Clerk's Message Annual Meeting 2005

A friend of mine once shared that major parts of his spiritual journey could be summed up in six words, “You want me to do what?”

YOU want me to do what? As I recall, early in my friend’s life YOU had been a fairly generic God, but at some point, for my friend, YOU became Christ. He thought Christ was sort of cool, but he was less than enthused about keeping company with many who called Christ their friend. Particularly as a gay man, he struggled to reconcile his clear sense that he was called specifically by Christ, with his less than pleasant encounters with many who call themselves Christians.

You want ME to do what? You can’t mean me – I’m too busy. I’m not worthy. I don’t know how to do that task. Someone else would be much better at it.

You want me to do WHAT? My friend had been receiving invitations for years to which his first response was, “You want me to do WHAT?” Part of his eventual response to many of these invitations was, “OK, I’ll do it. Just don’t ask me to cope with AIDS.” Ultimately, he was diagnosed with AIDS. As with the invitations put to him before - he surrendered to the invitation, and ultimately to AIDS, and found his spiritual life greatly enriched by the process of surrender.

The nominating committee prayerfully reviewed the gifts we named in each other this year, and held each of us, and each position, in the Light until it found a fit that seemed right. Discerning, and then inviting each of us to serve the meeting in specific ways. I observed reactions of, “You want ME to do what?,” and “You want me to do WHAT?” The nominating committee also shared with me another variation, an eager “You want ME to do what?” Many of you accepted the invitations extended to you, and it is my sense that the meeting is well served by the discernment and those accepted invitations.

I did not share with the nominating committee that they quite unintentionally issued me an invitation, to which my reaction was, “You want me to do WHAT?” I share that with them and you now.

I have been struggling with what feels like a leading that God intends me to be working more actively to nudge Ohio toward embracing all of its citizens, including those who are gay or lesbian. Equality Ohio, a statewide organization I have been involved in starting up, has felt like where that work was to be done. It has been my experience that my personal participation in good causes is not often exclusively the work God intends me to do, and that I sometimes need help avoiding getting sucked in and drained by the parts of the work that might be good to do, but are not necessarily mine to do. As is my practice when facing a spiritual challenge of this nature, I had intended to ask Ministry and Oversight to appoint a committee of support and clearness to support my work, and to help me become and remain clear about where my leading begins and ends.

The next First Day after I had arrived at this intention, nominating committee presented the first reading of its report. Buried in the report was the wonderful re-visioning of Peace, Environmental, and Social Concerns Committee as Witness in the World, a committee that would support each of its members, or other members of our meeting, in discerning his or her individual witness in the world. That sounded wonderful to me.

For about half an hour. Then the implications for my fledgling leading, which properly belongs with this restructured committee, rather than with Ministry and Oversight, and “You want me to do WHAT?” flashed through my mind.

That reaction probably requires a bit of explanation, and perhaps the revelation of some of my warts. I have tremendous admiration and respect for the work of many Quaker activists, and am awed by the amount they are able to accomplish. If there are petitions to be signed, doors to be knocked on, picket lines to be walked, people to be fed, governors, senators, presidents to be called, these Friends will get the job done. My experience is that part of why many of these dear Friends can accomplish so much is that they when they see a witness that needs to be made they don’t stop and ask, “ Is that MY witness” they just do it and move on to the next need – of which there is a never-ending supply. Many of you on the Witness in the World committee are wired this way.

I am not wired that way. Although a lot of things I do are not specifically God directed, much of my social action is. When I am doing the work God intends me to do, even if it is unimaginably hard – such holding a four year old rape survivor waiting to be given a vaginal exam – I come away feeling well used, and my energy level is easily replenished. When I don’t stop and discern whether the good work in front of me is mine to do I often come away exhausted, sometimes frustrated at the lack of progress I have made, and it takes days or weeks to restore my energy.

It has been a rough week for me with Equality Ohio. There is plenty of work that still needs to be done, but I am feeling exhausted, as frustrated as I can remember being, and really need to sort through what part of the Equality Ohio work is mine to do – or whether my part of this witness is something I have not yet found.

So my reaction to being invited to bring my witness to Witness in the World, is “you want me to do WHAT?” You want me to go to the folks who just dig in and get things done for help in spiritual discernment about whether I ought to stop doing something that clearly needs to be done?

I hear from Nominating Committee that some of you on the re-visioned Witness to the World committee are very eager to do just that. The eager “you want Me to do what?” I noted earlier was the response that was reported to me in regard to an invitation the nominating committee extended to a member of the Witness in the World Committee. So I intend to accept that invitation unintentionally issued to me to surrender the discernment around my witness in the world to this committee, even though it clearly stretches my comfort zone.

And I expect to be enriched by the process of surrender.