The Tools We Need
Adam Sweeney and friends and an introductory message from Zachary Moon.
- God works in mysterious ways
- Jesus’s commandment to love our enemies is both clear and hard
On Saturday, three Friends taught specific skills applicable to any Friend. The group that was invited to attend the full day session were intentionally a younger and more economically diverse crowd.2 Let’s be clear, in this group, I was old, and maybe ¼ of the people were older than me. I was invited to attend as an elder, not in the chronological sense, but as a grounding and experienced presence and resource person. I will admit that I currently fit none of the requested categories (see note 2 below), but I’m glad I was there, nonetheless. My favorite description of my role (I didn’t make this up): to serve as “an agent of contagion for the Holy Spirit.” I pray that I may have served that role in ways I don’t even know.
Kathy Hyzy. She encouraged us all to see ourselves as storytellers. She reminded us that a wide swath of the stories we tell about our lives are spiritual and exhorted us to use our stories in our vocal ministry. Then she told a powerful story from her own life, of coming to Friends as a teenager after her mother’s death. And then she divided us into small groups to practice telling our own stories. Of course there wasn’t really enough time, but in my small group, the stories were profound, personal, brave and short.
The second session was on Quaker Remix with Wess Daniels. It was a better developed version of a bit he did at Quaker Heritage Day in 2011. I think this is a key element of his doctoral research and I look forward to reading his final version. Essentially he gave us a framework for how to become effective ministers. We have to steep ourselves in our tradition, learn it deeply as apprentices, and then remix it with our contemporary (postmodern) culture in order to have it be accessible and relevant and then test that in a participatory community. Wess did a great job of posing questions and drawing the answers out of the group. How did we see this as true or not, how did it apply to our own lives and our Quaker Communities?
One advantage of having a lot of local folks coming together is that many of them will see each other again. A further advantage was how many different churches and meetings were represented so the conversation can be replicated in many places.
In the middle we all went out for lunch, most of us to Burgerville in Camas. This was a chance for me to get to know some of the other young-ish women at the event, particularly three I had met before, but never really talked to. The four of us were not only from three different churches, but three different yearly meetings, and the discussion exposed shared values and concerns that were both fun and heartening to discover.
|That's a big Bible.|
The third session was about using the Bible as a bridge, not a battering ram, with Peggy Senger Parsons. She reviewed many of the ways people use the Bible and encouraged us to take the time to figure out how to articulate how we use the Bible (or would like to). And then she encouraged us to practice telling the story of a positive experience we have had with the Bible that we can launch into at any moment, in any company, if only as a non sequitur kind of jujitsu move to shift a discussion and to diffuse the tension when necessary. Her third practical tip was to choose a favorite verse or commandment and to deflect attempts to draw you into unproductive arguments by focusing on your chosen verse. As in “I know you want me to get wound up about _________, but you know, I’m still working on how Jesus said ‘Love your enemies,’ and it’s taking all I’ve got for now. When I get that down, then I will work on your suggestion.” These all seemed very useful for staying in relationship with people who have different uses for the Bible without compromising your integrity or getting caught up in arguments with a lot of heat but not much Light.
|Plumb bob from Wikipedia Commons|
So now what? I know that the ministers who pulled this together are hoping that this Nursery of Truth idea might catch on. And if it did, I think that would be a good thing for the Religious Society of Friends/Friends Church. But how? Would it work to transport these ministers out of their local environment and invite them to speak at your meeting? Yes. Individually or as a group? Yes. Would it help to be conscious of how they went about attracting a not-the-usual-suspects crowd? Yes. Would it work to invite the ministers who are already in your local area to share their practical skills with Friends near you? Yes.
Would it be the same? No. I think that is the catch. God works in those mysterious ways, remember? Trying to replicate specific events or constellations of events becomes discouraging. We need to be open to how the Holy Spirit is leading us every time, all the time, and that is hard.
I think this is the lesson of Quaker open worship – it is different every time, but we need to keep coming back and experiencing the opportunity, even through dry spells, even when you know that people are going to talk about the latest political crisis (in our yearly meetings or in Congress), because we don’t know how or when the Holy Spirit will reach in and grab us by the scruff of the neck and take us to a new place.
Are you ready for that trip over Jordan? I don’t mean dying, I mean going to a strange land where we will have new responsibilities and new opportunities. This “new” land may look surprisingly like the neighborhood where you’ve been living all this time, or it may be thousands of miles away, but it will require new strength and courage to live there. And the basic skills of storytelling and relationship-building and a framework for understanding our place in the Divine story.
For these, I am grateful to the Nursery of Truth, and to Wess, Kathy, and Peggy for having the vision and the courage to bring us together.
All photos from Wess Daniels' Flickr set for Nursery of Truth unless otherwise noted. If you’d like to read more of the real-time commentary, search the Twitter stream for #nurserytruth.
1. Nursery of Truth was one of the names for the island of Barbados where many Quakers coming to the Americas in the 1600s stopped for rest and instruction before arriving in the northern English colonies. To read more, visit Wess's blogpost.
2. Here is the list of attributes that were sought: Under 30 – AA – NA – LGBTQ – military service – never attended a cross-Quaker event – Work an hourly wage job – attend a Spanish language Friends Church – Rent your home – New Quaker – HS diploma or Associates degree as highest degree – Single parent – have ink or a bike that drinks fossil fuels…
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