Friday, July 28, 2006

F.S.S.H.S. (frequently sung Sacred Harp songs)

At our Sacred Harp workshop at the FGC Gathering, I shared a list of characteristics that Sacred Harp singing and Quakerism have in common. One of those is a practice of careful record-keeping. I'm not certain that Quakers today are as careful in documenting the historical record as they once were, but everyone knows how valuable their (our) records are for all manner of historical research.

Similarly, Sacred Harp singers have a long-standing practice of recording minutes of their singings, noting (no pun intended), among other things, what songs were sung and who led them. The minutes are then collected and published in one volume annually. This give us, and historians of the future, a wealth of empirical data from which deeper knowledge of the actual practice of Sacred Harp singing can be derived.

Glenn Latimer, a singer from McDonough, Georgia, compiled the report that follows and gave me permission to post it here. (I got it through the fasola.singings listserve which you can learn more about here.) As you will see, he has meticulously gone through the recorded minutes of 274 Sacred Harp singings and analyzed just about every interesting statistic one could derive from those minutes. (This, of course, includes only to "official" singings for which minutes are kept; they do not reflect the thousands of local singings that are held weekly or monthly across the country, or ad hoc singings such as our afternoon singings at the FGC Gathering.) For Sacred Harp singers, this is a treasure trove of information about ourselves. But these records are not simply of academic interest, they have practical uses, too.

For example, I am resolved to learn and lead at least one of the three songs that was not led at all during 2005 at our next convention, just so they aren't skunked two years running. (Maybe I'll learn why they've been ignored. . . .) And I'm using the list of frequently used opening songs to expand my repertoire when I am called on to lead an opening song. Similarly, it is good to see what others frequently lead for closing and memorial lessons and may expand my options.

I'll just make one observation of my own. Of the 274 daily sessions recorded, the most frequently sung song -- Hallelujah -- was sung in just 53% of the singings. In other words, the favorite song of 2005 was sung in only a little more than half of the singings.

I am so grateful to live in a world where people sing this kind of music and for people like Glenn who care enough about it to document its practice and to share it with the rest of the singing community.

The 2005 Sacred Harp Minutes book contains 274 daily
sessions in 227 Sacred Harp Singings (an average of
1.2 sessions per singing). The singers sang a total
of 19,804 songs. They sang anywhere from 25 to 103
songs each session averaging 72.3 songs per day.
Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church achieved the
2005 record of singing the most songs (103) in one day
(pg 139).

"The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition," "The B.F. White
Sacred Harp" (Revised Cooper Edition, 2000), and "J.L.
White Revision of the Sacred Harp" (1911) were the
only books with enough songs sung from them in 2005 to
determine their "top songs" (except "Other Sources").
Note: "The Missouri Harmony, 2005 Edition" came out
with different song numbering than the previous
edition, so it was not clear which singings used which
book. Therefore, my results for the Missouri Harmony
singings were inconclusive and were not included.

Top Sacred Harp Songs in 2005
"The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition"
1 142 146 Hallelujah
2 140 155 Northfield
2 140 480 Redemption
3 134 282 I’m Going Home
4 129 475 A Thankful Heart
5 126 68b Ortonville
6 124 99 Gospel Trumpet
7 123 45t New Britain
7 123 171 Exhortation (First)
8 121 142 Stratfield
9 120 59 Holy Manna
10 119 40 Lenox
10 119 335 Return Again
11 118 569b Sacred Throne
12 117 63 Coronation
12 117 178 Africa
13 115 276 Bridgewater
14 114 143 Pleyel’s Hymn (First)
15 111 47b Idumea
16 110 203 Florida
17 108 384 Panting for Heaven
18 107 34b St. Thomas
18 107 300 Calvary
19 106 112 The Last Words of Copernicus
19 106 358 Murillo’s Lesson
19 106 503 Lloyd
20 105 32t Corinth
20 105 159 Wondrous Love
20 105 454 The Better Land
21 103 101t Canaan’s Land
21 103 186 Sheburne
22 101 270 Confidence
23 98 168 Cowper
24 97 47t Primrose
24 97 318 Present Joys
25 96 84 Amsterdam

Top Sacred Harp Songs in 2005
"The B.F. White Sacred Harp" (Revised Cooper Ed. 2000)
1 32 559 Will You Meet Me
2 26 571 Not Made With Hands
3 25 505 Cleansing Fountain
4 21 572 We Will Sing With the Angels There
5 18 500 Sweet By and By
5 18 563 Jesus is Mine
5 18 573 Trusting Jesus
6 17 133 John 4:14
6 17 478 March On
6 17 497 The Bitter Cup
7 16 54t Palmetto
7 16 336t Hester
7 16 511t Brown
8 15 38t Sessions
8 15 63 Coronation
8 15 99 Gospel Trumpet
8 15 171 Exhortation
8 15 270 Confidence
8 15 522 Shades of Night
8 15 567 Child of Thine
8 15 574 Sweet Peace
9 14 47b Idumea
9 14 98 Glory Shone Around
9 14 282 I’m Going Home
9 14 450 Leaning on Jesus’ Breast
10 13 36b Ninety-Fifth Psalm
10 13 138t Song to the Lamb
10 13 229 The Great Roll Call
10 13 384 Longing for Heaven
10 13 393t I’m Wandering To and Fro

Top Sacred Harp Songs in 2005
"J.L. White Revision of the Sacred Harp" (1911)
1 19 517 Not Made with Hands
2 10 486t Trusting
3 6 492 Love at Home
4 5 491b Jesus Died for Me
5 3 36b Ninety Fifth
5 3 54t Georgia

Top Songs from Other Sources (Including New
Compositions) in the 2005 Minutes
1 14 Joshua
2 12 Ashley
3 8 Nothing But the Blood of Jesus
4 5 A Light at the River
4 5 Mercy Seat
4 5 Sweet Beulah Land
5 3 Plum Grove Church


The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition 553 17256
The B.F. White Book (Cooper, 2000) 393 1843
J.L. White Revision (1911) 147 217
The Missouri Harmony 61 97
Christian Harmony (Carolina Edition) 48 56
Jeremiah Ingalls Christian Harmony 44 45
Social Harp 42 42
Christian Harmony (Alabama Edition) 31 38
Southern Harmony 28 31
Eclectic Harmony 21 21
Colored Sacred Harp 12 12
Oberlin Harmony 12 12
Eclectic Harmony II 9 9
Lloyd Hymnal 7 8
New Harp of Columbia 3 3
The Sacred Harp, 1936 Edition 3 5
Old School Hymnal 1 1
James Edition Book 1 6
Other Sources 52 102
TOTAL 1468 19804


Top OPENING Songs:
1 31 32t Corinth
2 26 59 Holy Manna
3 18 34b St. Thomas
4 12 49t Mear
5 10 31b Webster
5 10 47t Primrose
5 10 52t Albion
6 9 30t Love Divine
7 8 48t Devotion
8 6 101t Canaan’s Land
9 5 36b Ninety-Fifth
9 5 37b Liverpool
9 5 82t Bound for Canaan
10 4 31t Ninety-Third Psalm
10 4 171 Exhortation (First)

Other OPENING Songs: 27, 28b, 33t, 33b, 38t, 39t,
39b, 40, 45t, 46, 47b, 56t, 60, 61, 63, 65, 67, 68b,
72b, 73t, 73b, 75, 77t, 77b, 81t, 84, 111b, 114, 124,
129, 141, 145t, 145b, 155, 161, 168, 173, 176t, 212,
274t, 276, 277, 312b, 313t, 318, 319, 321, 335, 345t,
381, 410b, 415, 448b, 452, 475, 479, 481, 565, 567

(During Memorial Lesson):
1 5 122 All Is Well
1 5 45t New Britain
2 4 30b Prospect
2 4 159 Wondrous Love
2 4 285t Arnold
2 4 348b Fleeting Days
3 3 146 Hallelujah
3 3 163b China
3 3 425 Golden Streets

Other Songs Sung IN MEMORY OF THE DECEASED (During
Memorial Lesson): 28t, 32b, 33b, 34t, 34b, 48t, 50b,
52t, 61, 68b, 69t, 70t, 74b, 80b, 82t, 86, 97, 114,
128, 134, 138b, 144, 176t, 179, 209, 212, 229, 236,
270, 288, 299, 303, 312t, 330b, 338, 339, 340, 341,
347, 358, 389, 390, 418, 420, 430, 448b, 452, 454,
460, 475, 498, 499, 542, 547, 549, 564, 566

(During Memorial Lesson):
1 9 340 Odem (Second)
2 4 70b Save, Mighty Lord
2 4 179 The Christian Warfare
3 3 33b Abbeville
3 3 68b Ortonville

Other Songs Sung FOR THE SICK AND SHUT-INS (During
Memorial Lesson): 26, 30b, 34t, 39t, 45t, 57, 58, 61,
65, 72b, 81t, 86, 97, 101t, 107, 111b, 129, 143, 146,
154, 163?, 183, 201, 218, 225t, 274t, 277, 288, 294,
315, 318, 344, 347, 348b, 371, 385b, 389, 400, 421,
425, 452, 457, 472, 475, 490, 499, 510, 515, 531, 542,
546, 566, 569?

1 57 62 Parting Hand
2 36 46 Let Us Sing
3 27 347 Christian’s Farewell
4 9 146 Hallelujah
4 9 323t Mullins
4 9 521 Parting Friends (Third)
5 8 56t Columbiana
6 7 45t New Britain
6 7 45b Imandra New
7 3 69t Minister’s Farewell
7 3 267 Parting Friends (First)
7 3 549 Phillips Farewell

Other CLOSING Songs Used: 28b, 30b, 32t, 34b, 36b,
37b, 39t, 57, 59, 63, 75, 78, 83t, 98, 127, 128, 133,
142, 143, 145b, 155, 157, 159, 198, 208, 212, 217,
235, 240, 270, 276, 277, 278b, 282, 312b, 323b, 331,
335, 343, 345b, 348b, 362, 452, 475, 481, 488b, 494,
503, 512, 544, 559b, 566, 569b

SONGS SUNG ONLY ONCE IN 2005: 41, 69b, 80t, 116,
160t, 263, 275t, 293, 414, 423, 449, 483, 488, 493,
539, 541, 553, 562

SONGS NOT SUNG IN 2005: 169, 407, 465

Compiled by Glenn E. Latimer
(, July 30, 2006

(Revised on 7-30-06 at Glenn's request to correct the identification of the Cooper Book and other small items. On 8-22-06 I deleted the "Discrepencies" sections at Glenn's request.)
Your blogger, leading in Missouri, in his convention shirt.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Why I believe I am not God

A long and thoughtful amount of comment has been generated in the last week or so about Rich's objection to his meeting citing the concept of "that of God in every one" as the principal basis for the Friends' Peace Testimony.

Pam, in her own posting on the topic at Reaching for the Light, asks why it makes any difference what George Fox meant by the phrase; if our modern understanding of the words rings true for us today, why shouldn't we use it in our own way?

I commented on her post and concluded:

I confess I used to hold to the modern, proto-pantheist understanding of "that of God" until I read the Benson pamphlet, and the references to Fox he cites. I'm now convinced that Fox's use of the phrase is more meaningful and more powerful not because he said it or because it is more "authentically Quaker", but because it rings more true.
Pam replied, identified herself as a "pantheist" and asked:
What I am yearning to know is that - why and how is that interpretation more true for you???

I have to admit that for me it's disturbing because I hear overtones of a statement that leaves me cold -- that people are inherently separate from god, that they may be infused with god, inspired by god, but that left to themselves, they are utterly god-less.
So, here's my attempt to reply to Pam's question and tell why (or, perhaps "how") I believe that God is God and I am not. That is, I understand God as having a distinct identity and existence from myself or any other part of Creation. Creation is the Creator's work, and reflects much about the Creator's nature, but is nevertheless distinct, just as an author of a book or painter of a painting is distinct from the book or painting.

I therefore recognized as true Lewis Benson's explication of what George Fox meant by "that of God" in every person, referring not to some piece or spark of God's "essence" that is innate to a human being, but refers rather to that part of every human being that reflects and is aware of God and which, if answered, will increase and deepen the person's awareness of God.

Fundamentally, I can't "explain" why I believe as I do; I just do. I got here by a long spiral of spiritual and religious study and growth that is peculiarly my own, (and who knows, I may someday leave it by the same route). I certainly didn't get here by a strictly logical analysis, though I do think it makes the more sense than any alternatives I know of. And I don't believe it solely because it is the way God describes himself and is described in the Bible, though it would be difficult for me to accept a concept of God that cannot be squared with the biblical account. And I don't believe it solely because it is the way Quakers have understood God, though knowing that this has been Friends' understanding confirms that my understanding is correct.

I can't date exactly when I first tilted towards this view, but I think it might have been when I took a class on "Holocaust Theology." The rabbi who taught it explained that, to Jews, the relationship of God to human beings is analogous to that of a parent to a child. By that, he meant that the Living God created and loves humankind in the same way as a mother gives birth to and loves her child. The two beings are distinct, but in a relationship that is intimate, loving, eternal, and evolving; the child is made in the image of the mother and father, but is not identical to either of them. This explains in part why so many of the characters in the Hebrew Bible are depicted as conversing with God, or arguing or bargaining with him as a child might with a parent. (Ever have a teenager?)

I can't vouch that the rabbi's statement is an accurate representation of Judaism, but in the context of what we were studying, it began to make a lot more sense than my previous I-am-God-and-God-is-me-and-we-are-all-together understanding. That is, we learned that the Holocaust happened in large part because of human beings' idolatrous deification of themselves as the ultimate source of moral authority. When freed from the belief in a transcendent God, distinct from themselves and in relationship to them, they goose-stepped into the void and commited horrific crimes without as much as a blush. The 20th century should be Exhibit 1 in the argument refuting the proposition that human beings possess anything "divine" as part of their natures.

But the fact that God is God and I am not is only half of the story; the other half makes us Quakers instead of Calvinists.

Being human and not divine does not imply an unbridgable gulf of separation any more than the fact that two human beings are distinct from each other eternally prevents them from becoming lovers. Rather, it means that we -- God and humanity -- exist in relationship to each other, despite our ontological differences. To cite another rabbi's analogy, God says "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit. For without me you can do nothing." The vine is not the branch, but they exist only in relationship to each other; they are inseparable, but not identical. There can be no branches without the vine, of course, and the vine may exist without branches, but it won't bear fruit. Each is needed.

As long as I understand God to be distinct from myself -- but accessible to me -- I have someone to talk with, to guide me, to be accountable to, to bind me to my fellow human beings. I am not separated from God but in an intimate relationship.

So, apprehending God as a parent -- or as a lover, to use another commonly held Christian analogy for the relationship -- to whom I relate feels much more real and congruent with reality than the apprehension of God as an impersonal force of which I am a temporary manifestation. It gives meaning to my own existence as a human being while simultaneously ordering my relationship with all other human beings and the rest of Creation with which I'm irrevocably connected.

As firmly as I believe all this, I also realize that it is difficult to grasp. It's hard for me, and I believe it; I can only imagine how hard it must be for one who doesn't understand or accept the basic vocabulary of the argument. That's why I am so grateful at having been told the good news of the gospel by the Quakers. For me, Quakerism (or, more properly, God as preached by Quakers) has saved me from a life of isolation, fear, uncertainty, and impotence, terminated by death. Because of this, I fervently want others who are mired in such a life to understand that they have already been saved from such a fate and to live free from it. (If you're already free, then good for you; you don't need the gospel.)

I also realize, with my apostolic namesake, that no matter how logical, eloquent, or clever my explanation might be, if I can't say it with Love, it's as useless as a tinkling cymbal. For me, the hard work isn't in explaining what I believe, and why, it's in demonstrating it in my day-to-day life.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Finding love in all the wrong places

At, during, and after our post-Gathering gathering last night, several additional moving moments from the Gathering came to my mind. In remembering them, I realized that they came during parts of the Gathering that I have usually found to be among the most disappointing, and that part of why they feel so important is that they surprised me, coming from the last place I usually find anything worthwhile. (This is somewhat comparable to the "oh no" experiences that turned out to be blessings Martin Kelly describes.)

Plenary sessions. To my surprise, I enjoyed and got a lot out of two of the plenary sessions I attended.

The first was a talk by Sallie McFague, a theologian Vancouver School of Theology. I have a prejudice about so-called "earth-centered" theology that often makes it difficult for me to listen very seriously to anything so-labeled. I also have a prejudice about non-Friends addressing the Gathering -- especially about religious topics. I won't defend either prejudice, I'm just acknowledging that they're there and may taint my reception of what I hear, as well as reinforcing the prejudice.

But McFague curiously drew me to her message. Her main point, as I recall it, is that when God declared creation to be "good", he meant all of it, from the smallest bacteria to the blue whale and Sequoia tree. Therefore, man's dominion over creation has to be understood as involving a responsibility as well as a prerogative. It denotes the office of steward rather than overlord, and that our failure to recognize this is a direct cause of the environmental crises we face today.

I can't say why she touched me, exactly, but it had something to do with her affirmation of her Christian identity and her willingness to fight the good fight from inside that narrative rather than going into self-exile, and her ability to do so on Christianity's own terms.

I also appreciated her drawing the distinction between "pantheism" -- everything is God (or God is everything) -- and "panentheism" -- God is imminent in everything, in active relationship with the universe but nevertheless maintaining a transcendent and distinct identity from it. In other words, God is not Creation any more than a mother is her child, but rather is involved with and cares about creation the same way a mother loves and cares for her child; they are distinct but inseparable. I learned and accepted this distinction in a Lutheran college theology class years ago, but haven't heard it as simply expressed in a long time. I found this a refreshing correction to the pantheism I think I hear in a good deal of Friends' talking and writing about our witness on the environment.

I also appreciated her frankness during the questioning, especially her response to a question asking, If human beings are simply one organism among zillions and has no privilege over any other, how can we justify fighting diseases like small pox and HIV-AIDS? May not they be the Earth's way of rebalencing or protecting itself? As I recall, she simply acknowledged that that was a hard question and that she didn't have a ready answer. I found that refreshingly candid, though I did think it was funny she hadn't developed her thought on this obvious question.

And, I was impressed with how long she continued to answer questions after the talk -- to the point that Bruch Birchard had to call it to an end because he was exhausted. I then got involved in a conversation with Friends Journal colleagues, and a half hour later turned around and Sally was still talking with Friends in the front of the room. This to me was a sign that her message was a genuine ministry and not just a stump speech.

I was also deeply moved by Sue Williams. She had a solid, peaceful presence, and her message of hope in desperate situations was inspiring. I loved the way she gave concrete examples, stories of how people in different circumstances -- many of them horrific -- simply did what needed to be done with what they had at hand. They didn't wait for permission or a grant. They simply went to the prison and asked questions, or discovered the one house in a village where the fugitives came for surreptitious help at night and got supplies to those houses. It reminded me of the workshop I attended last year about La Chabon, the French village that sheltered and protected Jews during the Second World War and whose residents described what they did as nothing extraordinary, they just did what had to be done.

This message gave me hope.

Do Quakers believe in evil. One afternoon, I attended an Advancement & Outreach Committee program called "What do Quakers believe?" I didn't know what to expect, and found what I expected. I didn't find it to be particularly inspiring or enlightening. But there was one moment.

The leader had been asking us to align ourselves on a continuum on several questions about belief, from "absolutely yes" on one end to "absolutely not" on the other. One question was "Do you believe in evil?" Most Friends (surprisingly, to me) clumped more-or-less near the "Yes" end of the continuum. But one young woman stood far at the other end, indicating that she did not believe in the reality of evil at all. The leader asked her to explain herself, and she gave what sounded to me to be a niave, almost Pollyannaish answer about the good in everybody.

But then an older Afro-American woman Friend who was observing the exercise looked at her and asked with astonishment, "Haven't you ever faced evil?"

The question answered itself.

Closing worship. Finally, I found the closing worship on Friday morning to be unusually deep and meaningful. Though it was nearly as talkative as most closing worship meetings I've attended at the Gathering, I found nearly all of the ministry pertinent and connected. I remember three messages in particular.

The first was from a disabled Friend in a wheelchair who said, with great difficulty, "I felt very welcome at this Gathering. But I will not rest until everyone feels welcome."

The second was by a Friend who called upon Friends to reclaim the prophetic Power that the apostles and early Friends had, and that without that Power all of our good ideas would do nothing but gather dust alongside all the other good ideas of history. His ministry was with a powerful and fervent voice that told me that he was speaking what he knew. I also noted how he removed his ballcap when speaking, in the manner of previous generations of Friends.

Most unexpectedly, I was touched by the epistle read calling on Friends to take concrete action to reduce emission of greenhouse grasses. It was read by members of a workshop, all of whom stood as a body. Again, my prejudice against explicit calls to political action in meeting for worship was initially at work, and again it was overcome. I found the statement to speak directly to my condition as someone who had not yet actually accepted the urgency of the crises and who has discounted the value of individual efforts to reverse it; perhaps influenced by Sue WIlliams' message the evening before, while hearing the epistle I felt compelled inwardly to examine my individual contribution to the problem and to find ways to reduce it, not because it will have any discernable effect, but as a matter of faithfulness.


I was glad to rediscover that, even though I am a man of many opinions and prejudices, I still have the ability to be surprised and to modify or abaondon them when necessary. I've always known this about myself, but sometimes have evaluated it as an unfortunate inability to take a stand or sustain a commitment. This time, I'm seeing it as a good thing.

Friday, July 14, 2006


All of this very hot afternoon and evening (and between innings), I've been writing a post inspired by this excerpt from Johan Mauer's Can You Believe? :

Once I was a member of a meeting of ministry and counsel, and we were encouraging a thoughtful seeker to consider membership. I was startled by her response: "You don't require enough of me. You need to have a deeper and more challenging dialogue with me, or I might not believe either you or I are worth it." Since one of the ministry and counsel members at the time was uncomfortable with even the minor threshold we already had, her objection led to some interesting discussions! To risk a bit of overinterpretation (I believe I'm on solid ground), I heard her saying that invitation without repentance either demeans membership or demeans the member. Don't take me for granted!
Under the title of "Why should I join a church that will take me as a member?," I examined my meeting's membership packet and showed how it confirms this Friend's complaint: We don't require very much to be a member of our meeting.

But I'm setting that aside because I realize it's a cheap shot. I realized while writing it that I was falling into the Christian glee club trap identified in the Convergent Friends On Fire interest group. That is, it was so easy to complain about how generic and flaccid our membership requirements, but that turned out to be my way of avoiding the commitment I was advocating that others have to join the meeting, a more difficult undertaking.

This is a sin I am too often guilty of: finding the flaws in others, their shortcomings, and analyzing them to death -- it's a tendency that is dangerously close to cynicism and isn't very helpful to anyone. I can do it only when I feel alienated enough from my target that I am actually saying, "Thank you, God, that I am not as other men are." I hate it when that happens.

This reminds me of a meeting of our clerks team several years ago. We were discussing concerns about the lack of depth in our meetings for worship and various proposals to fix the problem. After a lot of discussion, one of my colleagues said simply, "The way to deepen our worship is to worship more deeply." It really was that simple.

The way to make membership in my meeting more covenential is to be more covenantal with Friends who belong to my meeting. The way to make a commitment to understanding and living the authentic Quaker gospel a criterion of membership in my meeting is is to understand and live that gospel myself.


I'm looking forward to our potluck and meeting tomorrow night with Friends from the Twin Cities area who attended the Gathering (more than 45 were invited). We'll have a meal and then a centered sharing of our experiences. We did this last year and it proved to be very valuable. I hope that the predicted warm temperature (90+ F) won't keep people away or wither us too soon. To try to keep cool, I'm making this.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Back home in Minnesota

It is nice to come home. I'm always relieved to see that the house hasn't burned down. Our (almost) 15 year old neighbor, Viking Girl, took care of everything, and I am grateful. The tomatoes are growing but not yet ripe, but weren't dead. The peas have withered from living green to a paper-like, brittle brown -- exactly like the peas we saw by Quaker House in Seattle. The morning glorys are blooming, as are some unidentified but beautiful blue flowers planted in the "purple cone-flower" section of the garden.

And now, about the Gathering.

To start the story backwards, the only bummer I had was losing my camera on the day we arrived in Tacoma. It disappeared somewhere between the King Street train station in Seattle and PLU. I had big plans for taking photos, especially of Sacred Harp singing, Friends from my home meeting (for the newsletter), and our trip to Lummi Island, and already had a bunch from the train ride west and an extra memory card, but when I unpacked on Friday night, the camera wasn't there.

I immediately made all the necessary calls -- Amtrak stations in Seattle, Portland, and Eugene, the restaurant in Tacoma where we ate on Friday night, and, when they eventually decided to answer the phone, the Tacoma Amtrak station. Nothing. I even called the Tacoma bus company and got a lovely woman who groaned sympathetically with me when she, too, came up emptyhanded and I said "You were my last hope." "Your last hope? I am sooo sorry," she said, and sounded like she meant it.

Then, on the answering machine here at home: "Hi. This is John at the Tacoma Amtrak station. A conductor told us that a party of three or four may have left a camera on the train today [June 30] and I'm wondering if it was you. Please call me to see how we can get it back to you." I immediately called John, and after a few more hours of telephone calls, he just called to say that they'll box it up & train it to the Amtrak station in St. Paul where I can pick it up. Whew. It isn't a terribly expensive camera, but it is a good tool and takes nice pictures and I'd just upgraded a bit to it, and I'll be glad to have it back.

So all's well that ends well.

But, even with the what-an-idiot-I-am cloud hanging over me because of the lost camera, I found the Gathering probably to be the best I've ever attended though it's always dangerous to rank things like that. (It was my eleventh since 1983, so I've obviously missed a lot of good ones). I always enjoy the Gathering, but often I enjoy it the way I would a family reunion orvacation and not especially as as religious event or experience. But this year I felt a lot more happening on the deeper levels.

Convergent Friends interest group.

The most distinct experience came from the amazing interest group meeting on "convergent Friends" already noted by Martin Kelly, Liz Opp and Robin who coordinated the evening. You can read what they did at their blogs.

For me, the session started as an unremarkable event, with introductions and a go-around the room. (I really liked the introduction: name one spiritual practice that you practice regularly.) But after the introductions of attenders and the leaders ended, I felt a real covering of the meeting begin. It started for me with a Friend telling the story of the first Friends meeting in Galilee and how the leader of that meeting loved the twelve dolts who just didn't get it, and stuck with them, even unto his own death. A lesson about belonging to something -- or to someone -- I believe.

Then a woman stood and sang, with great force and power, a spiritual I had never heard before that she had prepared for the workshop on John Woolman. The song consisted of a single sentence sung two or three times each verse. The two verses I remember went like this:
I asked Jesus if it would be all right if he changed my name.

Jesus told me that the world would hate me if he changed my name.
Then, as she finished, a Friend who had earliler been admonished to postpone asking a question during the leaders' opening presentations tried to ask her a question. He was gently cut off again and reminded that we were in worship. I was immediately glad, because the song was still working its way through me and didn't want the meeting to dissolve into discussion. But when he got up to walk out, I felt sad and sorry.

Before he could leave the room, however, another woman spoke directly to him. I can't remember exactly what she said, but it was to the effect that his question was part of the worship, too, and that she wanted to hear his question, that we all needed to hear it. He stopped and asked, "So I can ask my question?" And she said, and the group assented, "Yes."

So he sat down, and addressing the singer by name, asked, "What did Jesus ask you to change your name to."

For me, that was the moment it all cracked open. What had all the marks of dissolving into a disruptive, disconnected discussion was redeemed by the loving and courageous voice of the woman and the equal courage of the Friend who returned to ask his question, and by the Living God who visited with us for a while.

The remainder of the worship was deep and most of the messages had the character of testimony of a quality I have seldom if ever witnessed in a Friends meeting.

I can't remember everything that followed, partially because I was trying to get up the nerve to answer the Friend's question myself. Instead of simply standing and saying it, I took out my pocket New Testament to look up the verse I wanted so I could read it accurately, but couldn't find it.

What I was looking for was this:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15 NIV).
That's how Jesus changed my name (and yours too), from servant to friend. That's what I wish I had said.

The rest of the meeting was a you-had-to-be-there experience that I can't describe here.

Like others who have reported, there was a funny moment near the end when the Friend got a cell phone call while testifying, giving the leaders the opportunity to break the meeting on time. And I enjoyed meeting some of the other bloggers and posing for photos with them. But I mis-heard the directions for the follow-up meeting with the young Friends and stood for a half-hour at the bell tower instead of the clock tower and missed most of the subsequent conversation with the young Friends.

There was something very real and very powerful going on in that meeting. For myself, I took it as a call to stop whining about the lack of evangelical fervor of contemporary Friends and to be a little more fervent myself.

Sacred Harp singing.

I got to sing from the Sacred Harp five hours a day, three in the workshop and two more in the afternoon. For five days. At our conventions, we generally sing about six hours, but only for a day or two. Was this heaven, or what?

The workshop went well from my point of view, but I'm hardly objective. All I can say is that I loved every person in the workshop more when it was over than when we began, which is always a good sign. I'll leave it to other workshop participants to say more about it.

It was the afternoon singings that felt particularly sweet and surprising. I was a co-coordinator of the afternoon sings with two others, my workshop co-leader and a Friend who has faithfully assembled the afternoon singing for many years. Last year, he led a movement to ask the Gathering planning committee to give us two hours to sing.

We had noticed that the afternoon singings were often kind of ragged and inconsistent in quality. The first fifteen minutes or so were spent organizing it and rearranging the chairs from the previous hour's activity, and the end always came before we had really settled into a single heart and mind. There was also a tendency to sing too many difficult songs too early in order to get them sung, and not enough tie to sing simpler ones that wouldn't overwhelm newer singers from the start. And many Friends were unable to sing because of unavoidable conflicts during the singing time slot. So a lot of us asked for a two hour singing slot, and it happened.

The room assigned for the workshopand the afternoon singing was adequate, but far from optimal. It was too warm, smallish. and the carpeted floor absorbed rather than reflected the sound. While we found it adequate for the workshop (and we couldn't find anyplace better), for the afternoon singing we wanted something more satisfactory. My co-leader had early on identified the porch on the south side of the University Center, under a parapet, that, along with the concrete floor, gave good amplification as a promising site for the afternoon singings.

I initially resisted singing two hours outdoors because it often hurts my voice, but when the group decided on Sunday afternoon that it was where they wanted to sing, I went along, and I am glad I did. The afternoon singings were well-attended -- between 30 and 40 singers at all times -- and the quality of singing was unusually good. I think that having the two-hour format allowed more experienced singers to join in as they could, and being outside attracted those who would not have found us in our fourth floor workshop room.

One of the nicest things was seeing the many Friends who stopped briefly to observe us singing and the smiles on their faces. We also heard many comments from Friends from all parts of the campus who could hear us and that it sounded beautiful.

One day, though, a woman came up the steps and stood there, obviously waiting for us to finish a song so she could tell us something. When the song was over, she said, "I just came from the Healing Center way across on the other side of campus." "Oh no," I thought, "she's going to tell us that our caterwalling sent some poor Friend into a relapse and to show some consideration for others and take our screeching indoors."

But she actually said, "It sounds great!"

I spoke with another singer near the end of the Gathering about how well the afternoon singing went, and he said, "I wanted to walk across campus and hear how it sounded myself, but then I couldn't sing, and I want to sing." He spoke my mind, too.

On the second to last day, during the brief silent worship that ended each afternoon sing, several Friends -- five or six of them, each of them accomplished and experienced singers -- spoke as to how they had first heard and learned to sing Sacred Harp music at a Gathering (as I had) years ago and how happy they were that it led them to singing in their own home communities.

Freedom Friends Church.

The final thing I want to mention right now was how much I enjoyed the outreach event that Peggy Senger Parsons and Alivia Biko gave on Thursday afternoon. They are the pastor and presiding clerk, respectively, of Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon, and gave a demonstration of the kind of worship they hold there. I liked many things about the demonstration, but especially the explanation that Peggy gave for singing as the first part of the meeting. It puts us all in the same key, she said, and is likely to make what follows in harmony. I've found that to be true not only with music, but also in the semi-programmed worship at Minneapolis Friends Meeting where song and a brief prepared message often begins the meeting and sets the tone (another musical metaphor) for the remainder of the open worship time.

I also was struck with the simple but profound testimony Peggy gave when asked "What about Jesus?" Among other things, she said that she could no more not be in relationship with the resurrected Jesus than she could forget to breath.

She also was asled to explain why Freedom Friends Church was not now clear to affiliate with either its immediate ancestor, Northwest Yearly Meeting, or its FGC-like alternative, North Pacific YM. She explained that the radical inclusiveness that Freedom lives out, and its reunciation of fundamentalism in all its forms, puts it "out of harmony" with NWYM's Faith & Practice. But when asked whether her church was in harmony with North Pacific's Faith & Practice, she also said, "no", but more for the things that NPYM's F&P does not say than for what it does.

I was pleased that so many other Friends were able to attend that session. I believe that the ministry Peggy and Alivia are carrying out in Salem has meaning and importance to the entire body of Friends, especially those affiliated with FGC, and I hope we have more opportunities to hear it.


This is a long post -- perhaps too long for this medium -- but I wanted to get it out while the Gathering was still somewhat fresh in my mind. I may have more to say later, but that's it for tonight.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

After the Gathering

What a week was the Gathering.

I am so full of joy and gratitude that words will not come. I always enjoy the Gathering, but this year I had experiences that were qualitatively different -- deeper, potentially transforming -- than I remember from the past. But I'm still processing and trying to decide which ones to write more about, and want to give it a little more time before writing them. I'm looking forward to the get-together at our house on Saturday for Friends from our meeting (39 of whom attended the Gathering, by my count) and the other local meetings where we'll share a meal and conversation about our experiences. Perhaps that will help me know what to write about.

So I'll start with our trip after the Gathering. At this moment -- early Saturday morning -- I’m sitting on the front porch of Lovely Wife's Sister Holly’s home on Lummi Island, looking south at the Strait of Georgia and other San Juan islands, watching a cruise ship make its way up the channel to Alaska and tiny swallows dart up to their nest under the eaves. Large mug of strong coffee. Roosters crowing. The Lavender Festival is being held down the road this Saturday morning, and the scent of lavendar saturates the air, even at a quarter mile away. Mt. Ranier visible in the south more than a hundred miles away like a dream.

Fields of lavender on Lummi Island

Yesterday, we had a delightful drive up here, making our way up on less-travelled roads on the map marked in black where we could poke along at 45 mph or so without hurry or worry, along coast lines on narrow winding lanes and through broad green valleys. The day was brilliant and clear. Seven hours and two ferry rides later, we arrived well before sunset. Right behind us were Jeff and his beautiful Max. He had ridden his bicycle from here to meet her as she rode south from the Canadian border, 45 miles to the north and who were, unbeknownst to any of us, on the same ferry. Then, after rounds of hugs and a tour of the place, and a couple glasses of red wine, we had a wonderful meal, followed by some time in a hammock on the porch, looking south, watching the day fade slowly away.

We watched the 3/4 moon rise slowly from the east while the sun was still in the western sky. But after it finally got dark – about 10:30 local time – I saw the moon’s reflection in the water, brilliant and so white it was a source of light itself. The gentle movement of the water made the reflection spread to look like a long, well-defined line of iridescent white light shining into the night sky above. We all watched in awe together as the reflection slowly moved west over the water as the moon rose higher in the sky. I am so happy to live in this world, and to the God who made it possible

The sight inspired Lovely Wife and me to sing, in harmony, a favorite German folk song:

Oh lovely moon, you shine so brightly in the sky,
Like a lamp of silver riding high.
O’er city streets you cast your silvery light,
Making all things beautiful and bright.
Every lover will discover
All the joy a shining moon can bring, as I sing:
Oh lovely moon, you shine so brightly in the sky,
Like a lamp of silver riding high.

Oh lovely moon, the scholars say you help the sun
Make the tides of ocean ebb and flow.
Surely you can move the heart of my loved one,
As she gazes on your silvery glow.
Stop and hover, right above her,
And reflect love’s message as I sing:
Oh lovely moon, you shine so brightly in the sky,
Like a lamp of silver riding high.
Thanks be to the God who put the moon in the sky and who raised the mountains out of the sea.