope at bearing new, fresh fruit, be engaged in what God is doing now.” He wrote about good news to the poor and marginalized and what that looks like today.

One example was Laundry Love, which Camas Friends Church participates in. They show up at their local laundromat on a regular schedule with a jar of quarters (collected in the meetinghouse lobby) and some detergent. People who can’t otherwise get their clothes washed are able to do just that. This is a way they love their neighbors. Another way is by hosting Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in their meetinghouse.

Returning to that “hope at bearing new, fresh fruit,” I told Wess it can be very difficult to concretely serve the local community when you’re a small, struggling meeting. I said, “I don’t know how some little groups even could do much of anything with so few people, but I also don’t know how they could become more than that if they don’t.”

His response was that it’s not a bad thing to lay down a meeting and, as he wrote in the article, redirect money and energy to being “engaged in what God is doing now.”

And that was where we hit a programmed/unprogrammed cultural barrier.

I understood what he meant. I hang around enough ecumenical spaces that I knew where he was coming from. People from the laid down meeting would join the meeting a few miles away, of course, or join another church. And so I explained: the thing is, we start meetings because the nearest one is just too far to drive, not because there’s some grander purpose.

He confirmed my thinking, that churches generally start because the church planter wants to engage with a particular community.

I continued, telling him that we unprogrammed Friends are often too sectarian to do otherwise. It’s not only that we won’t join a non-Quaker congregation (insert Quietist-era gasp at the thought of worshiping with Methodists). I know of tiny Liberal unprogrammed meetings that exist not far from a Conservative unprogrammed meeting and several Evangelical Friends churches. Those, of course, are the wrong kind of Quakers.

Well, this threw him for a loop. And after sleeping on it, I realized it’s the old remnant-versus-leaven problem.

Remnant and Leaven

“A people trying to be a remnant, keeping itself pure and undefiled in the midst of a wicked world, may reveal a certain nobility of character, but is radically different from the pattern taught by Christ. The wonder of leaven is that it is effective, not by keeping itself separate from the world, but rather by penetrating the world.” — D. Elton Trueblood

In the days of the Great Separation between the Hicksites (what have become Friends General Conference [FGC] Friends) and the Orthodox (everybody else), this division existed.

The Orthodox, especially the ones who would eventually become programmed, had a more evangelical flair. They were the leaven (yeast), going out into the world and trying to raise it all; they wanted to change the world.

The Hicksites tended toward the remnant. The “hedge” between Friends and the world had to be maintained. It was very important that we maintained simplicity in dress and furnishings. It was also very important that we have “select” Friends schools, where our children could be educated with other Quaker children, by Quaker teachers, with none of the bad influences they would get from mixing with Methodists and Episcopalians.

Today, the archetype of the remnant would be the horse-and-buggy Amish sects.

To be sure, this division wasn’t 100 percent. Today’s Conservative Friends could be seen as the remnant wing of the Orthodox (as much as they get confused with the Amish); meanwhile, the Progressive wing of the Hicksites (like Lucretia Mott) did a lot of work out in the world. We do have a desire to change the world; our advocacy work is evidence of that. I think most of us would deny that we have any desire to be cut off from the world like the Amish.

The remnant thinking still remains though. Sometimes Friends talk about going to meeting as “taking a break.” I must ask: a break from what? Are we retreating from the world? I’ve been told, “But we don’t want to be a neighborhood church.” Why not?

If we have only enough resources to either care for our meeting space or care for our neighbors, which do we choose? If combining two meetings into one meeting space would make it possible for us to care for our neighbors, would we do it? Or do we need to stay away from the wrong kind of Friends: “pure and undefiled”?

Moving Forward with Purpose

A bonus side effect of hands-on neighbor love is that the neighbors see you. It’s hard for them to “just see your Light shining” when they never see you at all. And loving your neighbors makes it really shine.

Personally, I think this whole business of Quaker schisms resulted in us all losing balance. I’ll leave it to Evangelical Friends to articulate the problems they see in their branch. For Liberal Friends, though, we might want to consider how we can be more engaged with our literal, physical neighborhoods; how we can serve them; and how we can invite them into a loving and vibrant faith tradition.

Or else, what’s the point of a meeting?

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Categories: Articles & News

Planning for a Trending #Quakers

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:30am

Emma Gonzalez speaks at the March for Our Lives. Photo: Mobilus In Mobili via Wikimedia.

On February 13, 2018, Emma Gonzalez was a typical high school senior: she was president of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s (MSD) Gay Straight Alliance,  loved creative writing and science, and had about 200 Twitter followers. On February 14, a shooter entered her school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people. Three days later, Emma spoke at a rally in Ft. Lauderdale, and her now-famous eleven-minute “We call B.S.” speech about lax gun laws went viral, broadcast live by attendees at the rally via Facebook and Twitter. That speech was the beginning of a movement that has rallied thousands of children and adults in school walkouts, precipitated the Washington March For Our Lives a month after the shooting, and started voter-registration drives across the United States.

In the weeks following the shooting, Emma and many of her classmates developed the #NeverAgain movement, growing a worldwide social media following. This includes celebrities supportive of their cause who offered large donations to fund the march in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of marches across the country were planned concurrently in support of sensible gun legislation.

As Gonzalez and her friends saw their Twitter followers increase, they used the platform to tweet invitations to perform in Washington to entertainers like Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Jennifer Hudson. They connected via Twitter to students in Chicago and Washington, D.C., where gun violence happens with regularity, and the Parkland students made sure that the speakers at the Washington event included African American and Latina voices, underscoring the cross-sectional impact guns have on all neighborhoods. Without social media, the students would not have connected so easily to advocates around the country who could lend support, funding, and influence in the movement’s formation.

In the weeks that followed, Gonzales and her classmates kept the conversation going on social media, launching a boycott of Fox News’ Laura Ingraham for her derogatory comments about Marjory Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg. MSD students started an Instagram account that pokes fun at the clear backpacks MSD students are now required to use, interjecting student-generated content with memes reminding 18-year-olds to register to vote. Within two months of the shooting, Emma alone had 1.5 million Twitter followers, and many of her classmates had hundreds of thousands. It is a platform they now use almost solely to grow the #NeverAgain movement by engaging an audience larger than any major newspaper or cable television provider in the country.

As Friends wrestle with questions surrounding our growth, relevance, and legacy, the work of 18-year-olds like Emma Gonzales is a blueprint that Quakers need to examine. For Friends who see social media as frivolous or who are risk-averse in light of the recent Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, it’s important to reflect on the spaces where Jesus found himself most comfortable and where he made the greatest spiritual impact: among regular folks, including outcasts and nonbelievers.

Whether we embrace social media platforms or not, they have become our town squares: equalizing access to everyone, providing a platform for the marginalized and a library for seekers. We need to be there. Of the 2.2 billion Facebook users and 330 million Twitter followers worldwide, how do those who may be receptive to what we believe find out that we even exist?

A website is not enough, and frankly, many Quaker websites do not provide the content that would draw in potential attenders. Here’s an exercise: do an Internet search for “Quakers, (location).” When you click on the website for your first search result, does the first thing you see tell you anything about what Quakers believe? My guess is that what you’re reading tells you what they’re not: no fixed creed, no ministers, no doctrine. People who are researching faith communities really do want to understand the congregation’s beliefs.

If discerning beliefs for an entire meeting is too difficult, could we profile those who are comfortable sharing specifics about their faith in videos or photos? Part of the reason our digital footprint is so vague is our never having taken the time to go through the process critical to our survival: strategic planning.

Almost every organization that we work or volunteer for engages in planning. The process usually starts by developing a vision, creating long- and short-term goals, and evaluating results in a spirit of continuous improvement. While Friends may resist a process that is associated with corporations and making profits, a thoughtful, careful discussion of who we are and what we want our meeting to become can be done in the spirit of worship. For Quaker meetings, how might that look?

Establishing the Vision

Quakers love committees. Most meetings have lots of them, but if each committee isn’t working to support the meeting’s vision, they are limiting the meeting’s ability to do its best work. A meeting’s vision might be “To Build the Beloved Community” or “To Live in Right Relationship With All Creation,” but whatever it is, it needs to be developed by the entire community, not just conveners, committee representatives, or by the Friends who usually attend meeting for worship with attention to business.

The visioning process might start with a number of worship-sharing exercises as a meeting, followed by some small group discussions where Friends consider queries that may arise from the large-group sessions. The emerging vision needs to be ambitious enough to challenge Friends to bring their best selves to their faith community, yet broad enough for Friends to experience success and fulfillment in their work and worship.

Create Long-term Goals

Once a vision is discerned, what does that mean for a meeting’s growth for the next five years? If the vision is “To Build a Beloved Community,” does a meeting need to attract members whose age, ethnicity, or life experience aren’t currently sitting on the benches? What are specific goals a meeting would need to achieve to make that happen? They may be things like “Increase attendance by persons of color by 15 percent within five years,” “Establish a prison ministry within two years,” or even “Provide $500 per year in sustaining support to Malcolm X Middle School’s conflict resolution program.”

Develop Short-term Goals

This is where committees come in. Once a meeting’s specific long-term goals are discerned, Friends should discuss whether they have the appropriate committees in place and how each committee might work toward those goals. If a long-term goal is to “Increase attendance by persons of color by 15 percent within five years,” a meeting’s Property Committee might set a short-term goal of selling or renting out an existing meetinghouse in order to relocate to a neighborhood where those potential new Friends may live. The First-day School Committee may consider planning service projects with Sunday Schools or after school programs in that neighborhood. The Ministry Committee might plan to partner with another faith community and use Latasha Morrison’s “Be the Bridge” curriculum to begin dialogue about racial unity. Each committee should have the opportunity to identify how their work can contribute to the meeting’s long-term goals and whether they may need additional committee members or ministerial support in order to do their best work.

Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA)

A meeting’s planning process is continuous: developing a plan to test the change, carrying out the test (do), studying the results, and determining what modifications should be made to the test (act). The PDSA cycle also offers accountability and a framework for dialogue that may shine a spotlight on committees that aren’t regularly heard from.

While a meeting may just be grateful that someone has offered to oversee hospitality for the year, that committee’s work now supports a goal for increased membership. Friends on the Hospitality Committee may now be able to go beyond making coffee each First Day to developing surveys to learn more about what Friends like to eat, whether there are enough child-friendly options, and whether the seating area is comfortable and conducive to fellowship.

All of this good work is the germ for a flourishing digital footprint, rich with images and video of long-term members and brand-new attenders working toward realizing God’s Kingdom. It is the basis for queries arising from worship that can be tweeted and tagged with handles from Friends in Great Britain (@BritishQuakers), New England (@QuakersofNE) and Indiana (@richmondfriends) to explore understanding together in a way that only digital outreach can provide.

Digital ministry is what has drawn together disparate Friends into the Friends of Jesus Fellowship (on Facebook: @Friends.of.Jesus.Fellowship), what has helped non-Quakers learn who Friends are through the QuakerSpeak video series, and what has engaged Friends worldwide in conversations about improving ministry, welcoming newcomers and developing a First-day school curriculum that grows our membership.

Social media is being used effectively by faith communities like @TheSlateProject, who host regularly scheduled Twitter gatherings that begin with a query or reflection that encourages engagement. Hashtags like #NationalDayofPrayer are a tool used to discover non-Quaker thought leaders like James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) or Rev. Dr. William J. Barber (@RevDrBarber). The more than 400 tweets about theologian Yolanda Norton’s #BeyonceMass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco encourage a conversation about womanist biblical interpretation and how pop culture can encourage accessibility to experiential spirituality. Social media provides endless opportunities for outreach, ministry, and learning, yet most meetings are exploring none of them.

In order for the Religious Society of Friends to flourish, it is imperative that we embrace a call to create engaging websites and social platforms that are visually appealing and mobile friendly with clear communication of our beliefs and vision. If we recognize the importance of growing our membership, we need to recognize that just as Jesus encouraged his followers to leave behind their 99 sheep to bring back the one who was lost, we may find today’s lost sheep scrolling through a Twitter feed on their iPhone in hopes of finding a spiritual connection they’ve drifted from or possibly never encountered. Let’s get #Quakers trending.

Strategic Planning Tips Visioning Phase
  • Consider asking a visiting Friend to lead these sessions so that the entire meeting can be fully engaged. At the conclusion of your process, identify Friends within the meeting who are willing to offer the same ministry to other meetings with a desire to do the same.
  • See how simply the meeting can communicate the vision. Share it widely: on signage, letterhead, digital media, and in interactions with community members.
Long-term Planning Phase
  • Make sure to engage young Friends in this process. The goal is for them to be around to help carry out the plans!
  • If the meeting is having difficulty reaching consensus on a particular goal, consider setting it aside in order not to delay the next phase. A meeting committed to PDSA planning will be continually evaluating whether the goals set are achieved, which goals need to be revised, and what additional ones are relevant now but may not have been a year ago.
Short-term Planning Phase
  • Remind Friends that just because each committee should find ways to support each of the meeting’s goals doesn’t mean that committees have more work. It just may be different work than before.
  • This phase is an opportunity to reconsider a meeting’s current committee structure, challenge Friends to consider how Friends are introduced to committee work, and how members of a meeting can see their gifts used to their greatest potential.
Continuous Improvement Phase
  • Find a way to incorporate the PDSA review process as a regular part of the meeting’s business on a quarterly basis.

The post Planning for a Trending #Quakers appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

The Ecology of Quaker Meeting

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:30pm
By James W. Hood. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 449), 2018. 32 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

James Hood, a member of Friendship Meeting in Greensboro, N.C., begins this pamphlet with a description of his regular walk along a path in a natural area close to the meeting. It’s a very inviting entrance into his keen observations of what is happening around him and how it is all part of a miracle of life. He is in awe of the intricate interrelationships of the flora and fauna that abound. One might begin to think this is a nature pamphlet, but then Hood surprises us with his observations in a meeting for worship.

I live in the woods of Vermont, surrounded by a deciduous forest, views of the Green Mountains, and with wildlife bursting out all around, spring, summer, winter, and fall. Over the 27 years that I’ve resided here, I’ve had the same opportunities as the author in intimately knowing the place where I live. It inspires my life, work, and worship. I feel connected to “place.” I’m delighted with the visitations of bears, raccoons, opossums, deer, raptors and songbirds, snakes, and so much more (except when they partake of the food in the garden). I feel so very much alive and connected to Spirit here.

Hood goes even further with his observations. Throughout the pamphlet he juxtaposes the natural environment with the meeting for worship. As we now know, the natural world is physically connected through the mycelium, defined according to Merriam-Webster as “the mass of interwoven filamentous hyphae that forms especially the vegetative portion of the thallus of a fungus and is often submerged in another body (as of soil or organic matter or the tissues of a host).” All of life in the natural world depends on this interconnectedness of the mycelium since it provides what is needed for the vegetation to survive and the vegetation is needed for all the rest of the species to survive.

Hood says, “Quaker meeting for worship is a unique spiritual ecosystem.” As the mycelium in the forest is held together by filaments, the Quaker meeting is held together by Spirit. Hood describes the way of settling into waiting worship, recognizing all the participants and opening up to the Spirit, which is available to all.

He goes on to say, “When gathered—the term we use to mean a meeting in which participants’ hearts and minds align along the leadings of the Spirit—this ecosystem thrums with intricate connection. The words that become audible echo those that remain unspoken; even the air in the room feels charged with extra light.”

Meeting for worship will never be the same for those reading this pamphlet. Maybe the reader will, like the author, allow their mind to travel in a forest as they settle, seeing the relationships of the living beings there and then turn inwardly to opening to Spirit. Will this enrich your worship experience? It certainly did mine.

Ruah Swennerfelt is a member of Burlington (Vt.) Meeting and serves as co-clerk of the meeting’s Ministry and Counsel Committee. She is the author of Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith and is active in New England Yearly Meeting’s Earthcare Ministry Committee.

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Categories: Articles & News