you say “well hey, it’s about time” and i say “no, no it’s about love”

there’s a post i’ve been holding onto for months, maybe years. i’m actually sitting here trying to write it and have managed to get halfway through it twice before highlighting the whole thing and hitting delete. i think of it as the post that’s gotten in the way of writing here regularly anymore, but it just won’t come out either.

it’s about my confusion about accountability to myself, from others, and to my meeting. it’s about calling and that falling away or shifting and not knowing where it went and not knowing how to ask for support and feeling bitter that it wasn’t just offered and feeling guilty for wanting other people to follow all of my whims and fluctuations. it’s about my desire to be more aware of others’ whims and fluctuations. it’s about accidentally almost joining a cult. it’s about the death of a member of my clearness committee. it’s about diversity and social justice and the question of if quakerism really is for everyone. it’s about how still and all, the majority of my friends are white. it’s about struggling as a teacher. it’s about crying at the meeting retreat two years ago because i just desperately wanted to give all of my students the type of experience i was having right then. it’s about how i don’t understand the valuable experiences my students have. it’s about wanting to write more. it’s about wanting to be more of what i think a quaker should be. it’s about living far from my meeting. it’s about feeling far from my meeting. it’s about feeling close to my meeting. it’s about unexpected phone calls from members of my meeting when i am feeling low or am across the country. it’s about feeling distance and then suddenly feeling overly close. it’s about being a grown-up. it’s about trying to infuse my teaching with quakerism. it’s about leaving and coming back. it’s about bitterness and angst and self-recrimination. it’s about deciding. it’s about not deciding. it’s about confusion, sadness, and joy. it’s about days slipping by. it’s about living.

maybe now that that’s all out of the way, i can start focusing on god again.

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our lives had become unmanageable.

i went to quaker meeting today for the first time in, i think, over a month. it’s time for me to start making appearances, as registrar for the retreat, so i’m trying to push past all the cozy house things, busy craziness, and bitter-ish confusion that has kept me away of late.

and i’m really glad.

meeting today was very very vocal, and at first i was really resistant to the messages i was hearing. part of what has been making me reluctant to go to meeting lately has been my confusion about its relevance to my current life. when i first fell in love with the meeting, i was in a very different place in my life– i had time, and i had lofty, judgmental ideals. i still probably have the latter, but the realities of my life have dashed some of those. so, i’ve been having a hard time reconciling meeting as a relevant place for this person who is approaching the world so differently than i used to. is contemplation and “the inward light” only for those with free time and undemanding jobs?

and, of course, i know that, historically and right now, that is not the case, but… for me, is it? that’s been a big part of my questioning right now. because quakerism is both communal and solitary, and my busy-ness and the bitter disappointment of my job have really highlighted the way one can completely isolate themselves in this framework.

and then, in a brief moment of silence in meeting, after a few people had spoken, i had a good internal rage at god. a lot of these ramblings all came to a head and i was ANGRY about the girl who hates me and tells me i’m going to hell, i was ANGRY about the way that most of the students come from a culture where if someone hurts you, you believe you HAVE to hurt them back, i was ANGRY about the way my students punish me daily for trying help them, i was ANGRY about my helplessness.

but helplessness is where you meet god. in fact, helplessness is what we all have in common. they are as helpless as i am, and i am as helpless as they are. and helplessness was the theme that i found in today’s vocal ministry. and i needed to hear that. and even though even though even though i am still so upset that my students have these lives that are so hard and that even in my helplessness, i’m still supposed to help them, i also had this realization that god didn’t make their difficult situation, we did. not me and my students, but our culture, our greed, our lifestyles. my students are casualties of people forgetting that we are all helpless and we need to turn to something bigger and to each other. and that is something to be angry about.

but not really at god.

and then i was able, for the first time in a long time, to admit i was helpless and turn it all over.

i went home and talked to my girlfriend about it a little. a lot of the time, our different approaches to spirituality make me a little shy about talking to her about what happens to me at quaker meeting, but i was able to explain all of this. and we talked about that safety and security that we all want, that none of us have as much as we want to believe we have.

so, yes, i am powerless over the security, safety, and overall wellness, of myself, those i care about, and those i don’t know, and that is SO hard. and the only thing i can do is just turn it over to god. and that helps.

edited on june 6, 2008… and again on june 9, 2008

my meeting has had a long history with difficult and complicated man. i’ve only known him for a year and half, but many people from the meeting have known him for at least three years. he has a personality that many people find abrasive, a bluntness that many people find arrogant, and a presence that’s a little larger than life.

or at least on that latter point, he did. i met him for breakfast yesterday morning and his wild hair and beard had been shorn down, and he was a little more subdued than usual.

i guess he’s leaving town because after six months of many many membership meetings, it looks like he’s not going to get to be one. he says he’s tired of knowing people don’t want him around, and he’s ready to go.

of course there are other factors, of course it seems a little melodramatic, of course there are complicated feelings brought up because of some of the ways his personality is like my dad’s, of course i romanticize things, of course it’s never that simple…

but i’m pretty angry. and embarrassed. i KNOW that not everything is for everyone, but this guy has always been open and honest and has integrity down to the bone, and our meeting has hurt him and sent him on his way. he’s hurt people, it’s true. but it seems like he’s only ever hurt people by challenging people to be their best selves. maybe it’s his opinion of what their best selves are and not the Truth of their best selves or something, but he’s given us his best. he’s changed. and he’s changed us. but he still has to go.

let me clarify that the meeting is not actually sending him away. he’s making that choice. but with some of the treatment he’s got, it’s surprising he’s stayed this long.

quakerism seems very small to me today.

we walked down the street together, and i talked about how opposite my experience has been from this. how i’ve found only love and acceptance and opportunity for growth within this community. we laughed about my “palatable” personality and the ways that has eased things. he’s pushed people away, it’s true, and i don’t want to do that, but what am i doing with my palatable personality that’s changing people.

today i doubt quakerism’s ability to do much anything good. today i feel embarrassed for all the good things i say about it. it’s changed me, but how far?

right now i feel like the enabling friend of quakers. “yeah, they beat you up sometimes, but that’ll change tomorrow, they’re not always like that, give them another chance.” they’ve never beat me up, but today i do feel bruised.

as i go deeper into this flawed community that i do so tremendously love, let me keep my honesty, my integrity, my love, and my self. let me change things that need to be changed, let me have the honor to face them, and let me hold the hands of people who get hurt because of the things that are stuck. help me grow my voice so that i can have some of that honesty that is leaving– but only let me speak my own truth. which includes receiving so much love and seeing so much pain.

… since my initial posting of this, there’s been some confusion about what i’m saying happened. and i think part of that is because i was confused in myself somewhat about what happened. the membership committee did not come to unity about this person’s membership. he was not told he couldn’t be a member. i give that impression in this post, though it’s not what i actually mean to say. he gave up on his side of membership meetings and that’s sad and i think says things about our meeting and about him. but the membership meetings would have still been going on if he hadn’t left.

that which the quakers call diversity

it recently hit me that the closest physical feeling vocal ministry has for me, is the sensation of coming out. which, also, isn’t tangible. it’s a little bit like nerves, it’s a little bit like the sensation of having to vomit, it’s this gut feeling that what you are about to say is so deep and so true that it’s going to change you by saying it. and because of that, you’d really sort of rather not. couldn’t there be some other thing, can’t i just sit here and hear something else– i’ll learn from that too, i can… no. is it really that important, am i sure it’s not mine, my legs will totally just collapse under me… yes. you will be fine. just try and remember not to put your hands in front of your mouth this time.

i feel sort of like that right now. there’s this post i’ve been meaning to do for awhile, but it’s scared me tremendously, and fortunately for that fearfulness, i haven’t had time to write it.

there’s this thing going on with me lately. quakers are calling it my diversity concern. i’m calling it… “my concern that quakers are calling my diversity concern…” then i ramble to people about how my concern is not about having a certain level of diversity in the meeting for its own sake. i say “i don’t care if our meeting reaches the exact ratio of diversity that the city has.” “don’t care” isn’t exactly right. i’d love that. that could be rich and amazing. it also might not be.

then, i tell people about how when vanessa julye came to our meeting a couple of weeks ago, she shared the vision of the fgc’s committee for ministry on racism, and that the second half is what i want. i want the first half, too, but my concern is about “seeking, with God’s guidance, to help Quakers transform themselves institutionally and individually into a beloved community–whole and enriched by its diversity.” yes yes yes yes YES. my whole body says yes every time i read that, my toes wiggle, my shoulders relax a little, my eyes get teary.

then i talk about how i think it can feel yucky to come into our meetinghouse. and how it can feel yucky for the meeting to have new people come in. because we are not quite prepared. my concern is about lessening that yuckiness on both sides. i don’t know if it will ever go away, but i want it to be smaller.

and the scariest best thing has happened. other people want this too. other people have been talking about it for years but haven’t felt ready to or have not had the institutional support to work on it. new people are talking about it. the most amazing thing happened the other day when a new young person to our meeting sent out an email about the two sides of being a welcoming and an affirming community. and it was amazing– seeing this concept that i’ve been coming to know so well, come out of another person’s mouth (or keyboard).

but it’s not just best, it’s scary. because it’s reminding me over and over again that this isn’t mine. i’m having a clearness committee, but i’m not sort of diversity star. i want these changes to happen, but i’m not going to be able to make them happen. i’m going to have to work with other people– people who say my words in different language, people who say my words and mean something completely different, people who i adore and who will never quite hear me, people who drive me absolutely bonkers– and sometimes these will be the same people.

allison and i’ve been sending each other a few emails, and in her most recent one she brought up empowerment and control. i’d like to have control. it gets in the way of me empowering other people.

this may be what the meeting needs, but it’s what i need. i will be humbled and changed and made different. and it kind of makes me want to vomit.

gifts of translation & the child of divorce.

a few weeks ago, robin & i had coffee. we walked through the castro, where they are filming milk right now, and we got to see people waiting to have a fake protest, wearing ’70’s clothes & talking on their cell phones. it was pretty great.

on the way there and at the coffee house, we talked about a whole lot of things, but one thing that really stuck with me was our conversation about translation. i was talking about what i was feeling like i was called to do, and my space in between our meeting and new people of various sorts, and she brought up the gift of translation. she talked about how in the pentecost story, there’s a specific mention of the gift of translation- there are those who can speak in tongues and then there are those who can understand them and bring that to other people. and how that gift doesn’t get talked about much. she talked about it like it was a gift we both shared.

i think it is a gift i have, and a gift i’m working on.

but later on that same day, i was talking to another quaker about our spiritual gifts– those we share with each other, and those that other people have and working on moving past judgment and/or ency about them. it was really good, and then suddenly, i realized that for me this translation thing is a tricky gift of the child of divorce. the tricky gift of loving two people or two sets of people and seeing both sides and trying to help them see both sides. my parents didn’t divorce until i was 18, but i decided that they really should get it over with by the time i was 9.

and recently, i’ve found myself in that codependent sort of trap– i NEED to make these people see what each other means, because it’s MY job and no one else can do it and they certainly can’t and crapcrapcrap they don’t understand each other yet, and it’s MY fault.

so i’m stepping back a little. not really out of the fray maybe, but out of where i was and to a space where i can see where i was, learn from it, listen to more than just myself, and move forward in a better way.

there are prayers i am praying, but i’m not ready to put them online, but even if i don’t ask for human help (and i probably will), i’m still asking for help and knowing it’s there, and i like that.

soon, i want to talk about where i am about my clearness committee, where i am about diversity in my meeting, and where i am about belief and god. soon meaning… some day. stay tuned.