Category Archives: Uncategorized

Come and See

This message was originally written for FWCC’s Section of the Americas meeting, March 21-24, 2019.  The theme of the gathering was “Come and See.”

 

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel asked.

And Philip saith unto him, “Come and see.”

 

I wanted to see the context of the phrase “come and see.” “Come and see” can mean almost anything. I considered lots of ways of thinking about that phrase as I prepared this message, but in the end, I was surprised to discover that in the original passage, it’s not “come and see” that jumps out to me.

It’s the question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

That question sounds so familiar. When I used to work in the field of education, I taught in kindergarten and first grade and second grade classrooms in the South Bronx. The South Bronx is a neighborhood in New York City. Two hundred and thirteen thousand people live there. Ninety percent of them are people of color. Forty-seven percent are legally defined as poor. There’s graffiti everywhere. Police officers with guns walk the hallways of the schools.

Can anything good come out of the South Bronx?

I met a kindergarten child named Smerling. She spoke only Spanish, and her parents spoke only Spanish, and this is very difficult in a school system that teaches in English. Smerling also was not naturally bright. Many of her classmates, even those who also spoke Spanish, appeared to learn to read and write and do math much more quickly.

There was something special about Smerling, though. This little girl tried. She demonstrated persistence. Tenacity. Even at the age of five, she listened to every word her teachers said. She also always finished her homework, which was quite a remarkable thing, since the instructions were written in English. I asked another teacher once how Smerling managed this. She told me that Smerling’s mother and father took her homework to a neighbor every day, asked the neighbor to translate the instructions, and then sat down beside their child and offered all the help they could until the work was complete.

Can anything good come out of the South Bronx?

Last year, I traveled to Kenya to visit with Friends. We were driving along in a car in a region with no paved streets when I saw an image that seemed familiar to me. It was a very small child, a boy, I think, wearing nothing but a long T-shirt, and that had a rip near the collar. He was squatting in a field of dirt and playing with some sort of scrap of metal. He looked up at our car wistfully.

This is the sort of image that we see on television sometimes. Organizations that are raising money show us pictures of children like him and tell us about the desperation of this child and how we must have pity and send him money. But these pictures on television are deliberately zoomed in to show only the child. They give the idea that the child is doomed and helpless. They do not show the entire image. When you look more widely, you see that the child has a mother doing laundry and a baby sister toddling around and an older brother driving the cows home and an entire community around him that is hospitable and loving.

When you really see the people of Kenya, you see faith and solidarity and selflessness and cooperation. I remember most fondly how, when one woman in the village needs to clean her house, the women of all the surrounding houses show up to help scour the floors and shake out the mats and clear the cobwebs. When someone is sick, every neighbor stops by. The people I met pray together every day.

How much my people could learn from them . . .

Can anything good come out of Kenya?

I now travel in the ministry full-time, and I hear versions of this question all the time. Can anything good come out of Palestine? Can anything good come out of Tanzania? Can anything good come out of New York Yearly Meeting? Can anything good come out of evangelicals? Can anything good come out of Facebook? Can anything good come out of rich people? Can anything good come out of police officers? Can anything good come out of Bible-thumpers? Can anything good come out of atheists?

The answer is always yes.

Everywhere I go, I meet someone who’s afraid of somebody else, and I find that almost always, the person we’re afraid of is the person we’ve never met. In most cases, it’s hard to fear someone—to doubt the possibility of good in someone—once you’ve sat down to dinner with them. Can anything good come from that other place?

Come and see.

I don’t feel critical of anyone who fears, or even hates, the unfamiliar. It’s extremely difficult to widen our perspective beyond what we have been shown and taught. I grew up in rural Illinois. Illinois is a state in the middle of this country that has a few cities but mostly just fields and fields of corn. Only one thousand people lived in the town where I spent my first ten years. Almost every one of us was white. Almost every one of us was Christian. There were two Jewish children in school and one Muslim child, and everyone knew exactly who they were. We also came from families that looked alike. A mother and a father. The mother mostly stayed at home or worked a part-time job. The father probably went to an office every day. Each family had two or three children and a dog. We knew what our futures would look like: we would grow up, graduate from high school, attend college, marry, have two or three children and a dog, and replicate our parents’ lives.

My mother grew up this way. My father grew up this way. My grandparents even grew up this way.

Because we had only one model for life, we could not imagine what it might be like to come from the South Bronx or from Kenya or from elsewhere overseas, or to be something other than Christian, or to have a different kind of family, or to not go to college, or to work outside an office or at a time other than nine to five Monday through Friday. What we saw and read about other types of lives was not very complimentary. Sadly, most people are more likely to watch a television program or read a book that tells about strange and scary things, and the people who make television programs and write books know this, so they rarely produce programs and books about nice, normal, good people who are hospitable and hard-working and kind to their neighbors. Doing anything other than reproducing the lives of our parents felt unsafe.

I want to say a word about safety.

A very dear friend of mine once said something to me quite unexpectedly. We were talking rather casually about nothing in particular when she announced, very intensely, “I will not pray for you to be safe. To be safe means to be inside a box, and I need you to grow bigger and taller than the box. Instead, I will pray that you have all that you need to be nourished and to grow. But not that you’ll be safe.”

Just to make this clear, I hadn’t actually asked her to pray that I’d be safe, but I have to say that up until that point, I’d been a big fan of safety. Not getting hurt is generally preferable to getting hurt. To wish for safety, I think, is a pretty normal thing. But she was right. If we encase ourselves in anything, either physical or metaphorical, that will keep all the potentially harmful things out, by definition we are also restricting ourselves to a limited area. We are preventing growth.

Just as we do this individually, we tend to do this collectively. Some new idea, new person, new invitation, new opportunity comes to our faith community and we might react as though it’s dangerous even when it’s a blessing. Change of any kind can feel like a threat to safety. Anything not-like-us can feel like a threat to safety. And yet, God doesn’t call us to be safe. God calls us to grow.

If you’ve made it as far as this room, you’ve already answered God’s call to “come and see.” And though this is a bit of a strange thought, when we go home to our local faith communities, we will all be just a little bit scary. At least some of you in this room will have heard the question from time to time: “Can anything good come out of FWCC?”

What we experience here, being with God in the presence of other types of Friends, other languages, other cultures, other perspectives, other races . . . we are stretched. And when we go home, we bring bits of that other-ness with us. We are not quite the same people that we were when we left. We’ve accepted God’s invitation to change.

God’s invitation doesn’t feel safe. And it’s not. When God invites us to “come and see,” that doesn’t come with a description of what it is we’re about to experience. If we knew all the details ahead of time, I have no doubt that we would all say no. We are changed, step by step, along the way, and in this way, we are able to be ready for the next change. I can testify from my own experience that this is true. The person I was in 2010, when I became a member of Fifteenth Street Meeting, would not have recognized me. She would have been deeply frightened at the idea of becoming me. She would have chosen a smaller life. A safer life.

The world around us, especially the media, reinforces the idea that everything outside of our own little box is unsafe. What we’re told is incomplete, like the image of the little boy in Kenya that cuts out his community. But I have to acknowledge that there’s some truth to the idea, that there are times when travel in the ministry is physically or spiritually dangerous, that following God’s path to new jobs or new relationships or forgiveness all comes with the risk of being hurt.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Yes.

Can anything harmful come out of Nazareth?

Of course.

I think that the important thing is not to expect to be safe. God does not promise us that we’ll be safe. God’s invitation is to “come and see.” When we stop trying to protect ourselves, when we stop asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” in a defensive way, as a reason not to go there, or as justification for not meeting a Nazarene, then we can really follow God’s leadings.

What did come out of Nazareth that day?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they should be called the children of God. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Forgive others their trespasses. Judge not, that you be not judged. Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is really good stuff. And it turned the tables on traditional teachings—flipped everything over, just like Jesus later did in the temple—and it shook things up and frightened people. The message Jesus brought was anything but safe. It was a call to grow.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel asked.

And Philip saith unto him, “Come and see.”

Can I Have a Definition, Please?

How would you define travel in the ministry?

The definition matters more than we might think, especially when it comes to the connotation of the phrase, which for me has long included meetings for worship, vocal ministry, and somehow or other, the presence of horses. I feel a bit foolish revealing this as my mental image because I’ve spent huge amounts of time asking the question, “How do we define travel in the ministry?,” and I feel like I should know that it doesn’t have to involve bonnets or anything, and yet, when I close my eyes and picture it . . .

At the same time, for years, there’s been all this anxiety about how to define my own call to ministry. I phrase it deliberately as “there’s been all this anxiety” and not “I’ve had all this anxiety” because mostly the anxiety hasn’t come from me. It’s come from other people who have, for various totally valid reasons, needed to be able to describe what I’m doing. But even with help from clearness committees and support committees and other ministers and trusted elders, there never seemed to be the right language.

“Writing-speaking-organizational consulting-storytelling-multigenerational community-systems analysis-outreach-revival ministry” is reasonable accurate, but . . . seriously?

Hearth-building ministry” is something I made up that’s easy to say, but nobody knows what it means.

This all brings me back to a time when I was very young and had a boyfriend who’d never kissed me. One particular evening, we found ourselves in a situation that was very TV-show-romantic (mountain climbing, sitting by a fireside), and it certainly seemed like he ought to be kissing me, and I wondered why he wasn’t kissing me, and at the same time he kept doing this weird thing with his face where he would turn and put his mouth very close to my chin and I couldn’t figure out why—

It took me six weeks to put that together.

Anyway, in what feels like a similar phenomenon, it finally occurred to me about three weeks ago that what I’m doing among Friends is traveling in the ministry, which really and truly does not require horses and which is sufficient as a phrase all by itself, and why didn’t I figure that out a lot earlier? Why did it seem like I had to come up with something else to say?

I think it’s because Quakers, collectively, don’t have a good definition of traveling in the ministry. I mean, aside from the horses and bonnets thing.

Lloyd Lee Wilson has some words about this that I’ve found handy. He says that “travel in the gospel ministry is different from, feels different from and looks different than, travel under a social concern or a simple visitation,” and he also mentions that “the first motion toward travel in the gospel ministry is love for Friends, usually not personally known, in distant meetings.” Both of those statements ring true, but Lloyd Lee’s description of travel in the gospel ministry leans heavily on vocal ministry in meeting for worship and also worship opportunities within homes, and he doesn’t say much (as I recall) about whether other venues of ministry might also be gospel ministry.

My own yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice (New York Yearly Meeting) emphasizes the procedure around travel in the ministry much more than the essence of what it is. And I will understand if you read the first few words of this quote and then give up and skip to the next paragraph. “Where a member proposes to travel under the weight of a concern, the monthly meeting may issue a minute of travel releasing the Friend for a particular service. The minute of travel is a certificate endorsing the Friend’s concern, indicating that the meeting is in unity with and in support of this venture. The service undertaken may include arranging public addresses, informal conferences, visiting in families, appointing meetings, or making group visits, prompted by a desire to deepen the religious life of the Society or promote a specific form of social action. At the business meeting where the proposed minute is taken up, and in advance of that meeting, where possible, Friends should give counsel and sympathetic consideration to the individual and the concern. Discretion and sensitivity to divine guidance, as well as to the conditions of those who will be met, are vital qualifications for visitors. A minute of travel should not be granted lightly, and the monthly meeting’s preparers should so phrase it that there can be no doubt of the purpose for which the monthly meeting issued it or any basis for confusion with a letter of introduction.”

Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas tells us that traveling ministers “encourage Friends to learn from one another, and following consultation and discernment with the local communities, proceed to minister through prayer, pastoral counseling and encouragement, religious education, or peace, justice and environmental concerns.”

In Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches, Mathilda Navias quotes Jonathan Vogel-Borne: “Throughout significant portions of Quaker history the traveling ministry has been the lifeblood of the Religious Society of Friends. Since the earliest days women and men have been called by God to travel to various places among the ‘world’s people’ as well as among already established groups of Friends.” True, and helpful in setting it in historical context.

Callid Keefe-Perry talks about this at length and in wonderful ways, and one thing he mentions is that his “own service falls within the . . . category [of] Traveling in the Ministry, meaning that while I continually return to, and am grounded and held accountable by, community there, the work I do is primarily outside of my congregation.” This accountability piece feels important to me.

Brian Drayton and Noah Baker Merrill once said that “the calling to ministry always involves travel—and travail. The motion of love, the inward response (willing or unwilling), and the risk of service demand preparation, clarity, listening, humility, trust.”

SO MANY WORDS.

Don’t get me wrong—Lloyd Lee Wilson, Faith and Practice, FWCC, Mathilda Navias, Callid Keefe-Perry, Brian Drayton, and Noah Baker Merrill are all awesome. There’s not one name or organization or publication on that list that I don’t respect, and I’ve found all of the above text genuinely helpful over the years.

But somehow, I’ve still got horses and bonnets in my head.

In contrast to the horses-and-bonnets thing, here’s some ministry stuff that I’ve actually done lately:

– Traveled to Africa and the Middle East and a bunch of places in the United States

– Clerked committees

– Taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Kenya

– Tutored special education students in Palestine

– Administrated Facebook groups

– Made a documentary

– Published blogs

– Wrote a workbook for sixth graders

– Led programmed worship

– Facebooked and Instagrammed

– Facilitated workshops

– Went for walks with people

– Attended a World Council of Churches gathering on evangelism and ministry

– Consulted with staff members of various Quaker organizations

– Raised money

– Served on a board of directors

– Took over somebody’s Twitter feed

– Sent a whole bunch of emails

Is there a phrase for this other than “travel in the ministry?”

For the sake of recognizing travel in the ministry, and also for the sake of making it feel attainable, we’ve got to come up with a modern-relevant definition. I think I might take mine from Jeremiah. “All you have to do is go where I tell you to go and do what I tell you to do.” That’s a pretty good definition of travel in the ministry, right?  (Jeremiah 1:7)

Though I don’t want to lose the accountability piece, the connection to a local meeting, the corporate discernment process of sending someone out and receiving them back. That’s the difference between Quakerism and what I understand about historical Ranterism; for Quakers, there’s an emphasis on knowing that we can’t consistently discern where God tells us to go and what God tells us to do without a community to help us test things. So . . .

Travel in the Ministry: going where God tells you to go and doing what God tells you to do while checking in with your home faith community pretty often so you don’t accidentally go rogue or forget to take care of yourself.

How would you define travel in the ministry?

Also, what does it look like?

The Year of the Onion Flower

My roommates unearthed it, so to speak, from the back of the vegetable crisper. The carrots had started to liquefy—that’s a thing that carrots do—but the onion had developed roots.

In Tanzania at the World Council of Churches, a young woman stands center stage and tells us, “Since I am fifteen, I have a call to be a pastor. But they say to me, you cannot be a minister because you are a woman. I find another church. They say, what can she tell us, she is so young? Because I am a woman, because I am young, I fight twice.” 

This comes two days after another young woman—this one in my Bible study group—is nearly kidnapped and dragged into a van. But she shows up at Bible study the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

 On the last day of the conference, I sit on the steps and talk about women in ministry with an Egyptian Orthodox priest in full vestments. He thanks me for my faithfulness, and I thank him for his.

We placed the onion in a wine carafe and left it on the bookshelf. In a couple of weeks, it sprouted a stem. Attracted by the evidence of life, we moved it to the windowsill…sunshine, right?

At Ramallah Friends School, I meet a little boy with developmental delays and a passionate love for classical music. We listen together to Beethoven, Bach, and Pachelbel, and we practice speaking in English about each. Then, just for something new, I play him “I Got Rhythm” sung by Judy Garland. Laboriously, he writes in my notebook:

IT’s very very very GooD music becauze It is my favorate.

A couple weeks later, I sprawled on the floor reading aloud from a Wikipedia article about onion reproduction while Roommate A washed dishes and Roommate B roasted a chicken.

I read the Bible and the Harvard Business Review, Lloyd Lee Wilson and Malcolm Gladwell and old minutes from yearly meeting sessions. I study systems analysis, sociology, marketing, fundraising, economics and more. I experiment with social media and analyze survey data and consider how discoveries in neuroscience might shed light on community building and culture change. And then, sometimes, I listen to showtunes—in fact, Fiddler on the Roof’s “Anatevka” inspired The Grief and the Promised Land.

Turns out you can force an onion to bloom if you stick it in a refrigerator and then let it out in the warmth of a kitchen. The onion thinks—yup, it “thinks”—that winter’s over and spring has come, so of course it’s time to make vegetable babies.

In Samburu, I hear the story of Loko, where Kenyan Friends built a meetinghouse, a health facility, and a school in 2002. But following tribal clashes in 2006, the structures were destroyed and the building materials carried away.

Three years ago, Friends returned to Loko and started a nursery school there. They’re also using that nursery school as a worship place. The Samburu people are slowly returning.

The day I arrive to visit, twelve children dance to the beat of a drum and teach me to count to five in their language. The community honors me with a warm can of soda. This is living the resurrection.

Within the month, the onion blossomed. No water, no soil, just sunshine and stored-up energy. The stem burst open with a hundred tiny flowers.

I’m in Notre Dame mostly because a flight home from Palestine is cheaper if I spend twenty hours in Paris. It’s December, and a brilliant Christmas star hovers above us all inside the cathedral. I take some time to sit and consider in silence the glorious non-specificity of God’s invitation: “Come and see,” He says. “Follow the Light I’m showing you. Just—come and see.”

That onion flower stayed with us for weeks. Eventually, it wilted, and it’s long since gone. But I can almost see it even now, right there on the windowsill, across the table as I write.

A Song of Peace

Where I’ve Been (November)

I fixed a child’s hair bow. The clip had broken, and I had bobby pins. I pulled one out of my ponytail and slid it through the little red ribbon and reaffixed the bow to its four-year-old owner. If I’ve done nothing else here, I know that I’ve done that.

That’s not meant to sound despairing. It’s just that travel in the ministry is much like any other bit of life, and it’s not always clear what we’ve achieved—so it helps to celebrate little things, like fixing a tiny bow.

I have a little chart next to the light switch in “my” bedroom, here in Palestine. It tells me what time to set the alarm each day. Some days start earlier than others, and no two are the same, so I made myself a chart to simplify things. Of course, this is a chart of normal, and normal rarely happens here, not with the government reorganizing social security, which has led to regular city-wide protests on top of the usual half-days and parties and holidays of school life.  I do the best I can to keep up.

Most days, I work with three or four or five or six kids. With some, my job is to teach some English. With a few of the smallest, it’s help with behavior management. Little S only wants to play with toys (forever). Little L tends to hit. And kick. And spit. Little T is a sweet thing cloaked in dignity; she permits me to assist with homework, but not cuddle. Young A, a middle schooler, is learning that not everyone wants to hug. Last week he told me very clearly to move my chair back “because personal space.” And my new friend B is near graduation. Some academics are out of reach, but she might be a greeter or a clerk in a store. She is learning to say “excuse me” and “how are you?” at all the right times, and in two languages.

Ramallah bustles. I don’t know how to describe this place. Begin with the color gray; then add a great many yellow cabs. Lots of people. The occasional donkey cart. Hundreds or thousands of little shops, many with automated barkers, tape recorders playing through megaphones, “pajama ten shekel, pajama ten shekel,” and the tape recorder never gets tired so it never, never, ever stops. Call to prayer five times a day. Onions three shekels for half a kilo; when I just want one, the vendor laughs at me and says, “Just take it.” With a cone, you automatically get three kinds of ice cream.

I’ve made some new friends. Sometimes I find myself sitting and listening. Grief or frustration or wistfulness—a traveling minister is safe to talk to. One day, I made a Christmas tree out of glitter paper. Another day, I sharpened three hundred colored pencils. Every Friday, some local friends (small ‘f’) feed me and a handful of others some breakfast, pita and hummus and olive oil and vegetables.

Sundays are worship days. Ramallah Friends Meeting has a meetinghouse made—I think—of 1500 stones, not counting the floor, but it’s possible my multiplication is wrong. It feels very safe. The space around the meetinghouse is brilliantly green. “A Song of Peace” is the meeting’s sort of unofficial anthem.

I’m tied to home. This month, from Ramallah, I’ve run Facebook groups and answered emails and clerked committee meetings (thank you, Skype) and worked for New England Yearly Meeting and scheduled fundraising travel for Friends United Meeting. I’ve blogged less often because my writing energy is going into a book. This one’s about Quaker culture and faith. Another one, later, will be about travel in the ministry.

The school’s amazing. I won’t tell you it’s perfect—and if I did, you very sensibly wouldn’t believe me—but it’s really quite wonderful. The families are dedicated. The kids work hard. The teachers care. Last week the college counselor, who lives down the hall, pulled up a photo on his phone to show me this year’s first college acceptance. “And he still has interviews for Harvard and Columbia,” he told me proudly.

It’s easy to forget the occupation…that is, easy for me. I know I can leave this place anytime I like, and if I want to visit Jerusalem, I can take the 218 bus. But my Palestinian friends can’t come with me. I haven’t been to Jerusalem.

 

Where I’m Going (December)

My flight out of Tel Aviv is December 9, and I’ll stop in Paris for twenty hours on the way home. (Believe it or not, this was the cheapest option!) I’ll be home for a little more than a week and then go see family for the Christmas holiday.

October-November 2018

Where I’ve Been (October)

October was packed in a wonderful way. I started the month by speaking to the lower school at Friends Seminary in Manhattan. My subject was “being a bridge,” and I spoke for about forty minutes on bridging cultures and on education as a bridge. I showed the kids some of the work that I did in a classroom in Samburu, Kenya, where the students are eager but the materials are few. We also talked about engineering and how two pieces leaning against one another are stronger than one piece stretching over a big gap—so, who do you lean on?

43285532_10156157536699086_1330754101511716864_n

The next day, I headed for New Jersey to be part of a group building a strategic plan for outreach in New York Yearly Meeting. The weekend planning session was the end of two years of background work on the part of many Friends, and it was really exciting to see everything come together. The group developed a strategy by which we could do research, build resources, work directly with meetings to connect them to the resources, and tell inspiring stories all at the same time.

A quick trip to Texas meant spending some time with my aunt and uncle (and another aunt, and another aunt, and a handful of assorted cousins), and my dad met me there too, which was a bonus. Then up to Indiana for a Friends United Meeting board meeting. We heard some really extraordinary stories about work happening around the world.

43561608_10156166333319086_3375204310169157632_n

FUM’s advancement committee (of which I am a member) also got plans in place for me to do some storytelling/fundraising work for FUM in the month of February—woohoo! I look forward to traveling through Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa in that month and would love to stop at your church or meeting if yours is somewhere in that area.

43645917_10156165460009086_5034654724154982400_n

I also connected with the FUM Press about a new common core-aligned workbook (sixth grade) to accompany the middle school book Luke’s Summer Secret.  Coming soon!

44542875_10156188430314086_2616376467633733632_n

Then I hopped a plane to Chicago, then Amman, then Tel Aviv, all followed by a taxi to Ramallah. The trip wasn’t flawless but wasn’t as tricky as it might have been. I spent my first couple of weeks in Palestine going from disorientation (I’m sorry, I’m supposed to do what to cross the street?) to basic competence (pretty sure I can find the grocery store…) to comfort (one o’clock pita time!)

44783386_10156196358564086_7696602169188810752_n
Ramallah Friends School is an extraordinary place. The community is welcoming, and the teachers are passionate and highly competent. There are fourteen grades, from lower kindergarten through twelfth, and the lower, middle, and high schools are all International Baccalaureate curriculum. In kindergarten and lower school, the language of instruction is Arabic, with English as an additional course, but in the upper school, the language of instruction is primarily English, and kids graduate fully bilingual. The school is also inclusive of children with special needs.44112840_10156176070339086_3525572738699755520_n

I’m still keeping a number of plates spinning at home—three cheers for the Internet—and I’ve signed on to do some consulting work (mostly writing-related) for New England Yearly Meeting over the next year.

 

Where I’m Going (November)

In November, I’ll have a full month to spend at Ramallah Friends School. I have a pretty regular routine going—get up, do some work on at-home projects online, eat breakfast, spend a day teaching, buy pita, come home, eat lunch, do some more work on at-home projects, go to the corner and buy a fancy juice or some ice cream, read, sleep, rinse, repeat. It’s a surprisingly spacious schedule.

Mondays I’m at the upper school. I work with two tenth grade students early in the morning, both in special education, but very different from one another. One is vision impaired but has excellent conversational English, and the other has very little English. After that, I visit two middle school English classes and assist a few kids who are having a hard time, and then I work one-on-one with a twelfth grader, also in special education.

Tuesdays are lower school days, and there I have four children, each one-on-one, over the course of the morning and afternoon. These are two second-graders, one fourth-grader, and one-fifth grader, and they’re dealing with various combinations of ADHD, dyslexia, and developmental delays. One is still working on letter recognition; the most advanced of them is working on writing complete sentences.

Wednesdays, it’s off to kindergarten! I spend most of the day in English classes, where my focus is support for kids who are having a particularly hard time, mostly behaviorally. Kindergarteners are young enough that no matter what the neurological or psychological condition might be, it tends to manifest as behavior problems, so it takes careful observation to figure out which ones are having sensory integration problems and which aren’t processing language well and which might be on the autism spectrum…once you’ve figured out the cause of the trouble, you can often intervene in a helpful way. The school does have experts in this field—and they are more experienced than I am—but an extra pair of eyes comes in handy, or at least I hope so.44930619_10156198573549086_243013132258115584_n

Thursdays are back to the upper school, where I have one-on-ones or one-on-twos all day. My youngest on Thursday is sixth grade, and my oldest is tenth grade. Again, it’s a wide range of exceptionalities, everything from “still learning English phonics” to “needs help organizing essays.”

Friday, NO SCHOOL! Or as we say in kindergarten—and you have to imagine this in a sing-song voice like nanny-nanny-poo-poo—“Friday is a day off, Friday is a day off, no school on Fridays!” Friday, of course, is the Muslim holy day, and Sunday is the Christian holy day, and some of the students are Muslim and some Christians, so . . .

Saturday is a school day, which sort of means that I feel like a hobbit here, with “first weekend” and “second weekend.” It’s another day of kindergarten, very similar to Wednesdays, except I also pull some kids out of class for a few minutes at a time to work on fine or gross motor control. Up the stairs…down the stairs…hop on one foot…catch the ball…up the stairs…down the stairs…seriously, though, did I mention these kids are really cute?

44729234_10156192286499086_2899638279588544512_n44602303_10156190699634086_6370240414766596096_n.jpg

Fun with Google

I found that I didn’t have a whole lot very profound to say this afternoon, but I thought it might be fun to play with Google’s autocomplete function. So I gave Google some question starters and figured I would answer whatever it came up with. And then, so that it wouldn’t become a totally academic exercise, I set myself a thirty minute time limit to answer all of the questions below. Also access to the Internet, so I could fact check myself.

How do

How do Quakers dress? Quakers dress all kinds of ways. A few Quakers are still Plain, which means they will dress in unadorned pants, dresses, suspenders, hats, etc., sort of like the Amish but not exactly like the Amish. Most Quakers dress a lot like the people around them. For those of us in North America or Europe, this might mean jeans or skirts or suits or whatever. But actually, there are tons of Quakers in South America and Africa (and some in Asia and the West Pacific), and there are more Quakers in Kenya than anywhere else in the world. So if you asked us to all line up in a row and look at what we were wearing, my best guess is that over half of us would be in traditional Kenyan clothing. Also it would take a very long time to get us all to line up in a row. We don’t follow directions very well.

How do Quakers worship? The more traditional form of Quaker worship is waiting worship, which means waiting in expectant silence for the guidance of Holy Spirit. When we experience that guidance, we might rise and speak a message that we’ve been given. But the majority of Quakers now worship in other forms. Many sing, pray, read Scripture, and/or dance as part of their worship. 

How do Quakers pray? The same way as many other faith traditions, though we tend to emphasize listening really carefully God to answer.

How do Quakers sleep? On our backs, sides, stomachs, whatever. Hopefully someplace other than meeting for worship.

How do Quakers marry? Again, traditionally, Quakers marry in an expectant-silence-meeting-for-worship with no clergyperson. At the moment that feels right, the marrying couple stands and says something like vows, though not necessarily some particular text, and then they marry each other in the eyes of God and in the care of those gathered; no human authority marries them to each other. In the United States, Quakers have a special exception to the marriage law in all fifty states to accommodate this. That said, there are Quaker pastors in many branches of Quakerism, and such pastors do officiate marriages.

How do Quakers mate? That is absolutely none of your business.

How do Quakers speak? As truthfully as possible. There’s a story—probably apocryphal—about somebody speaking to an old Quaker. The somebody points to a bunch of sheep on the side of a hill and asks, “Are those sheep shorn?” The old Quaker looks at the sheep very carefully and then says, “I can certainly tell you that the side of the sheep that I’m looking at has been shorn. I can’t say anything about the other side.”

How do Quakers vote? In political elections, most of us vote like anybody else—by going to the polls. Among ourselves, we don’t vote. Our meetings for business are held in expectant worship, and we search for something called “sense of the meeting.” The question at hand is presented. We wait for different people to feel inspired and speak to the question. Then, after a little while, it becomes clear how God is leading the group as a whole in response to the question. We name that and call that “sense of the meeting.” It doesn’t mean that everybody agrees on the answer to the question. It means that everybody agrees that the group as a whole seems to be led to that particular answer.

How do Quakers celebrate Christmas? We used to not celebrate Christmas or any other holiday because we said we were “not keepers of days” and that every day is equally holy. Officially, I suppose we still don’t celebrate Christmas, or at least certain branches still don’t, but most of us do. We tend to keep it simple. At my own Quaker meeting, the kids put on a little Nativity play, which is very sweet. Then they serve nuts to everybody. They also have a little Christmas party in December with the guests at a homeless shelter.

How do Quakers dress today? Almost exactly the same way that we dressed yesterday.

How many

How many Quakers are there? Luckily, there’s an organization called Friends World Committee for Consultation that counts everybody! Or at least, they try to. They say there are 400,000 Quakers in the world, half living in Africa.

How many Quakers in the US? Around 80,000, it would appear.

How many Quakers are there in the US? I said, around 80,000.

How many Quakers are there today? Not as many as there were yesterday. We’re an aging population, and generally speaking, our numbers are shrinking. But then again, in Africa, we’re growing.  So I don’t know.

How many Quakers are there in the UK? Somewhere around 17,000, or at least that’s what Quakers in the UK say.

How many Quakers are there in America? See, this gets complicated, because it depends on how you define “America,” and there is no standard definition. Did you know that people the world over don’t even agree on how many continents there are? I was talking with a group of people from Central America once, and it turns out that in school, they learn there are eight continents because Central America is its own. But if we’re counting Quakers in North America, Central America, and South America, the answer might be 160,000. Maybe. I had to do math because some websites refer to actual numbers and others refer to percentages of the 400,000. 

How many Quakers in Australia? Some say 1,000. Some say 2,000. Probably make sure there’s enough ice cream for 2,000. Most Quakers really like ice cream.

How many Quakers in UK? I’m still going with 17,000, but look, it’s complicated. Because some Friends are members who attend regularly, and some Friends are regular attenders who aren’t members, and some Friends are members who don’t attend regularly, so who counts and who doesn’t? Also we don’t have an official authority that defines who’s a Quaker and who’s not and who demands a regular census. (Like I said, Friends World Committee for Consultation tries, but you really can’t get much better than an estimate.)

How many Quakers in Ireland? Ireland and Northern Ireland count themselves together, and they report 1,600 people.

How many Quakers in Pennsylvania? That information doesn’t seem to be readily available. We don’t organize ourselves according to state lines. The best I can tell you is that there are about eighty meetings/congregations in Pennsylvania.

 How long do

How long do Quakers live? I’m guessing we line up fairly well with the average life expectancy. Maybe higher or lower depending on what country we’re talking about.

How long do green Quakers live? I don’t know, but probably not as long as the non-green ones, because turning green cannot be a good sign.

At the Assembly

36480_417844642880_7399676_n

Image-18.png

44112840_10156176070339086_3525572738699755520_n.jpg

 

At the Assembly

Hey—I know you!

the wriggly one

the curious one

the one who needs glasses

the tiptoer

 

You probably don’t remember me. This is your first time through here.

(It’s my ninety-seventh, I think.)

 

hello, clumsy one with shoes untied

and charming one

and deflector

 

I’m excited to see what you learn today.

Often, this is not what I teach.

 

hello, not-speaker

and first volunteer

and mischief-sassy

and scarred-over-sassy

and little one without enough sleep

 

You are absolutely, invaluably special

and at the same time so laughingly the same

that I’ve met you

in the Bronx

and Kenya

and Palestine

and I imagine you’re in Siberia too

and also every stage of time

 

Someday you’ll grow up.

I kind of wish you wouldn’t do that

Because once you do, there’s this sheen of

armor stuff

on your skin

This is a loss.

 

But then again

You never do grow up

because you always show up again—

So, there’s that.

 

I’m awfully lucky to know you, friend.

Hi!

September-October 2018

Here’s the third in a series of updates on travel and projects.

 

Where I’ve Been (September)

The first week or so of September was pretty quiet—mostly at-home work, keeping up with emails and letter-writing and Quaker Open Book and Holy Experiments. I also started working with a group of 50 Friends from a total of 19 meetings on the FGC Digital Outreach project. This project includes training for participants in using Facebook as an outreach tool while simultaneously running ads in the local meetings’ areas. (As of the end of September, these ads have reached a total of almost 98,000 people. I don’t want to go into the other results/data quite yet, though I might at the end of next month when the project is officially over.)

Mid-September, I spent an evening at Westbury Friends Meeting, first talking with their ministry and counsel committee about social media presence and then—after a lovely potluck dinner—doing some storytelling to the meeting in general about the world of Friends and 1 Corinthians 12. That same week, I did a Saturday workshop on building a healthy multiage meeting community at Monadnock meeting in New Hampshire. They are an hospitable, friendly crew, and I was so glad to get to know them.

Later in September, I did a little consulting with some Friends on how to market a new retreat series they’re planning to offer, and then I headed to Maine for a gathering of recipients of the Lyman grant. This grant is provided for the purpose of helping people to pursue whatever they are Spirit-led to do, and though the monetary amount isn’t huge, the affirmation of receiving it was very helpful to me—and the gathering for recipients was relaxing and warm and full of opportunities to connect and hear stories of how God is moving in each person’s life. Oh—and I had some super fun, very geeky conversation with a couple of Baha’i about systems analysis and organizational effectiveness. (The gathering was hosted by a Baha’i retreat center.)

 

Where I’m Going (October)

It’s a big month—exciting and a little intimidating. In the first week of October, I’ll serve as a facilitator for a community period at Friends Seminary lower school on the topic of “being a bridge.” This basically means speaking to a group of kids, teachers, and parents, the kids falling between the ages of 5 and 12. The next day, I’ll head to New Jersey, where a small group of Friends is gathering to create a strategic plan for how New York Yearly Meeting can support local meetings and Friends in outreach in the next few years.

In the second week of October, I’ll fly first to Dallas to spend a couple of days with some extended family and then to Indiana for a Friends United Meeting general board meeting. From Indiana, I’ll fly to Chicago and Amman and Tel Aviv—in that order—on my way to Palestine, where I’ll settle in to spend a couple of months at Ramallah Friends School. RFS, for those who don’t know, is located in the West Bank. It’s a ministry of Friends United Meeting and educates Palestinian girls and boys from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. This school year is their 150th. I’ll be working in their special education department through the first week of December, though I’m told I’ll still have excellent and consistent access to Wi-Fi, so I won’t be disappearing from the world online.

Transitions: An Application of Cultural Theory

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this article based on some research I came across in the Harvard Business Review. Just as a refresher, in case you don’t want to go back and reread—basically, the original HBR article identified eight culture types, which can be distinguished from one another by the community focus, the general feeling of the environment, and the uniting force of the group. Two of the culture types don’t seem to appear in Quakerism. Two more probably appear sometimes but not terribly often.

Four of the types seem fairly common among Friends’ communities. Those are Type A (focused on relationships and mutual trust), Type D (focused on fun and excitement), Type G (focused on planning, caution, and preparedness), and Type H (focused on respect, structure, and shared norms).

In thinking about all of this, I realized pretty quickly that different Friends’ communities are manifesting different cultures, even within my personal experience. Here’s how I mapped that:

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 10.06.46 AM.png

Now, suppose that you’re a child in my monthly meeting. You’re accustomed to a Type D culture. Your group in First Day School focuses on fun and excitement; the environment feels light-hearted and full of people doing what makes them happy; you are united with other attenders of First Day School by a sense of playfulness and stimulation. Over a course of several years, you’ve learned to associate these cultural characteristics with Quaker meeting.

Then, one day, when you’re about ten years old, you’re asked to attend meeting for worship with a concern for business. Maybe you’re giving a report from the First Day School; maybe there’s a special query or a membership application to be considered. You find yourself in a culture that’s a blend of Type G and Type H. The group is focused on planning, caution, preparedness, respect, structure, and shared norms; the environment feels predictable, risk-conscious, methodical, rule-oriented; the group is united by a desire to feel protected and by cautious cooperation.

In other words, as far as your personal experience tells you, Quaker meeting is supposed to be about fun and excitement—but suddenly, you’re seeing planning and structure instead. Quaker meeting is supposed to be about light-heartedness—but suddenly, you’re seeing methodical rule-following. Quaker meeting is supposed to be about playfulness—but suddenly, you’re seeing cautious cooperation.

How do you respond to the disconnect?

Most likely, you reject the new culture entirely. “I don’t like business meeting. It’s boring.” It’s not your Quaker culture, so it isn’t your Quakerism. Maybe it’s just something grown-ups do. It has nothing to do with you.

Now, what happens when you’re twelve instead of ten? What happens when you’re fourteen? What happens at the point that you feel too old for First Day School—that’s just a bunch of little kids—but the only thing you’ve ever see of grown-up Quakerism is “boring” and completely detached from your previous experience. What are you going to want to do then?

Probably sleep in on Sundays.

In my yearly meeting, many teens continue with the youth program even when they drop out of regular attendance on Sundays. The youth program has some elements of fun, but it’s really a Type A culture—focused on relationships and mutual trust, in an environment that feels warm and collaborative and welcoming, and where the group is united by mutual loyalty.

The emphasis on a strong peer group is by no means a bad thing—in fact, it’s vital for many of our teens. But again, this becomes the experience of Quakerism for those teens who are involved. Most—not all—of the kids transition pretty successfully from fun-and-excitement First Day Schools to the relationship-and-mutual-trust youth program. This is helped by the fact that they get a healthy dose of fun and excitement in the youth program, especially on the younger end of the scale, when first they start attending as fourth- and fifth-graders.

But eventually, they finish high school and graduate from the youth program. Then what? Where do they go to continue their experience of Quakerism?

Do they go back to their monthly meetings—where they’ll find a community based on caution and rule-following and, yes, a certain amount of relationship and mutual loyalty, but with people they don’t really know?

Do they go into the adult group at yearly meeting sessions—where they’ll find a community focused on a set of shared norms that they haven’t ever learned? Think about the implications of that—theoretically, this is their yearly meeting, and yet, when they step into the adult environment, belongingness is defined by rules that are completely unfamiliar. This goes to this committee, that goes to that other committee, you can stand and speak at certain times but not at other times, some questions should be asked on the floor of the yearly meeting, other questions should never be asked on the floor of the yearly meeting, use the right code language, everybody knows when and where the meeting is, so nobody ever announces it…and so on, and so on. Is it any wonder that so many young adults disappear?

(Also, they move. I know that. But there are usually Quakers wherever they’ve moved to.)

I’ll stop here for a couple of caveats. First of all, the exact cultures I’ve identified in First Day School and in the youth program and in the yearly meeting are subjective. Some people would probably say that I’m wrong. It’s also possible that your First Day School or your youth program or your yearly meeting aren’t the same as mine. But actually, the exact labeling of each culture isn’t the point. The point is what comes next, and I think that what comes next applies to nearly all of us.

Because what comes next is: if the cultures are different, how do we transition?

I’m going to mention one solution that I believe doesn’t work.  Then I’ll offer three solutions that might.

A commonly attempted solution is continue-the-culture subgroups. This happens frequently among young adults. YAF groups—Young Adult Friends—appear in most yearly meetings, and the age range tends to fluctuate, especially on the upper end. In my yearly meeting, it’s “18 to 35(ish),” and that “ish” tends to creep well into the mid-forties.

Not everybody joins the YAF groups for the same reasons, but generally speaking, YAF groups are more fun, more openly loving, and less rule-oriented than the regular adult body. These groups can be enriching and spiritually nourishing and vitally important for the people who are involved in them—but ultimately, there comes a point when you stop being “young.” And then you have to make the transition—or else leave Quakerism altogether—and many young adults resist this. Some straddle the two groups, participating in “adult” activities and keeping a toe in the YAF group as well. But for many, the YAF group becomes the experience of Quakerism, just as the youth program was before that. I’ve even had Friends in their forties say to me, verbatim, “We need something for my age cohort, because that other adult group—that’s not for me. That’s not my Quakerism. I have nowhere to go.”

So what kinds of strategies might help with transitions?

One possibility is boundary-blurring.

Maybe the adults who work with the First Day School know that the next likely stop for their kids is the youth program. So they study the youth program—which has a culture rooted in relationships and mutual trust—and they intentionally incorporate more relationships and mutual trust into the culture of First Day School. They don’t drop the fun-and-excitement culture altogether, but they blend the two, so that First Day School culture becomes about fun, excitement, relationships, and mutual trust.

Then, the adults who work with the youth program know that their participants are coming from First Day Schools that tend to be centered in fun and excitement, so they deliberately fold in fun-and-excitement culture, especially with the younger groups.

But these same adults also know that the next step for aging teens is the adult groups in monthly and yearly meetings, so especially with the older kids, they could start to fold in the methodical-shared-norms culture, and in particular the shared norms of the adult Friends. This means teaching things like which committee does what and why, and it means practicing meetings for business using the shared norms of adult meetings for business. Sometimes this sort of suggestion meets considerable resistance: they’re still kids, there’s time enough for them to learn all that, that stuff doesn’t really matter anyway. There’s some validity in questioning the importance of the shared norms of the adult group and whether or not things “should” be how they are, but if we want our teens to transition successfully, we must start the cultural transition while they are still, by definition, kids.

Then there’s the adult group. Maybe those who are in the adult group know that the teens are coming from the youth program, so they deliberately incorporate more focus on relationships and mutual trust within the adult group. They work to shift the entire adult group from a culture of structure-and-shared-norms to a culture of structure-and-relationships-and-shared-norms-and-mutual-trust. This would mean that we would still have a structure and shared norms but that it would be part of our normal practice to sometimes prioritize trust and relationships over the structure and shared norms. That’s tricky. Many of our adult groups are accustomed to being careful and prepared and slow to change; prioritizing relationships and mutual trust will sometimes require unexpected risks, especially since trust is, by definition, risky.

So boundary-blurring could be one strategy. It takes a lot of effort. We’re not accustomed to it.

Another strategy—which could be practiced simultaneously, rather than being an either-or—would be porous boundaries. We make it normal for those near transition ages to travel back and forth. Children ages nine and up have permission to wander in and out of teen spaces; younger teens can wander back to children’s programs. Teens have permission to wander in and out of business meetings; young adults can be in business meeting for awhile and then go hang out with the teens and kids.

In addition to the informal wandering back and forth, each age group could have times specifically scheduled to join the age groups on either side. Children’s groups are occasionally scheduled to go to the teen space to do a joint activity, and vice versa. Teens’ groups are occasionally scheduled to join the adults in whatever they’re doing, and the adults are occasionally scheduled to join the teens in whatever they’re doing. Transitions don’t happen all at once. They happen slowly, over a number of years, with lots of time allowed for moving back and forth.

One last strategy.

Shared culture unites people and gives us a sense of belonging. But shared culture isn’t the only thing that can unite us; shared beliefs and goals can, too. We can make culture less important if other things are more important.

Do we speak passionately about our relationship with God?

Do we understand ourselves as a covenant people?

Do we tell the stories of living faith?

Do we strive to listen to the Holy Spirit—and obey?

Is this at the center of our communities? Can we live lives of faith together and out loud? Or do we keep quiet about all of this, by default allowing culture to take center stage?

What would transitioning from one age group to another be like if it meant transitioning from a passionate, faithful, God-led people to another passionate, faithful, God-led people?

August-September 2018

Here’s the second in a series of updates on travel and projects.

 

Where I’ve Been (August)

August began with New England Yearly Meeting sessions at Castleton University. There’s an official website with talking points that I encourage you to check out, but a couple of things really stood out for me.

The first thing that resonated was the anchor group that I facilitated. There were about fourteen of us, varying in number from one day to the next. Many large Quaker gatherings have some sort of daily small group meetings, and this tends to be really important because otherwise the crush of people and the pace of activities can become truly overwhelming. Different gatherings do this in different ways. In New England, the small groups are randomized rather than grouped by interest or age or other factors. This has its pluses and minuses, but a major virtue is the chance to know people that you might not otherwise meet. Small-group sharing with Friends outside our usual circles is vital in a time when many Friends are striving to build more fully inclusive spiritual communities. In my small group were Friends from a variety of gender identities, ages, classes, and theological paths.

The second memorable thing was a long piece of work in business meeting about contributions to Friends World Committee for Consultation, Friends United Meeting, and Friends General Conference. New England Yearly Meeting contributes financially to these organizations at nearly three times the level of other, comparably-sized yearly meetings. The question came to to the gathered body: should the yearly meeting cut back on these contributions in order to balance its budget? In the end, the group affirmed that it would continue its current level of giving, as led, stepping out in faith, doing what they understood to be right rather than what might be seen, arguably, as “fair.” It was not an easy decision. I was grateful to witness it.

It’s worth noting that I was Facebooking things that happened throughout the week. I encourage that others try this kind of sharing when possible; it can make a real difference in a sense of community for Friends who aren’t able to physically attend.

Much of the rest of August was quiet—lots of emails, lots of Facebook work, a certain amount of committee work, some writing. Quiet time’s not so bad, especially considering the travel coming up in the fall and winter.

 

Where I’m Going (September)

September 1st will be the first day for the Friends General Conference Digital Outreach cohort. I’m looking forward to working with Friends from Maine to Florida to Indiana—and maybe the west coast, too? Not sure yet. We’ll be running Facebook ads for local meetings while simultaneously training local Friends in the skills needed to maintain an effective social media presence. My primary goal in this program is to make myself—and any other outside assistance—irrelevant, with the meeting having everything it needs to do the work independently down the line. (Of course, I always recommend a community of practice. “Independently” doesn’t have to mean “alone.”)

Later in September, I’ll have an evening gathering at Westbury meeting on Long Island, which looks like it will consist of a brief social media training, a potluck, and a chance to do some storytelling about Friends around the world. These kinds of storytelling opportunities are among my favorite parts of travel in the ministry; there’s something wonderful about having the chance to share about the global covenant community.

Westbury will be followed by a day-long workshop at Monadnock meeting on multiage inclusion, and a week after that, I’ll be at a gathering for Lyman grant recipients in Maine. The Lyman Fund exists “to support individuals seeking to follow their deepest inward spiritual leading,” and I’ve received two grants from the Lyman Fund in the last year. This has been important because, unlike many other grants, Lyman grant funding can be used for the types of personal support (food, rent, etc.) that enable ministry work.