Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Passionate and Determined Quest for Adequacy: Becoming Whole

from A Passionate and Determined Quest for Adequacy: Becoming Whole:

At the Quaker Women's Theology Conference, we encourage women to use narrative theology, that is, to tell their own stories of how God is at work in each person's life. I think sometimes we are afraid of talking about God because we fear that our experiences do not match. But it makes a lot of sense to me that we would all have different experiences of knowing God. I think God is like a mutual friend. For example, I know Sarah, and Sarah's husband knows Sarah, and you may know Sarah, but we would never expect to all know the same things about Sarah. Narrative theology allows us to recognize God in another person's story, even if that person uses very different language.

Read more here...

Monday, April 26, 2010

What do you want to know about Pagan Quakers?

I am curious, and I have a question for Friends -- especially in the unprogrammed tradition, but also in other traditions.

If someone offered a two-hour session about Pagan Quakers, say at a larger Quaker event like FGC Gathering or Yearly Meeting, what would you want to know? What would you want the session to include?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A quintessential Pagan Quaker ritual - ?

I had a question recently from someone about what a quintessential Pagan Quaker or Quaker Pagan ritual might look like.

A few days later, in passing, I happened to mention on Facebook that I'm doing Beltane planning, and a friend said she'd love to see a Quaker Pagan ritual, thinking that's what said Beltane ritual would be. I told her that Beltane with Roses, Too! is not a Pagan Quaker ritual, but a Pagan ritual with Quaker and lots of other influences.

At first I suggested Full Moon Meeting for Worship/Worship-Sharing might be a better example of a Pagan Quaker ritual, but then I realized -- you can't actually tell the difference, by looking or even necessarily from within worship, between that and any other Meeting for Worship.

Okay, so what would be a quintessential Quaker Pagan ritual?

Well, what do I mean by quintessential? It occurred to me that this is another one of those words I use frequently and whose meaning I'm pretty sure I know from context, but I decided to look it up. I found the Merriam-Webster definition particularly interesting, because it talks about "the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature." (Hmmm!) But in this case, I am using quintessential to mean "the most typical example or representative," or perhaps, a typical example or representative.

Let me also think and talk for a minute about what I mean by ritual.

I spent a lot of my time last spring thinking and writing about what ritual actually is, for a couple of reasons. One reason was that I was taking a graduate class called "Understanding the Ritual Experience." (It ended up being more of an introduction to ritual theory and ritual studies than the nice and concrete unpacking of the experience of ritual which I'd been hoping for; nonetheless, it was deeply fascinating, and I learned a lot. The prof has since re-vamped the course; I'm not sure what it would be like now.) Another reason was that I'd spent a lot of time -- too much time? -- the fall before, trying to be in dialogue with the clerk of the pastoral care/oversight/ministry-and-counsel-equivalent committee of one of my former Meetings, about the definitions of words like ritual, clergy, and Pagan... conversations which, sadly, ended up coming down to: what he thought, he considered to be truth, and was reporting to the Meeting as such; and any reality of experience -- mine, that of any other Pagan Quakers, of any other non-Christian Quakers, of any other Pagans, or of the large body of Pagans in the world -- was just not true as far as he was concerned. It was painful, to say the least.

Since I'm not going to re-hash my whole semester (or the fall before) here, for now, I will just say that people who study religion and religious practice would call Meeting for Worship the essential/quintessential religious ritual within unprogrammed Quakerism.

(Yes, yes, I know unprogrammed Quakers say we don't have ritual, and we like to think that's true. But that is a whole entire other conversation.)

So, thinking about it, and going back to what I said above, I take it back: I would say that any Meeting for Worship in which people with Pagan theaology participate is a quintessentially Pagan Quaker ritual.

I'd also say that any Meeting for Worship in which people with Christian theology participate is a quintessentially Christian Quaker ritual. Certainly any Meeting for Worship which focuses primarily or exclusively on Jesus or Christ would be a Christian Quaker ritual.

So any Meeting for Worship that focuses primarily on the Old Gods, the Goddess, nature as the Divine Itself (rather than as Divine creation), etc., would be a quintessential Pagan Quaker ritual.

Happily, most Meetings for Worship which I attend aren't explicitly Christian, or Pagan, or anything else: whatever Face of the Spirit you experience or seek, you are welcome. The people in most Meetings I've been part of worry a lot less about which particular aspect, facet, or name of the Divine people seek and experience -- or, to borrow a phrase from Cat Chapin-Bishop, which brand name of the Divine people tune into -- and are more concerned about our seeking together and collective experience. This is how I can be in worship with Friends who are Christian, Jewish, Non-Theist, Buddhist, and other theaologies, and still be in genuine spiritual community. And even have the profound experience of gathered or covered/held worship. (And what a blessing. What a deep, joyful blessing.)

In that earlier conversation, I went on to lay out what I thought a typical or quintessential Quaker Witchen or Witchy Quaker ritual would look like. And then I realized, I'm a Pagan Quaker; I'm an open and out Pagan Quaker who does education with Monthly Meetings and Quaker organizations, and with Pagan organizations; but somehow, I never end up doing this version of worship/ritual -- what's up with that, anyway? *laugh*

So here's an example of a Pagan Quaker ritual based in Roses, Too! tradition of eclectic, Feminist Witchcraft (therefore, small-group):

  • Gather; talk through the ritual.
  • Check-ins: what are three words that describe how you are right now?
  • Ground and center/tree of life.
  • Purify the space, cast the circle, invoke the directions and the Goddess.
  • Silent worship. Vocal ministry as moved. Singing, dancing, drumming, chanting if moved?
  • Ground and center.
  • Feasting.
  • Goodbyes to the directions and the Goddess and to each other. Shaking of hands. Hugs.
Here's another I can easily envision:
  • Settle into silent worship; "enter and center" (per Bill Taber) / ground and center in silent worship.
  • If/as led: purify the circle.
  • If/as led: cast circle.
  • If/as led: invoke the directions.
  • If/as led: invoke the Goddess.
  • More silent worship.
  • If/as led: raise power silently or noisily, with or without movement.
  • Ground and center.
  • If/as led, goodbyes to the directions and the Goddess.
  • Shaking of hands/goodbyes to each other.
  • Feasting/coffee and tea in the social hall after. ;-)
And I'm curious. What does Quaker Pagan / Pagan Quaker worship, ritual, etc., look like to you? What's your own experience of it?

PALESTINE: CPT-Palestine endorses Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

Wow. - sm

19 April 2010
PALESTINE: CPT-Palestine endorses Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

CPT-Palestine has decided to endorse formally the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as called for by Palestinian NGOs, because sixty years of negotiations and diplomacy have only enabled Israel to solidify its military occupation of Palestine. The international community has long called for Palestinian society to resist the violence of the Occupation nonviolently, so we, as members of an international peace organization, believe that when Palestinians mount nonviolent campaigns against the Occupation, we are morally obligated to support them.

We affirm the words of Palestinian Christian leaders in their Kairos Document: "These advocacy campaigns must be carried out with courage, openly and sincerely proclaiming that their object is not revenge but rather to put an end to the existing evil, liberating both the perpetrators and the victims of injustice. The aim is to free both peoples from extremist positions of the different Israeli governments, bringing both to justice and reconciliation. In this spirit and with this dedication we will eventually reach the longed-for resolution to our problems, as indeed happened in South Africa and with many other liberation movements in the world.

We recommend that members of our constituency review the following resources, so they can better understand the context from which the BDS movement has arisen:

1) The Kairos Palestine Document, "A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering."

The document is available as a PDF file in seven languages at and at

2) "Palestinian Civil Society Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights 9 July 2005":

3) "Who Profits from the Occupation?"

4) A 2009 report by a fact-finding committee of South African social scientists, which notes that "three pillars of apartheid in South Africa" are all practiced by Israel in the Occupied Territories: demarcating people into racial groups and allotting superior rights, privileges and services to the dominant racial group; segregating people into different geographic areas and restricting their movements, and suppressing any opposition to the regime using administrative detention, torture, censorship, banning, and assassination."

5) Dr. Neve Gordon's reflection, "Boycott Israel: An Israeli comes to the painful conclusion that it's the only way to save his country," /oe-gordon20.

See also "Palestinians, Jews, citizens of Israel, join the Palestinian call for a BDS campaign against Israel and video clip by Israeli-American rap artist, Invincible, in support of the BDS movement:

After Gordon's piece appeared in the Los Angeles Times, he nearly lost his job at Ben Gurion University. See the critique of Gordon's position by famed peace and human rights activist Uri Avnery: (which contains Archbishop Tutu's thoughts on the efficacy of boycotts)

and subsequent critiques of Avnery's position by South African Ran Greenstein ("I agree more with Gordon than Avnery"):

Abraham Simhony

and Alternative Information Center director, Michel Warschawsky "Yes to BDS!"

Friday, April 2, 2010

"I just can't imagine": a Holy Thursday reflection on inconsolable grief

In the fall of 2008, my friend Michelle wrote a column in her local Catholic paper about inconsolable grief -- her own experience with it; a friend's experience with it -- and about the different ways we as human beings respond to other people's grief.

In reaction, I found myself writing about loss and grief and support. About Michelle's loss, about her friend's loss, about loss in my own life. About how I'd responded 20-odd years ago to Michelle's grief, how being there for her in little ways helped me six months later when my own life fell apart, how I responded when we got back in touch, how I hoped I'd respond differently now. About why people react in the ways that we do to other people's grief and loss. About what was helpful and not helpful to me when my life fell apart and while I was putting it back together, and during times since when I've been facing hard things and needing support.

I knew I was writing something that needed to become a blog post, but it never quite made it there; it kept waiting in the wings. Several things seem to be bringing it out today... A discussion with my friend Denise about the nature of bravery: about being labeled "brave" by people around you when you're just doing your best to keep putting one foot in front of another; about being labeled "brave" when what you really are is quietly desperate... That Holy Thursday is the anniversary of the day Michelle's husband died... A set of discussions with pastoral care colleagues at Cherry Hill, about helpful and unhelpful things to say to people who are grieving, and unhelpful things that other clergy members, well-intentioned but clueless, have said to us.

In her column "The Psalms Are in Our Bones," Michelle wrote:

A friend lost her son last week, dragged from a long awaited retreat in silence into a maelstrom of pain. Over and over people told her that they could not imagine her grief. Perhaps what we really meant was that we did not want to experience her grief ourselves.

I kept coming back to that phrase: "I can't imagine."

Another friend, also an academic, had recently gone through the death of a spouse, so that was fresh in my mind and heart. Over the years, I had supported a number of friends and colleagues through the deaths of spouses, also usually sudden and unexpected; I was holding each of those in my heart.

And I often heard that phrase in the wakes of those deaths: "I can't imagine." "I can't imagine your loss." "I can't imagine how you're feeling." "I can't imagine how you're coping."

I've certainly said it; I hope I haven't said it in a long time, not since I was younger, less experienced (more stupid?), and more awkward.

Michelle's friend pointed out in her own blog, quite bluntly, that when people told her that, it was not helpful. Not remotely.

So, why do we say it?

Michelle theorized that when we say "I can't imagine," we are saying we don't want to experience that person's grief ourselves.

And I couldn't help thinking, it's not that we can't or don't want to imagine the loss ourselves -- because we can't help imagining it. We imagine how we would react in the exact same situation -- and perhaps that's where our imaginations fail.

We can imagine being in the same situation -- the death of a husband, wife, partner, son, daughter -- but perhaps what we can't imagine is how we would cope.

When people have told me things like, "I can't imagine," or "You're so brave," it hasn't been helpful. When I was coping with the hell of putting my life back together after trauma -- coping with the hell of the aftereffects of sexual assault and abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence -- I wasn't being brave: I was simply, quietly desperate. My choices were, literally, "Face this" and "Die." To me that wasn't a choice. A number of people have tried to tell me it was, that I chose to live and to heal rather than to die and that that was brave; but it just doesn't feel that way to me. During that time, when people told me things like "I can't imagine" and "You're so brave" (and they did), it felt to me that they were putting distance between us. They were saying, I can't be you; I can't even imagine being you. And it wasn't helpful. I didn't need people to be just like me, but I did need connection.

So, what is helpful?
  • Being present. Michelle wrote: "My mother held me, repeating over and over again that she knew there was nothing she could to take away the pain, but that she would be with me."
  • Being willing to hear how it is without running away. (After all, the person who's hurting can't run away; they have to live with it.)
  • Listening.
  • Being willing, being able, to be with, without trying to fix it, or make it go away, or (insert platitude here).
  • Bearing witness. I learned a lot about bearing witness from two people in particular throughout my 20s: Mona and Nif. Mona was my therapist; Nif, my best friend. Neither could "fix" anything. But they could, and did, bear witness. They could be there with me while I went through it. And they, along with the women in my sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors' groups, taught me to bear witness.
I know the phrase "bearing witness" is charged, but that's what this is; and it is sacred work.

All these things are about connection and being present with each other. Real connection with each other; being truly present with each other, just as we are, where we are.

Along with other trauma recovery experts, Quaker healer John Calvi talks about how one of the things trauma does is separates us from community, and about how healing from trauma necessarily involves reconnection or creating new connections. We also know that further isolation from community after trauma hinders recovery.

What John talks about, what Michelle's mother did for her, what Michelle did for me, what Mona and Nif did for me, is affirming connection. Affirming sacred connection. And that honors That-Which-Is-Sacred in each of us.

Michelle continued: "The psalms don't necessarily bring comfort or ease in grief, but like my mother, everyone who prays them, is with me, and with each other. Can we be with others in their inconsolable grief?"

Can we?

I think we can, we do, and we must.

This brings to mind the chorus of the song "Stone Circles":

and everything I do
touches you
and everything I am
you hold in your hand

and it seems to me that we are standing stones
there's no way that we can ever be on our own
and even if at times it seems that we are all alone
we're in stone circles marking time
with standing stones

(c) Anne Lister, "Stone Circles." Recorded by Anne Lister and Anonyma on Burnt Feathers, and by Sound Circle Women's A Capella Ensemble on Sound Circle. (See related post here.)

Also, I did consult with Michelle before I posted this piece.

A few queries...

From Faith and Practice of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, printed in my Meeting's weekly announcements:

Are we prepared to let go of our individual desires and let the Holy Spirit lead us to unity? Are we charitable with each other? How careful are we of the reputation of others? Do we avoid hurtful criticism and gossip?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Invisibility: life, death, and reporting

A friend of mine, someone I care about, posted these three links about an apparent murder in Queens, two from the NY Times and one from the NY Daily News, to her Facebook Wall. Stunned discussion ensued.

I don't have anything terribly insightful or articulate to say about this. I am appalled. I expected better of the NY Times, but as one person pointed out, the NYT may have simply pulled the report off the police blotter, and they certainly posted a correction.

But, still. Argh, argh, argh.

The incredible disconnect between the first article and the other two. The disconnect between the reality of the person living her life and the perception of the world around her. The incredible, double invisibility.

I am sick and tired of being told the very reality of my actual experience doesn't exist because it doesn't match the pre-conceptions of reality other people, especially people in positions of power over me, hold. And I'm cis-gendered; I have that privilege. This dehumanization of a trans sister is appalling.

And it's not like it's new.

I am so, so sorry.

Man, 29, Found Stabbed to Death at Home in Queens

Transgender woman Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar found dead, naked in ransacked apartment

Detectives Investigate Killing of Woman in Queens