The Tools We Need

It is not a new statement that among Friends, we are all ministers. We have different gifts and experiences, but we all have some. And we can all use some basic tools in our ministry. But we don’t all get the basic training that would help us to live up to our potential as ministers. Last weekend, I attended a basic training workshop, called “The Nursery of Truth.”1

Adam Sweeney and three other musicians
The event began with a large gathering of Friends from about a 50 mile radius for great music by Adam Sweeney and friends and an introductory message from Zachary Moon.

Zach Moon at the podium
Zach's message was about the importance of loving our enemies and learning to understand the people we think of as our enemies. His own spiritual journey has taken him from counter-recruitment community organizing to ministering to a Reserve Unit of the U.S. Marine Corps as their Chaplain. I can not say that I understand his leading, but I do believe that
  1. God works in mysterious ways 
  2. Jesus’s commandment to love our enemies is both clear and hard 
So we all need all the encouragement and inspiration we can get, and Zach brought both in abundance.

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 at the podium
So the first session was on Spiritual Storytelling with 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? 

Wess Daniels and the diagram of his framework
My personal question is do we have/are we creating enough apprentices in our tradition to have a sustainable chance for our religion? And if not, is there anything we (meaning I) can do about it? Again there wasn’t enough time (like a whole week) to get into it really deeply, but it was an introduction and food for much thought and conversations that could continue for years.

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.
Peggy Senger Parsons with a BIG bible
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
Plumb bob from Wikipedia Commons
 The last part was Sunday morning worship at Camas Friends Church (a Quaker Meeting).  Peggy brought the message and a plumb bob.  Have you seen one before? It’s a heavy weight on the end of a string that helps to determine the vertical straight line that carpenters use to determine if a building is going up straight. It works because the weight always points to the center of the earth. She compared it to the Love of God, which can help us to orient our lives. The message was also about Truth and Compassion. And I didn’t take very good notes because it was an awe-inspiring message that captured my full attention. When I grow up, I want to know how to preach like Peggy. The Lord knows I will never be that good, but I am taking lessons starting now.

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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Blogger Peggy Senger Morrison said...

Thanks for this very good description. Let's hope it catches.

1/24/2013 3:37 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Oh good. I'm glad you like the description, and I hope that it inspires other people to go forth and do the same.

1/24/2013 5:43 PM  
Blogger Marcelle Martin said...

Thanks so much for sharing the learning from this event! The specific suggestions are really useful.

1/25/2013 8:20 AM  
Anonymous Paula Deming said...

Thank you! Brent Bill shared your link on Facebook.

Robin, I have carried your definition of "Convergent Friends" with me for several years, so I thank you for that as well.

1/25/2013 9:50 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I'm glad the report is helpful. I am so lucky to have been there, that I feel it is my responsibility to share with a wider community the lessons that were taught.

1/25/2013 1:27 PM  
Blogger RantWoman said...

I love the definition of elder as "agent of contagion for the Holy Spirit."

I love the inclusion list.

And one more thing: THANK YOU FOR TAGGING YOUR PHOTOS. Sometimes I take time to look at photos and am really grateful to be able to see them when I have time to look. But today it was awesome just to have my screen reader read past the descriptions as I read the text. So whatever you did, being an agent of contagion for that would also be a service.

1/25/2013 1:45 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

RantWoman, I actually thought about you when I was doing it. Thank you for your reminders over the years. I'm finally catching on.

1/25/2013 1:57 PM  
Blogger RantWoman said...

The tagging really means a lot. I only recently figured out how to do it and by accident and when I was not even dealing with screen reader too. Maybe it's documented somewhere but who reads documentation?

Anyway this sounds like a wonderful event.

1/25/2013 2:08 PM  
Blogger Viv Hawkins said...

Thanks, Robin, for this wonderful account. May these tools and others be taken up among this Religious Society and beyond.

1/26/2013 1:17 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

You know you're out of touch when you had no idea that one of your blogging fFriends has traveled across the country to serve as a spiritual companion to other blogging fFriends during an event that they've put together, and you've had no idea that any of them were up to anything!

It sounds like it was a wonderful and rich experience, and I'm glad to read about it, even if it's after the fact.

One thing that struck me is Peggy's use of a "jujitsu move to shift a discussion and to diffuse the tension..." This was a strategy used very effectively in the work Minnesotans did to defeat the anti-LGBTQ proposed amendment to limit the freedom to marry.

During our phone banking or 1-on-1 conversations with friends, neighbors, and family, whenever someone brought up Bible verses as a reason to keep marriage as only between a man and a woman, we were encouraged to say something like, "Oh... Well, what part of the Bible do you really enjoy reading?" Or, "What religious community are you a part of, and what feeds your spirit there?"

Then it becomes much easier to share what I also like about Scripture and about my own faith and practice. ...And it totally disarms the person who isn't even aware of her or his own automatic thinking.

Glad to know that the seeds that were planted some years ago around Convergent Friends have taken root and are continuing to bring forth new fruit and new Light.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

1/27/2013 4:19 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks, Viv and Liz, for your comments. I want to be sure Friends know that the organizing ministers, Wess, Peggy and Kathy, are available to speak and to teach in other places as well...

1/29/2013 9:25 AM  

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