Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: A Prayer for Releasing Fear and Accepting the Unknown

2010 ends tonight and with it ends much of what is familiar to me. 2011 brings many more questions than answers.

I can look at this either as if I’m losing security or as if I’m releasing things that no longer fit to make room for growth and change. Although I do have some fear, I’m working to accept the unknown and live in the mystery until I am guided to the place I am supposed to be.

Letting go:

*My marriage
+
Bickering
-Affection
+Compromise
-
Kissing
-Companionship
+Failed expectations
+/-Identity

*The employment I’ve done for 8 years
+The stress of always being under a quota
+The stress of sometimes working for people who are ineffectual bosses
+The stress of going into the field and knocking on doors not knowing if it will be opened by the Lady or the Tiger
+!Strange dogs
+The unreliability of the work
-The pride I feel working for a respected university
-
The pride I feel to have this job with only a high school diploma. This job validates my intelligence and forces people to question their assumptions about people who haven't had the luxury of higher education.
-The really good hourly rate I am paid
-The flexibility of the schedule

*The house I’ve lived in for 10 years

*My status as a married person
-For what it’s worth, some people’s attitudes toward me will change—some for the better and some for the worse.

*The security of having a spouse with a good, steady job
-Health insurance
-I was able to be more selective in accepting work because I had the luxury
of my spouse’s reliable income.




I am the one moving out of our home. And yet I will be unemployed within the next couple of weeks. I have no idea how this will unfold. I trust.




I desire a life of submission to God’s will. I will actively do what I know will increase my awareness of God in my life, writing, prayer, fellowship, community. I will try to be open to new leadings and new directions. Not my will but Thine.

I would like to live a frugal life, relatively financially independent. I don’t want to think about retirement but about what kind of impact I am making on the world right now. I would like a low-stress job which would allow me the time to write and build community. Or, I would like to create a business that I can do from home such as owning an apartment building or running a hostel. Or, I’d like to find my own “right livelihood”. I trust Spirit to guide me.

Anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows I want to be automobile independent. In Nashville, with children in school and with a job, I don’t think this is possible. I would like to build into my new life as much freedom from auto-dependence as possible. I may still need to own a car but I would like to walk, (learn to) bike and ride buses whenever possible. I trust Spirit to lead me.

I would like an open house, that is, a house which is open and warm and inviting. I want to offer hospitality and to welcome people with food and generosity. (I’d really like a country kitchen, good for baking bread.) I would like my home to be a gathering place for my friends and my communities and my children’s friends. I trust Spirit to use me.

I would like to have greater compassion coupled with a more effective ability to act. I want to be a member of the Body of Christ on Earth, doing God’s work. I trust Spirit to teach me.

I know the more fearful I am, the more I pull inward and dread the unknown, the less I am able to hear God’s Call. Slowly, slowly, sometimes just cracks at a time, I’m revealing myself, releasing the fear and laying myself open for God. I’m not a patient woman, when I know that change is inevitable, I want it to be done and I’ve a tendency to force it--usually toward the outcome my ego most wants. I could easily do that now. I could apply for any and all jobs (which I started to do last month) and accept the first one offered to me. I could settle for renting whatever house or apartment I can afford for me and my children. I could compromise my values again in order to have stability, health insurance and security. But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t want me to do that right now. Maybe later I will find that taking a job with a corporation or a fast food restaurant or another research firm is where it seems God is leading me but for now I think I’m supposed to rest in the unknown. I think right now is a time of releasing fear and accepting that everything--EVERYthing--is beyond my control.

I give over this fear and trust God to transform it.
I accept the mystery and trust God to keep me.
I open myself, vulnerable and flawed, and trust God to strengthen, guide and use me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Reflection on the End of a Marriage

How does one write about the end of a marriage? I can say we’ve been avoiding the end since before the beginning. We fought entropy for a very long time and, finally, we’ve run out of energy and have stopped fighting. In our time together we’ve experienced a lot of good, anger, grief, joy, beauty, many frustrations and scarce contentment. We’ve compromised, given in, conceded and worked and we always wind up back here. 20 years of circling round and winding up here. There’s no right or wrong, no good versus bad, no victor nor victim, just two flawed people who can rarely find a way to take comfort in the security of one another. We’ve never, in our 20 years, learned to rely on one another or to be truly faithful to us: That back door marked “Exit” has always stood open, brightly lit and available. We’ve stood on that threshold for so long we finally found ourselves stumbling through.

I keep thinking about that Dave Mason song:

So let’s leave it alone ‘cause we can’t see eye-to-eye.
There aint no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy.
There’s only you and me and we just disagree.

Yup.

We’re not sure how to go about this reinvention of everything familiar. It would be so much easier if there were some compelling reason—some wrong, some event: an unforgivable hurt—but there’s not; there are only a lifetime of small omissions, thoughtless actions and regrettable words which add to up to this desolation of unity. I think we are both weary of feeling alone together. I’m exhausted by not being able to trust the good feelings to last very long. When things are good, when we are able to turn to one another and relax and find comfort and pleasure in one another, it has so many times felt hopeful, like a new beginning. But one can only believe in the same beginning so many times before one stops trusting in the hope—which, of course, is hopelessness.

After years of discussions, tears, prayer, support from my spiritual community and trying, trying, we’re laying this romantic partnership down and placing our positive energy into our parenting partnership and our friendship. We work well together as parents and we actually, in spite of everything, like one another as people. Those aspects of our relationship have often been overshadowed while the more dramatic and negative dynamics absorbed our attention. We’re letting go the drama so we may define our individual selves apart from the bound-ness of marriage. When individual equilibrium occurs, we anticipate being able to bring what is good and strong and pleasant to our myriad remaining ties.

We are a work in progress. We’re working together to discover who we are apart. It sounds strange and very different but we’ve never shied away from defining things our own way rather than forcing ourselves into the roles given us by society. Normal is being estranged from one’s ex. But who says we must? We still admire the things that drew us together in the beginning. Yes, there are many reasons that we can’t live together but that doesn’t mean that we can’t LIKE one another. And so we are slowly learning who we are as individuals and as former spouses forging a new way of relating with one another and with the world.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss: My Retirement versus Theoretical Suffering

This was the query shared at meeting for worship yesterday:

How do we attend to the suffering of others in our local community, in our state and nation, and in the world community? Do we try to understand the causes of suffering and do we address them as a Meeting?
-Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice

One friend arose to speak about John Woolman and how his witness against the evil of slavery began as a private concern but matured and grew with the spiritual and practical support of his yearly meeting.

I think about our modern life and how little most of us are touched by the institutionalized suffering of others. In the days of slavery, I imagine one could not avoid being aware of the keeping of other human beings as chattel. Nowadays, our lives are comfortable and we are quite well insulated from the variety of human suffering equal to slavery. We are all exposed to news articles about human trafficking, for instance, but our lives seem to be far removed from the prostitution rings we hear about. I would say that unless we work in public schools, medical clinics or as social workers, we probably are not exposed to hunger or abuse. And hunger and abuse can be viewed as singular problems, one child, one family-individual problems with individual solutions: make a phone call to Second Harvest or Children's Services and we've done our duty.

We all hear about the terrible atrocities that occur in third world countries. We know about genocides and wars, famine, disaster and disease. Those things are real but at such a remove that we don't, and really, can't feel any immediacy about how those things are connected to our world. If we do feel a tug at our hearts, we make a donation to Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross and feel (mostly) absolved of responsibility.

I wonder how many of us have a 401k or other retirement program? The overwhelming majority, I would guess. It is utterly unheard of for middle class Americans to not have a retirement savings plan. Retirement, for healthy middle class people, is
the opportunity to quit work and still have sufficient financial resources to allow us to do all the things we currently aren't able to do because we spend all our time working. Retirement is the time when we can be who we want to be and live the way we want to live: The kids are grown, the house is paid for and we can travel and garden and golf. Because we earned it. Because we were smart and planned ahead and invested wisely.

But what does that mean, "invested wisely"? We work at jobs that provide for us a 401k or other retirement plan or, if needed, we set up a Roth IRA. We make contributions to our plans and, if we're lucky, we become vested and the company we work for matches our contributions. We may or may not have the ability to specify how the money in our accounts are invested--all in stocks, all in bonds or split between these. We do a little research, make the "wise" decision and feel very good about our future (until the stock market takes a hit and we feel very insecure because we "lost" some amount of what we thought we had).

But:
What happens to that money? It's invested. Invested? In what? Where? How? How many of us with retirement investments have a clue where our money goes? Not many, I'd wager. Yes, we may be given the opportunity to choose the types of investments but how many people are given the option of choosing the actual companies invested in? So how is our money distributed? To what corporations? What do they do with the money? We have no idea. The money could be invested in a mom & pop start-up, it could be funding the continuing expansion of an internet behemoth or it could be adding to the power of a corrupt global corporation. I would never support a multi-national corporation to purchase water rights in impoverished countries nor do I encourage deforestation or child slavery: But possibly I have with money I have invested.

We'd like to think our money is going out into the world to help create positive action but I truly doubt it. I imagine our money is being used to grow, grow, grow wealth, whatever the cost. Which, if we're really honest with ourselves, is exactly what we want it to do. We want our money to grow our personal wealth so we may retire in comfort.

Am I being too harsh? Naive? We're just doing what everyone does. We're not actively trying to hurt anyone. Surely our retirement investments must be doing good work or our investment firms wouldn't put our money in them. I mean, I know there's a lot of corruption in the world but I can trust the investment firm my company works with, can't I? As long as our intentions are good, that's all that matters, right?

I think of John Woolman. He did not own slaves but benefited indirectly from slavery by the positive impact slavery had on the economy through lower costs for goods. As he became convicted, he found that he could no longer participate even peripherally. From woolmancentral.com:


John refused to write wills, bills of sale, or any other document that perpetuated slavery. He boycotted slave products, willing to appear foolish in the eyes of others. And he capitalized on every opportunity to explain why he did not use the cotton, silver, rum, sugar or dyed clothing that others found acceptable. It wasn't easy for John to appear "singular". He would have preferred not to. But he understood that actions spoke where words would not, and that actions faithful to God's leadings have a power to persuade.

I wonder what John Woolman would think of the modern economic situation in which we feel absolved of responsibility for the impact our money has on the world due to our complete disconnect from it. Much of our wealth is intangible and unreal. We never see it except symbolically in charts and projections and so feel no connection to it nor culpability for the harm it may cause other people and the Earth.

I offer no suggestions but am resting with these questions.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

(These Boots Are Made For) Prayin' and Playin'

A friend went through a spiritual depression a while ago: She described it as dark night of the soul. She said she would try to pray but that it was like she was locked in a lead-lined room so nothing got out and nothing got in.

Although I relate to what she went through, that's not where I am right now. I just feel completely untethered. I feel like when I pray, I'm in outer-space so that my words dissipate immediately...like there's no atmosphere to hold them. Last week at Friends Meeting, the Chihuahua wasn't at the door yapping because she had escaped and was running wildly about the neighborhood. (When Nashville Friends Meeting was at our old location on Acklen, one of the neighbors had a Whippet that would sometimes escape. Trying to catch that dog was like trying to pick up quicksilver with your fingers. That's what the Chihuahua in my head has been like.)

I'm on the cusp of re-creating my life with the rare opportunity to fully align the way I live with my values so my life can be integrated and SPICE-y. So strangely, I find myself completely ungrounded with my thoughts on about everything but God. Wanna talk shoes? because the Chihuahua does! Music! Books (fiction only)! Just about anything but God. Why is this? Is it spiritual cold feet? I don't feel afraid or reticent of commitment. No, I just feel utterly distracted--and not by work, for once.

Thinking this through, what I'm coming up with is that there is so much really heavy stuff going on in my life that I'm needing lightness and distraction. I've made God feel heavy by putting so much weight, so much emphasis on God's Right Place In My Life that I think perhaps I've made God feel like a burden. I think I need to find God in the fun, in music and art and time with friends. Not in a weighty, "we gather together today to..." kind of thing but in a "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy" kind of way.


Maybe even in shoes? Maybe even in these really awesome Fluevog boots:
(Didn't George Fox say sometime along the lines of "Wear your scooter-riding boots as long as you can"? Well...)
I need a little more fun. I need to get off my Serious God kick and spend some time getting a kick outta God.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Prayer for Today

Please help me be aware of your Presence. Help me quiet the noise and energy in my head so I may be guided where you will lead me. I know you are there but I'm all over the place here and need your help in finding my way right now. I'm facing many decisions each of which have several options and I am feeling overwhelmed and confused. Help me remain aware of all I must and please give me some wisdom so I may make decisions that support the needs of each. And please help me create enough quiet space in myself in which to know you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Road Trip with the D

My oldest son, Declan, and I are leaving this afternoon to drive to South Carolina to pick my nephews Niall and Liam up for a visit. I'm really excited to spend time with these wonderful young men--I love them dearly. I haven't seen Niall in several years and only get to spend, at best, a couple of weeks with Liam each year.

I'm a little apprehensive about the trip. As much as I love Declan, we, um to put it nicely, we see the world through different lenses. He's on his way but has not fully differentiated from me and so still needs to push much harder than I feel would be necessary or is comfortable for either of us. I fully understand why (I'm the strong willed daughter of a strong willed mother) and have pretty clear perspective, even as it's happening but that doesn't change the potential for this to be a very long car trip. The added challenge is that Declan has had no interest in driving but I basically drove him to the DMV this week and had him get his learners permit so he could get practice while on this trip. He's not particularly happy about this. I'm not saying he will have to begin driving around town all the time. I fully support him being a bike rider the rest of his life! I do think it's important to know HOW to drive. The more options a person has, the better, I think.

He and I went to the library and got some books on CD to listen to: David Sedaris will save our sanity! (would it be sanities?)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Forgot That Love Existed

This song arose in my mind as I was talking with my dear friend Lisa today.

Many thanks to Van Morrison for his wisdom.

I forgot that love existed troubled in my mind.
Heartache after heartache, worried all the time.
I forgot that love existed
Then I saw the light
Everyone around me make everything alright.

Oh, oh socrates and plato they
Praised it to the skies.
Anyone whos ever loved
Everyone whos ever tried.

If my heart could do my thinking
And my head begin to feel
I would look upon the world anew
And know whats truly real.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What if?

If you knew for a fact that an action of yours would have a direct, immediate and profoundly negative effect on your next door neighbor, a beloved friend or family member, would you do everything you could to change your behavior?
What if it were someone who lived down the street but for whom you had no strong feelings?
What if the connection between your action and the harm was less immediate, less direct but still connected?
What if the action harmed, not a neighbor but someone you would never meet, a person in another place, another town or another country?
What if it wouldn't hurt someone alive now but would harm people in the future, possibly your children or your children's children?
What if there was no way to measure the impact of your actions to gauge the harm?
What if everybody did it and you were just one of many?

Maxie & Me

I’ve become aware of teeth--mine and everybody else’s. I’ve got a crooked tooth, specifically my second from the front, the Latin name of which is the Maxillary Lateral Incisor—let us call her Maxie. Maxie overlaps the front tooth next to it a little. Two moments stand out in my memory about Maxie:

1) When I was 12 and at that age when one is as self-aware as one can be, I’d spent a lifetime looking in the mirror trying to figure out who I was but I’d never paid much attention to Maxie until my dear Grandma (with the best of intentions, I’m quite sure) said: “That tooth gives you character”. Tooth? Crooked tooth!
2) My oldest son at 6, completely apropos of nothing, leaned toward me, poked Maxie with his skinny finger and said, “That tooth makes me sick.” Huh?

These incidences aside, I’ve never been too bothered by Maxie. I guess I internalized Grandma’s message because I do think a natural smile provides a face with character. For this reason, I’ve never considered installing cosmetic orthodontic devices to my children’s teeth. My youngest has a pretty significant gap between his two front teeth but fixing it would be for looks only—it’s not serious enough to cause him problems so the gap and his Alfred E. Newman smile remain.

But lately, I’ve been thinking of my teeth as I notice other people’s teeth. I drink a lot of tea and my teeth are not as white as they once were. It seems that everybody in my world has sparkling white, perfectly formed and uniformly situated teeth and mine, in comparison, look rather dingy and crooked. When I think about this with perspective, I know that my teeth look exactly as a 45 year old woman’s teeth should look. Historically and globally, my teeth are in fantastic shape. I may have a lot of silver in my mouth but I’ve got all my originals and can eat and drink with no pain or trouble. I know I’m amazingly lucky to have been born during a time of fluoride, toothbrushes and dentistry (as opposed to barber-dentists…shudder). But I look at all the really stunning smiles on all the people around me and I think I should maybe do some cosmetic whitening or something to look “better”.

And then, I’ll be downtown or in some public place and I’ll notice the working class and economically challenged folks who have not had the same access to sometimes even rudimentary dental care, and for sure not orthodonture and I see that this is where the true social divide is most acutely evidenced.

Them that’s got, have 32 pearly ones. Them that’s not, usually don’t.


I was listening to a 2009 Terry Gross interview with Tom Ford, the director of “A Single Man” recently. He is a fashion designer who has studied the human body extensively. He was talking about our society being “post-human” because we no longer know what a real human body looks like. All the women held up to us as our ideals are made of artificial parts, something added, another thing taken away. We don’t know what natural is anymore. This is really obvious when it comes to breast enlargement and liposuction and such cosmetic “enhancement” but extends to botox and waxing and on and on.

Which brings me back to teeth. I think most of the people I know find breast enlargement to be unnecessary and possible offensive. Not many people in my world would have a tummy tuck or other cosmetic surgery to look younger. But how many people in my world have had cosmetic dentistry done? How many have whitened their teeth? Is this not one, seemingly benign, end of the same spectrum?
I guess the question for me is: How much of this is bearing false witness? How much of this is representing oneself to be something other than what one is? I’m not sure. There are certainly things about my physical self that I’m not crazy about but then I remind myself that I’m 45 years old and have birthed three babies (not to mention that I’ve had a pretty sedentary life for the past couple of years). If I were to bleach my teeth, am I putting forward a false self? If I wear a push-up bra? If I color my hair cherry, not to cover the grey but just for fun? In some ways this comes back to the Simplicity Testimony and also Integrity. Why would I be doing these things? What intention to I bring to each decision? Is it to deceive people? Is it to look better? What does better mean? Better to whom? Better according to what standards? With the exception of the teeth bleaching, most of what I do in regards to my appearance is to have playful fun. For me, clothing and hairstyles and jewelry and such are one of two things: Either utilitarian—meaning I must cover myself with something so I wear whatever is most practical for the situation or I’m playing dress-up. I play with clothing and play with the world through clothing and hair. It may be completely frivolous but I don’t do it to mislead or present a false impression. Even, or possibly even especially, wearing a push-up bra would be part of a costume worn for fun—a prop, if you will (ha!)--not to give an impression of me as younger and less gravitationally-challenged than I am but simply to fit in the “mood” of whatever I’m wearing.

In summary, no teeth bleaching for me and no cosmetic procedures. Fun with clothing, I guess is, in Quaker parlance, “carrying my sword as long as I can”. In other words, until I am given a message that I need to let it go, I will continue to dress in a decidedly un-Quaker-grey way. I’m fine with that and I don’t get the impression that God minds too much right now, either.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Spirit of the Living God

I've had the song "Spirit of the Living God" with me for a couple of days. I've tried to find a music clip of the song that works but they're all way to church-y and blah and/or overblown and organ-ized. I'm posting the lyrics and you'll have to use your imagination (or call Christina and have her sing for you!)

Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me;
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.
Spirit of
the living God,
fall afresh on me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blog Eldering Support Committee

I’ve been thinking of this blog as a ministry for a while. As I’ve said, writing is my spiritual discipline and posting it to a public forum keeps me honest and true to my center—I’m not writing for the beauty or the flow or because I love words; I write this to help me seek clarity about where Spirit dwells in my life and how I am being called to live. And sure, if you look back through my blog, you’ll find puh-lenty of posts which are all about me, me, ME, but mostly, I’ve tried to keep my awareness of and focus on God in my life. Because I do feel this has developed into a ministry, I asked NFM Ministry & Council for a blog eldering committee. They responded positively and now I have an on-going support committee that NEVER NEEDS TO MEET IN PERSON!!! (No scheduling conflicts! No struggling with how to fit it into our schedules!) What I’ve requested is for a couple of people to commit to reading friendlymama on a regular basis and make occasional comments when they feel led to do so. Judy offered to clerk and she, Kit and Polly are my support committee. We’re creating a new entity so we’re not exactly sure how it will unfold but I’m glad and grateful for the loving support.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Testimonies

In a couple of recent posts, I mentioned Quaker Testimonies and it occurs to me that many people may not really know what I mean by that. Quakers don’t have a creed or dogma, we don’t adhere to a statement-of-faith. In many ways, Liberal Friends particularly, are a very individualistically oriented group of people. We don’t have rules and are very accepting that wherever a person is in his or her spiritual journey is alright. Instead, we have Testimonies and use Queries.

The Testimonies as understood by contemporary Friends are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. These words are not defined by Friends for Friends in any way, or, if they are, there is no requirement that we all agree with the definition. They are open to whatever understanding individual Friends have at wherever they are on their spiritual path. They are used as a center around which we “gather” to begin our understanding of what it means to be Liberal Friends today.


From the Friends General Conference website:
Quakers generally recognize five central testimonies:
simplicity, integrity, equality, community and peace. The testimonies are not rules, but ways of living in the world. For example, Quakers seek to avoid violence on both the personal and the societal level, and believe that the
Spirit that takes away the need for war is available to everyone, everywhere, in all situations.


I see the Testimonies as a way for us to focus on or begin to define who we are. A lot of people have problems with the lack of any real religious identity inherent in the Testimonies. Most of us incorporate Spirit or God or The Divine in our interpretations of the Testimonies but doing so is, by no means, universal.

A lot of people are drawn to Religious Society of Friends via the Peace and Equality testimonies. It was the Quaker history of engagement with social justice movements that first spoke to me. I’d been studying feminist history and the time period during which the women’s suffrage movement overlapped with the abolition movement and was blown away by how many folks of the front-line folks were or had been raised Quaker. And as I moved forward in history, it still seemed like Quakers were disproportionately represented during times of peaceful social revolution and growth. Having been raised Baptist—a church, ahem, not known for progressive action on social justice--I wanted to learn more about this religion that has, since it’s inception, espoused the belief that all people are equal.


So, a lot of people are called in by our history of activity but once they get settled in and find it a spiritually safe and nurturing environment, discover the Spirit that undergirds everything. As my dear Friendbrother, Geoffrey, said, “Come for the Peace. Stay for the Integrity”. I love it! We won’t tell you what to believe but we’ll offer our own lives as gentle guides and will support you by trying to stay true to our Guid. And we’ll use the Testimonies as a kind of meetingpoint for our unity.


Hmmm…does that make sense at all? It may be the kind of thing you have to live and experience to really understand—especially if you were raised in a “letter of the law” kind of religious environment in which everything is delineated, defined and ordered. I guess there was a time in Quaker history in which folks were “read out” of their meetings for indulging in such frivolous activities as wearing colored ribbons, hanging art on their walls or (the horror!) having a piano. We are a long, long, long way from that. The modern Quakers I know would sooner cut off a limb than tell another Quaker how to live or what to do with her time outside of meeting for worship. So much are we distant from one another that some of us feel a real longing to know one another more intimately and form a deeper understanding and awareness of how Spirit is actually moving daily in our lives. Which directly reflects our Testimony of Community. Which is a post for another time. Or, no: Has already been a post.

How Rich ARE You?


This is a really interesting exercise which helps put things into perspective. With great privilege comes great responsibility.
(I'm currently the 429,712,644th richest person in the world which is in the top 7.16% but preparing to drop to the 734,285,822nd richest which is still in the top 12.33%. Amazing what we take for granted.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

T'hellwithit

I saw this on a church marquee today. Sheesh. That's what institutionalized religion seems to me to be about--scaring the hell into you so they can then lead you to "salvation" from the fears they instilled. Pretty effective system, I'd say.
I wish Jesus would be used as the actual spokesperson for Christianity. HellO? "The kingdom of God is within you"? "Love your neighbor as yourself"? Jesus didn't go around preaching about going to hell--he spent his time talking with people, teaching and healing. He was building bridges and creating unity and community. I know why...but WHY do people feel the need to focus on hellsfireandbrimstone when the message of Jesus is so true and right?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Give Over Thine Own

My thanks to Lynda for this Isaac Penington quotation; I am encouraged and affirmed by it.

Give over thine own willing, give over thine
own running, give over thine own desiring to
know or be anything, and sink down to the seed
which God sows in thy heart and let it be in thee,
and grow in thee, and breathe in thee, and act
in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience
that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that,
and will bring it to the inheritance of life, which
is his portion.

It brings to mind the Shaker hymn, I Am The True Vine, sung by Chris Moore and Mark Wingate of Kindling Stone.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Gift of Spirit-centered Community

A few days ago I requested a support committee of Ministry & Council and a couple of Quaker friends to help me find clarity about some of the decisions I am being guided to make. The affirmative response was almost immediate. We met this afternoon for 2 hours. I have never felt such positive, loving support as I experienced with these Friends. They held my concerns and questions and confusion in the Light and asked gentle and sometimes very pointed questions until I was able to clearly see a path beginning to emerge. And when the path seemed to abruptly end, I was not afraid but feel very comfortable with the not-knowing of what comes next. At the end, they encircled me and laid hands on me and we prayed silently and it felt exactly like the support I had when I was in labor, birthing my babies at home with my midwives and family around me. The patient willingness to be with me and not force an outcome but to wait as the process unfolded slowly.

There's a line in Joni Mitchell's song Lessons In Survival: "I came in as bright as a neon light and I burned out right there before him." I feel just like that only completely opposite. I feel like my light was burning but obscured and my dear, dear friends were able to help me lift the bushel. What a beautiful gift is Spirit-centered community.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Equality

Another of the Quaker Testimonies is Equality. We all know what this means, right? We’re all equal: none are “higher” than others. Fits very nicely with the whole “one person, one vote” ethos upon which democracy is founded. In America, we don’t have social hierarchy like those countries formerly governed by monarchies and in Liberal Friends meetings, we don’t have hierarchy like those other institutionalized religions. Why, we don’t even have paid ministers! We’re sufficiently enlightened that we believe we’re ALL ministers, each with our own unique gift of ministry. We’re so into equality that we believe there is “that of God” in every person. We feel so strongly about equality that we go around espousing the belief that God is directly available to everyone.

Eh, right.

Yesterday, I was looking for a video clip of Quaker hip-hop artist Jon Watts to put on my facebook wall. There are, I don’t know, 10 videos of Jon performing before a number of different Quaker audiences and the thing that struck me was who comprises the audiences: Mostly middle aged, middle class looking white folk. Pictures in Quaker magazines and publications? Same thing. On-line Quaker presence? Same thing. Quaker organizations? Same thing.

I love unprogrammed meeting for worship. I love that transcendent, indescribable experience of being fully engaged in a gathered meeting for worship. I love the history of Friends, the activism, the obedient people who have responded when God has called them. I love how individual people struggle to live a God-centered life. What I don’t love is how we say we’re committed to equality but how our meetings for worship sure do not reflect it.

If we really believed that God is available to everybody, we’d have a diverse, dynamic body of worshippers. I love my fellow Friends but we’re neither diverse nor particularly dynamic. I’m 45 years old and I think it’s pretty weird how often I am the youngest person in a room with other Quakers. And I’m fairly certain I’m the only adult Friend in Nashville Friends Meeting without one or more university degrees.

Here’s what I think: If we really, really believed in equality, we’d welcome everyone with open arms just like Jesus did. I don’t think we do. I think we welcome folks who are like us because we’re comfortable with that. Poor people, working class people and those, like me, who have no formal education beyond high school may fit in but only if they pretty much dissociate from their cultural norms and embrace the social values we espouse. If ya wanna worship with the Quakahs ya gotta act like us first or you will not feel comfortable enough among us to get to know Spirit in the silence. God is available to you, but only after you’ve run the liberal Friends gauntlet to get to the Holy Presence.

When I’ve asked the question of why our meeting doesn’t have poor or working class people among our attenders I’ve gotten several variations on the theme of “they just don’t get it”. I’ve heard people say that uneducated people prefer to be told what to believe, that they wouldn’t understand with the implication being that it takes a certain level of intellectual awareness and curiosity to be able to make sense of freaking SILENT worship. Over and over again I’ve had dear friends express surprise at my lack of education because I fit in so well as if every working class person is somehow intellectually and socially inferior and I, somehow, am not.

Nashville Friends Meeting is my spiritual community and I love it dearly. I certainly do not mean to pick on NFM--mainly because I do not think our meeting is anomalous in our lack of socio-economic, racial or ethnic diversity. I’d say, given what I’ve seen and read, that we’re par for the Liberal Quaker course.

Wanna know what else I think? I think our meetings for worship are filled with people who are just like us because it’s safe. I think that we ultimately want our meetings to be safe and comfortable. Bring some people in from the wrong side of the tracks and who the hell knows what might happen? Oh my gosh—what if they spoke in tongues! What if they gave some OT messages (off topic and/or Old Testament)? What if…what if they expressed EMOTION during meeting for worship?!

I think that if we didn’t just call it meeting for worship but actually worshipped God, I mean really WORSHIPPED, like “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart” worshipped…like “Amazing Grace” kind of worshipped…if we, I don’t know, really called to God with our hearts and minds and beings, in the silence and out of the silence, maybe if we did that, we could learn to sincerely embrace every seeker, every stranger, every diverse person who comes through our door no matter their background or baggage or level of intellectual understanding of “Quaker process”. It seems to me that if we are pure in our desire to be the body of Christ on Earth, to serve God through each person we meet, we need to be showing it. To show it, though, I think we need to learn it, first.

I haven’t read many of the writings of the first generation of the Religious Society of Friends of Truth but it is my understanding that the early Friends, rockin’ their little house meetings for worship, welcomed everyone, haves and have nots alike. England was much more socially stratified than our society is now; serfdom had only been abolished for half a century when George Fox was born. Not only did the haves have but they also had almost complete life and death power over the nots. So, for haves to open the literal doors of their houses to everybody was an incredibly powerful witness to equality. I would say the gap in intellectual understanding would have been pretty great back then but it seems to have not stood in the way of the Light being available to all. We’re not The Religious Society of Friends of Gnosis: We are Friends of Truth--a Truth available to everyone. Our approach to God is not through esoteric knowledge gained or skills mastered but through silent waiting which can be done by anyone, anywhere (excepting, perhaps, those of us with Chihuahuas living in our heads). For us to think or assume or presume or surmise or project otherwise is our own elitism and classism and downright snobbery talking which pisses me off when I think about it hard enough.

I think if we can come together on Sunday mornings and hold true meetings for worship, unifying ourselves into a body of believers (yes, I said it), submitting ourselves, allowing God to form us and transform us so we become secure in our awareness of ourselves as the embodiment of God’s love on Earth, then we can truly accept and embrace everyone we encounter.

To reinterpret the second chapter of James (from the New Testament):
My dear Friends, don’t play favorites as you practice the teachings of Jesus. If a stranger comes to meeting for worship with silver bangles and an organic hemp dress and another with pantyhose and hairspray and you pay attention to the first one and let her know about potluck after the rise of meeting and offer her a seat on the comfy, padded chairs but ignore the other and leave her to find a seat on the hard pew, have you not become judgmental, intolerant and manipulative? Listen, my beloved Friends, does God not love us all equally? When you do not welcome the people who are different, you dishonor them and in doing so, you are going against God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself”. When you show partiality, you are not living up to what God expects of you. Don’t judge others but have compassion for them. What good is it to say you believe in God if you don’t act out of love for others. If someone shows up at the meetinghouse hungry and cold, how would it help them for you to say, “Go in peace, stay warm and eat well” but don’t give them food or a coat? Telling them you believe in the testimony of equality does not help them in any way. Saying you believe without acting on your beliefs is worse than useless. Like a body without a spirit, saying you believe something but not acting on it is dead.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Discerning God's Will

It seems ironic, cruel almost, that the times when I feel most stressed and overwhelmed, when I am forced by circumstance and necessity to make potentially life-altering decisions, these are the very times when I feel the most distant and removed from God. As I've said many times before--when I don't feel close to God, I know it is me who has drifted, that God is consistent and remains waiting and this, I am sure, is certainly true for me right now. I have a series of Very Important Decisions to make very soon which will impact my life and the lives of my children for years to come. These are the kind of decisions best made with deep discernment and the loving and intimate guidance of God and yet, The Chihuahua in my brain is yapping so loudly that I can't begin to discern much of anything beyond "children hungry...prepare food". I'm guessing this is when community needs to come into the picture. I think I need to pull one or two groups of friends and Friends around me to listen to me, help me identify my options and find clarity and direction. And yet, even this seems a daunting task.




Life feels like a row of dominoes right now. Everything is contingent on everything else and it's all lined up so that one move in any direction will set off movement in all directions. How do I plan for all those directions at once when I don't have any clear understanding of how the dominoes all fit together nor the potential repercussions of their falling this way or that?

Making decisions out of fear or pressure is never a good thing and yet decisions must be made, some of them quickly.

I will soon be in a position to reinvent my life and to make it as I want it to be (be careful what you wish for). I've done a lot of exploring of what I want but how can I know if this is truly how God is calling me? It's really easy to convince myself that my will and God's will for me are aligned. How do I discern what is NOT ego when The Chihuahua is so convincing? And honestly, it's not like my wants are not very simple so it would be easy to believe that what I want is aligned with what God wants for me. I mean, if I began thinking I need to indulge in "retail therapy" and get my belly-button pierces (eeewww!) it might seem obvious that I'm not really heeding God's will for me. However, I'm not a person overly enamoured of a lot of our cultural trappings so I can really struggle with how much of what I think God's calling me to do is actually about me, me, me.

This is what I think I know to be true:
  • I am being called to live car-free. I feel, and have felt for 3+ years, a strong need to live as close to earth as possible. For me, this means to not own a car but to scoot, walk, bus and (eventually--after I, like, learn to ride one again after having not done so for HALF my life), ride a bike everywhere I need and want to go.
  • I think I am being called to live more immediately in community, and more directly engaged and involved with others.
  • I am pretty darn sure I'm being called to simplify my work obligations which sort of seems easy (just quit!) except for the fact that income is directly tied to work and, um, money is a necessity in this world.
  • I know I'm called to live with more awareness of how my actions impact others and the world around us. This would include buying locally grown food as often as is possible/practical, cooking from scratch more, far less "canned" entertainment, hanging laundry out to dry & etc.
  • I know I'm being called to closer communion with Spirit with a more consistent prayer life and by engaging in a variety of forms of worship with a broader and more diverse group of people.

What I don't know is anything else. Many decisions could facilitate some of the above things; few would accommodate all. What are the options? What are the implications for each of those? How would each impact each of my children today and in 5 years? What's best, what's good & what's neutral? And where is God in each? How do I submit myself to God's will for me when I'm so unsure what that is?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Simplicity

A few months ago, I participated in an exploratory gathering with the theme of Quaker outreach at Nashville Friends Meeting. Prior to the event, another Friend and I volunteered to be the local presenters working with the Friends General Conference traveling educators who facilitated the event. We were told we would each be giving two five minute talks about one of the Quaker Testimonies; the first talk would be about how I came to that Testimony and the second was to be how my life reflects that testimony now. "No problem", thought I. I'm used to speaking before Friends and leading things and exploring and sharing about my spiritual process. That was, however, moments before my confidence crashed to the ground when the Testimony of Simplicity was announced.

Simplicity sounds simple. My life used to be simple, back when my kids were young and we had so little that things were very uncomplicated. Currently, I'm not even sure what Simplicity means.

To me, the Testimony of Integrity undergirds and informs all the other Testimonies. For you non or new-to Quakers, the Testimonies are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality or SPICE. Integrity, in this Quaker spiritual context, is a substitute for Truth (a word which apparently causes more confusion and conflict than clarity). To me, as I wrote in yesterday's blog, Integrity is about all the parts being in harmony to make the whole. So Integrity is the foundation of each of the other Testimonies.

Ah, but Simplicity. What about that? We've had many, many discussions about Simplicity at Nashville Friends Meeting: Simplicity and money, and time, and stuff. Also, Simplicity in work, in relationships with others, in commitments and obligations.

The workshop we did was several months ago so I've had a while to think about this and gather my thoughts and ideas. At the time, I could not find any clearness about this Testimony. None. I couldn't write about it, I couldn't articulate anything that in any way reflected Simplicity. I was stuck. So that's what I talked about.

My first talk about how I came to Simplicity was about how I had been car-free for a year and a half, how right it felt and how I was forced to explore the privileges we all take for granted about being able to go wherever I want whenever I want and how eye-opening and centering that was for me. How my choice to be car-free forced me to live more simply.

My second talk was about how far I am from living in Simplicity now. I talked about what a confusing, overwhelming Testimony this is for me now and how I am so far from it that my life does not reflect Simplicity in any way. I talked about how Simplicity used to always be easy for me because I've never been an acquisitive person who needs a lot of stuff to feel successful but how I took a full-time job and put my kids in school and Simplicity was tossed out and I don't even know how to begin to go about creating a more Simple, Integrated life. I spoke from my center, my Truth.

I think some people responded positively and some people were overwhelmed. Later in the day, a long-time Quaker said she is afraid that having perspectives like mine shared may put people off of Quakerism because they may think they have to aspire to live without a car in order to be Quaker. I do hope I inspire other folks to think about their choices and maybe ride their bikes or take the bus more often but I certainly don't offer myself up as a model for much of anything. I'm wallowing in confusion and struggling with where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to do every day. I don't recommend this to anyone. Or maybe I do when I think that this struggle is really about trying to find the way to align my life with God's intentions for me. Yes, of course, everyone should struggle with that for him or herself.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Integrity and My Dis-integrated Life

I've been pondering the meaning of the word "integrity". I thought recently of "disintegrate" and how it should mean the opposite of integrity but I take it to mean to dissolve or to crumble or fall apart which didn't immediately seem to be an antonym. The more I thought about integrity, the more the two words do seem to contrast one another. To me, integrity is all the parts being in accord to define a whole. At this point in my life and in my understanding, integrity means that all aspects of my life work in accord to reflect God; that the many varied selves I am (mother, wife, employee, boss, friend, Friend, citizen, daughter & etc.) are all rooted in the same Source and all reflect God's will for me, more or less in harmony.

I'm a long way off from this. My life does not feel harmonious. My work self has been the defining self, usurping the time and energy from all the other selves I am, disallowing me to nurture and sometimes even be very aware of my other selves. It's not that I don't bring my values to my work--I do--it's that I become so enmeshed in my work that I am not able to step away from it to be fully engaged as most of those other selves. My life is dis-integrated right now.

Which returns me to the question of how I am being called to re-integrate my life so I can live centered on God's will for me. The first step is to define where I am feeling called, followed by the questions and concerns or perceived obstacles.

1. Be car-free
-We live in an area of town with insufficient bus service
-We live too far from most of our daily destinations to be able to walk and/or ride bikes.
-Our schedule is far too tight to be able to allow in the extra 1+ hour each direction that would be required if we were to try to take buses.
+For instance, we live 10 miles from Carmac's school and the drive takes 25 minutes in rush hour traffic. To get him to school by 8:00, we would have to leave at 6:00 am. That, of course, does not include the time it would take to return home/to another location.

2. Less stressful and consuming employment
-Without any formal higher education, it is very difficult to find work that pays well and contributes positively to the world. I work for the most respected university sociology company in the world. I make very good money (unless you figure out what I'm paid hourly for the actual time I work).
+Some of this argument seems to have a lot of ego in it.
-Tuition and potential tuition payments for 3 children.

3. More time for prayer/spiritual practice
4. More time to offer myself in service
-These are both affected by #2 more than anything. If work assumes the proper place in my life, I can have more time and energy for these important facets.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Discernment for What I Bring Into My Life

(Please read my blogpost, "Everything Added Means Something Else Is Lost" as the preface to this post.)

Corporate discernment is one of the unique aspects of Religious Society of Friends. Our Meetings for Worship for the Conduct of Business are just that: Conducting our business and making business decisions with an attitude of prayerful concern as a spiritual community. Incorporating Monthly Meeting into Meeting for Worship in this way speaks clearly of business concerns being a normal part of the spiritual life of the meeting. Committees present reports: sometimes asking for support or guidance, sometimes offering suggestions and sometimes bringing concerns; we, Nashville Friends Monthly Meeting, then hold these in prayerful consideration until a clear understanding of the direction we’re being led is given to us. Sometimes this is immediate. Sometimes there are many questions and a great deal of discussion occurs. Sometimes we ask that more information be found and that we reconsider the question at the next month’s meeting or suggest a Called Meeting be held when more information is found. Sometimes a person will ask a question that leads to clearness for us. Sometimes we discuss things for a long, long time and realize we’re all getting too personally involved and someone will ask for silence while we hold the concern, and our role with it, in the Light. We rely on the most centered of us to help the rest of us learn to let go of attachment to a specific outcome and let God’s will for us as a corporate body unite and guide us. In doing so, we all deepen our awareness and trust in God’s direction for us, individual and as a unified body.
---------------------------------------------------
Which brings me back to discernment for what I bring into my life. You know how it is: You see this…thing. It catches your eye and you think it’s pretty neat. It seems to actually be exactly what you’d been needing, although you didn’t really even know you’d been needing it. It’s just right, the right color, size, price. It’s perfect. You can justify it by saying if you have this thing, it will replace several other things you don’t use so often anymore because they’re outdated. But you’re not an extravagant person so you go home and sleep on it and think about it and maybe even (but probably not) pray about it. But you know you were sold the first time you laid eyes on it so, utterly convinced this thing will fill a void, you return to the store, lay down your cash or card, and walk out with the thing. And guess what? Well, the thing serves it’s purpose for a while and you are very happy with it at first and then you don’t use it so often and other things come along that are more up-to-date and the thing gets set aside and your eye lights upon another thing and: Repeat. The cycle of stuff. It’s really, really easy to convince ourselves that what we want is what we need so there’s really no discernment at all that comes into it about acquiring stuff. We have it and we want>need more of it. There are some of us who don’t have as much discretionary income as others of us so can’t buy so much stuff but we all wind up with lots and lots (and lots). There really is no process of discernment. There are no standards for what we have in our lives. There are no guides for us other than our vague feelings of unease and discomfort around the Simplicity and a little teensy wee bit around the Equality testimonies. We’re like big greedy children who’ve never been taught that we shouldn’t, always, just because we can.
--------------------------------------------------
So I think about the segregated religious sects like the Amish and Mennonites who have community rules and standards and while I don’t want to be in an Old Order kind of community, I have to say that the corporate/communal discernment around what is gained and what is lost by bringing new things into our lives and into our communities is very appealing. All of y’all who know me know I’m not a particularly humble, self-less kind of person. I have a fairly robust self-esteem and enjoy the me-ness of me. On the other hand, what an egocentric sentence that was! I mean—really! There was certainly no “Thy will” happening there, at all. And there I go. I find great, well sometimes great and sometimes just a little appeal, in the idea of being a member of a community with whom I would gather to discern standards for living. Not hard and fast rules: Not “our way or we shun you” rules. Not, “oooh, did you see the way Mary (fill in the blank)?!” kind of community rules. But loving standards that help me live up to the highest standards God sets for me. ‘Cause, you know, I don’t seem to be able to live up to ‘em on my own very well. I can’t even seem to figure out what they are on my own very well except in hindsight.
---------------------------------------------------
I feel some attraction to the idea of submitting myself to some authority larger than myself. Of course, there’s God. But I don’t seem to be able to do that very well on my own. I can’t get my shit together enough to listen and really hear what God’s calling me to do. Sometimes I hear (like, right now I’m really struggling) but often I’m so busy and distracted and single-minded about work or some other thing that is not what God is saying to me that I am totally, unhappily oblivious to God in my life. If I were part of a larger community of (what even to call it: Believers? Disciples? Followers? Listeners? Heeders?) whom I trust to not be all ego-tripped out and with whom I spent daily time in prayerful worship and corporate discernment, I could, maybe, learn to be more faithful, to daily live as I am being called: To live every moment as a prayer.
---------------------------------------------------
But alas, I don’t have this. I have my dear Nashville Friends Meeting which meets once a week and every other week my Friendly Women’s group. I have F/friends with whom I communicate via facebook and email and occasionally by phone and even more rarely in person. I have blogs I read and books and novels. I have prayer, for a moment or two a couple of times a day and I have writing like this, when I can find/make the time. I do not live my life as a prayer. I do not discern much of anything excepting once a month in Monthly Meeting. I do not prayerfully consider the repercussions of what I bring into my life. I do not think about what I may be letting go of when I accept something new. I not only don’t heed God’s will for me, I don’t even hear it most of the time.
-------------------------
What am I asking here? To have ears and to hear. To learn to submit to God. To have a community that holds me in prayer and holds me up to help me live up to my light. To let go of me and live for God. A little bit of wisdom; just enough to find my way out of this wrong place and into the right place I’m supposed to be, whatever it is God’s calling me to.

Monday, June 14, 2010

BP Did It for ME

I am vegetarian--in large part, because I could not slaughter an animal in order to eat it's flesh and it seems very wrong to me to pay someone else to do this for me. What right do I have to cause suffering for my own pleasure? (In this modern life of easily accessed protein, meat, I think, is pleasure and not necessity.)

I feel the same way about the environmental disaster of the oil continually pouring into the gulf waters. BP held the weapon that caused the terrible wound but they did it at my behest. They did it because I insist on the right to drive my car. They did it because I refuse to alter my life sufficiently to access the buses or walk or get my body healthy enough to ride a bike. They did it because "It's not just my car, it's my freedom". They raped our Earth because I demanded they provide me with cheap fuel so I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. And not to get too "new agey", but Mother Earth is bleeding and her children are dying and we're watching the news and seeing the pictures and getting angry at BP and big oil companies and maybe sending money to the WWF and then turning our heads from the terrible suffering and then going out in our cars for ice cream. WHAT IS WRONG WITH US? what is wrong with me?

What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me that I can see my own culpability and know what I'm being called to do and yet be unable to do it? What is wrong that I can't make my own life be the life I know I am being called to live? What is wrong that I allow external forces to dictate what I do and how I act? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME that I keep driving, driving, driving, driving,driving as if I AM THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE AND NOTHING ELSE MATTERS MORE THAN FUCKING ICE CREAM RIGHT NOW.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Everything Added Means Something Else Is Lost

I'm on a support committee for a f/Friend (which is Quakerspeak for a friend who is also a Friend) who is participating in a 2 year long spiritual program called School of the Spirit. She forwarded notes that someone (don't know who) made about a talk with Quaker educator Max Carter after a visit with an Amish community to learn about their ways of understanding. The notes are fascinating but a particular paragraph almost took my breath away:

Making decisions: (1) Scripture; (2) How our forefathers implemented that scripture. Everything added to life means something else is lost, and usually you lose more than you gain. What would this new thing bring with it? You have to manage each thing or it manages you...Simplifying our
lives allows us to better enjoy what we have...I'm reflecting on bringing complexity into my life: What do I have to manage; what does this item take away?


Wow. I am completely blown away by this idea. How would my life be different if I prayerfully considered each thing before I brought or allowed it into my life? The idea that everything you add takes something away and discerning the more important value before making any change is so obvious and so foreign. How much more simple and centered on my true values, on God's will for me would I be if I asked this simple question. I'm nowhere near there but this idea/exercise speaks deeply and powerfully to me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

God in 100 Words (and a few more)

Man, woman, elder, infant, timeless.
All made in Your image.
Christ Jesus, Buddha, Ganesha, Muhammad.
Vishnu, The One, Energy, Allah, Love.

Redeemer, judge, elementary school principal,
Mother, Father, nurturing, supportive foundation.
Creator, destroyer, rebuilder, abundant renewer.
Limitless, everything, life, hope, order.

Light, center, truth, pure, goodness.
Alpha, omega, the root, eternal reality.
Sophia, Logos, Gnosis, Compassion, Agape.
You will be whatever we need,
To approach knowing you.

Holy Spirit, Divine Grace, welcome.
Your gift is free will.
The gift is personality, ego, self.
Right, wrong, listening, learning, yielding.

Mistakes, lessons, experiences, no mistakes.
Transcendence, enlightenment, salvation, beyond awareness.
Not my will but Thine.
Self in service to You.
Giving over (forgetting and returning). All that I am is Yours.

Monday, April 12, 2010

monday morning

Work is intense. I'm at my desk for 10 to 12 hours Monday through Friday. I worked a couple of hours on Saturday (couldn't work more because we visited Hammy's parents) and at least six on Sunday. I'm doing everything I know how in my attempt to keep my head above water but I have the line from the Ben Folds song "Brick" running through my brain all the time: "She's a brick and I'm drowning slowly" (substituting it for she, of course).

But yesterday in meeting, this was given me to use as a mantra: Grace is returning. There's more about joy and welcoming, forgiveness and the lessons required which teach us how to let go of what we no longer need in order to move forward. The gist, though, is that we can start anew as many times as we need to.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Arms of Jesus/I Am Lucifer (good vs evil or what is the point?)

My youngest has been influenced by his teenaged and young adult brothers and loves their music. Right now, he loves Black Sabbath. I do not like Black Sabbath and am encourage him in other musical directions, like Hendrix and Led Zep, but you know I'm mom and not nearly as cool as the other drummers in our house, especially the heavy metal playing oldest brother.

Hammy recently gave Carmac his old Ipod so Carmac goes into his room and cranks up music and plays. Which is great except that he listens to "War Pigs" and "N.I.B." and then goes around the house singing "I Am Lucifer" which is rather strange coming from a seven year old.

We had several discussions lately about what's appropriate for a seven year old to listen to and repeat and what's not and why. Carmac's understanding of things is pretty sophisticated for a young child--he knows there are some things that are ok in our home which aren't appropriate at other places because people might be offended. A child singing a song from the viewpoint of satan would definitely count in that category.

The thing that made it a little difficult is that Hammy and I don't believe in satan so we've never taught our children anything about satan. I know my mother has talked with each of them about accepting Jesus and not allowing satan to lead them to hell (against my explicit request that she never do that) but they seem to have successfully avoided internalizing any of it.

The fact that I don't believe in satan, or hell or the need to be "saved by the blood of the Lamb" is the thing that separates me from pretty much most other Christian people. What's the point of Jesus if nobody needs salvation?

Good question. For me, Jesus is the teacher, guru--my Messiah. Jesus exemplified how I should conduct my life. His teachings live because they are an eternal model for how we may live in God.

I don't believe in satan. I do believe that we all have "that of God" in us and when we ignore It and act willfully (ego) the potential for evil is created. I think the further one strays from being connected to that of God, the more harm one does oneself and the world around. I also believe we all have endless opportunities to reconnect ourselves with that of God: Redemption, Grace.

Perhaps it's easier for people to understand an entity leading them astray--snakey looking red dude with a pointed tail and horns or "devil in a blue dress" or whatever. "The devil made me do it". An external force against which we must be ever vigilant. Something that uses any tool or weapon to seduce and overpower us unless we gird ourselves with the armor of God--the Bible, hymns, prayer, baptism, communion, etc. Kind of like a moral H1N1 flu virus. Wash your spiritual hands constantly or you'll catch the evil and spread it's wickedness.

That seems, in some ways, easy. Accept Jesus into your heart to be your personal savior, follow these step-by-step rules, do what you're told and you'll be:

Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe from corroding care,
Safe from the world’s temptations, sin cannot harm me there.
Free from the blight of sorrow, free from my doubts and fears;
Only a few more trials, only a few more tears!
But accepting that model, to a large extent, absolves us of our personal responsibility in our relationship with God. If I believe that as long as I do A, B and C I will win a seat at the left hand of God when I die, I don't have to really listen to what God may be saying to me right now. If I follow the "thou shalts" and avoid satan by not doing the "thou shalt nots" I'll be in good standing and ready to meet my maker.

My brother may call it "spiritual relativism" and my mom says she'll pray that I'll return to the fold but my way I understand it is that God speaks to each of us and calls us to our own truth. We are to learn to listen to that Guide so we can live our lives as directed by God, not by a church or a preacher or a set of rules or social norms. I think satan is our own ego-driven willful nature and salvation, as shown and taught by Jesus, comes through listening to what God is actively telling us to do, by living for God and reflecting God's love for us. The gift of doing this is learning, growing into and being fully who we are--who God intends for us to be, in harmony with our true nature, our Original Face. No punishement for not doing that except the discord and disharmony of living a life disconnected from God and our true selves. When we live for God, we are able to use all of us, including our human ego, for God. That, to me, is salvation. That, to me, is living in the arms of Jesus.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pharm Fresh

I've described my brain, specifically my thought processes, as "the chihuahua that lives in my head". I began describing my mind this way shortly after I began attending Friends Meeting. To me, it seemed that everyone at meeting's minds were like big old irish setters. They'd come into meeting for worship and their brains would walk a circle a few times and then settle snugly in front of the fire to wait expectantly for Spirit (their Master). I, on the other hand, had a chihuahua for a brain and when I'd sit down in meeting for worship, the mailman would knock on the door setting off a paroxysm of yapping and barking.

I've also written about my very, very low boredom threshold and how much I need a variety of activities in a job in order to maintain interest and remain engaged.

And don't get me started on my inability to follow-through, keep anything tidy or organize my office or my clothes...

Looking back over old posts I see that it's been about a year or so since I began exploring the idea that these things are linked and maybe part of a "diagnosis". I had an inkling that there is something bigger than just personal failures to "do better". As I always do, I read a bunch of stuff and was guided to explore adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder minus the hyperactivity. The more I read on the subject, the more I was pretty sure the symptoms describe my way of relating to the world. The thing that really put it all together for me, though, was an off-hand comment made by my friend, Kit when she said that participating in a drum circle is the only time she feels adhd because her mind wanders and she has to bring it back to the moment. I was amazed at that statement because my mind never stops wandering unless I'm reading a book I find very compelling or sometimes when I'm engaged in an activity which totally absorbs me (which has happened, like, twice in my life). My mind never stops wandering. I am almost never able to fully concentrate on anything. I assumed everyone was more or less the same way so when Kit said that, I began to fully understand just how differently my brain works.

At the time I began exploring this, I was working at a job that fit me very well (except the dysfunctional and inept boss part, of course). My skill-set and talents worked really well with the duties and tasks required by the job and it was a natural and very happy fit. I was able to do most of the duties of the job well enough to feel comfortable and competent but there were still enough things to learn and grow into that I was always positively challenged. But, alas, my boss did not have the same, um, level of competency about her position and created an atmosphere of instability, insecurity, and uninformed, reactive decision making which permeated every aspect of our department and which I, being between her and our staff, bore the brunt of. By the time I was able to submit my resignation, I was pretty thoroughly beaten down.

At this point, I was offered a position in management with the university research company for which I formerly worked. Yes, I was interested! I was also, in equal measures, completely daunted by the prospect of taking a job which would require way, way more skill and ability to organize effectively than anything I'd ever attempted before.

In exploring what having undiagnosed ADHD has meant in my life, I see that I have never had any kind of expectations for myself when it comes to education or career. The books I've read talk about the ways different people cope with the problems inherent with this...let's call it...condition, disorder, whatever. It seems that a lot of people with ADHD are able to excel in some areas of life by putting inordinate amounts of energy into those areas while other areas (that most people take for granted) are not able to develop successfully because of problems with impulsivity, lack of attention or energy. I began failing in school in second grade. My brain does not process numbers and mathematical problems effectively and I have never had the interest nor the attention span to be able to overcome these problems in order to learn to compensate. Rather than trying harder, which I could never understand how or even why to do when trying at all didn't work in any way, I just put my energy into things I enjoyed and which made me feel successful. Although I've always loved learning things which interest me, I hated school and learning according to other's expectations and agendas. I decided at 12 that I would not attend school a minute longer than I had to. Nothing in the ensuing 6 years gave me any reason to change my mind so I didn't attend college and got a job and an apartment, instead.

Rather than trying to pursue a formal education or a career path, I put my energy into creating a life for myself on my terms. I was pretty clearly able to see the things that we accept as societal norms and to identify which are neutral or positive and which are negative. As a young adult, I spent a lot of time and energy rebelling against what seemed wrong to me and being a negative force for change: I defined myself by what I was against (ala the young characters in the movie "Ghostworld"). When I was 21 or so, I read the book "Spiritual Midwifery" which opened my mind to a new perspective so that when I became pregnant at 24 I could accept a new identity as a mother and begin my path toward defining myself as being for what is true rather than against what is not.

I accepted and have started this new job. I know I have the skills and knowledge to perform the individual tasks involved. It's the composite of the individual tasks that I'm worried about--the organizing, prioritizing and synthesizing of those tasks.

About two weeks ago, I met with a psychiatrist who specializes in adults with adhd. We talked and she agreed with my self-diagnosis. We discussed treatment options and settled on a 12 hour slow-release stimulant at it's lowest dosage.

At this point, I'd like to interject into this narrative my personal history of complete objection to the concept, diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit disorder. I still feel that there is something drastically wrong with a society in which a person can't be successful unless they are able to fit into the narrowly defined boxes that allow for achievement in school and gainful employment. Historically, I believe a person with the creative and convoluted thought processes experienced by those of us with adhd would have found a way to positively contribute to their communities without the requirement of drugs. But, that's not how our current society operates. I am living at this time and with this brain and I have to figure out how best to make good with it. Right now, for me, this is what seems to make the most sense.

So I began taking my drug of choice the day I began packing for my trip to Chicago. This drug works immediately--it does not need to "build up" in one's system in order to begin to be effective. At first, I didn't actively notice any difference in the way I was interacting with my world. But a couple of days into it, it occurred to me that I hadn't been dithering at all. I packed my bag for a week's trip in a couple of hours, and I didn't get impatient and cranky with my family in the process! I've joked for years that I had the capacity for only a limited number of decisions on any given day--that I would wake up able to make six decisions and once I had done that, I couldn't make any more decisions until the next day. I've always been that way. That's why my house never gets straightened up because it requires a lot more than 6 or 10 decisions to clean a room. (Work was a different story because most of the decisions I made there were based on project and departmental protocol which were clearly defined.) And now, I've been home from my trip for 16 hours and my bag is unpacked and everything is put away and the laundry is washing. That has NEVER happened before. Placebo effect or chemically enhanced brain-networking, I don't care which, something new is happening in my head and it seems a bit of a miracle to me. (and, as an added bonus, stimulants act as appetite suppressants!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

later

I'm leaving in a few minutes to ride on a plane which will take me to Chicago for a week-long work training. When I return, I will hit the ground running as a field manager with 15 interviewers and 500+ cases to manage. I don't think I'll have much time to write for a while and I will sorely miss it.
Eric, I wrote a long response to your last comment which disappeared when I clicked "publish". I haven't had time to rewrite it and won't for a while. Thank you, though, for the conversation and let me say sorry, it was me and my sensitivity about some people's reactions to my background.
Be well, y'all. Walk in the Light.
Mary Linda

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thoughts on Gratitude

I'm reading the newest book by the author of "The Artist's Way", Julia Cameron; it's titled, "Faith and Will: Weathering the Storms in Our Spiritual Lives". It's very good and very comfortable but a little disconcerting because so much of what is in this book are things I've written about. I think she and I share a very similar understanding of God and express that understanding in similar ways.

I'm a salaried employee of my new employer. I'm having to do a tremendous amount of work right now and learn so much that I'm almost overwhelmed. I am no longer working an eight hour day so there's no shutting the office door at the end of the day and forgetting about it until tomorrow.

My birthday is Sunday but I'll be flying to Chicago in the morning so I won't be celebrating with my family that day. Tomorrow morning, Declan and his girlfriend, Ana, will be meeting us (Hammy, Carmac, Zed and I) at that Greek restaurant on 8th, Athens, for breakfast for my birthday meal with my family.

Carrie Newcomer played at 3rd and Lindsey last night. I've known about it for weeks and have waffled back and forth about going. I've had so much work to do lately that I had pretty well convinced myself that there was no way to justify the time away. Hammy, my dearest, insisted that I go. He said I needed time to recharge and her show was just the thing. Zed agreed to care for Carmac and get him to bed on time.

The show was lovely. Hearing her voice is like being with a dear old friend who knows me very well. Her songs have a strength and a deep spiritual awareness.

Two things yesterday provide me my mediation for today. In both the book, "Faith and Will" and in one of Carrie's songs, I was reminded of the importance of gratitude. I'm not a graspy, acquisitive person but I certainly do take for granted my life. Today, I will try to have an awareness of all this good. I will try to humbly thank God for all that I have and all that I am.

I'll begin this morning with saying how grateful I am to have this blog and the people who visit me here to share their ideas and leadings with candor and honesty. I'm also so glad to be part of the Quaker blog-o-sphere. I am challenged, nourished and taught so much by reading the blogs of others.

I'm not grateful to have to pack Carmac's school lunch--a thankless task in frustration. I am, however, inexpressibly grateful to have more than enough food to feed my children so that I never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. I'm also grateful that we have enough to share with others.

God, thank you for who and what I am. Please use me to reflect your goodness. Your will be done.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Comfort and Challenge/Knowing and Being Known

In my blogpost, "My Discomfort is My Lack of Discomfort" I said this:
"I think too many of us want our meetings to be a place of comfort, not challenge. Too many of us hide behind our sensitivity with religion in general and don't want to be part of anything that seems might force us out of what we perceive to be safe; we don't want our spiritual life to be directed nor our motives and actions to be questioned. Our messages inspire, rarely challenge."

I was brought up in a fundamentalist, evangelical Baptist church in which the rules of right and wrong were well defined, loudly communicated and firmly censored--although there were plenty of unspoken rules, as well. When one broke a rule, one was quickly judged, perhaps with love. Some of the rules were founded on theological interpretation but others were more connected to societal norms. I was given the label of Jezebel for wearing a sleeveless blouse to church (the fact that I was a terrible flirt probably helped). One of our wonderful youth pastors was harshly criticized by a large faction of the church for wearing a beard.

My religious background is rigid and authoritarian. I left because I couldn't reconcile my idea of God loving us with the concept that God creates in us this flaw -sin- and the punishes us with eternal hell unless we accept a narrowly proscribed set of beliefs. The questions I'd always had about "What about Muslims and Jews and Hindus?" never left me. I couldn't accept the belief that they were damned nor that Grace was contingent on keeping ever vigilantly good-standing with that narrow set of beliefs.

So I left and wandered and wondered and railed and ranted. And, finally, I found my way back to God through the quiet and safe space of a Quaker meeting where I was welcomed. I found the lack of Christian-speak refreshing, accepting without question the Quaker jargon. On some levels I felt I had found my home.

But there was the issue of fitting in. Looking back I now see many unspoken rules that I didn't see when I first began attending. Almost none of these have anything to do with religious or theological interpretation; most have everything to do with class and background. Because I held this group in such high esteem and wanted to fit in, I didn't speak of my working class background and never mentioned my lack of education. Many privileges were spoken of as if they are the norm, things I will never been able to experience but I kept my mouth shut and my ears open. As I've said before, I'm very well spoken, well read and a flaming liberal so I fit in easily and passed as just like everyone else but I was troubled on many occasions because I was having to keep hidden a part of me so I could feel accepted. In other words, I was not able to be known because I felt the need to not allow myself to be known in order to be accepted.

Over time, I began to feel a great deal of agitation over this issue. The statements made by people about very obvious privileges spoken as if they are the norm upset me. The biases about less educated people began to trouble me greatly. I began, slowly, to speak out about my background; first in small groups and then to the whole meeting. Obviously, I'd already established a loving bond with my community so some people expressed surprise at my background but I was never rejected (although I have been strongly encouraged to go to school at all costs by several people). As I grew more honest about who I am, I grew in my relationship with God and with my community.

I do feel a Friends meeting should be a source of challenge but it can only be a challenge if we can be our true selves with one another and know one another in a loving and accepting way. As my church of origin exemplified for me, rules and a rigid system of right and wrong keep people in fear and separated from one another: none of us want that. But, as I experienced with my meeting (and, from reading other people's blog posts, is a common experience for people from non-middle class backgrounds who begin attending a Friends meeting), class privilege, biases about education and other things and, I would add, political affiliation, all work to keep us closed off from one another. On many occasions I have heard "it doesn't seem Quakerly" but when pressed to define "Quakerly" what is said is about culture, not spiritual understanding.

When I say "I think too many of us want our meetings to be places of comfort, not challenge" I guess what I'm saying is that we need to go deep and make them both. We need to be aware of how we welcome people, how we represent ourselves and how we accept differences. We need to be able to show our "true face" with one another in loving acceptance so that we know one another and are deeply, lovingly known. And once we reach that level of intimacy, we then may be lead to challenge one another and hold ourselves and our community accountable to reach a deeper, stronger, more immediate awareness of our connection with God. What I'm thinking is the true meaning of Eldering as I understand it. Knowing and being known and encouraging one another with the guidance of God.