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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.)

If we are separated....

Travelling Together
by W.S. Merwin

If we are separated I will
try to wait for you
on your side of things

your side of the wall and the water
and of the light moving at its own speed
even on leaves that we have seen
I will wait on one side

while a side is there

We’ve made it through another annual session of Northwest Yearly Meeting, and we’re still together. We were unable to come to consensus on last year’s decision by the yearly meeting elders (among whom I serve) on releasing West Hills Friends Church from membership in the yearly meeting. I rejoice that this meeting is still with us, although the process—Lord, have mercy—is ongoing. Our deliberations were gracious and peaceful on the surface. (We behaved with civility). Yet the underlying tensions were obvious.
So our unity feels tenuous to me, and all the more precious because of that.
Early this morning, W.S. Merwin’s little poem spoke to my condition and seemed like a love song I could sing to Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends.

And so I offer this to you, whoever you are. Wherever you are. Friend, friend, or both.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Frederick Buechner on worship

    "Phrases like Worship Service or Service of Worship are tautologies. To worship God means to serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for him that he needs to have done--run errands for him, carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for him that you need to do--sing songs for him, create beautiful things for him, give things up for him, tell him what's on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.
    "A Quaker Meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the Family Service at First Presbyterian, a Holy Roller Happening--unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spent doing something useful."

From Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (HarperSanFrancisco, 1973)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Eye contact

My eight-year-old grandson, Peter, has autism. He is bright, creative, quirky and full of surprises. He attended second grade in a public school this year, and he proudly tells people he is now in the third grade.
The end of the year assignment in his second grade class was a public speech. Each student was to introduce him or herself in three minutes. They could use a manuscript.
Peter is one of those chosen children who actually love to write. He wants to be a writer when he grows up and has already written and illustrated over 20 “books.” So producing the manuscript for the speech offered no problem.
The difficulty came with the other guidelines, chief among which was eye contact. Peter was supposed to look around at people as he spoke. He was instructed to make contact with his audience of second grade peers. He would be graded on this.
Eye contact has been problematic for Peter since infancy; it’s part of autism. He’s actually done quite well and has learned to occasionally look people in the eye as he speaks with them. He’s gotten used to us saying, “Peter, look at me.” But it’s never become quite natural.
And he doesn’t multitask. Give him a job to do, with clear instructions, and he can pour himself into it with passion. Thus, the more than 20 “books,” and the boxes of art work. But giving a speech and making eye contact with an audience are two separate tasks for him, and one task too many for it to be easy or natural.
But Peter determined to get it right, so he and his mom came up with a plan. Kristin, my daughter, penciled dots in his manuscript, one after each two sentences. The dot was a clue for Peter to lower his manuscript and look at someone in the audience. They decided on 5 seconds as a good amount of time for the look. Then they practiced. And Kristin videoed the practices on her phone so they could learn from them.
That seems like a lot of work for the second grade.
Peter is also visually impaired, so he had to hold the manuscript close, right in front of his face. Although he had the speech memorized, he wanted to do it this way. After all, the teacher said to use the manuscript.
So, face well hidden, he stood and began to loudly, clearly read the introduction. Then, briskly he lowered his arms and stared straight ahead, in this case at Kristin. When Peter stares, it’s serious. It’s fierce, concentrated and without the blink of an eye. As I watched the video, I could imagine him mentally counting to five. Then up went the manuscript and he loudly read the next two sentences. He reminded me of a robot as he again lowered the manuscript, shifted his head to stare at another person for five fierce seconds. Then up again for the next part. Repeat, repeat, repeat, right to the end. Kristin admirably harnessed her temptation to laugh.
As I said, he was determined to get it right.
And he must have done so, because he passed into the third grade.
Maybe the end product wasn’t quite natural, but I admire his determination and perseverance. I pray that life, mainly other people, will be kind to Peter--whether he avoids eye contact with them, or stares with ferocity. And I pray they listen to what he has to say.

In the early morning hours, I try to make eye contact with God. I confess that it is neither natural nor easy. Sometimes I use guidelines developed by others who’ve learned to do it well. Under their instructions, I may practice a certain number of seconds of concentrated gazing at the light. Then down again for a quick dip in the Scriptures. Up again to gaze (or meditate, if that’s the right word). Repeat, repeat.
I wonder if I look to God a bit like Peter. I wonder if I have some form of spiritual autism.
At any rate, I sense great patience and kindness coming to me from God’s heart.
And, yes, an occasional chuckle.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Transitions and changes

Two graduations and a wedding! The graduations happened last week, both marking the transition from middle school to high school.

Here is our beautiful daughter Kristin, with Reilly. He graduated from Thurston Middle School and was honored as the best band student of the year. 

And here is our son (also beautiful), with Alandra who just graduated from Chehalem Valley Middle School right here in Newberg. Also with honors, for good grades. (And, again, beautiful.)

If I sound proud, well, I am.

And a week from today we celebrate the first grandchild wedding. How can that be?

This baby...will be a bride.

And the river flows on. All glory to God.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Damp but not defeated at Silver Falls

We decided to go anyway. The weather report predicted a 90% chance of rain, and in Oregon we learn to take that seriously. But we had made our reservations weeks ago, managing to get the very last tenting site available in Silver Falls State Park.
Piggy-backing on the end of a family reunion, the dates were not negotiable. And what’s a little rain to Oregonians?

Our son-in-law helped by loaning us their larger, more water-proof tent. And our brother-in-law kicked in my setting up his canopy over the tent. We pitched the tent on the highest ground at the site and hoped we’d be able to stay dry.
We enjoyed the first night, the sounds especially. It wasn’t just like being in a forest in the rain. We were in the middle of the trees, with the music of real rain all around us.
Our careful preparations worked. No outside water creeped into the tent. We stayed dry.
The next day showed us once again that you can’t always rely on weather reports. A window of clear skies prompted us to hike one of the waterfall loops. We walked for about six miles alongside a flowing Silver Creek, making our way from one waterfall to another. It was glorious, a sensual feast. On the last leg of our hike, the rain returned and we let ourselves enjoy it, all part of the adventure.

After supper, which we cooked and ate under our tarp, a make-shift kitchen, we entered the tent to prepare for sleep. It was then that I discovered that the water bottle I had left upright had tipped over and soaked the inside of my sleeping bag.
By then it was cold, rainy and dark. We needed to wait for morning to pack up, a day early, and head home. So we improvised once again and made it through the night.
Looking back, I’m grateful for the beauty, the adventure, and all the creative improvisations we came up with. We’ll so it again, probably consulting the weather reports.
But it’s ironic that after all our carefulness to make sure water didn’t get us from outside the tent, it finally defeated us from the inside, sending us home a day early. Through my carelessness. From my water bottle.
Surely this is a metaphor for some great life lesson.

But I think I’ll let it go. My good memories are more than enough for now.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Awful grace

Our gathering word in unprogrammed worship on Sunday came from the ancient Greeks. Aeschylus wrote, “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”
In the silence, I wrote two questions in my notebook: 1) Is suffering an inevitable ingredient of the kind of learning that leads to wisdom? And, 2) Is wisdom the inevitable result of suffering?
I think the answer to both questions is “no.”
Life testifies that suffering can, indeed, result in wisdom. But delight and great joy also provide a path for learning. As a young person preparing for a career in teaching, I memorized a paraphrase of one of Solomon’s proverbs: “A wise teacher makes learning a joy.” That became my aim (if not always my reality) as a high school teacher.
As to the second question—Is wisdom the inevitable result of suffering?—I observe that while suffering can lead to wisdom, it sometimes ends up as bitterness.
Maybe it depends on the attitude of the sufferer.
Maybe it depends on the awful grace of God.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Let my sufferings today, large and small, lead to wisdom. Make me tender, not witty. Amen.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Am I old yet?

I’ve been juggling the words “old” and “new.” Sometimes I manage to keep them both in the air, flying in a circle of color, first one on top and then the other. Sometimes, often, I drop one and am left holding the other. More and more, the other is “old.”
For the last several years, Hal and I have been asking ourselves, “Are we old yet?” We’ve chosen to answer, “Almost. But not quite.” But we’ve both crossed the 70 line, and those decade birthdays always mean something.
According to Joan Chittister, we’re in a bracket known as “young old-age.” Middle old-age and old old-age await us. But I’ve always resisted categories. I can’t even remember my Myers-Briggs label. So much for “young old-age”!
Recently we crossed another line and move into Friendsview Retirement Community. It’s like entering a new phase of life. We love our little apartment with its sweeping view of the Chehalem Mountains. And we’re beginning to know and delight in our neighbors here on the fifth floor.
But we can’t help noticing how old everyone is. White hair and walkers surround us. And now we’re a part of this scene.
Does this mean we’ve capitulated? Have I totally dropped the ball labeled “new”? Have we answered our question with, “Yes. Now we’re old”?
Maybe. Maybe not.
I sense God telling me to hang on to both “old” and “new.” While I need to accept this stage of life, he also tells me, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly you are (or will be) wasting away, yet inwardly you are being renewed day by day.” I’m not yet in the “wasting away” stage, but that day may come. Even so, the new is brighter, and ultimately more true, than the old.
Jesus says, “I make all things new.” That may be a reference to the new heavens and the new earth, but I’m claiming it here, on the fifth floor. And I’m going to discover all the expressions of this life in the stories of my new white-headed neighbors.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Getting ready for Planet Friendsview

Once again we are about to change planets, and this move catches us by surprise. In two weeks we move into Friendsview Retirement Community.
In our plans, carefully laid years before, this move was to take place five to ten years in the future when we would actually be “old.” But circumstances and unique openings have persuaded us that now is the time.
So, once again, we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being surrounded by boxes, piles of stuff and books, books, and more books—each one needing a decision. Do we give it away, throw it away, sell it, or keep it? Our soon-to-be-reduced living quarters dictate we’d better not say “keep it” to too many of those precious pieces of our lives.
Marie Kondo, high-priestess of declutter, tells us to toss all our stuff, by categories, in a pile in the middle of the room, then hold up each item and ask, “Does this give me joy?” We then keep only that which delights us.
Unfortunately, I am too easily pleased. And if something doesn’t presently delight me, I remember when it did or consider that it might give me joy in the future. Kondo, executioner as well as priestess, would say, “Off with its head” to any past or future delight. Now is what matters.
Maybe. Maybe not.
We look at each other in amazement these days. Are we really doing this? Are we old enough? Is this move a capitulation? Are we finally admitting that we’re old and giving up?
No, to that last question. This is a new beginning (we tell ourselves). This downsizing will free us. The new life style and community will allow us to move into new (I use that word a lot these days) areas of ministry, relationship, and creativity. (Can you hear us talking to ourselves, trying to convince?) At least we pray towards these ends.
Some positives:
--A full wall of windows from our fifth-floor apartment with a view of the Chehalem Mountains;
--Two large rooms (this is not a studio apartment);
--A kitchen that lets me continue to prepare our own meals;
--Vouchers to the community dining room that let us “eat out” four times a week (and the cuisine at Friendsview is superb);
--Enough privacy to let us lead our own lives and follow our own pursuits…
--…but in the context of a new community with friends to be made and stories to hear (and write);
--the assurance of continuing care, no matter what our future holds.
Our grandchildren have asked if they can still have sleep-overs at our new place. (Of course!)
I envision myself sitting in my new easy chair, facing the mountains in the early morning, writing poems.
I envision myself discovering hidden treasurers in my new neighbors, listening to their stories, learning more about grace—and capturing it in words. There are still books waiting to be written.
I envision bike rides and camping trips, as well as new opportunities for service.
I intentionally envision and imagine. It’s part of my strategy as we prepare for this huge change in our lives. I need to do this preparation because we still, everyday, look at each other in amazement, asking, “Are we really doing this?”

Once again, this basic prayer comes to mind: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.”

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bolivia: From one extreme to another

Yesterday we came home to La Paz after a week in Santa Cruz, the lowlands! All that oxygen was wonderful, and our bodies rested in spite of the tropical heat and humidity. But when we got into our room here in La Paz, we found that the drinking water we had boiled and left in the pot on the stove had frozen. Not just a skim of ice, but one big ice cube. From one extreme to another! No wonder my body is confused.
We loved staying in Santa Cruz with our friends (also Friends) David and Arminda Tintaya and their girls. The family had just returned from a mission trip to India with Evangelical Friends Mission and they were bursting to talk about it. Many among Bolivian Friends are experiencing a revival of interest in missions. While in Santa Cruz we participated in the district’s first annual Congress of Missions, talking about missions in the history of the Bolivian Friends. Two of the Titnaya girls, Anabel and Anahi, are sensing a strong call to participate with God in mission, somewhere in the world.
Tintaya family, Santa Cruz

On our way home we flew closer to Mt. Illimani that I have ever been. It was a bit scary, but so beautiful.

The taxi ride from the airport to our room up in the Friends complex up on Max Paredes Street was another adventure of inching our way through traffic snarls, made worse by demonstrations down town.

The demonstrations have to do with the upcoming political referendum. This coming Sunday, everything will shut down in Bolivia. Everything but the poles, where the issue is whether the Bolivian constitution will be modified in order to let current President Evo Morales become president for life. That sounds as scary as flying too close to the Andes for comfort. People will vote either “Yes” or “No.” It’s up in the air as to which side will win, and with what consequences. It seems a little bit like theater-of-the-absurd, and more and more people here feel that way.

     We’ll wait and see. Like everyone else. Meanwhile, life goes on. With all its crazy beauty and dizzying extremes. Life goes on in the middle of the extremes, and its ordinariness is as beautiful as Mt. Illimani.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Facing the darkness…with love

This is a strange title for a progress report, but it’s what best reflects my sense of where we’re at. In regards to immediate time, we have three weeks left here in Bolivia to gather data, interview people and discuss our findings with our Bolivia team members. In terms of the overall project, we’re entering the fourth year of this five-year project to research and write the 100-year history of the Bolivian Friends Church (INELA).
A recent breakthrough (as in two nights ago) encourages me. It seems the official yearly meeting books of minutes from the year 1993 through the present time had gone missing. These are primary documents that include the time since 2002 after the mission had retired. I knew I wouldn’t be able to advance in my investigations without these resources. But Saturday night Tim did one more search in his office---and found them! He had a huge grin on his face as he brought the eight volumes down into our room and laid them on the table. (Timoteo Choque is the current president of the INELA.)
Although this means more detailed scanning work for me, I also grinned. Now I have something concrete to work with. I also groaned. These are eight volumes—200 pages each—of closely hand-written minutes. Some secretaries have clear hand writing; others don’t. Bolivian law requires that official minutes of legal organizations be hand-written and notorized.
(Pardon my spelling. The computer is telling me that “notorized” is misspelled, and suggesting I change it to “motorized.” I needed that suggestion. I need to laugh. It helps me work better. Right now I am imagining how I would handle all these hand written minutes if they were also motorized. I guess I would have to catch them before I could scan them. And would they even hold still for me? Probably not. They’ve been very elusive so far; why stop now?)
But more than the nitty gritty work load, I am feeling bowed down by the negative patterns we’re finding as we sort through all the data down through the years. We’re reminded that the church, while being the body of Christ in the spiritual realm, is also a human institution, affected by its surrounding culture, pounded by the events of history, and run by fallible human beings. This story is permeated by both light and shadows. The shadows tend to get to me. I find I have to fight against cynicism.
And fight I must. A year ago, our team adopted one of Paul’s prayers as our working motto, and we have it up on the wall in our office. Paul prays for the new believers in Philippi, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best….” (Philippians 1:9-10). We need faith to believe that this is God’s church, that the light (“all the light we cannot see”) is greater than the darkness. Above all we need love—love for God (we’re doing all this work for the glory of God—really, that’s more than a cliché to us), and love for the church herself. And not just the church as a shining spiritual concept, but the church as in the very real women and men, past and present, who attempt to follow Christ, who fail and fall, and who get up and keep going, sometimes groping, forward. According to Paul, it’s love, then, that will abound in knowledge, wisdom and discernment.

And that’s exactly what we need to move forward in this history project.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Remembering Bill Cathers

Bill Cathers died last weekend. As we were with him in late December, we sensed it would be the last time. But the news is still hard, and we wish we were not so far away.

Hal and I met Bill and Irene 46 years ago in Arcadia, California when we were part of the Arcadia Friends Church. Those were exciting times when God’s Spirit moved among so many of us. Richard Foster was the youth pastor. Bill was sort of a Christian guru to a large group of us young adults. He and Irene adopted us into their large family of six kids.
We became pregnant with our first child. One evening as we were praying together, Bill came under the Spirit and prophesied that the baby was a boy and that he would grow up to become a man of God. After we brought David home from the hospital, it struck us both as funny how relieved Bill was that the baby really did turn out to be a boy. He was also delighted that David was born on August 20, his own birthday.
In late 1971, the Cathers saw us off as we began our journey to Bolivia as new missionaries. We kept in touch through letters, and always spent time together when we came home on furloughs. It helped when the Cathers moved from Southern California to Newberg, Oregon. When home from Bolivia, we made it a habit to spend Sunday evenings up at the Cathers farm. We watched the Cathers kids grow up, and they were alongside us as David and Kristin found their places in life. We shared the joys of becoming grandparents and (they) great-grandparents.
This long term friendship helped give stability to our lives, as well as joy. Bill was to us a mentor, counselor, prayer partner, co-conspirator in mischief, fellow poet, and friend.
He spent the last few weeks of his life in an intensive care home, and we were able to visit a few times, noticing how fast he seemed to be slipping away, a once highly articulate man losing his ability to arrange words in an order that made sense. The last evening we spent with Bill was at the end of December, just a week before we flew to Bolivia. As we came into the room and bent down over his bed, he broke out into a huge grin and reached for our hands. He pulled us down to where he could kiss us and wouldn’t let go. The only word that came out of his mouth was, “Yes!” And he said it over and over. “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” A couple of times he said, “Praise Jesus!” and then it was back to “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
At one point as he was holding both our hands, he said to us, “I love you so much. You’re wonderful!”
Hal had brought his harmonica and we played and sang some of his favorite songs; Bill sort of hummed along. We ended up staying almost two hours. Bill was alert the whole time, full of the joy of the Spirit. It was as if he were preparing to meet Jesus.
I will miss him, but I know he is now whole and young and articulate—but possibly silent in the presence of his Lord. I grieve, but Bill gave me the language for the kind of grief he would have wanted from me. He gave me the word, “Yes.”

If we could say anything to him right now, it would be, “We love you so much. You’re wonderful. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

   Celebrating their 60th anniversary, 2011

The Cathers kids honor their parents, 2011

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The light we cannot see

We’ve been in La Paz three weeks now. Yearly Meeting has passed, and Friends are back to work. For me that means hours of going through INELA documents for the 1980s, deciding what might have relevance for that chapter of the history, scanning, transferring to my computer, filing. I’m preparing for the work of analysis and writing I’ll be doing back in the US for the rest of 2016. I hope to bring the project up to 2010 by the end of the year, and I’m beginning to wonder if my goal may be too ambitious. The amount of paper to paddle through is daunting. And that’s even before I get to the archives back home in Newberg.
One of my ways to rest and play is reading, and my iPad is loaded with good books for this trip. One of the best, so far (and probably for the rest of the year), is Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a book of historical fiction that takes place in France during World War II. The protagonists are two children, a blind French girl and a poor German orphan boy, on opposite sides of the war, both struggling through tragic circumstances, yet with minds-alive, eager to learn. They both manage to find good, the light hidden in this awful time in history.
The title sticks with me and is helping me find my way through the history of Friends in Bolivia. Much of the INELA’s story takes place in a background of oppression and struggle, and some of the internal patterns that emerge are dark. The human side of the church has to be acknowledged. I’m continually asking myself, “Where is Jesus in all of this?” I’m seeking the footprints of the Spirit, the grace that, however hidden, was there at every turn of events.
It helps to identify the evidence of God’s Spirit, alive and well today. Grace sightings. Here are a few that have popped up in these few weeks we’ve been here:
--The faithful, dedicated work of members of our history team, especially Humberto, Felix and Victoria. All the investigative trips out to interview old Friends have borne fruit, but have required sacrifice and hard work. Victoria’s patient work in the yearly meeting archives is finally bringing order out of chaos. (Victoria, above)
--The camaraderie and fellowship our team enjoys. It brings to life the concept that “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” and that this joy is often found in relationships as God’s children work together on a certain task.
--Sharing a meal with Palermo and Olivia, learning how God is helping them overcome economic hardships and build a life for themselves as young professionals. 
--Sharing another meal with Tim and Elise, rejoicing in their new home and how it has opened up for them possibilities of ministry and hospitality. Tim is yearly meeting superintendent and represents a new generation of professional Aymara Quaker leadership. I sense in him the humility to relate to his past with gratitude, even as he moves forward.
--The joy of worshipping in the Aymara language, another vehicle of grace.
--The doves that coo above our door in the early morning. The sound of the hard rains that pound the roof at night.
--Fresh bread, fried country cheese, mangos and papayas any time we want them.
--Sun light illuminating the sides of the city that climbs the walls of this canyon called La Paz. The buildings shine. The distant Andes Mountains rise above them.

Lord, show me your grace, hidden in the ordinariness of life. Show us all the light we cannot yet see in the history of your people here in this place. Open our eyes.

Sharing a meal with Olivia and Palermo

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bolivian Friends (INELA) Yearly Meeting: Reflections

Hal and I landed in Bolivia on January 1 and five days later participated in the opening session of the INELA’s 2016 yearly meeting. (INELA stands for “National Evangelical Friends Church.”) For five days (Jan. 6-10) some 263 registered representatives of all the churches of the INELA gathered in La Paz to worship and conduct business, according to the customs of Friends. Here are some highlights:

--Some considered the final approval of the new Estatutos (equivalent to the Faith and Practice of yearly meetings in the US) to be miraculous. The necessary revision process has been going on for more than 10 years, accompanied by controversy, even agony, and many drafts. We spent several days reading aloud the whole document with its over 100 articles, making observations, and, section by section, approving it by consensus. INELA president, Timoteo Choque, along with the Estatutos committee, will spend much of 2016 obtaining legal government approval of the document, in order for it to come into practice in 2017. Choque’s experience as a lawyer has been most helpful in this whole process.
The new Estatutos affirms the INELA’s status as an evangelical, Christ-centered Quaker yearly meeting, and adds a section that establishes the Quaker principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. It makes major structural changes, putting the executive authority back under one national committee, followed by 15 district executive committees that maintain the broad participatory leadership base of the church.
--Another major change is the formation of a commission (responsible to the national executive committee) for church discipline, called the commission for “Admonition and Restoration.” In contrast to the rather harsh disciplinary procedures of the past, this commission is to emphasize restoration of pastors and leaders who have fallen into some kind of moral problem.
--The annual reports of the national women’s and youth organizations are always a highlight. These groups provide much of the sacrificial energy to carry on the ground-level ministry of church, and the representatives appropriately and enthusiastically affirmed their reports.
--The new social action branch of the INELA, El Buen Amigo (The Good Friend), gave its report which was also received with appreciation and enthusiasm. This group of mostly university and professional volunteers represents the young idealistic branch of the yearly meeting. In many of their projects this past year, they worked alongside the Missions Commission in new areas, conducting medical or dental clinics, teaching, and affirming new believers. They provide a light of hope and an outlet for young people anxious to “do something” for Christ and their society.
I could report on much more, of course. Sunday morning’s concluding worship service began at 8:30 and ended at 1:00. One by one different groups of leaders came forward and were “consecrated” for a new year of service, a ritual that is very meaningful in this context. I was especially moved to see the district executive councils crowding the front of the temple; the 15 districts of the church were all represented, again emphasizing the communal, highly participatory leadership of the INELA. Likewise, the pastors of the 200 congregations came forward to receive words of dedication and encouragement for the new year.
The choir of the New Jerusalem Friends Church (where we were meeting) gave a rousing presentation that included two original Aymara hymns and two historic hymns of the Christian church, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” The uniqueness of the Aymara Friends Church thus flowed into the greater stream of the Body of Christ throughout the generations. It brought tears.
I confess to sleeping through much of the sermon, the last hour of the service. I’m reasonably sure it was good, given by one of our pastors from the upper city, El Alto. The loud “amens” at the end woke me up, and we all joined in the final song and prayer. And then came the communal meal in the patio behind the church, where different congregations and districts spread their offerings on blankets on the ground. Hal and I went from group to group and ate more than we should have, but it was all good, flavored by the love and dedication of these Andean Quakers.
We are blessed to have been adopted into this family of Friends.

Consecration of women leaders

Consecration of youth leaders

Consecration of leaders of the 15 districts

Prayers of dedication

Sing to the Lord!