Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Beware of birds bearing gifts

Earlier this year, I posted some thoughts about Christmas that used the example of the man who cares for the ravens who inhabit the Tower of London to illustrate the kind of faithfulness and devotion that informs why I keep Christmas.

Then I read this article in the morning paper. I'm not quite sure what it means in terms of my illustration, unless it means that the threat to the faith is closer, more imminent, and calls for extraordinary measures.

Speaking of bird flu, I've been going through an unusual week-long bout of something fluish -- sore throat, cough, fever, occasional sinus headaches, fatigue, etc. So I've been working only partial days, doing that which needs to be done, and spending most of the rest of the time in bed.

I did go to a Finnish friend's log home on the Minnesota River Sunday night for dinner and a sauna. We used the log sauna house about fifty yards across the snow from the house. It was dark, crowded, smokey, and hot.

The Finn didn't fire it up to his customary heat level out of deference to the five women with us (including 11 year-old Youngest Daughter). He was very gracious, but said the less-than-full heat made him feel claustophobic, like being in a crowded elevator. Something else that's relative, I guess. All I know is that it was as hot as I've ever been and that I felt purified and cleansed for hours afterwards.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Born again, the Living Presence, repentence, and other Christian jargon

Apparently, at least one FGC Yearly Meeting has restored the practice of asking for written replys to Queries from its monthly meetings. I admire the effort and hope it spreads. But if the following response is typical and indicative of the state of our Society, I must confess some disappointment.

The first query was:

In what ways has the Living Presence awakened my faith and turned me around?
Set aside that his query is clearly addressed to individuals and not to the meeting as a whole, which is another issue. Here is one large monthly meeting's written response. (I should note that I have a personal and affectionate relationship with this meeting, and have the utmost love and respect for the reporters who summarized the meeting's response.):
Although a few Friends were able to speak of personal experience of a Living presence or of remarkable changes in life direction, a number shared that [this] query did not speak to them or describe their experience. The "turning around," while commonly described in the journals of early Friends, is not a comfortable phrase for some because it feels to them like born-again Christian "jargon," outside their sense of credulity [sic]. In fact, for most of us, the awakening of faith can be described as more an experience of gradual maturation than a sudden "road to Damascus" whammy [sic]. Thus . . . Friends didn't have much to say on the topic and so the sharing quickly departed from the query and focused more on the personal experiences of coming to Friends and on the life of the Meeting. Some spoke of making progress in dealing with personal problems, such as growing through their anger or past feelings of homophobia where the Meeting community has been supportive and non-judgmental. Others spoke of the value of meeting for worship as a place to experience the Living Presence through the examples and spoken messages of others. Listening in that setting and being open and vulnerable has led some to valuable openings.

Some Friends have no experience of God and do not share the "beliefs" that are professed in Christian churches. They come to meeting for worship because in that respectful setting, they are encouraged to listen and ponder, experiencing "belief" as a personal journey. Also, it is the "social gospel" of friends -- the living practice of service that many find makes them feel comfortable in our midst and want to come back.

Finally, the "turning around" metaphor reminded one Friend of those rare times when unbidden feelings of love an come quite suddenly from a source outside ourselves and provide the energy to go beyond our fears and relate to another in an open state of grace.
The unregenerated part of me was tempted to only post the first half of the first paragraph to emphasize how far afield modern liberal Friends have come from their ostensible heritage.

But then I realized that wouldn't be fair to the meeting since some of the subsequent comments showed some apprehension of the experience of convincement and conversion that is so central to the Quaker understanding of how things are. And the reference to the "experience of gradual maturation" accurately describes my experience of being born again, and I believe is consistent with how Friends have generally understood this experience.

And I give it points for sincerity. No cheap grace or false professors here. No goody-Quaker-two-shoes who know what the answer to the query should be. For this honesty I admire and respect them.

But still.

Do the concepts of the Living Presence, repentance, of turning around, really sound to modern Quakers like "jargon?" Do we really expect a query to make us feel "comfortable?" Do we feel free to recast an uncomfortable query in terms of experiencing the meeting as "supportive and non-judgmental?"

I would understand if they would say, "No, I haven't experienced a Living Presence that has turned my life around. But I'm still looking for it" or "We feel ourselves being turned around, but gradually." Either would be pretty close to my own answer.

And I'm all for Friends meetings serving as safe havens for seekers and doubters. That's one of the most imporant ministries I think we provide, and one that is too often overlooked.

But to write off the experience of convincement as "born-again Christian jargon" as if being born again were alien to Quakerism just p-----s me off, frankly.

I guess I still have a lot of repenting to do.

Note: Beppeblog has a lengthy comment on this post here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The 100 things Quakers should know

I'm sick today with a sore throat, headache, fever & cough, so I've spent most of the day in bed with Doris Kearns Goodwin.

That's a joke I told Lovely Wife -- for Valentines Day she gave me and Only Son a copy of her new book Team of Rivals about Abraham Lincoln and his remarkable cabinet, and I spent much of the day delirously devouring it.

But I've also taken the time to catch up on some blog browsing, and once again found something interesting at Peggy Senger Parsons' Freedom Friends Church on the Forum page, under Quakerism 101 entitled "Sixteen Quaker Names you should know."

Reading the list reminded me of a project I've long wanted to undertake, which is to compile a list of things that I expect a Quaker child should know by the time he or she has completed 18 years of First Day School or so.

For example, I'd like to write down what 100 Bible stories a Quaker kid should know -- that is, know the basic characters & plot of the story, and its general religious meaning & context -- by the time he or she's 18. And then useful Biblical verses, phrases, and references. And then Quaker facts.

Here's an arbitrary (and purposefully incomplete) start to show you the idea:

100 Bible Stories every Quaker kid should know by age 18

1. The Creation in Genesis
2. The Fall of Adam & Eve
3. Noah & his ark
4. The Exodus
5. David & Goliath (or maybe David & Jonathan)
6. The Nativity of Jesus
7. The Parable of the Good Samaritan
8. The Prodigal Son
9. Saul's conversion
10. The first Pentacost

Then, a hundred Bible verses or phrases or terms:
1. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.
2. Let my people go.
3. The Ten Commandments
4. Be still and know that I am God
5. The Lord is my shepherd
6. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them
7. Blessed be the peacemakers for they shall be called the Children of God (or the Beatitudes)
8. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will to all.
9. Fear not
10. In the beginning was the Word. . . .

And then a similar list of things, people, and places Quaker, beginning with the 16 (or more) Quakers you should know, and also things like:
1. There is one even Christ Jesus who can speak to thy condition.
2. We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons. . .
3. There is a Principle which is pure, placed in the human Mind, which in different Places and Ages hath had different Names; it is, however, pure, and proceeds from God.
4. Speak Truth to Power
Pendle Hill (b0th of them)
6. Friends Journal
7. Friends United Meeting
8. The Richmond Declaration
9. Sense of the meeting
10. What canst thou say?

I think this would be a valuable activity for a Religious Education Committee to work on. It would help them to develop a long-term curriculum that would be more coherent from year-to-year than many of our meetings are able to do.

The exercise would be valuable regardless of what makes it on or off the list (sort of like it was in choosing songs for Worship in Song). Having some arbitrary maximum number gives just enough discipline that Friends will have to discuss & explain their choices; those involved would learn a lot, about each other, and what it means to be a Friend.

I'd be curious whether any other meetings have attempted such a project, and how it turned out. And whether I'll ever get around to doing it myself.

Every once in a while you do something right

Last year about this time, I co-led a Quakerism 101 class with another Friend. Among the forty students were three teenage boys, including Only Son, then 13-and-a-half. Each one came faithfully with his dad, but none of them offered much in large group discussions, and they always clumped together during small group activities, and I was never quite sure whether they were discussing anything about the lesson or not.

The other morning Only Son got up and went to the computer to see if the "edit I made on Wikipedia was still there."

"What edit?" I asked.

He said he had been visiting the entry on Quakers and saw the section on Testimonies. The section listed, and had short explanations of, the testimonies of peace, integrity, equality, simplicity, and peace.

He said he had added this sentence: "You can always remember it by thinking of S.P.I.C.E. Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality." He had learned this at the Q101 class, he said, and he added it to the entry.

I was amazed (1) that he remembered the acronymn and (2) that the cared and bothered enough to add it to the article. You never know what will sink in. (I know, I know, a lot of us don't care for that mnomic and question its accuracy and usefulness, but that is a discussion for another day.)

Post script: When I went to Wikipedia tonight, I saw that someone named Paul Carpenter had removed the edit earlier today, as well as the testimony of "Community" as not being accepted as one of the "big four." Well, I might agree with him (I've never really understood what it meant in terms of a testimony), but I was a little disappointed. When I told Only Son of the change, he said, "What the . . . " and expressed the wish to do something sort of un-Quakerly to the guy.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Addicted to oleaginous politicians, if you ask me

When you've finished your morning coffee, read the paper, driven to work, smoked your ciggie, checked your e-mail, and every other mindless habit you can't do without, read this.

Reminds me of how pusher Louie taunts addict Frankie Machine in The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren (read the book first, if you can; the movie is also very good, but it cheats at the end).