New mercies I see

Have you heard the saying that the secret to a long, happy marriage is falling in love over and over again, each time with the same person? I believe this to be true.

I think it is also the secret to a long tenure in the same job, or a long-term practice of the same religion. The cycle of conviction, convincement, and conversion is a staple of Quaker faith and practice.

I feel like the last couple of weeks have brought me to a renewal of my “vows” to my job. (I use quotes here because it’s still a time-limited contract, not a lifetime appointment.) Perhaps it is more a renewed sense of my vocation and the discovery that it is still in line with my paid employment. I think this will come as a relief to my husband and my board of directors, who have watched me wrestle with the questions only I can answer. I know that this season of uncertainty will come again and again. That is just part of the examined life.

One of the factors has been this class I’m taking, on marketing with Seth Godin. I’m using the Traveling Ministry Corps as my case study and it’s been great. I’ve gotten much clearer about how to do that work. But one of the byproducts has been what Godin called, “marketing to the most important student." Which is myself. In the act of thinking about who is this for? and what do they care about?, I find myself articulating more clearly why I think this work is important. Which has the effect of reminding me why I want to do this work. Which makes a lot easier to do it.

Another factor was going to the Stoking the Fire retreat before the FUM  Triennial. It was wonderful to be with about 40 Friends, from high-school age to 80-somethings, who all came to stoke their own fires. And it was wonderful to be taught by women whose character and ways of service I can aspire to. We all need those examples. Imperfect human beings who are sharing their own lessons. I can’t overemphasize how important it was to go to a denominational conference for which I was not the over-burdened staff. I went to worship every day. I was present and vulnerable in worship sharing groups. I snuck out for coffee with old and new friends.

One of the messages from God to me in worship was, “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Not in the sense that song was written. But if I can’t be with the Meeting I love, I have to love the gathered community of Friends wherever I am. I can’t hold back until I’m home with the people who already know and love me. I have to share my insights, my faith and my doubts with whoever is there, or I’m not going to make it. (There are limits to this, but they are further out than many people think.)

And if I can’t be with the river I love, I can love any bit of water I can find. The Greenville Y of the Feather River and the Connecting Railway Bridge over the Schuylkill River are both spiritually grounding places in my life. But other lands have sunshine too, and clover

In this same couple weeks, I read Diana Butler Bass’s book, Grounded. In it I recognized my own sense of dislocation from my roots and my connection to the imagery of water in my psyche and my spiritual journey. (Mountains and grass are also important images in my spiritual life, but that’s a different story.) The phrase that resonated the most for me, that speaks to me of my whole life’s project, is “sacred cosmopolitanism.” (Bass, p. 270) Bass cites Kwame Anthony Appiah, Mark Mitchell, and John of Patmos as sources. I’m still working this out, but it speaks to me of an urban theology. We need a positive theology for living together in the 21st century. Cities are not inherently and unrelentingly more corrupt than anywhere else. As a friend said to me twenty-six years ago, “The city is the place of the people animals,” and it has been my place for over 30 years. It is a philosophy beyond nationalistic parochialism, but with room for a “humane localism.” This is a philosophy that can acknowledge that home-grown tomatoes are the best without falling into the trap that only my family’s tomatoes are any good. This speaks to me of the possibility of pluralism and affirming the truth of my own people’s stories. In the midst of the morass, we need the uniquely human spiritual gifts as well: compromise, paradox, balance, contrarianship, translation. None of us is a single story, least of all me.

While I’m at it, I want to acknowledge that all of these good things have coincided with a break in the hormonal crappiness of peri-menopause. Despair is both a spiritual and a chemical condition. I don’t really want to discuss that here, but I think it would be a sin of omission to not recognize that it’s a factor in life, and I am not immune to or above its effects.

Which brings me back to feeling refreshed for the journey and re-committed to my work. I am blessed to have the right and the responsibility to live out my divine calling in my day job.

My main job is connecting Quakers to each other - so that they are freed up to connect with other local people who want to be part of a healthy and functional spiritual community that is committed to peace and justice and following God’s guidance for our lives. From Alaska to Bolivia.

There is always more work to do than hours in the day or days in the week. There is a lot of accounting and administrivia in my job, no fooling. But there is also the opportunity to speak up, to connect people, to see patterns from this particular perspective, to hold the big picture in the Light and to call Friends to live up to the Light that we have been given.

I need to not get so bogged down in the accounting and event planning so that I fail to look up and out and do all the things that are risky and engaging and visionary. I try to practice a refreshing honesty, a warm, engaging hospitality and a bracing ministry of encouragement. Sometimes I get to be a bee, pollinating between blossoms in the orchard of Friends. Sometimes I get to be a gardener, preparing fields for planting, or hoeing crops in the ground, and contributing to some harvests I will not live to see. That is a blessing.

Over the last several months, I have wrestled with the fact that I have to choose my battles. I can keep up with my home life, or my work life, or the national/international world. Pick two out of three. And this year, I realize that I am choosing family and Friends. But I believe that if I and the Friends World Committee do our work well, there will be more than enough hands to do all the work that needs doing.

Because these Quakers are the line of people who taught me to be more fully myself, who helped me understand the mysteries of my spiritual life. Because this is the people I have found who are the most committed to peace and justice and following God’s guidance for our lives. Because I think I can make a difference here and now.

Now, because this is the time I have. Now, because these are probably my peak years to combine experience and energy.

Now, because the world desperately needs more Quakers who are committed to peace and justice and following God’s guidance for our lives. And in order for Friends to live up to our highest calling, we need each other to balance and challenge and support each other.

Now, because it’s the most exciting thing I can imagine doing - where I generally feel competent and appreciated - and fully challenged to live up to the Light I have been given.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me. … Morning by morning, new mercies I see.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Spirit is in the house!
Mary Klein

7/24/2017 12:17 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks Mary!

7/24/2017 10:42 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I enjoyed reading this, Robin, getting to know you better and resonating with the choices that you speak of. Part of what you have to give is this reach for clarity and the ability to record the experience. Thank you! And may mercies continue to ground and enhance your journey.

7/25/2017 10:27 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you, Susan. For all of those reasons.

7/30/2017 1:59 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

My sister in faith, you and your ministry continue to be a blessing to me. For all the reasons you have given, for your faithfulness and for your loving acceptance of your own humanity, I am grateful. "all that I needed, your grace has provided" in friends, in words and in deeds.
Bless you,

8/18/2017 3:09 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Oh Leslie, bless you!

8/18/2017 5:37 PM  

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