Extending Christian oversight

SYCAMORE GROVE: My initial response to the three parts of this query: no, no, and no. As this causes deeper examination, though, I observe a personal uneasiness arising from a sensitivity to those “less fortunate,” a reaction that would prefer to look the away from distress. My first reading of the query – and my response at that moment – is financial. Although not lacking for daily bread, at times in the past several years I’ve been reminded how I am the “less fortunate” one; at other times I’ve been shown just how precarious my own situation is, financially and other ways. Thus, I feel a great inadequateness in responding to the material needs of others, even within the Meeting.

In reading the query again, another facet appears – one involving emotional and spiritual dimensions. A concern for offering material comfort is my attempt to compensate for an inability in extending a more essential kind of assistance. Too often I’ve known “duty” and “obligation” instead of genuine love or even acceptance.

Such feelings of fear and inadequacy are difficult to face, much less confess.

For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good; but me ye have not always. – Mark 14: 7

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

Sharing others’ burdens

JANE’S FALLS: This query seems to have two elements: material goods and emotional conditions. There is so much need all around – the homeless, unemployed, imprisoned, impoverished, illiterate, and so on – that I quickly feel overwhelmed, especially living apart from family and spiritual community within my neighborhood; I feel how little I can do in the face of this, especially when the real needs may be much deeper than those that can be seen. From this sense of great inadequacy, there too often arises a hardening within me, a wall between those in need and myself.

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Community

REHOBOTH MILLS: Being sensitive to needs of others around me who may be in less fortunate circumstances is a weakness on my part. It is too easy to let a hardness come over my heart and a blindness over my eyes, especially in a big city like Rehoboth, where there is so much poverty and hardship it can break your heart. Yes, and much of it along racial lines. And much abuse of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and violence, too. Charity is not the same as the more tender, personal sharing that arises in communion and obedience. When we are in close fellowship – in Christian community one with another – we may more closely share the burdens of others. But I find myself pretty much isolated here, and community is thin; in this apartment complex, the neighbors keep to themselves. I see that I am answering this along the lines of material circumstances. Yet sensitivity to the spiritual needs may be even greater. Many who are materially comfortable are troubled in spirit and require our prayerful support and our words of spiritual encouragement. I have deep gratitude to Ohio Friends who anonymously prayed for me through the dark hours of my separation and divorce. Seeing another Friend whose actions in life give grounds for concern but knowing my counsel would be most unwelcome has been a great difficulty. Prayer has been the only opportunity I have seen there. The pain can be very great, but we know that a suffering love is one aspect of Christ’s concern for each of us. I am finding the many hours of driving I do in my current job often can be a good time for holding others up in prayer.

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Our bodies and minds

JANE’S FALLS: As one who spends most of his work and leisure in sedentary pursuits, I need to make extra effort to maintain regular physical exercise, especially for my arms and upper torso. Mental and emotional health requires me to pay more attention to what I am actually feeling, desiring, thinking, and doing and to examine each of these in a more direct and honest manner; too often I have seen myself as powerless or as a victim and have failed to take responsibility for my situation; healing this outlook and much of the deeply rooted bitterness is requiring the assistance of a professional counselor and seems to be bearing much fruit.

For me, temperance will involve a better integration and interaction of the various components of my life, rather than the careful juggling of each of them as time permits, as has been my custom.

I avoid the use of tobacco and mind-altering drugs and try to be moderate in my intake of alcoholic beverages; with any activity, the moment one feels one must have it or simply does it out of habit, there may be the need to impose a fast – for some people, this can include a television fast; since I do not have a TV, I find need for a book or writing fast from time to time. I have some struggle with being judgmental when it comes to the substance habits of some of my co-workers, even where I would hardly consider myself an example in these things.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who intently looks into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does. – James 1:22-25

SYCAMORE GROVE: I need to be more mindful of regular exercise, other than walking, and a more balanced diet. Health facilities available through my new apartment remove one excuse for not exercising through the winter. Caffeine and alcohol consumption also need to be reduced.

As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now… Joshua 14: 11

WILLOW BROOK: Emotional awareness has always been difficult for me. Four years of pastoral counseling have opened my understanding on that part of my comprehension and action.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

Addictive substances

REHOBOTH MILLS: A desire for greater unity with Ohio Friends has led me to withdraw from partaking of alcohol, even though it has been a worldly pleasure to me and is so much a part of the working situation I find myself in. Yet new spiritual strength arises in saying no. I acknowledge a need to get more physical exercise; some of the motels I stay in have indoor swimming pools, and I need to return to swimming laps more diligently. And I need to return to weekly hiking, which seems to help both my body and mind. Spiritual practice requires physical control as well. When our health and strength are carelessly impaired, our service to Him is weakened; we owe Him the best service we can muster.

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Daily life at home and in family

SYCAMORE GROVE: My apartment is a sanctuary, a peaceful place of retreat and study. At times this has been difficult when neighbors have been drunken, rowdy, lewd, even drug-dealing – and finally causing me to move to safer environs. But without family, I find very little communal interaction with the rest of the neighborhood, much less the nation. Asking stoned neighbors to turn down the stereo – or having to call police in the middle of the night – turned into some difficult labor in the past year.

My only regular contact with children is through Meeting, but I have felt called more to be present and responsive in the hour of worship than to help out with the children’s First-day classes held at the same time.

I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 2 Timothy 1: 5

AGAMENTICUS LANDING: The Friends responding to this set of queries all have school-age children at home, which means that this summary fits some, but not necessarily most, of our Meeting households.

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Our homes

SYCAMORE GROVE: I maintain my apartment as a sanctuary, a place I consider the Lord’s and not mine alone. There are, though, some activities that may betray this dedication and need greater care. Sometimes, that affront can be as seemingly innocent as a humorous message on my telephone answering machine.

It is difficult to consider my home an influence for good in the community when I hardly know most of my neighbors or when I see such vast differences in their lifestyles and my own.

While much of this query is directed at married couples and their families, it seems that a set of parallel queries for single Friends would arise here. In dating and courtship, I am finding the necessity of being with those who share a belief in and a personal knowledge of Christ; I am discovering the importance of being faithful to the limits scripture places on sexuality outside of marriage, and have faced situations where this faithfulness has led to my being rejected. A home as a place of peace, joy, and contentment becomes a goal, an aspect to consider in evaluating a potential marriage partner, as does the importance of becoming a couple that sets a good Christian example.

There are few children in my life at this point. One couple has, however, asked me to be godfather to their daughter, and this is opening new experiences. Most of the children in my life are those I hold in prayer.

“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” Psalm 37:4-6

WILLOW BROOK: My stepdaughters are adult now. Somehow, they survived.

I’ve failed much. Perhaps I’ve learned some things, but I wish I’d done so much earlier.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

Home life

REHOBOTH MILLS: Being single and being on the road so constantly means that my home is often more of a base camp than a center of life. Moving in the middle of the year to a new apartment has helped greatly, for the new place brings an efficiency the old one lacked. Moreover, in moving to the new location, I heeded an advice to offer up this space to the Lord, that He might use it – and He has. The real direction of this Query has to do with family relationships. Lacking children of my own, I have nonetheless been blessed this past year by friendships with women who do have children, with all of the new discoveries and challenges therein. There have been wonderful opportunities to share the knowledge of God with them; more important, perhaps, is the concern to pray for them. Sharing their fresh insights as they discover the Lord is a great delight. In dating again, remembering the need to keep the goal of peace, joy, and contentment in these relationships is helpful counsel.

As for the youth of our meetings, I see little evidence here, and admit my own failings in this direction. One Friend in Rehoboth takes this as a special concern, and I have tried to support her and her husband in their desire that we teach our children QUAKERISM itself, and not merely ABOUT Quakerism. But they are still struggling with – and resisting – the Quaker message of Jesus – and while they desire to be fully Quaker and part of a totally Quaker circle/community, they will find something missing – an emptiness – until Christ has taken charge of their lives. I must be mindful of this in my travels. And to continue to uphold in prayer those wonderful young Friends in Salem Quarter, that they might come to truly know Jesus and find in our ways the deep communion necessary for the renewal and survival of our Yearly Meeting.

JANE’S FALLS: Maintaining my home as a place of sanctuary has grown in importance over the years. I am feeling convicted, however, in the need for Right Relationship and Companionship and children as part of my walk with the Lord. It is difficult to see how I set a good example in settings, such as this one and the one in Maryland, where we rarely even know the neighbors. In many of the Friends meetings I’ve visited in the past year, I’ve felt the need to remind the parents that our loving Savior will faithfully guide them through life, as they are willing to accept and obey Him, and that they need to read the Bible with their children. Some of my most precious experience with Scripture in this time has come through seven- and eight-year-olds, thanks to the faithfulness of their parents.

WILLOW BROOK: Remarriage in my mid-50s, of course, upset everything. What was I thinking! If anything, it’s been a dash of cold water! That is, home life marks the biggest change in my practice.

Gone was the long quiet for sustained focus. Stepchildren provided challenges I commonly failed, along with marital connections. Anger? Resentments?

My dream of family worship or mini-meetings for business simply vanished. In place of order and calm, there’s clutter and chaos … and, as I need to remember, life itself.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

Harmony within the meeting and community beyond

SYCAMORE GROVE: Too often, I find myself dividing the world into “them versus us” categories, regardless of whether the “us” is a group of professionals, Christians, Quakers, Americans, artists, single white heterosexuals, or whatever. Whenever that way of viewing a situation arises, the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 is present. “Them” never seem to have our good virtues of knowledge, understanding, competence, purity …

Yet Christ comes to save the sinner. His love works among us fully once we let down our best-face-forward masks and let ourselves be known as frail and often fallible individuals. He forgives our sins only as we come to recognize them, name them, and then confess them. None of us is so perfect that we dare look down on others; even in moments of perfection, we must remember that Satan sets his snares.

One of the problems facing contemporary Friends Meetings is that we really don’t know each other that well. We come by convincement from many different backgrounds and locales, rather than being raised together within one neighborhood and educational system. Many of us live at a distance from one another, and so we rarely see each other except at Meeting functions. Often, we don’t even know what others do for a living, much less how they live. Such anonymity makes superficial harmony easy, but also allows erroneous impressions and images to substitute for a real and loving knowledge of one another. “Prompt action” requires knowledge, trust, and unity that are largely missing in today’s highly individualistic society.

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. “He told me everything I ever did.” John 4: 39

AGAMENTICUS LANDING: The outreach of our meeting ultimately rests on the integrity of our daily lives, how faithfully we uphold the principles we proclaim.

As we go about in our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces, too often we fall short of Friends’ ideals: there are moments when we exhibit pettiness, spleen, or egotism rather than “walking cheerfully … addressing that of God in all.” We return again to that challenge: “If you were charged with being a Quaker, would there be enough evidence to convict?”

We see a related challenge: “Why are Friends ineffective? How do we disempower ourselves? How do we choose not to be pro-active?”

Too often, it seems we’re not willing to be a shining example of faith. We can ask, “What am I willing to give up to follow a leading?” We need to recognize how much modern Friends are both “in the world” and “of the world,” rather than being “not of the world.”

People’s lives speak in unique ways when they respond faithfully to the Light. Our Quaker testimonies find their source and nourishment in that focus. They are an offshoot of its guidance.

We need to recognize exactly what we are proclaiming as a Society of Friends. In the absence of dogma or creed, the queries and advices provide a personal checklist and a community sharpener. Have we stopped “publishing the Truth,” as early Friends did so boldly? What has happened to their greeting, “Have you heard the Good News?”

It’s hard of us to evangelize if we really don’t know what we believe as a meeting – what we stand for. For starters, it’s important for us to know what we believe as individuals and then, as a meeting, to align ourselves to that. We perceive there is a lot of unresolved, underlying tension in that regard.

In modern American society, discussion of faith is difficult. (How much of our situation in meeting a reflection of that?) Other people may feel insulted when personal beliefs become the topic of conversation: there may be a perception of appearing superior. We are reminded to focus on the other person first, and to wait until others are ready to hear.

We recognize the power of active listening, the power of speaking honestly from what we’ve witnessed, rather than from a party line or rant. We are more effective conversing as equals, without intimidation or becoming judgmental.

Do we all share the same Spirit? Divine love? How do we develop and maintain a prayer life? How deep do we go? Can other people feel that when they walk through the meetinghouse door?

“If we’re true to that, people would be flocking to meeting – and the meetinghouse would be overflowing.”

There may be reasons, then, to rename a committee “Peace and Social Action” rather than “Concerns.”

We are reminded of a recent message in worship, “Our best recruiting is when the bombs are falling,” and its reminder that there are many other times and places when we could be publicly expressing our faith.

How deep do we go, individually, with our testimonies, such as peace? If we don’t live them, why should anyone believe us? We are reminded to ask: “I say this; do I live it?” The response everyone of us can admit: “Not as much as I would like.”

As Friends, we need to address the spiritual realities of today. For instance, in William Penn’s time, he was willing to go to prison as a consequence of his interpretation of the doctrine of Trinity. What has replaced such religious topics for us in terms of intensity? What occupies the public consciousness and conscience to a similar degree?

We see in joining with meeting a drawing away from false gods. There is, for instance, great violence is in the air of our nation, and while most people would claim to want peace, “the devil is in the details” – the peace testimony we declare stands at odds with the Pentagon’s.

Often, we sense, other people feel insulted In addition, there are few opportunities for sharing one’s faith. Even so, we can look for opportunities for carrying our Quaker principles into our worldly affairs, for example, in dealing with our neighbors or coworkers. We can let people know a little more explicitly what we’re about. Quaker identity, after all, is unique: how often do we hear someone referred to as a Methodist or a Catholic as part of their personality?

We recognize that the way Christianity is interpreted by many people can differ from Friends’ experiences of the Spirit of Christ. We wonder how we bring that to bear in our conversations.

We think too, of people who have visited or attended with us and then slipped away. On occasion, we do send cards or make phone calls to encourage their resumed attendance, though we don’t do this as often as we’d like. In recognizing the impact of our own inreach on meeting’s outreach, we are prompted to ever greater faithfulness in our daily practice.

If we’re being true to tradition, they’ll come back.

WILLOW BROOK: The matter of outreach – and teaching – is one place I feel increasingly drawn, and it’s one our current activities typically fail to uphold. Will I have the energy and devotion to follow through? What do I release from my own affairs and those of the Meeting to allow this?

I am sensing a major turn in my daily routine a year or two down the path.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

Christian harmony with others

SYCAMORE GROVE: A week ago, sitting in a restaurant and finding myself silently criticizing my waitress (who seemed far more interested in dancing to the music, talking on the telephone, etc., than in her duties), I came to a dreaded realization: I challenged myself to find one good thing to say about her – and couldn’t. A few minutes later, on the street, I ran into one of our reporters, who was so busy talking to one of her friends she didn’t see me as I tried to say hello; once again, I tried this exercise of finding one good quality and failed. This is not acceptable for a person who professes a faith that affirms “that of God in each person”! I’m recognizing that this exercise demands regular practice.

I find myself too often judgmental, in error when my faith separates me from other people. That is not “walk(ing) in love, as Christ also hath loved us.”

Agamenticus Meeting this week had three messages, all focusing on this. The first was a testimony of an individual’s struggle to be centered in all he does (a real challenge for a public television producer, somebody whose job can be pretty chaotic); he has come to ask not just “What can I do for the Lord?” but “Lord, what does thee want me to do now?” – with the emphasis on the now. The second message recalled Jesus’ advice to the man who came before the altar but still carried a grudge against his brother; the speaker reminded us of three steps in forgiveness: (a) Ask forgiveness, and begin this process in prayer; (b) Give a present, food or whatever; and (c), the hardest, Ask for something from that brother. The third message was from a man who has learned that the most important thing God wants him to do right now is TO LOVE – time after time. Perhaps this is some of what is meant by “pray without ceasing.”

The first sentence of this second query links forgiveness and love. I am finding, to my surprise, that forgiveness is much more difficult than I had thought and am sensing, buried somewhere deep within my psyche, some hurts that need to be located and dealt with. Until these are forgiven properly, loving myself as well as my neighbor may remain elusive. Professional counseling is helping in this struggle. At times, an individual may need to forgive and fully accept himself before he can do the same to others.

In living as a community of faith, where is the fine line between guarding the reputation of others and speaking up so that prompt action might be taken when members require counsel and care? Are we too often reticent to help one another within the Meeting community? Love is work, too.

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” – Romans 7:6

WILLOW BROOK:  I recognize I’m getting old and more set in my ways, on one hand, and, paradoxically, less zealous, on the other. For now, I’m feeling less drawn to maintaining the local community. There is much on my plate demanding my attention.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.