Friday, December 01, 2006


Today in breaks from homework I've been reading Anne Lamott's "Plan B," a kind of sequel to "Traveling Mercies," which I read a couple years ago. I noticed this quote:

"Holiness has most often been revealed to me in the exquisite pun of the first syllable, in holes--in not enough help, in brokenness, mess." (p. 68)

This strikes me as truthful, even though I wouldn't have thought of it. I have this idea of holiness as purity, mystical union with God, or the essence of God's self, transcendent and perfect. It's something saints catch a glimpse of, or mystics and prophets envision in ecstatic experiences.

But I like Anne Lamott's understanding better, and it seems right. I know that I experience God and utter awe at perfection and beauty when things are falling apart than when I piously sit in meeting, secure and content.

I don't like to admit this, because it means that really I should seek out those moments where it feels like life is full of holes, and that doesn't sound like much fun. It's hard, too, because it seems like Christians go off the deep end one way or the other, either ignoring passages about the inevitability of persecution in Jesus' name, or becoming ascetic martyrs who try to bring as much suffering on themselves as possible. But I think I'm more in the former camp...I talk about the fact that we should be willing to be persecuted for our faith, but I don't really experience any persecution. But the times in my life where everything seems messy, or where I don't feel like I have what it takes to deal with the situation, or where I admit that I'm not perfect...these are the holes where God's holiness can shine through to me.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


This week in systematic theology we talked about baptism, which of course I don't have a lot of specific experience with. It was interesting to hear more about the theological meaning behind baptism and that sort of thing, and sparked questions for me.

First of all, as Quakers, we don't do baptism physically--but do we replace it with anything? Do we practice it in a spiritual sense at all? My husband said that at his meeting growing up they have little kids come up and they ask for baptism of the Holy Spirit, and kind of dedicate that child to God and commit as a community to be a helpful part of that child's spiritual growth. My home meeting has baby dedications, where babies or young children are dedicated to God and the community pledges to help them grow up in God. These are similar to infant baptism, I guess.

This brings me to the next question: what's the point of baptism, and are we as Quakers fulfilling that in some other way? Some theologians say the point of baptism is an initiation into the community of faith, being grafted into the Vine of Christ as part of the family of God. Calvin compares baptism to circumcision in Judaism, where babies (at least male ones) are brought into the covenant with God before they're old enough to make that conscious choice. It's an act of faith by the community, and it shows that community's intention.

I never really understood infant baptism before, and if I believed in baptism I would have been more for believers baptism, where the person makes a conscious choice and professes that before God and others. But Calvin's point makes some sense. And he also says that since the use of water is just a ritual and doesn't do anything (he actually says that, which I could agree with whole-heartedly!), baptising an infant is something that can help retain the mystery of the sacraments, because the child can't think of this as some magical formula that's going on, but the child can experience the presence of God.

Tillich makes some interesting points as well. He says that the sacraments are symbols which help us experience the infinite in unconscious ways. We can't just experience the Spiritual Presence (as he calls God) through intellect, we need tangible stuff, the stuff ordinary life is made of, and anything can be a sacrament (provided it doesn't go against what we believe). Here he sounds almost Quaker, in the historical sense, where Quakers used to say that all of life is a sacrament, and that we should live sacramentally, seeking to experience God through all things rather than just in special moments presided over by a priest.

But I think Tillich adds to the Quaker understanding, at least in the way we don't practice sacraments today: we forget that humans are very tactile and symbolic beings. What do we do that actually connects us to the divine through physical symbols? How do we allow God to impact us unconsciously through our bodies, not just our minds? Have we made ourselves too intellectual and not spiritual enough, no matter how mystical others call our religion?

So the things I picked up from all this as the important concepts in the ritual of baptism are: in the case of infant baptism, dedication to God and initiation into the community of faith; for believers baptism, professing belief before others and making a conscious choice to follow Christ; for baptism in general, having a physical experience with which to connect the spiritual reality of the presence of God in one's life.

How do we do this as Quakers? Do we do anything to state out loud our commitment to God? Do we get our physical selves involved in our spiritual life, and is this important? Although we talk about the important thing being the baptism of the Holy Spirit, do we expect this as a reality for each person, do we look for it, and do we do anything to acknowledge when it happens? How are we living our lives sacramentally as a community of faith?

Funny story about Quakers and baptism:
My grandpa was in Israel a while back with a bunch of his students, and they came to the Jordan River on their tour bus. Some of the students wanted to be baptized in the Jordan (since that's where Jesus was baptized). So they asked if anyone on the bus was an ordained minister who would be willing to baptize people. He spoke up and said, "Well, I'm a Quaker, and Quakers believe we're all ministers, so as far as Quakers ordain people, I'm an ordained Quaker minister--of course we don't actually do water baptism..." The students decided that was good enough and so he baptized a bunch of people in the Jordan River!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

39% of israeli settlements on land owned privately by palestinians

The New York Times last Tuesday (Nov. 21) had an article saying that up to 39% of land where Israeli settlements are currently placed is owned privately by Palestinians. To those who have paid attention to eye witness accounts of the situation in Israel/Palestine, this really comes as no surprise, but I think it's encouraging that our mainstream media is finally paying attention to this fact. They say that the Israeli government has said it respects private property rights of Palestinians, but I know from hearing stories of Christian Peacemaker Team members and other organizations that this is not the case--Palestinian homes are routinely confiscated and bulldozed for no apparent reason, when those living there were posing no threat. I hope the world will hold Israel accountable for the unjust and inhumane practices it is upholding against Palestinians! Yes, Israel is entitled to its own land, but both groups of people need to recognize one another as humans and find a resolution.

If you want to read the article it can be found here:

Monday, November 20, 2006


I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of lament, because I'm writing a paper on lament psalms for my Hebrew poetry class. It seems to me that we rarely use the lament psalms in the middle class American Christian community that I have the most experience with. (Liberal Friends don't use much of any scripture, of course, which is another topic entirely--so this is more aimed toward programmed Friends who use weekly scripture in their meetings for worship, and for those from other American denominations.) Why do we hesitate to lament?

I have a few thoughts on the matter--OK, a lot of thoughts, but I won't burden you with a 20-page paper here!!

One of the most interesting ones, I think, is that over the history of Christianity we've developed these doctrines of God's "providence." We think because of God's providence we don't have the right to complain to God or question God's actions. God works all things together for good, right? So who are we to question that? But the lament psalms do exactly this. In a way they put God on trial--they say, "Hey, God, I'm doing all I can to follow you, so how come I'm the one suffering when all the evil people in the world seem to be prospering?" As Christians, mostly due to incluence of Greek thought at the beginning of the Christian movement which changed a lot of the philosophical norms of Judaism, we don't think we have this right. But if we take the Hebrew scriptures seriously as part of our own sacred text, this is obviously not true. People petition God right and left for God to change plans--Abraham asking for Sodom and Gomorrah to be saved if he can find just one righteous person, the Israelites crying out to God for deliverance from slavery in Egypt, Moses interceding on behalf of the Israelites when they're rebellious, and especially the lament psalms that ask for God's deliverance again as in the past.

The research I've been doing emphasizes the dialectic nature of the lament psalms--someone cries out to God, and expects God to answer, expects a dialogue, expects God to hear and be gracious.

This is another important distinction that we modern (postmodern?) Christians often don't make--these laments show people crying out to God, angry, hurt, sick, downtrodden--and yet they have an unshakable, almost irrational faith that God will hear them and deliver them. It seems like now, if we dare to question God, often it's a true questioning. We don't address our questions of the existence of God to God, because that would presuppose the existence of God, and our linear, rational brains can't handle that kind of cyclical thinking. But these psalmists, even in their questioning and deep agony, trust that God is there and will respond.

One more important thing, I think, has to do with our position in society. I've grown up in a middle class family, and although my parents were always careful to be simple, to give, to not take more than we needed, we still were fairly comfortable. I had the privilege of a good education, and am able to continue that now. I have a lot to praise God for--do I have anything to truly lament about?

I think middle class Christians a) feel like if we lament it's not really justified because we have so much that we shouldn't complain, b) don't want to think about those around the world who truly have reason to lament because then we might have to live differently and less comfortably, and c) have a stake in the continuance of the status quo so we don't really want (in our heart of hearts) God to come down and shake things up, because we might not be the righteous ones crying out to God for justice--we might be the enemies so frequently talked about in lament psalms!

But God is the God of the oppressed and the suffering. God hears the cries of those lamenting, hears their just accusations and is fully present with them in this anguish. Jesus, we are told, cried out a lament psalm as he died on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22). He cried out to God his feeling of intense anguish and isolation, and God was intimately present in that moment. He called out the beginning of Psalm 22, which goes on to proclaim infinite trust in the presence and deliverance of God. Jesus also said that when we do something for the poor, sick, prisoners, outcasts, it is as if it was done to him. He is so present in their suffering that our action toward the oppressed is action for or against God in Christ.

The laments are the cries of God as much as of us in our suffering, but this is so hard for middle class American Christians to understand, because we don't suffer in physical ways as much. We suffer, to be sure, but it is almost always private, hidden suffering--broken relationships we don't talk about in public, miserable jobs that pay the bills but never allow us to rest, feelings of helplessness from being trapped in systems we feel we can't change. But we're not allowed to express these things in our Christian communities, because the only "acceptable" way to interact with God is through praise.

One of the books I was reading suggests that if we only praise without the content of the praise--the lament and the trust in the face of that lament--we are putting on a false identity. We can't truly praise God without first voicing and admitting our lament. And the ancient Hebrews knew that to get rid of our pridefulness, we need to do that in public, in community, lamenting together even when we don't feel the need to lament, because there are always some in our community who are justified in lamenting. And we need to hear them, to stand in solidarity with them, to question with them and come to the place of utter trust as a community, and then to praise God for the wholeness we receive even in the midst of a broken world.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

the cross and the lynching tree

The other night I went to hear a lecture by James Cone, who most call "the father of black theology." His lecture/sermon was entitled "Strange Fruit: the cross and the lynching tree," and he challenged us to think of the cross in a metaphor we understand more easily since it's closer to our time: that of the lynching tree. He drew parallels between the use of the cross in the first century Roman Empire for rebels and escaped slaves, with the lynching tree, used in extremely similar fashion in our own culture not so very long ago. When we think of the cross in this way we get more of an idea of the humiliation and hatred that the image of the cross used to evoke. The cross has so often become just a nice gold emblem to wear around our necks as a fashion statement, a clean and tidy image, projecting on the wearer an image of being a nice person. But the image of the lynching tree still holds that sense of utter revulsion for us, the sense of a gruesome act in which many of our ancestors were unfortunately involved, something we don't like to talk about because we know how horrible it was.

His title was taken from a song Billie Holliday sang, which goes like this:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Cone challenged us to not ignore the reality of the lynching tree, both in the past and figuratively in the modern-day, and to see that as an important part of our faith as Christians. This goes for several reasons: we can't forget that Jesus asked us to carry our cross daily and the ugliness and revulsion that should still accompany that thought; we also can't forget what our country has done to African Americans, and what it continues to do to many who are intentionally disadvantaged by our society, and we can't sit idly by and let ourselves forget these evils without doing something to correct them. Cone says the cross always should move us twoard reconciliation, through acknowldging those things we've done poorly and working together to make them better.

So a couple questions came to my mind regarding Quakerism. First of all, why is the American Quaker church (of all branches, as far as I know, although some commuities may be exceptions) predominantly white and middle class? Why does it make us uncomfortable to ask this question? In what ways are we emphasizing taking up our "cross," and working to live out life in a way that brings out the ugliness of the lynching tree and the beauty of truth through it?

First the race issue: in my home yearly meeting (Northwest), we have several Hispanic congregations forming, but we rarely get together with these groups, excusing ourselves because we can't communicate with them and it's difficult to do everything in two languages. We send missionaries to many countries where the people aren't white, but at home we stay in the comfort of our racial and socioeconomic groupings. When we "reach out" to people of other colors/classes, it's usually in the form of a mission or service project, not just to hang out with others and invite them to be part of our community. I've never heard someone speak to our yearly meeting or monthly meetings about race issues--it's a taboo that we don't like to cross.

But as Cone said in his lecture, if bringing up an issue might divide a community, it's already divided, and not bringing it up isn't going to heal that division! We gain nothing by not talking about difficult issues. We only learn to become less and less real with one another, less and less able to share our fears and truths with each other because we don't want to cause conflict.

Cone also said that the gospel should never be easy! If it's something we take as comfort only, we're getting it wrong. The gospel should be challenging and painful, something that shows us the ugliness in the world, and through which we can look to see the reconciliation and the beauty that God intends. How are we as a Quaker community living out this kind of gospel message? How are we living out a theology of the lynching tree that doesn't let us off the hook, that makes us ask the hard questions, that requires us to live a life that points out the pain, ugliness and injustice of this world and offers a way of hope?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

what's in a name?

We've been having an interesting discussion on the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005 listserv about what, if anything, all Quakers hold in common. Colin Saxton posted a summary of a book by Will Cooper, "A Living Faith," which I haven't read and he said he didn't have it right in front of him, so he paraphrased Cooper thus:

1. We can know God in our experience
2. We are given the life & power to obey God
3. We are called to community
4. We are called to a sacramental view of life
5. We are called to peace
6. We are called to simplicity
7. We are called to integrity
8. We are called to equality

The WGYF people said perhaps these summarize a majority of Quakers, but of course some wouldn't want to be characterized by any sort of belief in God, although they might agree with most of the others. Some evangelical Friends also might not agree with calls to peace, equality, etc., but they also might not really think of themselves as Friends, mostly just evangelical Christians.

So for those of us to whom "Quaker" or "Religious Society of Friends (of Jesus)" is an important monicker, does this seem to fit who we are as a Society today, worldwide?

I think it names our heritage pretty well--we come from a group of people to whom the real presence of someone Other was very important, and it was on the direction of this Other that they based their actions for peace/simplicity/equality, etc. Most Quakers worldwide are Christians, and most still hold to the other distinctives, although I think the one we've lost the most is the idea of all of life being sacramental.

I think maybe we can say this is the center of Quakerism, although we've always been anti-creed, so it's not like people have to sign this statement to hang out with us. Anyone is welcome to be a part of Friends fellowship, but the things that truly characterize Quakerism are well encapsulated in Cooper's list. I don't think early Friends were against creeds because they didn't think Friends should be on the same page about what they believed, but because it's not saying a set of words that brings salvation, but living in the true life and power of God in Christ.

The problem is, if we define Quakerism like this, some people feel left out. I guess that's the problem with defining any social group. And yet, naming something necessarily includes some and excludes others. Defining things as one thing and not another is helpful--it's helpful to be able to say that a tree is a tree, not a flower, and that trees and flowers are living but not animals. These distinctions help us know how to live within the world, providing categories of meaning.

If a name ceases to mean anything, should it still be used? I think not. And Quakers are rather dangerously close to this place, where being Quaker could just mean "mostly nice people who get together some First-days and do something spiritual in whatever way they think best." Is this enough? And if we disagree with others about what it means to be a "real" Quaker, who gets the power of naming what's true? What do we base it on? Numbers? Consensus? Historical data? Lowest common denominator?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


There's an op-ed article in The New York Times today entitled "Pause for Peace," written by Ahmed Yousef, a senior advisor to the Palestinian prime minister. He suggests that the Palestinians are ready to commit to what he calls a "hudna," which in Arabic refers to a 10-year cease fire where the parties work out their differences without using violence. Here's the link:

He says this is based in the teachings of the Koran, and that it's worked in other countries. He also cites the Western example of the IRA in Northern Ireland, who have committed to now work to make Northern Ireland independent of Great Britain through only political means, and have renounced violence as a method they will employ.

This sounds like a great compromise to me--and not even a compromise, really, just a great way of trying to deal with the situation. If neither side can do any real negotiating because greivances are being added daily, how can they ever come to a resolution? But if both sides agree to put down their weapons and work on a solution, it seems much more likely that this will be able to happen.

Of course, it's difficult if Israel will not budge on its desire to get rid of all the Palestinians and take their land away...but at thsi point it doesn't look like they're doing that so much as just making it impossible for Palestinians to thrive by severely limiting their ability to travel outside their villages and blocking them from necessary resources through checkpoints and the wall they're building.

Hopefully the world community can see the sense of this Palestinian offer of hudna, take them up on it, and require Israel to participate in this cease fire in a fair way.

Monday, October 30, 2006

acts and the courage to follow in unexpected ways

I'm taking a class on the book of Acts, and it's been interesting and fun so far. Last week we were looking at Acts 8-10, which is where the book begins to shift from talking about the early followers of Jesus in Jerusalem to showing them moving out into other areas, and being called to preach to people who are not Jews.

We compared and contrasted three stories: Philipp and the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul/Paul and Ananias, and Peter and Cornelius. Each of these is a story where a person who's already a disciple of Jesus goes to someone who is devout in their own faith and speaks to them about the new revelation of Jesus as the Christ.

It's really interesting to see the connections between these stories, and to think about how they might call us to share our faith now.

First of all, the disciples are called by God/Spirit/angel to go to someone. Philipp is asked to go to a certain spot outside of Jerusalem and wait for instructions, and speaks to someone who was presumable a Jewish proselyte or at least very interested in Judaism. Ananias is asked to go visit Saul, a Jew known to be a persecutor of Christians. Peter is called to go to a Roman centurion and go in his house, which was unheard of for a Jew worried about purity laws. Each of these stories gets progressively more difficult, and more different from what the followers of Christ have previously thought of as the way God will work in their community.

Second, each of the ones who are "converted" are of fairly high standing in their community, while the disciples called to them are not well known outside of their tiny new Christian community. The Ethiopian eunuch is in charge of the treasury of the queen; Saul is a trusted, educated and known member of the Jewish community in Jerusalem; and Cornelius is a centurion in charge of a bunch of soldiers. Philipp and Peter fisherman, and we don't know anything about Ananais' social status but that seems to indicate he didn't have anything to comment on. So it seems like these disciples were in a position of speaking truth to power--speaking out about their faith from a position of authority that came only from God.

Third, all of the disciples taking the message of Christ became converted to something themselves. This isn't as obvious in the Philipp story, but he does baptize this guy who's a eunuch, and from what I've read people had a pretty low opinion of eunuchs in that culture, no matter how powerful they were. He was perhaps a Gentile as well, and some call him the first Gentile convert. Philipp had to make the choice to allow a non-Jew into the fellowship of believers in Jesus. Ananias was incredibly afraid to go to Saul, and rightfully so--he'd heard about the persecutions that Saul had been in charge of in Jerusalem. But God "converted" him to a space of obedience and courage, and to the fact that God could change a mind and heart drastically for good. Peter was "converted" to be able to include full Gentiles in the Christian fellowship. He didn't get it for a while, even after he thought he had gotten it. But eventually, when the Holy Spirit comes on the Gentiles in Cornelius' house, he realizes, "Oh, these people have received the same gift of the Spirit as we have! It's not about what they eat or the laws they follow, it's about the Spirit in them," and he's able to say this to Jewish Christians who question him.

The most important thing about these passages is that the Spirit directs, the disciples follow, and those they are speaking to are open to new revelation. The disciples don't make a 5-year plan and decide how the Spirit is going to lead them--they just respond as the Spirit calls, even when it doesn't make sense to them or seems against their traditional beliefs. They know the Spirit and recognize when they're being called somewhere, and they obey.

I think early Friends were like this. They didn't yet have meetinghouses, so if they were preaching, they were in a public place or going where there were people who needed to hear truth. They went where they were called--sometimes very strange places (like Stephen Grellet, was it, who was called to preach in an empty wood, or Mary Fisher who was called to the sultan of Turkey, etc.), sometimes very normal places that were dangerous, and the movement grew organically, not because of a plan that George Fox or another Quaker had.

I wonder how we can keep this same sene of courageous openness to unexpected leadings today, even though we have established meetinghouses?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

is government necessary?

I was reading today about Thoreau's treatise "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," where he suggested using civil disobedience in order to protest unjust laws, and that if anyone is a truly honest person they will withdraw their support from any government whose laws and practices are promoting something that is against their conscience. So far so good--I agree completely with Mr. Henry David.

But he also talks about his opinion that the best government is the one that governs the least, or that doesn't govern at all. So I was pondering this idea--would we really need government in an ideal world? Or do we just utilize it because it's better than the alternative, an anarchy of individuals who won't live nicely together unless they have some accountability?

I find it interesting--perhaps even ironic--that Quakers, who attempt to have as minimal of a church government as possible, are perhaps one of the most politically active denominations in our country. We have our own fairly well known and respected lobbying group for perhaps one of the smallest American denominations, Friends Committee on National Legislation. We have the American Friends Service Committee which involves itself in worldwide issues relating to how governments are treating people and working on issues that directly affect our government, like conscientious objection. Probably a majority of Quakers...I suppose I'll get into trouble with this one...are democrats or independents or of a party other than republican. Why is this? I think it's because we want the government to continue or begin giving support to those who need it, in the form of social services and schools, etc. We want a government that supports its people in just and equitable ways. (Disclaimer: this is not to say that the republican standpoint could never support people in just and equitable ways, but that the way it is being used currently does not lend itself to such things, in my own humble opinion.)

So it seems that Quakers have kind of a love-hate relationship with government. We don't want it in our religious communities, but we like it in our civil situation.

This brings me back to the question, is government necessary? Perhaps Quakers are trying to live out the ideal world in our communities of faith, where government is not necessary because we're all equal and we all try to live in ways that are loving toward each other. Even so, we have some level of government just to stay organized, although power is shared somewhat more equally than it is in the civil government, and hopefully everyone truly has a voice to say where they think God is directing in Quaker business process.

I guess we "give in" to realism when we support our civil government, because we know that people can't be trusted to live together peacefully and fairly without laws to encourage them to do so, and punishment for crimes. We also realize that some people are given from birth situations in which to live that are unfair, and so we want our government to do something to compensate for that. These are good things, I think, although it would probably be better if people could get their act together and just live together in peace and help each other out when they need it on their own without coercion. But that probably won't happen anytime soon, so I guess having governments is our best option.

One other thing that stood out to me about Thoreau's ideas was that he says that in a government that imprisons people unjustly, the only place where a just person should be is in prison, because otherwise s/he is supporting the ways of that government by living in its society and not protesting. Obviously it is probably possible to live in a society and protest and perhaps not be thrown in jail, but still, this is quite a statement! What are we all doing sitting comfortably at home, when we live under a government that very obviously imprisons people unjustly?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

on recording and the spirit

In my class about the book of Acts, we talked about how the book is really not so much about the Acts of the Apostles, but has a lot more to do with the Acts of the Spirit. Luke's work (the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts) has by far the most references to spirits, and Acts has the most references to the Holy Spirit (or the Spirit of the Lord, or just the Spirit in contexts where you know he's talking about God's/Jesus' Spirit). Everywhere you look, the Spirit is sending people and telling them what to do and say. So I think Quakers, since the only language most of us can agree on is "Spirit," can learn a lot from Acts.

What I've learned so far about the Spirit in Acts that's most interesting to me is that when the Spirit is given to someone, what happens is vocal ministry. At other times after someone has received the Spirit they are led by the Spirit or that sort of thing, but the actual gift of the Spirit, in Luke's estimation, is about speaking and is recognized through speaking. It is the Spirit who gives the apostles the ability to preach the good news. The Spirit comes and people speak in tongues (sometimes in other intelligible languages, sometimes apparently the kind of "tongues" we think of in Pentecostal denominations).

I was thinking about this in reference to the Quaker practice of "recording" ministers. I don't know how many Yearly Meetings still do this, but in Northwest Yearly Meeting, people are recorded as ministers for their vocal ministry. (For anyone visiting who is not a Quaker, "recording" is about as close as we got to ordaining ministers, although it's not really the same thing at all.) Someone can be recorded for being what we might term a "weighty Friend"--someone through whom the Spirit speaks often in meetings for worship for business, or someone who is led to speak fairly often and powerfully during times of open/unprogrammed worship. Or it can be someone who is a released minister and brings a message each week in the form of a sermon. Some of our released ministers are recorded and some are not, and some who are not released are recorded as ministers.

I always thought this was an interesting practice, because we're all ministers, right? We all have gifts and perform ministries of different sorts--why do we only record those who are gifted with vocal ministry?

I still have this question, but at the same time, it makes a little more sense after studying Acts. If the sign of the presence of the Spirit is speaking, proclaiming the good news in vocal ways, then I guess the practice of recording is noting where the Spirit is at work in our midst. This is not to say that others don't "have" the Spirit, because many people exhibit the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control) that are recorded in Galatians, so apparently they are also filled with the Spirit. But perhaps there is something to our recording only those who do vocal ministry. I don't know if the Friends who came up with this concept got it from Acts or not, but if so, maybe that's why we have this peculiar tradition.

At the same time, I think it would be cool if we'd record every Friend, have everyone have a mentor and read books about Quakerism and whatever else it takes to be recorded, and they would be recorded for whatever gifts their community saw in them. This would be a really amazing record to have, and an encouraging thing for those being recorded, recognized as having gifts.

Friday, October 13, 2006

more thoughts on redemption

Not only am I learning about the concept of redemption in my systematic theology class, but the Hebrew word for redeemer, "goel," has come up in my Hebrew poetry class several times, and it is also a major concept that Andre Trocme uses in his book "Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution," which we read for my class on nonviolent theology. So I felt like it would be good to do some thinking on the Hebrew concept of "redeemer."

This seems important because, first of all, the people who were expecting a Messiah were the Hebrews, and so understanding what they were looking for is important. Second, Jesus and the people who wrote the New Testament were Jews with a firm understanding of the Hebrew scriptures, and although they were highly influenced by Greek and Roman ideologies, they still were influenced greatly by Hebrew concepts.

The Hebrew word "goel" means "redeemer," or "to act as kinsman." This could take several forms, but when speaking of people always had to do with the tightly-woven family structure. It was the next-(male)-of-kin's obligation to help out his kinsman in situations where the person had fallen into debt and either had to sell a piece of property or sell himself into slavery. If these things happened the next-of-kin was obligated to buy the land being sold, or to pay for the person to get out of slavery, if he had the means. It was also the next-of-kin of a deceased man's obligation to marry a childless widow and to bear a son with her in order to continue the deceased's line of descendents (hence the situation in Ruth where Boaz had to ask the man who was a closer relation to her former husband if he was going to fulfill his kinsman-redeemer responsibility, or if Boaz could do so, since he also was a fairly close relative). It was the duty of a kinsman to "redeem," or pay a debt, that his family member could not pay in the social structure of ancient Israel.

This term often is applied to God in the Hebrew scriptures as well, and I find this very interesting and enlightening. God is Israel's "goel," Israel's kinsman-redeemer, the one who redeems Israel collectively (and sometimes individual Israelites) when they have a debt they cannot pay off. God is seen as being the kinsman-redeemer who pays the Israelites' way out of slavery in Egypt, and God is the kinsman-redeemer who brings them back to their land after the Exile.

I find this really intriguing and powerful, because it's not just that some god up in the sky helps the Israelites out every once in a while, but God is their next-of-kin. God has adopted the Israelites, and will not let their debts go unpaid. God will act as the closest member of their family whenever they have a need. This brings the idea of "redeemer" into a more tactile space for me. It also shows that even before Jesus started calling God "Abba," God was acting the part of a family member.

Interestingly, the Hebrew scriptures never use the concept of redemption from sin--at least not individual sin. God is their "goel," redeeming the whole of Israel from what could be called collective sin, from falling away from God and ending up in exile, but the idea of sin is not the emphasis. Instead, God redeems their life, their ability to live as free persons, and brings a sense of peace even when hardships continue (as in Job).

With this concept of redemption, it is easier to understand the death of Jesus. He didn't come and do an impersonal act that would take away sin, but he came as a member of our family, one who loved us in the deepest way possible, and lived and died to give us the ability to live as free persons. We're redeemed from slavery to the hopelessness of this world, and given freedom and new life to follow the hope of Christ and live out the truth of the already-not-yet Kingdom of God, where we are the next-of-kin of the King.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

it's a boy!

OK, so usually I stick to stuff that's more about my thoughts and what I'm learning, but I wanted to share with you all the ultrasound picture we got today. We found out we're having a boy! We're very excited, and looking forward to his arrival sometime around Valentine's Day.

Monday, October 09, 2006

atonement & redemption

For the last few weeks we've been studying Jesus as the Christ in systematic theology, and all the theological implications about what it could mean that he was fully human and fully divine, how the Ecumenical Councils of the early church came to "orthodox" doctrines, and what it means that he is our Redeemer.

One of the topics that I've found most interesting is the concept of atonement and redemption. In Christian churches, usually you hear only one atonement theory--one theory as to why Jesus had to die in order to redeem us. But there are actually several theories. I find it refreshing to hear about all the different theories, and to think about it myself, because really this is the central question of Christianity: why on earth would God have to die, and how is that possible, and what good did it do? I'll lay out the basic theories and then talk a bit about my thoughts on the whole thing.

The basic one is that God was angry at us and so had to kill God's Son in order to take out anger that otherwise would have been taken out on us. This is called substitutionary atonement, and is based on the theory of satisfaction: that no human could do what needed to be done to get rid of God's anger, because we're all fallen, but God couldn't just wipe out our sins because that wouldn't be just. So God came as a human, and Jesus, both human and divine, substituted his life for ours so that we wouldn't have to die (figuratively).

Closely related to this is the ransom theory, that a price had to be paid for our sins, for our state of separatedness from God, and that no redemption can happen without the shedding of blood. This is taken from the Jewish sacrificial system, and is an explanation especially in the book of Hebrews as to why the sacrificial system is no longer necessary: Jesus came as the great high priest and sacrificed himself, a pure, spotless lamb, but much better than any lamb, to be the sacrifice once for all that cleanses us from sin and unites us with God.

Then there's recapitulation: Jesus came as the "second Adam," because, as sin entered the world through "one man, Adam," so it had to be taken away by a perfect man, Jesus--one who was tempted just as Adam and the rest of us are, but didn't sin.

Some ideas favored by the early church fathers were the idea of deification--that God had to become human in order for humans to become divine; and Jesus as Teacher--showing us the way to be a perfect human, which includes suffering and death, but also new life. These are both true in their own ways, but have to be stated very carefully in order to not be taken as herestical, as many of their authors later were.

Through all these flows the Christus Victor idea, that through Jesus' death and resurrection he conquered sin, death and evil and arose victorious, a victory in which we can share if we believe in him.

So, all of these are well and good--they explain a few things, but they also have problems. My professor put his finger on it, I think, by saying that all of these ideas fall into two categories: ontological and forensic understandings of the need for redemption and the way it occurred. Ontologically, it was important who Jesus was--what Being he happened to be, because it's not like any person dying on a cross could cause our redemption, but it's important that it was Jesus, that he was the man chosen to be the Christ, the anointed one of God. The forensic understandings get at the idea that in the Bible it seems that there was a law at stake here--a broken law had to be paid for--and that this is a costly thing. It's no easy thing to pay back debts owed or to serve jail time. There was a definite cost involved, and God was willing to pay it.

But what's really going on here? Is it just a dry legal transaction? Is it just that God made creation this way and worked it out from the beginning that this would be the way the transaction would occur? Was God just coming down here and bailing out these poor weaklings from their misery, and letting them live in their misery for a while longer anyway, with the promise of a great afterlife? Is this all that atonement is? Is this all that redemption means?

My professor brought up a good point: there should also be an ethical understanding to atonement. Not only is it importantt hat it was Jesus who did the work (or rather, God through him), and that a price was paid, but the real importance is that God's redeeming love was (and is) at work. "For God so loved the world..."

God so loves the world!

That's the important part. That Jesus lived and died, and somehow remained so conscious of God that he embodied God, and that God allows us to participate in that God-consciousness and to bask in that redeeming love if we so choose (that's a little Schleiermacher for you).

The problems of some of those atonement theories: first, it's been pointed out by feminists and others that God killing the Son looks a lot like divine child abuse--and if God can do it, hey, why not the rest of us? So that's unfortunate. Also, God being so angry with us that God can't look at us is a problem. Really God loved us so much, and yes was angry in a way, but more hurt, that even though we turn away from God time and again God was determined to give us a way out, to provide a way we can't provide for ourselves. Some of these theories' problem is that they don't really require a resurrection. If Jesus pays for our sins by dying, why did he have to rise from the dead?

And there's still the huge question: why did Jesus have to die a violent death? Why couldn't he have lived a perfect life, overcoming sin by being fully human and yet not being separated from God? Why did his blood have to be shed, and why did he need to rise again?

So today my professor talked about what happened when Jesus died on the cross. He yelled out, according to Mark and Matthew, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and according to Luke, "Into your hands I commend my spirit," and according to John, "It is finished." Was he separated from God? Was he forsaken by God? My professor says no, he was not forsaken by God--his cry in Matthew and Luke shows his trust in God, because it's the first line of Psalm 22, in which the psalmist cries out to God for deliverance and is heard. God does not turn away from him (or her). God is present as this person experiences affliction.

And this is what's so important about Jesus' death: God didn't turn away from Jesus, God didn't cause a rift between God's self and the Son at the moment of death, but God jorneyed through this suffering and pain with the human, Jesus, and God will do the same with us. It's in these moments where we cry out to God that God is closest to us. God is a good of the poor and the outcast, and has promised to be with us even in a horrible, torturous death. The cross is an act of solidarity, between the parts of the Godhead (if you want to think in Trinitarian terms) and between us and God: we are not left to face our troubles alone, but God is present even and especially in our suffering.

This isn't an abusive Father who watches his Son die and turns his back. This is a Father who so loves all the children of God that God is willing to become one of us, to suffer with us, to have mercy on us even when we are least deserving. This is a God who loves us and has gone to all lengths to be near to us. This is the God I worship.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

usa's new policy on torture and prisoners

Have others been keeping track of the new legislation, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, that passed last week on torture and prisoners of war? Basically it seems that the defined "enemy combatants" as any "person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces)." This includes anyone "who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense." These quotes are from the bill that passed, and I got them from an article on this blog:

It also has many other excellent articles on this and other topic(s). So basically, anyone is an unlawful enemy combatant if the American President or Secretary of Defense says so. And they can hold you indefinitely, without any kind of trial or giving a reason, and they can do pretty much what they want with you, because although they haven't completely said they're not going to follow Geneva Conventions laws on prisoners' treatment, that's just so they could get the bill passed and so the world wouldn't erupt in protest. But it's pretty obvious that's what they're doing anyway. Unlawful enemy combatants, according to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 section 948b(g), cannot invoke the Geneva Conventions laws about prisoners of war because they're "unlawful." The only people who are lawful combatants seem to be those in the actual army of a country we are at war against, or that is at war against us, or that is part of a well-organized militia that wears a recognizable uniform (but who does that anymore?).

So, since most war-type prisoners the US currently holds are not covered by the Geneva Conventions according to this definition, we can torture them all we want.

Umm...can I move to Canada? (Because I've just said that does that make me an unlawful enemy combatant? Next time I try to fly on an airplane will I get arrested and taken to Guantanamo for the rest of my life?)

So I've been thinking about torture and prisoners of war and what to do about all this, and haven't come up with any solutions yet, except to get the word out about what our government is doing. But in the meantime, my professor for theology of nonviolence wrote an excellent short piece on torture, and I asked if I could share it. His name is George Hunsinger. He is one of the organizers of a group called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and I highly recommend visiting their website:

Without further ado, here's what Hunsinger says about torture.

On torture.

It has been known at least since Aristotle (4th C. BCE) that torture doesn't produce reliable information. You don't have to be a genius to figure this out.

Colin Powell learned this to his lasting regret and shame by using information gained by torture (not that he knew it at the time) in his widely influential but spurious and now renounced UN speech in February 2003. The speech that took us into war.

So if torture doesn't work as a tool of interrogation, and if it should never be used even if it did, what's the point?

Not easy to figure out. Here's a hypothesis. Cheney calls it "working the dark side." Very apt perhaps as a clue.

Suppose torture is really about terror, domination and control. Both in the torture chamber and then in the wider world beyond, it inspires terror in the victims and potential victims. It is an attempt at social control, though demonic to the core. No doubt it works -- for a while. But then there's always that divine cunning in history that never seems to want to let the dark side have the last word. Call it Resurrection from the dead.

At the same time, torture comes about as close to absolute power as one can get in this life. It therefore corrupts, and corrupts absolutely, just as Lord Acton warned.

Interrogators, officials, institutions, and whole societies get hooked by working the dark side, as if it were a kind of irresistible addiction. It is rooted in the fears, the frustrations, the blind anger, and, not least, the libido dominandi of the strong over against the weak.

It is a dark and irrational force that eventually devours those who yield themselves to its practice.

That's what was legalized in this country last week.

It can't happen here, but it's happening, and who knows where the mayhem will end.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

after more reflection...

In my last post I expressed some doubts about the efficacy of pacifism at all times, and wasn't sure what to do with that. I'm still not completely sure, but after thinking about it for a while, and after class this morning, I think I at least have more clarity, or better categories to think about it with.

In class today my professor talked about the difference between people who use nonviolence as a technique, as opposed to those who hold it as a principle. Those who see it as a technique use nonviolence when it's effective, although they might at other times be willing to use violence to achieve their ends. This might be the case for people who go on strike in order to get more fair wages: they can see that a nonviolent method of achieving their ends is more efficient and less costly in terms of lives and consequences. But they might not be against using violence in other areas, say, on an international level.

Then there are those of us who believe in nonviolence as an ethical and/or religious principle. Instead of just looking at what method would be most effective in bringing about our desired end, we see it as a matter of faithfulness. (This could be faithfulness to a Deity or to a sense of moral truth and rightness.) Whether or not it is going to be most effective to use nonviolent action, we refuse to use violence because we know it is wrong, that violence begets violence, and evil cannot overcome evil and magically become good.

So, in regards to my last post, where I was thinking about whether we ever get to a point where using violence might make it so that less violence would occur, I think for myself that I would still have to say, in order to be faithful to my belief that God calls us not to use violence, I would still not use violence.

The key, as I think Andre Trocme discovered, is just that we need to begin using nonviolent methods incredibly early so that we don't get to that point where violence is the only option. We can't force our nation to do this, but we can do everything in our power to bring things to our government's attention and hope they will deal with conflicts nonviolently from the outset so violence isn't necessary later on. We may not be able to make our nation do nonviolent struggle so well that it will never need to go to war again, but we can work in that direction.

My professor also talked about using nonviolent methods in ways that are still as effective as possible, even when we're principled nonviolent advocates. We need to actually ACT on our beliefs, and act early, in order to keep ourselves out of situations where we'll be implicated in violence that happens (as those of us who are Americans are right now by virtue of the fact that our country is at war). We can't just sit around believing in nonviolence, but we have to do the action, or else we're passivists instead of pacifists.

This is really hard. I'm not very good at it. Sure, I do what I can to live sustainably and to treat those around me in loving, nonviolent ways. But what about the bigger picture? What do I do to try to see reasons others might resort to violence coming on the horizon, and try to do something about it before it escalates too far? For example, what have I been doing to stop the torture our country has been inflicting on prisoners while it's still somewhat illegal, before Congress enacts a law where this kind of work will be much more difficult because everything will be legal? Or what am I doing about conflicts in African countries that were largely begun by my own ancestors, and are now causing situations of genocide? Or what am I doing about people in my own community who are not being given the same kind of opportunities I have because of the color of their skin or the socio-economic status of their parents?

There are so many ways we can try to prevent the need for violence, and I think that's truly as much a part of a principle of nonviolence as the decision whether or not to use violent force in a moment of crisis.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

andre trocme

For my Theology of Nonviolence class we're reading a book called "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed," written by Philip Hallie about a French pastor named Andre Trocme. He was the pastor of a little Hugenot congregation in Le Chambon, France, during World War II, and he and his town helped save the lives of many Jews and other refugees during that time. He was committed to a theology of nonviolence, and had even started a school there based on principles of nonviolence before the war even started.

The story of Andre Trocme and the village of Le Chambon is captivating and encouraging. I would highly recommend it!

One thing that particularly stood out to me was Trocme’s story about a map-making excursion to Morocco that he volunteered for with the French Army sometime before the war. He got to Morocco and realized that they were expected to carry a gun, which he refused to do. His lieutenant “spoke to him about timing….By giving up his weapon and ammunition he had put the whole group in danger” (Hallie, 1994, p. 93). Now that he was there and the group was depending partially on him, it put his teammates in danger for him to not carry a weapon. He realized that “the ethical commandment against killing had to be obeyed as early as possible if it was to be obeyed effectively. It taught him that nonviolence could, in fact, increase violence if it was not chosen in the right way at the right time.”

This is an incredibly interesting observation, and one that has far-reaching implications for international conflict. Although I am a pacifist, it does seem that sometimes the only choice left for a nation is to use force and violence. In World War II, once Hitler had taken over and Jews and others were being exterminated, would it have been possible on a national level to choose to use nonviolent methods to combat this evil? Many point back to the end of WWI, saying that if Germany had not been treated so poorly in the aftermath of that war, perhaps WWII would not have happened as easily because the German people would not have felt they needed to prove their worth to the world. If this chance had been taken by nations around the world, if they had agreed that although they were angry with Germany for its position in the Great War, they wanted to treat it with respect and dignity, perhaps this would have spread rather than the retribution and revenge that ensued and led to WWII.

Perhaps if our government had not encouraged the reign of Saddam Hussein, knowing it was corrupt, and helped Osama bin Laden for the last 20+ years we would not be in the war in which we find ourselves now. Perhaps if we had not “helped” Viet Nam only to serve our own interests after French colonization we would not have been in that war.

This is also an important thought for individual situations. Is there ever a point of no return, where we have made so many poor choices that we have no options left but to resort to violence? In cases only involving my own life, I can say no: there is never a time where I would use violence to save my own life. That is my choice. But what if the lives of others are involved? Do I have the right to choose not to use violence that might save their lives if I’ve made poor choices before which put them into that position? Are there times when the use of violence causes less violence to happen, as Trocme’s lieutenant suggested?

Can we take biblical imperatives at face value and trust that good will ensue? Can we love our enemies and call it good? Is it best to “not repay anyone evil for evil” and “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” at all times (Rom 12:17, 21)? Is there ever a time when we've backed ourselves into a corner so much that the "best" solution is violence?

Friday, September 22, 2006

not-very-systematic theologizing

Today I had my first systematic theology precept for the semester (precepts are small group classes where we discuss the readings). For this week we read the introductory stuff of several theologians from different backgrounds. The one we focused on was Schleiermacher, a 19th century German guy who Karl Barth later wrote most of his works in direct opposition to. I didn't much care for the parts of Barth that we read last year, so I figured I'd like Schleiermacher better, and I was right. He emphasizes the fact that all our religious "knowledge" comes from experience (as does everything else)--that knowledge in religion isn't possible because it's all based on "feeling." He doesn't mean "feeling" as in emotion, but...anyway, I don't totally understand his whole system yet, but what I know so far I like. He seems much more down-to-earth, whereas Barth seems to make his theology based on ideals of how God should be as opposed to anything we actually experience ourselves.

The first thing we did in our precept was to discuss the scores we got on a "worldview test" we were supposed to have taken online. It was an interesting test...I think I put the website down for the Beliefnet quiz several months ago. This is the same kind of thing, although I think they're assuming you're a self-avowed Christian. Our preceptor had us do this sort of as a joke, because the website for this test is (If you get 100% on "biblical worldview" they send you a certificate that you can mount on your wall!) My father will be proud that my worldview ended up being "Secular Humanist Worldview." I would recommend visiting the site and taking the quiz for curiousity's sake, but many of the questions are really frustrating and you wonder what their idea of a solid "biblical worldview" is, exactly. So that was entertaining...

Here's the website:

Other people we're reading this semester: of course we have the staple Reformed theologians Calvin and Barth, then we have "representatives" of various other theological standpoints, feminist, black, Asian, Latino/a. Authors include: James Cone, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Jung-young Lee, and Paul Tillich. It should be a great semester, much better than last semester's Barth, Calvin, and three weak feminist essays.

Another interesting tidbit: one of my professors on Wednesday said, "Jesus is apparently a pacifist, so we as 21st century American Christians need to think about what to do with that." Then later he said that he himself agrees with Augustine and is a Just War proponent, but thinks we need to be very careful about the wars we "justify." I have a hard time understanding how a Christian can think that Jesus is a pacifist and would not be a pacifist themselves, but...I'll try to ask him about it sometime.

Well, that's enough random comments about systematic theology for today. I hope you're enjoying your weekend! The highlight of mine may be reading Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza...(oh yeah, and hearing my husband and our friends play here in town and in New York City!).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

nonviolent struggle

Classes started yesterday, so I'm once again reading a lot and enjoying good lectures--at least I soon will be on the lecture part, because the first day of class isn't usually the best lecture ever, just an "explaining the class" day. But I'm looking forward to all my classes. I have only four this semester, just in case something weird happens with my pregnancy.

My classes:
Systematic Theology II
Exegesis of Acts
Hebrew Poetry
Toward a Theology of Nonviolence

I'm excited about the nonviolence one--it should be interesting hearing about the Reformed tradition moving "toward" a theology of nonviolence. We already have a theology of nonviolence as Quakers (generally), but I suppose my professor is right that no one has really put forth a really good systematic theology of nonviolence. Quakers aren't known for their systematic theological works...I don't know of any besides Barclay, do you?

Anyway, for that class, so far we've read about 150 pages of Gene Sharp's book "Waging Nonviolent Struggle." It's an excellent book! I've come across Sharp before, for his famous 198 methods of nonviolent struggle list, but I had never read and works by him. This book is great because it lays out reasons for using nonviolent methods, then explains examples of these methods being used (although we haven't read any of that yet), and then he explains how to begin putting these methods of nonviolent struggle into practice effectively. If anyone's looking for practical advice about how to begin a nonviolent revolution...look no further! (Although it's a huge volume, so it will take a little while to wade through it.)

One thing that's struck me as I've been reading is, how do we get ourselves into gear to actually use these great methods? There are so many things we could be working on--resisting paying taxes that go to the military, boycotting goods that cause injustice because of workers' wages and conditions, demanding alternative energy sources...the list could go on. But how do we get ourselves empassioned enough to actually start acting on what we say we believe? These things wouldn't even probably hurt us (physically) to stand up for, they would just take time and energy, and being willing to be inconvenienced a bit. Well, I guess we might be thrown in jail for the tax evasion thing, but jail's not so bad compared to what early Friends endured.

So we have all these methods at our fingertips. When are we going to use them? How many deaths in the Middle East will get my generation to act like my parents' generation did about Vietnam? How long will we allow ourselves to be lulled into submission by our exorbitant amount of comfort? How long will we keep doing peace marches and not taking any more risky action?

What should we tackle first?

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Is anyone else out there frustrated with the situation in Darfur and what to do about it? i'm somehow on several different lists of groups who are concerned about Darfur and trying to do something about it, although I don't remember signing up for any... Most of the time what they seem to suggest is, "Let's have a rally and wave signs!" Does this actually accomplish anything? Perhaps, but not for a long time, and people are dying now.

So what do we, as Quakers, do about this sort of thing? This has been on my mind a lot, especially since watching "Hotel Rwanda" a year and a half ago or so. The genocide that happened in Rwanda and Burundi was awful--it's especially awful that the international community knew about it and yanked the peacekeeping forces out of there.

But what would I have wanted them to have done? If the UN forces had stayed, wouldn't they have also used violence to contain the situation? It seems like once it reaches the point of genocide, there's not much to be done besides keep it at bay with violence. Sure, hopefully we could see the problem coming and do something earlier to keep it from getting to that point, but once we're already there, what's the best course of action?

Here we are again, this time in Darfur, with genocide going on and the international community hesitating to get involved. Yes, we have talks about it and there are those who are actually working in the region, trying to keep the peace, but what can WE do? What are Quakers called to do in such circumstances? Should we all drop everything and go stand in the way of the guns? Should we personally take food to starving people so we know it reaches those who need it? Should we protest from home and try to break down the arms trade so that such things can't happen as easily because it's harder to get guns? Should we "just" pray?

There are groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams, Friends Peace Teams, Nonviolent Peace Force, and probably others, who are attempting to do the work of teaching nonviolent solutions to conflict resolution. These are great groups, but how many of us will actually go and help them? They can't at this point do anything in Darfur, because they don't have nearly the personnel to try such a thing. But what if they did? What if they had an army-sized group of individuals trained in nonviolent conflict resolution, willing to pay the "ultimate price" for standing for peace?

I'm reminded of some studying I did on Romans 12:17-21, which the NRSV translates like this:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

As I studied this in Greek, I noticed that there's a lot going on here underneat the surface that we don't notice in English. What's important here is that Paul, as Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount, takes a normal way of living and asks followers of Christ to go further. Repaying evil for evil would seem to make sense, to be the just and equitable way of living, but he says take thought for what is noble. He tells us that as far as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with everyone. We aren't to take revenge ourselves, but instead--and the Greek is very strong here--it is God and God alone who is to handle vengeance.

Then Paul switches from speaking to a group (you plural) to the individual: if your (singular) enemy is hungry, feed them. Supply their needs, and supply them even if you're not completely sure that they need it. Take action! Do something, and you can't just have others do it for you--it's your personal responsibility to do something about it.

Finally, overcome evil by staying fixed firmly, unwaveringly, in the good.

To me what's really important about this is that we're called to action. Peacemaking isn't passive, although it's because of our too-often passivity that pacifism has gotten a bad name. This is convicting to me--how about you? But it's still so hard to know what to do!

To get involved in an organization working on the Darfur situation, here are some links:

And there are many others...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

to worship is to work

This week I've been re-learning the Hebrew vocabulary and grammar I learned last year and promptly didn't work on very much over the summer...

Something that hit me as I was reviewing flashcards is the fact that the verb meaning "to worship" (pronounced avad) also means "to serve, work, till." It comes from the root pronounced eved, meaning "servant, slave."

I find this fascinating--I think in our culture we think of worship as a passive thing, something we sit around and do, telling God how great God is (as if God needs a reminder, or flattery), and call this worship. Especially in programmed Friends circles, and other Christian groups, worship has come to mean "singing praise songs." I think the ancient Hebrews had an amazing understanding of praise, and of music, too, but this wasn't all that worship constituted. Instead, worship apparently had a lot to do with serving God, with tilling and working the soil of the heart and community.

This reminder came to me in meeting for worship this morning, and I wondered what work we're doing there. I think early Friends understood that worship was work. For one thing, it was work just to set a meeting time and place and get there in very early Friends times, since they weren't legally supposed to meet together. But the work didn't end with an hour of meeting together. The work of worship called them out into the world, to be active in spreading the Good News of the relationship with God that they had discovered. It called them to make a more just and equitable world through the work of their everyday lives.

What is meeting for worship for now? What work are we doing there? In unprogrammed meetings, are we allowing ourselves to do the work of what Thomas Kelley calls "holy expectancy," of waiting for God to give us words to speak and faithfulness to do so? Are we listening for how we're called to live and work in the world the rest of the week, as our acts of continued worship?

In programmed meetings, do we too easily let the released ministers do the "work" of worship for us, listening and preparing for the meeting in advance, while the rest of us get to sit back and enjoy the "show"? Are we allowing ourselves to be spoken to through those we've released as ministers, and to hear beyond them to the voice of God speaking through them in ways they couldn't have planned? Are we aware of the ways God is calling us to act and work in the world throughout the week, to continue our worship as service, not just as song?

How are we as Friends living worship as work, service, and tilling?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

reflections on yearly meeting

It's been a little while since our Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions now, which were the last week of July. But better late than never, eh?

I got to go to YM pretty much all week because I was released by the meeting I was interning at. It was great to be there, be part of the business meetings, worship with Friends, and see so many people I've grown to love. Our YM sessions go from Saturday through the next Friday. The weekend is mainly just "hang out and see everyone" time, although the representatives have a meeting on Saturday (I've never been a rep yet). I didn't get to be there on Saturday because my cousin got married, but it's OK because it was insanely hot so I think everyone just kind of laid around wherever they were and tried not to move.

In the evenings starting Sunday and going through Thursday there's evening worship, where mainly we sing and listen to a speaker. This year we had 4 speakers (plus the keynote by our YM superintendent) from our own YM. I was a little skeptical about the theme "Celebrate Jesus" because it sounds incredibly cheesy. But the speakers did an excellent job for the most part of bringing that theme down to earth, making it accessible, not just generic-evangelical-praise-Jesus-because-we-have-life-so-easy kind of "celebration." My favorite was Mary Kate Morse, who shared about challenging people, as Jesus did, to see things in a new way. She also talked a lot about our own fears to be different and to really live the radical call of Christ.

The major business for the week focused on two topics: a decision about changing the structure of our YM, and then deciding whether to stay affiliated with FWCC (Friends World Committee for Consultation). Both of these were interesting discussions and processes.

We've been working on a change in our organizational structure for a couple years, and Colin Saxton, our superintendent, was authorized to form a group to work on this and make a proposal to the Yearly Meeting. So they met together, got input from anyone in the YM who would share, and had meetings in various areas to get ideas and then later to share their idea for the new structure. I think this group did an excellent job of communicating what they were working on, accepting input and critique, and working to keep the vision of NWYM firmly in mind as they sought to make the structure more effective. They worked to balance some of the financial stuff that has become somewhat unfairly skewed toward various groups, leaving other ministries with very small financial resources. And they worked to bring people together to work on common goals rather than getting stuck in the more limited perspective of their own board.

This proposal was accepted with very little resistance, which I think means the group did amazing work ahead of time, listening to God and NWYM people, tweaking their plan, and thinking well about the needs of the YM. The only problem I see is that the Board of Peace & Social Concerns--which is dear to my heart because I was on it for a couple years then was employed by it as Peace Education Coordinator--is being spread out amongst the new boards with the goal that all boards will think about how they can live out peace and social concerns at home and abroad, instead of having one little board with meager financial resources try to keep this vision alive in our YM and world. This is a great idea, but it's also a little risky to have no one whose specific job it is to think about and work on peace and social justice issues. Also, it was decided that boards shouldn't be able to hire people by themselves, but only after the consensus of the whole YM. This is also a great idea, except that it means the Peace Education Coordinator position (and no other YM staff position, I might add) is being cut in January, with the idea that if there's a general sense in the YM that we need that position, it will be decided upon as a group rather than by a specific board. That's fine, but other positions in the YM were created by boards as well, and this feels a little frustrating. But it's the newest and most contested position so that's probably the right thing to do.

Then there was the FWCC discussion. Four years ago we decided to affiliate with FWCC for the first time, although people from our YM have always been involved in it. We said we'd look at that decision in 3 years to reevaluate. We had some reps, although they had to come up with their own money to get to FWCC events. Last year the decision came up for discussion, and people were split over whether we should stay affiliated or not. It was decided that we didn't have enough information, because some people said one thing and others said another. So a study group was put together, with people from each "side" of the issue. They came back this year saying that we should not be affiliated but should stay connected, sending representatives and supporting (with prayer, not necessarily money...) those who felt called to be part of FWCC.

So we had some meetings which would probably be described as threshing meetings at YM, then had two days of business meetings where FWCC was the main topic. People didn't want to be affiliated because they felt like FWCC isn't what it says, which is a group that doesn't further any specific theology but just brings Friends together for discussion. Some Friends felt that FWCC actually releases statements about what Friends believe that aren't consistent with what we believe, so we shouldn't be affiliated. I think that's a bit silly because if we're not affiliated, we can't have any say in what FWCC says about Friends. Others thought that it's great that we're involved in FWCC, sharing what we believe, but we shouldn't be affiliated because it's "yoking ourselves with unbelievers." Something that never got brought up in business meeting but was thrown around outside quite a bit, was that we're affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals (through Evangelical Friends International), who talk about their support of the death penalty on their website. So part of the discussion was, what does it mean to be affiliated? What are we saying when we attach our name to something?

The long and short of it is, the sense of the meeting ended up being that we should stay affiliated. I was really glad about the decision, but at the same time, there were a lot of people who weren't ready for it. They could see it was the sense of the meeting, but I don't know that they believed in was God's will. It was sad to know that some people were going home feeling like they'd "lost." I kept trying to say throughout the week, and others did too, that we shouldn't be looking at it from sides, we shouldn't be seeing who's going to "win," but we should be listening for the voice of God, and do what God says regardless of what our own opinion is. It seems to me like we did that, but that's easy for me to say, since God was apparently of the same opinion as me....Did I just think it was God's will because it was my will? Who knows. It felt like God, but not to everyone. There was consensus, but I think quite a few people stood aside from the decision. That was hard, because I love the consensus process and believe in it, but what do we do when we run out of time? How do we as Westerners wait and hear the Spirit together, over our fears of missed flights, people needing to clean buildings, keys getting returned before everyone gets fined, and the cafeteria not getting angry that we're late for lunch? How do we listen to the Spirit when we're tired and angry and hurt?

And especially, how do we listen to the Spirit through people we've already decided we don't trust?

So YM was bittersweet. I think we did good work, and worshiping together was great. Youth Yearly Meeting sounds like it was awesome, and the youth learned a lot and got excited about Quaker process. But it was hard to leaveon that note of sadness, knowing some were hurt by decisions made that week. Therew as a lot of healing throughout the week, but a lot of pain for some as well.

It's hard being Quaker! It's hard to know what to do when we've reached an impasse, and it seems clear what God wants but some aren't getting it and we can't put it off for ANOTHER year. But it's also exciting, because as we came to the sense of the meeting it was so cool to hear how God had changed some people's hearts, and opened people to one another and to other Friends around the world. Those are the times at Yearly Meeting that I live for!

Sunday, September 03, 2006


It's my last day in Oregon for a while! It's been quite a while since I've written a blog entry, and I have been doing some of the things I said I would while I wasn't blogging--went hiking several times, went up to the North Cascades for our fifth anniversary, went to the beach, hung out with F/friends and family, and hopefully did a good job at my internship. It's been a great summer.

I guess the biggest thing is that we found out we're going to be having a baby in February! We're pretty excited, although it will definitely be a huge life change. We've gotten used to being married and being able to focus a lot on each other, so being in charge of a new little life will be something to get used to. It will be an adventure!

I'm going back to school this fall, so you can expect more blogs on Quaker theological topics, I'm sure. I think I may be bored and have extra time to write because I'm taking a light class load and not working or doing an internship to take it easy since I don't know exactly what to expect being pregnant. But I'm sure I'll enjoy some more cathartic blogging and getting back into the community of Quaker bloggers. We fly back to New Jersey tomorrow (after I preach one last time over here)!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

the hummingbird's daughter

I've been doing a bit of summer reading, for fun thank God! So last week I read the book "The Hummingbird's Daughter," by Luis Alberto Urrea. It's a novel, kind of historical fiction, based in 19th century Mexico. It shows the transition between the "Indian" culture (as it was called then) and the Spanish culture, and what it was like trying to develop a culture that was authentically Mexican with no racial distinctions, living into the Catholic faith brought from Europe and accepted by their ancestors while still staying connected to the land and the sense of cultural identity that comes with one's own religion. I found this book to be fascinating and challenging.

One of the things I came away with was the question of why it seems like Christianity, as opposed to almost all other religions on Earth, has very little connection with the land. Is it because of Greek influence, emphasizing dualism and the evil nature of this world as opposed to the perfection of the soul? But Greek gods and goddesses were connected with the land. In some ways it's good--Christianity can go to any land and flourish because it's not connected to a specific holy place, to God being available only in certain places or to certain people. But at the same time, I think we lose a lot by discounting the earth so much. There is much we can learn about God, about ourselves, about healing suffering, from the land we inhabit. Sure, we shouldn't worship the land, but it's something God created, and called good, according to Christian tradition. So why do we ignore our connection and need for the earth?

In this book, the main character, eventually called St. Teresa (not to be confused with Mother Teresa who was also sainted), is a sort of medicine woman as well as Christian healer and prophetess. She has a powerful connection with the land and "the People," the indigenous people of Mexico; and she also finds faith and truth in Catholicism and in the person and values of Jesus. She is apparently a historical figure, the great-great aunt of the author, and there are numerous newspaper articles and other publications about her. She sometimes seems to have healed people with herbs and other natural remedies, and sometimes she heals them by touch or putting her hands near the person.

She also preaches to the People, calling for revolution, but calling for it to be nonviolent. Basically calling for her Indian people (she's half Indian) to stand up and not allow themselves to be subjugated to whites. The ending is powerful and surprisingly nonviolent. This was a beautiful piece, and I recommend it highly! Thanks to my step-mom for telling me about it.

I'll leave you with one interesting passage. Teresita is talking to a medicine man. He says:

"Christians don't like the left side, but Indians do. Christians have forgotten their hearts. When a medicine woman hugs you, if she means it, she will move you to the side and put her heart on yours....Have you the Yoris [white people] hug?....They never put their hearts together. They lean in and barely touch the tops of their chests, and they hang their asses out in the wind so none of the good parts touch. Then they flutter their hands on each other's backs. Pat-pat-pat! One-two-three! Then they run away!"

I think this is a very true and interesting commentary, perhaps not only on Christians but on Westerners. It's an interesting thought that the left is the side of the heart, and that we've lost our hearts. We're more interested in rational, logical stuff, not that emotional junk. Not that we think of hugging our left sides together as meaning anything, but it's very true about the lack of real physical touch. This does somehow go along with the loss of heart. Interesting to think about...

Friday, June 23, 2006

summer blogging

I've noticed that I'm not feeling as compelled to blog at the moment, as I was during the school year. I've been wondering why that is, and thought of a few reasons: first of all, there is sunshine outside (sometimes, although it's been raining still--but today was nice). Why would I sit inside at a computer when I could be outside?

Second, I'm not reading as much, and although I'm thinking about a lot of stuff it's not so easy to process in writing. And it's not as much volume as during the school year. There's a lot to learn about pastoral ministry, but it's experiential and already involves people, so maybe I don't feel like I need to pull in the relational element as much because that's being fed with *gasp* real people. =)

Third, what I'm doing is working with people, and who knows who will stumble across this blog? So I don't want to write anything specific or critical or even positive because of confidentiality. They're not exactly my stories to share with cyberspace.

So maybe this summer I'll be outside more, hang out with people more, and give my brain permission to take a break. But it's nice to know blogging is still here when I need to process. Thanks for indulging my meandering process.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

american gifts

Does it bother any of you that the way our culture celebrates is by spending money? I've been thinking about this lately, because a) we don't have much money right now, and b) there are tons of birthdays/holidays/weddings/graduations during the summer that the expected gift is a gift of money or something you buy.

For example, I truly love and appreciate my dad, my father-in-law, my 2 grandpas and my grandpa-in-law, but if I just bought cards for all of them for Fathers Day that would be around $15, paid to a company that is in existence because people feel obligated to give cards on special occasions. I want to show my father figures how much I appreciate them, but is a card (or a new tie or a barbecue implement or a golf game) the best way to do that?

Solutions: Fathers Day is easier than some because dads aren't known for caring much about cards. My dad doesn't even like ties, has all the barbecue stuff he needs (a little grill), and doesn't golf. So I can spend time with him. He's an artist so sometimes I make him a card. Yesterday was great because although I didn't plan ahead very well, I called him up after meeting and asked if I could come over, and it just so happened that he needed help that afternoon getting some of his pieces to an art show he was in, and it turned out that without me being there it would have been very difficult. So it was great to be able to give him that gift of time and helping out, and we got to hang out afterwards and talk and watch a DVD and walk around the backyard. I think it was a pretty perfect Fathers Day, if I may say so myself, but it didn't require me spending money to have a great day.

But how do we deal with weddings and graduations and all that? There's just something that gets me about the fact that we celebrate through spending money on people. First of all it's not inclusive--those without enough money feel like they can't come to a party or a wedding if they can't afford a gift. Also it seems like a bit of an easy way out: I'll buy a card and sign my name, write a check, and call it celebrating. What kind of celebrating is that???

When I got married I truly did need a lot of things to set up a normal American household. I appreciated the money we received and the gifts, and it was humbling to be showered with so many things from those who had been part of our lives. I enjoy being able to give things to people who are getting married so they can begin to make their new space a home together.

But at the same time, when people give me the gift of their time, or something they've made, or a card that they've written in to say what they appreciate or what they're celebrating with me, it's more meaningful than getting a gift that I may or may not use. And I'd rather hang out with people at a party than them not be there because they couldn't afford a gift. It seems like there are better ways to "love our neighbors" than giving them money, and perhaps giving them money is pretty low on the list--like Peter said in Acts, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk." (Acts 3:6) Now that would be a pretty good Fathers Day gift!

So I'm wondering, how do you all address this problem? How do you say "thank you" or "congratulations" besides spending money?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

gospel of mary magdalene

Now that I've been out of school for about a month it's time to get back into reading academic stuff. I have three academic goals for the summer (besides my internship, which I guess is technically academic): 1) keep translating Greek & Hebrew each week so I can remember them when I go back to school (so far I've done Mark 1 & 2 and Ruth 1); 2)read a bunch of non-canonical gospels to see what didn't make it into the canon and what else is out there; 3) meet every week or two with my friend who graduated from seminary a couple years ago and discuss a book we're reading together, a staple work in feminist theology called "Sexism & God Talk" by Rosemary Radford Ruether. So I'm really excited about all these goals, and so far I'm doing pretty well, although my friends think I'm a big nerd. Of course they're right.

One of my friends loaned me a translation and commentary on the Gospel of Mary Magdelene (original translation and commentary by Jean-Yves Leloup, English translation by Joseph Rowe, 2002). It's really interesting! You can read the full text here, just scroll down a little ways. It's not very long because the first 6 pages and pages 11-14 are missing from the manuscript. It's called a Gnostic gospel, because it was found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 with other Gnostic texts (although portions were found earlier). There isn't much in the Gospel of Mary as we have it that seems Gnostic as opposed to orthodox Christian, except the part about Jesus treating Mary similarly to how he treated the disciples, imparting new information to her after the resurrection as he did to the disciples in the canonical works. The things she reports Jesus saying to her don't seem out of bounds from orthodox Christianity although she says them in different words, but they seem to fit the teaching of Jesus as well as most things in the canonized Gospels. So there's just that issue of the message coming through a woman that the church couldn't handle by 325 AD, when canonization began to occur.

There's a lot of stir about Mary Magdalene right now because of "The DaVinci Code," and it is an interesting prospect. It seems from some of the non-canonical gospels that there was a very early tradition of Mary Magdalene and Jesus being married, and there are several allusions to Jesus having a special sort of relationship with Mary compared to other women (although they don't all connote a sexual relationship). Mary is recognized by Mark, Matthew and John as the first person to see Jesus resurrected, so why wouldn't he have given her further teaching as he did with the male disciples?

The commentary that I have is amazing and thought-provoking and I'll have to write about it another time, but one of the things that stood out to me from the text of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene itself is this:

There is no sin. It is you who make sin exist, when you act according to the habits of your corrupted nature; this is where sin lies. This is why the Good has come into your midst. It acts together with the elements of your nature so as to reunite it with its roots. (7:15-22)

If you just took the first sentence this would be definite grounds for throwing it out of orthodox Christian circles, but it doesn't stop there. The point isn't that there isn't corruption in the world, but that apart from humans and our actions, sin doesn't exist. It doesn't exist as a concept of itself. This goes a long way in helping us understand the age-old problem of why and how evil can exist in a world created by a wholly good God.

See, in theology there's this problem of sin: where did it come from? Did God create it? If so, God has to have the capacity for evil and can't be totally good. If not, where did it come from? This creates a dualism, because then there are two things that have existed eternally, good and evil. Good could never overcome evil in this kind of dualism, because it would have to overcome another eternal reality. But in this case, sin/evil doesn't exist on its own, but only through our actions. It wasn't created. It's a product of our choices and habits. God created the freedom to choose; we cause evil when we choose to ignore that which is infinite (God or the Good) in place of what is finite (ourselves and the created world, our false securities).

I find this to be really helpful in clarifying what sin is and what our role in it is. Of course it doesn't completely overcome the problems of why bad things happen to good people and all that, but it gives a different perspective that's helpful. It would be interesting if this work had been canonized to see what the theological idea of "sin" would be now.

I don't know if this work should have been canonized or not. I trust that God has the power to get into the canon what is supposed to be there, but I also trust that God can speak through things other than what's been canonized. For me, having grown up a Christian, it's refreshing to read things from the same era with the same characters, but using different words. It's a fun exercise to read the things which weren't canonized and to think about what in them is true and what in them is not. But it's nice to have new thoughts to mull over, because the familiarity of the Bible can cause me to not really read it, only to look at the words and remember the same old stories. The Spirit can still illumine things, yes, but the Spirit can also illumine truths I may have missed reading the same familiar texts.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

to know and be known

Today I got to spend time with several F/friends with whom I have journeyed through important spiritual experiences in the past. It made me realize I'm enjoying being home, where I know and am known, where I can draw on shared history and experiences, where I'm not starting from scratch in relationships.

Being home and being known have their positives and negatives--it's fun meeting new people in a new place, it's nice blending into the crowd once in a while, it's nice that no one on the east coast remembers me when I was in junior high...but it's also amazing just having dinner with people I haven't seen for a year and taking the conversation to a deeper level than most I've been able to have face to face (except with my husband) in the last year. There is understanding here of one another's souls that can't be formed in an instant (except perhaps by divine intervention). It's fun remembering the experiences we've had together, the ways we've grown spiritually, the things we've learned while we're apart that fit the picture of who we've been and who we've watched each other becoming.

Community is such a gift, and I'm incredibly grateful for it.