Saturday, February 20, 2016

fwcc "living sustainably and sustaining life on earth" minute from 2016 plenary

I am thrilled to see that the plenary meeting of Friends World Committee for Consultation last month put out a minute called "Living Sustainably and Sustaining Life on Earth." They explain why this is important at this point in time, and give a few suggestions of how yearly meetings, meetings, and individual Friends can get involved.
I wanted to share what our meeting is doing. At North Valley Friends in Oregon, we're starting in on a two-year certification program through GreenFaith, an interfaith organization that helps communities of faith green their buildings, incorporate creation care into their worship practices, host educational opportunities for their congregations and/or their towns and cities to learn about practical actions and changes they can make, and learn about and engage in environmental justice activism. Our meeting has already incorporated creation care themes in our worship and education elements, and we have a trail and a labyrinth, open to the public, that passively allows individuals to enjoy this little slice of creation, but we need some help moving beyond these actions into deeper levels of faithfulness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

new blog for academic work

I created a new blog the other day, where I can share my thoughts on my academic work in ecotheology. This blog, Quaker Oats Live, with its specific focus on Quakers, will continue to be the place where I post things of interest to Quakers, but didn't seem like the right place to start posting things related to some of the other directions in my academic thinking. Therefore, if you want to hear about my process as I think through ecotheology, and specifically the topic of hope in environmental care, check out my new space! I'm working on the concept of developing an ecotheology of critical hope, and I'll have an article coming out within the next couple months on that topic in the journal Cross Currents. So far on my new blog I've posted an intro on why I'm working on the topic of hope, a piece about my research in the psychology of hope, and a post about the Korean concept of jeong and its application to ecotheology. Also, while I'm at it, I'll direct you to a review posted Monday on Christian Feminism Today of a book by Grace Ji-Sun Kim (who works at Earlham School of Religion, so we'll claim her as an honorary Quaker even though she's Presbyterian), Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

on power

In recent years, I've noticed an upswing in what sound like power struggles in Friends communities. These kinds of power struggles are not uncommon among Friends, really, and perhaps are one of the hallmarks of the underside of what it means to be Friends, but the power struggles are breaking out into the open of late, at least in the United States. Yearly meetings are splitting or threatening to split, meetings and individual Friends are threatened with expulsion or actually expelled, and Friends across the Internets are drawing up battle lines to support one or the other side. This has happened before in Friends history, leading to the various branches of Friends exhibited today, and of course this is not limited to Friends: all denominations and all people groups seem susceptible to this kind of factional sensibility (or senselessness; you decide).

But one would hope that Friends would be different.

Among Friends, power is supposed to come from inspiration of the Holy Spirit or Light of Christ, experienced inwardly and communally. In an ideal world, Friends would listen to this Spirit and follow its guidance, whether or not they agree with its politics. In an ideal world, Friends would trust the Spirit at work in one another, and listen to the wisdom each one brings. In this ideal world, no power struggles would be necessary: no political positioning of individuals in positions of power within the community, no stacking the deck with one's favored "side" on committees, no fearful accusations that someone's appointment was being used to do so. In this ideal world, the importance is not, "What does this person believe?" Rather, the questions are more like, "Is this person someone who I trust to listen well to the Light of Christ? Is this person someone through whom we have witnessed God speaking? Do we feel called to place responsibility on this person, and to submit our wills together to God through this person?"
Figure 1

This is not what I see when I look at Quakerism today. What I see is not trust; it is fear. This comes from both "sides," and it is something that I admit I have fallen prey to at times. This fear is seductive, because when one "side" fears and draws up battle lines, it causes defensiveness in the other "side," requiring them to also form up their lines and retreat to the safe space of their own like-minded people. Then the power struggle begins, with each side attempting to defeat the other, using secretive tactics that further undermine trust, using rules as weapons for their own advantage and to force losses by the other side, and attempting to cleanse the community of anyone who does not agree. I repeat: this happens on both "sides" of today's struggles.

In my opinion, the fact that we have "sides" shows that we have all already lost the battles we are trying to win.

Figure 2
Before I got married, our premarital counselor showed us a simple but elegant graphic of conflict between spouses, but this can represent any two parties in a conflict. It looked something like Figs. 1 and 2. People see one another as the problem (Fig. 1), and they shoot volleys toward the problem, which also means they aim at the other person in the conflict. Instead, our counselor suggested, what if we imagine ourselves on the same side of the problem, working together to tear down or in some other way work through the problem? (See Fig. 2.) Instead of seeing one another as enemies within a conflict, we see one another as fellow problem-solvers, with whom we want to get through the conflict, relationship intact.

This sounds easy, right? So why is it so hard to do? Well, I've been married for over 14 years now, and I will tell you that it is not easy. We have had our fair share of seeing each other as the problem. I'm usually the worst on this, because I think I know everything. (Pray for my husband!) But when we're at our best in the midst of a conflict, we remember these charts, and we attempt to reframe the conflict toward Fig. 2. How are we going to move through this together? How are we going to work together to solve this problem? What skills and perspective does the other person have on this conflict that hold the key to resolving it successfully? What am I holding onto that is not necessary, or even, when seen from the other person's perspective, is completely wrong-headed or requires more nuance?

If we add God to the picture (though I didn't make graphics for this one), we can see that if we think of ourselves in the Fig. 1 conflict, we each imagine that God is on our side, and one of us has to be wrong. But in Fig. 2, we can recognize that God is on our side, and we are both right—it's just a matter of listening to God and allowing God to speak to us, helping us solve this problem.

Furthermore, Colossians 3:14 comes to mind, which suggests that when we are in conflict with those who are part of our spiritual community, in addition to all the other good suggestions, we are to "put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (NIV). I see that binding as a glue that draws us together, that keeps us together on one side of the conflict, so that nothing can wedge itself between us. In some views of the Trinity, the Spirit is seen as the binding agent between God and Jesus, and also the one that draws us into that interconnected economy, such as Jonathan Edwards, who says that "the Spirit is the consent of love that creates the relation of beauty between two persons" (according to Kyle C. Strobel, The Ecumenical Edwards, Ashgate, 2015). (While, perhaps, this view of the Trinity is insufficient if held singularly, that can be said of any view of the Trinity, since all our metaphors fall short of full explanation, but it is yet a helpful way of looking at this mystery, in my opinion.) Here, Edwards through Strobel is talking about the persons of the Trinity, but I think if we bring this into Quaker theology, we can see that it is this bond of unity through the loving presence of the Spirit that we hope will guide us as human persons together in our meetings for worship for business.

Why is this so difficult?

Well, because when we see the problem from the Fig. 2 point of view, we lose control of the outcome. I cannot coerce or defeat my enemy into submitting to my viewpoint or running away; I must ask the other to willingly submit him or herself to working on solving the problem together...and this means I must submit myself to the same.

This means that I can't control the outcome. It means that the way we solve the problem may not be the way I would have liked, or the way I would have done it. In our heads, we know this opens up the process to the potential of the "third way" we like to talk about as Friends, but this act of submission is scary. It makes us feel vulnerable.

What if the other person/side only pretends to submit themselves, and really is holding onto their preconceived agenda?

What if we hear the Spirit, and the Spirit says the opposite of what I believe, and the other side ends up "winning"?

What if we end up listening to human "wisdom" rather than God?

What if it takes FOREVER and we never reach a conclusion?

These are real fears. We have fears of whether or not we can trust one another, we have fears of identity (who will I be if I have to change my belief?), we have fears of getting it wrong, we have fears regarding time and efficiency, which are really fears of worthiness in our culture that values efficiency above all.

These are legitimate fears. Who in your meeting, let alone your yearly meeting, do you know well enough to trust utterly to listen to the Spirit? How often do we practice actually listening to one another, and how often do practice listening to the Spirit speak through one another, discerning together what is God and what is our own contribution? How often do we practice mutual submission and healthy conflict resolution in our own communities? These are counter-cultural practices, and they are difficult. We may tout them as ideals, but do we practice them in our marriages, our meetings, our yearly meetings? At what point do our communities become too large and unwieldy for us to know one another well enough to do this kind of work effectively? I mean, it can be argued that two people—even one person—is too many people in order to fully trust one another. Plenty of marriages end in divorce, and many individuals find it difficult to resolve conflict within themselves without tearing themselves apart or resorting to our culture's many numbing self-medications. Resolving conflicts well is hard, painful work.

Another important piece of Quaker tradition becomes a problem here, too. When do I hold onto my piece of truth and refuse to let it go, bringing the prophetic voice to my people relentlessly, and when do I submit my piece of truth to the discernment of the community, waiting and trusting that God can speak through the gathered body as to the truth of my piece? When we value the individual conscience, the individual's ability to hear and understand the voice of God inwardly, each of us can think ourselves a prophet, holding tenaciously to our sense of Divine guidance, each assuming we are squarely within the stream of Quaker tradition and the other is not. When we experience this type of conviction, we feel the Spirit coursing through our bodies and souls. We know, inwardly, and no one can take this truth from us.

And yet, what of those on the other "side" who feel the same way, and have come to a different conclusion?

It is this tension within the Quaker tradition, between the recognition of both individual and communal discernment, that I believe is our greatest strength as a community, but it also has the potential to be our greatest weakness. It can either bind us to one another in an attempt to listen to God speak to us, be it through a prophetic individual or as a collective body, or it can tear us apart into individual, prideful know-it-alls who think they have the corner on the market of truth, the lone voice speaking truth in the midst of a sea of nonsense.

For those of you still reading this long post, kudos! I will reward you with sharing something more personal.

In my yearly meeting, Northwest Yearly Meeting, I have been in the recording process for eight years, and I recently received notice that my application for recording has been rejected on grounds of theology. This means that all these ideals that I'm talking about at the yearly meeting level have now become personal, to some degree—or at least, they have impacted my life on a personal level. I see this as a microcosm of what is going on in our yearly meeting, and I have a difficult choice. I can submit myself to the discernment of my community, and assume that they are listening to God, and that my theology is outside the bounds of who "we" are. I can choose to stay and submit to the Faith & Practice (or stay as long as I'm allowed and not submit), or I can choose to leave. Or, I can choose to reject the decision of this committee, continuing to speak the truth as I see it, supposing that those who made this decision (and other recent decisions in our yearly meeting) are off base and are not actually listening to God, and that I am. None of these options seems great, and I will share about it, not so you'll feel sorry for me that I didn't get recorded (what's the point of recording, anyway?), but to show in this example what is going on when we make larger decisions that impact whole yearly meetings.

In the first choice I outlined above, I would have to submit to the community in direct opposition to the sense of leading I feel. This is not shared discernment; it is a hierarchy, where we place people in authority over us and we respect their decisions. Perhaps this is not all bad. In Quaker circles, sometimes we struggle with the idea of leadership, because if we have no hierarchy, how do we recognize leaders? But if we recognize leaders and then no one is willing to follow them because we all think we're right, what is the point of recognizing leaders? So in an ideal world, I would accept the decision of the committee tasked with such decisions, because we do need leaders.

In the parenthetical option I outlined above, I could stay, but not feel welcome or at home. I could stay and feel abused and mistreated: they'll take my ministry but they won't officially recognize the Spirit at work in me. I would be living with the knowledge that at any point, I could be rejected by my people. This is not a healthy space in which to provide leadership, but it is a choice many of us are making.

I can choose to leave. This has its benefits: no more agonizing over politics, no more worrying about how in the world to resolve this conflict, no more dealing with people with whom I disagree. Many people choose this option. It's easier. Why work through this conflict with these people? Why not go find people I'm more like? Why not just give up? Since I can listen to God on my own, why do I need these people, or any people, for that matter? Yes, it's easier, but it's also painful, for someone who grew up in this community. This is my spiritual home, and I want to see it flourish in the Light of Christ. When people hear I come from this community, I want to be proud of my people. I want our name to be respected because we are following Christ together in the most loving way we know how, and that shows like a beacon of light out to the world. I don't want to just leave and give up on this people I love. I don't want to wander out into the world, family-less and jaded.

Rejecting the decision of this committee smacks of pridefulness, however. Though I have others on my "side" who agree with me and who do see the Spirit at work in my ministry, listening to what I want to hear instead of the discernment of those on the committee makes me sound (and feel) egotistical. What grounds do I have for suggesting that my truth is any more valid than theirs? Yes, I feel it inwardly, but do I not believe that they feel similar inward leadings?

I named this post "on power" because all of this has to do with issues of power, with controlling the narrative of who "we" are, of who's in and who's out. The difficult thing about Quakers and power is that power comes from the Spirit, and we are all woefully incapable of discerning that Spirit by ourselves, but we are also woefully capable of misidentifying the Spirit together. Discerning which is which is a slow and laborious process in which we must all give up our own power in order to paradoxically receive the Spirit's power. This requires massive amounts of trust, personal humility, and willingness to be countercultural. It requires a move into mystery, into the unknown, seeking for God in every direction, and trusting that we can, in fact, resolve humanly-intractable conflicts if we wait and trust and love and let go.

At this point in our yearly meeting's history, we are not doing this well. I do not trust the recording committee; I do not trust many in yearly meeting leadership. I do not even trust my friends, because "we" are just as prone to bring an agenda as "they" are. I do not trust either "side" to let down its guard and stop politicking long enough to actually listen. I trust myself, and the inward Light of Christ I sense, but I do not assume I have the whole truth.

I long for a community I can trust, a community that will really live into the Fig. 2 perspective on our conflicts. I long for a community that doesn't have to decide "Evangelical" or "Quaker," that doesn't have to choose "biblical" or "personal revelation," that doesn't have to question "liberal" or "conservative." I long for a community that holds, "We're in this together because we are bound together by the Spirit's love, and we are going to work through this together, because we can only 'win' if we all win."

I want Northwest Yearly Meeting to be that community, a place where I can fully submit to the decisions of any committee because I know they are seeking God first rather than trying to draw a line of who's in and who's out. I hope that we can learn to trust one another in this way, and speak to and of one another in ways that lead toward this kind of relationship.

I am afraid, because vulnerability leaves me open to attack. I feel myself desiring to draw back, to not engage, to stop placing myself in a situation where I am vulnerable, to close up and leave. I am afraid because I feel like that is exactly what some in this community want of me, and others like me. I am afraid because if one "side" opens itself up and the other does not, one side is defeated in a bloody, one-sided slaughter where the aggressors retain all the assets.

But I offer my loving, vulnerable engagement in this conflict, and I choose to see others as Friends of Jesus, fellow travelers on the Way, fumbling step by fumbling step, moving forward, stronger together. I choose to trust the power of the Spirit of Christ in our midst, who binds us together in perfect unity.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

peace month 2016: sabbath as peacemaking

Believe it or not, this is our seventh annual Peace Month in Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, so we're focusing on Sabbath as Peacemaking. I serve as the general editor for the Peace Month materials each year, and we produce a booklet for leaders to use in planning worship and education, as well as a Daily Reader, with reflections on this year's theme for each day of the month of January. The Leader's Handbook contains contributions from Howard Macy, who wrote the sermon suggestions, Drew Miller, who wrote the suggestions for youth workers. Will Cammack, this year's Friends Leadership Program intern, solicited Daily Reader entries and edited the reader. Brandon Buerkle designed our cover art. Many other NWYM Friends contributed to the Daily Reader. Thanks to all of you who contributed! It's always great reading your stories and reflecting on them each day in January.

Anyone is welcome to use these materials, though they are specifically designed for Friends in NWYM. They can be easily modified for other contexts, I'm sure.

Today is the first First-day of Peace Month, and in Western Oregon it's snowy out, which means no one leaves their homes because there is half an inch of white stuff all over the place. Therefore, my meeting and several other meetings are practicing a peaceful Sabbath of resting and enjoying time at home with our families. In many ways, this is a perfect way to start out a month focused on Sabbath rest! In other ways, I'm a little bit disappointed that the messages planned for today and the time spent listening to God about the place of Sabbath in our lives won't be heard. I trust that the message gets through, anyway.

If you're interested in learning more and/or downloading the materials for this month, go to the Peace Month website. The downloads are at the bottom of the page.

Here is a photo from our snow day:

Friday, December 11, 2015

mom fail: christmas edition

This may be the first in my blogged "mom fail" series, but it is definitely not the first in actual experiences of feeling like a failure as a mom. Don't worry—a lot of the time I feel like I'm doing fine. But there are just those moments when I look at myself from the outside and I think, "Who in the world is doing this crazy thing???" I assume we all have moments like that, and I always appreciate when others share their moments of failure and missed ideals (especially my friend Beth). So here you go: a mom fail around the theme of Christmas.

Yesterday, as I was patting myself on the back for doing something Advent related with my kiddos, and thinking, "Isn't this so nice? Creating memories, introducing my kids to the practice of waiting, and giving them memories that will connect them to their spiritual community and story," I encountered two experiences where I also felt like a failure as a mom.

First, my newly-minted five-year-old and I were sitting down to work on the packet of Advent stuff sent to us by our amazing pastor to children and families, Kim. Let me take a moment to tell you how awesome Kim is. This is the first year we've had Advent activities come home for the kids, but this is not the first time I have felt amazingly grateful for Kim and her ministry with my and our community's kids. She makes them look her in the eye before leaving the classroom each week, and she speaks a speaks to them individually about her gratitude for them showing up, and other personalized welcome and farewell. She journeys with them each and is aware of their strengths and weaknesses. She encourages their strengths and challenges them to grow in their spiritual lives and in their relationships with others in the classroom. She often writes special cards and notes to them so they get pieces of mail and other things addressed to them directly. OK, I didn't know this post was going to be about Kim, but there you go.

Anyway, so she sent home these Advent packets with a calendar with scratch-off circles for each day, so we did that part. Then we were coloring the nativity scene from the packet. I invited my other son, who is 8, to come join us. He didn't want to. I tried to convince him. "Advent doesn't really work if we don't do it every day, because that's kind of the point. C'mon, it will be fun! Don't you want to find out what's under today's circle?" No, he didn't. So...I forced him to come join in with the old "1...2...3..." method. Now, I can justify this because sometimes it's good to have someone hold us accountable for developing positive habits. But even as I was counting, I was cringing inside about the fact that I was forcing him to participate in a spiritual practice, as if that's going to be effective and teach "positive habits"! He did end up having fun, but of course my ideal is for him to want to participate, or for myself to be OK with offering the opportunity and letting him have the freedom of choice to do so or not.

The second "mom fail" is that as I was coloring with the 5-year-old, I asked him what he thinks Advent is about. He said, "Waiting," so I thought, "Awesome, he gets it!"

Then I asked, "What do you think we're waiting for?"


"Yes, and what are we waiting for about Christmas?" I prompted.


Oh dear. "Hmm...what else do you think we might be waiting for about Christmas?"

He shrugged and moved into silent-child mode.

Ack! I had, of course, fallen into the trap of asking questions with right or wrong answers, and made him feel like he had answered wrong. Eventually we got to the point where he pointed at the baby Jesus that was on one of the coloring sheets, reinforcing the idea that the Sunday school answer, "Jesus," is always the one adults are looking for. Ugh! Good thing I have a theological education.

What strikes me about this is that a) I see this as a failure as a mom, mainly because he didn't know the "right" answer, and 2) I made him feel ashamed for not giving the "right" answer. Yay for holiday traditions!

I can really see why Quakers got rid of all the holidays. What are all our holidays for anyway, and what do we communicate through them? My kids see it as the opportunity to eat lots of sugar and get more toys. Even though my 8-year-old definitely knows all the Sunday school answers about what this holiday is about, it's not really about those things for him.

In some ways I want to just get rid of all the presents and just enjoy the holiday. Thanksgiving is great (well, besides the history part), just a weekend to hang out with family and be grateful. Why does Christmas have to come with so much pressure to be able to purchase and give? This goes against everything I say I believe in about our value not being in economic terms, but I still feel incredible pressure to give Christmas gifts. I would feel ashamed if my son went to school and reported that he had not received any Christmas presents. I feel like people would judge me for not being able to afford it, or for being one of those ultra-Puritanical families who doesn't know how to celebrate and enjoy life. I feel stingy or like I'm not being generous if I don't give gifts. I enjoy receiving gifts and the special feeling of being loved and remembered that comes from someone taking the time to give me a gift, and I enjoy doing this for others. I don't want to send the message that giving gifts is somehow not spiritual or not connected to our faith tradition. So is it possible to participate in authentic giving and receiving without the focus being on materialism? Is there a way to get rid of the problematic rhythm we've created in our family system and in our culture as a whole without throwing out the whole thing?

I think early Friends went too far in getting rid of all holidays and the church calendar, because having those rhythms in life can be helpful and meaningful. But I do think we could do better at making these activities meaningful rather than falling into the traps of shame, classism, materialism, obligation, and attempting to fill ourselves up with "stuff" rather than meaning.

Monday, November 30, 2015

mini book review: the world is flat

I must admit that I only got to chapter 5 out of 17 of The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. This one has been on my bookshelf for about 8 years since my husband read it for a college course, and so when I saw it as an audiobook from my library, I thought I might as well listen to it. I understood the premise already: due to globalization, there isn't the same kind of siloing of information or economic possibilities as there used to be. Since we have the Internets and easily accessible phone service, etc., many people around the world have access to similar jobs, products, services, and opportunities. What used to have to be done in-house can now be parceled out and outsourced.

While I think the premise is true, I was not interested enough in the book to continue listening to it through to the end. Maybe it got better; I probably will never know. I have two main problems with the book: first, it was kind of boring because this version (I think it's the 3rd edition) was written in 2007, and most of it is very outdated. His predictions about technology have already happened and are now old hat. It's kind of interesting reflecting on how much has changed in the last 8 years and how quickly this has become "normal," but other than that, I didn't find it interesting.

Second, Friedman seems to give this a fairly unqualified positive spin. Globalization is a good thing to him; this flattening of the economy, though scary in some ways because of the loss in the USA of certain types of jobs, is overall positive because it frees "us" up to do more interesting jobs that are higher up the ladder of creativity so we don't have to deal with menial labor, data entry, and the like.

In my opinion, this doesn't seem to be true, and even if it was, it's still troubling. Basically what he's saying is not so much that the world is flat, but that the hierarchy has expanded. Now the hierarchy has a broader base from which to pull, so it feels like it's flatter to those of us in the middle classes because there are more of us in a similar range (see pyramid at right). But what the book fails to realize is the extreme pointy-ness of the world, in actuality, a fact that the Occupy movement attempted to help us recognize. There are more people competing for middle class jobs. We've sent many of them overseas, but rather than allowing Americans to have better jobs, it actually seems to mean there are often fewer jobs that provide a living wage. We are either highly skilled and can find a good paying job, or we work in the service industry or retail or some other area of the workforce that is fairly difficult work and also receives little pay.

Also, the problem with this is that it assumes a sense of superiority of Americans over people in other countries. It assumes that we deserve or are entitled to the more fun, creative jobs, and that people in other countries should be happy to take the boring jobs we don't want to do, receiving substantially less pay for it. The problem with this way of thinking is that it is still a hierarchy. In order for people around the world to move up the ladder, there has to be someone else that is so desperate for work that they will take the boring jobs after them. It's also problematic for the environment, because usually it means that the people in those places have no other alternative but to move to a city and take a job in a factory or call center because their way of life is no longer possible because their resources have been destroyed, taken over, or made toxic through pollution.

So while Friedman is correct that the Internets do make the global middle class feel flatter, I think he failed to take into account several important factors of the extreme hierarchy we are still dealing with, and the impacts this entitlement has on the world's people and land.

Monday, November 23, 2015

mini book reviews: a few by orson scott card

I've read several books by Orson Scott Card in the last few months, and I've found him to be kind of hit or miss. He's probably best known for Ender's Game, since it became a movie. A prolific author, it is fascinating to me that he can think of so many different worlds and variations on worlds.

The books I've read recently include a short novella, Space Boy, a novel called Songmaster, and the first two books in his Mither Mages Series, The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief. Of these, I would definitely recommend the Mither Mages books! The third one just came out, but it's not on audiobook at my library yet, so I unfortunately have yet to read it.

Space Boy is an interesting thought experiment that takes about three hours to listen to. What would happen if a sci-fi wormhole was actually an invisible worm that could suck someone from one world to another? What if it was in a young child's bedroom, and that's why he was afraid of monsters in his closet? Although the novella itself was not that great, the idea was intriguing.

Songmaster was somewhat better. It imagines a future where some human beings had developed the ability to sing much more powerful emotions into their music, and follows a boy named Ansett who is particularly gifted. The book explores themes of power, control, emotion, love, hate, and the maturity process. I appreciated the exploration of later life toward the end of the book, because I think many coming-of-age stories focus on the teenage and young adult years, as if that is all the coming-of-age that human beings experience, but the transitions to other life stages do not seem to be as well developed in much of literature. But I found the book overall to be lacking a solid thread of meaning and purpose.

The Mither Mages series is great! I can hardly wait to listen to the third one. This series imagines that the gods of the ancient world were actually a separate group of human-like beings, and the intermarriages we hear about in the stories of those gods ended up diluting their stock so that, though the ancient families still exist, they are not as powerful. It explains a lot of otherwise-strange phenomena in history, such as certain people who have particular connections to plants or rocks, why some people in ancient times could do miracles, and of course the reasons for all the mythology from different cultures about their gods, who apparently don't have the powers they seem to have had in the past. This series is an imaginative take on that concept. I learned quite a bit about ancient mythology, and the story was fun.

The first one takes place on Earth in a rural Virginia commune, and tells the story of a mage who is one of the first gate mages in recent history. Gates magically take people from one place to another like stepping through a gate. In the ancient world of the Mither Mages, there used to be gates all over the place, from place to place on Earth, and from Earth to other planets, but the Gate Thief stole them all. I suppose what I like most about these books, besides the imaginative ideas, is that the author shows the character moving through a variety of stages of understanding himself and his world, coming to empathize with the enemy and grapple with his own role. Is he the hero, or the villain?