Shining Tree of Life

Adam Gopnik has a nice essay in the 2/13-20/2006 issue of The New Yorker about "what the Shakers did." He writes, "Everything that they touched is breathtaking in its beauty and simplicity.... Their objects show a knowing, creative, shaping simplicity... Shaker objects don't look simple; they look specifically Shaker."

So, while I liked the essay, the point of blogging it here is this quote about Quakers:

"Yet the Shakers made specifically stylish things, where others didn't. ...[T]he Friends, apart from a general tendency toward the plain and suspicion of the fancy, had no real style separate from that of their fellow-Americans. They wore more or less the same clothes and used the same furniture as everyone else. (They just disapproved of their own use of them more than other people did.)"

Bringing in the Harvest

I had a rewarding experience Saturday: Attending the first official board of directors meeting of the reorganized Quaker lobbying group in California, Friends Committee on Legislation, or FCL. It took several years of laboring in the vineyards to get there.

I first got involved in 1999 or so. Peter Crysdale was then the development coordinator; a student at the General Theological Union in Berkeley; and a fiery vocal minister and sometime attender at SF Meeting. (Today he is the pastor at Allen's Neck Friends Meeting in Dartmouth, Mass. Oh, my goodness, I've just been reading his messages in the meeting newsletter, and they are worth checking out.)

Peter was an experienced fundraiser with AFSC, but he had a really hard time at FCL. He had the nerve to ask for an updated computer database to track donors' giving history. He had a hard time even getting the information he needed from the desktop computer of someone else, which worked on DOS, not Windows. While successful in the individual donor work he did, he was frustrated at each step. On leaving for Allen's Neck, he called for FCL to invest more in the work of raising the resources needed.

I heard the call, and clerked the first development and outreach committee. We developed a mission statement: Guided by Quaker values, FCL advocates for California state laws that are just, compassionate, and respectful of the inherent worth of every person.

We set fundraising goals, and got the coordinator after Peter out in the field. A Friend produced a video for FCL's 50th anniversary, which she took on the road to numerous meetings.

Sidebar My favorite part of the video was an interview with State Sen. John Burton, a legendary and curmudgeonly politician from San Francisco, who praised FCL between licks of his ice cream cone! Forced out by term limits in 2004, Burton in his final term introduced the resolution creating the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, to study the extent to which "wrongful executions or the wrongful conviction of innocent persons" has happened. Go, John!! endSidebar

The fundraising plans never quite jelled, though. The number of meetings at which slightly different constellations of pretty much the same people said the same old things was inordinate.

The big problem was simply an unwieldy structure that was not serving the organization given the current, lower number of people now active. I drifted away from the endless meetings, but continued to have conversations with Friends about how we might improve things. The result was an outstanding session at the annual statewide meeting in 12/2004 at which we agreed things weren't working well, we resolved to try to change them, and we scheduled a called meeting for 3/2005.

In 3/2005, we further agreed to restructure the committees, to emulate pretty closely the model of FCNL: keep the statewide meeting, now renamed the General Committee, but create a new board of directors tasked with administrative oversight and power to make decisions on an interim basis between annual meetings. Several working committees would work statewide, rather than split into northern and southern groups. In addition, Friends in Northern and Southern California were encouraged to continue to organize in regional groups to spur grassroots advocacy, raise awareness, and raise funds.

In 12/2005, the General Committee united to approve the changes, and adopted bylaws. It took hours to go over it all, but the result was satisfying.

So on Saturday, when we gathered as the new Board of Directors, it felt like harvesting the fruit of long labor. Blessed be!


Action Plan Quakerism

I regularly read the e-zines from Robert Middleton of Action Plan Marketing. They always have food for thought that I frequently find applicable in my personal life as well as in my work life.

The following is a passage from the issue of 3/7/06 that originally applied to "independent professionals." With slight changes, I found it so applicable to Quakers that I decided to post it.

- - - [Quote] - - -

It's quite common for [Quakers] to be so worried about being rejected, doing the wrong thing, offending someone, being comfortable or being "too out there" that there isn't much room to remember what [Quakerism] is really about:

"Getting your message out there as widely as possible so that you can serve as many people as you can in the most effective and creative ways imaginable."

- - - [End Quote] - - -

Okay, let's take it for granted that unprogrammed Friends don't proselytize.

But in what ways do unprogrammed Friends fail to serve people we ought to serve because we don't put ourselves out there enough for them to find us, or for us to find them?? I imagine there are far more than 30,000 people in the United States who would benefit from worshiping with unprogrammed Friends.

What do you think?

- - -
Here's the original link.
"By Robert Middleton of Action Plan Marketing. Please visit Robert's web site at http://www.actionplan.com for additional marketing articles and resources on marketing for professional service businesses."

On the bedside table now

Here's what's on my bedside table now. Looks like I need to simplify and reshelve some of these!

> Douglas Gwyn, Seekers Found: Just finished it today! Great background on the Seekers and early Quakers. Hope to post about it soon.

> Douglas Gwyn, The Covenant Crucified: Early Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism: Amazing. A classic. I read it once, want to read it again.

> Oxford Study Bible (Revised English Version): This is my everyday Bible.

> King James Version, paperback. This week I just downloaded the KJV to my PalmPilot from the Olive Tree! I want to revel in the language for a time.

> Walk Worthy of Your Calling, edited by Peggy Senger Parsons and Margery Post Abbott: Robin read it first, now it's my turn.

> Wrestling with Our Faith Tradition, Lloyd Lee Wilson: Devoured it once, want to re-read. My, I'm ambitious...

> Before Business Begins: Notes for Friends Meeting Recording Clerks and Recorders, William Braasch Wilson (New England Yearly Meeting): I'm so sloppy. Three years as recording clerk, I've had this booklet for half a year or more, and I still haven't read it. Okay, skimmed it. Sigh.

> Readings on Quaker Pedagogy: Philosophy & Practice in Friends Education by Irene McHenry, Jane Fremon, Nancy Starmer, J. Harry Hammond (Friends Council on Education): I was just invited to be a parent trustee on the SF Friends School board. Guess I'd better read this! I've had it for months.

> The Religious Potential of the Child: Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy with Young Children, Sofia Cavaletti: Explaining the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. A similar approach is known as "godly play" but googling that phrase brings up a heckuva lot of for-sale product.

> E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: I bought the anniversary edition at Pacific Yearly Meeting in 8/2004, read most of it, but never quiiiite finished it. Time to reshelve!

> Leave the Office Earlier, Laura Stack: Very dusty. Had some good points. Time to reshelve!

> Love Poems to God: Was a gift 18 mos. ago -- dusty -- Time. To. Reshelve. (Lather, rinse, repeat?)

> Printouts of blogposts by LizOpp on Lost Traditions and by Public Quaker Alice on What are Quakers for?

> Finally, the January/February 1990 issue of Evangelical Friend: Because it has a teaser on the cover, Are potlucks Quaker sacraments?

Minor change, 3/26/06: Added Walk Worthy of Your Calling


Toward The Future of Our Quaker Heritage

So I missed Quaker Heritage Day and the bloggers' dinner afterward -– blogged about here and here and here -- which Robin M. hosted at my own apartment, even!

Instead, I drove to Santa Monica for the annual spring meeting of Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Representative Committee. As the clerk of the Children’s Program Committee, I had to go, the fate of the program depended on me! Or so Robin M. told me.

Somewhat reluctantly, or at least with petulant moaning about “Do I really have to go?”, I went.

And I’m really glad I did! It was a rich and fruitful weekend. During the drive, I enjoyed listening to a book on tape of Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris. There is much territory worth blogging about in that book! And it shows that you can be Presbyterian or a Benedictine Oblate or whatever and have some similar language and experiences to Quakers.

I gave a very successful report on the Children’s Program. I mentioned how many children there were last year (46 for some part of the annual session), how many volunteer slots we tried to fill (I estimated 90, but it may have been a little less), and how many volunteer person-hours we had (I estimated 250 or so, but that’s got a big margin of error). I also read excerpts from upper elementary and middle school epistles.

Result? Everybody felt really good about the program!

Further desired result: That people will turn out again to teach and to volunteer so we can keep this thing going!!

I told people it was just the Dale Carnegie Method in action: Tell people you’re going to do something, do it, then tell them you did it. Works every time.

Just because we’re unprogrammed Quakers and volunteers, doesn’t mean we can’t apply the worldly knowledge we gain from our jobs, volunteer work with nonprofit boards, or the like, for the benefit of our children! Don’t we owe it to them to be well organized?

Sabbath or Jubilee for Pacific Yearly Meeting?

To open some of our discussions at Pacific Yearly Meeting's Representative Committee on Saturday, 3/4/2006, Joe Franko of Orange Grove Meeting, who is clerk of the yearly meeting’s Ministry & Oversight Committee, gave us an image of pruning the grapevines. He had been doing that in his own garden this week, he said. You have to prune the vine, or it grows wildly and then does not bear much fruit, as the leaves overshadow one another. He invited us to consider what pruning we might need to do in our own lives and the life of the yearly meeting.

Before the annual session, young Quakers 15-20 will be invited to participate in something called the Koinonia Project in downtown Los Angeles. It will include visits to community groups and a study of jubilee economics. In keeping with the theme of Jubilee and Sabbath!

Meeting for worship with Santa Monica Friends on Sunday morning was very powerful. The hissing and popping of the fire, cooing of an infant, and the plaintive chatter of a three-year-old all blended together with the community. And three Friends gave vocal ministry, all of them from the Representative Committee.

After meeting, Rep Comm held a two-hour threshing session on the proposal for the Yearly Meeting to take a year of discernment from 8th Month 2006 through 8th Month 2007. I’ll post the framework for that separately.

A common theme arose: “If the Yearly Meeting is anything but business as usual, then I’m for it and I’ll attend.”

Another Friend spoke movingly of an incident with her then-dying husband, when she did not set aside her busy-ness when he asked her to. Her pain and regret were evident -- and instructive. She spoke then of her attempts to find Sabbath in her life, to “sit amid the undone work and just sit in the Presence of God.”

We concluded the session with a brief and powerful time of worship, during which a Friend known for her leadings on eco-spirituality and Earth care rose to quote from the Fourth Gospel: “I am the True Vine.” I was moved to hear this unexpectedly coming from this dear Friend, who is not known for using Christian language. She captured perfectly the experience of “something larger than ourselves” we had just been through.

When we faithfully gather together in these meetings consistently over time, we get to know one another at a depth that speaks beyond these categories or words.

Queries for Year of Discernment

Excerpted from a handout at Pacific Yearly Meeting Representative Committee, 3/5/2006:

Ministry and Oversight of Pacific Yearly Meeting invites all committees and meetings to engage with us this year in a yearlong discernment process. The purpose of the process is to examine our Yearly Meeting and to discern whether or not PYM is doing work that is essential, work that leads us back to Spirit and to our Center….

Here are advices and queries to consider:

1. How do we live our lives from the center so that all things take their rightful place?
Many of our lives have become so chaotic with so many demands that it’s difficult to discern what to do and whaat to lay down. Our spiritual life sometimes seems to be just as chaotic as the rest of our lives, as we sit on multiple committees and try to balance Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly Meeting responsibilities. … Consider whether we or others choose our priorities, or does living in the Spirit focus our lives?

2. What is essential for us to live our lives as Friends?
[This had a second part, “What structure do we need for support?” However, I think we convinced M&O to put that at the end, either after the year of discernment, or at least as the last part of the process of discernment.]

3. What role can play in helping Monthly Meetings support members and attenders to live their lives from their center and help support and build vital Monthly Meetings?
…How might PYM be more of a resource to Monthly Meetings?

4. How can we hold our annual session so that it helps us find the center and discern the Spirit’s will / Truth amongst us?
As we try to do [many things at the annual session], let’s remember that we need to find a way for Truth to enter into our gathering. … Faith and Practice says, “The annual gathering provides an opportunity for all present to support one another in seeking Divine Guidance and strnegthening the bonds that unite them.” Has that been your experience?