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.