Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Afterthought #7

At the recent North Pacific Yearly Meeting Annual Session, Ann Stever (University Friends Meeting) introduced Friend-in-Residence Benigno Sánchez-Eppler. 

“Benigno wears his connection with Spirit on his sleeve,” she said.

I do, too, but sometimes my sleeve is rolled up, my connection with Spirit tucked out of sight, for fear of being misunderstood, or of assumptions being made about my beliefs.  I’m grateful for times of deep sharing and open listening, when I can unroll my sleeve and fearlessly embrace the Spirit that is always with me.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Closer to Each Other Than Language Allows

Photo by Claire Phipps - clairephipps.com

People think of Quakers as loving, peaceful, friendly types (our full name is, after all, the Religious Society of Friends).  And we are all of those things. We’re also human—full of imperfections, confusion, and fear. We don’t all see things in the same way, and our history shows that sometimes those differing views have torn us apart. This week, one branch of the diverse tree of Quakerism—Indiana Yearly Meeting—is considering such a break. For those Friends, the issue that is dividing them is homosexuality.

I’ve just returned from my own North Pacific Yearly Meeting (NPYM) annual gathering. For five days, Quakers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana worshiped, sang, and played; remembered Friends who died last year and welcomed newcomers; learned about local, national, and international Quaker efforts to promote peace and justice; and reconnected with old friends and made some new ones.

For many, these annual gatherings are a time to take a break from life’s daily demands and to renew spiritually. With the theme of “Listening in Tongues,” we were encouraged to “prepare ourselves for seeing, feeling and hearing unaccustomed perspectives with the tenderness we would wish for our own.” Our Friend-in-Residence, Benigno Sánchez-Eppler, urged us to listen beyond words, beyond the “limited monolingual comfort of our own monthly meetings,” for the similarities of our common Quaker ancestry. We heard from Friends in Pullman-Moscow Meeting that listening in that way can be healing. They reported that as they’ve dealt with conflicts in their meeting, “We are closer to each other than language allows.”

We faced our own challenges with language that separates us as we considered whether to affiliate with Friends General Conference (FGC). After a year of examination of what “affiliation” would both require and offer, we still stumble over that word as well as what it means to be an “independent” yearly meeting.  We decided to discern further over this next year, setting aside the idea of affiliation and instead exploring what kind of  “relationship” we want with the varied branches of Quakerism, including FGC.

As we left our gathering last Sunday, another branch of Quakers in the West, Northwest Yearly Meeting, began its annual session. Their agenda was to include consideration of the current state of affairs in their Yearly Meeting in the area of sexual ethics and same-sex relationships. As with Indiana Yearly Meeting, these conversations likely were fraught with conflict, just as they were twenty-five years ago in North Pacific Yearly Meeting. It took us eight years, but in 1993 we came to unity to revise our Faith and Practice to state that Quaker meetings could take the relationships of same-sex couples under their care (translation of Quaker-ese: same-sex couples could get married) following the same processes as for heterosexual couples.

This week, Indiana Yearly Meeting (IYM) has been considering a split as a way to deal with its members’ differences regarding not only same-sex relationships but also the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of their monthly meetings and churches.  I first learned of IYM’s proposal to separate into two groups in an article by Stephen Angell in the June/July 2012 issue of Friends Journal. Angell outlines the timeline of the “Indiana Yearly Meeting Schism” there as well as in the Winter/Spring 2012 issue of Quaker Theology - The Impending Split in Indiana Yearly Meeting.  From my reading, it appears that differing views on homosexuality are being cloaked in questions about the authority of the Yearly Meeting over individual meetings.

I’m holding these Friends from Indiana Yearly Meeting this week as they meet to discern how God is leading them.  I hope they can, as Benigno suggested, listen to differing perspectives with the tenderness they would wish for our own.

And I hope that NPYM can do the same as we explore the nature of our relationships with the wider world of Friends. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Breaking the Rules

Best-selling mystery author, Lee Child, urges writers to break rules.  Like the rule, “Don’t start with the weather.”  To which Child advises, “If the weather is what’s on your mind, start with it.” The weather has been on my mind.

This is the time of year in Puget Sound when it’s finally warm enough to sleep under the stars on the futon I dragged onto the porch. To eat breakfast at the card table I set up on the deck. To wear short-sleeved shirts and sandals without socks.

Spring lingered beyond most people’s patience here, with cool, rainy days all throughout June. The sun broke through just in time for the 4th of July parade and the fireworks, followed by a week of still air warmed to the upper 70s—a heat wave for these parts.  The peas in our garden responded by lengthening and plumping within hours, requiring harvesting morning and night. The pole beans started tendrilling up the twine support my husband built. Yellow flowers dotted the tomato plants and teacup-sized yellow blossoms sprouted from the ends of the zucchinis.

Lightning off San Juan Island
Christopher Teren – Teren Photography
Several times last week, though, lightning ripped through the early evening blue sky. Thunder rumbled in the clouds like colliding bowling balls. Bucketfuls of rain and hail pelted the raspberries, tomatoes, and the clothes on the line.  Such weather is uncharacteristic here, but it brought back memories of the summer storms of my childhood in the Midwest.

A few nights ago, as my husband and I settled in after dinner to watch a new episode of Downton Abbey, lightning again tore the sky and brightened the dusk. Lights flickered once, twice. He unplugged the TV, lamps, and the computer; I lit candles. Another crackle darkened our house and all those on our road.  I snuggled under the soft hand-woven throw on the couch; he leaned back in the recliner.

We talked lazily, shifting from one subject to another like the hummingbirds flitting among the red lilies in the garden. About the kids (now grown and both living on the East coast) and where we might all rendezvous for Christmas. About how to reinforce the frame for the bird netting over the raspberries.  About putting out the crab pots for the first time this season.

The candlelight blinked and went out, the house darkened as the sun sank below the horizon, and our eyelids fluttered. Rain tap-danced on the metal roof as we headed upstairs, rummaged through drawers for headlamps and flashlights, and settled in with our books.

The next morning, the flashing red digital numbers on the electric alarm clock signaled that sometime during the night, the power returned. As quickly as spring had turned to summer, the season had shifted again with the premature arrival of morning fog. The milky drape usually doesn’t pale sunrise until August—the month we refer to as “Fogust”—but this year it’s appeared mid-July. The ferryboat’s bass horn called us to rise.

The computer is back on, we have Internet access again, and we’ve returned to following the rules of to do lists and tasks.  I don’t intend to romanticize the power outage. I know the loss of electricity can devastate businesses and put fragile people at risk. Fortunately, I haven’t heard of any severe damage from last week’s storm.  But with the weather on my mind, I’m rethinking my self-imposed rules about productivity. Might be good to sit by candlelight more often and break some more rules.