Category Archives: third haven

Light from Disability

This was written for Friends Journal’s March 2016 issue; unfortunately, they chose not to publish it.


June, 2005. I’m sitting at my computer, taking an online quiz about what religion best matches my personal beliefs. Raised as a Roman Catholic, I had left the church 7 years prior due to theological disagreements (particularly the importance of the Pope, the discrimination against women, and the church’s stance on abortion and LGBT rights). Since then, I had been searching for a new religious home. Taking this quiz was a last ditch effort. I’d attended other Christian churches, but none of them felt like communities I could be part of. The results of the quiz came back as 100% Liberal Quaker. I’m excited and eager to find out more about this religion, so I search for a Meeting… only to find the nearest one is half an hour away, which is further away than I can drive.

I’ve had juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (jRA) in all of my joints since I was an infant. Growing up with jRA, the disease made me an automatic “other”. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (also known as “juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis”) is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system targets part of the body. JRA is an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and pain primarily in the joints and musculoskeletal system; left untreated, this disease can result in permanent joint deformities and often, as in my case, can lead to disability. When I was growing up, the primary treatments available were large doses of aspirin and physical/occupational therapy. In elementary school, I took the special ed bus and often needed the assistance of an aide. In middle school, I often had physical therapy during and instead of recess.

While I never hesitated to tell people about my jRA—it was impossible to hide it from people I would be spending a lot of time with—I always felt like it was something I had to “overcome”. Not only as an obstacle to my education, but as an obstacle to friendship and relationships. My jRA was something I had to make up for.

Except for 6 days every summer, when I went to Arthritis Camp. Camp Dartmouth-Hitchcock was a summer camp in New England only for kids with arthritis or similar autoimmune conditions like lupus. For those 6 days, my jRA wasn’t something to overcome; it was something that united us. It made me a part of the group instead of apart from the group.

At Arthritis Camp, each evening before heading off to bed, we would sit in a circle in silence. We met in a big, old, drafty barn. The smell of wood and age became as soothing as the people around me, my friends and family for those 6 days. And out of that silence, sometimes, we would speak. Though camp wasn’t explicitly religious, I had never felt Spirit’s presence, love, and acceptance more powerfully than in those nightly circles.

Every year at camp, an award was given out to the camper that best exemplified the spirit of Dr. Joshua Burnett, who founded Arthritis Camp. Every year, I dreamed of winning that award; up until my last year at camp, when I gave up on winning the award and focused instead on being truly present with my fellow campers and for each of my last moments at camp. It was August, 1999; I was 17 years old. My right wrist, which would be my first joint surgery just the next summer, was starting to fail. I had just finished my junior year of high school, which had been one of the most painful years of my life up to that point.

The award was given out at a formal dinner the last night of camp. My last year at camp, the director stood and read the award:

“Dr. Joshua Burnett, a family physician with an ear for the need of his patients, became the first Rheumatologist in the state after hearing of a need. He willingly returned to school to learn to provide this specialized care for this patients. As a Staff Rheumatologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center he saw the need for a camp for children with arthritis. A place they could go and enjoy camping as any other child their age. It was his unselfish gift of caring for others that we honor with this award.

“Each year one camper is voted on by their peers as the camper that exemplifies the spirit of Dr. Burnett. This camper is caring and unselfish in his or her interaction with their fellow campers.”

And then, she said my name, and I became overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I felt that being given that award showed me the best person I could be. It showed me how the power of true community could support and change a life.

That night, as we gathered one last time in the circle, a fire gently lighting the otherwise dark barn, I was filled with joy and despair. How could I leave this place? Would I ever find such a community again? One by one, we lit our candles from the flame of the fireplace, passing our light from one to the other. We spoke our truths. We cried together. And I knew that the strength I was given at Arthritis Camp would empower me for the rest of my life.

It was September of 2005 before I was finally able to convince my husband to drive me to the nearest Friends Meeting—Third Haven Friends Meeting in Easton, Maryland. We drove through their driveway, surrounded by pine trees, sunlight sparkling through the needles. We parked and followed the small stream of people into their old Meeting House. And when I saw the old Meeting House, my breath was taken away.

Walking into that building, that 300+ year old wooden building where sunlight streamed through open windows and doors, felt like returning to Arthritis Camp. That building felt just like the barn at camp. It smelled like home. I felt like I was home.

We sat, and I struggled to contain my joy. Words rose out of the silence, just like words rising at those evening gatherings at camp. These words were powerful. They were authentic. They struck that inner chord in my soul that knows Truth. The hour passed quickly, and I knew that finally, I had found my religious home.
But on the ride home, it become obvious that my husband had not had the same experience. While I found the silence liberating, he found it boring. He agreed to drive me to Meeting for Worship again, but he would not be attending with me. I was disappointed. I wanted to become a part of this Meeting, to once again participate in that communion of Spirit.

I managed to convince my husband to drive me to Meeting one more time. And at that Meeting for Worship, two Friends—two strangers—offered to drive me when they heard about my need for a ride. These Friends became friends, and they drove me to Meeting for several years. It was their willingness to offer assistance that allowed me to join Third Haven Friends Meeting as an official member in August, 2006. Though these f/Friends have since moved away, my husband has seen how important attending Meeting is to me and is more willing to drive me than he once was. Being a member of Third Haven has challenged me to live up to the Quaker testimonies, to question, to believe, and to be part of a community that is not always perfect, but one in which the Light is yet present.

Though it’s been many years since I last attended Arthritis Camp, the person I was during that final week of camp showed me the best person I can be. Each day, I try to live up to that award. Not doing so would mean I am not honoring the camp that showed me what true community, love, and caring could be like.

For myself, I have that award to strive towards. For my Meeting community, I have the loving, accepting, and caring camp community to work toward. It is the combination of these two elements, the divine and the active, that I most wish to share with my Meeting community.

And it is my disability that made this possible.

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Practice

Choosing to stop attending the Bible listening/study group with my friend was one of the harder choices I’ve had to make recently. I miss having the opportunity to see her, but I don’t miss the group as much as I thought I would. The truth is that I never really felt like it was where I was supposed to be. And as Easter approached, I began to feel more uncomfortable with the idea of continuing to attend.

For Christians, Easter is supposed to be a celebration. “Jesus is Risen!” For me, Easter has become a time of discomfort. It was at an Easter service several years ago that I was finally able to name that discomfort: that I don’t believe in the Resurrection or Jesus’s divinity. It was that Easter service that made me realize I wasn’t yet in the right spiritual home, that as awesome as the Episcopal religion is, it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Shortly after is when I (re)discovered Quakerism and knew this was where God had led me.

The truth is that attending that Bible listening/study group made me acutely aware of how distant I often feel from my Meeting. Since my Meeting is half an hour away, it’s all I can do to attend Meeting for Worship once or twice a month and the occasional library committee meeting. Being more involved with my Meeting, such as joining a discussion group, is not a possibility. And I miss my Meeting. I wish I could be more involved.

Another truth that surfaced after I realized I was no longer led to attend that group is that I need to be more faithful to my religions: both to Quakerism, and to Buddhism. I’d let my daily formal meditation fall to the wayside, with the excuse that since I was constantly trying to practice mindfulness, the formal sitting meditation “wasn’t necessary”. But I realized that I missed my meditation practice. So, I’ve started practicing sitting meditation again, and it has been good.

Tomorrow, I will be attending Meeting for Worship and then Meeting for Business. And I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know yet how to reconcile my longing to attend more Meetings for Worship with my physical inability to do so, but I’m hoping way will open. And in the meantime, on Sundays when I’m unable to attend Meeting for Worship, I’ll practice Centering Prayer meditation. It won’t be the same, but it’s better than nothing.

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The Importance of Friends

A couple of months ago, my husband and I traveled to Lewes, Delaware, to visit two f/Friends of mine who live in a Quaker retirement-to-nursing home community there (let’s call them A and J). We’ve visited them during our anniversary vacations for the last couple of years, and every year I think the same thoughts before going: What will we talk about? What do we really have in common? This year, in fact, I was considering not visiting them as usual, but my husband, who is often good about not letting me slack off spiritually, insisted that we should.

When I first began attending Third Haven Friends Meeting, I felt both at home and out of place. Mostly, I felt at home, but I also felt out of place because I was unable to drive myself to and from and knew that my husband would not often be willing to drive me, as he found Meeting for Worship “boring”. So, while I felt I’d finally found my spiritual home, I also worried that the distance would be an impediment to my actually becoming involved with the community. Then, after attending my second Meeting for Worship, I was introduced to two Friends who lived nearby. A & J were a good 60 years older than me, had never met me before, but immediately offered to drive me to and from Meeting whenever I wanted.

I was, frankly, completely shocked at their willingness. It took me months to get up the courage to call them and ask for a ride.

But once I did, they faithfully drove me to and from Meeting for Worship for over a year. During that year, we became quite close. When they decided to move to Lewes, Delaware, to their final home, I knew that I would not only miss the rides, but their friendship.

Since they’ve left, my husband has taken up the responsibility of driving me to and from Meeting for Worship, but there are often weekends I don’t make it because he is too tired and needs the extra sleep.

Anyways, what is particularly interesting about A & J is that their marriage is similar to my own in one important way.

Without going into too much detail, there was a conflict at Third Haven many years ago over same-sex marriage. Most members wanted the Meeting to perform same-sex marriages, but a few did not. A lot of feelings were hurt, people felt they weren’t listened to, and the conflict ended in a compromise that many members could not feel settled with. This conflict happened a few years before I joined Third Haven.

Shortly after I joined, I felt a Disquiet about what had happened and felt led to encourage the Meeting to begin talking about same-sex marriage again. As many of you can imagine, this leading was not always welcomed by all members of my Meeting. In any event, the seeds I planted eventually blossomed, and a committee to discuss Same-Sex Marriage was developed last June (see this entry ).

In December, Third Haven finally found unity to perform Same-Sex Spiritual Union Ceremonies, but the word “marriage” was not used in the approved minute. I, and several others, were led to stand aside.

The similarity between A & J’s marriage and my own is a religious one. A was in favor of same-sex marriage when it was first discussed at Third Haven while J was not. In my own marriage, I am strongly in favor of same-sex marriage (at Third Haven and anywhere else!) while my husband is not. A and I are very open to the idea of Quakers having multiple faiths (she is supportive of my Buddhist faith and understands how it can complement my Quaker faith) while J is a bit more Christocentric. My husband is also a Christian.

Over our last meal before my husband and I left A & J’s home, we discussed what had happened at Third Haven over the last year. I mentioned how I’d sometimes felt like my ministry was not listened to as much as Friends who are older, even if we were saying the same thing. In particular, I was slightly hurt that it took an older Friend speaking in Meeting for Worship to get the Meeting to start discussing Same-Sex Marriage when I’d often offered similar ministry many times before. I do enjoy that Third Haven is a very well-grounded Meeting with older Friends very grounded in Spirit, but I do sometimes feel that the voices of younger Friends who may also be grounded in Spirit sometimes go unheeded.

It came to my mind that a Meeting functions best when there’s a strong segment of older Friends and a strong segment of younger Friends as well. Meetings are like a body of water: we need the depth of older Friends to keep us grounded in Spirit and the current of younger Friends to prevent stagnancy.

In spite of the complaint I voiced above, I do feel lucky to have Third Haven as my Monthly Meeting. We have a wide variety of beliefs, from conservative Christians to Buddhists to agnostics to Universalists. We have a wide variety of ages, too; I’ve noticed an influx of people in their mid20s to mid30s in recent years. Most of all, though, I love how gathered our Meetings for Worship are. I love our old Meetinghouse, even when it’s hot and I yearn for the convenience of air conditioning (built in the 1600s, it has no electricity). I love our “new” Meetinghouse, built in the 1800s, with its tall white walls and large windows. I love the grounds, the trees, the squirrels and birds that serenade us during Meeting for Worship. Most of all, though, I love the Spirit that flows through us as we sit in Meeting for Worship.

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Filed under friends, gay love, GLBT rights, lgbt issues, meeting for worship, quakerism, third haven

Christ and the Way of Non-Self

As often happens to me during Meeting for Worship, this morning I found my thoughts turning to Jesus. In particular, I found myself reflecting on Jesus’s statement that one must lose one’s life in order to gain it:

“Then summoning the multitude together with his disciples, he said to them: If anyone wishes to go after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life shall lose it; and he who loses his life for the sake of me and the gospel shall save it. For what does it advantage a man to gain the whole world and pay for it with his life? What can a man give that is worth as much as his life? He who is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous generation, of him will the son of man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels.”

(Gospel of Mark, 8:34-38)

And again in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: If anyone wishes to go after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it. For what will it advantage a man if he gains the whole world but must pay with his life? Or what will a man give that is worth as much as his life? The son of man is to come in the glory of his father among his angels…”

(Gospel of Matthew, 16:24-27)

The first ministry that was offered in Meeting for Worship today was about how Third Haven encouraged this Friend to love God with all his being:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together, and one of them who was versed in the law questioned him, making trial of him: Master, in the law, which is the great commandment? He said: That you shall love the Lord your God in all your heart and all your spirit and all your mind. That is the great commandment, and the first. There is a second, which is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments all the law and the prophets depend.”

(Gospel of Matthew, 22:34-40)

Here’s the point: one cannot worship God if one is too busy worshiping oneself. If one is too caught up in ego, in the life one wants and feels one deserves, one cannot love the Lord with all one’s heart, one’s spirit, and one’s mind, because one is too caught up in one’s self.

But what does losing one’s life and one’s love of self have to do with the second commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Buddhism has two core teachings (in addition to the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path), that of emptiness and compassion. Here is how the logic works in Buddhism: when one finally realizes that the Self is merely an illusion of the mind and does not have an independent, permanent existence, the distinction between Self and Other vanishes. Thus, one can literally love your neighbor as yourself, because there is no longer a difference between the two.

To be able to love God as He deserves–with all your heart, mind, and spirit–one must give up one’s life and one’s attachment to one’s self. (As Jesus says in many of the Gospels, “No one can serve two Masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”) And in the process of losing one’s life and sense of individual self, one can come to another realization: that we are, all of us, children of God, equally worthy of His love, and as worthy of our own love as we ourselves are.

The first step, though, in both Buddhism and Christianity is to give up the idea of one’s individual self. And this I struggle with. I’m very attached to Me. I have such a tendency to turn my spiritual growth into accomplishments that bolster my ego: “Look how many times I’ve read the Bible! Look at how I’ve taken my Vows at such an early age! Look how spiritual I am!”

I want to love others as myself, to follow where God leads me, to truly KNOW the way of emptiness and compassion as taught in Buddhism, but the truth is that I am too bound up in love and pride of my own Self.

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The Simplicity of Now

If not now, tell me when
If not now, tell me when.
We may never see this moment
Or place in time again
If not now, if not now, tell me when.

Carrie Newcomer, “If Not Now”

I made it to Meeting for Worship last Sunday, after only intermittent–at best–attendance so far this year. I came to Meeting clothed in a new practice of mantra meditation that I had just started days before, but had already deepened my meditation practice. But instead of “Om mani padme hum”, the mantra I used was “Veni sancte spiritus” (Come, Holy Spirit). I rotated a piece of quartz that I was using as a make-shift prayer wheel. I let the mantra seep through me, letting my attention always come back to it when my mind inevitably wandered. But, I wondered, would meditating like this mean that I would be unable to notice a message from God?

The first message came from a well-seasoned Friend, who rose to give ministry on the topic of simplicity:

If we make simplicity the core of our lives, it will lead us back to the core.

This message sent a vibration through my soul. And as I returned to the mantra of “Veni sancte spiritus”, I felt a message rise up in me. I waited, returning always to the mantra, wondering if this was a real message or just the caffeine from my morning tea hitting my bloodstream. I felt the caffeine drumming in my veins, but I also felt that tell-tale pressure building up in my heart that notifies me that what I have received is a message meant to be shared. (Either that, or I have a serious heart condition and will one day die of a heart attack during Meeting for Worship… Me and every other Friend who has experienced this.) I waited longer, testing to be sure. And then when I finally felt that not standing up to speak would literally result in my heart bursting open then and there, I stood:

The most simple thing is now.

(Later, I would be mildly embarrassed that I’d apparently forgotten the word “simplest”, but the Spirit works with what one has, and at that moment–in spite of the caffeine–the brain I had was apparently only half awake.)

The simplest way to live, the simplest moment to live in, is now. There is nothing simpler than that, though, as one Friend rose to point out during Afterthoughts, this can often be surprisingly difficult. (As an aside, we often conflate simple with easy. This is a mistake we should try to be mindful of.)

Simplicity isn’t just about pruning our material possessions to check for seeds of war (John Woolman) or purchasing a Prius instead of a Hummer, though those kinds of actions are certainly worthwhile and not always easy to do. Simplicity is also about pruning life down to the essentials, to what really matters. And what matters the most in any given moment is that given moment. We can spend so much time and effort pruning our possessions, our activities, how we spend our money… But if we are living each moment without really living it, spending each moment thinking about when or then, we are missing the point.

The point is now. The moment is now. God is now. We are now.

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Buddhist and Quaker

I received an email from a reader, asking me questions about being both Buddhist and Quaker. Below is my reply:

Hi. Thanks you for your email. 🙂 I’m also not a fan of most “New-Agey” type of books… I consider myself both a Buddhist AND a Quaker, and I ultimately think this is okay and not inconsistent because both faiths–at their core, I feel–are faiths of practice more than faiths of theology. For example, meditation, mindfulness, developing compassion/loving-kindness, and the knowledge that attachments are a direct cause of suffering (in short, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path) I consider the core of Buddhism (and I’m in good company: Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a wonderful book called “The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings”, which you might be interested in). As for Quakerism, I believe our way of worship and our testimonies are our core. And there seems to be a lot of ways that Buddhism helps my Quakerism: for example, how could I follow the testimony of Integrity without having Right Understanding (one of the Eightfold Paths)? Equality lines up with Right Action, Right Speech, Right Vision, and Right Understanding… etc. There’s even been talk within some Quaker circles recently of “Right Relationship”, which has a lot in common with the Buddhist Eightfold Path (Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Understanding, in particular).

As for specific practices, I try to meditate every day (Om mani padme hum…), though I admit that this has been on and off for a while. Still, I keep trying. Also, the Tibetan Buddhist concept of tonglen (Pema Chodron is an EXCELLENT, life-changing Buddhist writer–I highly recommend any of her books to you… and when I say life-changing, I mean that literally) has been helpful for me. Tonglen is a form of breath meditation where you open yourself to another’s suffering: you breathe in their suffering, and breathe out peace/calm/etc. I find it helpful in developing compassion, especially towards those I’m angry with. The practice of mindfulness–being IN the moment–I find consistent with the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity. Meditation is also useful in centering for Meeting for Worship: I often start Meetings with a few minutes of meditation, to help quiet my own thoughts so I can better hear the Divine.

As for good books, Jim Pym (another Buddhist and Quaker) wrote one called “Listening to the Light”, which is mainly about Quakerism, but also about his experiences as a Buddhist as well. Mary Rose O’Reilly, who identifies as a Quaker, wrote a memoir called “The Barn at the End of the World” about her experiences tending sheep and spending time in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village Buddhist retreat in France. (This is the book that got me interested in Buddhism; I was a Quaker first.)

I suffer from a lack of participation in a formal Buddhist meditation group. I’m disabled and unable to drive the distance required for meditation sessions. I’m not in the Bible Belt, but I live in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is pretty much Southern Christian Conservative in culture. My monthly meeting, Third Haven, is a kind of liberal oasis in the area; even that is half an hour away from me (my husband drives me to Meetings, though he doesn’t attend). There is at least one other Buddhist and Quaker at my Meeting, and I’ve made no secret that I identify as both.

I took my refuge and bodhisattva vows last May and intend to keep them. Part of that is not hiding that action.

As far as I know, no one in my Meeting has been upset or offended by my identification with both faiths. It might be helpful that I also take Christianity very seriously–I just finished reading the Bible for the second time as a whole a month ago and read the New Testament every year. I think Jesus and Buddha would have agreed on a lot. I also think Jesus and Buddha said a lot of the same things, but said them in the context of the dominant religion of the community they were in (for Jesus, it was Judaism; for Buddha, it was Hinduism).

Part of it is that I fundamentally believe that theologies (God, heaven, reincarnation, etc.) are, at their root, unknowable. In my mind, it makes no difference to me if I’m reincarnated when I die, sent to heaven, or my consciousness/soul simply ends: I try to act with compassion because I feel it’s the right thing to do, and I made the vow back in high school that I would act this way even if I’d be punished at the end (sent to hell–I was a Catholic at the time) and not rewarded.

I believe in God because I’ve felt His presence, yet I’m aware that this belief is based on a feeling and a concept. The Buddhist practice of non-attachment has taught me that what I call God, another might call something else. And that there is no way for me to know who is right, nor is that what I should be concerned about.

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A Gathered Popcorn Meeting

Shortly after I became a regular attender at my Monthly Meeting, I heard infamous tales about Popcorn Meetings for Worship. I remember in particular hearing about a terrible Meeting for Worship my Friends had attended once in D.C., where an older person stood up and ranted about how disrespectful young people were, and then he was immediately followed by a young person who ranted about old people. They went back and forth through the whole Meeting.

Popcorn Meetings I’ve always heard spoken of with disdain. They’re Meetings for Worship where people pop up, one after another, leaving next to no time for real worship, i.e., of the silent variety. I’ve experienced a couple of them myself and thought their infamy was well-deserved.

So I was pretty disappointed last Sunday when it became clear that Meeting for Worship was definitely becoming a Popcorn Meeting. It all started with the monthly reading of a Query:

How does our Meeting help to create and maintain a society whose institutions recognize and do away with the inequities rooted in patterns of prejudice and economic convenience?

Is our Meeting open to all regardless of race, ability, sexual orientation, or class?

What steps are we taking as a Meeting to assure that our Meeting and the committees and institutions under our care reflect our respect for all and are free from practices rooted in prejudice?

Do I examine myself for aspects of prejudice that may be buried, including beliefs that seem to justify biases based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, class, and feelings of inferiority or superiority?

What am I doing to help overcome the contemporary effects of past and present oppression?

Am I teaching my children, and do I show through my way of living, that love of God includes affirming the equality of people, treating others with dignity and respect, and seeking to recognize and address that of God within every person?

This is a hard query for my Monthly Meeting, as conflict about same-sex marriages left many hurt several years ago. As a result, this query tends to generate somewhat predictable messages in Meeting for Worship. This time was no exception.

I strove to find God in the brief moments of silence as person after person stood to give a message. As I try to write down the crux of the messages after Meeting, I desperately attempted to quickly memorize crux after crux. In the end, 11 people rose to speak in a 60 minute meeting. And somewhere in the middle of Meeting, I found myself wondering if attempting to worship for the rest of the Meeting was even worth it. “How can I possibly worship when someone is standing to speak every 5 minutes?”

I felt annoyed. “Another Popcorn Meeting,” I thought dismissively. In doing so, I also dismissed the quality of the messages.

Luckily, God ignored my dismissal. The messages were, whatever I thought of them at the time, Spirit-led. Friend after Friend rose to speak truth to power about the Meeting’s avoidance of discussing same-sex marriage. Friend after Friend rose to speak about the need to love those who disagree. Friend after Friend rose to remind us that disagreement is another form of diversity. Friend after Friend rose to say that acceptance doesn’t necessitate tolerance of opinions that harm others.

Friend after Friend rose to honor their Light within.

Meeting for Worship with attention to Business followed shortly after Meeting for Worship. More people rose to voice their discomfort with our Meeting’s lack of action regarding same-sex marriage. And at the end of Meeting for Business, in the slot for “future concerns”, the recording clerk rose to say that her sense was that it was time for us to act. She suggested a called Meeting for Business about same-sex marriage, to be held in September. After more discussion, a Friend rose to suggest a committee be formed to prepare for the called Meeting for Business.

Friends were in unity. And after years of inaction–or, to be accurate, indirect action–my Monthly Meeting is, finally, acting, directly and openly. And this fruit of action was sown by seeds planted in a Popcorn Meeting, a Meeting I dismissed as not counting as “real” worship.

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Filed under discernment, GLBT rights, leadings, lgbt issues, meeting for business, meeting for worship, ministry, quakerism, speak and listen with love, third haven, worship

Confusion and Applause: A Slogan Post

Today’s slogan post is:

Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.

Pema Chodron’s explanation is absolutely necessary for today’s slogan:

Kayas:

  1. Thoughts pop out of nowhere–dharmakaya.
  2. Thoughts are unceasing–sambhogakaya.
  3. They are not solid–nirmanakaya.
  4. All together: no birth, no dwelling, no cessation–svabhavikakaya.

Shunyata: complete openness.

…Okay. I admit that I have trouble with slogans like this one, ones that rely on an understanding of Tibetan Buddhist words that I just don’t have. I think the point of today’s slogan is to realize that confusion is caused by thoughts, which pop out of nowhere, are unceasing, and not solid, and that realizing this allows one to remain open in a situation where one would normally succumb to confusion, panic, and close down.

I will try to keep this one in mind today, but the slogan I really would like to tell you all about is one that’s so important it’s taped to my monitor. This also means that it’s a slogan EVERY DAY instead of one that I pull out of the pile, so I want to make sure I have the chance to talk about it.

Don’t expect applause.

I constantly struggle with this one, but I’m reminding myself of it today because I’ve been falling into that trap recently with my Monthly Meeting. I want people to notice what I’ve done, I want to feel appreciated, I want to be thought of as a “weighty Friend”, etc.

And this leads me to an important question: when I serve the Meeting, am I doing it from a desire to follow God’s will or from a desire to serve my pride?

I need to keep this in mind today.

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Unity

I sometimes think God gets a really big kick out of proving me wrong. I’m starting to get a kick out of being proven wrong, too: because being wrong is a great reminder that I don’t know everything and still have a lot to learn. It helps my ego get into shape, namely the shape of not taking itself too seriously.

Before October’s Meeting for Business, I posted what amounted to a rant–albeit a controlled one–about my Monthly Meeting. Most of my concerns are still concerns, but I just remembered last night that my Meeting is made up of–this will shock you, I’m sure–people. People who try their best to be present for Meeting for Worship, but who have lives, and stresses, and so many things to do in such a small amount of time. I think we’re all doing the best we can. With God’s help, I hope we can do more; but all I can really ask of my Meeting is that we be open to the leadings of the Spirit and to follow where It guides us.

During the half-hour drive to October’s Meeting for Business, I complained to my husband about how my Meeting does a lot of talking and not a lot of doing. I like to think that God must have heard this and started laughing. For at that Meeting for Business, I experienced unity for what seemed to be the first time. And that unity wasn’t about drafting a minute or talking, but about doing. I can just imagine God having a good chuckle over this.

At that Meeting for Business, a Friend raised a concern that was meant to be offered merely as a suggestion, not as an agenda item that needed immediate action. This concern was that we had a surplus in our bank account, and she suggested we donate some of that surplus to a local charity that helps people pay for necessities. After she sat down, a Friend involved with that charity said it would be much appreciated, as the charity only had $17 in its bank account and was having to turn people away.

Much discussion ensued about how much to give. The Clerk, who is very agenda-oriented, stood to say that he felt the sense of the Meeting was that we were not clear and the discussion should be continued at the next Meeting for Business, or in a committee. My heart started pounding as he was speaking, just like it does when I receive a message in Meeting for Worship.

I was being led to challenge the Clerk, for I felt the sense of the Meeting was indeed clear: that we had agreed to donate a certain amount and the only part unclear was if we should donate all of it instead of just some. So I rose immediately after the Clerk finished, not wanting him to jump to the next agenda item, and said that, with respect to the Clerk, I felt the sense of the Meeting was clear for that portion of the surplus to be donated. After I finished, another Friend who was Clerk a few years ago, stood and said that she agreed with what I said, but that the amount we were clear on was half of the surplus.

Silence settled over the Meeting. Spirit was almost palpable. And then, it was done. We approved donating half our surplus to this local charity.

And I remembered why I love my Monthly Meeting and was so proud of what the Spirit had accomplished through us.

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Filed under Holy Spirit, meeting for business, quakerism, third haven

Uneven Footing

I’ve had a lot percolating in my mind recently. I wanted things to settle, to develop into a more definite shape, before saying anything on here. But I am starting to think that maybe the murkiness is the message.

I am on uneven footing. Nothing significant in my life has changed recently, but I’ve been unable to find a consistent schedule during the day and have been unable to attend Meeting for Worship regularly. Both of these have contributed to my current state of discomfort. I feel distanced from my Meeting, and from God. I doubt my ability to discern accurately leadings from my old addiction to drama. I worry that I’ve turned into the kind of person who can only see the bad in things and not the good.

I worry that it’s been my interaction with my Meeting over the last year that has led me to this.

I am still not sure of how much to say on here and what I should hold back and keep for private until God bonks me on the head and says, “ENOUGH! I told you to SPEAK, didn’t I? That was the leading you were given! Why have you not been faithful?”

And that’s the crux of it: I was given a leading to speak up:

I am, quite simply, being called to speak. I am being called to break the silence that smothers my Meeting with regards to non-heterosexual people, loves, sexuality, and even faith. I am being called to stand up and challenge heterosexism whenever and wherever I see it.

I am being called to honor silence when used in worship, but to reject silence when it is oppressive. I am called to respect the comfort levels of other people, but only when they do not deny a part of my being.

from here.

Have I been faithful? Have I been faithful? No. I’ve stayed silent out of fear of being ostracized in my Meeting and in one of my Meeting committees. I’ve stayed silent out of fear of being called a “trouble maker” again. I’ve stayed silent because I don’t want to lose my Meeting, and yet I feel it slipping further and further away from me the longer my voice is silenced by fear.

Here is what I feel: I feel decay within my Meeting. I feel that we’ve made our old Meetinghouses into sacred places, thus reducing the sacredness of the ordinary. I feel that we’ve fallen into the trap of worshiping silence instead of worshiping the Divine. I feel that we care more about maintaining the current status quo–not rocking the boat–more than we care about following leadings given to us by God. I feel that most of us are too busy with our own lives to truly want to do the work required to find unity: we want the unity without the work; what we get is consensus.

This is what I see. This is what I feel. But what I am being called to do with this, I don’t know. I wrote my Meeting a letter last spring that raised related, but different, concerns. The letter was handed to Overseers, who thanked me for the letter but didn’t believe my concerns were valid. That wasn’t exactly what was said, of course, but that is what their lack of action told me.

And thus, I am on uneven footing. The ground beneath me changes with each step. I feel like I’m floundering. And I can’t help but wonder: what if I am the problem? What if I’m making mountains out of molehills? What if they are right to disregard my concerns? And if I thought I was following a leading, how can I learn to trust my discernment again? How can I learn to trust God again, when following this leading (see here) has caused me so much pain and despair?

And yet, how can I say no?

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Filed under discernment, faith, inspirations, integrity, leadings, meeting for worship, ministry, oppression, quakerism, struggling with faith, third haven