Sunday, September 22, 2013

published: geez magazine, "contemplation leads to peace"

In the most recent issue of Geez Magazine (Fall 2013), you'll find an article by me called "Contemplation Leads to Peace." The full text isn't available online, but you can order a paper or digital copy online. Geez is a great magazine, whose tagline is "holy mischief in an age of fast faith." They attempt to be a magazine that appeals to people who are interested in social justice and faith, but who question some of the ways that Christianity is expressed in American culture. Here's an excerpt from their "About Us" page:
A bustling spot for the over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable. A location just beyond boring bitterness. A place for wannabe contemplatives, front-line world-changers and restless cranks.
This issue was entitled "The Peace Issue," so I thought I'd give it a go and submit something. The piece I ended up writing focused on the idea that healthy peace activism comes out of a space of spiritual/mystical contemplation, and gave a couple examples of people who lived in that way.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

published: "eco-justice: the issue of our time"

Here's another article that I wrote recently, published in The Canadian Friend. It's called, "Eco-Justice: The Issue of Our Time," an issue that is incredibly important to me and one I have a growing sense of calling around. You can read my full article below, and go to The Canadian Friend website to get a PDF of the whole issue.

Friday, August 02, 2013

published: "short-term missions: evangelizing americans"

I haven't shared much about my trip to Mexico over Spring Break because I knew this article would come out eventually. I wrote a piece for Quaker Life that talks about my experience, and especially my son's experience and what it meant to me. Here's the first part of the article, and after that you have to go visit the Quaker Life site:

I went on a short-term mission trip to Mexico with my six-year-old son and about 90 other Friends from Oregon over Spring Break. I’m not always a fan of short-term mission trips, because sometimes it seems to be a lot of expense just so Americans going on the trip can have a chance to travel somewhere and feel good about themselves. However, I feel pretty good about this one. Several meetings in our area have collaborated for over 30 years to form a team fittingly called, Equipo (which means “team” in Spanish) that travels to San Luis, Mexico, to build houses every other year.

Within the last 10-12 years, Equipo created the motto, “Short-term missions with a long-term impact,” and we developed a sister-church relationship with Nueva Esperanza, a Baptist church in San Luis. Each year we pitch our tents on their “compound,” taking up most of the space they generally use for a soccer field. We worship together on...

Read more

I was the main photographer for the trip, so here's a slideshow of a bunch of pictures from the trip, most of them mine.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

hope: part 3

In my previous two posts on hope, I wrote about hope that comes from seeing the spiritual community built by followers of God's Spirit and then Jesus across time--the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, those in all times and places who have seen a vision of shalom and attempted to live in it, including many Friends, and including prophets who were willing to look quite strange in order to follow the Spirit in radically peaceable ways.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a way for the whole world to actually become more like the Kingdom of God—I’m not a proponent of the Social Gospel and its ideology of progressivism, which would have us believe that we’re on a historical trajectory toward a world with less injustice. In some ways this leads me to feel like all my desires for justice are futile. It makes me want to give up hope, to just be grateful that I’m comfortable and my needs are taken care of and not worry about anything else. It’s so tempting to just leave it at that. The Marxist aphorism that “religion is the opium of the people” is correct to some degree, but I would say the true opium of the people is comfort. Perhaps it’s religion that makes us comfortable, with the promise of a hereafter, or perhaps it’s achieving the American dream of a decent house, car, family, disposable income. I find myself falling more easily into this trap the older I get. I see the Baby Boomers, who believed so passionately in fighting against war and for civil rights that it defined their generation, and now where are they? Mainly, they’re living the American dream, or striving toward it. It’s easy to think, “Idealism is for the young,” and to become practical and realistic as I age, acquiring a mortgage, kids, schedules to keep and retirement to think about.

I’m not THAT old yet (although people who haven’t seen me for a while keep commenting on my gray streaks of late), and I’m not yet willing to give up on idealism. Hopefully that means I will never be too old for idealism.

Right now, I’m convicted that I don’t look “strange” enough. This is not to say that we should go out of our way to look different, but if someone looked at my life, comparing it to the life of other Americans, without being able to hear or read my words, would they see much that was different? They might see that I bike more than most Americans, that I spend more time at my meetinghouse than the average American, that I eat fairly healthily and grow some of my own food, and that I generally wear used clothes, but these (besides the meetinghouse part) would not be considered particularly strange for an Oregonian. Am I willing to make the real sacrifices that would be involved in following any of my senses of prophetic calling fully: eating and wearing only fairly traded and/or local food and clothing, fully refusing to support the oil industry for which we go to war and keep whole nations in subjugation, working actively against immigration injustices, building relationships across racial and/or socioeconomic boundaries, standing up against the policies of war and gun sales, refusing to pay war taxes, hosting soup kitchens….

I’m taking baby steps, but I fail all the time. I want a community to do this stuff with—a community in this time. I see people across time who have followed their passions and their convictions, who’ve listened to their Inward Light, who’ve taken baby steps, failed, and built or joined a movement. I pray for the grace to be one of those people, and for the grace of fellow travelers.

What keeps me filled with hope? The prophetic voice of my spiritual community across time, a heavy dose of tenacity and a refusal to let my fears define me. I choose to keep my Center as God, my true reality the Kingdom of God within. While I can’t create the Kingdom of God on Earth or a perfect spiritual community in my time, I can cultivate that Kingdom in myself, and allow it to break out into human history.

How about you? Would someone see from your actions that you have any particular prophetic calling?

How about us as a denomination? How are we living out any particular communal calling right now? Are we listening to the voices of the prophets in our midst? Are we speaking truth to power with our lives first, and then our voices? Are we oozing hope into our communities by sheer force of meditative will? What is your part in this? Are you willing to look strange in order to follow a prophetic calling? What do you sense that that would look like for you?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

hope: part 2

Time has a way of getting away from us, doesn't it? I started this "series" about three weeks ago, even though I've had all these posts written for months. That's what happens when I don't "schedule" them to post. In the spirit of this post topic, I "hope" that forthcoming posts will be more timely. In my first post on hope I shared about how, as a Christian, I know the answer to "What gives you hope?" is supposed to be, "Jesus," and that may be true to some extent, but I find incredible hope in seeing the work of Jesus and his Spirit across time, in the people and in the glimmers of the shalom Kingdom of God I see through their lives. Here's a bit about why.

Looking at the past, it’s all too easy to see why, for some, it provides the opposite of hope. Human history can seem like an endless litany of wars, political rivalries, genocides and betrayals.

And yet, there are glimmers of hope throughout history. I find my spiritual community as I learn about people who have heard and spoken about God across time. One of my favorite things about being a Bible and church history professor is rehearsing each semester the long human history of ways God has broken into human history in profound and life-changing ways. Yes, the Bible and church history have their share of recorded wars and political intrigue, legalism and petty quarrels, but they also show us a picture of a God who shows mercy, grace, righteous anger against injustice and who promises deep relationship with those who will walk in God’s ways. The prophetic and wisdom texts of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) remind us of the true center of faithfulness: acting in ways that uphold justice for the oppressed, even when it doesn’t feel like there’s any meaning to life. Jesus comes and offers the hope of the Kingdom of God here, now, and coming to fruition in new ways all the time. And in church history, right alongside the Crusades we see monks and nuns with a mystical bent like Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Francis and Clare of Assisi and many others who connect with God intimately and passionately, and who are called toward right action for the lowly of their society.

My more immediate spiritual community is my denomination: the Religious Society of Friends. Quaker history fills me with hope. We haven’t been a perfect denomination by any means, but at our best we are a people who seek after the Living God, who intentionally look for God and are led into situations where we see a need and work against injustice: prison reform, mental health reform, abolition, women’s suffrage, fair and healthful working conditions, fairly traded products, the list could go on. I’m so grateful for the kindred spirits I see in Friends history: ordinary people taking small steps against injustice and making a real difference in the direction of human history—ordinary people becoming prophets.

It’s important to note that Friends often reject the first prophetic voice(s) on any issue for a number of years, like John Woolman. But I love that in so many cases in our history, the voice of the prophet has (eventually) been listened to and then many Friends have joined social justice efforts.

Recently I read that the original meaning of the Hebrew word for “prophet” had more to do with the strange actions of a person rather than that person’s words.[1] Prophets were people who looked different from those around them because they were focused on the spiritual world and committed to living in that world fully. These prophets looked strange because of their intentional, Spirit-led actions, and only then were they given a voice to speak against the injustice in their cultures.

But am I, are we as 21st century Friends, willing to listen to the prophets of our time? Are we willing to BE the prophets of our time? Prophets in the past lived in ways that showed up injustice, calling for their society to change in ways that might require letting go of some measure of comfort for those at the upper income levels of their community. Are we willing to make such "sacrifices" so that justice is available to everyone the world over, not just the wealthy, not just United Statesians or people of whatever country we live in? Are we willing to help build a spiritual community, the Kingdom of God, across time and without borders?

In hope: part 3, expect to hear a bit about my own story, personal challenges and questions about holding onto and living into hope, and some queries for us all.

[1] Goldingay, John, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1: Israel’s Gospel, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003, p. 668.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

hope: part 1

I recently attempted to write an article from the prompt: "What gives you hope?" I utterly failed in the attempt. It's really gotten me thinking, however, about the concept of hope. I find myself to be a fairly hope-full person. Sure, I see all the inequity in the world and all the problems, I see the insufficiencies in myself, and yet I feel so much hope each day. (Well, most days, at least.)

In some ways I feel like the kid in the following joke: A Sunday school teacher asked the class, "What's brown, furry, has a bushy tail and likes to eat nuts?" A kid tentatively raised his hand and said, "I know the answer is supposed to be 'Jesus,' but it sure sounds like a squirrel!" As an Evangelical Friend, I know the answer to "What gives you hope?" is supposed to be an unqualified, "Jesus!" And to this I say, "Yes...but...." And here's a bit of "Why." I think this will take a few posts, because otherwise you'll never read to the end!

When I began writing this article, I thought that I locate hope in history: in seeing the people who have allowed God to transform their lives in world-changing ways. As I mulled over this thought some more, I realized that what brings me hope about these people is that they provide a spiritual community that reaches across time. They whisper words of encouragement in my ear and give me courage. They cheer me on. They make me feel like I’m not crazy—although that’s debatable, since people who have been dead for hundreds or thousands of years are apparently talking to me! Despite that, I’m reminded of the passage about the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12, following the famous chapter in Hebrews 11 that recounts the story of so many strange and misfit heroes and heroines of the faith.

I realized that in their stories and the stories of so many others since then, I can see that I’m not alone in yearning for the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, the utopian dream of a perfect world, a “more perfect union,” heaven on Earth, shalom. We all see it—perhaps as if in a mirror, dimly (1 Cor 13:12), or maybe even distorted like a carnival mirror—but we all know what it’s like to wish and hope and dream for a better world. Some of us hold onto this hope, and some seem to just give up, knowing it will never come and deciding it’s not worth striving for.

I’m not trying to say the Kingdom of God will come into the whole world in physical time and space (in any way short of the Apocalypse, if indeed that should even be taken literally). In some ways this leads me to feel like all my desires for justice are futile and it makes me want to give up hope, to just be grateful that I’m comfortable and my needs are taken care of and not worry about anything else. It’s so tempting to just leave it at that.

But Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you and among you” (Luke 17:21, Amplified Bible), and I think by living into that Kingdom, we’re participating in a spiritual community that isn’t bound by time. By actively seeking that Kingdom and by moving toward it, we’re allowing a portal to open up into our world, a portal of Light and hope, a window into that universally yearned for shalom. When we do this, we are living in the Kingdom of God, and we are bringing that Kingdom to others, the Inward Light of Christ pouring out into the world like a light through a clear window on a dark night. This provides me the beginnings of hope.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

what do you do when your sunglasses break? and other ethical dilemmas

Elvis glasses laying around the house
My sunglasses broke the other day. This brings up an ethical dilemma for me. Does this happen for you? I wonder, “Should I buy a new pair of sunglasses from the Dollar Store, where I only have to pay $1, therefore being a good steward of my resources, or do I buy them from somewhere else and pay $20 for them, knowing they were probably made in about the same sweat shop as the Dollar Store ones?” There’s no way I’m paying more than $20 for them because this is not an isolated experience. It generally happens a couple times a year. In fact, I’m pretty proud of myself that I held onto these ones as long as I did. I got them toward the end of last summer when I lost a previous pair, and I’ve had them for about ten months—albeit ten months of rain (plus a serve trip to Mexico and a vacation to Costa Rica).

Then come the questions of waste. What do I do with the old ones? They’re no good to anyone anymore, cracked and lens-less as they are, and they can’t be recycled, so they go to a landfill. Did you know there’s a trash continent in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? It’s referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is mainly made up of plastic debris and decomposing bits of plastic that harm wildlife and introduce non-native species as the plastic floats from place to place. Search for “trash continent” on YouTube—it’s gross! And landfills are not any prettier. Worldwide and even in the United States, studies show that landfills are disproportionately near the communities of people of color. Americans cause a lot of waste worldwide, but the middle-upper class white population is hardly required to face into this waste because it’s sloughed off in minority areas or in less-developed countries. Not only is my trash an environmental problem, but it’s also an issue of justice that disproportionately affects minorities, the poor and those in the “Third World.”

This leads me to the question of my own sense of entitlement. When faced with a broken pair of sunglasses, or other cheap, relatively disposable item, my immediate thought is that I will go out and buy a replacement. I am not wealthy by American standards, but I do have a comfortable income with food on the table and more than enough to cover basic necessities. I so often act as if I’m entitled to just go to the store and purchase whatever it is I need or want.

In fact, it’s rather convenient that I lose or break sunglasses often, because then I can get some new ones with a higher “cool” quotient, since sunglasses and fashion designers ever-so-subtly-and-convincingly tell us that styles change from year to year (or month to month), and it’s so easy to believe them. While I’m grateful for the creativity and self-expression that some people are able to effortlessly exude through their clothing choice, I’m also aware that fashion and being in-style are luxuries that also have the effect of making people feel badly about themselves. Whether we like it or not, as a society we judge people based on appearances in so many ways, and the coolness-level of their sunglasses is one such way.

In purchasing the latest style of sunglasses, then, in many ways we’re telling the world, “Look at me! I have the means to buy this trendy pair of shades. I have the level of coolness to know what’s ‘in,’ and therefore I’m more worthy of your love than others who don’t have the economic or social resources I do.”

Therefore, as a reminder to myself and a way to try to break down this system that bases value on what we can afford and on how “cool” we can convince people we are, as well as this “disposable” culture, I’m going to try to make the commitment to wear “found” sunglasses that no one else wants, or to buy them used. If none of these options are available, I guess I’ll have to get used to squinting, or wear a hat!

"New" shades from a friend
Two friends already took pity on me and donated sunglasses that they no longer use or they found and can't figure out whose they's amazing what community can do!

If you’re interested, here are some sources regarding the distribution of worldwide waste and garbage in the oceans:

Bullard, Robert D. “Poverty, Pollution and Environmental Racism: Strategies for Building Healthy and Sustainable Communities.” Paper presented to the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) Environmental Racism Forum World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Global Forum Johannesburg, South Africa July 2, 2002.

Bullard, Robert D. “BP’s Waste Management Plan Raises Environmental Justice Concerns.” Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice. July 29, 2010.

Gorman, Steve. “Scientists study huge plastic patch in Pacific,” Reuters, August 4, 2009.

Norton, Jennifer M., Steve Wing, Hester J. Lipscomb, Jay S. Kaufman, Stephen W. Marshall, and Aitha J. Cravey. 2007. "Race, Wealth, and Solid Waste Facilities in North Carolina." Environmental Health Perspectives 115, no. 9: 1344-1350.Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 14, 2013).

Yandle, Tracy, and Dudley Burton. 1996. "Reexamining Environmental Justice: A Statistical Analysis of Historical Hazardous Waste Landfill Siting Patterns in Metropolitan Texas." Social Science Quarterly (University Of Texas Press) 77, no. 3: 477-492. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 14, 2013).

Katz, Eric. 1995. "Imperialism and Environmentalism." Social Theory & Practice 21, no. 2: 271-285. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 14, 2013).

Saturday, June 15, 2013

you might be raising a quaker kid if...

This week I experienced a couple of solid indications that I might be raising a Quaker kid (or two). First, at the dinner table the other night, my six-year-old initiated a conversation on his opinions about war and peace, how we treat the Earth, and the difficulties surrounding these issues. After about 30 seconds of this I asked if I could make a video of him sharing his thoughts, and here's what he said.

The other day, we were biking around town (as usual) with him on a trail-a-bike and the 2-year-old in the bike trailer. I noticed the 6-year-old was a little quieter than usual so I asked if everything was OK. He said, "Yeah, I'm just enjoying nature." I think this is becoming his code phrase for, "I need a little space and I'm just going to be quiet for a while," because he used it on a couple other bike rides this week.

Then, this morning, we were playing outside and gardening. He sat on one of our big rocks and at first called it his "Nature Rock." He said his brother needed to find his OWN rock because he needed to be on his own for a bit. Soon he started using the term "Meditation Rock," and he helped his brother find a good one. They settled down on their own Meditation Rocks for a few minutes, then ran off to pick fresh raspberries together. We might have to make use of these rocks throughout the summer!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

"mama, does God hate cars?"

My 6-year-old son asked me at the breakfast table the other day, "Mama, does God hate cars?" We try to bike or walk everywhere we can and we've talked about the reason for this: driving our cars puts stuff in the air that isn't good for people to breathe, and it uses resources from the Earth that will run out if we use them too quickly. Plus, it's better for our bodies to get the exercise. One time I told my son that for me, biking is a way of praying. It helps put me in a space where I can be almost meditative. It's relatively quiet and my body is active. It's a spiritual and a physical discipline, toning my spiritual and physical muscles. It's a testimony of simplicity.

In my son's question, however, I sense the feelings that often arise in me as well: a swirl of guilt, pride and fear. We're proud to be doing the "right" thing, afraid that if we do the "wrong" thing, we'll no longer be loved, and we can feel guilty if we knowingly choose to drive when we "should" be true to our commitment of walking or biking. This is the darker side of the spiritual disciplines.

I'm so grateful for a body that works well and can get me from most points-A to points-B; I'm grateful for the stubbornness to do this in many types of weather; I'm grateful I live in a small town so this is possible; I'm grateful for a clear sense of leading to try to alter my life to live more sustainably.

And yet, there's the nagging sense of guilt that I'm not doing enough, and the tendency to feel pride that I'm doing this while so many people are driving by in their massive, fossil-fuel-fed vehicles. At this point in my life, I don't think I'm afraid that God won't love me anymore if I do differently, but I can certainly relate to this feeling, and it's not one I want to foster in my children!

We talked about the fact that God doesn't hate cars, per se, but that God loves us and everything God created. The better we care for ourselves and the rest of creation, the better it will be for us--not because God will love us more, but because we will be healthier. We talked about how God asks us to follow rules not for the sake of the rules, but because they keep us safe and healthy. We discussed self-inflicted consequences. "It would be like if I asked you not to jump off the deck outside. I'd say that because I didn't want you to get hurt, right? What if you jumped anyway? Do you think I'd love you any less? Do you think you'd still get hurt even though I loved you as much as a person can love another person?"

This concept is so simple, and yet so difficult to make ourselves understand--at least if you're me! How do we have a sense of duty and loyalty, a sense of truth and a desire to do what is right, without beating ourselves up for not doing more? How do we practice the disciplines without going overboard into our time period's form of self-flagellation? Can we raise our children with a sense of right and wrong, a sense of following our leadings and an example of that, without teaching them that God hates cars, and, by extension, the people driving them?

In my experience, I try to trust God and release it into God's hands. I ask for release of my own fear, guilt and pride, and for the grace to not teach these tendencies to my kids. I ask for the grace to show God's love through my actions rather than God's negative and overwhelming judgment. I ask for the grace to admit to my children my own fears and feelings of guilt and pride, and to ask their forgiveness as I ask for that of God.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

waiting for the blue heron

This morning, my two-year-old joined me on the couch at about 7:00 am. We were waking up and chatting when we saw a huge bird fly by the window. We have a fairly large pond in the back (see picture) and two small ponds in the front, so I've seen the blue heron before when I've startled it (accidentally) by bursting out the back door when it was trying to pilfer our goldfish. We used to stock the pond with koi, but that gets rather expensive when feeding a heron! I hadn't seen it go to the front ponds before, and my son hadn't seen it at all.

I wanted to show the heron to my son so I picked him up and tried to approach the window slowly to get a better view. We could see its head and we stopped, it's left eye pointed right at us. Trying to get a better view, I took a couple steps closer, and off swooped the heron. "Oh well," we said, and sat back down on the couch.

As we read a Dr. Seuss book, out of the corner of my eye I saw a large shadow fly in again. "There it is!" we both said, excitedly, and tried to be quieter and calmer approaching the window, but again, the heron flew away before we got a very long look. I tried to pull out my phone to take a picture, which scared it off.

This time, we decided we'd wait by the window. My camera sat at my side and we watched out the window. We talked about being quiet and still. We talked about how it might show up, and it might not. We talked about why it would come to the pond, and whether or not it might have babies it was feeding (all topics brought up by my 2yo). We waited, and we watched. He saw many different kinds of birds and said, "There's a heron!" We talked about how that one was a blue jay, that one a crow, that one too small to be the heron. We waited, and we watched. We saw cars and cats, but we didn't get to glimpse the heron again this morning.
Photo from here

As we waited and watched, I thought about how similar this experience was to waiting and watching for the Spirit. Although the analogy quickly breaks down because the Spirit isn't afraid of us and is in many ways always present, we wait and we watch for moments in worship when the Spirit shows up in a profound way. Just like I know the heron exists right now somewhere, and the Spirit always is and will be, there are moments where I can perceive the presence of the Spirit in a powerful and meaningful way, and moments when I can't. We waited for the heron with a sense of expectancy. Maybe the heron would come; maybe it was done fishing for the day.

We call it a good day because we got a couple glimpses of the beauty of the heron as it broke into our lives. We learned to discern between different types of birds; we learned about patience and anticipation. Maybe we'll try again tomorrow. Maybe, as we wait for the blue heron, we'll also encounter the Spirit, my son and I, in those early morning hours as we're just awakening to our day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

quaker process

A couple weeks ago at our monthly meeting for worship for business we had a conversation that I thought illustrated some interesting and slightly absurd aspects of Quaker business process. Now, there is much that is excellent about Quaker process (when done well), such as listening to God together and assuming everyone has the ability to hear the direction of the Spirit on any matter put before the gathered meeting. But sometimes, Quaker business process goes into areas that are slightly bizarre and potentially absurd...and potentially very important.

We were having a discussion about a policy our education committee is putting into effect regarding who does and does not qualify for scholarships from our meeting to Quaker colleges/universities. As the policy was explained, the education committee representative, with the approval of our administrative committee, said this policy wasn't exactly up for discussion by the monthly meeting, but it was being presented for informational purposes, because it had already been approved by the education committee (tasked with coming up with a policy) and the administrative committee (given power by the meeting to make such decisions).

We probably talked about this item of business for about half an hour, not because anyone had any sort of problem with the policy, but because people were concerned with this kind of approval process. How much power did the education committee have? Could any committee make their own policies just because they'd been tasked to oversee various ministries of our meeting? At what point was and should the whole meeting be involved in this process: simply in the appointment of members of the education and administrative committees? Or do they have some say in what decisions are made by those committees?

During this conversation I sat back with a wry smile, thinking about the seeming absurdity of such a conversation. Interested parties in our meeting could have given themselves an extra half our in their evenings by simply accepting this policy that they all agreed with to begin with. Why does this matter to us? DOES it matter to us?

I also had a conversation recently with a friend who's a pastor in another denomination about the differences in our business processes. In his denomination, the pastors are called by the congregation in order to free up the rest of the congregation from having to make administrative decisions. There is also a small group of elders chosen by the meeting who work with the pastors on some decisions. The people in the congregation are happy to not have to be part of such conversations.

In some ways, this model sounds so appealing. One person or a small group of people could make all the decisions, and the rest of us wouldn't have to sit through so many meetings. Why in the world do we Friends emphasize consensus and correct process so much? Shouldn't we trust the people we "release" (whether financially or by appointing them to committees) to make Spirit-led decisions? Are we holding ourselves back through an antiquated process that requires everyone's participation and approval? Wouldn't we be so much more productive if we did things differently?

And yet, though I have the ability to laugh at our process and to see its shortcomings, I still believe this process is the best one I've encountered. It's absurd to assume people can actually hear the Spirit, but if we don't believe this, what's the point of faith? It's absurd to think that we can come to a similar conclusion based on our listening to that invisible, inaudible, sometimes-inscrutable Spirit, and yet, sometimes we do! Maybe our meetings don't grow over a couple hundred people at the most when we do business in this way, but isn't that part of what we love about Friends meetings? It's absurd in our culture to value relationship over efficiency, but perhaps that's what we're doing in Quaker process. We're so enculturated to value numbers and growth, and sure, we should hope that the Quaker church would grow in one way or another, but I hope that we grow in depth and knowledge of the Spirit. I hope that we grow in care and empathy for one another, and that if we grow too big, we have the wisdom to invest in a new meetinghouse or place to worship.

Maybe we didn't need to have a half-hour conversation about this particular issue, but it's the principle of the thing, and I'm grateful to be part of a community that values principles. I'm grateful that we're protecting ourselves from future missteps and the development of damaging power hierarchies in our midst. I hope and pray that we continue to be absurd to our culture in all the right ways.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

first world problems

This morning I felt a bit annoyed as I looked for my phone cord in order to call the school bus barn to make sure my son gets his free ride to his free public education. While I rummaged around downstairs, trying to find the phone cord, I heard a huge CRASH from upstairs. I worried at first that something major had happened, but then thought about all the times when such a noise has ended up being a bucket of toy cars, trains or blocks. I walked unhurriedly upstairs to investigate and called for the eldest.

"What was that? Is everything OK?"

I couldn't see him because he was cowering behind the couch and he blamed his little brother.

In the kitchen I found the 2-year-old sitting on a stool, unperturbedly munching a whole, pilfered tomato next to a shattered oven window.

After a moment of dumbfounded silence I somewhat-calmly queried, "What in the WOLRD happened here?"

"Brother broke it," he said. Judging by the eldest's position behind the couch I figured the little one was telling the truth.

Now thoroughly frustrated, I began cleaning up the glass (in between cleaning up the messes made concurrently by the littlest as I let him eat some yogurt in the living room just this once).

Well, I'm still frustrated, annoyed and mad, but at the same time, I'm trying to see this from a bigger perspective. Yes, I couldn't find my phone cord. Yes, I couldn't call the bus barn without borrowing someone else's phone. Yes, I'm annoyed that the bus doesn't come every day unless we call to let them know we'll be there. Yes, our oven is currently unusable. But really, can I complain? No one is hurt. I generally have the ability to call people anytime and from anywhere I want. My kids have access to excellent education, and we live in a country safe enough that I can almost always trust that if I put my kid on the school bus, he'll get to school and back safely and be treated well there. I have an oven that works, except in unusual situations such as this. I can order a new part and receive it in a couple days. I have much to be grateful for, and sometimes I really need a kick in the behind to remind me of the sense of entitlement and privilege that I assume I deserve.

And the kid? The one hiding behind the couch? The one who says, "I just hit myself in the face to make up for it"? Yeah, that kid? He needs a hug, and to know that maybe I'm frustrated at the situation, but I'm not frustrated at HIM, and I still love him, and it's just a THING and it doesn't matter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I wrote an article that appeared in Quaker Life Magazine in their January/February 2013 issue entitled, "Are We the 99%?" In this article I mull over a number of thoughts that have been rolling around in my head over the last few years about privilege and how we stand up for our own rights without stamping down other people's rights, to see ourselves as both the "99%" and the "1%," and to be challenged as Friends to believe that through us, God can do something about the economic gaps in the world today. Here's the full text.

In other news, right now I'm teaching a couple classes, planning a 6-year-old birthday party and trying to keep my 2-year-old from getting knives off the counters. (Yes, true story.) My eldest and I are going to Mexico over Spring Break! We'll be helping build some houses and do some other cool work, like building and stocking a costura (small scale clothes-making factory) and building a playground, building and supplying chicken coops for the houses, hanging out with kids and supporting a VBS-type program sponsored by a local church there, and who-knows-what-else. I'm excited to take this trip with my son as he leaves the country for the first time and better understands the question, "Are we the 99%?"