Thursday, March 28, 2013

Grace sightings # 3, 2013

Rwanda is known as “the land of a thousand hills.” At least a thousand. It’s easy to be a grace-spy here. Grace is all around.
--“Traveling mercies”: I love that old Christian phrase. It’s all about grace-on-the-road. Because we were “on the road” more than 48 hours (including one hotel layover), the fact that we made it here somewhat rested, safe and with our luggage intact moves me to gratitude. I am especially grateful to the funny, friendly stewards on the British Airways flight from London to Nairobi. Our USA airlines could take lessons.
--Early morning sounds:  Every day, I hear the call to Muslim worship promptly at 4:50. The tropical birds kick in at 5:30 with a multitude of musical numbers, including my favorite, the waterfall song that starts high and warbles all the way down to the pool at the bottom. Soon after that Quaker drums call the faithful to morning prayers. I hear no traffic at all.
--Grandkids: During our first week (last week, in fact) we got to attend the talent show at the school Gwen and Alandra attend here in Kigali. Alandra’s karaoke rendition of the Rabbit Tango won first place, even though this clever 5th grader was competing against the whole grade/middle and high school. Actually she wasn’t competing; she was just up there having fun, with her usual great flare for the dramatic. She was stunned at winning. I wasn’t.
--Health foods: My daughter-in-law Debby is close to fanatic about natural, organic, healthy foods. She does the research and experiments with her findings, much to the benefit of the family. Currently on the menu—fermented cod liver oil (which only David endures, gamely calling it “fish puke oil”), Mother of Vinegar, kombucha tea, morniga powder, and virgin coconut oil. Hal and I have been on kombucha for some time now, and the values of coconut oil are beginning to convince me. (In addition to consuming three tablespoons a day for general health and weight loss, it can be used as a face cream, shampoo and deodorant. Deb buys it by the gallon.) While some of this just seems funny, I’m seeing more of God’s grace than I realized in the natural world.
--Grace to accept changing relationships: With teenaged grandkids, relationships change. We find that Grandpa and Grandma are no longer the sun around which the planets revolve. No one fights over who gets to sit next to us at meals or comes in the early hours to wake us up and play or asks us to tuck them in at night. We’re still in the same universe but relegated to more distant spheres. While I sense some loss, I know that all this is right and good. Growing up is good. Change is good too, when it flows according to God’s plan. God gives us grace to accept those changes and explore new ways of relating to these marvelous young adults in the making.
--Easter across cultures: We celebrated a Seder meal earlier this week and on Sunday we’ll celebrate the resurrection with Rwandan believers. All over the world, the children of God acknowledge that “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.”  There is more grace in this reality than I can begin to understand.
--The Celtic prayer that has been in the back of my mind for two weeks now: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.”  Yes. Yes, indeed.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A reasonable approach to war

If some worthy person in a far off country
is willing to die for his/her country and/or faith,
then the least I can do
is be willing to kill him/her
(for the sake of my country and/or faith).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Getting ready for Rwanda

Last year I wrote a blog called, “Getting ready for Russia.” I asked how it was even possible to get ready from something as huge and deep and vast as Russia. I ask the same question now about Rwanda. And even as I ask, I recognize the privilege I have to even be able to ask these questions. Because I really did go to Russia. And I really am going to Rwanda.
Tomorrow, actually. Our bags are packed and waiting by the front door, miraculously underweight. My Kindle is loaded with great (I hope) books. And my son has just written to inform me that the room we will occupy has been “cleaned up.” (What a relief!)
For this is a family trip. We are going to spend time with our kids and grandkids in a beautiful place that also just happens to have elephants and drums and dancing Quakers.
I can hardly wait.

What’s up with Quakers and the Bible?

Last Sunday while on a trip, Hal and I attended a church unrelated to Friends. I enjoy opportunities to relate to the wider Christian community, but this visit made me squirm. (And when I squirm, it’s not pretty.) I entered into the worship, appreciating the mix of old hymns and new choruses, as well as the skill of the musicians, the beauty of the Powerpoint (with moving backgrounds—trees swaying, waves rolling in), and the emotional fervor. But when it came time for the preaching/teaching component, my body temperature went up several notches. (Yes, I’m getting older, but “this” was not “that.”)
Basically, the older ordained white men tell the rest of the congregation what the Bible says, what they are all to believe, and expect quiet submission in return. Am I being too harsh? Too ungraciously critical? (Lord, forgive me.) At any rate, it felt good to get back outdoors into the open air again. I thought to myself, “I’m glad I’m a Quaker.”
But later in the week I took part in a discussion of the leadership team of our Friends meeting. We were trying to set up guidelines for a sensitive discussion the congregation wants to have about human sexuality. In the course of the discussion, several people expressed concern that we not refer directly to the Bible as a guide in the conversation, partly out of fear of scaring people away (e.g., my reaction to the earlier non-Friendly experience) or to seem to rigidly determine the outcome. But the idea of minimizing reference to the written word of God alarmed me, and I’ve been tossing and turning every night since.
I deeply respect the other members of our ministry team and do not think that any of them are being subversive or unchristian. Yet this points to an area of ambiguity that Quakers both wrestle with and embrace. It has to do with authority (a nasty word, to some; a word all of us need to use carefully).
One thing I love about Friends theology (by “theology,” I mean the ways we as a community reflect about God) is the dual focus on the “living word” (Jesus as the present teacher and friend in our midst) and the “written word,” thus connecting us to the Christian movement down through the ages and across the globe. I realize this is the focus of the evangelical branch of Quakers (although not exclusively), but that’s the family I’m a part of. The “living word” takes precedent over the “written word” but never replaces or contradicts it (although it may seem to at times). Because of the dual focus, ambiguity is necessarily a part of our process.
Even though as a poet I love ambiguity, that doesn’t make it any easier when we face hard conversations and difficult issues. And I don’t ever want to sideline the Scriptures. They are “a lamp to our feet and a light on our path” (Psalm 119:105, not taken out of context). Even for Quakers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Grace sightings #2, 2013

I don’t usually pay attention to insipid and generic fortunes—those little slips of paper found inside cookies served by Chinese-American restaurants. But when I read, “You find beauty in the ordinary things of life,” I thought, “How did you know?” For the first time, the cookie got it right.
Here are some of my grace sightings for this last month:
1) The joy of being an intercultural person: Our first church service in Bolivia during our February trip was among a group of older Quakers all speaking Aymara. As the wonderful sounds poured over me, I thought to myself, “How good to be home again!” Three weeks later, this week, in fact, the church service I sat through took place on a totally different planet. We were back in Newberg attending North Valley Friends Church, and as the wonderful English sounds poured over me, I thought to myself, “How good to be home again!” Yes.
2) The incredible hospitality and generosity of the Aymara people: At times it was hard to get our work done because so many old friends wanted to host us for a meal.
3) Abundant tropical fruit, especially mangos: Mangos, along with chocolate, prove the existence of God. A course in Mango Apologetics (MA101) should be offered in all seminaries.
4) The beauty of La Paz and the Andes: I never get tired of it. We had a marvelous view of the city and surrounding mountains from the roof of our hostel, right in the heart of it all.
5) Good books, always a grace-gift: I read several books on the trip, taking advantage of airport layovers and time at night after work. My favorites were My Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, and the Whalesong Trilogy by poet Robert Siegel. (Hal and I are reading this last one aloud.)
6) Barely back in Oregon, our lost suitcase being delivered to our door, only one day late:  To this grace, I need to add the fact that we managed NOT to worry about the suitcase in the meantime. Maybe growth is grace really is possible.
7) Grandkids: Our first day home, grandson Reilly played his latest piano composition over the phone. Not bad for an 11 year-old!
8) Other people’s children: I loved watching and listening to Aiden Lowrey play the violin for church, the youngest member of the worship team. I love seeing children develop their talents, and I love being part of a congregation that encourages them.
9) Our silly cat’s almost-humanity: As usual, Chiri ignored us when we first got home, acting aloof and standoffish. He gradually morphed to attention on demand, including sickly yowls and getting right in our faces at 3:00 in the morning. Now, having made us pay for our neglect, he’s settled down and seems content. Little does he know….
10) The last grace sighting I’ll mention has to do with hope, anticipation, and, yes, another trip. We have the grace of knowing our next journey is to Rwanda, this time to be with family. With barely two weeks between trips, I have not put away the suitcases. I’m calculating how lightly we can travel in order to carry as many treats for the grandkids as possible. This kind of packing is fun.
Life is good. God’s grace is abundant. I don’t need a fortune cookie to tell me that.