31 May 2007

Children in Meeting

My 7-year-old has recently decided to come into worship with me instead of going to First Day school. Last week, his 11-year-old brother (who has occasionally joined us in worship) also sat in worship with us.

My boys are half to a third of the First Day school class. I let the teacher know that they were going to join us in Meeting. I felt a bit bad about taking her students away from her, but I also want my children to experience worship for themselves. Worship, after all, is central to the experience of being a Quaker.

I feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea of First Day school (and also with teen programs that meet during worship). Our culture is always pushing children off to one side instead of letting them participate fully in community life. Children are warehoused in schools and kids' programs with other children their age while the adult world gets on with the business of living.

Throughout most of human history (and, if the behavior of our ape cousins is anything to go by, all of our primate history before that), children have spent most of their time in the mixed-age world of family and community. Only in the last century have children been removed from the larger community and sent to spend most of their time in groups of their age mates.

I don't think this is a good way to raise children. Children need relationships with people of all ages. They need to have contact with babies, with children of different ages, and with adults of all ages. Children can't easily learn the social skills they need from a bunch of children their own age; they need older children and adults to help bring them along.

The flip side of this is that children view the adult world as alien. Having been excluded from most of adult life, they don't apply themselves to learning what adults do. They apply themselves to learning how to get around schools, playgrounds, sport teams, and the other activities they are asked to do.

So, when a Meeting raises its children in First Day schools and teen programs, we're not bringing them into the adult Meeting community. We're preparing a place for children to be while their parents do boring adult stuff.

There's a need for this place, especially for very young children. Forcing children to sit through worship will probably not make kids want to grow up to be adult Quakers. Parents need to know that their children are safe during worship.

There are also other ways for children to connect to the Meeting community. Meeting activities for all ages allow kids to make friends with adults in Meeting. When Friends visit one another's homes, children have the opportunity to connect with people in a deeper way.

Children can also get a taste of worship when their First Day school class joins the adults for the first or last part of worship. First Day school activities and children's programs at Meeting retreats and quarterly and yearly meetings can also help them learn about what the adults do.

Still, I think that we could devote more thought to our children's spiritual development and on how to bring them into our Meetings.

My own inner guidance on this (and, where my children are concerned, my inner guide can be loud and insistent) is to encourage my children in every step that brings them deeper into Meeting. If my 7-year-old wants to sit in worship with me, my inner guide tells me to focus on the opportunity to parent him through Meeting. Yes, my own worship probably won't be as deep if I'm parenting an active boy at the same time. My son, however, will be gaining valuable early experience of worship. He'll start to get a sense of what Friends do in silence, and of the sorts of issues that are important to adult Friends.

It's difficult to both create a separate space for children and still welcome them into adult spaces. In my heart, I hold the truth that our children grow up to be adults, and that they need to explore the adult world as they are ready to do so. The things that adults do are neither so complicated nor so boring that children cannot experience them in small doses.

30 May 2007

Pssst! Pass It On!

Liz Opp of The Good Raised Up included this blog in her list of Blogs That Make Me Think. Thanks, Liz, for giving me the nod. It's encouraging to know that someone is reading and appreciating what I write.

The game goes like this, as in the original post from The Thinking Blog:

If you’ve been tagged, here’s how you play:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;
2. Link to this post at The Thinking Blog so that people can find the exact origin of the meme;
3. Optional: Display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award.’

I would have given Cat Chapin-Bishop the nod, but she gave it to Liz and so is probably not ready to think of five more blogs that make her think.

Here are five other blogs that make me think:

Richard of A Place to Stand writes long essays that move me to consider my identity as a Friend, my connection to the global community of Friends, and my own religious philosophy. Richard is willing to engage deeply and lovingly with folks with different viewpoints.

Zach of The Seed Lifting Up makes me think mostly in his comments on other blogs, but I like the way he thinks and the way his ideas get my brain going, so he's getting the nod anyway.

Franklin of The Panopticon is a man who is not afraid to knit lace. He also writes beautifully, has an active fantasy life, flexes his humor muscles regularly, and draws great cartoons starring the sheep Dolores. Franklin makes me laugh and encourages me to keep knitting, so he's on here.

Cognitive Daily is a couple's blog about how we think. Thinking about how we think definitely makes me think. I think.

Stefani of Reading While Knitting is an old friend, and I love her to pieces. She writes about life in the trenches with kids in a way I would never even dare think about. I think a lot of things while reading Stefani's posts, things like "What would I do if my kids did that?" and "With four kids and a teaching job, she has time to spin and keep bees?" and "Is that woman entirely sane?" and "I want to be just like her when I grow up, only a lot more relaxed."

27 May 2007

Listening in Tongues

At worship this morning, an older Christocentric Friend stood to deliver ministry. She spoke about how nontheistic Friends have always puzzled her, and about how she had taken the opportunity to attend a gathering of nontheistic Friends at Quarterly Meeting.

Since this meeting, the Spirit has been moving in her life. She realized that her use of the word "God" had been getting in the way of her spiritual experience. She talked about letting go of belief in God and embracing her own agnosticism. She stressed her continuing faith in Jesus as teacher and her ongoing commitment to living by his commandments. She spoke with puzzlement and amusement about being a born-again agnostic Christocentric Friend.

This Friend's ministry touched many hearts, including mine. Several Friends who rarely speak in Meeting rose to share their own stories about identity and their relationship to the Meeting. They spoke about the challenge of setting aside judgment and listening for that of God in everyone's words, and about how that challenge helps us move more deeply into the Spirit.

Towards the end of Meeting, a Friend rose to observe that today is Pentecost, the day on which the disciples spoke in tongues to the people of Jerusalem. He quoted Acts 2:16-18 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

He went on to say that he has often thought that Quakerism is a deeply Pentecostal faith, a faith that puts its trust in the guidance of the Spirit. He then observed that we don't so much speak in tongues as listen in tongues.

I closed Meeting a little late, reluctant to emerge from the communion with my dear Friends. My heart was full and tender, and I felt deeply blessed to be with this extraordinary group of people. I felt awed by the power of the Spirit to work in every heart in the Meeting, humbled by the honest words that Friends had shared about their own spiritual journeys.

What a gift we have been given, the ability to listen in tongues. Each soul in our Meeting gathers to try to listen to the Truth beyond our words. We strive to listen with our hearts, not our minds. We strive to tend that of God in each person, even when we don't understand it.

Namaste, Friends.

22 May 2007

Do You Call This a Religion?

At worship this week, we had about a dozen newcomers, several of whom were environmental activists. It was exciting to have so many new folks join us for worship.

One of the customs of our Meeting is to invite newcomers to introduce themselves before the rise of Meeting. When the closer ends the silence, we greet those near us, the children report on what they did in First Day school, we have newcomer introductions, and then various people make announcements.

The closer ends the silence by turning to the person next to hear, shaking hands, and saying, "Good morning." It was months before I realized that the morning greetings were not spontaneous. After several years as an occasional attender, my husband asked me how we all knew that worship was over. He thought (as I had before him) that we were all so spiritually attuned that we knew when to end the silence.

We invite the newcomers to share their names, where they're from, and a little bit about themselves. These newcomers got into the spirit, and many of them shared their previous Quaker experience and/or why they were interesting in Quakers.

Towards the end of introductions, a woman said that she'd always heard about Friends, and that she was interested in exploring our religion. Then she stopped, confused, and said, "Do you call this a religion?"

The Meeting was filled with merry laughter. I love it when we laugh together like this right after worship; no other laughter feels so free or so full of joy as post-worship laughter.

The closer affirmed that we do indeed call this a religion, and we went on to announcements.

It's a good question, though. "Do you call this a religion?" We are the Religious Society of Friends and yet many people seem confused about our status as Christians or even a religion. We don't use the outer forms that other religions use: no minister, no choir, no cross on the altar. Our chairs are arranged in three concentric ovals (we're soft chair Friends; some visiting Friends have intimated that this is sinful while others have threatened to take our chairs back to their home Meetings). How would anyone know that we're a religion instead of a meditation group or a group of people who just happen to like to sit together in (mostly) silence on Sunday mornings? Most of us don't even wear funny hats, and the funny hats we do wear don't match.

"Do you call this a religion?"

Thinking about this question later, I am reminded that we shall know Christians by their fruits, that people will know we are Christians by our love. In a similar fashion, I think that people will know our Meetings are a religion by the power of the Spirit who joins us in worship. It's part of the strength of our style of worship that people can attend Meeting with very different ideas of the Divine and still gather at the same well to drink from the same cup.

The other thing that makes me think that our Meeting is a religion, and a worthy one at that, is the example set by the older people in the Meeting. They are an extraordinary group of human beings, deep in love and compassion and wisdom. Whatever practices they follow have obviously borne fruit, and I yearn to grow into their kind of Light in what remains of my life.

I don't worry too much about whether others call what we do a religion. What does the name matter? If we earnestly try to turn our hearts to God, to sit together in waiting worship, and to follow the promptings of the Light revealed to us, then it doesn't matter what we're called.

I thought of the many other times and places where I feel the sense of worship: around trees, in meditation, at concerts, in acts of service, walking, dancing, in the presence of the ocean, listening to a child, making love with my husband, experiencing sudden natural beauty, doing mundane chores, knitting, sharing a cup of tea with a friend. I am reminded that it's all sacred, that God is everywhere, and that all I need to do is open my heart and be where I am, right now.

God bless you all, Friends.

My Canvas Bag Ministry

When I go grocery-shopping, I grab several canvas grocery bags from a hook in my kitchen closet. They ride in my shopping cart while I gather my bread and vegetables, and then hop onto the checkout stand to hold my groceries.

The bags are homely: rumpled and stained, their kid-painted designs worn off by years of hard use. Some of my favorites, the canvas bags I first started using back in the mid-80s, have worn-through bottoms and can only handle light loads.

When I first started using canvas bags, most of the grocery clerks thought I was weird. They'd ask me if I wanted paper or plastic, and I'd tell them that I want my groceries in these rumpled cloth bags. I had to encourage them to pack them full, and not to wrap certain items in disposable bags to keep them separate from other items.

I started using canvas bags to save trees, but came to find them more convenient than disposables. They hold more than a conventional grocery bag, stand upright more easily, and have good carrying handles that don't easily rip. I can carry more groceries using them. In the early days, before we had curbside recycling, my grocery bags took bottles back to town for recycling.

So, after more than 20 years of using canvas grocery bags, I asked the clerk at our local, quite hip, organic grocery how many shoppers use reusable bags. She estimated 15%.

I felt discouraged for days after that. I've been singing the praises of reusable bags for 20 years, giving them to friends as gifts, encouraging perfect strangers to give them a try, and yet, even at the most environmentally aware spot in my town, hardly anyone uses them.

Other reusable items that could be used by a lot more people include cloth handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues, cloth rags instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper napkins, commuter mugs instead of to-go cups, cloth diapers or elimination communication instead of disposable diapers, and reusable food containers instead of disposable ones.

For many years, I've been disappointed when I read articles that promised to show me 10 easy things to do to save energy or help the environment. I was hoping to learn something I didn't know, to hear ideas that haven't been part of my life for decades. Lately, though, I've started getting excited about environmentalism again. After years of seeming-stagnation (and, in the SUV-crazy years, backsliding), I'm starting to hear new ideas and new enthusiasm for old ideas.

This shift is reflected in Meeting, too. Several years ago, we had an active Peace & Social Order committee and a sleepy Friends in Unity with Nature committee. Now the situation is reversed: FUN has picked up and P&SO has dropped off. There's talk about putting solar panels on the roof of the Meetinghouse. The Meeting passed a global warning minute a few months ago, and Friends are actively talking about things we can do as a Meeting to help the environment.