Monday, July 11, 2011

Perfect Ministry

Yesterday in Meeting for Worship, someone spoke and gave perfect ministry.

He spoke of his own journey with spoken ministry.  He said that he finds himself speaking a lot in Meeting when he worships with inmates at a nearby prison.  He feels that they find some spoken ministry helpful.  Usually in life, he said, he finds he wants to stay in the background, trusting others to step forward into more visible roles.  But this experience in the prison ministry, of feeling responsible for ministering to others, has brought out something in his soul -- he speaks out more in life in general, and in our Meeting, and he has been writing and having his writings published.  "I know that preparing heart and mind does not mean that we should specifically plan to speak in Meeting, or plan not to speak.  But we can get into habits of silence in Meeting," he said, in conclusion, grateful that he had pushed himself out of his own comfort zone and has come into a new way of experiencing Meeting, and ministry, and life.

This message really spoke to my condition.

I felt called out and criticized myself, but felt joyful about that rather than ashamed.  I thought, "that message was for me, and he is right -- I have stepped back in life, I have fallen silent, and this silence has now turned into a bad habit.  I need to push myself, even at risk of potentially getting it wrong sometimes.  I have ideas, but my not acting on them is not virtuous humility -- it is a habit of fear."

What amazed me was how joyful and released I felt.

Often, criticism makes me feel bad.  I can get beyond feeling bad and still perceive the value of justly-earned criticism.  But I paused to reflect on why I didn't at all feel bad this time.  In part, it was the gentle, humble spirit of this Friend's ministry.  He spoke out of his own personal experience, from such authenticity that it presented a message of value to all of us.  He never once suggested that he was criticizing any of us.  In fact, I am sure he was not.  He was simply sharing a realization so powerful and liberating for himself that he he felt moved to share it.  He was not at all presuming to know what God wanted from any of us.  I think he genuinely likes all of us and appreciates exactly what we each give, never asking for anything other than what we already offer, but always accepting what we offer as gift.

So, his own humility kept the message pure and clear and easier to accept than if it had been laced with specific criticism toward any of us.  But the other part of why I received it so well was because it did speak a positive truth, not a negative one.  The way I heard it was not about how I had failed, but what I have yet to do.  It was a gentle invitation to step more fully into saying "yes" to life, to engaging life more directly, more "experimentally."

I call this Friend's ministry perfect because I think it genuinely reflected something important about God's love.  When God pushes us, it is never that God wants us to feel bad for the ways we fall short.  God wants us to live freely and creatively.  God's deepest hope for us is that we willingly respond to God's call, accepting the unutterable joy that this brings.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Updates

Sorry that it has been a while since I've posted. Since it has been a while, I thought I would share a few updates.

Work

The past academic year went pretty well.  I did manage to keep the research momentum going quite well in the spring, and feel glad about that.  I then presented on my current paper in a conference in June, and am trying to finish writing the paper this summer.

Not being chair of my department has made a huge difference in my work life.  I still feel my administrative duties are a bit too heavy (coordinating our Peace Studies program), but way has not opened for me to let this go.  I am still discerning what exactly my role should be.

Music

My musical life has really picked up.  I did a lot of performing during the academic year, and now this summer too.  This summer I am part of a recorder group, a concert band, and an orchestra, with performances scheduled for all three groups.  After the recorder concert and the band concert, things will lighten up.  I had committed to those before the orchestra opportunity appeared.  But now that I am in this orchestra, I think I might drop my participation in the concert band.

Being relatively inexperienced in orchestral matters, I handed over first flute part to the other flute player (who used to play regularly in another local orchestra).  The second flute part was nice, and relatively easy, giving me a chance to work further on performance nerves. 

Just when I was congratulating myself for not letting pride overcome common sense, making my life more stressful than it needs to be (I am at last learning!), I found out that the first flute player cannot make one of our concerts, and the conductor wants me to play first flute for that one.

Then I realized that this meant that (a) I have to learn both parts, and (b) I have to perform first flute in a concert without any opportunity for rehearsal on this part first!

So, instead of taking the "easy" way out, it turns out that my choice led me into a much more challenging and stressful situation than if I had just accepted first flute to begin with!  If I had, I would only have had to learn one part, and would have had ample rehearsal time before performing.

This is what my life is like.  Even when I try to be good and actually make things easier for myself, this sort of thing happens!

It may sound like I am complaining, and maybe I am, a little, but I am also laughing (ruefully, though).  Although I was initially stressed about this, I have come to accept the challenge and will make the best of it.

It helps that I've been reading the book, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and one of the points he makes is that those who are regarded as "talented" are those who continually challenge themselves beyond their comfort zones. 

I have been thinking a lot about this in my own life.  People have told me that I need to be easier on myself, and I know they are partially right.  But I have also suspected that there is something important to the ways I challenge myself.  I didn't want to let go of this completely.  So what I have been trying to do is find the right balance: enough challenge to keep me learning and striving and seeking, but without overwhelming myself.

Gardening

I heard something on the radio about the dangers of giant hogweed, and saw something similar in my own garden -- a huge weed I had let go because it was kind of interesting and very scary.  Closer inspection revealed that it was cow parsnip (a relative of giant hogweed).  Both can cause burns upon contact, though those caused by giant hogweed are much worse.  I carefully covered myself up, and removed the cow parsnip, and succeeded in not contacting the plant in the process.

Meanwhile, neighbors have been impressed that I still  mow my grass with a non-gasoline-powered push mower, and one even wanted to try it.  She said she would get one when her current mower dies.  I feel like in my own small humble way, I have fulfilled George Fox's advice to:  "Be patterns, be examples . . . wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone."  If my "mowing cheerfully over my lawn" inspires others to make more sustainable choices themselves, then this is a good way of being a "pattern and example," I should think!

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