Friday, January 31, 2014

Afterthought #24 - A Leading Is...

The January 2014 issue of Friends Journal offers several stories of people following what Quakers call leadings.  Their journeys are potent reminders of the joys and challenges of being open to a Wisdom within and beyond that directs our actions. I keep experimenting with ways to put into words this sense of presence and guidance.  Here’s what came out of a recent free-writing exercise.

A leading is…

          whispering words
          a shout from above
          a dog with a bone

        sun burning through the fog
         a water witch’s dousing rod
         a door opening
         a door closing



     a flashing turn signal
     a curve in the road
     a straightening in a curved road
     a detour returning you home

  a telephone call in the middle of the night
  an unopened envelope
  a rhythmic beat on a drum

                                                       a gate ajar
                                                       a breath.

This month begins my third year of posting an “Afterthought” on the last day of each month. It’s my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning's worship. I’ve adopted the form here for brief reflections on headlines, quotes, comments overheard, maybe even bumper stickers.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Next Chapters for Quakerism

Just a few months away from my 61st birthday, I’m aware of stiffness in my joints and how white is overtaking blonde in my hair.  I’ve noticed, too, how gray the heads are in my Quaker meeting, and I can’t help but worry about the future of this spiritual community.  

The latest issue of Friends Journal gives me hope, though, that there is new energy to write the next chapters for Quakerism.

In Coming Alive-Discerning the Next Chapter of Quaker Service, Christina Repoley writes of her journey to find a way “to live my Quaker faith.”  Despite her fire “to make a difference in the world” following graduation from Guilford College in 2002, she struggled—as many young, inexperienced people I know do—to find fulfilling work. She knew that earlier generations of Friends had found such support through workcamps organized by the American Friends Service Committee, but those no longer exist. While Christina discovered people in a  Catholic Worker Movement house in Philadelphia who shared her belief in the relationship between peace and justice work and faith, she still yearned for Quaker-based places to act on her desire to serve.  She noticed, too, that she wasn’t alone:  “I wondered why so many young people in my young adult age group were drifting away from the Quaker faith.”

Christina’s questions led her to conversations with Mennonite friends whose desire for faith-based, meaningful work had been met through Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).  Both programs offer young adults opportunities to live in community and to serve others and reminded Christina of the AFSC workcamps of the past and the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage she’d participated in as a teenager.

After ten years of listening—inwardly and to those who shared her vision—Christina found openings and help to establish a Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) house in Atlanta.
In August 2012, QVS welcomed seven young adults for a year of living in intentional community and working with local peace and social justice organizations. A year later, QVS opened two more houses—one in Philadelphia and another in Portland, OR—and accepted twenty-one new Volunteers into the three-city QVS network.

Christina isn’t alone in her yearning to put faith into action, though, and those desires aren’t limited to young people. Gray-haired Lynn Newsom writes in Friends Journal as well about her own search in My Path to Quaker House. Thirty years after first volunteering at Quaker House, a Fayetteville, NC center that provides counseling and support to service members who are questioning the military, Lynn found herself back on the organization’s board as it searched for a new director.After contacting all the people she thought would be “perfect for the job,” she had a revelation about herself and her husband, Steve:

Suddenly it hit me. Steve and I could and should take on the position. I ran to the kitchen and announced to Steve, as he sat peacefully with his tea, that we would be perfect for the job. “What job?” he replied.

Lynn describes the many opportunities and openings she’s experienced since retiring (for a second time) as an art teacher and sharing the post at Quaker House with her husband. “There is no doubt in my mind that I was led and continue to be led on this path,” she writes.

The searches Christina and Lynn write about are examples of persisting to seek clarity about a leading and about remaining open to the ways Spirit works in our lives. Their stories suggest there are many   chapters in Quakerism yet to be written.

What are other ways Quakers can support young people who are drifting away from Quakerism?
How do you put your faith into action?
When have you felt led to action?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Convinced to Tweet

Day One of my writing program’s (Whidbey Writers Workshop) Spring residency found me in the session How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Media, led by poet and Whidbey alum Kelly Davio. I smiled when I read the title of the handout Kelly passed around—“My Plan for Launching an Online Presence in 2014.” ­ No problem, I thought, I already have an online presence.

First there was the website and then the Facebook fan page for my book, Hands at Work. Soon, another Facebook page for me.  That seemed like plenty of “social media” for this semi-introverted-living-on-a-remote-island Quaker writer—until April 2010, when I attended a meeting of QUIP - Quakers Uniting in Publications. There, Friends of all ages spoke of the Quaker history of writing as ministry and how it is evolving as publishing and communication change. With the guidance and encouragement of QUIP participants, I returned home convinced to blog; a few weeks later, as my writing group cheered me on, I created this blog site.

Maybe I hadn’t quite learned to love social media by the time I was sitting in Kelly’s workshop, but I wasn’t worrying about it—until I read the first item on the handout:  My Twitter Plan. I started to hyperventilate.

“Don’t you need a smartphone to tweet?” I asked Kelly. I’m off the hook on this one, I thought; my antique flip phone can barely make calls and handle texts.

“That’s how Twitter worked when it first started,” Kelly said. “But now you can tweet from your computer, too.”

“Oh… good,” I said, sweat starting to prickle my hairline.

Kelly became my interpreter and guide, introducing me to this new culture, a part of today’s communication stream I’d avoided. She walked me through the steps to begin:
·        Go to and register a user name (mine is @irisgraville)
·        Add photo (or else Twitter will use the default image of an egg)
·        Write a brief bio – as with all things Twitter, you have 140 characters.

The mechanics seemed easy enough, now that I understood I could do all of this on my laptop. Then Kelly introduced beginning Twitter-speak:

·        Following – people whose tweets you want to read when you check your Twitter feed (a string of their photos and 140-character tweets show up when I log in)
·        Followers – people who want to see your tweets when they check their Twitter feed
·        @ is used to “tag” someone that you mention in a tweet
·        # - hashtags before words (such as #Quakerblogger) allow you to become part of larger conversations by linking you to all posts on this subject
·        Retweet – lets you “recycle” someone else’s tweet so your “followers” see it.

I know there’s much more vocabulary and nuance to this new language. Just as I do with my elementary Spanish skills, I’ll undoubtedly fumble and make mistakes, but Kelly taught me enough to get started.  And she offered some advice about hanging around this “water cooler of the Internet.”
·        Act like a person, not like a sales robot.
·        Think about the things you’re willing to talk about and share with others—Twitter is very public.
·        Demonstrate a sense of humor.
·        Share things that are worth reading.
·        Interact with other people, such as asking someone a question.
·        Promote other writers (or whoever your community is) in a real and honest way.

So far, I’m enjoying my exploration of this form of communication. I’ve been surprised by who else is involved.  For example, I’m following a number of Quakers and Quaker organizations such as:

Many of my writing friends, plus well-known authors (@AnneLamott, @AmyTan) tweet regularly, too. 

One of my questions when I started to blog resurfaced with thoughts of entering the world of Twitter:
Do I want to spend more of my already-full life in front of the computer screen engaging in this virtual, but distant, way with others?
I’m still not clear about that, and I have concerns about these “connections,” about the quality of interactions, and the quantity of input.  But for now, I’m feeling convinced that Twitter is a helpful tool to expand my writing and Quaker networks.
How about you?  Have you been convinced to Tweet? Why – or why not?