Friday, July 27, 2012

Yearly meeting reflections

Last night’s banquet officially closed the 2012 NWYM annual sessions, six days of deliberation, and discernment, with some celebration to help us focus on Jesus. In spite of good food, great fellowship and lots of laughter, I slipped out of the banquet room early and got my over-stimulated, introverted self home and into some refreshing silence. In retrospect, I see much to rejoice over.
--Our focus on prayer this year included 50 days of preparation as people throughout the yearly meeting covenanted to pray for the sessions, Becky’s passionate preaching every night, and several good workshops, one of which I facilitated. 
--Four workshops this year provided good support for writers as they focused on different aspects of growing as publishers of truth. Two of these had to do with writing on the Internet, not surprisingly.
--I also noticed a strong focus on mission, with new efforts to expand Quaker presence, service and witness in Russia, the Middle East, and North Africa. A highlight was the appointment of Elizabeth Todd to pave the way for some kind of long-term service in the Middle East, using the Friends School in Ramallah as a starting point for the discernment process.  (“Discernment” and “process” were words I heard a lot this week.) Another personal highlight was my appointment to the support team (“Global Outreach sub-committee” is the official term) for the work in Russia. I see Friends open and eager to partner with God in God’s mission in the world.
I felt personally affirmed and stimulated in my callings to pray, write, and participate in cross-cultural mission.
--We addressed the issue of human sexuality through small group discussions, with the understanding that this issue would not come to the floor of the meeting this year. I was only able to attend on Tuesday, and due to confusion with room numbers, I got lost and couldn’t find my assigned group. But several of us lost ones gathered and made our own group. People were open, willing to share their views and willing to listen. That’s good. All of us agree that we need to love all people, and that the church needs to be a hospitable place for all. But I’m sensing a growing polarization of those who feel open to bless homosexual unions and those who feel that this runs counter to a basic scriptural theology of human beings. Both ends of the continuum—and there are many of us in the middle—claim scriptural support and testify that listening to Christ has brought them to their position. Even though we’re trying to listen, these positions seem to be solidifying.
I confess that this keeps me awake at night. I confess that I alternate between trust that God will lead us and fear for our yearly meeting.
One thing that was life-giving, a small thing perhaps, was a perspective Gil and Louise George presented in their workshop on praying according to God’s will. They had prepared this before the controversy on human sexuality arose, and basically shared from their own experience in life situations not related to this issue. But the application that Gil shared, and that has proved so helpful to me this week, was the need to release to God our own strong positions on this (or any) issue, confessing our ignorance and asking God to teach and lead us.
Even with this heavy issue on everyone’s mind, I’m thankful that our sessions centered more on prayer and mission. I’m thankful for my faith community, the family of Friends.

Friday, July 13, 2012

From illegal alien to Comfort Cat

I never meant to commit a crime. The situation crept up on me. We knew the rules. And while we didn’t like the by-law that prohibits normal pets, we wanted to live here, so we agreed to abide by the law. The non-normal pets that are allowed require that the resident have a certified disability and a doctor willing to state in writing that a pet would help her patient cope with life. We had no such disability and no such doctor. Or so we thought.
Two years ago our son and family came home for a year’s break from their overseas assignment. The rental they moved into not only came furnished, it came with cats. Two of them. In spite of my daughter-in-law’s allergy to cats, the kids were so excited, their loving parents decided to see if it might work out. Anything to help them adjust to life in the United States.
One night David called me, saying, “Debby can’t take it anymore. I’m bringing Spencer over right away.”
What could we do? It was clearly an emergency situation. Of course we couldn’t keep the cat. By-laws are by-laws, and we had pledged obedience with our signatures. But in a time of need, one simply has to step forward.
So Spencer moved in. Spencer is a long-haired yellow cat with an affectionate nature. Although he spent the first three days and nights under our bed, once he came out, we bonded. We changed his name to Chiri after a beloved yellow beast in our past (it means “cat” in the Quechua language), and that name change alone should have warned me.
Several months went by, and I occasionally noticed we were not doing anything about finding Chiri a legal home. We didn’t try to hide him. The living room window sill was a favorite perch, right in full view of our community. While no one said anything for a long time, we knew they saw him there.
Chiri has some charming qualities. In the early morning hours, after I get my cup of coffee and settle in my easy chair, he crawls up onto my chest, stretches out and begins to purr. Loudly. He occasionally looks directly into my eyes. Nose to nose. That’s not my favorite part; his nose is always wet and cold. But it’s a sweet gesture. We do our morning meditations together.
He tries to be helpful in ways I don’t always appreciate, but I honor his good intentions. For example, in a strange penchant for neatness he loves to bat small objects off the coffee table and the bedside stands. Pens, pencils, cough drop wrappers, notes written on small pieces of paper, etc., these he helpfully shoves to the floor, thus tidying up the room. Somewhat.
And he has become my self-appointed alarm clock. He sleeps on the end of our bed and loves it that I get up early. But on those occasions when I’m not up by 5:30, he comes right up, sticks his cold nose into my face and begins the loud purr. If I shove him off, he comes back until I get up. Sometimes I think it’s cute. Sometimes I don’t.
At any rate he’s squiggled his way into our lives, and we like having him around.
We knew we couldn’t indefinitely go on breaking the rule. We decided we’d like to approach the community about a change in the by-laws, and that might happen someday, maybe even this year. In the meantime, we needed to do something more immediate. A friend in the community suggested that if we approached it right, we might be able to get our doctor’s signature and begin the process of legalization. So we decided that our “disability” was that we are human beings, and that an affectionate relationship to animals does indeed help us cope with life. We wrote up a letter according to a form we found and presented it to our doctor. She laughed and gladly signed it. And without comment, our community association passed a minute declaring that Chiri is now an official Comfort Cat.
If anyone ever refers to him as a Therapy Cat, I will have to start taking appointments because he’s really good at what he does.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ladies and other unskillful persons

I love dictionaries. I love to just open one to any random page and make choice discoveries. My all-time favorite is the Oxford English Dictionary. Fortunately I live close enough to a university library to be able to browse at my heart’s content.
Right now I am re-reading that fascinating book by Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (1998). Among other fascinating facts and anecdotes, Winchester provides some of the history of English dictionaries. (I realize this may not be fascinating to everybody, but it is to me.)
We learn that in 1604, a schoolmaster named Robert Cawdrey published “the very first true monolingual English dictionary,” thus providing “a pivotal moment in the history of English lexicography.” (Now, is that fascinating or what?) It was a small book with only some 2500 entries that didn’t attempt to cover the field. He entitled it A Table Alphabeticall…of hard unusual English Words.
The quote from the preface that I want to share has less to do with a fascination for dictionaries than with cultural attitudes toward women. In the preface to his dictionary of hard words, Crawdrey notes that the book is chiefly “for the benefit & help of Ladies, gentlewomen or any other unskilful persons, Whereby they may more easilie and better vunderstand many hard English wordes, which they shall heare or read in the Scriptures, Sermons or elsewhere, and also be made able to vse the same aptly themselves.”
If it weren’t so funny, I’d probably be mad.
I’m glad I live in the 21st century.

Monday, July 2, 2012

PNWQWTC in retrospect

PNWQWTC—now that’s a mouthful of letters that almost defeats the purpose of acronyms. Its meaning is equally impressive; it refers to the Pacific North West Quaker Women’s Theology Conference, another mouthful. The trick is to say it all without having to stop for a breath.
Actually, I was quite impressed, and I found myself frequently stopping to take a breath, wanting to absorb everything. It’s now been several weeks since my participation in the conference. I arrived with great anticipation, but not knowing what to expect. Although these conferences have been happening every two years since 1995, this was my first time.
On June 13-17, 2012, 62 women mostly from the North Pacific Yearly Meeting (unprogrammed) and North West Yearly Meeting (programmed) gathered at the Menucha Conference Center in northern Oregon, overlooking the Columbia River. We spent the time listening, talking, eating and playing together around the theme of “Inviting, Contemplating and Enacting Grace.”  Highlights for me included the following:
--Making new friends. I was worried my natural shyness might kick into full force among so many people I didn’t know, but something about this particular gathering encouraged openness and honest interactions. I not only made new friends, I found some kindred spirits.
--Listening to the Spirit speak through so many people. Each day considered a particular aspect of grace, with two plenary speakers, and enough time to hold the words in the silence and respond verbally. I felt my understanding of and appreciation for God’s amazing grace expand.
--Home groups. We were all carefully placed in small groups that met every day to further discuss the topic, get to know one another, share needs and dreams, tell stories, pray, and, in the case of my home group, laugh. A lot. I loved the way we learned to move gracefully between laughter and silent waiting.
--The place. Not only the comfortable accommodations and good food, but the natural setting nourished me. Every day I was able to get up early, walk alone in the woods, and watch the sun come up over the Columbia River.
--Getting to contribute. I was invited to give the Sunday sermon, and I was led to talk about gratitude as our response to God’s grace. I feel renewed to live my own life in a spirit of gratitude.
In one of the times of evaluation, a woman expressed a concern that we not use the word “theology” for the conference, that it made it seem too heavy and ponderous for what we were experiencing. While I respect her opinion, I couldn’t disagree more. As we brought together our stories with words from the Scriptures, as we reflected and argued (just a little), discussed and waited in the silence for a word from the Lord, we were God’s people, doing the work of theology.  If at times it seemed more like “the play of theology,” right and good. We’re learning to know God together, to grow in our relationships with God and with each other, and trying to find a truer articulation of our faith, despite the differences among us. In fact, the very differences serve as a creative catalyst for more honest reflection, and give a context for love to grow. This is, indeed, “doing theology.”