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.