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When wings are meant for swimming….

When wings are meant for swimming….

This weekend I had the gift of attending “They Gathered Around” – a retreat and explorations of those called to the work of pastoral ministry in our Meetings and wider Quaker communities.

In part of this time together, we were asked to select, from a large pile, an animal that represented our gifts that we bring to our communities.  A thoughtful and fun sharing of those reasons ensued.

Some folks spent much time considering each animal.  They looked at them, walked around the table, picked one up and placed it back down.  I, on the other hand, walked up to the table, saw a tiny penguin off to one corner, and knew it was mine.  My reasons for this continued to emerge throughout the weekend…

Penguins have wings.  Like birds do.  And yet – they do not fly.  What a grand confusing mixup of expectations this is! I know a few other facts about penguins.  On land, they waddle so they do not slip on the ice.  They break into joyful fervor when they see someone/something they like.  They embody playful exuberance.

I found myself wondering during this weekend with Friends – how do our meeting communities recognize, support and honor the “penguins” in our midst?  How do we create the space and flexibility for those gifts to fully emerge and be used in our communities?

If it is assumed that my wings are meant for flying – and I am told that is the only option – I will always keep trying to fly.  In order to please others, because it’s the way God made me, because it’s my community’s expectation.

Why would it even occur to me that wings and feathers could be made for swimming?

When penguins swim, they are one of the fastest animals and most effective hunters on the planet.  They dive deeply, speed around catching fish, and are generally obviously made for what they are doing in that moment.  With wings.  In water.  Hmmmmm.

Penguins have another interesting aspect to their lives.  Unlike other birds, which lose feathers throughout their lives and replace them as needed – penguins experience catastrophic molt.  For a brief period of a few weeks, the penguins lose ALL of their feathers – turning from sleek majestic effective hunters of the sea, to comical and vulnerable awkward helpless creatures.  They eat lots of fish beforehand so they don’t starve.  They hang out in communities so they don’t get eaten as often.

 

How does this relate to me (and maybe some others) in my Quaker community?

The times when I am able to come most fully alive, to live into the piece of God’s kin-dom I am meant to shepherd and serve, is when I am simply able to feel direct nudges of the Spirit, and experiment with what works best for the tools I possess.  I need to be able to take risks, to fall down safely, and to be encouraged to keep going.

It also helps to have mentors and supporters that can give me feedback, but also leave the space open.  Someone who might say “hey, those wings aren’t getting much lift – do they ever feel like they might be of use in a different way?” or “ice ahead!  Remember to waddle when you are not in the sea.”

My most tender time is during the catastrophic molt.  None of this gently growing back feathers after travel for me.  After joyful and exhausting ministry, I’m often still riding a high of sorts from the gratitude of faithful service.  I’m also totally vulnerable and featherless, and if I end up indulging in bad habits or excess of decisions, I will make bad choices and do some serious physical, mental, and spiritual damage to myself.  Others might have a more gradual reentry.  I need to shut down when I find myself featherless.  I need Friends who can remind me about that returning and renewal as well.

Those are my needs, and it’s taken me a good long while to be able to name them.  I’m sure there are others I haven’t discovered yet.  I can only find them in the reflections of the covenant community I walk with.

What might be some of the ways we assume Friends in our communities must always use their wings to fly, as we expect and have seen before?

  • Young Adults having lots of energy
  • Older folks always being wary of new technology
  • Young folk always being adept with technology
  • Visitors and “unchurched” folks longing for fancy new worship shapes, rather than deep traditions and liturgy
  • Sundays at 10 am being the best time for worship in community
  • Needing a building for worship
  • Not needing a building for worship
  • Silence rather than music
  • Singing and dancing in gatherings always being folk/protest music and contradance
  • God finds us best in quiet sitting and lack of movement
  • Children don’t share “real” ministry
  • Adults always do share “real” ministry

In order to be effective, penguins need to “flip” the bird narrative on its head.  Wings are meant for swimming.  Birds are in water like fish.  When you see it, it all makes sense somehow.

I’m holding these questions as I return from this time among Friends….

What expectations did Jesus flip? What does wholeness and resurrection and “winning”look like when defined by Love, and not by the empire?  How do we encourage each other to see that kin-dom and its gifts, and fully embrace those paradoxes as the Work itself of the covenant of beloved community?

 

 

 

The state of our society – 1921 New England Yearly Meeting Newport, RI

The state of our society – 1921 New England Yearly Meeting Newport, RI

At one time (and still, among Ohio Conservative Friends) New England Yearly Meeting answered the queries in our book of discipline directly, in order to demonstrate our current condition.  I find these reports fascinating, and of great encouragement to me when I see some of the same Joys and challenges we have today.

Full 1921 minutes can be found here:

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends

At New England Yearly Meeting of Friends held at Westerly, Rhode Island, with Public Meetings for Worship on First Day the 5th of Sixth Month, 1921, and on Second Day the 6th with those for Discipline.

SUMMARY ANSWERS.

Ans. 1. All our religious meetings for Worship and Discipline have been held, with the exception of three. One report states that the hour for gathering could be better observed with profit to the meeting. The conduct of members has been satisfactory, except a few instances of sleep, and a reverent attitude has been maintained.

Ans. 2. Love and unity are well maintained, detraction is guarded against, and there are no differences of which we have knowledge.

Ans. 3. Friends show an increasing concern to uphold our testimony to a waiting, spiritual worship and to a free gospel ministry, exercised under the immediate authority and anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Ans. 4. Friends are concerned to bring up those under their direction in ‘simplicity of speech, deportment and apparel, to restrain them from pernicious reading and harmful influences of worldly associations. They are generally exemplary in these respects themselves.

The Holy Scriptures are frequently read in most families.

Ans. 5. The manufacture, sale and use of all intoxicating liquors are avoided. Friends desire to abstain from all harmful diversions and to keep in true simplicity at the time of marriages and on all other occasions.,

Ans. 6. There are no Friends in need of pecuniary aid. Friends endeavor to keep their children under the care and influence of Friends.

Ans. 7. We believe Friends maintain a faithful testimony against the several parts of this query, but a more vital testimony for peace and disarmament however would be in accordance with our tradition and contribute to the spirit of love which the world most needs at the present time.

Ans. 8. As far as we know Friends are careful to live within the bounds of their circumstances, to keep to moderation in their business, to be punctual to their promises, just in the payment of their debts, and honest in all their dealings.

Ans. 9. The instruction of the youth in the principles of the Truth as professed by us as well as discouraging unsuitable marriages is a concern that deeply exercises us.

Marriages, births, deaths and burials are duly recorded. There has been one removal without a certificate.

Ans. 10. We believe a care rests with Friends to deal with offenders as the Discipline requires, but we feel the need of true spiritual discernment in such cases. “That first of all supplications, prayers and intercessions” be made for all, “for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the Truth.” There has been no placing of judgment since our last account.

Acadia Friends Meeting

Acadia Friends Meeting

This weekend I had the blessing of visiting with Acadia Friends.  I arrived Friday evening for a weekend of workshops and conversations (and potlucks!) regarding digital presence and outreach.  I left them well equipped with information and next steps, and a willingness to experiment with some new platforms and forms of connection.  I appreciated their tender concern for making sure all their members remain connected, and still trying to find additional ways of connecting with their wider community and Maine Friends.

After a full weekend, I worshipped with Acadia Friends on Sunday morning at the Community House in Northeast Harbor Maine. There were 15 of us, a welcoming place warmed with a fire that various Friends tended to throughout the worship.  It felt like appropriate metaphor for us that morning – Friends gathered in the Presence, yet also attending to the human and practical of fire tending.  There was one quiet hopeful message and gathered waiting worship. At the entrance on a small table, Friends had a box of “inspirations” – short Quaker sayings and quotations that might serve to prompt some thought and mediation in worship for the morning among attenders.  I liked the idea of providing a simple flexible prompt for those who it might be helpful to. At the rise of worship the clerk read my travel minute, and it was enthusiastically endorsed.

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After meeting I engaged in a number of conversations around my visit, and learned more about their work in their community and the wider Maine and Quaker worlds.  I remained for their Peace and Social Concerns meeting, and was pleased to hear of all the work and growing edges of service supported by the meeting.  These converstions and topics were all grounded in a more hopeful concern for bringing a “Quaker” sense of unity and hope and deep listening to their interactions with community members, each other, and local politicians and groups.  There was a discussion of the YM Carbon Calculator, the continued conversations and work around white supremacy, and a discussion about the immediate needs of climate change and impacts on the most vulnerable especially in rural Maine.

Acadia Meeting is “small” by some standards in the winter months, and has more regulars and occasional visitors during the summer tourist season. It does seem year round to be filled with Friends supporting each other in their personal faith journeys and shared concerns, and I was grateful for the opportunity for this visit so far north.  The distance itself was also a reminder that we as YM Friends often gather at quite a distance from the outposts of our yearly meeting body – and Friends still find a way to be connected to the Quaker Way and find faithful paths in their own context.  While most of these Friends have never attended a YM gathering, they are often active and travel to their Vassalboro Quarterly Meetings and deeply value those connections.

if you have only one prayer… an Uxbridge Thanksgving

if you have only one prayer… an Uxbridge Thanksgving

“Sympathized deeply and livingly with the seed in the Monthly Meeting at Uxbridge. Found great relief in watering the thirsty.” – Job Scott, Quaker Minister, November 1790. He had just turned 40, and had two years of life left.

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This day the world calls Thanksgiving, as is often my practice, I attended a worship service at the Uxbridge MA Meetinghouse.  The meetinghouse was filled with about 100 people, travelers and locals, gathered in an ecumenical service reminding us all to give thanks in Love for the day and each other.  We were helpfully reminded in one message “if the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘thank you’, that would suffice (Meister Eckhart).”

There was, as is the tradition here, a time of “Quaker silence” – we were asked to listen to the Inner Teacher, and reflect inwardly. And yet… one Friend, a member of nearby Smithfield Meeting, rose and shared a message.  I’m not sure if it was expected, but it was certainly Spirit-led and ministered to us the gathered body.  We had been reminded earlier that folks often had “varying perspectives” in the world, which of course is true – and to hold those opinions in Love.  I heard this Friend’s message as a prophetic answer to that.  Yes, we must always respond in Love, but there is in fact a moral imperative that we not merely assume all perspectives are equal.  Those centered in the Love of our neighbor, not rising from the seeds of war, are in fact weighted as our path in the Kingdom of God.  The Friend quoted briefly from a Yearly Meeting Book of Discipline that he had found when he arrived.

All thoughtful men and women are torn at heart by the present situation. The savage momentum of war drags us all in its wake. We desire a righteous peace….to preserve our sanity, we become apathetic. In such an atmosphere no true peace can be framed; yet before us we see months of increasing terror. Can those who pay heed to moral laws, can those who follow Christ submit to the plea that the only way is that demanded by military necessity? 

Issued by London Yearly Meeting 1943, during the Second World War

It spoke clearly to the condition of the world, then and now, as mired in the seeds of war.  Here we were, celebrating love and peace and being together – and yet in this moment the prophetic call still rose.  It cannot be otherwise if we are listening faithfully.

This particular Meetinghouse has a powerful history.  Abolitionists, ministers, much Holy work in our world.  However, we do not worship the meetinghouse as idol.  It is the Spirit contained within, the Presence experienced then and now that we gather in the service of.

Before I left the celebration, I headed upstairs.  The light was streaming through the windows into the gallery, which in years past would have been filled many times a week with Friends seeking encouragement and strength.  It was empty, and quiet.  The air itself however had a thick quality of the weight of the history there for me.  It was not a place I would want to stay – instead, in gratitude, I reflected on the this helpful stop on the journey.  While no mere building can provide the answers that are needed – I was grateful to have a moment to (as Meister Eckhart suggested) say “Thank You”.

 

 

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Travel update – much time on the road in Gratitude

Travel update – much time on the road in Gratitude

This month I have been many places!  It has been a gift to be able to travel among Friends.  These summaries were my brief reports to the intervistation group of NEYM.  It feels right to also note them here.

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RI-Smithfield Quarterly Meeting, Smithfield, RI

A few weeks ago I visited Smithfield Meeting, and RI-Smithfield QM.

The morning programmed meeting for worship was well attended, boosted by visitors from the QM.  Ron shared a message, as he has been doing about 1-2 times a month now for that meeting.  The end of meeting was opened up to additional prayers and reflections from all gathered (in addition to the silence in the middle of the meeting), and a few powerful messages rose among us – encouragement, hope, and openings.  It reminded me that in any meeting, even the ones we more formally “program” – the Spirit shows up as she will!  The meeting was followed by a hearty potluck and catching up on news.  Smithfield is in a time of challenge and renewal, discerning where they are called in the light of recent losses and decline, and yet they coninue to show up faithfully and love each other as best they can.

The Quarterly Meeting began with a time of sharing prompted by a few queries – how we came to Quakers, why we were still drawn here, etc.  It was a rich time of sharing both inner thoughts and learning from each other.  Meeting representatives than shared news from their meetings – I was surprised and pleased to hear about much “on the ground” various work both in the world, and supporting each other.  Highlights included Worcester Meeting’s “adoption” of a pregnant woman whose incarcerated spouse is to be deported, witness in Ecumenical efforts in worcester, Providence Meeting’s upcoming visit and discussion with Paula Palmer about Indian borarding schools, Westerly’s new website and outreach efforts and weekly “meetings for healing”, and Smithfield’s involvement in the Thanksgiving community service at the Uxbridge Meetinghouse.  All meetings also long for more connection, more helpful communication, and more participation in leadership. They were grateful to hear news (from me) about the next steps of the newly formed Faith in Action Committee.  We also heard an extensive summary of the carbon calculator process and YM’s decision to reduce its carbon footprint.  That news, shared by Mary Bennett (Worcester MM and YM Earthcare committee), was framed in a larger question of who “owns’ the earth, what about the native Americans and slaves who were exploited, and what unity and our witness looks like for all in light of racial concerns as well as enviromental ones.

The QM is now without a clerk and recording clerk – predicted and planned, but no one has yet stepped forward to fill those roles.  The QM gathered was clear to meet next, ask the host meeting to provide a “clerk for the day” – and consider what work is supported by the QM that might be lost without consistent leadership.  Upcoming discernment involves a coninued discussion about chaning the name of the QM, to more helpfully reflect Worcester Meeting’s membership (as it is not a RI Meeting).

I was grateful to attend, hopeful that embers of faith and connection will continue to be blown into a stronger flame as we consider the questions of how a QM is most helpful to our journeys of faith.

Salem Quarterly Meeting, South Shore Preparative Meeting, MA

Recently I attended the Salem QM at South Shore Preparative in Pembroke, MA.  I arrived late for worship – but sat down and joined in the last half hour of gathered worship, with one message of encouragement and lament (just one day after the shooting in Pittsburgh).  South Shore Friends were thrilled to have visitors, and laid out a full potluck.  We decided to arrange the tables in one big table, and the 14 or so of us shared news and conversation.
Kristina  (clerk of SMQ) had intended to do a “world cafe” type of conversation around what could be most helpful from the QM in this time.  Because of our smaller numbers, she wisely opted for us to have one larger conversation.  We heard a joy in fellowship, a deep sense of being part of a Quaker movement (some South Shore attenders have been Quakers for many years!) and a dismay that in our busy lives we seem less connected and able to travel to each other.  On this day, there were 3 visitors (including one child) from Fresh Pond, and two from Framingham Meeting.  There was no one present from Cambridge Meeting (South Shore‘s parent meeting), or Wellesley, Amesbury, Lawrence, North Shore, Beacon Hill.  Despite our QM being fairly close geographically, this is a common occurance at QMs of late (in my experience).  One South Shore Friend exclaimed “where is everyone?” which was sad to me.  They asked questions about Wellesley’s current work about the FUM policy (and the worship group that had split from them) – which I answered as best I could.  They were interested in the work of the YM in the world, in the Poor People’s Campaign.  The QM endorsed my minute of travel, and approved a grant to fund some more robust connections and a QM newsletter – so hopefully we may have the ability to connect electronically even when we cannot be together in person.  The gathering did happen the day after a large Living Faith Gathering in Harftford, and I wondered if that might have affected attendance at the QM in a full weekend.
After the meeting, four of us stopped by the 1706 Pembroke Meetinghouse.  And what joy!  – Joanne H showed up with a key, and we were giving a tour of one of the oldest meetinghouses in MA, which has been carefully maintained, and where South Shore still meets in the summer months.  Joanne delighted in sharing her stories of how she came to Quakers in part becuase of this meetinghouse years ago, and how they still invite school children and other visitors there each year to learn about Quaker history – but from Quakers who are alive now, and in the world.
South Shore is a warm, small, and inviting meeting.  I encourage you to visit there as Way opens.

 

Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting, Farmington, ME

This past weekend I joined with Friends from Vasslboro QM in Farmington Maine.  It was a warm day of worship and fellowship.  The day began with an hour of meeting for worship – the meeting was filled with messages – but I would not describe it as “popcorn” in any way – each supported each other in a gathered space.  Friends were longing for more and deeper connection in Love, and the messages seemed to encourage us to that place in various ways in a troubled and frustrating divided time.

Business meeting followed, sharing news from each meeting (about 30 Friends present).  My experience of the QM (I have visted them often) is that it serves as a support in a QM that is very large geographically, but longs to stay connected.  We heard of the struggles of missing Ed Snyder’s presence at Acadia, Winthrop’s upcoming discernment around a part time pastor, and their inviting Lianna from Durham to engage in a Courage and Renewal conversation series.  We heard updates about the successful outreach and Quaker presence at the Common Ground fair (a yearly effort of VQM), and the work of the Maine Council of Churches and Moral Movement Maine (Diane Dicranian).  We heard a report about the recent fall gathering, and news from Falmouth QM. We heard about the recent showings of the film Dawnland, and Friend Janet  provided posters and more information about upcoming screenings and work of the Upstander project.  We hear a memorial minute for Lucinda Selkie (Belfast) – treasured member of the QM whose quiet presence encouraged many. Christine Ashley,  from FCNL, also visited and shared news of FCNL and new initiatives.  She started her presentation with the words of Ed Snyder (Acadia).   As the meeting closed, I had noticed that the YM had just issued their recent public statement.  It was a gift to be able to read it out to the QM, and Friends centered into prayer while/after hearing it.  Friends remarked later how appropriate it seemed, and how much of its content seemed to have risen for us in the morning’s worship.  It brought us back into a time of contemplation that Friends were grateful for.

After a hearty and lively potluck lunch (FOUR big soups! They are the meeting for soups) the group gathered to watch a short film, and share ideas about how political action can be effective and Spirit-led in local efforts in Maine.  It was a very full Saturday.

 

West Epping Preparative Meeting, NH

This Sunday I attended worship with West Epping Friends, as they held their 247th Annual Meeting.  This meeting is advertised each year and a “homecoming” of sorts for the meeting – there is yearly business discerned as needed.  In addition to the 3 current members of the meeting (they meet on first and third Sundays), there were visitors from Gonic (their parent meeting), the community, and Lawrence Meeting.  I note with joy that Lawrence MA Meeting members attend their annual meeting and Christmas eve gatheirng very often.  It’s a way in which I am reminded that sometimes we as Friends have individuals who are called to visit/support  a particular meeting, rather than “general” visiting.  Lawrence is also a small meeting, but they visit each other each year as close “cousins”.  There were two messages offered in worship – a bit unusal for the more quiet meeting of Epping.  One remarked about the Light in that space, and how it seems a refuge of peace always in troubled times.

Afterwards, we all formed a Quaker caravan and headed to Will’s house (clerk) for snacks and fellowship.  We all had much to share about the wider Quaker world, immigration witness in New Hampshire, upcoming election concerns.  Epping Friends asked much about Friends in Dover, Gonic, and other places.  West Epping is a small meeting, content to just be where they are called – although they have had two new regular attenders join of late.  They have few needs in their historic building, and spend much time in the world in their own ways, supported clearly by their quaker faith and the silence they gather in every few weeks.  It seems like a simple house meeting, that has been given the care of a building and its history and link to the town.  As someone who is always very concerned about outreach and presence, it’s a good reminder for me that clarity of what you are called to be and to do is in itself a faithful endeavor, regardless of is it seems “small”.  I was glad to witness on this day the deep relationships among these Friends.

 

A game of chance or Spirit led ministry? How do we get “picked” and why does it matter so much?

A game of chance or Spirit led ministry? How do we get “picked” and why does it matter so much?

Seth Godin offered a great podcast this week called “You’re it” – all about getting picked for things, random happenings, how luck and chance play into what we see as opportunities (and fame and fortune).

I listened to this podcast while in the shower (where I do my best thinking) after getting my kiddo off to school.  This morning’s conversation with her involved me explaining her recently arrived MCAS scores.  Why they were important, why they were NOT important – and what “really matters”.  My kid is a hard worker, a good student, does well on tests.  I found myself sharing the disclaimer however that standardized tests value and assess certain things, but not others.  The comparisons among “average” students, and what school is doing “well” is also problematic.  I didn’t want to discount her high scores, but I found myself wondering what exactly those numbers meant in our “real world experience.”  Those questions are often on my heart as I walk through the world.

I’m in a strange place in my life right now.  I have very few specific, timed commitments.  The obligations I do have (mostly raising our child, being home and available) are clear and regular.  I left a career in teaching that didn’t fit rightly after becoming a mom.  I did paid work for my faith community that was appreciated and good, but restricted me in ways that were eventually too challenging.  I now do part time contract odd jobs, and am looking for employment that is not “career” focused.

I’m still feeling somehow I am in “searching” mode.  I’m called to travel among Friends, primarily in NE and NY Yearly Meetings.  Those visits are often on Sundays, during regularly scheduled meeting for worship (not called meetings or other special events).  I’ve recently been given more messages in worship as I travel – and also as often they words given are to be shared around the edges of worship – with a specific new visitor, a struggling Friend who needs a bit of support, many situations I could not predict.  I am often overwhelmed with the “right place at the right time” feeling.

So what’s my role in this?  Am I the one working to find the “right place” and “right time” – or is that just luck too?  How much agency shall I claim as my own in this direction?  Last year, after a year of waiting per my support committee, I intended to apply to a formal traveling ministry program.  I was crushed to learn it was (for the upcoming year) intended for Young Adult Friends only.  I was told “apply in 2019” – and that was just not even remotely a possibility for me.  Later on, when the deadline was extended, and it was opened to folks “my age” – I’d already met with my support committee about other situations, made alternate arrangements, and I just couldn’t put it back on my plate again (no matter how rightly it had felt for the past two years).  I didn’t get “picked”.  I still wonder sometimes what would have happened if I had been involved in that particular traveling ministry program.  During that year, I was also named by a nominating committee to be asked to serve in a specific way that I had hoped for.  The committee never called to ask me to serve.  My support committee assumed I was simply not their choice.  It turns out they just never got around to calling me.  I’d already discerned that I should approach them and say “yes”, but Way seemed to close.   I didn’t get “picked” then either.  

I’m still in many ways that kid on the sidelines, hoping to get picked” for the team of “ministers who know what they are doing”.  I’m not sure what team that actually is most of the time.  I’m not even sure what we are all playing at…..

Seth Godin brings up a very good point in his podcast – opportunities present themselves in very different ways now in our secular, connected world.  You often don’t need a high level degree, specific training, or complicated qualifications to participate in the work.  Early Friends seem to have gotten this message sooner than most perhaps – rather than years of study and a seminary degree, it was quiet faithfulness and listening to being guided and well used in one’s gifts that was THE important factor.  They went viral before the internet.

And yet… we test those gifts, and our service, in community.  The community is responsible for the listening to our call.  I am asked to trust that I am hearing clearly, and that my support committee, my meeting, and my faith community are as well.

As I look today to so many others I know in faithful ministry – traveling, pastoring, doing Work in “big ways” that seem to fit their gifts so well, I’m not sure where that sweet spot of service and longing and call is for me.

I’ve done a lot of work in the field of creativity.  I know that much of the time, we follow a very twisted path and end up where we are well used.  Maybe it doesn’t really matter what we do, but how we do it.  Maybe we are exactly where we are “supposed” to be – and it doesn’t make logical sense in our limited brain space.  I’m hoping every day to give myself the joy and space and understanding that I hope for my daughter, as she walks through he world not defined by her test scores, or the notion that she needs to be “picked”.

“Most of us are not raised to actively encounter our destiny. We may not know that we have one. As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone. Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs. Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others’ versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else! When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if…

If we had known who we really were.” – Julia Cameron

 

 

How we are prepared – being my father’s daughter

How we are prepared – being my father’s daughter

This is part two of my explanations regarding the things that have led me here to ministry.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”  ― T.H. White, The Once and Future King

To this day, there are people in my life who compare me to my dad.  As I’ve gotten older – a lot of the things i knew about him make more sense in my own context.

My dad passed away after a long battle with congestive heart failure on July 17, 2007.  I attended my first Quaker meeting on July 18, 2008 – more on that later but it’s an important “coincidence”.

Kenneth Joseph Walsh Jr. was a traveler.  He didn’t have a lot of means or money – but as a traveling electronics/radio salesman in New England, he visited many and held their stories close.

When dad was young, his first introduction to communication was as a HAM radio operator – W1FBT (I still remember it).  He attempted to drill a hole in his childhood bedroom ceiling to stick out an antenna.  It would be the first of many “outside the box” attempts at changing the shape of his world. He got a part time job at radio shack, and rose to the level of manager very soon.  

Dad attended college for a few years – Wentworth Institute of Technology.  He dropped out to work and never went back.  I’m not surprised – he was really smart but hated classroom learning. Dad met my mom during this time – she was a student at Boston State, and he saw her at a local gas station.  After asking a friend on the police force to run her plates, he got her number and gave her a call.  That relationship – between an Irish Catholic and an Italian Catholic (belonging to the parishes around the corner from each other) , and a graduate of Quincy High and North Quincy High, flourished despite the obvious concerns.  They moved to Scituate Ma – “the Irish Riviera” to start a family in the suburbs.  Yes, that’s me and dad – the early years!

 

What stands out for me now, in terms of my own life path, is dad’s insatiable curiosity.  Yes, he had a quite mundane job, and average friends and family experiences.  However, he was also always living to learn new things, and well beyond the level of mere interest or “hobbies”.

In his life dad did the following:

He was an accomplished scuba diver, and was on the dive team that searched for bodies with the Quincy PD in the quarries (this was a lovely fact he shared with my middle school friends!).  He trained others in dive safety and dove off the coast often.

He was a sailor – he often owned a boat, and worked on it in our yard in the winters, and sailed it out of Scituate Harbor in the summer.  For a few years he owned the KANNBE – a tuna fishing charter boat, with a crew, that he sent out on fishing day trips with paying customers.

He repaired radios – often ones others would not touch. We were especially glad when he repaired those boat radios of a lobsterman friend, who would pay dad in bags of fresh caught lobsters.

He was a classical music expert. While dad never played an instrument himself, he was an avid listener of classical radio.  He even did a college radio show in his early years with Robert J Lurtzimer (of Boston Classical Music radio fame).  He had specific musicians he really liked, and orchestral versions of pieces, and would always recommend to me certain composers and recordings.  Dad was also a huge collector of music – we would take trips to Tower records in Boston for recordings of my classical pieces for college.  Dad was especially fond of Sousa marches, and had a whole collection of different versions.  He loved it when my performances ended with a good Sousa march!

He was a devotee of Chinese traditional medicine.  As someone who had multiple health issues, Dad had an acupuncturist he met with regularly, as well as a herbalist in Boston.  For someone so rooted in Western ways of communication, he had a strong belief in the powers of Eastern medicine.  It was a gift to me when he helped me find my own acupuncturist who helped with my health issues.  Dad was thrilled when I minored in Mandarin Chinese in college – he was always asking me to read the labels on his medicine bottles (I couldn’t – too complicated!)

Dad loved trying new foods.  He was raised on my grandmother’s homemade pasta and meatballs, but would meet me at college and we would go to a chinese restaurant where he would try all the “weirdest” things on the menu.  He appreciated the stories and culture around the food.

He flew planes.  Dad was a lisenced private pilot – and a proud member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).  He was a member of the local fly club at the Cranland airport, and volunteered to train kids in flying.  He built a plane with friends.  The plane started in pieces in our garage, hidden from my mom.  Dad helped found a “fly in breakfast” at the airport, where folks would fly in from all over for pancakes and conversation.

Dad traveled.  As a traveling sales rep in New England, he went all over.  Every place had a story.  He would eagerly connect with all these folks every year when he visited.  He knew the best diner in every town,and quirky places to stop and learn about new things special in the area.

I share those specific stories and traits, because of how much they remind me now of how I see the world.  Dad never knew me as a Quaker – but he knew me as an eager student with many interests, a hard worker with many jobs and roles, and a person who loved to learn about other cultures and people and their lives.  The fact that I do this now, when I visit Quaker meetings, is no surprise to me.

That curiosity dad carried is what takes the lead when I travel among Friends.  Every meeting has a story, a way in which Friends are being faithful, and being in community, and holding struggles of life tenderly and with concern.  As my dad would share stories of the people he met, I share those stories myself as I travel.  I have a clear feeling that dad wold be proud of his daughter, a “traveling minister” among Friends.  He had his peculiar people,  I now have found mine.

 

 

 

 

 

How we are prepared – part one (chronic illness)

How we are prepared – part one (chronic illness)

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

As I encounter some new shapes of ministry and relationship among Friends, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how our past experiences shape who we have become, and how we can be most well-used.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 4.  After a few weeks of a virulent flu at age 3, i never quite recovered.  Watching home movies of me around this time show me limping, even though no one really noticed it at first.  I was also diagnosed with a large (benign) bone tumor on my left leg, which had to be removed, making sure I missed most of nursery school that year.  That was my first big loss for illness.  The pain I was feeling was attributed to the tumor – but the joint pain stayed.

Elementary school was pretty tough.  I was on multiple medications – I remember Christmas (my favorite holiday of the year) being “ruined” when I had to be rushed to Boston Children’s hospital in the middle of the night for vomiting blood.  Of course, I was taking almost a full bottle of St Joseph’s baby aspirin every day.  I didn’t realize it was not normal to buy this product in bulk!  That school year I had to come home every day after school and wear two large full-leg casts until dinner, and then sleep in them every night – to keep my legs growing straight.  I couldn’t go out with friends, or play int he yard, or anything else.  I read a lot – and luckily I loved to read, so I did have an escape.

The chronic pain was especially difficult in high school.  My greatest longing was to be in our award winning school marching band.  My doctors made an unbelievable compromise with my parents – I would attend all rehearsals, watch from  the sidelines, and get ONE run through with the drill at the end of the day with the band.  I had to hyper concentrate, and learn and take notes from the sidelines to focus on my ONE run-through.  That taught me a lot about immediate focus. During that time, I was waking up every 3 hours for pain medications.  The meds would last about 2.5 hours, in the day, and I’d have a half hour of mounting joint stiffness and pain 4-5 times a day.  I couldn’t concentrate, and couldn’t participate in most school activities.  Luckily (???) it was not at that time, hand pain.

My doctors told me to make sure I attended an accessable college – they were concerned I might be in a wheelchair by the time I graduated.  I ended up at Umass, and after two years as a clarinet major (which I loved) – the joint pain in my hands was became constant and unbearable.  Soaking my hands in hot wax was the only way to reliably get them to move so I could play.  I could no longer handle the daily practice routine.  In a few weeks, I sold my clarinet, changed my major, and started essentially a whole new kind of existence at my college.  My whole life had been framed by music classes and concerts – suddenly all my friends were in practice rooms and concert halls, and I was out on my own reinventing myself all over again (and dealing still with chronic pain).  That first Saturday morning, sitting in the campus center – clarinet gone, friends all engaged in rehearsals, was terrible.

Luckily, lots of experimental medications, and many acupuncture appointments put me in some sort of remission.  After a time of working in the Amherst area as a store manager, and other odd jobs, I was able to return to music school for a last year and finish up my classes.  I would go on to teach music in New York State, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

The birth of our dear daughter brought some new health challenges for me – my autoimmune challenges, which had been mostly manifested in arthritis, now spread to my thyroid.  After a few years of real struggle and missed diagnosis, I finally found doctors who figured out that I all my weird debilitating symptoms were a result of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  I am under the care of a whole new set of doctors – but my day-to-day health is always tricky.  Weird temperature fluctuations, exhaustion, brain fog, general aches and pains are common.  I need 12 hours of sleep a day.  I have to avoid stress if possible.  Self care has never really been easy for me – and as I age, it is even more important!

These struggles have shaped who I am.  I have a sense of urgency around completing tasks – I wonder if that comes from never knowing if my body will no longer support finishing a project or job in the future.  I often have to cancel events and plans.  I have come to use the “spoon theory” to explain to others how I often live my life.  In that context – I have to be careful not to commit to things that take more “spoons” (energy) than I have to give.  Prioritizing becomes a necessity.  My family and  being home has become a priority.

How does this affect the ministry I am called to?  This struggle has often put my in the place where I feel I cannot “get to” the table, or be part of the process.  I can’t often stand for long periods of time on a street corner, or walk in a justice march,  when even just too much time in the sun or cold can make me ill.  Day long meetings, in places with temperature fluctuations or uncomfortable seating, can be hard.

Last summer I was called to be present in Boston, in witness against a proposed hate rally that had been given space on the Boston Common.  Many Quakers attended, and there was a staging area at the Beacon Hill Friends House. I chose to go – but stayed there, in the house, with others for the day.  That room was filled with folks that also couldn’t walk far, or be outside, or simply be in crowds for one reason or another.  They were there in prayer, and making food, and supporting in ways they could.  It did seem hard – often the “rock stars” of the witness (to me) seem to be those on the stage, sharing the strong messages, being present and getting in the way for justice.  I simply do not have that option or ability.

Learning how to hear clearly where I am called, and do that thing, has been important for me.  My call to travel among Friends often does not involve bringing a powerful message, or a specific program.  More often, it’s simply listening to the quiet stories that we share, and the many ways we are invited to be faithful.  It doesn’t often seem to fit in a particular “program” of travel.  While that is mostly alright with me – it does seem hard sometimes not to fit into the “to do” plans and actions the world seems to require of others.

I can’t separate these experiences from my current work and call – nor do I need to.  I think incorporating these experiences, and seeing them in others, is part of the deeper work for me in this time.

 

What’s a Quaker look like? – a new project is born

What’s a Quaker look like? – a new project is born

I have returned this week from our Yearly Meeting sessions.  This year my shape of work changed enough to give me space to embark on a new experiment – and I hope it will continue after initial successes.

I wanted to have a way to take pictures of Friends at an event that told a story, was easy to manage, and invited others to learn together.

Here’s what I learned:

People loved this!  I’ve never done a “photo booth” at an event before, and I was surprised at the way folks enjoyed it.  Only one person seemed to know what I was doing without explanation – this was not my target audience for this kind of thing.

The frame being big enough for two or more invited folks to share.  Sometimes a person who didn’t know anyone in the immediate area would invite a “stranger” to be in the picture with them. I was hesitant to make it this size, but I would recommend it.

It caught attention.  People started to ask for permission for me to take a picture.  I asked in the moment for permissions to share widely (especially children).  Some kids wanted me o tak their picture, and then a guardian would catch my eye and say “I don;t think you will have p[permission to share this”.  I took the photo anyways, for fun in the moment, and then immediately deleted it.  Young kids shouldn’t be on social media themselves anyways – they might never know I didn’t share it but they got to still “pose” with their friends.

The frame was pretty light, and easy to carry.  In the future, I might make it more sturdy so it can be left in a “photo studio” standing area for people to use themselves

I made this a standard print with a general message – so i can use it at multiple events.  At NEYM we have used the hashtag #NEYM2018 for the whole year (another experiment).  I would like to use this for events in 2018.

I used the message “I’m a Quaker in New England” with our logo.  That is consistent with our messaging for New England Friends on social media channels – we do not use NEYM or New England Yearly Meeting as often as we use “Quaker in New England (region)”

I created the graphic in Canva – on a standard poster size that I knew could be printed at my local print shop (I send it online).  I then glued the poster to a large piece of cardboard, and cut out the inside with an x-acto knife.  I may experiment next time with attaching it to a large piece of plastic (used for temporary lawn signs) to make the whole thing more sturdy.  I wanted to make it easy to recreate in case I needed to make another quickly.  I’m happy to share the template!  I may create a simpler one for meetings as well.

I used Animoto to create a fun sharable video!  I was clear in my sharing that these photos are just who I managed to meet – they are not representative of ALL the Quakers in New England…. yet!

Update:  This is easily replicable in other YMs.  Here’s an updated example Friends in NYYM may see soon….

 

New England Quakers on Instagram

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