Friday, May 28, 2010

"A Case for Unprogrammed Worship...By a Programmed Pastoral Friend" ~ Scott Wagoner

This Sunday is fifth Sunday. Every fifth Sunday we (Deep River Friends Meeting) have a semi-programmed worship. We are a pastoral programmed meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Friends United Meeting) so our worship each Sunday follows a fairly programmed order. But, on the fifth Sunday, we break out of that routine and extend our Open Worship time to include at least thirty minutes of our worship. As a pastor and programmed Friend I love this unprogrammed worship on the fifth Sunday. Some may say I love it because it gets me off the hook of having to prepare a sermon and I get "the day off." As attractive at that might be, that's not the real reason I love it. Here are a few reasons:

1) Having extened Open Worship or semi-programmed worship - or unprogrammed worship - in our meeting serves as an important reminder to me that I am not the only one that has a message. I don't know how other pastors might respond but I know how easy it is to think at times that I am the only one that has a message to give on Sunday morning. Our unprogrammed time of worship reminds me that this is not the case.

2) Our unprogrammed worship time reminds me that other folks do have a message and are very capable of bringing powerful vocal ministry to our meeting for worship. Sometimes this might be the sharing of an extended thought, a prophetic word, maybe a testimonial of how God has been at work in their life, or even a song or poem. Whatever it is, it often comes from a very deep and authentic place which has a power of its own. .

3) During the unprogrammed worship time the silence itself can be healing. Like many others I live in a very noisy world. I also live in a world where many voices clamor for my attention. In this world I often don't take the time to be silent, to listen, to clear the clutter in my soul. In the silence I am given the opportunity to rest and to hear the One Voice that truly loves me and cares for me in a way that no one else can. The silence is healing in that I am allowed a space to hear God and hear my life.

4) In unprogrammed worship I am given a gift and opportunity I very rarely get - a time to listen to God and God's calling upon my True Self. Certainly, there are other times I could do this if I made the time...but I don't make the time. Unprogrammed worship invites me back to this experience of truly sitting before the Creator and hearing the Voice of Love speak to me in the the most tender and direct manner. In those moments of silence, I have often heard God speak in ways I have never heard before. Not because God wasnt speaking but because I was not listening.

For folks that are often used to a programmed worship, a time of unprogrammed worship doesnt come easy. Some choose not to come. Some look at their watches and wonder why the time is going so slow. But some, if they are willing to explore the gift that is offered them, discover (or rediscover) the power of God's voice in the Holy quietness. And just maybe they will never be the same.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Kids Are The Best Teacher" by Ruth Lowe

(Our guest blogger is Ruth Lowe. Ruth is Tony's daughter and a recent graduate of Guilford College)

On a sunny May afternoon, 6 year-old Emma Pierce-Coleman and I went for a walk down to the field behind her house, and like always, Emma ended up wading in the creek. I’m sure it didn’t occur to her that with both of our big moves coming up that this was our last chance to spend time together in The Field, like we had so many times before, but I was painfully aware of it. During one of the darkest and most depressing times in my life thus far, spending time with kids and dogs in a sunny field beside a creek really kept me going.

On this particular afternoon, Emma was in the creek “helping” a stick float down the slow moving creek. She walked down the length of the creek, water up to her knees, navigating the stick through the water. As is our custom, I walked along the bank of the creek. Every few feet Emma would call out to me. “Are you still there?” Sometimes it was hard to see me through the thick foliage on the bank. “Yes, I’m right here!” Occasionally I would lose sight of her too. “Emma, are you there? Is everything ok?” Yelling through the bushes she would report to me the progress of her stick and her journey. “There’s some big rocks coming up ahead.” She’s come a long way since last summer, a mere 5 year-old, hadn’t even been to kindergarten, she followed her older sister down the creek and got stuck on a rock. I’d gone sloshing into the creek after her and scooped the crying Emma off of the rock and carried her to shore. Not now though. She’s navigating it by herself pretty well. My role is pretty much just to walk beside her and reassure her. “I just fell in but I can
change clothes when I get home,” her little voice reports after the sound of a big splash. I just laugh. This isn’t anything new. “Yup, that’s right.”

From outside of the creek, I have a better perspective. I can tell where Emma is in relation to the land and how close she is to the edge of the field where the creek bends, and she always gets out. “Am I at the end yet?” She calls. “No, about half way there, keep going!” I encourage her. “Ok, keep walking with me!” her little voice comes bursting through the mulberry bushes.

What Emma wanted from me is what we all want from our spiritual communities and from the Divine. I don’t always understand Emma’s task (why can’t she just let the stick float by itself?) but I support her because it’s important to her. She tells me of the challenges that are facing her (There’s a lot of rocks up ahead, it’s really deep right here!) and I encourage her and reassure her until she makes it through the rough patches. From outside of the creek I give her a bigger perspective on where she is on her journey. And when she’s completed her task and the stick has made it to the bend in the creek, we hold hands and run home together through the field.

"Spare Not Tongue, Nor Pen Nor Blog" by Tony Lowe

I have resisted the whole blog for a good while. About a week ago it seemed to me someone was being overly critical of blogs and bloggers and I found myself defending it as really being no more than electronic interactive journal keeping, a time honored tradition among Friends. So would George Fox blog? You bet your leather britches and your shaggy, shaggy locks he would, especially while in prison if they didn’t confiscate his laptop.

And thats why I felt some compulsion to do it as well (along with a little pressure, I mean friendly persuasion from some folks who will remain nameless (are you blogging YET?) Because unlike some Friends in a conversation I stumbled into this week, there is a part of me that does want to be a 1600's Friend. Or maybe not so much to be one as to feel connected to those first Quakers in a very real and meaningful way - to be able to see myself and my life as one small story woven into the fabric of the narrative they began, in some way being a part of helping it to continue to unfold. Maybe that=s why I love Quaker history; the stories of those early Friends make it come alive and excite my own desires to be faithful to those traditions.

But, being faithful to those traditional values does not mean being bound to the same forms and expressions. For most of us plain speech and plain dress no longer seem to be an effective witness to our testimony for equality. So we open ourselves to new revelation about how we can incarnate this truth in a relevant and meaningful way in our world, or we are led to a new awareness of places and situations where the light of our testimony for equality needs to shine into the darkness of prejudice or discrimination. But being faithful does mean we=re not going to recognize as new revelation a message that says just forget the whole equality thing, it=s not that important anymore.

It occurs to me that what I am talking about here really is convergence, taking those ideals and values and ethics that have defined our faith and made us a peculiar people throughout our history and searching for new, fresh life giving, hope-filled ways of bringing their witness to bear on the world in which we now live.

And blogs seem like a good way to explore together what that looks like. So blog on Friends, dear old George is with you in spirit.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Reflections on the Pendle Hill Convergent Gathering" by Tony Lowe

(The following is a post from Tony Lowe. Tony is a member of North Carolina Yearly Meeting and particpated in the recent Convergent gathering at Pendle Hill. Tony serves Fancy Gap Friends in North Carolina. Tony will be joining me as together we will be posting regularly our thoughts, hopes, and dreams for a new kind of Quakerism)

Most of the convergent gatherings I have attended have left me feeling hopeful and excited about re-imagining our future as a people of faith, so I was a little surprised that I left the recent gathering at Pendle Hill with a sense of something close to sadness. I first attributed it to my own frame of mind coming into the weekend. Like many other folks, I have been both disturbed and disappointed by the controversies regarding the upcoming YA conference in Wichita being fueled by a few who seem to have no purpose but to try and throw a damper on the gBut as I reflected on the weekend, there was one moment that seemed to be at the heart of what I was feeling.
During one of the worship times , Wess encouraged those present to think of themselves as midwives who would help to “birth” this new understanding of how we relate to the world around us and to one another. As he was sharing this, what came to my mind was how often the metaphor of childbirth is used in the Biblical narrative to represent new life, change in the status quo, and real hope for the future. The images are not all joyful, however. The writers say quite plainly that in the birth process there will be pain and difficulty and suffering which will be surpassed only by the joy that comes from bringing forth new life.
The same is true of the process that we must go through as well. New life means change which will be exciting to some, but threatening to others. I am convinced that some of the negative responses/attitudes even actions to the idea of convergence are coming from a place of feeling threatened or fearful of where it might lead. And the threat is not just a perceived one. There is by necessity an element of death in new life. Jesus told his disciples that a kernel of wheat had to fall to the ground and die in order to produce new life. And the same is true of Friends. As hard as it may be for some of us to accept, there will be death as a part of this new life, death of some institutions, places, and things we have cherished. There will be Friends’ Meetings and Friends’ churches that will be unwilling or unable to make the transition.
Then I began to think about the role of the midwife, not just as it relates to birth and new life, but also as comforter, caregiver, even as a companion at death. Like them, we are called to rejoice with the those who are bringing forth new life, but to offer comfort and care to those in the process , and to weep with those who life is ebbing away.
So, while for me this gathering was not as joyous and exciting as some I have attended, I am grateful to Wess and Martin for a wider vision and a better understanding of the work to which convergent Friends are called. Thanks guys.