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Quaker, French-speaker, educator, anti-racist; Southern-born & raised, and talking enthusaist.

2017-02-15

Lost Opportunity at Friends Central? The Devil is in the Details.

So some of you may have heard that an Independent "Quaker" school suspended 2 teachers indefinitely. These two teachers invited a Quaker who teaches at Swathmore (Quaker college) to speak regarding the Israeli/Palestinian problem. He is connected to a boycott movement that was started by another "Quaker" organization.


You may ask why I say "Quaker." Well that name means so many things. For some it means "founded by Quakers with a secular take on Quaker spiritual principles" for others it means Quakers have a majority on the governing board." I don't believe in any of these above 3 institutions are they governed solely by Quakers and are overseen by any Quaker faith body (Yearly Meeting).


There are several sides to this story here. Here is my opinion as an outsider. Let me begin with a quote from a Friends Central graduate who was a colleague of mine at Wellwood International School. She attended there back in the 60s. She said that they had a saying in Philly where she grew up "Friends Schools are where Jewish kids get a Quaker education taught by Episcopalians." I've repeated that over the years to the nods of a number of my Jewish friends and colleagues.


That poses an problem socially. Friends schools mostly exist in areas of the country where liberal Quakers dominate or are the only form of Quakerism. For generations we have shunned proselytizing. And I agree with that. If you have a faith, good for you. None? Fine. I shouldn't convert you. But they confused proselytizing with outreach. And so, people all of the country think Quakers are amish, or extinct, or some exclusive group of do-gooders. Are meeting houses used to sit scores if not hundreds, and many are museums, historical monuments or have a fraction of the membership and attendance they once had. To put it bluntly: there aren't enough Quakers to populate Quaker schools and keep them under the authority of Quaker congregations. Quaker schools typically have around 5-6% Quaker attendance. There are more Jews than Quakers in attendance. Friends schools are often independent private schools that hold on to the Quaker testimonies (Guilford College now calls them Core Values for example) and follow a secular model of Quaker business practice (consensus). At Friends Central, they no longer have meeting for worship but meeting for sharing.  Quakers have a say in Friends schools, but that's it. A say. How big of one varies. It stands to reason, then, that as an independent organization, the administration of those schools must take into consideration all points of view and weigh them in the light of Quaker principles. Administrators have authority. We aren't talking liberal Quaker meetings where no one person has "final say." This is a school. The administrator has certain rights per the by-laws/charter of that school.


I'll say here, that socially I'm on the side of the students and the teachers who wanted the event. My passions would be to tell parents who oppose the speaker to kiss off and send your kids to a Jewish school if you don't like it at Friends Central. However, there would be a missed opportunity here. And my passions usually are the opposite of my Guide's will.


So let me address Quaker process.


Pastoral Care (The Community): The school had a pastoral duty here to make sure that all stakeholders (parents teachers and students) were heard since the issue was controversial (even if it shouldn't be). A hold is appropriate in this case. Is there a rush to have the Friend come? Could come later? What's more important, that his message be heard right away by a crowd who mostly agrees with him, or for people of differing, if not opposing perspectives to come to hear him? What would be gained or lost by him coming now vs. later? Is someone being harmed by not letting him come immediately-- is this a case of discrimination? A Quaker meeting would ultimately ask "what is God's will?" Discerning that takes time, and clarity comes when passions wane. If you don't believe that, look at the Quaker history.


The opposing stakeholders. In this case, some of the Jewish parents. If Friends are operating in right order, they do not out-of-hand shun opposing views. I never heard this growing up in the Quaker meetings I attended, but we learned this at West Knoxville Friends Meeting when Russell and I asked to have the meeting take our marriage under its care. They had not previously been able to come to unity on the issue and so had dropped it. After lots of research through academic texts and yearly meetings Books of Discipline, we uncovered what perhaps many Conservative Friends have known. This first part I saw commonly in all sorts of Friends meetings: Opposing people have the right to block something from happening. At first the Clerk will ask them "Can you stand aside?" If they say "no" the clerk can offer a second way "Would you stand aside with your name recorded in the minutes as having opposed?" Usually people will say yes, but not always. If not, it's the clerk's responsibility to sense God's will here with the help of the gathered meeting. If she does not sense there is sufficient CLARITY (and some would argue unity), then they table the issue until the next business meeting (usually in a month). This can continue for a long time. However, here is the part we uncovered: the burden is now on the opposing party to convince the others of their error. Conversely, the rest of the meeting was responsible for holding that they might actually be wrong in the Light and be OPEN to that possibility. Hard to do with egos and passions. So, it takes time.

Here’s an example:  It took West Knoxville Friends Meeting from 1990 to 1998 to reach unity on gay marriage.  For West Knoxville Friends, those opposed to gay marriage had the responsibility to minister to / convince those who were for gay marriage.  They didn’t succeed, and the meeting seemed to be back at a standstill. That is, until the Clerk read a minute of unity.   She quoted from sources given to her that those opposed had failed to witness to Friends the error of their ways (pro-gay marriage) and that it seemed that Friends were, and had been at some level of clarity that God was moving them in this direction.  She read a minute approving a celebration of commitment rather than marriage.  The two families walked out never to return.   Also know one of these families was often oppositional, and that didn’t help them.  Whether we are faithful depends on the fruit of our work (per Jesus).  West Knoxville Friends Meeting subsequently grew and some old members came back.  

The administrator at Friends Central may or may not have prayed over this. It's a good question to ask. It seems to me he may have made a good decision and followed process (he could have also swayed under pressure of full-tuition paying parents -- again, Quakers aren't paying the tuition, nor can they endow the schools like they once could).  Even if the concerns of the Jewish parents are unfounded, they should be heard.  If possible, they should hear the perspectives of those inviting the Palestinian Quaker to speak.  To ask the students to wait, to  hear the concerns of the parents, and to have a conversation with the parents about those concerns would be a good idea. Let the parents who oppose come speak to the community about why they oppose. What are they afraid of? Is it founded? Have they heard the voice of the students who want the Quaker to come speak?  Could this change hearts and minds, even if a few?  The faculty and administration could then follow their by-laws and come to a decision taking into consideration the views of the stakeholders, including Quakers and alums.  A note on that: For better or worse, this school and other institutions like it function on people funding it; alums and Quakers who give money are needed.

Like I said, it could very well be that the administrator got spooked with threats and made a rash decision without any guidance from his Higher Power or colleagues.  That would indeed be unfortunate.

There is the second issue of the suspension of the two teachers.   I do not know all of the facts, but I will say this:  if the teachers disobeyed any orders, if they resisted authority, then they are lucky they have their jobs. In any other private school they would probably already be canned.   If they felt entitled to their jobs they were wrong.  This is a reason I haven’t yet decided to teach at private schools (no union and lousy pay).   If they disobeyed realizing that this act of disobedience to authority could be sacrificial (losing their jobs) I think that’s honorable, though perhaps misguided (or not).  Here again, Quaker process of clearness committees is important.  Assuming the teachers acted counter to the wishes of their employers, the Quaker practice of setting up a Clearness Committee would have been advisable.  I don’t know if they did or not, and I’m assuming they didn’t.  It seems few of us seek the prayerful wisdom of the group before making decisions. I don’t.   If the teachers were in the wrong place at the wrong time, then hopefully the details will come out into the open and they can be reinstated with each party involved making amends for whatever their part in the mess. 

In the meantime the national media has caught on to this and people who aren’t involved are quick to judge.  This includes the media who report allegations of some prior censuring of anti-Israeli / pro-Palestinian sentiments.

Yes, I believe this man should be heard.
Yes, I believe the fears of the concerned parents are unfounded (based on what I’ve read).
No, I don’t think the school should bow down to political pressures and ideologies inconsistent with Quaker principles (You want to know what’s going on in Palestine, ask a Palestinian Quaker.  We’re not immune to bias, but we have a hard time lying).
Yes, I think we all have opinions based on limited facts. As you can see I have mine.  


I've also read another opinion which I find to be valid as well.

Opportunity exists for real growth and dialogue here.  The question is, who is guiding the process?  Perhaps during meeting for "sharing" the school could ask students to sit in their thoughts or really try to listen to their Guide to see what can be learned here.  What direction will take them toward reconciliation and help them move forward? What are individuals who have authority doing? What is their Guide telling them to do?  The Enemy comes through our passions. He comes through our hurts, habits and hang-ups.   He seeks to divide us from one another and to use God as our excuse.  Whatever the facts, it looks like he’s doing a good job at Friends Central.

2016-11-10

Trump, Anxiety and My Own Powerlessness

"He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous.  Psalm 146:7-8

Donald Trump has won.  This man who has been so overt in his misogyny, who played on the fears of a certain segment of America, and who gave voice to the anger of certain segments of society who have felt judged and condemned by urban elites, who feel that the world is moving too fast for them, and who see their way of life ending.

I'm not going to make excuses for anyone here.  Donald Trump will be my president. The power I had I exercised, but I was outvoted by even members of my own extended family,

I am, in this moment, powerless.

My tendency when Donald Trump won was to unfriend every family member and friend who voted for him.  I was livid by the time I made it to work.  But as they day went on, something shifted in me.

My natural tendencies, my own natural will, was one to circle the wagons and lash out at the enemy, the "others."   Anger, fear, frustration, hurt all led for me to behave in a way that would be spiteful, judgmental, and perhaps harmful.

In so many ways, I understand what the Apostle Paul meant when in his letter to the Romans he said that try as he might he wanted to do the right thin, but his own nature had other ideas.

For reasons unrelated to the election, I've been praying and meditating every night for the past week.  Some nights I get all but 3 minutes in and other nights I've prayed meditated and journaled for two hours or more.

I see people rioting and crying. I do not wish to deny their feelings, but what do we really know about Trump?  We know he's racist (so are most of us white people--he's just really blatant about it and actually caused harm to people directly).   He says horrible things about people.   Guys, come on. We're acting all shocked here.  I grew up in Tennessee. Heck, I know gay middle class people in their 20 and 30s here in Baltimore who talk about how "dark" gay bars have become and who make racists jokes and comments about gay black people.

I don't want to go down that road in this post.

There is a hefty amount of anxiety out there.  People are wasting precious energy fearing the future. They are focusing on other peoples' and their own past hurts and failures.  What went wrong? Who's fault is it?  All the trans/homo/islamophobia,, racism, etc... in the past and "now we are going back."

We don't know what is about to happen.

What we cannot do is become paralyzed by our fear and worry.

I don't have the luxury of getting caught up in anger and fear.  Anger, fear, drama these are all dangerous for me.  I'm so grateful that I've been giving time to be with the God of my understanding this past week.   My students need me to be the best teacher I can be, not running around calling the other side names in anger and fear and bruised pride.  My Quaker meeting needs me to be centered in God, so that I can work with them to corporately yield to the Light and see what it would have us do.  My community needs me to be rested, so that when it is time to act, I have the energy to do so.
My God has only my (and your) hands; he needs me to be open, willing, humble and ready to be faithful.

I have plenty of resentments, hurts, shame and guilt to deal with.   How much of it do I project on "the others?"  How hypocritical am I going to be if I act or speak out of a place of fear and anger?

I cannot change this outcome.  But I can be open, willing and draw on God's power to do the right thing; something that will hopefully come from a place of reconciliation, of forgiveness, and of love.

I'm keenly aware that this starts within and with me.  I need to get right with myself, and I need to get right with God.  I need to walk squarely in the Light.

The people who voted for Trump are children of God just like me.  Trump is a child of God just like me. I'm a Quaker; I believe in redemption, in the salvation and transformation of the spirit through the purifying Light of God.  I believe in the potential of Good which comes from the God of Love and Justice; but that requires me to rest in the Lord.

I will not get caught up in the name calling, finger pointing and drawing of wagons and circles. I will not build a wall against my neighbor.

I will see what God, who is Love, will have me do.  And this starts with me.

I am not God. I cannot change on my own.  But God's grace can change my heart.  God can give me peace. And through peace, hopefully I can see clearly the way forward.


Trump, Anxiety and My Own Powerlessness

"He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous.  Psalm 146:7-8

Donald Trump has won.  This man who has been so overt in his misogyny, who played on the fears of a certain segment of America, and who gave voice to the anger of certain segments of society who have felt judged and condemned by urban elites, who feel that the world is moving too fast for them, and who see their way of life ending.

I'm not going to make excuses for anyone here.  Donald Trump will be my president. The power I had I exercised, but I was outvoted by even members of my own extended family,

I am, in this moment, powerless.

My tendency when Donald Trump won was to unfriend every family member and friend who voted for him.  I was livid by the time I made it to work.  But as they day went on, something shifted in me.

My natural tendencies, my own natural will, was one to circle the wagons and lash out at the enemy, the "others."   Anger, fear, frustration, hurt all led for me to behave in a way that would be spiteful, judgmental, and perhaps harmful.

In so many ways, I understand what the Apostle Paul meant when in his letter to the Romans he said that try as he might he wanted to do the right thin, but his own nature had other ideas.

For reasons unrelated to the election, I've been praying and meditating every night for the past week.  Some nights I get all but 3 minutes in and other nights I've prayed meditated and journaled for two hours or more.

I refuse to watch the news, but I'm told people are rioting and crying. I do not wish to deny their feelings, but what do we really know about Trump?  We know he's racist (so are most of us white people--he's just really blatant about it and actually caused harm to people directly).   He says horrible things about people.   Guys, come on. We're acting all shocked here.  I grew up in Tennessee. Heck, I know gay middle class people in their 20 and 30s here in Baltimore who talk about how "dark" gay bars have become and who make racists jokes and comments about gay black people. But what do we know he will do?  We don't know. We fear, but we don't know.

We don't know what is about to happen.  What I do know is that slavery is alive and well in the form of mass incarceration.  I know that 25% of the world's prison population is in the U.S. and most of them are people of color.  I know that rural white America is being ignored.  I know that the Left and the Right have been demonizing each other for as long as I can remember.  I know that some of my liberal friends refer to poor white people as "white trash" "stupid" etc.

There is a hefty amount of anxiety and anger out there.  People are wasting precious energy fearing the future. They are focusing on other peoples' and their own past hurts and failures.  What went wrong? Who's fault is it?  All the trans/homo/islamophobia,, racism, etc... in the past and "now we are going back."


What we cannot do is become paralyzed by our fear and worry.

I don't have the luxury of getting caught up in anger and fear.  Anger, fear, drama these are all dangerous for me.  I'm so grateful that I've been giving time to be with the God of my understanding this past week.   My students need me to be the best teacher I can be, not running around calling the other side names in anger and fear and bruised pride.  My Quaker meeting needs me to be centered in God, so that I can work with them to corporately yield to the Light and see what it would have us do.  My community needs me to be rested, so that when it is time to act, I have the energy to do so.
My God has only my (and your) hands; he needs me to be open, willing, humble and ready to be faithful.

I have plenty of resentments, hurts, shame and guilt to deal with.   How much of it do I project on "the others?"  How hypocritical am I going to be if I act or speak out of a place of fear and anger?

I cannot change this outcome.  But I can be open, willing and draw on God's power to do the right thing; something that comes from a place of reconciliation, of forgiveness, and of love.

I'm keenly aware that this starts within and with me.  I need to get right with myself, and I need to get right with God.  I need to walk squarely in the Light.

The people who voted for Trump are children of God just like me.  Trump is a child of God just like me. I'm a Quaker; I believe in redemption, in the salvation and transformation of the spirit through the purifying Light of God.  I believe in the potential of Good which comes from the God of Love and Justice; but that requires me to rest in the Lord.

I will not get caught up in the name calling, finger pointing and drawing of wagons and circles. I will not build a wall against my neighbor.  That will not end money bail in Baltimore City or improve the schools in rural East Tennessee.

I will see what God, who is Love, will have me do.  And this starts with me.

I am not God. I cannot change on my own.  But God's grace can change my heart.  God can give me peace. And through peace, hopefully I can see clearly the way forward.  Because my brothers and sisters who are worse off than me aren't going to be helped if I'm stuck. 

What can man do to me? I shall fear no evil. For you are God my strength.  Spare your creature and save your servants. 



2016-01-25

Did / do Quakers have a big impact on me?



I once saw an image when doing a Google search that said "Quaker? Maybe!"  It was a sign posted outside a Friends meeting house somewhere out in Minnesota (I think).

This video made me ponder:  why did I choose the Religious Society of Friends?  I remember being about 12 years old, in seventh grade.  I used to ask to go to the bathroom only to sneak off to the library. I loved the library and I loved Sabra Brown, the librarian.  She opened up the world of fantasy to me. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia, but through her suggestions I also fell in love with historical fiction. One book in particular was the Witch of Blackbird pond.  I really identified with the outcast Quaker, Hannah Tupper.  So, I asked Mrs. Brown more about Quakers. She gave me all the books she had.

I was enthralled.

Persecuted (me: bullied).  They had great influence despite or because of their persecution. I admired that. I wanted to aspire to be a great person and do great things.  They challenged the doctrines of their day.  Frankly I didn't understand the Catholic church and the Protestant churches around me, well, no thanks. They didn't speak to me.  In fact, some of them turned me off completely.  As I read George Fox's Journal and Barclay's Apology over the next few years (yes, I read absolutely everything I could find at the public library), I became convinced of the Truth, as it were.  I adopted early Quaker belief as my own.  I challenged everything else around me.  I challenged my military family, my "so-called" Christian neighbors, everything.  I wanted to BE an early Friend.

Suffice it to say West Knoxville Friends had no idea what they were getting into when I started attending meeting!  There was one Friend, Gary Salk, who would be my counselor and my guide, and guide me through high school. He understood me.  (Until I came out, then he wanted to fix me -- another story for another time).

What I found was two types of Quakers that resembled nothing that I had read about.  First Friends Church didn't seem Quaker at all on the exterior. They seemed like a banal community church.  Their worship didn't speak to me.  Then I attended West Knoxville Friends.  I yawned my way through worship after praying diligently for the first ten minutes.  But it was to them I would return, they seemed like the real deal.

Only they were pro-gay (I was fearfully in the closet).  Many were almost anti-Christian (I was fervently a believer).  They didn't support those called to vocal ministry (I was sure I was, and later they set up a clearness committee which would affirm that calling--only one Friend, Sam, would corner me when I was alone, at age 16, and tell me we don't do ministers and perhaps I would be happier elsewhere).  What was an early-Friend-o-phile to do?!

Annoy more Quakers and my family.  I would take my fire to every Quaker body I came across.  I would write to Friends Journal telling them how liberal Quakers had strayed from the Truth. I would write to Quaker Life and criticize a century-old system of worship and ministry (pastoral meetings). The only true Friends were the Conservatives, you see.  If only we could all just get along, put down the forms and beliefs that had developed over generations, and, well, become Conservatives!

Oh and my poor parents. They weren't even religious.  And as far as I know we've served in almost every war except, I think, the Spanish-American War.  My grandfather was career Air Guard/Force.  My dad was JAG.  But they were WRONG.

My Catholic friends were WRONG.

My Baptist friends were WRONG (and loons).

I did sneak off to the Episcopal Church, however, but never felt the connection to the community. I loved the worship though.  But it was WRONG (thus sayeth 300 year old Quaker texts).

I practiced magick for a spell, even though I was never part of an actual pagan community.

WRONG. GUILT. SHAME. DEVIL. SIN.  HYPOCRITE.

So I would return back to my rigid early-Quaker fundamentalism.  No matter where I would stray to, Episcopalians, pagans, non-denominational charismatic churches evangelical churches, I would feel guilty or else just realize I didn't like it, and return back to early Quaker belief.   I can't remember where I read it, I've neglected my Quaker studies for far too long, but I once recall and advice of early Friends  not to extinguish the fire of young Friends ministers.  Elders were to guide them and instruct them.  Basically I got  fire extinguishers, buckets and garden sprayers aimed at me!

But there were a few friends who took me under their wings and gently tried to push this obstinate, cocksure teenager along a gentler path.

What we all did agree on was killing was wrong (a sin to me);  lying was wrong (though I seem to try it as often as possible when not wanting to tell mom and dad where I was really going or what I was really doing, or that I was straight ha ha ha).  We were all equal (except gays, who were sinners,even though I knew I was a big ol' homo).  We should be plain (I've forayed into Plain dress as a teen and young adult, but either was misread my Guide or couldn't keep up the testimony.  Both, one because of the other?

So, did I choose Friends because they believed what I already believed?

I don't think so.  In fact, I don't know that I really believed what early Friends and modern Friends believed. Not all of it.   I'll blog about it more later, but I think my pacifism was a cover for being totally terrified of violence and conflict. Truth be told, I couldn't fight my way out of a box.  I was scared of the military. So how convenient that Quakers were opposed to it.  Then again, I honestly believed it was wrong too. So maybe it was both.  I was totally enamored by expensive European cars.  I wanted a SAAB 900 with all my heart. When mom and dad delivered a Monte Carlo landau that someone's grandma probably owned, I was disappointed.  I had no choice in my new car. None.  I hated it. But I did some body work and cosmetic work to make it my own.  (Spoiled brat). I would eventually go to private school (Guilford) study abroad in Paris, get a BMW 3 series when I returned (because I had a conniption when I learned while in Paris that my kid bro's first car was a 5 series). I wanted the SAAB, but dad said no because of unreliability. I almost got the Porche 944, but we found out to change the clutch cost 1500$.  So we settled on the beemer.  Yeah. "settled'  So, I don't think I really believed in simplicity.

I finally came around on equality. I came out.  Then I had to start facing my racism as black students on campus began speaking openly about racism.  It was only the beginning. I was terrified of dating black guys, and those who wanted to go out with me got a firm rejection.  I smiled of course and wiggled my way out of blatant rejection.  (Now I regret telling one of the guys no-this absolutely stunningly gorgeous guy). Racism.  But I "believed" in Equality.

Community.  I tried to become involved with the Quaker communities, but it seemed I was too Christ-centered for some, too gay for others. I really didn't feel completely at home once I came out. I was encouraged by Max Carter to keep open that I had a gift, but no Quaker community felt at home. When I came out I quickly found the club culture and hooking up.  When New Garden meeting responded to my letter for membership "we have never been in the business of asking people's sexuality...." I believe the letter went, I realized that I would not get help for ministry or coming out.  I turned to the gay community in it's immature, sex-crazed, activist oriented, in-your-face, drug popping, booze guzzling glory.  And it was fabulous. And awful. And fun. And scary.  And made me feel accepted for the fist time.  And made me feel guilty and a sinner because I knew I was behaving in ways contrary to the manner of Friends of ALL stripes.

So that's a period of 9 years; 7th grade through senior in college.

But through that whole time, I felt the presence of God.  I knew God's presence, though I don't honestly know that I ever allowed him to be my Lord and Savior. That would require faithfulness and obedience. Even before I came out, I really didn't spend any time alone in silent waiting.  Oh, I listened to Chuck Stanley and Charles Swindoll on Christian Radio and would pray with them. I studied scripture and plowed through Quaker texts.  But I kept hearing God's call to be faithful and yield and something deep within me resisted.  Once I came out,  I just shut out the Light.

Poor Max Carter.  I would sit with him in the Hut on campus and spill my guts  out to him. I would recount, in graphic detail my sexual and partying exploits.  I had already lost all my scholarships (minus a few)  when I earned a 1.8 GPA my freshman year and went on academic probation (I ended my career with a 3.0 and a 3.6 in my major).  One day, I'll never forget it, he looked me in the eye and said "Does thee feel the Light in thee?" "Very little, almost not at all" I responded. "Then thee's sinning."

SINNING? A Quaker finally used those words to me.

But it didn't change a thing.

I would go to the school counselor and tell him I was afraid I was going to get AIDS if I didn't stop what I was doing. (There was no cocktail out yet). He looked me square in the eye and said "you'll change if you want to change. You have a death wish."

Fuck you.  What the hell?

So, until just recently, I would continue living a life that was completely out of keeping with the way of Friends. I would live a double life.  On one hand, seeking God and on the other ignoring him completely.

You see, I would seek OUTWARD fixing, OUTWARD motivation, OUTWARD change OUTWARD boundaries.

I would avoid the very message of early Friends beyond theology beyond testimonies.  Change comes from within. Change comes from the Light and the Holy Spirit.  Change comes from entering into silence and listening.  It comes through daily prayer and devotional studies.  It comes through group worship on a regular basis. It comes to saying NO to that which is dangerous or harmful, even when saying "NO" is a burden.  Change comes from allowing the community to hold me accountable and to help as best they can, not trying to do everything alone.  Change comes from admitting past mistakes and making amends.  All Quaker teachings for 350+ years.

But I wanted to be marionette. God was to be my puppet master.

Only, that's not God.  And that's certainly not what Friends of any stripe that I have met so far believe.

Nonetheless, God makes God's way into my life.  Whether sitting in meeting for worship as at age 16 and having God LIFT me up out of my seat and move my mouth to speak and panicking because I didn't know what was happening, whether I was sobbing in my living room while at Earlham School of Religion  feeling like I'll never shake my sinful ways, or sobbing at St Judes Shrine, my faith gone after Russell's death, or through conversations with others of faith (whatever faith) or sometimes just walking around and sensing a deep presence comfort and/or joy, God made God's self known. The Divine Wonder, the Eternal One, the Great I AM, has made it/him/herself known; even when I doubt or don't believe.

My experience is somewhat different than this Friend's.  Quakerism did shape me in a big way, because I really didn't know exactly what I believed before coming to them. I was 12 when I found them and 14 when I started worshiping with them!  God did break into my heart.  God did make godself known at an early age, but I did not allow God the space to cultivate himself in me. Sure, self-loathing and fear ruled much of my life. I have spent the better part of my life escaping all of that. The conflict, the feeling of not living a life of integrity.  The doubt that I really believe everything that Quakers say we should (testimonies).  The theological merry-go-round I ride.  But the Quaker faith provided a context in which to grow spiritually. Quakers have allowed me to make mistakes (not always without repercussions).  Friends have guided me towards progress and health and sometimes shielded me from harm. Friends have greatly impacted how I think, how I approach problems, how I view the world.  They've had tremendous impact on my spirituality and my intellectual curiosity and pursuits.  I struggle with the Quaker Way. I don't know that I'm a pacifist, or that I oppose war for any reason. I support my troops though I don't really support my government's treatment of them or use of them.  I support the police, even though I support the racism that exists in enforcing law.  I live a life that could improve in terms of my consumption of materials and goods.  I struggle with various hurts, habits and hangups, some of which are direct results from having chosen gay pop culture at 18 instead of Quaker community.

What I do agree with is that when I come into the assemblies of God's people (to quote Barclay),  I find a group that cares for me and others, and the Light in me does shine. And I have hope.  I have a home.

2016-01-24

What is your Friends Meeting doing in the community?

I visited Friends Church years ago with a counselor of mine who became a friend and sister in faith. She was a member of Saddleback church (where I was baptized).  I told her my dream was to attend Friends Church; I had always wanted to visit a Quaker megachurch.  When we arrived for the Christmas concert  we saw welcome messages all over the big screens; and requests to donate to their ministry to build schools in India. They are also working to fight human trafficking.   (The concert  in the link is 2009 I went in 2012). It was exciting to worship with Quakers of a different stripe and frankly different (sub?)culture than the Quaker subculture I am a part of.  I just wish they'd see me as an equal and not a sinner. Still, what good works and wonderful worship!  What opportunities does your meeting provide for members to serve the community THROUGH the meeting? Of course we all can do our own individual service, but how do your community serve together?

I also want to share one of their other concerts King and Country who also performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live (just in case you like the group).

And here's the trailer for the movie Not Today that Lionsgate distributed albeit with controversy and a lawsuit by seemingly unscrupulous leaders of the congregation. It's too bad, but it shows that money and power corrupts. Even at Friends Church. It does make me wonder what Friends Church did to discipline these Friends, if anything.  They didn't discipline Nixon (as far as we know).  Used to be that Friends disowned members who got into legal trouble so as to publicly show that the Friends in question were not in keeping with the manner of Friends.  But then. my meeting wouldn't dream of doing such a thing. We'd take care of such a thing in house.




Was Richard Nixon Quaker?

Recently, I saw a video on QuakerSpeak (an online ministry of Friends Journal) which was supposed to answer the question "Was Richard Nixon Quaker?'

At first, I was intrigued.  Intrigued not because I had the same question in my mind, but curious as to how a online ministry of Friends would handle the question.  The answer was obvious to me, even though I don't like it: "yes, Nixon was a Quaker."

Now, when people point this out to me, I tend to say "well, he was an Evangelical Quaker."  I've become used to the puzzled look I get in reaction.  Few, if any, want a lengthy explanation beyond, "yes most Friends world-wide are evangelical and socially conservative; just not the ones you know here on the East Coast."   I realize, though, that qualifying what kind of Quaker creates a barrier between me and them.  I need to stop that.  If the person asking me wants to probe further, I can explain that we are diverse.  If they want more information I can go further.

There is no blanket statement that can be true for all Friends everywhere.  At one point, I thought it was safe to say that Friends believe that the divine source of their understanding speaks to them and leads them directly.  That source brings them into community and they go out in service to heal the world either materially or spiritually.  That's about it.  But then I realized that not all friends even believe in a divine source.  So Friends come together in our diverse communities to meet for worship (whatever that means) and to do service. Oh wait. Dangit. Not every Friend does service. We don't even all get together. There are isolated Friends who have no Friends community, though they may wish they were closer to one.

There are Friends at my very meeting who attend committee meetings regularly or serve the meeting in some other function, but rarely are seen at worship.

Heck, I disappeared for two years up at the Episcopal steeple house (until they asked me to serve on the vestry -- then I ran -- another blog).

There are Friends at all of the meetings where I have been a member who are on the rosters, but aren't active at all and haven't been in a long time. But if one asks "where is Friend so-and-so?" the response will be something like "ooooh, she's _________________."  There's a guess/explanation/reason  but when it comes down to it they aren't active or involved. They have separated themselves from the community by their absence.  Valid reason or not, they aren't there.

There are people who call themselves Quaker but who adamantly refuse to become members, who just haven't gotten around to it, or are agnostic about membership. 

So, we can't say much about what Friends believe about divinity or community.

We cannot make blanket statements about our testimonies and social views either.

Some Friends have the testimony on community, but not all involve the community in their family/personal decisions. They make them and tell the meeting what they're going to do after.  I confess to usually making big life decisions on my own, maybe talking to a few Friends about it, but usually after the decision has been made (except for marriage). Not all Friends even share with their ministers/ clearness committees/ ministry and counsel committees or pastors about their private lives. And as I stated above, they don't even all come to meeting for worship!

Not all friends eschew ritual.  Some Quakers baptize (evangelicals) and observe the Lord's Supper. Some Quakers practice Native American and Wiccan ritual (Liberals). Some believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, while others believe it's a bunch of bunk. Some hire ministers while others have thrown out ministers and elders altogether.  Some have altar calls and use technology in their worship. They send people on evangelistic missions to other countries.  Some feed the homeless, and support schools. They work for social justice some oppose social equality for LGBT people.  Some are pro-choice, some are pro-abortion (it's a necessary form of population control is the argument I've heard from some Friends), some are pro-life, some are anti-abortion.

Quakers helped found the Republican Party.  Though many are Democrats now, a large number are still Republican. There are Republicans in my meeting.  I was once one when living in Richmond, IN.

Not all Friends are pacifists.  Some may wish to see it a creed, but as Gary Cooper said in Friendly Persuasion, "A man who can't follow his conscience, ain't worth a hill of beans."  (Although Early Friends would deny that one's conscience is a valid source of guidance).  There are many Friends who are not pacifists and Friends differ on how to define that.  Plenty of Friends cemeteries have veterans in them.

Many Friends have healthy appetites (go to FGC to see how Friends eat), drive cars and trucks, buy clothes made abroad, use fossil fuels to heat and cool their homes, schools and meeting houses/churches.  They may or may not recycle; they may or may not use glass containers instead of plastic.

Simplicity is relative.  There are Friends who believe simplicity is being frugal and buying all used clothes, or cheap clothes. Some choose a "look" that might turn heads; not because it's old fashioned but because the wider culture would consider it tacky, tasteless, or down-right ragged.  Other Friends follow fashion trends whether punk, alternative, pop, business casual... whatever.  Then there are Plain Friends.  Some believe being plain is buying the best one can afford and running into the ground (I know a Friend who claimed that's why he bought a BMW; because it would last longer than a cheaper car, and retain its value).  While perhaps true, he was also being disingenuous.  (I know him intimately).

Equality:  Friends now accept and publicly admit that while we were great leaders in the Underground Railroad, we also were slave holders. Not all, but many. Too many.  We relegated black Quakers to the "black / back bench" even if they were recorded ministers (assuming I remember correctly what I read).  While we had women ministers and elders, and educated girls and boys equally, patriarchy still continues to rear its horned head well into the present day.  Then there are LGBT and people of color today.  How many Quaker meetings and churches are truly multi-racial?  How many predominantly white congregations have people of color as staff or professional ministers?  How many Quaker meetings have chosen to locate or keep their meeting houses in neighborhoods which aren't white?   How many LGBT and people of color do we encourage to serve our meetings (assuming we encourage anyone to serve our meetings)?  And we know that most Quakers in the world don't accept LGBT people as ministers, elders or people deserving of marriage.

I think the one area, and this is pointed out in the video, that Quakers can unite on, is Integrity.  This means, I think, that one's heart, mind and soul are in unity with one's speech and actions.  Faith and practice are whole.  We live the life that God wants us to live, as we perceive it, and try our best not to be rampant hypocrites. And when we are, we admit it and seek to remedy it as best we can, if we can.

And that leads me to the video.  In the video, our Friend Larry (who I have met and like) doesn't really seem to be answering the question "Was Richard Nixon Quaker?"   Because the answer is yes.. There isn't any debate on it.   He seems to be answering the question "Do we more liberally-minded Friends like that Richard Nixon was a Quaker?"  Or maybe "Was Richard Nixon active in a Quaker community?"  The answer to both of these question for me is "Nope."

But then some Quakers do like that he was a Friend.  Yes, in fact, there are those who see past his personal ... uh.... hmmm.... "issues" to the accomplishments he made to the nation and to the world.  After all he:

  • started initiatives to fight cancer
  • imposed wage and price controls
  • reformed healthcare and welfare
  • established the EPA, OSHA and signed into law the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act
  • Opened relations with China
  • And while he escalated the war with Vietnam, he also ended it
Sure he said the greatest threat to the war effort was pacifists, but guess what? There were probably Quakers who agreed with him in some yearly meetings.

What makes a person a Quaker is defined by the faith and practice of that persons's yearly meeting. It is the responsibility of the monthly meeting to tend to the spiritual and material welfare of its members.  It's the purview of the monthly meeting, and sometimes the quarterly and yearly meetings, do admonish, encourage and discipline its meetings and members.  Southwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church did not choose to disown or discipline Richard Nixon.  Friends Church (now a megachurch) could have done many things but chose not to, as far as I know. I do not know all of what they may have done in private.  What I can tell you about that church today is that when I worshiped there once for Christmas, I was moved deeply and especially touched by their ministries and social action; their concern for human trafficking, for example, and their massively funded ministry to build schools in India, and their various projects to serve their community as well. Yes, these are Friends.  Not pro gay, not silent and simple, probably mostly Republican, and they baptize. Quakers every one.

So, Friends. Richard Nixon was a Quaker. I don't like it.  Yet when we have a public forum to ask such a question let us be clear: we are speaking from a particular point of view. I strongly believe that we should be very careful about defining who is a Quaker.  We should make it abundantly clear to the public that yearly meetings decide their faith and practice.  And in this video, we should make it clear that we are judging an Evangelical Friend by our own liberal notions of what it means to be Quaker.

If I was a curious person just wanting an answer to the Nixon Quaker question, and if  view this video already biased against religion, then this video would have confirmed my bias that here is yet another religion arguing over who's in and out.  I could imagine myself perceiving this video to be only addressing whether Nixon was active or whether he conformed to some standard, something that some with a bias against religion (and some Quakers even) dislike -- conformity, rules.  This video gave opinions about what makes one a Quaker without clarifying our polity, faith and practice.  This doesn't mean I don't believe we should have parameters, but again, each yearly meeting (and sometimes each monthly meeting) defines those parameters.

One last comment while I'm starting to fade because it's late:  I know Quakers who  lie on their taxes, cheat on their partners, have sex indiscriminately, sell and use drugs, drink excessively, swear and curse up a storm, lie to others, lie to themselves, manipulate people in their families and their meetings, don't keep their word, put people's lives in danger with their behavior, prostitute and hire prostitutes,  focus on changing the world but do not like ministry that talks about personal character defects and transformation (let alone salvation/redemption/obedience/submission), are abusive to their families, are passive aggressive...  you get the point.

Yep.  Obviously, I keep anonymity, but such Friends are out there; perhaps not the majority, probably the minority (well, at least for some of that). but said Quakers exist. These Friends who do not hold to many of the testimonies of Friends (evangelical, liberal or Conservative) are in our meetings and churches. Some are open about it and are repentant. Others are hiding it.   Others are open about some of it, but aren't really doing anything about it, and their meetings aren't holding them accountable.  These Friends are not living the lives they should (by commonly held standards in our culture) and they certainly aren't living a life that their yearly meetings would like for them to live. But they are Quakers. They are all loved children of God.  Sins, faults and all.  These people are our friends.  We love them. We don't exclude them, even if they embarrass us. We embrace them. And forgive them.

Just like Richard Nixon's church and him.    Richard Nixon certainly had many of these faults, and granted he was a public figure, but he wasn't really a public Friend.  Before we judge his Quakerism perhaps we should be focusing first on ourselves and our own character defects. As a meeting we can focus on encouraging one another to do as Peace Pilgrim suggested to seek inner peace before and then spread/share that peace. We can follow the path of 12-step programs, which is to focus first on our own hurts, habits and hang-ups and our own character defects, build a relationship with our higher power, right as many wrongs as we can from our past, continue to promptly admit when we are wrong and make amends for it, and THEN share with others the way we overcame our own inner demons. Then those people can join our Society (or another) and heal and then go and heal others (Jesus' charge to his disciples). Consider that we are hypocrites every one if we claim peace, love, and harmony, healing and justice, when we don't know it experientially -- not within ourselves, not within our meetings, and certainly not across branches of Friends.  Yes, Israeilis and Palestinians, make peace. Lay down your arms.  But THAT Friend and THOSE Quakers.... 
  
IF we have not love, our testimonies, our entire faith and practice, are NOTHING. We are at best professors of the faith and not doers.  People will hear us, but we will wonder why they don't like or question what they hear.  Without love, we are certainly not children of the Light and of the Day.

P.S.
I'd love to see QuakerSpeak do something on the role of Quaker communities in guiding the personal lives of Friends.  How do we help those Friends who we feel are hurting themselves or others or who are otherwise living out of the faith and practice of our yearly meetings?  Or do we? Have we given up that role? 




2016-01-05

Time for a change.

Today I made a decision:  I'm going to move again.  Ugh.  I just moved into my place in Reservoir Hill 13 months ago.  It's a gorgeous house.  I have a master suite with a huge balcony off my room.  Rent is just shy a grand a month and includes everything. I store my entire old house in the cellar.  It's a 19th century row home that's completely modern on the inside.

My roommate, who I won't identify by name, was generous enough to take a risk in me.  Those of you who know me know that over the past few years I've done a good job at screwing my life up and to the point where it became unmanageable and I had to reach out to friends, family, my Quaker community and even professional help to get a grip and start recovering from the mess I had made.

The details aren't important here. It's not hard to figure out, but I'm not going to spell it out for anyone.  We all have our hurts, habits and hang-ups over which we are powerless and which can lead to unmanageability.

It also doesn't do much good, at least at this point, to ponder my hurts, habits and hang-ups. Suffice it to say, I'm at a place in my life where I am giving in. I'm waving the white flag.  I surrender.

Last year at this time I had a choice when I moved out of the house I bought with Russell in 2002.  I could move in with someone I knew from my gym or I could move in with a friend I met in a support group and his wife. I stayed with them during the month of October.  I really grew to like them. They offered me a sweet deal: a place to live at minimal cost with people who really cared for my well-being.

Oh, I made my usual round of phone calls.  I called my ex, who knew me as well as anyone and asked him his opinion. I talked to my parents leaving out important information (like I was at that time struggling with my 3 H's).  I talked to friends who were living lives of relative serenity after having dealt with their own crap.  All of them said to me in one way or another that I knew the right answer (which was to move in with the couple in Ridgley's Delight).  Those who knew what my struggles were thought that Reservoir Hill would not be conducive to the growth and change I needed.

I knew this to be the case, but I didn't want to be honest with myself.  You see, I told myself that I could still engage in particular behaviors which wouldn't be a problem for many people, but for me would be a grey area.  You know, I'm cold, it's winter, I'm lonely, I'm single, you're cute, come over.
That.  But "that" has been a problem for me since I came out in 1990.  That = casual encounters.  I knew my future roomie wouldn't have a problem with it. 

My childhood friend Emily P recently met up with me over coffee while I was home in Tennessee.  I hadn't seen her since high school.  She's married, has kids, but has her own story to tell.  I was talking about hooking up and she told me that hooking up was like poking holes in the bottom of a cup.  I keep trying to fill my life up with energy from The Source; but when I hook up, that energy just drains out of me. (Interestingly, Buddhist monks apparently believe that when one orgasms, they lose chi).

The entire year I lived in Reservoir Hill I engaged with people, places and things that had contributed to making my life a mess when I lived in my house in Seton Hill.   In truth, I had only moved a mile away. I had moved from one gayborhood (predominantly white, increasingly straight, increasingly upscale), to another predominantly black gayborhood).   I knew all year long that the decision to move there was the wrong one.  I knew I wasn't quite ready to handle living with that  much freedom.  I needed more structure, more support.  I needed to live with people who lived relatively "normal" lives; lives conducive to mental, spiritual and physical recuperation. 

On my way home for Christmas, I was faced with an ultimatum.  I don't like them, and tend to rebel against them.  I bitched and moaned to anyone who would listen.  The truth is, the person who gave me the ultimatum was in the right.  However, the very people who pointed that out to me (all of whom knew the person in question) also reiterated their opinions that I would do better to live elsewhere.

I hate writing in code.  This public blogging thing about that which is personal is tricky.

Anyway, the point is that this is about me and I don't want to point to anyone else's faults or shortcomings.  1) I don't want to air other people's dirty laundry on my blog.  2) I don't want to seem like I'm blaming them for my problems.  3) That I can't seem to behave in healthy ways while living there is reason enough to leave -- it doesn't matter if there are others.

While home in Tennessee I had to put Nadine down.  Naddy was my 15.5 year old Doxie.  Russell and I got her for Dean, his Doxie, in 2000 because Dean would yip all night when we put him in his kennel and we couldn't sleep. We wanted a companion for him.  Those two bonded immediately.  Well Dean got run over outside my parents' house the summer after Russ died.  Naddy didn't handle that well at all, and so CW (my next boyfriend) and I got Clovis in 2007 for Naddy.  They bonded quickly too.  (OK, CW wasn't thrilled about the new purchase. I got Clovis. But Clovis and CW bonded quickly).  Naddy had a brain tumor (cancerous probably), liver problems, glaucoma, dementia... she was fading fast.  The vet in Bmore told me any time was ok to put her down. I got a second opinion while in Tennessee. The vet told me I had a few months max with her. I decided to put her down while I had mom and dad there with me.  God it was rough.

So, I knew I was going to come back to Reservoir Hill to a situation where I felt I had worn my welcome and where I felt triggered.  I also knew that Clovis would be alone all day long when I went back to work.   Typically, the weeks before and after a vacation are tricky for me as well.  So, I contacted my friends in Ridgley's Delight, and asked if Clovis and I could stay with them for at least a week when I came back.  They said "of course."

The first day back in Baltimore I spent in Res Hill.  It was a tough.  No structure. Emotional hangover from my trip home.  Sexual frustration from a few weeks of nothing.  My mind was racing.  Clovis was depressed. He was looking around for Naddy. He didn't know what to do with himself.  He became increasingly sullen.

The second day back I went to a committee meeting where we are planning for Congressman Cummings to come speak at Homewood Friends (oh yeah, I'm back worshipping there -- that's another blog though).  Meeting for worship was inspiring.   Gaming with Donny, David and the boys was fun.   I took Clovis to Donny's and he was glad for it.  It would have been Russell's 38th birthday.  Russell was on my mind.  I knew I had to get to Ridgley's Delight and fast.

When I arrived, I was greeted with smiles, dogs barking and sniffing.  Clovis made himself right at home. He knew this place well.

I crept into bed, said a prayer of thanks, and cuddled with Clovis all night long.  My boy.

This morning I woke up and knew what I needed to do and decided to go with my gut.It's time to do what I knew I should have done a year ago.  To move in with people who care for me, who will, without becoming guardians or babysitters, will model healthy living and be as supportive as I let them.  They have fast become my family away from home this past year.  If I can't live with my family in Tennessee, why not live with my surrogate family in Baltimore?

Still, I had to mull it over with some colleagues.

They confirmed I was making a good decision, and some offered some ideas on how to make the transition smoother.

So I still have to tell my current roomie/landlord that I'll be moving out. I'll tell him this week at some point.  I plan on being out by the end of February, but I'm going to start moving things over here as soon as there is room to do so. I'd like to go ahead and get my bedroom set up so I'm not living out of a suitcase.

They say if we don't put getting well first, that we will lose all that we hold dear.  I believe that, but I tend to resist.  But why resist?  I've known for a long time that this is what I've needed to do, but somehow it required this weird chain of events to come to this place.  But what I think really helped to push me in this direction was the love I felt when I went home to Tennessee juxtaposed with the loss of my dog and the discomfort around living in Reservoir Hill.

Ben Pink Dandelion in his book Introduction to Quakerism, outlines the Quaker spiritual conversion process:   (1.) A powerful in-breaking of God, (2.) A sense of conviction of sin (3.) A choice, repentance (4.) Being born again into perfection or a measure of perfection (5.) The convinced gathering together; gathered in a net and (6.) Calling the world towards a new mode of religious experience. 

The Light has constantly made itself present in my life.  I've had a few charismatic experiences of God and many occasions where I recognized the Light moving, guiding and instructing me.  I've long since been convicted of my how I've been missing the mark and how I'm spiritually disconnected from myself, from my fellows and from my higher power; I 've known this my whole life. The problem is that this was made worse by the shame and guilt I felt for being gay; and the message I heard from most low-church Protestants that I was inherently bad/sinful and that I was unworthy of salvation but God would do it anyway if only I confessed my faith in Jesus.  That created such baggage and confusion that I've only just begun to break free.  So I'm at the point of making a choice.  I'm choosing to give up complete freedom (I can't have 'dates' over) and to have more accountability.  I'm choosing to engage with people and to become a part of a surrogate family. This means intimacy. Feelings.  But this is repentance, no?  Repentance isn't just saying "I'm sorry God." William Penn writes:

"First, repentance from dead works to serve the living God, which comprehends three operations. First, a sight of sin. Secondly, a sense and godly sorrow for it. Thirdly, an amendment for the time to come. This was the repentance they [Quakers] preached and pressed, and a natural result from the principle they turned all people unto. For of light came sight; and of sight came sense and sorrow; and of sense and sorrow came amendment of life. "

I have an opportunity to make things right in my life, to amend it.  This takes humility as well, and I've been told by not going at this alone, and not assuming I know the answers, by asking for and accepting help, I'm practicing humility.  So this move is an ACTION I'm taking with the hope and faith that I'm doing what I need to do.  This gut feeling isn't really just gut, I feel like it's the Light moving me to do it.

However,  I'm notorious for making decisions, starting strong and fizzling out.  So, perhaps blogging about it will help. Unless that fizzles too.  Feel free to comment. Prayers and energy my way are most welcome.

Time to take Clovis to bed.

Peace and Light,

K-D