Friday, April 25, 2014

Quakers and Women in Ministry (Video)

In February, I had the opportunity to go to Philadelphia to observe the Friends Journal board meeting for a school project.  While I was there, Jon Watts interviewed me for Friends Journal's new QuakerSpeak project.  We talked about a lot of things, including my recording process, vocal ministry, my home meeting, Freedom Friends Church, and women in ministry.

I feel honored to be featured in this week's QuakerSpeak video about Quakers and women in ministry, along with Marcelle Martin, Carole Spencer, and others.  This video does a great job of explaining Friends' history of women in ministry, as well as talking about some of the ongoing challenges for women in ministry.

I am very excited about the QuakerSpeak project, and I look forward to the ways that QuakerSpeak will share information about Friends today in its weekly videos.  Good work, Friends!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Seeking the Living Water

[The message I gave out of open worship at the Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas consultation in High Point, NC.

At Freedom Friends Church, we always begin with gratitude.  I am grateful to be here with all of you this evening.  I am grateful for safe travels and warm welcomes.  I am grateful for Deborah S, who is eldering for me, and for all of the Friends who are holding me in prayer.  I am grateful for all of you, for the joy and hope and love you bring to this gathering.  I am grateful that God is not finished with us yet.

In Jeremiah 2:13, the prophet Jeremiah speaks the word of the Lord, saying, “My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns, cisterns that cannot hold water.”

As I was preparing this message, two images from the natural world came to me.  The first is of dead trees filled with salt in Alaska.

I was born and raised in Alaska, and so was my mother, and so were her parents.  That place is deep in my bones.  There are certain colors and smells and images that I associate with it, and when I see them or smell them, I know that I am home.

One of the most haunting images of my childhood was of these dead trees.  They are a result of the 1964 earthquake.  That earthquake was 9.2 and lasted for four minutes.  My grandparents and my mother thought that it was the end of the world.  They ran outside as their house fell off its foundation.  The destruction was incredible.

In one part of Alaska, the ground sank below sea level, and the trees’ root systems filled with salt water.  Decades later, you could drive by and see these ghost trees, standing exactly as they stood during the earthquake.  It is a haunting image and one that seemed like it would last forever.

This was a natural reaction to a natural disaster.  The water that killed those trees had been living water, but it was no longer life-giving for those trees. 

Sometimes when we encounter God, it feels a little like that: overwhelming.

There is a story in the Bible where Jesus takes three of his disciples up onto a mountain to pray, and while they are there, they have an encounter with the living God.  As Jesus was praying, his face was transformed and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening.  (Luke 9:29)

This story is like another story in the Bible, where Moses also went up a mountain to encounter God.  After he did, his face also glowed.  His face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.  (Exodus 34:29)

But the first time Moses went down from the mountain, he found that the people had built a golden calf and were worshiping it.  (Exodus 32:5-6)

The question that people always ask is, How could the Israelites do that?  They had just had an incredible encounter with the living God; God had just rescued them from slavery in Egypt and performed miracle after miracle.  But I think it is not in spite of that encounter with God that the Israelites built the golden calf, but because of it.

A phrase you often hear Quaker ministers say to each other is, “Watch what you fill up on.”  When we encounter the living God, that experience changes us, inside and out, and others can see it.  We feel different and we look and sound different. 

Afterward, there is a strong impulse to recreate the experience, to fill the hole that was so recently filled by the presence of God.

And, in the story of Jesus on the mountain, this is what Peter wanted to do.  He saw Jesus’ radiant face and the two men with him and said, “Master, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters―one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  The Bible says that he did not know what he was saying.  (Luke 9:33) 

But Peter knew that he had encountered the living God.  He wanted to mark the experience and hold on to it by making a tabernacle, but the spirit of God had moved on.

I began with Jeremiah 2:13, a passage that has been important to me.  But when I was in North Carolina a couple years ago, a Friend from Ohio Yearly Meeting reminded me of another passage about water.  Proverbs 5:15 instructs us to “drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.”

The context of this verse is faithfulness to one’s spouse, but I think it works for the Religious Society as Friends as well.  We are all here because we have found something, we have encountered the living God, we have found the living water here among Friends.  Where have we found it?  Where have we abandoned it?  Where do we find it now?

Even if we have abandoned the living water or we have set up monuments to the past, there is always hope.  Even those ghost trees that haunted my childhood won’t last forever.  When I was a teenager, an artist began to make salt and pepper shakers out of the trees. 

The second image from the natural world that came to me is of a place that I used to pass by in Salem, Oregon when I would take walks on my lunch break.  It was a place that had been a concrete driveway, but the concrete had been taken away and there was grass growing where it had been.  After a while, you couldn’t even see where the concrete had been, it was just grass.

Concrete seems permanent.  It is heavy and it seems like it will last forever, but it doesn’t.  It is possible for grass to grow where there was once concrete.

Transformation is always possible.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Thoughts on Leadings III

[My reflection paper for the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference.  The theme and quotes for reflection are available online here.]

As I write this from Atlanta, the Pacific Northwest feels very far away.  At the same time, the theme of “Wilt Thou Go On My Journey” speaks to me, and especially the quote from Luke, where Jesus tells the disciples to go out and take nothing on the journey.  Last year, I sold and gave away almost everything I owned because I felt God leading me to go to seminary.  At the end of my first year, I am still not sure why or what I will be doing when I am finished with this degree.  But I felt clear that this was the path for me and I am continuing on it.

The quote from Isaiah (“Here I am.  Send me!”) made me smile.  Out of context, it seems so hopeful and encouraging.  But the chapter goes on to say that Isaiah will speak but the people will not understand.  When Isaiah asks how long, God responds, “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate.”  (Isaiah 6:11)

This is a hard message.  God is asking Isaiah to go out and speak to a people whose eyes are shut and ears are closed, until everything is destroyed.  But at the end, a stump remains, and “The holy seed is its stump.”  (Isaiah 6:14)  This passage and the other quotes remind me that in ministry, our goal is faithfulness, not success.  God may be calling us to do or say hard things, things that others may not understand.  And yet, even when it seems like everything is falling apart, God is still there.

At the beginning of a leading, everything feels easy and rightly ordered.  I am afraid, of course, because I am taking on something new, but I also have a deep sense of joy.  As I go on and follow that leading, things become harder.  I find myself feeling worn down, or in conflict with people I care about, or simply questioning whether I heard correctly.  I start to calculate the costs of setting out on the journey and think that it would have been easier just to stay home.

I have also found that following leadings tend to bring up my deep stuff―the things I need to work through.  In fact, this is one of the signals for me that I am on the right track.  When I find myself struggling with old issues, I know there is something for me to learn from the situation and that my perspective is valuable in some way that I can’t quite see.

Fortunately, I don’t have to go it alone.  I have a massive “spiritual pit crew” for this journey including my spiritual director, an anchoring committee, elders, peers in ministry, and many friends who are willing to provide a listening ear or a timely prayer.  It is also a blessing for me to be able to accompany others in this way, whether it is through an ongoing spiritual friendship or a spontaneous phone call from a different time zone.

When I get to the end of a leading, it never looks quite the way I expected.  The fantastic visions I had when I first felt led have been replaced with a more solid reality, but one that feels earned and better than what I imagined because it is real.  I am grateful for the things that I have learned along the way, even the hard things, and for the relationships that have deepened.  I can see how God was with me through it all.  Most of all, I am tired and ready for a rest―happy to lay down this particular thing for a while and take a break before the next journey.