Thursday, March 6. 2008
I have updated my blog. I am no longer posting to this site, which is now an archive. For Benjamin Lloyd's blog, please go to the new blog.
Monday, February 18. 2008
Questpost 3: Initiative Posted by Benjamin Lloyd in Quaker, Quaker Quest at 09:23
And what of initiative? What of impulse? What of the creative act, which separates itself from conventional thinking and blazes a new trail? If we look at early Friends, we might say, yes - that describes them well. But it seems to me that we have lost our sense of respect for the individual's vision in my Yearly Meeting. It also seems to me that this resistance to initiative - to change - is changing.
Part of the confusion lies with a fundamental misunderstanding about how Quakers are supposed to make decisions. I think many Friends have adopted the notion that decisions can only be made collectively, and they follow this notion to a more oppressive one: that individuals can't make decisions, can't have initiative, can't be prophets or visionaries. I have referred to this tendency before as "hyper-egalitarianism". It is a syndrome born of the wounds of oppression. Many convinced Friends come to our Society wounded by the oppression of former religious affiliations, wounded by academic or political hierarchies, wounded by family dysfunction. I fear that we have too often let these wounds define our actions and set our agendas. And so these individual wounds create a collective one, in which the prophet is marginalized and muted, and the the collective trundles along in a state of constant confusion, waiting for direction but suspicious of anyone who gives it.
But Friends, we are a congregation of prophetic ministers, and our entire tradition is based on one man's vision of an ocean of light over a sea of darkness, and the direct communication he received from his Lord and Savior. This man is our role model. I think we must give ourselves permission to more intentionally walk in his footsteps. Recently, I have witnessed the Truth at work. In my own meeting, long plagued by difficult and often angry meetings for business, we have empowered our clerks to be leaders and learned to trust them. And so I left last week's meeting for business with a smile on my face. Not that everything passed with flying colors, no, there was an item in which there was no unity, and so it was sent back to the committee which proposed it for more seasoning. A year ago, this might have been an occasion for raised voices and high blood-pressure. At meeting for business it felt, for the first time, like business as usual.
And yesterday during a committee meeting at my Yearly Meeting, we confronted an issue with great emotion swirling around it. We were fortunate to have the clerk of our Yearly Meeting sitting in with us. We spoke at great length about to handle the situation. Then, showing initiative, our Yearly Meeting clerk proposed going to meet with the person in question. Like lightening, another Friend offered to go along. Just as quickly, I proposed minute of support of these two Friends. The Spirit moved with such force through us, and so quickly, some had tears in their eyes. But it was one person's impulse which moved it forward. If we had waited for "the group to decide" we would be waiting still.
And Quaker Quest too, is a story of individual initiative, which was then adopted and carried by a small group. I can sense the energy of the individual in my own Core Group: the attender who made an executive decision in order to avert a child care disaster, the excitement the seasoned Friend feels in proposing topics for our Quaker Quest sessions, my joy in organizing tasks and sending individuals out to make decisions and gather information about advertising.
What makes it possible to follow individual initiative is trust. If I don't trust my Friend, then I won't trust her initiative and I will resist her ideas. Trust, finally, is the trust we give the Holy Spirit, the trust we give to Jesus, the trust of handing our will and our lives over to a power greater than ourselves, to borrow an idea from another fellowship. If there really is God in all of us, then we are called to be faithful when that of God makes itself known through her or him, individually, through creative initiative, and to trust the sense we feel (if we feel it) that yes, we can safely and joyfully follow.
Monday, February 4. 2008
Questpost 2: Gusty winds Posted by Benjamin Lloyd in Quaker, Quaker Quest at 15:44
On Wednesday January 30th, some Friends gathered at the Pendle Hill study center to participate in a consultation on Quaker Quest, led by Elaine Craudereuff of F.G.C. Present were the General Secretaries of New England, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore Yearly Meetings, as well as representatives from Pendle Hill and F.G.C. Also there were invited Friends with an interest in outreach and/or Quaker Quest, which explains my presence there. The weightiness of the Friends there is a testament to the excitement QQ is generating.
As we gathered for worship that morning, joined by the Pendle Hill community, a cold front blew gusty winds through the campus outside, our cozy barn sheltering us from the buffeting gusts. There was ministry shared on the winds of change which spoke to my condition. I felt the truth about change, especially Spirit-led change which is what I sense QQ is, and the truth I felt is this: sometimes change comes charging in, disregarding sober deliberation, yes, even Quaker deliberation.
The day was spent participating in Quaker Quest exercises and hearing the program described in some detail. It struck me that a great part of QQ has to do with helping us learn to talk about our faith without equivocation, but still leaving room for mystery, which is an essential feature of our faith. It is this celebration of mystery, which Rufus Jones has written so much about, which makes our faith so hard to describe in this current age of sound bites and outcome assessments. But we discovered last Wednesday that we can describe it, especially when the words come from our hearts. I discovered that it takes courage, because in defining my faith I must take a stand about a few things, and risk excluding someone, even the one I am talking to, who may say "that's not for me." So I wonder if in our determination to make our faith accessible to everyone, we haven't made it an ersatz faith, which says nothing in an attempt to speak to everyone's condition.
We ended the morning session participating in a mock QQ session, in which we were given new name tags. Some said "Quaker" and some said "Seeker". I was a seeker. Being an actor, I naturally jumped at the chance to play a role, and the role I chose to play (having no direction in the matter) was of a suspicious seeker, a man filled with doubt about religious dogma, uneasy about Spiritual language and looking for a reason to leave. In short, the kind of "tough nut" we may occasionally draw to us through QQ. After the initial presentations (on "Quakers and Worship", ably presented by a Philadelphia and New York Friend), we broke into small discussion groups with two or so "seekers" joining a "Quaker". This gave me a chance to flesh out my character, who I came to call "Jack". I could tell my Friend from New England who was our "Quaker" was a bit taken aback by "Jack". Later, during the "worship" portion of the mock session, "Jack" spoke awkwardly from a sitting position about not really understanding what was going on. Later, Friends lovingly teased me about my Jack performance, calling me a trouble-maker. But what I was doing was intentional, and meant to assist in grasping what we are about in offering QQ to the wider world. "Jack" became clearer to me at the end of the day.
It was a a joy to get to know Friends from other Yearly Meetings, and to feel my kinship with them. Over lunch I shared stories of home meetings with Friends from New England and New York. There is so much common experience and the bonds felt loving and familial to me. I also met a young Friend who works at Pendle Hill is much interested in outreach. I described QQ to him, and he replied with a story about a woman who came to his home meeting in the Pacific Northwest, and about how when she rose to speak he was taken aback by her red-neck accent. But then he described how the Spirit moved in him to witness to the gift of true diversity she brought to his meeting. "Quaker Quest, huh?" he said, "Maybe we'll finally branch out from the safety of our Birkenstock-wearing, N.P.R. listening comfort zone."
The afternoon was spent in discussion about the morning's exercises, and about QQ generally. There was great enthusiasm expressed. Some worried about how smaller meetings, the ones which could really used some new people, how these meetings could present QQ. It was offered that such meetings could unite with others nearby to present QQ. This reminded me of my meeting's interest in gathering our Quarter behind our QQ session, and use it to promote other meetings nearby and to build bridges between those meetings. There was also a great emphasis placed on the dualistic nature of QQ: that it is both inreach and outreach, and meetings which concentrate too much either on one or the other of those aspects tend to have less successful QQ experiences.
Towards the end of the day, I noticed a Friend from Baltimore with his head in his hands as we continued to talk about QQ. Then he raised his hand, and described a concern which gathered around the following vision: that in response to QQ, a man dressed in camos would pull up to his meeting in a pickup truck with a gun rack, and that his fear of this man would send him running away. Many laughed. I didn't. I thought of "Jack".
An hour later, at the final gathering of the day, I was led to speak. Though we were not in worship, we were seated in the worship room and the gathering I felt inside me to speak felt like the winds which had blown in the morning. It felt like ministry, and as I spoke, I saw some Friends bow their heads and close their eyes. The words were about my Baltimore Friend's vision, about how that vision felt prophetic to me, and about how "Jack" was an intentional choice to rehearse for the changes to come. The words were about my young Friend who works at Pendle Hill, and his perception of our comfort zone. The people we draw to us through QQ will change us, I was led to say, the way the gusting winds blow dead leaves about and snap off old branches. These new people may make us uncomfortable, they may even frighten us, but this is the cost of the pendulum swinging back towards engagement and away from withdrawal. The pendulum which describes the dynamic tension we feel in our faith as we try to be in the world, but not of it. I was led to say that our task is to help these new seekers become transformed themselves, even as they are transforming us.
If the Friends gathered at Pendle Hill last Wednesday could be said to represent the broad congregation of unprogrammed American Quakerism, then the pendulum of that congregation might look like this: 1700 - 1820, engagement; 1850 - 1920, withdrawal; 1920 - 1970, engagement; 1970 - 2008, withdrawal. Perhaps in this new era of engagement we are entering, and I am certain that we are entering it, certain that Quaker Quest is coming and coming on strong, ready or not, perhaps now as we teeter on this threshold, we might remember the words of William Penn:
True godliness does not turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.
Friday, January 18. 2008
Questpost 1: And we're off Posted by Benjamin Lloyd in P.Y.M., Quaker, Quaker Quest at 21:57
It must be said: sometimes it works. Sometimes, a group of people who call themselves Quakers, or at least "people who go to a Quaker meeting once in a while", sometimes such a group can be led collectively by a Power greater then the sum of their parts. Such was the sensation I had when my meeting united last week in supporting a program called Quaker Quest.
Of course, I wax eloquent about Quaker discernment when it goes the way I want it to. In other words, when submitting to the will of God feels like a gift and not an obligation. It felt like a gift to last Sunday, mostly because I am so enthused about Quaker Quest, and, vainly, because it is a program I brought to to the meeting's attention.
Quaker Quest (QQ) is a comprehensive Outreach program developed originally by Hempstead monthly meeting in London, England in 2002. Born from a leading felt by members of that meeting, the program was so successful that now there are many monthly meetings in Britain offering Quaker Quest. The program comes with a printed action plan developed through experience.
In brief, QQ are a series of stand-alone information, discussion and worship meetings held around specific and repeated Quaker topics, and offered at the same location on a sequence of weeks. Each session presents three speakers to talk on the given topic, and each session is a mix of speakers, discussion and hospitality. There is always literature available for seekers to take away with them, and there are always experienced Friends present to guide discussion and answer questions. Possible session topics might be “Quakers and Worship”, “Quakers and God”, "Quakers and The Bible”, “Quakers and Peace”. The Core Group will choose the topics. They may chose a series of individual topics, or three which repeat once, etc. In London, there are Quaker Quest sessions offered 50 weeks out of the year.
An essential aspect of any Quaker Quest program is the creation of a “Core Group” within the meeting offering it. These are Friends and attenders who are committed to Quaker Quest and ready and willing to attend all the sessions and do whatever is necessary to make Quaker Quest a successful experience for the meeting and for the seekers who come to the sessions.
Another essential aspect of Quaker Quest is well-organized and high quality advertising. The bulk of any Quaker Quest budget will be spent on banners, flyers, ads and other innovative means the Core Group can think of to spread the word about Quaker Quest. QQ PR is built around a marketable slogan, such as “A Spiritual Path for Our Time”.
This is the part that makes most old-school P.Y.M. Quakers queasy, mostly because of the mistaking of advertising for proselytizing. But also, I believe, because so many of us are afraid of change. How ironic this is to me, that in a religious society founded on the belief that God is present so much than past or future, in other words, a society fused to the ever-changing, always transforming now, that we in this society should be so stubbornly attached to forms and feelings from the past. But this is human nature. We fear the new; we are comforted by the familiar. And so often we seek to make our spiritual nourishment comfort food. But in my experience God is not always comfortable.
Quaker Quest, with its commitment to 21st century P.R., well designed glossy posters and brochures, and assertive marketing is a way to draw new and "frightening" people to us; people with novel ideas and a lot of potential energy, energy they may use to assist in that continuing revelation I was describing before. People who may ask difficult and inconvenient questions. People who may want to become close to us, and so we may have to open ourselves to them. QQ is a direct affront to the Quietest pall which has been hanging, smog-like, over my Yearly Meeting for too long. It is, in my opinion, a breath of fresh air.
But it is also an enormous challenge to those of us committed and enthusiastic about our society. For what will do with these new people who may appear and be quite alarmingly interested in how we worship and what we stand for? How will we welcome them? And what will we tell them of our expectations, our testimonies, our principles? Will we be able to invite them into something we have already created, and witness their transformations into Quakers, as we also allow them to transform us?
In other words, will we be able to move from us and them, to just us? And will that "us" still be something powerful, Spirit-led, transforming . . . Quaker?
Wednesday, January 9. 2008
Two events brought me closer to my two main communities last weekend: theatre and Quaker.
LINC was a gathering of Philadelphia "teaching artists" - which too me means people who make and teach art, but which I found out is a controversial term. A large group of us gathered at the Moore College of Art, and the day kicked off with a presentation by Eric Booth, an inspiring speaker who didn't have enough time to really dig into his ideas with us. Eric has broken down arts education into several categories as a way to help explain what we do to others. I was too busy listening to him to write them down. He offered hope and admonishment together. He said we are a woefully disorganized and under-recognized professional group, but he said the pendulum is swinging back and soon, teaching artists will find our voice collectively in the U.S. Later in the day, I jammed one of my books in his hand and was delighted to hear him say, after her read the jacket description, "Oh! I'm a Quaker too!"
The rest to the day was taken up with smaller workshops and gatherings, and a lunch thrown in the middle. The best part of it to me was the being together with others like me, but of different disciplines and levels of experience. My frustration was that I wanted to get to know them better, and felt like there wasn't enough time for it. Still, I came away having made some new friends, picked up some news exercises and abuzz with the sense that there is something really, really cool about opening up students of all ages to creativity of all kinds.
The next day, after worship, I joined a group of men from my meeting in carrying large planks of wood from the sheds outside to the basement beneath our meeting room. I was struck again by how much we Quakers enjoy each other's company when we do things together. Many of us wouldn't naturally spend time together away from meeting, and usually only see each other in worship or social time after. But carrying wood together, we were put into a simple activity requiring cooperation and mutual assistance. We had time to check in with each other, make jokes, enjoy being outside. It occurred to me that we spend too much time talking and not enough time doing. Here's to more doing, and less talking.
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