Monday, July 30, 2007

3d Annual Pearson Homestead Singing

On Friday, four of us drove to our friends' homestead near Ogema, Wisconsin (about 180 miles east of here) for the 3d Annual Pearson Homestead Singing weekend. 

I wrote about last year's singing here , and the first year's here. I'm glad I checked the previous years' reports, because I was about to begin this one with "What a weekend!" just as I did last year's. And reading about the beauty of the place, the joy of singing in the outdoor screened building, the mountains of delicious food, and the deep and interesting conversations driving there and back (and stopping for ice cream on the way home) tells me that I really may not have much left to say that would be new.

This year, we had 16 or 17 singers in all, a little fewer than past years. Most of them Quakers from the Twin Cities and Eastern Wisconsin, with a handful of singers from the Twin Cities and Madison singing groups to boot. Only one singer was entirely new to Sacred Harp, but she is an experienced and well-trained musician who understood perfectly how to read the shapes and how to sing, and so the singing school didn't last even a full hour and she was ready. We stopped singing separate parts shortly after lunch on Saturday.

We were showered with a blessing of basses [did I just coin a new aggregation term? In addition to a blessing of basses, may there be a treasure of trebles? an aggravation of altos? a trophy of tenors?]: six of the 16 were natural basses, and if we had each stayed in the bass section we would have blasted out all of the other parts. So, just like last year, I spent most of Saturday singing as the second alto, and just like last year I found it exhausting learning a new part, even to familiar songs. Later in the day when a versatile Twin Cities singer (herself normally a tenor) arrived and was able to replace me in the alto section, I went home to sing bass. That made five of us singing out of our regular sections in order to balance out the group -- two natural basses sang tenor; a tenor sang treble; and another tenor and I sang alto

Even with so many of us singing off part, the quality of the singing was extraordinary. The parts were balanced. The acoustics were amazing -- even though the walls are screened, the wood roof and floor provided enough resonance to make it easy to sing and be heard without straining. Once again, we roused an echo off the surrounding hills with David's Lamentation (#268), much to the delight of LeVerne. But we got it from other songs too, particularly later on Saturday. 

After she retired from singing on Saturday evening, Elizabeth came back to the singers and urged us to go outside and walk around the hill behind the screened room to the camping area and listen to the singing from there. I did, the next morning, and was as stunned as she was. I don't know if it was the filtering effect of the trees between the hill and the singing, or the effect of the sound off the water of the lake, or what, but from this distance (which might have been 100 yards or so) the music was extraordinarily clear and beautiful. The edges were smoothed just a little to make the blend particularly pleasing.  With the smaller number of Sunday morning singers (about 8 at the time) the articulation of the words was especially sharp and I could hear each word clearly. It was easy to imagine being on a ramble in the woods and hearing this sound come from who-knows-where and stopping dead in my tracks. You would have gotten no argument from me if you said it was an angel choir. Is this heaven? No, it's Sacred Harp singing

God also gave us three of those spectacular midwestern summer days he is so famous for. Radiantly warm -- mid-80's, I'd say -- but low humidity. Just warm enough to be happy to be in the shaded screened building, but comfortable enough to be happy sitting around the dinner table outdoors, or on the porch. Swimming was also just the right thing for later in the afternoon. Bright blue sky; puffy white clouds. An almost-full moon rising early in the evening. A night cool enough to appreciate having brought the sleeping bag. 

On Saturday, especially in the afternoon and evening, we sang more challenging songs -- challenging to me who was unfamiliar with many of them (even after having returned home to the bass section), at least, and songs that don't get sung so often. We sang a whole string of Christmas songs and then Easter Anthem (#236). We sang Sawyer's Exit (#338) [to the tune of Rosin the Beau], Plenary (#162) [to the tune of Auld Lang Syne], the temperance hymn Oh, Come Away (#334) ["Heav'n's blessing on your plans, we pray! Ye come our sinking friends to save, And rescue from a drunkard's grave; We welcome you here!"], and two songs with words in them that don't come up in everyday conversation, The Last Words of Copernicus (#112) ["And thou refulgent orb of day in brighter flames arrayed. . ."] and Kingwood (#266) ("Unthinking man, remember this, Though fond of sublunary bliss, That you must groan and die"]. On Sunday we struggled through the sublime Rose of Sharon (#254) -- twice! (Though we didn't do it a lot, one of the nice things about an unofficial singing like this is that we can decide to sing a song over again, or work on a difficult part, if we want to without anyone getting all huffy about it. I understand and accept why we don't do this as a matter of course, but it is nice to have places where we can

Also on Saturday, Carol led a song in memory of our friend Minja Lausevic, a delightful woman and singer who died two weeks ago at the age of 41. It made me remember that it was two years ago that we remembered the similarly premature death of Elizabeth's partner, Lou Ann, and last year of Hibbard Thatcher

On Sunday, we sang for an hour, then had meeting for worship, and then sang some more. We stopped at noon, and then ate our last dinner together. There was still lots of good food, and apparently lots of good conversation left, too, because we just sat around and talked and talked, with some nice long moments of silence, too. It was so peaceful and relaxing. I'd been reading the final Harry Potter book, and at one point I said, "I feel that, if I had a wand, I'd just wave it and have all these dishes wash themselves and put the food away. But wait! I have ten of them," and so began to finish up our time together. 

I also greatly enjoyed the conversation I had on the way home with my friend, Frank. We've known each other for years, but only recently have had the opportunity to talk at length. (I had a similar pleasure driving his wife to yearly meeting in May.) We have a lot of common interests, and viewpoints as it turns out, and it made the long drive home seem effortless.

Of course, it was effortless for me -- Gerry did all the driving in his 25-year old VW Vanagon. Despite his giving us all of the necessary disclaimers befitting a vehicle of that age and era, the old thing drove flawlessly. (The four of us in the bus were in our 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, respectively; I don't know why, but I found that interesting.)

Now, back on the front porch with the full moon high over head, it is warm and the crickets are cricketing. It's time for bed. "I lay my body down to sleep, peace is the pillow for my head, while well-appointed angels keep a watchful station round my head." (Hebron, #566)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

To be stuck inside of Amsterdam with the Minnesota blues again. . . .

Lovely Wife was supposed to be home Monday afternoon from her conference followed by Quaker study course on European government in Brussels, where she's been for two weeks. Then came the e-mail that her flight turned around over England and returned to Amsterdam because of mechanical problems. She'll be home Tuesday afternoon.

Then the e-mail on Tuesday (today) that, no, she won't be able to be on that flight either, but to expect her around noon on Wednesday, to be followed later by her luggage (which is on a plane headed first to Detroit. . .).

This has been particularly hard for her, being away two additional days (so far) knowing that her mother has begun to receive hospice care in anticipation of the life-ending illness I wrote about earlier, but it has given her some alone time in what sounds like a very nice airport hotel (if that isn't an oxymoron) to do some writing and thinking about her mother and father, all at the expense of Northwestern and KLM airlines. And it sounds like the food is pretty good, too.

I do hope she's home tomorrow.

When forgiveness makes a headline

Thank you to Peggy Senger Parsons for finding another example of the Gospel in action (post date: 7-15-07) , and for the most brilliant nutty proposal for a new national holiday, Scooter Libby Annual Pardon Day. A sign of a prophet is the ability to read the signs of the times and relate them to the Big Story.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Introduction to a Quaker wedding

A couple in our meeting is getting married tomorrow morning. The woman attends our meeting with great regularity and takes an active part in it, though she has not applied for membership. The man also attends, with her, but more regularly worships at an ELCA Lutheran congregation near here. The wedding will be held in that that congregation's building, and it will includesome very Lutheran elements, including organ music, two hymns, an invocation and scripture reading by the pastor. I was asked to welcome the attenders and introduce the Quaker elements of the wedding.

Here is what I plan to say:

I've been asked to say a few words about a Quaker wedding because it is likely to be unfamiliar to many of you. Just as with all true worship, the aim of a Quaker meeting for worship is to experience the presence of God among the assembly of believers, to offer prayer, praise and thanksgiving, and to be taught.

Our Quaker forebears discovered and practiced a radically simple formof worship consisting of regularly meeting together in quiet contemplation without human direction or pre-arranged programming, confident that God is indeed present wherever two or three believers are and will teach them what they need to learn directly and inwardly, often without words at all. We continue to worship in the same way today.

Often, God’s spirit will move one or more of us to minister to the meeting; this ministry, at its best, comes from God, but through the Friend who is called to speak. Ministry may take the form of a vocal prayer, sharing of a personal experience or spiritual insight, a song, a reading of scripture or recital of poetry, or other form of expression. Our conviction and experience is that any worshiper may be called to minister. A message is usually brief. It is not expected to be polished or conventionally eloquent, but should be sincere and intended for the entire meeting.

Today’s wedding will take place in the midst of an otherwise ordinary meeting for worship after the manner of Friends, though with the special purpose of witnessing K and A make their marriage covenant with each other before God. After these opening words, a hymn, and an invocation by pastor B of this congregation, we will settle into a reverent silence. Each of us will then, in our own way, call the Living God to be among us, to witness the promises K and A will make, and to pray that they be given the strength necessary to keep them. When they feel the time is right, they will stand, take each other by the hand, and make their promises aloud in the presence of God and these their family and friends.

They will then sign the certificate of marriage, certifying in writing the promises they have just made. They will return to their seats, and the certificate will be read aloud to the meeting. You are invited to sign it as witnesses to these promises, after the meeting is over. This document is often displayed in a Quaker home as a daily reminder of this happy day and the promises that were made.

We will then continue in free, open worship. During this time, if any of you are moved to offer a message to K and A and the rest of the meeting, please stand if your are able (or raise your hand if you are not) and wait for a microphone to be brought to you so that you can be heard. Please try to leave adequate space after the message of a previous speaker before rising so that we have time to fully appreciate what was said.

When the time seems right, I will signal the transition to the final stage of the wedding by shaking the hand of a person next to me, and you are invited to do the same. We will then conclude with a hymn, after which K and A will leave the room with their families to form a receiving line over yonder. You are then invited to meet them and proceed for refreshments, signing the certificate before doing so.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

At the doctor's

We took my mother-in-law to see the doctor this morning, "we" being Lovely Wife's Elder Sister, and Elder Brother who flew in this morning on his way to a business meeting in Houston. The visit was to get advice and information about a pressure sore on Barbara's buttock that has gotten much larger and deeper.

The doctor wasn't Barbara's regular doctor, but his wife, and she was familiar with with our situation. She listened very attentively as we explained about Barbara's recent visit to Washington and her return last night and our concern with how the sore was getting worse.

Before doing anything else, God bless her, the doctor said, "The first thing you need to know is that this is is not your fault. It is what happens when you are elderly, immobile and incontinent, and it cannot be helped. It is not the result of bad care giving. The fact that this hasn't happened much sooner is because of the exceptionally good care you have given. I want you to understand that." She said this with such sincerity, and dare I say love, that it put us at ease and made us feel we were all in good hands.

She then examined the wound by very gently pulling back the dressing. She talked constantly to Barbara, apologizing for any pain caused by removing the dressing, noting a wince pressure was applied to a particular place. She quietly pointed out something or another to the pre-medical student who accompanied her, estimated the size of the wound, and then covered it up again.

She then explained the difficult truth. This sore is not going to heal. It will become infected, and that will be a "life-ending event" (the only euphemism used during the visit). It may not happen for some time, but it will happen. We cannot fix the wound, she said, but we can and will provide care to keep her comfortable and free from pain. We will get help in our home from a wound team in dressing the wound and keeping it clean, and from the hospice team who will visit and provide other services.

All of this was delivered in a perfectly sincere, respectful, sympathetic manner. she looked us in the eye. There was no question that she understood the import and gravity of the information she was giving us, or that she felt for us.

This confirmed what the hospice nurse in Washington had told us, and it now feels as if we've moved into some new stage of our lives, where the end isn't just theoretical any more but within sight, and approaching. It feels right somehow to be here, now. There is a kind of holiness about it.


We are now sitting on the front porch, the three of us, in the cool and dark of the evening. The birds have mostly stopped singing, and it’s either too cool or too early for crickets (maybe both). Barbara is sleeping in her chair, and there is a glass of good red wine nearby. The leaves of the trees are whispering in the breeze. Somewhere to the north a dog is barking, and to the south a train is crossing the bridge over the Mississippi. I feel so incredibly in love at the moment, not in love with something or someone, but simply in love. As one of my favorite Sacred Harp songs, Aiken, goes,

Within thy circling power I stand,
On every side I feel thy hand.
Awake, asleep, at home, abroad,
I am surrounded still with God.

Blow that whistle, tell the truth

Here is one courageous man.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Safe at home

We got our tents and gear packed up and all got home at about 2 pm. It was a blessing that we lived so closely. I'm not as seriously tired as Only Son, but I would not have looked forward to a long drive home. The house was quiet, with Lovely Wife in Brussels. Her sister and mother are coming here on Tuesday, with a visit to the doctor set for Wednesday; we may learn more then.

Our Singing from the Sacred Harp workshop concluded on Friday morning. It was a sweet and tender time as it usually is. Participants were very generous in their gratitude, and Carol and I were genuinely pleased. This was the most successful of the four times I've led this workshop in terms of the strength of the singing, which started strong and got stronger each day. No one seemed to be frustrated or left behind, mainly because we listened to the two or three participants last year who felt we moved too fast and we kept things at a very steady but slower pace. We taught each part separately, for example, all the way to the end, until I led Northfield (#155), which is relatively easy and a lot of fun to sing, and which the class sang without review of the individual parts. Otherwise, we were happy to teach each part, and as the week went on it got better and better.

We ended the workshop by singing Parting Hand (#62). This is often used to close a convention, but is difficult because the practice is, after the notes are sung, to set down your book and walk around the square shaking hands with the singers as you sing the first verse or two. It's awkward to carry your book with you, glancing into it as you are supposed to be looking into the eyes and shaking the hand of your friends at the same time. So we taught the song earlier in the week, and for the closing sang the notes and first verse, and then la-la-la'd the music as we walked around shaking hands, after which we returned to our books to sing the second verse.

It worked well. The melody is a dance tune with a kind of lilt to it that leaves one with a different, perhaps happier feeling than the closer I usually use, Raymond Hamrick's incomparable Christian's Farewell (#347) which always brings the tears.

The afternoon shape note singing also had its best session on Friday. A few experienced singers who hadn't been with us earlier joined the group, and those who were learning were far enough along to make a strong class. Good choices in songs were made, mostly ones that we had done earlier in the week so newer singers weren't starting each song from scratch.

And the intonation was extraordinary. It is a funny thing about Sacred Harp singing that I've never understood that some singings are consistently out of tune and others involving the same singers seem to hit it right on. Among the variables I've noticed is pitching and the nature of the room. A pitcher who consistently pitches too high or too low invites singers to bend the pitch to a more natural key, which is usually done inconsistently and results in a muddy sound. An insufficiently resonate room also makes singers over-sing in order to be heard, and this tends to make them go flat. Since we were singing in the same outdoor space as we had each of the other afternoons, the pitchers much have been more accurate. Whatever the reason, the singing was very strong and I was proud to be there.

The evening plenary with George Watson was also an extraordinary experience.

Prior to the program proper, the Nightingales led the Gathering in singing. There were a number of details with how this would happen -- would we sit or stand? on the stage or on the floor? what songs? what verses? -- some of which weren't resolved until we were ready to begin. One detail that I am so happy did get worked out was to delay singing our closing song, There are Angels Hovering 'Round, until after the pre-speech business of introducing next year's Gathering clerks and an FGC Development Committee skit. Angels is a lovely song that also creates a kind of tender feeling that would have been lost if we hadn't waited. My thanks to Jeanne B for noticing the problem and solving it.

At any rate, after the first songs, the introductions, the skit, and Angels, Bruce Birchard introduced George Watson. George is a 92-year old Quaker elder who is best known, besides his own considerable work as an able administrator and clerk, as the husband of Elizabeth Watson. The two of them formed a team for seventy years, speaking, writing, traveling, and otherwise working with and among Friends. They are exemplars of the kind of liberal Protestant point of view that has characterized our branch of Quakerism for the last century or so, and they are the kind of people that gave it a good name.

George, who is nearly blind, spoke for two hours. His daughter, Carol, who accompanied him on the stage and throughout the week said he arrived on campus with four hours worth of material.

To a disinterested observer, George essentially reminisced about his life with Elizabeth. I can imagine that some found it tedious. But to me and many hundreds of others, it was fascinating to hear how these two people worked as a team to serve the Society of Friends and beyond during perhaps its most vibrant times during the last two-thirds of the 20th Century. The audience listened with a lot of love as he told the story, long though it was.

He was reminded to dismiss those who had to care for children or others who had to leave at 8:45, and then continued a full 45 minutes before he finished. And then, after two hours of essentially historical and personal information, he concluded something to this effect: I have something to thank Marcus Borg for besides speaking as the Elizabeth Watson memorial lecturer. At the age of 92, and having read as much as I have, I seldom find anything new in my reading. But I did find something new in one of Borg's book, The Heart of Christianity, the idea of the "thin place" where the border between the spiritual and material worlds is thin. Jesus represented a thin place, as did Mohandas K Gandhi. I now realize that I was privileged to live my entire adult life in a thin place as the husband of Elizabeth Watson.

He stopped with that. Bruce came to the stage and stood quietly behind the podium. Given the time, it seemed certain that he would not entertain Q&A, but it also seemed that he didn't know quite what to do. The room sat in rapt silence. And then a woman started to sing in a thin voice, "There are angels hov'ring 'round. . ." and the entire crowd arose and joined her, singing strong and in harmony. It was amazing. A good friend was in tears afterwards after seeing the many elders standing there who will soon be hovering around us, unseen.

I was stunned. I had worried that George's talk would be exactly what it was, a mere reminiscence without challenge to the Gathering or relate to our theme (". . . but who is my neighbor?"). But what I hadn't reckoned was how inspiring it was to hear it. As a friend who knows the Watsons well told me, "I love the Watsons, but I am not a Watson worshiper; I know their flaws all too well. But what well-spent lives."

I realize that these have been lengthy posts, and yet they convey only a sliver of all the things that happend at the Gathering this year. They're only a sliver of the things that I experienced at the Gathering. But I wanted for my own reasons to write as much as I could remember contemporaneously, without post-hoc perspective and before the tricks that memory plays on me. All I can say now is that I am very happy to have had a part in organizing it and to have attended it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Marcus Borg

July 6
FGC Gathering, River Fall, Wisconsin

Marcus Borg was the plenary speaker last night. I have mixed feelings about the event, so I'll start with the positive.

He is a very engaging human being -- friendly, funny, gracious, generous. He seemed genuinely happy to be here among us, even though he has achieved a kind of rock star status in certain circles and makes a lot of talks to groups like ours. And his talk was lucid, well organized, logical, and a joy to hear. He took questions gracefully and answered them directly. And he wore bright red socks, which endears him to me.

And he has a message to deliver. I won't try to summarize his work as a biblical scholar other than to note that the is one of great renown, and that the is a leading light of the Jesus Seminar. Of course, among the liberal Quakers at this Gathering, his scholarship and authority is accepted fairly uncritically. (A participant in the historic Jesus workshop said that the leader noted that Borg and the Jesus Seminar scholars' scholarship is not universally accepted as accurate, but didn't go deeply into the nature of the controversy. Something of that controversy can be found here. (Thank to Marshall Massey for this lead, which he gave in comment elsewhere.)

But here are some concerns I have. First, I'm disappointed that the largest audience at a plenary, by far, was for an address by a non-Quaker. Even discounting the fact that part of the crown were non-Gathering people from the nearby community who were invited to attend, the number of Quakers attending far exceeded that for the first two evenings where we had Quaker speakers. Perhaps there is something about a prophet being without honor in his own land that makes an outsider look more attractive, but we do have thinkers and writers and dare I say theologians within our own family that have something to say to us.

(Borg's address was the second Elizabeth Watson lecture, paid for by the Quaker Universalists group from a legacy for that purpose. John Shelby Spong was the first speaker in the series two years ago. It appears that this group thinks it's somehow important to have liberal Protestants address us.)

Second, I am not sure I could cite chapter and verse to support this statement, but what I heard Borg say sounded to me an awful like early Quakerism, starting with Barclay. Examples include his interpretation of the doctrine of original sin (this refers to the fact that all human beings sin, not a statement about their inherent nature), salvation (it's a liberation from sin, not an insurance policy to some kind of afterlife), and the meaning of the resurrection (it has meaning only if Jesus lives in you, regardless of his historicity). I kept looking for some new insight, something I didn't already know from my study of and experience in Quakerism, and I'm not sure I found very much. It was much more coherently presented in modern language than is often the case, but I'm not sure what of the content was new.

[Gathering moment: A man who is sharing my table just brought a cup of coffee to the table. He must have seen me looking at it with desire -- maybe I look as weary as I feel -- and he offered to give it to me, which I accepted. What a lovely man.]

Except for this, which I liked: He ended his talk by saying that, when asked by an evangelical Christian whether Jesus is his personal savior, Borg says, "Yes, I can say that, but only if I can also say that Jesus is my political savior, too." By this, he means recognizing Jesus as Lord in its political sense, not only as an savior of me as an individual. This seemed to me to also be a perfectly orthodox Quaker statement. Again, I can't cite to a source as I sit here in the cafetria, but I remember statements of George Fox to the extent that the king of England is subject to the Soverign God, and that the king's authority is legitimate only to the extent to which he acts in accord with God's will, and that the Day of the Lord consisted in large part of when earthly rules exercised their power in accord with God's design and abandoned their own selfish aggrandizement.


Well, I've finished my coffee and need to get to the final Sacred Harp singing at 3:15. The workshop ended this morning with good feeling and gratitude. More later, I hope.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

4th of July at the Gathering

July 4, 11:15 pm, in the tent.

Let’s see far how much I can report before I drop.

Tuesday was the first day of rain in these parts in several weeks. It came around three o’clock in the afternoon, a little before the afternoon Sacred Harp singing was to take place, outdoors, under a large overhang of a building. It was dark, and though it wasn’t raining particularly hard, it looked threatening. We sang only one or two songs when a siren went on. We all assumed that that meant a tornado warning – meaning one had been sited – and everyone dutifully went indoors, except for Robin, Jerry and me who like watching storms and are probably irresponsible. It didn’t seem to us that it was likely that anything was going to happen immediately, so we stayed outside and sang tenor-treble-bass trios for a few minutes. The rest of the group, went to an interior bathroom as instructed, and started singing there, wowed by the resonance.

It turned out the siren was merely a severe weather alert, not a tornado warning, and the rain and storm passed within 15 or 20 minutes, and we resumed singing. The group was a bit smaller – maybe 25 average at any one time – but it was plenty strong. We are still having trouble getting everything out of the altos that we need -- they're all singing the right notes, in tune, but they're holding back. (The morning class did better after Carol gave them the "alto talk".)


Tuesday evening has interest groups, which are two hour sessions on a wide variety of topics. I hadn’t taken time to carefully read the impressively long list in advance, so when I did, I of course was drawn to more than one, but I eventually chose to go to one because (in part) I knew where the room was. The announced topic was “Intrafaith work among the various branches of Quakerism.” It was led by Andrew Esser-Haines and Erin McDougall, two young Friends currently studying at Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion, respectively. They are visiting yearly meetings and conferences of Quakers in various branches to hold similar conversations. Each comes from a FGC background but have gained appreciation for the other branches and their Quaker bona fides in recent years.

I was fascinated by them and their plans and wished they had said a lot more. Instead, they had us do various exercises on the topic. There were only about fifteen who attended, and it seemed that nearly half of them were there in a support role for Andres and Erin. The remaining adults, with the exception of a young mother and her baby, were my age (53) or older, I think. Some were members of yearly or monthly meetings that are affiliated with Friends United Meeting or one of its constituent yearly meetings, and they have a vital interest in fostering better communication with FUM Friends.

While I would have loved to hear more about what they are planning to do this summer, I didn’t feel that I connected very well in my small group and left a little disappointed. But I did learn one great conversation ice-breaker: Name three dead Quakers you’d like to invite dinner, and why. (My answer: Bayard Rustin, Lewis Benson, and Margaret Fell. I didn’t have much of a “why” to it.)


We had our Wednesday morning rebellion in the workshop, but it was of the good kind. Carol had gone a little past the 10 o’clock break time and was in the middle of teaching a song, Parting Friends (#267) when she noticed it. She finished teaching each of the four parts, and then announced the break without singing the words. Ixnay on the ake-bray, said the class, emphatically. They wanted to finish the lesson and sing the song, which they did beautifully. (Carol taught the song using the Dorian mode, with the raised sixth step in the minor scale, and did it beautifully. I’d never sung it in that mode before – or never heard it if we did, since only the tenor part has the raised sixth.)

Tomorrow we’ll hold a memorial lesson for our worship sharing. Among others, we will remember the step-mother of one of our participants who died earlier today. He has left the Gathering and won't be with us.

The evening plenary this year was a performance prepared and produced by children and adults in the Junior Gathering with the assistance of two artists from In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. On Wednesday night, the Gathering has an intergenerational event, usually professional performing artist perform, people like John McCutcheon, Si Kahn, Pete Seeger, Troutfishing in America, Robin and Linda Williams, etc. This year, though, we decided that there was enough talent within the Gathering community that we could produce, rather than merely consume, an entertaining and educational intergenerational event. So we asked HOTB to do a residency with the Junior Gathering, mainly 5-6 graders with some assistance with 7-8 graders, and adult volunteers.

Starting on Sunday, the HOBT artists helped the children develop a play, design and paint props and cardboard puppet characters. The story they came up with was a visit to a town on the Mississippi River by an unusual woman. The river fell in love with her, and though she was unusual, the elder of the town counseled treating her with respect, but the other townspeople didn’t agree, and eventually drove her from town. But the children intervened and brought her back. Or something like that – I was part of the shape note singing group that provided incidental music for it and couldn’t see the whole thing. But it had all of the elements of a HOBT production: an assortment of colorful fish, animals, and insects, the sun (played brilliantly by my friend Jeanne), and a river. The children seemed happy and delighted and were delightful. The audience also seemed to love it and were amazed at how much could be done in such a short period of time. Liz Opp predicted this might be the sleeper event of the Gathering, and she may be right.

Afterwards, I had a good conservation with Chris M and his friend John Harting about membership in a Quaker meeting. It was more interesting and complex and subtle than I can relate here, but I wanted to note it because I haven’t had very many such conversations here, mainly because of the various work I have to do. I enjoyed this one very much.

I enjoyed eating dinner with some of the Quaker bloggers who are here. It was especially nice that some non-bloggers were there who wanted to learn more about blogs and blogging. But it was hard for me to have a very satisfying conversation around a big table in a noisy dining room.

I finally got to go contra dancing tonight. I only stayed for two dances because I needed a shower before the locker room closed, but I got to dance with the one woman who is not Lovely Wife who I always try to make a point of dancing with. She is an old friend who I met years ago at Illinois Yearly Meeting and with whom I have special affection. Her daughter is one of the six (!) who are having a sleepover in the big tent next to mine with Younger Daughter in honor of he 4th of July.

July 5
I got a nice, long e-mail from Lovely Wife this morning from Brussels. It was wonderful to hear from her and to think of her in this lovely old city. Hi, sweetie!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Blogging from the Gathering: Kody Hersh & Joanna Hoyt

Monday night,

I attended the Bible half-hour led by my friend Christopher Sammond. He’s using the book of Esther – the only book in the Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned – and tying it into the theme of the Gathering, “. . . . but who is my neighbor?” He’s taking a big risk, in my opinion, by having it be interactive where he asks questions & gets answers from the attenders, but it worked fine; I think he got his points across. It will be interesting to see how he develops the theme during the week.

Our Singing from the Sacred Harp workshop went very well this morning. Carol taught the first hour, warming up our voices and bodies by stretching, worked a bit with intervals and the scales, and then taught Old Hundred. I led the second hour, and then she led a very productive worship sharing. Of the many wonderful things that were said, the one that sticks with me now at the end of the day (I’m writing this at 10:30 pm from my tent) was the woman who said she had learned to let go of her need to understand it all before singing and to let those from the past who are singing over her shoulder to help her learn. I’ve had that same experience myself. Carol then did a very good thing by reviewing and leading again each of the songs we learned that day.

Our impression of the class is that it is exceptionally good. The altos need to sing more confidently and strongly – which shouldn’t be hard because they seem to be getting the notes right. Carol will have the “alto talk” with them tomorrow, I think.

I didn’t have to attend the Gathering Oversight Committee meeting this afternoon since my fellow co-clerk was going, but I had left my water bottle there and went to the room to retrieve it. As soon as I came in the door, someone opened the circle and added a chair for me, so how could I leave? It was remarkable that the rest of the hour was filled with the most mundane, almost trivial matters; things are going so smoothly and happily that there wasn’t much to do.

Besides my water bottle, I had misplaced a file with the lyrics of the hymns I’m leading on Thursday night, and of a “statement” written by the Nightengales about how they want people to sing on Friday. I was in a near panic; I’d looked everywhere in the tent, the car, my pack, and my book bag, and nothing. I was certain I’d brought it, but I was now doubting. I called Lovely Wife and asked her to look on the dining room table, the only other place it might be, and no luck. I was almost resigned to the tedious job of retyping it all after lunch (during the time of the Oversight Committee meeting) when I looked for a place to put my backpack before entering the lunchroom. To my annoyance, every cubby already had pack in it, as did the top of each cabinet. So I had to look for a cubby that wasn’t completely filled, and found one with a very small purse/pack like thing in it. I moved it to one side so I could put my pack in it, and there was my file, stuck in the back, right where I’d left it at an earlier meal. Whenever this happens, I’m reminded of the parables of the lost coin and lost sheep and the joy and relief at finding that which has been lost.

I got to spend just a few minutes at the Lemonade Art Gallery opening and saw a number of paintings and other pieces that I liked a lot. I was especially taken with some self-portraits by one friend who essentially sketched herself while looking in a mirror – and not on the paper – and then did oil paintings based on the sketches. Each one had a bizarre distortion of her otherwise recognizable face – elongated lips in one, a funny looking nose in another, and so on. Liz Opp also displayed a very fine ink drawing of a northern woods scene she did for her partner a few years ago.

The afternoon Sacred Harp singing was amazing. I counted fifty singers at one point, and we averaged about 30 – 35 consistently all afternoon (well, 3:15 – 4:45). Leaders started with good warm up songs and we built up to more complicated ones. Especially later in the afternoon, we had an awesome bass section of ten that was very, very strong. We’re singing outside again, and one of my delights is to watch the reactions of others as they pass by. Some smile and keep going; others seem to be stopped dead in their tracks, and then they smile. Several people joined the group just out of curiosity. The 14 loaner books I brought were not enough. I’m going to encourage more people to buy their own at the bookstore.

After the singing, I had a wonderful conversation with Christopher M of Tables, Chairs, and Oaken Chests, about a lot of things, actually. I appreciated his reaching out and asking about the state of my meeting and of the conversation that followed. (I just noticed that he, too, is blogging from here, and he has put together a good list of other Quaker bloggers present on campus. Hi, Chris!)

But after all of the wonderful things of the day, the highlight was the evening plenary address by two young Friends, Joanna Hoyt and Kody Hersh. They had asked for, and we had helped prepare, that the entire program be considered worship, with people entering silently and refraining from conversation before the speakers began. The volunteer ushers who showed up did a wonderful job of conveying that message to Friends as they entered the room, and except for perhaps some conversation in the lobby that bothered some it was a very quiet, reverent atmosphere.

Zachary Moon, a member of our evening program committee who had agreed to invite and help support young Friends to address the Gathering, introduced them. Although I wished at times during the past year that he would have been a more communicative with the rest of the committee who had to take it on faith that he was doing what we had asked him to do, he lived up to his reputation as a man with a ministry and did everything we wanted and more.

The two young people were . . . . I can’t think of adequate adjectives: amazing; articulate; intelligent; funny; grounded; prophetic; observant; humble; earnest. Perhaps the word “faithful to the Truth” is the most all-encompassing. As one Friend testified in the worship that followed the talks, parents try to raise their children the right way, to show them the way to live, and then one day, their children call to them and show them the way to live.

I did take some notes during their talks, but won’t try to summarize what they said in detail – the program was recorded and should be available from FGC soon, and I urge everyone reading this to listen. I suspect, and hope, that some form of their address will also be published in Friends Journal. It felt at the moment like it might be a watershed moment of some sort; time will tell about that.

I will say only that they spoke to the need for radical authenticity, for letting go of all of the things we accrue to protect us from authentic living and relationship, and not just material things, but the more precious social and psychological defenses and protection we use to insulate us from Truth.

Joanna spoke of needing to reunite the false dichotomy between the love of righteousness (the love of God) and the love of fellowship (the love of our neighbor). She pointed out how too many Friends – and others – seem to practice the latter with too little attention to the former.

Kody, began by singing beautifully the first verse of Sidney Carter’s “Were you there?” (“When I needed a neighbor, were you? And the creed and the color and the name doesn’t matter, were you there?”).He observed that what the parable of the Good Samaritan does is transform the question from, “What am I obliged to do” to a more fundamental question, “Who is in need?”

The vocal ministry that followed was uncommonly rich and pertinent, and the fellowship time afterwards, where the speakers had a conversation with a smaller group of Friends was also affirming. Those who were there will never forget it. Whether any of us live up to the challenges they posed is another question.

I called Lovely Wife tonight after the program and told her how well it is all going. She reminded me that I was not at all sure how strong the evening plenary sessions would be this year; I know that the process by which we came up with it was spirit led and that we did not take certain easy ways out of some problems we had, but as we approached I was not sure that I – or others – would see the fruit of that labor turn out as well as we’d hoped. But so far, so good.

L.W. leaves for a professional conference in Brussels tomorrow morning, and then is participating in a Quaker study program on European government immediately afterwards. I will miss her as I always do when she’s gone, but this is a long trip in both distance and time, and I suppose it will be a little harder than other shorter trips. For now, though, I’m happy and ready for a good night’s sleep, which can begin as soon as Youngest Daughter and her friends come back from the dance, which should be in a few minutes.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Blogging from the Gathering: Cecile Nyramana

Cecile's Nyrimana's address was beautiful and powerful.

There was some concern when she arrived on campus that a combination of long-distance travel and family concerns may have left her exhausted and depressed. But when she met Ellen, a woman who acted as her translator and companion when she visited Northern YM in 2005 and who is playing a similar role this year, Cecile perked right up and seemed at home.

Her talk was preceded by drumming by about a dozen Friends. That, too, was remarkable and beautiful. The drummers covered a range of ages, from high school to 60-something adults, and they created a gentle, complex, and persistent beat. One drummer had a metal drum, resembling a hand-held steel drum, that sounded subtle musical notes underneath the drumming. We took a little risk, I think, in having something so unusual as the preplenary welcoming activity, but it worked.

Cecile spoke in English this year, it being her third language (the others being French and her native Rwandan language whose name I can't recall). She had a straightforward speaking style. She began with a historical and geographic background of Rwanda, then discussed the facts around the 1994 genocide, and then what she and others in Rwanda YM are doing to reconcile Tutsi and Hutu survivors. Cecile is Tutsi, and her husband is Hutu; she survived because he had found another Hutu family who permitted her to hide underneath a bed for several months -- when she was pregnant with her first child.

What struck me was how Cecile related her story of taking an Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshop with Hutu women and how this developed into several program or reconciliation sponsored by Rwanda YM. (She directs the women's section of the YM and is now its assistant clerk.) She told this story in such a plain, straightforward way, free of rhetorical ornament save for repeating the question, "But who is my neighbor?"

Her talk was relatively short and ended about 45 minutes before we had to be dismissed. It was followed by about 10 minutes of silence. Of course, a couple of Friends felt compelled to stand up and ask in one way or another, "What can we do?" to which no answer was given. Then the plenary was dismissed, and Cecile took some questions from those who remained. Once again, at least one Friend seemed to be unable to connect with what she said except on a political level, but nearly all of the other Friends asked genuine, human questions, and it appeared as if the experience was good for her as well as the others.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The All-Gathering meeting for worship this morning was hard for me. The new man that the hot shower had created an hour or two earlier had reverted to the sleepy, irritable man he was when he woke up. The ministry was pertinent, but not inspiring, to me, at least. But it was measured and not popcornish, which was a relief.

Then the moment of truth. I had been carrying some anxiety, too, about the fact that there were no chairs in the room where our workshop was to take place. I checked out the workshop room -- we were given the stage of the performing arts auditorium -- at 8 o'clock in the morning, and there were no chairs. I did some checking, and was assured they'd be there, and by golly they were, all arranged, too.

The first workshop session went well. Lots of familiar faces and voices, and some new ones. As we introduced ourselves the one high school student in the class said, "I took this workshop last year, and it's the first time I ever had any fun in one."

Now, later in the day: The first Gathering oversight committee meeting after it opened was held this afternoon, and it was remarkable for how little there was to say. People have been non-complaining, self-helping and problem-solving, and generally finding their way without complaint. Of course, no one has been here long enough to have real problems develop yet, but it was a good sign.

The afternoon Sacred Harp singing, outdoors again, under a shaded projection of a building, went very well. Again, the chairs showed up in abundance and on time. And so did the singers. It was a strong group with some new singers from the morning workshop and a lot of returning singers from past ones. We sang steady for about 90 minutes when one of us called it a day, which was about the right time.

I'm about to go to the plenary session to hear Cecile Nariyama of Rwanda Yearly Meeting at the first plenary. She spoke at Northern YM two years ago, and was profoundly moving. She is a delightful, strong woman. We're having twenty minutes of drumming immediately prior to her talk, and I'd better get there to hear it.

A sleepless night

The welcoming evening plenary is over. I had two very small bits in it, singing and playing my banjo. I did the first OK; blew the second, but it wasn’t too bad. I felt a lot of anxiety about it before hand because it hadn’t seemed well prepared; the parts were more-or-less ready, but how it fit together seemed ragged and uncertain as we went into it, especially after the rehearsal. I realize now that I kept a lot of tension in my trying to steer a program that was totally out of my control and for which I had no responsibility. As it turned out, it was lovely. Funny, friendly, low-key. The Prairie Home Companion parody was fun and more-or-less held it together. My very favorite act was Frank Wood and the Earth Quakers singing"My Quaker Lover" parody of the "The Frozen Logger." Frank had great presence and absolutely brilliant timing. The only problem was that it went on too long, which backed up some 9 o’clock activities (mainly Junior Gathering & High School parent meetings) but not too seriously.

I was also nervous about the workshop. Carol, my co-leader, and I wanted to start teaching a song other than Old Hundred (49 on the top), partly because we were a little tired of it and partly because we wanted a more traditional (read: Southern) sounding song to begin. We’d agreed on one (Primrose, 47t), and then later that evening she said she really wanted to start a new one (Devotion 48t), to which I agreed. But when I went to look at it, I realized that I didn’t know Devotion well enough to teach it (the alto and treble parts, that is), and even though it had more hopeful and positive poetry.

So for these and perhaps other reasons, I didn’t sleep well, even though Lovely Wife was there for the night. I finally got up at 5:45 and went hunting for a shower. I found a dorm but the doors were locked, not to open until 7. With my agitated state of mind, this was a blow. But soon someone came out and let me in, and I learned a great lesson. There is hardly any bad attitude that can’t be made better by a powerful, hot shower. (One reason I didn’t sleep well was that I hadn’t had one for a couple of days.) I felt like a new man.

Then to breakfast and meeting for worship, and then the first workshop session.

The best laid plans

Saturday afternoon, about 3:30

I had it all planned. I’d meet Lovely Wife and the children at the high school registration table at about 15 minutes before it opened at 2 pm. I’d already registered Youngest Daughter & her friend and all I needed to do was get Only Son signed in; the High School group doesn’t let anyone register early, or in abstentia. So I planned to be as early in the H.S. line as possible.

The first part worked; we were there before 2, and there weren’t more than a handful in line when it officially opened. But then, for reasons inexplicable to me even in hindsight, the line moved slooowly. Like molasses in the other part of the year. It took 40 minutes before we were done. The request to fill out a form that I had already filled out but had gotten lost was only a minute or two of that time. Otherwise, I can’t explain the rest of it, unless it was the one-person-one-job organization of the tasks.

All of which is of no great consequence, other than to take a half hour out of my afternoon to spend time with Lovely Wife and the other children before I had to get to the 3:15 workshop leader meeting, where I am now.

The clerk just did a very fine thing by reading the Purpose of FGC’s Gathering, a very nice statement approved by the Long Range Conference Planning Committee. As it reads from the chart on the wall:

The purpose of the Gathering is to help Friends

  • Know and deepen their relationship with the Spirit and with each other;
  • Strengthen their identification as Friends a among other Friends; and
  • Testify to the presence of unprogrammed Friends as a vital and unique faith community.
I like this. I wish it were more prominently publicized; it would put a lot of the things we do here in perspective.