An open letter on Friends United Meeting affiliation

At our annual sessions in the spring of 2006, my yearly meeting, Southeastern, wrestled for the second year in a row with the issue of our membership in Friends United Meeting. The body of about 150 Friends who were gathered there labored late into the night on our last evening together, struggling for a unity that evaded us. As midnight approached, only a few Friends left to go to bed. Most stayed, yawning but intently focused. We are fierce, we SEYM Friends, and we are passionate. We have a burning thirst for justice, and a deep love and respect for our LGBTQ members. We also have a broad theological spectrum among us as individuals, and an equally deep love and respect for those-- mostly Christian-identified-- Friends who draw support, sustenance, and affirmation from our FUM affiliation.

We finally crafted a minute that was cautiously and wearily approved in the wee hours of the morning. It stated that we would lay down our formal membership in Friends United Meeting for a discernment period of two years. At the end of those two years, if we did not find unity to rejoin, our affiliation would be permanently laid down. That was two years ago-- which means that at this April's annual sessions, we will revisit the issue once again, and presumably make a more-or-less-final decision.

To say that this has been weighing on me doesn't quite communicate the extent of my preoccupation. I have been worried, frightened, frustrated, and deeply concerned about this issue for the entirety of the past two years. Then, last week, the presiding clerk of FUM's general board circulated a letter he had received from the superintendents of five large, fairly conservative FUM-affiliated yearly meetings in the United States, referring to "current undercurrents [in FUM] that erode unity and undercut important ministry" and requesting that the board form an immediate, specific plan for confronting those issues. Since reading that letter, I have all but stopped sleeping.

When I lie awake at night-- thinking about this unsettlingly ambiguous letter, about my beloved yearly meeting, about Friends United Meeting as a whole-- I often find myself writing letters and scripting conversations in my mind. In these imaginary communications, I explain to Southeastern Yearly Meeting, my Quaker family, why I, a transgender, queer, unprogrammed young adult Friend who couldn't talk un-ironically about Jesus until I was almost out of high school, am aching for us to maintain our relationship with Friends United Meeting.

First, let me say that this position is a huge transformation from what I originally felt and thought when our FUM membership became a live issue. As a queer person who has experienced a vocational call to religious service, FUM's personnel policy seemed to me not only wrong in a general, moral sense, but also personally painful. I didn't see much reason to stay in an organization with such a discriminatory policy-- particularly since, as far as I could see, we didn't have much of a relationship to begin with. Growing up in SEYM, I was unaware for years that such a thing as programmed Friends or Friends United Meeting existed-- despite the fact that they constitute the majority of Quakers in the world today. I was shocked when, probably in my mid-teens, I discovered that my ultra-liberal yearly meeting was actually a member of Friends United Meeting. It didn't make any sense to me, mostly because I was embedded in the "us and them" mentality of a culture, in Quakerism and beyond it, that sees Christianity as a monolithic entity of socially-conservative fundamentalism.

The deconstruction of those us/them categories is one of the reasons I long for us to have a fully engaged relationship with Friends United Meeting. As long as we are members of FUM, they (Christians, programmed Friends-- whoever) cannot be "the other." If we begin to think of them that way, our illusion will be shattered by the individual relationships that are facilitated by institutional affiliation. I don't mean to say that our cultural and theological differences across branches are superficial; I believe them in most cases to be quite profound. But over the past few years, I have made some wonderful connections with Friends from solely-FUM-affiliated meetings, and I have seen that they are my spiritual kin. They are people like Terri, the wonderful, warm staff person whom FUM has sent to our annual sessions for the past three years, who has become a beloved part of our community. Or like my friend Cheryl, who is in a committed lesbian partnership and has labored for years with her FUM-affiliated yearly meeting to have them endorse the recording that her monthly meeting has given her as a minister. Or like my friend Betsy, who loves Jesus, preaches like wildfire, and just opened a store in her town dedicated to eco-friendly living. FUM, like Christianity as a whole, is far from being a monolith-- but we will never know that if we don't maintain meaningful individual and collective relationships within it.

But wait-- we have lots of Christians in our yearly meeting! We can learn these lessons from them, right? Which brings me to my next point. I had no idea how theologically diverse my yearly meeting was, until we started talking about our relationship to Friends United Meeting. I don't think this is a coincidence. Our discernment process has asked deep questions: Who are we, in SEYM? What do we believe? What language do we/should we use? Is Christianity a part of our identity as Friends, and if not, what is our relationship to a Quaker movement that has seen itself through several centuries as primitive/restorationist Christianity? Simply having these questions posed, and held firmly in our collective consciousness, opened up space for Friends in our yearly meeting to speak their most authentic spiritual language. Suddenly we were talking about the Bible, asking each other about Jesus. I experienced a new depth and richness in our worship, as we became more comfortable hearing each other's truth spoken on its own terms. It was struggle that pushed us to be more honest with one another, and I fear that, should we decide to give up on the challenge of authentic relationship with FUM, we will slowly go back to the way things were. Our spiritual language will shrink back to a tight, sterilized collection of un-offensive words.

So... what about the personnel policy? We were advised early on in our discernment process that we should not choose to remain affiliated with FUM in order to change the policy. To carry such an agenda would only frustrate us, and everyone else in the organization. The personnel policy is not changing anytime soon-- not with the level of divisiveness that this issue currently carries in U.S. yearly meetings, nor with long-overdue efforts to more fully include African Friends in FUM's governance structures. But I believe that it will change, sooner or later. Sooner, if the Friends serving on the general board are given opportunities for loving, non-confrontational fellowship and service with LGBTQ Friends and their allies. Later, if we all leave. Hearts and minds change through relationship, not rhetoric. No one will re-evaluate the personnel policy because we withdraw. They might re-evaluate the personnel policy because we stay, and appoint brave and faithful people to the general board who can be open about their identity as LGBTQ or allied while focusing their attention and energy on FUM's powerful service work (instead of pushing, or being perceived as pushing, an agenda that detracts from that work). There are already people doing this work of transformation-- serving openly on the board or in leadership positions in constituent yearly meetings, sometimes without ever mentioning the personnel policy directly.

And the work of FUM is worth being involved in. Having heard from those who are serving as staff and volunteers of its various initiatives, I have come to believe that FUM is doing important, transformative, and faithful work in culturally sensitive ways, and that work needs to continue as long as we are clear that God is leading us to it and it has relevance for those served. From educational and medical initiatives like Kaimosi Hospital and Ramallah Friends' School, to support for Kenyan Friends' peace initiatives over the past year, the work that I see FUM engaged in is, I believe, part of what Friends are called to in the world. Unlike Friends General Conference, which understands its purpose as service to North American Quakerism, FUM is committed to manifesting Quaker faith through an embodied, outward-focused commitment to a transformed world. The work is powerful and precious.

Finally, I hope you will forgive me if I pull a card (to use a rather un-Quakerly metaphor). It is the card of youth.

There is a broad, and I think growing, movement of Friends who are drawn to, and deeply invested in, cross-branch relationship building. Much of this energy is centered in young adult Quaker communities. My generation-- or at least, a large and energized subset of it-- is not interested or invested in the kind of isolationism at best, spiritual one-upmanship at worst, that has characterized intra-faith Quaker relationships since we started splitting into factions in the first half of the nineteenth century. We have been holding conferences and gatherings that reach across theological, cultural, and organizational lines. We are also holding a question in our hearts: How is God going to use the Religious Society of Friends... the whole Religious Society of Friends? Is there some vision, some wholeness, to live into?

Personally, I see each of the branches of Friends carrying a piece of the original message of the Quaker movement-- and a piece of Quakerism's potential for a spiritually vibrant future. I believe that everything we do to create and maintain authentic, deep relationships among the different branches of Friends is a step toward a more vital Quakerism. Because I carry this conviction, I am proud to be from a dually-affiliated yearly meeting-- and sad and scared that we may cease to be one, and others may follow in our wake. I wouldn't be so invested-- or experiencing such anxious insomnia-- if I didn't think this is a critical historical moment for Friends. What one yearly meeting does for unity or disunity in a single meeting for worship with attention to business can affect Quakerism for centuries to come-- just pick up a Quaker history book and trace the impact of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting annual sessions in 1827, the year of the Hicksite-Orthodox split.

I want to live out the next 60-70 (God willing) years of my life in a Quakerism that is committed to deep seeking, to dialogue, to relationships that challenge the people who are in them. I want to give that to my children and grandchildren. Long after the personnel policy is a dead issue, the fruit of our commitment to dynamic engagement, fellowship, and spiritual bridge-building (or the absence of that commitment) will be manifesting in the quality and vibrancy of religious life in Quakerism. It is to that ultimate goal that I hope we will turn our attention and focused discernment.


Rufus Jones and another definition of Convergence

From Rufus Jones, "Rethinking Quaker Principles":

"I believe that in the main the awakened Friends in the world today feel their kinship with the founders of our Quaker faith and want to move forward once more and break new ground and win a new following from present day 'seekers,' and above everything else to become a fresh and responsive organ for the life of the Spirit in the world of today and tomorrow."

That's the definition of "convergence" in my heart.


"Oh, my beautiful and marvelous God. What are you doing with me?"

Excerpts from my travel notebook:

It is such an unspeakably beautiful moment. The train is carrying me through Montana. The sun just set. I can see the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. There are no trees, so the sky sweeps across from one edge of the horizon to another...

Now there are lights of a nearby town glittering in the dark. Someone is shooting off fireworks; from far away they look low, but beautiful. There's a narrow sliver of crescent moon in the sky.

I don't think my truth is any better than anyone else's. I don't think I'm the authority on relationship with God. But I want to help other people, especially other Quakers, find some of the joy and peace that I've experienced in my deepening spirituality.

Why do we call new Quakers "convinced"? Shouldn't an experience of God wholly change your life, "convert" you from one substance and one existence to another? I have never been "convinced" of the truth to be found in Quakerism in the rational, intellectual sense which the word indicates. I have, however, experienced conversions of mind and heart, in which my self was utterly transformed by the workings of Spirit.
That is the power we must be prepared to own when we take on the role of Quaker ministers (for we are all, as part of the Religious Spciety of Friends, ministers). Not the change of mind arising from the logical process of convincement, but the change of soul resulting from baptism in the holy Spirit.

It's a perfect day,
Just like every other
That God has made,
That God has made.

Oregon is beautiful. I saw this on the way to the coast, riding through forests of huge trees, my first glimpse of the rocky-cliffed coast and huge waves, glorious rivers... and oh, the stars at night, shining in the cold, strewn across a huge expanse of sky. Layers and layers of stars, and nothing to block the view...

Two approaches to ministry are important, and should not exist in isolation: doing ministry, and being a minister. An approach based exclusively on "doing ministry" will not sufficiantly nurture the person carrying ministry. But when one thinks of ministry only in terms of vocational ministers, it can limit the amount of weight and attention given to the ministry of others, and this recreates the stifling of God's word and corruption of power that Fox witnessed in the churches of the "hireling priests," where only one person had the authority to witness God's truth.

Priesthood of all believers. What does that mean to me? Is a piece of my ministry to call Friends into a deeper and more authentic priesthood?

How seriously are we really taking this? Are we all living up to our responsibilities, our gifts, and our potential as priests?

...tenderness is a luxurious state. Never forget that, or fail to appreciate it.

We've been following a river for a long time. It's wide and rippled and has tall forested hills rising abruptly from the opposite bank. My soul doesn't know quite what to do with this much beauty.

I was sitting on my friend's living room sofa, reading a wholly unremarkable book, when it came upon me that I needed to pray. I retreated to the bedroom and fell to my knees, head bowed almost to the ground.

"I am yours, God," I said, "To do with as you will. I promise you here that I am willing to do anything you ask of me, whatever it may be. I am your servant. My truest ambition is to be faithful to the Light of Christ- the present, incarnate God- in my soul. I feel the power of Christ. I feel your annointment."

And it was the truest prayer I have ever prayed, sincere and passionate to the bottom of my soul.

I waited in listening silence for some time. I spoke to God that I did not need immediate guidance on any of the things at hand, but would continue to seek in the presence.

"Only reveal to me what you want, and I will do it. I will listen as best I can."

And then there were words in my head, and I felt them to be utterly true.

"I know that my redeemer liveth. I know that my redeemer liveth." I whispered these words over and over again, bent to the floor in a dark room. As I whispered, I felt a presence behind me, as if a person had silently entered the room, though there was no one in the house. And I knew that the living God had become a palpable presence, that I might feel the realness of the Lord more fully.

It is still with me. I trembled before the presence in those moments when I first was aware of it, and still I feel frightened, but deeply comforted. I will never be alone again. The Lord God is with me, and Christ is risen in my heart.

I know that my redeemer liveth.

know that my reedemer liveth.

Oh, my beautiful and marvelous God. What are you doing with me?

On the bus from San Jose to Los Angeles today, I sat across the aisle from a man who had just gotten out of prison. At first, hearing this in a conversation he was having with another man seated behind me, I was a little nervous and wary. I asked God to remove these reactions from me so that if the opportunity arose, I could respond to these men in a faithful way, one that would answer that of God in them.

I settled into an amusingly bad Quaker mystery novel, until the man across the aisle turned to me and asked what I was reading. "A mystery novel," I said. "It's really bad."

"What's it called?" I showed him the cover, with the title,
Quaker Witness, emblazoned across the front.

"It's kind of fun to read, though, because I'm a Quaker." He looked confused, and asked me to explain the term. I was hesitant at first, unsure of how much he wanted to know. "It's a religion..."

The conversation unfolded and I found myself telling him a lot; the way we worship, our belief in that of God in every person, the testimony of equality, the lack of creed...

My earnestness, at many times, made him laugh. Like when he asked about my clothes, and I told him that God had told me to wear suspenders, and who was I to say no? But even while he laughed, he told me how moved he was. He said that he could see the joy in my face when I talked about it. He said it spoke to his soul, what I was saying, that everything I said was like twisting his arm to believe me. That's not me, I wanted to say. That's the holy Spirit...

I realized with sadness, as I spoke with this man, that I could not be certain that he would be greeted warmly if he showed up to a typical Friends' meeting. In any case, he wouldn't fit in. He was black, working class, un-intellectual, and just released from prison. In fact, he could have walked straight out of a prison movie; he was tall and muscular, tough-looking and tough-talking. But he had tenderness of spirit. Shouldn't that be the only prerequisite for participation in our religious society?

"What do you feel?
What do you fear?
What do you love?
What do you need to be whole?"


Missing the Jesus Train

I am in good spiritual, emotional, and physical health. I have been using my pre- and post-Gathering travels as a sort of testing ground for my leading to travel in the ministry, and it has been rewarding. I feel that this leading is true, and good, and I am ready to ask my clearness committee to move forward on it.

One of the most rewarding things about this testing is that it has brought up all sorts of vital questions about who I am as a person of faith, as a Friend, as a minister. Here is one of the more central questions that I am holding in my heart at present: What do I believe about Jesus, and where does that put me on the Christian/Universalist/something-else-entirely spectrum?

Here's the answer I have so far, and the heart of my questioning: I am a Christian. I think.

It took me a long time to be able to describe myself that way. It took, most of all, a reworking of definitions, namely, what does it mean to be a Christian? I had been feeling for some time a deepening connection with Christian music, Christian language, Christian scripture. I didn't know quite what to do with this, since I didn't (and still don't) meet most of the creedal "requirements" of Christianity. Then I read Marcus Borg, and in the very first chapter of Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, he challenged everything I had assumed about Christianity and my place in it (or more accurately, outside of it). He said that being Christian isn't primarily what you believe about Jesus, but that your spiritual practice is rooted in and identified with Christian tradition.

"Cool!" I thought to myself. "I qualify! I'm in!"

Since then I've given myself permission to do a lot of "Christian" things. I sing Christian hymns as part of my personal spiritual practice. I seek out Christian language, theology, and worship experiences. I read the writings of early Friends, who spoke so often and so powerfully about the "Light of Christ" in our souls. These writings settle in my heart with unspeakable joy and Light. My relationship with God has blossomed through my emerging relationship with Jesus. I share with Fox the certainty that "there is one, Jesus Christ, who can speak to [my] condition."

I have let myself revel in the joyfulness of this new experience, and figured I could reconcile all the theological stuff later. Even better, I thought (maybe thought isn't the right word; it wasn't quite a concious thing), if I just practiced Christianity long enough and deeply enough, the belief part would work itself out. But it's a wall I've been coming up against more and more these days. I'm plagued by doubt: can I really say these things, do these things, name myself in this way? Am I, somehow, a fake, because I have no opinion on whether Jesus was immaculately concieved, literally the son of God (more than any other person), worked miracles, died on the cross to atone for the sins of humanity, or was resurrected?

I've read a fair amount of Christian writing of many types- devotional, autobiographical, theological- and I'm still feeling like my most essential question has gone unanswered. It feels like the train I missed in Chicago. Eventually Amtrak put us on a bus and we caught up with the same train in Minneapolis, but we missed out on the whole initial leg of the journey. By the time I caught up with Christianity, it feels like, everyone had already decided what they meant by "Christ," and they could now just go about the business of living it. When early Friends, in particular, speak of Christ, it resonates in delicious ways down to the core of my being. To say the word "Christ" is to center and quiet my soul. But I still don't know what it means!

What did early Friends mean when they spoke of Christ? Was it a feeling, a person, a Spirit? Did it imply a certain set of beliefs about who Jesus was and what he did?

What does it mean to be a Christian Quaker, and do I qualify?

For me, these are not rhetorical questions. They are urgent and crucial, and I would be grateful for any Light that Friends can bring to my wonderings. If you do identify as Christian, how did you come to know whatever it is that you know about Jesus/Christ? What does it mean to be a Christian? a Christian Quaker? Is there any important difference between the two?

The relationship I have found with Jesus is not dependant upon labelling myself a Christian. I couldn't let go of it if I wanted to; it's as central to my life now as eating, drinking, waking, and sleeping. I have made the central goal of my life to walk as Jesus walked, and that's a powerful commitment, but somehow entirely unrelated to any belief or nonbelief in his divinity.

That doesn't make the questions any less important, the theology any less relevant.

What canst thou say to my question, Friends?


Obstacles to faithful ministry

Brian Drayton's book, "On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry," starts with a chapter called, "The dilemma of gospel ministry in the twenty-first century." In it, he discusses some of the issues that, at both an individual and corporate level, impede our understanding of and faithfulness to leadings in the ministry. He includes in his list things like "the fragmentation of the Quaker movement" and "skepticism about ministry as a calling." He writes that, while many of these problems are widespread, every person who experiences a call to the ministry will have their own list of challenges and obstacles.

My ministry is a "nascent ministry." It feels to me very much like a kitten that is not yet able to open its eyes: fumbling around, bumping into things, unable to stray too far from the familiar. But for all its newness, I am already aware of some of my personal obstacles in being faithful to it.

First (and as a member of FGC's Youth Ministries committee, I have to blush a little at confessing this one), I am skeptical of my youth. When I think about being identified as a minister or traveling in the ministry, there is a part of me that says, "Why not wait for more seasoning, more experience? You are, after all, nowhere near being the most seasoned, experienced, knowledgeable, or grounded Friend that you are capable of being. Think about how much more you'll be able to offer to Friends in a few years or decades."

Nothing will cripple a ministry more effectively than waiting until you are the perfect person to deliver it. In order to serve God best, I need only to evaluate the gifts that I have now, not compare them to the gifts that I think I may have in the future. The FGC Travelling Ministries program's understanding of the term "seasoned Friend" was very helpful to me in this realization, reminding me both of the gravity of the concept of being "seasoned" and its lack of external prerequisites. A seasoned Friend, by TMP's definition, is simply someone who is "consciously treading on the path of conviction... [and] has made sufficient progress to be helpful to others along the way."

In addition, I must realize (along with many other people in the Religious Society of Friends) that gifts of the Spirit do not just grow; they wax, wane, shift, transform, dissapear, and reappear in endless incarnations. The set of gifts that I have right now is unique and precious, and I must honor it for what it is. With every gift that God gives us comes a responsibility to use it well and generously. The question is not, "Are my gifts ready?" but instead, "What work is best suited to what my gifts are right now?"

Jeremiah speaks beautifully to my anxiety and self-doubt in chapter 1, verses 6-8:

Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, `I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."

When one is asked to be a servant of God, the only answer is, "Yes." We cannot be insufficient for the work, because we are not doing it; it is being done through us. We are ready, we are able, because if we were not, we would not be called.

The second obstacle I experience in ministry is getting stuck in my "head space," the rationally-driven part of me that believes nothing without proof, and so is constantly confounded in any understanding of God. My faith, my ministry- indeed, everything about my life- falls apart when examined under the lens of rational "objectivity." I begin to think that maybe I've just made all this up to give meaning to my life, and when I am able to even halfway convince myself of that, everything about me begins to look a little bit ridiculous. These occasional episodes of doubt and confusion are disruptive enough that even when they have passed, they make me doubt my fitness to minister. How can I be a faithful gospel minister without a constant certainty of God's existence?

The more I sit with that question, the more it, simultaneously, begins to be solved and begins to be irrelevant. It is solved as, brick by brick, I pull down the walls between my head and my heart, my intellect and my spirituality, and I begin to find a space where both my awareness of God and my openness to knowledge are constant. When I (unconciously) kept the two things separate, I had to switch back and forth, but as I reconcile them, I more fully and consistently experience them both. At the same time, the question of personal certainty becomes irrelevant as I grow in an understanding that ministry is less about belief and more about witness. One does not need to intellectually accept any set of beliefs or doctrine in order to minister. In fact, I would argue (though I'm sure many Friends would disagree) that is not strictly necessary for a minister to believe in a power called God. The work of a Quaker minister is to be spiritually receptive and to manifest the goodness of God, not to expound it as doctrine.

The final obstacle that I've recognized thus far in my leading to ministry is a general unfamiliarity with the process of recording ministers, of travelling in the ministry- even with what the word minister means in a Quaker context. I am slowly building a more solid understanding of these concepts, but the fact remains that I am a person who learns primarily through observing others, and in the Quaker circles I was raised in, there were no recognized ministers to observe.

In the end, this gap in my early Quaker experience may prove one of the greatest blessings. I am diving into Quaker literature to answer the questions and concerns that have not been spoken to in my meetings, and as a result, I am getting to experience the writings of both early and contemporary Friends with a fresh perspective, at a time in my life when I am exquisitely open to receiving and acting on their most radical truths. I hear their words in a different way than if I had been exposed them all along, and the experience has been life-changing.

I'm sure that, at every step in the process of recognizing and living out the ministry to which God is calling me, there will be new challenges to face. My stubborn brain will come up with infinite variations on the theme of why I am unfit; God in equal stubbornness will wear away at my reluctance until it is transformed into obedience. But I hope that in naming my obstacles, I can more intentionally engage with God in the process of nurturing and calling forth the ministry I am asked to do in his name.


Staying awake to God

I am relatively new to the Bible, so it is easy to catch my attention with a good bit of scripture that I've never heard before. You can almost see my ears perk up and my tail start wagging. "Ooh, something smells good over there..."

So it was with the first article in the newest Friends Journal that arrived today at my house. The author spoke about his first experiences of Quaker worship, coming to Friends, and the questions he had. Then he recounted the story of Jesus on the eve of his crucifiction, going into the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives and taking leave of his disciples as he goes off to pray alone.

Each of the Gospels that includes this story, and different translations of the Gospels, use slightly different words to describe the instructions he gave to them before he went off by himself to pray. In the King James Version, Matthew and Mark use the phrase, "tarry ye here and watch." In Luke the phrase is "wait here and pray." Other versions use the phrase "remain here and stay awake." (Gallery, FJ June '06)

At that point, I started giggling.

10 AM is not my favorite time of day, especially not when First Day (the nerve of it!), immediately follows Seventh Day evening. On occasion, my eyelids have been known to droop-- entirely of their own accord, I tell you!-- in meeting for worship. I know from personal experience that sometimes, "stay awake" is an entirely accurate translation of, "wait here and pray."

I started thinking of all the times in my life when Jesus might well have commanded me to "stay awake." Watching a movie, riding a bus, taking notes in class- how often do I forget that God is there? How often do I fail to keep my eyes and heart open for God, letting my spirituality doze off as if the secular world was a bottle of Nyquil?

It has been a long, hard, emotionally draining week. I've been dragging myself along, losing context, losing focus, and drifting away from my center. I have fallen asleep. There is Christ in the garden, there he kneels, asking only my vigilance, my conciousness, and like Peter, I doze.

It is a human thing, to err, to fall asleep. But we have Christ within us, and are therefore not merely human; we have the capacity to be, also, divine.

When we honor that, we can stay awake to God.

We can see every moment as we walk through the world the beauty that has been created for us.

We can keep tender mercies always ready for anyone in need.

We can keep God always at the center of our hearts and minds, awake and aware, ready to hear the still small voice when it whispers.


Suspenders, stomachaches, and the articulation of leadings

About a month ago, I started giving away clothing by the bag-load. A few days ago, I cut the collars off of three solid-color, long sleeve shirts. Whenever I find a ride to my local Goodwill, I'm buying suspenders and switching from jeans to black pants.

It feels so rightly-ordered for me to be going plain. But when someone asks me to explain this leading, I have terrible difficulty describing it to them.

I have been able to articulate some of the reasons why I feel led to plain dress. I want to have a constant reminder of the fact that God is the most important thing in my life. I want to explore how my behavior changes (or doesn't change) when I am wearing clothes that are a visible expression of my faith. I want to be more faithfully simple. I want to use the Earth's resources well, open up conversations about faith, Quakerism, and consumer culture, and keep my vanity in check.

Sometimes when people ask me about my clothes, I am able to articulate those things well, and sometimes I am not, but it always feels vaguely incomplete, and I falter in answering the harder questions people pose to me: Why traditional plain dress, instead of jeans and a t-shirt? Shouldn't the awareness of God come from inside, not outside? What specific testimony(ies) of Quakerism are you witnessing to? Why banded collars? Why suspenders?

I feel like the most honest answer I could possibly give is this: It feels right. My old clothes feel inauthentic. When I tried to put on a striped, collared shirt this morning, I got a stomacheache and began to tremble, and when I took it off and put on a plain shirt with the collar removed, it went away.

In essence, people (I myself being one) are asking the question, "Why are you led to plain dress?" when the question that most needs asking is simply, "Are you led to plain dress?"

I really believe I am.

The word articulation has two distinct meanings: effectively communicating ideas through speech, and the state of two parts being joined together in such a way as to allow for motion by each (as in a joint in the body). Perhaps, then, to "articulate" a leading in the truest sense of the word is to become joined together, God and the person being led, the person being led and the person to whom they are describing the leading. God moves within us, prompting us to further movement in faithfulness to whatever leadings we experience. We move in others by faithfully recounting our experience, and hope that it prompts some movement in their own heart and soul. This connection, this articulation, only facilitates movement when it is relaxed, flexible, and strong. So in moving out into the world with a new (for me) witness, perhaps what I most need to remember is how to be a good joint.

I don't necessarily need to be able to describe the Quaker history of plain dress, or the theological implications of the banded collar- though if I find myself speaking to those things, that's fine. What it is most important for me to be able to say, I think, is, "I am plain because I feel that this is what God wants of me right now."

Many times, a leading takes shape as an outward expression of an inward belief or testimony. At other times, however, the truest worth of a leading is in pure faithfulness. If God asks me to stand on my head, I may not be able to explain it to myself or others, but- I can only hope- there I will be, upside-down. If suspenders are what God requires of me right now, my best hope and greatest ambition can only be to be a faithful wearer of suspenders, and rejoice every morning when I shoulder (pun tragically intended) what I am given as mine.

There is no calling greater than faithfulness, even, perhaps especially, when we do not understand why.