What do you do in Quaker meeting for worship?

Last Sunday -- First Day -- 9/27/09 -- at 1 p.m. San Francisco Friends meeting presented a workshop, "What do you do in meeting for worship?"

The presentation by a long-time memeber of San Francisco meeting was based on Quaker writings and on interviews of current and former participants in San Francisco's meeting for worship. Interviewees ranged in age from approximately late 20s to mid 60s. Years attending Quaker meetings ranged from 12 to over 50.

The presentation was to be followed by a time for practice or discussion or written reflection (your choice).

Young people and people new to Quaker worship were especially encouraged to join us for this event. Interested middle and high school students were welcome, too.

I couldn't be there, though I sorely wanted to participate. I was elsewhere on family business, which was quite rewarding in a different way. The turnout was modest, based in part that the Folsom Street Fair was the same day just a few blocks away.

Perhaps we'll do it again some time!

This workshop was another part of an ongoing effort to welcome new people into our meeting and to talk more clearly with one another about our spiritual practices.


Friday freeway furloughs

Here in California, because of the disastrous state budget, the state government and many cities are furloughing staff on one, two, or even all Fridays a month.

What if we had a Friday freeway furlough, too?

To save money on repaving asphalt, repouring concrete, replacing road signs, and repainting lane striping. To save money on gas and carbon and particulate matter released into the air. To save lives and the cost of emergency response.

I know, I know, if you aren't furloughed on Fridays and depend on driving to your job, it wouldn't be practical.

It's an interesting thought experiment, though, isn't it?


Interrupting the aggressive cycle

Months ago I meant to blog about how dogs interrupt the aggressive cycle for wolves.

This came from a conversation at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, during the workshop led by Robin, Wess, and Martin on Primitive Quakerism for a Postmodern Era.

Anyway, Dave was telling us that dogs are "neotonous" wolves -- developmentally, they are like wolf puppies. That's why people keep them around.

The added benefit is that they smell like wolf puppies to wolves. And wolves are instinctively tolerant and encouraging of their puppies.

The wolf's "aggressive cycle" is to hunt, stalk, and then attack the prey (usually in a pack). So when a wolf scents and sees a shepherd dog near the herd, it gets confused. When the dog snarls and barks, the wolf is interrupted in the middle of its aggressive cycle. Is this snarling animal a foe or a little one? That is usually enough to end the threat.

(I don't claim any of the above is strictly, scientifically, and technically accurate. It's a fairly faithful report of the conversation we had, though.)

The parallels with active nonviolence seem clear. The challenge is to find ways to interrupt the human cycle of aggression and violence early enough to stop it from erupting. That takes courage and seemingly endless creativity.


Something I just learned from children's religious education

I've decided to extend my leave of absence teaching Firstday School at our Quaker meeting past the summer and into the fall. I've been teaching once every month or two for, oh, seven? years now. Since Eleven Year Old was still Four Year Old.

However, I'm still on the group email list for the Children's Religious Education Committee. And tonight I reflected that the committee right now has four key -- nay, critical -- components for successful Quaker program activity:
  1. Enthusiasm: to be enthused is to be infused with the Spirit, after all! They've got that in abundance as we head back into the fall and the school year.
  2. Organization: Just because unprogrammed Friends are volunteers doesn't mean we have to be badly organized. (My #1 complaint about Quakers!) The committee has been coming back together after summer, and putting systems in place and talking about some longer-term goals and needs.
  3. Communication: Keep each other posted! The Children's Religious Ed Committee has a great and very active email list and an online calendar which is slowly gaining in utility. Teachers also have a commitment to writing brief reports about what the lesson was, what worked, and what didn't, and sharing that via the email list. I hope they can keep up this level of diligence.
       Too often, people assume others know something just because they do. Use a variety of channels: email, calls, in-person conversations and meetings, posters, flyers, the meeting's print newsletter. Bad communication is probably my #2 complaint about Quakers. (How many times has this happened at a monthly, quarterly, or yearly meeting? "Well, the fact that the children's program was going to be closed early was announced at the end of the business meeting." "Yeah, but I had to leave meeting early to go get my kids at the children's program, so I didn't hear it!")
  4. Distributed leadership: How many times has a committee suffered because the clerk kept too many of the tasks close at hand, and then couldn't get them all done? Well, this committee has a clerk and two assistant clerks, and several active, engaged members who are taking on different tasks.
The above are four fundamental building blocks to organizing successful Quaker activities and programs. I'm sure there are others (staying rooted and grounded in Love and the Spirit, for example), but these are some of important ones too often missing from our work. I think Friends concerned about other aspects of Quaker life -- such as building race or class diversity within the Society of Friends, or helping people integrate the practice of one's faith with faithful activism, for example -- would do well to keep those four principles in mind as they engage in the work they feel called to do.

I'm impressed with the level of all of the above in our committee right now. As mentioned, there is a clerk (a non-parent educator, and a blogger, but I'll leave it up to him if he wants to be linked to in this context), and two assistant clerks, of whom one is a parent and the other is both an active uncle and a childcare provider. And of course there's a nice group of committee members, most of whom are parents.

The committee has some work to do to build up the Quaker curriculum and train new teachers after a few of us laid teaching down for now. The good thing is they're building from a really solid base. Thank you, Children's Religious Education Committee!