Monday, March 09, 2009


Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is the issue of immigration (both legal and undocumented). As I wrote about a couple days ago, for my preaching class we'll be doing "public issues" sermons. This is supposed to be a sermon about the theological lens through which we are advised to see a particular issue in the "public realm." I'm planning to do something about immigration. I think I'll use passages on treating all people humanely, especially instructions about treating foreigners who live in one's country just the same as citizens.

The problem is, I'm woefully uneducated about the whole issue. I realize that people are immigrating to the US, especially from Mexico and Central and South America, as well as Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc., because they see life in the US as a more likely opportunity to live a better life. I'm not sure if that is what they encounter when they get here! The US employs many illegal immigrants as well as "migrant workers" to do jobs US citizens don't want to do. But still, although they're doing all our dirty work, we treat them with contempt, and throw them out of the country, disregarding their family structure and so forth.

I hope to learn Spanish when I'm done with school here. I hope to build relationships with people who are affected by immigration laws--both from being in the country without "legal" documentation, and from fear of being taken for an "illegal alien." I hope to begin breaking down barriers caused by language, culture, race, and class, and bring communities of Anglo Friends in contact with their Latino/a neighbors. In our Yearly Meeting we have several Hispanic Friends meetings, but only a few Anglo Friends actually have any contact with them, and there are few sources of support for them, and none really for issues of solidarity with the struggles faced by that community in regards to the law. Good things are being done, but we need to do more.

Who makes the laws? We do (supposedly). So we need to give voice to how we think those laws should go.

(This is obviously not an easy issue, because we can't just have people moving here as they please--then it would not be a good situation for anyone! But I think we as a nation need to start with better economic and political relationships with the countries in the rest of the Americas, so that the living situations there become better. We as individuals need to start by actively practicing hospitality--which means going outside our comfort zones, learning something new [like a new language], and doing more than just "tsking" and shaking our heads about the state of things).

Probably I'm doing too much "public issues" preaching on my blog and you're becoming overwhelmed by all the issues raised, but hey...that's what's in my head, so enjoy your moment of participation! =)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

war taxes

So, it's that time of year again...where we all get to think about our stance on paying taxes that support war. Today someone in meeting brought this up, and it's something I think about a lot.

As Friends, we talk a lot about peace, we can be conscientious objectors to physical participation in war, but we cannot (legally) be conscientious objectors to paying for our country's wars--except by not earning enough money to pay any taxes, or by doing enough in charitable giving that our deductions are high enough that we don't pay taxes. (This has the obvious problem that we use the services that taxes pay for such as roads and schools without paying anything for them.) This is a difficult question! How can we support the good things that government does, allows us to do together, and provides for the poor, while not supporting the stuff that we don't agree with? In a democracy, when everything is decided by the majority, can we withhold our money regarding our own biases, or should we just give what we must and do what the majority wants? (The problem is, of course, that this isn't exactly a democracy--we can vote for whomever we want, but the only people likely to gain office are people most of us wouldn't actually want to represent us. So that's a problem.)

My solution: Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren, and whomever else wants to participate refuses to pay war taxes for a few years, and we suffer the consequences. I think we should campaign for a war-tax-free 2010 in all Quaker meetings and Mennonite/Brethren/etc. communities. What are they going to do--throw us all in jail? Maybe. But they can't do that forever. No one wants to pay their taxes for a bunch of Quakers and other pacifists to sit in jail for not paying taxes. It doesn't make sense.

So are we willing to actually suffer a little bit to be consistent about our peace stance? Are we willing to make a bit of a sacrifice to ensure that our money isn't paying to kill people?

Anyone with me on a war-tax-free 2010? Let's start publicizing now...

Friday, March 06, 2009

priestly or prophetic?

One of my preaching professors referenced another of my professors (the religion & society one from last semester, in case you care), saying that there are personality types of "priestly" or "prophetic." He said this effects the way we learn, teach, communicate, and pastor (as well as preach)--in short, how we interpret life. Here's what I wrote down in my notes:

"Priests" are convergent, synthetic thinkers, wanting everything to agree, line up, fit together, etc. Priests are apt to miss things that don't fit, because they're looking for things that fit.

"Prophets" are fascinated by how things don't fit, discrepancies, divergences, violations and exceptions. (He said they are euphoric when they find a typo, a grammatical error and an incorrect fact all on the same page.)

Concretely, this means that “priests” are in danger of missing out on even seeing the things that don't fit (so he suggested they never get jobs as proofreaders). “Prophets” will be able to point out discrepancies, deconstruct something and analyze it, but the danger is leaving it there all deconstructed with no way to fit it back together into a coherent whole.

I would add that most of us probably have a mixture of these two sets of characteristics, although some are extreme personalities in one direction or the other.

It's interesting because this way of thinking about the way we interpret the world has come to mind often for me in my preaching class. What is preaching for? To me it is for listening to God and then challenging myself and those around me to follow God more completely. For someone with a more "priestly" bent, perhaps it is more edification and encouragement. Both are probably important, but I tend to think we need challenge more than we need to feel good about ourselves. But that's just me...

Last week in preaching class we talked about "public issues preaching." By this, the professors mean issues that concern the public's business, as in the world around us, not just the community of those who attend worship with us. One of our professors outlined five basic kinds of preaching (taken from Old, A History of Preaching, written in the 19th century, I believe): expository (explaining and filling out a certain biblical text), evangelistic (to those who do not call themselves "Christian"), catechetical or doctrinal (on a specific doctrine of the church or text like the Apostle's Creed), festal (for feast-days, holidays, or special occasions like weddings and funerals), and prophetic (under which "public issues preaching" falls). He said that of these five, the "prophetic" preaching will occur least often.

Now, I come from a Quaker community where someone preaches basically every Sunday, but the idea that prophetic preaching is the least common is totally foreign to me. It's actually hard to imagine a Quaker message that didn't include a public issue! For Quakers, it seems to me, our life as a person of faith is so wrapped up in how we live our lives from day to day that we don't have as much of a problem as some other denominations of different "spheres" of life. I think that's awesome! I wouldn't want to be part of a community that didn't speak on public issues.

I think some of the things that were said about public issues preaching were helpful--like it's important to remember the level of authority people give us just by the simple fact that we're in the "pulpit" (or at least standing up front, as in most Quaker programmed meetings). This authority is spiritual authority. We aren't supposed to tell people how to vote. That's where it gets scary, even if the preacher is suggesting people vote how I'd like them to! But instead, the role of the preacher is to help people think about all areas of life--including public issues they face--from a theological perspective.

To me this is exactly why public issues preaching should happen every week! If our lives are lived "in public," in interaction with other people, living out agreed-upon codes of conduct as we as a political community have decided, it is of utmost importance to me that we pay attention to whether or not those policies are moral, just, loving and life-giving for all. We cannot divorce our public issues from our "private" faith. We don't need to make people believe the same things as we do in terms of posting the 10 Commandments or taking a literal interpretation of scripture on things like creation. But we do need to make sure that the ways we're living our lives are consistent with things like God's love for creation, and a holistic living-out of the 10 Commandments in a way that shows love for God and neighbor (including enemy).

This is where it gets difficult philosophically, because how do we know what is "right," what should be lawful, what is just, etc.? Is it only based on what is self-evident regarding what is good for people? Well, yes, in some ways--because God desires what is good for people. But this should not slide into Utilitarianism on the one hand (the most good for the most number, and if you're part of the unfortunate 49.9% you're out of luck), or Altruism on the other (which looks like it cares about people but really only cares about the self and one's own image, see Ayn Rand!). No, this must be truly what is good for ALL. No one can be left out. No one can be an innocent bystander or be sacrificed by a lesser evil in order to prevent a greater evil.

That was a little bonus paragraph that probably should be a different post.

Anyway, my point is that if we live a faith that encourages this kind of love for all, we have to talk about it all the time! We have to challenge ourselves to live it out truly, rather than just have an amorphous, vague kind of love for people. When we don't challenge ourselves, when we just congratulate ourselves on how well we're doing, we miss out on the fact that, for example, our ability to heat our meetinghouses is generally based on murdering people in Iraq or who-knows-where-else to get the fossil fuels to make electricity. So what can we do about all these ways that we live our life "in public," and live it in a way that is more consistent with the good news of the gospel, which is good news for the poor, blind, imprisoned and oppressed?

So how can one preach a sermon that is NOT prophetic, and expect to be speaking any kind of word from God for our time???

Maybe it's just that Quakers are on the whole more of a prophetic denomination, or maybe it's just that I'm more of a prophetic personality, and so I have a hard time seeing the point in just "priestly" actions. What good does it do to give people a cracker and a sip of grape juice each week? What good does it do to read the Bible, "The Word of the Lord, praise be to God," if we don't live it? How can we live it if we don't challenge each other to do so more and more each day?

I finished this post, and then thought about it a little more. I thought about "Convergent Friends," and how this is probably a more "priestly" movement within Quakerism, but I think it's really good. And I finished reading Robin's post on her leadings toward ministries of hospitality and bringing people together, and hear the Spirit moving in her words.

It's not that the "priestly" things are bad, generally speaking (although some of them may be unnecessary, and some may be outright horrible, only ensuring their own job security). We need "priests" who bring people together, see connections and similarities, and encourage people.

But this "priestly" work of convergence, bringing disparate parts together, comfort and unification should also include a prophetic element. To stop when the "priestly" work is over is to miss the point. True ministry is not just making sure one's denomination continues, but true ministry supports and encourages people (priestly) so they have a safe and healthy space from which to move out into doing that which they are called to in the world around them (prophetic).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

drumroll, please...

Throughout a long process of discernment, especially over the last year or so, we've been trying to figure out whether I should pursue a PhD or do something else (e.g. paid ministry, some sort of creative ministry, join my husband in his photography business, adjunct teach, etc.). I applied to programs and got into at least one of the (4) to which I applied (I haven't heard back from them all), and it's an amazing school that I would recommend highly, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. I feel like it would fit well with my personality, and has supportive faculty and student body I could work well with. In some ways I get really excited about doing a PhD. That (large) introverted side of me thinks, "Oooh, days on end in the library reading and writing on something I'm really interested in! What could be more fun?!" I know, I'm a total nerd.

But then...there's this other part of me that says, "Yeah, so what?" That other part of me is named "Joel," lately. =) But it's been a nagging question in me for a long time. I really like doing research and reading and writing and all that stuff. I took a learning style inventory the other day in my youth ministry class and landed squarely in the "abstract conceptualization" style. I know you're all surprised, seeing as how I use so many concrete metaphors and stories to explain my points...(that's sarcasm, in case you didn't catch it!). But my point is that I feel like maybe that's mostly because that's the way I've been taught to think and learn.

Really I'm a very practical person. One of my professors last semester, who agreed to be one of my references for PhD applications for which I am very grateful, suggested that I might fit better in the "practical theology" department rather than Religion & Society/Ethics & Social Theory programs to which I was applying. It wasn't that he didn't think I could do the work, he said, it's just that because I actually want to apply everything to the church--y'know, think about how ethics should be lived out in REAL LIFE (heaven forbid!)--that I might not be as happy in a more theoretical field. I think he was right, although I don't necessarily feel like I fit with practical theology either, because the focus there is not ethics and theology and how to live out our faith, but is more about education, pastoral care and church leadership. (Those are good things, but not as close to my interests.)

So, I decided maybe I don't really fit in the academy. I can do the work. I have learned to be an "abstract conceptualizer," and I really enjoy that kind of thinking and learning. But at some point there has to be an application to real life.

And that's where it gets scary.

Joel and I have been talking about how all the stuff we're doing is making ourselves look credible in our fields, preparing for living, waiting...and it can be kind of comfortable there (although also tiring, since it's always so transitory). But maybe it's time to actually go DO something now.

Plus, when we got married, people affirmed in us and we saw in ourselves complementary gifts that would fit together well for ministry. So far we haven't really gotten to use those gifts together for much besides leading music here or there, or things like that. And one of us has been in school (or at least had school hanging over our heads) since we were married over 7 years ago.

So we're moving back to Oregon. We don't know when, or how, or to do what, but we'll be there sometime this summer! And presumably for good!

Our goal is to do something together, whether that's direct, paid ministry, or photography, or something else altogether. Maybe it won't work to have jobs together, but at least we want to work on something together to actually live out the stuff we've been talking about for so long.

Options (in no particular order):
a. pastoral job, especially youth ministry
b. start a "house church" or some non-traditional worship group with Quaker values but without Quaker "liturgy" (of either sort)
c. Joel's photography business, where Joel does the primary photography, I learn a bit and help out, and also help with marketing and the creative post-processing stuff
d. find a non-profit to work for
e. a creative ministry with a format something between Pendle Hill and an organic community garden that brings together different ethnic groups (probably Anglos and Latino/as, although neither of us know Spanish yet. Aber, ich spreche einiger Deutsch! Sehr nutzlich...)
f. travel around to various Friends meetings around the country and hold workshops to listen and dialogue about what we're called to as Friends today, and then start organizing across the Quaker spectrum to work on that issue together
g. who knows what else!

So it's kind of exciting, and kind of just...uncertain (still). But at least we know we're going home, and we'll be done with school, and we can start living. Maybe this is what it means to move out of "emerging adulthood" into "young adulthood," to use Arnett's categories (look for the post on Arnett a few posts back). At any rate, we're excited!

Hold us in the Light as we continue to process what this all looks like, and try to be creative, realistic, non-traditional and financially stable all at the same time!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

blogging during meeting in meeting I think I pretty much spent the entire time writing amazing blog posts in my head. Perhaps this was not a good use of my (or the meeting's) time, but now I cannot remember one single thing I was thinking about. It's a little sad. I'm sure they were wonderful.

Oh! I remember something.

Because I was noticing myself writing blog posts in my head instead of paying attention to God and/or centering or whatever you want to call it, I started thinking about how I wasn't expecting anything to happen in that hour. I started thinking about how I really have begun to enjoy that community of people, but pretty much it seems like for a lot of people the hour of meeting is sort of obligatory, before the time to hang out with people over tasty snacks. Or else it's an hour of solace in a crazy week, and there is plenty of time during announcements at the end of meeting to slip out the back without having to talk to anyone.

But what is the point of coming to meeting each week? Is it just to hang out with people afterwards? Is it just to be still for a while? These things are good: I love the stillness and I love the people who have become a community here. But isn't there something more? Why do we come to the Meetinghouse for our silence--why not just stay home? Or why not just join some group with similar interests--say a peace group of some sort--and socialize with them? What about listening together, what about doing the hard work of discernment as to what we're called to do, here and now, in this community, to make life look more like the Kingdom of God for those around us?

How do we break out of our self-imposed liturgy of stillness?

I'm just as guilty as anyone else--we're totally not involved in anything the meeting does besides a couple hours on Sunday morning. So maybe I'm only speaking of myself. But I think not. (And this doesn't just go for unprogrammed Friends, although that is the community I'm in right now.)

Well, that was depressing. I hope you have a nice evening!