well, after spending some time in florida and san diego, in a heat & stomach-bug induced stupor of much tv-watching and video-game-playing, i came back home without puck, who was still in san diego with their family. puck had the computer, but one day, in the middle of stressful errands, i went to the library and used the computer to write an entry questioning panic & its place in a spiritual life, and typed up two more entries from my paper journal. i clicked “publish,” a message came up to say it had posted, but when i went to look at it, there was no new entry. and although i had copied it to the computer’s clipboard, the paste function didn’t work, so… i got sort of cranky. but now i am posting from the comfort of my own bed, puck sleeping next to me, butter cleaning himself in front of me, and secret scowling at her reflection behind me. i know i will be able to copy and paste, and so i’m going to try posting again. but about different things.

this sunday, i was the welcomer. there was a request for welcomers for christmas eve and new year’s eve, and i decided that i should ask to do new year’s eve, since i’d never done it before, and i’ve wanted to get involved in a helpful way with the meeting. i had a promise of a tour and orientation, but when it finally happened, i was somewhat dismayed to find out that it was just about the nuts & bolts of door unlocking and things, and nothing about what to say, how to say it, when to say it, or what to do if something went wrong. i asked about it, but the answer didn’t come in way that i really understood, but there was so much reassurance that nothing would go wrong, that i decided to trust that.

everything went well and the building manager wound up doing most of the things for me that i had been trained to do anyway. i welcomed people, and it was neat to see all the people coming in and to see a little bit about what goes on before meeting, rather than running in at 10:58 (usually i tutor a girl at 9:30 and come straight from that, but with the holidays, i didn’t.). my worry about feeling separate from the meeting for worship came true, and that’s the main reason that it’s not something i want to do a whole lot of at this time.

but the other reason was that at 10:35, someone came up and started opening the door with his suitcase. then the door shut with him and all his things on the other side. he tried to open it again, and so i went to help him and ask him some stuff. first i asked if he was there for meeting for worship, and he said, “yeah. are you?” this threw me off guard, of course, and i felt humbled in my classist assumptions.

a note: i live in the tenderloin which is “the bad part” of san francisco. i pass houseless people regularly. the meetinghouse is in my neighborhood, and i’ve learned that the rule is that people can sleep in front of the meetinghouse any time except for sunday mornings. at 9, they work to rouse them and send them away, and there was a challenge that sunday morning with a person who would not leave. this person looked decidedly different, but he definitely seemed like he lived on the street.

so, i let him in, and gave him a suggestion of where he could put his suitcase. he told me he’d been to meetings in alaska, and started walking to the door. i walked with him, but a few feet away i saw that robin was giving ministry. so i started to say that we should wait while she spoke, and i put my hand on the door. but i didn’t finish what i was saying, when he pulled the door open, being much stronger than me. part of me wanted to stop him still at that point, but i knew the choice then was to just let him go.

i stood around, watching him settle in, and took lots of deep breaths, and tried to connect to god about the whole thing, but then someone came out to talk to me. he said he’d felt called to come out and talk to me. he told me about how we don’t let people in when someone is giving ministry, but i explained that the door had been forced out of my hand. then he asked if maybe he shouldn’t have been let in at all, but i didn’t agree with that. it was good to have someone to talk to at that time, even though i mostly just felt embarassed, and we got hushed by someone through the window.

i felt sort of crushed by the whole thing. had i done the right thing? was there a right thing? and most importantly: would people think i was incompetent? i talked to a few people after meeting. 2 more people reminded me that i wasn’t supposed to let him in while someone was speaking, and i was able to explain, but… i don’t like that i was so quickly all about taking the blame off myself. i’m not sure if blame was even involved, but… just… i needed to tell people, “that thing that happened was not my fault.”

i spoke to robin who was fine with it and said that she was sure i’d done everything i could. a few other people said reassuring things. but in the end, there was just this feeling of commiseration about those wacky wacky street people and our problems with them.

it seems like this is opening some dialogue about the tools to give welcomers, but i… don’t think it’s just new welcomers that need tools. i don’t think we just need a direct answer for what to do if something like that happens… because… what is “something like that?” why do we need to guard our sanctuary? i’m not saying we don’t. but if we do, why do we?

the next day, yesterday, new year’s day, there was meeting for worship followed by a meal. i went, and as i was walking, i was thinking about this book we sell at the bookstore i work at. it’s called the god delusion. it’s new, it’s popular, it sits in front of the register. the book jacket talks about how it proves that religion is destructive and science is the answer. the reviews say things like, “this is the answer to the religious right, who will surely label the author the anti-christ.” i paged through it, and all i see is rage. i disagree with his premise. i think that religion can be destructive, but so can science.

but that’s not why i feel pangs of guilt and sorrow about selling that book. i don’t have control over its sale really, but it hurts to look at the book. it hurts because of the amount of rage. it hurts because i believe that rage is the problem. the “i am right, thus you are wrong” of it– it’s been done. it has done more damage than religion and science combined, because it’s where their problems come from too.

so, i found myself sitting with that at meeting. and i tried to look at the rage and understand it. and in a lot of ways i do. corruption, war, hypocrisy… these are upsetting things. the world is very damaged. it makes me angry, too. but not in the same way. not in the way that i want to write a book pointing fingers at anybody. but… i realized that he, like me when i get a good idea, probably thinks of his ideas as this huge, tremendous gift to the world. he can help it, he can save it, he wants to share his gift.

and then it came to me that our truths or our bits of the truth, however you want to look at it, are gifts. the question is how to give them as gifts and how to receive them as gifts.

when that came to me, i knew i had to speak. i felt dizzy, though, and pretty convinced that if i stood up i’d fall right over. but i didn’t and i said it and it felt big and real and scary. and then i was tired. and excited. but tired. after meeting, i decided that we really need some cots for laying down after something like that. i was pretty silent through the meal and dazed, and someone joked that i must have had a late night the night before. which was sort of true, but i’d gotten enough sleep to be fine during that meal (though i did fall asleep at the castro last night despite the fact that audrey hepburn was on the big screen right in front of me). it just… had been a big experience.

and it’s crazy because… i don’t know the answer to that question. AND i’m not even totally sure what it all means. but it seems important. we don’t want to share our beliefs like they are vases that would really look better where our friend’s favorite vase is. that’s not about the vase or our friend. it’s about us.

yesterday morning, before meeting, i was reading the letters in a friends journal from april ‘95 (someone donated a bunch to the meeting house library, and the librarian recommended i take some). john woodbury had something to say that resonated with me a lot. it’s related to what i said in ministry, and with my concern about christianity and how it can be right and complete and also not the only thing…

“We are all victims of language. Every word in our language is a symbol. We can’t talk about our inner life or our spiritual life in any other language but symbols, metaphors, allegories, and abstractions. In a way, a credo or creed, or statement of beliefs, has really nothing to do with where we are, because where we are is a matter of experience, not of the words we use to describe it.

Each of us has a very personal spiritual life, and we can only describe it in the words and vocabulary that we borrow. The richest and most common place that we get this vocabulary is the religous tradtion of our cultur, and most of us were born and raised and lived all our lives in a culture where the Christian mythology is the vocabulary or the language with which spiritual things are described. We borrow this vocabulary fo this source but also from other sources. We borrow it from our reasoning, we borrow it from the words and the literature of other people who think– and all kinds of sources.

I do not understand this fuss or why there is a fuss between Christocentric Quakers and Universalist Quakers because I have trouble with the Quaker use of the word Truth, with a capital T, as though any person can really know the spiritual Truth over and above everybody else.

If there is such a thing as absolute Truth, our perception of it is so imperfect that we have no right to be intolerant of anybody else’s perception of the Truth.”

… golly, i need to go to work.

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  1. 1.

    Well, being at the meeting for worship when that happened (and being let in late, myself), when the man walked in during vocal ministry the first thing I thought was “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cubbie doing welcoming…” and then quickly thought “I’m not sure that man has ever been to a Quaker meeting” then, “I wonder what was said outside” because there was some talking before he entered. Only later, as the man spoke to give his own vocal ministry, did I realize that he was in no way following any protocol or reverence for our form of worship. This, I found, much more disrespectful and disruptive than him walking in…and Robin seemed to be holding her own with the message she was receiving.

    I watched a video on George Fox last night (http://prayerfoundation.org/movies/movie_review_george_fox_and_the_quakers.htm) and it explained that he actually preached inside a church from the pews. I imagined him actually standing and speaking out against the formalized religion of the Church, saying that God was everywhere and inside everyone there is God and that there is no need for an intermediary or a special place for worship–it can be done by anyone anywhere at any time. A direct connection to God. Truly Fox.

    Sometimes I think people misunderstand this–that every message is a message from God. Actually, it’s the discernment process that keeps people in their chairs during meeting. It was explained in one writer’s piece as a flowchart, where you internally receive a message but ask, “Is this message for me or for the group?” then other questions follow like that with yes/no answers to help you through the discernment process before rising and speaking. It’s in one of our meeting’s Seeker’s Packets. I’m sure George Fox went through this process internally before rising to speak, and so should we, and it helps to clarify when someone rises with a message if it truly is a message from God.

    The man who came in had spoken with our building manager about his plan for peace earlier on in the week and was offered the chance to come to our meeting to speak with us about it to find connection. He did so after meeting, but his message during meeting was more of an announcement where he proclaimed that the peace plan he had developed had gone to the highest levels of government in Central America and had resolved many conflicts there. He had apparently never typed the document, so he asked for help using a computer to “put it on disk.” The way that he went through this process was during meeting for worship and not after, so it was odd that he should enter abruptly, request help (as a message), then make fantastical claims about influencing the politics of Central America. He was obviously not well. Rather than discernment of any sort, he simply proclaimed and advertised his calling from God. He did this again during introductions, giving the same message of needing help to type his work, then was cut short from repeating himself another time. Yet afterwards, despite all this, he was treated with respect.

    I find that understanding and listening are just as much a part of eldering as letting someone know what Quakerism is about. I also think good eldering appears in someone who is eldered in a positive way, a change for the better. Poor eldering makes people afraid and ashamed and embarassed about a perceived mistake or error. I know you did all that you could as your first time welcoming given the strange and sometimes unstable environment of our meetinghouse. I do believe, however, that our environment requires heavy and quick discernment and action when coping with disturbances which can, and do, occur. In this case, you did let him know (good) and you didn’t get hurt (also good). I’m sorry the eldering you received was so abrasive and am impressed you returned and gave vocal ministry on New Year’s Day. You are a brave soul and I’m glad you come to our meeting despite its craziness.

    Comment by Chad — January 3, 2007 @ 8:43 am
    2.

    Cubbie, This is long and thoughtful and I don’t have time to be in return. So, some quick takes:

    You wrote: “why do we need to guard our sanctuary? i’m not saying we don’t. but if we do, why do we?”

    Good questions!!

    Someone “felt called to come out and talk to” you? Hm, that seems unnecessary. Couldn’t it have waited until the end of meeting, like the other folks?

    Perhaps we should encourage people to enter when someone is giving vocal ministry… If they are really “in the life and power” they’ll just keep talking. If they’re not, then they can get distracted, lose their train of thought, and sit down. (Okay, so that’s not a serious suggestion.)

    Anyway, as I said at 11:15 Sunday, thank you for being the welcomer. Let’s see if we can use this as an opportunity for learning and discussion.

    We can be secure in God’s love, even if we can never be perfectly safe in the wild and woolly world.

    Comment by Chris M. — January 3, 2007 @ 1:29 pm
    3.

    chris & chad–

    i’ve mostly been pondering how much the person who came out and talked to me has been talked about. i don’t think what he said was all that harsh, and… i don’t remember what his exact words were but i think he said something about coming out as much to clear his head from the distraction as to counsel me. and in the end, i was grateful to have someone to talk to immediately about it so that i wouldn’t just be sitting there wondering. i was embarased befor he came out. so… while it may be true that he felt he needed to counsel me in ways he maybe didn’t need to– maybe he was still called, but for things neither of us can fully understand? but yeah… when i thought about the responses last night, i felt kind of bad that i came off as something like a victim of poor eldering, because i don’t think that was the case.

    i think a lot of my questions about the situation with the person who came in (who was hanging out at the f stop the other afternoon, reading aloud from a print-out, so maybe he got the resources he was asking for) come from a place of being new to this specific environment. i’m used to anarchopunks OR hugely strictly guarded places… and so i am finding myself baffled by the balance i see being struck.

    is THIS the discussion? how does it go further?

    i like you all (the “all” i’m referring to right now is our monthly meeting). even when i don’t agree with things, i always feel respected, & listened to. it has been a safe community for me so far, for which i am grateful.

    Comment by cublet — January 4, 2007 @ 11:41 am
    4.

    Engaging constructively with a person who has some knowledge of Quakers but not the usual sense of social conventions is almost impossible – I think he would have walked around any welcomer, no matter how experienced. I think Friends who felt they needed to tell you that it shouldn’t have happened were probably trying to make sure that someone had told you, since we know we aren’t good at training people, and we still see you as new, especially since it was your first time welcoming.

    Our meeting for worship is both powerful and fragile. The silence can be abused. And that is why Ministry and Oversight has appointed a rotation of two Friends at a time (who are sitting in meeting for worship) each week to be worship caregivers (I forget the correct title) who are prepared to deal with outrageous disruptions when they occur. This week was not really one of them. Once he came in, he sat down and only rustled a little bit. I couldn’t resist turning around to look to see what was happening at one point (alas, a failure to keep custody of the eyes), but then I let it go. His ministry did not seem especially Spirit-led, but it wasn’t that different from some others I have heard.

    On the other hand, I have thought for some time that our Meeting needs to do more work, or at least more thinking about how to welcome people who are not mentally ill to our Meeting. Ministry and Oversight has given it some thought, but I think the Welcoming committee has been overwhelmed with just how to deal with the difficult folks. I think one of the main criteria for serving on Welcoming for the last few years has been “not afraid of homeless people.” Which, in our Meeting’s case, is an important criteria. But we also need to ask ourselves, is the welcomer friendly, in a lower case sense? Is the welcomer outgoing and engaging in manner?

    It is almost impossible to dictate exactly how to welcome a person. 1. Make eye contact. 2. Speaking loudly, say “Welcome to San Franciso Meeting” 3. If you recognize the person, offer to shake hands. 4. If you do not recognize the person, ask, “x, y and z” while offering brochure with right hand…

    It is possible to practice and standardize things a little, but basically it comes down to personality and what an old supervisor of mine called “good home training.” Otherwise, it becomes somewhat factory-ish. Knowing how to approach a new person and when to let a mildly deluded person just go on in are both a matter of instinct, I think.

    But don’t worry, this will be discussed at the M&O meeting next week. Would you like me to say something specific, from your point of view? Would you like someone from M&O to get back to you about it?

    Welcome to the nitty-gritty of being a Meeting!

    Comment by Robin M. — January 4, 2007 @ 9:03 pm
    5.

    robin.

    thank you. especially the part about the people who talked to me. that is my sense of where they were coming from, but i sort of lost that in my confusion about the incident happening at all.

    at some point i thought of something specific for m & o, but i’ve forgotten it. if it comes back to me, i’ll let you know.

    Comment by cublet — January 5, 2007 @ 11:01 am
    6.

    Hi, Cubbie (did I get the name right? If not, please take the intention for the act this time…),

    This is my first time visiting your blog, and I am really impressed with the openness and depth of your reflections here… and with the challenging environment where your Meeting is set. My own meeting sounds, in some ways, a lot like yours–unprogrammed, and it has also been easy for me, as a (relatively) new Quaker to feel uncertain of my bearings when unexpected things come up. In other ways, though, our meetings could hardly be more different: Mt. Toby is at the foot of a wooded hillside, surrounded by sheep pastures, streams, and farmhouses. The thought of what to do about homeless men and women asleep on the steps in front of the meeting house is one that I would never even have considered having to cope with. What a choice to face! Do you welcome or discourage people who are broken to sleep on your steps before meeting for worship? Is there any right answer possible, here? The situation shocks me–and what a deception my innocence really is. Are there fewer broken people in the world because I don’t have to think of them on my way into worship on a Sunday?
    I feel very humbled at the thought of the challenges you face, apparently routinely, in your meeting.

    However, though we have not had to deal with homelessness in the intimate way in which your meeting has, Mt. Toby has had experience of sometimes angry or frightening or just disruptive attenders speaking in meeting. It happens rarely (thank goodness) but it _has_ happened during the five years I’ve been here.

    I remember the only time I was present for a really disruptive message, from a woman who seemed to me pretty clearly disturbed, who began to literally scream in meeting, and proceeded to a hellfire-and-brimstone speech. Apparently she was known to the more experienced members of the meeting, who had labored with her in the past over her actions in meeting.

    I was very new to Mt. Toby at the time, and I was among the many who were jolted out of worship by her scream. I was (and still am) deeply impressed by what followed. As she continued to shout angrily at us all, one after another of the older, more seasoned members of the meeting stood up, silently, until about a third of those present were on their feet. I did not then know, as I do now, that that was a communication of being in disunity with the message. I did know that it was a Quaker communication of something important… That people who knew more than I did were aware of the problem, and had at least some traditions for coping with it.

    The next thing that happened was that a handful of the most seasoned members of the meeting–who I later learned had agreed, in consultation with Ministry and Worship and Care and Counsel, to do just this–approached the woman, and firmly but very gently and kindly escorted her from the room.

    They did not return. I learned later that they had spoken with her before regarding similar actions, and had made it clear that, while she would not be allowed to disrupt meeting for worship, neither would she be denied worship if this occurred. The reason these members did not return was that they were sitting in worship with her, in a separate room outside the main meeting room.

    Centering back to worship was in some ways difficult, and in others it was extraordinarily easy. There were many messages that followed, and I felt that they were powerful ones, rooted in compassion and humility. There was acknowledgement of the pain that this and other disruptive acts had caused our meeting in the past (the long homophobic speeches–harangues, from the description–one attender had subjected us to were before my time, but had left deep scars for many) but also a willingness to ask ourselves if there was, in spite of the disruption, a message we needed to hear. It didn’t take away the pain, but there was something important that went on that day.

    In hindsight, I think that was _my_ first awareness of a gathered, a “covered” meeting for worship. I’m actually grateful to have been there that day.

    And at the rise of meeting, one of our elders called together anyone who needed to process what had just happened, who explained what she knew of the process that had been put in place for this woman, spoke of her understanding of the discernment of spirits, and–most importantly–created a safe zone where newbies like me could check our perceptions of what had happened.

    Unprogrammed meetings are fragile. They take risks–maybe sometimes wrongly. (I know there are those at Mt. Toby who feel that, in the case of the homophobic past attender, we were too slow to act to protect our gay and lesbian members from his antagonism.) But I was really inspired by what happened that day. I felt that, if we could find room not just to handle that level of intrusion, but to do so with genuine love and care for the one who intruded–which is really what happened–that maybe the Quaker way really could make a difference in the world. Maybe peace really _is_ possible.

    We have the luxury, at Mt. Toby, of having such crises be rare. I’m not sure how we’d cope if they weren’t…

    Time has passed, and I’m actually on Ministry and Worship these days. I know one of our duties is to find ways to balance the needs of individuals who may be disruptive because of their brokenness with the need of our members for safe and centered worship. I know that I have no idea–no idea at all–how I would react if something of the sort you described, let alone the experience we had at Mt. Toby years ago, happened during a week when I was “holding” meeting. (Our practice sets members of Care and Counsel to act as greeters at the beginning of worship, and has members of Ministry and Worship open meeting with a handshake at the end of the hour. We have no one outside the door during meeting–we don’t need that kind of boundary protection.)

    I do know that I don’t have to know. If Spirit doesn’t lead me when there is need, I know others will be led. What a luxury that is! I’m new enough as a Quaker that I may still be idealizing my meeting and its elders, I’m sure. Still, I have sensed a depth among the members of my meeting that is like a rock on which I can rest… And yet, it hasn’t been perfect. There has been pain. I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. Even when we’re fabulous, we humans, we fail a lot, I notice: we outrun leadings or fail to hear them, rely on ourselves when we need to rely on Spirit and each other, close off exactly what we need to open to…

    Thank you again for sharing your experience. Your confusion, your questions, your message on ideas as gifts… even your observation that there should be cots available for a quick lie-down after those powerful messages come through us! I wish I could communicate how strongly your words “spoke to my condition.” Thank you for sharing such important stuff. (I hope this comment of mine doesn’t come across as too pompous or presumptuous. However it sounds, it is really coming from a very tender and appreciative place.)

    Blessed be.

    Comment by Cat Chapin-Bishop — January 7, 2007 @ 2:41 pm
    7.

    Hi Cubbie,

    I had a very similar experience the very first time I was in the welcoming position 20 years ago at Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting. I felt awful but looking back on it, it wasn’t that big of a deal. The simple truth is that that man was probably unstoppable by anyone. I would rather have the interruption than you get hurt.

    Please do not let this discourage you from welcoming at the door again. It was so great to see you out there!

    Jeff

    Comment by Jeff — January 15, 2007 @ 12:42 pm


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