Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Visitor to a Quaker Meeting

I was told of this post about a non-Quaker's visit to a Friends' Meeting, and thought it might interest others. Let me know what you think.

The blogger who hosted the post is named Evans but is not, as far as I know, relaed to me.

- - Rich

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Advices in Active Voice - A Meat-and-Potatoes Paraphrase

In theory, I have always felt that the Advices and Queries in each Yearly Meeting's Book of Faith and Pracice are vitally imporant for our life as a Religious Society of Friends. They should give us something meaty to chew on. If they really did, then the oft-quoted postscript "these things we do not lay on you as a rule or form to walk by" would be welcome - a warning to chew carefully and not swallow whole. But such a postscript becomes unnecessary if the advices themselves go down like watery soup.

As a practical matter, the Advices do not seem to be read, quoted or consulted very often in the Meetings I have known. Part of the reason, I now believe, is the style in which they are presented (after generations of rewrites by committees). They are mostly cast in the passive voice ("Friends are advised..., Friends are urged..., Friends are earnestly cautioned", etc.) In addition some of the actual advice is padded with unnecessary explanatory material ("From the beginnings of our society we have found it necessary... etc. etc.)

At the risk of hubris, I've now therefore tried doing my own rewrite of the Advices of NYYM - not to change the substance but to try to punch up the language just a little. I haven't left anything out because I disagreed with it, nor put anything in because I think it needs to be added. I've tried to keep as much of the actual functioning part of the original language as possible. It feels to me as if my new rendering is a tad more clear and more helpful than the original.

Please read the original 16 advices (you'll find them at this location in the New York Yearly Meeting website). Then compare them to my 16 "revised" advices below. I'd like to know what Friends think.

Advice to Friends from The Yearly Meeting

1. Hold regular public meetings for worship. Wait expectantly for divine guidance. Be diligent and punctual in attendance. Believe in and depend upon our Creator.

2. Read frequently the Scriptures and other books that inspire and instruct. Encourage your families and others to do so also.

3. Be mindful of your conduct and conversation. Observe the testimonies of simplicity and moderation.

4. Observe our Christian testimony for a faithful ministry of the gospel under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Remember that all have a responsibility in ministry.

5. Parents and teachers, exercise a loving and watchful care over children and youth. Meetings, help parents and children share religious experiences at home and in the meeting for worship. Give them an understanding of the principles and practices of Friends.

6. Parents and older Friends, be sensitive to the insights of younger people and keep a close and sympathetic contact with them. Children, love and respect your parents.

7. Work toward removing the causes of misery and suffering. Support efforts to overcome racial, social, economic, and educational discrimination. Bear testimony against all forms of oppression. Work for such treatment of prisoners as may help reconstruct their lives. Work for the abolition of the death penalty.

8. Refrain from practices that are detrimental to the body or the mind, such as the use of intoxicants and tobacco, and the misuse of drugs.

9. Avoid participation in lotteries, gambling, and betting, including schemes of chance that appeal as benevolences. Refrain from hazardous speculation. Do not engage in business that may be questionable.

10. Observe integrity in your living. Inspect frequently the state of your temporal affairs. In your dealings with everyone, endeavor to maintain a truly Christian character. Bear in mind the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

11. When contemplating marriage, seek divine guidance. Marriage is a life-long union of spiritual as well as temporal concerns. If you are united in your religious faith, you are likely to find not only a firmer bond of union but also greater strength in fulfilling all of life's undertakings. Therefore, when you contemplate marriage, acquaint your families and meetings with your intentions early and seek their approval. In this way you may avoid the far-reaching consequences of hasty and ill-considered action. Keep to the simple and solemn form of our marriage ceremony.

12. Conduct funerals and memorial meetings in a sincere spirit of worship. Avoid the display of floral decorations and the wearing of mourning. Adhere to our simple ceremony.

13. Take the opportunity, on occasions when special statements or oaths are required, to advance the cause of truth by simple affirmation, thus emphasizing that your statement is only a part of your usual integrity of speech.

14. Do not take of arms against any person, since "all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons" are contrary to our Christian testimony. Beware of indirectly supporting preparations for war. Examine in this light such matters as non-combatant military service, cooperation with conscription, employment or investment in war industries, and voluntary payment of war taxes. Be prepared to accept the consequences of your convictions. Maintain our testimony against war by supporting peaceful principles and the settlement of differences by peaceful methods. Lend support to all that strengthens international friendship and understanding. Give active help to movements that substitute cooperation and justice for force and intimidation.

15. Avoid any harshness of tone or manner when administering counsel or reproof, either privately or in meetings. Speak truth with love. Remember that if you would do God's work, you must abide in God's love. Even a seeming harshness may check the beginnings of true repentance, and a lack of sympathy may cause harm where only good was intended.

16. In Friends' business meetings, when there seems to be disagreement, encourage a free expression of all opinions. When you speak in meetings for business do not be unduly persistent in advocacy or opposition. After having fully expressed your views, recognize the generally expressed sense of the meeting. A deep and seeking silence can help to reconcile seemingly opposing points of view. Conduct your Meetings in the spirit of wisdom, forbearance, and love.


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Monday, August 24, 2009

Only One Christ - A message in Meeting on August 23rd

The following message was given at 15th Street yesterday (in words pretty close to this, though I am writing now from memory).

Our minds sometimes trick us into thinking that we have to choose between two seemingly different and opposing things when in reality they are only two sides of the same thing. For instance, we may think that we need to choose between justice and peace, between contemplation and action, or between faith and works. We Friends, at various times in our history have been especially prone to fooling ourselves that we have to choose between an "inner" Christ or an "outer" Christ.

If we really did have to make this choice most of us would probably choose the "inner" Christ, if only because it is primarily within us that we are able to hear Him and feel His presence. The Jesus of history may seem far away and hard to be sure about. We like John's description of Christ as the Word that was with God from the Beginning, as the Life that wells up in us, as the Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world. But John also said of this same Word that at a particular time and place it "became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth". It is important to me to know that when I wait on the living Spirit of Christ in our meetings and feel his presence here that I am also touching at least the outer hem of the garment of that man who "dwelt among us" in the flesh, who got his feet dirty walking the dusty roads of Palestine, who touched people and let them touch him, who started out as a baby and had to "grow in wisdom and in stature" just as we do. Who knew about hunger and thirst and weariness. Who could be tempted. Who was moved by compassion. Who could rejoice with his friends at a wedding and who could endure suffering and even death when that was the price of faithfulness. In worshipping his living Spirit today I am also worshipping the man Jesus Christ, not choosing one over the other.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

More Perspective on that dream

All three commenters on my recent post about a dream picked up on the dream's suggestion of some problems with the Religious Society of Friends. Martin also noted my "optimistic view outside of the meetinghouse" and asked how that's sustained. Actually, I think Martin meant "outside of the dream" rather than "outside of the meetinghouse" since he seemed to be referring to my statement in the post that "my conscious waking understanding of where the RSofF reallly is" is different than the picture presented in the dream.

This post is in part an answer to Martin's question. I also want to talk a little more about the dream itself. I generally assume that any dream reveals more about the dreamer than about the dream's ostensible subject. What this dream reveals may be that I was experiencing some discouragement at the time of the dream and possibly also indulging some self-pity. It is true, as the dream implies, that over time the Religious Society of Friends is losing membership and may also in other ways be going downhill and seem to be in danger of falling. But what about the dream's picture of Friends' obliviousness to this problem and what about its picture of my own place in the Society as an unheeded and nearly irrelevant critic? Is this picture accurate? If so, Martin is right to ask how I can in waking life be optimistic about Friends.

Well, as I said in the original post, this has been a period of some discouragement and sense of loss for me. People I've loved have died in the recent past; others are seemingly on a path of self-destruction; I myself have had significant health problems which are not life-threatening but sometimes lead me to feel diminished both mentally and physically. I'm sure that all of this fed into the dream. I do have realistic worries about the Religious Society of Friends, but it has not been my experience that these are ignored or dismissed by other Friends. Nor do I feel in general that my voice is marginalized or ignored. In the dream, I am sitting in the next to last row of the room where a meeting for business is taking place. Note that no one makes me sit there, it's just where I have placed myself. That being the case, it perhaps not be surprising that my dream-self has trouble making himself heard. I think this reflects a general principle: that in order to be heard in the RSofF or in life generally we have to participate as members of the body. (I notice that Martin extends the metaphor to say that he is sitting outside the meetinghouse altogether. I'm not sure whether he is saying that this is by choice or by some action of exclusion by those inside. From where I sit, Martin seems very engaged with Friends - if not in his own Meeting then surely on the internet).

In waking life I generally sit very close to the front or center of any meeting for worship or business that I attend, and I ususally find that if I make a contribution it is accepted and appreciated (though not always united with). The thing is, though, that all of this usually takes place in my own monthly meeting, where I know most Friends and most Friends know me. I have also been active in New York Yearly Meeting in the past, but the limitations on my vacation time, my energy, and my funds have all prevented me from attending in recent years. That may be why I am feeling more powerless in relation to the YM than in relation to my own meeting. It may also be why I felt myself to be in almost the back row when I had this dream. My waking self, considering the objective facts, would have to remember that I have been offered many chances to sit on Yearly Meeting committees, that I have recently even been asked to contribute an article to the Yearly Meeting's newsletter, Spark, and that there are even several Friends who read my blog when I am able to add to it.

What about the spiritual problems that really do face us as Friends? I acknowledge these problems and I acknowledge that I am unable to solve them. BUT when I focus on my own local Meeting and when I focus, within that meeting, on what I am called to do, then I feel empowered by the Spirit of God to do my part - - and to leave to others the responsibilities they have for their parts. It helps me to know that in fact there are many Friends doing wonderful things in my meeting, and it also helps that I have found reason over the years to come to love the Friends I know here, including some with whom I have serious disagreements. My direct answer to Martin's question about what sustains my optimism is this: I find that -- as I keep coming back to worship and I keep engaging in business meeting and in committees and I manage to be faithful to my own leadings --- I am able to see God at work and be serene about it. When I focus instead on major trends and on matters beyond my control then I lose perspective and the mood that pervaded this dream takes hold.

I have no quarrel with anyone who finds that in order to find Christian fellowship they must look outside of the present-day Society of Friends. For myself, however, I sense that Christ is leading me at this time to keep my Quaker ties very much alive.

- - Rich

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

My dream about Yearly Meeting

Last Sunday many Friends from my local meeting left for Silver Bay, New York to attend New York Yearly Meeting summer sessions. I was unable to attend this year (as I have been for several years), so I returned home and went about my usual activities.

Sunday night (or - - strictly speaking - - early Monday morning) I had a dream that seemed to concern the Yearly Meeting. Usually I don't remember my dreams so the very fact that I do remember it makes this one seem important to me. I will narrate it as briefly as I can and then comment on it.

In the dream I was in a large classroom, sitting in almost the back row. The classroom was the site of a meeting for business of the New York Yearly Meeting and the clerk of the meeting (not the person who is the actual clerk of NYYM in waking life) was sitting at the teacher's desk. Someone was reading a proposed State of the Society Report to the Meeting, which was expected to adopt it. As the reading progressed I realized that the room in which we sat was moving. Specifically, it was descending. In part of the dream it seemed to be moving downwards vertically, as an elevator would. In part of the dream it seemed to be moving down steep track as a roller coaster would. No one but me seemed disturbed by this downward motion, but as it became more rapid I began to wonder if we were moving downward at a normal pace or if we actually begun to fall.

As all this was going on I was also listening to the State of Society report and I noticed that it made no mention of a loss of members over the years. A person sitting behind me tried to get the clerk's attention to point this out but was not successful. Finally I called out "clerk,please!" and asked that something be added to the report to acknowledge our loss of members. The clerk responded that the minute had already been approved and it was time to move on to other business. Then I woke up.

comment: This dream is almost certainly about many other things in addition to the Religious Society of Friends and the New York Yearly Meeting. I've been profoundly affected by the loss of old friends to death in the past year and a half and also by the threatened loss of loved ones to disorders such as alcoholism and addiction and disease. Insofar as we and our friends and loved ones are "members of one another", the idea of "losing members" can have very broad application. In addition, my own neurological problems in the past year have made me very conscious of the aging process, of the thought that I may have crested the hill of life and be moving down the other side, and of the thought that I am slowly losing pieces of myself (members). So I admit that all of that may have its place in this dream.

But it's worth noting that ostensibly the dream is about a yearly meeting and its deliberations about its own state. In the dream the yearly meeting is moving downward rapidly and possibly falling. In the dream I am sitting near the back, far from the clerk, nursing doubts and fears that aren't heard. In the dream the meeting takes place in a classroom, but those of us attending it don't seem to be learning anything.

There is a sense of loss in this dream, and a sense of my own role being nearly irrelevant (next-to-last row in the classroom). This is quite different from my conscious waking understanding of where the RSofF really is. I have been very upbeat about Friends for many years. I'm not sure what, if anything, can be learned from this dream either about myself or about our meetings. But I thought it would be good to share it.

Comments welcomed.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Inconvenienced Again

Faithful readers of this blog (thanks to both of you) may remember that on January 3rd I suffered a seizure that landed me in the hospital for a few days. (See I've been Inconvenienced). At the time it was felt that this was caused by a sudden drop in blood sugar, mainly because a timely jolt of dextrose brought me out of it. It made a certain amount of sense because I am a type 2 diabetic and was taking metformin to keep my blood sugar levels down.

On Tuesday May 26th I suffered a second seizure. Like the first, it took place in my home before I had even risen from sleep for the day. Again the ambulance was called and again I was rushed to the hospital. This time, however, the EMT's measured my blood sugar first, determined that I did NOT have low blood sugar, and did not administer dextrose. I came out of the seizure anyway. So the good news is that my loss of consciousness apparently did not result from low blood sugar. This in turn means that my life was probably never seriously in danger. Further good news, now that a CAT scan, MRI, and EEG have been done, is that I don't seem to have any tumors or internal bleeds that might explain the seizures. The bad news is that I am therefore one of millions of people who definitely have a seizure disorder (or "convlusive disorder") of some kind,but no one knows why. Fortunately there are medications that can prevent such seizures and I am now taking one of them.

Other differences between the two seizures [too much informtion alert for the delicate of sensibility]: this one involved urinary incontinence and also left me sore all over and lame on one side apparently from convulsive tightening of the muscles when it was taking place. In both cases, it took several minutes after emergencing from the seizure for me to remember a lot of mundane facts (such as my address and what day it was) and to orient myself.

Anyway, that's what happened. Not much more to say about it except that I now feel much much better.
- - Rich

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mel Long: 1947 - 2008

The following was originally posted In July 2008:

Because of an excessively busy and sometimes complicated life, I haven't blogged in quite awhile, and have been procrastinating about finishing some posts on issues that seem important to me.

Right now, though, issues don't seem so important. I feel compelled to say something about Melanie Dee (Mel) Long, a woman whose goodness and vitality very much deserve to be celebrated. Mel died on June 28th in an automobile accident in Brattleboro, Vermont. I learned of this through a phone call from a mutual friend two days later.

I haven't seen Mel in 35 years or more and had only the most minimal contact by mail over the past decade. Yet news of her death came as a terrible blow. To give you a sense of who she was, I am going to draw on a published obituary, a blog item about a memorial for her, and a couple of pieces of her own writing.

The obituary for her was published at the Brattleboro Reformer's website. Lest this obituary someday disappear from the paper's website, I would like to quote it here (minus information on surviving family members that they might or might not want me to quote:
Melanie Dee "Mel" Long, 61, of Brattleboro, died in a car accident on Saturday, June 28. Mel worked as a gardener and pruner in the area and had also done work in the fields of reflexology, massage and dance. She was a regular at the Brattleboro Farmer's Market, offering hand and foot massage. Mel leaves her sisters...her nephew...and nieces. She was predeceased by her parents, Arthur and Dorothy Long. Mel especially enjoyed contra-dancing at the Greenfield Grange. She loved singing and harmonizing, and she played fiddle and guitar. She was deeply drawn to beauty in nature and loved hiking Mount Monadnock, and one of her very favorite places was Sunset Lake. Mel recently said that she loved growing her own vegetables at her new home on Black Mountain Road because it made her feel connected. Mel was very spiritual, feeling one with living creatures, and she had an affinity for aspects of Native American traditions. In the past couple of years she had enjoyed studying and practicing Spanish. She also cared deeply about other women who struggled emotionally as well as financially. FUNERAL NOTICE: Mel's sisters are planning to hold a memorial remembrance/celebration of her in the Brattleboro area at a later date.Friends and acquaintances who would like to come and/or would like to be in touch with her family at this time are invited to contact....

Mel apparently had quite an impact on those who met her at the Brattleboro Farmers' Market, for they held a memorial service for her (separate from the one that is planned by her family as mentioned in the obituary). This memorial was documented at the blog Rara's Market Watch. If you link to this website you will see two photographs from the memorial. One of these photographs includes a picture-within-the-picture of Mel herself. She is the woman in the picture on the white table who is wearing blue and is pointing at or touching her heart.

A number of other things about Mel are illustrated in a letter she once wrote to Communities Magazine. I'd like to quote that letter in full:

Dear Communities,
I was thrilled to discover a magazine about community living--thank you! I was very excited to read "The Reunion of Souls," by Nann Emerson Chase in the summer issue, about a community based on spirituality and in which the focus of relationships was to assist each other spiritually. ... As I read I started to get an uncomfortable sense of a lack of humility in the author, but brushed it off in my eagerness to find kindred souls. I've frequently experienced connections with people from other shared lifetimes and was deeply identifying with the words of the author.
Suddenly I read a sentence that stopped me short: "Here we mean someone of the opposite sex, as we believe homosexuality is not of the divine pattern." I've been "out" as a lesbian for 21 years, and though I'm quite familiar with this narrow kind of thinking, it always startles me coming from people who claim to be spiritually "evolved" ...
It's easy to bring our old beliefs about right and wrong to our new spiritual paths without realizing it. I come up against this again and again as I pray for humility, and for Love to be the strongest force in my life. In this society we learned that self-love is wrong, and so we don't want any part of humility because it feels like self-deprecation. It took me many years to realize that this isn't so. It's an aspect of true love of self, accepting the humanness and fallibility of the ego along with the divinity of each person.
In closing I'd appreciate it if you'd print the address of M.A.I.Z.E., the lesbian country magazine from Serafina, New Mexico.
Mel Long
Brattleboro, Vermont

This letter feels to me like a great example of who Mel was. It certainly illustrates her enthusiasm: After all, her first sentence began "I was thrilled...", the second began "I was very excited...". In the time that I knew her, Mel didn't use those words lightly, though she used them often. She really was "thrilled" and "excited" by people, by ideas, and by the possibilities of spiritual growth. The letter illustrates her lifelong interest in community, and explicitly mentions her "eagerness to find kindred souls."

The way she pointed out that writer of an article "lacked humility" and had "narrow ideas" was typical of Mel as I knew her, in that it was forthright to the point of bluntness, but still kind (Read it again, with all the surrounding material to see how she is seeking points of common ground with those she critiques). Her similar forthrightness about her own sexuality was also typical of her. She believed in her own humanity and dignity and defended the same for everyone else, regardless of their sexuality. She carried a special "concern" (as Quakers would call it) for the rights of women. And finally there are her wonderful and subtly balanced words about Love and humility. I had never heard her thoughts about humility before, and I see that she says it took her many years to come to the view that she expressed.

One other piece of her writing (literally her actual penmanship this time) is at this URL. It is a letter written in 2005 to the Water Resources Panel of the State of Vermont urging some restraints on the size of engines in motorboats in the Somerset Reservoir. "It is so important," she wrote, "to have wildernesslike waters for people to have quiet, solitude and see wildlife. It is also important for the wildlife itself!"

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