• What a Bonsai artist and Wood Carver are Teaching Me About Loving My "Craft"

    I've always been attracted to the stories of people who pursued a craft beyond repeated failures. Over the last couple weeks several of these stories have landed in my lap, which probably means it is time to pay attention. 

    The most recent was a story of a man who started a school here in Portland, OR called Bonsai Mirai, which has become known as one of the best places to learn about the art of Bonsai in the world. The creator of the school Ryan Neil started the school, but only after pursuing his love of Bonsai with a passion that superceded failure. I heard a piece about Ryan on the radio, and these lines jumped out to me: 

    "Neil wanted to move to Japan when he finished high school, but his parents insisted on college, so he studied horticulture. It was all with a singular goal: to study with Masahiko Kimura. He’s really the father of modern bonsai,” said Neil. “He took traditional bonsai and literally turned it on its head. I mean, turned trees upside down. No one even knew that was possible. And he was the one from age 12, he was the one I was going to study with.” A mentor took Neil to Japan and introduced him to Kimura, who laughed at the idea of taking on an American student. So Neil wrote him a letter. It went unanswered. He wrote another letter. Again, unanswered. He continued to write every month for two years until finally, a month before graduation, Kumura agreed to let him come. Neil spent six years under Kimura’s eye."(you can read the whole piece here: Is Portland the Epicenter of an American Bonsai Movement?)

    I am imagining Ryan writing 24 letters. He put each one of them in a mailbox in Porltand, OR marked to Japan not knowing whether it would be put immediately in the trash. After two years of rejection Neil spent six years with the mentor of his dreams, and has used all he learned under Mr. Masahiko Kimura to start Bonsai Mirai. 

    Just days before I heard this story on the radio I stumbled upon a video I had never expected to like. I don't know why I clicked play, perhaps it was just curiorisity. The video is by a man named David Bull. During the first few seconds you hear the sound of wood being carved with a knife, I don't know why, but this sound hit my ears and my brain went into a state of focused relaxation. David started talking and I was hooked. The way his voice sounds, and the care of his movements was unexpectantly soothing. I feel the same way when I watch Bob Ross videos...I cannot stop watching, it's as if my entire body enters a state of relaxation. 

    I was then captivated by the story David began to tell. In his continued pursuit of carving mastery David sought out the companionship of Mr. Susumu Ito. In the video David talks about how difficult it was to get Mr. Susumu Ito to allow him to observe him carving. David was continualy turned down. It wasn't until a TV crew approached Mr. Susumu Ito with a proposal to create a documentary series that David was invited into his space. 

    What strikes me about this video is David's commitment to his craft, and his continued pursuit of learning from the best. Also the mystery of Mr. Susumu Ito, and the way he held his craft close to his heart, cautious and careful about who he shared it with. (If you want to watch the video yourself I will embed it at the end of this blog). 

    Why had these two examples landed in my lap? What are they trying to tell me? 

    It has been both a magical, and difficult time for me. I have devoted the last eight years of my life pursuing my calling into ministry. Prior to those eight years I spent four years learning all I could about it. All together I've spent the last twelve years of my life learning about what it takes to be a pastor, what it takes to listen, what it takes to come alongside people in their spirituality. 

    In this learning I've been humbled time and time again. I've failed many times. As I've said in recent blogs, it his hard to trust the line, "you are going to learn from this!" in the moment. As a person with anxiety failure makes me feel uprooted. During times of feeling uprooted I question everything, but mostly myself. Quite frequently I enter into long periods of time where this questioning can feel paralyzing. 

    I've been thinking about David Bull and Ryan Neil the last few weeks. It makes me wonder if I am doing exactly what I should be doing as a thirty year old who is only twelve years into his "craft." 

    If I am to look at my work as a pastor as a craft, then I can look at my sixth year at my meeting (what Quakers call church) as just the infancy of my journey. Perhaps I am in a season of deep learning, where questioning everything is exatly what I should be doing. This thought brings me comfort, and it gives me joy to know that I have this incredible opportunity to continue to grow. It gives me hope that maybe there will be relief from the anxiety, of the paraylzed feeling of "not knowing." 

    What resonates with me when it comes to David and Ryan's story is a love for the craft, and the work it takes to be better. My hope is that their devotion will continue to be reminders to me that I am on my own path of love for my craft, and that the hard work and failure that comes with it are just part of the maturing process. 

    (I also just want to say that I have so much to be thankful for when it comes to my colleague Mike Huber. I look at him as my own Susumu Ito, although he has never turned me down from learning from him. There isn't a day that goes by that I am not overwhelmed with the thought that I am so lucky to learn from him.)

     

  • The Tension of Voice Part II Messing Up.

    I have yet to hear anyone disagree with the line, "You learn from your mistakes." It appears to be a universally accepted truth, we learn when we fail. When I fail and someone tells me, "you will learn from this!" it is hardly a consolation. You see, failure and mistakes for me are devastating. My personality and well-being depend on my ability to keep the people in my life happy with me. When I find out that something I did or said hurt someone's feelings I am crushed. When I discover that I failed to meet someone's expectations I question EVERYTHING about myself. 

    I wish I could take a photo of my brain during moments like this. I am usually incapable of completing one thought before another one rushes in. My heart rate increases. I often get light headed. I become very quiet. I often need to lay down. 

    Again, when I screw up, I fall apart. 

    In a recent blog post I talked about "the tension of voice." In that blog post I talked about the struggle of speaking out, "I am fully aware of the place of privilege I am in to choose to speak or not to speak. After all, I am not the one experiencing the injustice...I can choose to be silent one. And at the same time I am left wondering what good a 29 year old, white, Christian, male living in Portland, OR can actually do by speaking out on FB." 

    I guess this blog post is a continuation of the first. The tension of speaking out is enhanced when I know that I am putting myself in an environment where the possibility of messing up is very high. 

    This morning I was listening to a radio program on OPB. Jim Wallis, the Christian writer and activist was speaking about his new book on racism and white privilege. Joining him on stage were a couple of black pastors here in Portland, OR. During the question and answer time an audience member asked one of those pastors, "white people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing during conversations about race, what would you say to them?" One of the pastors responded that we need to create space on either side of the dominant and non-dominat cultures to be clumsy around these conversations. He also said that he needs to create space for white people to trip over their own racial biases. 

    Creating spaces to trip. Creating spaces where we are clumsy. By now you know that I tend to avoid those spaces. 

    Over the last year I have gained some tools for handling my own fear of failure. I have been met with grace and forgiveness when I've hurt someone or when I've failed to meet someones expectations. I have learned that even when I let people down that I don't become a monster in their eyes. Without knowing it, I've been in spaces where I am allowed to trip up. I have been in spaces that with grace, I can be clumsy. I've been in those spaces all along because I've been in spaces where people care about me more than my mistakes. 

    I am also realizing that as a white, cis, straight person learning is uncomfortable. I am going to be faced with the hard reality that I (and people like me throughout history) have messed up. Big time. I am also realizing that in order for me to be in conversations about race and white privilege I will need to be in spaces that may be uncomfortable, but also spaces that allow me to make mistakes and to learn from them. 

    I hope that we, as a country, can collectively move into a place of learning from our mistakes without falling apart. That we can find the spaces that challenge us and meet us with grace when we say or do (or don't do) the right things. 

  • Baby #2 Reveal!

    We have some exciting news to share! We are expecting baby #2 at the end of June! Yesterday we recorded this little video to share the gender and name with all of our friends and family. Enjoy! 

  • A complicated social network

    My colleague Mike Huber recently told me about a "This American Life" story he heard. The episode was called "Status Update" and the first act, he suggested, would likely be interesting to me. As many of you know I work with adolescents at our Quaker meeting. This particular story on "This American Life" covers the complicated social dynamics associated with the social media platform Instagram. If you have time, I'd highly suggest listening to the first 15 minutes of the episode. I will embed it at the end of this blog post. 

    If you don't have time to listen, here is a brief summary. Ira Glass, the host of TLA, interviews three teenage girls who have just started their freshmen year of high school. Ira wants to know about how their social lives are shaped by Instagram. What follows is a dizzying 15 minutes of detailed and confusing descriptions of every element of Instagram can be interpreted into a creating a picture of their social lives. If you are anything like me, there are moments while listening that I found myself both shaking my head (in disbelief/confusion) and realizing my mouth was wide open (out of shock). 

    I decided to play this piece for both my high school and middle school youth groups. A week ago I played it for my high schoolers. What was fascinating was that for the majority of teens in this group, the experience shared by the teens in TLA was also confusing and foreign to them. Most of my high schoolers are sophomores and juniors. 

    Tonight I played it for my middle schoolers, and it was a COMPLETELY different story. As the story played I would look around the room. Of the twelve teens there tonight, about half would nod their head when they recognized something the three teenager girls were saying about Instagram in the TLA piece. I could tell that this story was their story, and that it was really resonating with their experience. 

    I could barely pause the episode before the room was about to explode into reaction. Thankfully I prepared three specific questions to guide our discussion...this prevented the chaos of twelve teenagers trying to talk over one another. The three questions were:

    1. What has been your experience (even if you aren’t on social media) of understanding the complexity of social interactions with your peers? 

    2. During the interview one of the girls said, “I am a brand.” This is nothing new. People from the dawn of humanity have been trying to be favorable/popular in the eyes of the people around them. As a teenager in 2016, how much pressure is there to uphold your “brand”? 

    3. What thoughts do you have about how social media is influencing your generation for the good and the bad? 

    We went around the circle and allowed each of them to answer one question at a time. I wish you could have been there for this. As I heard each of them speak I felt more and more sympathetic for each and every one of them. I heard about all of the unspoken implications of commenting (or not commenting), of liking or not liking, of who comments on what, of checking in to see who is commenting on your friends posts, of monitoring followers, staying up with trends on IG, keeping up an image (or brand), etc. I also heard from a couple teens who don't have social media, and who feel like their ability to connect with their own friends is inhibited by not being involved, and who feel like authentic connection isn't happening with their friends who are on their phones constantly. I also hear about how what happens on social media often creates awkward situations in real life, how people say things they'd never actually say to someone in person. 

    At one point in the interview Ira mentions that this whole thing seems extremely exhausting, like maintaining an Instagram account for an adolescent actually seems like a job. I too experienced this exhaustion when I realized what it took to be a "successful" instagrammer, let alone a Instagram user who had their social lives hanging in the balance. 

    I tend to avoid criticizing social media. I think it stinks of a fear that all of us experience as we get older, "things aren't like they used to be....things were simpler when I was growing up..." I also avoid making judgements about generational experiences of hardship. We all struggled, in our own way, to be social beings in adolescence. We may not have had handheld devices with social media platforms at the ready, but we did have peers who were playing the games of popularity and status...that hasn't changed. 

    Yet, I get the sense that the pressures faced by those twelve teens sitting in our youth room tonight seemed unfair. It seemed heavy. It seemed like too much. I couldn't help but long for something different for them. 

    Since I started pursuing youth ministry as my life calling, I've been attracted to the possibilities of contemplation for adolescents. In 2006 I disconnected from the internet, TV, phone, etc. for what ended up being the best four months of my life. I lived in a remote part of the Cascades with thirty other students. We read books. We wrote papers. We practiced contemplation. I still haven't unpacked all that this semester meant to me, but I knew it changed my life. 

    I'm interested in creating opportunities for our teenagers to experience this kind of freedom. As if it would create the space for them to play, to wonder, to explore, and to simply BE. I'm not entirely sure how this might happen, but after tonight, I feel like it is more important than it has ever been. 

     

  • The tension of voice

    For the last couple months I've decided to change the way I used facebook. Up until that point my FB page was filled with photos of my son, and public declarations of my love for the Portland Timbers. But it was also full of negativity, complaining, and bashing of people with whom I disagree. Besides my own negativity, I was realizing that twenty minutes of FB use was raising my blood pressure to unhealthy levels. I was finding it difficult to be a FB user, especially because of the toll it was taking on my outlook of life. I was becoming more afraid and angry. I was seeing the world as an ugly, dark place. I realized that I was approaching real life interactions with caution and was only seeing the nasty parts of life. 

    Around two months ago I was reminded of all the people in my life who are doing beautiful, life giving things in the world. Artists, activists, pastors, writers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, etc. After a couple conversations with folks I truly respect, I came to realize how differently I was seeing the world. They pointed out how I was starting and ending my conversations with fear. I became alarmed by this, and decided I needed to change something. 

    I've hit the delete button on FB more than ever. I've sat with a FB post for a couple hours before deciding whether or not to post. I've carried myself in the world differently as a result. I've felt healthier, for the most part...

    But then Jerry Fallwell Jr. called his students at the Christian institution, Liberty University to arm themselves and to take out "those Muslims." Donald Trump was met with thunderous applause from supporters, likely some who were Christians, when he said it was time to close borders to all Muslims. 

    I began to feel the urge to rant on FB about these things. After deleting several posts I walked away from my computer not feeling as healthy as I once did. I felt that I had a responsibility to use the public platform of FB to rebuke Jerry Fallwell Jr. and Donald Trump. I felt that in these times my non-Christian friends needed to hear from one of their Christian friends that I thought and felt differently than those guys. I began to see the decisions I made to be silent over the last two months as a pathetic bowing out of uncomfortable conversations...conversations that needed a different voice. 

    I guess I'm still stuck. This tension between responding to the urges to speak, or to be silent are real for me. I am fully aware of the place of privilege I am in to choose to speak or not to speak. After all, I am not the one experiencing the injustice...I can choose to be silent one. And at the same time I am left wondering what good a 29 year old, white, Christian, male living in Portland, OR can actually do by speaking out on FB. If I consider FB a "community" what is actually possible in this type of community for speaking and listening? 

    I don't have a bow to tie on this blog post...just some wonderings about how to navigate this confusing landscape. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below. 

  • Saving the world...

    How we see our neighbors is important. How we interact with strangers is important. 

    We've been given reason to be afraid. When I say that, I mean that we've been handed every reason to be afraid of everything and everyone by all of the media we ingest in a days time. I'll admit to being afraid, how could you not? When someone killed twenty children in an elementary school three years ago I looked at my then nine month old son and thought, "How can I send you into this world knowing it is so damn dangerous?" 

    I heard the band Eagles of Death Metal speak about the chaos in the Bataclan Theatre in Paris on the night that terrorists killed 89 people in that venue. I thought about the dozens of shows I spent packed next to strangers in dark music venues listening to loud music and wondered, "What in the hell would I have done in that situation?" 

    Every morning I wake up and check my e-mail. A neighborhood based social network sends me notifications from my physical neighbors about criminal activity on the streets that I live. I wonder, "how am I going to keep my family and possessions safe?" 

    I have anxiety. One anxious thought can send me spiraling into a nightmare of worst case scenarios. I often plan and act in response to that anxiety. 

    But something stops me before I start digging up the back yard to build an under-ground bunker...Jesus. 

    Last night I was reading a Christmas book to Kade. In it a tiny mouse takes residence in a families nativity set, pushing baby Jesus out of his manger to make room for his new mouse sized bed. Eventually the mouse realizes who he has been shoving out of his bed, and says, "I realize now, little baby, that you've come to save the world..." 

    That hit me. A little baby that has come to save the world. I'm sure the writers meant this in the sense of the Evangelical notion of eternal salvation, but I heard it as, "this little baby came to save us from fear, and to give us love...this little baby came to save the world..." 

    I thought further, we think we know how to save the world, but the way we think we will save it is not the Jesus way of saving it. We think we will save the world by slaughtering every last ISIS member. We think we will save the world (or at least ourselves) by stock piling nuclear weapons, and increasing our military budget even more. We think we will save the world by being better prepared for the next tragedy. We think we will save the world by knowing exactly who is right and wrong. 

    Jesus came to save us from that mess. 

    The problem is that Jesus showed us a way that doesn't guarantee that we won't get killed just like him. Believing in love requires us to trust our neighbors and strangers in a way that may not guarantee our safety. 

    The problem is that belief in LOVE is far harder than belief in FEAR. It doesn't make sense to the world to believe in love. It can seem reckless, nonsensical, impractical, etc. When your world is wired towards fear, expressions of love seem radical. Counter cultural work is hard. Swimming upstream is hard. 

    Jesus came to save me from my fear. If I can overcome my own fear and become a disciple of love I will be one more light to the world...a world in need of one more light. The world will be saved by love. 

    If you want to listen to some more thoughts on this topic, I highly recommend clicking play on this track below. It is from my friend and fellow West Hills Friends pastor Mike Huber: 

     

  • Yamhill Retreat 2015

    Every fall we have our youth group fall retreat. We travel an hour southwest to the farm/homestead of two of our beloved F/friends Annie and Eric in Yamhill. Annie is an incredible artist, and offers her studio to us for sleeping. It's incredible to wake up to her work glowing in the soft morning light. 

    Annie and Eric also raise Sicilian donkeys on their beautiful land. These donkeys are incredible. Much like attention seeking dogs, they come up to you and lean their heavy heads in, begging for love and affection. They are gentle, and beautiful. 

    On Saturday morning Annie and Eric make us breakfast. Using a sourdough starter passed down for generations they make pancakes. They are unlike any other pancake you've ever tasted. A slightly fermented taste, a lot like a good pretzel, drenched in maple syrup....oh man. 

    When your task is to get eighteen teenagers up and moving early on a Saturday morning, sourdough pancakes does the trick. 

    The big breakfast is also the perfect fuel for the day ahead. Shortly after breakfast wraps up we load into vans and drive to Camp Tilikum, twenty minutes away. We are there to do a "challenge course" which includes low and high element challenges designed to lead groups into reflections on group dynamics and skills. When we first arrived it was time for some orientation... 

    Before long the groups split up and head off to their first few challenges. The high school group worked on figuring out how to balance the entire group on a giant see-saw. 

    meanwhile the middle school group worked on navigating the entire group through a series of tightropes. 

    You learn a lot about communication and leadership during these challenges. Often times the voice that is the loudest is listened to. Often times that voice comes from a place of urgency. It's interesting to see how the group tries its best to function using the mostly unformed plan. Usually after 15-20 minutes the group has failed many times, and the volume is high, the number of voices many. Chaos. Usually this is where the leader emerges, often quiet and frustrated that their voice is being drowned out. Often it takes a companion to say, "Hey listen to her! I think she has a good idea." Strange how leadership works that way sometimes, it takes an advocate to hush the crowd. When a clear and calm plan for success is proposed the group's energy changes. Suddenly the volume goes down. Often times one person is talking, directing, encouraging. There is focus and clarity. It's a beautiful thing to witness. 

    Our teens are often in a hurry to harness up and get their feet 30-120 feet in the air. The facilitators at Tilikum gifted us with four high elements. 

    First, the giants ladder. A series of 4x4's strung together by thick wire cable. The whole contraption isn't anchored to the ground, so it swings and sways. 

    What I love about this element is how it invites group direction. When you are in the air and flailing, trying to figure out how to get to the next step it is hard to think. Your impulse is to give up, "I'm stuck here, I'm just going to stop." From the ground the next step is obvious. "Pull up with your arms, while swinging your left leg over." It is just what we needed to hear. From the perspective of safety, on the ground, comes a voice of reason, but it takes trusting that voice to take the next step. Oddly it only takes trusting that voice once to trust it the rest of the way. We acknowledge that from another perspective, wisdom is helpful. 

    Meanwhile the other group was taking on the Catwalk. A beam thirty feet in the air between two trees. At the end a ledge. A trapeze swing dangling just out of reach, requiring a "leap of faith." 

    What I love about this element is the individual battle each person faces. At one point one of our teens froze. After five minutes of encouragement from below the voices fell silent. It was if the group realized that the work that needed to be done needed to happen within that person, not from without. We all stood there in silence, for about three minutes. We watched as all the voices of fear, and of courage ran through her head. Out of the silence the first step and than the second. Within thirty seconds the catwalk was conquered. 

    Another teen reached the midway point and had a self identified, "mental breakdown." A rush of anxiety filled tears and breathing, "I need to come down, right now! I can't do this, help me!" It was a tense moment. She was frozen there, unable to even listen to the facilitators voice. As the group steadied their grip to bring her down the crying stopped in an instant and she started walking. 

    Man, did this moment resonate with me. The fear and anxiety is paralyzing sometimes. It shuts me down. It's only after looking at my surroundings and clearing my head that I can take the next step. 

    Next up, the climbing tree. A bell is located 126 feet up a tree. Staples guide the climber to the top. By the time they reach the top you can barely see them. 

    This element was about shattering expectations. One of our teens stepped up to the tree, a middle school girl who many thought would only make it ten feet before turning back. I was one of them. Based upon everything I've known about her, she generally plays it safe and shy's away from danger at all costs. She harnessed up and started up the tree. She never stopped moving. Never looked down, only up. Would you believe it, she was ringing that damn bell 126ft in the air within minutes. The shouts from the ground were inspiring, "OMG I cannot believe this! You are so brave! That is so awesome! Way to go!" Expectations shattered. Unrecognized courage. Misplaced judgement. People are never what we think they are. They are more. 

    Lastly, the unfortunately named Geronimo. A purely thrill seeking, nature park amusement ride. A release cable attached to the front of your harness is pulled after being hulled forty feet in the air. For a precious two seconds you fall straight down to the solid earth before a cable catches and swings you out over a lake. It's pure adrenaline. 

    We had to pull of a miracle to make this work. Seventeen of our eighteen teens wanted to do this. We had an hour. Getting them in and out of harnesses, strapped in, hauled up a tree and back again takes time. Before hand the facilitator rallied the team. Telling them the only way we could make it work was for everyone to bust their butts. They did it. Like a well-oiled machine. An incredible example of what is possible when we put in the work. 

    We went back to the farm. Tired, but not tired enough to ignore the tons of fun still available to us at the farm. Pickle ball, capture the flag, board games, trampolines... 

    I love this trip. I love our group. 

    On Saturday night, as we prepared for bed about five of us laid on our backs and watched the stars. We talked about the cosmos and about our lives. I was honored to be there for this conversation. Our teens are deep, beautiful, inspiring people. I am so lucky to be in a position to come alongside them. 

  • Circles of Safety

    In the past I've blogged about my experiences as a youth pastor. My hope is that I can ease people's fears/misconceptions of youth ministry. Many of us have had experiences in this world that, well, don't really make our hearts sing. I also want to share what is working for me as a youth pastor who wishes to avoid fear and shaming as a means to communicate with teenagers in my care. I think seeing that it can be done in a different way is important. 

    Tonight was the first night for middle school youth group for the 2015-2016 school year. This is always a nerve wrecking night for me. The stakes are high. New sixth graders are trying on the group for the first time, and with the introduction of new faces always comes a change in group dynamics. Basically, it is new...and sometimes new can be scary. 

    Another reason why this first meeting makes me nervous is because it is my first shot at talking about why youth group is a "safe place" and what that looks like. With each new year this conversation starts over again, "What does a safe place look and feel like to you?" 

    I was recently at a spiritual nurturer training and the facilitator spoke about the three levels of safety (or it might have been another word instead of safety...but I dunno). Basically we have three circles all nestled inside one another. The innermost circle is "comfort" the circle out from that one "challenge" and the outermost circle "chaos." 

    So tonight I put this on our driveway at WHF. And I had a list of questions for our middle schoolers to consider. I read each one out loud and asked them to stand in the spot that resonated with them. The questions started out easy, and got more difficult as we went on: 

    - When it comes to swimming, I found myself in what circle?

    - When it comes to singing, I often feel like I am in which circle?

    - When I am preparing for a test...

    - When someone comments on my appearance..

    - When people disagree with me...

    - When I lose a friend...

    - When people talk about God...

    After each question I observed where certain people were standing. I'd say, "I see you are standing in the chaos section...why does it feel chaotic for you when..." What followed was deep and honest sharing from the heart. My middle schoolers listened to each other, often affirming their feelings out loud, and saying, "I know exactly what you are talking about, I feel that way all the time too." Insights about the God question blew me away. "I am afraid when the conversation about God comes up. I don't want to say that I am a Christian because than my friends think that I hate gay people, and I don't know how to get it out of my mouth fast enough that...no I'm not like that." After that statement a chorus of agreement from all standing there. 

    I realize the power of this activity now. This was about empathy. This was about hearing each other's stories and understanding why we stand in the places we do. It was about hearing what we needed to hear from our peers...that the same thoughts and feelings have passed through our own minds and hearts. 

    We went inside after this to talk about how this activity helps us talk about a "safe place." How can we inhabit both our comfort and challenge areas while keeping each other safe from chaos?  How does seeing that we all have different experiences shape the way we care for one another? 

    Perhaps we all need to step into the circles with one another. What experiences have shaped where we are? How might we know when we are pulling each other into chaos? How might we know when we are inviting each other into challenge? How might we let those who need to rest in comfort, rest? 

  • We Kill Our Prophets

    This afternoon, at West Hills Friends, we welcomed Carole Spencer to our monthly Kindling Conversation time. The topic..."The Dark Side of Quakerism." Carole, a historian of Quakerism challenged our rosy picture of our history. We (Quakers) champion our progressive stances on slavery and rights for women as hallmarks of our tradition and our place within the Christian world. Carole challenges this history, noting that yearly meetings were quite reluctant, even outright dismissive of voices that called for freeing of slaves, and equality for women. She highlights the prophets of our tradition, Friends on the fringe of the interior of our tradition calling and urging their communities to pursue a counter-cultural perspective on topics like slavery and women's rights. 

    I highly recommend that you listen to Carole's entire talk, which is embedded below. It is an hour long, but is well worth your time. 

    One thing that I've been sitting with all day is the idea that we kill our prophets. Well, not all of them, but it seems to be a common end for those who speak prophetically from the edge. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Ezekiel. Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Harvey Milk. Oscar Romero. Jesus. 

    We kill our prophets. We disown them. We silence them. We hush them. We imprison them. 

    We do all those things because we don't like what they are saying. We don't like what they are saying because it seems crazy. We don't like what they are saying because it challenges us too much. We don't like what they are saying because they challenge structures of power. 

    To be honest, the last ten years of my life have felt uncomfortable. At times I've hated this. I'm uncomfortable because I feel like I'm in a constant state of being challenged about my assumptions and my beliefs. It has been uncomfortable because I've been embarrassed when my ignorance has been called out, or when I've had to learn a lesson the hard way (by unknowingly hurting someone's feelings). Actually, to be even more honest...I've hated this more than I've enjoyed it. 

    It's true that our world is changing quickly. There have been many opportunities to be resistant to the idea of white privilege. There have been countless opportunities to be angry when my assumptions about race have been challenged by people of color. There have been many times when I've realized that I've failed at being a good ally to my LGBTQ friends. There have been many times when I've felt threatened by new ideas, or ways of talking. 

    In all of this, it was easy to feel overwhelmed. I was sensing the urge to find that patch of land in the deep Cascades, build a cabin and become a hermit. Ok, maybe that's a bit dramatic...but I have thought about suspending my FB account because it was just too stressful to log on and have my world turned upside down every time. 

    Here is where Carole's message about our prophets is hitting home. I need to hear the prophets of our day. My own sense of wanting to withdraw was my own way of killing them, of silencing them. I am feeling called, more than ever, to stay in that uncomfortable place of listening to stories that are different than mine, realizing that I am surrounded by ordinary and extra-ordinary prophets. 

     

  • "not seeing that the cracks want to become a door"

    One of our dear Friends at West Hills Friends recently sent me (and some others) a poem she wrote following the decision from the NWYM Board of Elders to expell us from NWYM. Here it is: 

    THE WALL AND THE DOOR

    by Carol Bosworth

    A long-lived community

    in a changing world

    can be too accustomed to

    custom

    so when change comes

    people scramble

    to brace up the old

    wall

    not seeing that the cracks 

    want to become a 

    door

    and after whatever happens next,

    happens,

    we may not recognize ourselves.

    As the crack widens into a door

    and part of the wall moves,

    straining and grinding,

    hinges taking up the burden and weight

    of change,

    the wall is not a wall now:

    it is an open door.

    The stones that bear the shifting weight,

    with hinges grinding,

    are the lives of some of us who

    are chosen to bear the crack

    and the grinding of the hinge

    and we become

    the grounded people

    of a new community. 

    For the last few weeks I cannot shake the idea that there is a new story unfolding.  I wrote about this recently on this blog. I spoke about it (sort of) at West Hills a few weeks ago. This morning I sat in my spiritual direction session and bumbled on about it. I cannot seem to find the heart of what I am trying to say besides, "There is a new story unfolding. Sometimes when a new story is unfolding it can feel challenging and scary to other people." 

    Then I read Carol's poem. It captures so beautifully another way of looking at what is going on in the Church, and our country. The line, "not seeing that the cracks want to become a door" hit me in that place where the only thing you can say is, "YES!" 

    Leonard Cohen wrote, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." 

    Just the other day I was weeding in our backyard. We have a giant concrete slab that covers part of the ground. It only takes a few days for the grass to push its way up through the cracks in the concrete, and I am back to pulling it all out again. On this particular day I was weeding close to one of our tomato plants. Just before I yanked at the plant growing from the crack I noticed it was actually another tomato plant. I followed it to the root, and sure enough growing from the tiniest of cracks was a tomato vine several feet in length. 

    The light got in. The water got in. Growth and life in a seemingly impossible place. 

    What if the crack that we see is not threatening to bring down the whole house, but rather to create a new door? What if the crack in the concrete is nurturing unexpected life? What if the new story that is unfolding feels like a crack, but is actually a new opening, a new way of inviting life into the world? 

    I want to be in that place, a grounded person of a new community. I want to embrace the unfolding of the new story. I want to make space in my story for a new one. I want to sit aside my story for a while to listen deeply to the story of another. I want to create open doors where there used to be none. 

    The new story that is unfolding is a door. Welcome.