Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

NEYM Part 3 - In Which We Listen Deeply and Are Broken Open

Our Monday morning session was given over to listening deeply. This session arose from a concern raised by Hannah Zwirner, a young adult Friend who has grown up in New England Yearly Meeting. As she has said:

This program came out of my frustration with the way the Yearly meeting collectively has talked in the last few years about our relationship with FUM. Prior meetings about FUM on the YM floor have left me very un-centered, and I don't think that there has been enough deep listening to each other's experiences. Instead, I think our meetings have involved many quick reactions to others' statements without first holding those messages in our hearts. It is my feeling that many people feel that the wider community has not fully or properly received their stories and the truths that they live. I think that there are a lot of people who simply feel unready to act until they have been heard.

The form the session took was to have a panel of four people share their experiences while asking the larger community to sit deeply with them. The people were chosen to have a diversity of experience but not to be representative of the entire yearly meeting. After the last speaker finished we were asked to go into worship with the discipline that we were to listen and let the messages to sink in and we were to have no vocal ministry.

The first person to speak was Eden Grace. She introduced herself simply as being from Beacon Hill Friends Meeting but she is also FUM Field Staff at the FUM Africa office in Kisumu, Kenya and has also served as a representative to the World Council of Churches where she taught them how to use the Quaker decision making process. She spoke how she identifies as an Evangelical Christian. She also spoke of the healing value of confession. Then for the rest of her time, she confessed to the sins of Christianity.
In the name of me and my people, I confess that we have been proud and arrogant....
In the name of me and my people, I confess that we have excluded people and their gifts because they are not like us.....
In the name of me and my people I confess that we have valued power above the love of neighbor...
In the name of me and my people I confess....
The list just kept going on and on and by the time she finished, she was crying, other panelists were crying, I was crying, and many people in the body were crying. It was an incredibly powerful moment. I think it broke open the entire body.

In the silence that followed her talk, someone in the body started to sing. The microphone spacers (Those people appointed by Ministry and Counsel to carry portable microphones to people wishing to address the body.) quickly rose and indicated with hand gestures to quiet down and stop. A number of the people on the stage who were holding the body in prayer also rose at this time, as did some people in the body. The singing quickly subsided. This was another indication of the increased discipline of the body and our increased ability to sit in a difficult place and stay there.

Brian Drayton spoke about Spirit and community. What are we about as the Society of Friends? At the most basic level, we are called to holiness. We are to live our lives at the disposal of the divine life whose being is both truth and love. Entering a spiritual community means joining your spiritual life to the other members of the community. Our religious society and the larger Quaker institutions we have created are only tools created to meet certain needs. Quoting Erasmus, “I must stay with this church until I find a better one, and the church must put up with me until I am a better person.” Is our worship bringing us to a place where our impurities are named and burned away, or certainties transformed, and everything reassembled by the action of love? If so we are renewed little by little. If not, we have not come to true worship. We have more work to do.

Anne- Marie Witzburg spoke about how she was raised a Quaker and taught that God has no hands but ours. She has tried to do the work she is called to do and to live her values. At age 4 she learned that all life is sacred so since then she has been a vegetarian because animals are sacred too. She grew up boycotting grapes in solidarity with the United Farm Workers and boycotting Coca-Cola because of their business in South Africa. She grew up thinking that all Quakers loved everyone because that was what Jesus would do. It was a shock to her and to her family to discover that there were Quaker organizations with homophobic personnel policies. It was a shock to realize that she and her sister were not equal in the eyes of all Friends because one was partnered with a man and the other a woman.
She feels the spiritual grounding of people working with FUM and the FUM missions and the spiritual grounding of people resisting membership in that organization. If we are all truly listening to our leadings and to what we must do, then we are all doing the right thing. She worries about where the line is between loving others who are at different points in their journeys and betraying her own values. She is concerned about belonging to a yearly meeting that rejects membership in racist organizations but within which, racism is still present. She is concerned that NEYM insists on membership in a homophobic organization but denies that homophobia exists among us still. She worries about questioning her own still small voice instead of listening fully and following faithfully what she know to be true and right. She worries about homophobia and internalized homophobia and questions of white privilege and guilt and how those struggles get in the way of listening to the Light and her leadings. And she wonders if other people have those struggles as well.

Lisa Graustein presented a spectrum of acceptance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer people. There is homophobia, there is heterosexism, which might accept gay men and lesbians but which considers heterosexual orientation as normative, there is tolerance, there is being welcoming and affirming, and there is being an ally. She shared about the stories she heard from gay men, lesbian women and their families when she was traveling in Kenya for the FUM Triennial in 2002. She also recounted her experiences with homophobia and heterosexism within New England Yearly Meeting.

The meeting ended with about 25 minutes of deep and silent worship.

I spoke with a number of people afterwards and many of them talked about how powerful the experience was. The relationship if NEYM with FUM was on our agenda for later in the week and for the first time I found myself looking forward to that session with anticipation and not apprehension. It seemed to me that something had changed and I was looking forward to seeing how it would play out. 

Clearly, God was at work.


Will T

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Blogger Micah Bales said...

Thank you, Will, for this vivid description. I'm glad to know of the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in New England Yearly Meeting, and appreciative of the faithfulness of those who spoke and those who provided oversight for the session.


August 21, 2011 3:49 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

This and your previous posts make me long to return to such a Center as I have known in the past... In my worship today, First Day, I realized a tiny bit how much I have allowed myself to be pulled off of Center and away from the Loving Presence.

I appreciate reading these reports and summaries, knowing that the Spirit is moving among Friends--and perhaps among the people of my own state, where issues impacting GLBTQ people are in my face every day.

God is good. All the time.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

August 21, 2011 11:01 PM  
Blogger Cat C-B said...

This is the entry where I most miss being physically in the same place you are, Will. Because, reading this, I remember that broken open place we came to in NEYM this year, and in remembering it, I'm there all over again.

What I want to say can't really be said--just shared in the stillness.

I know you understand--though I also know I'm probably saying it very badly.

It is wonderful to me how much we are taught and helped to love one another. I am deeply grateful, to God and to Friends, for that miracle, that grace.

August 22, 2011 1:55 PM  

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