All change is stressful.

A dear friend of mine and neighbor is moving to San Fransisco rather unexpectedly. Her husband has been offered a job that couldn't sensibly be refused. I'm heartbroken to lose such a supportive, darling, sweet friend. Okay, I know I'm not really "losing" her. I'm just losing proximity. I know that I can maintain deep friendships over long distances. As I adjust to the idea of cross-country flights and handwritten letters instead of back porch conversations held over our adjacent yards, the phrase "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away" keeps coming to mind. So, I finally looked it up.

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21

I'd been repeating it, almost mantra-like, in an attempt to accept the change. I've been doing pretty good lately with not being angry with God when the unfortunate/unpleasant happens. But to go so far as to give Him praise when I'm feeling uprooted and/or abandoned? I can only go so far as to be grateful for that which I have and I am so grateful for the gift of her friendship.

But then again, there are scholars who say the Book of Job is a contemporaneous satire, not a scriptural document. Which means I can be as pouty as I want about people taking stupid jobs in stupid California, right? Not so much. Just because I can convince myself that this particular book is less authentic than the rest doesn't mean a whole lot. Especially when I can't get a verse of it out of my head. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Elizabeth Bathurst


"Good" Quaker I am not

I have already discussed my lack of community as a child. This was particulary so as far as a spiritual community. My grandparents, whom I am still very close to, taught me through example, not by dictating to me. My grandmother has always been recognized in many circles, from Quakers, to social justice movements, to library affairs, to gardening as actively living out her beliefs. My grandfather is often overlooked as the "husband" of this amazing woman. He is dismissed because he often makes puns and off-color jokes, and likes to flirt with the younger women (and when you are in your 80's that is just about everyone) and makes jokes about how he's old, slow, and has no memory(he's been doing this for as long as I have known him...its an act). But it is my grandfather who quietly "lets his life speak" and who I would like to humbley emmulate. He makes off-color jokes about things he cares about, he is the dirty old man that was a feminist long before most men would admit to such at thing (and how many do now a days that aren't just trying to get laid?). He is kind, treats everyone with respect and dignity. He truly cares about the state of things. And well, he loves chocolate too.

When I first went to college, I wanted community. I was accepted to a scholarship program for Quakers...I wanted a spiritual community and a social community. I found it. I have deeply tied friendships from that time that seem to easily pick-up regardless of how long it has been since we last spoke, this is true of my capital F-friends and small f-friends. But I also saw hypocrisy in action too. But we can save that rant for another day.

I think that many of my elders see me as somewhat of a "bad" quaker if there is such a thing. Not because I don't follow my leadings or that I have somehow decided to dedicate my life to the pursuit of something that harms the greater whole, but because I have too many "swords" yet to lay down. I am an alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking, explicative stringing, caffine-addicted, tattooed child. Oh, and its been like a year since I went to meeting. So I don't do corporate worship, I have worship with god and my bed on sunday mornings, but I know god is always with me. You may not be able to count on me to go to meeting and be a "good" quaker, but you can count on me to speak the lord's truth (when I let in the spirit).

So is being a good Quaker about laying down your "swords" and giving yourself to the divine or is it about "letting your life speak," even if that life is speaking/drinking/smoking like a sailor on shore leave...I truly believe life is about your daily interactions with others, the evironment, and all living creatures. Its not about going to meeting every week (though that is important, to keep your self centered to do good Works), its not about reading religous texts, its not about airing your Quaker resume, or your "this is why I am cool (also insert, indie rock, emo, anarchist, peacenik, or hardcore awesome in anyway) resume," its about treating all with dignity and respect.

So if you want I can give you my resume of coolness, or you can keep reading and make up your own minds...too see if I am a "good" or "bad" quaker. But don't hold your breath for me to go to meeting or finish reading the bible, or even lay down some "swords" anytime soon. Because I am bad ass. That isn't true... corporate worship and I have some beef. And last time I tried to go to meeting god did that thing where you get tested and have some Job-like experience, and well, I am no Job. Dude, I perfer to hide from my emotions, I am a mid-westerner afterall. And I just can't be that open right now. It scares me. Maybe this blog will help, I hope.

There are better Google Maps hacks - Update.

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I was listening to NPR (like a good Quaker). The first story I heard was about the death of the suspected murdered of two registered sex offenders from Maine. This Boston Globe story gives a little more information about the victims. Three men's lives have been cut short in what appears to be an attempt at vigilante justice and I am holding them, their victims, and all the families in the Light this morning.

In retrospect, I realize that I ought to have supplied some links to better Google Maps hacks/mash-ups. Knock yourself out:

This maps Craigslist's housing listings.
This maps the NYC subway system.
This is a geography game.
This maps stay-at-home-dad playgroups.
This one tries to locate cheap gas.
But really, this one is my favorite. It plots UFO sightings.

Elizabeth Bathurst


Why James Naylor?

You may wonder why of all the quakers in history I would choose James Naylor as my pen name. Is it becuase I suffer from gender confusion? Or am I a bit "touched" as the southerners say... Why would you pick him when quakers from early on were "egalitarian" letting women preach...there must be just as rousing early female quakers to pick..?

These are all logical questions, however, I picked Naylor because there is just something about him. Perhaps it has something to do with my first introduction to Naylor in a class on Quakerism at a certain small liberal arts college in North Carolina, I was convinced after reading about the infamous ride into Bristol that not only his adoring followers but that he himself was naked while riding the donkey. The professor never attempted to correct this notion and in fact, sorta lead us on in this delusion. It was not uncommon for early quakers to go naked as a symbol of their nakedness/innocence before god (the next time you consider plain dress remember nudity is an option). So it was not out of the question for him to have been naked, however, mislead I was. At any rate my interest in Naylor goes beyond the nakedness.

I believe that Naylor was a threat to Fox and his vision of Quakerism. Naylor's popularity and charisma where threatening. Really all Fox had was his bible and the visions from Pendle hill (were they induced out of fasting or from wild mushrooms we will never know). Fox did not have the pentchant for street theatre and gorilla art like Naylor did. Despite the "Woe unto the bloody city of Litchfield" incident, but the truth be told Naylor out did Fox when it came to spirit-led street theatre and generally make a public scene. Thus all Fox could do was chastise Naylor in the hopes of keeping a tight reign on early Friends. However, Naylor was just following the Spirit. We have all felt the call, which makes us wonder what kind of trickster god must be. However, there is a need and place for humor in our spirituality.

We must remember that sometimes we will be asked to do something that is threatening to the status quo. Something that could earn us the chastisement and criticism of our elders, but sometimes things just need to be challenged. And if a little humor can be added into this questioning of authority all the better.

The lower God doth bring me, and the nearer to himself, the more doth this Love and Tenderness spring and spread towards the poor, simple and despised ones, who are poor in spirit, meek and lowly Suffering Lambs, and with those I choose to suffer, and do suffer, wherever they are found. James Naylor (the original)

There are better Google Maps hacks.

Someone sent me a link to a sex offender registry in a mass email recently. The registry maps your address and shows you the location of your local sex offenders' homes and workplaces. If you click on one of those links, it shows you a name, photo and vague category of crime. Suddenly people I barely know are hitting "reply all" to discuss who lives near them. I was a little surprised by how upset this made me, even before someone started making jokes.

First and foremost, I have very little faith in our criminal justice system. Just because someone was convicted of something doesn't mean they actually did it. Just because someone hasn't been convicted of something doesn't mean they haven't done anything wrong. Don't forget that sexual assaults are notoriously under-reported.

Secondly, sex offender registries frighten people, but do they really help people identify others as potential threats? The majority of sexual assault victims already know their attackers, often intimately. Doing a background check on someone you know is far more likely to produce useful information than looking at a map of your neighborhood.

Also, if we take a prison term to have some sort of meaning, then once someone is released, shouldn't they be able to move on with their lives and be able to retain some rights? Like not having their photographs, names, home and/or work addresses posted on the Internet putting them at risk for vigilante justice?

Lastly, and probably most importantly, sex offender registries are anathema to the idea of rehabilitation. Our justice system is already overly dominated by ideas of retribution and punishment which, in my mind, correlates strongly with the absurdly high rates of recidivism.

I'd like to see a world without violence, sexual or otherwise, but sex offender registries aren't helping to build that world.

Elizabeth Bathurst

P.S. Don't make jokes about sex abuse, especially to strangers. Chances are pretty high you're talking to a survivor.


luminous life

I am one of those "odd" Quakers...those of you familar to friends say, "yea, well, who isn't." But I was raised by a lapsed Catholic father and a Quaker mother, neither emphasized prayer. It was something I found on my own. We lived somewhere so remote when I was a child that my mother, grandparents, and I were the only Quakers for close to 2oo miles. I am a birthright friend that never attended a Quaker meeting till I was 12 years old. I learned from my family the meaning of "letting your life speak."

As a child I was curious about religion and prayer. It was something that I knew other people did. My Catholic grandparents were always trying to take me to mass. But I didn't really understand what prayer was. I remember one winter my parents were reading the Little House on the Prairie books to me. I remember Laura Ingells Wilder recounting the importance of prayer in their family and how Pa would make them say their prayers before bed. I decided that that must be something everyone did -- pray before bed. I began to pray secretly after my parents put me to bed. I didn't kneel down to pray, I just lay in bed and spoke to god. I didn't know how other people prayed, but I figured if I talked to god he should be able to hear me -- otherwise he couldn't be very powerful. I would pray for all sorts of things, peace on earth, to end poverty, to end starvation, to save the whales...you think an 8 year old wouldn't do that but I did. I prayed for my family too. I prayed that my parents would stop fighting, drink less, and spend more time with me. I prayed that I wouldn't be fat anymore and that other kids would stop picking on me. I prayed for many other things too, I am sure.

This nightly prayer was something I kept up for many years. It got to a point where I couldn't fall asleep unless I prayed or had my daily conversation with god. However, sometime in the last 5 years, I quit praying every night. I think it was my constant drinking and depression. When you pass out everynight there is little time to remember god, in all that you are drinking to forget. But in the last year I have decided I needed to change things in my life. And while I still often fall asleep without talking to god, I try most mornings to thank god for my blessings. This is especially true on days I really don't want to get out of bed. Its a positive reinforcement for the day. "Thank you god for giving me this day. Thank you for my friends, new and old, near and far and all so dear. Thank you for my family. Please hold them in the light and bless them. Bless my extended family as well. Thank you for letting me back in school. Thank your for my medications, because I can find joy a little easier now. Thank you for all the blessings you have given me. Help me to be your vessel. Help me to do your work here on Earth. Help me be a better person. Thank you for giving me this day."

Like springtime on a plate.

Through a series of coincidences last night, I ended up at a Seder table, surrounded by amazing women (and one perfectly lovely infant). We progressed without a haggadah, each woman offering up the sections that were meaningful to her. We reconstructed the Exodus story from our collective memory. We offered up thanksgivings for marriages, for babies, for family and friends, and for growth. We discussed the role of privilege in our lives and the transitions we are experiencing. It was a beautiful experience, informal and loving.

Today being Good Friday, I am reminded of the Catholic tradition of Stations of the Cross. In years past I've wandered through a nearly empty church with the prayers written on a card and I've participated in a large outdoor procession, but this year I'll be doing the meditations on my own. It's really the only Easter tradition I like. Okay, I like jelly beans and Cadbury Creme Eggs and dying Easter eggs. But they haven't got any religious significance. Kind of like Halloween.

I'm reminded of the Quaker phrase "the day the world calls Christmas". While I agree that there is nothing particularly holy about the days the world calls Christmas or Easter, I think declaring days to celebrate certain aspects of faith with friends and family is important. Passover wouldn't be as meaningful to me if it happened every month. But I do agree that since the days we set aside to commemorate the birth, death and resurrection of Christ have become about chocolate bunnies, elves and presents, we've got a problem.

I'm not about to appropriate Passover, although I never did understand why Christians don't celebrate Jewish Holidays. I mean, Christianity is just modified Judaism, right? We just tacked Jesus onto an existing belief structure. I'm more comfortable assimilating Catholic rituals into my spiritual practice, since I was raised by lapsed Catholics, but I am still left to wonder what sort of rituals I can create to fill my need for regular meaningful religious celebrations in my life.

Elizabeth Bathurst


Sola Scriptura

I re-read "Women's Speaking Justified" over the weekend. My copy is extensively highlighted because it's my absolute favorite Quaker tract. You can read it online here. I love the way that Margaret Fell argues her way through the Bible accusing whoever dares to disagree with her as speaking for the devil without dismissing even a verse of the text.

I don't believe that the Bible is the Word of God, because of that stuff from John about the Word being around since the beginning. I don't regard the Book as essentially Holy, even. It records Holy things in translation many times over. I believe in continuing Revelation. I believe that what the Lord says today takes presedence over Scripture, because if any sort of discrepancy emerges, it is due to human errors of interpretation. I'm not entirely sold on the idea that God is immutable, but we'll see how that goes.

Don't get me wrong, the Bible is a very important part of my spiritual life. I don't read it as often as I feel I ought. I rarely know where to find the phrases and stories I want to find again, and I've got very few verses memorized. But I find it deeply comforting to return to the places I find most familiar.

Margaret Fell brings up some of my most favorite bits of scripture. The parts about how human distinctions between types of people are irrelevant in Christ are very special to me. As a teenager, I had that quote from Galatians about "neither male nor female" on my wall. And that was before I was comfortable with the C-word. (Get your mind out of the gutter. It's Christ). As a child, I payed far more attention to Bible stories with women in them. And Joel 2:21-28 has brought me comfort many times over, especially "and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." Somehow, it makes me feel a little less alone.

But re-reading Margaret Fell makes it clear that I need to spend a little more time with Revelations. While I love the vivid imagery, I just don't get it. Maybe someday, I'll get comfortable with Revelations:
"So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." [Rev. 17:3-5]
Maybe not.

Elizabeth Bathurst


You are what you eat.

Several times in the past year, I've had a formerly vegetarian F/friends sheepishly admit to eating meat. I'm a vegetarian and have been on and off since I was four. Unless you count my occasional forays into veganism, I've been consistently vegetarian for over a decade. Nearly all of my Quaker contemporaries have been vegetarian at some point. They've started and stopped eating meat for a variety of reasons, most of which I can sympatize with. For the most part, they've made thoughtful choices and that's what is important to me. Not what they're eating.

My vegetarianism originated with a concern for animals. I had believed that meat came from animals that had died natural deaths. I was four. I also believed that God lived on a cloud, like the CareBears, although, clearly on a different cloud. My parents went vegetarian with me. My father is currently veggie, my mom isn't.

I still believe that animals should be treated with respect, but I'm not an aggressive animal rights advocate by any means. I think that animal testing has it's place. (Medicine, yes. Cosmetics, no.) I don't think that there's anything inherently wrong with eating meat, but I do think that eating meat and refusing to think about where it comes from is irresponsible.

I believe that being vegetarian lightens the toll I take on the earth a little, just like car-sharing and recycling. I believe that walking gently over the earth is good stewardship, and vegetarianism is something that I can do. I'd like to compost. I'd like to eat a more organic/local/fair-trade/free-range diet. I'd like to do a lot of things I'm not ready to do yet.

Being vegetarian isn't a huge part of my identity, or even my daily life. It doesn't take up a lot of my thoughts. I think about food often, but I rarely think about not-eating-meat. It's certainly not a large part of my faith. My food choices are often a bigger deal to other people than they are to me.

But being a vegetarian is a mindful step that I made towards God. Each change that I make in the way I live my daily life is a change I make in order to be closer to the person He wants me to be. I've got far too low a self-esteem to fully buy into the Quaker idea of perfection, but I am always striving to be a little bit better. And right now, for me, that means not eating meat and not passing judgement on those who do.

Elizabeth Bathurst

What's The Quaking Harlot?

In 1656, Thomas Winterton wrote an Anti-Quaker tract entitled "The chasing the young Quaking Harlot Out of the City: Or a turning the Quakers dark side into the light, wherein is plainly discovered a twofold design against the publick peace, one by their doctrine, the other by their sword..." He goes on for another twenty words or so, but I won't.

See, back in the 1650's when Quakerism was young, Quakers were a radical sort. They'd go into churches and disrupt services. They'd scream in the streets. They had visions. They refused to behave like sensible, law-abiding citizens and got themselves beat up and imprisioned on a regular basis. They were radical religious freaks and we love them for it.

Who are we? We're upstanding Quaker ladies with a tendency to piss people off. Maybe not so much as to get our tounges branded, but we're working on it.

Elizabeth Bathurst