Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thinking Blogger Meme

This is like when the flu is making the rounds at work, only, unlike the flu, it's a pleasure to get this one...

We've been tagged with the Thinking Blogger meme by Sara Sutterfield Winn, of Pagan Godspell! Which is way cool, not only because it's really nice to know somebody out there feels like they're getting something useful out of reading this blog, but because we now get the chance to pass this particular bug along to five other blogs that make us think.

Slightly complicating that task is the fact that, of the Pagan bloggers whose words I cherish, a number have already contracted the "Intelliblogger bug," and even if they're not exactly immune, it doesn't seem quite sporting to send it back upstream again. Happily, there are not only a number of Pagan blogs that have not yet been tagged that I think should be, but none of my favorite Quaker bloggers have come down with the honor yet, so I get to be the first to pass this meme in that direction. (How nifty is that?)

Here are the rules, as stated by Sara in her blog:
If you’ve been tagged, here’s how you play:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;
2. List to this post at The Thinking Blog so that people can find the exact origin of the meme;
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’.

Grok Earth! Pray without Ceasing!

(OK, the Grok Earth, pray without ceasing line isn't really part of the meme... but I like the way it sounds, so I'm posting it here, too.)

It's really difficult to limit myself to five and only five blogs that make me think, but here are five that definately do:
1. deo's shadow
2. The Friendly Funnel
3. Executive Pagan
4. The Good Raised Up
5. reaching for the light

Ah, I look at this list, and I've left so many incredible bloggers off of it! But I think I could stay here deliberating till Lammas, and I still would be dissatisfied when I thought of the many wonderful blogs and bloggers out there. (It feels like there should be several whole new categories, just for those who leave thoughtful comments on others' blogs, or thought-provoking blogs you just found, or...)

On the subject of other peoples blogs and blogging, observant readers may notice that I have changed how our public blogroll appears in the sidebar. I found I had come across some blogs whose Quaker-ness or Pagan-ness seemed like the least useful way to categorize them I could think of. So now, our blogroll contains just the most consistently thought-provoking and spiritually deepening writing I can find, and I don't have to worry about the blogs that don't fall neatly into categories. Since I think one of the main points of this blog is how hard it is to neatly categorize things of spirit, hopefully this system will be a little easier to follow, at least for me.

Oh, yes! As a proud mama, I'll also put in a plug for my daughter's blog, Endangered Species of One. She's always been her own woman, as I think her recent post critiquing Paganism shows... but I am really grateful to have raised such a thoughtful and independent human being, full of integrity, passion, and humor.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On Falwell

As most people know, Jerry Falwell died yesterday.

I would not have found this subject worthy of comment in this blog, if it weren't for the fact that I've read more than one post, from Pagan bloggers who usually know better, who've reported this with a smug or even gleeful tone.

Needless to say, I'm unlikely to have been a fan of the man from Lynchburg, a man who said of September 11, 2001, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

But that is just not the point.

I really wanted not to write this entry. I have been hoping that, if I just ignored it, perhaps no one outside the Pagan community would read any of the blog entries that have depressed me this morning. But this willingness to try and score cheap points over the death of another human being... This is just not right.

You don't like the politics of the right wing of Christian fundamentalism, oh my people? Attack the politics. But not the man. An attack on a person does nothing to counter an idea... it just raises the volume on the discussion.

Intolerance of Christians--even Christians who are intolerant of us--is still wrong.

Everybody, please stop.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Many Things We Call "Divine" (Marshall Massey replies to Peter)

Spiritual Identity and Membership Series:
Part 1: Quakerpagan or Paganquaker -
Part 2: Membership and Identity -
Part 3: Marshall Massey Replies

The following is a reply by Marshall Massey of Earth Witness Journal to my post about Membership and Identity. I think it raises points that are important enough to both Quakers and Pagans that I want to feature it in a post of its own rather than have it tucked away as an appended comment.

Marshall’s reply:


Friends Peter and Cat, you don't have to publish this comment on your site if you don't want to; you can read it and then delete it, and that's fine with me. I'm not sure what I am about to say is better discussed on an open forum than in private e-mail.

But since I am mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post, I believe I have a bit of a duty to respond.

The truth may be either that there are many things we call "divine", or that the divine has many faces. Different paths take one to different "divines", or to different faces of the one "divine". The path of the Berserkers of Norway, who worked themselves into a murderous superhuman excitation that they regarded as possession by the divine, took them to a very different "divine", or a very different face of the divine, from the path of Francis of Assisi or the path of George Fox.

Traditional Quakerism takes its practitioners to a specific face of the divine that is (in my personal opinion) either identical or virtually identical to the face that the historic Jesus Christ showed his followers. But (still just speaking personally) I do not believe that the face of the divine experienced by modern Pagans who "draw down the God" is the same face or even anything near the same face. I do not deny that there is something one may validly call "divine" about it, but I do not, personally, believe that what is divine in it is what Christ wanted us to practice and approach.

A community that defines itself by relationship to the divine, without looking carefully at what it means by that word, is, in my personal opinion, a community that is quite capable of going profoundly wrong. I think it was this sort of inattention to changing understandings of the divine that led the humble, meek early Christian religion to evolve over the course of a thousand years into something that hosted the Inquisition and the Crusades.

So I view the visible lack of concern for changing understandings of the divine, that many liberal Quaker meetings display in accepting a very, very wide range of applicants as members, with great dismay.

I'm not saying that I expect liberal meetings to sponsor a Crusade or an Inquisition tomorrow or next year; but I certainly see the seeds of hatred in their reaction to FUM's personnel policy, and in their usual attitude toward Republicans. I'm not saying that FUM and Republicans are pure and virtuous; but for someone genuinely on a Christian path, the effort is always to remove the board from one's own eye before removing the mote from one's neighbor's. And I don't see that happening in meetings (or churches, either) where people say, "My truth is different from your truth; my way of understanding the divine, my way of approaching the divine, is different from yours, different from Friends' traditional way; and I'm going to be a member of your Society but I'm hanging on to mine."

The gentle Christ who taught a non-resistant path to overcoming evil, is not Herne, the god of the hunt. The path of saying to God, "if it's all the same to You, I'd rather not drink this cup, but nevertheless, not my will but Thine," is a different path from that of "drawing down" divine energies. It just might be that what you experienced, Peter, when you stood and spoke in meeting for worship for the first time -- even though it was an experience of the divine -- nevertheless was not anything like what traditional Quakerism is actually about.


Peter again:

When we asked Marshall if we could publish his reply in a post, he expressed some concern that “because it was such a direct challenge to the theory underlying modern liberal-pluralist Quakerism, that I thought it might offend or upset you or others.” Quite the opposite, at least in my case. Plain speaking among Friends is as important as corporate worship as we labor together towards discernment. But beyond that, the questions Marshall raises about what exactly is going on in worship or in drawing down (two very distinct practices, as he points out) are of bedrock importance to anyone who practices any kind of ecstatic communion with the Divine.

It will take some time for me to respond. I write with great deliberation at the best of times, and I’m coming now into the final six weeks of a difficult year of teaching. Further, the questions here are profound and I want to sit with them and let my thoughts season a bit before giving them voice.

Thank you, Marshall, for the faithfulness of your reply. May I do as well.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Membership and Identity (Peter)

Spiritual Identity and Membership Series:
Part 1: Quakerpagan or Paganquaker -
Part 2: Membership and Identity -
Part 3: Marshall Massey Replies

This began as a response to Cat’s most recent post, but has taken on a life of its own. I wrote it to address a fundamental dimension to this whole membership/self-identification question that no one—not Marshal nor Liz nor Cat—seemed to be addressing: namely the relationship with the Divine that is an integral part of any religious group, whether it be Pagan or Quaker, Christian or otherwise. I see now that this point did rise in responses to Cat’s post, but I still think it worth sharing my two cents.

When I applied for membership in Mount Toby Friends Meeting, my clearness committee asked me what I thought the word “membership” meant. I said it is something like how Catholics describe the sacrament of marriage: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality.” (“Your Christian roots are showing,” Cat tells me, reading over my shoulder.)

God (the Divine, the Gods…whatever you want to call Him/Her/It/Them) calls to us. Divinity “bleeds through” from the realm of the Divine into our world. Pagans invoke it loudly, Quakers listen for it quietly, both have to work at discernment but can usually recognize sooner or later when it whacks them upside the head. And both groups have formed enduring, vibrant communities centered on the experience of the Divine. Like all communities, Quakers and Pagans have social norms and expectations, and they each have their interplay between the group's values and the values that individual members bring. But Pagans and Quakers also share direct input from Outside, and this changes EVERYTHING.

I applied for membership in Mount Toby the day after I spoke in meeting for the first time. I'd been attending for over a year, but I was really blown away by what a profound experience it was to speak in meeting. It’s inexpressible to anyone who hasn’t experienced something like it. There are words that describe it, but like other very profound feelings, the words are just prattle unless you’ve been there. I felt stretched by the message passing through me, and a little wobbly when I sat down again, and—this is the important part—I felt like when my spirit contracted again, back to its normal just-human size, it never shrank back quite all the way. I was left forever afterwards a little bit larger for been a conduit for something so vast and deep. Wiccan readers will know what I mean when I say that speaking in meeting had as much kick to it as drawing down the God. There was the same feeling of openness to the Divine, of energies moving through my body, connecting sky and Earth and God and community. There is also one major advantage that Quaker vocal ministry has over Wiccan priestcraft: As a Quaker, I’m not the only one carrying the message. In a covered meeting (Pagans: think “cloaked” for “covered”) the same message will often be rising in several individuals at once. Times that I’ve decided not to speak because the message still felt too unformed, someone else in the room will sometimes speak the same message articulated more clearly than I would have. On at least one occasion, I sat down after speaking and realized, wait, there was more…only to have a woman sitting in front of me stand up and give the second half of the message.

When I say I am a Quaker, it is because I have been a conduit for the Divine in that context. Once I'd had the experience of…well, call it “drawing down the Light,” the rest was just a formality. My clearness committee tested that leading and concurred, but I’m not a Quaker because they said so. I’m a Quaker because I listened for the presence of Spirit in the silence, and It spoke through me, and that’s what Quakers do. Just like I’m Wiccan because I invoked the presence of the God in circle and He came to me, and that’s what Wiccans do.

There have been times in my life as a Witch when it seemed like the path I was on—the path down which the Gods were leading me—might lead me out of Wicca and into territory that could no longer be called Wiccan or Pagan. And it has always been clear that if that happens, if faced with a choice between clinging to a tradition and a self-concept vs. following the Spirit, you bloody well follow the Spirit.

As far as the group influencing the individual or the individual influencing the group, it seems to me like that influence always goes both ways. Some of this is mundane group dynamics, but in both Pagan and Quaker groups, we do not just honor one another; we honor God (or the God and Goddess) within one another. Questions of who changes whom, the group or the members, take a distant second place far behind the ways that the Gods change us all. Quaker and Pagan communities have both evolved since their inception. The wisdom and dedication of spiritual leaders has been very important for both, as has the passion and integrity of individual worshippers, but neither group would have become what it is without the influence of the Gods—through vocal ministry, through drawing down, and through other more subtle forms of stewardship that are harder to see.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Quaker, Pagan, Quakerpagan or Paganquaker: Moving Beyond the Cool Kids' Table

Spiritual Identity and Membership Series:
Part 1: Quakerpagan or Paganquaker -
Part 2: Membership and Identity -
Part 3: Marshall Massey Replies
This week, I encountered an update to the link to this blog that Quaker blogger Marshall Massey posted recently. To begin with, let me say that I'm really honored to be listed under Kindred Souls at Earthwitness*. Beyond the Earthwitness itself--on its own an important reason to respect Marshall--I've noticed that he not only links to, but praises writers he has had important disagreements with. He is truly open to new perspectives, at the same time that he is rooted firmly in his own very traditional, very Christian Quakerism.

So. I take this guy seriously. And I like that he's linked to us here. And he says nice things.

Recently I revisited his page, and noticed that the blurb linking to this blog had been revised, partly to point to our post Waging Peace in All Things, discussing the ways Quakers are laboring with the FUM personnel policy. I read something in that update to our blurb there that made me unhappy. Not a put-down--indeed, it's worded within a complement: Marshall writes that "the impression [he gets] is that [our] first loyalty remains to [P]aganism — but [our] entries on Quakerism are often quite refreshing."

Refreshing is good. I like refreshing!

But the perception that my first loyalty is to Paganism... that feels bad, like a toothache. Hm...

Let's try it the other way around then, shall we? "My first loyalty is to Quakers."

No. That feels sad and cold too. Both phrasings chill me and leave me feeling empty and sad.

I do have a fear of finding myself cast out of both groups. And though I'm entirely sure there are both Quakers and Pagans who would see that as only reasonable, I've encountered very few of them. Still--the idea pains me. Why?

Well, to begin with, there's the matter of the cool kids' table--of wanting the sense of having arrived that comes with being "in" with a group you admire. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a factor in my feelings here. And it's not much of a motivator for identifying with a spiritual community, frankly.

In a recent post on The Good Raised Up, Liz Opp writes about the distinction between membership and identity with a spiritual community. And though my own understanding of the vocabulary (and maybe the concepts themselves) is different from hers, the distinction she makes is important. She writes:
I think of one's membership as one's participation in a group to which she or he has chosen to belong; and I think of identity as one's self-concept or self-identification in relation to a group that reflects that person's own self-understanding.

Now, my impression is that most Pagan groups--certainly most Wiccan covens--are looking for a strong combination of both active participation in a group and a self-understanding that is rooted in membership within it. Wiccans talk of something called a group wraith, a kind of communal spirit that a working group builds up over time, almost a shared group soul.

And because of the sense that membership in the intimate working group of a coven or grove involves the ability to participate in this communal spirit, one of the questions most high priestesses or priests ask themselves, when considering admitting a new member to a coven or grove, is whether the person is really, in a deep sense, already a member. In years past, it was common to speak of Witches as having been "born Witches," or having been a member of a coven in a past life--that's how important the notion of a self rooted in an identification with the group has been.

So it surprised me to find both Liz and, later, Marshall, speaking of this kind of identification with a group slightingly. In a comment on this post, Marshall wrote
...membership in a group gives the group permission to make demands of you, and even make changes in you, whereas self-identification with a tradition leaves the reins of your life in your own hands. Thus membership is communitarian, while identification is individualistic...

...You know, when I hear people claim that they are Quaker because they identify themselves as Quaker, regardless of their lack of formal membership, what distresses me above all else is the fact that they are claiming the power and right to alter what this community that they're attracted to is by the simple fact of their own presence, while granting the community no answering power and right to alter them. This is a power play on these individuals' part, even though they don't see it as such.

So there's the idea that self-identification is superficial and individualistic, but membership involves investment and give and take.

Pagans, I think, look to bestow membership where identity as a part of a group already exists. Quakers, at least to to judge by Liz and Marshall's discussion, look to develop identification with a group through the formal relations of membership. It's probably a chicken and the egg type of issue, really--membership shapes identity shapes membership.

Quakers, as a group, are better at doing spiritual life communally. I'm not saying that Quakers are better at community in general than Pagans are. But because Quaker worship is a corporate--group--communion with God, the willingness to move beyond one's individual indentity and understandings is built in to the experience in a way it is not among most Pagan groups. It is true that Pagans are indivdualistic, possibly to a fault.

But I'm not convinced that self-identification is rooted in the place of a merely individual self. And I'm not convinced that, even among Quakers, with their careful discernment processes, formal membership is what "gives the group permission to make demands of you, and even make changes in you."

I'll agree, though, that only to the extent that there is a level of mutuality and exchange at a level deep enough to shape the soul is one really a part of a spiritual community, Quaker or Pagan. Anything less, and you've got a nifty social club, but not a spiritual community, I think.

And here's where we move past simply a desire to sit at the cool kids' table--what Marshall would term a power play, perhaps.

To the extent that my spiritual community does not accept my membership, or discounts it as merely individualistic "self-identification", I will be cut off from exactly what Marshall sees self-identifiers as withholding from their communities: that interdependence, the right not so much to make demands on the group or to shape it to my liking, as to serve the group, offer it my gifts, and be transformed by the experience of that mutuality.

Concrete example:
Peter and I are teachers. A few years back, when I had just become a teacher, I realized that, between us, we're pretty much competent to teach a whole curriculum. He's got the math/science thing going on (and more certifications than a charm bracelet has charms), and I've got the humanities and social sciences. And the thing about teachers is that the whole world needs 'em. Did you know that there is a school, for instance, for the scientists' kids in Antarctica? Imagine what it would be like to teach in Antarctica for a year! What an amazing thing that would be.

I bet the Quakers out there already know where I'm going with this...

I'm thinking about that famous FUM project, the Ramallah Friends Schools.

For a brief, brief window in time, when I became a member at Mt. Toby--when I found that being an out Pagan as well as a Quaker in attendance at NEYM this past year did not seem to offend anyone within our dual affilated yearly meeting--it seemed possible, just possible, that one day Peter and I might find ourselves living, learning, and being transformed by teaching in Ramallah. Indeed, one Friend, discussing the idea with us over breakfast, was quite enthusiastic, and spoke of the difficulty there sometimes is in getting enough practicing Quaker teachers for the school.

Until he found out we were Pagan. And then the lights went out. No... that's not possible.

Watching what is going on worldwide with FUM and its positions on homosexuality, I can see quite clearly that Peter and I would be no more welcome than would an openly gay or lesbian teacher. Less, perhaps.

Is this right? Is this what should be?

Well, that depends on whether or not I'm really a Quaker, doesn't it? I say I am. Of course, I'm merely an individual. However, Mt. Toby says I am, too--has embraced me and has embraced Peter without reservation, and allowed us to serve and test our Quakerness in the life of the meeting.

But FUM and conservative-leaning Friends would probably say that I am not. (Probably--I admit to making a certain number of assumptions here.) Which is painful, but also not the point. Because it's not just about the cool kids' table anymore. It's about exactly that interdependence that spiritual community is about.

For the record, I'm not saying I'd be over there in Ramallah if matters stood differently--I would not call the flash of excitement and possiblity that I held briefly a leading, and I have made no move to test it. I haven't even written to anyone in Ramallah or FUM about the possiblity, because it is honestly not that concrete an idea. But the ironic thing is that, at a time when FUM and its dual-affiliated meetings seem to be bracing to tear the Quaker world apart, I'm finding myself more and more invested in building bridges. If I can...

For the record, I'm not pointing a finger at anyone in FUM or at Marshall or Liz Opp or anyone else out there for the fact that accepting as a Quaker a woman who recognizes and worships more than one god is controversial. It ought to be controversial, in fact.

Ass a bottom line, Quakers are unique in the world for the way we worship and the way we conduct business, seeking unity with God (a word I am still abashed to use) and because of the nature of that community with and through God, introducing new thealogies casually would be a mistake. (That's in contrast with Paganism, which seems almost infinately malleable--though partly, as I said before, at the cost of some degree of communal spiritual experience.)

Only that which does not interfere with the unique Quaker way of being together-in-God should be part of Quaker life. That's seems clear to me.

But that's just what keeps me Quaker--we center down, and I can find you, Friend, in the shining place: you and the sea of limitless Light. And that's what keeps me Pagan--I go out into the woods, and the trees are not things but friends, and the moonlight makes what is sacred shine out all around me.

I can't prove love. I can't prove music. I can't prove I'm Quaker, or Pagan, or anything else I deeply care about: a good parent, a good teacher, a good friend...

But that isn't the point, really. No matter how the labels fit or don't fit, my job is to keep walking... just keep walking. Herne on my right hand, Jesus on my left (if the Spirit should so insist!). Just... keep going the way I'm led.

("But I wanna be in the Quaker club, too, dammit. Why don't I ever get to sit at the cool kids' table?" A small voice asks. Shut up, voice. This isn't about that. Keep walkin'.)

*For what it's worth, the sole reason Marshall is not listed in our blogroll is that his blogs have a slightly different focus than ours, and I've felt a need to trim and focus our blogroll recently, just to keep it manageable. But I truly do recommend both The Earthwitness Journal and The Quaker Magpie.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Marching on Pride Day (Peter)

Today I marched with the Mt. Toby Friends contingent in the Northampton Pride March, and it was a blast! I've been part of the GLBT concerns committee at Mt. Toby since last fall, and the Pride March is always that committee's big event of the year. There were about half a dozen of us marching. D--, a fellow committee member, has been doing the marches off and on since their inception a quarter of a century ago, and was full of lots of stories about how much it has changed. The atmosphere today was like a carnival: balloons and music and children and dogs and fried dough... Back in '85, the feeling was much more embattled. That year, I'm told, there were gang rapes happening in the area and firebomb threats against the local wimmin's bookstore and lesbian archives, and the Pride March was an act of courageous defiance. It's really heartening to see how celebratory it's become. Not that there aren't still ongoing struggles for justice, but we've come an amazingly looooooooong way.

I took a few photos, and occasionally handed my camera off to bystanders so I could get pictures of myself. You can get to the whole gallery of full-sized images here.
That's me in the flourescent green tee shirt.

Here are a couple of overviews of the crowd on Main Street.

I got this panorama by stitching together half a dozen individual shots taken from the top of the courthouse steps.

And me again. (I'm such a Narcissist.)

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