Category Archives: worship

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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Filed under arthritis camp, belief, meeting for worship, quakerism, third haven, worship

“I Can’t Go Back”

(Trigger warning: trans- and homophobia.)

Since that first Sunday after the Charleston Emanuel AME attack, I have attended my local AME church three times. (You can read about my leading to attend here.) My second visit was even more powerful than my first; I visited alone and felt more free to participate in worship. I loved the overwhelming sense of God I felt there and the consistent message from the pulpit to love yourself, but be and do better.

I, quite frankly, began to love that church. I loved the worship. I loved the music. I loved the freedom to give yourself up to God without fear or embarrassment. I loved that there was dancing–in church! I loved the fellowship I felt with people who are quite literally my neighbors. I loved that the services inspired me to rekindle my relationship with Jesus and reminded me of what I found appealing in him in the first place. I loved the energy and the sense of constant praise and wonder at God. I found myself looking forward to the next time I could attend church.

Yesterday was my third time visiting. I felt comfortable with the service now. I could sing along with most of the call-and-response songs. I stood up and swayed to the music. I waved my hands. I was there, and God was there, too. It was a divine celebration of all life had to offer and all we had to be grateful for. When the time came for visitors to stand and introduce themselves, I stood for a second time. The Sister who oversees services saw me standing and said, “Hey, you a regular now.” I felt honored to be so welcomed. But I introduced myself anyway and said, “I know, this is my third time, but I was so nervous the first time I attended I forgot to say my name. It’s [name] and I live over on [street a mile away]. I’m a Quaker, but my Meeting is in Easton, and you all know how beach traffic can be on a Sunday…” Everyone laughed. “So, my hope is to be here when I can’t be there, because I love being here with you all.” Everyone smiled at me, and I felt welcomed. I felt open. I felt safe.

Later in the service, a guest preacher rose to give the sermon. She–and I was so happy to see a female Reverend!–was the sister-in-law of the reverend. The theme of the service so far had been transformation–the title of this post is from one of the songs we sung, “I Can’t Go Back”; and during that song, I was thinking about how I can’t go back to closing my eyes about the truth of racial inequality. I thought about writing a blog post about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and replacing their names with Jesus’s. I thought about how happy I was to be Woke and how much joy it has brought me (pain as well, but the joy had been a surprise, and a lot of that joy came from my attending this church).

And then the guest preacher said (obviously this is not verbatim, as I am relying on my memory here), “God made you who you are, and you have to accept that.”

I nodded, but began to feel on edge. Where was she going with this?

“God made you who you are, and there’s no changing that.”

I felt myself tense.

“Do I need to spell it out for ya? God made man and he made woman, and what he made you, there’s no changing that. You can’t lie with another man as you would a woman. You can’t lie with another woman as you would a man. Accept who you are.”

And I felt my soul turn cold. I felt like God had left the building. I was shocked. I looked around me, hoping to see other parishioners with the same shocked expression on their face. But everyone was applauding or voicing their approval of her words.

I wanted to flee. I wanted out of there. But there was a woman sitting next to me, and I couldn’t leave without causing a scene.

I tried to let go of the painful words and focus on the rest of her sermon. She spoke about “dropping your baggage”. She spoke about “loving who you are, accepting who you are” and “not judging other people because you don’t like the way they dress or look”. She spoke about how we can all be ministers, that there’s nothing special about her that makes her more able to be a minister than the rest of us. She spoke about how none of us is perfect and we all make mistakes. She spoke about the danger of gossip. But most of her sermon was about loving and accepting who God made you to be.

The thing is, God made me bisexual. God made me agender. And neither of those is an affliction I need to be saved from. They are part of who I am. They are part of who God has made and called me to be.


I was trapped in that church for an hour more before I could sneak out and leave. I tried to find the joy I had felt just moments ago, but it was not there. God wasn’t there anymore for me. When the parishioners were called to the altar to proclaim their faith, I stayed in my pew and began to cry.

The truth is, I loved this church. I loved worshiping with them so much. But now I know that I can’t go back.

On the short ride home, my husband immediately noticed something was wrong. Normally, I am exuberant after these church services; I’m excited to tell him how it affected me. This time, I was silent for a few moments; and when I began to speak, I started to sob.

I wouldn’t stop sobbing for more than an hour. I could not–and still cannot–understand how someone can preach a message of loving and accepting who you are and at the same time, tell me that part of who I am is an affliction that needs to be healed by God.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” makes no sense when you become aware that being LGBTQ isn’t an activity one participates in, but a part of who a person IS. A person isn’t gay only when they’re in a same-sex relationship; they are gay if they’re attracted to members of the same sex (and not attracted to members of the opposite sex). And attraction is not a choice. (When did you choose to be straight? is a question no one can honestly answer.)

What people who are LGBTQ hear when you say “hate the sin, love the sinner” is that your love and acceptance of them is conditional and depends on them denying an essential part of who they are… Which isn’t love at all.

And so, as much as I loved worshiping with this church community, as much as I want to go back, I know that “I won’t go back, can’t go back, to the way it used to be”.

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Filed under belief, christianity, christians, different faiths, discernment, faith, GLBT rights, leadings, lgbt issues, oppression, racism, worship

State Senator Clementa Pinckney Funeral Service

Those who are interested can watch the funeral service by clicking here. I encourage you to watch the whole service and not just President Obama’s eulogy. 

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Filed under death, different faiths, grief, racism, worship

Fellowship

I remember watching in horror as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfolded. As adults and children were trapped inside that Superdome for days. People waving from the rooftops for help. Which did not come. I watched. I could do nothing else.

I watched as Trayvon Martin’s killer was deemed “not guilty”. I began to speak on facebook and with friends and family. I began to see the hard work of racial justice, as some friends reacted negatively to my posts and took to George Zimmerman’s defense. I began to read books like “The New Jim Crow” to educate myself on modern institutional racism, and I helped organize a discussion about “The New Jim Crow” at my Meeting. But mostly, I just watched.

I watched Eric Garner die on camera. “I can’t breathe”. I shared the video of his death and was immediately met with backlash from friends. “We don’t know the facts.” “Why are you so anti-cop?” I ended up deleting the video. I wasn’t ready yet. I was only ready to watch.

I watched as the story of Michael Brown’s final moments emerged. He had his hands up. He was unarmed. But no, he had a record! The cops said he was charging them! 

I watched as Black Lives Matter rose to prominence. And I began, slowly, to speak. To speak not in spite of those who disagreed with my posts, but because of them. I joined several facebook anti-racism groups and found the support I needed to keep speaking.

But I did not do anything but speak, read, and watch. I did not attend any rallies, though I wanted to. I had good reason to stay home: I’m disabled and have a weakened immune system, making being around large crowds potentially dangerous to my health… and, last fall, I was also recovering from ankle replacement surgery

I watched as Freddie Gray died from a “rough ride”. I watched as Baltimore, the city I go to for my joint surgeries, protested.  But I stayed home.

Then, last Thursday morning, I woke. I lay in bed reading the news about the Charleston white terrorist attack on the Emanuel AME church. The 9 people who were slaughtered after spending an hour with the killer talking about the Bible. The 5 year old girl who survived by playing dead. I couldn’t stop crying.

Watching was no longer enough. When I pulled myself out of bed and left my house that day, I drove past 4 black people and saw each of them: 2 teenage boys riding their bikes down my street, 1 black man riding his bike and looking at his phone at the same time a couple of miles from my house, and 1 older black man staring at his phone in shock, standing at the side of the road. Seeing them made me tear up again, and I struggled to stay calm enough to drive safely. I wanted to let them know that I saw them and was so sorry about what had happened. But while driving is not the time to reach out to people.

I live in a town that is 70% white and 20% black and still mostly segregated, the way most American communities are. When my husband and I were looking to purchase our first house 10 years ago, I made a point of finding a street that was not all-white, and that was harder than it should have been. My neighborhood is probably about half black; and one of my neighbors is a widowed black woman, who is surrounded on all other sides by houses owned by family members. I felt a great need to reach out to the black people who live in my town. And I also felt a great need to worship this Sunday, instead of staying home and resting; but I knew that if I attended my Quaker Meeting, my thoughts would be with Charleston’s Emanuel AME church. I wondered if there was an AME church near my home, and a quick Google search revealed one not 2 miles from my house. 

I gave myself up to discernment, trying to find what I was led to do. I did not want to intrude upon a community in their time of mourning. I did not want to make the parishioners feel fear in their house of worship. 

But the leading did not go away. So, Sunday morning, I left home to attend worship at my local AME church, accompanied by my husband. My intention in going was to show solidarity with them and to worship with them.

We arrived early, and the front doors of the church were locked. A black woman arrived and asked us if we were there for the service. She was warm, friendly, and inviting. We said we were, and she showed us the side door that was unlocked and explained that there was praise before the service started and that the youth group was leading this service.

We walked into the small church, two white people left alone in their sanctuary. We did not want to make a spectacle of ourselves by sitting in the front pews, but we were also aware that we didn’t want to appear we were hiding in the back, either. So we sat in the center pews, visible and vulnerable. The church was small and sparsely-decorated, but not bare like Quaker Meetinghouses tend to be or overly-lavish like the Catholic churches I attended growing up. Nearly empty, I felt like the church was waiting for its people to fill it and give it purpose.

We were alone for a good 20 minutes before the congregation began to filter in. Now I owe you readers an apology, because there is no way for me to accurately describe the worship we participated in.

There were several aspects of the service that surprised me. First, it was women-led. The Reverend was a black man, but his primary participation in the service was to deliver the sermon… which occurred more than 2 hours into the service. Three black women seemed to lead the service, and I truly appreciated the ministry they gave, both in their words and in their actions. One of the three was the woman who had greeted us so warmly when we were searching for a way inside the church earlier. Second, the music was… all-encompassing, yet not a distraction from worship, but a manifestation of it.

The longer the service went on, the more comfortable I felt. After the first of three hours, I began to feel a fellowship with the other worshipers and the kind of deep centering I’ve only felt before at Meeting for Worship. Like Meeting for Worship, the service felt Spirit-led: it was fluid and unpredictable, and there was space for the congregation to participate as they felt led.

There was some grief, but mostly joy. The sermon was about the first 10 verses of the 2nd chapter of Job, which I’ve read more than once, but the sermon the Reverend gave made me consider it in a whole new way. I was raised Catholic, and the overwhelming lesson I learned from Mass and CCD was that God and Jesus loved you, and that made them worthy of worship and praise because you were a sinner and not worthy of their love. This sermon instead asked us to take the place of Job, who is described as perfect and upright. It was about keeping faith, no matter what happened. It was about the pride, joy, and determination involved in doing so. It was about gratitude to God for waking up this morning, for being able to attend this service. It was about not knowing what could happen, who could walk in the church doors, but worshiping God all the same.

I am really not doing this service justice at all. It was communion—with God and with each other. It was authentic and seemed to allow each person there to be both true to and proud of themselves while at the same time encouraging them to be better than they were.

At some point during the service, I realized that fellowship with these people—true fellowship—could not happen during just one service. I need to return, if the congregation is comfortable with me doing so. I felt blessed to be there and grateful they welcomed me in.

It has been two days now since my attendance at the local AME church, and I am still… encompassed by it. I am still thinking about it. I am, surprisingly, missing it. I am eager to go back. While I have no intention of joining their church, I am hoping to become a regular visitor.

And next Sunday, I hope to attend Meeting for Worship and bask in that same “infinite ocean of light and love” through silence and vocal ministry instead of through the music and sound of last Sunday.

[EDIT: This post has also been published on Friends Journal.org and in the September 2015 print edition of Friends Journal.]

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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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Filed under belief, buddhism, daily life, discernment, faith, Jesus, leadings, meditation, meeting for worship, third haven, worship

Notions

There’s been a lot of discussion recently and not so recently within Quaker circles, both online and off, about whether Quakerism is a Christian faith or not, who should or shouldn’t be allowed to be a Quaker, and as many variations of these two as one can think of.

What it boils down to, Friends, is a discussion about notions. And I feel that we are missing the point.

When I was growing up, I called God by names that were familiar to me: God, Lord, Dieu, Father, Mon Père. I would hear my father, who spoke Arabic as well as French and English, occasionally launch into a long prayer in Arabic whenever he was feeling overwhelmed by emotions. I always assumed that the word Allah pointed to a different god; that when one prayed to Allah, one was literally praying to a different god than my God. I believed this until I asked my father one day what the word “Allah” meant.

It was just another name for God, he said.

Now, to be fair, his intention probably wasn’t for me to equate the God Christians worship with the God Muslims worship, as there is a very strong anti-Islam sentiment in his family. But when I learned that God could be called by many different names by different people all over the world, it changed my perspective.

Friends, I ask us to challenge ourselves. Here is what I know: I know what it feels like to be held under a leading, with the weight constantly resting on my soul until I’ve fulfilled what I am being called to do; I know what it feels like to have my heart start pounding during Meeting for Worship, the vivid sense of being truly alive as I give the message, the relaxation as my body returns to normal.

If I call the One who gives me messages and leadings God and the person sitting next to me in Meeting for Worship calls the One buddha-heart or our internal humanity or Jesus Christ or Allah or Yahweh or Buddha, are we not still following the same One?

There is One (or Many, if you prefer) who moves us, Friends. But the One’s existence is not dependent on the names we use or the specific theologies we cling to.

I apologize if this post is upsetting to some, but I am really confused over what exactly we are arguing about. For it seems to me, Friends, that what we are arguing about are just notions, notions we should be willing to use when they are helpful and let go of when we have been led to a better way.

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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

Kyrie eleison

This song is speaking to my condition so thoroughly right now that I want to share it with everyone:

http://www.amazon.com/Kyrie-eleison-Christian-Arabic-Tradition-Lebanon/dp/B0018R4J60/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1235245916&sr=8-4

There are a few posts I’ve been considering for awhile, but I don’t feel clear yet about writing them. But I will be posting again soon.

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This is the day: A Slogan Post

Today’s slogan:

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad of it.

I can’t read this quote without hearing it sung. As a former Catholic, this was one of the hymns that was sung nearly every Mass. Nowadays I only attend Mass on Christmas Eve, mainly to humor my very Catholic grandmother. And each year, this action of family solidarity becomes harder to participate in. I feel like an imposter. Knowing that many of the people in attendance don’t believe everything the Catholic Church wants them to believe doesn’t make me feel any better. Every year, the message is the same: that the greatest gift we’ll receive tonight is Jesus and we need to take him home in our hearts. Unlike most Protestant churches and Quaker meetings, Catholic children stay for the whole mass. I’ve talked about this before, how I think it’s important for the children to be participants in the service instead of whisked away to another room. But I don’t think the Catholics have it right, either, because often the messages feel “dumbed down” for the kids, which harms not only the kids but the adults as well.

Back to Christmas Eve Mass. It’s ultimately an Integrity issue: do I continue attending Mass with my family to make my grandmother happy, letting her live with the delusion that I’m a good Catholic and a strong Christian; or do I break her heart with a decision that she cannot understand? I’ve tried talking with her about my faith before, and there’s just this barrier that’s reached. It’s not just a language barrier, either, as I fumble in French to try to explain my faith, but a perspective barrier. To her, being a Christian means being Catholic. The only other options are Judaism, which is tolerated because one of her sons married a non-practicing (or at least, quiet) Jew, or Islam, which is rabidly vilified. There is no Quaker option. Buddhism is unthinkable.

And so, I stood and sat at the prescribed times. I recited bits and pieces of the Nicene Creed that I felt comfortable with (“I believe in one God… I believe in the Holy Spirit…” I am bashfully silent about Jesus); I refuse Communion, letting my non-Catholic husband be the excuse (Only Catholics can participate in the Eucharist, and my husband was not raised Catholic), an alleged act of solidarity with the man I love; I watch the “Santa” bow before the Crucifix and pray at the life-size creche, and I wonder about idolatry.

The pomp and the ceremony, Barclay called them “shadows” of the real thing. And yet I have to wonder, have to ask myself honestly: do I participate in the real thing, or have I just substituted emptiness for shadow?

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Compassion for Enemies

The acronym SPICE was brought up in today’s Meeting for Worship, with each letter explained: S for Simplicity, P for Peace, I for Integrity, C for Community, and E for Equality. I wondered, why couldn’t the C stand for Compassion instead? And my thoughts swam backwards towards a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while: the Armenian Genocide and the role of Ottomon Turkey in the genocide (and modern-day Turkey in its denial).

Since some of you don’t know me personally and don’t read my livejournal, you may not know that my dad’s family is ethnically Armenian. They lived in Lebanon for a number of years before relocating to America in 1965. We are proud to be Armenian. I’m proud to be Armenian. But part of being Armenian is knowing about what’s been called the “first modern genocide”, that of the Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, where over a million Armenians, including pregnant mothers, elderly men and women, infants, children… everyone, were killed by various horrific ways. But it didn’t start then, not really. The first massacres started in 1896, when hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed.

Turkey has denied that the slaughter of Armenians in 1915 was a genocide, calling it “civil unrest”, etc. No one except Turks and those paid off by Turkey believes this. But because modern-day Turkey denies the Armenian Genocide, there’s a lot of anger between modern-day Armenians and modern-day Turks. It’s part of being Armenian today, knowing that you’ve lost relatives in the Genocide and knowing that there’s a possibility Turkey will never accept it as genocide, much less apologize.

I’m reading a book now that gives me hope. It’s called “A Shameful Act”, and it’s written by a Turk (who is now barred from Turkey, of course). Most books about the Armenian Genocide focus on the slaughter, the brutality, the sadness, and the official decisions that led to them. This book focuses on the history that made the Genocide possible, what was actually going on in the Ottoman Empire such that the conditions were there for a genocide to happen.

And reading about how scared the Ottoman Turkish government was of losing everything: country, identity, religion, I’ve come to understand that it was fear, not hate, that led to the genocide. And as I was sitting in Meeting for Worship this morning, a wave of compassion swept over me and I found myself thinking, “I forgive you. I forgive you for what you did to my ancestors and what you are still doing by denial. I forgive you.”

Even more than that, I found myself imagining how soul-destroying it must be to be so consumed by fear that one thinks genocide is the only way. Can any of you imagine what that must feel like? To be so afraid of something, of your identity being swallowed by Others, that killing those Others is the only solution?

I can’t imagine that kind of fear.

And then, an uncomfortable thought rose in me, spurned by a message in Meeting: what if we Armenians hadn’t been so Other? I’m not in any way blaming the Armenian Genocide on Armenians. The Ottomon Turks were responsible for how they reacted to their fear, not the Armenians. But I do wonder: if we hadn’t been so intent on maintaining our ethnic and cultural integrity, if we had intermingled more with the Muslims and the Turks, maybe we wouldn’t have been so Other.

There’s no way to know, of course. And intermingling would have required the cooperation of the Muslims and Turks of the time as well: it’s a two-way street, not a one-way.

But what about those of us today? Not just Armenians, but all of us in our cultural or ethnic groups, who worry about losing our integrity by intermingling with the dominant culture? What about Quakers, who worry about losing our cultural integrity if we stop numbering the days of the week instead of using their normal names? What about LGBTQ folks who stick together in one big group where anyone S is made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome? What about ethnic groups in the US who refuse to learn English to any degree past “Thank you”, etc., and instead go on speaking their native language? (And I’m not talking here about people in ethnic groups who speak their native language when they’re gathered together at family functions, but those who speak their native language all the time.)

Let’s go back to Quakers. What about our Quakerese? What about our sacred peculiarities?

There’s value in cultural integrity. I love being with my Armenian family at parties, hearing four languages (French, Arabic, Armenian, English), the music, the food, the dancing! I’m not in any way saying those things should be less valued or diminished.

What I am saying is that we need to reach out to each other. We need to reach out to people who consider us Other and invite them in, not by forcing them to learn our language, but by showing them our own culture in ways they can understand: why these things are important to us, what we love about our language and our customs.

Most of all, we need compassion for those who consider us Other and whose lives are ruled by fear. We need a great deal of compassion for those who persecute us because they are afraid. And we need to recognize that we have a responsibility to those people, that it is just as much our job to make them unafraid of us as it is theirs. And, of course, we need to be aware of those Others we are afraid of, and reach out to them as well.

“Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”

He wasn’t kidding.

(x-posted to Friends of Color and Quaker Queeries.)

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