Thursday, November 15, 2007

on attaining to true prayer

One of the pastors I work with copied this chapter called "On Attaining to True Prayer" for me out of an old Quaker text on prayer, but I don't remember what the book is called so I'll have to edit this later after I ask him. Anyway, a couple things stood out to me as I was reading this chapter. It's talking about how to pray, in silent times and throughout the day.

First, I appreciated this line: "Those who have not learned to read are not...excluded from prayer; for the great Teacher who teacheth all things is Christ himself. They should learn this fundamental rule, that 'the kingdom of God is within them;' and that there only it must be sought." It's a good reminder that we don't have to be educated to know God, even though now (in the US anyway) it's likely that most of us know how to read.

Second and even more interesting: "Constant prayer is to keep the heart always right towards God. ... A son who loves his father does not always think distinctly of him; many objects draw away his mind, but these never interrupt the filial love; whenever his father returns into his thoughts, he loves him, and he feels, in the very inmost of his heart, that he has never discontinued one moment to love him, though he has ceased to think of him. In this manner should we love our heavenly Father."

The whole "pray without ceasing" thing has always seemed kind of daunting, but this makes it make sense. I don't think it's just excusing us from something difficult, but it explains how to pray in an unceasing manner--loving God fully at all times, even when we're not thinking about God directly. This makes a lot of sense to me.

And lastly, this sentence stood out to me: "The less we practise silent prayer, the less desire we have for it; for our minds being set upon outward things, we contract at last such a habit, that it is very hard to turn them inward." I think that's a very true and profound statement. I've found it to be true in my life that the less I "practise" silent prayer the less I desire it, and the more I practice it the more I miss it if I skip a day, or yearn for it if I have to put it off for a while. It's a great thing to be addicted to! I hope I can become more addicted every day!

Monday, November 12, 2007


Tonight in our Sunday night worship group we used one of the queries from Northwest Yearly Meeting's "Faith & Practice" to center and listen to God about. Bruce, who led the group tonight, asked about our experiences with the queries, and as we thought about that most of us realized we don't often use the queries for our own meditation or during group worship experiences. Some of us had read our own Yearly Meeting's queries, some of us had experienced using official queries at various Friends gatherings, and some of us have made up our own queries for leading worship experiences, but mostly we haven't used the "official" queries very often.

That's interesting, because the queries are basically our way of expressing our theology: we don't have a creed, but we use the queries to help us think about not just what we believe but whether we are living out our beliefs.

I noticed tonight that the queries were probably the Quaker version of catechism: whereas in Catholic and other churches' catechisms people memorize rote responses to specific doctrinal questions, Quakers ask open-ended questions whose responses should come out of intensely personal experiences of the Divine. I appreciate this approach immensely! It leaves room for so much more dialogue and spiritual growth. It reminded me why I have an aversion to creeds or credal "statements of faith."

It was good to use a query to center us and to share about tonight. We're going to keep doing that at least for a few more weeks with our Sunday night worship group. Anyone in the area is welcome to join us!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

where my spirit lives

I was reminded last weekend of where my spirit lives. I had forgotten about the physical space in my body that feels full when I'm connected with God--it's not that I hadn't felt that recently, I just hadn't been paying attention to when that happens. I said something to another person at the Youthworkers Training Conference last weekend about, "What, your spirit doesn't live in your intestines?" or something like that, just joking around, and she said, "No, my spirit lives here," pointing to her chest. "Mine, too," I said, remembering.

My spirit lives in a seed-shaped space in the center of my chest, which is interesting, because of course that is a place where many religions focus their spiritual energies. I didn't know that when I started noticing the spiritual sense of fullness there when I feel close to God.

It was a good reminder to pay attention to my body and my spirit together, because they work together, and give me clues about both their needs, and give me clues about when I am in the presence of God in an unusual way.

Tonight I was practicing centering prayer, which is a contemplative type of prayer where you don't do anything, you just try to be present to God. You don't try to discern anything or hear God or meet any expectations, you simply are. It took me a while to finally just become present in the moment, not thinking or planning or worrying or reminiscing, just being there. When I started focusing on my spirit's connection to the Spirit, my self fell away and I forgot all that other stuff and was able to simply be. It's an amazing feeling to just let everything I am fall away and just be in God's presence. I wonder why we don't do this more often? What's so hard about it? I don't know.

I hear that living the contemplative life will bring up all the bad stuff in myself--that I'll start noticing stuff about myself that I don't like, and that that will chase me away from being contemplative. I think this is definitely true--it's one of the main reasons I've gotten out of the habit of centering prayer, I'm pretty sure. Tonight I noticed how self-centered I am, all my thoughts and plans revolving around myself and unable to be stopped...but then they were stopped. It's that sweet sense of spaciousness when I can forget my self-centeredness and everything not so good about myself, and just's that experience that makes it beautiful and keeps me at this thing called the "contemplative life."

It seem significant to me that I just realized again where my spirit lives by chance, right as I was on the brink of heading back into this contemplative way of living. I think this is what Quakers call "the Inner Light," because it seems like the space in myself that is burning with a holy fire, that's connected to the Divine, that is at once both the space that is most intensely myself and most intensely not-myself. It's that space-between, that mediating world between thought and intuition, that space where God takes on human flesh and breaks through into the world. By attending (and tending) to this space I co-create with God a way for God to break through into the world, and all I have to do is just be.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

a tribute to my dad on his birthday

It's my dad's birthday, so I wanted to tell you all a bit about him, and a few of the things I've learned from him. So happy birthday, Dad!

When I was a kid I learned from my dad (among other things) an appreciation of art, nature, integrity and good thinking. I cherish my memories of going to art shows, galleries, and taking hikes. I appreciate my dad's encouragement of my questions, always trying to answer them and help me to think about the answers I might give.

One of the major things I appreciate about my dad is his integrity. He raised me a Christian Quaker, and I saw him and my mom working hard to intentionally live out their beliefs in social justice, equality, and love for all people.

My dad eventually decided he no longer believes in God/a supernatural (anything outside of or above the natural world), but he's kind of still a Quaker, although he sits with a Buddhist meditation group. I appreciate his integrity even in deciding he no longer has faith in a supernatural realm, because he wouldn't just lie to himself. It might have been easier for him to ignore his own doubts and to go on living as if he believed in God and Jesus and everything, to continue in his nice little church community, but he chose to have the courage and integrity to tell the truth about what he believed. I appreciate this courage and integrity immensely, and it has encouraged me to be honest about my own faith, doubts, and questions.

Even though my dad doesn't believe in a supernatural realm, he has come to recognize that spiritual stuff is still important. He knows his brain and whatever makes up his "self" needs meditation, needs community, needs to examine and analyze itself in order to change and grow into a better person. So my dad is more intentional about meditation than I am! I'm inspired by his tenacious practice of meditation, and by the amazing and beautiful changes I've seen in him over the years as he's practiced meditation and allowed himself to grow, confronting the things in himself that he thinks are negative and working to change those things.

I appreciate immensely the fact that in the last couple of years, we've learned to translate each other's language in our heads so we can truly hear each other and the truth and power of one another's experiences, even though we don't agree about their source. It's an amazing gift to be able to talk to my dad honestly about what I believe and what I'm working on in school or work (and he reads my blog), and for him to give me feedback and help me think more clearly about all those things. It's also an amazing gift to be able to listen to his spiritual journey and be challenged, inspired, and held accountable by it.

Thanks, Dad, for being true to who you are, and sharing yourself with me over the course of my life. You're a great dad, and I love you!

Monday, November 05, 2007

the contemplative life

This weekend I went to a retreat for youthworkers in our yearly meeting. I haven't done a lot of youth work this year, but my husband was helping out with music so I got to go, my father-in-law was in charge of the retreat and wanted me to hear what his friend, Daniel Wolpert, had to say. (You can find information about an organization he works with called Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing, and about his books, Creating a Life with God and Leading a Life with God.)

Daniel is a Presbyterian minister who wishes he was Quaker...OK, maybe not exactly, but he's spent time in Quaker meetings and says we're lucky to be Quaker because we already understand a lot of the contemplative stuff that other denominations just don't get right away.

He talked with us about the need to spend time in prayer/meditation often.

He talked about the need to take Sabbath, one day in seven and/or one hour in seven and/or one year in seven...not to be legalistic, but because we need to give ourselves space to rest, reflect, and be in the presence of God.

He talked about our culture's addiction to busyness, how it's like an addiction to a drug, that makes us think "everyone's doing it." He said when people say, "You're very busy," and he says, "No, actually--I'm not that busy," people get mad at him because a) they think he's lying, or b) they think he's lazy.

He also talked about our culture's addiction to money/materialism/buying stuff (especially on credit), and how this enslaves us to having to make a certain amount of money, but if we talk about not doing this people think we're destroying civilization because our society is completely built on people being enslaved to their debt, working to pay it off, and buying more than they can afford.

He talked about seeing our lives as a pilgrimage, where the intention is to follow God with no expectations. The destination isn't the important part--we don't have an agenda except to attend to God and do what God asks of us along the way. Spiritual practices are a huge part of this, because they are the vehicles by which we put ourselves in a space to intentionally focus on God and become better at hearing God's voice. He used the metaphor of practicing for sports--"Why is it that with something as unimportant as a sports game we expect players to practice often, but with something as important as our spiritual lives we think we don't need to practice? What if you showed up to play on a basketball team, but you told the coach you weren't going to practice?"

He talked about the fact that we get so caught up with "getting stuff done" that we don't allow ourselves to just be with God, and yet, over the course of history, it's the contemplatives who have "gotten the most done" for the Kingdom of God, even though they seemed a little bit (or a lot) nuts. He talked about Francis of Assisi, who took off all his clothes in the city square, said, "I'm going to follow Jesus, who's with me?" and ran off into the woods. Weird! "But how many other 14th century people have you heard of?" So if we choose to lead a contemplative life, it may feel like we'll never get anything done because we'll just sit around doing nothing. But if we're doing it "right," we'll be transformed by God and be invigorated to do all sorts of things that God wants us to do. People are attracted (in a strange way) to those who are putting themselves in this space to be transformed. The world doesn't like them because they challenge the world's basic assumptions, but the world recognizes something different about contemplatives, and respects them--like the early Friends, who acted after prayer and contemplation, who were thrown in jail, but who were respected and seen as people of integrity and goodness wherever they went.

In order to lead a contemplative life, we have to first be confronted with ourselves, and the not so good parts of ourselves. Daniel said this is one of the main reasons most people don't get past the beginning stages of contemplation. People think either 1) this is self-centered, 2) I don't want to get to know myself, I wanted to get to know God! Why isn't God showing up?, or 3) I don't want to face into that truth about myself so I'm going to run away as quickly as possible and find something else to keep me busy so I'll never have to learn that about myself.

It's #3 that I've been wrestling with lately, I think. I've been feeling for a few months now that God is nudging me to a deeper space spiritually, and I haven't been willing to jump off the ledge. I know the reason why--I'm scared to learn more about myself that I don't want to know. I want to skip that stage and get to the part about me going out and doing something radical for God. As some of you reminded me when I posted a week or two ago about Christian Peacemaker Teams, I can't just go do what sounds idealistically right, I have to instead do what I'm called to--and I can't find out what I'm called to unless I listen.

So...that's the hard part. I have some goals. I've been feeling like what I really need is accountability (my spiritual accountability partner recently moved to Texas...), so maybe posting this on here will be enough accountability to get me going. Goals:

1. start doing contemplative prayer (centering prayer, lectio divina, meditation, etc.) daily
2. take a Sabbath day each week
3. when I get back to school in late January, continue doing these things
4. pray with/for my husband often
5. when I get jobs in the future, have part of my contract include taking time for contemplative prayer

These seem like really basic things I should be doing already, but I don't. So I want to start now, and not just do them as dead rules I force myself to live by, but to use these forms (and whatever other ones come to me later) to put me in a space where I'm intentionally learning to hear the voice of God. I want to be as much a student of God as I am a student of my other professors!

A quote someone brought up this weekend, attributed to Martin Luther, struck a chord with me:

" I pray for 2 hours each day, and on days when I really have a lot to get done I pray for 4 hours."

That perspective is so opposite of our culture's idea of how to get things done--when we have a lot to get done we generally skip our prayer time so we can do all the other "important" things. But what is more important? Being in the presence of God, or getting our to-do list done?

Friday, November 02, 2007

quaker preaching

I'm not the biggest fan in the world of programmed meetings in Quaker-dom, but since they're there, and since they do serve a purpose (pulling people in who agree with Quaker testimonies for the most part but wouldn't come for an hour of silent waiting), and since I'm currently serving in a community with programmed worship meetings, I do my best to preach in the Spirit when I'm called to do so.

What does it look like to preach in the Spirit? Well, I think it's different for everyone. I've come quite a long ways since first really preaching in June 2006 (you can look it up in the archives...I don't want to find the link... =) The first time I preached I felt pretty nervous, I didn't know the community I was speaking to very well, and I had a really hard time coming up with any personal stories to share with them about the topic I spoke on. I think I did fine as far as presentation--I don't think I appeared nervous, and I didn't stumble over my words or anything. But I'm not sure I was exactly preaching in the Spirit. I was preaching a message I was passionate about and that I felt led to share, but that's different. I wrote out a manuscript and read it, which went fine because I'd practiced it several times. But I wasn't able to be vulnerable, to share my soul and not just some information that hopefully would make it to people's hearts.

The next time I preached there, about a month later, I preached from the heart and shared personal stories, but I had a hard time connecting it to anything that really had spiritual depth, I felt. People appreciated learning more about me and my journey, which is good to some degree, I think, but I don't know that God was able to speak to them through me per se.

Recently I think I've become more comfortable preaching. I no longer write out the manuscript--at least if I do, I don't take it up with me, I just take an outline to look at. I think having a manuscript is good if you can truly allow the Spirit to speak through you while reading it, and sometimes I think it's important for me to have a manuscript--when what I'm saying needs to be precise, or when I might water down the message if I don't put it into specific words beforehand (e.g. my Beacon Hill talk that I posted here in May 2007).

I've found the last two times I've preached that I do much better at connecting with people, and connecting the Spirit with people, when I'm not reading. I can listen better to the random ideas that occur to me on the spot--stories that come up, jokes, better ways to explain something, examples.

Preaching this way is good for me because I like to be in control, to have it all planned out, to know how long it will take, to say it all the "right" way. But to have spent time listening beforehand, to have spent time researching and practicing and mulling and contemplating and discussing and writing, and then to go up there and continue listening in that moment, is really quite powerful. There's a different spark, a different kind of energy, that I feel when I trust the Spirit to give me words in that moment. I think it's really important to have people who feel led to take the time to do research beforehand and think and listen about the message beforehand, as opposed to just receiving it in meeting and speaking it then and there, because I think God gave us our brains and ability to do good research for a reason. That stuff glorifies God just as much as it does when we spontaneously receive a message. I truly enjoy doing the research and stewing on a topic for a month or so and then sharing the fruits of my contemplation with my spiritual community.

Another good thing about programmed meeting messages is that we can bring up a challenge to the community that we're working on personally and sense the meeting is working on. That's what I did this last week. It's hard to know, though, what is something I'm working on personally and what is something I should bring before the meeting. It's also hard when using examples from my own life, because I feel really vulnerable--like I'm sharing a lot of myself, and I'm not sure how it will be received. It's a little bit scary. But I talk about the need to be truthful in our spiritual communities, to be able to share vulnerably, and so I guess the one preaching should be the one exemplifying that. It's just interesting because of our culture's insistence on "professional distance." In Quaker preaching, we don't have that professional distance--we're all equal, any of us could have brought this message, it's just that God happened to bring it through me and my experiences. We're not on a pedestal, we're just another traveler groping toward the Light.

It's been fun to learn my style and figure out how to get in the "flow," how to allow the Spirit to speak through me better and better when I preach. I don't think I'm perfect at this yet--I have a long way to go! But I think I'm getting better. And it's more fun this way, too, because I'm more relaxed and free to share what I'm called to in that moment, with the background of having done good preparation.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

whatever kindles

I just got home from a play called Whatever Kindles. It's about Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group that does nonviolent resistance, intervention and accompaniment in conflict situations around the world. This play is by a f/Friend of mine named Tricia Gates Brown, and it is amazing! This was the first time the play has been produced ever (well, last night was the first performance). Tricia did a wonderful job of showing the good things about CPT, the hard things, and the internal struggles that happen when in the midst of conflict situations--how everything is suddenly not so black and white, so easily categorized, so easy to tell people to "just get along"...

In the play the characters tell their stories of involvement with CPT, their hopes, fears, doubts, uncertainties, joys, and conviction. It was inspiring, but not in the way that you want to go out and join up, but in the way that it forces you to seriously think about all the options, and hits you squarely in the conscience in a way that's hard to ignore.

I've wanted to join CPT for several years now but the timing hasn't been right yet. Now with a little baby I don't know when the timing will ever be right, so I ask myself, why not now? If not now, when? Other people's children live in those conflict areas (Israel/Palestine, Colombia, Iraq, etc.), and they can't leave. How can I say, "I have a child," as an excuse not to go help them? At the same time, is it helpful to put myself and my child's future at risk unnecessarily when my being there won't change the situation for those other kids and families?

But the thing is, my being there would change the situation. For some reason, when people are there watching, others have a harder time being so violent. When those involved in using violent force encounter someone who sees them and treats them as a human, they are less able/willing to dehumanize all the people they are told to victimize. So my being there could change the level of danger for someone else's kids, and it's not likely I would die (only one CPTer, Tom Fox, has ever died as a result of their presence in these conflict areas).

And even if I died, wouldn't that have a positive effect (in some ways) on my little boy, who would grow up knowing that I lived what I believed and was willing to die for it?

I guess I just feel like a hypocrite sometimes--no, maybe more than sometimes. I feel like I do a lot of talking but not much putting my life on the line, not much where I have to get outside my comfort zone. At the same time, CPT is a "safe" thing for me to do that would sound really amazing and world-altering, but am I able to do peacemaking in my own community? Shouldn't I start here? Am I willing to step out and "Get in the Way" (as is the CPT motto) here, where I have more at stake? Even closer to home, am I willing to work on the places of violence in my own heart here and now, to make peace in my relationships and family? Wouldn't it be just as hypocritical to go out and try to make other people make peace without making peace in my own area of influence?

Perhaps, but at least I need to be doing something. How much waiting around and planning and "getting educated" can a person do before they act? Will a person actually act if they get stuck in the rut of "preparation"? I need some motivation to actually get out there and do something.

The title of the play comes from a quote by Theresa de Avila, where she says to do "whatever kindles love." What kindles love in me? What kindles love in you? Why is it so hard to get ourselves to do the things we love and are truly passionate about?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

status anxiety

I just read this book by Alain de Botton, and I've been thinking a lot about the topic of status anxiety as I prepare to give a message in worship on Sunday. We're doing a series on "Generosity, Stewardship & Simplicity," and so the title for my message is "Your Money or Your Life: a spirit of fear or a spirit of generosity?" I'm excited about it and have a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head, but it's hard to condense them into what I think is really important to say in 15-20 minutes. (Side note: it's amazing how 15-20 minutes talking in front of people sounded so long and scary in high school! I remember having to do a speech for that long and thought I would never have enough to say to fill that time.)

Basically what I've been thinking about is how much time, energy and resources we throw into maintaining our current status of living, at least for most of us in middle (and higher) class America. It seems like we have plenty to be generous with, but then we rope ourselves into mortgages, car payments, jobs with limited vacation time, and other responsibilities that "every good parent" or "every good citizen" should be involved in and care about. Thinking about giving up some of our money or time and living at a lower standard of living is scary. Why? Because we've bought into the idea that our status in the social hierarchy is a moral value.

De Botton does an excellent job of explaining this in his book. It's a book of philosophy at a very readable level, and he explains the problem in the first half of the book and then different angles of a solution to the problem. I appreciate that he doesn't just name the problem but that he tries to help us see a way out. (I'm not so good at that--I can name the problems all day long, but actually working toward a solution??? Someone else needs to do that part!)

So anyway, he explains how in medieval times, it was seen as an a priori truth that some people were born as nobles with privilege, and most were not, and that those were our God-given stations in life. As the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution occurred, it wasn't necessary to be born with privilege to be able to earn money and a name for oneself anymore. So now, since it's theoretically possible for anyone to make money and be "successful" in America, anyone who isn't can be seen as morally inferior. In medieval times, one didn't have to feel bad that one was a serf (or at least not as bad), because that was just the way things were. Now, if you're poor and can't get a good enough job to feed your family but you can't get an education because you have to work to at least put a little food on the table, you're labeled morally less worthy because you can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Money has become the indicator of who is a "good" person, to a large extent.

And Christians, and Quakers even, have bought into this system.

It's not that most of us are afraid we won't have enough to cover basic necessities, it's that we're afraid people will think we can't take care of ourselves and aren't worth as much in their eyes because of it. The funny thing is that even simplicity has become a status symbol in some ways--Quakers act holier-than-thou because we shop organic or have a more fuel-efficient car or take retreats to meditate, but all these things are symbols of our financial status as well. We're a sub-group of snobs who act like we want to change the world but really we just want people to like us.

Ouch, that was harsh. Sorry, somebody's got to say it! And I'm guilty of it, too. But how do we get ourselves out of this status binge? How do we learn to allow God to name our status and not worry about what others think? What's the balance between having enough to live on and not going overboard to getting more and more stuff to try to fill the void of wanting to be loved?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

themes in the hebrew scriptures

Tonight I taught a small group on themes in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament, but that doesn't honor the fact that God still speaks through them very well). As I was prepping for the class I read a bunch of the book A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, Petersen), which is very well done, I thought. I got a lot of good information out of it and appreciated their intentionality about looking at the writings on their own terms, not putting 2000 years of Christian thought directly into them, but looking at what the text says and creating an interaction between the text and Christian traditional theology.

Anyway, one of the themes I was working on was the theme of the law, which isn't usually one of my favorite parts of the Bible because a) it's kinda' boring, b) we don't follow most of those laws anymore anyway, and c) some of the laws are even hurtful to women or other groups. But some things about how they talked about the law in this book stood out to me: first, the laws were given to a people who had already been redeemed, i.e. bought out of slavery, by God--they were already in relationship with God. These laws were put in place to help them live the best possible life in community. They were not rewarded when they obeyed, they just received the natural good consequences of living in positive relationship to others. They weren't punished when they disobeyed, except by the natural negative consequences of not living in right relationship with others.

Second, it pointed out that because of Israel's connection to the land (the Promised Land), the consequences of not living according to God's laws were seen played out on their land, and that was a huge thing for them. When they lived in right relationship with God and others, the land could be fruitful and produce as it was supposed to and provide health for them. When they didn't live in right relationship with God and others, the land suffered because of their selfishness and wars. Christians have forgotten this connection between our actions and the land we live in because we aren't a religion connected to a certain place. But I think we definitely need to remember this, and start living with respect for the Earth.

Third, the Levitical law doesn't use substitutionary language. The animals that are sacrificed aren't ever said to be "in place of" ourselves, but they are a sacrifice of God-given life, something that is a sacrifice for us to do without. God gave the life to the animal and accepted that life as a sacrifice showing the intention of the person to be in right relationship with God, even if it wasn't easy. Different people gave different sacrifices based on their level of wealth, so that every person had to give something that would truly be a sacrifice for them--something that was hard to go without. That was the way the Israelites worshiped God, through giving a tangible offering hopefully representing an inward reality.

That last one got me thinking about what it is that I sacrifice in worship. Do I sacrifice anything? Again, going back to the Romans 12:1-2 passage I talked about last week, it says that we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, for this is our spiritual worship. So do I truly offer my body for God to use as God wants? Sometimes...but most of the time I want to be in control, and it's hard to sacrifice anything that I find it difficult (read: not comfortable) to live without.

Well, I suppose offering my body as a living sacrifice at this point means I should be in bed sleeping while I have the chance (but don't worry--I think this blog's still on East Coast time but I'm on the West Coast so it's not as bad as it looks! =)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

americans, intimacy & the other

While watching a movie last night I had this epiphany: Have you ever noticed that in American media (books & movies, mainly) the archetypal way of showing intimacy is inevitably sex?

OK, so maybe that's really obvious. But I was thinking about the reasons for that, and why it bugs me. If I think of it as an archetype, it doesn't bug me as much, because it's just the form, the way of getting into our subconscious to tell us that intimacy is going on in that relationship. If that's the case, great--the problem is, when we see sex over and over as the only expression of intimacy we tend to try to live that way as a culture. The fact that movies, books, etc. use sex as the only way to show intimacy means that we have a large proportion of the people who grow up in this culture not knowing how to be intimate without being sexual. This, of course, can cause many problems, from parents who sexually abuse their children, to difficulties having deep friendships even with the gender we wouldn't otherwise be attracted to because we don't know how to separate our feelings of intimacy between sexual feelings and other forms of love.

I think this is an important piece connected with the topic I posted about the other day in my post invisibility & the other: we both want and refuse intimacy, because we both want and refuse responsibility for the other. In our media, showing a couple having sex shortly after meeting is what works because a) people don't want to sit through a several year-long movie showing the development of a healthy relationship based on something other than sex, and b) sex gives the illusion of intimacy even if that intimacy doesn't really exist (or couldn't at that point if it were real life). Moving straight to sex is often (but not always) in media a way to show intimacy without responsibility: we see the couple get together and be happy and "in love," and the movie ends, happily ever after. Sometimes we see one or both of the characters working for that love to some degree--being responsible for the other--but mainly that is a small little glitch in an otherwise perfect-looking relationship where there are no lasting struggles, nothing that might make one develop a deeper sense of true intimacy by being responsible for the other and sticking with them through thick and thin. (Obviously this is a gross generalization--there are movies and books out there that show true intimacy and people show each other unconditional love that is not based only on sex.)

But I think making a relationship move directly to sex like this makes people invisible to each other, because it either assumes that all there is to know about me/you can be known in a glance and we can therefore be completely and immediately intimate with one another (which of course is an all-time wish, love at first sight), or that there is no need to know the other before being physically intimate, because all we need to do is satisfy our sex drives and that will make us intimate. But neither of these brings responsibility for the other into the equation, and therefore the intimacy is flat.

In my opinion, this is extremely damaging to the health of our culture's relationships. We have a generation (or more) of people who don't want to, or don't understand the need to, put work into a relationship, and that from this working and struggling over obstacles together and learning each other day in and day out, from all of this comes intimacy, not from a meaningful glance and a tumble in bed (although both of these are good things, too!).

So, sex as an archetypal image for intimacy is OK, but if we take it literally it makes us invisible to one another: we just become bodies to fulfill physical urges, rather than true partners in life, each striving to be more responsible for the other than we even are for ourselves.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

quaker mecca

Today I watched a DVD of a National Geographic special called "Inside Mecca."

In our Yearly Meeting we joke about Newberg, Oregon being "Quaker Mecca," because it has George Fox University, Barclay Press, Newberg Friends, North Valley Friends, Second Street, Iglesia Evangelica los Amigos en Newberg, and West Chehalem Friends, as well as the Northwest Yearly Meeting headquarters. But calling Newberg the Quaker Mecca is totally different from the real Mecca (obviously...)

As I watched the DVD I found myself appreciating certain things about the idea of having a place and physical rituals to do together. The documentary showed three people on their pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that all Muslims are supposed to do at least once in their life to retrace the steps of Muhammad, and Abraham before him. Every year, 2 million Muslims come to Mecca for Hajj. They visit the Ka'abah, the mosque that they pray toward several times a day, and then they all leave the city for rituals signifying purification, forgiveness, and overcoming temptation.

Although I disagree with quite a few things about Islam, I can't help but be drawn to the physicality of their rituals and traditions. As a Quaker I dislike empty rituals, but rituals that still have meaning can be helpful and good. One ritual that my husband and I learned from some friends is called "The Birthday Questions." On each person's birthday we ask them three questions: What is a high point from the last year? What is a low point from the last year? What are you looking forward to in the next year? (We also sometimes use these questions at New Years and on our anniversary.) These are simple questions, but having this ritual helps us remember, reflect and be grateful for the gifts we've been given and the struggles we've come through. It also helps us get to know others better, and allows us to focus well on the person whose birthday it is, to really hear their heart. So I think some rituals can be helpful.

In Quakerism, of course, we have rituals, even though we don't call them that. Unprogrammed meetings have the ritual of entering the meeting space in silence and waiting for the Spirit to speak through those gathered. Programmed meetings have rituals of singing, reading scripture, and listening to the Spirit through someone who has been listening and preparing a message. Sometimes these rituals are helpful in bringing us to awareness of the presence of God, and sometimes they are dead forms.

But we don't often do very well at using physical actions to represent spiritual truths. That's what stood out to me most about the Mecca rituals. They show their desperate need for God by running (or walking quickly) back and forth between two hills, symbolizing Hagar's desperate search for water to give to her thirsty baby Ishmael. They go to the physical spaces to remember things that happened in their sacred history to Muhammad and Abraham. They throw pebbles at stone pillars to represent stoning Satan, overcoming temptation in their lives. And of course, the pilgrimage itself, the movement from the everyday places to the place of remembrance, is itself a ritual of physical import.

I think we as Quakers probably miss a lot by not using our bodies more often to connect spiritually to one another and to God.

Actually, now that I think about it, that's something that I noticed from the Romans 12:1-2 passage I talked about last weekend and posted in my "retreat!" post. It goes like this:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I noticed that this passage talks about our bodies, our spirits, and our minds. We worship through using our bodies and our minds, not just our spirits. It is "spiritual worship" to use our bodies and minds for God. As Quakers we probably see how our minds fit in to our spirituality, but I think we often forget that we need to allow our bodies to connect with God, too. I don't know what that would look like for you--dancing, playing a sport, playing music, resting, laughing, or creating some other physical ritual that is meaningful between you and God.

I don't think we should create rituals that everyone has to do in order to be spiritual, but I think it would be good to pay attention to the ways we use our bodies, and how those things are sacraments. All of life is a sacrament, as the early Friends taught. Perhaps we too often fall into the trap of Greek dualism, separating the sacred from the profane, not allowing our bodies to enter into our sacred time of meeting together and being in God's presence. I'm not sure how we can right this as a group, but maybe if individuals work on it in their own personal lives we can create meaningful spaces where our bodies can be used together to praise God.

Actually, the whole universe is Quaker Mecca, because we don't have to go to a certain place to be in the presence of God, or to remember God's faithfulness.

invisibility & the other

I went to a lecture last night by Corey Beals, a Quaker professor (and friend) who just wrote a new book called Levinas & the Wisdom of Love: the Question of Invisibility. Levinas is a postmodern philosopher (postmodern in the philosophical sense, meaning early- to mid-twentieth century, rather than postmodern in the American cultural sense, which is, apparently, now), a Jew who endured a work camp in France in WWII, and an amazingly powerful, profound and deep thinker. I may have written posts about him before, in my very early blog posts. I read some of his work for a class my first semester of seminary and really liked it, although I have questions about his view of women as "other" although he's trying to do something helpful. But that's for another post, and I really am not enough of a Levinas expert (or a Levinas expert at all...) to criticize.

Anyway, Corey did his dissertation on Levinas, so he had some great things to say and takes Levinas' thought in a helpful direction that I think Quakers can grasp onto. Corey talked about Levinas' theory that when we attend to the other above ourselves, that is when we are most human. Most of us don't do this so well, however, and end up attempting to either make ourselves "invisible," or make the other "invisible." We do this in many ways, which Corey went through quite thoroughly.

As I listened to the lecture I wondered, Why is it that we want to make ourselves invisible, or want to make others invisible? Of course it comes down to our fear of the tremendous responsibility we have for the other when we allow ourselves to truly see them. And yet, at the same time, we have this insatiable desire to be seen, to be known truly for who we are, to not be categorized or dismissed, but to be truly seen.

At the same time we have a huge problem with being seen in this way. For some reason it's incredibly scary to be so transparent, to take off our masks and let others see in to who we are. It's easier to block ourselves off, to make ourselves "invisible" to others so they can't see our real selves, than to experience the pain of showing our real selves and being dismissed and made invisible by others.

It is also easier to put up walls so we can't see others--these can be physical or intangible walls--so we don't see their pain, which we would be required to ease, so we don't see the fact that we're causing them pain, which we would definitely be required to right. We put up walls by making enough middle-men (or middle-women) so that we don't really know what we're doing is hurting others, so the responsibility is not ours. The classic example of this, of course, is the military--no one is ultimately responsible for others' deaths, because those who order it don't carry it out, and those who carry it out are just following orders. But we do this in so many other ways, too: I don't know where my shoes come from! How could I know if they were made in a sweat shop? Or just living as we "must" in America because there's no other way to live (so we justify to ourselves), even though the way we live costs the lives of others the world over each day just so we can have the luxuries we've come to need.

So it comes down to the problems of intimacy and responsibility. We all want intimacy, but we don't really want responsibility. And yet, with intimacy comes responsibility to be a safe place for that intimacy to grow and blossom. Why is that so hard? Especially in our meetings, I see this as a huge problem. We say we want to be close to each other, but we do not create the time to get to know anyone on a deep level. We don't take the time to listen to the Spirit together in an intimate way. We listen to the Spirit together in safe ways, where we all follow the rules of the gathered meeting, and where people are eldered if they break those rules.

I would suggest that because we've lost almost all levels of intimacy with one another, we have lost intimacy with God. Levinas says it is in the face to face encounter with the other, the true seeing of the other, that we encounter God. I suggest that if we do not allow ourselves true encounters with the other, we cannot see God and we cannot live out the responsibility we have to follow God in ways that are meaningful. We put up walls so we don't have to truly see each other because we fear the responsibility we would have to face into. These walls keep us from a true and intimate relationship with God.

It reminds me of a Dar Williams song called "What Do You Hear in These Sounds" about how she likes going to her therapist. She says:

And I wake up and I ask myself what state I'm in
And I say well I'm lucky 'cause I am like East Berlin
I had these walls and what I knew of the free world was
That I could see their fireworks and I could hear their radios
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they'd know that I was scared, they would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down, and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling and their calling out
Just like me

So why is it so scary to be ourselves? And why is it so hard to be responsible?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Why is it that it's so hard to get important stuff done that I really want to get done but that takes some effort? I am currently procrastinating, because although blogging takes some effort it's not the same as some other things, like working on editing a paper I want to see if I can get published, or reading academic things I'm interested in but that are work to get through. (Or then there's the cleaning that could be done...but I did most of that yesterday so I don't feel too bad about that!)

Anyway, while I'm writing a post, I'll tell about the weekend I just had, as referred to in my last post. We went to a really nice cabin with 10 was perhaps a little TOO nice for my taste, with a TV in almost every room (flat screens) and a Wii game thingy-jobber, an automatic espresso machine, etc. But it was a nice place to be able to relax with a group of people.

My baby son didn't like it so much. We were sick last week, and just a couple days after he recovered we took him to this weird place, so he didn't sleep well, hence we didn't sleep well. But that goes with the territory of babies! He was fine during the day...and there were 2 other babies there to keep him company, so he had fun.

My parts of the retreat went well, I thought. The first night was best. The weekend theme was "Answering the Call" and I spoke on Friday night about the Call to Christ and Saturday night about the Call to Ministry in the Body of Christ. I liked the first one because I got them talking about when they first heard and responded to the Call of Christ--their conversion/convincement experience, and/or an experience of turning to Christ that has been significant since that point. It seemed like it got them talking on a deeper level with each other than they probably have before. It was cool to hear their stories, too. Then we talked about how hearing the call to Christ isn't a one-time thing, but it's a continual "renewing of our minds," as it says in Romans 12:2, which is the text I used. We have to turn and turn and turn back to Christ because we get distracted or lazy. So I presented some tools to use to practice being aware of God's presence and growing spiritually in a positive direction. It felt like that night was community building, depth-producing, and helpful. The second night was OK, but not as good.

OK, I'm going to do something more productive now. I am, I really am! Before the baby wakes up...

Friday, October 05, 2007


This weekend I'll be helping lead a retreat for some young adults from a meeting here in Oregon. The topic is "Call to a Life of Faithfulness," and I'm speaking/facilitating Friday night on "Call to Christ," and Saturday night on "Call to Ministry within the Church." So I'd appreciate if you'd pray for me/hold me in the Light this weekend, that I'll be faithful to the message I've been given, that it will come across in a way people can understand, and that God will be present and active.

I'm using Romans 12 as a text, especially the first two verses:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect."

These are some of my favorite verses, about the very essence of what it is to be a faithful Christ-follower. The rest of the passage gets into how to do this in community, which is key, because we can't do this by ourselves. So that's kind of where I'm going with this, giving some tools for putting yourself in a place where you can be transformed, and talking about the love of Christ which allows us to work together as one body.

Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, October 01, 2007

the red tent

I just finished the book The Red Tent the other day, by Anita Diamant. It's an excellent book--a novel about the life of Dinah in Genesis, the daughter of Jacob who, we are told, was raped by the prince of Shechem, Jacob was offered a bride-price, and he asked that all the men of Shechem be circumcised as well, then he and his sons went in and killed them all while they were recovering.

The novel is told from the perspective of Dinah, and she tells about her life with the women of Jacob's tribe, etc. As opposed to some other novels based on biblical women, this one is well done and has strong female characters who are connected with the Divine but not the "male" god of Jacob.

It moved me to tears thinking about all the stories of my sisters and mothers that have been lost or changed just because they don't fit the "male" mold of what it is that God is like. I don't know that there's a "feminine" and a "masculine" way of seeing God or aspects of who God is, because probably in many ways "feminine" and "masculine" are just social constructs, different in every society but with some similarities based on our physical bodies and roles. But as I talked about in my post about women in the Bible, part of the stuff that gets left out of male-dominated religion is stuff that is mysterious or scary to men, but is natural and part of what makes a woman a woman. To not be able to celebrate these things, to not have stories that connect us with our mothers, to hide the things that happen in us that bring forth life, to be told these things are unclean, is so damaging to both women and men!

How much have we lost over the millenniums because women's voices have been squashed in religious contexts? I agree that there is only one God, which is a major reason goddesses have been rooted out of Judeo-Christian religion, but God is not male and is not afraid of women's particular gifts--and in fact gave us those gifts. The gifts of creation of life and the mystery of flowing with the seasons is something that connects us to God, a way I believe women are made in the image of God, rather than something that makes us unclean.

How can we recover these stories? How can we make the stories of feminine connection with the Divine part of our faith tradition? How can we do so without destroying the True Church?

Monday, September 24, 2007

women of the bracelet

Today my meeting did something called "Common Grounds," where the Peace & Social Concerns committees of two of our local meetings put together an event in a local park. There were tables on war, immigration, refugees, the environment, domestic violence, and several other topics.

The one that came to my attention in a new way was the immigration issue. I knew we are struggling with our immigration policy (to put it politely) in this country, but it became really personal when we had a few women who've formed a group called "Women of the Bracelet" come and make tamales and enchiladas (for a donation, because they're not allowed to work). They were part of a group in Portland, OR who were detained after a raid on a Del Monte Food factory. 167 people were taken in; these women were released so they can take care of their children but basically put on house arrest. They are illegal immigrants, most of whom have legal family members (children or spouses) and who are going through the legal process of becoming citizens.

When they were detained, they were each given an ankle bracelet that's a tracking device. They must stay in or near their homes for at least 12 hours/day, and they are not legally allowed to work. They still have to pay their bills, however. So they formed this organization that goes to church functions such as ours today, and they educate people about their situation and receive donations to support their families.

What do you all think about this situation? Should we as Friends do something about the immigration issue? If so, what? If someone is an illegal immigrant, how should we help them? Should we break the law?

I've provided several links below for you to hear about this group, what happened to them, and what the issues are. The one that stands out to me is from the web page of Portland mayor Tom Potter. He said:

"I remember watching the TV 40 years ago as demonstrators in the South were beaten as they tried to register to vote. I think Americans everywhere saw those same images and said out loud to themselves, to their families and their neighbors: That’s not me. Those aren’t my values. That’s not the world I want for my children."

I keep thinking that if I was alive in the '60s and saw on TV what was happening in Alabama, I would have gotten on a bus and gone there to be part of the demonstrations. I have wished I could be part of something that gets at the heart of the injustice in our society like that. Is this my chance? I think so, but I still wonder how to get involved. Where's the Martin Luther King, Jr. in this situation? How do we start bringing this issue up in people's minds and hearts in a way that shows up the injustice of our system, and the humanity of the people it hurts?

Like the picture at the top of this post, we are using illegal labor to do the things we don't want to do, and then attacking those who are performing this service for us. Here's a quote from a local indie newspaper, the Willamette Week (which is where I got the picture):

"[T]he allegations seemed to point to the fact that there was a sweatshop--albeit a cold one--operating in Portland, a city that professes to care both about its food and liberal causes such as worker rights." (Willamette Week article on Del Monte Foods, before raids)

As Friends, how should we act in this situation?

Friday, September 21, 2007

the lives of others

I just watched this movie, which is a German movie (subtitles), and is excellent. I recommend it highly to you all. It's about a Stasi police officer in East Berlin when it was a socialist state as he's doing surveillance on the home of a playwright. It's really well done.

Socialism sounds like such a good does democracy...if only there weren't real people in the equation! Why do we always mess everything up? At the same time, how are some of us able to rise above the mundane, above what's expected to us, to love others and do what's right and just? How is our society like East Berlin in that time, and how are we called to not let corrupt people ruin a good idea for the rest of us?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

service & outreach

I was at a conference the last couple days called "Focus Conference," designed to be kind of a continuing education opportunity for people in our yearly meeting who are released ministers, and also a space where they can just hang out and get to know each other and have a community of others in a similar job/vocation. We talked a lot about local outreach--how to do it, what kinds of outreach to do, etc.

One person in my discussion group brought up a good question: is there a difference between service and outreach? If so, which one should the church be about? Our group decided that service is helping meet the needs of others, and outreach is doing that in the name of Christ. The person who brought this up suggested that the church shouldn't do service, but should only do outreach, because the point of outreach is getting people into the church (by which, if we are generous with him, we can say he meant getting people into relationship with God and Jesus in a community setting).

I'm not sure what to think about this. If we look at it from the perspective that anyone who's a Christian who's doing service is doing outreach (by this definition) because they're shining the Light of Christ no matter what they're doing, then yes, Christians should be about outreach--but that kind of defeats the purpose of the distinction. It would make it impossible for Christians to do service only. It would, however, still show a distinction between Christians doing service and others doing service--that there's somehow a difference of quality, in that when Christians do service their motive is to get people into the church, or, hopefully, into relationship with God.

This is where it gets a little dicey to me. Perhaps our motives will always be to introduce people to the life we've found in our relationship with God, and that's great! No matter what we do, we can't keep our Inner Light from shining forth. But I don't think we should engage in service to people just so they'll come to church. If that's a by-product, fine. If people see the truth of a life lived with hope and joy and are attracted to that, fine. But I don't think we should do service just as a way to manipulate people into joining our club, increasing our numbers, as if we're playing some sort of competitive game where the most important thing is getting people to join our team.

I think early Friends did service because they saw Christ in people: they saw the needs of others and knew God loved that person, Christ existed for the sake of that person just as much as for the sake of themselves, and so in order to show love for Christ and for that person as God's beloved child, they did what was just and right for that person or group. They didn't do service in order to get people to join the Quaker movement, although it worked that way.

The difference is one of motives. Their motive was not to get people to join them. They hoped for the sake of the other people that they would see Christ through their actions and have an experience of convincement due to an encounter with the living God. But they weren't just serving people in order for people to become Quakers. They were serving people because they genuinely loved them and wanted to show them the same love they'd received from God.

Maybe this is why I'm a little bit wary of many Christian organizations, and why a lot of people who aren't Christians are extremely wary of them. The motives aren't good. Maybe we can never have completely pure motives, but at least hopefully we can try not to get caught up in the worldly trap of competition for numbers, and just love people. But I'm the first one who needs to work on this!

Monday, September 17, 2007


After reading AJ's post on downloading podcasts on her iPod and listening to them way too late at night, I thought I'd share what I listen to on my iPod.

Now, when iPods came out I wondered, "Why would anyone want one of those? Why can't you just pop in a CD, or use iTunes on your computer? What's the point? And why can't people just have a little quiet time in their day instead of always needing noise?"

A couple years later...I saved up the money I got for my birthday last month and bought myself a cute little blue iPod 4GB Nano. It doesn't hold much, but it's enough for me.

I don't do anything quite as cool as what AJ does, which is download podcasts and listen to people talking about stuff that interests her while cleaning up after her kids. But, being the nerd that I am, I'm learning French. On my iPod. There's this program called "Before You Know It" and it has about every language you'd want to learn. You can get free downloads, and/or buy a software kit. Anyway, when I'm doing dishes, taking walks, feeding my baby, folding laundry, etc., I listen to lists of French words. It's pretty fun! I'm learning a lot, although the only sentences I'd be able to form if I went to France would be things like, "Quel est le tarriff?" (What is the rate?) But I know a lot of vocab so I'd pick it up pretty fast, probably...

So I think this is a good way to learn a language: pay $40 instead of however many $100s it would be to take a class!

The next one I want to learn is Spanish, and then German.

hubby's new blog

My husband just started a photo-journal blog, if you want to check it out. He's recently become a professional photographer (weddings, senior pics, baby pics, family pics, etc. Check out his website), but I think he's mostly putting up pictures of our family and life in this area, not so much the stuff he does for pay. But there are some pictures of our baby there, so you'll want to check that out! =) (He's now 7 1/2 months old, and amazingly cute.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

ritual impurity & the feminine mystique

I was just reading from The Women's Bible Commentary about Exodus, and noticed something interesting about ritual purity (and lack thereof). It says:

"Activities or states that bring on ritual impurity, such as childbirth, menstruation, sexual activity, and care for the dead, all involve participation in the nexus of life and death, which is the very essence of divine power. They are the result of contact with the sacred. The ritual purification system can, therefore, be understood as making a distinction between the realm of human control and that of the divine." (37)

I knew the things that made someone ritually unclean/impure, but I hadn't thought of them in this way--that they are the "nexus of life and death." It's interesting that in this system, to be impure meant one had just been in contact with the divine! It seems like it would be the other way around--that in those places where one is intensely close to the divine, in the act of creating life or attending death, when one is closest to the mystery of life itself, that one would be the most ritually clean. Why, when they connected these actions with the divine creation of life, would people be deemed ritually IM-pure for participating with the divine in such settings?

It's also interesting that all of these were places of feminine mystery (except the death 0ne--everyone dies, of course). It seems like these purity laws were perhaps made to block out the unknown and therefore scary parts of life, which, for a male-dominated society, included strange things the female body could do, and strange powers it had over the male body.

But it seems to me like what these represent are the very things we have a hard time celebrating in our culture now: the mystery of human union, of the formation and nurturing of life, of the releasing of possible life into the flow of that-which-is-not, of the letting go and becoming not-alive. We still fear these things and don't know what to do with them. They are still mysteries.

Would our culture and religion be able to embrace these mysteries more fully if we allowed ourselves to image a feminine deity, or feminine aspects of the deity?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

ivory tower? hopefully not...

So I decided today that I'm pretty sure I'm destined for academia, for any of you who care! I just feel like I get a lot of life and energy from studying and learning, and making that information available for people in a way they can understand and find useful.

Tonight was our first Wednesday night programming for the fall. We have small groups for adults, some that are committed to meet through the school year, others on various topics. There's children's programming for all ages of kids, and youth group. I organized all the small groups, which wasn't difficult, and I'm teaching one on the Hebrew Testament.

Although I don't consider myself an expert on the Hebrew Testament (which Christians usually refer to as the Old Testament), I have learned a few things in school and in my own research, and it's fun to be able to share them with interested people. Tonight we talked about the canonization process, and I just noticed myself being really excited about the discussion, being able to share what I know, listening to people's thoughts and opinions, and challenging us all to dig deeper on what we mean when we say "The Bible is the written word of God," when we know that it was edited and changed and added to and there were many different versions and the Hebrew didn't even have vowels, etc. etc. etc. So it was a good discussion, and I enjoyed being able to do the academic, scholarly stuff as well as to dig into what this topic means for us spiritually.

Now, although I may be able to find a church somewhere that would pay me to organize and lead small groups and other classes exclusively, something tells me it wouldn't be in a Quaker setting! (Why do none of us have that kind of money?!) So I imagine I'll be headed for Ph.D. and I'll end up teaching at a college or seminary. My hope is to be able to do that, and not just do the academic, heady stuff, but to incorporate spirituality and experience into teaching about our faith history, sacred documents, and theological doctrines. I hope that I can encourage students to not just learn the stuff, but to really live it. I hope I can be a model of that, and do Christian Peacemaker Teams assignments over the summer or that sort of thing.

Hopefully I won't let myself get stuck in the "ivory tower" academics are always being accused of, but I'll be able to immerse myself in the "real" world, and out of that context and experience allow God to inform my theology. So that's what I'm feeling drawn to right now...check back in in a few years and see how the reality turns out!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

women in the bible

I'm taking, surrogately through my husband, an undergrad course called "Women in the Bible." Actually I'm just trying to do all the reading, but I'm not going to class. The fact that he chose to take the course is one of the many reasons I love him! =)

Anyway, tonight I was reading a chapter froma book by a professor from my school (not the one this class is at) named Katharine Doob Sakenfeld entitled: "Just Wives? Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today." The chapter is on Sarah and Hagar, Abraham's wife and servant, in Genesis 16-19. This is an important story for scholars looking at biblical texts from a female perspective, because, as Sakenfeld points out, it's the first place in the Bible where God (or God's angel) speaks directly to a woman, and even promises her something. God speaks first to Hagar, surprising as that may seem to those of us of Judeo-Christian heritage (although not to those who are Muslim). God promises Hagar the same thing God promised Abraham: descendants so numerous they can't be counted.

But Hagar's position isn't really one to be envied--she's a slave who's forced to bear a child for her master, and this causes jealousy and tension between herself and her mistress, Sarah, who cannot (yet) conceive a child for Abraham. Sarah "deals with her harshly," Hagar runs away and God sends her back, then she is sent away and God provides water for her and her baby in the wilderness.

What's interesting is the power dynamic between these two women. They are set up against each other because of the culture in which they live, and the status each is given based on her ability to bear male children. They aren't able to work together against injustice and imbalance of power because they are set against one another.

Sakenfeld suggests this is similar to our situation today. Many womanist scholars (African-American feminists who suggest that "feminist" scholars are just as bad as androcentric scholars because they only see "feminism" from the perspective of relatively well-off white women and project their view as coming from all women) have picked up on the character of Hagar, who shares their history of slavery and of being the second woman. They see white feminist scholars siding with Sarah, who may be oppressed by the fact that her status is based on her ability to bear male children, but who is treated well and loved by her husband and has wealth and power much greater than that of her slave, Hagar.

I've always (as long as I've known about it) been a proponent of liberation theology, but Sakenfeld points to womanist theologian Delores Williams, who suggests that it's important for Hagar to return to her mistress not because it's liberating, but because she has to focus first on survival for herself and her child. She'll be well taken care of in Abraham's entourage, and would have a very difficult time out in the wilderness by herself, or even in a commercial center. Sakenfeld says of Williams' work, "Rather than focus primarily or initially on liberation, however, as do many white feminists, black male theologians, and indeed other womanist theologians, Williams identifies survival and quality of life as her key themes" (p 21). Although we can see the theme of liberation running through the pages of the Bible, God doesn't always liberate those who are oppressed.

I think this is a really important point. One problem with liberation theology is that if we assume that God wants to liberate all those who are faithful to God, when liberation doesn't come we are faced with difficult questions. Am I not faithful enough? Does God desire my liberation but is powerless to do anything about it? Is God not really a God who desires liberation?

These are tough questions, since injustice and oppression are so entrenched in our world. Why are some liberated and others not? I don't have answers. But at least this womanist perspective is realistic enough to show that although God may desire our liberation from oppression, sometimes we don't even have the energy or the ability to focus on anything beyond basic survival. This is something most theologians need to take heed of, because most of us, having recourse to such advanced education, are not generally in need of basic necessities. Most of us are not faced with situations where we can't focus on the bigger picture because all we can see is our need for shelter and a meal.

Sakenfeld cautions those of us in this situation, however:

"For those of us in a position of relative power and privilege, the danger is that a theology of survival may lull us back into the Sarah role. We may be temtped to continue in personal and systemic behaviors that perpetuate oppression, looking only to our own existence and not seeking to identify and participate in God's liberating action on behalf of others. The angel of God directed Hagar toward survival, but our discomfort with that command requires us to work for liberation." (22)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

beyond belief

I just finished reading this book by Elaine Pagels. She is a renowned scholar on the "gnostic" gospels, the ones that didn't make the cut into the New Testament, but she wrote this book for a general audience. You don't have to know a lot about scholarly work in this field in order to understand the book, which is nice. I appreciate it when scholars write that way--it helps to have introductory works that one can read to get into the field, and it also helps for those who don't want to get into the field deeply but just want to learn a little about it. I hope that if I ever write anything I'll keep that in mind...

Anyway, the book was very interesting. She spends quite a bit of time comparing the themes of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John, as well as the Secret Gospel of John and the Gospel of Mary and a few other lesser known gospels. She suggests that the Gospel of Thomas and other ones that didn't make it into the New Testament mostly focus on Jesus' humanity--maybe he was the Christ, the Messiah, the one who was expected, but they don't assign divinity to him. The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John have many similar themes and phrases, but John emphasizes Jesus' Godhood while Thomas emphasizes Jesus' humanity. (Thomas also has much in common with the other three gospels, and in fact some scholars believe Thomas is the elusive "Q" document, which Matthew and Luke purportedly pulled from to get their material which is the same but outside Mark. This could be true, although there are also many similarities with Mark and Thomas.) In John, the disciple Thomas is shown (famously) as one who doubts, and who doesn't quite get who Jesus is and what he's doing most of the time. The author of John is probably saying something about the gospel connected to Thomas. In Thomas, of course, the disciple Thomas is given secret information none of the other disciples hear (which is similar to Mary's status in the Gospel of Mary, etc.). Thomas is a collection of sayings and does not have a story line. There are parts of Thomas that seem to show Jesus as something other than what any other person could be, while there are other parts that show him saying his disciples could be the same as him.

Pagels' point is that John's theology won out in the end. She suggests that if the other New Testament gospels are read without John, it is not obvious that Jesus is divine, although it is obvious he is the Messiah, the Son of Man, etc. We read them with the knowledge of John and with the Nicene Creed and all of church history in mind, so we see Jesus as divine, but she suggests that was not a given at first among the many branches of Christians in the first couple hundred years after Jesus. But John's theology prevailed eventually.

Was John right? Was Jesus the Son of God in a way that none of the rest of us can be? Or was Jesus just another person, a person who happened to be really close to God?

Although there is much reason for cynicism in the whole canonization process because of all the jockeying for power that happened among the bishops who lived in Constantine's time and beyond, I still believe that the things that were canonized became part of our "Holy Scriptures" for a reason. I think there's something important about Jesus, that although we're all able to be children of God, Jesus was the only child of God in the sense that he WAS (and is) God. We all may have "that of God" within us, something that connects with God, the image of God in us, but we are not all God.

So I agree with Pagels that it was not altogether clear to everyone who called themselves Christians in the first few hundred years CE that Jesus was "God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God" (as the Nicene Creed puts it), but I think God worked even through crooked bishops and politicized theologizing. That gives me hope, actually, because that means that God can also work through me, even though I too have the tendency to mess up a lot!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Last week was one of our yearly meeting's high school camps. I got to attend as a worship facilitator, and my husband came and took care of our son. It was a great week of hanging out on the coast, getting to focus on helping high schoolers connect with God, and reconnecting with youth and adults I care about deeply.

Surfside is unique in that there is no evening speaker. (Maybe in unprogrammed Friends circles that's not so unique...?) The worship facilitators listen to God about what the whole worship time should look like, and then try to lead it that way, trying to get out of the way so God can work. This was my second year leading worship at Surfside. It's a lot of work--planning half an hour in the mornings and an hour and a half in the evenings every day--but it's good work, and it's fun and inspiring to see God working as we plan and as we lead. It's one of the places where I appreciate "programmed Friends" the most, because we do intentionally listen to God as we plan, allowing God to guide what we decide to do, and paying attention to God in the moment as we lead, being willing to change plans when necessary. It's harder to do that in programmed worship services each week, somehow, but for Surfside it seems to work.

This year the theme for Surfside was "Pursuing the Passion." The focus was on the fact that God's pursuing us, wanting to be in relationship with us, and we're pursuing God. God works in and through the passions we already have, and gives us new passions that help others. Here's what the week looked like:

Monday night: God pursuing people throughout history, looking at the historical community of the Hebrew Testament, connecting that community and that story to our lives today.
Tuesday night: God's pursuit led to God choosing to take on human form in the person of Jesus. We have the option of turning around and facing God's pursuit (repentance means to turn around).
Wednesday night: Jesus' passion--our word passion comes from the Greek word meaning "suffering," and when we follow God our passion will lead us into suffering. We read the story of Jesus' death and ended there for the night.
Thursday night: Not only do we experience Jesus' crucifixion but also his resurrection and new life. Our God-given passions will include frequent death and resurrection components. Our passions aren't just for ourselves, but to alleviate the suffering of others, to understand their suffering as Jesus understands ours.
Friday night: Sending out into the world, offering God what we have even though it's not enough, letting God do the rest.

We tried to do something experiential each night, something where everyone got to either do something physical as a symbol of what they'd learned, or use their imagination to interact with God.

In the mornings we had a counselor share about something they're passionate about and connected it with the story in Luke 10 about someone asking Jesus what the greatest commandment is. The man answered correctly: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." Then Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, asking who it was that was the true neighbor to the injured man. So we had counselors share about something they're passionate about, how it connects with their entire self (heart, soul, mind, strength), and how it shows love to their neighbors.

We also had a staff person share an answer to a question generated by some of the youth. We talked about how part of pursuing God passionately is asking good questions and thinking well about our faith. Even though we can't adequately answer all questions in life, it's good to think about them and to seek a better understanding of God, intellectually, emotionally and intuitively.

It was a privilege and a joy to be able to be part of this camp.

At the same time, one of the things I noticed about myself is that I spend so much time doing stuff like this that I hardly ever have time to go do anything outside my own community. I wonder if that's OK--is that my role? Am I a discipler rather than one who goes out? Or am I just hiding within the community, doing things that are safe and fun, although they take a lot of work and "suffering" in the form of lack of sleep and such? Is it enough to create a worship experience where youth can connect with God in ways they can understand, or is there more I should be doing that would reach out to those who, for example, can't afford to go to camp? I know what I'm doing is good, but are there even better ways I could be spending my time?

That's what came to mind for me personally while at camp.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

nwym sessions

We just finished our Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions this evening. It's been a great week! We had events from Sunday through Thursday. The picture is of the auditorium during evening worship. My husband was the director of high school yearly meeting, where the youth have their own business meetings, do a service project, go to the beach, and learn about Quaker business process.

I did the adult stuff. I helped facilitate worship during the business meetings, which was fun and seemed to go well. I also organized our annual Young Adult Friends dinners on two nights, where we get together for free food (very important for YAFs!) and talk about what's going on in YAFdom. So it was a busy week, but fun to see people and good to be together and do the work of meetings for worship with a concern for business. I'll mention a couple highlights.

One of my favorite things was that we had three visiting young adult Friends form other yearly meetings: one each from Britain YM, Philadelphia YM, and Canadian YM (here's her post on NWYM). It was great to hear about their yearly meetings, their passion for Friends, and their impression of NWYM. It was also just fun to make some new friends and reconnect with an old one.

Another highlight was helping facilitate worship during the business meetings. We met for business four times, each weekday morning from 8:15-12:00. During that time we interspersed worship elements with our business items, trying to remind ourselves that we are also worshiping through working on our business stuff. I think it worked pretty well! We had a great sense of worshipfulness throughout a lot of the business sessions, it seemed to me. In addition to music, we did a prayer exercise together each day, and we reflected at the beginning on what we were bringing with us to the meeting, and at the end on how we'd seen God at work in our meeting for worship for business. The prayer practices were: use of a prayer song to lead us into silence; doing lectio divina together on a passage from Acts, quoted from Joel; looking at images around our week's theme of "Go Light Your World" and allowing God to speak to us through them as we entered into silence, and reading a responsive reading together and meditating on its words.

The business this year wasn't as divisive as some years, so it was nice to have a kind of a Sabbath year--time to just spend together and look toward the future. Last year we overhauled our whole structure: committees, boards, etc., and revamped our budget process. The goal is to not just do what we've always done, and not just work with the people we agree with, but to try to integrate the work we're doing of teaching the gospel and doing social justice stuff. So this year the new boards came up with ministry plans and dream budgets, new staff positions and new goals. We approved a budget less than their dream budget, but of course that's life!

Overall this year our sessions seemed hope-filled as we looked toward the future. The verse that we did lectio divina on for the last business session was this one:

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy. "

It's found in Acts 2:17-18 and Joel 2:26-28. To me it was my prayer for our yearly meeting, for all Friends, and for the whole world. I desire for God to pour out God's Spirit so powerfully that we all get carried away in its wholeness and life--so swept away that we forget our petty differences, so swept away that we overflow with God's love toward those we consider "oppressed" and "outsiders," so swept away that we stop waiting for someone else to take the lead and just start living out our beliefs with joyful abandon.

Let it be so, for me and for you.

Friday, July 13, 2007


My husband and I went back-
packing this week with our 5-month-
old son and a friend. We were out for two nights, and it was beautiful weather, lovely scenery, and a good time was had by all. I enjoy backpacking because it's so nice to be away from civilization and realize how much you can live without, and then it's so nice to be home and realize how grateful I am to have things like running water and a place to get away from most bugs!

One thing that stood out to me from this trip was what it's like to be thirsty. The first night we camped near a lake, but the next night we hiked up to the top of a little peak looking toward a snow-capped mountain, and we only had the water we'd purified and carried from the lake. Now, we could have hiked back down to the lake if we'd been desperate for water--it was only 4 miles, but it was pretty steep. But we chose for the four of us to live off of about 7-8 liters as we hiked up, and all through that hot afternoon (around 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and evening, and the next morning when we hiked out. That included the water needed to make our meals.

My husband and I were talking about it when we got home and thought about the fact that we have probably never been that thirsty before in our lives. For one thing, when you know you can't drink much water, you start to want more of it. And then add onto that the fact that we were in very hot weather and I'm still breastfeeding our baby, and we hiked 8 miles during that time, and we used about 2 liters on our dinner, and you see that it wasn't really all that much water!

Of course, this experience was nothing compared to people who survive in deserts or other places where they can't get much water, but for us this was a major waterless event.

We got back to civilization and I drank a liter and a half almost immediately!

So it got me thinking about spiritual parallels...

Why do I often let myself get so spiritually thirsty when there's a lake (and I don't even have to purify the water!) just 4 miles away? And it's even all downhill!

Monday, June 25, 2007

new worship group

Well, actually it's more like a resurrected worship group...

This is a group that used to meet weekly but as people had life changes (moving, kids...) they laid it down for a while. So now we started meeting again, and tonight was the first meeting. The purpose of the group is to have a smaller group setting for worship (rather than a couple hundred people as are in our programmed meetings for worship), and for them to be more experiential and focused on listening and sharing together.

I'm excited about this group, because as much as I love the community I'm worshiping with (and working for), I just need to have a smaller group to worship with in a more hands-on way. Unprogrammed worship isn't even enough, because as much as we like to say Friends don't have a liturgy, we do in unprogrammed worship. To share in unprogrammed worship takes a leading of a quite different sort than to share in a worship sharing group, which is what this group is kind of like.

This will hopefully be a group where we will try different kinds of worship, from creative and active to quiet and contemplative. I hope it will be a place where we can be vulnerable with each other about our struggles, challenge each other to live out our faith in our everyday lives, and be a community where all are welcome and can be comfortable together.

If you're nearby, come visit us, Sundays at 6pm.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

here's a quote for you...

"The church has no quarrel with the sacrifice of children--except when such sacrifice is made to a false god."

--Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Abingdon Press, 1989, p. 149

My friend and I have been reading this book because we have heard good things about Hauerwas (she actually studied with him), and so we read this book and get together each week to talk about it. It's an OK book, but not the best one out there.

The point the authors are trying to make with this quote is that being a Christian means being willing to sacrifice something--it's not just all fun and games. When Jesus said Christians will be persecuted he meant it, and we should expect it. When we're following Christ even those around us may be persecuted, and we can't and even shouldn't shelter them from that.

I understand their point and agree, to an extent. At the same time, the above quote brings up major red flags! I've heard of (and know) too many people whose parents were missionaries or something, and their parents chose to sacrifice their childrens' childhoods and intimate connection with them for doing "God's work." I think this kind of sacrifice is completely un-called-for and not what God asks us to do. I suppose the authors would say that is sacrifice to a false god, and the person is not actually then doing the work of God, but it's incredibly easy to get confused if that's the case! People praise the missionaries for the great work they've done when their children grow up with attachment disorders and in need of emotional healing.

Yes, our faith requires sacrifice, and sometimes that will affect those around us, but it should not affect them in such a way that they do not feel loved by their parents or like they're able to grow in healthy ways. Maybe a parent is called to die for what they believe is right, but this death, although painful, shows the parent's conviction of the truth and their willingness to stand up for it. Maybe a parent is called to do mission work, but this should not cause them to ignore their children, but to love their children in a way that shows the love of Christ to that child and those around them. Maybe a parent is called to work in the American work force, but that parent should not have to work tons of hours and overtime just to show "love" by buying the kid a lot of stuff or experiences. Sacrificing one's children is a huge moral issue, and not one that should be taken lightly. I think usually God asks for sacrifices from us that in some ways might look difficult for a child, but if done right end up helping the child to grow because they know more about God's love, mercy and justice, rather than feeling abandoned or like love is only shown through material possessions.