• An Update

    It has been over a month now, that the decision of the NYWM Board of Elders was made to expel our meeting from NWYM. Over the course of this month I've been interviewed twice over the phone. One by the Willamette Week, and the other by Stephen Angell, a fellow Quaker who is writing a piece on what has happened to be published in the Quaker Theology journal. In both circumstances I was asked to summarize how West Hills has been "feeling" and whether or not we would appeal the decision. 

    I've been reluctant to speak for the "feeling" of West Hills Friends, mainly because I am one person in a community of about 120 people. To think that I could speak for the entire community is absurd, and I've done my best to speak from my experience, and to the reality of our community...mainly that almost everyone has different feelings about our expulsion from NWYM. 

    It's a scary place to be, to be asked to speak for other people. It also feels un-Quakerly to do so. My hope is that my words shared during the interviews will reveal my hesitation to speak on behalf of anyone, but rather to communicate my love for a community that has released me into ministry for it. A community that includes dear LGBTQ Friends. 

    Chuck Fager, just completed a blog post that uses some of the interview I did with Stephen. You can read that blog post here: http://afriendlyletter.com/eight-plus-appeals-of-northwest-welcoming-meetings-expulsion/

    The quotes from me are as follows: 

    "Other reports indicate that the WHF community includes quite divergent feelings about NWYM. WHF pastor Mark Pratt-Russum spoke with my colleague Stephen Angell about this, for a major report on NWYM. His report will be forthcoming in the next issue of the journal Quaker Theology,  which published the first independent  report on the West Hills/NWYM situation in 2014. (Watch for updates about the new issue’s completion):

    “There is no way that a congregation as varied as ours could draft a letter of appeal in 30 days.” . . . .

    “There are congregation members who have grown up in the yearly meeting, who have relied on the yearly meeting, and for them, the decision was extremely painful. It felt like a family split.

    On the other end of the spectrum, many LGBTQ members in our congregation had looked at NWYM as an oppressor, and for many of them, the decision came as something of a relief. For other LGBTQ Friends, it was painful because they were once again being told that they are not welcome at the table. The majority of the members of the church fall in the middle and feel all of these emotions.”

    They responded also to the statements of affirmation in the Elders’ letter: West Hill Friends “have listened to the Spirit of God for a long time, and the yearly meeting honored the process we went through in its letter.”

    Pratt-Russum summarizes, “There is heartbreak all around, for many, many reasons. We’re doing our best to surround our LGBT Friends with love. We reassure them that nothing has changed about how we – or how God – loves them. The bottom line is that we’re OK – nothing’s really going to change.” (Pratt-Russum to Angell, 8/20/2015)"

    Thanks again to everyone who has continued to support our meeting. My hope is to keep on writing about our community. About what I love about it, and how we are going to be OK. 

  • The Unfolding of a New Story

    What a year it has been. As a country we have experienced events that have led us to think about race and sexuality. We have processed these events online. One of the many changes that social media has brought to us is our ability to instantly share our opinions with hundreds of friends, family, and acquaintances. It is an incredible effective and at times satisfying tool to be used to share what we are thinking and feeling. It is also an incredible tool for sharing stories that have been largely unfamiliar to the world. 

    Recently the conversation has shifted to how "PC" our country has come. I've heard my conservative friends say that they cannot speak up for their beliefs because they are immediately attacked. I've heard Christians say that they are being persecuted for believing that same sex relationships are sinful. I've seen friends posting provocative images of the confederate confederate flag, saying that they won't cave to the cultural pressure of taking down the flag. 

    What I've been thinking about now, for the last several weeks, is that we live in an age, where the stories of others are no longer hidden in the shadows, and that what feels like "cultural pressure" is actually the voice of the voiceless finally being heard. At times, another persons story feels scary to us. Hearing that story can feel threatening to our own. In the past, we could simply choose to ignore the story of the other. Now, log on to your facebook account, and the only way you can continue to choose to ignore the story of the "other" is to turn off your computer.

    Yes, we (white Americans) are being forced to hear the stories of our black neighbors. Yes, we (straight American Christians) are being forced to hear the stories of our LGBTQ neighbors. We feel defensive because we are being told that our history as white, straight, American, Christians may have had something to do with the silencing of the stories of others. We feel uncomfortable because sometimes the story of another person challenges the assumptions we have about the world. We feel afraid because change can be scary. 

    I see that the collective stories of the people in this country who have been silenced and oppressed are being heard. It is in the telling of these stories, via the avenues available to us online, that an entire new story is unfolding. A story that feels threatening, scary, and different to some, but is a story of freedom, acceptance, and liberation for others. 

    What if social media is allowing us to hear the stories that have been silenced for too long? What if in hearing those stories our world changes? 

  • On Being Beloved

    Below is the message I shared at my meeting, West Hills Friends on Sunday. One of the awkward things about posting a message brought to a Quaker meeting is that the responses during open worship aren't included in the recording. This is awkward because what happens during open worship is just as important as the words shared from the person standing up front. For this particular message, the open worship responses moved me to tears. I am sad that you cannot hear the wise, heartfelt words shared during our gathered time. 

    Also, I talk harshly about my upbringing in my Evangelical Church in my hometown. My family still attends that Church and have many close connections there. If you are listening to this and are still connected with that Church, please know that I am still grateful for everything that community did for my family in the years following my father's departure from our family. You were a community that supported me and my family, and you still do. Thank you. I am not speaking about a Evangelical Church that shares anything different (theologically speaking) from the one I attended during my adolesence. So as much as I site my specific experience at this Church, it could be about the majority of Evangelical Churches throughout the world. 

    Thanks for listening! A transcript of the message is included below the player.

    Transcript: 

    A couple months ago Mike gave us a message about everyone being only 15 seconds from tears. Shortly after that message I gave my own, about similar themes when I worked at Starbucks. How customers I served cried in front of me often, either because I knew their stories, or because I told them we were out of chocolate croissants. I served nearly seventy five customers per hour, each of them carrying with them, out into the world, their stories of pain, of loneliness, and the constant question, “Do I belong here?” Once I realized this was behind the seemingly irrational outbursts of tears, my care for each of those people changed. 

    Just two days after I gave that message here, Mike and I met in our usual spot for coffee. As we talked the owner of the coffee shop walked in the front door. Mike and I said hello, but as we looked at him we could tell he had something to say. “I’m so happy the two of you are here. Seriously. Thank you for spending your money here, I so appreciate it.” As he said the word appreciate his eyes filled with tears. He continued, “It’s been really hard, sometimes I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep the doors of this place open. So, I just need to say thank you for supporting us.” As he walked behind the counter Mike looked at me and said, “15 seconds” 

    The thought that everyone is only seconds away from tears hasn't left me, and has only revisited me more in these weeks following the yearly meeting decision to expel us. In the wake of that decision I've struggled. I've struggled because I have a hard time figuring out a way to respond that adequately takes into account that each of you sitting out there in those uncomfortable pews feel differently about what has happened, and that the yearly meeting decision has hit you in a place that brings up tears for different reasons than the person sitting next to you. How possibly can I say anything to take into account that each of us is hurting for different reasons, and to speak into that?

    So instead of talking about our expulsion from the yearly meeting, and about how I feel about it, I want to talk some more about the well of tears that waits just under the surface for all of us, and how that can make us better listeners and attenders to our souls. 

    I was raised in the Evangelical tradition. I was about eleven years old when my family started attending our Evangelical church. Even at eleven, the message was clear from the moment I started attending…you are a sinner, in need of saving. The only way I could be saved from my sinfulness was that Jesus Christ died for me. He was sacrificed on my behalf. That was the Gospel. That was the heart of my upbringing in the Church. If nothing else, knowing that I was saved by Jesus was the key. 

    So, when it came time to read the Bible, every word was read through the lens of my depravity, my guilt, my shame, my tendency towards sin, towards temptation. It was read through the lens of my constant need to be saved from myself. It was read through the lens of a God who was so angry with me, all the time. It was read through a lens of a God who was always disappointed in me. 

    To this very day, when I hear scripture the first and sometimes the only thing I hear is, "You are awful. I am so disappointed in you."  I've been out of the Evangelical church for a long time, the fact that this is still the message I get when reading scripture tells you how foundational this belief was in my formational spiritual years. 

    When a religious tradition speaks into our self-worth it has incredible power. If God is our cosmic father, the father or all fathers, and this father is perpetually disappointed in us, even angry with us, it speaks to our self-worth in the eyes of God. What’s even more strange is that we are told this disappointed father loves us, but only because his real son sacrificed his life for us to be loved and in relationship with him. 

    I didn’t want to disappoint my father. I didn’t want him to be angry with me. And so I was called into the Evangelical Christian life, of constantly checking my sinfulness, of constantly begging for forgiveness. As a teenager I was afraid that if I said a swear word before I died and hadn’t asked for forgiveness that I’d go to hell. I was terrified that Jesus would return to the world while I was busy being a misbehaved teenager.  

    And so I lived my adolescents constantly reminding my self that I was indeed awful, and unworthy of the love that I received from Jesus. God, for me, was in the business of calling me out. 

    In speaking of my own experience I realize that it just isn’t Evangelicals who are guilty of this, of calling out our unworthiness. There are people in our lives, there are institutions, and powers that tell us this day in and day out.  

    My formational years as a Christian created in me a sense that God didn’t like me, and that Christianity existed to constantly call out my sinfulness and lack of obedience. This has obviously colored the way I still see God, even though I’ve done my best to abandon this understanding of who God is. What I want to suggest, today, is that maybe we need to know that we are beloved. That God actually…well, likes us. What if we can begin to hear this, that we are beloved first and foremost. What if we can begin listening, just a little at a time, from a knowledge that we belong and that we are indeed loved, and liked. 

    For the last couple years I have tried my best to listen in this way. So when I  hear the words of Jesus I try to imagine that I am being invited into a new way of seeing the world. I am being invited to seeing my place within the world in a  different way. What if Jesus is calling me out of a system that values boundaries and is calling me instead INTO a system that has no limitations on who is loved and welcomed? What if we begin listening to Jesus not from our own shame, but from a place of love. What if we see that Jesus is so gosh darn excited to have us be a part of the new story, a story unfolding against the powers and institutions that have made it their business to tell us we don’t belong? What if we heard scripture and knew, intrinsically, our place within a world steeped in love? 

    I know, it's hard. We've been hurt.  I know it's hard when the world has only ever seemed to tell us that we are not welcome unless we fit the script. I know its hard when we’ve been told time and time again “no, you are not welcome here” It isn’t enough, I don’t think, to walk into a knowledge of being beloved by faith alone. We need to walk into our belovedness by being shown the safety and reality of that love. 

    Wouldn’t it be something if the Church could be that place? Wouldn’t it be something if a community of people committed themselves to surrounding each other with a love that was real and tangible, a love absent of strings, and stipulations? Wouldn’t it be something if this community was assured that it was blessed by a God so in love with human beings?  

    Is it heretical for me to say that my Lord’s prayer has been a Mary Oliver poem? For about four years I interned and pastored at a Episcopal Church. The repetition of liturgy communicated that these specific words are important enough to say over and over again. A few years ago I actually started to roll my eyes a little bit when I heard someone use Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese in a sermon or talk. Here we go again! And than, I realized that maybe the reason it is repeated so much is that it is so important that we actually need to say it over and over again. Maybe it should be in the liturgy. As I was writing this message the line, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciteng— over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” And I thought darn it Mary, you’ve done it again. You’ve said in eighteen lines of poetry what I’ve been trying to say for the last ten minutes. So here is the whole poem, our liturgy for this morning. If you know it you can say it with me: 

    You do not have to be good 

    You do not have to walk on your knees 

    For a hundred miles though the desert, repenting. 

    You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. 

    Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 

    Meanwhile the world goes on. 

    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 

    are moving across the landscapes, 

    over the prairies and the deep trees, 

    the mountains and the rivers. 

    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 

    are heading home again. 

    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 

    the world offers itself to your imagination, 

    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — 

    over and over announcing your place 

    in the family of things. 

    Amen, and amen. 

    May it be so that we can say to one another, “tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” May it be so, that you are reminded, over and over again your place in the family of things. Beloved. As much as your able listen from that place. Listen for God there. Let’s try that now as we head into open worship. Here are some queries: 

    When have you known that you are beloved? 

    How might knowing that you are beloved change the way you listen? 

  • 8:16am

    "So, they decided this bomb would not just kill — it would do something biblical: One bomb, from one plane, would wipe a city off the map. It would be horrible. But they wanted it to be horrible, to end the war and to try to stop the future use of nuclear bombs.

    They chose Hiroshima." - Geoff Brumfiel Link to article here 

    What were you doing at 8:00am this morning? At 8:00am I was hugging my son. He likes to kiss and hug European style. He says, "other side Papa" our heads dancing back and forth. I told him that I'd see him after lunch and that I loved him. At 8:00am I walked out the front door of his school towards my car in the parking lot. 

    It was 8:00am in Hiroshima. August 6, 1945. Families like mine were likely doing the exact same thing. It was a Monday, routines were being resumed. 

    But 8:16am came. 8:16am a flash. 8:16am 80,000 people disappeared. 80,000 people with stories like yours and mine. 80,000 innocent people. 80,000. 8:16am, Monday August 6, 1945. 

    Guess what. Someone wanted it this way. Actually the leadership of an entire country wanted it this way. They wanted it to be horrible. They said it needed to be horrible. And so it was. 

    Why? Well, enough human life needs to be taken to end a war, I guess. I guess 80,000 stories, 80,000 families are required to send a message. 

    Lord. HAVE. MERCY. Please. 

    This is the story we have been fed forever. Sacrifice is required. We need blood for blood. We need blood for change. The only way is the killing of innocents for the saving of innocents. It's the way it is, they say. It's unfortunate, but that's how the world works, they say.

    We sacrifice our own in the streets.

    "Don't Shoot."

    "I can't breathe" 

    "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." 

    What if the story is wrong? What if we imagining another way seems impossible only because we haven't really given it a chance. What if we stop saying, "Oh listen to the dreamer! So out of touch, too far gone"?  

    As a follower of Jesus I believe that another world is possible. That is my call to make it a reality. It is a world that looks so god damn funny. So impossible and ridiculous. It is a world that that says, "Go ahead, sacrifice my Jesus. Go ahead oh President, oh King...Go ahead, but watch that tomb there, watch for the rolled away stone, look for your scapegoat...HE ISN'T THERE!" 

    I believe in resurrection. I believe not in death, but life. This is biblical. 

    What if the line, "it would do something biblical" didn't need to be attached to the killing of 80,000 people?" What if "it would do something biblical" was a story of impossible life through death. Let's do something biblical, let's point to the empty tomb. Let's do something biblical, let us practice ressurrection. 

  • A response worth sharing

    I am so excited that my blog has become a landing spot for Quakers throughout the country (and hello to our friends in the UK too!) to follow what is happening with West Hills and Northwest Yearly Meeting. I am also excited that this blog is being followed by friends and family who have no clue about the Quaker world. 

    It's been eye opening. Certainly our language and the way we have structured ourselves as Quakers (aka Friends) is largely confusing to folks not associated with Quaker circles. Nearly seventy-five percent of my interview with the Willamette Week was trying to explain what a yearly meeting is, and why it matters. It can be hard to comprehend all of this, so I'm thankful for folks who are doing thier best to understand. 

    I talked in yesterday's blog about how young people in the Northwest Yearly Meeting have been energized by what has taken place. I wanted to share with you the appeal that was crafted by some of these young folks (and older folks too). My hope is that fellow Quakers will read this and be encouraged, or at least informed. If you want to visit the website where the appeal is published you can find that here: http://nwymunity.com/

    Here is the letter: 

    July 29, 2015

    To: Mark Kelley, Clerk, Northwest Yearly Meeting Administrative Council

    CC: Becky Ankeny, General Superintendent, Northwest Yearly Meeting and Ken Redford, Clerk, Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Elders

    To the Board of Elders and Administrative Council of Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church,

    We are a group of Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church members and regular attenders, a part of the family of Northwest Yearly Meeting. It is our desire to continue to be a part of this spiritual community, and to listen to the Holy Spirit together with humility about all that threaten to divide us. We acknowledge with gratitude the difficult work that the Elders, Northwest Yearly Meeting staff, and West Hills Friends have engaged in these last several years.

    We are greatly saddened and disappointed by the news that the Elders have chosen to revoke the membership of West Hills Friends Church. We believe this decision should have been postponed until Northwest Yearly Meeting reached a sense of the meeting on the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality (Faith & Practice 2012, page 80).

    Northwest Yearly Meeting is strongly divided on belief regarding appropriate sexual expression. At the 2014 annual sessions, general superintendent Becky Ankeny requested that NWYM take five years for further consideration and seasoning regarding our sense of leading about human sexuality. Given the current lack of clarity about the Faith & Practice statement in question, removal of West Hills Friends during this consideration period, even as West Hills affirmed marriage of two gay Friends, seems to rush us into a conclusion of the process in which we were asked to participate. In the Yearly Meeting we allow a diversity of opinion about a number of topics addressed in the Faith & Practice. We desire for West Hills Friends to continue to be part of Northwest Yearly Meeting while we listen together to discern God’s will.

    Since removal of a monthly meeting for noncompliance with the Faith & Practice is a novel situation in the history of our body, the procedure for addressing a concern such as that brought against West Hills Friends is not entirely clear. We humbly ask the Administrative Council to consider an alternative to removing West Hills Friends Church at this time based on the following considerations.

    Was West Hills Friends “under the care of the elders”?

    It seems that different individuals have different opinions about whether West Hills was placed “under the care of the Elders,” and if not, within what process in Faith & Practice their situation fits. Some Friends considered West Hills to be under the care of the elders, and indeed it is the section on meetings “under the care of the Elders” that contains the directive about Elders removing meetings enacting policies that are “shattering” (Faith & Practice 2012, p. 33). This passage in the Faith & Practice forms the basis for the action taken by the Elders, according to their letter (7/24/2015). The Faith & Practice states that the goal of placing a monthly meeting under the care of the Elders is “to strengthen and equip the church to spiritual vitality, effective ministry and loving fellowship” (Faith & Practice 20121, p. 32). The letter from the Elders regarding their decision (7/24/2015) makes it clear they find West Hills Friends to already be such a community. It seems that the Elders were also uncertain about what category this situation fits under, and did not officially place West Hills under the care of the Elders, but many in leadership as well as other Northwest Yearly Meeting members thought that was the process that was guiding this decision.

    Faith & Practice conversation already started:

    In that West Hills Friends was out of compliance with the Faith & Practice they would fit into the category “under the care of the Elders,” but as Northwest Yearly Meeting had already begun discussion of possible changes to the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality and it was clear there are different leadings, placing a meeting under the care of the Elders does not seem like the appropriate course of action.

    “Mutually agreed upon plan of action”:

    If West Hills Friends had been placed under the care of the Elders, the procedure followed did not fully line up with the Faith & Practice directions. The Faith & Practice states that a “mutually agreed upon” plan of action will be formed. In this case, since West Hills Friends did not want to come back into compliance with the Faith & Practice but instead wanted to have a conversation about changing the Faith & Practice, selecting a plan of action that only gave the option of compliance necessitated failure of the restoration process.

    “Shattering” & Participation:

    Due to the vague nature about what constitutes “shattering,” it raises the question, “Shattering for whom?” The implication in this case is that it is shattering to Northwest Yearly Meeting as a whole. If the Yearly Meeting as a whole is in danger of being “shattered,” then the entire Yearly Meeting should be involved in the restoration process. There was not a specific space for West Hills Friends to be defended by other meetings or individuals. Nor did the Elders choose to set up a dialogue between West Hills Friends and those Friends lodging a complaint against them. Without listening to Christ together face-to-face, it seems difficult for true reconciliation or restoration to occur.

    Transparency:

    In cases where an individual is eldered for a personal error in judgment, a confidential process is understandable. In this case, however, we feel that maintaining a confidential process between West Hills, the Northwest Yearly Meeting Elders, and those Friends lodging a complaint led to a great deal of speculation, misinformation, and drawing up of ranks into “sides.” Rather than building up a Yearly Meeting body that trusted the leading of the reconciling and illuminating Holy Spirit, the lack of transparency in this process has created splintering in our community. As West Hills Friends publicly presented its position, this level of confidentiality does not seem warranted. Since this decision has major implications for individuals, monthly meetings, relationships, authority to minister, and the level of unity in Northwest Yearly Meeting, keeping the process very open and transparent would have led to increased trust and cohesion.

    Sense of the meeting regarding revision of the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality:

    Despite differences, we desire unity. We have unity with other meetings who may technically be out of compliance with Faith & Practice on other matters. At Northwest Yearly Meeting annual sessions in 2014, a number of monthly meetings brought minutes regarding the statement on human sexuality stating that, though they had not reached consensus on the statement, they were committed to remaining unified and seeking direction from the Holy Spirit together (North Valley Friends, Camas Friends, Reedwood Friends, Eugene Friends, Newberg Friends, North Seattle Friends, and Klamath Falls Friends). We believe this desire to remain united represents the sense of the whole Yearly Meeting to a greater degree than does expelling West Hills Friends from Northwest Yearly Meeting at this stage in the process. To remove a monthly meeting during a time of Faith & Practice consideration fosters fear instead of peace, trust, and listening.

    We recommend that the Northwest Yearly Meeting Administrative Council stay their decision about West Hills Friends until such time as the Yearly Meeting comes to unity on when to exercise forbearance rather than discipline for differences of interpretation of the Faith & Practice and the Bible. At that point, it is our hope that people would feel clear to remain in unity with Northwest Yearly Meeting, or leave the fellowship voluntarily, rather than being forcibly removed. We would also suggest that in such cases individuals and meetings would bring their concerns openly before those with whom they have concerns, as well as before the Yearly Meeting so that an open and honest dialogue can occur within the whole Yearly Meeting.

    Our prayers are with you, the Administrative Council, as you discern the next steps in this matter, and for our beloved Northwest Yearly Meeting as we navigate these challenging waters. May we follow Paul’s appeal to unity in Colossians 3:12-17:

    Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

    May God’s love truly bind us together in perfect unity throughout this process.

    Signed,

    ------

  • "I thought Quakers were different..."

    This morning, we Quakers made the news. Now granted, it was a small blurb in a weekly paper here in Portland, OR, but I am thinking of the people who will be sitting down in cafes across town to read that little blurb. Here it is: 

    "The Pacific Northwest’s evangelical Quakers met for their annual gathering last week at George Fox University in Newberg. Among decisions made by the group’s elders: banning a Portland church for allowing gay and lesbian members. West Hills Friends Church, located in the Maplewood neighborhood, has officially welcomed LGTBQ members since 2008. The church was informed via letter July 24 that the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends—a consortium of more than 60 Quaker congregations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho—had decided to remove it. “I feel most saddened for the teenagers and young people, both closeted and uncloseted, who basically received another message from a Christian institution that they’re not welcome,” says Mark Pratt-Russum, a pastor at West Hills Friends. “The last thing they need is to be told ‘no’ again.” Click Here to visit the website where the blurb is published.

    When I was interviewed for this little piece, my number one priority was making sure that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters heard this message loud and clear: I am sorry that another Christian institution has said no to you, again. I want you to make sure that through all the noise of this situation that we love you. That God loves you. That regardless of what the NWYM has said, there are Christians and Quakers throughout the world who love you. 

    And that brings me to my next point. In the printed article the word Quaker is in bold. The words George Fox University and Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends is printed in bold. What will our Quaker witness in Portland, OR be as that person flips the page in that cafe? 

    In the wake of the NWYM's decision I have heard from non-Quakers. Their first reaction is, "But I thought Quakers were different..." And certainly I think that folks will say that today as they read this news blurb. For that, my heart is also broken. I want Quakers, especially those Portland Friends at Reedwood Friends, at Bridge City, and Multnomah Meeting to be known as safe havens for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I pray that the take away is not, "Quakers are unsafe" 

    I've encouraged folks to read the comment sections of my last two blog posts. I have heard from Quakers from: Philadelphia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Maine, North Carolina, New York, California, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts and Brighton (UK). All of the messages have been in support of our decision to support and love our LGBTQ Friends. 

    The NWYM has an interesting dilemma. As an institution that identifies as both Evangelical and Quaker, it is clear that those two traditions are at odds at times. In this case, their Evangelical identity has been upheld, and their Quaker witness has taken a hit. I'll admit that I've distanced myself from my Evangelical past, and that the combination of the two traditions presents some fundamental head scratching for me. Yet, here is my hope... 

    This fiasco has energized the young people within NWYM. Folks who have grown up in that institution, who have known Evangelical Quakerism as their spiritual home. I'm not convinced that the Evangelical and Quaker identities of the NWYM need to break apart. Instead I am hopeful that these young people, now with WHF out of the way, can be the leaders that NWYM needs to reveal how God is speaking in this situation. What might God be up to? 

    In the meantime, I want to stand up for my identity as a Quaker. I have found my spiritual home in a tradition that believes we are still listening, because God is still speaking. We Quakers have a lot to bring to the table.

    One last reminder. Wrap your arms around your LGBTQ F/friends today. Make sure they feel all the love and support they need in this time. They are our family. 

  • What happened next

    Wow. 72 hours. It has been 72 hours since we received the news of our dismissal from our yearly meeting. The facebook notifications have been endless. Young people here in the northwest are angry, frustrated, confused, hurt, and devastated. They are talking on facebook, and in person around fires, in homes, and in coffee shops. Appeals are being crafted. I have received e-mails from Boston, California, North Carolina, and the UK. Read the comment section from my last blog, and see how many Friends throughout the world are talking, grieving, and praying over what has taken place over the last 72 hours. I am so grateful for all of the work that is being done, for the outpouring of support and love. Thank you. 

    One thing that I have been asked over the last 72 hours is, "how is West Hills doing?" That is such a hard question to answer. There are folks in our meeting who are tired. They have been pulled through a three year long process that ultimately resulted in our dismissal. The news for them actually feels like a sigh of relief. It is over. Thank God. 

    Others are coping with a loss of a community in which they've been a part for thirty, forty, fifty years. When relationships end like this it hurts. It hurts even more when you've been together for so long. Can you imagine the pain? 

    Others have been re-traumatized. Having found refuge at West Hills Friends from other religious traditions that have rejected them because of their sexuality or gender identity, it hurts to know that an institution has said "no" to them, AGAIN. All of those same feelings of rejection have returned. Can you imagine the hurt? 

    These are some of the feelings, but there are so many more. 

    So what did the weekend at WHF look like in the aftermath of this decision? 

    It looked like this on Saturday... 

    as we celebrated the love of two of our beloved members Derek and Ruba. Man, did we have a party or what? I've never seen so much pie in my life. When Mike invited them to kiss the crowd went WILD. Seriously, it was INCREDIBLE. 

    On Sunday morning it looked like this...

    as we gathered for our first meeting for worship since the news came out. I had the privilege of greeting so many folks as they walked into the door. We did a lot of hugging. We said, "I love you" a lot. Our gathering space was packed, hardly a seat available. We sang a couple songs together. I sensed some real energy behind those voices. Our precious Jim reimagined "Amazing Grace" through the lens of e.e. cummings. We sat in silence to hold the decision of the yearly meeting in our hearts. Our beloved K.D. took to the pulpit and delivered another one of her hilarious stories from Wink, Texas. If you want, you can listen to it here: Click here to listen!

    We heard from friends during our joys/concerns about their hurt around the yearly meeting decision. We took a moment to thank Tom Stave, the clerk of NWYM who stepped down from that role before annual sessions for health reasons. Tom did some great work for NWYM during some difficult times. 

    Meeting for worship went late. As the children's program coordinator I was growing nervous about our children's patience! Near the end of our meeting for worship I went outside to gather them. We huddled directly behind the meetinghouse to wait for their parents to pick them up. The windows in our nursery face towards where the K-5 children were gathered. At one point one of the children noticed her little brother in the window of the nursery. She started calling out to him. Soon all of the babies and toddlers in the nursery gathered at the window to find seventeen children excitedly cheering for them. It was as if the nursery children were royalty, being praised and heralded by a crowd of excited onlookers. It was an incredible moment. Here is a photo: 

    Later on Sunday I hosted the young adults of WHF at our home. I cooked a lot of food. We ate and talked some about what had happened with the yearly meeting. Folks were able to ask questions, and to vent. Mostly though we laughed. At one point the clouds opened up and we had to relocate our chairs (and firepit) under the cover of a gigantic pine tree in our backyard. Here is a photo... 

    So I guess what I'm trying to say is that we at West Hills Friends did what we do best. We loved each other in the ways we know how. We affirmed the marriage of two of our own, and we had a party. We gathered in our normal spot on Sunday, we sang, cried, and laughed together. Our children played. We ate. We gathered. 

    That is what happened next.

  • You are Loved

    It was about 24 hours ago that I received news that my Quaker meeting, West Hills Friends, was "released" from our yearly meeting. Our meeting has affirmed same sex relationships, and has valued our LGBTQ Friends as full participants in the life of our community. Just recently we preformed a same sex marriage ceremony for two of our beloved members. 

    Our position on this was deemed "shattering" to our yearly meeting two years ago. After a two year process of bringing us back into compliance with the policies of our yearly meeting (which deems same sex relationships as sinful), the yearly meeting elders made the decision to let us go. 

    As a pastor at West Hills Friends this breaks my heart. Over my five years in the yearly meeting I formed some relationships (especially with fellow youth workers) that meant a lot to me. Yet, that is just a fraction of my heartbreak. 

    I am thinking about the young people in the Northwest Yearly Meeting who received the news yesterday. I am thinking of all the LGBTQ Friends who received the news yesterday. My heartbreak is with them. 

    PLEASE know that YOU ARE LOVED. Please know that regardless of this decision that West Hills Friends isn't going anywhere. Please know that we will continue to love you, to support you, to acknowledge the light of God in you. 

    If you feel rejected today, know that you have my acceptance. If you feel alone today, know that you have my companionship. If you feel angry, know that you can yell with me. If God feels distant, I will inahbit that place with you, and pray that God's presence will return. If you feel like you need to talk my phone number is (503) 313-9527 you can send me a facebook message, a text, or an e-mail (mark@westhillsfriends.org). 

    This isn't a time, at least for me, to respond to the actions of the yearly meeting. This is a time to love those who are hurting and most vulnerable. Let's be there for them. Let's make sure they never doubt that YOU ARE LOVED. 

    Mark Pratt-Russum 

    West Hills Friends Church 

  • What if Jesus had a FB page?

    What a few weeks it has been.

    On June 17th, nine beautiful people were killed while studying the Bible in their church in Charleston, South Carolina.

    We watched as Bree Newsome, just ten days later, scaled a flag pole at the South Carolina State capitol to take down the confederate battle flag. 

    On June 26th the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality. 

    I don't know about you, but my facebook newsfeed has been a very interesting place lately. After each of these events my newsfeed erupted with articles, memes, profile photos with rainbow filters, cartoons, and impassioned status updates from both sides. 

    I made a decision, following the horror of Charleston to not stand on the sidelines. When conversations about race were happening, I wanted to be there...listening mostly, but responding to posts from friends with whom I disagreed. I was encouraged to see the respect many people had during those conversations with one another. I was challenged. I learned. I listened. I spoke. 

    It has been a few days since I've seen any mention of the confederate flag on FB, and many (including my own) profile photos have lost the rainbow filter. Yet, I'm still thinking about what happened over the last few weeks...

    One thing that I continued to emphasize in my contributions to the conversations/debates about race and same sex marriage was...what narrative are you following? A follow up to that question, what does Jesus have to say about the narrative? 

    What I noticed about our conversations over the last few weeks is that the work we need to do is to understand that there has been a history and a story that has been shaped by those in positions of power. This story (narrative), this history, is to white people (especially white men) as real and ever present as the air we breathe. It is the history of our text books, it is the history taught to us in classrooms. It is the narrative we hear spoken of on the news. It is the narrative that turns the wheels of our economy. It is the narrative that fuels the political system. When the history/narrative is all you've ever known, when you've never had to question it, it can begin to feel as if it is the only history and narrative that exists. 

    And then things like Charleston happen. Then Bree Newsome takes down a flag. Then marriage equality happens. All of those things take place so close to one another and all of a sudden you cannot help but see that there are other understandings of history out there. That there are other narratives out there. 

    In seeing another history/narrative we can feel suddenly off kilter. We can feel defensive. We can feel like things fear, and anger. So we get on FB and we defend. We respond to our fear and our anger. 

    I noticed my Christian brothers and sisters discrediting the existence of other peoples stories. I noticed them ignoring a different understanding of history. I noticed them accepting and supporting the narrative of the United States as it has been told by white, straight, men. It got me thinking...what does Jesus have to say about all of this? 

    I see the life of Jesus as a long attempt at encouraging us to see another narrative. To see the narrative underlying the one that is in power. In Mark 8 we get the story of Jesus rebuking Peter. Peter pulls Jesus aside after the narrative changes. Jesus had just finished saying that he would undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes. After all of that suffering and rejection he would be killed by the people in power. This made Peter flip his lid. This WAS NOT the end of the story he had imagined (even though Jesus had been telling them this all along). This WAS NOT the narrative. Jesus was not going to be the kind of king that would propel Peter and the rest of the disciples into the palace. If Jesus was going to be killed their opportunity for power was gone. 

    Jesus continually pointed to another kingdom, a different understanding of how the world worked. He was a pain in the ass of the empire because he knew the tools of the empire were not those of God's people. Jesus broke the rules.  Jesus loved the wrong people. Jesus flipped the script. Jesus ripped open the narrative and exposed us to the narrative of the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the rejected, the shamed, the broken...

    My question to American Christians is what makes us believe that Jesus isn't still ripping open the narrative to expose the narrative of the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the rejected, the shamed, and the broken? Are we not alarmed that we have become complicit in the narrative of the empire? 

    What part of the story are we missing? Who have we left out of our story? Who have we left out of our history? How might seeing the story differently change us? 

    If you have time, I'd invite you to listen to the message my colleague Mike Huber gave last week. It covers alot of the same themes. 

    Mike Huber on Telling Our Family Stories

  • Tattoos, Altars, and the Journey

    At my meeting we use a children's program called Godly Play to invite our children to explore their spirituality with one another. One of my favorite stories is called The Great Family which is the story of Abraham and Sarah, as they follow God's leading to leave their home and travel to a new place. The Godly Play story uses sand, and wooden figures that march the journey of Abraham and Sarah. As they walk their footprints are left in the sand. Throughout their journey they mark the places in which they've experienced God with altars. In the Godly Play story small pebbles are used to mark those places in the sand. 

    I am continually struck by this story...the trail left behind Abraham and Sarah, and the altars marking the spots that God showed up for them. I wanted to adapt this story for adolescents, and to create an opportunity for them to talk about their own journey. 

    Over the last couple years I've developed this lesson for use with adolescents, and it has become one of my favorite youth group activities. I hand each of the teens a piece of paper, and ask them to chart their life journey, starting at birth. As they march through their life in their mind I ask them to put an X in a spot that feels significant for them. I encourage them to write a little note to help them remember what that X was for. Once they reach present day I ask them to put their papers on the floor and mark each X with a shell or small stone. After everyone is done we go around the circle and share our journey with one another. After each of them speak I ask them if they can think of a way in which God was present in any of the altars on their paper. 

    The responses are incredible, mainly because revelation seems to be immediate. You get to see the connection happen. As they reflect on how their lives have changed, on how they were comforted, on ways they've learned, and how maybe, just maybe, all those things have God's fingerprints on them. 

    At first I was thinking, this activity is perfect for adolescents specifically. They haven't been on this earth long, and this activity allows them to see ways in which God was present in their lives already. I have realized that this activity isn't great for adolescents only. This activity is perfect for many of us, regardless of age. 

    If you are anything like me, I often have a hard time seeing the ways God has worked in my life until months or years down the road. It is looking back that I see how things changed for me, how a leading to make a big decision came from somewhere outside of my own worries and fears. My story is one of returning to those places and marking them after the fact. 

    I've marked my journey permanently on my skin. My tattoos are my altars. On my left arm is my biggest tattoo, of a mother holding a baby. Obviously marking the moment in which I became a father, but also marking a time in my life when God broke out of the masculine box I put her in. I embraced God the Mother...the nurturer. On my left wrist are the words "love your enemies" in Greek. Marking a shift in my understanding of God while at Eastern University. A shift that pointed me to the radical way of following Jesus. On my right wrist is the line, "teach us and show us the way." This marks a time in which God called me into a deeper understanding of care for the earth, and acknowledging a consistent reminder that there is wisdom to be found everywhere and in everything. On my left upper arm is a minimalist pacific northwest landscape. This marks the wordless place. A time at the Oregon Extension in 2006 when I was completely transformed. I don't know how to describe what happened, but I have never been the same. 

    Now you know a piece of my story. You know how I've marked my journey. How have you marked yours? How are you acknowledging God's presence in your life?