About Me

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

2018-02-10

Quakers in Recovery

For years I've attended various recovery programs and have found things I like about different fellowships. In different cities and states even the same fellowship has their own manner of doing things.

In 2012 my Friends meeting stepped in when darkness crept around me and they helped me get into Sheppard Pratt where beds are hard to find (FYI, for those of you who know this, if you're Quaker and without health insurance, they will cover your costs).   I ended up in California off the Pacific Ocean where I celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with people from all over the country who, like me, had it kinda bad.

My day looked like this:  wake up in my apartment make breakfast.  Go to gym, where I would do cardio overlooking the ocean.  Go to center where I would have individual and group therapy -- mindfulness training, art therapy, PTSD small group, etc.  Evenings we would go to meetings. We attended meetings even if we didn't particularly "qualify" to be there or "identify in" based on their primary purpose.  It was a great program and really helped me to identify and learn coping skills around my mental health needs.

While there one of the weekend counselors, Lisa M., invited me to attend Celebrate Recovery with her.  When I found out it was affiliated with Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, I thought "no friggin' way, lady."  I was not about to go hear about how bad I was for being gay.  That's a huge reason I was in California!   Still, she assured me no one would say anything, and so I went.  I will admit to keeping my mouth shut about being gay for the most part, but eventually I would tell the group of people that I would come to hang out with and who I considered friends, even if for a short time.  We did all sorts of things together, but most memorable was worship  at Saddleback and our Flashmbo at Santa Monica mall when we sang Christmas Carols.

I attended men's small groups and talked about my hurts, habits and hangups with other men, and learned that my rage, my pain, my codependency, and my means of escape weren't unique.  All sorts of people of faith, including pastors, ministers, overseers and elders of all sorts of Christian backgrounds struggled with poor coping skills. Some used chemicals (drugs and alcohol), some used behavior (sex, eating and gambling) and some used relationships (co-dependency, love and rage), some were OCD; but all had hurts, habits and hang-ups.

The Quakers in the area are largely Evangelical, but on Sundays a Quaker from a Orange County Friends would pick me up in his old convertible BMW with his partner and drive me a good half hour or more to worship.  This is the thing about Friends.  We may be somewhat socially awkward, but worship is generally the center of our lives. When there is another Friend in need, we will step up if asked (we just don't seem to be always too great about being proactive).  The first Sunday after worship I introduced myself at the time when Quakers ask visitors to introduce themselves. I actually think that Homewood sent a letter of introduction.  In any event, the Friends there knew why I was in town, and when I was afraid of rejection, strange looks, or judgment, I got none of that.  In fact, I got encouragement.

While I was doing my duty and attending Quaker meeting, I had told Lisa about wanting to attend Friends Church.  I  have wanted to attend Friends Church ever since the LA Times did a story on them back when I was in seminary.   In reading about Friends, I learned that Quakers in Eastern Region (based in Canton, Ohio) and Southwest Yearly Meeting (based in Southern California) allow for baptism.   "What?!"  You may say? Quakers who baptize?  Yes. Just like there are Quakers who have appropriated all sorts of things that are outside of our tradition; another topic for another post.

One day, during worship at Celebrate Recovery I got a notion to get baptized. I thought "oh, Lord, Kevin, you'll do anything.  If you were in a Buddhist temple, you'd probably convert to that."  And that's probably true.  I have this problem with people pleasing, and the strong desire to be accepted, It's part of my hang-ups.  So, I let it sit.  After a while, though, as I worked Step1  and Step 2, the feeling kept coming on.   Finally, I spoke to Lisa about it.  Now, Lisa naturally thought it was a great idea, she is an Evangelical Christian; a Believer.   I thought about what Friends at home would say, what John Punshon advised when I was considering baptism at ESR (he counseled to think long and hard on it).  Finally, whether it was the Holy Spirit or a fancy, I gave in.  In December of 2013, before going back home to Baltimore, I was baptized at Saddleback Church.  Yep.  After all this back and forth about religion, I was baptized at a Southern Baptist Church.  TOUCHDOWN!  When I returned to Maryland, I left Homewood to go up the street to Emmanuel Episcopal where I would worship weekly for a couple of years.

Eventually, though, I came back to Homewood and somehow I saw the meeting differently.  There were many of the Friends who were there a few years prior who had circled me with love and shipped me off to get well.  They were the same Friends who were there when I married Russell and when I lost him. They handled all of the money that was sent from around the world to pay for my legal fees for the law suit I was in.   When I got home they weren't Christ-centered enough and I needed a place where I didn't have to translate my Christianity for them.  Then, sitting in the meeting room at Homewood Meetinghouse, I sensed God calling me back to Homewood. I realized that love was more important than doctrine, and I loved Homewood. 

Friends inquired about my recovery.  However, over time, fewer people did and when they didn't it made it easier to hide in the shadows.  Isolation and lack of accountability make it easier to slide into old habits, and I found myself having to choose between Quaker community and the recovery communities.  I longed for California where my friends were in recovery and shared my faith. It wasn't one or the other, it was both. 

Truth can come from anywhere, and it's an important lesson to learn.  A person's experience, strength and hope can save me, even if that person is straight, of a different race, a different socio-economic status, and  a different religion.   I just felt for so long that Quakerism should be sufficient. I mean, after all, the 12 steps are a linear version of Quaker spirituality.  Ben Pink Dandelion writes about this in Introduction to Quakerism .  Early Friends believed that faith brought freedom.  First, God would break into our lives and we'd realize that we had direct access to him through the Light (step 2) That Light would then show us our true selves, our sinful state (step 1).  We would then realize we had a choice and possibility for change (Steps 2-6). Being given that power to live the Life, we would be transformed (Step 7-10).  Then, realizing we needed one another to live this Life, we pulled together in worship communities (Step 11).   Then we would share with one another in community and with others outside of our communities what we had found (step 12).   When I came into the rooms, and I read the steps, I thought "I know this stuff already. I can get it from Quaker meeting if I really want it."

The problem is this: i wasn't getting it from Quaker meeting..  First, most liberal Quakers I know would not necessarily articulate what I just wrote. In fact, I've heard many times in Friends Meetings, at least the liberal ones, objections to turning oneself over to a Divine Will, yielding to anything. There is a fierce individualism and pride that I think many Friends feel.  So this idea of finding an Inner Light, turning oneself over to it, yielding to it's will, admitting one's defects and faults to the group; no, that is not happening in Quaker meetings that I attend.   So while it exists in Quaker theology and history, I didn't see it in practice in Quaker meetings I attended.  At least, no one talked about it.

There's something about being in community with people who "get it" whatever "it" is.  So it was in the rooms of various 12 step fellowships where I found people who knew what it was like to be powerless over something, to know unmanageability, and to have lived a life free of that hell.  In those rooms, I met Quakers.  Then I realized they attended my Quaker meeting.  Finally, a Friend who is in AA told me "Kevin, Quaker meeting is easy, recovery is hard. Focus on recovery first, we'll be here."   I listened to him, even though sponsors had been telling me that a for a long time. 

In worship, though, I would see the Friends in recovery, and think of other Friends who have been in programs like Al-Anon, CoDA, OEA, and they would bounce back and forth in my brain.  Spirit was telling me something.  It was giving me something.  Something was coming... or was it a notion?

Then one day, in the car, where God's great ideas are often delivered, it came to me: Quakers in Recovery.   Start a group, Kevin.  I called my sponsor, who gave me some of his thoughts, and then I put it in the back of my mind.  But it wouldn't stay there.  So then I brought it up to someone who serves with me on Ministry & Counsel at Homewood and she encouraged me. Then I let it sit.

For months I attended group therapy up on the Sheppard-Pratt campus. I drove by the Quaker meeting house there each day.  On one of the rare days that I arrived early after driving from Catonsville to Towson after work (45 min to 1 hour commute), I walked over to the meeting house and looked inside. It's a teeny place built just like the old meeting houses in rural MD.  It's brick, has facing benches, a fire place and two doors; one for men and one for women; though it was never used like that.   The idea of starting a group stirred again.  A notion?  So I let it sit.

I'm not sure where to go with this, but we felt clear to see what Higher Power (the Seed, God, Light, Christ, Spirit) might have in store.   How many other Quakers are out there dealing with hurts, habits or hangups who may or may not be in 12 step programs but who would like to integrate their faith community and their recovery. Not everyone is as open to their Quaker meetings as I am about being in recovery.  What would it be like to actually talk about our powerlessness and unmanageability if we give in to our hurts habits or hang-ups? As Quakers we could share the experience of figuring out there's a Power that can restore us, the challenges and beneifts of turning our wills over to the Light, allowing the Light to work on our character defects and, most importantly, improving our conscious contact with the Light, as Quakers?  Oh, how I long for it.

Fellowship. Recovery. A la Quaker.

If you have any experience with such a thing, please let me know.

2018-02-07

Sandy Foundation Shaken & Building a New One

You may have heard of the Friends Journal project called QuakerSpeak. If you haven't, here's the link.

Jon Watts came down and we talked for some time regarding Quaker faith.  He was able to put together a couple videos using clips from our talk.   It's easy to talk to Jon.

Time for a little testimony: Mom, if you're reading this, this is when you groan - again.

Most of my adult life I've struggled with various hurts, habits and hang-ups.   I've lived most of my life operating out of fear, from a defensive place.  Have you ever seen or known a cute, playful, spastic dog that wants attention but for no reason will snarl and snap, but then cower? That been me most of my life.

I wasn't always so fearful.  Evidently, when I was a toddler (as young as 2 or 3), I would run away.  Like a homing pigeon, I'd find my way back.  In Korea, dad had to build a fence so that I'd not run off.  No problem for me! I'd throw my coat over it and climb over, to walk off base and off into -- well wherever I went.  I did the same when we lived in Ft Meade.   When we moved to Tn, mom told me to go walk the neighborhood to find friends. I did. When we moved to another neighborhood when I was in 3rd grade, I did the same thing again. I remember being anxious, but I was willing to do it.

While I didn't care for school and was teased, I managed alright up through sixth grade. Then life threw me a curve ball.  I'll never forget Chris H. Oh, he was so cute.  I probably stared at him way too hard.  One day, in seventh grade in Mrs. Steed's  TN History class, Chris turned around and looked at me and stated "You're a faggot."  Everyone laughed. Even S.S, my friend. Everyone.  I had no clue what that meant.

Now, I'd been teased most of my childhood from first grade onward.  I knew I wasn't the same as other kids since the time I became aware of where I ended and others began.  I was a sissy. I had a lisp, and when I got excited, I would jump up and down with elbows at my waist and wrists dangling limply.  Mom used to tell me to "stop doing that."  I did.  The lisp was corrected through speech therapy.  Boys still played with me somewhat.  I wasn't educationally motivated enough to be  a nerd, and couldn't give a rat's turd about sports, so I usually played with the girls.  I had survived, but now...

"What's that?" I asked Chris.  The entire class laughed.  I looked up. Even S.S., my friend, she was laughing too. I remember feeling so tiny. Everyone seemed to surround me. Everyone got bigger.  "A faggot is..." 

There are a few times in my life that I call "defining moments."  That one was huge.   I had already sensed there was something different about me, and also that there was something wrong with that difference.  From an early age of my effeminate displays of joy, to the occasional mocking of my lisp, to being called a "sissy" I already felt like I didn't belong. Still, I had some friends.  But at that moment, as everyone including my so-called friends roared laughing, I realized there was a name for what I felt, for people like me; and everyone felt the same way about it. What I felt about other boys was bad and it was something worth humiliating me.

To make things worse, I got an itch to start attending church.  I went to school with this kid Martin and his sister was my babysitter.  They lived up the street from me, so they took me to church with them.  The church was huge; Central Baptist of Bearden.  Kids there didn't seem to be any friendlier. The Sunday school teachers weren't friendly at all.  I always wondered why Martin seemed less friendly at church than he was at school.  I had a mad crush on his older sister, though, and she was friendly no matter where we were. I adored her.   The family was nice and took me to evening services and church dinners.  Oh, the spaghetti dinners were so good!   My thirst to know God grew, and I began studying the Bible and listening to Focus on the FamilyIn Touch and Chuck Swindol's Insight for Living.  It was Chuck's ministry that spoke most to me.   I lasted only a little while at Central Baptist.  For whatever reason, the final straw was when the pastor built up his sermon to the climax relating salvation to a "Touch Down!"   Football.  He lost me with football.

About the same time, also in seventh grade, my librarian, Sabra Brown, had already taken me under her wing and had introduced me to, among other great books, the Witch of Blackbird Pond.   It didn't take long for me to inquire about the Quakers, and when my parents figured out I was considering going to a Quaker meeting, they forbade it.  That only had me reading more.   The problem was that the only Christianity I was exposed to was Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity.  I did go to Catholic youth group occasionally with a friend, but they didn't teach me anything about Jesus (though they did reinforce the Quaker position that the Bible is not to be used the way fundamentalists use it).   Once I started going to Quaker meeting, I met Quakers who were either opposed to Christian expression or ones who didn't seem much different than other Protestants.  The particularly Quaker expression of Christianity wasn't preached much.  I felt betrayed; that I had found a faith that wasn't even practiced, and yet I also felt like God wanted me to stay put.  I was confused spiritually. All this while my hormones are raging, my love of God is budding, and fear that these feelings that I have about other boys will lead me to spiritual and social ruin.  I was emotionally and spiritually insecure -- and a teenage boy.

With all of this fear I needed to be right about something.  I finally came to this conclusion:  Early Quakers were right, everything else was apostasy.  Homosexuality was wrong; even early Friends evidently  believed in the death penalty for it (I found it doing research in high school, I can't quote the source here).   War was wrong and people would die in hell for it.   Oh, I believed in the same God the Baptists did; the angry judgmental one in whose son I needed to believe else we all die. The only twist was that I believed that Jesus was the Light and that everyone had the Light so everyone could be saved by following the Light even if they thought it was the Buddha.

There's an "ism" for that belief, and it's not universalism.  I forget what it's called, but I learned it at ESR.  The point here is that my faith was already up in my head.  My head is a place where I didn't need to be, and my faith was an intellectual and emotional one.  Head knowledge.

West Knoxville Friends put up with me, bless their hearts. Later I would learn that several of them suspected I was gay and struggling.  One thanked me for my faithfulness and became a Christian, only to leave the Society when WKFM approved my union with Russell about 8 years later.

Instead of playing with the neighborhood boys, I immersed myself in studying the Bible and Quakerism along with playing Dungeons and Dragons and read fantasy books in a club house my dad built for me that had electricity, intercom to the house, a yo  shelves and card table (that I still have to this day).   I stayed away from my family as much as possible.  I ran around with Leslie, Carey, Paula, Ann and a few others in high school, but honestly I kept an emotional distance from them.  The closer I came to realizing I was gay, the more I withdrew.  While I rarely heard anything anti-gay at Quaker meeting, I heard it daily on those radio shows I listened to while drawing maps and creating new fantasy D&D worlds.   Gays became the big cultural divide. The gay rights movement was burgeoning, and I was going to come out right when it went bang.   At 15 I felt suicidal and finally asked dad if I could see a psychologist; his response "there's nothing you can tell a psychologist that you can't tell us" was a "no."  Um, I feel like I'm gay, that I'm going to go to hell, you guys have already told me if I act out on it I'll be unhappy my whole life, my spiritual mentor at West Knoxville is an ex-gay therapist, people call me faggot daily at school.  My dad didn't know about school. How do you tell your dad that?  So I just corked it.  When mom caught me a year later walking down the beach with a man, her disgusted reaction would throw me back from coming out a good two years. 

I had some bright spots along the way.  Whereas my childhood friends and school friends seemed to try to figure out if I was gay with "gotcha" questions, the Kuehn family would take me in and give me sanctuary.  Marian and Susan would be like sisters to me.  First close to Su, then to Marian, it would be to them that I would start to come out.  No judgment from any member of that family; not even Jim (God rest his soul- 12/2017).   I would mow the lawn to Cyndi Lauper  and the B-52s,  go to the lake with Paula and sing to the Violent Femmes,  and fall asleep nightly to Laurie Anderson.    I laughed with kids on my swim team as we sat under plastic seats during thunderstorms and did dirty mad-libs.  I wasn't friendless.  I wasn't universally hated.  I just didn't believe that any of them could really like me if they knew I what I was.  I didn't believe in the friendship and love that I actually did have.  My parents were never mean to me and were actually very affectionate. I just couldn't let them in.

When it came time to choose college, I wanted a Quaker education. I was accepted early decision to Earlham, but ended up at Guilford, or Shangri la.

My first year at GuilCo I came out, though that was an accident.  Quakers in NC would not be helpful in this process, and the Quakers in TN would be too far away to help (though they were like "yup, knew it" when I came out to them).

I was already on a mission to bring people back to Early Quakerism (yes, I was).  I had spent years arguing with my family and Quakers about how they were wrong and early Friends were right.  I drove people nuts, I'm sure.  But it felt so safe to be right, and to have found a place that if I could just make myself fit in, I would be ok.  I would be acceptable. I would be loved.

This self-righteous insecurity was a nuclear energy cell in my being.  I started Guilford as a 0-tolerance, tea-totaling freshman, calling for a 3 strike your out policy (though I felt that was too lenient).  That didn't last long.  Once forced out of the closet (another story for another time) I began drinking and clubbing.  Within a year I lost all scholarships minus some Quaker ones and was put on academic probation.  Max Carter, the campus minister, whom I adored, served as my confessor.  He listened to me go on and on in explicit detail about my constant partying and all that went with it, and look at me with those piercing eyes, but sometimes I would catch a glimpse of shock.  Of all people he was the last person I would want to let down.  One day, sitting in his office he asked me if I felt the Light.  I didn't, not much, no.  "Then thee's sinning." BAM.   Quakers dont' use that word much.  When we do, it's a slap.  I recall Max telling a story about how he didn't spank his kids, but once his daughter needed it; she had just pushed too far and they spanked her when they hadn't ever before. I don't recall if he said whether it had the desired effect on her.  This would not stop me, but his words have run in my conscience since.

You can perhaps image that I didn't have the best coping skills in a private Quaker school 6 hours away from home, after holding myself up in a club house most of my teenage years, hiding from the homophobes, hiding from my parents (God forbid they figure it out; like they almost did when I was 16, and that was awful), and hiding from the truth.  No, when I found sex, alcohol and clubbing, I found freedom.  When New Garden Friends' response to my request for membership was "We've never been in the  business of asking one's sexual orientation and we aren't in it now" and they didn't even touch my call to ministry, I turned to where I could find support  -- gay pop culture.  That's been my narrative, anyway.  Lately, though, I'm realizing there's more to it.  I would spend the next three years being on one hand an activist and on the other living the party life.   I would pull my GPA up above a 3.0 (higher in my major) after that 1.8 my freshman year.  My senior project would be to found what is now called the Bayard Rustin  Center.  I would resurrect the Commencement Ceremony making it an interdenominational meeting for worship.  I would sing my first solo, and wow the crowd (except for my music instructor who, when I was beaming, would say "it could have been better").  But I wouldn't allow my best friends in.  No matter how many friends I had, no matter how much fun I would have, I could not seem to be intimate with boyfriends, friends or family.   I constantly was searching for a way out of myself.   No amount of achievement, no amount of activism, no amount of clubbing can change that I fundamentally disliked myself, distrusted people and emotionally braced myself for disappointents.

Clubbing and partying was my favorite outlet.  I mean, come on.  The music alone was enough. I would get lost in rave music.  Everybody's free to feel good and I sure did.  I remember walking into Warehouse 29 one day with my friend Aldrick C behind me saying "I'll never stop clubbing!"  We were MAHVELOUS. We were FAHBULOUS. We felt WONderful!

There would be one person who would crack through that shell of mine years later.  I graduated Guilford in 1994 and went to Earlham School of Religion in 1995.  It didn't last.   You know that fear I never dealt with?  It reared it's ugly head in seminary.  I was locked in a true spiritual battle for my soul.  I had Quakers praying for me, some were actually in fierce warfare with forces that were beyond what any of us were capable of dealing with.  If I'm losing you here, dear reader, just stick with me, please.  You don't have to believe in the particulars of it, to understand, perhaps the general gist of it.  There were powers greater than me that were leading me into darkness. You can say alcohol, you can say spirits. You can define spirits as chemicals, spiritual beings or people.  People, places and things were driving me further into darkness.  In my spiritual preparation for ministry class, they asked us to go deeply. When I stared into the darkness,  I saw the demons of my past, and I was unprepared.  Ultimately, I had to leave seminary, back to Knoxville, broken, almost to despair.

It was in Knoxville, though, in 1998 that I would meet my future husband.  God has a sense of humor.  I had never really been able to get close to my dad for whatever reason.   My dad is a Capricorn, I'm an Aries.  While these two signs make good business partners, they aren't known for their friendships and romance is discouraged.  Dad is an introvert. I'm an extrovert (though I wonder if that's changing).  Dad was into fishing, gardening, fixing things, dressed like Mr Rogers at best and like homeless when doing yard work (sorry, Dad, if you're reading this).  We  shared a love for writing, but I had long quit doing that.   Dad wasn't particularly religious and I was.   Then came Russell.  Their bday was a day apart.  Both tall, dark hair, English majors with a love of writing, fishing, introverts. Both loved to serenade their lovers with poems or songs.  Both dressed the same (Marian often called Russell "Mr. Rogers.").  If dad could have had a son any  more like him it was Russell.  And Russell drove me the f**k crazy.  So, what did I do? I called mom for advice.  Mom would then say "oh, your father does that. This is what I do" and it would work.   Over time, I came to appreciate and love my father in ways I don't know I could have without having come to love and appreciate Russell.

Russell filled a space in my life.  Unfairly to Russell, I needed someone, anyone, and I met this kid and he was cute. The story is a bit more romantic than that but I'll leave it for another post.  Nevertheless, I wasn't ready for a relationship. Mom had asked me to not date him, but I have a habit of ignoring my mother's advice.  Still, within no time, dad was calling Russell his other son.  Mom and dad fell in love with him.  My whole family did, or at least those who came to know him.    My Quaker meeting in Knoxville, the one against whom I would rail for not being Christian enough, would eventually come to unity to celebrate our commitment.  They would acknowledge, as many would, that while I was the talker, the type-A personality, Russell was the reason, the wisdom and the grounding one in the relationship.

However,  Russell and I ended up moving before our wedding could happen. I earned my masters in education and he received his bachelors.  We wanted a place with a strong arts community but I needed a teaching position that would give me insurance to cover him so he could be free to pursue his writing without being bogged down by a job he hated because he needed insurance. So we picked Baltimore City.  And we hated it.   Both of us had fallen into the club life again.  Marian even warned me about it.  I didn't listen.    In 2001 we separated over it and he would date a guy in New York.  Then he moved home to TN for a while. Mom and dad gave him a car to drive.  Everyone knew I messed up.  My friends, my family, Russell's family.  I loved Russell, but couldn't be intimate with him.  I wouldn't let him in no matter how hard he tried.  He tried harder than anyone should. I did things that would push any reasonable person away.  Finally, I said some cross words to him, he had just met the guy from NY, and he thought "you know what? Fine."

I was devastated.  It was yet another defining moment. I remember  taking Russell back to TN in our Jeep.  We took his stuff down then I drove back to Baltimore.  He drove along with me as far as the Dollywood / Sevierville exit then said goodbye.  The memory of the pain still chokes me up.  When I got back, I cut out lots of people from my life.  I quit cigarettes and the club/party life. My spiritual practice increased with the sole purpose of changing just in case Russ would come back.

9/11 occurred and Russell came back to me with "no expectations of" me whatsoever.  We bought a house in 2002 (I still own it, but no longer live there). I remember when I finally let Russell in. We used to do this silly motion where we'd hold out our arms to one another as if to  embrace the other, motion with both hands for the other person to come give a hug, whine and scrunch our noses and make baby sounds and repeat "me me."  Yeah, two grown men. Think Eddie Monsoon when she wants something.  Usually he would come to me and hug me.  I couldn't just ask for a hug, I had to be a baby about it; to be silly.  One day I came in the front door of our house on Druid Hill Avenue, and he was in the dining room at the foot of the stairs.  I made that silly gesture for him to come give me a hug. "Me me. Me me?" This time he said "no. you come here and give me a hug."  I did as he said.  I went up to him, put my right cheek on his chest, hugged him and he put his arms around me.  And I let him in, completely.  I was his. I trusted him.  I believed in us.  Another defining moment. This is the first time, and only time, I've ever felt that with another man.

I don't remember if it was before or after our marriage in 2003, but there was another memory that sticks out. We were walking up this side street between Cathedral and Maryland, across the street from Leon's . It was midday, and we were walking around.  An older gay couple was walking up Park Ave to our left.  "That will be us one day" we mused.   You see, in my mind, I was Russ' for life.  I knew I had some things to work out. I knew that the past was there manifesting itself in my head in still unhealthy ways, but I didn't feel pressed to deal with it.   I mean, look at how I'd arrived and what I had accomplished!  I served on executive board for Seton Hill, campaigned for Martin O'Malley  and Baltimore County dist 11 candidates for the teacher's union, I served on national committees for Friends General Conference and organized gatherings and served on Ministry and Counsel for FLGBTQC.  I was married to Russell.  I loved and admired the man I married.  Life was working out. I had baggage eating at me but, it seemed to be working itself out enough that I had time.

For a long time I just plowed through life so as not to feel anything.  I never stopped to smell the roses let alone consider the lilies.  I would do anything to feel good and and not have to think too much; that worked for me whether it was clubbing and partying, dating, traveling, working, volunteering, or fighting the Man and the Machine.  I had a certain level of false pride as well when I was married and had all of these positions and titles; I had arrived.   Pride is no counterweight to pain.   Self-satisfaction is no remedy to suffering.   Busyness is no balm.    My love for Russell was true, but the life I had built up around me was of this world.  The World is a foundation of sand.  Russell leaving my world, shook the foundation, and everything fell.

Yet when one build's one's home on a sandy foundation, and that foundation is shaken, the house will fall.  Russell died in 2004, and the ensuing battle between his parents and me was too much.  People rallied to my side and to theirs.  All I wanted for years was for the Groffs to love us, and accept us.  I wanted them to be my inlaws.  I wanted Russell to be happy with them. They believed me to be the man who took away their son, who manipulated and controlled him.  They didn't know how often I pressured Russell to talk to them, to reach out to them, to make peace with them, to give them time to come around.  When he died I needed them so bad, and after he died I needed his family, but instead  I jumped into a relationship I had no business being in. I isolated from friends and my own family, save for a few, and I spiraled downward.  It wouldn't get real bad until 2009 when someone would do something to me which would change my life.  After that, the demons came with swords in hand.

The court case would bring back to the front of my mind all the baggage about being gay and feeling unsafe. It was real.  My relationship was called into question. My morals were called into question. My worth was called into question.   I sat in depositions and in court the center of attention, my life with Russell and my life as a gay man put on display and judged. I was surrounded by support, but it didn't matter.  Russ' parents hated me.  They saw me in a light that was untrue.  It was Chris H. all over again.   C.W., my boyfriend at that time, was a huge support, and my friends and Quaker meeting rallied around me, but I just couldn't connect with that love.  Fear, anger, bitterness, resentment, they festered.  And the cycle of self-destruction took hold.

If I were to leave the story there, (and there is so much more to say), it would be depressing. But, friend, you should know that at this point in my life, there is reason to believe and to hope.  In looking back, I see where it makes sense how I would cope poorly with the cards that were dealt.  I also am beginning to see where I made choices that made things worse.  I ran from love many times when love was offered.  I did accomplish a lot all things considered.  And I was blessed with a marriage in which love and admiration were present and our faith was central; many people live decades with the same person never knowing such affection. 

In this whole time I've gone from being a Quaker (in all its forms) to dabbling in Catholicism, Episcopalianism (I went for a couple years straight), Russian Orthodoxy and paganism.   I kept looking for answers outside of myself through ritual, a different confession, different forms of worship, but the whole time I was running from that still small voice.   You see, that voice, even when I sinned, that voice was there. It never judged me. I have never felt judgment from God. Only love.   And yet, I know that there is much that God's Light will need to illuminate, how I've been wronged and wronged others, where I've missed opportunities to love and be loved, to forgive and to forgive.  That's uncomfortable, and I don't want to feel that discomfort. I've run from it my whole life.

But it hasn't worked for me to run.  I'm tired.  I don't know how I look the way I do, considering how hard I've lived life, but my scars are on the inside and there are plenty there.  Nonetheless, I'm ready to be redeemed from this mess, to have my obsessions and compulsions alleviated.  I'm ready to have God ease my mind, to being centering my life in God, and be assured of his good will and love for me.   My whole life I've professed a certain belief in God, but I would not yield to him.   Just as I was afraid to trust my friends and family, I could not trust God.    I put so much time into becoming a teacher, to serving my community and Quaker meeting, learning Dungeons and Dragons or how to play World of Warcraft.  I studied politics and religion, and have explored my role in racial injustice and white privilege supremacy.  I've spent my entire life in inquiry and seeking knowledge.   It's been hard to come to God this way.   That religious background I had somehow warped my view of God and made my journey difficult, almost resulting in atheism.

Friends teach that the true foundation comes from an experiential (experimental) knowledge of God through his Light, the Light that was Jesus, and that still lives today teaching us directly. That experience of God comes through seeking and yielding to God, to that still small voice, to coming to a place where our faith is built on a rock.  So I'm at a place where I've made a decision to turn my will and my life over to God.   I don't profess more than that, only that I know I'm not God, and that if I understood God, God would not be a power greater than me who could restore me to the child of Light that God wants me to be.   So, I will pay attention to that molecule, that pearl with in me, that within me which seeks to unite with the creator of the universe.  I will try to nurture the seed of love and light within me, however small it may feel sometimes, more than I give attention to the seed of darkness which houses my pain and fear.   In time, I have faith, that my foundation will be true, and I will rest in the knowledge that I am loved and can love too.

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. 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. Our meeting houses used to seat scores if not hundreds; however many of those same buildings 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 may 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 he 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 were, 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 in prayer that they might actually be wrong 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 that they were wrong. 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 it was known that 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 returned because of the new stance on same-gender unions.

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? On what is their 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, and this reminds me that I should.  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 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. Some Quakers work for social justice for all whereas others exclude LGBT rights from that work.  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?