Quaker Quest: The Other QQ

Prompted by a post by Contemplative Scholar about evangelism among (unprogrammed) Friends (Should Quakers Become More 'Evangelical'?, I looked up the Quaker Quest website. I attended a short presentation they did at the FGC Gathering under the aegis of the FGC advancement and outreach. Their tagline is Quakerism -- "a spiritual path for our time."

Quote: "Quaker Quest aims to help you find out about the Quaker way of life. We have found that people enquiring about us want to hear what we have to say, talk to each other and us about it, get an idea what sort of people we are and experience Quaker worship."

I highly recommend the website: http://www.quakerquest.org.

It includes a forum for discussion, which appears to be just over a month old. Okay, lunch break is over. I'll have to think about how we might apply this in San Francisco another time.


A Quaker Made Famous through Mass Merchandising

So today I bought a copy of the new Harry Potter at our local independent bookshop. Before I gave it to Robin -- who gets to read it first, and then Nine Year Old, and then me -- I did read the front matter and first page or two. And found this quote:
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.

William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude
(as quoted in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p. xi)

- - - -

In other news, Linda posted some photos from the FGC Gathering on her blog, Boundless Stores of Grace. She even included a couple shots of Nine Year Old at the Heart of the Beast rehearsal! (That's him on the right.)

click for this and more of Linda's photos


Religious Literacy

I'm reading Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--and Doesn't. It came recommended by the head of San Francisco Friends School. It's the kind of book where I can read the introduction and first two chapters and have a sense of the thesis: Americans are woefully ignorant of the world's religions, their own and others'. Given the other things going on for us right now, I probably won't finish it.

This quote stood out for me, page 53: "While... those on the right are more likely to be worried about a lack of attention to Puritan New England, critics on the left want to give Roger Williams, William Penn, and other scions of religious liberty their due. A textbook review published by People for the American Way said, "While history textbooks talk about the existence of religious diversity in America, they do not show it.... The Quakers are shown giving us religious freedom and abolition, and then apparently disappear off the face of the earth."



One thing about having 1,300 or so Quakers living together on a college campus for a week at FGC Gathering is being in proximity to one another.

As a result, I had a better sense of the collective impact we can have. The spiritual impact. The activist impact. In this case, though, I’m thinking of our impact on the earth: water use, energy use, food consumption, and waste production. Living closely together in this community for a week, it’s quite visible. Do people leave the faucet running? Do we flush twice? (I live in California so I’m sensitive about water use; Wisconsin is historically wetter.) How much bottled water or soda do we drink? Do we turn the lights off in the shower area when we’re done? And look at how much paper we all get just by attending the Gathering!

It was also nice to see so many people walking around, not needing a car for the vast portion of the week, and golf carts available for people who needed them or for children who were especially worn out.

At some point, recycling boxes were provided in dorm lobbies. On the last day, I had a nudge to take the piled-up recycling from our dorm lobby to the receptacles outside. As it happened, we had to make two trips to take our luggage from the dorm to the bus, and I was going back by myself for the last pieces. I decided to take the recycling out at that point, because we were in no hurry. Then I would return the keys in the slot.

As it happened, Robin needed her meal card for lunch, and it was in her key holder. She called to tell me this as I was taking the recycling out. If I hadn’t been taking out the recycling, I would have already turned in her key with the meal card. I was able to fish out the card before returning the keys. And it was good.


Extended Meeting for Worship 7/29/07

[I still have a few more posts brewing about the FGC Gathering. Meanwhile, here is an announcement especially of interest for Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. -- Chris M.]

Dear Friends,

Ministry and Oversight Committee invites you to join San Francisco Friends Meeting for an extended Meeting for Worship on Sunday, 7/29/2007. (It being the fifth Sunday of the month, we are trying this experiment, in hopes of creating an opportunity for a deep and enriching time together.)

It will begin with a half hour of reading from the Bible or other holy writings. This is essentially a modified Meeting for Worship. We gather in silence and when someone is so moved, he or she may read a selection from scripture, with a verse, a longer section, or an entire chapter. There is no commentary from either the reader or listeners. The reading functions as a guided meditation, helping to bring the participants into a reverent and deply spiritual place. We wil then segue into a traditional silent waiting Meeting for Worship for two hours. People may join and leave during the two hour period, because for some it is very hard to sit still that long.

We ask you to be very mindful of the worshipers that day. Please minimize noise in the fellowship and back hallways as well as the lobby as much possible. Also note that our children will gather with us for the last 15 minutes of the meeting as opposed to the first. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact any member of the Ministry and Oversight Committee.

In the Light,

The Ministry and Oversight Committee
San Francisco Friends Meeting



Karen Armstrong wrote—in The Great Transformation, I believe—that the imagination is the religious faculty. As someone in the Christian tradition, I imagine what it is like to follow Jesus today, or what it was like to follow him during his human life, and I imagine different ways the Holy Spirit might manifest God through us and the creation…

In my workshop at the FGC Gathering, we spent time each day having participants describe what their experience in meeting for worship had been like. They spoke of images such as circling and then entering a “deep pool”; a “ring of light connecting our hearts”; and even the clouds parting and the angels announcing, “Holy, holy, holy! Glory to God in the highest!”

We referred to the domination system against which Jesus counterposed the Kingdom of God. I spoke about this at some length one day, how I wished for my sons not to be safe so much as to be grounded in faith and love and hope that they could enter challenging situations in life and the world and maintain their inner peace (that’s not really what I said, just a placeholder). Yet how hopeless it seems when the need is for entire systems to change, so how much difference would it make to make some form of nonviolent resistance to a low-level T-S-A employee. One participant challenged me to live outside the domination system even at the airport.

Religious imagery invites me to a deeper consideration of what I should be doing. How could I do things differently, to put aside my own complacency and more fully to take on the call for justice, mercy, and peace in the world?

If a Roman soldier asks me to carry his pack one mile (but no further), as allowed by imperial law, can I carry it two miles? How would the soldier react? What would it say to him about the status of the person he had just impressed into service?

What would it look like to go to the airport and be outside the domination system and its fear? Should I go barefoot so I don’t have to remove my shoes? In the larger picture of things, I could consider taking the bus or train rather than the train, but that’s not going to make any statements about the fear that rules the system in the air.

Walter Wink's small book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, addresses these questions directly. I would like to continue imagining responses to "the system," and to stay open to finding new ways to act.



Was it enrichment? Or gluttony? I’m prompted to ask by my experience at the FGC gathering of the food service at the dining hall as well as the spiritual riches that I felt in my workshop, singing, and other activities.

Was it just all too much?

For now, I'll leave the question of spiritual riches off the table. However, I previously posted about the “simple meal,” the lunch where rice and beans or peanut butter and jelly are served. The ice cream machines are turned off. There is no salad bar.

But there was as much as one wanted of what was offered. There were two kinds of rice – plain brown or Spanish rice with sauce. So, we certainly weren’t deprived.

While it felt in many ways like a token effort, one dad I spoke to said it gave their family a lot to think about. His ten year old had been extremely unhappy with the meal, didn’t like the two choices, and wanted to know why he couldn’t have ice cream. So it sparked discussion for them.

Especially because I blogged during the gathering about the idea of having 3/4 or 5/6 of our meals be “simple,” at meals throughout the week I tried to take only as much as I needed, not as much as I wanted. It grew more challenging as the week went on. At breakfast I usually eat two bowls of cold cereal, so that’s what I started with early in the week. Yet later in the week, when they had pancakes or waffles, I found myself getting one or two of them, as well as a bowl of cereal.

At lunch and dinner I usually helped Five Year Old get an ice cream cone. And usually I helped myself to one, as well. Sometimes only at dinner, but sometimes at lunch, too.

I wasn't alone in piling a fair amount of food onto my tray. Midway through the week a large handwritten sign was posted asking us to be mindful of quantities, and to eat all we take. The amount of food waste was apparently high. It’s especially true for the children, who will take what seems like a reasonable quantity of one item, but the number of choices was so big that they keep piling on one thing after another, until it’s too much to eat in one sitting.

The rumor or urban legend in the dining hall through the week was that someone had heard the staff say, “These Quakers have eaten more ice cream in one week than the students do all semester.” I’m sure it’s exaggerated, but it’s telling that we were repeating it to one another.

There was a simpler eating alternative. The food co-op group of about 40 people was headquartered in the basement of the dorm we stayed in. Perhaps more co-op clusters could be provided at the next gathering.

What is the balance between providing a sufficient variety of healthy food while also meeting a variety of dietary needs and restrictions? Where does enrichment end and gluttony begin? It may be harsh to call it gluttony, but it seems close to my personal experience on some days.


Home again home again jiggety jog

Hm, it's been a few days since we came back from the Friends General Conference Gathering of Friends in Wisconsin. Though I've already put up a post or two, it will take some time to process the week.

My workshop, which I blogged about ahead of time, turned out to be rich and deep. In meeting for worship back in San Francisco last Sunday, I took time to remember the names and faces of each of the 20 or so friends around the circle in our workshop, or "worship shop" as co-leader Peter Crysdale called it. (One of the other participants is the brother of a long-time attender of our meeting.) And then I spent time remembering who was actually in the room with me at that moment in San Francisco. The two exercises complemented each other nicely.

I appreciate Paul L.'s series of on-the-spot posts about the gathering. His blog, Showers of Blessings, is named for his favorite Sacred Harp tune. I joined the afternoon singing of the Sacred Harp group every afternoon, and also for the incidental music at the Heart of the Beast production on Wednesday evening. It is stirring stuff to sing loudly together about life and death, especially the latter.

Liz's "evaluation" of her "workshop" -- serving as co-clerk of the workshops committee -- is wonderful. It should show up on QuakerQuaker soon...

I didn't have the space to blog much while there. Robin served as "Friend in Residence" to the Junior Gathering (aka children's programs), so she was out of the dorm by 6:30 every morning to get breakfast and organize meeting for worship for the Junior Gathering staff. I got the boys up and breakfasted and to their programs and then myself to my workshop. Most days I had to choose between getting the boys and me to brush our teeth or getting on time to my workshop's opening worship. Usually, I chose toothbrushing. A friend in the workshop said she didn't like to say people are late, they're there whenever they get there. While I don't have that same sense of detachment, and believe it is better when I arrive on time, it was a comfort to me during the week.

For now, I must take the The Parting Hand...


Quaker bloggers at FGC Gathering

Here is a more complete list of Quaker bloggers I talked to at the FGC Gathering:
  • Claire R: That God

  • Erin: Quaker Scholar

  • James Riemermann: Nontheist Friends

  • Grampa Joe (I'm not sure how public he is about his blog; I haven't even seen it yet. Robin told me about it when we rode the bus with him from the airport to River Falls)

  • Karen Street: A Musing Environment

  • Kody: Unwavering Bands of Light (actually more active on livejournal)

  • Laura: The Potential of Yarn

  • Linda: Boundless Stores of Grace

  • Liz Opp: The Good Raised Up

  • Lovin' Life Liz: Lovin' Life Liz

  • Paul L.: Showers of Blessings

  • Peterson Toscano: A Musing

  • Robin M.: What Canst Thou Say?

  • Russ Nelson: Russ Nelson

  • Suzy: Luminiferous Ether

  • Timothy Travis: One Quaker Take

  • and me, Chris M.: Tables, Chairs and Oaken Chests

Okay, I didn't really talk to Russ, but I did play in the multigenerational game of "capture the flag" that he organized, so he talked to me in a group. That counts, right?

If there's anyone I missed, I'll try to add an update... I know there are other bloggers who were there but I didn't necessarily talk to them.

I'll try to update my sidebar with the links. They should all be there soon.

[Update, 7/14/07] LizOpp correctly pointed out that Carl was there, and I certainly talked to him, so I'm adding him to the list:
  • Carl Magruder: Confessions of an Earth Quaker

  • His blog had dropped out of my bloglines and he hadn't been writing that much lately, but he's got a couple of good posts there now.


    Marcus Borg on elements of thriving churches

    Marcus Borg was the evening plenary speaker at the FGC Gathering on Thursday night.

    Having read several of Marcus Borg's books and quite a bit of other popular literature about contemporary biblical scholarship, I didn't pick up much new information from Borg's talk. It was, however, wonderful to hear him deliver the talk in person, to an audience with varying levels of knowledge of the material, and to have him available to answer questions from the audience. And I tend to agree with his interpretations of many things.

    I did find one of his responses particularly interesting during Q&A at the end, just as Robin & I were getting up to leave because we had to pick up the children. A Friend asked Borg what signs of hope he sees for religion in the U.S. and the world today.

    Borg responded with a summary of Diana Butler Bass's book, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith. He said she had studied several hundred mainline Protestant congregations to determine what helps them thrive, and studied a much smaller sample in much more depth.

    A thriving or "emerging" congregation has the following four qualities, Borg contended:
    1. They are progressive.
    2. They are intentional.
    3. They reacquaint their members with their traditions.
    4. They are for justice and peace.
    Sounds like a good description of the thriving Quaker meetings I know! I also know of several meetings that tend to be weak on (2), intentionality, and fair-to-middling on (3), reacquaintance with traditions. How seriously do the majority of members and attenders take their meeting community except on Sunday? The answer varies widely, as it no doubt does in emerging mainline churches, too.

    Borg noted that "emergent" churches in the evangelical denominations probably account for about 15% of those congregations. If he said how many "emerging" churches there are, I missed it. (I was scribbling the notes on the back of my nametag, because I had put my notebook away in my backpack and was walking toward the back door to leave when he said all this.)

    I would hope most Friends meetings and churches would see the list above and aspire to do well on all four counts. I could also see a "convergence" of Friends happening here as meetings and churches decided to work on the areas they have paid less attention to in the last decade or so.


    Simple Meals – Plural

    The tradition at FGC Gathering is to have a simple meal on Wednesday at lunchtime. It is a time of solidarity with what Bob Barnes calls “the Two-Thirds World,” the portion of the world’s population living in poverty, many of them in hunger or at imminent risk of hunger.

    One night when I couldn't get back to sleep, I wondered why we don’t have simple meals two-thirds of the time. Then we could really feel in solidarity. And we could really mean it when we ask other people in our country and the world to give up the privilege of high per-capita energy and food consumption, having done it ourselves.

    Then, the last meal of the week could be what has become the standard contemporary American college cafeteria fare found here: meat dishes, vegetarian dishes, pizza, bagels, sandwich bar, salad bar, soft drinks, soft ice cream, hard ice cream, coffee, latt├ęs, tea, juice, and cold cereal: bran, granola, puffs, crunches, flakes.

    As a result, we could see it as the amazing cornucopia of riches that it truly is by world standards.

    It would be a little taste of the banquet table of heaven. Everyone welcome.

    Some bloggers spotted at FGC gathering so far plus personal highlights

    The list so far (Sunday, 10:10 pm):
    • Claire R
    • Erin the Quaker Scholar
    • James Riemermann
    • Grampa Joe (I'm not sure how public he is about his blog; I haven't even seen it yet. Robin told me about it when we rode the bus with him from the airport to River Falls)
    • Kody
    • Linda
    • Liz Opp
    • Paul L.
    • Robin M.
    • Russ Nelson
    • Timothy Travis
    • and me, Chris M.

    I'm sure there must be more but it's 10:10 pm and I'm not thinking clearly. I definitely enjoyed my day of the "summer camp" aspects of the gathering:
    • first workshop session, which was good and mostly consisted of introductions, and which began with a goodly period of worship;
    • a stirring romp through multigenerational "Capture the Flag," except for the time when I pulled Five Year Old too hard and he fell and skinned his knee (again); and
    • the first afternoon Shape Note Singing, co-led by Paul L. He was kind enough to encourage me to sit by him where it's easier to follow.
    Yesterday was brilliant, because the boys and I had no responsibilities. We took a nice long walk along the river in River Falls, where we saw a great blue heron, mallards including both juveniles and chicks, Canada geese, grackles (not found in SF), finches, swallows, sparrows, hundreds of a large species of mayfly (one of which we saw a sparrow take in mid-air), and a snake. Then another long walk on campus after some down time in the dorm. We found lots of grasshoppers and other insectivora in the grass. Boy heaven!

    And finally, Dairy Queen for dinner! Double boy heaven!

    It was so beautiful to have a full day to be together, with no agenda, no plans, just aimless wandering.