Interfaith awakening, seen through an academic lens

Robin is away at the Friends General Conference advancement and outreach committee consultation on outreach and spiritual hospitality. Having her away for a second weekend this month, I'm more tired this time, if only because our boys spent more time than usual squabbling today. (Other than that, it was a good day.)

Since I don't have energy for original writing, I've typed up some quotes from the March 21st edition of my college alumni magazine, because the resonance with the Quaker conversation is striking to me.

The article is "Princeton's Revivalist Roots: Religion on the campus from the Great Awakening to the 'interfaith awakening,'" by Thomas Breidenthal, former dean of religious life at Princeton and now Episcopal bishop for southern Ohio:
"I believe we are witnessing the beginnings of yet another national awakening on our college campuses -- one that is not simly Christian but that has to do with religion more generally. Students across the country are taking an interest in religion, but in such a way as to embrace the diversity of religious expression and the possibility of serious dialogue and cooperation across religious lines. I call this movement the 'interfaith awakening'....

"To be 'born again' through personal submission to God's election was to enter into a covenant community, and the exercise of individual freedom in isolation from such a community was unthinkable.... Transposed into an academic key, this meant that the unfettered pursuit of truth, and the right and obligation to submit all truth claims to the scrutiny of public debate, assumed a community bound together by a common commitment to the sovereignty of truth....

"This time [viz, the present religious revival] we are not talking just about Protestant Christianity. We are dealing significant number of college students want to connect with other students of faith or uncertain faith -- no matter what their faith may be! ...

"[This revival] has its roots in tolerance.... But the interfaith revival is also about engagement.... To engage one another in our difference is indeed to be transported outside of ourselves, so that we experience the world from a new perspective, having cast our own narrow self-interest aside."
I hear echoes of many of the discussions in Quakerism in the above. And to me, "convergence" among Friends is about this type of engagement, in person as well as online. I would like to tease out the themes above more, but am too tired right now.

Instead, I'm going to go read N.T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus, which Wess just sent us. Thanks, Wess! G'night all.


Inadvertent Lent

My car stereo wouldn't work this afternoon. I found myself incessantly punching the on/off button during a midday errand and on the drive home, on the very small chance it might come on. Typically, I listen to at least three of the following on any given day: a CD, a tape, FM radio (Pacifica or else an eclectic assortment of music stations, and generally NOT NPR except that sometimes I get sucked into "As It Happens" from the CBC), AM radio (headlines and traffic reports). Or sometimes a book on CD (Freakonomics most recently).

So this was a big deal.

And then finally I realized, it's Lent. I've read about some other bloggers taking this as an opportunity for reflection. I've never observed Lent, and I'm not sure I will now, but it was a good reminder to take stock of what I consume. Am I glutton for stimulation by recorded music or broadcast voice? Yes. Is that a problem? Maybe. Perhaps I will wait to buy a new 15-amp fuse for a few days and see what that brings. Of course, then I won't be able to eject the CD of Shaker songs and the tape of Jesus Christ Superstar that were stuck in there when the fuse blew....

When I started commuting to work by car to a regular job for the first time ever (*not counting some summer and temp jobs during or right after college), four years ago at the age of 36,
I thought seriously about trying to pursue "driving meditation." I've never had a consistent practice -- how could I in the circumstances? -- but it's something I do recall from time to time. And there have been many days when I've listened to moving music, or observed scenes of great beauty over the hills and the bay, or seen a red-tailed hawk perched on a light pole or a black-tailed kite hovering over a field, when I've felt, "Yes, this IS the day the Lord has made," and felt centered.

So I will consider whether this inadvertent experience of Lent is something I ought to take deeper. No promises!

SHPICES and FGC Gathering

So Robin is home, and as she was relating a story of her time at FWCC, I named what she was talking about as "spiritual hospitality." Then said, "So now we need to have the testimonies as SHPICES!"

She pointed out that C was for Community and that should cover it. Still!! It's worth considering, because spiritual, emotional, and physical hospitality for individuals doesn't automatically "pop" out of the "community" box.
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I've said it before and I'll say it again: Stephen Matchett (S.F. Monthly Meeting) and Eric Moon (Strawberry Creek M.M.) are leading a workshop at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in a week and a half on "Quaker Testimonies: Hearsay or Witness? To What Do Our Lives Speak?" Here's the flyer.

Eric will also be leading a workshop "Quaker Testimonies: Plain and UnSPICEd" at the Friends General Conference annual gathering, 6/30 - 7/7/07 in River Falls, Wisc.

I was interested to note that there are once again many Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends listed as workshop leaders, even though PacYM is not formally affiliated with FGC: Eric Moon, Elaine Emily, Carl Magruder, Neil Fullager, and Gretta and Jacob Stone (now staff at Quaker Center, sojourning from Doylestown M.M. in the other PYM!) were the ones I could remember off the top of my head. Now, picking up the advance program, I see there's Joe Franko (our yearly meeting's presiding clerk, listed as Workshop 1 with the title, "Are Quakers Too Nice?"), Karen Street, Stephen McNeil, and Sara Wolcott. So, 9 of 72 workshops, or 12.5% have PacYM presenters. Not a bad ratio for a non-member yearly meeting.

Oh, and then there's the matter of Traci, the PacYM'er who heard the call to be the Gathering Coordinator...

I still haven't totally decided if I'm going to be following lovely wife Robin to the event. Sigh. I probably will. I'd like to sign up for either Peter Crysdale's workshop or the Sacred Harp workshop (hello, Paul L.!!).


Phoning it in: Convergent dinner in Boston 'burbs

Robin said they had about 20 people at the "convergent" Friends dinner at Will T.'s home. After dinner they considered two of the queries from the workshop that Robin et al did at FWCC over the weekend. She said it was rich and good conversation. Though sorry to have missed it, I had a really rich and rewarding weekend with our two boys. So, I'll just bask in a wee bit of Robin's reflected glory (probably not a good term to use lightly in this context, but so be it).

Amanda has already written a brief note about the dinner over here.
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Today in meeting for worship a Friend reminded us to keep our hearts clear and open in our relationships. And then another Friend quoted Numbers 6:4, the King James Version in his mellifluous English barrister's voice. I just blogged that passage on Friday!
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I have some serious discernment to do in relation to our monthly meeting. One Friend in our meeting pointed out that Brian Drayton, during Quaker Heritage Day, said that sometimes we don't get guidance about a way forward; we may just have to listen for whether or not we have a stop to doing something. I am trying to determine that now for myself.

These last few evenings I've been sleepy by this time, and not really in great shape for discernment of these things. It's well-earned weariness, though, playing and eating and worshiping with the boys, and our friends and Friends.
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The "site meter" at the bottom of my blog tracks referrals from elsewhere. For a few months now I've had a couple of referrals a week from Google searches for variations of "children mealtime grace" (my post on that topic is #2 there), songs for mealtime grace, and even one "Quaker hand squeezing prayer" (where my post is -- woohoo -- #1).

My recent favorite, though, was having a post show up as #10 on a search for "flapjacks"! Now that strikes me as hilarious. Fortunately for the world of internet search, it was a time-specific search in Feb. 2007; I only rate #30 when you just do a plain-vanilla search for "flapjacks." Whew! That's more like it. Now I can sleep peacefully.


Rhode Island: FWCC report call-in

I talked to Robin M. last night and tonight. She got to Providence, R.I., safely, ahead of the winter storm today, for the Friends World Committee for Consultation meeting. Some very interesting people are in her worship sharing group. Much as I'd love to get the scoop, I will let her reveal names and affiliations when she blogs about it later.

Today Robin, Wess Daniels, Shawna Roberts, and David Male (the last two both from Ohio Yearly Meeting), led the first workshop on "Convergent Friends: Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism in a Postmodern World." They run the workshop again Saturday. She said it went well, that some people had concerns and others were enthusiastic. She is very glad she went.

Robin and Wess have both already linked to their workshop handout, but in case you missed it, I'll do it, too: It's here. It's pretty sharp.

Meanwhile, here at home, the boys have had a lovely couple of days of playdates yesterday and today. Eight Year Old had a field trip to Angel Island, the West Coast's former immigration station. His main report back was that they were able to play on the beach, and that he successfully got one rock to skip three times! And, yeah, somebody said something about immigration.

Tomorrow we're going with another family to see the heron and egret rookery at Audubon Canyon Ranch, whose URL is so cool I'm going to call it out separately: www.egret.org. I've been to the Bolinas Lagoon there many times, but never the Ranch.

At work, I was able to put in almost my usual hours, thanks to Robin having arranged those playdates. (Oh boy, I could post about the three or four pieces of legislation we're working on, plans for Affordable Housing Week in May, and the membership retreat I'm running on Monday... but I would get too tired.)

(Or I could post about the discernment task I'm facing in relation to my own monthly meeting, but it's too soon to talk about that... I was sitting in quiet reflection about that earlier this evening and did almost literally fall asleep. Which is a sign that I need to end this post already and get some sleep!)

Finally, I meant to post this the other day before Robin left, so here it is now, better late than never:
24 The LORD bless you
and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.

-- Numbers 6:24-26 (NIV)


Notes from Quaker Heritage Day

Quaker Heritage Day was held at Berkeley Friends Church, 3/3/2007. Here are a few of the notes I wrote down that day.

Max Hansen, pastor:
Christianity today is seen as a shackle to the mind. Yet John Woolman, for example, one of the most liberated minds ever, had the power of the Lord over his mind. That was the source of the freedom. Brian Drayton is that way, too.

Brian Drayton: Introductory Remarks
The world needs what Friends long to do: Follow the spirit of Christ faithfully. We need to school each other into greater faithfulness in our witness.

The world doesn’t need our activism. It could use it, but others do that, too. The world needs our testimonies to our present teacher, Christ, dwelling among us, helping us to be transformed and show evidence of it.

It is not a matter of principle, it is a matter of specific daily practice. We need to readopt the term “Children of the Light” and renew our Society. Vocal ministry is a necessary gift to that end, not the only one.

Consider how a plant body is modular, parts can be broken off and pieces can self-replicate. However, an animal body is integrated and can’t just be broken apart that way. Similarly, we are parts of one body, the church.
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Here's a photo of 8 Year Old linked to Max Hansen's blog:

Studious 8 Year Old photo by Max Hansen

And here's one of Five Year Old with one of our hosts for dinner:

Toe Munching Monster by Max Hansen Red-Eyed Toe-Munching Monster


Scooped! Quaker Heritage and Friendly Flapjacks

Scooped again! Robin has already written about Saturday's Quaker Heritage Day and Sunday's Meeting/School meeting for worship followed by potluck pancake brunch.

At QHD, I took lots of notes on Brian Drayton's talk, and hope to post some of it. Meanwhile, here is a brief summary of the Firstday School lesson I did yesterday. We had 25 children; usually we have 3 to 6!

Introductions: Say your name and the name of one friend.

Objectives: Learn about the Society of Friends, George Fox, walking in the Light

  • I lectured for a few minutes about the name of the Religious Society of Friends, referring to the passage in John 15:15, "I have called you friends." I also talked about George Fox's role in starting the Quaker movement, and how early Friends were called "Quakers" in scorn by a judge and the nickname stuck.
  • We sang the chorus of the "George Fox Song." I did a handout with the full verses and chorus, with a portrait of Fox and a photo of his gravestone. (Incidentally, here's a pdf pamphlet about the song, published by Southern Quarter of PhilaYM.)
  • I talked about how our Friend Rolene is Walking with Earth, and this is a contemporary example of walking in the Light.
  • Then, as the children lined up for a simple snack of banana or apple slices, we unfurled a sheet of butcher paper across the room, over their heads. They enjoyed that.
  • They traced their shoes on the paper, then decorated them.
Results: Voila! We had a group mural of walking in the Light.

I ran through this quicker than expected, so I improvised a query: "Where would you like to walk with your shoes?" The second and third grade boys were happy to answer with absolutely silly ideas. One 8 Year Old who shall remain nameless said he would walk to the ceiling! After each child answered, we sang the chorus again.

That took us to the end of the time. We went downstairs and fortunately meeting for worship was over. So the children walked in with their long mural and sang the chorus for the assembled meeting. That was the Affirmation, the last part of the mnenomic I use for lesson plans (IOSRA, "In our school, results appear").

Many thanks to parent W.S. who was one of my able classroom assistants -- she invites everyone to worship at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, by the way, where they also have lots of wiggly boy energy -- and to the meeting member who was the other much-needed assistant.


Short History of Myth III: Living without it

Continuing from post 1 and post 2 reflecting on Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth:

Living Without Myth Today

Pages 132-134:
Crusaders such as Thomas H. Huxley believed... people must choose between mythology and rational science, and there could be no compromise. Reason alone was truthful and the myths of religion truthless. But truth had been narrowed down to what was 'demonstrated and demonstrable', which, religion aside, would exclude the truths told by art or music. By treating myth as though it were rational, modern scientists, critics and philosophers made it incredible....

Mythical thinking and practice had helped people to face the prospect of extinction and nothingness, and to come through it with a degree of acceptance. Without this discipline, it has been difficult for many to avoid despair....

Logos [eg logic, not the Logos of the Fourth Gospel!] has in many ways transformed our lives for the better, but this has not been an unmitigated triumph. Our demythologised world is very comfortable for many of us who are fortunate enough to live in first-world countries, but it is not the earthly paradise predicted by Bacon and Locke.... Other societies saw death as a transition to other modes of being.... In no other culture would anybody settle down in the middle of a rite of passage or an initiation, with the horror unresolved. But this is what we have to do in the absence of a viable mythology....

We still long to 'get beyond' our immediate circumstances, and to enter a 'full time', a more intense, fulfilling existence. We try to enter this dimension by means of art, rock music, drugs, or by entering the larger-than-life perspective of film. We still seek heroes [eg Elvis, Diana].
The myth of the hero was not intended to provide us with icons to admire, but was designed to tap into the vein of heroism within ourselves.

We must disabuse ourselves of the nineteenth-century fallacy that myth is false or that it represents an inferior mode of thought. We cannot completely recreate ourselves, cancel out the rational bias of our education, and return to a pre-modern sensibility. But we can acquire a more educated attitude to myth....
So much for the quotes. I have a thought and then a pile of queries.

Thought: It would be a useful and helpful project to elucidate the myths we are wrapped up in ourselves today. Perhaps we can frame it as an analysis of the "powers and principalities" of U.S. sociopoliticocultural life today. I can think of a few concepts to start with, but it would be interesting to know what "idols" are all around us and we don't even notice them:
  • Celebrity and sports star worship
  • Money and consumerism
  • Technology worship
  • Individualism
  • Four American Archetypal Stories: "Up by the bootstraps," "Mob at the gates," "Barnraising," and "Rot at the top" (as identified by Robert Reich)
  • Democratic republicanism/Capitalism/[fill in blank] as the best of all possible systems
  • etc. etc.
Pile of Queries:
What does it mean to live without the myths of the past to fall back on? Whether we are theists or not, we are embedded in the social, economic, spiritual, and political culture of our times, whether we are consciously aware and resistant of those powers and principalities or not.

What does it mean to take up the cross of faith even in a faithless world? Or, what does it mean to hold fast to the truths of love and solidarity even absent a sense of a larger power binding you together?

Are you fervently, religiously devout but oblivious to suffering around you? Are you intellectual, rational, and utterly selfish?

Are you a determined atheist who wins friends and influences people through the openness and many kind gestures you offer to the rich and poor alike? Did you sell all you have to follow Jesus and move to the Kibera slum in Nigeria and offer counsel to the orphans and street children there?

How do you "tap into the vein of heroism" within yourself?

Has your practice made you more loving and kind toward yourself, toward other people, toward the natural world?

In the end, it's the "fruit" that is the measure of the harvest.
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So that's all for now. Pick one question above and write about it if you can...