I hear the word “safe”
used a lot lately. Mostly it comes modified by the adverb “not.” People in our
congregation, yearly meeting and certainly in our nation are sensing
insecurity, anxiety and a general state of being “not safe.”
I totally agree
with the movement to make our children safe from sexual predators. I work with
young girls in our congregation and I recently completed the required abuse
prevention training program. Unfortunately, this kind of training seems to be
necessary. Our youth and children definitely have the right to be protected and
safe in all programs of the yearly meeting.
Many of us are
involved in other conversations in which the word “safety” frequently comes up.
These conversations have to do with issues of ethnicity and gender,
specifically same sex relationships. We are rightfully concerned that, with the
level of diversity of perspective in our churches, marginalized people do not feel
safe among us. Others do not feel safe to express their opinion, one way or the
The world is
looking pretty scary right now. The church is looking pretty scary.
Is it our
responsibility to make our churches as safe as possible for all ages and kinds
of people? Probably. Caring for all people and doing the peaceable work of the
kingdom seems to be our missional mandate.
But is safety our
right as children of the Kingdom? Possibly not. It may be something we’re
called to provide, but not something we can demand for ourselves.
When God called me
as a young person into service, the words I heard were, “Come. Take up your
cross. Follow me.” Then he beckoned me to another land, another culture, on a
total adventure. Never did God promise me safety. “Come, follow me. It will be
dangerous. You may even die. Come anyway.” So I did. It never felt safe,
because it wasn’t safe. That was never part of the deal.
And now, back on
my own home turf, I find the ground shaking. I find myself asked to take on
tasks that don’t match my personality, that carry me down paths that twist in
weird configurations. I don’t know the destination. Not safe. Not safe at all.
Even so, even
here, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” That’s a promise. That is part of the deal. In
the valley of the shadow of death, in the presence of my enemies, the Shepherd
is with me. Always, I’m under the mercy.
reading from Fruit of the Vinecomes from I Samuel 3, the story of the
voice in the night. I find it an apt word for us in the Northwest Yearly
Meeting of Friends.
This month we
gather again for mid-year board and representatives’ meetings. And once again
we are focusing on our response to questions of human sexuality, particularly
same-sex committed relationships.
The voice came to
Samuel during a historical period when “the word of the Lord was rare.” That
may describe us as a community of faith. We simply have not yet discerned
together the word of the Lord on this issue. Many, with widely differing
perspectives, claim to know “way forward” (that great, but slightly overused,
Quaker phrase), and the “knowings” bring together a maze of options.
I take courage
from this simple story in I Samuel. Even in that winter season, the word of the
Lord did, finally, come. And it came to a young person. Samuel was probably
around 12 years old at the time. He was in training under Eli the priest and
regularly “ministering before the Lord,” carrying out temple duties and serving
Eli, as instructed. He had never before directly discerned God’s voice, but he
was certainly accessible to God.
When the word
finally came, an adult respected God’s choice and encouraged that young person.
Eli finally understood the nature of the voice and instructed Samuel in his
response. Eli’s role in the story was crucial, even though it thrust him into
the background as young Samuel would gradually assume a leadership role. And
even though the message that came that night was not what Eli would have hoped
Yes, I take
courage. In this, our winter season, God can speak to us. We need to prepare
ourselves, be accessible, continue active in “ministering before the Lord,”
even when we don’t hear God’s voice. We need to be open to whatever messengers
God chooses, including our young people. In fact, we need to actively encourage
the younger generations to wait for, expect and respond to God’s word to them,
for all of us. And we need to be ready to listen, even when the words are hard
As I write this,
it’s a cold but bright winter morning. Not dark at all. Snow covers the hills,
and ice makes the roads dangerous. But hope is in the air. I choose to keep
“Speak, Lord, for
your servants are listening.”
(Thanks to Chuck Orwiler for his
week of devotionals. Insightful and encouraging.)
I can lose myself in a book, but,
better than that, I can also find myself. This is the list of my favorite books
read during 2016, whatever year they were published in. A few of them fall in
the finding-myself category.
Goudge, The Bird in the Tree (1940): An old book by a favorite author.
The protagonist is an grandmother, and the plot circles around family and
difficult choices of the younger generations. Goudge’s writing is thick with
description of the land, the birds, the forest, and the people, and rich in
insights about human nature. Definitely old-fashioned but worth reading again.
The Hangman’s Daughter (2010): A grim but fascinating historical novel,
based on the author’s ancestor who was the hangman (torturer of confessions,
executioner) in a medieval German village.
Anthony Doerr, All
the Light We Cannot See (2015): One of my favorites, this amazing and
beautiful story is set in World War II, on Saint Malo, a city island off the
coast of France that was destroyed by the Germans toward the end of the war.
The story follows the lives of two children, a blind girl in France and an
orphan boy from a stark mining town in Germany. Both have minds awake and a
hunger to learn. Their lives come together on the island. The book stokes the
fires of longing for kindness, grace, and all the light we cannot see.
Emily St. John
Mandel, Station Eleven (2014): A well-written futuristic fantasy of the
survivors of a pandemic flu that kills 99% of the earth’s population. The story
weaves back and forth in time, following the lives of several protagonists who
eventually come together to build a new civilization.
Ruta Sepetys, Between
Shades of Gray (2011): A young adult novel about a 15-year-old Lithuanian
girl in 1941, at the time of the Soviet take-over of the Baltic countries. The
author draws from stories of her own family members. It shows the courage of
the human spirit at its best, human cruelty at its worst, and always hope, like
the line of sun on the horizon after the long Artic winter, showing between
shades of gray.
Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008): A remarkable about a
mute boy on a Wisconsin farm and a family that raises and trains dogs. A
coming-of-age story involving an escape from home and a return to face old
Kate Atkinson, Life
After Life (2013): A strange but compelling novel that explores the possibility
of returning to life, after death, to try to “get it right.” The book sashays
back and forth in time from Ursula’s birth in 1910 where in her first life she
dies shortly after birth. Each section takes her on to her death, occurring at
a different point in her life. What stood out to me were the small decisions
and incidents that made all the difference, the gravity of the seemingly
Carol Shields, Unless
(2002): The protagonist is a writer struggling with her second novel and
the real life trauma of her homeless non-responsive daughter. The chapter
titles are all connecting words or phrases such as “unless,” “although,” “not
yet,” “thus,” and so on, giving the idea of being somewhere in the middle,
neither subject nor predicate, a person on hold from life. Beautifully written,
clever observation of detail, stimulating reflections.
Scot McKnight, The
Blue Parakeet (2008): Helpful book about hermeneutics, taking into account
how we all pick and choose what we ignore in the Bible. Gives criteria for
reading the Bible in its original context and interpreting it into our
contexts. Especially encourages careful consideration of “blue parakeets,”
those troublesome passages we normally try to overlook—about women, war,
sexuality, etc.” Could be helpful to NWYM at this time.
Hali Felt, Soundings:
The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor (2012): story
of Marie Tharp who fought the odds as a woman to be an oceanographer. I’d never
heard of her before. Between 1950 and into the 1970s, she mapped the entire
ocean floor and in that process discovered the rift valley that circles the
globe, today known as the Mid-Oceanic Rift.
DeArteaga, Agnes Sanford and her Companions (2015): The subtitle is,
“The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal.”
Fascinating history of one of the most important, and unrecognizeed,
theologians of the 20th Century. She is one who brought healing back
to the church. Her work was formative for Hal and me as we started out on our
adventures as cross-cultural servants of the Kingdom.
Eric Metaxas, Seven
Women and the Secret of Their Greatness (2013): Brief biographies of Joan
of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom,
Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. Inspiring and informative. I seem to have focused
on biographies of women this year.
Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014): Hal and I enjoyed reading this as an exercise in cross-cultural perspectives, noting all the worldview issues coming from an Eastern culture with an animistic background (although the author is a modern urbanite). We chuckled at the idea of rolling up your socks in such a way that they sense your gratitude for all they do for your feet...and so on. But I also found the book helpful and encouraging as we faced the ongoing tasks of decluttering and organizing.
Hearing God: Developing A Conversational Relationship with God (1984,
1999): This is a book I plan to regularly re-read. It encourages me in my
relationship of intimacy with God.
I read the biblical book of Esther in November and found it helpful as I looked
back on the whole election year, and now, as I wrestle with the results of the
election and the future of our nation. The story of a capricious, foolish, impulsive,
rich, immoral but powerful political leader and the resulting precarious
position of the people in his realm gives me courage. The book gives insight
about how to be the people of God in such a situation.
Justice Freedom Herbs (2015): Rozga’s poetic reflections on the social
justice battles of the 60s awaken my own memories and feelings from that era.
And the struggle continues. I’m glad some of the “warriors” are also poets and
T. S. Elliot: Four
Quartets (1943): I continue basking in the beauty of Elliot’s language,
only intuitively grasping his meaning. Little by little.
Roberts, Prayers at Twilight (2003): Since Arthur’s death, I find these imaginative
reflections on heaven poignant. More questions and ponderings than actual
reflections, of course, Arthur knows the answers now.
died last week. It was not unexpected; he was 93 and under hospice care. But
the sense of grief and loss surprises me. There’s an empty space where once a
tree stood tall.
The city of
Newberg is building a new swimming pool complex. The work has begun. But when I
drove by the lot a few weeks ago, the grove of trees by the old pool was gone.
An empty lot of stumps, dirt and machinery mock the space they once occupied. I
guess it had to happen, but the fact of it devastates.
The land itself
has been devastated.
Somehow this is
not an apt metaphor for Arthur’s death.
He was a tree in a
mountain forest, the largest one around. He seemed to tower over all of us. He
was loved. Frightening sometimes, but loved. I certainly loved him.
The tree is down
and it leaves an empty space in the forest. But the tree had been extending its
life for decades. Younger trees in all stages of development surround the place
where he once towered. They grow and some may one day be as tall as the old
one. Gradually they will fill in the space he left with branches, leaves,
And the fallen
trunk itself keeps on giving. Death unto life.
Memories rise up.
My fear of this philosophy professor as a college freshman. My surprise when I
went in for an appointment and instead of a professor discovered a pastor.
I recall his
ongoing interest in me as I grew up and into ministry, marriage, began a
family, left for missionary service in Bolivia. Arthur and Fern always treated
us as family, believed in us, encouraged us.
first Bibles are inscribed, “To David…To Kristin…with love from Arthur and
A circular wooden
clock, crafted by Arthur, hangs in our living room. A Cherokee talking stick
(that I actually used in my classes) lays in the bookcase.
He invited me to
write the foreword to his poetry book about heaven, Prayers at Twilight. As
I re-read these now, they take on an added poignancy. He now knows the answers
to the questions the poems ask.
before his death, we visited Arthur down in his room in the Friendsview health
center. Terri and John were there, have been continually with him and Fern
since he went into hospice care. His eyes were closed and he seemed to drift in
and out of sleep. But he opened them from time to time, acknowledged us.
I reminded him of
some advice he gave me years ago. I was thinking of going into a program of
doctoral studies. He told me, “Forget all that academic stuff, Nancy. Write
poetry.” He smiled as I reminded him, eyes still closed. I prayed for him
before we left, and he whispered, “Amen.”
The last word he
spoke to me. “Amen.” So be it. A life well lived, a rich legacy left behind.
The Spirit blows through the forest.
I’m still mulling
over yearly meeting and our inability to come to consensus on the issues
related to same sex relationships. We’re still divided as a yearly meeting, and
this is causing paralysis, as well as distress.
recently, as I agonized in spirit, I found myself repeating in prayer, “I’m so
sorry. I’m so sorry.” Then my prayer morphed into, “It’s alright. Please don’t
be sad. It’ll all work out.”
This reminds me of
when our children were small. After I brought a new-born Kristin home from the
hospital, she had her bouts of crying, like all small babies. There were even
times when, being tired myself and having tried all I knew to address her
distress, I just left her in her cradle to cry it out.
This alarmed her
older brother, and three-year-old David would tell me, “Mom, Kristin’s
crying! You need to ‘there-there’ her!” Apparently when I held her and patted
her back, I would murmur, “There-there. There-there.” Soon we adopted the
phrase, “to there-there Kristin.”
Back to the
present. As I was praying, “I’m sorry. Please don’t be sad,” I realized that I
was trying to “there-there” God. That brought a smile, along with a sense of
the ridiculous. Who was I to comfort God? Who was I to tell God to just relax,
that it would somehow all work out? Who, indeed?
I sensed God smile
back, and real comfort took place, in a God-to-me direction. Seeing the humor
in this serious situation again restored perspective and faith.
The church belongs
to God, and God will lead us as we seek, ask and listen. In the meantime, I
will continue praying and waiting and working and loving. In the words of
Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of
thing shall be well.”
The shout, “Read
me! Read me!” is not just about this blog post. It’s encouraging you to buy,
read and, hopefully, enjoy my new poetry collection, Close to the Ground.The
presentation of the book brightened my experience of this year’s yearly meeting
You’ll notice that the
cover photo portrays decayed leaves on the ground. A thank you to my dear
friend, photographer Donovan Aylard. Of the nine photos he offered to Barclay
Press, the one the press chose was initially my least favorite. But I now love
it as the cover photo. Look closely in the upper left hand corner. Tiny green shoots
break the surface. New life is springing up. Both the dry leaves and the barely
perceptible greenness represent the contents. Read me! Read me! (Please.)