one of those times, again, where going to quaker meeting is such an event.  i’ve been contemplating finding a meeting or church closer to home, but haven’t been able to even work up the energy for that.

the thing is: it’s the long, sustained attendance at meeting is what really makes me feel centered, but going to meeting is a 4 hour commitment, at the least, and it’s really hard to make myself do that right now.

and i’ve been feeling a little nutty, so i feel like i really need to go to meeting.  but unfortunately, frequently, by the time my one-shot meeting attendance is done, i feel more nutty, because my day feels almost over and my work week feels so close.

i’ve been thinking about church as opposed to quaker meeting a little bit, too, because my head is a wild and frazzled place, and i barely get past the wild and frazzled in the hour of worship.  having someone do the spiritual thinking for me sometimes works to get me out of my head long enough to hear god.

i HAVE been trying to up my home spiritual practice a little bit, though, but what that amounts to right now is just trying to remember the serenity prayer when my head and heart get too wild and frazzled.

quakerism changed my life.  and i’m not currently convinced i’m living up to that.  i feel disappointed in myself right now, in my ability or drive to take care of my spiritual needs right now.  and then, of course, i know that judging myself is not actually all that helpful, of course.

my dream still is of a community of quakers and a quaker meeting, just down the street.  i hate that i even have a choice to just drift away from meeting like this, from time to time.  i hate that it takes forever to get to meeting so i don’t, and that that is understandable and acceptable.  (i would probably hate it, too, if it wasn’t understandable or acceptable.)

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Published in: on 25 November, 2012 at 1:59 pm  Comments (1)  

tonight, i followed my recent christmas tradition of visiting a new church for one of their holiday services. a few years ago, i managed to pack in 3 services in one christmas, but this year it will just be the one. i’m not going to make it to meeting tomorrow, even.

tonight’s service was at a church in noe valley called holy innocents. i started my decision-making process based on churches that would be near where i was today and that had an early evening service that wasn’t at 5:00 because I wouldn’t be able to make it for that. i found 3 churches that fit those criteria, via google, and then i decided on this one, because it was a christmas pageant and because the website invites you to come early so you can get a costume.

as i walked through the mission at 5:30, i marveled at all the things that were closed. there was sort of a nice hush over things. i have mixed feelings about holidays, but i like moments that are set aside for coziness, nonetheless. i know it probably sucks for a lot of people who don’t celebrate christmas, but the idea of everyone being still on some level is appealing to me. perhaps that is judeochristianically oppressive of me…

the pageant was wonderful. it not only told the story of the birth in the manger, but also the story of the first christmas pageant, which they attributed to francis of assisi, and we all got to be involved, in costume or not. i was a strange stranger, in my bright yellow bert sweatshirt, with an ill-placed coffee stain on my pants, and a “michelle obama, first lady of fabulous” totebag, but i still felt welcome.

ever since christopher hitchens died, i’ve been doing some extra thinking about religion. it actually happened as i was starting karen armstrong’s the case for god, and if you know me, you know i’m a much bigger fan of armstrong than of hitchens. the way i think of it is that armstrong and hitchens are in opposite camps, not because one believes in god and the other didn’t, but because of their very different conceptions of what god even means and what the debate over religion is really about. because to me christopher hitchens and “the religious right” are on the same side, because they think god is about going to heaven and believing in impossible things. but for me, and from what i’ve read by armstrong, for her as well, god is about living in such a way that the kingdom of god can be here and believing in god is more about trusting in the possibility of that world. and that kingdom/world is not about others going to hell but about merciful, inclusive love and justice…

one of the ways to bring about that world involves discipline, as i am reminded over and over again by armstrong’s tracing of the history of faith. at one of my first quaker meetings, robin m. spoke about discipline. at the time, i thought she was being too hard on herself about whatever it was she was speaking about, and smugly thought discipline wasn’t that important. but the thing with god, for me, i think, is that… things can be fine without god, actually, but they are so much better with god (like sex and love). there is some anne lamott quote, i think, about how god is sort of found by accident, but prayer makes you accident-prone. and so that’s where the discipline part comes in. i’ve been using a method of prayer i found in a book by brent bill recently, and even though i’ve been extra-aware lately of my lack of discipline, i think i’m getting better.

as a quaker and as a liberal, i have mixed feelings about holidays. as a quaker because everyday is sacramental and as a liberal because our society’s main form of christianity is pretty oppressive. and then there’s the whole commercialism aspect etc. but man, i love light in the darkness. as a weak, undisciplined human i love it. every christmas tree in a window makes me smile, every christmas song on the radio (except “do they know it’s christmas,” ugh) makes my toes wiggle, and i’m wearing a red-and-green set of pajamas right now.

anyway, before i left the church, i took a final restroom break before getting on the bart to go home. the toilet paper was running out, and so i hunted down a new roll. and i thought about how sometimes that better, kingdom-of-heaven world that is possible, gets it start from small moments of discipline, like the ministry of putting on a new roll. that sounds potentially sardonic, but i don’t mean anything disrespectful. i mean, respecting the next stranger who comes along, having no idea who they will be.

i learned this week that “religio” means “relink.”

a few years ago, i had a dream that i was in an airport, running to catch my flight, and trying to say goodbye to three men, rev. andrew james brown of the cambridge unitarian church, mike michalson of new college of florida, and… some other guy (possibly the pastor of venice united church of christ). i hugged them, and then left. i don’t know where i was coming from, where i was going, or more importantly, when i actually had the dream.

the thing about these folks was that they were all positive male spiritual role models in my life. and in my dream, i was obviously leaving them. was i going further, back, or just somewhere else?

i’ve been thinking about this dream because i recently found that blog of andrew james brown’s. he was such a helpful person in my spiritual growth. he had such a positive and grounded view of spiritual questions that were sending me into giant flurries. AND he taught me to pick up trash. i’m still not very good at that. but if all my experiences with unitarians were like my experience with him, i’d be a unitarian still. and wouldn’t the quakers be sad.

michalson was my adviser in college. things went a little cockeyed with him at the end, because my life was going pretty cockeyed at the time. but i still admire him a whole awful lot. he’s why i studied religion in college. his humorous and balanced takes on christianity effected me a lot, pushing me past a lot of my bitterness and making it all a lot more interesting.

i think the dream was after i’d finished college and moved to seattle. if i was to place it in the place it made most sense, maybe it was once i’d started my americorps term and was realizing that working with kids was what really did it for me, as opposed to possibly going into the ministry myself.

recently i’ve started going to a conversation series at glide memorial church called “living the questions.” apparently a lot of churches do these conversations– there’s a video series and stuff. our conversations have not gone much further than check-ins, but i’m really excited about them. it’s a great way to get to know more people in a deep deep way, and i love that. the woman who leads them, paige rawson, is very inspiring, earnest, and joyful, and it’s that sort of thing where you feel like you are part of something really important.

this is all linked. and it’s all linked to quakerism for me. because sometimes i wonder if the ministry is for me. then i remember that i’m a wuss and a brat about certain things, and i remember that working with kids is completely, totally amazing and exactly what i should be doing, and then finally i remember that ministry is part of just being a quaker. i can be clumsy and bratty and new and wide-eyed, and i can work on the flaws in that, but it’s all part of cubbie the quaker minister, just by my living… my questions… and my seams.

david m. has said something that has resonated with me. what he likes about quakerism is that conversation and connection is part of the practice of quakerism. when i think about it, it’s part of other faith traditions as well, of course, but… it’s something that is so so so essential about quakerism for me. i’m excited to be reconnecting with parts of my pre-quaker past, and to branching out my connections right now as well. and i’m thrilled that all of these connections are helping my quakerism thrive as well.

yesterday morning, my mom’s visit to san francisco from florida ended. i visited her before work and then she left. my ladyfriend had left the morning before. but i had a plan.

christmas may not be the day of jesus’ birth, but it is a day when much of the northern hemisphere is in need of some light and warmth. so appropriating the whole solstice thing was pretty smart. and although my understanding of the way that it got appropriated is pretty troubling, i still like the gathering in light and warmth. and since my dear ones were either away or had other plans, i decided to go church.

i actually had this giant scheme of going to as many church services as possible on the 24th and 25th. but i invited someone along with me, and coordinating that among two people can be hard. and my list felt a little bit like a list of tourist locations i wanted to visit, so i let it be a little less crammed. and the two services i went to last night and the meeting this morning were just right.

the first service we went to was at the swedenborgian church for their children and family service. there was scripture reading and singing, and i found myself singing my heart out with a group for the first time in a long time. for much of my adolescence, choir singing was what i did, but as i got older i didn’t want my high-pitched girly voice any more. and then once i started ridding myself of that voice, with the aid of hormones, i discovered that you don’t approach a tenor voice the way you approach a soprano voice, and when you try, you sound like peter brady. which was really hard to deal with. but i sang last night, and i sat with these people who reminded me of so many congregations i’ve shared christmas with in the past.

and then we went to st. gregory (after getting turned away from a church that was too full), the episcopalian church that is hugely featured in take this bread, a book i read recently. and it was just like it was in the book, and it was lovely, and i am not an episcopalian. at the end of michael engaged paul, the “interim rector” as the website tells me, in a conversation about a comment paul had made about shepherds as disreputable characters. he responded JUST LIKE HE WOULD HAVE IN THE BOOK, which was really weird. i KNEW he wasn’t a fictional character, but having someone who you’ve only ever imagined in your mind come alive right before you can be pretty fantastic. paul welcomed us both and asked if it was our first time there, and i told him yes and that i’d read sara’s book, and that while i appreciated it, michael and i were definitely quakers. he laughed and said, “i love quakers! we’re sort of the tibetan buddhist quakers.”

we came home, and i put my vegetables in the oven for an hour while i did some pre-bed things. somehow those two services had been all i needed to feel welcomed, to really appreciate my own community, and to feel terribly exhausted. eventually i made it bed, falling asleep pretty much immediately.

this morning i made breakfast for myself and michael, and we headed over to the meetinghouse. we were the first people there, shortly followed by elizabeth, who brought the turkey, some pies, plum chutney, and table decorations. more people gathered and then there was meeting for worship.

ruth spoke of herod and his love of power and how that is an addiction and how sorry she feels for him, and pete who was sitting next to me talked about forgiveness and how difficult that is. later, during lunch, i heard ruth remind pete that forgiveness isn’t the magical automatic thing people make it out to be, and that you first have to accept that the anger you are feeling is okay to feel, that the hurt is real. and maybe that was just some sort of psychological insight, but that moment felt strangely important.

i also spoke. i spoke about this being a time for family and friends, and how paradoxically i found myself desiring to be welcomed as a stranger. i spoke about how at this time of year the line between friends and family instead of strangers becomes a little blurrier. i spoke about my gratitude at how i was accepted at the other churches and how it reminded me of being welcomed at our meeting, and how welcoming strangers is so important, because that’s the only way to build friends and family, to build the beloved community.

before i spoke, i had some things i really thought i was going to say, but something shifted as i stood there, and i’m still not sure what it was, and if the shift was my own or outside of myself. i had really meant to focus on how hard it is to welcome strangers, but that never made it out. maybe it was too smug? or maybe it was there without me having to say it.

later i talked to a few people about it, including michael, who hadn’t thought of our journey in quite the same terms (though neither had i until meeting for worship), and to whom i mentioned that it was as much a matter of me welcoming strangers as it was them welcoming me.

being a stranger at someone else’s church is a lot like being with family. we are coming from the same place, but we do it so differently. and the places we meet at can be delightful, and the places where we differ can be so tense. because if we share so much, how can they do things so differently? how are we still strangers?