"Come, Holy Spirit." This was the first message at the October 10, 2010, meeting for worship. It settled me further into expectant waiting but no further into worship.
Sometimes worship comes easily. Most times I have to work at finding worship within me. This meeting was not easy. When I’m restless at meeting, I examine my week’s experiences and search for any place where I may need clarification. If I find such areas, I try to open myself to my questions and offer those to Thea, Holy Spirit, Presence: whatever Union is reaching for me as I am reaching for It.
This meeting my thoughts could not center down; instead, they circled around the more than $700 in cash and checks addressed to me to pay for an advertisement in support of Roanoke area Muslims. The ad was the result of my frustration with the September 2010 threat of Qur’an burning and my dismay over the shouting match about the New York City mosque (which I feel should be called an interfaith center). The ad was published in the Roanoke Times on September 11, 2010, and cost $687.45. The final total of donations for the ad was $120 more than the cost of the ad. What would I do with the extra money?
I formed the idea for the support ad on Labor Day weekend. I could not get information on the cost of the ad until Tuesday, September 7, and if it was to be printed on Saturday the 11th, then the ad deadline was Thursday. I emailed Roanoke Meeting, the local peace organization Plowshare, and an interracial women’s group I attend, asking for people willing to sign the ad and donate money. People from those organizations passed the request on to three more groups. By the time I sent the email, the deadline was less than 36 hours away.
By the deadline, 64 people gave the Times permission, via email, to print their names on the support ad. Payment was required up front. I put it on my charge card, taking it on faith I would be repaid by the signers.
Because of the furor surrounding the proposed faith center, the department decided to print it as a political ad with the bottom line saying, "Paid for by Edna Whittier and Friends."
Elated by the swift registration of names, and by emails of thanks for organizing the ad, I felt swept up in a sense of the rightness of the ad.
After the ad ran I sent an email via the same route noting that I was putting $50.45 to the payment. With that sum as a start, the math worked out to a suggested donation of $9.80 for each signer. I asked that checks be made out to "Edna Whittier" with a memo line stating "support ad." I also asked if any extra money could be given to Plowshare.
During the first week I forgot to carry an envelope for any cash given to me and I didn’t immediately write down the names of the cash donors. So when I sent out a second email stating the amount I had received and thanking by name the people who had sent checks and cash, I thanked at least two people incorrectly. It also appeared that I had misplaced at least ten dollars.
It was a confusing time as I emailed and called people who I thought had given me cash. Fortunately, everyone was patient with my questions.
During the second week I received enough money to pay for the ad and had $120 for Plowshare, if I honored my statement of giving $50.45. All these checks were written to me personally. I had to endorse them and put them in my account before my credit card company could be paid. There was no one looking over my shoulder. There was no one counting the amount of money I was receiving.
I began to understand how easy it is to embezzle.
My lifestyle is decidedly modest. In the last 14 years I have worked parttime without health insurance and in an income bracket of under $20,000 (except for two years in New Jersey, where wages and the cost of living are among the highest in the nation). I keep my charge card limit at the lowest my credit union allows.
By the time of this meeting for worship, I had spent roughly 12 hours dealing with the ad. While the rightness of the ad never left me, a feeling that maybe I didn’t have to spend $50 on the ad began to slide in.
Normally when I receive requests for donations in the mail, 90 percent of them end up in the recycling bin. To those that I do answer, I usually give amounts of $5 to $20. Now that my credit debt could be paid, why should I pay more than my usual donation amount? Why shouldn’t I be compensated in some form for my time?
One of the women had given me $20, which I knew was a stretch for her. She lives alone in an older house that needs constant repairs. I offered to return $10 to her now that the cost had been met. She said no, it was her "onebig- right-thing" for the year. I told her I had been thinking I might back down on my contribution, but if she could give $20, I could give $50. And that was that—or so I thought.
But again at meeting for worship the sense of my modest means crept in. In the silence I thought over the idea of honesty and why I should burden myself with this struggle. Was I being selfrighteous? Had I been caught up in the idealism of the ad and now in the silence I was seeing the reality of my income?
As usual in a meeting where I cannot worship easily, I found my answers vague, and questions led to more questions rather than answers. There was no silent center, no sense of grounding.
Then my thoughts came to our witness of integrity—a word that comes from the same root as integrate. To have integrity is to integrate moral actions and words, preaching and practice, into one’s everyday life. This led me to the beginning, to George Fox and his sense of despair because he could find no one who "could speak to my condition."
Fox’s condition at that time was a sense of holiness in his person and his actions but also a despair that he found no one of the same holiness and actions. He was seeking a teacher, but no one could fill his need. One clergyman told him to try tobacco for his troubles, another suggested bloodletting. He tried various religious groups but left them in disagreement because he believed that women have souls and that revelations could be preached by anyone led by the Holy Spirit, including women and children. Finally, after three years, he heard a voice saying, "There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thy condition."
Here was his teacher, his touchstone, his guide. In his time and his manner he did the equivalent of putting on a "WWJD?" (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet. And here was my answer. It did not come in a quaking manner; it did not lead to a message for meeting because it was for me and it removed my vagueness. What would Jesus do? He said, "Let your yes be yes and no, no" (Matt. 5:37). What would he have me do? The same: let my yes be yes and no, no.
That might have been the end of the message, but my meeting asks for "afterthoughts— those thoughts that did not rise to the level of a message in meeting." So I spoke of my thoughts and in the last sentence I added, "Now I have a small sense of how easy it is to embezzle." In saying the word aloud— to my meeting—I felt the full weight of trust people had given me when they wrote out the checks in my name and handed me cash in meeting.
What would Jesus have me do? What would George Fox have me do? What would my meeting have me do?
A postscript: after meeting, a Friend came to me and said she had felt led to hold me in healing prayer during the meeting, sending comfort to me, and she would not have known the gathering results of that prayer but for the afterthoughts.