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.

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.

also…

when did it become quakerism, and not just… quaking?

today, i went to quarterly meeting for the first time. it was in santa rosa, at friends house. it was exciting to go up. i’m glad i got to go. i’m glad sf meeting got to have a young adult presence…

but as i looked around the room, during worship… which maybe i “shouldn’t” have been doing, but i needed to know… i couldn’t see a single person of color. this doesn’t mean that there weren’t any, but there were none that i recognized as such, so maybe i was part of the problem of invisibility of some people of color– but i don’t think there was a giant presence of people of color, no matter how correct my perceptions were. after worship, i went to the restroom, and there was a person of color… cleaning the floor.

as the day went on, i saw most of the participants of quarterly meeting, and i thought of 2 as people of color. i saw about 8 different staff members and thought of 3 as people of color. i saw about 10 residents of the facility who didn’t seem to be participating in the meeting, and about 2 seemed to be people of color.

aren’t i a good ally?

it felt so heavy then.

there was worship sharing along the theme of the day, which was “the still center of the whirlwind.” the queries were about a time that we had felt like we were in a storm, and had an experience of the light…

i couldn’t get out of my current state, so focused on what to do with it. and then i thought about this quote i read recently about grace being having your heart broken by the things that break the heart of god. and of course there’s presumption in believing you know what breaks god’s heart… but i focused on letting my heart be broken. because i suddenly knew that i could only go anywhere if i did that. i could only find joy & courage if i let my heart break.

… but maybe it’s too simple. maybe my joy was my pride in being so “good.” such a good white liberal.

maybe.

i don’t know. all i know is that i felt worn out for the rest of the day, but also called and blessed.

we need to fix this and i need to learn how to help fix this. it is broken, it breaks us, it breaks hearts, and it can be so much better.

at meeting for business this month, we were encouraged to think about some queries about what we need to change. i don’t remember all the details. i should have posted then. but anyway, it was a worship sharing i guess, and people spoke about a variety of things, and at some point i said something. i spoke as an outsider coming in and how there is always so much work every group needs to go through and that’s good and self-critique is good, but so far, the truth for me has been that no matter what, i know i will find love at the meeting.

that is true. there is so much love for me in that group of people, it’s amazing. i know that there are people who will hug me or give any type of help they can if i ask for it. and i’ve been asking for it. i’ve got a place to stay when i need to be by myself for awhile, i’ve got a friend with a truck who will help us acquire storage furniture, i’ve got listening ears. and i feel called to give it back in ways that i can, and also, i feel like i am able to give back. that whatever i can do is enough. it’s amazing.

but, even before i said it, i thought a lot about people who are not me, and their ability to find love there. i thought about the guy who came in and caused a fuss when i greeted, and about the person who had spoken not long before and had been cut off by the clerk, and about the way that we are in the tenderloin and all of the people in the neighborhood who we would not welcome with open arms. i am struggling with that so much. do we open them with closed arms, folded over our chests, “come in but don’t get to close, and you are welcome to leave whenever you’d like… please”? that’s what it feels like. i am told that everyone is treated with respect, and i see a lot of trying to treat people with respect, but i also see myself in the place of those people– me with less social skills, a few more obvious crazies– being treated the way these people get treated, and i think it would hurt.

and so, when the person who had been told to be quiet spoke in hurt and anger, i felt it. i felt the hurt and anger, and i felt the guilt for all the ways i am distant.

and yet… there is a history of the meeting that i know little about. and there is a history of me that is about me putting so many people ahead of myself that i get tired and angry and defensive and broken. these walls protect us somewhat. this is our sanctuary. but. but. but. we are talking about how to get more people through our doors, and i’m for that, but i’m still not totally comfortable with how we treat those who are aleady coming in.