The hidden benefits of not “making it” in an expected path

I’ve been intrigued lately by a college basketball story.  Caitlin Clark, superstar of Iowa Basketball, had her heart set on playing for UConn and coach Geno Auriemma.  He never called.  I would think, especially in the context of high school sports and longing for the “one perfect thing” that might have been crushing.  This week Clark did indeed get to play on the same court as UConn – as a superstar for Iowa.

Was Iowa the “right” place for Caitlin?  How do we know what is the “right place” to nurture our talents, and find a place where we are most well used?

I have my own college “failure” story.  My last year as a music major at Umass, it was finally the year it was “my time” to make it into an esteemed performing ensemble.  I was ready.  I was over prepared.  My audition was cancelled due to a freak snowstorm.  The seatings were determined that semester, for expediency, based on the last semester.  I never actually played an audition for anyone. I was placed merely in the “top” of a lower ensemble.  I was crushed.

So I quit.  Not the music major completely (I was almost done) but I left the performing ensembles that semester.  Would I have been able to still improve my skills and learn in the the ensemble I’d been placed into?  Yes.  But my heart wasn’t in it.

What else happened in that time?  Well, suddenly I had a lot of free time in my afternoons, and certain days of my week.  I set up an internship for credit with a gifted music teacher in the area.  The internship was in addition to my future student-teaching experience.  I would receive credit, but I could have taken any academic course.

That internship was an incredible gift to me.  I learned skills I didn’t know I needed.  I worked with fabulous students in real life situations that were fun, and challenging, and memorable.

I worked with a mentor teacher who let me reflect on my own journey and find my way into my gifts and skills.

I can’t ever say for sure that taking that path was the “best” for me – I only went down one path.  But I do know that no matter which direction I chose, I brought my effort and skills with me.  That was my space of improvement.

I seem to be in that place again right now in some ways.  I have yearnings to serve Quakers (my religious community) in certain ways.  My skill sets, and what’s needed, is often other ways.  I can serve folks in the ways I am asked, with technology and communications information (I”m still learning quite a bit about all of that!). I can also put myself in situations of a differnt kind of ministry – what I have called “gospel minisity” – building beloved community by deep listening and speaking to what I see in the moment.  That feels better to me.  But, it’s pretty self directed right now.  That path also has growth into gifts. But it’s not paid work, or has a title, or any clear direction.

It feels a lot like embarking on a new internship, designing as I go, and finding mentors along the way.  That early time had a lot of fear and hesitation int he beginning,  This does also.  But it still feels like the way to go.

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Follow the thread….. spiritual gifts as a clue to engagement

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford ~

Recently, a Ffriend posted a question he’s holding tenderly.  What to do next?  In a life where one season of particular work is ending, and contentment is found in family and daily life – what is the next step that looks like career or vocation or deeper engagement?

I remembered back to when I first learned about spiritual gifts, and how helpful that information was in my determining where I was being led.  Jan Wood led a wonderful workshop at Powell House, and introduced us to a way of examining and catagorizing spiritual gifts that I had not heard of before. 

What has stuck with me most from that time is a story she told.  She asked us to consider two faithful, helpful church organists.  Both are led to help the church they serve as musicians.  One of them chooses to always play the most comforting, inspiring, appropriate music to care for the congregation.  His focus is always the mood and emotional needs of the church hearing his music.  The music is a tool he chooses in the moment to help those around him.  The music itself, the songs he chooses, might not even matter.

The second church organist is very different.  He is first and foremost a dedicated musician.  He sees his music as a fine craftsman, and practices and researches the highest standards of church organ music, and promotes fine musicianship.  His concerts are carefully planned, and inspire everyone listening to greater heights of achievement and dedication in their own lives.  The church is grateful to have such fine music as a part of their services.

Which musician is “better”? Which one is more faithful?  Neither.  It is the wrong question.  Both musicians, when living into their best selves, and listening carefully to their own call and nudges, are fulfilling their call from the Divine.

The first organist may have no idea the musical history of the songs he chooses.  He is deeply moved by the obvious (to him!) need for comfort or play and joy in the group he is playing for at the moment – and chooses the perfect hymn.  Maybe the notes aren’t polished, and there’s a few mistakes.  But the congregation is served well, and is grateful for the “perfect” music he has chosen for that group in that day.

The second organist has no idea who’s even in the audience.  He’s spent weeks carefully practicing, drawing out each emotion in the phrases of the compositions written by gifted composers.  The concert program is carefully chosen, and he arrives dressed professionally and invites everyone into a wonderful, highest level of performance.  Perhaps a listener in this audience will leave inspired to become an artist themselves.  Perhaps they will be assured of the greatness of the human condition, and be given a musical experience they will remember with joy for years afterwrds. The music itself is the reward.  That it is played so well is a gift in itself to the audience.  The struggle of the organist to achieve the highest level of performance is inspirational.

I would argue that in a healthy community, BOTH of these types of gifts are useful. when encouraged and working together, they support the community members in total. Varied needs and varied skills.  How does this apply in my own path?  next post!

 

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Stephen King’s Pencil.

Seth Godin in a podcast and other places refers to Stephen King’s pencil.  Seth says that in writing conference with Stephen King, inevitably after many questions this one arises, “Mr King, what kind of pencil do you use?

It seems silly out of context – but I know I have been in that place over and over again, where if I just had the right equipment/circumstance/people on my team/funding/leadership I would THEN be successful. It must be a magic pencil – for Stephen King to have produced such great work.

Maybe it is.  But I bet it only works for him, regardless.  Do I need a magic pencil?  Or a better job, secluded artist hideaway, unlimited funding?  Maybe.  Or maybe I also have exactly what I need to manifest the person I am supposed to be right now.

This fall my travel plans have changed considerably.  I’m home every day with a kiddo trying her best to get through her senior year with a broken ankle and a lot of healing ahead.  I’m not engaging in person with my community in the way that has always felt best to me in creative, open ministry and wondering.  And…

  • I’ve started a new job with a steep learning curve and opportunities to learn more about international Quakers, publishing, social media and outreach, and webdesign
  • I’ve been invited to teach a workshop, in person only, for Quakers in my yearly meeting about communications and social media – two topics I love exploring with others
  • I’m working from home, and have a gentle schedule that allows me to get myself and my kid to all our appointments
  • I’ve started some new medications, which seem to be helping with a number of my chronic illnesses and work best when I have consistent rest and am home

This weekend I missed a yearly gathering among Friends in Maine.  I was sad that I could not attend – but was clear it was too much driving, too much heat, and too much risk of my health.  Instead, I unexpectedly still ended up in Maine in the early evening – closer to my home, with my whole family, and in a dinner gathering with friends of ours from many years, and our spouses and kids.  It was informal, and loving, and a wide range of experiences and life circumstances and lots of appreciation and love.  For this time, it served the purpose in filling my heart in the very ways other Maine Quaker gatherings in the past.

I have been longing for the perfect pencil.  I’ve been handed a box of watercolors and a number of brushes.  Do I know how to paint?  Not yet.  But I’m hoping that my curiosity and willingness to listen will guide me towards what I need to know.  That’s the thread of ministry that has always been my own “magic pencil”.

 

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Use the tools for good – a lesson from Sesame Street

This morning I listened to a great podcast about the development of Sesame Street in 1969.  I do a lot of thinking about the “Quakerly” use of various tech tools, for our personal lives and in our meetings, and this podcast really spoke to me in that category.

Sesame Street is now certainly an American “institution”.  However, at the time it was proposed – television was being criticized by many as basic, sometimes manipulative entertainment and advertising with no moral values.  It was not something responsible parents would allow their children to watch.  There’s a great film about this in detail: Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street.

“Can we use television for good?” was the guiding question that led the production team through their efforts.  The developers went on to hire educational consultants, and writers with education and psychology experience, and strove to create a new form of television that broke all the rules and indeed, was for “good”.  It’s a wonderful story of folks with a vision and a leading.

Today it had me thinking about social media.  I’ve been in a number of gatherings lately where folks have talked about the dangers of mismanaged and manipulative messages delivered via social media. I totally agree with their observations that this tool is often used in very harmful ways.  Often, the Quaker solution is to simply avoid this tool in use and discussion as harmful and not of any use.

Unfortunately, these are often meetings that have very little visable presence in their local communities.  Maybe an advertisement in the local paper, a street sign outside the meetinghouse, inviting folks via word of mouth.  Where do folks find out about Quakers?  And that we are not Amish, or extinct, and in fact are in community right in their own neighborhoods?

When the Quaker movement was just forming in England in 1660 or so, Margaret Fell understood it of ultimate importance that new tools of the day be used to spread the word of this new way of being in contact with God and in the world (for more background and detail see this terrific podcast from Thee Quaker Project!)

Can social media be used for good?

Can Quakers hold this question for ourselves in this time?  Is this tool of any use to us in a world of much false information and danger?  Are we called to shy away from this tool entirely, or take a page from Sesame Street and commit to more “Quakerly” use of these platforms?

I’ve had my own explorations in this field. I’ve been a social media shepherd for the New England Yearly Meeting‘s Facebook page for over ten years (wow!).  I’m now embarking on a new adventure in doing this work for Friends United Meeting as well.  I’ve learned so much in those years – what calls to folks, what excites and encourages them, and what confuses them and isn’t a good place for discernment. I’d like to think that my own discernment around the use of social media as “Quakerly good” is evolving and of use to my faith communities.

This series of posts to follow will explore more fully the hows and whys of social media among Friends.  Stay tuned for more specific findings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Threads of Community

“When we treat community as a product that we must manufacture instead of a gift we have been given, it will elude us eternally. ” – Parker Palmer

This summer I was gifted again with the warm hug of community.  At our Yearly Meeting Sessions, our time was filled with challenging discernment, thoughtful wonderings, and faithful gathering.  While I appreciate that work, two examples of faithful community have stuck with me until this time.

 

In a very early morning golf cart run (in which some folks accompanied me on via Facebook live!) I found a sizable morning crowd, busy amidst a large display of yarn. It reminded me of a frantic and happy opening of Christmas gifts – and indeed, it was a table covered with gifts. The yarn had been collected and used by Eden Grace, a dear Friend who had passed recently from our community. To see all these folks bustling around, thinking about finding new uses for “Eden’s yarn”, brought a bit of joyful comfort, as her family watched this impromptu dedication and memory sharing take place. “She must have loved this yarn!” and “I’ll make a special shawl with this!” was heard above the general clatter. I myself ended up with two bags of yarn, especially requested by a young Friend, that will be turned into name tag lanyards for future gatherings.

A much less joyful but equally important gift of community support occurred later in the week. In an untimely accident, my teenaged daughter fell and broke her ankle quite severely. The community rallied around her, quickly getting help, providing medical assistance, and keeping her calm. Her ankle was splinted by a quick-thinking Friend with EMT experience.

When we arrived at the emergency room, we saw clearly the temporary “splint” he had used.  It was one of the wonderful wooden mixing spoons, brought to sessions by our beloved Friend Gretchen.  My daughter was quite literally “propped up and supported” by this reminder of community.  Those spoons have been used in countless youth retreats.Those spoons came to our house for baking on NEYM Bread Day.  Gretchen felt it appropriate that we kept this particular spoon – it’s now on a special shelf in our kitchen.

At times on the floor of Sessions this summer we were formally reminded of “why we gather here at Sessions each year.”  I found myself disagreeing.  This year, as in so many others, it was the quiet simple moments of long term community engagement that inspired and encouraged me.  I did not create those moments.  But I am deeply grateful that I was alert enough to see them, and am able to carry them with me.

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Good byes only hurt because what came before was so special. Lessons from Dr Who.

This weekend I enjoyed watching the latest episode of Dr Who.  In brief, it’s a show that follows a reincarnation (“regeneration”) of an alien being called the Doctor, who travels through time and space to save humans and other species, with the aid of a various crew of companions – some more willing and able than others.

As I watched this morning, instead of my usual prayer and contemplation time, it occurred to me that there are many stories within these stories.  One is about loss, and longing, and disappointment and faithfulness.

Jodi Whittaker as the latest incarnation of Dr. Who is running about, fighting evil, figuring out problems, trying to save humanity across a number of times and places. A clever aspect of this particular episode is how the Dr. encounters and involves her previous companions, from other incarnations of her/himself.

The companions all have found their own lives, after/outside of their travels with the Dr. We’ve seen this before in other episodes – traveling with the Dr is the ultimate thrill ride (even on a boring day!) and one can become easily enamored with it. That’s probably a good thing, since it’s also so challenging and dangerous most of the time.

Throughout this episode the companions keep meeting each other.  They all have different opinions of how their travels went – and they have certainly been shaped by their own experiences and joys and trauma.  Those perceptions have been woven into the way they describe the Dr. to others,  as a benevolent adventure seeking sage, an exasperating bumbling fool, a fellow who loves deeply but then leaves in a minute with no notice and without any further contact.  The companions are wildly different in their perceptions of what has “happened” to them traveling with Dr Who in their separate pasts.

It occurs to me that this television program holds lessons about change, and sadness, and joy for us all in our Quaker meetings now.  In the past year, I’ve been aware in my travels and conversations how much has been uplifted, unpleasantly and shockingly changed in the way our world looks and we gather. For some of us!  For others, maybe we are solidly rooted in unchanging routines and behaviors that provide a comfort and security.  Or just stuck a little, which might have certainly been pre-pandemic.

Just like those traveling companions of Dr Who – I know many Friends who hold strong experiences of their “own” Quaker meeting.  Maybe it is a place of refuge, a meeting of learning.  Maybe it was a place where your kids grew up and felt safe and encouraged.  Perhaps your meeting gathers in a historic building, filled with history and books filled with tales of faithfulness from previous generations. Maybe your meeting was a gathering place for folks protesting a war, or seeking justice in our world.  Perhaps it’s a place where you entered into a marriage covenant – or were told your type of relationship was not acceptable to a marriage under the meeting’s care.  “The Quaker Meeting” has as many memories and current interpretations as there are Friends who have gathered there.

I remember when the Quaker meeting I was a part of decided to shut down and move to Zoom for worship in early 2020.  I lost the possibility of sitting in waiting worship in a room with others (which is still the most preferred way of worship for me). I lost my ability to attend worship with my kid.   I lost the small conversations after worship with others, asking about our experiences in our lives at that time.   Moving to zoom was (I think) the right decision.  It kept us safe while we figured out how to be in a world with new pandemic risks.  Staying there (on Zoom) was really hard for me. The new way of being with each other had both challenges and advantages.  Many Quaker meetings encountered both, and we still seem to be asking both practical and spiritual questions about how we gather.

What this episode of Dr Who reminded me is that loss is ok.  Sadness is to be expected. There’s anger, and frustration, and tender Joy as we remember the past. It’s also very specifically personal, depending on what has been important to each companion (or Friend!).  At the end of this episode, we learn that yet again the Dr is destined for another regeneration.  She’s got a little time left, to enjoy and reminisce with her current companion.  They choose to sit on the Tardis (the traveling spaceship in this series) and gaze from space at the earth.  They also eat some ice cream.  The Dr reminds us that “good byes only hurt because what came before was so special”.  It seems wise counsel for today.

Those companions each made a choice.  They uprooted their lives and chose to travel the universe in excitement and Joy and challenge with Dr Who. The best ride and journey ever.  Does your walking with the Divine, while being a part of a gathered Quaker community seem like that?  It does to me most of the time.  I think I appreciate the routine, the fellowship, the support and love from my fellow Quaker companions.  But I also recognize it’s the path itself, the way I am being led, that is what also speaks most deeply to me.  This happens regardless if I am in a historic meetinghouse, in my living room on a zoom screen, at a college campus or on a city bus.  While I long for the specific communities and places that I have loved in the past, it’s the worship itself, the sitting and listening for the still small voice that keeps me returning.  Sometimes that’s painful to remember how it used to be different.  Sometimes it’s also great in a new and unexpected way.  Both are part of the agreement.

When Jodi Whittaker first “became” the Dr – there was also some controversy!  I wrote about it here.

Is your meeting going though change, or having conversations about where you are feeling led, perhaps in a way that looks like “laying down” or other change?  Here’s a great resource for thinking about those concerns with your Meeting and Friends. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prepare your heart for your showing up. World Quaker day 2022

The Story of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22 – The Message)

22 1-3 Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s kingdom,” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!

“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’

5-7 “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.

8-10 “Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.

11-13 “When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’

14 “That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”

 

I heard this story a few weeks ago.  It stuck with me at first, as one of those stories in the bible that didn’t make much sense – and in fact, as someone who is always thinking “everyone is welcome at Jesus’ table” I was taken aback that anyone would have been asked to leave simply for what they were wearing.  As I further held the story though, another reading spoke to me.

We hear at first of a king who invites the “typical” guests.  He is probably surprised at their lack of enthusiasm.  They simply go back to whatever they are doing, even when sent more messengers and urged to attend.  Some of these invited folks even harm the servants doing the inviting.  The opposite of hospitality in that time, and ours!

And yet, the table is still set.  The meal is prepared and ready to be eaten.  The king needs some guests.  His servants invite whomever wants to attend this wonderful wedding feast without concern for their social status.  Sounds pretty great, yes?  This is a gospel story, so of course I’d expect a tale about a big table, open to all, the feast and blessings of God.

But then it turns unexpectedly for me.  The king notices a guest not dressed properly.  A wedding of this time and scope – it would have been expected that all would dress in the nicest clothing they owned.  When asked about his lack of formal dress, the guest does not have a ready answer.  Perhaps he didn’t have nicer clothes. Perhaps he was in a rush.  The fact that we are told that he doesn’t have any sort of explanation seems important to me in this story.  He’s kicked out!  No dinner for you!  If this story is about being God’s kingdom – why the heck does that happen?

To me, this story is not really about clothing, or who’s in and out, or what kind of dinner kings serve at weddings.  I’m thinking it might teach a lesson about personal preparation, and how our hearts are opened and able to be seen.

There are two groups of folks I notice in this story. The first are those specially invited guests who just don’t even bother to attend.  We don’t hear much about why they stay home – maybe they have more important things to do?  It’s hard to believe a king’s wedding banquet would not appeal to them.  The invitation is clear.  The message is for them.  But, they seem to decide to stay home quite quickly and without argument.  Maybe they are working in the fields, or caring for children – but we hear none of their other reasons.  The story seems to just say they weren’t interested.  I wonder if they had a clear sense of what they were being invited to, how fabulous the food would be, the good wine, all of that.  We don’t hear much of them after this first invite and refusal.

This second group – who are they?  The king sounds desperate to get anyone to attend the feast.  He sends out servants to gather whomever they can find to attend.  I’m sure they were busy, regular folks.  Maybe they don’t get to attend many fancy parties.  Maybe they were wondering where they would find any dinner at all, never mind find a fancy one. And yet, suddenly a magical way forward appears.  It’s time to get some clean clothes and show up!  I can’t imagine they had proper wedding attire for a king’s feast.  Maybe they all chose their best clothing – clean, but still worn and threadbare.  Maybe their shoes were shined and cleaned, but had worn soles or a few little holes.  Maybe they had to use flowers from the backyard in their hair, instead of fancy jewels.  I can picture them scrubbing off weeks of dirt and grime from the fields, excited and wondering about what new things they will see at the king’s table!

The king surveys his wedding guests.  He notes one guy who sticks out as unprepared.  He’s described as “improperly dressed”.  Maybe he just stumbled in at the last moment.  Maybe he didn’t clean up and still smelled of the animals he cared for at home.  Maybe he didn’t try to wear his one worn pair of shoes. We don’t hear much about his actual appearance.  I think that’s on purpose.  In a room full of folks that are probably poor or not the most desirable of society, he still sticks out. He has no answer when confronted about his clothing. He doesn’t say “well I tried my best but I’m poor, or my family is too large, or I wanted to bring a gift but I couldn’t.”  He seems kinda speechless and surprised he’s been confronted.   The king tells him to leave, and not come back.  There’s no defense or excuse offered.  No asking for mercy, or ability to stay.

It’s a pretty quick little parable.  We are told it’s God’s table – and yet this guy clearly does not get to sit and eat where we’d expect all would be welcome.

I keep thinking this is a story about his own preparation, not his capacity to hold his own with the rich and the powerful of the kingdom.  Others were able to attend.  I’m sure they didn’t all own the proper clothing.  What really prompted the king to expel this one person so forcefully?

It seems to me that the attender’s attitude of preparation is an important piece of this.  He did not bother to choose the right clothing.  He didn’t have a clear reason for not trying.  Maybe he just went along with all the others, kinda trickled in, figured he’d stick around if the food was good, maybe leave if it wasn’t quite for him.

Today is a day we are told is “World Quaker Day”.  It’s asking us a question with its theme – “Being the Quakers the world needs”.  I’m not clear in our complicated world what is needed.  We’ve been shown God’s kingdom here on earth can be found and created, in love.  We are told int his parable that kingdom is like that big banquet table that a large number of folks didn’t want to sit at.  Some did though.  They dressed and prepared, and were filled with wonder and I imagine enjoyed a good meal.  They decided they would be open to whatever happens, and their physical state simply represented their inner willingness to show up.

That guy who was asked to leave?  It sounds to me like maybe he wasn’t clear to attend in his own heart.  Maybe he wasn’t ready to see, or to be a part of the festivities.  He wasn’t able to stay, and certainly couldn’t be of use to others at that table.

As often happens, I ask myself where I am in this story.  Am I really willing to be prepared, to make that effort scrubbing and cleaning and wearing my best clothing, showing up for that special feast?  I don’t even know what the place looks like, I’m not a fancy person of great means.  I suspect I would not be on that first special guest list.  But if I am invited – if I hear that still small voice saying “come to the banquet” it would be best if I was willing to be fully prepared.  That starts in my heart, in my perspective, not in any particular clothing.  I can’t be sure of what’s at the table, who I’m sitting next to, how it all works.  The only thing I can carry is myself, clothed in the best preparation I am able, and walking with a clear decision to move in a certain direction. The rest will happen around me, and I trust I will be able to participate based on the attitude of my heart, which will then be reflected in my clothing, my awareness, my interest in others and what is required of me.

That question we are asking today – “Being the Quakers the world needs” has little to do with the world at any particular moment.  It has to do with my being the Quaker in the world, and finding myself in the right place to be well used as needs arise.  That’s the place that my quiet listening and prayer alway leads me to.  In this parable the king reminds us his original guests didn’t attend because they were “not up to it”.  Where do I find myself when faced with an important invitation to be of help in the world?  I hope I will say to myself and others “Yes, I am up to it!”

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Way will open – pathfinding as expression and nurture of gifts

September is traditionally a time of change and evaluation for me.  Perhaps inspired from my years as a teacher, or the the patterns  of school for my family – I find myself looking ahead in my year with plans and musings about change.

Quakers are often on a different time table than “the world”.  This can involve more waiting, more discernment, and more patience.  It can often be frustrating for those that are clear to move on and take a particular action.

I’ve had a series of timely (??) reminders this week about a conflict that arises for me.  I tend to always be looking for the “next opportunity” in my work life.  I sometimes call it “pathfinding”. I’m by nature a creator, and I love creating new systems, putting them to use, and modifying them for further implementation by others. I often joke with friends that my ideal job lifespan is about 3-4 years! I do good and challenging work, create a better system than I first encountered, and feel complete.

This is of course not always practical.  Sometimes I need to stay in a particular place of employment or creative work even if it seems a little uncomfortable (for a paycheck, or to complete a series of tasks).  But I’m always looking for small, short opportunities in which I can grow and hone my skills.

This is often the perfect system for Quaker work.  As we in our meetings and churches seek to be faithful to what is before us, we also are often required to be adaptable, to invent new systems, and to change.  There is nothing better (for me!) than a discrete, time sensitive project that support ministry and faithful process forward.

I’ve noticed of late (just this month, in fact) that the external Quaker timeline often does not fit this motion for me.  But surprisingly, the nudges I feel towards learning and service often simply find other places to land if I am listening carefully.

S0me examples:

A few years ago I asked my meeting’s nominating committee about my desire to more involved in the meetings’ mentoring/support of a local organization,  I was asked to contact a member of our nominating committee for a conversation, and after two months of phone calls we never did connect.  Soon after I learned that the actual naming to that support system was simply informal, and there was a whole other system I never knew about that named Friends to that work.  In the meantime – another meeting asked me to walk with them in a mentoring/support capacity – essentially asking me to use the gifts that I’d hoped to use in my own meeting. The nudge was accepted in a different way – but I am so grateful that the skills I felt i wanted to grow were nurtured.

In a beloved teaching job a few years ago, I was part time and last to be hired.  Layoffs were imminent in that school system, and I found another position elsewhere. When the budget crisis eased, they wanted to promote me to another position – but I had already made plans to leave for another job.

In the past year I’ve been hoping to learn more about social media/communications work for Quakers. I’d jumper at the chance to volunteer for a number of organizations where I could use my skills.  Despite five organizations saying they needed volunteer help – only one responded within a 6 week timeframe from their ask.  I volunteered, learned a huge amount, and helped their organization.  Six months later I have heard from two other organizations, now ready to accept my previous offer of help.  I’m already on to another path of learning!

In this age of zoom, I longed to be a part of my meeting’s weekly planning group considering tech and zoom.  I was told they didn’t need my help, and had enough folks already (which I’m sure was true).  In the meantime, I ended up attending another meeting, more local, that asked for help.  I also learned from them how willing they were to be local, meet in person, and provide a landing place for my teen who had no Quaker home.  Again, I had a leading and a nudge to help, but it simply needed the right place to “land”.   Is it possible we all now are in the places we need to be?

I have many more examples.  And I don’t think anyone in these situations was doing the “wrong” thing – I just have been lucky to find places where the learning for me was deep, and timely, and what I needed in that moment.

Today is our first day of our new season of Meeting with my local meeting community (where I am now a member).  I live right down the street, were are involved in the local community, I have been given support for travel in Gospel Ministry as well as a structure that is supportive of my family and being at home in this place and meeting community.  Geography has become hugely important in this next phase of my learning.  There are Friends here who are able to teach me new things, and we will learn together.  We are just as flawed and confused as any other group of humans, but this is the place God wants me to be right now.

Some of those other ministries I felt called to are still working out for others – and it’s clear to me that those places are simply to be landing places for the work of others.  My prayer for us all has changed in this time – that we are given what we need, when we need it, so we can grow in a wider community.

What’s your experience of a timeline of ministry?  Do you need to wait and be patient, or move on and do the work in front of you, or another response?

Resources:

I have learned a lot from Emily Provance’s writings on a culture of experimentation.

Seth Godin talks a lot about risk and motivation and timelines.  Here’s one example. – a podcast about pathfinding and failure.

Julia Cameron talks a lot about the risks of being an artist.

 

 

 

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The Unwritten Rules of Meeting for (Digital) Worship – part one

Part One – where are we now?

A number of years ago I co-lead a weekend workshop called “The unwritten rules of meeting for worship”.  You can read more about that experience here.

Now that we are once again shifting the way we attend worship in/after a pandemic, I’ve been in a lot of conversations about what “attending” worship means to our communities.  Some things I’ve experienced in the recent past:

A meeting for worship gathered in a large meetinghouse built in 1706.  Windows open, high ceilings, no masks or vaccinations required of attenders. Distanced, as there are only about 5-8 folks on a given First day. No electronic connection, worship is only held in the meetinghouse.

A meeting for worship, that used to meet in one physical location before the pandemic, now meets occasionally while “experimenting” to return to their rented space, but most often exclusively worship held on zoom.

A meeting for worship located simultaneously in many separate spaces – traditional meeting room in a meetinghouse (without zoom connections), a back room with a hybrid experience on zoom, and outside circle of folks unmasked.  At this time Friends may also participate on zoom (and are joined by a meeting in the back room at the meetinghouse).

A meeting that sets a specific time for personal worship at home, and then logs into a zoom meeting for afterthoughts and fellowship.

A meeting for worship that began during the pandemic, and has always met exclusively on zoom and does not have a physical space to meet.

A meeting for worship at the entrance to Raytheon Technologies, in witness to the development of military bombs, that met monthly before the pandemic and still meets monthly on a busy sidewalk.

A midweek meeting for worship, “drop in” anytime between 8:30 and 10 am.  This small group used to meet in one quiet living room in a Quaker center – and now one attender also brings a laptop to invite folks to join simply on zoom as well.

A First day meeting for worship, with paid staff to run the technology – 50 Friends in a meetinghouse, another 60 online on zoom.  All connected, with tech hosts in both places.  Hybrid forum before, and afterthoughts after also take place.  There is also childcare provided for those at the meetinghouse location.

A meeting that is on zoom exclusively ever other week – and a hybrid zoom/meetinghouse location on opposite weeks.

A meeting where Friends mostly meet in person on a Sunday evening – and a few folks join online in a simply hybrid set up on laptop or phone.  Other previous members of their meeting, who now attend a new local meeting, join with this group for post-meeting fellowship.

 

There seem to be as many examples of “going to meeting for worship” as there are meetings out there now.  What do they have in common?

Hopefully, there is shared discernment and unity about how attendance is supported for each of these gatherings.  People meeting in one physical space without internet are not concerned about those not “in the room” – as they functioned pre-pandemic.

So how do we define what is “correct and acceptable” now?  What are the criteria we are using – and what are the “unwritten rules” we may not be transparent about with everyone in our community?

What’s the shape of meeting for worship for you now?

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Holy experiments, encouraged in deep community

Show up hungry. Show up on our doorstep hungry.

SHOW UP CURIOUS.  Show up without something to give, without enough time, SHOW UP LATE and in need of stories and the right questions AND TO BE HELD.

SHOW UP HUNGRY.  – Maggie Fiori, NEYM Youth Minister and artist

As an educator, parent, Quaker minister, general creative – I’ve learned to value to powerful energies of taking risks and embracing new paths.  We as Quakers talk about “continuing revelation” and in the best sense of the words being open to new ways of being, and being agile and attentive is what I think we mean.

Our Yearly Meeting youth programs have been a stunning example of that for me.  When faced with such change in times of Covid, where so much of their programming was impossible, they listened, they reacted, they invented.  The responses weren’t always the immediate “right” solutions – but they were loving, careful responses where Friends learned what the next right step was.

I’ve often said that Quakers are a people of process, not product.  What I’ve meant by that is not that results are unimportant – but rather that the way you get there, and how you discern leadings and next steps, is part of a holy and creative process.  This act of creation for a teacher/artist/minister is part of the work itself.

There’s another piece to this process that is hugely important. It is the container that holds the work.  While the work and focus itself may seem shifting and changing, the container that holds the creative emerging work is strong, and flexible, and loving and consistent.  In this case this is the network of Friends that are thinking about youth among us – and all that support youth, and were youth, and may be involved in Quaker youth development. In other words, our entire Quaker community!  But, there are specific people close to this shepherding and care.

I’m speaking as a parent of a teen who struggled mightily during this Covid time.  Zoom was not an option, being in person was not an option. But she was still spoken to as part of the wider community.  She was sent postcards and texts from Quaker adults and mentors. She was invited to every gathering, without expectation that she would be able to attend, or any criticism if she could not be present. When so much was in flux, the invitations themselves were a ministry of welcome. Friends provided weekly art hangouts, serious discussions, times for bread baking and play. Numbers of “attendance” may have dwindled – but the flexibility to see other ways of being attendive to each other emerged and were valued.

Last week a number of these Friends and their support systems gathered at our home.  It was such an experience of ministry to see them in community with each other.  That teen of mine could not be in the overwhelming large group.  But even on this day, a few stopped into the kitchen where she was preparing dessert, to chat quietly and just say hello and “ I see you.”

I cannot overestimate the importance of those supports and community. For ministry to flourish, ministers need a home base of loving listeners. I look forward to seeing what God gives these folks next, as things continue to change and grow and evolve.

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