Thursday, July 30, 2009

Visitor Letter of Introduction

Dear Lon F,

It is my pleasure to introduce Ashley W, a sojourning member of University Friends Meeting in Seattle, Washington, and member of Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon. We are delighted to send Ashley to Northwest Yearly Meeting as a visitor from North Pacific Yearly Meeting.

Ashley has been very active in Friends' matters in the Pacific Northwest. She was on the local arrangements committee for the 2009 annual session of Friends World Committee on Consultation in Canby, Oregon, this past March. She is also co-clerk of the planning committee for the 2010 Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference. She is a catalyst for the Seattle Young Adult Friends group and is currently serving on the steering committee for University Friends Meeting's Year of Discernment. Her commitment and loving energy have been a blessing in our community.

Ashley feels called to create and nurture community among Friends. I know that she will have much to learn and share at your annual sessions, and we look forward to hearing about her experiences with you. We commend her to your loving care.

In peace,

Helen D
NPYM Presiding Clerk

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


About a month ago, I started to get nervous about going to North Pacific Yearly Meeting annual session. At first, I just had a sort of general dread and I couldn't figure out why. Eventually I realized that I was worried that I would have to speak in meeting for worship and I was afraid that I would have to say hard things.

Now I feel like I had two separate experiences at the annual session. A part of me had a wonderful time. I enjoyed participating in my worship with music group, traveling with Sarah P, spending time with Friends that I don't get to see very often, and exploring the University of Montana campus. I even liked playing the Holy Spirit in the skit we did for community night, though I felt much more visible than I am usually comfortable with.

The other part of me was filled with increasing dread as the weekend progressed at the thought of having to speak.

By Sunday morning, I was in bad shape. I knew I would have to give a message during the worship that morning, but I had no idea what that would be. Worst of all, I could not feel God, not even to be angry with God. I felt desolate and prayed for words, anything to give me an idea of what I was supposed to say.

After breakfast, my worship with music group met for the final time. In this worship group, we followed a pretty typical worship sharing format, except that instead of speaking, we shared through songs. Out of the silence, one person would suggest a song that spoke to the queries or her condition. We would all sing the song together, then settle back into silence.

The worship with music group was the spiritual highlight of NPYM for me. I love singing with other people and everyone in the group was very tender with each other. But on Sunday morning, about halfway through, I couldn't go on. I moved my chair so that I could pray on my knees as the group continued to sing.

A few minutes later, a Friend began to rub my back and I started to cry. I cried because I was tired and angry. I did not want to speak in front of so many people and I still had no idea what I was supposed to say. I wanted God to find someone else, anyone else, to give whatever message I was supposed to give. I wanted to enjoy the music and the worship instead of feeling so wretched.

I felt like God took some pity on me and agreed to give me something to start with. I recently re-read A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly and a particular sentence stood out to me. After my worship group ended, I ran down to the bookstore and found the book in the stacks going back to the bookstore. I wrote down the sentence I had in mind, along with the sentence before and after it.

Before the meeting, I asked a few Friends to hold me in prayer if I did have to speak. I asked two to sit on either side of me and another to sit directly across from me. As soon as I sat down, I felt a little better. I have spoken in meeting before, and sitting in the circle felt familiar. I also felt drained and resigned―I was tired of fighting with God.

We settled into worship and I could feel my message changing. Others spoke, and they reminded me of the love of Christ and how that is the center of our faith. Finally, I felt a leading to speak. The chair in front of me was empty, so I held on to the back of it and said,

In the past month, I have asked Friends for a lot of money. I have asked for over $6,000 and I have gotten most of it. I filled out two scholarship applications to be here and I got most of that money too, which was good because otherwise I would not have been able to come.

In A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly wrote, "We have mistaken the nature of poverty, and thought it was economic poverty."

I am grateful to Friends for your money
―it makes it possible for me to do my ministry.

He also said, "The deepest need of men is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God."

Our service is to turn others toward God, in whatever language you use. To turn others toward the Divine, toward the Light, toward Christ, toward Love. That is our service. And I wonder what our lives would look like if we knew it.
I sat back down and wept as the Friends on either side of me held my hands. I heard some messages responding to what I had said, but they rolled off of me. I felt like a burden had been lifted from me and although I was still tired and weak, I felt like I had been faithful.

As difficult as that was, knowing that I had a message to give in advance helped me to ask for the support I needed. After the rise of meeting, many Friends approached me and said that they appreciated my message and that it spoke to them in surprisingly different ways. I am glad that the message spoke to them, but I still don't understand why it had to come from me.

Later that day, I got a ride back to Seattle with Friends. I returned to my ordinary life, tired and disoriented.

I talked about my experience of speaking in worship with a friend on the bus yesterday. I commented that I was still fighting with God. She laughed at me kindly and said, "You know God's going to win. You could surrender now and save yourself some trouble." I know. But I'm not ready yet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Survey Results

Thank you to everyone who voted in and commented on the survey! I think it was quite successful. I got a lot of good responses, both here and to my post on facebook.

Here are the official results:

Total number of votes: 28
  1. Read a little bit from the Old Testament and a little bit from the New Testament each day. (16 votes, 57%)
  2. Read the gospels over and over until you get it. (11 votes, 39%)
  3. Turn back to page one and try again. (5 votes, 17%)
  4. Start from the end and work your way back to the beginning. (4 votes, 14%)
  5. What do you need it for after you read it? (3 votes, 10%)
People also suggested many other books that I could read:
  • The Koran
  • Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell, by Stephen Hawking
  • Tao te Ching
  • The Essential Rumi
  • The Tibetan book of the Dead
  • Bhagavad-Gita
  • The Essential Kabbalah
  • The Way of a Pilgrim
  • Siddhartha
  • Awakening the Buddha Within
  • the books of the Apocrypha
  • The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, by Frank Viola
  • Prophet and Teacher, by William Herzog
  • The New Testament and the People of God, by NT Wright
  • Daily Light on the daily path, from the Billy Graham Association
  • Authors: Bart D Ehrman, David Boulton, and Karen Armstrong
And there were lots of great ideas for things I could do:
  • Write a new Bible
  • a series of Lectio Divina either directed or random selections from the NT and maybe the wisdom books of the OT
  • Jager-bomb
  • lay the Bible on the table, use a blow dryer to select a random page and then stick a pin in a verse blindfolded and then live that verse out in a literal fashion for the day!
  • get a copy of "The Untold Story of the New Testament Church" by Frank Viola and go through Acts and the Pauline epistles using it as a study guide
  • read the NT over again, but in the order it was actually written
  • start memorizing passages
  • spend some time letting all this percolate
  • read around the Bible, and have it to hand to see what the authors are talking about
  • know the main reason I'm reading the Bible that day
  • start reading it with other people
Reading everyone's responses made me think about why I started reading the Bible again in the first place. Although this was my first time reading the Bible from cover to cover, it was definitely not my first time reading the Bible.

I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that I grew up in a Bible immersion program. From kindergarten until eighth grade, I attended Sonrise Christian School, where we prayed every day (usually several times), had chapel once a week, and in addition to having a Bible class, memory verse was a graded subject (a subject I actually failed one semester in fourth grade, but that's another story). If we spoke out of turn in class, instead of having us write lines, the teacher would keep us in for recess copying out every verse in the concordance under "silence." And all through my childhood, my Dad would read us a chapter of the Bible every night before bed.

I have written before about my falling out with Christianity. A big part of the problem for me was how I saw people using the Bible as a weapon to condemn and alienate others. I wanted nothing to do with it, so I stopped reading the Bible (and going to church). Other than using my knowledge of biblical references to impress literature professors at my godless university, I didn't really think about it much.

But then, about ten years later, I found myself in an unprogrammed Friends meeting with a sudden urge to try reading the Bible again. It made me nervous. I wasn't sure what reading the Bible would do to me and I think I was afraid that I would have some extreme reaction―either become a fundamentalist or blow off all religion again.

Fortunately, neither of those things happened. I mentioned to my Mom that I thought it would be good to read the Bible in a different translation and asked her to send one of the many Bibles my parents have at their house. She went out and bought me a new Bible in the Message translation, which is the one I am close to finishing.

By reading the Bible, I was trying to bring something from my childhood into my present to see if it has life. I was also trying to take texts that had become so familiar that I could no longer see them and read them with new eyes.

It has been a very rich experience for me and one that I have tried to document to some extent on this blog. Just as it was in my childhood, the Bible is at times beautiful, violent, funny,
frustrating, comforting, inspiring, and baffling. I don't think I am any closer to understanding it than I was when I started Genesis over a year ago, but I am glad I have given it a try.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And Now a Survey

As I get closer to Revelation, I keep wondering what I should do when I finish reading the Bible cover to cover. At my current rate of reading, I should be done within the next month or so. And according to Blogger, this is my 100th post, so I thought I'd try something different.

I would like some audience participation about my Bible reading. I have posted a survey above with options of what I could do next:

  • Turn back to page one and try again.
  • What do you need it for after you read it?
  • Read the gospels over and over until you get it
  • Read a little bit from the Old Testament and a little bit from the New Testament each day.
  • Start from the end and work your way back to the beginning.
So what do you think? Feel free to vote early and vote often. The survey will be up for a week and if you vote multiple times, it will make me feel like more people are reading my blog.

If you have other thoughts on how I should read the Bible, feel free to leave a comment. I don't promise to follow the results of the survey, but I am interested in hearing your thoughts.