Wednesday, May 31, 2006

God's speaking...are we listening?

My favorite part of Samuel School (the retreat I was at this weekend, see the last couple entries) is always the end, where we debrief the weekend with the youth and each of them shares something that stood out to them particularly from the weekend and that they want to remember. Usually these end up being pretty significant experiences with God, or fairly deep theological/spiritual truths that they have come to understand in a more coherent way. It's so amazing to see these juniors and seniors in high school learn and grow so much in a weekend, and to be able to participate in giving them tools to be more grounded in their faith, ask better questions, and know how to seek the answers.

One of the things that is often a revelation for youth who attend is to realize that God is present and speaking to us all the time, it's just that we're not always paying attention. It's so cool to see their eyes light up and see the hope in them as they realize they don't do spiritual exercises to get God to show up, to manipulate God into speaking to them, to work as hard as they can so that God might come down to their level--but that God is already speaking to them, and all they have to do is put themselves in a space where they are attentive to perceive what's already happening.

We do all sorts of things over the weekend, from classes (hence the "school" part of Samuel School) to recreation to small groups to meals to hang-out-and-have-fun time. I love Samuel School because it's always an amazing group of youth who are serious about their faith, but so much fun at the same time. This weekend I rekindled my love for such games as Bump, Bloody Wink'em and Annihilation (all good Quaker games, of course!). I enjoyed laughing with people, listening in classes and learning new things even though I've heard those classes several times before, and being able to explain little things like why we sing songs to worship and what silence can be good for. I enjoyed reconnecting with youth and youthworkers I hadn't seen for a while, and being in a space where it was easy to move beyond the surface into discussions of what's important to us.

Tomorrow I'll write more specifically about what Samuel School looks like programmatically, because it sounds like some people were interested in that, and I think this program is one of the best things Northwest Yearly Meeting does. But tonight I must head to bed, because I start my internship tomorrow!

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Yesterday at Samuel School one of the class sessions was about spiritual growth. I appreciated the main premise of this discussion: we're always changing, always transforming spiritually, but hte question is whether we're becoming transformed toward who we want to be spiritually, or away from who we truly want to be.

The speaker talked about several fairly popular images which are incredibly helpful, including the vine, and the potter and clay. One thing that struck me, which he just said in passing, was that a plant or tree has the same mass of roots as what you can see above ground. To me this is an amazing thought. I tend to think of the plant as the part above ground, the part that is most necessary because it receives light and produces seeds. I knew that roots are important because they find the necessary water, but I never knew that there was such an equilibrium of what shows above ground and what's going on below.

To me this is a great analogy for our spiritual lives. I think Quakers try to think of spirituality this way: we need the time of just being quiet, becoming centered, focusing inward and not doing anything public, and then after a while we can do some public ministry. Sometimes, though, I think we get confused. In unprogrammed meetings often people sit in the silence, perhaps even at home, and never let their spiritual life come to flower above the ground. They get plenty of water but no light, and they can't create any fruit. In programmed meetings where there are always ministries to be done it's easy to do spiritual things in public and with others but to lack the roots of time spent in stillness and waiting, drawing deeply on the underground rivers of God's presence and life-giving power. Without roots it's easy for any wind to blow the plant over, or for harsh sun to dry it up.

I hope to lead a balanced life, allowing my roots to be fed in the stillness, and being willing to put up branches, grow leaves, and prduce the fruit of the ministry to which I'm called in the very core of my being, as an apple tree naturally bears apples in their season.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

discernment portfolio

Every year our yearly meeting has a retreat over Memorial Day for high school juniors and seniors called Samuel School. It's taken from the passage in I Samuel 3 where Samuel as a young boy first hears God speaking--but doesn't recognize it as God at first until Eli realizes what's going on and tells him to go back and listen to what God's wanting to say. It's a great retreat, and each meeting chooses a couple of youth to go who they feel are fairly spiritually mature and ready to dig deeper in their faith.

So this weekend I get to be at Samuel School, help lead worship (music and helping to teach about the use of unprogrammed worship), and teach a short class to the juniors about the transitions they'll be facing as they move into their senior year and look toward graduation. It's always a fun weekend because it's a great group of youth who are already asking good questions. I'm excited to get to know them better, and it's also a good reminder to me every time I go to be listening well. The same things are taught every year because it's a different group of youth every time, so for leaders who go more than once it's repetitive--but I've found that repetition useful because it's good to get a refresher every year or two.

Tonight what stood out to me as important and something I have previously appreciated but forgotten was the notion of a "discernment portfolio." The idea is to pay attention to times in your own life when you're pretty sure or at least suspicious that God was speaking to you, and to notice what that was like for you. How did you feel emotionally and physically? What happened? Were there other people involved? Sometimes God speaks through natural events and sometimes supernatural or abnormal things like dreams. Sometimes God speaks through our own powers of reason. So as you pay attention to the things that were involved in that experience, and after you do this with several experiences, you begin to build up a "discernment portfolio," a collection of times you felt God moving and your noticings about how that happens and how you recognize that as God. Then when you feel/experience those things again you can be pretty certain God's working in your life again (although sometimes God does new and unusual things that don't fit the normal pattern of how God speaks to you). The idea is that God is already active in your life, speaking and working through the things you enjoy or the places where you feel like you receive life and energy, but sometimes those times are so natural for you that you don't recognize them as God unless you think about it intentionally.

This is an important concept to me, because it's good to remember that God works in each of us differently, and that it's my joyful task to get to know myself better and the ways I respond to things so I can be more aware of God. It's also encouraging to know that God has given me gifts and passions that are also passions of God. The reason I enjoy and gain energy from certain things is quite possibly because God is working in those areas in my life. I don't have to drop the things I'm passionate about in order to do God's will, because those things are God's will.

For me some of the elements in my "discernment portfolio" include reading and writing (e.g. this blog), and times when I have a deep sense that something is true or right. It's kind of an intuitive sense, a deep knowledge that can't be explained--or explained away. There's a feeling in my chest, about at the point where my lowest ribs meet, of barely contained energy and motion that comes to me sometimes in meeting when I feel centered. It's especially pronounced when I need to share something, whether in meeting or other times when I need to share a difficult truth. It's different from feeling nervous (because I get that feeling often enough and it's not the same). It's the feeling of justice and truth. I just was able to name it in about October of last year, and imagined it as a pod or seed shape like two hands cupped in prayer, and out of this seed grows the words of truth and justice which can't help but flow from my mouth.

It's good to be reminded of these physical sensations coupled with mental and emotional awareness. I think in our culture that so separates the mind, body and spirit we forget that our spiritual existence cannot be separated from our bodily existence. But they go together, and I beleive God uses our bodies to teach us and help us grow just as much as God uses our minds.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Yesterday we flew home to Oregon! It's so good to be home, to see the people we know and who know us, to be back in our familiar climate (it's poured most of the time since we returned), and to see the deep green of the evergreens as we flew in to Portland. I suppose the joy of being home is one common to most people with decent childhoods, but I can't imagine feeling so happy to be home if I'd grown up in New Jersey...nothing against NJ residents, of course... =)

Isn't it weird that we get so attached to a place? Partially it's the memories and emotions of the places where I feel most at home that make it "home" to me, but partially it's just that place. Is it the sense of being familiar with my surroundings? Is it the combination of colors and smells that I've grown most accustomed to and associate with family and friends? Is it the relationships? I don't know what it is, but there seems to be an almost mystical connection with "home" for myself and a lot of people. There's nothing else like it.

I was actually sad to leave New Jersey, though. Like I wrote a couple weeks ago, we've made some great friends this year, and I was sad to leave, knowing that some of them won't be there when we get back because they've graduated, and that we won't get to have the summer to relax and just spend time with people when none of us have homework. It would be nice to just stay there and not have to move and just be able to spend time with friends all summer.

But I'm so excited to be home that Jersey can't really compare. I'm excited to visit the Oregon coast, to go hiking in the Columbia Gorge, to rock climb at Smith Rock, to go to my own Yearly Meeting sessions, to help out at the high school camp, and go to friends' weddings. I'm excited to see my family and old friends, to hang out in our old favorite places, to enjoy the rhythm of the Oregon summer.

And I'm excited for new experiences, like starting my internship and trying my hand at pastoral ministry for the summer.

It's good to be home.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

arch street

This picture is my husband and I at Arch Street Friends Meetinghouse, wearing Quaker hats and our Quaker gray fleeces. =) Today, in case you hadn't figured it out, we visited Philadelphia and wandered along the Constitutional Trail, seeing the historic sites. It was fun just to wander and look at old buildings and get tidbits of history as we went (we mostly guided our own tour with short blurbs printed off the internet and reading signs). The best part was the tour of Arch Street Friends. It's all well and good to hear American history, but Quaker history is so much more interesting!

Anyway, I'd never been to Arch Street, so it was great to see the meetinghouse there (although our meetinghouse we currently attend is about 100 years older!). But it's a great historic meetinghouse and there were several Friends there who were very knowledgeable about Quaker history especially pertaining to Pennsylvania. I learned a few things, and it was just interesting to hear the tour as they would give it to anyone (they didn't know we were Quakers until the end), to hear how they present Quakerism and our history to all the tourists who come in daily. I think they're doing an excellent job! It's also so nice to meet new Quakers and make connections. That was definitely teh highlight of our day in Philadelphia. (Especially the Quaker hats!)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


In The Matrix, the character who turns out to be a robot tells Keanu that humans are aren't so much animals as parasites. Like cancer, they move to an area and suck the life out of it until there's nothing left, then they move on to another area. Is this true? Does it have to be true?

Today we were on the Jersey shore, and it's nice in some ways, but it's pretty dirty. It's not even summer yet but there was a good deal of trash on the beach. People don't really walk on the beach so much where we were because there's a boardwalk 50 feet from the ocean or so--so why keep the beach clean?

I've noticed since living here that so many people just don't think about the way they're living and how it affects the world around them. Luckily we live somewhere that has recycling available, but most places in New Jersey don't, I think. It's depressing to think about how many people there are, how many resources we're using here in the USA, and how much destruction of the environment we're causing. Are we really a parasite to the earth? Would it be possible for us to live in a way that doesn't destroy whatever area we're using? There are people who live in sustainable communities, but is it at all likely that whole societies would be able to live in a way that was sustainable for their area?

It's hard to know, because a lot of times we don't learn that something is destructive until several years down the road. But then, you'd think we would stop doing whatever that thing is and find a new way to do the things we need to do. But instead, myself included, we just keep doing things the way we've been doing them, the way everyone else does. I don't know how much longer we can keep that up, though!

I hope we eventually learn that our health and the health of our planet are entertwined, and start taking care of this amazing place we've been given in ways that will allow it to be here (and usable) for coming generations.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

sweet and deep silence

In our meeting we have something called "afterthoughts," where if someone didn't get up the guts or wasn't sure something was really a strong enough leading to break the silence with they can share what they're thinking about right after meeting. It's a cool tradition, a good way to make sure everyone gets one last chance to be prompted by the Spirit, and also to give a space for people to share things they really want to share but that aren't necessarily Spirit-led.

So today during "afterthoughts," a member shared that he felt the silence of the meeting today (only one Friend shared) was sweeter than usual, had an unusual sense of depth. It's interesting how silence can feel full or empty, comfortable or scary, and how it can be a communal experience.

I love practicing silence. It draws me closer to God, and also to others present. I also like that it's so counter-cultural. It's opposite of our culture to just sit in a room with a bunch of other people and be still. I've been talking with my family about that lately, how for so many Americans it's normal to always have noise going: my sister's housemates always have the TV on, so many people at the coffee shop I work at come in wearing their iPods, and most people have music going as they drive and as they're at home. What's wrong with silence, I wonder? What makes it so scary to people?

I'm grateful to have been raised Quaker and to be comfortable and aware in the silence. I think it gives me heightened awareness of myself and those around me. It's vulnerable., and even if you're not really centered it still is a time of soul-searching, having to get in touch with where you're at in yourself. So I appreciate the silence, when it's deep and sweet like today, and even when it seems empty and distracted.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

tourists for the week

I'm having fun this week showing my mom and my grandma around New Jersey, New York and PEnnsylvania. It's fun having them here, since they live in Oregon--it's nice to have people from home who will know about our life out herw.

We spent the day today in New York City. I've been there several times since we moved here, and each time I'm surprised how much I like NYC, much more than I'd expected. They are things not to like, but I like the subway and I like all the different kinds of people. I like that each time there are new things to discover everywhere! I like that people are out walking around, not just in their cars all the time. I like that there's a huge park right in the middle of the city and that people just go there to take a walk or sit and be quiet. I like how you can walk into each of the burroughs and know you're in a new community.

I especially like how they said on the radio that today there was "a chance of showers until 1pm and a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1pm," but it was sunny all day until a half-hour storm at about 7pm! It was a perfect day to wander the streets of NYC!

Friday, May 12, 2006

the chosen

A few days ago I finished reading “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok. It’s an excellent book, the first of his that I’ve read although I’ve heard for years that he’s a great author. It’s about two Jewish boys growing up in New York City during World War II. It was interesting to read it after taking Hebrew this year. I think we should learn more about modern Jewish culture in that class, and in seminary in general, because it’s helpful to see the connecting places, the things we agree about, to see that of God in the religion out of which Christianity (and, indirectly, Quakerism) was birthed. I had fun reading it and understanding Hebrew terms before they were explained! =)

It was also really interesting to see the similarities between Judaism—particularly Hasidic Judaism—and Quakerism. I thought they would be completely opposite, with Hasidism trying to influence Jews to become more devoted than they had been and to practice all the traditions, which in my mind read “Fundamentalist.” But it seems like it’s more of an attempt to take Judaism back to its spiritual roots. Here are some quotes (it was written in 1967 so excuse the masculine language, I guess):

“God is everywhere, he told them, and if it seems at times that He is hidden from us, it is only because we have not yet learned to seek Him correctly. Evil is like a hard shell. Within this shell is the spark of God, is goodness. How do we penetrate the shell? By sincere and honest prayer, by being happy, and by loving all people.” (of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Kind or Good Master of the Name, founder of Hasidic Judaism)

“Rabbi Halafta son of Dosa teaches us, ‘When ten people sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Presence of God abides among them, as it is said, “God standeth in the congregation of the godly.” And whence can it be shown that the same applies to five? Because it is said, “He had founded his band upon the earth.” And whence can it be shown that the same applies to three? Because it is said, “He judgeth among the judges.” And whence can it be shown that the same applies to two? Because it is said, “Then they that feared the Lord spake one with the other, and the Lord gave heed and heard.” And whence can it be shown that the same applies even to one? Because it is said, “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come into thee and I will bless thee.”’ Listen, listen to this great teaching. A congregation is ten. It is nothing new that the holy Presence resides among ten. A band is five. It is also nothing new that the holy Presence resides among five. Judges are three. If the holy Presence did not reside among judges there would be no justice in the world. So this, too, is not new. That the Presence can reside even among two is also not impossible to understand. But that the Presence can reside in one! In one! Even in one! That already is a mighty thing. Even in one! If one man studies Torah, the Master of the Universe is already in the world. A mighty thing!”

“A word is worth one coin; silence is worth two.” —The Talmud

“You can listen to silence, Reuven. I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it….You have to want to listen to it, and then you can hear it. Sometimes—sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it. It hurts to listen to it then. But you have to.”

“A man is born into this world with only a tiny spark of goodness in him. The spark is God, it is the soul; the rest is ugliness and evil, a shell. The spark must be guarded like a treasure, it must be nurtured, it must be fanned into flame. It must learn to seek out other sparks, it must dominate the shell.”

Interesting, isn’t it? Quakers think we have a corner on the market for silence focused on God, but it seems this character knows that silence, and the Presence that dwells there. And it’s interesting that they have a term for what we call the Inner Light, or that of God in every person. Yes, maybe they don’t know Jesus as the Messiah they’re expecting, but it’s exciting to see them seeking after God, living lives of expectancy that we often forget, now that we believe the Messiah has come. And there’s something beautiful about preserving traditions that have been handed down for millennia, although this book deals well with how to also adapt to new situations and the modern world.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


This week I'm just breathing a big sigh of relief and enjoying hanging out with friends. I'm so grateful for friends, for having moved to this new place nine months ago and now to have people here that we'll miss when we go home in a couple weeks. It's so nice to just spend time with people for these few days and for none of us to have much we have to be doing or worrying about. Everyone's outside all the time, having barbecues and picnics, playing frisbee and taking their kids to the playground next to our apartment.

I think May is my favorite month, because during college and now it's associated with school ending, plus it's the perfect blend of cool mornings and evenings with warm days. There's that spring scent on the air, blossoms are coming out and then falling and blowing around, looking like pink and purple snow. It seems to be the celebration month where we know we're really out of the winter now and we can relax and enjoy the new hope that comes with warmth and new life.

And on top of that, I'm free of school work and I have several days to relax before I have anything else really planned. A bunch of our friends are around and we've had social engagements every day since school got out. It's such a great feeling to have time for people.

I guess that's mostly what I've been thinking about the last few days--just feeling joyful and grateful for space and friendships and spring.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

icons for life and death

I was pondering today the fact that Christians use the cross as an icon of the Christian faith, and finding it insteresting. To me it isn't so much the cross that's important, because anyone can die. But an empty tomb just doesn't make a very good icon, I guess. I can see why the cross was chosen--it's gloriously gruesome and reminds us that God came here and died. Plus it's defiantly against Judaism, to whom it is an outrage to think the Messiah would die on the cross. And it also elicits some nice, controlling emotions like guilt for the suffering we caused.

But I was thinking how interesting it is that it's so much easier to iconize (idolize) death than life. It's what we do in our media so often, with all sorts of movies about romantic war heroes and such. When someone dies they're a martyr, and we can remember them as an icon for some laudable act. But when someone's hard to make that an icon. It's still going on. It can't be captured in an image or a trite phrase.

I think that's what Christianity should be about--and yet, we make an icon of the cross, the part we can control, the part that's finished, the death. But what do we make of the life, the Living Presence of God, the fact that God isn't done living and acting in the world? We can't make an icon of that...but it's all too easy to forget.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

passion of the quakers

Finals are over! So now I'll have time to get back to blogging. This will be my last response to QuakerK's post "Why Quakerism isn't Evangelical Christianity." Thanks again, QuakerK, for such an excellent post! It provided much food for thought.

By the way, make sure and read the comments from my other responses to QuakerK's post. There are some excellent thoughts and correctives from others--I don't profess to know everything about Quaker history (or to interpret it all accurately!) so it's good to hear other people's perspectives and information I didn't know.

QuakerK said:
The last, and I think, most important point, is a general one: when I read the early Quaker writings that I admire and am inspired by--Fox, Nayler, Penington, Penn, Woolman (though he's not so early), the tone of those writings is much different, to me, than reading, say, one of the more evangelical articles from Quaker Life. Jesus and Christ just aren't very prominent in early Quaker writings. That's not to say that they are not in the background, but the emphasis is very different.

I almost totally agree with QuakerK here. In my previous responses I've explained my thoughts on early Quakers' inclusion of Jesus in their writings so I won't write about that again. But I agree that the tone of Quaker writings is different in the past than it is now. Obviously some of this has to do with living in different cultures and the fact that different writing styles are popular (and although we all sometimes write run-on sentences most of us now have very different ideas of proper puntuation...), but is there something deeper?

The two major differences I see are these: 1) early Friends were a new group, and they were excited about this new community and wanted to convince other people to be part of what they were feeling led to (some even might call this a form of evangelizing...). 2) Early Friends' writings show an amazing passion. They weren't afraid to say what they thought, be it controversial, rather harsh words for their community and the world around them, or passionate expressions of their faith experiences.

These two things went together, probably--they were a part of a "quiet revolution," but this profound spiritual explosion was anything but quiet in their lives. They had found people to journey with who they connected with on a spiritual level. They challenged each other and encouraged each other and met often for meeting (even when it was illegal) and for planning the ministries they felt called to work on. They spoke out strongly, firmly, but uncynically about the injustices they saw around them and the abuse of faith they saw in the churches of their day. They risked their lives to do what they felt was right, and were willing to suffer the consequences as a community. They were figuring out together what it meant to be a member of the Religious Society of Friends, and they were excited to go through that defining process together.

I wonder if now that we're a fairly settled denomination we've just lost some of that fire because we're not new anymore. Maybe it's kind of like being in love--you have that warm fuzzy feeling for a while and it's exciting and new and you're willing to risk a lot (loss of sleep, letting other frienships fall by the wayside, others making fun of how much time you spend together, etc.) to be with that person. Then after you're together for a while, you are still completely in love, but the feelings change. Now this is normal life, the early getting to know each other and feeling out the relationship is over, and you're comfortable in your relationship and your love. Sometimes maybe you feel too comfortable--where's that passion you once had?

Our culture tends to solve this problem by ending the relationship and going to find that warm fuzzy feeling again. But in my experience it's in the too-comfortable stage where the real love begins, as you work through everyday stuff together and figure out what it means to stick with one another through thick and thin. Love is in all those little choices of how to talk to one another, how to work through conflicts, how to communicate in the ways the other needs.

Maybe it's the same with our spirituality. It happens over centuries sometimes, so it's harder to see. But it seems like a lot of times we just go along in a denomination until the life has fizzled out of it, then someone wants to revive that warm fuzzy feeling, and generally they break away and form their own new denomination. That's why there are so many denominations today. (It happens on a personal level, too--people church hop, staying somewhere as long as it meets their needs and then leaving for another group once the going gets tough.)

But where's our sense of loyalty? Where's our courage to work and listen and truly love one another? I think when we do this, when we truly work on stuff and remember what we love about each other (in interpersonal relationships as well as the church), we eventually experience a new kind of passion, a deeper, more mature passion, than the "love" we had wanted back. Love is in this hard work, it's in the committment to move ahead together and to try to learn what will work best.

Some people stay married and don't face into these problems. Their conversations become bland, they don't really know each other anymore, it's just two people living in the same house, bound by law but not by love. This happens in the church too, and I wonder if this isn't part of what QuakerK is sensing in the change in the writing of present-day Friends. We've already been divorced from those we feel we really can't get along with--that's why we have four branches of Friends. But those we're with now in some ways are just as bad. We don't know them anymore. We aren't being challenged, we aren't given a place to express creativity or true calling or passion.

But a lot of Friends, still feeling bound by "law," write dutiful articles in Quaker Life about a Jesus they don't really know and aren't in love with. Quakers in liberal circles write their own articles about social justice matters, but often with underlying cynicism, knowing the work they are doing won't really change anything. They too have lost their fire, their true reason for doing the justice work they're doing. We all sit in meeting, programmed or unprogrammed, putting in our time and working to some degree while we're there on building relationships with others there, but then we go home and forget what's been shared, forget wy we're Quaker, forget why we sit in silence or sing songs or listen to people speak about God.

So what can we do? Our relationships are failing. We're bound by our Quaker married name, we profess many of the same "laws." But where's the passion? Can we spark it again without more splits? Quakers splitting is similar in my mind to a divorce psychologist getting divorced. Can we practice what we preach, listen well to God and one another, and be moved into a deeper, more loving spirituality together than we've ever experienced before?

So as a general response to the post "Why Quakerism isn't Evangelical Christianity," I would say a resounding yes: Quakerism was never meant to resemble the Evangelical form of Christianity that it now does in many meetings. It also was never meant to resemble the form it holds in liberal Quakerism, or even middle-of-the-line Friends United Meeting. Conservative Friends are doing their best to live out the original vision of Friends, which is incredibly laudable, and I haven't been around them enough to know if it's working or not. But I would suspect that just trying to go back to the old days isn't enough. We need to grow and deepen and mature as a community, being willing to listen hard to not just do what we've always done, but to do new things which will meet the hungering needs of our aching spirits.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


OK, it's finals week. So you all know I've been reading for theology, but I have to prove that to my professors. It's my last final, Friday afternoon, so hold me in the Light if you think of it! =)