Wednesday, May 14, 2008

To Gather a Great People

This weekend more than twenty Quakers gathered in Chicago from across North America. We were brought together by Friends General Conference to become Quaker Quest trainers. Quaker Quest is a dynamic outreach program conducted by Meetings for Seekers. For those of you new to Quakerism, I’ll explain why I think this moment is so important.

For many years, Quakers in unprogrammed or “Silent Worship” Meetings have been reluctant to do outreach. Many Quakers have viewed outreach and proselytizing as the same thing. It’s grounded in a noble impulse to correct the perceived overreaching of other faiths. Most Quakers believe there are many paths to God and many have been upset by the “hard sell-- my way or you’re going to hell” recruiting methods of many fundamentalist religious groups. In recoiling from this, many Quakers have recoiled from any outreach whatsoever. Some Quaker Meetings even removed their phone numbers from the public directories. As this impulse settled deep into the Religious Society of Friends, many in the public came to see Quakerism as a closed society. This was never true and Quakers have always have welcomed newcomers. However, because of Quaker’s invisibility for the past few decades many people who might have found a home among Quakers either didn’t know they could become Quaker or simply didn’t know that Quakers still existed. In my travels, I constantly meet people who express amazement they’ve just met a Quaker. As a young woman in Dallas said to me last month, “You’re Quaker? I thought you were all gone.”

Many in the Society now feel called by Spirit to make wide the door to our faith. A growing movement is emerging to do outreach in America, to let the world know that there is another way to experience the Divine. As members of this movement, we all continue a deep acknowledgement that God will find people through many paths and religions and that the Quaker way may not speak to the needs of some. However, to hide Quaker process and Quaker community from Seekers is to abandon many people to loss and suffering. To offer spiritual hospitality to seekers is now a mark of our faithfulness to Spirit. We can do nothing else. Withdrawal from outreach, withdrawal from speaking, publicly and vibrantly, about our faith-- Quietism as some call it within the Society—is impossible.

For those of you who’ve been working faithfully in your Meetings to open the Society or who feel this calling now rise within you, know that your faithfulness is and will bear fruit. Understand that you have brethren who share your calling and who are creating services and systems to support you. The first part of this is Quaker Quest . However, Quaker Quest is just the beginning.

For those of you who are new to Quakerism know that you have arrived among us at an auspicious time. The renewal movement does not depend simply on those within the Society. It rests with all of you who seek Spirit. As Seekers you are the reason why we are throwing wide the doors of the Society. We need your help to gather us all as a great people who can transform our own lives and manifest the values in the world that we so earnestly share— joy, simplicity, integrity, equality, community, and peace.

Some of you, as seekers, live in places where Quaker communities already exist. You simply need to find them . For others you may live in places where there are no Meetings. Do not let this hinder you. Quakerism is a set of practices, shared in community, designed to help you hear the stirrings of Spirit in your own heart. If no Quaker community exists near you, be the seed that creates one. You can be the heart of the renewal movement and you have Friends to help you.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Inner Christmas

As Quakers we often talk of God, the Still Small Voice or the Inner Christ. It is that place of communion or experience of oneness that can bring peace, clarity, and sometimes profound change to our lives. When we wait in silence, in expectation of divine union and guidance, we sometimes become open to an unfolding that we often cannot imagine by ourselves. That's the point of listening and seeking communion. We are great miracles of life and creation and yet still very limited. The Sacred Oneness Connecting Everything is by definition not separate and not limited. Being open to that reality, to God, takes us to places beyond our experience and beyond the rutted ego driven conversations we wear so deeply into our minds. It's the freshness of perspective we get through listening that so often delights and befuddles us when we let go of our minds and hand it over to the Presence. Tonight as I sat in prayer I realized that, in many ways, this is Christmas for me. There is a ocean of love that stretches endlessly beneath the surface of our minds and the business of our everyday lives. Being allowed to let go and experience it even for a few moments from time to time is a sacred gift.

At the end of my prayers tonight, I sat and watched the lights of our Christmas tree twinkle. As a small child, like so many children, I absolutely delighted in all the presents, the bright papers, the bows, the shiny ornaments. It was like a beacon of all the possible wonders that life can create. I'm now a grown man and I still love the promise and the joy that a Christmas tree is and represents. But now, when I look under the tree I realize that the real presents of Christmas can't be seen. And while I love, when God so chooses, to be the recipient of these invisible presents, the practice of listening for God should never be kept to our ourselves. Like the fruit of the practice, the practice itself is a gift and gifts should always be shared. On the day we mark the birth of Christ, I hope you will reflect on the gifts of listening and the joys of having a spiritual community in which to share and grow. I hope you'll also pray deeply about how you can share these gifts and joys with others who lack peace and are searching for that ocean of love that spills endlessly into the world.

In the coming year and all the years to come, may we create in our Meeting Houses a safe place for all those who seek healing and renewal.

Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to All.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Year in a Life

It's been almost a year since I posted. I must admit, I've missed writing. It had become a part of my practice in ways that have taken time understand. Further, I've missed all of you who chose to share in this experience with your insights both supportive and challenging. All of this is to say, I think you'll be hearing from me regularly again and I hope you find that a good thing as time goes by.

Probably the best place to start is with an update on life for the past year. This way you'll understand some of the posts that are to come. It's been a busy year. The electronics recycling company for which I was Director of Marketing was bought out and my position was transferred to a new person at their headquarters in Canada. Fortunately, before that happened, I had already started my own company, DonateIT which raises money for non-profits, churches, and schools. I'm now putting my efforts full-time with this.

When I first started DonateIT in May 2006 there were all sorts of challenges, but there is now light at the end of the tunnel and I think I'm building a company of which I can really be proud. Ninety percent of success is perseverance, right? Right now, I'm searching for investment so I can rent a new warehouse, install a new inventory system, and really grow. I learned that being underfunded in your business is a good way to mess things up. I don't want to do that anymore. It's a lot more fun to run like a well oiled machine and have customers who want you to join their family. I have a few customers like that, but I also have a few from last year that probably wanted to pat me on the head and say "Moron." Fortunately, I fixed most of what led to those moments. A few more tweeks and I hope to be called brilliant. I probably have to keep hoping for that one.

Outside of business, I've gotten involved in a host of community concerns which makes my life feel more meaningful. I now sit on the Advisory Council of the Dallas Center for Survivors of Torture, the Advisory Council of the Adobe Alliance, The Advisory Council of LaReunion Texas, and sit on the Board of Dallas County Young Democratics. It sounds like a full slate, but the bulk of my extracurricular time has been spent on Quaker issues traveling to Development & General Committee Meetings of Friends General Conference. I've also learned I'll be involved in a new Quaker outreach effort, but more on that when the time is right.

I've also realized there is no replacement for a regular spiritual practice. I've neglected it this past year (with the excuse that I was too busy) and there is no doubt that I've lacked the same sense of clarity, connectedness and insight that I feel when I practice everyday. In fact, some of what I want to write about now is everyday practice. I used to think there was my spiritual life and then there was everything else. Now I know there is only your spiritual life and everything you create stems from it. There's no closet in which to store God while you're doing other things. All you can do is forget or deny that you're life is spiritual and then deal with the train wrecks that ensue. In fact, if what I'm saying is really true then I wonder if a person's whole life can be lived from a centered place. Everything is one piece. I know many Quakers have traditionally considered everything and every moment sacred. I know that Sufi's and Buddhists also talk about this. I marvel at what that would feel like. Maybe if I'm lucky and diligent, I'll find out. If you've already experienced that or have tips for the road, feel free to share. I think that's the point of fellowship and it's important for people to understand that more is possible.