Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Seven Years

Today marks seven years since I started this blog.  That's kind of hard for me to believe.  Seven years ago, I was a brand new lawyer, living in Seattle, working for a court.  Since then, I have moved several times, left the law (mostly) behind, and started seminary.  When I began writing here, I had no idea that within a few months I would start years of traveling ministry among Friends or that I would eventually be recorded as a minister.  I just knew that I had to write.

Over the years, I have used my blog for different purposes.  It has often been a way for me to tell those I love who live far away what I am doing.  Sometimes I have responded to something specific that is happening in Friends or the culture.  I have shared traveling minutes and annual reports.  Recently, it has been a place to post some of the writing I am doing for school and my reflections on being a Quaker at Candler School of Theology.

Writing here led to writing elsewhere.  Pieces of mine have been featured in four Quaker anthologies (Writing Cheerfully on the Web, Enlivened by the Mystery, Spirit Rising, and An Inner Strength), as well as in Friends Journal and Western Friend.  A lot of that writing appeared here first.  The blog itself has been a useful archive for my writing over time.  When Friends ask for resources on particular topics, like vocal ministry, eldering, or the recording process, I can point them to posts I have written over the years.

One thing I did not expect when I started blogging was the people I would meet through it.  Some of my dear friends and peers in ministry are people that I first met online, because we read each others' posts.  The Quaker blogosphere has changed a lot since I first started—back then, we used to follow each others' blogs and comment on posts; now, most of those conversations happens on social media.  I am grateful for the online community that I found and the relationships that have strengthened over time.

Even though I do not write as much as I once did, I am glad to have this small online platform when I do have something to say.  The quote in my header has challenged me to look at "the nature of all things"—the good and the bad—and face those things head on.  I am thankful for all of the people who have read and commented, online and in person.  These conversations have been encouraging and helped to keep me accountable as I continue on this quest.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gathered Meeting Retreat


I.  Lesson Plan

This is a lesson plan for Atlanta Friends Meeting’s Gathered Meeting Retreat, which will take place on March 27-29, 2015.  My goal for the retreat is to introduce people in the meeting to some of the different ways that Friends worship.  I hope that by talking about different forms of worship and spiritual practices, Friends in the meeting will expand their understanding of worship, have a larger vocabulary for talking about worship and spiritual experiences, and deepen our communal experience of the unprogrammed worship that we practice at Atlanta Friends Meeting.

Friday evening: Introductions (7:00-9:00pm)

·      Introduction: theme, take care of yourself, what we will be doing
·      Opening circle questions (ask people to say their name and stand while speaking):
·      What is one thing that you love about Friends?
·      What is one thing that you brought with you?  One thing you left behind?
·      Why are you here?
·      Names for the divine exercise
·      Introduction to worship sharing (handout)
·      Small groups
·      Introductions
·      Query: How is the Spirit with you?

Saturday morning: Prayer (9:00am-12:00pm)

·      Introduction to prayer – expansive, holding in the Light, go where they haven’t gone
·      Anne Lamott’s prayer: help, thanks, wow
·      “Thanks,” by W. S. Merwin
·      Psalm 16
·      Embodied prayer
·      breathing prayer
·      body prayer
·      doodle prayer (show on a flip chart)
·      mandalas
·      labyrinths/walks
·      prayer postures (holding in the Light) – to your ability
Break
·      Stations of the Lord’s Prayer – a Christ-centered activity (useful, educational, optional!)
·      alternative: mandalas
·      debrief
·      close with singing prayer: Simple Gifts
·      Worships sharing
·      pray together
·      Query:  When you pray, how do you pray?
·      Small groups: pray for each other (be clear about boundaries, participate to your comfort level)

Saturday afternoon: Experiences in Worship (3:00-5:30pm)

Worship
·      Small groups
·      Query: Was there a time when you felt the Spirit moving in worship?
·      Fishbowl
·      People who often speak in meeting: What does it feel like when you give vocal ministry?
·      People who speak less often: How do you experience worship?
·      Conversation for the group
·      What is the strangest thing you or another person has felt led to do during worship?
·      What is vocal ministry?  Where does it come from?

Sunday morning: Worship (9:30am-12:00pm)

·      Semi-programmed worship: singing, gratitudes, petitions
·      Bible reading in the manner of Ohio YM Conservative Friends – introduce, can use other sacred texts
Break
·      Worship

In this retreat, a lot of the activities are focused around queries.  This is a typical Friends practice, but it also reflects my understanding of religious education as not coming primarily from the teacher.  By responding to the queries, the people at the retreat are drawing on their own inner wisdom and bringing responses that are more diverse and profound than I could by lecturing.  Particularly in the section on prayer, I offer many different practices, but I trust that people will choose the practices that are best for them.

The activities in this retreat also reflect my emphasis on the body.  Wherever I can, I have people participate in ways that get them moving and reflecting on their own bodies in worship.  In addition, the majority of the sessions are experiential.  I do not just want people to hear about worship, I want them to experience it themselves.  I hope that in all of this, we will have the experience of God teaching us, directly and through everyone in the room.

II.  Reflection

A joy for me in leading this retreat was how well integrated the children’s program was.  Sometimes in retreats like this, the children’s program can feel like childcare or an afterthought.  I was not responsible for the children’s program, but the woman who was leading the children called me to discuss what I was planning to cover and we talked about how that could be adapted for the children.  For example, both adults and children considered prayer practices on Saturday morning, and the children made a mural entitled “How Do We Pray?” that we later put up in the main room.  The program on Friday night and Sunday morning had intergenerational aspects, and everyone came together for the Variety Show on Saturday night.

The first frustration that I experienced was with the schedule.  I did not have much control over the schedule; the planning committee just told me which blocks of time I had to provide content.  Unfortunately, meals only lasted an hour and the committee scheduled the program to begin exactly when the meals ended (i.e., breakfast was from 8:00 to 9:00 and the morning program was scheduled to begin at 9:00).  This meant that I was rushed trying to get to the room where we were meeting and that everyone else was late.   I spoke with a member of the committee about this and suggested that next year, they schedule at least 15 minutes between the end of meals and program.  

            Another thing that was hard for me was that we had different people in nearly every session.  A few came to everything, but many were unable to arrive until late on Friday, some left early because they were sick, and some were taking this as a real retreat rather than coming to the program.  I expected some of this, and made it explicit that the program elements were optional.  Combined with people arriving late to sessions, however, this made it challenging to know when to start or how many people to expect, and it led to some lack of cohesion in the group.  

My response to both of these issues was to begin with 15 minutes of silent worship.  This worked pretty well.  Our practice in unprogrammed meetings is that the meeting begins when the first person sits in worship, and others enter into that silence.  By being on time myself and sitting in silence, I was able to invite others into worship and signal that we had started the program.

I got some good feedback over the weekend.  One person said that I had done a good job redirecting back to the topic at hand when others tried to change the subject.  There were a few times when people brought up areas that could have derailed the conversation and the program, but I was able to step in and remind Friends to come back to the theme.  Another person commented that she had never seen a retreat leader leave the room the way I did during small group discussions (and other times).  This was intentional: I find that when I am in the room, a lot of the focus is on me, and it is helpful for me to leave when I want participants to talk to each other.

Even though it was a lot of work, I really had a good time leading this retreat.  It was fun for me to share worship practices with my faith community, and it was a different experience to do a retreat for people that I already know.  We got to know each other better, and I know that we will continue to be in relationship with each other.  This also provided an opportunity for me to reflect on how I have grown in ministry and leadership.  I had led almost all of the activities before, but I felt more relaxed and confident than I have in the past, and I think that made it a better experience for everyone.

















Monday, March 2, 2015

The Problem With "Coming Out Christian"

My entire life, I have seen Christians act like they are a persecuted minority.  Beginning in Sunday school and then youth group, people would tell us that we would be persecuted by society (or maybe communists) for our beliefs, and we, the mighty few, would have to stand up for our Christian faith in the face of that persecution.

The thing is, Christians in the U.S. are not a minority, let alone a persecuted one.  We are the majority, numerically and culturally.  Schools take breaks around our holidays, prayers in public spaces are almost always in our tradition, and nearly every U.S. president has been Christian.

Recently, I have seen a couple articles online in which people "come out" as Christian.  This is troubling for me for a number of reasons, and one is that I think it feeds into this narrative of Christians as a persecuted minority by co-opting the language of LGBTQ people. 

The writers say that "coming out" as Christian feels risky for them.  That may be true, but it is not risky in the way that actually coming out as LGBTQ is.  These writers are not at risk of being rejected by their families, losing their jobs, or having a higher likelihood of suicide because they "come out" as Christian.

A few days ago, I had a conversation with another queer Christian, one who is not out.  He said that hiding is destroying him, but he is afraid of how his family will respond that that he will lose his job.  He said, "I spend most of my time alone. I just don't know who I can trust." 

This is what coming out really means for many LGBTQ people (including LGBTQ Christians).  I am not comfortable with Christians appropriating that language for other purposes.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kelly On My Mind

I met Kelly Gissendaner a year and a half ago, when I was on a tour of Lee Arrendale State Prison.  As part of our contextual education at Candler School of Theology, a group of my classmates and I would be spending four hours a week at Lee Arrendale as chaplain interns.  We were touring the prison before receiving our specific assignments.

Kelly greeted us with a smile.  As the only woman on death row, she was isolated from other prisoners, and she enjoyed having visitors.  She showed us the baby blankets she had been crocheting to donate outside the prison, and she was excited that the prison administration was going to allow her to have knitting needles, so she could relearn how to knit.

I was assigned to a different part of the prison, so I didn't see Kelly again, but I would hear about her.  How her favorite theologian is Jürgen Moltmann, and they are pen pals.  How Moltmann came when she earned her certificate from the Theological Studies Program in prison.  How she encouraged other inmates and challenged my classmates with her theological insights.


Last month, I ran into Chaplain Bishop, my supervisor in the prison.  She asked me, with tears in her eyes, to pray for Ms. Kelly.  Her clemency hearing before the Board of Parole was coming up, and if they denied clemency, she would be executed.  My classmates and I prayed.  People wrote letters and testified on Kelly's behalf at the hearing.  We held vigils and waited for news.


When the news came that the board had denied clemency, it was shocking.  People at Candler were devastated, and I can only imagine how those at Lee Arrendale felt.  Kelly was scheduled to be executed last Wednesday, but due to bad weather, her execution has been postponed until Monday.

I don't know Kelly well, but I know Lee Arrendale.  I know the fences with barbed wire and the locked gates.  I know how the buildings and the inmates' uniforms blend together, until it seems like the entire world is a monotonous sea of khaki.  I have sat with women as they grieved over the deaths of family members, worried about their children and grandchildren, and counted the days until they could leave.

Some studies have shown that over 80 percent of women in prison have experienced physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated.  Unfortunately, Kelly is included in that number.  These women do not need the state to add to their experience of trauma and violence.  They need people to hear their stories, see them, and know who they are.


I do not want Kelly to be a martyr.  I do not want her to be a rallying point for a political cause.  I just want them not to kill her.



More information about Kelly Gissendaner

New York Times, A Death Row Inmate Finds Common Ground with Theologians

Huffington Post, Meeting Kelly Gissendaner and When Is Grace Enough?

Kelly Gissendaner's Clemency Application

The hashtag on Twitter and Facebook for Kelly is #kellyonmymind

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Recorded Minister Report for 2014

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  Jeremiah 29:7.
A lot of my ministry this year has been connected to Candler School of Theology, where I am halfway through the three-year M.Div. program.  I completed my second semester of contextual education working as a chaplain intern at Lee Arrendale State Prison in the spring semester.  It was good and challenging work.  A highlight for me was leading music at a Good Friday service with two of the women in prison. 

I am doing my second year of contextual education in Atlanta Friends Meeting.  I spend eight hours a week focusing on five areas of ministry: administration, liturgy (worship and preaching), mission and outreach, pastoral calling and congregational care, and teaching.  These categories do not always fit exactly in the context of an unprogrammed Friends meeting, but I have been able to find ways to engage with the meeting in each area.  For example, I am on the Ministry and Worship committee, I started a monthly meeting for worship at Candler, and I facilitated a panel on sexuality and Quaker identity.  I have also enjoyed providing pastoral care for some of the youngest Friends in the meeting.

At school, I am serving as the chaplain of Sacred Worth (Candler’s student group for LGBTQ students and allies).  As chaplain, I am on the executive board and I hold office hours and have a confidential email.  I enjoy meeting with people and helping to build this community within Candler.  In the fall semester, I was a discussion leader for Early Church History, which felt like another opportunity to provide pastoral care for seminary students.

As the only Quaker at Candler I find myself representing Friends often.  In the past year, I have taken a number of classes that have helped me discern my direction in ministry and have given me tools for the work ahead, including Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Sexuality in the Bible, and Discernment for a Sustained Life of Ministry.  I especially enjoyed my Preaching in a Secular Age class this past fall, where I was able to give a message out of open worship in the manner of Friends, working with an elder.

I also had the opportunity to travel quite a bit this year.  In February, I spent a long weekend in Philadelphia observing a Friends Journal board meeting.  While I was there, I got to spend time with several Friends and Jon W interviewed me for the QuakerSpeak project (I was featured in the QuakerSpeak video “Quakers and Women in Ministry” and a Friends Journal video on my recording process).  In April, I gave the Friday night message for Friends World Committee for Consultation’s Living Waters Consultation in High Point, NC.  It was a joy to work with Deborah S as my elder and I felt very supported and welcomed by Friends there.

I spent the summer living with my parents in Anchorage, working at a law firm.  It was great to be able to spend time with my family there, especially my nieces and nephew and grandparents.  In June, I visited Washington and Oregon for a few weeks, and was able to see many f/Friends and family.  At the end of the trip, I went to the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference, where I led a workshop on prayer.  Later in the summer, I visited Friends in Fairbanks and worshiped with Chena Ridge Friends Meeting.  I also worshiped with Anchorage Friends Meeting.  On my way back to Atlanta in August, I visited family in Oakland.  In October, I visited Friends in Nashville and attended North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Interim Body Meeting.  Although it was wonderful to see friends and family in all of these places, I was aware that, no matter where I go, I will be far from people I love.

I published an article in the March issue of Friends Journal called “Sending Forth: The Importance of Financial Support in Ministry.”  I have also continued posting on my blog, though most of my writing this year has been for class assignments.

My self-care this year has been good.  I see a spiritual director and a therapist regularly, and I have an anchoring committee through Atlanta Friends Meeting that is currently serving as my site supervisors for contextual education.  Over spring break, I went on a silent retreat at Green Bough House of Prayer.  One of my favorite things this year has been monthly gatherings for Atlanta Beer and Hymns (recently featured on Fox News!).  I have continued spiritual practices of prayer, reading the Bible, and exercise, and added drawing and coloring mandalas.

Looking ahead, I am planning to lead the Atlanta Friends Meeting Gathered Meeting Retreat in March.  I also hope to spend the summer in Greensboro, NC, as an intern with First Friends Meeting.  I am aware that I have been moving a lot and I am often on the edges of various groups, and I am feeling ready to find a place to settle for a while after I finish school.  I am grateful to Friends at Freedom Friends Church and Atlanta Friends Meeting for your support for my ministry, as well as the support and prayers I receive from so many others.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Give Quakers Your Money

It's the end of the year and you know what that means: lots of emails from Quaker nonprofit organizations asking for end-of-the-year contributions. I mentioned this on Twitter today and my friend Kathy H suggested I "do a a year-end blog post reviewing year-end appeals from Quaker organizations."

I don't think I'm up for writing reviews, but I can make a list! Here are quotes from the Friends organizations I've heard from in the last week. Click on the name of the organization to donate.
  • Quaker Voluntary Service: "Your support is vital in creating opportunities for Spirit-led witness, in the long tradition of Quaker service. We are raising funds to support the QVS programs in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Portland."
  • Friends Journal: "Your tax-deductible online gift will help Friends Journal continue to be a unifying and empowering force for Friends." 
  • Friends World Committee for Consultation: "Answering God's call to universal love, the Friends World Committee brings Friends of varying traditions and cultural experiences together in worship, communications and consultation, to express our common heritage and our Quaker message to the world." 
  • Friends General Conference: "From the Gathering to the Quaker Cloud, from the New Meetings Project to Quaker Quest, together we’ve done so much to build and strengthen the Religious Society of Friends."
  • Pendle Hill: "Contributions allow us to provide experiences that inspire leadership, service, spiritual enrichment, and action for peace and justice."
And, as always, I highly recommend giving money to Freedom Friends Church.  

Happy new year, Friends!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sexuality and Quaker Identity

For my project for my Sexuality in the Bible class, I facilitated a panel at Atlanta Friends Meeting after meeting for worship on November 30, 2014. The format was to have three Friends on the panel share for 10-15 minutes each about how their sexuality (defined broadly to include sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and anything else that seemed relevant) has impacted their faith life and their Quaker identity. After the panel, I invited the rest of the people in the room to join the conversation in worship sharing: speaking out of the silence from their own experience in response to the query, “How has your sexuality impacted your Quaker identity?”

I initially hoped to have the forum on the last Sunday in October, but there was another event scheduled for that time. It was a little challenging to find people for the panel on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but I eventually found three people who were willing: “Anna,” a gender-nonconforming woman in her early 20s who identifies as queer, “Bruce,” a gay man in his late 50s, and “Mia,” a lesbian woman in her early 50s. I did not intend to have only queer-identified people on the panel (I had hoped to have at least one straight person!), but those were the people I found who were willing to participate. There were 22 people present for the panel, ranging in age from 20s to 70s, queer and straight, some married and some not. I invited the teens in the meeting, but none of them decided to come.

Anna spoke first. She grew up as a Quaker and spent several years questioning her sexual orientation and gender identity. She came out as queer in college, and her family and faith community were supportive. She is still questioning her gender identity, but is comfortable with female pronouns and with calling herself a gender-nonconforming woman. Anna said that she was glad to have grown up among Friends, who allowed her to be whoever she was. She was active in the gay/straight alliance in her high school and appreciated all of the support that Quakers offered to LGBT teens. She thinks it was helpful for her as she questioned her own identity, even though she had not yet come out. She feels that her identity as a Quaker is more central for her than her identity as queer or gender-nonconforming, and that has given her something to hold on to even as she questioned other parts of her identity. She also feels like her questions about identity have led her to what she wants to do with her life. She plans to apply to graduate school next year and would like to focus on the intersection of identity and environmental studies, particularly looking at individuals’ narratives.

Bruce spoke next. He talked about how grateful he is that he can now have easy conversations with family members about his partner, in part because his parents have passed away. His father was very conservative and left the Episcopal church over the ordination of women. Bruce was always very politically liberal, and he thinks the fights that he had with his father about politics were really a front for the conversation they did not have about Bruce’s sexual orientation. Bruce knew from a young age that he was attracted to men, but he prayed that God would take those feelings away. He laughed that God always answers prayer, but not always in the way that you want! Bruce said that, even ten years ago, he would have changed that part of himself, but now he sees it as an opportunity for ministry. He has experienced feeling like an outsider, which made him more compassionate, and he is able to share with others about his sexual orientation. Bruce told us how he sat on a nine-hour flight next to a Mormon man who had never met an openly gay man. A week later, the Mormon man sent him a copy of the Book of Mormon with a note saying that their conversation had given him a lot to think about. Bruce felt like it was an opportunity for both of them to learn.

Mia spoke last, and she began with an explanation of how she uses the word “God.” She struggles with saying “God” because it seems male and white to her, but she still uses it because everyone knows what it means. She is not sure whether she believes in God, but she does believe in that of God in everyone. That is the basis for her understanding of sexuality. It is a recognition of that of God in everyone, and sex is a meeting of that Spirit in two people. She feels like her identity as a lesbian and a woman are much less important than her identity as a Friend. Mia is involved with the high school program at the meeting and has taught First Day School in the past. She tries to bring this sense of identity to her teaching and help her students recognize that of God in everyone they meet.

When I opened up the discussion for worship sharing, several Friends spoke. One woman quoted Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your spirit.” She said that, as a straight woman, she had mostly conformed to the expectations of her culture, but having a friend who struggled with her lesbian identity to the point of being suicidal helped open her eyes to the diversity of sexual identities and the pain that the society cause to those who did not conform. Another woman talked about how she grew up during the sexual revolution, when it seemed like everything was permissible, but her experience was that a lot of people got hurt through sexual encounters, emotionally or physically (particularly during the AIDS epidemic). What she took away from that experience was that sex was a powerful thing that must be engaged in carefully.

A theme in the sharing was how to talk about sex and sexuality with the children in the community in an age-appropriate way. There was a desire to do so, but some questions about how. I shared that, having grown up in purity culture, I know that a lot of girls do not learn that sex should be pleasurable. I said that I hope the meeting can talk about how sex is a powerful thing, but also a source of pleasure, joy, and connection. One woman reflected how glad she was that two of the people on the panel had come out in environments that were supportive of their sexual orientations. She expressed the hope that the meeting could be a place for children to be who they are, LGBT or straight, and be supported as they question, evolve, and grow.

I was very pleased with how the panel and conversation went, and I got a lot of good feedback from the panel members and those who attended the panel. After we concluded, people stayed to talk with each other about the topics that arose. I think that there will be ongoing conversations in the meeting about sexual identity and Quaker identity, and it seems like there may be more thought and work on a sexual education curriculum for children based on these conversations.