A Wacky Quaker Message

Recently I attended a Friends Meeting (Quaker) in England where I am currently on tour and despaired when an odd message began to form in my head (or heart or spirit or wherever these messages form).

For those of you who don’t know about how many Quaker meetings work, we gather in silence.  Typically we don’t have a greeting or opening statements, we just sit and hopefully settle down to listen. Then we listen some more. In my case I sit and seek to pay attention to God. I stop the frenzied musings that clog my head, push to the side all of the pressing issues, concerns and interests that typically occupy me, and like lower case paul who reads this blog, I attempt to be still and know God.

If someone in the meeting feels they have something to share, they can stand up and give brief “vocal ministry” to the group. For my part I go through an intense process of trying to figure out if the thought in my head is simply meant for me to consider, for the group, or just drift wood landing on the shore of my consciousness. I also sit with with the message to see if I should give it right then and there or if it is something better left to a later time. Once I spent over six months with the same message sitting in the queue of my brain waiting and watching for the green light to share it. For me it is an intuitive process where I simply know that it is right and the right time. No doubt I get it wrong sometimes, and if the Quaker process works well, someone will “elder” me and suggest that perhaps my message did not rise to the level of vocal ministry (which is a nice way of saying yours was a rubbish message that interrupted what could have been a nice quiet meeting.)

At the Quaker meeting I recently attended there was a spate of messages on a variety of topics, and I confess I judged that most of them did not move or affect me (but then it is not all about me). At one point it got outright chaotic (well in Quaker terms) when one person rose to speak for the second time in the meeting (it is generally understood that a person typically will only give a message once during a meeting). During her second message the Friend shared how she has a particular mental illness and has been feeling much better lately.  Then she sat down. Another woman immediately got up and began to sermonize about how she didn’t believe there was such a thing as mental illness, but before she could go further, the woman who spoke up previously stood and pronounced, You silly girl, and then exited the meeting. This effectively silenced the “silly girl” who then sat down. True Quaker drama! (I confess that seeing the woman with the mental illness stand up and speak truth to foolishness inspired and pleased me.)

As these things often go, the meeting sorted itself out and as it continued on in silence and some less dramatic messages. In the midst of these proceedings words formed in my head, strange wacky words that I did not wish to share. That’s all these British Quakers needed after such a dramatic series of events to have the American Quaker stand up and give an odd-ball message. Since they scheduled me to speak to the meeting for an hour later in the day, I sat on my message, wrote it down then told it to my audience along with the rest of my presentation.

And what was the wacky message???

A Quaker, a warthog and a palm tree walk into a pub. Looking up from behind the counter, the bartender shouts, “Hey, we don’t serve your kind here!”

The three look at each other.

The Quaker thinks, “What a pity and shame the injustice these two face in the world. I must organize a committee,” and the Quaker immediately leaves the pub.

The warthog snorts, “I have been kicked out of better holes than this one!” and warthog stomps out the door.

The palm tree, which comes from a long line of palm trees that have weathered great storms, bending to withstand mighty winds, settles itself there in the pub. It takes in carbon dioxide and puts out oxygen. It cleanses the dingy air and flourishes.

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This post has 22 Comments

  1. Dharma Kelleher on May 19, 2009 at 1:20 pm Reply

    Quaker drama. I love it! I wondered what silence would sound like with a British accent. lol. I liked your wacky message.

  2. John Stephens on May 19, 2009 at 1:29 pm Reply

    Thee can never go wrong with “A Quaker, a warthog and a palm tree walk into a pub.”

    Thanks for sharing this interesting Quaker drama!

  3. Michael Brown on May 19, 2009 at 1:37 pm Reply

    Great message.. actually truly thoughtworthy. Thanks!

  4. GreenEyedLilo on May 19, 2009 at 3:22 pm Reply

    I love how you documented the Quaker drama! Actually, since I’ve never been to a Quaker meeting, I appreciate your giving a little insight as to how they work. It actually sounds more than a little like the Pagan group I’ve been meeting with for most Sabbats (the eight holidays in the year) plus a few full moons and emergencies.

  5. Cat C-B on May 19, 2009 at 3:40 pm Reply

    “…if the Quaker process works well, someone will “elder” me and suggest that perhaps my message did not rise to the level of vocal ministry (which is a nice way of saying yours was a rubbish message that interrupted what could have been a nice quiet meeting.”

    Priceless!

  6. Amy on May 19, 2009 at 5:12 pm Reply

    Lovely. Thank you for making me laugh, and giving me something to think about next Meeting.

  7. lower case paul on May 20, 2009 at 11:02 am Reply

    “For my part I go through an intense process of trying to figure out if the thought in my head is simply meant for me to consider, for the group, or just drift wood landing on the shore of my consciousness. I also sit with with the message to see if I should give it right then and there or if it is something better left to a later time.”

    We cannot get away from faith when it comes to God, but there does seem to be a ‘knowing’ of sorts when we have it right. I think ‘knowing’ when to speak and when to be silent are two halves of the same process of “… waiting on God…” (i.e., waiting to hear and waiting for a signal of when or whether to speak). I wrestle with the question as well. It’s not like God lights an applause sign at the appropriate moment.

    One of my methods of waiting has been to treat what I, er get, like a seed. I bury it in the soil of my person, water it and try give it time to die to see if life springs from it. If that happens, then I have fruit to give to others, versus just passing on a seed that I don’t know is viable.

    • p2son on May 20, 2009 at 11:35 am Reply

      One of my methods of waiting has been to treat what I, er get, like a seed. I bury it in the soil of my person, water it and try give it time to die to see if life springs from it. If that happens, then I have fruit to give to others, versus just passing on a seed that I don’t know is viable.

      paul, I love this! It is a treat and doesn’t have to be a heavy heady experience. Thanks.

  8. Jox on May 20, 2009 at 11:25 am Reply

    Isn’t it funny what happens in real life? I love it that the lady with the mental illness could speak such truth and I hope the “silly girl” has learnt something from this experience.

    Thanks for your comment lower case paul – but don’t you wish God did have applause signs?

    • Maia Simon on July 22, 2009 at 1:54 pm Reply

      What *I* wish is that the signal to give ministry were not so uncomfortable. I keep promising God that I will heed a gentler urging, but, no, She insists on the pounding heart, the raised blood pressure and the quaking knees. Sometimes I beg to be let off the hook, but that never works. When, in outright defiance, I refuse to give a message (no easy feat in my experience) I find that it has been given to another to share. That doesn’t let me off the hook, though. sigh.

  9. K on May 20, 2009 at 2:10 pm Reply

    I was visiting a Meeting once where a new attender said they’d been to their local meeting several times, and there had been no vocal ministry. What did that mean?, he wondered. A seasoned Quaker said he should visit other Meetings where he could “get a proper sense of what Meeting should be like”. As I was new and a visitor, I bit my tongue instead of saying, “It probably means that Friends had not been given vocal ministry, and were wise enough to share their silent ministry.”

  10. Sheria in SA on May 20, 2009 at 2:39 pm Reply

    “In my case I sit and seek to pay attention to God. I stop the frenzied musings that clog my head, push to the side all of the pressing issues, concerns and interests that typically occupy me, and like lower case paul who reads this blog, I attempt to be still and know God”-You remind me of myself here Peterson. In my early days in South Africa as a young woman full of life and ambition, and a lover of life for that matter, I remember knocking on the steps of the hare krishna doorsteps with a South African friend of mine to worship and of course observe their form of worship.
    Now with a curious mind like mine, I also was very curious to see just how different the hare krishnas are from my christian faith. The hare kristians DO NOT eat any kind of meat, we would later learn that it is against their religion, they are vegans! And boy, how guilty they used to make us feel and am sure they meant well. They would go, “have you ever thought about the suffering endured by animals when you kill them for food?” I felt so guilty, and promised myself I would never touch any kind of meat; well it never worked. As soon as we left the temple, Mandisa, my friend and I would be debating whether to do kfc, nandos or Mc Donalds! Case in point is, I really never concentrated in those hare krishna worships! Like peter, they would be musings cloging my head…
    Now, did my lack of concentration have anything to do with their kind of worship? Does how we worship have an effect on our concentration levels, or was part of my concetration diverted to the assorted vegetarian food displayed only metres away from the temple of worship? Can the mind be REALLY still and know God in “certain kind of worships” that are practiced in certain circles?? Hmmm..I REALLY do wonder…
    Well for me I know what I have chosen. I will stick to the traditional christian form of worship where we belt out moving hymns like, “be still and know that I am God” etc…Hey at least I enjoy the singing and I know the song speaks to me…

  11. Kim on May 20, 2009 at 3:01 pm Reply

    I love the palm tree, which didn’t take the bartender’s message personally, but lived out its true selfhood.

  12. lower case paul on May 20, 2009 at 3:16 pm Reply

    “I will stick to the traditional christian form of worship where we belt out moving hymns like, “be still and know that I am God” ”

    Lol, Sheria. Life is nothing if not ironic, eh?

    {{{{P2}}}}

    “…but don’t you wish God did have applause signs?”

    Jox, yeah I have. In the discussions I have had about faith with most Christians, I have found that my take is different. Most Christians I speak with believe because of something they think or feel God has done in their particular life, or they believe the Bible to be a record of what God has done in other lives. To me, that is backwards. The reason we don’t see more action is because of unbelief. I.e., God wants us to believe without having a good ‘reason.’ And of course, God knows if we are faking our belief. Hello, “GOD” lol. To me the mystery of faith is believing for faiths sake… faith is a substance all by itself. It’s been said that it is “impossible to please God without faith,” that “those who come to God must first believe that God is.”

    If it is true that “Gods ways are not our ways” then I think it can logically follow that God wants us to applaud before God acts, not as a response to something God does.

    I think otherwise sexually oriented folk are gifted in that our reality kinda forces us to think outside of the ‘normal’ order of things. What should we expect from a God that is both male and female… “the Lord is One.” 🙂

  13. Sheria in SA on May 20, 2009 at 6:01 pm Reply

    You are right lower case Paul, life can be ironic. Sometimes I love the suprises!

  14. warren on May 22, 2009 at 1:24 am Reply

    I think of my few experiences of a “gathered meeting” where the Silence is for all, and messages are given sometimes with tears, or with such tender warmth as lifts all who are present into a gentle high of shared understanding. And sometimes when I’ve gotten still in meeting, there comes such a feeling that I know that I’m to rise and share… Once I had such a feeling coming on, a sense of energies building, and someone across the meeting room stood and spoke, and the feeling went away in me–I felt as though I were a witness on more than one level. Sometimes it seems as though we are all just one view, or hearing, away from either giving or receiving the most profound of messages, whether in meeting or not. That which moves us makes no boundary between Itself and us–the boundaries are, I feel, only ours.

  15. Andrew on May 22, 2009 at 3:19 am Reply

    The story did not have a close quotes. It seems to be missing a punch line. Does it? But I loved the description of the silent meetings.

    I have had the chorus to Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluyah” in my head for perhaps a year. I want to sing it during silent meeting. Just the one word, 4 times:

    “Halleluyah”
    “Halleluyah”
    “Halleluyah”
    “Halleluyah”

    The song is truly insane yet beautiful. k.d. lang does the best version of it I know on her album 49th Parallel.
    I want to sing it during silent meeting but I don’t because:

    1 I am not a singer, I have not even tried to sing it except sometimes along with k.d. lang.
    2 Many Quakers, especially elder ones, don’t like music that much, or at least during meeting.

    3 It may be meaningless to many.

    Although to this day I have not looked up the word, I love the word. To me it means worship. One 1st day a few weeks ago I heard several positive messages. All was good. That good feeling was all around. I was about to sing the chorus. Should I stand up for this or just sit? I was thinking. I was mustering up the energy, knowing I might offend. Maybe I would offend visitors from England that day. Hmmm. Then a woman stood up and talked about the need for peace education. She then told us that 5 or so teenagers in her immediate neighborhood and/or close family friends had either been murdered or killed this year alone.

    Halleluyah had to wait. Maybe I’ll look it up.

    The bartender appreciated the magnificence of the palm tree and could see that it was quiet and good. The bartender’s dog took shelter by the tree. Fresh coconuts brought more income to the pub. People drank coconut milk instead of beer and whisky. The tree was much loved. The Quaker and warthog came back. The Friend asked the bartender “Was it me, the warthog or the tree you wanted out of here?” The bartender smiled and apologized. It was the tree with his dirty feet.

    The warthog, the tree, and the bartender became Quakers too. Quakers would gather and worship by the tree. The tree visited other meetings throughout the world. He would especially like to have meetings for worship on Caribbean beaches.

    The tree became very well known and loved throughout the world. World leaders wanted to be by the tree. The tree smiled one day and spoke.

    “Enjoy life, gather in silence and listen for wisdom from within and without. Do good, be good. The universe can be a paradise. For me it is. Slowly but surely it will be a paradise for all.”

    After many years most people on earth became Quaker. Palm trees around the world were so proud. The tree became a leader by example.

    The tree never spoke again for it did not need to. But it listened, smiled, and enjoyed life. “

  16. Andrew on May 22, 2009 at 5:14 am Reply

    Correction:

    Murdered or killed themselves. Not murdered or killed.

    Love to all,

    Andrew

  17. p2son on May 22, 2009 at 9:05 am Reply

    Andrew, you gave that palm tree a much more glorious life than I had imagined. In my mind it simply lived, thrived and got on with it. But hey, who knows with these palm trees these day? Anything is possible.

    Hopefully they won’t turn the tree into an idol as so happens to those inspiring influences.

  18. waka on September 21, 2009 at 3:58 pm Reply

    your joke reminded me of another one.

    three people are meditating in a cave. After a number of years, one of them says “It’s cold in here.”

    One year later, another says “No it’s not.”

    Two years after that, the third one says “If you don’t stop this racket I’m going to move to a different cave.”

    🙂

  19. if God you fear on August 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm Reply

    don’t be gay, don’t be “queer” leave it behind if God you fear

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