Thursday, December 25, 2008
Then, that last day, the baby dropped, and she was really uncomfortable. She felt so heavy. And the contractions were so, well, not quite painful, but pleasant they weren't. She had wondered, during each one, is this the beginning for real?
Wandering all over Bethlehem with Joseph, as he looked up his relatives who lived in town. Discovering at each house that they already had a bunch of guests staying. No room. No room. And the whispers, that no one had really tried to keep her from overhearing... "Joseph is Waaaay too nice...." "Did you hear what he told his mom, some ridiculous dream..." "That's not as ridiculous as the story She gave--an angel no less!" "Well, she's not staying in my house. She might make a fool of Joseph, but not me...."
Finally, among strangers, a kind face. No room. "But yer missus definitely needs to lie down; she's looking pale. Go round back to the shed and make yourselves a bed on the hay."
It was warm and quiet, and at last the contractions began to settle in regular and deep. She remembered with a smile what her mom had told her, "By the time your labor starts, you'll be so uncomfortable that you'll be glad."
Did she have a midwife? Surely Joseph dashed out and found a midwife to help guide Mary and the baby through their perilous time... or was it just Joseph by her side, whispering encouragement, trying to remember all the animal husbandry a good carpenter knew?
And then it was finished. And the child was the most beautiful child she had ever seen. Ten perfect toes. Ten perfect fingers. Such beautiful eyes. Such a perfect mouth. She cleaned him off, and nursed him, and wrapped him in his swaddling clothes to keep him warm, and laid him in a manger of clean, sweet-smelling hay, whispering, "Jesus. Little Jesus. The angel said to name you Jesus, sweetheart... such a perfect child..." And his little eyes closed, and he slept.
Suddenly, she was so tired. She remembered the whispers and the mockers. Joseph was a good man, but what if he decided her story was too ridiculous after all? It did sound ridiculous... an angel no less! What if he...? Oh Lord, help me. Then her fears and her worries and her tired fretting were interrupted by a knock on the door.
A dirty ragged man peered around the door. Behind him, in the dark, others stood craning their necks this way and that, trying to catch a glimpse inside. He looked vaguely embarrassed, but hopeful, almost pleading. "Um, excuse me, mister, ma'am. Um, I, um.... Well, this is going to sound crazy... but, um, there was this angel.... well, actually, there was a whole bunch of 'em.... well, ok, at first there was only one...." Yes, yes, let them all come in. Let them see.
The whole story came out slowly, as the ragged shepherds clustered round the sleeping baby, touching him with reverent fingers and looking at him with shining eyes. Murmuring to each other, "What was it the angel said? Good tidings of great joy..." "A savior, Christ the Lord, the angel called him..." "And here he is, in the manger, just like...." "It was like thunder, all of them together--Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men--just like thunder..." A few of them were wiping away tears with the backs of their hands, a few just smiled foolishly at the babe, as they murmured the story back and forth to each other.
Mary sighed happily. Such unlikely comforters! Everything they said, she treasured in her heart. She looked at Joseph, and saw that the lines of tension around his eyes had eased. He looked at her and smiled, as if to say Not so ridiculous after all, eh? He leaned over and kissed her forehead. "Definitely a special baby. Definitely a special mama."
Have a merry merry delightful and special Christmas! May we all always receive the comfort and support we need, during our own times of doubt. And God bless us, everyone.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Whatever the reason that brought it to mind, it was 17 years ago. I was a different person, living a different life. I was a technical writer in Silicon Valley California, writing manuals for IBM. I was an agnostic: thoroughly practical, level-headed--nary a spiritual bone in my body. I was never a crystal twiddler, navel contemplator, Ouija board operator. If God or angels… or spirits or fairies… or ghosts or demons… existed, they certainly had nothing to do with me.
I owned a little suburban house on a tiny piece of ground that I lived in with my first husband.
And I had a garden. In California, the lavender will grow four feet high and as wide around. The buddleia will grow to nearly 8 feet high, with a hundred panicles of purple flowers drooping over your head and releasing the scent of cooking cherries for 60 feet around (at least it, smelled of cooking cherries to me). It mixed with the clove smell of the ankle-high dianthus, from their bright ragged flowers…. There were red climbing roses on the West fence--so dignified!--and sweet alyssum growing at their feet. And I had bright California poppies everywhere, cheerful fluttering orange flags, every spring.
It was the kind of garden that made a friend say, the first time she had lunch with me on the patio, “Oh, this is too Disney…. Talk about Disney moments!” (I think it was the flutter of house finches at the birdbath that clinched it for her.) It was the kind of garden that made little children exclaim to their mothers, as they walked by on the sidewalk… “Look, Mommy! Flowers!” And unnecessarily delay the walk, as the child knelt over each orange and pink and white and purple blossom, showing Mama the prettiness…. “Yes, dear. They’re lovely. Come along, dear. No, come along. Yes, sweetheart… come along…”
As far as I was concerned, there was no better way to spend a weekend, than puttering about in my little garden, among the flowers.
But I have been thinking about one particular day. I was working in the garden. On the east side of the house, was a little narrow strip of backyard between the house and the boundary fence (a tall privacy fence). It dead-ended in a fence that separated the front from the back yard. Mostly I just stored pots and extra bricks and tiles and such back there, although there were some jumbly low-lying plants that liked the shade back there, and there was a nice honeysuckle vine on the part of the fence that separated the front and back yard. It was in bloom. I was puttering about back there with some tools… I don’t remember exactly what project I was working on.
I glanced at the honeysuckle vine, and I happened to notice a spider, sitting in the middle of a web. It was an ordinary spider, and an ordinary web… which is to say, they were quite lovely. They caught my eye, and I looked at them a little closer. Then my eyes focused in closer, and this sort of telescoping thing happened, and pretty soon the spider and the web were filling the whole of my vision. Then something very difficult to explain happened, because for some period of time… I do not know how long… there was Nothing. It is very hard to describe Nothing… but there it Was. I wish I could find some way to explain what I mean. There was no fence and no house and no honeysuckle and no spider. There may have been a Me, but even that is uncertain. There was no body of Me, no eyes, no hands, no breath, no feet…. Nothing. Then my eyes were again looking at the spider and the web, and they were just ordinary lovely. I teetered for a moment, between wanting to try to plunge back into that Nothing and wanting to pull away…. But finally I said to myself, “Well, I can’t waste any more time staring at spiders….” And I went back to my gardening.
However, when I went into the house to get something, my then-husband pitched a fit. “Where have you been?! I’ve been looking all over for you!” I was in the back yard, working in the garden. “Why didn’t you answer when I called? I’ve been hollering all over!” I didn’t hear you. “What do you mean, you didn’t hear me?!” I was just in the side yard; I don’t know why I didn’t hear you. “I looked in the side yard! You weren’t there! Oh, fer Pete’s sake…”
But I was in the side yard. Wasn’t I? For years, I assumed that he hadn’t really bothered to look in the side yard; I would have been clearly visible if he had even casually glanced around the corner of the house. And people don’t just disappear. If a person is in a corner of the yard, That is where a person is…. Isn’t she?
But since then, I have met God. He has spoken to me. And I have seen angels. Not with crystal-clarity the way some have, but I have seen the waters stirred, that showed their presence. And I have seen the world *shimmer* like the surface of a pond, as God showed me that Reality was more than I had ever dreamed of in my philosophy.
So, I have slowly and recently come to the tentative conclusion that I may not have been in my back yard for at least a little while, anyway. Long enough for someone to discover he couldn’t find me.
But, if I wasn’t where I Was, where was I?
Sunday, October 5, 2008
He sees in her the shining face of God’s abiding, overarching, impossible, mad love for us and for the world. He sees in the Peace Testimony an affirmation of life, an affirmation of God’s love for all of us. He sees in her the hope of living beyond despair, of living in “the covenant of peace which was before wars and strife were.” (Fox) And he has determined never to leave her.
So I paid attention when, one day during our walk, he said to me with some anguish, “She’s broken. She’s hurt.”
He stretched out his hand, and nestled in it was a bright thing with feathers, iridescent and brilliant and bejeweled. Her eyes were bright. When I touched her, I could feel the strong beat of her heart, measuredpatientwildgreen. She’s a beautiful thing, Peace is. She looks so delicate, but she is strong. As I looked closer at her, I saw what the old soldier was trying to say: her wings were crumpled, stuck and sticky, coated in the crippling adhesive of the compromises of the Spirit of the World. How long had it been since she’d really flown and soared? She is so beautiful, it is easy not to notice how broken she is. She was singing a song beyond words, of wholeness and joy and love and reconciliation. But how long had it been since she’d been able to soar?
The old soldier looked at me, and I could see it in his eyes: What can be done? Oh, Lord. How could I tell this man that That was the best we Quakers could do… that there was nothing to be done to help her soar, that our Peace Testimony was forever doomed to compromise and failure? With the song of Peace ringing through my brain, how could I tell this lost-and-found child of God that there was nothing to be done to help her, and that he would have to settle for good enough?
Well, I couldn’t tell him.
Shalom speaks against war and violence, and for generosity and gentleness. Shalom speaks against abortion, and for life for the powerless. Shalom speaks against euthanasia, and for care for the helpless and despairing. Shalom speaks against the death penalty and for mercy.
Shalom speaks against expedience and “logic” and “pragmatism.”
Shalom speaks against anger and hatred and fear and despair.
Shalom speaks against Death.
Let justice and mercy kiss.
Choose life, o child of God.
Choose life in all your paths.
Love one another.
Love thy neighbor.
Love thy enemy.
Love the poor and the lame and the sick.
Love the little ones and the littlest ones—even those yet unseen.
And still my old soldier looks at me with grave eyes (O found prodigal, brother mine—I have nothing, no answers, less than a dying thief).
All I have is a prayer:
Lord, open the eyes of our hearts. Heal the brokenness in each of us that makes it hard to follow your path. Help us to live fully in the covenant of peace that was before and is beyond strife. Make us true citizens of your Peaceable Kingdom, true witnesses to Shalom. Make our Testimony to the world Whole and True so that we love and cherish ALL of your children, including those unborn. Help us to choose against Death and the Reasoner, and the entangling snares of the World. O Lord, grant us thy peace. Amen.
The Spirit of Shalom has beautiful wings. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for the whole world to be able to look up into the blue blue sky and see her shining, and glorious and whole… and hear her song roll down like waters…
Wilt thou pray with me?
One morning, as we were getting ready to eat breakfast, my daughter looked up at the fly paper hanging over the kitchen table. “What’s that?” she asked. Kevin and I looked… and there was something lumpy attached to the fly paper… like a tightly crumpled piece of paper that would fit in the palm of my hand. We looked closer. And we realized it was our poor bat.
It had gotten caught in the fly paper overnight, and as it had struggled to get loose, it had only succeeded in spreading the glue over its wings, and its body. Now it was so sticky, that it couldn’t spread its wings at all, and it lay glued to itself in tight crumples and creases.
Kevin gently pulled the bat off the fly paper, and we put it in a box. And we went back to our meal. We bowed our heads and did Grace, and were thankful for our meal. Then, my little son, with his head bowed and his hands clasped, said something like this, “And, God, please help the bat get better so it can fly again and be happy.” And my little daughter, with her head bowed and her hands clasped, opened her eyes wide and looked adoringly at her brother, and nodded in agreement.
Oh, Lord. Kevin and I had silently been discussing whether it would be better to let the bat die quietly on its own, or put it down. There was no Way that bat could survive, with its crumpled sticky horrible wings. Oh, Lord. How could I tell the children that there was no way that God could save the bat?
Well, I couldn’t tell them.
“What are you going to do?” Kevin whispered, when he kissed me good-bye on his way to work. “I guess I’m going to try to save a bat,” I said. Dang it. It was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I had enough to do, with three little ones in the house, and another due in a few months. But when a little child prays, it’s mighty hard not to try to help that prayer come true. “Good luck,” sez my husband….
“A bat in the fly paper?” said the animal rescue lady. “I’ve had people save hummingbirds who got stuck on fly paper… but a bat? Hmmmm….” I had called the local wild animal rehabilitation center, in the hopes that someone would know what to do. No, they didn’t have any experience with bats on fly paper per se, but the lady encouraged me. Between us, we came up with a plan to use Kevin’s Go-Jo waterless hand cleaner as a solvent to get rid of the fly paper glue. “Good luck,” she said. “It’s awfully nice of you to try to save a bat. Most folks wouldn’t do it.” Most folks don’t have a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old following their every move with big eyes (and now the one-year-old was getting interested too).
Well, the bat and I had a long day getting to know each other. I held it still and wiped Go-Jo over its wings with Q-tips. And a bit at a time I was able to remove the sticky stuff. And slowly the wings unfurled. Slowly, it began to look like a bat, instead of a gray crumpled piece of paper. It took forever. But it was finally done. And then I had a bat in my hands, instead of a dying wad of sticky flesh. A very tired and unhappy, helpless and certainly hungry bat. But a bat, complete with lovely gray papery wings that opened and closed.
The wild animal rehabilitation lady had said that if I managed to get the bat unstuck, I should tie a dishtowel to a tree trunk as high as I could reach, and then allow the bat to crawl under the towel. She said it would shelter there until nightfall, resting. So we did, and the little thing crawled under the towel, and we waited. And night came, and we went to sleep, in a house that had had all the fly paper carefully removed.
In the morning, we all went out to the tree and looked under the towel. No bat. And the children clapped their hands, and laughed and looked all around up into the blue sky. Spinning, looking into the sky, hands clasped in glee, eyes shining…. And Kevin and I looked all around on the ground at the base of the tree, all over the ground in that part of the yard… until we finally looked up at each other…. “Maybe it’s OK,” he said quietly. “Maybe a cat got it,” I murmured. “Maybe,” he said. “We’ll never know.” And the children spinning, and grinning, and saying, “God did it! The bat’s OK!” Well, maybe the bat is. Maybe it lived. There was a bat flying in our bedroom, a few nights later, catching bugs.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The kitchen garden has actually been mis-named for roughly the last three years. I sort of ran out of steam several years ago, with 5 kids (one of them a new baby) and a house to take care of, and, that spring, I didn’t get around to planting anything in it. Plants grew anyway… a fact which will not surprise other gardeners.
First, the dandelions sprang up, and covered the patch with little yellow suns. Then, the white and red clover marched over the old furrows. Then, the thistles brought a splash of purple (and a bit of danger), and the Queen Anne’s Lace donated elegance and height. And, finally, the asters made mounds of snow, accompanied by spiky goldenrod, like bright yellow rays from a setting sun.
It was the most beautiful spot on the whole property.
Friday, September 19, 2008
We’ve managed to stay married for fifteen-and-a-half years; I think we’ll manage for a few more.
The pictures are fuzzy.... sorry. I still don't have the hang of that digital camera. Weren't you handsome.......
--Mon Semblable, by Stephen Dunn
To love thee
I suppose, is to disappoint thee
To bring to ruin that always cherished hope
That here, at last, here
Is the one who understands me
Here is the one
This one will always understand the song my heart sings.
I suppose, is the quietest joke—
The one that God whispered the sea
On the very first day
The one she whispers the sand
The one thee whispered me.
Stronger than death
More fragile than the rain
Always still strangers,
Unknown through all the years of knowing.
I suppose, is the bravest act of all
To walk upon this ragged ground we’ve chosen
To hold each other anyway.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday, September 4, 2008
"Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long.”
"You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves."
--A Clean Well-Lighted Place
Roughly a year and a half ago, I decided that it was time for me to take an “outside” job. But it couldn’t be just any job; it had to be close to home, and have flexible hours so I could share child care with my husband, and have a flexible time-off policy so I could travel on “Quaker business,” and not require me to buy lots of fancy “professional” clothes, and I had to be able to start right away. Hmmmm…. What sort of job would fit these criteria? Hmmmm…. Oh, yeah, I know! McDonald’s!
So I drove on down to my local McDonald’s, which just happened to be the nearest “big” employer in town. Two days later, I started my new career. And I discovered a job I love.
I suppose that a word about McDonald’s food is in order—yes, the most popular items on the McDonald’s menu contain bunches of fat, salt, and/or sugar. Yes, I see a lot of people eating way too much for their health. That’s one of the reasons that I don’t tend to ask folks if they would like to add anything to their meal, or if they’d like to “Large Size” their meal. Official McDonald’s policy, according to my training, is to ask customers, at the end of an order, if they would like to buy additional food that I have noticed they might want. Mostly, I think people order plenty enough. I do occasionally suggest a new menu item to a customer who seems a potentially good fit, and I do sometimes ask if the customer would like a drink, if they haven’t ordered one. But offer to add fries to make it a Value Meal? No. Offer to change the order to a larger size? No. (Unless it is a regular customer, who usually orders a Large Size meal, then I’ll check to make sure they still want it Large Size, even if they haven’t actually specified.)
But don’t even get me started on that “Supersize Me” idiot. It is entirely possible to eat all of one’s meals at McDonald’s for one month, and not gain weight, or get sick. Did he buy a Fruit and Walnut Salad with an orange juice for breakfast? Did he buy a side salad with a yogurt for lunch? Did he buy a grilled chicken snack wrap for dinner? It was his job as the person ordering the food to make decisions about what he wanted to eat. Not mine, as the order-taker. I have learned that lesson, much to my amused embarrassment. I remember one early morning (it was probably about 4:30am), explaining to a trucker that I thought the new McSkillet Burrito tasted really good, but that it was nearly 600 calories, so I only ate it occasionally as a treat. He smiled down at me, and said, “Do I look like I worry about calories? Gimme two.” So OK.
But other customers do worry about calories. One of my regular truckers only orders a sandwich about every other time he stops by. Other times, it’s just a coffee. He explained to me (the overnight shift is conducive to conversation) that he used to buy a Value Meal every time he stopped for a meal at night, but he found himself gaining too much weight. So, he decided to just stop eating so much. Lo and behold, he began to lose weight. He was so pleased. Or the trucker who walked in one night, and asked me what we had that was easy to eat while he was driving and wasn’t “all fatty and junky.” After a bit of thought, I came up with our apple dippers. I showed him the bag of sliced fruit, and he was tickled. “Do all McDonald’s have these?” Well, yep. Or the trucker who came in one night mostly because he was bored and lonely, and hassled me good-naturedly for 20 minutes about how terrible the McDonald’s menu was, and how it was All junk, and how he couldn’t get anything decent to eat… and I finally suggested a plain grilled chicken breast… and he made me explain to him how he could order it at other McDonald’s “so the idiot behind the counter can find it.” And he went off to his bunk happy, clutching his carry-out grilled chicken breast. “I’m so glad I came in to hassle you!” were his parting words. G’night. Hurry back.
It is so easy to make someone’s day better… way out of proportion to the monetary value of what McDonald’s provides. There is something about providing someone with food that makes them remember the exchange, for better or for worse, as an important part of their day. I know that travelers feel that way, because I have heard traveling McDonald’s stories from friends and acquaintances… everyday annoying horror stories, that they have remembered for years. I can only assume that the travelers I serve experience the same. I Know my regular customers feel that way, because they tell me so. One night a few weeks ago, one of my regulars (who I had never actually exchanged personal pleasantries with), pulled up to the drive-thru window, and exclaimed, “Oh, thank goodness, it’s you!” And he went on to tell me his everyday annoying horror story of a few nights before. And there’s my regular office worker, who has been coming through my drive-thru window virtually every morning for a year and a half now…. he finally started smiling at me about 6 months ago, and a few days ago, I even heard him laugh!
Soon after I began working, I started to make a point of touching the hand of each person briefly, either as I was giving change, or as I was handing them their food. It seemed important to make that human contact with each person. I’ve probably touched a thousand hands since I started working at McDonald’s… some hands more than once, of course. I suspect that that is the only human touch some of my customers get all day.
It’s the human contact I love so much about this job. I have never worked anywhere that had as diverse a group of employees, or as diverse a clientele as McDonald’s. It’s a microcosm of the United States… even the people who don’t like to eat at McDonald’s walk in the door on my shift… there’s just not a whole lot open in my part of the state at 3:00 in the morning. My McDonald’s is on an interstate freeway, so I get to talk to all sorts of travelers and truckers. The truckers often come in regularly; we have a big parking lot for trucks, and I have been told by one of my regular truckers that they choose not to stop at any of the other food places for a hundred miles up and down the freeway, “cuz ya’ll take care of us here.”
The travelers are often never seen again. Last year, I waited on an Australian with jet lag (which, he explained, was why he was driving at 2:00 in the morning—no point in lying in the motel staring at the ceiling!). Last week, I waited on an African (maybe Somali?) family… the wife and little girl had beautiful henna tattoos on their hands. As I handed him his coffee, the husband told me, “I really need this.” A long trip? I asked. “I’ve been driving since New York,” he said, “but I started out this morning in Africa. I just have to stay awake long enough to get home to Indianapolis.” And there are the traveling couples on the frayed end of their trip, snapping at each other or not talking…. I try to give them a kind word if I can. Most of them know that it’s just the trip fraying nerves, and they appreciate a little friendly acknowledgement of their temporary difficulties, and whatever little extra attention I give them. But I remember one gentleman… his wife had just walked out of the restaurant in some discontent, and I turned to him and said, “It will all get better.” “No, it won’t,” he said. “When we got married, my momma took me aside and told me that she would go ahead and shoot me whenever I’d had enough.” He smiled ruefully as he took his food….”I’m about ready.” Once, a poor traveler spent the night quietly propped in an inconspicuous booth. It was a cold night, and there aren’t a lot of options at our particular freeway exit. So I pretended not to notice him, and let him get what sleep he could. In the morning, before I left, I bought him a little breakfast and dropped it off at his booth, where he was nursing his cup of coffee and looking pretty shaky. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw that he was standing at the onramp, thumbing for a ride West. I hope he got safely where he was supposed to be.
Travelers. Perky ones. Tired ones… lots of tired ones! Sad ones. Hopeful ones. Shaky ones. Students with all their worldly goods packed into a two-door car. Mommies and Daddies with little ones in arms, trying to reason with toddlers at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning (I can often stave off a full-blown tantrum by buying the little one a bag of cookies, although once I had to rummage around in our Happy Meal toy supply for The Red Car… thank you, God, for making sure there was One left!). People crossing the state. People crossing the continent. People crossing the world.
And then there’s my local regulars. My truckers, of course, who are sort of a combination of traveler and local regular. The interstate freeway to them is like one long hometown Main Street, and they pick and choose their stops for hundreds of miles along it, the same way us non-truckers pick and choose where to run errands in town. Some of them travel hundreds of miles each night, and stop at my McDonald’s for a bite to eat every day. Some of them come by only once, like the elephant handler with a semi full of elephants and ponies bound for the next town on the circus route….
Some of my local regulars stop by every day too. Nurses, teachers, police officers, strippers, bartenders, coal miners (the ones on the way to work are often much paler than the ones on the way home), dish washers/bus boys (their money is often damp), waitresses, executives (there’s some very nice smelling aftershave being sold in upscale stores nowadays), students, road workers…
And that doesn’t even mention the semi-regulars: the drunks who make McDonald’s part of their evening routine, and the folks out for an evening at the races or the game or mudding, and the hunters (I once asked one of my regulars if he was going hunting that day, since he was in camouflage. “Naahhh,” he said. “City folks go hunting. I’m going huntin’!” And had a good ol’ time too, I heard the next day.)
From the working poor to the wealthy elite, I see ‘em all. And they all appreciate a kind word and a smile, and a little attention.
Sometimes they need a little extra attention. I remember one woman who stopped by for something to eat on the way home from the hospital, where her father was dying. For at least ten minutes, I listened to her mostly unintelligible explanations of how he came to be dying in the hospital, and how she had spent the day there, trying to get answers from hospital staff.
And then there was the woman who came to the drive-thru window one night, and said, “I have sort of a weird order. It’s kind of special. It’s for a last request.” And she told me what it was, and I figured out a way to order it for her, and explained it to the grill person, and made sure she got the special order she’d asked for. Now, I don’t know what sort of “last request” she was talking about; I don’t know of any prisons near us, offhand, that were executing anyone. Maybe she was an acting student practicing. Who knows? But she gave every impression of someone holding themselves together through sheer force of will, and her voice cracked when she took the food and said, “You’re a Godsend.” I sent her along with a prayer.
If we ever have enough money coming in that I don’t have to work, I’ll miss ‘em all. The ones who make me laugh, and the ones who call me Darlin’, and the happy drunks who offer to marry me, and the ones who complain about the fat in the food even while they’re ordering it, and the executives who share their weekly travel itinerary with me (so I’ll know when to expect them)….. it’s a great job. And I haven’t even started to tell you about my co-workers!
“Work at everything you do with all your heart. Work as if you were working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians 3:23
Saturday, August 2, 2008
OK, here we go!
A meme from Dry Bones Dance, sent to me by Robin, one of my really cool “sisters.”
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
5. Present an image of martial discord (as in "war," not as in "marriage") from whatever period or situation you’d like.
Just the Facts
2. My mother and I went to see Les Miserables on stage, about a month after the student massacre at Tienemen Square. We were just fine, until the barricade went up. We cried through the whole rest of the play.
3. I scored 800 (out of a possible 800) on the Verbal part of my SAT test.
4. I failed two semesters of English in high school. This fact seems vaguely related to Fact #3, but I cannot quite tell you how.
5. My mother says I got my name because an angel gave it to her in a dream, while she was pregnant with me. Aren’t moms cool?
6. I gave birth to all five of my children at home. When I was pregnant with my first child, my father-in-law expressed his concern that I should really go see a doctor, at least once. Kevin told him, “Our midwife IS a doctor, Dad.” And so she was. Before she became a midwife, she had been an ophthalmologist. Good enough for my father-in-law.
7. I am a lousy housekeeper.
I tag Kevin, Regina, Rachel, John, Wendy, Diane, Brent. If memes annoy you, please forgive me.
Here is an image of martial discord…
Eugene Delacroix, La Liberte Guidant le Peuple (Liberty Leading the People), 1830. A barricade from the July Revolution of 1830. Some people say that’s Eugene there, in the top hat. They say that Victor Hugo was inspired by the boy with the pistols to create the character, Gavroche. This barricade makes me cry, too. And there aren't even any tanks.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Thanks to Wess, I was graciously allowed to hang out at the Young Friends' meeting on Sunday. Although I was old enough to be their mother, everyone was very hospitable. So much energy! Most of them were twenty-something… and coming and going all over the world in various mission work or deeply involved in work with their local congregations, and also doing the intense life-work of that age—getting married, going to college, seeking a satisfying means of income….. Did you know that, in Egypt, McDonald’s delivers? And that the orphan kids in the Ukraine thought it was just the most amazing treat when one of the young women took them all out to eat at McDonald’s? They had never been there. They were thrilled that an American would take them out for “American” food. (OK, as a McDonald’s employee, I take an interest in hearing about people’s McDonald’s adventures… sorry if I wax tedious!)
My favorite story came from one beautiful, tall, blonde young woman who had done some traveling in Thailand. She had been in a village, and noticed some local kids playing on a water buffalo…. climbing up on it, pulling its tail and ears, sticking their fists in its nose…. And she got this idea that she would like to touch a water buffalo, so she started to walk towards it. She said it took one look at her, and she could see it in its eyes: Oh no! What is this white giant coming towards me! And it reared to its feet and galloped off through the rice paddies. The kids were not happy with her, for scaring off their jungle gym.
Serendipitously (but not surprisingly!), my new friend Faith was at the Young Friends meeting too. Faith is a member of EFC-ER, employee of William Penn House in DC, and co-planner of the recent Young Friends Gathering in Richmond, Indiana. Faith told everyone about the Young Friends Gathering, both the adventures in planning it and the experience of the Gathering itself. Between us, we encouraged the young men and women to explore the Friends world outside of the evangelical branch, in various ways.
The rest of my time at yearly meeting was spent meeting people and getting to know them a bit, and worshipping and listening to committee reports. Chatting over meals. Being invited out to ice cream by a wonderful kind Friend, about 2 minutes after we met. Attending the Women’s Mission Fellowship luncheon and listening to some of the missionaries tell about the challenges/joys that women experienced in the various mission fields they were in. Crashing the Pastor’s Think Tank (with the permission of one of the area superintendents) and talking with pastors about “Reaching Across Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Differences in Ministry.” Sharing with Jacci, a wonderful lively elf-like woman, about our mutual concerns for our respective branches of Quakerism—both of us longing for the uniting baptizing power of a consistent pro-life/pro-peace testimony.
My friend Susan Lee from the FWCC was there. She very kindly took me under her wing, and introduced me to people. Everyone was very friendly and kind. One of the area superintendents told me, “I’m glad you’re here. We need more visitors.” (hint, hint, folks! This may mean you!) Dr. John, the general superintendent, stepped out of his way at the Pastor’s Think Tank to say Hi and say he was glad to see me. (I stuck out a bit, with my bonnet. It was pretty clear that I had come from Somewhere Else!) By the time I had to leave, I had several new friends hugging me and asking if they’d see me next year and inviting me to visit their local churches. I promised one of the pastors (his church is in Martinsville, Virginia, but he was born in Mexico) that I would practice my Spanish on him next year.
So I appear to have embarked on a ministry of adoption. It looks like I will be going back to EFC-ER’s yearly meeting indefinitely. How could I not go back to see Ce, my new 94-yr-old friend from Rhode Island, who skipped the Women’s Mission luncheon to go to the picnic, because the luncheon was serving iced tea, and “I like Coke.”
We shared encouraging stories, we shared harrowing stories, we prayed, we sang, we laughed, we cried, we ate ice cream. What more could you ask for?
Friday, July 11, 2008
If I were to die now, I don’t think I would be quite so wildly demonstrative. I know that He still loves me. Which is no less amazing and surprising today, than it was 12 years ago. And I still know that everything is OK, and everything is going to be OK. Which is still nothing less than a miracle. He hasn’t changed.
But neither have I. Not enough, anyway. I still feel too much like Just Me. You’d think after roughly 12 years, I would be better at being a Christian. You’d think that I would be stronger, or more faithful, or wiser, or something. You’d think that there would be more of those fruits in me, ripening and getting all juicy… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
But, no, I still feel like Just Me. Mercurial, selfish, hot-tempered, impatient, irresponsible, childish, irreverent, vain, thoughtless…..
If I were to die now, I would look pretty pitiful coming to the Throne. I would walk with bowed shoulders, and I expect I would be biting my lower lip. Because of all the gifts I would like to give Him, I would dearly love to be able to give Him the gift of a good and faithful servant, and it just hasn’t happened yet (except for occasional, isolated, accidental obedience). How embarrassing. All I would have to lay before the Throne, after all this time, is Just My Heart. Just Me, creeping up to the Throne, with Just My Heart.
The comforting thing is, of course, that He loves me. And He would accept Just My Heart, and He would forgive me for not being a good and faithful servant. And I suppose I would cry, because I really really wanted to do better. And He would wipe the tears from my eyes, and everything would be OK.
I hope I don’t die now. I hope I die later, after I’ve either gotten better at being a good and faithful servant, or after I’ve gotten better at being kind and gentle to Just Me. Cuz I wanna hit the ground running, and take the steps two at a time, and throw myself into His arms. And cover Him in kisses.
Friday, July 4, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
“It ain’t noways permanent.” --Pogo
There is an elderly tree across the road from our house. There are several places where it’s rotten through, and in years past, bluebirds have made nests in the cavities.
Isn’t that just like God? To take brokenness, failure, and grief and turn it into life and light and joy and abundance.
Some griefs are visible, easy to see and understand—like when a tree loses a limb, or a marriage ends, or someone we love dies.
Other griefs are quieter, silent and invisible—like when a bug bores into the heartwood, or damage to the bark lets water collect in the tree. We have our silent griefs, like the trees. A friend’s broken promise, a parent’s praise withheld, a hope gone for a job or a relationship or a child.
When a tree suffers, God has arranged for a bright and beautiful menagerie of little animals to comfort it. Little creatures to nestle into the scars of a tree’s grief, to make their home within the brokenness. The wood duck, the owl, the sassy squirrels, the honeybee…. the bluebird. It sometimes seems that a scarred and damaged tree can harbor more life than a whole and healthy one.
Surely there is a bright and beautiful menagerie of the spirit that God sends to us in our grief, to fill the broken places in our hearts, in the same way He fills the broken parts of an old tree with bright eyes and fluttering wings and singing. Surely God, who can turn the failure of an old tree into joyous life, can turn our own failures to good beyond our imagining. Surely God will send light and life and joy and abundance to nestle into our scars and make their home within our brokenness. Surely there will be chattering and humming and honey and fluttering and singing to comfort us.
O my Comforter, I am waiting now for the indigo bluebirds of the soul to come and make their nests.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
I know that He is a person, who actually loves and is interested in me... not just an impersonal oversoul of some sort, not just The Force.
I know that God loves all of us.
I know that God talks to me.
I know that God is Love.
I know that we have been put on earth to learn how to love.
I know that God wants us to be part of a community of believers.
I know that sometimes we think we're doing the right thing, and we really aren't.
I know that Jesus shows us the character of God, and reconciles us to God, and makes us free.
I know that Jesus wasn't Just a Good Teacher.
I know that God loves colors, and song, and joy and laughter and dancing.
I know that there is more to this existence than the world that we see around us. It is as though we are waterskaters living on the surface of a pond; there is so much more to the pond that we cannot see. This analogy isn't quite right, though, because I know we exist also into the depths, although we usually sense only the surface.
I know that the Lamb's War is going on at this very moment, and has been for thousands of years, maybe longer... but I don't know how long.
I know that the devil exists, and that he whispers at us.
I know that God doesn't want us to be afraid.
I know that taking the oath of fealty will change your life forever... it has changed mine.
I know that life in His service is an adventure.
I know that our spiritual growth depends on learning to Care more and more, learning to Love God and our fellow travelers more and more, and that each time our heart breaks while we are learning, God will mend it and make it bigger.
I know that you don't have to know Jesus' name in order to be saved by Him.
I know that God answers prayers.
I know that God intervenes in the world.
I know that a lot of people who say they believe in God, who say they are Christians, don't trust God as much as they trust their own strength and creaturely resources.
I know that being faithful involves being willing to attempt things that we know are impossible, if the Lord calls us to do it.
I know that I would rather be me today, than one of those Wise Men then. To only be privileged to see the child (only still just a dream of hope), and to never see the work completed.... that must have been hard. To go to the mountaintop, and to see the vision of the world to come that you will not be part of....... but, I suppose, better to have been to the mountaintop than never to have seen the hope at all.
I know that sometimes God's love pours down like stars.
Okay, tag, you're it... What do you know? No quibbling, now... just straight Truth.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Several things go on at an FWCC annual meeting… gatherings for worship, committee meetings, business meeting, workshops, small worship groups, various evening plenary sessions, and lots and lots of wonderful conversation, punctuated by food.
The business meetings were… bad… for me. I tried to sit through them a couple times, without success. Once, I was able to escape by becoming an unofficial “aunty” to a toddler, and taking her out of meeting for a snack. A few other times, I just plain escaped. I went and practiced my belly-dancing in my cabin, while everyone else was seriously considering budget items etc. This was Much better for me! Someone once told me that business meetings are not my forte, anyway. They seem to have muddled through without me, ok.
The workshops and the plenary sessions were excellent. There was a particularly lively evening presenting a history of Ohio and Indiana Friends, in which the people representing meetings that had been laid down… had to lie down. By the end of the history, “bodies” were scattered about the floor. And Rachel Stacy of Baltimore YM, gave a keynote address about the challenges of living out her faith… excellent and inspiring.
My favorite part of the weekend, besides the many opportunities for informal conversation, was my small worship group. When folks arrive, each person is assigned a number for a small worship group (about 10 people in each group). Everyday, we gathered to explore queries together. This year, we explored the ways which lead to peace, within ourselves, within our community, and in the wider world. I love these groups, because we get to have extended conversations together with the same few people, and really get to know something about each other.
The other truly wonderful part about an FWCC weekend, is the many opportunities for worship together. Everyday, we gathered for worship before the business meeting. And on Sunday, we got two worship sessions! Friends have different styles of worship, and each worship session tended to have the flavor of the group of Friends whose turn it was to lead worship that day. There were songs, and sermons, and silent worship, and Bible reading, and prayers… Some of it in English, some in Spanish (translated vicey-versy). It felt just plain good to be worshipping among Friends (and friends). My own branch of Quakerism does waiting worship in the name of Jesus Christ. But it was nice to gather together with other Quakers to share the worship styles we each find meaningful.
On the last day, a preacher got up and at the beginning of his message, said, “The FWCC saved my Quakerism.” He didn’t specifically elaborate on that statement, but the rest of his message was about stumbling blocks… assumptions we make that prevent us from allowing the Holy Spirit full range in our lives. And I have been thinking about what he said… “The FWCC saved my Quakerism.” And I wonder if maybe the FWCC will save my Quakerism, too. Not in the sense that I might have left the Religious Society of Friends if I had never attended the FWCC. Because I have never been in danger of leaving… I love Quakerism… its beliefs about the nature of God and Christ… its beliefs about our relationship to God……
But I think that it is very easy to begin to think inside a box, when one associates only with those Friends that one sees every week, or even when one associates only with Friends from one’s own branch. It would be very easy for me to get a sort of philosophical hardening of the arteries. With the FWCC, I have the opportunity to explore for myself what is essential to my faith, and what is only useful within context, and what is actually a stumbling block to my faith. The FWCC keeps me thinking outside the box. Good stuff. It will keep my Quakerism more lively, I think, and more likely to listen to the Holy Spirit when it blows.
Next year, the Americas annual meeting will be in the Portland area. In 2010, it will be in Honduras. In 2012, the world plenary meeting will be in Nairobi, Kenya. Please come! Maybe the FWCC will save your Quakerism, too!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
--Dave Tomlinson, The Post-Evangelical
So, you’ve heard people use the word, “postmodern.” And you’ve said to yourself, “No, they probably aren’t talking about contemporary fences.” And then you applied your high school etymology knowledge, and you decided that “postmodern” must mean “after modern.” Well. That clears everything right up. But, no… wait… after modern what? Well, both “modern” and “postmodern” are words that describe a type of worldview--the set of beliefs, assumptions, and values that people use to help them make decisions and to interact with the world around them. When a worldview is dominant and shared among many people in a population, we commonly call this an “age.” Until recently, the modern age was dominant, at least in the West. Recently (like roughly post-WW2), the postmodern age has begun emerging, and replacing the modern set of beliefs and assumptions with its own set of beliefs and assumptions. Oh. OK. Well, that explains it then. Hey, waaaiit a minute… Just what the heck exactly IS “postmodern” anyway? What ARE those beliefs and values?
Let’s go back a few hundred years…. Say, back to the 1470s, or so. Johan Gutenberg invented the moveable type printing press. And a few years later, Martin Luther defaced a church door with a couple of nails. And a little later, a little something called the Reformation showed up (in the West… I’m just talking about the West here). And all this ushered in what we now call the modern age. And then there was the Industrial Revolution, which moved us along higher and deeper….
So, in the West, the last 300-400 years or so (it’s hard to pinpoint the date and hour when an age “officially” begins) have been dominated by a modern worldview. Modernity has valued logic, linear thought, hierarchy, institutions, external sources of authority, order, control, and predictability. Modernity separated people’s various spheres of reality into clearly defined boxes: one’s emotional life, one’s business life (“nothing personal; it's just business"), one’s secular life, one’s spiritual life, etc. The modern age valued abstract thought, expository and propositional argument, rationality, individualism, a focus on the written word, efficiency. Just off the top of my head… one might consider the assembly line to be a good modern approach to manufacturing, and McDonald’s to be a good modern approach to prepared foods, while giant agricultural farms might be the epitome of modern agriculture, and megachurches might be THE ultimate in modern religion.
Now, what a worldview values, it encourages. What it doesn’t value, it discourages, belittles, and sometimes persecutes. People who hold to beliefs and values that don’t fit into the dominant worldview, often have a real hard time of it. But the folks who hold to the dominant worldview have a hard time too, because as they belittle the stuff they don’t value, they are pushing themselves further and further away from a balanced life, and way out into logical extremes. Which is what has been happening to modernity. As people saw the inherent failings in the extreme version of modernity, they began to feel disillusioned and unfulfilled, and they began to react. And to look for something that felt more rewarding… just like the seekers of 400 years ago brought in the modern age from an age whose name I do not know.
And so, now, we are on the threshold of a new age…. the postmodern age. Just what exactly it will be known for is kind of up in the air right now… check back in another 300 years and we will be able to see more clearly what is an enduring value of postmodernity, and what was just a passing fancy or a misinterpretation. Personally, I kind of hope they will have come up with a better name for it by then, too… “postmodern” is a tad on the clunky side, in my opinion.
Anyway, as things are currently shaping up, postmodernity values the symbolic, the mystical, and the experiential. A postmodern person has a worldview that is organic, matrixed, holistic, and spiritual. They value intuition, fluidity, subjectivity, mystery, narrative, pluralism/diversity, community, ritual, beauty. The postmodern person is comfortable with ancient practices and paradox, and prefers to think of things in a both/and paradigm instead of the either/or dualistic paradigm of modernism. The postmodern worldview integrates the spheres of life: all aspects of a person’s life are entwined. There is no sacred/secular split… one’s business is as holy as the form that one’s worship takes. This integration also includes the senses… postmoderns want to include all of the senses in life, as well as the whole body (rather than trying to focus life up in the head the way modern philosophy tended to do). Think fractals, chaos theory, probably anything from Einstein… And, perhaps the thing that the postmodern age is currently most famous/notorious for: radical relativism. Radical relativism states that there is no ultimate knowable Truth, that my truths are as equally valid as your truths, whatever they may be. My own opinion is that there is too much made of this particular aspect of the postmodern age; I suspect it is a combination of a really bad hangover from the bad effects of extreme modernity, and of a misunderstanding on the part of modern people about what postmodern folks are trying to say (But I could be wrong; we’ll have to check back in 300 years). The postmodern worldview looks very messy to someone with a modern worldview…..
When people try to apply their postmodern values, beliefs, and assumptions to their spiritual lives, the result is what is currently called the “emerging church” (sometimes “emergent”, but I think that is actually a specific name for a specific group, not a general term). People with a postmodern worldview tend to be spiritual people, with a deep sense of connectedness to the Divine (definitions of the Divine may vary). They have no problem believing in God. But they are disillusioned with institutions, and with outside authorities, and with what they see as the “non-spirituality” of organized religion. They see modern organized religion as irrelevant to their spiritual journey. “Church”, as it has come to be defined in the modern sense, just doesn’t speak to them of God. And yet they yearn for both the Divine and for community, and so they are experimenting with ways to be The Church (a community of believers journeying together) that are meaningful to them. These emerging church experiments vary quite a bit from location to location, because each group is trying to develop something that is local and authentic and uses all the gifts they have available. However, they all try to heal that secular/sacred split… Church isn’t just for Sunday; it’s all the time. And they all try to live as community in varying ways. And they emphasize the life of Jesus… the narrative of Jesus over the exposition of Paul. At least one emerging church says what they are trying to do is “follow the way of Jesus.” The words “Christian” and “Christianity” have become awkward words for the emerging church, because they are associated in many people’s minds with modern authoritarian creedal structures and subcultures. So the emerging churches try to emphasize with their phrasing that they are talking about a way of life, not a creedal set of beliefs.
Which brings us to the Quakers. When we are at our best, we are postmodern (when it is at its best). But we have been influenced by modern thought, too, almost right from the beginning. Just for example, the early Quakers denied the arts. Artistic expression was frowned upon, and got people disowned for hundreds of years. Was this really a valid expression of worshipping in Spirit and in Truth? Well, not in my opinion…. In my opinion, the denial of the arts was an unconscious accommodation to the modern worldview. And then there was the removal of all outward symbol/ritual… in essence stating that we cannot worship God in Spirit and in Truth unless we deny our senses and our bodies, and contain our spiritual lives solely in our heads. Another accommodation (again, in my opinion.) And, of course, our tendency to rely solely on spoken ministry in meeting for worship, is a very modern position… sort of a box that one must fit into or be rejected. (I am writing from the point of view of a Conservative Friend… other Friends may be able to pick out assumptions from their own traditions and from our shared foundation that seem to have more of “modern” in them than of “Truth”.)
Which brings us to convergent Friends, which seems to be a term that the emerging church has taken on within the Religious Society of Friends. Convergent Friends love Quakerism. I mean, they love it, deeply. They don’t want to go anywhere else; this is their spiritual home. And yet they don’t see Quakerism as a finished work. They think that Quakerism has more growing and developing and healing and emerging to do, in order to speak to pilgrims and seekers of the postmodern age. We Quakers have tried to live out a lot of the best ideals of the postmodern age for hundreds of years. Convergent Friends want to hold onto our best ideals, while learning how to channel the fire of the Spirit out into the world in a way that shines for this day and this place. Today is the day the Lord has made.
So, to make a short story very long, That is what “postmodern” is. We are living at a threshold time. Values are shifting. Old beliefs are being challenged. God is at work in exciting and scary ways. The Spirit is blowing us onto paths that we don’t know where we’re going, but the Way looks green. And The Mystery is walking beside us, and dwelling within us. Intuition, fluidity, mystery, paradox, beauty. Messy, maybe. But definitely hopeful.
[Some guys named Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger wrote a book called Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures that I “borrowed” a lot from for this essay. Also, a guy whose name I don’t remember wrote a book called The Emerging Church that was also very very helpful… I remember he lived on the West Coast and had the most amazing multicolored hair.]
P.S. In case you haven’t noticed, I am not an academic, or a history scholar. So some of my facts might be a bit muddled. I hope that people will feel free to let me know where I have gotten my story wrong, or where my words have been more confusing than helpful. Thank you in advance for your patience with me.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
However, something has come up. One of the wonderful things about being in Indiana last weekend, was getting to meet Brent Bill and buy his book, Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment. It is a deeply Quakerly book, written in a way that is accessible to everyone, Quaker or not. It is an encouraging, comforting book, telling us we each have accessible a “sacred compass”-- a guide that points us homeward to God. And when we pay attention to our sacred compass, the whole of our life becomes a pilgrim journey of transformation. There is even an excellent chapter on helping others to discern their own way. I have very much enjoyed reading it this week, while I have been flat on my back in bed trying to recover from an awful cold… a blessing, because I would not have had time to read as much if I hadn’t been as sick!
1) What led you to write Sacred Compass?
One of the main reasons I wanted to write a book on discernment was that it seemed to me there were way too many books about how to make the "right" decision regarding God's will for our lives and not enough that said "all of life can be a decision for God's will to be revealed." That latter idea was one I wanted to explore and thought that people would find helpful.
2) Who do you picture needing to read Sacred Compass?
The person I see picking up and finding it helpful is a person who is tired of the sort of 1-2-3 steps to finding God or 55 days of spiritual seeking or... a person who is looking for a deep affirming look at the presence of God's direction in his or her life. That includes the challenging times as well as the easy times. If a reader is looking for the 1-2-3 step sort of book, I don't think she or he will find Sacred Compass very satisfying. It doesn't offer clear, concise instructions or answers to our spiritual life's deepest questions. Rather it offers ways, practices, techniques for helping us find those answers -- all within the context of faith and our particular life situations.
3) Tell me about a time in your own life when you could have benefitted from the information in Sacred Compass.
Oh, there have been soooo many times. I especially wish somebody would have told me this when I was a teenager and trying to figure out what God's plan was for my life. And the emphasis was on "plan" -- not plans. This idea of a -- one -- plan is so destructive spiritually, I think, because it implies if you miss one part of the plan, you are doomed, at best, and damned, at worst. For all my Bible-based up-bringing, I had never heard the verse in Psalms (25:4) "Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths." The idea of paths for our lives, I think, is very freeing.
4) Tell me your favorite part of Sacred Compass... the part that always makes you smile, maybe because of something that happened while you were writing it, or because it seems so True to you that you can't hardly believe You wrote it.
One of my favorite parts is in the chapter called "West of Eden." I called it that, because as you know, Genesis tells us that the Garden was east of Eden. So if we're west of Eden, then we're certainly not in Paradise. Or at least that's how it can seem. And in this chapter, I relate a portion of how I, a city boy, ended up living on 50 acres in the country and how that move, at its onset and fraught with all kinds of family dynamics, did not seem like a move to Paradise to me. I smile now because, by allowing myself to be led in that direction (and honoring my good wife Nancy's leading to that place) many things opened up for me and indeed I have found a peace that comes from knowing that I am in the right place for this time of my life. God knows me better than I know myself. Imagine!! And so I read that story and I smile ruefully and delightedly.
5) Quick! The elevator door is about to open, the light is about to change, the fast-food line is moving, they're already running late for a meeting.... In a few sentences, what is the single most important thing about Sacred Compass that you would like to share with a potential reader?
“Our lives are journeys to the Divine. God calls us to love and life and light. The Sacred Compass is about making that journey in soulfully satisfying ways -- ways that bring joy and purpose to living, whether in good times or bad. Ways that lead to the face of our loving God.”
Monday, April 7, 2008
I am still too tired to write anything Deep, but I thought I might write about a little thing that happened.
After the official meeting was over, I planned to drive over to Nancy and Brent Bill’s house for a convergent dinner with Friends, that had been organized by Robin. While I was driving that way, my car’s engine began to make a strange rattling noise. I pulled into a local Burger King parking lot, and listened… yep, it was the engine. Nope, it didn’t sound like the sort of noise I wanted to hear 300 miles from home. So, I did what anyone would do. I prayed, and asked God to get me home safe. Then, I went into the Burger King and got a stiff drink. I sat for a few minutes and drank my Coke and browsed through Brent’s new book, The Sacred Compass (which is wonderful) and considered my options.
Finally, I decided, as much as I wanted to go to dinner, I would run straight for home, if the noise was still there when I started the car. I started the car. It was gone. Thank you, God. So I went to dinner and had a wonderful time talking about all things convergent/emergent/Quaker. And I drove home, and the noise didn’t return. This morning, Kevin told me to start the car, so he could hear the noise. And I did, not really thinking it would be there… after all, it hadn’t been there for 300 miles. The engine immediately began to rattle, worse than before. Kevin nodded and started to go down to the warehouse for tools. I said, “It didn’t make any noise at all, after I asked God to get me home!”
He shrugged. “I asked God to make it come back.”
So he fixed it. He says it was the air conditioning clutch that was failing and needed lubricating. Thank you, God, for getting me home safe. Thank you, God, for letting me feel like it might probably be OK to attend the dinner. Thank you, God, for letting the fix be cheap!
This is what I call a “shoelace miracle.” It’s a little thing. A really little and unimportant thing. And not very impressive. But it’s like this: when a three-yr-old goes to his father and holds out his shoe, and asks his father to tie his shoelace, does the father say, “That’s not important enough for me to worry about. Come back when you have something important that you need”? No. The father ties the shoelace. And the kid runs off, and thinks his father can Do Anything. (Which is a scary responsibility for us fallible flesh-and-blood parents). Every time God gives us a little shoelace miracle, we trust Him a little more. He can Do Anything! Even the easy stuff.
Monday, March 31, 2008
I work the overnight shift at my local McDonald’s. On the days I work, 8 or 9 am is my bedtime, and I regain consciousness sometime in the afternoon… I often wake up to discover interesting things have been happening.
“Sweetheart, are you awake?”
“Would you do me a really big favor? Would you hold something for me?”
“Don’t think I’ve been so asleep that I don’t know you have a kitten.”
“I need to finish editing this book. I can’t type with one hand…. It’s probably going to die, but…”
OK. So I took the little thing. New born, sometime while I was sleeping. Still wet. Little black and brown stripes. Closed eyes. And awfully awfully cold. I tucked it inside my shirt against my skin, and its little feet were Really chilly. The children clustered around to see the kitten, so I showed them the little lump, then I tucked him back under my shirt. Chilly Willy and I stayed in bed another hour, while his little body stole my warmth for himself. Gradually, he began to make little mewing noises. Then he began to squirm. I felt his little head begin to root around, trying to find his mama. The next time the children asked to see him, he was holding his head up. The next time, he was straightening his front legs and lifting his upper body and swinging his head around. After his little feet felt warm, I brought him out to the porch, and put him in the box with his mama and his less adventurous brothers and sisters. I left him snuggling up to her, looking pretty good for a little dying kitten.
He reminded me of the little chicks that I would occasionally find separated from their mothers and chilled, back when our mother hens raised their own broods. Little piles of cold yellow fluff, lying limp in the grass. I would take them in and put them under a heating pad, and in an hour or two, they’d be standing and peeping, little bright eyes looking all around for their mamas. A few more hours, and they’d be running around the yard, pecking and exploring as though they’d never been dying.
I have learned that we aren’t very good at predicting what is going to die, after all. What seems hale and hearty is gone in a moment. What seems a sure goner recovers.
I do know this: if the kitten and those chicks hadn’t gotten help, they Would have died. Sometimes we are tempted to write off a relationship, or a business venture, or a community, or a group of people, or a church. “It’s a goner,” we say and prepare to walk away. Sometimes it is…. A friend of mine tells me that he has taken cold dying calves into his kitchen to try to help them, and ended up with warm dead calves. But sometimes all “the goner” needs is a little care, a little warmth, a little love… to send it on its way with bright eyes again.
Friday, March 21, 2008
And we talked about being faithful. And about being called to be faithful, without worrying about the outcome. Letting the Lord be the One in charge of what “success” looks like, whether it’s what we expect or whether it looks suspiciously like what we would think of as failure. Holding on to the call of the Holy Spirit, and letting go of expectations, and just doing what we have been called to do. Or trying to do it, even though we think it is impossible. Oh, how scary to feel like the Lord is calling you to do something that You think is impossible! Surely not me, Lord…. Perhaps you have me confused with someone else, Lord….
I kept thinking about my dog. Once upon a time, I had a big, ugly, gator-headed, black-and-brindle dog named Jack. We took him in off the street--dumped and hungry--and he lived with us for nearly 10 years. The day we buried him, my husband said to me, “He was the most faithful dog I ever had.” And I have thought about that since, and I thought about it during our weekend retreat…. What does it mean to be faithful?
When I say Jack was a faithful dog, what do I mean? Certainly not that he was bright. Frankly, he was pretty dumb. We enrolled him in obedience class once, and the work of remembering how to Sit and Heel always exhausted him so much that the instructor started telling us to let him rest in the middle of class. “OK, you’ve lost Jack,” he’d say. “Let him go sit down for a while.” So, thank goodness, being smart is not part of it.
But he was always willing. He always wanted to do what we said, although sometimes he failed. OK, often he failed. But he was willing. And once it penetrated his thick skull that something would be good to do, he did it. So obedience is part of it, and being willing to be obedient is part of it. But I’ve had dogs who were just as obedient.
And then I think of Jack’s last days, after cancer had completely eaten away his left rear hip bone. For a long time, he had walked with a limp, and I had helped him up and down steps. But by the end, he couldn’t get up by himself. He would lie on the floor in whatever room I was in, and if he wanted to get up, he would signal, by placing his paws just so and cocking his head just so, and I would come over and lift his rear legs while Jack worked his front legs, and then we would go out and he’d get a drink or a bite to eat or relieve himself…. But after a while the leg began to swell and began to drag when he walked, and we knew that the pain killers and our care weren’t what Jack needed anymore. So we made the appointment.
As we were getting ready to go to the vet, one of my other dogs was standing between me and the kitchen door, and without thinking, I said, “Let’s go, Jack…” Talking to my other dog, shooing him out of the way, but using the wrong name. (I do that to my kids, sometimes too.) And I heard a sudden scrabbling, scratching, lurching noise from behind me on the kitchen floor, and I turned around. Jack was struggling to stand. He had managed to brace his front feet and pull his chest off the floor, and he was straining to pull his rear legs under him. And he was looking at me. I had said, “Let’s go, Jack” and that was good enough for him. He knew he couldn’t stand by himself. He hadn’t been able to stand by himself for awhile. But he knew I had called him, so he was willing to attempt the impossible, if it was what I wanted. I ran over and helped him to his feet. And he leaned on me… so calm, so trusting. That, in the end, is what being faithful means…. Trusting. Jack trusted me so much, that he was willing to attempt the impossible. Simply because I had called him.
I think about Jack sometimes when I am afraid to do something that I feel God is calling me to do. Some things just seem so big. So impossible. How can I? There must be some mistake.
And then I remember Jack. He never questioned me when he heard my call. He never looked afraid or doubtful. He just Tried. And he trusted me to be there for him. If I, who am just a grumpy old mama, can help Jack to his feet when he needs me…. How much more will my Lord catch me?
Sunday, March 16, 2008
A Friends Center weekend retreat facilitated by Brian Drayton
March 14-16, 2008
I knew I belonged at this weekend the moment Brian Drayton began to speak… because he began with a poem by Emily Dickinson:
The Soul should always stand ajar.
That if the Heaven inquire,
He will not be obliged to wait,
Or shy of troubling her.
Depart, before the host has slid
The bolt upon the door,
To seek for the accomplished Guest—
Her visitor no more.
Twenty of us gathered from 11 different states and many different yearly meetings to explore the role of Christ in our lives and in the life of our meetings. It was an extraordinary group of people, deeply committed to our Faith and to exploring what our Faith means to us and to others. Often abundantly joyous, sometimes sad or uncertain how to go forward, always hopeful… we meditated on the needs of the Soul, told our own stories, discussed our own understandings of Christ, related our understanding of Christ to the way we can choose to act within our meetings and the world beyond, and shared our thoughts on our Way Forward--how we might bring our insights home with us.
When I say it was an extraordinary group of people, I am not exaggerating… listening to each person speak, I was awed by the great work that God was undertaking in each of our lives, and at the faithfulness of these Friends in listening to and obeying their individual calls. I filled up 23 pages with notes, and I suspect that I will be meditating on and writing about this weekend for a long time. For now, just a tiny sample of what we discussed will have to be sufficient.
As we discussed ways of choosing to act, Brian made sure we kept in mind Naylor’s instructions for fighting the Lamb’s War: Waiting (listening for the Spirit), Obeying (acting promptly when the call becomes clear), and Suffering (daring to make a fool of oneself in the name of Love).
One way of expressing our call to the world felt particularly striking to me. Brian and some other participants expressed it beautifully... if any of you recognize your words in here, I thank you very much for sharing such good words:
Part of our calling is to feel where the divine Seed is oppressed--in ourselves, in others, in the world-- and to be sensitive to opportunities to liberate the Seed. Creating life with more abundance, more joy, more freedom, more Love. Living out the promises, learning the Dance of the Spirit. Being willing to accept the possibility of failure out of sheer love.
This perspective on our calling to the world as followers of Christ feels good to me, because it feels generous, and open, and positive. It feels like an invitation. I have always felt that talking about Christ should feel more like an invitation to a party than like a summons to a court. It felt good to be able to share that sense of joy with others this weekend.
There is so much more to say! But this will have to do for now. More prosaic tasks like the dishes and diaper-changing are calling me. More later. I very much hope and pray that other participants in this weekend will feel led here to share something of what felt important to them.
I'll ditto Brian's parting prayer: May the Lord keep us all watchful, courageous, diligent, cheerful, foolish, and sweet.
God bless us, everyone!
**A postscript: I finally finished a more formal report about the "Talking About Christ" weekend. If you are interested, you can find it on The Conservative Friend's Viewpoints page.**
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
We applied for a booth in which to sell our honey, beeswax candles, and bodycare products from the hive. And we started asking our fellow Friends if they would like to help us bring the good news to this audience. Some were enthusiastic. Some offered to pray for us. Some gave money. Some volunteered to come hang out with us and be evangelists. Some were skeptical.
The skeptics told us that people at metaphysical expos weren’t interested in Christianity. That we would be wasting our time in a hostile environment. Some of them were concerned that we would be making conservative Friends look bad by associating with such an event. There were enough people encouraging us that we felt our leading to go was probably correct. There were enough skeptics discouraging us that we proceeded cautiously, even while we hoped.
The expo was a wonderful success. We set up the booth so that roughly a third of the space was devoted to information about Quakers and Christianity: tracts, book catalogs, some books, handouts with Quaker websites on them, etc. The rest of the space was our hive-products, which we hoped to sell enough of to pay for the weekend (which it did. Yay!). Our fellow evangelists came out and hung around the booth and also wandered around the show, making conversation with people, and leaving tracts here and there as the Spirit led.
Many people asked us questions about Quakerism in general, and conservative Friends in particular. Some asked us where they could find a Quaker meeting/church to attend. Several people expressed happiness that Christians were at the expo (“Oh, wonderful! Oh, it’s about time!” said one enthusiastic woman with a cross around her neck). A few clearly thought we were delusional, but since we were so cheerful about it, they stayed and chatted and asked questions just to see what sort of delusion we had. Several of the other vendors stopped by at various times throughout the weekend with little gifts for our children… “Is it OK if they have this?” they would ask, handing me a book or some crystals, or some little carved wooden toys, or some candy. There were indeed one or two people who seemed very uncomfortable near us, but they were few, and were far outnumbered by the ones who seemed to want to chat and chat… and chat! It felt very good to be there. There was such a sense of spiritual yearning among the people there, such a strong spirit of seeking and hoping.
One of the things we did was to give away free Bibles. We kept a Bible on the table all the time, with a sign on it that read: “Free to a Good Home (or a bad one)”. Approximately a dozen Bibles walked away from our booth that weekend. One went to a little old lady who told me, “I got my old Bible 30 years ago, but my eyes are 30 years older now… thank you so much for this nice big print!” A couple Bibles were spirited away when I wasn’t looking. Some people tried to pay for them. I remember one young woman in particular: She was probably 18, dressed in black, a piercing here, a tattoo there, extravagantly dyed hair… an ordinary lovely unremarkable young lady of her generation. She was walking by the booth with her two young male friends, but she stopped when she saw the Bible.
“Is… Is that really free?” she asked.
“Yep,” I said. “Free. If you’d like it, you can have it.”
“What kind of Bible is it?”
“Oh, just an ordinary King James.”
“No… Umm… I mean, what denomination?”
I paused here, trying to think of a useful answer. I stumbled a bit. “Well… it’s just a Christian Bible… lots of denominations use it…”
By now, she had picked it up, and was beginning to randomly turn the pages. “Does it have the psalms?”
Behind her, I could hear her friends muttering and snickering together—“…doesn’t even know what’s in a bible….” … “…thinks she’s a Christian…”.
“Oh, yes. It has the psalms. They’re in the middle of the book. Here…” and I reached over and helped flip the pages to the right place.
I watched as she turned a few more pages, ran her finger down a column, and stopped, and read silently. And her eyes lit up, and she breathed, “Oh, yes!” And she clutched the book to her with both hands and strode off, with her two jesters trailing behind her. And I wanted to holler out, “Wait! Which psalm was it!?” But she was already gone. Maybe someday I will find out…
I am thinking of this now, because in less than a week my husband is going to be attending our second metaphysical expo, The Gift of Light Expo, also in Columbus. The plan is more or less the same… hive-products for sale, tracts for free, conversation for the asking. We are very much looking forward to being among such seekers again. We are hoping to be able to help some along their spiritual path. Through God’s Grace, we also hope to be helped along our spiritual path. If you think of it, say a prayer for us, that we will be a blessing at the Gift of Light Expo this weekend. And that we will find that we are blessed there, too.