Learning how to lean on God

Many Quaker leaders in previous generations wrote "journals" as personal accounts of their lives and ministry.  Often these journals begin with accounts of conversion experiences (usually referred to as "convincement" among Friends) or of early struggles to discover and hear God's calling inviting them into deeper levels of faithfulness & work for the Lord.  Often these struggles involved a great deal of spiritual turmoil.

To me, being a Friend takes an enormous leap of faith, a willingness to let go of one's own fears and agendas and to lean utterly on God.  There are many barriers to making this kind of whole-hearted commitment to live one's life faithfully in God.  Some struggle with a deep sense of unworthiness.  Others are trapped in addictions.  Still others feel arrogant and self-sufficient in their own powers and capacity to "make it" on their own.

Special spiritual challenges for men.  I find it fascinating that even though men have tended to dominate the leadership of most faith communities over the centuries, the members of many churches have been disproportionately female.  This is no accident. It is my experience that men's upbringing provides significant barriers to a close relationship with God.  Modern middle and upper class white men in the U.S. are taught to be strong, independent, intellectually sharp, "in charge", and to avoid vulnerability and emotionality.  This seems to me to be in direct contradiction to the call to lean on God and turn over one's life to the One at the heart of all.  I like to refer to this counter-intuitive imperative for men as "holy dependency". 

The late Christian psychiatrist, Jerry May, under whom I studied at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, described this process best in his book, Will and Spirit.  The book describes in detail two sharply contrasting ways of living and relating to God that May labels "willingness" versus "willfulness".  As a white male heterosexual upper middle class male who was the son and grandson of highly competent and overly 'in charge" New Englanders, I have had a life-long challenge trying to learn the path of holy dependency and open-hearted willingness in relationship to God.

I was invited in 2005 to give a plenary lecture at FGC Annual Gathering in Amherst MA.  The topic I chose was Throwing Open the Doors to My Heart.

I wrote a paper for the two year "spiritual directors" training program I took at the Shalem Institute on men's struggles to be vulnerable.  This paper was later published in the Journal of Christian Healing as "Healing the Male Heart: The Beatitudes as Radical Model for Masculinity". 
Healing the Male Spirit.pdf

I dealt with this topic in more detail at a talk I gave at Ohio Yearly Meeting sessions held in Barnesville in 2009.  Although the main topic of the talk was "Experiencing God's Love through Health Changes", I felt called to speak as well about the barriers I have felt as a man to a life of willingness and inward trust towards God.
I have been involved in "men's work" since 1969.  I was part of a Movement for New Society collective called Men Against Patriarchy in the 1970's.  We led antisexism workshops for men in the Philadelphia area.  As part of this group I co-authored with George Lakey and others a manifesto entitled "Understanding and Fighting Sexism: A Call to Men", which was later reprinted in a larger collection called "Off Our Backs & Onto Our Own Two Feet".

I co-led the annual gathering of Quakers in Pastoral Care & Counseling (QPCC) in 2001 with Jesse Paledofsky, Worth Hartman & Ben Tousley on the subject of "Ministering to the Male Soul."

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Quote that speaks to me

Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies

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They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  
Death cannot kill what never dies.  
Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  
For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
 - William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude, 1702.

Note: This passage was quoted by J.K.Rowling as the epigraph of her novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Braithwaite on Outreach

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Men & Women with a Message of Power

It is as a "religion of life" that Quakerism will be presented in the future and is being presented now.

Its distinguishing note will be its resolve to bring all this human life of ours under the transforming power of spiritual life.  It will stand out against all divisions and compartments that separate the sacred from the secular, the sanctuary from the outward world of nature, the sacrament from the days' common work, the clergy from the laity. 

It will tell of a Christian experience that makes all life sacred and all days holy, all nature a sanctuary, all work a sacrament, and gives to every man and woman in the body fit place and service.  Its concern will be to multiply men and women who will have a message of power because they are themselves the children of light.  It will claim the whole of man's life, and the whole of life, individual, social, national international, for the dominion of the will of God.

William C. Braithwaite and Henry T. Hodgkin, The Message and Mission of Quakerism (Philadelphia, Winston, 1912), 25-26.

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