Saturday, January 31, 2009

Winter Harvest

One of the things I love about living in Seattle is that the University District Farmers Market is open year-round. My winter CSA ended this week, so I headed over to the farmers market today to get some groceries. I was amazed by how much is available.

For less than $20, I got a bunch of carrots, kale, two onions, four potatoes, three apples, and half a pound of black beans. It is all local and organic and I also got to listen to live music while I shopped. Pretty good for the last day of January!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Among Friends

I sometimes feel like I am living a double Quaker life between Freedom Friends Church, where I am a member, and University Friends Meeting, where I am a sojourning member. Last week, I attended worship at both meetings and I felt led to speak at each. Now I am wondering whether there is a connection between those messages.

I spent the weekend before last hanging out with Peggy and Alivia and had the pleasure of attending meeting on Sunday morning. Freedom Friends is a church that inspires fierce loyalty and love. At the beginning of the meeting, when we were all listing our gratitudes, several people mentioned how grateful they were for the church. Many of the attenders have real and serious problems, but it is clear how much everyone cares about the community.

As part of an opening prayer, Peggy mentioned all of the people who couldn't be there, but were with us in spirit. After we settled into the silence, I felt the undeniable sense of being led to speak (this is not my favorite thing, so I think if I didn't get so uncomfortable, I might never say a word). I said,
I have been thinking about all the people who are not here, but are thinking of us, and how usually I am one of those people. I want you to know that I do think of you, and I pray for you, and it is a joy to hold this meeting in the Light.
I got back to Seattle a few days before University Friends Meeting's second all-meeting retreat. University Friends is a much older, more comfortable meeting that I am helping to make a little less comfortable in its Year of Discernment.

The goals of the year are to discern who we are as a community and what we are called to do. The second retreat focused on tools for individual discernment. Cathy Whitmire from the Widbey Island Worship Group came to lead us in discernment exercises. In the final exercise, we met in mini clearness committees focused on the question, "When you look into your place of deepest knowing, what do you most desire?"

After the clearness committees, we had time for open worship. Again, I felt that heart-pounding, can't-stay-in-my-seat feeling. So I stood and said,
I have been thinking about the connection between what we most desire and what we are called to do. I like my job, but I don't think of my job as my calling. I don't know if I will ever have a job that I think of as my calling. But I am the only Quaker where I work, and I get a lot of questions about being a Quaker. I try to answer the questions as honestly as I can. It is a burden and a gift to represent this community.
Looking at both of these messages, I can see that they have to do with me and my relationships with my meetings. A recurring theme in my life lately has been trying to find my place in the world. Within the Quaker world, I find myself taking on the roles of nurturer and representative and sometimes reluctant speaker. These are gifts and burdens, but overall, it is a joy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sermonizing II

When I was thinking about why I am uncomfortable with the word sermon, this thought came out of nowhere: Girls Don't Preach. I thought, Seriously? Is that what this is all about? It's amazing how certain verses that have never been used against me can still haunt my subconscious, just waiting for the right moment to jump out and make me wonder how they were there the whole time.

To begin with, I know that women preach. I spent the last weekend at the house of a great example. In fact, most of the pastors I know are women. And although my upbringing was fairly conservative Christian, I also come from a family of independent, self-sufficient women. Not to mention the fact that I have no trouble ignoring other biblical injunctions (the kosher rules and condemnation of homosexuality, for example). So why do I feel constrained by a few verses about women?

I decided to take a second look at the verses that are most frequently cited to keep women out of leadership roles, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. It turns out, in the Message translation, the passage doesn't even apply to me:
Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God's Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking.
Last time I checked, I wasn't married, so no big deal, right? Of course, I had to look at the version from my youth, the NIV:
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
That seemed more familiar. But again, I do not have a husband at home to inquire about anything.

More importantly, it is clear that I do not follow the letter of this rule, let alone the spirit. I don't feel led to speak often in meeting, but when I do, I don't stay silent! And the verses really don't say anything about writing sermons on a blog.

It worries me that I can let a few verses that I don't even really remember hold me back from doing something I feel led to do. I am also frustrated that there are many churches, even young, growing churches in the city where I live, that would not allow women to preach based on these words.

Earlier this week, I watched our new president being sworn into office. I had tears of joy in my eyes as I witnessed that historic event, but I also have to admit that I cringed a little whenever anyone mentioned that this is the first African-American president. I know it's true, but for some reason I don't want anyone to say it.

I think part of my negative response is because I know that if we acknowledge the racism and sexism that still exist in our culture, that means we have to do the work to fix it. I don't want our new president to have to bear the burden of being the first African-American president. On a much smaller scale, I don't want to have to do the work of proving that I have something Spirit-led to say, even though I am a woman.

But all of this has to do with how other people see me, not how God sees me. I sometimes hear the voice of God in the most unlikely places. For example, in lyrics by Ani DiFranco:
i got no illusions about you
guess what
i never did
when i said
when i said i'll take it
i meant
i meant as is
God knew who I was when she made me. If God gives me messages for other people, I figure she knows what she's doing. And in looking up these verses, I found a command that speaks to my condition: "When you speak forth God's truth, speak your heart out." (1 Corinth. 14:39). I am going to try.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Recently, Alivia has referred to a few of my posts as "sermons." I told her that the word made me uncomfortable. To begin with, I associate sermons with preaching. I do not want to preach, I do not want to seem preachy on my blog, and I do not feel qualified to preach. I went to law school, not seminary.

According to my Oxford Desk Dictionary, a sermon is
1. spoken or written discourse on a religious or moral subject, esp. a discourse based on a text or passage of Scripture and delivered in church. 2. piece of admonition or reproof; lecture
I suppose I have to concede that many of my blog posts fit into the category of a written discourse on a religious subject.

I have heard enough sermons in my life, though, to know that there is more to it than that. A real sermon has a certain character to it, an anointing by God that allows the listeners to hear the message through the words.

Of course, all of this is complicated by the fact that the Quaker meetings I am a part of do not have sermons. I know that some Quaker churches have official sermons, and I have heard some great sermons by Quaker pastors, but if someone starts giving a message at my meetings that sounds like a sermon, people get uncomfortable.

But maybe discomfort isn't a bad thing. I was thinking about this last night while I was reading Jeremiah and this passage spoke to me:
I said, "But Master, God! Their preachers have been telling them that everything is going to be all right—no war and no famine—that there's nothing to worry about."

Then God said, "These preachers are liars, and they use my name to cover their lies. I never sent them, I never commanded them, and I don't talk with them. The sermons they've been handing out are sheer illusion, tissues of lies, whistlings in the dark."

(Jeremiah 14:13-14). This is another place where I feel an Old Testament prophet has a clear message for us today. So many preachers in this country seem tell us that if we pray, nothing bad will happen to us. Wars, trouble, and famine may come to other nations, but not to us because we are special. I think this kind of preaching may be more dangerous in the end than boring or moralistic sermons.

After I mentioned that I was uncomfortable with the word "sermon," Tom commented that he distinguishes between sermons that come from individuals and prophetic messages that come through individuals from the Spirit.

Friends have a strong tradition of prophetic witness and we recognize that anyone may be called to minister. I hope that in the days ahead, those who feel called to preach sermons and to give prophetic messages will question our assumptions and truly let the Spirit speak through them.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Faith and Practice

I was standing in the library stacks yesterday when a man walked up to me and asked me whether I believe in God. I said that I did. He then asked me whether I believe in Jesus and I said yes. He also wanted to know whether I speak in tongues and which church I attend. At that point, I told him that I really had to go.

I am not particularly averse to talking about God with total strangers, but I think mentioning the fact that I am a Quaker probably would have started a discussion that would last longer than my lunch break.

I have been thinking about the concept of Quaker faith and practice a lot lately. Part of the reason is that the Freedom Friends Church Faith and Practice is just about done. I have not been very involved in the process, but it has been wonderful to see the Faith and Practice come together. The fact that we have a faith and practice reminds me that for Quakers, the question is not only "what do you believe?" but also "what does your faith lead you to do?"

In reading through the Bible, I just finished Isaiah. It was a challenging book for me. Some parts had amazing prophetic language, but a lot of it was violent and disturbing. One passage in particular has stayed with me, and I think applies just as well to our nation as it did to Israel:
Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'

Well, here's why:

The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.

You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.

What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

(Isaiah 58:1-9).

This seems like the U.S. in a nutshell. We say we love God, but we are much too busy. We feel sure that God is on our side, but judging from the news, we focus on money much more than God. We make a big show of our belief in God, and then wonder why things don't always go our way.

Fortunately, in addition to this indictment we also have clear instructions on how to put our faith into practice: feed the hungry, invite the homeless in, clothe those who are cold, and make time for the people we love. When we do that, God will hear our prayers.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

So This is the New Year

I do not respond well to change and it always takes me a while to accept that a new year has actually started. I think I write the wrong date on everything much longer than most. As usual, I am having trouble believing that it is 2009. This is a particularly significant year for me because I graduated from high school in 1999. Where did the decade go?

Over the past ten years, I have studied, traveled, worked, and moved. A lot. I can't seem to stay in one place for more than a few years, and in some cases, more than a few months. Since high school graduation, I have lived in four states and two countries, and I have lost count of the number of apartments and houses.

I once complained to my Southern Alter Ego that I felt like as soon as I got settled anywhere, I would be uprooted and have to start all over. She suggested that it might help me to see moving as planting seeds in different places. That analogy made me feel better, but moving is never easy.

I have also noticed that as soon as I know I am going to move, I start daydreaming about having a garden. I have never had the space or time to have own garden, but I love the idea of committing to a place and a piece of land for long enough to make things grow and be able to eat food that I planted myself.

After my New Year's resolution last year didn't work out, I wasn't sure whether I would try having a resolution this year. Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea what this year would look like. My current job ends in August and I was feeling very uncertain about where I would go next and what I would do.

But I have decided to stay in Seattle for a year after this job is over and so my resolution for this year is to have my own garden. I haven't decided what I will plant, but I am very excited about growing some of my own food and staying in my house long enough for a garden to grow.

Of course, I know that I am not in control and any plans I make are tentative. I still don't know what this year will look like, really, but I am grateful for all that I have. As the new year begins, I am especially grateful for my family and friends, my job, food on the table, a warm home, and hope for the future.