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.

Monday, June 12, 2006

quaker preacher?

Today was the first time I had the honor of preaching (or "bringing the message," as they call it at this meeting) in my new internship position. I've preached a few times before, but it's always been about a specific topic, so this was a kind of new experience. I felt pretty good about it as far as delivery and preparedness. It was interesting going through the process of getting ready to preach, because it's one of the things I dislike most about the thought of perhaps becoming a "released minister." I wouldn't want to have to feel forced to think up a sermon every week.

But today was a great experience, because I feel like I caught a glimpse of what it might be like if done well. Not on my end, necessarily, but I felt like I was able to share my heart, things I'd learned and studied and thought about, held in the Light, looked at from different angles, and I was ready to share what I'd been given, and I floated it out there in the best way I knew how, trusting God to do the rest.

And it was incredible sitting in open worship (10-15 minutes of unprogrammed time in a programmed meeting) after the message and hearing what people shared that filled out my own words and thoughts in ways I hadn't thought of, or hadn't had time for, or were filled with the passion of their own history and personality.

I think if I were in any other denomination I would hate preaching. I would hate having to come up with something that will speak to every person in that room, something that will change their life beyond Sunday morning...but here, I don't have to do that. Even if I totally bombed the sermon, God can still speak through that experience to people, or at the very least God can speak to them in the time of open worship afterwards. I enjoyed the collaborative feel, the communal feel, of all of us listening together. I've been given the honor of being paid to sit around and listen to God and bring what I hear to the meeting, but it wouldn't be the same if everyone else wasn't listening to the same God and able to share their pieces as well.

It's an incredibly humbling process when looked at from this angle. It's not about me at all, but about God speaking through me, and through others present, to create a picture that wouldn't be the same if any of us weren't faithful to contribute our piece--even if that piece is just to show up and participate in worship. In this way I think programmed worship continues to be Quaker when done well. The same Spirit is present, the same sense of equality prevails, only we use different tools to help us center and attend to God.

Another reason I'm glad I'm a Quaker today: I met a lady at my cousin's graduation party and when she heard I was working as a pastoral intern at a church this summer she asked me about my future goals, "What are you hoping to do? Will you do women's ministry?"

I told her I might be a pastor of some sort, or perhaps a teacher at a university, and undoubtedly I would work with women but not only women. My wonderful Quaker grandfather chimed in with, "Men need good pastors and teachers too!"

Friday, June 09, 2006


The other night I watched the movie "Munich" about the Jewish hostages at the Munich Olympics, and the men who were hired by the Israeli government to kill all those who planned the hostage-taking. It was a really violent movie, unfortunately, and in some ways more slanted toward seeing the situation from the Israeli perspective, but the movie was well done. I think the people who made the movie were honestly trying to show both sides, and to show the futility of violent retaliation.

One of the ideas that stood out to me was when the main character realized that there were people replacing those they killed--and most of the replacements were even worse than the ones who'd been murdered. He has a conversation with a Palestinian who doesn't know the other man is a Jew, and they're talking about the situation, and the Palestinian talks about what people will do when they're desperate for a place to call home. The main character realizes this is the same aching feeling as his own people have had for centuries. He knows what people will do because of that feeling--they'll do exactly as he's doing.

It's so sad to me that people can do this to one another. How can anyone ever convince themselves that a whole group of people has to die in order for their group to have a homeland? I know, it's easy for me to say--I'm comfortable in this country that was taken from another group of people. But I don't know why anyone would do that to another people group. It doesn't fit inside my perception of what makes logical sense. Can't people see that if they attack someone, the other person will feel they have the right to attack back, and do more damage? Can't they see that retaliating violently against others doesn't increase their security but destroys it? And even though it worked for Americans to completely obliterate the way of life of the Native Americans, don’t people realize yet that other cultures as just as valuable, intricate and civilized as our own?

After assassinating a bunch of people, the main character is too paranoid to sleep in his own bed and walk down the street, because he knows others have reason to hurt him back. How has this solved anything?

And how can people think they are doing the right thing? How can Israel think it's doing the right thing in exterminating the Palestinians, building walls around them, keeping food from them, when it received this land as reparation for the Germans doing these same things to them? How can they not see they are becoming the same as their oppressors? How can we as Americans think we can force freedom on the people of Iraq by invading their country, when we know very well that if anyone invaded our country we would do everything in our power to resist? How can people convince themselves that it is logical to use violent force?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

intergenerational community

Tonight my husband and I went to visit his grandparents in the retirement home where they live. For me it's a familiar place, because my great grandparents lived there when I was growing up, two of my grandparents live there in an apartment, and also these grandparents-in-law live there. It's a Quaker retirement community, and it's great hearing people's stories of growing up knowing of each other, going to college together, going off to various jobs, and coming back to retire here. It's pretty crazy to imagine myself there with my college friends in 50 years!

Every time I visit the Manor, as we call it, I'm reminded of why our communities need to be multi-generational. I'm not someone who is particularly drawn to ministry with older adults, but the people at the Manor are incredibly warm and welcoming, cheerful and friendly. We met several people last night with whom we made connections--went to the same seminary, they know my relatives, she grew up down the street from my grandma, etc. There's a sense of life and vitality in them that is often absent in younger people, where you'd expect it to be more present. Probably part of that is the fact that they can do whatever they want all day (within reason)--I can't wait to be retired! But part of it there at the Manor is all these people who have grown old in the presence of God, and I can see their Inner Light shining so brightly.

My grandparents-in-law are this way. She had a stroke so she can't walk very well and her voice is very weak, but you can tell she's just as sharp as ever. He takes care of her, patiently and humbly, and shared with us last night that he still can't believe he was the one to get her and all those other guys missed out! Their passion for their faith and their unashamed living of it is contagious and heartening. They are prayer warriors in the best sense of the word, holding others in the Light daily and probably hourly. They shared about the meeting they attend, how it now hardly meets in the sanctuary but has become a "coffeehouse church," where people come have coffee, chat, someone shares from up front a way they've seen God recently, and they sing a few songs. Grandpa shared that he's completely happy attending this meeting for worship, because it's like when they were ministering in Burundi--you have to listen to God to know what will connect with the culture, and he's happy doing whatever it is that God's doing in that area to help people's souls recognize the presence of the Divine.

I hope when I'm older I will be as immersed in the power and love of the Light of Christ as they are, as in love with my husband and as willing to reach out to those around me in new ways. There is much we can learn from each generation. I hope we listen well to that of God in those older than us, and when it's our turn we can share their love and Light along with ours to future generations.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

fun run

Last night I ran in the Fun Run (although I didn't run backwards the entire way, as I'm doing in this picture). The Fun Run happens every year before Portland's Starlight Parade. I ran with my husband and in laws and a couple friends--and about 2000 other people! It's only 3.1 miles and lots of people dress up for it in crazy costumes. Since it's right before the parade there are a bunch of people lining the streets, and we joked about how nice it was for all of them to turn out to see us run.

It made me think about how important encouragement is. Running 3 miles last night was a piece of cake, when for the last several days as I've been "training" for this run and practicing running the three miles it's been hard work, tiring, draining, exhausting. I'm not even an extrovert, but having all those people there, the energy of the crowd, all the random stuff to look at, and all the other people there running made it so much easier and more exciting. It did feel like we all had our own personal fan club, because people would yell from the sidelines, "Great job! Keep it up! You can do it!" Little kids crowded the edges of the streets wanting runners to give them a high-five as they went by.

I was thinking about this as a metaphor for life and faith. Even though no one can make the running any easier physically--I still have to propel myself from one end of the race to the other, and I'm the only one who can live my life--somehow it's easier when there are others there cheering, noticing the effort I'm putting in, yelling out encouragements. There's an energy and a sense of joy that comes from feeling suported.

What if we intentionally did this in our lives for others, and what if we as communities (whether families, church communities, schools, work places, etc.) would focus on intentionally encouraging one another? What if we shared the load of this race of life by cheering one another on, taking special notice, showing up to encourage those we don't even know? Wouldn't it be a much better world? Wouldn't it be much easier to run well the race before us?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

pastor cherice

Ha! That'll be the day! But seriously, I started my new job yesterday, interning at a meeting here in the Portland area. I was excited about it already, and now I'm really excited because I have more of a feel for what it's going to be like. I hung out with the pastor at a coffee shop yesterday and chatted about the internship and the meeting community. I'm so grateful to be given this chance to help out with their meeting, to be trusted to come in and teach them things, and hopefully to learn.

Today I worked on preparing for a sermon that I get to preach on June 11. I'm excited about it, although it's hard work preparing a sermon. At the same time, it feels Spirit-led. I think if I had to prepare something every week it wouldn't necessarily feel Spirit-led, but I'm having fun so far thinking and praying about the topic I chose, studying the Greek and seeing how it illumines the passage I'm working with, and connecting it with everyday life. I have a harder time thinking of cute stories to tell, like most "good pastors" seem to do. And I know I like that when I listen to preaching--I like hearing stuff based on the person's own experience and stories. So I need to listen a bit more around that and let God bring things to mind that illustrate the ideas I'll be sharing about.

I'm excited because although I love unprogrammed worship and choose to go to unprogrammed meetings over programmed ones when I have the choice, I'm also growing in appreciation for the ability God has of being present in the preparation process for meetings for worship. If God can tell me what to say in the moment, why couldn't God tell me beforehand so we can work out how to say it in a way that will be helpful to more people? I think we need both opportunities: the ability and the space for spontaneously listening and speaking what we hear, and the ability and space to prepare and think well in advance in order to speak truth in creative and helpful ways.

I'm also excited to get to help this meeting with leadership development. If you can't tell from my last several days of posts, I get a lot of energy and life from leadership development stuff. I think it's probably one of the things I'm most passionate about. It seems to me that pretty much anyone could be a good leader if given the proper tools and support. Maybe some people are natural leaders...but maybe it has a lot to do with the life situations they grew up in. For example, I'm kind of shy and really I probably wouldn't talk much in groups if I hadn't ever been asked to. But I'm the oldest child, the oldest of 9 grandchildren on one side where all of us cousins have grown up pretty close (physically and emotionally), and so in lots of ways I was the natural leader not because of my abilities but because I was the oldest, the responsible one, the one everyone would be looking up to. Yes, different people respond to this kind of thing differently and it wouldn't necessarily make everyone a leader (at least not a good one), but combined with some amazing adults in my life and experiences that have helped me grow, I have grown into a space where I am a competent leader, but I still understand that I'm not the best leader out there and it keeps me humble--but I think that's important in a leader, too.

So anyway, stuff about leadership really interests me, because in a lot of ways it's incredibly vague and in the eye of the beholder. There's a lot of power in leadership, and a lot of space to help people see that leadership isn't all about weilding power. I think leadership is something we don't always do well as Friends, because "we're all ministers," so we don't really train anyone. We all have the right to clerk or to share in meeting or to start a ministry we feel called to, so we don't really worry about helping people develop these kinds of skills. Maybe we think the Spirit will do that work for us, and definitely the Spirit is needed, but I think we also need to take an active part in helping one another feel supported and encouraged so they can lead with confidence. So I feel honored to be able to assist in that process with this meeting for the next few months.

samuel school

Samuel School is one of my favorite things about my home yearly meeting, Northwest Yearly Meeting. There is Samuel School I and II, I is for seventh graders and II is for juniors and a few seniors in high school. The goal is for each meeting in the yearly meeting to choose two (or more if they have them) youth that age in whom they see leadership potential and an openness to God. I must confess that I didn't go to either of them as a youth--I wasn't chosen as a seventh grader, probably because I was fairly shy and going through a lot at home that year, and in high school I already had a commitment the weekend of Samuel School II so I couldn't go. But since then I've been to each several times.

It's called Samuel School because of the story of Samuel and Eli in I Samuel 3. God speaks to Samuel, and Samuel thinks it's Eli, until they both realize it's God and Eli sends him back to listen and respond. These youth, "Samuels," attend Samuel School and go home to monthly meetings with their "Eli," an adult in their meeting who acts as a mentor, listening to their stories and helping them to hear when it's God who's speaking to them even when they can't recognize it as such.

Samuel School I aims to help kids think about the fact that God is speaking to them, and that they can hear it. It gives a few tools for discernment and ideas about what that might sound like. Campers are split into groups of 3-5 youth with an adult camp counselor, and after each class session they have time to journal and discuss the class with their counselor group.

Samuel School II is the one I just helped out with, and it's more in depth: not only is God speaking and it's possible to hear that, but the youth are given more specific tools to listen well and to understand what the "voice of God" means. It's not just an audible voice, not just major "donkey-talking" experiences (as one class teacher put it, referring to the prophet Balaam's donkey talking to him in Numbers 23), but in simple things, impressions, nature, thoughts, dreams, feelings in one's body, and other things. The weekend goes Friday evening through Monday noon, with classes entitled: Dialogue with Christ, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Gifts, Choosing a Vocation, Confronting Culture, and Transitions.

The focus in these classes is on the fact that God is speaking to us all the time, we're just not always paying attention. We're always being spiritually formed, but are we being formed into what we want to be and what God wants us to be? Our vocations won't be things we hate, but the place where the world's greatest need intersects with our greatest passion (Beuchner). We may have to do an occupation to pay the bills, but our vocation, what we're called to do and feel most fulfilled doing, should be what we focus on--not how much money we make. The transitions class helps these youth as they are going from high school into young adulthood to understand the transitions they'll be feeling so they can go through them more smoothly and with a greater sense of awareness and preparation.

In addition to these classes, we generally take the afternoon on Saturday and go do something fun and relaxing, like go to a town and let them roam free for a couple of hours. All day Sunday we go to a camp with a ropes course, and for three hours the youth and counselors have solo time and then for another three hours they experience the challenge of the high ropes course, confronting fears and learning to work together.

Most of these youth have never spent three hours alone without media, in nature, to focus on God. It's usually a pretty powerful experience even if they don't feel like they connected with God at all. They learn a lot about themselves and generally feel pretty vulnerable. The ropes course presents a varying degree of challenge, from physical to mental to spiritual. Some kids are athletic and not afraid of heights, others are the opposite, and everywhere in between. But it's a great analogy for life, having to trust someone at the end of a slender rope to keep you alive, and having to get past the psychological fear of being high off the ground. Most youth are able to draw amazing metaphorical connections between their experiences on the ropes course and their spiritual lives.

During the retreat it is also important that we worship together, eat together, and play many games together. It is stressed that God speaks just as much as we're playing games as when we're having solo time.

So all in all, I love Samuel School and think it's a tremendous ministry of our yearly meeting. It's interesting to see the people who counsel from year to year, and to know that nearly all of them went to Samuel School as youth and have stuck around, and are now involved in leadership--not out of a sense of obligation, but because they believe in this program and the things they learned about God through it. I think this is so important, because it is an actual training program for leadership, which is something I think Quakers aren't always particularly good at. Not to say that people who don't go to Samuel School can't be leaders, but just being chosen to attend helps youth to feel like someone's noticing them, someone is willing to journey with them in their spiritual life, and someone believes they have potential. These are tremendous gifts to give to a young person, especially as they're moving out of the "safety" of high school and youth group, and into the wide world of being able where they attend meeting for worship.