Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Conservative? Radically: An essay on my first experience at North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative

I’d never heard of Conservative Friends until sitting with my then new friend and fellow Friendly Adult Presence Mark Wutka at a Southern Appalachian Young Friends retreat 5 or so years ago. We were both members of Liberal Friends meetings and I did what most every Liberal Friend does when confronted by the word “conservative” in this context, I sorta bristled before asking Mark to explain what Conservative Friends means. He told me that Conservative Friends seek to follow a traditional Quaker path. Their worship is unprogrammed but it is more Christ-centered and Bible based than Liberal Friends. He said he feels much more spiritually at home worshipping with Conservative Friends than he often does among Liberal Friends. I trusted Mark to speak from a God-filled place and so was interested in Conservative Friends but filed the information away as a curiosity rather than anything I wanted to immediately pursue.

Fast forward to the present: Mark and I are married (it blows my mind to think of God preparing us for this from our first encounters!) and attended North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative together this last month. I wasn’t sure what to expect but what I experienced was a blessing! It was a joy to me to see how well-loved and cared for Mark is in this community. In part because so many of his School of the Spirit classmates were there, it felt like a family reunion: Mark was hugged and I was hugged and introduced and then hugged again. It was lovely.

The community is small and it was easy to feel the intimacy and deep relationships between people who know one another as the Body of Christ. What impressed and thrilled me was the shared spiritual vocabulary and the unabashed acknowledgement of Christ actively working in folks’ lives. I was happily moved to hear people in casual conversation talk about obedience and following God’s will.

Meetings for Worship for the Conduct of Business are the heart and major activity and are well attended. They make it a practice of having each Monthly Meeting answer the Queries from NCYM-C Faith and Practice as a body and the clerks or representatives of each MM read the responses together. I can’t say I was always edified by the responses (some were exceedingly verbose) but I found the practice compelling.

Friday evening, one of Mark’s classmates from School of the Spirit, Charley B directed the 2nd performance of a play she wrote as a class project, The Call. Ashley W read the role of a young woman called to ministry. The play was about the challenges she faced, practical, emotional and spiritual and the support she received in the form of Friends who preceded her in ministry. I found the play to be well written and researched and deeply thoughtful.  It was well-received and good conversation was generated afterward.

On Thursday, during her workshop “Dance of Compassion”, I fell in love with Nanbee. Her open heart and guilelessness are a rare and amazingly beautiful gift in this world. Immediately we felt like Soul Friends and tried to find time to sit together to get to know one another better. Friday night after the play, my favorite time of the entire 5 days happened. Nan, her husband Tom, Mark & I got together at a table on the patio. After visiting a bit, Mark decided to go to our room to write a letter. Shortly thereafter, Lloyd Lee and Ashley joined us. It had rained at various points that day and while we sat at our table, it began to drizzle. We raised the umbrella just before the downpour started. Because several of us were newly acquainted and I wanted to know each of them and didn’t want to waste the opportunity making small-talk, I asked everybody questions. I like to ask the kinds of questions one only needs to be an expert about one’s own life to answer so everybody can share something and not feel ignorant or left out. Sitting in the our increasingly damp little island in the middle of a crashing storm, creating a wonderful intimacy while telling stories about ourselves was deep and rich for me. I feel we shared something rare with one another and I will, I think, remember it the rest of my life.

After having sat in business meeting for days, Saturday evening’s activity was exactly what everybody needed. We played “A Big Wind Blows” and “Four Corners” and moved a lot and laughed even more while sharing thoughts and ideas and bits of ourselves. It was great fun.

Sunday Meeting for Worship was followed by a reading of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Advices. Mark had been asked to read them, which touched him. Again, I’d never heard Advices read aloud before a body like that (SAYMA’s Faith and Practice doesn’t contain Advices and I honestly can’t imagine a body of Liberal Friends ever agreeing on Advices-seems too much like control). I can’t say the language of the Advices is completely comfortable for me but I tried to “listen in tongues” and hear the Holy Spirit behind the words.

Beforehand, I’d been feeling some serious trepidation about going to NCYM-C due to the fact that I wouldn’t know one person there and it being Mark’s (and Mark and Ceal’s) community. I wasn’t sure how people would respond to me, or if I’d be comfortable with the spiritual vibe. Turns out that I was nurtured and enriched in ways I never could have imagined and I’ve made at least one friend I know I will keep all of my days. I returned home with a renewed spirit and joyful heart and am humbly grateful for the experience.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cronkin' on Christ

I sat down last summer to read Sandra Cronk’s Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297  “Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community”. It took me at least six weeks of wrestling with one word before I gave up. That word? “Christ”. She first used Christ in the introduction: “Coming out of a great spiritual revival, transformed and guided by the Spirit of Christ...”. No problem with that. She even provided a definition on page 4: “...It led them to Christ, their Inward Teacher and Guide.” This did not help me when I became stuck on page 7.

“It is in this covenantal tradition that Christians have understood their relationship with Christ as a new covenant. George Fox proclaimed that Friends were entering into the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah. For Fox this covenant was the fulfillment of all that went before. In this new covenant God’s law was not to be written on tablets of stone:

I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts;...And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor..., for they shall all know me, …; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34, Revised Standard Version)

For early Friends the new covenant was Christ Jesus and their living relationship with Christ...”.

(imagine, if you will, a car...slowly...coming.  to.     a.        halt.  Only not a car. Me.)

Christ? Christ Jesus? What? What does that mean? I tried to continue reading the pamphlet but each time, I’d be drawn back to that paragraph, perplexed and frustrated. I was good with the idea of an historical Jesus, the deliverer of the Sermon on the Mount, the man who taught that we are to love God and love one another. The message Jesus taught is why I consider myself a Christian. Jesus as the teacher, guiding us to open our eyes and see we are with God right now. Jesus as a human who was more in touch with That of God than most people. But Jesus Christ? Jesus the Divine? Jesus Christ, which is often followed by our Lord and Savior? Uh...I’m sorry but I can’t go there. I can’t accept Virgin Birth, Resurrection,etc. In touch with God, yes, but not God incarnate. Sorry but it just didn’t speak to me and no matter how I looked at it, I wasn’t able to find meaning in it.

What could I do with the agitation I felt around that last sentence? After rereading it fifty-eleven times and confronting Mark about it repeatedly, I resentfully set the pamphlet down and walked away from it thinking “we’re just going to have to agree to disagree”.

But then something happened. I can’t tell you when exactly but my heart opened and what I came to understand and accept is that God is the universal and Christ is the personal. God is what unifies us and Christ is God communicating to each of us. Individual names for different aspects of the divine but still one God. I’ve had a blossoming around Christ since then. I embrace my understanding of God’s relationship with me as being through Christ. I would even say that I find peace, joy and delight in Christ in my life. I feel comfort and security in the concept of Christ: God is so big and ultimately unknowable as to be sometimes overwhelming (awe-some, fear-some) but Christ is intimate, knowing and encouraging, whether firmly directing or gently nurturing, with love.

I struggled with this for so long last summer that it became a thing for me. Mark would ask me what I was reading and I’d sullenly reply, “I’m still Cronking”. Once I “got it”, cronkin’ became a good thing. I was just accepting into the School of the Spirit Spiritual Nurturer class #9. Sandra Cronk was one of the founders of SotS so for the next two years I will be cronkin’ hard.