You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say?
Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?
Margaret Fell, quoting from her first encounter with George Fox
Cups of Tea and Hammer-strokes
I may be suffering from a lack of ordinariness. Most of my life, I have wished for exciting things to happen to me. And now that they are happening, I miss the simple things that I don’t have time for. Like making jam. Gardening. Sewing. Teaching First Day School. Serving on clearness committees.
Recently, I was at an international committee meeting that was hosted by Friends in a thriving meeting in a small town. I was really touched by the obvious care and concern and interwoven nature of their personal lives and their meeting life. It made me think of two passages on marriage that I love, in Catherine Whitmire’s book, Plain Living,
“We thank God, then, for the pleasures, joys and triumphs of [life together]: for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and partings, sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of the events of the day; for the ecstasy of caresses; for gay mockery at each other’s follies; for plans and projects, fun and struggle; praying that we may neither neglect nor undervalue these things, nor be tempted to think of them as self-contained and self-sufficient.”
from London Yearly Meeting, 1960.
And a poem by Ellen Sophia Bosanquet, from 1938:
If truth be told,
It was not priest, who made us one,
circled with gold,
Nor soft delights when day is done
and arms enfold.
These bonds are firm,
but in death-storm
They may not hold-- We were welded man and wife By hammer-strokes of daily life.
[Bold emphasis mine]
I think these two images, the kind gestures of the cups of tea we bring each other, and the hammer-strokes of daily life, are both key to marriage and to meeting-life.
It takes time and active participation to be part of a meeting, just as marriage takes work and attention. It’s the same drudgery of washing dishes or making a budget work. The important conversations (and cups of tea) at the kitchen table late at night or in clearness committees for marriage or membership. The misunderstandings, getting hot under the collar, practicing forgiveness and receiving forgiveness, year after year. This is what makes a meeting or a marriage.
Any marriage is part of a family made up of marriages, and part of a wider community. This is where we learn that while every marriage is unique, it has a lot in common with other people. Likewise, a meeting needs the family of yearly meeting, and a wider community of Friends, where we sometimes learn other ways of solving our problems and sometimes we learn just to be grateful for what we have, and the problems we don’t have.
I don’t think I could do the job I have now without the grounding of 17 years of being part of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, the support and the hammer-blows of our daily life together. I think I need to be more connected to my new meeting, to stay fluent in Quaker practice, and to be a coherent, spiritual human being, in order to continue to be a blessing to the wider family of Friends.
I know I couldn’t do my job without the ongoing support and dedication of my husband. I have also learned a lot that is useful in this job from being a mother. I am blessed. I am grateful.
I don't know Rob Bell. But I'd like to thank him for his work. Thank you for writing books that I like to read. But thank you even more for writing books that my 15 year old son likes to read and that we can talk about afterwards.
The first one of his books that I read was Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. It's a reminder of all the different ways people have been Christians and how there can be more than one way to follow Jesus just like there is more than one way to paint a picture of Elvis. (Just re-reading pieces of it while writing this blogpost was inspiring all over again.)
Our copy of SexGod: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality has about the most boring cover you could imagine. But it is a beautiful work of thinking and writing on the inside. I hope my sons will read this one too. (For those of you who worry about these things coming from an Evangelical Christian, as far as I can remember, it doesn't talk about same gender relationships. Neither condemning nor affirming. It is clearly heteronormative but fairly progressive about male-female roles in heterosexual relationships. If you can translate from that to your own situation, you might like it.)
Somebody gave us a copy of Drops Like Stars, about creativity and suffering. It's beautiful, but I didn't really get it. But eventually, I figured out that it wasn't written for me. Me who likes to read all the words, the writer, the know-it-all, the girl-who-always-raises-her-hand-in-class. It is designed for people who think like visual artists. You know who you are.
All of this came up because Chris brought home Bell's latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Chris read it, then I read it, then our 15 year old son read it while in meeting for worship the other week. [For more on teens reading in worship: part 1 and part 2] Bell asks why we still talk about God and how we have to be/get to be open to new ways of talking about God and deal with the both/and nature of much of the discussion. Then Bell explains that he thinks that God is with us, for us and ahead of us, and then why this all matters in this day and age. Right on, brother.
I don't actually agree with everything that Bell writes, but pretty close. And I find his books to be a very engaging and inspiring conversation partner and conversation starter. I asked my son if he thought other young Friends would be interested in reading and discussing it and his eyes got big and he said Yes. So let me encourage other Friends to bring this to the attention of any youth group or any mid-week study group - it's a fine way to get into the discussion about what we actually know or believe about God.
As usual, my timing is off regarding big moments in the blogosphere. I finally read Bell's 2011 book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
This caused a huge controversy a couple of years ago in Evangelical
circles but I didn't actually read it until I checked it out of the
library last week. (I was a little busy in 2011, and did not have the bandwidth to argue much about theology just then.) It has a lot in common withIf Grace is True and If God is Love by Phil Gulley and Jim Mulholland. Bell just issued a new version, Love Wins for Teens
which I don't quite understand because I think the original is pretty
accessible for teens, but maybe the new pink cover will appeal to a
So the last thing I want to write about is the rockstar pastor phenomenon. Rob Bell has been one of the biggest of this millenium. Best selling author, 10,000 member church at some point, one of Time's 100 most influential people in 2011, New Yorker profile in 2012. But he left that to move to California, write, surf and maybe make a tv show. I have to hope that he now has more time for his family.
I am grateful that Bell writes about his doubts about being a pastor, a Christian, a worthy human being. And I am happy for him that he was able to take a break, to step away from the push to do more, bigger, faster.
But I wonder about the rockstar Quakers I have known, who have charisma and depth, who aren't actually rockstar famous. Is that a good thing? Or not? This topic is probably another blogpost in itself, but I will just put it out there for you to think about.
My new meeting is having one of those recurring conversations about what do we want from First Day School? (FDS = our children's religious education program). I was not able to go to the first meeting because I was leaving town. So rather than expecting my husband to communicate my opinions, which are not always the same as his opinions, I decided to write some notes in advance and send them to the meeting's email group. I think it's important for a wide range of people to share their opinions about this, not just parents. This post is largely based on that email, with further embellishments as I continue to think about it.
My basic hope for FDS is that it will enable our children to know enough about their own spiritual lives and about being Quakers that they will want to and be able to choose to be Quakers.
I've written a few things about this topic before. See What do you want out of First Day School? and Middle School Affirmations from 2010. I didn't have a blog back when I was clerk of the CRE committee of my previous Meeting or there would be posts on the same topic from 2001-2004, mostly dealing with religious education for preschoolers. But you can see one of my earliest forays into the blogging community dealt with this, as a response to Martin Kelley's 2003 post about religious education for children.
In the earliest years, I think it's enough that our children just want to be with other people they know at meeting. When my son went to preschool for the first time at the age of three, I was astounded at what they can learn at that age. Reading books,
singing songs, making art, playing games with Friends - all good.
I think it's not developmentally appropriate for children under the age of maybe eight to be expected to sit still and silent for an hour. I wouldn't want them to do it very often in school or in meeting for worship. It can be done, and sometimes my kids did it. But mostly, I think young children need to walk in nature and experiment with different postures for sitting and have prayers spoken out loud for them. Then they can take their experience of the Divine with them into Meeting for Worship.
In the elementary school years, I hope they learn basic techniques to settle their bodies and center their minds and some awareness that there is something transcendent happening in worship and some language/vocabulary to start to talk about it. I hope that they will learn enough Quaker stories and enough Bible stories that they know they are part of a longer history. I
hope they will have opportunities to serve the meeting community - like setting up for hospitality after meeting or special events. I hope the children in my meeting can attend Junior Interim Meeting together. I don't think that children's religious education has to happen at the same time as meeting for worship, but it has to happen some time.
In middle school, I hope they have opportunities to experience longer periods of unprogrammed worship in different settings (like outside on the grass, or while biking in the Wissahickon park, or sitting on pillows upstairs or as a group in the meetingroom), and they learn about worship sharing and Quaker decision-making. I hope that they learn about other religions and about how to become a member of our meeting. I hope they do service projects in the community, and talk
about Quaker responses to current events, and have some time to just do silly fun things together. I hope they can attend the yearly meeting's middle school Friends retreats.
I hope that kids are actively encouraged to apply for membership at around 8th-9th grade, not just by their families, but by the meeting.
In high school, I hope that they attend meeting for worship and adult religious education programs and service projects and both family-based and teen-focused social events. I think it is good for the meeting to expect teens to participate and
to prepare for their attendance and participation in meeting-wide events. I think it is good for teens to go to visit other meetings, near and far, for worship and activities with teens at those meetings, and to welcome visiting groups at our meeting.
I used to say that my ulterior motive for organizing children's programs at meeting (and Quarterly, Yearly Meeting, etc)
was to be sure there were enough young Friends when my kids grew up that they could marry one. Not that they have to, but I wanted them to have the option. The other reason that good programs are important to me was because I want to go to all these Quaker events, and my kids have to go with me, and it behooves me to be sure that there is something worthwhile for them there. I have lots more to say, but I think this is enough for one blog post.
George Jones died this last week. Many country music singers said George was the one they admired most. But back in the early 1980s he wrote a song about all the singers he looked up to, called "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?"
Who's gonna fill their shoes?
Who's gonna stand up tall?
Who's gonna play the Opry and the Wabash Cannonball?
Who's gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?
Lord, I wonder, who's gonna fill their shoes?
Last week I thought a lot about leadership. I found a 35
year old report on leadership in the Religious Society of Friends that could
have been written last month. Same issues have been going on for at least that
long. Lack of trust, lack of shared vision, need for divine guidance and human accountability, unclear relationships between individuals, monthly meetings/churches and larger institutions...
Some of the solutions the report suggested would still be functional. One of the
problems with not having enough leadership is that good solutions don’t get
I've been thinking about that this week, and about the legacy of
Rufus Jones, and about Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In, and the
idolatry of heroes, and the right balance of a well-lived life.
So Rufus Jones (1863-1948) is one of my heroes. He did so many things in his lifetime. He
helped Friends and others to reconcile modern science and religious
faith, to remember that Christian faith requires us to be active in the
world, not just pious in a sterile meetinghouse, and he worked for peace
and reconciliation within the Religious Society of Friends and in the wider world. That story you've heard about the Quakers who went to Germany to try to convince the Gestapo to let the Jews go? Yeah, Rufus Jones was one of them. And he was a great storyteller.
He also tried to rewrite Quaker history to show a direct connection to the mystical tradition in Europe that was not justified. He spoke every. single. time. and at great length in meeting for worship at Haverford College, for which he was mocked by students. In the last week, I've heard people criticize both his emphasis on mysticism without conversion of life and his emphasis on works over the transcendent. And I've heard he was a terrible driver. A man of giant gifts, giant vision and giant mistakes. That's okay, he is still one of my heroes. I think it's a form of idolatry to expect that our heroes must be perfect in every way. But who could possibly fill his shoes?
When I wrote a post in 2010 about all the imminent turnover in Quaker organizations, I wondered, "Will all these institutions survive this once in a lifetime mass shift
in leadership? How many will move in new and vibrant directions? Are
there too many openings at one time? Are there enough younger Friends
who are ready, willing and able to take on new responsibilities? To take
on the hard work and hard choices? To commit?" And then I responded, "I continue to reflect on these questions and where I might feel
called to serve. I think that some of us need to step up to the plate." As I look around almost three years later, of the 20 or so organizations I can think of that changed leaders, all of them found adequate applicants. About a quarter of them chose people younger than 50, and almost half chose women. I've met most of them and I have confidence that they are willing to take on hard work and move in new and vibrant directions. But I can tell you that none of those people feels adequate to fill Rufus Jones's shoes.
wrote something like 57 books and gave thousands of speeches all over
the world. [Including these two that I love: The Vital Cell, 1941, and What Will Get Us Ready? 1944]
I can barely write a blogpost once a month. But before I get too caught
up in comparing myself to him, I have to remind myself that he had a
wife, and a housekeeper, and a driver, and probably a series of typists
to help him out. He wasn't cleaning his own bathroom. He probably never
changed a diaper. Times have changed and there are limits to how much he can serve as a role
model for me
Still, this brings me to considering how I am stepping up to the plate in my world. If you haven't heard one of Sheryl Sandberg's talks or read her book, you can go to her new website, www.LeanIn.org. She is encouraging women to take professional risks, to push for a seat at the table at work and for equality at home, to not give up on their careers just because it's so damn hard when your kids are little. It's controversial, as important conversations are. For me, it helps to articulate it that I have leaned in hard this last couple of years. And I have been supported at home, and in my meetings, and by many Friends. But is it enough? Am I doing enough? Or doing it well enough?
I like to think that I am not aiming to be as famous or influential as Rufus Jones, but I am working on being as faithful to the calling I have, to live up to the Light that I have been given. Leaning in hard can still look undramatic and unheroic. I suspect that Rufus Jones did aim to be dramatic and heroic and that's one of the things that annoyed people. How is that different from singers giving their heart and soul to get to me and you?
Is it wrong to have ambition to be faithful on a large scale?
Well, at meeting on Sunday, I asked God that question. (One of the things I forever appreciate about unprogrammed Quaker meetings is the opportunity to bring my inarticulate mess to God in prayer. I don't have it all figured out, and that's okay. I can just hold my swirling questions in the Light. And sometimes there's an answer. Not a booming voice from beyond the ceiling, but a quiet knowing of something new.) And the answer went like this, "So what are you doing for those who will come after you?" Huh? I'm the one who is looking for role models, and instead I'm being asked to be one. Not by any actual younger people, mind you, just by God. Darn. Now what?
Rufus Jones, for all his foibles, was strongly committed to encouraging and supporting younger generations, and they loved him for it. The two speeches I cited above were both given to Young Adult Friends, at their invitation, when he was about 80 years old. Perhaps I can aspire to be like him in this regard and let go of the temptation to try to be like him in other ways.
I can still give my heart and soul for the Religious Society of Friends. Thy will, Lord, not mine.
I hope to find some Opportunities when I get there
a QUNO report
Are you coming? What are you bringing?
If you're not coming, what are you carrying with you wherever you are?
As I have said before, my paid work for Quakers at the very broad level and my
responsibilities to my family at home are more than enough to fill my every
waking minute. I already feel like I’m not keeping up.
But every so often, a concern arises in my heart and mind
that doesn’t fit neatly into one of those buckets. Issues at my monthly
meeting, in my yearly meeting, in my kids’ school. Things that have been laid
upon my heart to care about but that I really don’t have time for.
Except that we all have time for the things that really
matter. As Thomas Kelly says, even very busy lovers find time to write long letters to each other, because they care. I used to say, “If I have time to complain about it, I have time to do
something about it.”
So we have to make choices. Every minute I spend on one
thing is time away from another and this is true for everyone. I prioritize
sleep. I make time to go to some but not all of my kids’ athletic games. I am
not serving on any committees or teaching First Day School at my monthly
meeting. So on the whole I have a reasonable balance.
And then come these special moments. I don’t know whether to
call them temptations or distractions or openings. I am specifically not giving
examples here because they are too personal and too much involving other people
to get into in this space. I guess I can say they variously involve sex, money
and God, but not all three at once, for which I am grateful.
So anyway, the point is that I’ve been trying to sort out
what is really mine to do, and what I just need to let go of. Like I said last year, courage, serenity, wisdom, and the discipline to make myself stick to a
decision and not keep fretting in the middle of the night over things that I
decided are not mine to work on.
And the spark for putting this into a blogpost was an
insight that came to me in worship this morning. A 100 year old Friend spoke
about how grateful she is that 90 years ago, a Sunday school teacher made her
memorize certain passages from the Bible. She still remembers the Beatitudes,
for example. She was recently reminded of these because a couple of months ago
she was temporarily blind after a surgery but she still had these verses, and
some poetry she also memorized over the years.
She is so grateful now even though at the time she wondered what good it
So my new yardstick, among the others I have been using, is to consider what I’m going to care about 90 years from now. Ok, maybe 50 years
is all the horizon I need to worry about. In any case, I need to ask not just what has the
most heat and Light in it right now, but what will I care about later? What will
I regret? What will my grandchildren care about? What does God care about? What
will I be held accountable for in the long run?
This is helping me sort through the recent concerns with
more clarity. And I hope that this reminder, like so many things that I’ve
heard before but needed to hear again, will help me sleep better in the coming
I used to writetheseprettyregularly, but it's been a long time now. I mostly compile this list by walking around the house and writing down the names of the books I've left sitting around. It's not necessarily a recommendation, just a fact.
The Hobbit, out loud. by J.R.R. Tolkien The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake Wonder by R.J. Palacio The Wisdom to Know the Difference by Eileen Flanagan Dirt and the Good Life: Stories from Fern Creek by Lisa and Mark McMinn Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin (a collection of his essays) This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen Jesus Loves Women: a memoir of body and spirit by Tricia Gates Brown Ungifted by Gordon Kerman
Sports Illustrated for Kids
Time: Person of the Year
Newsweek: Last Print Issue
Princeton Alumni Weekly