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)