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.)