Monday, April 24, 2006

Me and My Big Mouth

At MM yesterday, a subject that has been kicking around on the Agenda for a couple of months finally reached discussion. I had brought it up -- the need for a regular Sunday morning discussion after Meeting, based on someone's spiritual reading. Those present at MM really liked the idea and saw it as having potential for drawing us all to deeper communion and richer spiritual growth. They decided we should "try" the idea for two weeks in May (Meeting members are great believers in trials of new things). They asked for a volunteer to cover those two weeks.

In a moment or weakness or enthusiasm, I volunteered.

(Mental note in the future to bring duct tape to MM to fasten my hands to the chair)

So now I have to find something to read so that I can be prepared to lead something.

I've given it a bit of thought (emphasis on bit). Our Meeting has never really discussed much of anything, except through worship-sharing type dialogue. I sense a fear of talking among us, partly because we have a few strong personalities who might just blurt out something, partly because we don't know what language to use that won't put out someone, and partly because our library is locked upstairs in an attic closet so we never do any spiritual reading. So I thought I should devote the two weeks (20 minutes each week) to a discussion about language and communication about spiritual topics.

Great -- except that I don't have any books or booklets on that topic. I grazed our little library in the pitch-black attic for a few minutes after MM closed, but the handful of pamphlets I took away don't look too promising.

I do have Deborah Haight's "Meeting" pamphlet, which I hope to go through more closely tomorrow. It tends to have far-reaching applications. I also have my old copy of "Jacob the Baker." Of course, there's the bible, but... eee... not a great choice for a first discussion with this group.

But can anyone of you of the great Quaker Literati suggest anything else? The book doesn't have to be specifically Quaker, as long as it talks about the problem of words, the Babel of spiritual discussion in a world of pluralism and politeness, or something else interesting and vital and inspiring -- even just one chapter.

It has to be a book I can get my hands on relatively quickly.

Yeah, me and my big mouth...


At 11:44 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

Nancy, what I'll say first is that I see myself reflected in the mirror that you hold up in this post! smile

As to your question about possible reading about "the problem of words," this is something I referenced in The Good Raised Up after reading Thomas Gates' pamphlet (pp. 14-24).

Specifically, pp. 23-24 of that pamphlet have quotes from Scripture, Quaker authors, and others about religious language, the difficulty of words, etc. Here are texts from Scripture that you could look up and consider:

Romans 8:26
1 Corinthians 14:9
1 Kings 19:11-12
Ecclesiastes 5:2.

I'm sure other Friends will chime in with other resources for you.

And before I forget: if you or the meeting ever consider buying multiple copies of any book or pamphlet from FGC's QuakerBooks for something like this sort of discussion, be sure to let them know: They offer a 10-20% discount on materials used for study groups, in the broadest meaning of the phrase "study group."

Other than that: stay calm and call on God for guidance... and for words!

Liz, The Good Raised Up

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Contemplative Scholar said...

Two thoughts that immediately come to my mind are Douglas Steere's Where Words Come From and the Pendle Hill pamphlet Words, Wordlessness and the Word by Peter Bien.

It has been a while since I read these, and so I'm not sure how exactly relevant they may be to your concern. What I especially remember from Douglas Steere's pamphlet is that there is a lot about good listening, and about how to listen beyond the specific words themselves.

It's really wonderful that you are doing this, and that is a brilliant idea for a first discussion!

When I've found discussions getting a bit tense over differences of belief or language, I try gently to guide back to people's actual experiences. I ask questions like, "Have there been particular experiences in your life that have led you to believe what you believe on this?" Usually this return to actual experience helps people to understand each other better and find common ground.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Hi Nancy,

Twenty minutes for worshipful discussion is cutting it close. I might suggest something shorter for your group, particularly if you're just trying to get a feel for what's it's like.

Our Qr reading group got a lot of: "Towards Deeper Communion across Our Theological Divides" by Wendy Sanford which appeared in the January 2006 edition of Friends Journal. I can ask Wendy to email me the text if you can't find a copy of Friends Journal. She's the clerk of our meeting, but the article isn't specific to our community.

quaker_lilies at yahoo dot com

At 12:55 PM, Blogger david said...

Have you considered children's books? The REALLY good ones have much that is worthy of adult reflection.

I'm a SERIOUS fan of Hans Christian Anderson. I might also suggest Velveteen Rabbit (by Margery Williams) and Mister God This is Anna (by Fynn). This last isn't really a children's book.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger sehen said...

If you had more time to prepare, you might consider some of Martin Buber's writings starting from "I and Thou" through all sorts of dialogue. I believe most of what he is writing has to do with the paradox of putting that into words which cannot be put in words. The german versions are probably better - and all of it is really only understandable with a prayerful stance.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger sehen said...

Or maybe, last year's Swarthmore lecture by Helen Steven will be a bit more accessible:
2005 No Extraordinary Power: Prayer, Stillness and Action (MPH)

By 0 85245 379 5
Price: £ 9.00

Faced with something they believe must be changed people can find the power to “reconstitute the world”, as the poet Adrienne Rich has put it.

At 2:39 PM, Blogger Robin M. said...

I think that 20 minutes is a awfully short time to have any kind of serious discussion, for any more than about two people, especially if they're not used to talking to each other about stuff like this. It could take 20 minutes just to get the conversation rolling.

You might try an article from Friends Journal, like Thomas Jeavons article in the March 2006 issue, which is also available online, So What Can We Say Now? Suggestions for Explaining Quakerism.

I highly recommend Steve Smith's Pendle Hill Pamphlet, #370, Quaker in the Zendo.

From the Introduction: "At a time of my life when I had drifted far from my Quaker origins, I found the practice of Zen meditation to be clarifying, healing and liberating. Curiously this Asian spiritual practice led me back to the Society of Friends: the more I practice Zen, the more thoroughly Quaker I become. The spiritual insights of Christianity and Quakerism have regained for me fresh depth, power and charisma. Within the earliest records of Quakerism, in the writings of George Fox and other early Friends, I find - to my wonder and delight - remarkably explicit guidelines for spiritual practice that are often diluted or obscured in contemporary unprogrammed Friends' worship."

I might call it a stealth introduction to early Quakers, for those who might otherwise be more comfortable with Buddhist language.

I also really like Douglas Steere's pamphlet, "Where Words Come From" which was also published under the title, "On Listening to Another". But I don't think it's still in print, which is too bad, because it is very good.

Have fun!

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Dave Carl said...

I'd suggest Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Hey, Deborah Haight mentions me in her pamphlet. Betcha can't spot me! (I'm not talking about the list on page 43.)

I frankly adored Deborah. When she died, I was in Ireland and came this close to throwing irresponsible amounts of money at a travel agent to get me to her memorial meeting.


At 11:19 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

How about some recent gospel?
Here is a song by Ewan MacColl, very timely, as Romany people are being sterialized through out eastern Europe, uprooted from England, the US, Russia, well most of the 41 nations Romany people try to live within. There is a little bit of ... we slept as Jesus was taken in this story... so here is a short reading for folks to consider, especially as the AFSC has closed the Roma office, one worker, we put on the needs of the most numerous people in need in Europe. The worlds forgotten people...
If thee feels led...
Baxtale hai sastimos, Shaya,

Moving on Song
(Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger)

Born in the middle of an afternoon
In a horse-drawn wagon on the old A5
The big twelve wheeler shook my bed
You can't stop here the policeman said
You better get born someplace else

So move along, get along, move along, get along,
Go, move, shift

Born in the tatie lifting time
In an old bow tent in a tatie field
The farmer said, The work's all done
It's time that you were moving on

Born in a wagon on a building site
Where the ground was rutted by the trailer's wheels
The local people said to me,
You'll lower the price of property

Born at the back of a blackthorn hedge
When the white hoarfrost lay all around
No wise men came bearing gifts
Instead the order came to shift

The winter sky was hung with stars
And one shone brighter than the rest
The wise men came so stern and strict
And brought the order to evict

Wagon, tent, or trailer born
Last week, last year, or in far off days
Born here or a thousand miles away
There's always men nearby who'll say

Copyright Stormking Music, Inc.
from the radio ballad, Traveling People

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Paul L said...

I agree that a pamphlet is probably more suitable for the setting you're talking about. I'd recommend Kenneth Boulding's Pendle Hill Pamphlet The Practice of the Love of God. (Pamphlet No. 374, Oct. 2004).

It's a reprint of a talk he gave in 1941 (or so) on the verge of WWII. I just love it, not only for it spiritual content, but also for its prescience -- there are passages in it where you could substitute the word "terrorist" or "terror" for "German" or "Nazi" and you'd never know it was written 60 years ago.

Here's an excerpt from Pendle Hill's blurb for it.

Dare to love God! Dare to practice that love everywhere in God’s family, seeing the divine likeness in everyone, mixture of earth and heaven though we be!

This challenge was raised by Quaker economist and peace activist Kenneth Boulding some fifty years ago and is no less alive and provocative today. The prolific writer and poet tells us that we are born to love, that we are living parts of a living whole, and that there are no boundaries in God’s whole Kingdom.

To Kenneth Boulding, it was “a strange heresy” to treat the realm of emotion as secondary to the intellectual. Rather, he urges us to explore love unlimited by time or place, love in out families, with our neighbors, and in our meetings and churches, all possible through our love for God.

The author concludes with his vision for the world and his assurance that there is no room for despair, that God is always redeeming the world, that from the depths of misery there will be “a reawakening of divine love, a new springtime to the weary earth.”

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Thanks for all the suggestions. I have a good long list right now, and I sure hope there's a way I can find some of these somewhere!

However, while I was searching for these titles in our city library search engine, I pulled up a few other related titles and took one of them out.

I'm now 1/3 way through John Shelby Spong's "A New Christianity for a New World." It's not exactly what I had in mind, but I'm into it. The endorsements by Matthew Fox and Karen Armstrong on the back were especially compelling. He writes well, and he certainly speaks to my condition. I think this will be a good starting point for meeting discussions.

Anyway, thanks again. I'm sure I'll be posting stuff from this book over the next week or two as I prepare.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

I can't trust myself to post anything edifying about Spong, so I won't.


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