Last night about 35 people from around the Greensboro area gathered at First Friends Meeting to begin a conversation around how we can read and re-read the Bible in ways that not only pays attention to our own privileges and biases we take to the text but the lenses and experiences that the text brings to us. We are reframing our reading based ideas from Miguel A. De La Torre’s “Reading the Bible from the Margins“and Wes Howard-Brooks’ “Come Out My People.”
Because the interest in this study extended beyond those who can physically attend the four Thursdays in October we intend to meet, I made an online component to the class using trello.
How many of you speak another language? Meaning, raise your hand if you speak Spanish, French, Quechua, Mandarin, whatever, even a little bit.
How many other languages do we speak? In various parts of life, you may speak several languages as needed. There’s a specialized jargon for fashion, for sports, for medicine, at school, for young people, for people who were young in the 60s. Do you think that today, in the United States, there are separate languages for women and men? What about people from different economic or social classes ? African American and White people? Urban and rural, for business people, social workers and students? What are some other examples of different languages you speak? How many of you feel like you speak Cat? Or Baby?
As we go through life, we all learn many languages. Have you thought about it that way before? How often in your daily life do you encounter people who speak different languages because they have different beliefs, culture or social or economic differences? For many of us, we cross these “boundaries” between people daily. For others, this experience occurs rarely and it’s a big deal. Continue reading Being bilingual in Quaker Outreach (Guest Post Robin Mohr)
“But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” (Revelation 12:11)
The work of the People
One of the signs of a true artist is a willingness to work patiently and lovingly with even the most inferior materials. -David James Duncan
David James Duncan’s novel “The Brother’s K,” is about a family that lives in Camas, WA. The place where I pastored for 6 years before moving to Greensboro. Papa, one of the main characters in the book, is a paper mill worker who has gone semi-professional in Baseball. He does fairly well as a pitcher for his team until he has his thumb crushed in an accident at the mill.
In The Way of Love, Anthony de Mello writes about the prisons we each live in created by layers of beliefs, ideas, habits and attachments and fears. Each layer is added by culture, traditionalisms, mass media, families, religions, etc. Each is a layer of prejudice that keeps us from being awake, leaves us reactionary and with little sense of self or courage in the face of angry mobs. Sound familiar?
In response de Mello writes:
Realize that you are surrounded by prison walls, that your mind has gone to sleep. It does not even occur to most people to see this, so they live and die as prison inmates. Most people end up being conformists; they adapt to prison life. A few become reformers; they fight for better living conditions in the prison, better lighting, better ventilation. Hardly anyone becomes a rebel, a revolutionary who breaks down the prison walls. You can only be a revolutionary when you see the prison walls in the first place (65).
One of the fears that I have struggled with all my life is the fear of “what people will think?” I am afraid that I will reveal myself as someone who isn’t as smart or creative as people imagine or as I want to project, so I often remain quiet. I am afraid that I won’t be the kind of friend in solidarity with those I aspire to be in solidarity with; that I’ll say the wrong thing, or worse, say hurtful things, and in the process damage relationships. So I don’t always risk the kind of vulnerability needed to create deep friendships. I am afraid that people will think I am a self-promoter, so I have an uncomfotable relationship with being a leader. I am afraid that I’ll reveal my own ignorance and my blindness to my privilege, so I avoid the hard conversations. I am also afraid of what happens once these things are revealed. In the age of the Internet, folks can be merciless. Two seconds of misspeak on the Internet can equal years of dealing with collateral damage.
I am trying to be honest about my fears here because I want defang them. I want to move past them as a friend and as a leader. When I became a pastor, I slowed down in my writing due to workload and because it was hard to know how to be a public writer and a pastor whose work is primarily local and often confidential. Now that I am at a College, and my relationship to work is different, I am again wondering where my voice fits and how do I speak in ways that are authentic and true, while facing these fears that leave me within a prison of self-doubt and questioning?
I love this whole meditation on life and the sympathy from Anthony de Mello but this line in particular continues to ring in my heart.
…You will no longer say to your friend, “How happy you have made me.” For in so saying you flatter his ego and manipulate him into wanting to please you again. And you give yourself the illusion that your happiness depends on your friend. “Rather you will say, “When you and I met, happiness arose.”
“‘We’ is the most important word in the social justice vocabulary. The issue is not what we can’t do, but what we CAN do when we stand together. With an upsurge in racism/hate crimes, criminalization of young black males, insensitivity to the poor, educational genocide, and the moral/economic cost of a war, we must STAND together now like never before.”
There is so much back and forth on Quaker process. So many jokes. So many who easily dismiss it because it “takes a long time.” And outcomes are all that REALLY matter. (I have plenty of examples of Quakers being faithful quickly, taking challenging stands, going against the flow of the status quo in costly ways, and being truly led by the Present Teacher that I have personally witnessed in my own life). My hope is that we can get past these dismissals and learn or re-learn what it means to truly be guided by the Spirit of Life in our meetings, yearly meetings and institutions. My hope is that we will not miss out on the opportunity that faithful meeting for worship for business has given us so many times in the past and present. I think that we sometimes dismiss it because we don’t know it, or understand it, aren’t committed to it, think it’s weird, have experienced it done in wrong or even painful ways, or we are even afraid of it.
I love what Dorsey says here about process vs. outcome and I think she is spot on. I like that she says:
“It’s not what to figure out what everybody thinks will work, it is what we feel led to do as a group.”
“We are looking for, ‘What are we supposed to do here?'”
Process is so important, but even the word “process” reduces down what is actually happening when we sit and listen for God’s guidance together. Words and phrases like surrender, vulnerability, holding my tongue, breathing, paying attention, joining, “yes and…” and revolution, dear God help us, what is it we are missing here, when I think of what happens in the expectant waiting.
In my estimation there are at least three things that make our decision-making difficult today: First, we are not all coming from the same place theologically and we lack a shared understanding of the practice itself. A second is that we are often all working as individuals trying to get the best and most pragmatic idea lobbied for rather than recognizing that we are individuals listening together for the One Voice. It is easy to lack the wherewithal to be patient enough to wait for it and brave enough to act on it when it comes. Third, it is easy to forget that Listening and Action are inextricably linked. I’m not sure if “Quaker process” exists where this chain is broken. If all that is happening is listening with no action, then we are paralyzed by fear or “failure of nerve” or we are just stuck. But this is not “Quaker process.” And if all we do is act all the time than we are just working from a reactive and shallow place.
My hope and prayer is that we will have enough curiosity, wherewithal, and courage to be a people who listen and act.