Thursday, July 29, 2010

Enigmatic Friends

Modern Friends are to me, an enigma. We have testimonies and advises and queries to help guide our path as we seek to walk toward God: to help us weigh our actions and behaviors both toward ourselves and others. At the same time society tells us that we need to look straight ahead - to mind our own business - to not intrude on another's affairs. Simultaneously, our faith and practice calls us to be accountable for and to those that we are in community with; our families, our monthly meetings, the towns in which we live, our quarters and yearly meetings. We cannot practice integrity and live by both. If we truly want to reach out to one another in Love: than we must risk being openly loving and genuinely concerned.

I believe that we are often particularly challenged by our testimony of equality. We struggle hard with questions of sexual orientation and race and the more overt forms of discrimination but confronting questions of fiscal equality seem to be particularly difficult and elusive. I'm sure that some of the discomfort comes from the fact that we've been taught not to discuss our financial circumstances. Society often equates the amassing of money and belongings as a measure of success. Those who are fiscally poor are often ashamed despite the myriad of other gifts that they may possess. I am fiscally poor and so speak from my own experience and from sharing with others in this circumstance. When we exclude anyone from our body for financial or other reasons; wittingly or unwittingly, we as a community, are immeasurably poorer.

I recently attended a large Quaker gathering that ran for several days. There was not enough room for everyone attending to stay in one building and so there were many different types of housing on campus ranging from a quite comfortable hotel to a very rustic, musty bunk house up a very steep hill. There were significant differences in the cost of these accommodations and so those who are comfortable financially stay in comfortable accommodations and those who are not so well off fiscally stay in the less expensive accommodations. The result is economic segregation. There, I've said it. Quakers practicing segregation! This gathering has taken place at this venue for decades and yet, to my knowledge, no one has spoken this until now.

The question of how we move to a place of economic equality is huge and looms over us at every turn. Understanding how to share our resources (fiscal and otherwise) is incredibly important as we attempt to live into our testimonies. It is also important because until we can actually begin to face and work on our own problems we have little moral authority to speak with others about theirs. It is a huge piece of the puzzle as we work toward Peace and Justice within our own communities and so, despite the discomfort of lifting it up, of drawing open the curtain to expose our own sores, we must proceed. It is not only the health and wholeness of the Religious Society of Friends that depend upon it but our communities - indeed, the world community.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Old woman?

I recently received an affirmation that was both wonderful and thought provoking. A young women wrote "I want to be like you when I will be old woman." I was certainly flattered that anyone would want to be like me although I am definitely not ready to think of myself as an old woman! I also felt the weight of responsibility to be a role model, no matter how passing, for another. As I traveled home from Tbilisi there was plenty of time to ruminate and I found myself thinking about my life. If I were to live to be ninety, my life would now be two thirds over. It feels like a good time to think about where I've been and the possibilities for the next thirty years or so.

There have been many wonderful as well as difficult times in my past but, aside from raising my three daughters and now being enfolded in their love and friendship, I find difficulty in enumerating those things. I know that my spiritual life has been rich and continues to deepen even as it broadens to encompass many different faith traditions and ways of understanding Spirit. My personal goal, above all else is to seek unity with God. Striving for that goal often takes great courage. It means saying "yes" to the leadings of the Spirit even when I think that the work is too difficult or when I am afraid. It means speaking out when I see injustice and opening my arms in love to embrace the wounded. It means being willing to risk further pain and rejection to share with others when they have hurt me or a loved one. It means accepting and acting on the fact that everyone is a Loved one. It means knowing that any pain that I may suffer in the name of Love is compensated in Joy. It means living into the prayer that was given to me while in silent worship: Let my words be thy words. Let my hands be thy hands. Help me to be your Peace. And so, it seems that there is no set plan for the future aside from working hard to be faithful to the leadings of Spirit as I seek to be at one with God.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Now begins the time for deep reflection. The work in Sakartvelo feels new and fresh; seasoning is required even as the work continues on.

In a meeting at the Department of the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation of Georgia I mentioned my personal leading of working toward world peace. One woman looked at me and said that she thought that was a wonderful goal but that everyone thinks that peace is something different. She is right. There are many perceptions of peace. The most common is perhaps that it is the absence of war. That the sole criteria for being "at peace" is that we are not killing other human beings.

Vova is a member of Tbilisi Friends Worship Group; an avid reader and deep thinker. I had a conversation with Vova in which he posited that the making of war is considered a science. That books are written about making war: weaponry and strategies planned. His query was that if war is a science, isn't peacemaking a science also? Can we apply the same sorts of strategies? It was a good and thoughtful question but I couldn't agree. For me, the work of peacemaking is the work of the heart and soul; inextricably linked with my connection with Spirit. I believe that we must begin the work of peacemaking by beginning our own individual quest for Peace - searching for "that of God within" as Quakers say. Without having begun the work within ourselves, we lack the moral compass and integrity to ask others to follow that path.

From the beginning of this work in Sakartvelo I have been so touched by Tbilisi Friends Worship Group, a small gathering of Quaker members and attenders who reached across the world in hope and faith to ask for help with the care of refugees (then 62,000) and with bringing conflict transformation skills to their country. They did not shy away from the size and scope of the work that was placed before them. They were not overwhelmed by the enormity of the work or by fear of failure. They were, and remain, faithful to the leadings of the Spirit. This kind of faithfulness is not centered in our minds or in logic, if it were, we would run thinking the work too hard or too difficult or too large. It finds it's roots in our heart and soul supported by the Joy that only Spirit can bring when we are faithful.