Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"The Leader" by Wendell Berry


Head like a big
watermelon,
frequently thumped
and still not ripe.


Monday, January 23, 2017

The right to be safe

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 other.
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.

It sort of makes “safe” irrelevant.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Discerning the voice in the dark

Today’s devotional reading from Fruit of the Vine comes 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 for.
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 to take.
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 open. Waiting.
“Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.”


(Thanks to Chuck Orwiler for his week of devotionals. Insightful and encouraging.)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Favorite books read in 2016

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.

Fiction
Elizabeth 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.
Oliver Potzsch, 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.
David 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 tragedies.
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 insignificant.
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.

Non-Fiction
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.
William L. 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.
Dallas Willard, 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.
Esther: 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.

Poetry
Margaret Rozga, 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 gardners.
T. S. Elliot: Four Quartets (1943): I continue basking in the beauty of Elliot’s language, only intuitively grasping his meaning. Little by little.

Arthur O. 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.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Arthur Roberts died last week

Arthur Roberts 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, fruit—ongoing life.
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.
Our children’s first Bibles are inscribed, “To David…To Kristin…with love from Arthur and Fern.”
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.
Several days 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.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Comforting God

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.

One morning 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.”
Yes.
There-there.




Friday, July 29, 2016

"Close to the Ground"—Read me! Read me!

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 sessions (NWYM).
      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.)