Friday, July 30, 2010

Another day, another planet

July 29, 2010

I’m writing this seated in a plane, getting ready to take off from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. We will touch down this evening in San José, Costa Rica. Once again, I’m changing planets.

We left Oregon early this morning, in the middle of Northwest Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions. Today is the final day. It’s been a good week, and I’ve felt gratitude for my Quaker heritage—participating in worship (sometimes with song, often in silence), listening to representatives gently work their way through business, taking (and presenting) workshops, sharing many conversations around meals. I’ve been with family, and I’ve loved it.

One small bright moment for me came at the close of one of the afternoon workshops. This was an open-mic poetry reading, with ten participants. We sat in a circle, read original poetry, shared observations and encouraged one another. At the end, a woman from Klamath Falls confessed that my poetry collection (The Secret Colors of God) is the only book she has ever stolen. I found that both wonderful and funny. (Actually, her “crime” was liking it so much she just didn’t return it to the church library. She has since repented, returned the book, and now has her own legitimate copy.)

The pilot is now apologizing for the delay and announcing that any minute we will be taking off, that the “little hole” in the fuselage has been repaired. (I’m not sure I’m glad he told us that.) I’m preparing my spirit to enter a new world. For the next two weeks we will be immersed in a Latin American milieu of theology, academic study, and warm fellowship of another kind. Our seminar times will be intense and our worship together will be loud, vibrant, and active. The only silence will probably be what I introduce the morning I bring the devotional. These are not Quakers. And Latin America is not the Pacific Northwest. But this is a world I also love.

In spite of the differences, strong threads connect my several worlds. We are all broken people in process of being transformed by the Spirit of God. And we are all followers of Jesus, seeking to make a difference in our world.

The little safety movie is now running on the plane’s TV screens, first in English, and then in Spanish. Hal and I have emergency-door seats this time, right over the wing, so I’ve reviewed the instructions on removing the door so people can escape. I trust I will not be put to the test.

I also trust in God’s accompanying presence on this journey and on his lovingly bringing together the various worlds of my life. Jesus is Lord.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The tale of a dollhouse

It all started 30 years ago when we lived in Bolivia (a great place to raise kids). For Christmas one year we decided to make a dollhouse for Kristin. Hal designed a three-story-plus-attic house, then build it out of wood over a period of several months, using a friend’s shop. We painted it in vibrant primary colors—reds, blues and yellows—partly to match our daughter’s personality.

Kristin was thoroughly surprised and delighted. We furnished it together with stuff from the local miniature fair (“Alasitas”) and with handmade items such as the tuna can coffee table and the matchbox dresser. It brought years of fun and creativity, and when we left Bolivia, Kristin, sixteen-years-old, hated to have to sell it.

Ten years ago on a December visit to our son and his family in Rwanda, David said, “Dad, could you build Breanna a dollhouse for Christmas? Just like Kristin’s?” We agreed, and Hal set to work in David’s garage. We had three weeks to do the job and no place to hide. Breanna, five, and Aren, four, were fascinated, and Hal found ways to let them help him, always evading their questions as to what this interesting thing was supposed to become. We did the final assembly and painting Christmas Eve, after the kids were in bed. I’m still amazed that we managed to surprise Breanna on Christmas morning. All three of David’s daughters have enjoyed that dollhouse.

Yesterday we celebrated Paige’s fifth birthday with—what else?—a dollhouse. A year ago Kristin had said, “Dad, it’s our turn. Could you please build Paige a dollhouse? Just like mine?”

For the past several months, we’ve dedicated Saturday afternoons to the project. Hal used wood from the baseboards that were taken from his Grandpa Weesner’s house when it was remodeled to become a George Fox University dorm. (Grandpa Weesner would be Paige’s great-great-grandfather.) The last two weeks, the birthday deadline pushed us to spend more time in the garage. But it’s been a joy—a relief to Hal from the academic intensity of his job, fun for me as I’ve sanded and painted, imagining Paige’s delight and praying for her.

I think this one is Hal’s magnum opus. It’s beautiful. (See the following photos.) The night before the birthday Hal stayed up until 3:30 doing the final assembly and touch-up painting. The morning of the birthday we ran into a snafu as we discovered the thing would not fit into our car. (We had been imagining it fitting, but somehow neglected to take measurements. Go figure.) We live 1 ½ hours from Jon and Kristin’s home, so we had to scramble to borrow a van, but we made it a good hour before the party (missing lunch, however).

That was yesterday. Different extended family members had volunteered to furnish different rooms. (Kristin is organized!) Paige opened her first gift, a set of bathroom furniture. She lifted up the little wooden potty, looked quizzically at her mom and said, “This wasn’t on my list.” The following packages revealed more furniture, and finally she opened the box with the wooden family—parents, three kids, grandparents, just like her family. But she still didn’t get it. We then told her to go to her room for her final present. The dollhouse was waiting for her. It was great to see her look of surprise and the dawning understanding as all the parts and pieces came together in her mind. The rest of the afternoon we all arranged and rearranged furniture, built what was missing from Legos, and played.

We feel satisfaction at the completion of a big project, a job well done, a gift that will continue to bless our granddaughter, and add another chapter to our family story. Maybe someday Paige’s daughter will play with a dollhouse built with wood from her great-great-great-grandpa’s house!

Alandra and Gwen with the Rwandan dollhouse.

Beginning work on Paige's dollhouse

A labor of love

Ready to deliver

Paige Rebecca Gault at 5

Life is good.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Not safe

“Come near to God and God will come near to you” (James 4:8)

After years of growing up in this house,
after all the warnings and hand slappings
--I am well trained, I am cautious—
why are you now telling me
to place my hand
on the glowing burner?

I’m no astronaut.
I barely made it through high school
physics. And you ask me
--without the suit, no oxygen tanks,
not even a rocket—to take a stroll
through the galaxies?

The Creator of volcanoes, black
holes, caterpillars and the beans
that morphed into this cup of coffee
has invited me over for a chat?
How do I get ready? What will
I wear? And whatever—in heaven
or on earth—will we talk about?

How does immaterial immensity
--or whatever God is—draw near
to an infinitesimal speck—that would
be me—without destroying it?
Where is the place big enough
for the meeting? Will it be an open field,
a mountain peak or a mansion?
How do I get there? A little girl again,
I dare to mumble my questions.

If I manage to find the place,
do I just ring the doorbell?
Will I be able to reach it?
Will a servant answer? Or God
himself? Do we shake hands?
What if he hasn’t any?
How will I know it’s really him?

Definitely not safe. An invitation
to play with fire, to enter
the ocean and swim with sharks,
to draw near to unbearable light.
Not safe. Not safe at all.

(From a collection currently in process, "At the Speed of Love: Some unorthodox commentaries on the book of James," 2010)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

At Quaker meeting: Waiting for silence

A poem by William Jolliff

Outside waits a day with four mountains:
Jefferson, Adams, St. Helens and Hood
are stretching their shoulders to the sky
like schoolboys hoping to be chosen first.

The light that sways through the window
of the meetinghouse falls like a warm kiss,
then bends to bless the pews and timbers.
I knew the man who crafted that altar—

I read his books. He cut the black walnut
on his farm and stacked the rough-sawn
boards to wait for the right purpose—this—
then mourned his sin in steel wool and tung oil.

And the young man speaking doesn’t have
Ezekiel’s hair only; he has a prophet’s tongue,
too, and a pure heart, nearly as I can tell.
So I’ve more to be forgiven as I turn

each muscle of hope toward what is still
to come, when the brilliance of good words
slows into nothing, and we settle at last
to the silence that calls us back, even from music

that draws us to the center, the sacred pit
of God’s belly, even on a four-mountain day.

(Bill Jolliff is a professor of literature and writing at George Fox University. He attends the North Valley Friends unprogrammed meeting for worship, where Hal and I also attend. This poem is from his book, Searching for a White Crow, 2009, Pudding House Publications——and is posted here with the author’s permission.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

“Something better than revival”

A few weeks ago I was browsing the June edition of Christianity Today when a photo grabbed my attention. “Hey!” I almost said out loud, “I know those people!” My friends Norberto and Carmen Saracco stood out in a photo of pastors in Buenos Aires, and the article, “Something Better than Revival,” by CT news editor Jeremy Weber, told the story of the Council of Pastors in Argentina’s capital city.

The article also mentions church historian, Pablo Deiros. Norberto and Pablo are teaching colleagues of ours on the academic council of PRODOLA, a Latin American graduate program in theology. Norberto had shared about the unity movement of churches in Buenos Aires, so the information was not new, but I gained a new sense of the scope and the significance of what CT is calling “perhaps the most remarkable experiment in citywide church unity today.” The story is fascinating, and I encourage you to read the article for yourselves.

It’s interesting to note how the movement has evolved from friendships between pastors across denominational lines, to friendships between churches, and now to united missional efforts in the center of Buenos Aires. One of their latest endeavors was the joint sending of a missionary couple to North Africa, a model that gives hope for carrying out the Great Commission in spite of the economic realities of Latin America.

This kind of unity has not been easy to achieve, especially given some of the differences between the more liberal mainline churches and the evangelical churches. Pastors have adopted certain basic theological elements and agreed to differ on the rest. It seems to be working. One of the founders, Juan Pablo Bongarrá, says, “Today the mainline churches are helping the evangelical churches do social work, and the evangelical churches are helping the mainline churches do evangelism work.” The article goes on to state that “Christians now enjoy greater leverage in the public square because they can present a united front when confronting the government.”

Something the article does not mention is the unity movement in Argentina between Protestants and Catholics, especially those that identify with the charismatic/Pentecostal emphasis. Norberto is also a leader in this movement.

I think of my own faith community, that of the Quakers, with all our divisions and differences. I’m encouraged by the convergent Friends movement, but I wish we as Friends could also make more intentional moves toward the greater unity of the whole body of Christ. Perhaps this is something better carried out locally than globally.