Monday, July 27, 2009

Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference.... and some other thoughts on Quaker community


I have heard bits of pieces about this group, this gathering, on and off for years. Since I didn't have much interaction with programmed Friends before, and since I didn't live out here, I thought it was neat, but I didn't feel much connection with it.

Assorted things have changed, and now I feel a live, electric connection.

One is my own ministry, particularly around Explicit Friends. (Click here for the background, and here for additional blog posts on this theme.)

Courageously Explicit
Three Friends walk into Meeting for Worship: a Christian, a Pagan, a Jew, and a Non-Theist. Each gives ministry from their own experience; they all experience gathered Worship. Come create the rest of the story: coming together, supporting each other, building community, helping each other be faithful, speaking explicitly.

I am certainly called to ministry among Pagan Quakers (and also Quaker Pagans). But I'm also called to ministry among Friends of different thea/ologies, to help us be in community together, to help us be faithful Friends together, to help us speak in the languages of our own experiences and listen to each other in our different languages -- coming together in our shared experience of and commitment to Quakerism.

Over the last two years, I'm coming to see that this includes Friends from different branches of Quakerism, not just within the unprogrammed tradition.

Another thing that changed was my feeling like I just couldn't understand programmed Friends, thanks to the 2007 Mid-Winter Gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC).

In 2007, our Mid-Winter Gathering was held in Greensboro, NC. There are seven different kinds of active Quakerism in that area. Wow. (I can remember, and talk at least a little about, five of them.) During our weekend together, I learned quite a bit about other kinds of Friends, and also about their points of view. There were programmed Friends with us that weekend, for whom I came to feel respect, affection, and kinship.

I even attended programmed Meeting for Worship.

Now, you've very likely heard or read me say that I'm allergic to programmed Quaker worship. To me, as soon as you introduce programming, you almost always introduce dogma and/or conflicting theaologies, and this prevents me from being in spiritual communion/spiritual community with the other folks present.

One of the things I love about unprogrammed worship in expectant waiting is that we so often come into spiritual communion with each other across that combination of differing and shared experiences of the Divine. That's part of the deep magic of Quakerism for me -- that place beyond words, beyond theaologies, in shared experience and communion.

So, I hate anything that spoils that. But I was willing to experiment, and I also felt like it was a way to show respect for Agnes and Willie Frye.

So I went to programmed worship.

It's still not my cup of tea... But it didn't feel like it wasn't Quaker.

That had been my fear: that it wouldn't "feel" Quaker to me, that it would feel like any other Christian, Protestant service, where there would be no space for me as a Friend who experiences the Divine through the Goddess, who is neither Christian nor Protestant.

So that opened up a small space inside of me: I had this experience of programmed worship, and while it's still not my cup of tea or my preferred form of worship, it still felt Quaker. It still felt like family.

Another thing that's changed is living in the Pacific Northwest, and in North Pacific Yearly Meeting, this last year. You know what? There are a lot more programmed Friends out here than in the Delaware Valley or southeastern Michigan. So, it's much harder to imagine them as incomprehensible.

Another thing is the Association of Bad Friends, a notion of Brent Bill's. (Click here for information about the ABF; click here for the Facebook group. Heh heh heh.) There are programmed Friends in the ABF, too. And you know what?, many of them are Bad Friends in the same ways that I am a Bad Friend. We laugh quite a lot at ourselves in our Association, and the ABF has gotten me into more dialogue with programmed Friends than almost, but not quite, anything else.

Back to living in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to there just being more programmed Friends around, the fact that there are more programmed Friends around leads to more experiences with individual people. There's a Friend from Freedom Friends Church in Salem, OR, sojourning in my Meeting in Seattle. I can sit next to her in worship in deep delight. What's more, I have found that Ashley's not incomprehensible to me, spiritually or personally. We don't know each other very well yet, but I can definitely say that we have become friends as well as Friends. I know I look forward to her company and grow spiritually through our friendship. I've met several other Friends from programmed churches, like Sarah. They're not incomprehensible to me, either, and I really look forward to getting to know them better.

North Pacific Yearly Meeting (NPYM)is an unaffiliated Yearly Meeting. It's an amazingly diverse Yearly Meeting, and there's a deep commitment to that diversity -- including theaological diversity. Wow. There are many reasons, current and historical, for our being unaffiliated, but part of it is out of respect for and commitment to that diversity.

(A year ago, that would have seemed pretty odd to me; I couldn't have imagined a YM with a preponderance of unprogrammed Meetings not wanting to affiliate with Friends General Conference (FGC). But I get it now. (We may yet affiliate with FGC; things are in discernment.))

When I went to NPYM Annual Sessions this year, I also got to see firsthand the deep respect between folks in our Yearly Meeting and Friends who were sojourning or visiting from Northwest Yearly Meeting -- a programmed Yearly Meeting which overlaps with us geographically. They are not strangers; they are beloved family.

Ashley and Sarah are co-clerks of next year's Pacific Northwest Women's Theology Conference. I know almost all the women on the planning committee; several of them are from my own Meeting.

And almost everyone I know who's involved has asked me if there's any way I can come back out to WA next year for it. I aim to find a way.

These folks are not strangers. These women are my beloved sisters.

I don't understand it completely yet, but I have a leading here.

And I invite other women from the unprogrammed Quaker tradition along for the ride.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Overview of Modern Paganism in the US, University Friends Meeting Adult Religious Education, July 12, 2009

I was asked to give a presentation at the Adult Religious Education hour at University Friends Meeting on Paganism in general. This is in no way a comprehensive discussion of modern Paganism in the US. I have written this from my notes for that talk and from my recollection of it. An hour's time for presentation and discussion was, of course, too little for what I wanted to cover; and I had already cut quite a lot from my plan. The presentation went well, and the discussion was warm and rich.

I am deeply grateful to the International Pagan Pride Project for their existence, their work, and the resources they've made available over the years. I have been very privileged to be involved with the Mid-Atlantic Pagan Pride Project.

- sm

An Overview of Modern Paganism in the US
University Friends Meeting Adult Religious Education, July 12, 2009

We began with worship. I introduced myself and my talk. There were between 15 and 20 people attending.

Exercise: Tree of Life; Connecting with the Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Goddess

I led the group through a Tree of Life meditation to ground and center, followed by an exercise to connect even more consciously with the elements and the Goddess. After the Tree of Life, I asked Friends to pay attention to their breath and their breathing; then to the air around us and the wind; to notice how it's all the same. I asked Friends to move a body part, any body part, and think about the energy, the firing of our neurons, required for that; about the food required for our energy; about the Sun needed to grow our food. We repeated this with water and earth.

Then I asked Friends, when they were ready, to open their eyes and look into the eyes of another person, and recognize and honor that of God, the Goddess-within, the Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit in that other person. (There were lots of smiles during this part, which I loved.)

What is a Pagan?

I passed out handout packets. We started with the Pagan Pride Project's "What is a Pagan?" and "Definition"; I walked folks through the main points, and added details from my own experience.

  • The Pagan Pride Project has a set of definitions they have worked out to help begin to answer this question.
  • Many people consider anyone who is not part of an Abrahamic religion to be Pagan, and any religion which is not Abrahamic to be Pagan.
  • While I know and have worked with people who fit almost all of PPP’s categories, I am most familiar with and can talk most intelligently about their last two: religion and spirituality that focus on the Divine Feminine and on the Earth. (My personal area is feminist Witchcraft & eco-feminsm.)
  • (There is information about some of the other categories on the PPP’s website, as I have noted on your handout.)

Paganism main points

The handouts I used here are Ceclyna and Dagonet Dewr's "Neo-Paganism -- the Divine in All Creation" and the Pagan Educational Network's "Paganism." Again, I highlighted some main points, adding details from my own experience.

  • “The Divine is in all creation and everything has Divinity within”
  • The interconnectedness of all life, of all beings
  • This is why many Pagans are environmentalists
  • An est’d 500,000 to 2.5 million Pagans in the US; why it's hard to get accurate numbers.
  • Many Pagan traditions emphasize personal and direct experience of the Divine, often as the Goddess and the God; some focus primarily on the Goddess
  • Many traditions focus on natural occurrences such as the cycle of the seasons (ie, The Wheel of the Year), moon phases, and births, deaths, and other stages of life (coming of age, first menstruation, menopause/croning)
  • Personal responsibility comes with direct experience of the Divine → Can’t hide behind what a charismatic leader tells you to do or not to do, to believe or not to believe
  • Like Quakerism, no dogma
  • There are Pagans from all walks of life; Paganism cuts across race and class
  • “Disorganized religion” → coherent, but not structured
  • How many Pagans talk about discovering Paganism in similar ways to how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people talk about coming out -- "Oh, my gosh, there's a word for what I am," "There are other people like me," "There's a word for my experience," etc.


I wanted to talk about Witchcraft, as a specific example of one kind of Paganism, and as a kind folks in the Meeting were likely to have heard about (or have had experience with). I chose Reclaiming Tradition because there are active Reclaiming groups in the Seattle area, as well as active groups of Radical Faeries. I also chose Roses, Too! Tradition, since I knew folks in the Meeting may have been reading about it, and because I could talk about it intimately and intelligently. :)

Reclaiming Witchcraft - main points

From the Reclaiming Principles of Unity:

"The values of the Reclaiming tradition stem from our understanding that the Earth is alive and all of life is sacred and interconnected. We see the Goddess as immanent in the Earth's cycles of birth, growth, death, decay and regeneration. Our practice arises from a deep, spiritual commitment to the Earth, to healing and to the linking of magic with political action.

"Each of us embodies the divine. Our ultimate spiritual authority is within, and we need no other person to interpret the sacred to us. We foster the questioning attitude, and honor intellectual, spiritual and creative freedom.

"...We know that everyone can do the life-changing, world-renewing work of magic, the art of changing consciousness at will. We strive to teach and practice in ways that foster personal and collective empowerment, to model shared power and to open leadership roles to all. We make decisions by consensus, and balance individual autonomy with social responsibility."

Roses, Too! Tradition - main points

From Roses, Too! "Who We Are - About Roses, Too!":

"Roses, Too! Tradition is a tradition of eclectic feminist Witchcraft. We hold Sabbat potlucks and semi-open ritual, usually on the Saturday (or Sunday) closest to the holiday. Our spiritual backgrounds are diverse: Quaker, Pagan, Jewish, Episcopalian, Congregationalist, Catholic, Atheist, and more. As Witches, some of the values we share are:
  • Respect and love for the Earth, for all living things, as the embodiment of That-Which-Is-Sacred – as the Goddess.
  • The courage and honesty to do hard spiritual and emotional work.
  • The compassion to support and bear witness to each other's work.
  • A commitment to justice and to non-violent political activism.
  • An understanding of magic as a way to create personal, political, and cultural change.
  • The recognition of the importance of play, silliness, and fun in what we do."

"Imagine a Woman" and "The Declaration of the Four Sacred Things"

I handed out Patricia Reilly's "Imagine a Woman" as an example of something that might be used in Goddess circles.

I also handed out Starhawk's "Declaration of the Four Sacred Things" as an example of something from Earth-centered tradition, that reaches across thea/ologies.

Why Pagan Pride?

I handed out the Pagan Pride Project's "Why Pagan Pride?," and talked about the discrimination I face every day as a Witch. This is a Meeting community that understands LGBTQ oppression and discrimination, so relating it to my experience as a lesbian, and the way PPP relates it to queer oppression and discrimination, made sense to them.

I also talked a little about being not just a religious minority, but a non-Abrahamic religious minority. For example, as someone who's part Jewish, sometimes members of the dominant religion in the US tell me they can relate to me because their God the Father is the same as the God of their Old Testament. But as a Witch, as someone who works with the Goddess, I'm just a heretic to them (whereas, as a Jew, I just haven't progressed to Christianity yet).

Working with children, teenagers, or young adults

I asked how many people teach or work with children, teenagers, or young adults, in their professional work, their work in the Meeting, or elsewhere. Many hands went up. I called their attention to the handout "You Have a Pagan Student in Your School - A Guide for Educators," which was part of their packet.

Q&A and discussion

I started this with the question for the group: "If, to you, the Divine is immanent, is present in the world, is something you can experience directly, what are some things you would believe? What are some ways you would act?"

Discussion was warm and rich, with many Friends bringing their own experience to each others' questions.


Books I mentioned during discussion

Based on our conversation, there were four books I mentioned:

If you decide to purchase any of these books, please do so from the publisher or from an independent bookseller. To find one near you, click here.



Here are the handouts I used:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Just back from Yearly Meeting

I just returned tonight from a trip to Missoula, MT for North Pacific Yearly Meeting's Annual Sessions. It was a really good experience; I'm so glad I went.

No liveblogging for me while there, although I know someone else who managed to... :)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shabbat with Jewish Friends

I did something new last Friday evening... I went to Shabbat with other Jewish Quakers.

I've been on the Jewish Friends list-serv for a while, and for several years have had vague -- sometimes, even specific -- plans to go to Shabbat hosted by Jewish Friends at FGC Gathering. It never worked out. I am usually exhausted by Friday night, and often go back to my dorm and go to bed after the Friday plenary. Several years, I've had conflicts I couldn't get around -- committees, meetings, etc. -- that foiled my intentions. When I've had mobility limitations, it's been hard to get golf cart rides that late, especially if we were far away from where the plenaries were.

And, I've always felt a little shy about it.

So, we come to this summer's Gathering. I was over-booked going in, and knew it and accepted it, because I was led to do what I was doing. On the other hand, I hadn't had bronchitis when I agreed to all that; so I just accepted an extra level of needing to take care of myself and not exhaust myself. I figured I would not make it to many things I wanted to do this year, including any Jewish Friends events at all.

One Jewish Friend whom I knew from the list, but hadn't met before, talked to me in the dining hall one afternoon and really, really encouraged me to come to Shabbat, just to meet other folks on the list, just for fellowship, if nothing else.

And it wasn't, actually, someone else's pressure on me to add one more thing to my plate: it came across, very clearly, as an invitation to do something nice for myself.

I still felt very shy about it. I'm fairly comfortable on the email list. But Shabbat... My family wasn't religiously observant when it came to Judaism; I was raised culturally half-Jewish. The only time in my life that I can think of when I've done Shabbat was last December, when we were visiting my cousins over the holidays. Oy.

And then my week got really, really hard, with Bonnie's death, and everything else...

I wasn't sure I was doing any evening activities Friday. But Nikki Giovanni was the plenary speaker; and then FLGBTQC's postponed auction was after the plenary, and I needed to be there, with my community.

And Shabbat this year was in the same building as the evening plenary, and next door to the building where the auction was. So, I went.

It was lovely.

I even ended up saying kiddush, the blessing over the wine (sparkling grape juice, in our case, and to my relief).

I need not have been shy. I belonged.

And it was so good to be with my people.

And when I left, I went to the FLGBTQC auction, to be with more of my people.

Brucha at elilah
elohaynu malkat ha’olam
borayt p’ree hagafen.

Blessed are You, Goddess, our Goddess, Queen of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

B’rucha at Shekhinah
b’tocheynu ruach ha’olam
borayt p’ri hagafen.

Blessed are you, Shekhinah, who brings forth the fruit of the vine.

So, this Friday at sundown... Shabbat shalom, and blessed be.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Spiritual purposes of ordinary/everyday ritual and special/set-apart ritual

This is a paper I wrote for a class at Cherry Hill Seminary on Ritual Theory. In it, I explore some of the purposes of both ordinary/everyday ritual and special/set-apart ritual, with examples from unprogrammed Quakerism, feminist Witchcraft and Paganism, and Judaism. - sm

Is ritual – especially religious or spiritual ritual – something that is ordinary and everyday, or something that is set-apart and special? Or is it both?

When ritual is ordinary/everyday, what spiritual needs does it meet? When it is set-apart/special, what spiritual needs does it meet? What needs do we meet when we bring the ordinary/everyday and the set-apart together in a both/and space?

The place to start might be the question, What spiritual purpose does ritual serve? In an earlier paper, I identified ritual as an avenue for: magic (transformation and change); conservation and stability; expression; inquiry; and encountering Mystery. The next questions might be, How do ordinary/everyday ritual and set-apart/special ritual effect each of these?


Printable version of my "Four Doors to Meeting for Worship" presentation

Back in March, I posted about my Adult Religious Education presentation at my Meeting on William Taber's "Four Doors to Meeting for Worship." There's now a printable version of this available here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bonnie Tinker's memorial scheduled

July 25th
11 am
First Congregational Church
1126 SW Park Ave.
Portland, OR

A Silly Poor Gospel: Six of Sixty - Number 5

Go, Peggy. !

A Silly Poor Gospel: Six of Sixty - Number 5:

Hell's Freezing Over

So there I was ...

sitting at a lunch table with a group of insightful, visionary, powerful, spiritual women. We were talking about what it would take for our corner of the Body of Christ to embrace an application of our professed testimony of equality. Specifically, what it would take for the spiritual sea to change enough to make gender identity and sexual orientation non-obstacles to membership and ministry.

“What if we just opened that door and walked through it and let them watch? – Maybe they’d follow.” I proposed.

“Yeah, when Hell freezes over!” said one of my sisters.

That phrase haunted me for a while after that. It rattled around in my heart like a marble in a glass milk bottle. Then the bottle broke, and it was spilt milk all over, but I had a jagged glass epiphany.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bonnie Tinker

I don't know that I want to write much about Bonnie Tinker's death yet. But I do want to acknowledge here that it happened. I am deeply grateful to have been with Friends when we learned, and to the folks at VA Tech for their support. I am grateful the members of Bonnie's family who were there and who came had the support of Friends and friends.

There are plenty of places where folks can read the facts, what's known so far about Bonnie's death, including some things I posted at my links page (click here). And I do want to share what is mostly a lovely video (the music and all at the end are somewhat jarring).

A lot of people are affected by Bonnie's death. Thank you for holding them in the Light.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Peterson Toscano: "Jesus Loves You! But I've Heard Rumors"

I am FB friends with Peterson (am I name-dropping?), and I just loved this series of status updates when they appeared. And I loved the comment threads that followed. Because Peterson has such a wide range of friends with such a wide range of takes on what he posted, the comment threads were sometimes just as funny, thought-provoking, and illuminating as the status updates themselves.

In his blog post, "Jesus Loves You! But I've Heard Rumors," explaining this whole process, Peterson writes:

On May 25, soon after I arrived in the England for what would be a six week tour that included Northern Ireland, Wales and Sweden, I began a series of Twitter messages that began “Jesus Loves You!” My hope was to do one a day for 31 days, and I did it! My Twitter is attached to my Facebook status and to this blog, so LOTS of people got to see the updates and especially over on Facebook many people commented adding their thoughts.

Check it out... and I hope you get as much out of them as I did. :)