Saturday, October 27, 2007

whatever kindles

I just got home from a play called Whatever Kindles. It's about Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group that does nonviolent resistance, intervention and accompaniment in conflict situations around the world. This play is by a f/Friend of mine named Tricia Gates Brown, and it is amazing! This was the first time the play has been produced ever (well, last night was the first performance). Tricia did a wonderful job of showing the good things about CPT, the hard things, and the internal struggles that happen when in the midst of conflict situations--how everything is suddenly not so black and white, so easily categorized, so easy to tell people to "just get along"...

In the play the characters tell their stories of involvement with CPT, their hopes, fears, doubts, uncertainties, joys, and conviction. It was inspiring, but not in the way that you want to go out and join up, but in the way that it forces you to seriously think about all the options, and hits you squarely in the conscience in a way that's hard to ignore.

I've wanted to join CPT for several years now but the timing hasn't been right yet. Now with a little baby I don't know when the timing will ever be right, so I ask myself, why not now? If not now, when? Other people's children live in those conflict areas (Israel/Palestine, Colombia, Iraq, etc.), and they can't leave. How can I say, "I have a child," as an excuse not to go help them? At the same time, is it helpful to put myself and my child's future at risk unnecessarily when my being there won't change the situation for those other kids and families?

But the thing is, my being there would change the situation. For some reason, when people are there watching, others have a harder time being so violent. When those involved in using violent force encounter someone who sees them and treats them as a human, they are less able/willing to dehumanize all the people they are told to victimize. So my being there could change the level of danger for someone else's kids, and it's not likely I would die (only one CPTer, Tom Fox, has ever died as a result of their presence in these conflict areas).

And even if I died, wouldn't that have a positive effect (in some ways) on my little boy, who would grow up knowing that I lived what I believed and was willing to die for it?

I guess I just feel like a hypocrite sometimes--no, maybe more than sometimes. I feel like I do a lot of talking but not much putting my life on the line, not much where I have to get outside my comfort zone. At the same time, CPT is a "safe" thing for me to do that would sound really amazing and world-altering, but am I able to do peacemaking in my own community? Shouldn't I start here? Am I willing to step out and "Get in the Way" (as is the CPT motto) here, where I have more at stake? Even closer to home, am I willing to work on the places of violence in my own heart here and now, to make peace in my relationships and family? Wouldn't it be just as hypocritical to go out and try to make other people make peace without making peace in my own area of influence?

Perhaps, but at least I need to be doing something. How much waiting around and planning and "getting educated" can a person do before they act? Will a person actually act if they get stuck in the rut of "preparation"? I need some motivation to actually get out there and do something.

The title of the play comes from a quote by Theresa de Avila, where she says to do "whatever kindles love." What kindles love in me? What kindles love in you? Why is it so hard to get ourselves to do the things we love and are truly passionate about?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

status anxiety

I just read this book by Alain de Botton, and I've been thinking a lot about the topic of status anxiety as I prepare to give a message in worship on Sunday. We're doing a series on "Generosity, Stewardship & Simplicity," and so the title for my message is "Your Money or Your Life: a spirit of fear or a spirit of generosity?" I'm excited about it and have a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head, but it's hard to condense them into what I think is really important to say in 15-20 minutes. (Side note: it's amazing how 15-20 minutes talking in front of people sounded so long and scary in high school! I remember having to do a speech for that long and thought I would never have enough to say to fill that time.)

Basically what I've been thinking about is how much time, energy and resources we throw into maintaining our current status of living, at least for most of us in middle (and higher) class America. It seems like we have plenty to be generous with, but then we rope ourselves into mortgages, car payments, jobs with limited vacation time, and other responsibilities that "every good parent" or "every good citizen" should be involved in and care about. Thinking about giving up some of our money or time and living at a lower standard of living is scary. Why? Because we've bought into the idea that our status in the social hierarchy is a moral value.

De Botton does an excellent job of explaining this in his book. It's a book of philosophy at a very readable level, and he explains the problem in the first half of the book and then different angles of a solution to the problem. I appreciate that he doesn't just name the problem but that he tries to help us see a way out. (I'm not so good at that--I can name the problems all day long, but actually working toward a solution??? Someone else needs to do that part!)

So anyway, he explains how in medieval times, it was seen as an a priori truth that some people were born as nobles with privilege, and most were not, and that those were our God-given stations in life. As the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution occurred, it wasn't necessary to be born with privilege to be able to earn money and a name for oneself anymore. So now, since it's theoretically possible for anyone to make money and be "successful" in America, anyone who isn't can be seen as morally inferior. In medieval times, one didn't have to feel bad that one was a serf (or at least not as bad), because that was just the way things were. Now, if you're poor and can't get a good enough job to feed your family but you can't get an education because you have to work to at least put a little food on the table, you're labeled morally less worthy because you can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Money has become the indicator of who is a "good" person, to a large extent.

And Christians, and Quakers even, have bought into this system.

It's not that most of us are afraid we won't have enough to cover basic necessities, it's that we're afraid people will think we can't take care of ourselves and aren't worth as much in their eyes because of it. The funny thing is that even simplicity has become a status symbol in some ways--Quakers act holier-than-thou because we shop organic or have a more fuel-efficient car or take retreats to meditate, but all these things are symbols of our financial status as well. We're a sub-group of snobs who act like we want to change the world but really we just want people to like us.

Ouch, that was harsh. Sorry, somebody's got to say it! And I'm guilty of it, too. But how do we get ourselves out of this status binge? How do we learn to allow God to name our status and not worry about what others think? What's the balance between having enough to live on and not going overboard to getting more and more stuff to try to fill the void of wanting to be loved?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

themes in the hebrew scriptures

Tonight I taught a small group on themes in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament, but that doesn't honor the fact that God still speaks through them very well). As I was prepping for the class I read a bunch of the book A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, Petersen), which is very well done, I thought. I got a lot of good information out of it and appreciated their intentionality about looking at the writings on their own terms, not putting 2000 years of Christian thought directly into them, but looking at what the text says and creating an interaction between the text and Christian traditional theology.

Anyway, one of the themes I was working on was the theme of the law, which isn't usually one of my favorite parts of the Bible because a) it's kinda' boring, b) we don't follow most of those laws anymore anyway, and c) some of the laws are even hurtful to women or other groups. But some things about how they talked about the law in this book stood out to me: first, the laws were given to a people who had already been redeemed, i.e. bought out of slavery, by God--they were already in relationship with God. These laws were put in place to help them live the best possible life in community. They were not rewarded when they obeyed, they just received the natural good consequences of living in positive relationship to others. They weren't punished when they disobeyed, except by the natural negative consequences of not living in right relationship with others.

Second, it pointed out that because of Israel's connection to the land (the Promised Land), the consequences of not living according to God's laws were seen played out on their land, and that was a huge thing for them. When they lived in right relationship with God and others, the land could be fruitful and produce as it was supposed to and provide health for them. When they didn't live in right relationship with God and others, the land suffered because of their selfishness and wars. Christians have forgotten this connection between our actions and the land we live in because we aren't a religion connected to a certain place. But I think we definitely need to remember this, and start living with respect for the Earth.

Third, the Levitical law doesn't use substitutionary language. The animals that are sacrificed aren't ever said to be "in place of" ourselves, but they are a sacrifice of God-given life, something that is a sacrifice for us to do without. God gave the life to the animal and accepted that life as a sacrifice showing the intention of the person to be in right relationship with God, even if it wasn't easy. Different people gave different sacrifices based on their level of wealth, so that every person had to give something that would truly be a sacrifice for them--something that was hard to go without. That was the way the Israelites worshiped God, through giving a tangible offering hopefully representing an inward reality.

That last one got me thinking about what it is that I sacrifice in worship. Do I sacrifice anything? Again, going back to the Romans 12:1-2 passage I talked about last week, it says that we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, for this is our spiritual worship. So do I truly offer my body for God to use as God wants? Sometimes...but most of the time I want to be in control, and it's hard to sacrifice anything that I find it difficult (read: not comfortable) to live without.

Well, I suppose offering my body as a living sacrifice at this point means I should be in bed sleeping while I have the chance (but don't worry--I think this blog's still on East Coast time but I'm on the West Coast so it's not as bad as it looks! =)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

americans, intimacy & the other

While watching a movie last night I had this epiphany: Have you ever noticed that in American media (books & movies, mainly) the archetypal way of showing intimacy is inevitably sex?

OK, so maybe that's really obvious. But I was thinking about the reasons for that, and why it bugs me. If I think of it as an archetype, it doesn't bug me as much, because it's just the form, the way of getting into our subconscious to tell us that intimacy is going on in that relationship. If that's the case, great--the problem is, when we see sex over and over as the only expression of intimacy we tend to try to live that way as a culture. The fact that movies, books, etc. use sex as the only way to show intimacy means that we have a large proportion of the people who grow up in this culture not knowing how to be intimate without being sexual. This, of course, can cause many problems, from parents who sexually abuse their children, to difficulties having deep friendships even with the gender we wouldn't otherwise be attracted to because we don't know how to separate our feelings of intimacy between sexual feelings and other forms of love.

I think this is an important piece connected with the topic I posted about the other day in my post invisibility & the other: we both want and refuse intimacy, because we both want and refuse responsibility for the other. In our media, showing a couple having sex shortly after meeting is what works because a) people don't want to sit through a several year-long movie showing the development of a healthy relationship based on something other than sex, and b) sex gives the illusion of intimacy even if that intimacy doesn't really exist (or couldn't at that point if it were real life). Moving straight to sex is often (but not always) in media a way to show intimacy without responsibility: we see the couple get together and be happy and "in love," and the movie ends, happily ever after. Sometimes we see one or both of the characters working for that love to some degree--being responsible for the other--but mainly that is a small little glitch in an otherwise perfect-looking relationship where there are no lasting struggles, nothing that might make one develop a deeper sense of true intimacy by being responsible for the other and sticking with them through thick and thin. (Obviously this is a gross generalization--there are movies and books out there that show true intimacy and people show each other unconditional love that is not based only on sex.)

But I think making a relationship move directly to sex like this makes people invisible to each other, because it either assumes that all there is to know about me/you can be known in a glance and we can therefore be completely and immediately intimate with one another (which of course is an all-time wish, love at first sight), or that there is no need to know the other before being physically intimate, because all we need to do is satisfy our sex drives and that will make us intimate. But neither of these brings responsibility for the other into the equation, and therefore the intimacy is flat.

In my opinion, this is extremely damaging to the health of our culture's relationships. We have a generation (or more) of people who don't want to, or don't understand the need to, put work into a relationship, and that from this working and struggling over obstacles together and learning each other day in and day out, from all of this comes intimacy, not from a meaningful glance and a tumble in bed (although both of these are good things, too!).

So, sex as an archetypal image for intimacy is OK, but if we take it literally it makes us invisible to one another: we just become bodies to fulfill physical urges, rather than true partners in life, each striving to be more responsible for the other than we even are for ourselves.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

quaker mecca

Today I watched a DVD of a National Geographic special called "Inside Mecca."

In our Yearly Meeting we joke about Newberg, Oregon being "Quaker Mecca," because it has George Fox University, Barclay Press, Newberg Friends, North Valley Friends, Second Street, Iglesia Evangelica los Amigos en Newberg, and West Chehalem Friends, as well as the Northwest Yearly Meeting headquarters. But calling Newberg the Quaker Mecca is totally different from the real Mecca (obviously...)

As I watched the DVD I found myself appreciating certain things about the idea of having a place and physical rituals to do together. The documentary showed three people on their pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that all Muslims are supposed to do at least once in their life to retrace the steps of Muhammad, and Abraham before him. Every year, 2 million Muslims come to Mecca for Hajj. They visit the Ka'abah, the mosque that they pray toward several times a day, and then they all leave the city for rituals signifying purification, forgiveness, and overcoming temptation.

Although I disagree with quite a few things about Islam, I can't help but be drawn to the physicality of their rituals and traditions. As a Quaker I dislike empty rituals, but rituals that still have meaning can be helpful and good. One ritual that my husband and I learned from some friends is called "The Birthday Questions." On each person's birthday we ask them three questions: What is a high point from the last year? What is a low point from the last year? What are you looking forward to in the next year? (We also sometimes use these questions at New Years and on our anniversary.) These are simple questions, but having this ritual helps us remember, reflect and be grateful for the gifts we've been given and the struggles we've come through. It also helps us get to know others better, and allows us to focus well on the person whose birthday it is, to really hear their heart. So I think some rituals can be helpful.

In Quakerism, of course, we have rituals, even though we don't call them that. Unprogrammed meetings have the ritual of entering the meeting space in silence and waiting for the Spirit to speak through those gathered. Programmed meetings have rituals of singing, reading scripture, and listening to the Spirit through someone who has been listening and preparing a message. Sometimes these rituals are helpful in bringing us to awareness of the presence of God, and sometimes they are dead forms.

But we don't often do very well at using physical actions to represent spiritual truths. That's what stood out to me most about the Mecca rituals. They show their desperate need for God by running (or walking quickly) back and forth between two hills, symbolizing Hagar's desperate search for water to give to her thirsty baby Ishmael. They go to the physical spaces to remember things that happened in their sacred history to Muhammad and Abraham. They throw pebbles at stone pillars to represent stoning Satan, overcoming temptation in their lives. And of course, the pilgrimage itself, the movement from the everyday places to the place of remembrance, is itself a ritual of physical import.

I think we as Quakers probably miss a lot by not using our bodies more often to connect spiritually to one another and to God.

Actually, now that I think about it, that's something that I noticed from the Romans 12:1-2 passage I talked about last weekend and posted in my "retreat!" post. It goes like this:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I noticed that this passage talks about our bodies, our spirits, and our minds. We worship through using our bodies and our minds, not just our spirits. It is "spiritual worship" to use our bodies and minds for God. As Quakers we probably see how our minds fit in to our spirituality, but I think we often forget that we need to allow our bodies to connect with God, too. I don't know what that would look like for you--dancing, playing a sport, playing music, resting, laughing, or creating some other physical ritual that is meaningful between you and God.

I don't think we should create rituals that everyone has to do in order to be spiritual, but I think it would be good to pay attention to the ways we use our bodies, and how those things are sacraments. All of life is a sacrament, as the early Friends taught. Perhaps we too often fall into the trap of Greek dualism, separating the sacred from the profane, not allowing our bodies to enter into our sacred time of meeting together and being in God's presence. I'm not sure how we can right this as a group, but maybe if individuals work on it in their own personal lives we can create meaningful spaces where our bodies can be used together to praise God.

Actually, the whole universe is Quaker Mecca, because we don't have to go to a certain place to be in the presence of God, or to remember God's faithfulness.

invisibility & the other

I went to a lecture last night by Corey Beals, a Quaker professor (and friend) who just wrote a new book called Levinas & the Wisdom of Love: the Question of Invisibility. Levinas is a postmodern philosopher (postmodern in the philosophical sense, meaning early- to mid-twentieth century, rather than postmodern in the American cultural sense, which is, apparently, now), a Jew who endured a work camp in France in WWII, and an amazingly powerful, profound and deep thinker. I may have written posts about him before, in my very early blog posts. I read some of his work for a class my first semester of seminary and really liked it, although I have questions about his view of women as "other" although he's trying to do something helpful. But that's for another post, and I really am not enough of a Levinas expert (or a Levinas expert at all...) to criticize.

Anyway, Corey did his dissertation on Levinas, so he had some great things to say and takes Levinas' thought in a helpful direction that I think Quakers can grasp onto. Corey talked about Levinas' theory that when we attend to the other above ourselves, that is when we are most human. Most of us don't do this so well, however, and end up attempting to either make ourselves "invisible," or make the other "invisible." We do this in many ways, which Corey went through quite thoroughly.

As I listened to the lecture I wondered, Why is it that we want to make ourselves invisible, or want to make others invisible? Of course it comes down to our fear of the tremendous responsibility we have for the other when we allow ourselves to truly see them. And yet, at the same time, we have this insatiable desire to be seen, to be known truly for who we are, to not be categorized or dismissed, but to be truly seen.

At the same time we have a huge problem with being seen in this way. For some reason it's incredibly scary to be so transparent, to take off our masks and let others see in to who we are. It's easier to block ourselves off, to make ourselves "invisible" to others so they can't see our real selves, than to experience the pain of showing our real selves and being dismissed and made invisible by others.

It is also easier to put up walls so we can't see others--these can be physical or intangible walls--so we don't see their pain, which we would be required to ease, so we don't see the fact that we're causing them pain, which we would definitely be required to right. We put up walls by making enough middle-men (or middle-women) so that we don't really know what we're doing is hurting others, so the responsibility is not ours. The classic example of this, of course, is the military--no one is ultimately responsible for others' deaths, because those who order it don't carry it out, and those who carry it out are just following orders. But we do this in so many other ways, too: I don't know where my shoes come from! How could I know if they were made in a sweat shop? Or just living as we "must" in America because there's no other way to live (so we justify to ourselves), even though the way we live costs the lives of others the world over each day just so we can have the luxuries we've come to need.

So it comes down to the problems of intimacy and responsibility. We all want intimacy, but we don't really want responsibility. And yet, with intimacy comes responsibility to be a safe place for that intimacy to grow and blossom. Why is that so hard? Especially in our meetings, I see this as a huge problem. We say we want to be close to each other, but we do not create the time to get to know anyone on a deep level. We don't take the time to listen to the Spirit together in an intimate way. We listen to the Spirit together in safe ways, where we all follow the rules of the gathered meeting, and where people are eldered if they break those rules.

I would suggest that because we've lost almost all levels of intimacy with one another, we have lost intimacy with God. Levinas says it is in the face to face encounter with the other, the true seeing of the other, that we encounter God. I suggest that if we do not allow ourselves true encounters with the other, we cannot see God and we cannot live out the responsibility we have to follow God in ways that are meaningful. We put up walls so we don't have to truly see each other because we fear the responsibility we would have to face into. These walls keep us from a true and intimate relationship with God.

It reminds me of a Dar Williams song called "What Do You Hear in These Sounds" about how she likes going to her therapist. She says:

And I wake up and I ask myself what state I'm in
And I say well I'm lucky 'cause I am like East Berlin
I had these walls and what I knew of the free world was
That I could see their fireworks and I could hear their radios
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they'd know that I was scared, they would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down, and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling and their calling out
Just like me

So why is it so scary to be ourselves? And why is it so hard to be responsible?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Why is it that it's so hard to get important stuff done that I really want to get done but that takes some effort? I am currently procrastinating, because although blogging takes some effort it's not the same as some other things, like working on editing a paper I want to see if I can get published, or reading academic things I'm interested in but that are work to get through. (Or then there's the cleaning that could be done...but I did most of that yesterday so I don't feel too bad about that!)

Anyway, while I'm writing a post, I'll tell about the weekend I just had, as referred to in my last post. We went to a really nice cabin with 10 was perhaps a little TOO nice for my taste, with a TV in almost every room (flat screens) and a Wii game thingy-jobber, an automatic espresso machine, etc. But it was a nice place to be able to relax with a group of people.

My baby son didn't like it so much. We were sick last week, and just a couple days after he recovered we took him to this weird place, so he didn't sleep well, hence we didn't sleep well. But that goes with the territory of babies! He was fine during the day...and there were 2 other babies there to keep him company, so he had fun.

My parts of the retreat went well, I thought. The first night was best. The weekend theme was "Answering the Call" and I spoke on Friday night about the Call to Christ and Saturday night about the Call to Ministry in the Body of Christ. I liked the first one because I got them talking about when they first heard and responded to the Call of Christ--their conversion/convincement experience, and/or an experience of turning to Christ that has been significant since that point. It seemed like it got them talking on a deeper level with each other than they probably have before. It was cool to hear their stories, too. Then we talked about how hearing the call to Christ isn't a one-time thing, but it's a continual "renewing of our minds," as it says in Romans 12:2, which is the text I used. We have to turn and turn and turn back to Christ because we get distracted or lazy. So I presented some tools to use to practice being aware of God's presence and growing spiritually in a positive direction. It felt like that night was community building, depth-producing, and helpful. The second night was OK, but not as good.

OK, I'm going to do something more productive now. I am, I really am! Before the baby wakes up...

Friday, October 05, 2007


This weekend I'll be helping lead a retreat for some young adults from a meeting here in Oregon. The topic is "Call to a Life of Faithfulness," and I'm speaking/facilitating Friday night on "Call to Christ," and Saturday night on "Call to Ministry within the Church." So I'd appreciate if you'd pray for me/hold me in the Light this weekend, that I'll be faithful to the message I've been given, that it will come across in a way people can understand, and that God will be present and active.

I'm using Romans 12 as a text, especially the first two verses:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect."

These are some of my favorite verses, about the very essence of what it is to be a faithful Christ-follower. The rest of the passage gets into how to do this in community, which is key, because we can't do this by ourselves. So that's kind of where I'm going with this, giving some tools for putting yourself in a place where you can be transformed, and talking about the love of Christ which allows us to work together as one body.

Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, October 01, 2007

the red tent

I just finished the book The Red Tent the other day, by Anita Diamant. It's an excellent book--a novel about the life of Dinah in Genesis, the daughter of Jacob who, we are told, was raped by the prince of Shechem, Jacob was offered a bride-price, and he asked that all the men of Shechem be circumcised as well, then he and his sons went in and killed them all while they were recovering.

The novel is told from the perspective of Dinah, and she tells about her life with the women of Jacob's tribe, etc. As opposed to some other novels based on biblical women, this one is well done and has strong female characters who are connected with the Divine but not the "male" god of Jacob.

It moved me to tears thinking about all the stories of my sisters and mothers that have been lost or changed just because they don't fit the "male" mold of what it is that God is like. I don't know that there's a "feminine" and a "masculine" way of seeing God or aspects of who God is, because probably in many ways "feminine" and "masculine" are just social constructs, different in every society but with some similarities based on our physical bodies and roles. But as I talked about in my post about women in the Bible, part of the stuff that gets left out of male-dominated religion is stuff that is mysterious or scary to men, but is natural and part of what makes a woman a woman. To not be able to celebrate these things, to not have stories that connect us with our mothers, to hide the things that happen in us that bring forth life, to be told these things are unclean, is so damaging to both women and men!

How much have we lost over the millenniums because women's voices have been squashed in religious contexts? I agree that there is only one God, which is a major reason goddesses have been rooted out of Judeo-Christian religion, but God is not male and is not afraid of women's particular gifts--and in fact gave us those gifts. The gifts of creation of life and the mystery of flowing with the seasons is something that connects us to God, a way I believe women are made in the image of God, rather than something that makes us unclean.

How can we recover these stories? How can we make the stories of feminine connection with the Divine part of our faith tradition? How can we do so without destroying the True Church?