19 November 2007

Healing the Wounds of War

On Friday, my husband and I went to see a movie and slide show presented by a Vietnam vet who has spent the last 15 years working with the people of My Lai, Vietnam to try to heal the wounds of war. His work is sponsored by the Friends Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin.

We were deeply touched by the presentation and the good work that these folks are doing. It started with a Peace Park on the site of the My Lai massacre, with trees planted by Vietnam vets and Vietnamese people working together. Mike Boehm went on to work with the Quang Ngai province women's union to determine what sorts of
projects are needed by the people of the My Lai area.

Since that time, the group has built a clinic, three schools, and a fair number of houses in Quang Ngai province. They've also been running a micro-loan program for the women of Quang Ngai province, serving almost 3000 women and with a payback rate of 98%.

Mike's group is the only NGO working that the Vietnamese government trusts to work with ethnic minority groups in central Vietnam. The ethnic minorities live in remote areas in extreme poverty (even more extreme than the poverty in the rest of Quang Ngai province).

This group seems to be doing a great deal of good on very little money. Their goals go beyond economic aid, to the empowerment of Vietnamese women, improved relations between the Vietnamese and Americans, and a hope that we can find ways to build peace in the world.

Our family is planning on including this work in our holiday giving this year. I strongly encourage anyone with a little extra to give to consider giving to one of the My Lai projects.

Even if you don't have any extra money to give this year, take a look at the site anyway. It's wonderful to know that there are people doing this sort of work in the world.

04 November 2007

What are we doing here together in worship?

This morning in worship, Meeting seemed awfully wiggly. I tried to reach down into the Well where we gather, but my Friends mostly didn't seem to have made it that deep. Or, perhaps, they were in a part of the Well that I wasn't able to get to. Whether it was them or me or a combination, that old gathered Meeting thing wasn't happening.

I thought about Brooklyn Quaker and the Manhattan Meeting's joy in the energy that flowed through their Meeting. This morning, we didn't seem to have that upwelling of joy. We weren't having ministry either, so I thanked God for that blessing and tried again to go deeper.

"What are we doing here anyway?" I thought, "Are we really waiting on God? Are we striving to listen for our marching instructions? Or are we sitting here, sifting through the problems in our lives, trying to find the solutions to our own small problems? Do we have the self-discipline we need to do this?"

"What you are doing," said a familiar deep rumble, "is waiting on ME. And you will LISTEN when I speak and SPEAK when I tell you to."

"Oh no," I thought, "I'm not sure I have it in me to speak in Meeting this morning."

"You will SPEAK when I tell you to."

"Okay. Am I to speak now? What am I to say?"

"You will SPEAK when I tell you to."

Obviously, I was meant to listen. So I did.

I was led on one of those magical mystery spirit tours. I saw places where people had gathered in the spirit, and how the spirit had moved them and moved through them. They built things and they struggled and they lived with the fire in their bellies and then the spirit moved on. I saw the spiritual communities of my own life, how the spirit had been alive in each of them and how the spirit had led me to move on. I saw a great dance of spirit, moving people and moving through people and moving on. Always moving on.

I saw how difficult it is to let the spirit move through you, how hard it is to stay open to the spirit and give your life into its hands. I saw my Meeting, hearts half-open and half-closed, not quite willing to make the gift outright of themselves to the spirit. I saw myself, holding onto my separateness, my pride, my ego, my principles, only half willing to step into the holy flame.

Just when I thought I would have to speak, a Friend rose. He talked about the early Friends and how the Light had come up in them and burned away their veils. He prayed to the Holy Spirit that it would shine in our Meeting and burn away our veils. He was praying for what my soul had been longing for all during worship. My heart joined his prayers, and I felt the whole Meeting sink, together, into the Well.

And there we were. Perhaps we were still half-hearted, wounded and halting, half-blind and half-deaf. Perhaps we were still wrapped up in our little lives and our small concerns, but there we were, deep in communion with the spirit, open for that precious moment.

Other Friends spoke, calling for us to be brave and to answer the call of spirit.

I used to pray every week to be made into a strong vessel for the work I was called to do. That prayer was answered. Maybe it's time to up the ante, to pray for courage to tackle big things.

01 November 2007

Growing Up Among Friends

A couple of weeks ago, our First Day school class discussed the Quaker value of Unity. My 12-year-old son illustrated Unity like this:

It's a strong and hopeful image, reflecting a child's view of a world I'd like to live in. The people, and two tigers, are all holding hands all around the world. In the ocean, two narwhals are touching tusks.

Quaker Unity, however is a concept that's not easy for a child to grasp. Even adults have difficulty with the Quaker concept of unity, substituting "consensus" for something that is at core far more mystical. Unity is more synergistic than consensus, more an expression of the Meeting as a whole, more otherworldly in origin. It's not simple intellectual agreement, but rather something that emerges from the core of the gathered Meeting.

I'm not surprised that a 12-year-old couldn't capture that ineffable quality in a drawing.

I was closing Meeting that morning. It's our custom to ask the children to tell us what they've been doing in First Day school. On this particular morning, my 8-year-old son had chosen to sit in Meeting instead of attending First Day school. As I listened to the report, I thought about the child who sat with us through Meeting, and how the Quaker education he received by sitting in worship with us was at least as valuable as the discussion in First Day school. I asked him for a report as well.

"Well," he stammered, nervous and struggling for words, "it was like waiting for God."

A soft "Ah!" went around the Meeting. A reminder, from the mouth of a child, of what it is that we're doing when we gather for worship.

After Meeting, a few curious Friends asked my son whether God had shown up at Meeting. The answer was "Yes."