Saturday, December 03, 2011

quaker "oats" revisited

As I say in the tagline of this blog, I called this blog "quaker oats live" because "oat" means "a sign or a mark." I'm working on some Hebrew for a passage I'm preaching on tomorrow from Isaiah, and the Hebrew word 'ôt appears. A commentary reminds me of the link between this word and the essence of prophecy, of speaking God's word into the world, and it got me thinking about how fitting it is to have this word in the title of this blog.

It's not that I think of myself as a prophet on a par with Isaiah (first, second or third Isaiah, for those of you with a seminary bent...), but because I think of Friends as a denomination of prophets. As a community we have a passionate calling to listen to God, to respond with faithfulness, and to call others to faithfulness as well--sometimes in ways that are not so very comfortable.

The word "live" in my blog title thus becomes important as well. I'm preaching tomorrow about Isaiah 7:14//Matthew 1:23, "Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." Although this is a very traditional Advent verse, I'm trying to explain it within the context of the whole story of God and humanity. This passage meant something to the prophet who spoke it (Isaiah or whoever), King Ahaz and the people of Judah at the time. It meant something else to Matthew and the early Christ-followers who experienced Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps it means something to us today, too. As Friends, we have a living view of scripture and of God's Word spoken into the world. God's Word is not finished speaking. We, like Isaiah, can hear God and be the "people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5) who God chooses to speak through anyway. We can know God through God's words in the past, through the living expression of the Word--Jesus--and through the Word speaking into our lives today. We're part of the story of Immanuel, of God With Us.

If we're not participants in that promise and in that hope of a God present to us now, we are in a dead religion. If so, we're in a religion of people who have come and gone; it does not belong to us; it is meaningless to us except as "pie in the sky by and by."

But that very scripture we have from those who are gone tells us how to connect with the Living God today, how to be in relationship with a God who is with us. It speaks of a Kingdom of God that is now, that is within. As we seek that Kingdom, we are part of the very body of God. The words God spoke through the prophet Isaiah spoke of his own time, and all the while it spoke of the first-century man named Jesus who was (and is) God With Us. It speaks also to us today. What is God's message for you, spoken those many centuries ago, and spoken today?

This is processing for my sermon, so check out the North Valley Friends podcast sometime this week to see what direction the actual sermon ends up going!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

famous this week

My grandpa, Ralph Beebe, and I are "famous" this week! We're teaching a class together at George Fox University. There are articles about us in the Newberg Graphic and the George Fox alumni magazine, the Journal. My husband, Joel, took the photos, as well as many photos for other stories in the Journal. It's been fun and a privilege teaching with my grandpa! We're teaching "War & Conscience in US History." He says he's the war part and I'm the conscience. (He's a history professor emeritus, and I'm doing the part on morality and theology.)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

e's lemonade stand vs. homelessness

One Saturday this summer my 4-year-old son hosted a lemonade stand. This wasn't your little capitalist-entrepreneur-lemonade-stand, however; here's the story.

We were driving home from the grocery store one day and saw a homeless man sitting by the road with a cardboard sign. My son asked what he was doing there. So far this story is similar to one that happened last year and that I talked about here. In that story we gave the man a sack lunch, and my then-three-year-old son kept asking me, "But Mom, what else are we going to do?"

This time, we brainstormed what else a 4-year-old can do to help people who don't have homes. We talked about how people without homes need a place to stay, and that takes money and organization. I told him about a homeless shelter we have in our town and we talked about raising money for that shelter. We discussed ways that he could try to raise money, and he chose doing a lemonade stand.

For the several days before, he was SO excited! He told everyone he met that he was going to have a lemonade stand that weekend. I thought maybe he would forget about it, but he kept bringing it up and pestering me about it, so we did indeed have a lemonade stand! It threatened to rain, but it ended up being nice enough that people weren't freezing, drinking their lemonade. We had pink lemonade and regular lemonade, with a garnish of lemons and raspberries. We also had oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from my grandma's recipe. We charge 50 cents per cup and per cookie, and we advertised using our church's e-group, as well as signs on the fairly major road on which we had the stand. Many of our friends and family came by and supported E and the homeless shelter, and some who were just driving by stopped for some refreshment.

E had a blast! He's quite the little extrovert so he was in his element. In all we raised just over $150. We took it to the shelter and he got to see what it looks like and learn about it a little bit. He also got a little story in their newsletter! You can read it here (as well as a story about NWYM's service project there at Youth Yearly Meeting).

Although this wasn't really a huge, world-changing thing, I felt like it was great to give him a sense of empowerment that he could do SOMEthing, even though he wasn't changing the whole system. Hopefully he, and I, learned that we don't have to be immobilized by the massiveness of the problem, but we can do our part, and trust that others will do theirs, too, and that God will multiply our efforts.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

quakers in the US & latino/as

You all know that I love my Quaker denomination...but one of my main criticisms of our denomination in the United States is how white we are. Now, my meeting has a fair deal of racial "diversity," but this mainly comes from people adopting kids of various races. We have pretty much no ethnic diversity. You've probably heard the statement that "Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America," and there are both positives and negatives to this: we worship with a community of people among whom we feel welcome and with whom we can get along well enough to have a chance at being a functioning church. But there are also negatives: we may get so enmeshed in our little community that we don't know what other populations experience. People may feel out of place and unwelcome in a congregation with a majority of people of a race or ethnicity other than their own. We don't really have to work on loving people when we'll only worship with people who are like "us," and we split our denominations if there are eventually enough "not us" so that we don't feel comfortable.

Many churches in the United States are dying, and I wonder if this has something to do with it. I'm not the first to note that churches often seem like just another social club--a place you go be with people with a shared interest, like a soccer team or a country club. There is a wide variety of other places to go to fill the "club" need in one's life, so church becomes less and less important. People believe in God, and many people in the United States even say the like Jesus, they just don't see a reason to go to church. I wonder if it's because we don't display the kind of love that breaks down the barriers erected by our society, such as race, ethnicity and social class.

This story on NPR a couple weeks ago caught my interest. It's about Hispanics in the United States, and how they often do not remain Catholic as second generation immigrants and beyond. They are choosing evangelical denominations that are more "boisterous," as the story put it.

In my own Yearly Meeting (NWYM), much of our "growth," or perhaps our lack of decline (in terms of numbers), comes from the addition of Latino/a meetings. In some cases these are Latinos who learn about Friends and want to partner with us in creating meetings with Spanish as the main language. In other cases, it's a group of Latinos who get together and form a church and need a place to meet and somehow stumble on a Friends meetinghouse. Now we have a Latino Ministry Coordinator and a committee that focuses on Latino Ministries. This is great in some ways, but still fairly segregated. Some of this is because of language, some is because of ethnicity, and some, I think, is due to differences in how we interpret the Bible and what is important about being "Friends."

I've noticed that over the years, Friends have had a hard time in the US and Europe attracting people of other races. Is this because of our manner of worshiping, which is a far cry from "boisterous"? Is this because we're racist no matter how hard we try? Are we just another social club with a shared interest and our own "language" (just like fans of a certain team or sport)? Even when Friends were some of the main voices for anti-slavery we didn't manage to attract many African Americans to our meetings. Now, although we have many Latino Friends meetings, they aren't often very connected to what's going on with the rest of their Yearly Meeting or with Friends on a larger scale.

So, what do you think we should do about this? There are several options, as I see it:

1. Don't worry about it. Let Latino/a Americans choose the denomination that best fits them. This also includes not worrying about our own declining numbers or our latent racism/ethnocentrism.

2. Change our styles of worship so that we're more appealing to Latino/as and other "minorities."

3. Everyone learn Spanish! Combine worship services with those that are already going and encourage other meetings to incorporate Spanish- and English-speakers into our services. Creatively work with leaders from both communities to make the worship time welcoming to everyone.

4. Continue to actively solicit Latino Friends meetings that run parallel to English-speaking meetings and just try harder to bridge the communication and cultural gaps.

5. Pay more attention to immigration issues and build relationships with Latino/as in a more natural way, a way that supports a major struggle of their community, and in so doing, encourage more Latino/as to become Friends because of our emphasis on social justice.

Other ideas? Thoughts?

Friday, October 21, 2011

nate macy's worship resource project

My good f/Friend, Nate Macy, is working on a project on Kickstarter called "Creating Space: a worship resource." He's a gifted worship leader who intentionally tries to create worship experiences where people can be drawn in to listening to God together. I've had the privilege of working with Nate to plan and bring about worship experiences on many occasions.

Nate wants to make a worship CD and resource book (with chords, etc.), and he's asking for our help to get the project off the ground. He's 5/7ths of the way to his monetary goal with 12 days left. Go check out his Kickstarter site, his website and support him emotionally and/or financially.

I think this is going to be a great resource for Friends. For programmed Friends, it will provide insight into how to lead a programmed worship service in a way that intentionally invites God into the process and experience of worship planning and gathered worship services. For unprogrammed Friends, I think it would be a great resource at times when Friends want to utilize music, perhaps in special meetings for musical worship or in youth gatherings. It's all well and good to just listen to the Spirit together, but having music that is commonly known is helpful, I think, so that the Spirit can use that format at times to prompt people during unprogrammed meetings for worship.

Nate is up for coming and leading workshops or worship services, so you should go check out his stuff!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

israel/palestine: statehood & prisoner release

Israel and Palestine have been in the news quite a bit lately, and I'd like to offer my thoughts on recent events. Is the request for Palestinian statehood and/or entrance into UNESCO (requested mainly by Fatah, the more diplomatic party in Palestinian politics) positive or negative for Israel, Palestine, the United States, and the ongoing peace process regarding the land of Israel and Palestine? Is the prisoner release yesterday (orchestrated by Hamas, a more militant party in Palestinian politics) positive or negative for those same parties and the peace process? So here are some brief thoughts.

First, statehood and/or entrance into UNESCO and other UN agencies: 

Many people think the Palestinians asking for recognition from the UN is halting the peace process, because it is attempting to circumnavigate the peace process that they've been working on directly with Israel in order to force Israel to have to see them as a nation because of international pressure. In some ways this is true, but I don't think it's fair to say that Palestinians are breaking the treaties. Israel continuously breaks agreements made with Palestinians by continuing to build new settlements and make major improvements on established settlements of Israelis within the West Bank.

This is, in my opinion, analogous to citizens of the United States going onto a reservation and building on that land. Settlers in the United States did something very similar in the previous several centuries, making the argument that "they're not using the land" that is so familiar in the West Bank. This ignores the fact that many Palestinians, like many Native Americans, have a culture that utilizes and values land in a very different way from the way we think of "productive" land in Western cultures.

I could go on here, but I'll stop with that for now. Suffice it to say that settlements are still being built in the West Bank, and the Israeli government offers incentives to those who will go live in them. Many of the settlements are virtually empty buildings, but Israel tries to use them as "facts on the ground," saying that they can't just make people move elsewhere because those are their homes. This all goes directly against any peace agreements that have been made in the last 60 years between Israel and Palestine, so it makes a lot of sense that Palestinians would try something new.

Palestinian statehood might not be that great for the US in our goal to gain more leverage in the Middle East, but at the same time, if we supported Palestinian statehood, would this not make us more popular in the Middle East (with everyone but Israel)? Do we want to be allies only with the group in the Middle East with the least land and power (apart from what we give it)? Wouldn't it make more sense in a foreign policy sense if we made friends with Palestinian Arabs, and in so doing, made friends with other Arabs in the region?

This is not anti-semitism. This is valuing all people and their right to self-determination as a people, their right to not be systematically exterminated or evicted. But the US unquestioning support of Israel, even when Israel's actions are unjust, is completely inhumane. We would do well to support Palestinian statehood so that peace talks have the ability to move forward between equals. Perhaps a one-state solution would eventually work best, but it needs to be negotiated fairly.

Second, the prisoner exchange:

Yesterday I listened with interest as NPR reported on the prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Here is an article and audio about the exchange. Basically, Israel got back one prisoner (Gilad Shalit), a soldier who had been caught and kept in custody by Hamas in Gaza until their demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners were met. They received 500 prisoners from Israeli detention centers, although not the original 500 they requested.

I am thrilled for the sake of the 501 prisoners who got to return home to their families! That is wonderful news.

The major problem with this is that Israel negotiated this with Hamas, which party is more apt to use terrorist methods to reach their ends. As the NPR story points out, it is likely that Israel brokered this deal right now in order to weaken Fatah as that more moderate party seeks statehood or other recognition from the UN. But the short-term gain of this tactic for Israel is likely to cause a longer-term problem in that making Hamas' tactics look effective means more acts of terrorism are likely to occur than if they were willing to negotiate peacefully with Fatah. Is Israel intentionally trying to make this happen so that people will continue to see Palestinians as terrorists, and continue to feel bad for the Jewish victims? This is just sick, since it means many innocent Israeli lives will be shed as a result of the Israeli government's manipulative policies.

One good thing about this deal, however (besides the prisoners returning to their families), is that an Israeli peace activist, Gershon Baskin, brokered this deal. NPR reports him saying this was the most important thing he's done in his life. I think this part is awesome. He talked with the family of the missing soldier and he built relationships with Hamas leaders. He had no official capacity within the Israeli government, but he worked as a go-between for the last five years to make this exchange happen. This gives me hope, because I know not all Israelis agree with the policies of their government (no more than all people in the United States agree with our government's policies!), and it's great when Israelis working for peace make the news (here are some others). It also gives me hope because maybe someday, if we all work hard enough and refuse to give up, we can make a difference for peace in that land that is holy space for so many Jews, Muslims and Christians--in shallah.

Friday, October 14, 2011

book review: jesus loves women

I'm excited to review this new book, Jesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit, by my friend Tricia Gates Brown. (For those of you to whom it's important, she also has strong ties with Friends.) This book tells her story in beautiful, vulnerable prose that draws the reader in. I found myself thinking about her story and wanting to get back to reading it in the many moments of my day when I couldn't just sit around reading! It hooked me just as much as a good novel, although I have to admit it was a little weird reading such personal information about the life of someone I know. Somehow it feels different when reading a novel, or even a memoir of someone unknown to me, but since I know her and many of the others in the book, it felt a little voyeuristic to be so captivated by reading it.

But really, that's my only criticism of this book. Tricia's style managed to be engaging, readable, profound, deep, centering, humorous, sad and meaningful all in one book.

I appreciated the theme of the book, which you can begin to pick up on in the title. This is a spiritual memoir, but for Tricia, spirit is so bound up with the physical experience of herself and the world that this "spiritual" memoir comes off much different from the contemplative work one might imagine. She tells of her upbringing in a Christian denomination that caused her to feel less-than-human as a woman, and to find shame in her physical being. This book tells her journey of discovery as she seeks and finds God in the world around her, in relationships, in love and in herself. Tricia has a PhD in New Testament Literature, and she manages to incorporate some excellent, well-researched thought into this book in a way that definitely doesn't sound preachy but is confident and insightful. She tells of the misconceptions of much of the present-day American church regarding Jesus' view of women, the body and the created world, and paints a breathtaking picture of true Life as an embodied spirit.

Tricia is a gifted writer--I've read her dissertation, enjoyed her music and the poetry therein, and appreciated other articles I've read by her. Her memoir is no different. She writes it almost as poetry, describing the scenes around her with words that bring each moment to life. The insights she shares are deep and worth listening to. I am grateful she had the courage to share her story with such vulnerability.

In some ways, this memoir reminds me of another favorite book of mine, Sue Monk Kidd's Dance of the Dissident Daughter. The power of Sue Monk Kidd's work is in her creativity as she forms new ways to worship; much of the power of Tricia Gates Brown's work is in her word crafting and ability to tell a story, and in her complete and utter honesty, even about her mistakes. She is gracious and forgiving to others and to herself.

In case you couldn't tell, I definitely recommend this book! You can order it here.

Monday, October 10, 2011


The newest issue of the Friends Journal came out last week. The topic is Quaker Women in Ministry, so I submitted an article on the ministry of being a mom. They included my article "On Quaker Mothering." It's fun to see my words in print alongside some other great articles and art, some by Friends I know and some by those I have yet to meet. The full text isn't available online, but here's a link to the Contents page if you want to see what else is included in this issue. You can order a copy (or I have several copies they sent me if you want one!). 

Melanie Weidner's art is featured on the cover as well as inside. She is a good friend and I appreciate her art so much.

Becky Ankeny wrote an article called "Little Girl, Wake Up," which is available as full text online. She'll be our next Superintendent for Northwest Yearly Meeting come January.

Ashley Wilcox wrote a piece entitled, "Walking the Labyrinth." She's a Friend from Salem, OR who I've enjoyed getting to know over the last few years, and she goes to an unaffiliated meeting called Freedom Friends.

The pastor of Freedom Friends, Peggy Parsons, is profiled as a Quaker woman minister in this issue.

It's fun to be in such good company! The articles and other material by people I don't know is also good. I enjoy this unaffiliated Friends magazine and recommend it to those interested in Friends thought.

Monday, September 26, 2011

macintyre & quakers

I've just started reading Alasdair MacIntyre's philosophical work After Virtue. We're reading it in the women's theology discussion group of which I'm a part (check out my post about it here). I'm not exactly clear on why we chose it because usually we read feminist texts, or ones of interest regarding women in ministry, and this is not a text of either of those sorts (although it's not anti-feminist). At any rate, it's very interesting and I'm enjoying thinking about what he's presenting, especially as it relates to Quakerism. (I have read one other book by MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals, but I am by no means an expert on his theories, or how they relate to Quakerism! For that you'll have to visit my f/Friend Wess's blog, because he's doing his dissertation with a large emphasis on MacIntyre, but I haven't gotten to talk to him much about MacIntyre yet because I just started reading this book.)

So far, I've read the prologue, preface and chapter 1. For this group I think we're just going to read a few more chapters. MacIntyre is an Aristotelian through the lens of Thomas Aquinas (who, he says, is a better Aristotelian than Aristotle). MacIntyre's basic point, from what I can gather so far, is that the way we're attempting to think about morality right now is flawed due to our insistence on being objective, our blind spots due to assumptions because of our particular time and place without recognizing these assumptions, and the fact that we are using language about morality that was birthed in a context we no longer understand. As an example he asks us to imagine a world where all scientific knowledge and anything (and anyone) pertaining to the natural sciences was systematically destroyed, and then a number of years later people realized that was a mistake but had no way of bringing back everything that had been destroyed. He thinks this is, in some ways, what has happened to ideas around morality, although on a much slower scale and without conscious intention. Each generation uses these terms that refer to morality and have been handed down through the canon of literature, history, philosophy, etc., but the context out of which those terms arose is mainly forgotten, so although people say they are being objective when they speak about a certain aspect of morality, all they can do is subjectively posit their own thoughts and their own cultural biases onto something they cannot understand.

Are you with me so far?

OK, so what I remember of Aristotle's philosophy as pertains to this is his idea of the Forms. Basically he says that our ideals can never be reached in this world (beauty, love, truth, etc.), so what we have is this ideal sense of what that would look like even though we've never seen it and can never see it. These ideals are the Forms. We can never draw a perfect circle, and yet we have this notion of what a perfect circle would be like. We can even describe it in a mathematical equation. But it's never going to happen in reality.

I assume this is where MacIntyre is going with his thoughts. He's been talking about how each generation goes by and attempts to describe morality, but has forgotten the context. me this sounds like kind of a biblical perspective--there was this time of perfection and now it's lost to us, but we still remember pieces of what that perfection was like, and we strive to live it out even now. It's like the proverbial Garden of Eden--a time when morality had a pure context. I don't think MacIntyre is trying to say there actually was an historical time when people understood morality completely and lived it out, but it does seem like he's trying to say that there is some ultimate Truth that can be gotten at. I don't know if he'll give suggestions about how to get to it, but based on his opening metaphor about losing science, I would say it would be through scrapping all these theories based on faulty "knowledge" and an incomplete picture, and start again with experimenting ourselves to find out the Truth.

This is where my mind brings together MacIntyre's thought and Quakerism (or at least my hypothesis about MacIntyre's direction of thought). Friends since our denominational inception have held this idea of Truth that comes from internal experience, not from a creed, dogma or text. This is utterly terrifying to many of any denomination or faith (and even to me sometimes, quite frankly!) because it sounds so out-of-control. There's no way to test it.

But maybe there are. With the scientific method there are ways to test whether something is good science or not. Are there ways to test whether something is Truth or not? Friends consistently answer this in the affirmative. We can test (read: discern) whether something is Truth, and therefore of God/Spirit/the Inner Light/whatever you call it, by holding it up to our internal sense of what is True, the Aristotelian Form of Truth. This is an ability all people have, although we can develop it more and more keenly if we try. Some people are probably better at it than others, too, just like some are better at sports or music or science. But what is there to base morality off of if there's no ultimate Truth?

This is what postmodernism (the cultural phenomenon, not the philosophical era) is asking. Is there ultimate Truth? Who gets to say what it is? I think postmoderns want there to be an ultimate Truth--they (we) are seeking for it. Postmoderns make a choice: either a) they are not willing to be fooled by shallow answers and supposedly all-knowing texts or dogma that have nothing to do with their current lives, or b) they swallow their questions and become fundamentalists--hence the rise in adherence to fundamentalist traditions in the US and around the world. This second choice feels safer for many rather than groping in the dark. Just taking someone's word for it that they've found the truth already seems so much easier!

But if postmoderns choose option a, I think Quakerism has something to offer. We (at our best) refuse to be based simply on a book or a list of traditions, and instead we listen for the Truth that speaks deep inside us. We respond to the Truth that we find in others we meet, and in sacred and secular texts both contemporary and historic. We "answer that of God in everyone," because as we hold up our conception of what Truth looks like, we can recognize it in others, find others to journey with through the dark toward a half-perceived, half-remembered Light. We'll never know or find the whole Truth in this life, but we know the Form of it, and we seek it together.

Friday, September 23, 2011

summer (fiction) reading list

Well, I'm not the President, but I did spend a good portion of my summer relaxing with some fairly decent novels. I'm glad Obama spends some of his time reading fiction, by the way! I sometimes get into a mode where I don't allow myself to read fiction because I want to be more efficient with my time--not waste it. But I don't think relaxing is wasting time, always. And I think fiction helps us think about things we wouldn't think of otherwise. All of these books were given to me, so I didn't really choose them besides just picking a book off my shelf. I'll write a short summary of each of them, and then some thoughts at the end about how they interact with each other in my brain and what it means to me. So, without further ado, my summer (fiction) reading list, in order of when I read them:

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (1989)
This book was made into a movie, but the movie is really nothing like the book. The book is, of course, much better. It's told by a man looking back on his growing-up years in New England in the 1960s and '70s, and focuses on his friendship with Owen Meany as a way to tell about his own coming of age and coming toward faith. This book is loooong and it took me a while to really get into it, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. The story just builds and builds, and the character development is excellent. Much of the story deals with faith an ddoubt, certainty, the supernatural, truth and questioning the truth, as well as the true nature of friendship, love and loss. I can't tell you much about the story because it would ruin it for you...

Wide Open, by Nicola Barker (1998)
Set in the UK, this novel follows several strange characters as their lives intertwine and are pried "wide open" in ways that mostly show their messy, unlovable, unappealing interiors. There may be some pearls in there somewhere, but the reader is hard-pressed to find them. I didn't really like any of the characters, and yet I felt compelled to keep reading. It was strange. I could hardly put the book down.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (2008)
This Pulitzer-prize winning novel is set in New England and follows a cast of characters in a small town. Each chapter is almost a short story in itself, although they weave together to create a broader story. I found the style of writing creative because for the first several chapters, you wouldn't know Olive Kitteridge is very important to the story, except that you pay attention when her name is mentioned since it's the title of the book. The story is really one of dealing with the transition into old age, wondering about the choices that have led you to where you are, trying to learn to love yourself and love others where you are now regardless of past choices. It was a good read.

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave (2009)
This was probably my favorite book of all these, perhaps excepting Owen Meany. It tells a story from two perspectives: one, a refugee girl from Nigeria; and another, a successful working mom from England. This book was difficult in its subject matter, but at the same time edifying. I like books with a purpose, I guess. I think most of the other books (besides Owen Meany) have really sad, negative characters looking for meaning and not really finding any--or finding meaning in small, personal matters that seem to me fairly self-absorbed. In this book, the English woman is brought face-to-face with the pettiness of the things in her life to which she's given meaning. She remembers her idealism, and although she can't change the world completely, she can make choices that aren't just edifying for herself.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Ann Tyler (1996)
This book again wove together chapters from the voices of several characters to make a complete story. In this book, each character is a member of a family--not a particularly happy family, but one that recognizes family is all they have, so they stick together to a large degree. When the children are grown, one son attempts to bring the family together around his passion: amazing, home-style food at his restaurant--but the family can't ever seem to get along long enough to sit through an entire meal. I enjoyed reading the story, but it was fairly sad (as, perhaps, the title suggests).

Looking back on my summer reading, I'm struck by how many of the stories feature really sad people--many of them probably clinically depressed. They struggle for meaning at various stages in their lives. It seems like modern literature is really grappling with the topic of meaninglessness. I don't know, I suppose that's true of all literature--but it seems like literature from previous centuries and decades usually had some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. You don't have to look far to see that "happily ever after" stories just aren't true, so maybe this is a good thing: our stories are more realistic, and we don't have to wonder, "Why didn't MY life turn out like a fairy tale?" At the same time, many of the characters in these stories are so disillusioned one wonders why they even go on. Is it enough to live for oneself, to live for a tenuous love between oneself and one's family? Most of these books don't even have a hint of suggestion that there's something bigger out there to believe in and to live for.

I guess that's why Little Bee and A Prayer for Owen Meany were my favorites of this bunch. The others seemed so ethnocentric, so focused on the meaninglessness of Western culture and living life for oneself, but without a vision of any alternative. Little Bee and A Prayer for Owen Meany both exhibited a profound knowledge of meaninglessness and of the individual's inability to change the world, but they were more hopeful: perhaps one can't change the world, but one can live in a way that is hope-filled, that refuses to live in a depressive bubble of materialism and nihilism, that stubbornly and joyfully faces into the world's evils and says, "I will not cooperate." The characters realize they have a part to play and at least a tiny influence, and they choose to use it for others. That's what I hope my life focuses on as well.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

new preaching style experiment

I've been experimenting the last couple times I've "preached" with a more interactive format. I'm not sure my preaching profs would have counted it as preaching, but it fills the preaching slot on Sunday morning at our programmed Friends meeting. To hear these experiments you can listen to the podcasts for the time in June and the one in August. My father-in-law is good at this style of preaching and I learned a lot from him, although I think I do things a little differently because I'm a different person. I like this way of bringing the message, because basically it's just bringing fodder to open up a conversation. I think about a topic for a while and do some research, I make a plan as far as what I want to say to explain the direction I'm going, and I ask questions and wait for people to answer. Then I hold it loosely, not sure exactly where it's going to go from there. It's been fun so far, because people have really opened up and been vulnerable with their answers, and answered in a way that gets deeper--not just surface answers, but getting to the heart of things. I think if I preached every Sunday I would probably not do this style every week, because not a lot of content is conveyed. I'm not completely sure if that is a bad thing, because maybe content isn't what people really need...but I think different people need different things, so I would probably try to do a variety of different styles to hit as many learning styles as possible. That's kind of what we're doing at our meeting right now by having a number of different people in the preaching rotation, and it's been really fun. We have the advantage of hearing from different voices in our congregation (and sometimes from outside our congregation) so that we don't just hear one person's perspective or get too focused on one person's pet projects or favorite passages. In true Quaker fashion, we believe God can speak through any of us, so we open it up to hear voices other than the released ministers'. That's what I like about this new experimental way of preaching, too--we hear the voices of many who would never think of bringing the message in a formal way, but they have good things to say and God is at work in their lives. When I've preached in this interactive style I've been humbled to hear people's stories and insights that express a message from God in a way that I never would have been able to. It's like a guided unprogrammed worship, because it's not totally planned, and space is open for people to share, it just happens to be around a certain topic--kind of like having a query to ponder during unprogrammed worship.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

book review: just moms

This book, Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World, came out last spring from Barclay Press. It's a collection of essays from moms in peace churches about the challenges and joys of being a mom and attempting to raise kids who care about peace and justice in our violent and unjust culture. I know several of the women who wrote chapters, including the two editors, Melanie Springer Mock and Rebekah D. Schneiter, so I was excited to read this book, and I definitely enjoyed it. I appreciated that they chose essays from women in different stages of parenting--parenting small children up through parenting children who have children themselves.

Even if the essay "His Pink Shoes" by Amy Lutz was not first in the book, I probably would have read it first anyway. I figured I would get some good pointers on what to do with a boy who loves pink, or at least be able to commiserate with another mom. My son LOVES pink. Pink is not my favorite color. I find myself unsure about what to do often when we have to buy something (like shoes) and he gravitates toward the pink ones. Do I let him choose? Or do I shelter him from the teasing he would likely receive from others who say he's wearing girl clothes? I appreciated Amy's story and thoughtfulness, and I wonder with her why we have to have such rigid boundaries about what's OK for boys in our culture.

Marilee Jolin's essay, "Uniquely Qualified," hit particularly close to home. Her oldest daughter and my oldest son are about a week apart, and we have prego pictures together at Thanksgiving in Massachusetts. She writes, "My journey toward my Ph.D. ended when Mira was born. I know putting school on hold was the right choice, and I'm glad to be able to stay home with her. Still, I sometimes feel my daily activities of diapers, dishes, laundry, and play dough do not give Mira the clear message I'd like to send her about female ability and ambition" (29-30). She wants her daughter to know that women can do things just as "important" as men, women can achieve things and can be the ones who work outside the home. She fears this isn't coming through because of her family's choice that she be the one to stay home with the kiddos while they're little. I have this same fear for my sons--not that they'll not know they can strive for a career they enjoy, but that they won't have the role models of how to also allow their future spouses to perhaps be the ones who focus on their careers while the men stay at home with the little ones (assuming there ARE spouses and little ones--I'll leave that up to my boys!) I remember my dad staying home with my sister and me when I was little, and my husband Joel stayed home with E for a while, but E was too little to remember it even now. The other day E was role playing, and we were elves at the North Pole. He said something like, "You're a girl elf so you cook all the meals." How's that for gender stereotypes???

Several essays had to do with boys and guns, or the topic of guns and public settings where others are socializing our children. These topics are difficult, and no one had a really good answer, but it was nice to know others struggle with the same issues and to see how they handled it.

In "The Economics of Bouncy Balls," Melanie Springer Mock talks about cheap toys, the violence they cause between siblings and the violence they cause due to oppression of those in other countries sitting in factories making our cheap toys that will be loved for only two hours or so. How do we live in a Christ-like way in this culture? She says, "But if I am honest with myself, I am just as much a consumer--and, by extension, a potential oppressor of the poor--as anyone else who has rejected the idea that when Christ means we should sell everything, he really means everything." Convicting, anyone?

And then there's Lisa Graham McMinn's "Starbucks-colored Glasses." She and her daughter, Sarah, then in middle school, saw a homeless woman. Another Starbucks customer treated this woman poorly, and Lisa apologized to her. Sarah suggested (later) that they invite the woman to live with them. Lisa compromised by taking the woman dinner, and doing so each week, building a relationship with this woman. Lisa now sees in her grown daughter an intentionality about standing up for the rights of the oppressed and actions that encourage solidarity with them. This is an inspiring story, one I want to emulate as a parent. I try to listen to the compassion that my kids exhibit, and follow when God speaks through them. I want to do that more and more often as they grow up, not only for their sakes but for mine as well.

That segues nicely into my next planned post, during which you will get to hear about E's lemonade stand for a homeless shelter!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

busy lately

I've been a little busy lately, and I'm saving up blog posts in my head, so expect a number of them relatively soon (hopefully)! Things I've been doing:

--Being a mama to a 6 1/2-month-old who has started eating solid food, and 4-year-old
--Working 1/2 time as an administrative assistant
--Teaching a seminary class that ends this Friday
--Getting ready to preach this Sunday
--Planning a bridal shower
--Helping with our photography business by doing a shoot on my own (plus editing, etc.) and a shoot as a 2nd photographer
--Planning worship for Surfside, upcoming high school camp
--Organizing efforts to create the curriculum for next year's NWYM Peace Month
--Trying to have a social life and keep the house in some semblance of order (mostly failing at that last part!)

But I plan to blog soon about several things, including:
--Just Moms book
--Dorothee Sölle: Mysticism as Resistance
--What I'll be bringing to worship this Sunday (but I'm not going to share about it yet--you have to come to worship or listen to the podcast after, or check back here eventually for an update!)
--June Quaker blog carnival about how I came to Friends
--Paulo Freire: Pedagogy of the Oppressed (have I ever blogged about that before? So good!)

So stay tuned...and hopefully I'll get time to blog soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

as Friends, how do we care?

This month's Quaker blog carnival on QuakerQuaker asks the question, "How do we care?" The writing prompt suggests we think about what we mean when we say we are putting someone or something "under the care of" the meeting. I don't think I've ever heard this term used in my yearly meeting, but I've heard it elsewhere in Friends circles. I'm not sure we have an equivalent term or meaning. But that doesn't mean we don't care for one another!

I'm sometimes torn between being really grateful that meetings I've been a part of care for their members fairly well, and the fact that sometimes it's hard to see what we do for anyone outside our meeting. I wonder often what our role is supposed to be as the Church (universal): are we to care for one another in such a way that others are drawn to our community and want to become part of a group that cares so well for each other? Or does that make us seem like a clique that would be hard to be accepted into? Are we supposed to go outside our group of those we worship with on Sunday mornings and care for others in order to draw them in and help them learn to be part of a community they might not have found otherwise? Or, as is often the case, is the answer, "Yes, both"? But how do we find the time and energy to be that kind of caring community to those both inside and outside our worship group?

I guess we just do what we can, and hopefully what we're called to do.

I've felt cared for by my meeting community in many ways, but one of the biggest was when our first son was born. We were totally overwhelmed trying to figure out parenting a newborn and a huge life change. We were so grateful for the people who brought us meals and helped out in other ways. This prompted me to pay more attention when people in our meeting ask for others to provide meals for families when there are births, deaths, illnesses or other major events in which not having to think about cooking would be a huge blessing. This way of caring for each other is simple, but also profound in its effects and in the feeling of being cared for that people receive.

Something else I noticed when we lived away from the Northwest for a while: it's hard to get to know people in a new meeting, and those people who go out of their way to go beyond just a "Good morning" at meeting are really appreciated by newcomers or outsiders. We went to a Friends meeting where we didn't know anyone or have any connections, and it took a while for us to really get to know anyone. But there were a few individuals and families who really reached out to us. Some invited us over for dinner, some introduced us to another family who had a baby our son's age, some took us hiking, some simply made a point of talking to us and remembering our names, some took care of our kiddo faithfully in First Day School, week after week.

Since returning home, I've tried to be much more intentional about seeking people out who I don't know in meeting and making sure they feel welcome. This is not natural for me--it pushes me out of my comfort zone. We usually have a greeting time during our worship service where everyone gets up and walks around and says hello to people. I'm kind of an introvert, so normally I would just sit there and talk to whoever came to me, or talk to a friend next to me. But I'm trying to be intentional about scanning the group and looking for someone whose name I don't know. Sometimes we even have enough energy and forethought to invite people over for lunch to a house in some semblance of orderliness!

Some fellowship opportunities I really enjoy at our meeting are Wednesday night dinners together and community dances. These are caring opportunities in that they create space for us to get to know each other better, invite friends to come and be drawn into the community without any God-language being used, and they are places where we can have fun and play together. They are also intergenerational, which our meeting attempts to be good at. We want our meeting to be a place where all ages are welcome.

Our meeting also does some things to care for those who aren't part of our worshiping community. I'll just name a few. We have a clothes closet where those who need it can come get clothes for free. We keep gas vouchers and energy vouchers in the office so that when people come asking for help. we can give it. We created a path around our property so people can use it for walking and running, and there is an almost-finished labyrinth for people to use as a space to connect with God. Also, many individuals in our meeting work on projects either volunteer or paid that help others in one way or another.

I feel like our meeting is a caring place, and I try to listen to God when prompted to know how to care for others better. I'm grateful for the care I've received.

I wonder, though, if there are still more ways we could intentionally reach out with care for the larger community. We don't necessarily do anything risky, and we spend a lot of our time-resources on projects for ourselves. This is good in many ways, but is it the best use of our resources? How can we make sure we don't just get enmeshed in our own little community to the degree that we aren't available to care for those "outside"? Are there better ways of drawing people in that we aren't doing, or can't do because we spend too much time in our building?

When we "release" ministers, we mainly release them to work for us. Maybe as pastoral Friends we should create a model where we do all the internal work ourselves, and release those called to do social justice work in our communities, or to organize us to do that kind of work together.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


By popular demand (from my grandma!), I'll let you know that North Valley Friends Church now has a podcast, which you can listen to weekly if you'd like, but also you could listen to me give the message I wrote about last month.

To subscribe to the podcast through iTunes, go here.
To view and listen to individual sessions of the podcast, go here.
To hear my message from April 3, go here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

book review part 2: without apology

If you missed part 1, you can find it here.

I wanted to interact with the "Modest Postscript" at the end of Chuck Fager's work, Without Apology: The Heroes, The Heritage and the Hope of LIberal Quakerism. He gives a rather glowing conclusion to his work, filled with optimism and hope for the direction and ideals of liberal Quakerism. He states: "Yes, we can do it better. Yet if Liberal Quakers stay the course and mind the Light, our movement's future as a growing and vital part of the people of God should be bright and fruitful. We can face the challenges of a new century with ope, with confidence, and without apology" (Fager,1996, 149).

Then he turns the page and presents "A Modest Postscript," in which he gives some criticisms and some suggestions for ways Liberal Friends could live their faith more effectively. As I read through the list I was surprised to find myself agreeing with the list not only for Liberal Friends, but also for Friends in my evangelical yearly meeting (Northwest).

1. Fager speaks of a lack of good religious education and spiritual formation opportunities, and for us, even though we release ministers, we still struggle to do this work effectively.

2. Many who come to programmed Friends meetings have no knowledge of the history of Friends, as he says of Liberal Friends.

3. He says evangelicals do better than Liberal Friends at evangelism, but I'm not really sure this is the case. True, it's sometimes really difficult to find Friends meetings, but people actually look for them! And people come to a Friends meeting who wouldn't set foot in a church building because of being wounded by "the church." Many times, when people hear about Quakers, they feel immediately drawn to them, and if they can find a Quaker meeting they'll try it out.

4. Communication across distances--this one isn't so bad now that we live in the "digital age," because obviously the Internets keep us all connected and make it much easier to find Friends wherever we go. So I would imagine this isn't as big of a problem now as it was in 1996. It seems like the online presence of FWCC and QuakerQuaker help Friends to stay connected with one another not just across distances, but across the spectrum of Friends in a way that wasn't as possible before the World Wide Web.

5. Fager talks about fear of anger and conflict, and although evangelicals might have different reasons, we still have this problem. We don't want to rock the boat. It's sometimes easier to just focus on the lowest common denominator ("I like Jesus, how 'bout you? Great!") than to dig any deeper. We don't want to cause any more splits! But then we don't actually know each other so it's a false community.

6. Fager cites "anti-Christian prejudice," which isn't so much the case in evangelical circles...but we do have issues of other prejudices. We could even say "anti-liberal prejudice." You should have seen the debate about whether we would affiliate with FWCC! Yoking ourselves with unbelievers??? And Liberal Friends are the worst because they stole our name! People might confuse us with them! We forget that Christ is at work in the lives of Liberal Friends, and that we have much to learn from them, as they do from us. We need a little more humility, perhaps.

7. Number 7 made me laugh: "American Liberal Quakers are almost universally afflicted with what I call the NPR Syndrome" (Fager, 1996, 154). (NPR = National Public Radio.) He means that many (most) Liberal Friends get their information from NPR and it's easy to confuse God's voice with that voice you hear on the radio, and assign the level of importance to an issue as it is assigned on NPR, etc. It's a way of making oneself feel smart and educated, and to look down on others who don't listen to NPR. This creates a mono-culture that views everything similarly to each other, through the lens created by those running NPR rather than through Spirit-leading. Yes, Liberal Friends are guilty of this...but many of us Evangelical Friends have this same disease!

8. Fager criticizes "the collapse of Quaker volunteer service." Although I hadn't thought about it in these terms, Evangelical Friends have similar problems. Sure, we have short-term missions opportunities, to get people out of their comfort zone for a few weeks and experience poverty or what have you. But besides missionaries, how many Friends spend a significant amount of time serving others, at home or abroad, in a social justice-oriented way? We as Friends aren't really creating those opportunities, or supporting those who choose them very effectively.

In a way, the mandatory draft forced Friends (and Mennonites, etc.) to live out our faith more than we do if we have a choice. Since those drafted had to either go into the army or do voluntary service, those Friends organizations that used to offer voluntary service opportunities had plenty of people ready to serve. Now that we don't have to face that choice, most of us just stay home and find a nice, safe job.

I guess what I'm trying to say in this review is that perhaps as Friends we have more in common than we think. We have similar strengths and weaknesses; we don't get everything right. But we do have a focus on a personal and communal experience of the Living God. Hopefully this focus will continue to heal our schisms and allow us to work together for God's glory, helping others and ourselves recognize God's activity in the world around us.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

book review part 1: without apology

This book is, to some degree, on the other end of the Quaker spectrum from the last book I reviewed. And yet, both have truth to tell about us as a Society of Friends, historically and presently. I read this one about a year ago as well, and found it really interesting and helpful.

Written in 1996, this book by Chuck Fager is entitled Without Apology: The Heroes, The Heritage and the Hope of Liberal Quakerism. He states as his thesis, "Liberal Quakerism is an authentic and vibrant part of the people of God known as the Religious Society of Friends. We have many failings, but God is not finished with us yet--far from it. The Spirit is active here, we are still being called to renewal and witness, and many of us, in various places and various ways are responding" (Fager, x). I find it encouraging and somewhat humorous that if we substituted the word "liberal" for the word "evangelical" in that quote in my Evangelical Friends Yearly Meeting (NWYM), we would say that's what we've been working on lately, too. I've heard the exact same language used--in fact, I believe our keynote address from our yearly meeting superintendent a couple years ago was entitled, "God's not done with us yet." Fager states that his body of Friends struggles to hold together the words "liberal" and "Quaker," while those in NWYM struggle to figure out how to live out the best of the terms "evangelical" and "Quaker." Fager's book reminds me of all we have in common. Fager uses God-language and speaks of the true Church.

Sure, we have differences. The most important difference, of course, in this whole debate, is the role of Jesus. But here is Fager's definition of Liberal Quakerism:

"An ongoing effort to make visible a particular portion of the true Church, by means of the specific traditions and disciplines of the Religious Society of Friends. This very idea of manifesting the true Church is, we believe, rooted in the early Quakers' unique and inclusive understanding of the Society's Christian background and origins. The key Quaker disciplines by which this part of the Church is constituted are: silence-based, unprogrammed worship; a free ministry led by the spirit; decision-making by the worshipful sense of the meeting; church structures kept to a spartan, decentralized minimum; cultivation of the inward life of both individual and the group; a preference for unfolding experience of truth, or 'continuing revelation,' over creeds and doctrinal systems; and devotion to the historic but evolving Quaker testimonies, especially peace, simplicity and equality." (Fager, xi-xii)

This is something I feel that many in NWYM, at least, would also stand behind as being a definition of who we are (or want to be).

Fager starts off his book with a story about a gathering of the various streams of Friends to be held in 1977--the first to happen in over 50 years, due to evangelical Friends not wanting to associate with non-Christ centered folk (Fager says this much more kindly). The issue of homosexuality came up before the conference, and evangelical Friends refused to even come to the conference if the issue was even acknowledged. Evangelicals did eventually come, there was news coverage, no exhibits about sexual orientation were alllowed, although there was a workshop held off-site.

Fager points out that the real issue isn't homosexuality--and perhaps he would debate my contention stated earlier that the real issue is the role of Jesus. He says the real issue is ecclesiology, the nature of the church--who gets in, and who gets out. He puts his finger on the heart of the matter, I believe, because he shows that it is the desire to control access to God that really defines evangelicalism. He doesn't say it that way--he's actually very grace-filled in the way he deals with evangelicals. But since I'm a member of an evangelical yearly meeting I'll be a little more harsh with my own people. I think this point is so important! It's not that we really care who people are sleeping with or what they're drinking or any of those things that we endlessly debate. It's that we want to control access to God, and this is inherently un-Quakerly. Quakers historically stood for unmediated access to the real Presence of a God who can and does speak to and through each and every one of us. The question is, are we willing to let go long enough to trust God to speak to and through those with whom we disagree?

Of course this is a slippery do we know where to stop? Fager addresses this with, what else?, the Quaker idea of the Inner Light of Christ. We listen to the Inner Light of Christ in ourselves and in others. We allow God to choose who's "in" and who's "out," and we simply "Mind the Light"--in other words, we do as we're called to do and journey with others to try to help them make that journey as well. This is a concept found in Quakerism from very early on. Although early Friends were embarrassingly evangelistic, even for most modern-day evangelicals, they were also "universalist" in terms of their belief that God is speaking to and in all people. Fox and others recognized the same Spirit of Christ they knew at work in Native American tribes before they knew the name "Jesus."

Fager asks, "Which one is Quaker? or Christian?" in his third chapter. I personally conclude, "Both...and neither." I think both groups are doing good things, and both are doing some things we could improve upon. Fager tells a "parable" about the Golden Gate Bridge that I think is helpful. He says that, just like Jesus being the "narrow road," one doesn't have to know the whole origins of how the Golden Gate Bridge came into existence, what it's made of, its structure, etc. One simply has to find it and get onto it, and drive straight until one reaches the other side.

I guess to me it seems like in my yearly meeting it's too easy to get sidetracked on issues that don't matter, issues that seem too close to control issues and don't allow enough trust of God and God's ability to work in the world. We get sidetracked with debates about whether x or y behavior is OK, and we forget to do the work of actually showing Christ's love to people. We need to remember that it's not what we profess with our mouths that's important. Jesus said there will be people who cry, "Lord, Lord," but who didn't follow his teachings, and others who say, "Who the heck are you?" but whom Jesus knows because of their deeds. This parable is not about heaven and hell. It's about whether we're willing to do the hard work of following Jesus' teachings and example, or whether we're just going to talk about it. And I think a lot of times, Liberal Friends do a much better job of showing God's love and acceptance to people than Evangelical Friends.

OK, there's my rant for the evening. This post is long enough and I'm tired enough that I'd better stop here. Tomorrow (or sometime soon) I'll write an additional post about Fager's criticisms of Liberal Friends, and compare that to Evangelical Friends. I also might say some nice things about Evangelical Friends at some point...I haven't done that much here. But obviously there has to be something good about them, since I've chosen to align myself with them, right? And there is. But I think criticism from within is healthy, even if it's hard to hear.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

book review: through flaming sword

About a year ago I read the recently re-published edition of Aruthur Roberts' Through Flaming Sword. I was in my first trimester of pregnancy at the time so I read a bunch of books, laying in bed moaning because I felt sick, and didn't have enough energy to write anything about them. So now that I have a 5-month-old, I'm getting back around to writing this entry.

I enjoyed reading Through Flaming Sword. It's a brief overview of George Fox's life, ministry and Journal. For someone who hasn't read Fox's Journal and isn't planning on wading through 600+ pages of 17th century text, this book is a good speed, I would imagine. It covers the highs and lows of Fox's experience, and connects his ministry with Friends testimony and sense of calling in the 350 years since. I would definitely recommend this book to people interested in learning about Fox and the beginnings of Quakerism.

That said, even if Arthur didn't attend my meeting, I would definitely have been able to tell he's an Evangelical Friend. The things he chose to emphasize about Fox's life and the things he pointed to as most important about his writing are things that most closely align with the beliefs of Evangelical Friends. In that way it seemed somewhat preachy, if one knows the broader context of Friends (as Arthur does, quite well). It seemed like perhaps he was writing to convince people of the direct line of connection between Fox and Evangelical Friends. While I agree that Evangelical Friends do come in a direct line of tradition from Fox and his teachings, I also know that there are other things Fox said and did that don't fit as well with the Evangelical message! That's why I feel like Evangelical Friends hold an unique tension, since we're not exactly Evangelicals, nor are we exactly Friends, in the way many people stereotype either of these groups. I feel that when we try to convince people that we're really not that different--really we're pretty normal, just your average non-denominational, nice evangelical group--we lose something of importance. It's not that we just want to be different, but it's that we have truth to share with the wider body of the Church. I think Arthur definitely believes this as well, but perhaps was somewhat tired of seeing Fox claimed by those who don't consider themselves Christians.

At any rate, I found this to be a helpful book, and one that I would use in a course on Quakerism, or perhaps a small group that wanted to learn more about Fox and the history of Friends. You can buy this book from Barclay Press.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

death in various forms

I've been thinking about death over the last several days for various reasons.

First, I read a book by Elizabeth Berg called Talk Before Sleep. It's a decent book about a woman going through the death of her friend by breast cancer. I like Elizabeth Berg, and although I don't think this was her strongest piece, it was well-written. She has a way of drawing you in to the characters and their stories that makes even a story about the mundane rhythms of waiting for death into a page-turner.

Second, my great-uncle passed away last week. I haven't seen him for several years, but I always liked him. He loved Mustangs, and he fixed up several and took them to car shows. I remember the first time I ever rode in a convertible, he drove one up from California and I had a great time riding around with my hair blowing in my face. He died while out camping alone, of natural causes. I think it's great that he died doing something he loved, and being out in nature. I hope when I'm in my 70s I'm still doing the things I love. If you're going to die, that seems like a pretty good way to do it.

Third, there's Osama bin Laden. It's been interesting hearing people's responses on Facebook or on NPR (those are probably my two main sources of news information...). Here's what I posted as my Facebook status when I figured out what had happened:

"Just looked at FB updates about how it was weird people were rejoicing over someone's death...figured it must be bin Laden before anyone mentioned his name. Who else would it be? Here's hoping God knows how to work good from this whole situation, and that we can start rebuilding instead of destroying."

Then, when I read a few other people's status updates, I added:

"...and may blind patriotism not take over our country again just b/c we managed to, after 10 yrs of destruction, get this one bad guy. Do Americans realize how many more terrorists we've created by our response? And how like terrorists we've become???"

It's kind of surreal knowing he's died. I keep thinking about how he had a mother who at one point (presumably) thought he was the most beautiful baby ever born, who held him and kissed him and lovingly changed his diapers. I hope he experienced that kind of love, anyway. Now I'm not saying that he was a good person or anything, just wondering at what point in life a beautiful child can turn into a twisted man who believes killing innocent people will make the world a better place. I think this about our own soldiers, too, when they choose to follow orders to drop bombs that will kill innocent people, or to state those orders.

Fourth, our experiment with chicken "farming" took a turn for the worse today. Last night something got three of our six chickens! We had brought Wet and Blanket outside in their own little pen (our 4-year-old son named them), and until last night they'd had a heat lamp on them each night. Joel made a roost for them but it didn't have a door. The other chickens had been fine the nights we'd forgotten to close their door, so we stopped closing it, so they wouldn't get annoyed with each other, sitting confined in their coop until we finally roll out of bed. Anyway, something got the two little ones. They were adolescent-ish with feathers growing in. I found pieces of them on the ground and then most of their remains in the crotch of a big oak tree right outside the fence. One of the big chickens is still missing, but I didn't see any of it, not even feathers, so it might have gotten away and just gotten lost.

Being one of the ones responsible for their survival, I feel pretty bad! The poor things were pretty helpless out there in the dark, on the first night without their heat lamp. What a way to go...

Pondering all of these deaths, it's interesting how the death of each of these individuals hits me differently because of their different situations. They're all sad (even the fictitious one, because people die of cancer every day similarly to the story). But the sense of sadness is different for each. It puts life into perspective, though--its fragility and its beauty, and the immensity of the effects of our choices on the lives of others and ourselves, and the immensity of the lack of control we have about so many things.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

three cups of tea

I'm a little slow to get on the bandwagon for this one. I've been hearing about the book Three Cups of Tea for several years but just read it. The funny thing is that the person the book is about, Greg Mortenson, is in the news the last several weeks with allegations that his nonprofit organization, the Central Asia Institute, has misused funds and lied about the facilities it's built.

That's the bad news. The good news is that even if some of those allegations are true, I believe much more good has been done than evil in the life of Greg Mortenson. Maybe I just want to believe it because it's such a good story, but I just have this sense of trust for someone who talks about how educating people is the way to end terrorism, rather than bombing them.

For those of you who haven't heard his story, Mortenson was a mountain climber who went to Pakistan to climb K2. On his way home he got lost, and found himself in a small Himalayan village called Korphe. The people took him in and treated him with such respect and care that he felt like an honored guest, even a member of their family. He vowed to return and build a school for them, because he found out that their school-aged children studied outside (weather permitting) and wrote their school work in the dirt.

To make a long story short, after much trial and error he raised funds to build the school. Along the way he learned the language(s) of the region in which he worked in Pakistan, and through a generous donor he founded the Central Asia Institute. He has since built many schools, as well as clean water projects, bridges, and other humanitarian projects in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He's also helped pay teachers who were working without pay, even if their schools weren't built by the CAI. You can see photos and read about the CAI's recent work here.

To me, Mortenson's work is amazingly inspiring. When he saw the situation of the kids in that village of Korphe, his life was forever changed: he had to act. He sacrificed a great deal personally in order to ensure that justice could come to that village in the form of a space in which to learn. Throughout Three Cups of Tea, some call him a "true American hero," and I couldn't agree more. What if our national response to 9/11 had been more similar to his work? Can you imagine how different the region of Pakistan and Afghanistan would be today?

Mortenson started working on his first school in the '90s, and continued visiting Pakistan and building other schools since then. He witnessed what life looked like there before and after the Taliban created a foothold in the area. Something I hadn't realized before is that in 1999 or so, the Taliban started building tons of madrassas--fundamentalist Islamic training schools. There weren't that many before then. People went to the madrassas because they didn't have much of an option--it was the only school available in many areas. People weren't necessarily interested in the fundamentalist agenda prior to that, but once they began going to the schools they got sucked in to that way of thinking.

Mortenson's work is also about empowering women. He has built many schools specifically for girls, because sometimes education is offered for boys only. He convinces villages and towns that educating women is important since they take care of the families, so having some knowledge of hygiene and how to take care of wounds, as well as other practical skills, makes the whole community better-off. He was even surprised that a simple thing like a bridge could empower women. In a remote village where he helped build a bridge, he realized that it allowed women to visit their families more frequently, which helped them feel less isolated.

I also appreciate Mortenson's respect for Islam. He learns about Islam and prays with the people with whom he works. Although he is not a Muslim, he respects the devotion of his Islamic friends to their prayers at set times. He respects the wisdom of the village leaders and imams. About one person he says, "He's the type of religious leader I admire most. He is about compassion in action, not talk. He doesn't just lock himself up with his books. Syed Abbas believes in rolling up his sleeves and making the world a better place. Because of his work, the women of Chunda no longer had to walk long distances to find clean water. And overnight, the infant mortality rate of a community of two thousand people was cut in half" (p. 201). I hope this is the kind of religious leader any of us aspire to be.

One quote that particularly stood out to me is this: "In times of war, you often hear leaders--Christian, Jewish, and Muslim--saying, 'God is on our side.' But that isn't true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans." This, to me, is what the Quaker peace testimony is all about.This is why we refuse to wage war with physical weapons: not just because some book says so, but because we choose to be on the side of the good, the side of the unjustly oppressed. We refuse to oppress others in order to keep our freedoms or our stuff. And as Friends we have launched many a campaign and organization to do work similar to that of Mortenson's in the past. Hopefully we will continue to do so, and/or join with organizations like the CAI to do such work in our world today.

I don't think that education is necessarily THE answer--I don't even think it's the full answer that Mortenson is giving to Pakistani and Afghani children. What his work gives them is hope. There's another way. One doesn't just have to follow the path of the madrassas, or stay at home tending goats. There is another option, a humanizing option. In this case it comes in the form of education, but I'm not saying that education is God. People can see God through hope in their future, however. They can see God's goodness and love in the fact that they have the ability to break cycles of poverty. And hopefully the learning doesn't just go one way. Mortenson learns a great deal from the alpine culture in which he works, and the shortcomings of Western culture become painfully clear. Hopefully as we help others using the knowledge and skills that our culture has cultivated, we remember that we also have much to learn, especially about true happiness and contentment.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

in memory of crw

CRW was the name of the apartment complex where we lived at Princeton Theological Seminary. We just got the alumni magazine in the mail last week and found out that they have actually begun construction of their new married/family student housing, which in many ways is awesome! At the same time, i find myself mourning those apartments, and remembering the good times we had there.

CRW: the good, the bad & the ugly
The buildings had eight apartments in them, and there were about 18 of them (if memory serves). They were built in the 1960s, judging from the Pepto Bismol-pink bathroom tile and bathtubs! But they were spacious and had hardwood floor tiles. The basements had mold growing in them and you had to have the stuff in your basement storage unit up off the ground on palates, because when it rained there was standing water in the basements. Some of the buildings only had one washer and drier for all 8 apartments (some had two). Showers were notoriously temperamental, and we had to jump in and out of the stream of water often as it would suddenly change temperature for no apparent reason. Perhaps we somehow shared water heaters? I'm not sure, but it was a good topic of conversation on the Shuttle to and from CRW to campus. The apartments had a good amount of storage space (for an apartment), and each had a little deck outside sliding glass doors. The kitchens were updated and most had nice natural gas stoves and good appliances. We couldn't paint the walls, but that's OK--we were broke seminary students anyway.

CRW: a community
What I liked most about CRW was the community, and I assume that will continue. The buildings were built around a central greenspace where people played sports (especially whiffle ball!), walked dogs, played on the playground or studied outside when possible. After having a kid, that space was especially valuable for us as we made connections with other parents who were students, while our kids played on the playground. People would have barbecues as often as the weather would permit (and even sometimes when it wouldn't!). Each building had at least one barbecue, many of them passed down from other generations of PTS students. Parties out on the lawn were fall and spring staples. We were never there during the summer, but I think we missed the best parties because of it!

The student housing--not the housing itself but the fact that there was housing and it invited community--was one of the main reasons we chose to go to PTS. It made it possible for both of us to build relationships and feel part of the seminary community even though I was the only one in school. CRW served us well.

Remembering CRW
The other night I had a dream that we were visiting friends at their apartment at CRW, and I woke up and was really sad that that won't ever happen again--not because we'll never go back there, but that space no longer exists. A couple years ago my grandparents took a trip and visited every house my grandma had lived in, to celebrate her 75th birthday. It hit me that my son will never be able to do that because that house won't be there. We have photos but it's not the same. (I guess I won't be able to do that, either, but that's beside the point! I remember what it looked like, but he won't.)

Prayer for the future
I don't know exactly what the new building wil look like, but it's my prayer that it is a space that is similarly inviting for community, that will hold future students in such a way that they feel supported and at home while they are away from their families and normal faith communities. May it be a place rich in good memories for those students as they prepare for the ministries to which they are called.

A Friend, Erica, from home who also spent time at CRW

Our dear friends Elaine & Nate who were another big reason we went to PTS, in their CRW apartment

When we first moved back after E was born

The forest we could see across the street, out our sliding glass doors, in our second apartment at CRW

Where EP learned to walk!

Ah, snow storms...

We did a lot of Skyping!

friends Adeline & Junia on the playground

The Canal in fall (at least that will still be there!)

Dear Lutheran friend, Julie, & Catholic friend, Jason, throwing a Reformation Day Party...only in seminary...

Another creative party where we took turns reading a novella aloud and we had to wear scarves while reading.

Open mic at our place

After EP's 2nd birthday

Joel doing a party trick...trying to fit into a kids car that had been part of the CRW community for who-knows-how-many years (but not many years after this trick!)

All loaded up for the drive home for the last time.