Friday, December 29, 2017

Favorite books of 2017

I continue to read voraciously, and am always in the middle of some novel. Again, the date 2017 refers to books I read during the year, not to a publication date.

Jamie Ford, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (2009): This is one of my two favorite books read this year. It focuses on Japanese citizens in Seattle during the outbreak of World War II and the internment camps that grew up in the northwest. It’s about the relationship between a young white boy and a Japanese girl, how their friendship is affected, and about how they come back together as friends years later. It also shows how relationships within a family can be more complicated and dysfunctional that some cross-cultural relationships. Well written.

David Boling, Guernica (2010): Another contender for the best book I’ve read this year, this is fictional story based on the history of the people of Guernica, the Basque village that was bombed and destroyed by Germans cooperating with Spanish fascists under Franco. It portrays well the Basque culture and its passion to be self-governing. The story circles around three brothers, their relationships and loves, their children and how the atrocities affected them and the rest of the village. The novel even inserts cameo portrayals of Picasso painting the destruction. It also shows how the life of a people cannot be destroyed as rebuilding slowly begins. Good writing, compelling characters, good story. It has an almost fairy-tale-like ending, but I tolerated it because I was ready for something really good to happen to these people.
 Ivan Doig, Dancing at the Rascal Fair (1987) and Prairie Nocturn (2003): I love Doig’s historically based books on the settling of Montana and its subsequent development through the civil war years. Great writing. A fascinating historical background, made real by good characterization and development.
 Charles Williams, War in Heaven (1930) and The Place of the Lion (1933): One of the tests for a good book is the number of times we re-read it. These are two re-reads of my favorite writer of theological thrillers. Williams is a serious theologian, but also a marvelous spinner of fantasy worlds. The result, for an intuitive thinker like myself, is insight and a gripping good adventure. Williams was an intimate friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
 Elizabeth Goudge, Green Dolphin Street (1944), Pilgrim’s Inn (1948), and The Heart of the Family (1953): I went on a sort of Elizabeth Goudge binge. Her old-fashioned books present virtuous people bringing redemption to difficult situations. This is not as bad as it sounds, due to Goudge’s wisdom and skill in writing. The plots and characters are nuanced and realistic. I always end up being encouraged by the greater Reality than lies beneath the messy stuff I have to live through.

 Ruta Sepetys, Salt to the Sea (2016): Historical fiction from World War II about the transfer of orphans to a ship with a destination in Germany. The ship was overcrowded and went down with losses in the thousands, mostly children. This event was definitely under-reported and is a story that needs to be told. This novel follows the fate of one little orphan girl and is told from her point-of-view. Well written.
 Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove (2012): This Swedish novel is about a grumpy old man who is grieving his wife and unsuccessfully (and comically) trying to commit suicide. Meanwhile he relates with his neighbors in unorthodox and obnoxious ways. But something profound and human happens in all these relationships with all these uniquely abnormal people. Love happens, along with acceptance and kindness in unexpected places. Ove never stops being grumpy and obnoxious. But we end up loving him and seeing in him something of what his deceased wife probably saw. Well written. With lots of humor and insight into what it means to be human.
 Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999): Fascinating fictional account of J. Vermeer’s famous painting, with the girl being represented as a lower-class maid. The complicated family relationships in the Vermeer family are possibly based on fact. It also details class relationships and expectations, with all the injustice these entailed. An interesting look at life in the Netherlands in the 1600s.
 Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth (1989): The epic novel of the creation of a cathedral in Medieval England. Not great literature but a good story that kept my interest. Most interesting were the details of Medieval life, politics, marriage, social injustices, as well as, of course, architecture.
 Jane Kirkpatrick, A Sweetness to the Soul (1995): Story of a pioneer woman in Oregon, her positive relationship to the Indians, the tragedies of her childhood, her good marriage to an older man and their adventures. The background is the real-life story of Jane and Joseph Sherar and the building of Sherar House, 1893, as a hotel for travelers who crossed the Deschutes River. I love Oregon stories.

 Molly Gloss, Jump-Off Creek (1989) and The Hearts of Horses (2007): By another good Oregon writer, Gloss’ books certainly don’t present a romantic look at the taming of the West, but the characters are real, as are the hardships they faced. Based on solid research and well written.
 Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1986): Terrifying, horrifying futuristic tale of life in a dreary time when women are valued only for their reproductive assets, and men are monstrous masters. Seems hopeless, but the human spirit seeps through, demands justice. At the end, a further future audience of scholars is reading the handmaid’s journal, trying to determine the reality of this long-gone culture. This could never really happen. Could it?
 Nafisi Haji, The Sweetness of Tears (2011): A good story about cross cultural understanding (and misunderstanding), the rights of women (or lack of these) in Islamic cultures, the importance of family, and the devastation of war.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (2016): Memoir by a South African comedian, and another of the best books I’ve read this year. He handles the hardships and challenges of poverty with humor, often hilarity, yet without belittling the difficulties of life on the margins.
 Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello (2008): A view of the family of Thomas Jefferson’s slave mistress, Sally Hemings. While Jefferson treated members of this family with kindness (and may have loved Sally), they were still slaves. A fascinating inside view of slavery at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, documenting the hypocrisy and inhumaneness at the heart of it all.
 Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church (2015): The honest yet compassionate story of Held Evans’ disillusionment with the institutional church, and the search that led her back to a commitment to being part of the people of God. I got a little tired of her theological comments and tended to scan these, but the narrative part of the book, its heart, is fascinating, containing much I could identify with.

 Eugene H. Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God (2017): I usually love Peterson’s books, and this latest one did not disappoint me. It’s actually a collection of sermons he preached years ago as pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland. The insights from Scripture are rich and I find many new perspectives to think about and to live out. This is a book I plan to periodically re-visit.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

He can see!

Yesterday afternoon Reilly got his trial eSight glasses and tried them on. It was set up for him to first try them at school, in the band room (his favorite classroom!). But rather than describe it secondhand, I will copy the email we got just from Kristin (our daughter, Reilly’s mom).

“Hey Dad and Mom,

We did it!!!  Reilly tried the eSight glasses, and couldn't stop smiling!  Check out facebook as I posted a lot of pictures.  He was on the news again, and will be again later tonight and tomorrow morning.  It was pretty exciting!  We were in the band room with all his friends, Dave and Pat, youth pastor and his wife (who also took photos as she is the photographer who took our pictures earlier), his band director, and the news.  You could tell when he started to see because he just got this huge smile on his face.  He was kinda quiet just looking all around the band room.  It was pretty emotional.  He started walking around and read some sheet music, looked at posters across the room, zoomed in and read things we couldn't see, etc...  Then we went outside to the courtyard and he stared at the sky and the sunset.  Pretty cool!

Tomorrow is the Springfield parade and Reilly is to wear his glasses.  I will be following him as he really shouldn't be wearing them for more than an hour at a time as he gets used to them.  It is also supposed to be raining, so he may not be able to wear them very much.

Will keep you in the loop and wish you were here, but know you will be experiencing his sight soon enough when you come!

Love, Kristin

We both cried. Imagine the miracle of sight, immediately given. Today he plays the snare drum in the marching band. I wish we could be there, but we certainly feel the joy. Thanks be to God.

Here are some of the photos Kristin put up on Facebook.
With his mom and dad

In the high school courtyard

Friday, December 1, 2017

Flea powder evangelism

Last Sunday Hal and other members of our history team went out to Amacari, a village on the shores of Lake Titicaca and birth place of the first Friends church (INELA) about 100 years ago.  
(The photo is of believers from Amacari--the village is in the background--in the 1930s or 40s.)
The actual story of this congregation is mired in the mists of oral history. Different descendants of the original group each have their own version of how it all got started, as told to them by their grandparents. The events take place sometime between 1915 and 1924. As historians our strategy has been to collect all the stories, then try to identify the similar threads and arrive at a reasonable explanation of what might have happened.
Last week Hal and I celebrated Thanksgiving Day with some old friends (and Friends), Bernabé and Flavia Yujra. They actually live on land where the mission house once stood. Now three generations of the Yujra extended family live in various houses clustered around the large sunny patio.

Bernabé happens to be the grandson of one of the original Amacari believers, a man with the Old Testament Babylonian name of Baltazar Yujra. Bernabé told me a version of the Amacari story I hadn’t heard before. (I have three basic versions, with multiple variations.) He says his grandpa told him the story directly.
According to this version, a foreign missionary showed up in Amacara around 1917 and stood in the plaza playing his violin. But what attracted the people more was something he carried in his little medicine bag—flea powder! He told the people to sprinkle some in their beds to take care of their flea problem.
They did and it worked! The fleas all died (and, thankfully, none of the people did). People felt so grateful they were open to listen to the missionary’s message. Several converted and so the church was born.
This version of the story is so different from all the other versions—it has none of the similar threads that weave through the others—that, if I include it in the history book at all, it will probably be as a footnote. It makes me wonder if old Baltazar had a sense of humor and a healthy imagination, if he might have been pulling his grandson’s leg a bit. (He told a completely different version to another grandson whom we had previously interviewed.)
Well, I do have a healthy imagination, so I’ve tweaked the story further. I’d like to envision this fiddling missionary standing in the plaza, playing a Viennese waltz. Throughout the village, all the fleas wake up, enchanted by the music. They all crawl out of the beds, out the doors of the adobe huts, and make their way to the plaza. The missionary then turns and slowly walks out of the village, playing his violin, while a stream of fleas follows him. The villagers, thrilled at this miraculous liberation. all convert to Christianity and, thus, the church in Amacari is born.
(I won’t include this version in the book, not even in a footnote.)

Back to Amacari last Sunday, 2017. The brethren were glad to receive so many visitors, including members of the executive council of the denomination and representatives from the New Jerusalem Friends Church in La Paz—all determined to celebrate this milestone.
Actually, the Amacari Friends Church is still very much a rural community, and the people aren’t too wrapped up in dates and timelines. They hadn’t realized they were celebrating their 100th anniversary. (And the date, 1917, is somewhat arbitrary. People back them didn’t pay much attention to dates either.)
But, hey!, everybody loves a party. And celebrate they did!
Happy Anniversary, Amacari Friends Church!
One final observation: The fleas are back, but the church goes on.

Amacari believers at prayer in the 1940s

Celebrating their 100th anniversary

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Even today, the blind see

His name is Thomas Reilly Gault, and, typical of grandparents, we’re proud of him. At 15, Reilly is known as a math whiz, and one application of this is his participation in speed-cubing contests, where he solves different of configurations of Rubik’s cubes as fast as he can.
One of his passions is music, with an emphasis in percussion. He is the lead drummer in his high school band, and plays the snare drums in the marching band. He also plays the marimba, piano (playing dinner music in hotels) and cello (playing the bridal march in weddings). He loves being part of the worship team in his congregation.
An interesting detail in all of this is that Reilly is legally blind. Glasses bring his vision up to 20/500 in each eye, which helps, but isn’t all that great. He uses a cane at school and has learned braille. With all of this, he looks forward to a career in engineering and music, and would love to be part of a youth ministry team someday. Needless to say, Reilly faces unique challenges as he walks into his dreams.
Recently, while browsing the Internet, Reilly discovered the new technology of electronic glasses that give people with impaired vision the chance to see as clearly as most of us do. He found “eSight” and became excited about the possibilities. His parents joined him and they contacted the organization and found that he would be a prime candidate for the glasses.
The major set-back in this possibility is that a pair of these wonder glasses costs $10,000, a price beyond the means of Reilly’s parents (my daughter Kristin and son-in-law, Jon Gault). But the organization helps family members engage their community to raise funds for this project.
So a few weeks ago, Jon and Kristin, after consulting with local government officials and the school system, took the plunge and set up a donation site. Reilly wrote the essay for the site. Here’s a part of his description:

“Until a few months ago, I did not know that there might have been a possibility that I could be able to see like other people.  I discovered eSight one day, while browsing the internet, trying to learn about possible cures for different types of blindness and visual impairments.  I immediately told my family, and they seemed interested right away.  I could not get this off of my mind, as it seemed that my disability could possibly become an ability.  As you can tell, I am really stoked about this idea, and I would love it if you would be willing to embark on this journey with me, this journey that could change my life. 
“I was born with albinism and optic nerve hypoplasia, where the back of my retinas, and my optic nerves, were not fully developed. When I was younger, around 1st grade, my vision was stable at 20/100.  After 2nd grade, my vision deteriorated to beyond legal blindness, which is 20/200.  It kept deteriorating, for some unexplainable reason, until it stabilized around 20/500, with correction (glasses).  My parents raised me with the mindset that I could do anything I put my mind to, regardless of my disability.  For example, a nurse told my parents that, because of my low vision, I would not be able to play any ball sports in the future.  My parents promptly enrolled me in soccer, which I went on to play from kindergarten to my freshmen year of high school.  After that, marching band took over.”
To read the rest of Reilly’s essay, go to his eSight page. To learn more about the electronic glasses and how they work, go to this site.
I love to read about Jesus instantly healing the blind, and I believe in the possibility of that happening today, although I confess I’ve never witnessed it or even heard of a case. But I’m also willing to let God work his sight-giving miracles through modern technology.

I can’t wait for Reilly to be able to clearly see his mom and dad, his brother and sister, and, yes, his grandparents for the first time. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Surviving the Hobbit Hole

I have a fantasy about being part of the persecuted church. I am captured for my faith and put into a dark dank little room and left there to suffer in solitude. But, in my imagination, I pray. I sense the presence of Jesus and meditate on his beauty. My circumstances become irrelevant as the glory overwhelms me. The divine beauty lifts me up.
Maybe it’s good to put such positive pictures in my head. But every now and then reality marches in and knocks them out.
Our current reality is called “The Hobbit Hole.” Hal and I gave it that name in order to inject a bit of humor into our living situation.
Several years ago, the executive council of the Friends Church here in La Paz fixed up this little apartment for us. It had been the office of the Bible school staff and when they relocated, the council painted it a peach color, put in a ply-wood partition and a miniscule kitchen counter and sink, and invited us to live here during our yearly visits to Bolivia. It was a loving gesture and we receive it in that spirit. It’s conveniently located near the office of the history commission we’re a part of, and right in the hub of activity of the Bolivian Friends Church headquarters. Moreover, it comes with its own small but private bathroom.
We’re grateful.
And yet….
People here have their own nickname for this space. They call it “The Refrigerator.” Truth be told, it’s small, dark, cold, and ugly. When we first moved in, we referred to it as “The Cave,” but later opted for the more positive “Hobbit Hole.” The peach-colored walls help.
The apartment does have one large window—that looks four feet out onto the unfinished brick
wall of the church. Not one beam of sunlight dares to enter. Ever.
Our “Hole” is located on the lower level of the large Friends school in back of the main church. Above us is a primary classroom, and from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the kids shuffle, stomp, recite in unison and scrap their desks across the floor. In the time between the morning and the afternoon shifts, rascally little boys and girls run up to our door, bang on it, and run away giggling. We choose to see the humor in all of this.
But at night, the place is dark and silent. Sleep is sweet.
So, we ask ourselves, “How do we choose life in this particular situation?” There is much we can do. Rugs help warm up the floors (tile over cement), as does the small but efficient space heater. We’ve brought in trees, mountains, flowers and even two affectionate giraffes with calendar photos on our partition.  Pictures by our artistic granddaughter, Gwen, add both joy and beauty. We try hard to keep things neat and orderly. Our table serves as a center for study, meals and hospitality. Yes, people do visit us here. We have seating for five if we bring in the stools that serve as our bedside tables. If more show up, some of us stand. It tends to keep visits short.

 Living room/dining room/office

Thank you, Gwen!

A place to fix simple meals

But I have to admit that my surroundings do affect my spirit. There are days when I fight depression, when the lack of sunlight and the sheer smallness of this space begin to give me a spiritual claustrophobia. I fight the temptation to give in, but this takes its toll on my energy level.
So we make an effort to get outside every day, to visit our friends around the city, to program adventures that let us see real trees and flowers growing out of the ground.
And in the early mornings, as I wait before the Lord, there are times when his beauty becomes more real than anything else, and glory fills even the Hobbit Hole.
For all the other times, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hospitality, Bolivian style

The view from Felix and Clemi’s fifth-floor guest apartment looks out over La Paz and to the mountains beyond. Not only is the view spectacular, sun floods the room with warmth every afternoon, as we’ve had the privilege to experience on two occasions since our return to Bolivia.
We’ve known Felix Huarina and his wife, Clementina, since 1972 when we first came to Bolivia as young inexperienced missionaries. Felix was part of the youth group at the big New Jerusalem Friends Church in La Paz. When he found out I had been involved in theater, he invited me to work with him in writing and directing dramas with the young people. That began a long friendship.

We attended the wedding of Felix and Clemi during our first term in Bolivia, and later, when Orpha and Iber joined the family, their parents asked us to be the childrens’ padrinos (god-parents). As part of our duties, we performed the rutuchi ceremony when the kids were still little. This is when the god-parents cut the kids’ hair and shave their heads, indicating that these are no longer infants; they have entered the next stage of life. (People believe that shaving the heads of children causes their hair to grow back thicker and more beautiful.)
It seemed to be joyful occasion for Felix and Clemi, but rather traumatic for the kids. They survived. That was a long time ago.

Now, whenever we return to La Paz, we are still made to feel part of the family. Felix and Clemi have constructed a five-story apartment building so that their kids can live with them, each with their own apartment. They tell us that the top story is for us, and they really do want us to move in. For practical reasons, we won’t be doing that, but it is a great weekend retreat.
Two weeks ago, Hal got sick enough that we called Felix to get a reference to a good clinic. He told us on the phone, “Stay there. We’ll be right over.” When he and Orpha got here, they told us to pack a bag, that we were coming home with them. Orpha’s husband, Milton, is a medical doctor, and he was able to diagnose Hal’s problem and get the necessary medication. That, plus Clemi’s chicken soup, and time in a warm sunny atmosphere got him over the hump.
Since then, we’ve been back once again to relax with the extended family and spend the night.
We see Felix frequently other times, too, as he is a member of the history commission we’re a part of. He is a film-maker by profession (and a radio broadcaster), and he is in charge of making the documentary movie to summarize the 100-year history of the Bolivian Friends Church.

Thank God for long term friendships. Thank God for our family away from home.

Dr. Milton with Orpha (whose hair grew back)

Iber, now a computer specialist, with his family

Felix (film-maker), on right, with other members of our history team

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sunday with Friends in La Paz

On Sunday I went to the New Jerusalem Friends Church and enjoyed worship among my Aymara Quaker friends. Going to this church is convenient as Hal and I live in a small guest apartment on the same property. In fact, our window faces the basement window of the church where the youth meet every Saturday night, and late into the previous evening we got to listen to the young drummer practicing his rhythms. I predict he’s going to become very good if he keeps up this vigorous practice.
I arrived at 10:00 a.m. for the second service, but things were running late, so I caught the tail end of the first service where the preacher was preparing the congregation for All-Saints-Day, coming up the end of the month. He strongly exhorted them not to follow the animistic customs of the culture by bringing food and offerings to the tombs of their dead ancestors.
The temple was full for this first service, and at the end a multitude of people moved to the altar to pray. Then they filed out to make room for the next service. As they passed the pew where I was sitting, many shook my hand and we exchanged verbal blessings.
The second service contrasted to the first. It began with an hour of Sunday school, and the lesson focused on time management, complete with PowerPoint illustrations. David Quispe taught the class and did an excellent job. This delighted me because David was one of a small group of teenagers that our daughter Kristin belonged to. I remembered all the times the kids gathered at our house to roast hot dogs (a novelty) and have fun. Now David pastors a church and is raising his own family. (He had been invited as a guest teacher for this Sunday school class.)
Somewhere in the middle of the class, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see my dear friend Salomé. We embraced and she invited me to sit with her in the back row. I’m afraid we whispered during the rest of the class (an advantage of being on the back row).
The following worship service rang with music, most of it adopted from the lively Pentecostal tradition that is so popular with young people here. No one danced, but quite a few clapped, and everyone sang at the top of their lungs. Then the church president went to the pulpit for announcements but took about ten minutes updating the congregation on the problems with the construction of a new room on the fourth floor of the building. Saturday night when they were to pour the cement, it rained, and some leakage damaged the ceiling of the auditorium. People are pretty upset, and the president assured everyone that steps were being taken to address the problem.
Pastor Silver Ramos then gave the morning sermon, apologizing for the lateness of the hour, but assuring people that he would not rob them by cutting down his sermon. He didn’t. He preached on the same subject as did his co-pastor in the earlier service, on the dangers of following the customs of the culture during All-Saints. He emphasized that death is death, and that if they were to bring a Bible to put on the grave of their ancestor, he would not read it. He’s dead and the dead don’t read. If they were to lay bread on his grave, he would not eat it. The dead don’t eat. “With death, everything ends,” he warned. I squirmed a bit, wishing he’d come out of the Old Testament and give some New Testament hope on the promises of God for our resurrection life. Maybe he’ll preach that sermon at Easter.

I’m again aware that I’m in a completely different culture. But I’m also aware that these people are my brothers and sisters and that I love them. It really is good to be here again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The beginning of the end

Last week we flew to La Paz, and yesterday we moved into the Hobbit Hole, a small apartment squished in between the New Jerusalem Friends Church and the large Friends school in back. The Hobbit Hole is directly under one of the school’s classrooms, and all morning long the kids have been reciting, singing, scrapping their chairs over the floor and, apparently, practicing for a violent overthrow of the government. I hope somebody is teaching Quaker peace-making. Some silence wouldn’t be bad either.
Last night we had a wonderful meeting with the people on the History Commission, the group we’re working with in this huge Bolivian Quaker history project. We’re encouraged by our team’s progress, initiative and motivation. And they’ve certainly given us a warm welcome.
I’m also encouraged by Jesus’ teaching on persistence in prayer: “Ask (and keep on asking) and it will be given to you; seek (and keep on seeking) and you will find; knock (and keep on knocking) and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Here are the prayer requests that I invite you to ask and keep on asking concerning our concluding five months of work on the project here in La Paz:
--That God’s Spirit would fill and motivate us by love (Phil. 1:9-11): love for God that fuels our obedience and hard work; love for the church with all her blemishes and challenges; love for and among our team members. Love.
--That God’s Spirit would fill our team, that relationships stay healthy and open, that we all be able to focus on Christ and worship and work together.
--That we might discover the missing pieces in this complex story.
--For truth; that God would guard us from error and presumption.
--For insight into all the questions our investigation has brought up; for discernment to see where the Spirit was (and is) moving in all the events and problems and people that make up this story.
--For good writing.
--For the joy of the Lord to be our strength.
--For a successful conclusion to this project.
--For it to fulfill its purpose to bless and encourage the church, both in Bolivia and in the Northwest USA.

Amen. Lord, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Leaving home, returning home

Once again we’re getting ready to change planets. Our son David will pick us up at 2:00 tomorrow morning and take us to the airport for our flight to Bolivia where we will spend the next five months.
Our friend Timoteo Choque will meet us at the La Paz airport Thursday morning at 6:00. It will be good to see him—and so many others—after an absence of a year and a half. We will spend the next months with the marvelous team of Bolivian Quakers, men and women, who have been working with us these past five years to research and write the 100-year history of the Bolivian Friends Church.
We plan to compare our findings and try to fill in the gaps. I look forward to scores of interviews, long discussions and time to re-write and edit. We hope five months will be long enough.
But this time, apprehension mingles with excitement. We were in our 20s when we first flew to Bolivia in 1972. Obviously we’re no longer in that phase of life. Our bodies now struggle more to adapt to the high altitude. While every bit as motivated by a sense of God’s call, we’re more vulnerable and certainly not as energetic as we used to be. We depend on the prayers of our loved ones—which is not a bad place to be.
And we have a different sense of home. While in many ways we’re going home to Bolivia, our lives have shifted since those early days of following God to a far-off land. Last year we took the plunge into a new adventure and moved into Friendsview Retirement Community. It was a major change and it’s taken us a while to adapt.
But we have adapted. This upcoming trip has helped me realize this. When people here express alarm that we will be gone five months, I’ve sensed some grief myself. It is a long time to be separated from my new family, and that sensation has helped me see that this is now home, too.
(Concern over separation from kids and grandkids is, of course, a given.)
So tomorrow we both leave home (with a certain sense of sadness) and we return home (with a great deal of anticipation).
More than all that we know that we carry home with us. Thesese of Lisieux once gazed upon the face of Jesus and prayed, “Your Face becomes my home, the radiance of my days, my realm and sunlit land.”

Oh, Lord, may it be so.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

49 and counting

Who celebrates the 49th anniversary of anything?
49 is not special.
It’s “see if you can hold on for one more year”
or “almost perfect but not quite.”
It’s the California Gold Rush
which turned out well for a few
but disappointed thousands of treasure seekers.
We were looking for gold when we married.
I reckon we did better than California.
Who celebrates their 49th?
We do.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Saddle Shoes

Here is the prompt I followed in my writing time this morning: “That was the ugliest piece of clothing anyone ever had to wear in front of her friends.”

    They were called “saddle shoes.” The name evokes images of mules, dusty trails and rural klutziness , but my mom expected me to wear them. To school. In front of everyone.
I must have been in the fourth or fifth grade. My mom was the proverbial Good Mother, so sensible shoes were the order of the day. After all, they were “good for my feet.”
Sturdy, yes. Substantial. But also clunky and awkward. A white shoe with a large black band across the top—the “saddle”—that tied up and needed to be worn with ankle socks.
In those days little girls wore dresses to school. The saddle shoes definitely did not go with dresses. They were not feminine. They were not pretty.
I hated them. And I was angry at Mom for making me wear them.
Furthermore, I was skinny. One of my nicknames—what the other kids chose to call me—was Bird-Legs. Can you picture it? Top to bottom: a crop of unruly naturally curly blond hair, a frilly dress, two thin stick-like legs, stuck into a foundation of chunky sensible shoes.
No wonder I felt ugly and awkward.
It took me years to realize I was pretty.

Now, as an older person with strong, healthy feet, I get it. While I no longer have to wear saddle shoes, I choose sensible. Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Declaration of Independence, Interdependence and Total Dependence

Since the first shall be last and the last first, I’ll start with Total Dependence.

Declaration of Total Dependence
--I declare my total dependence on God. I want to say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you, and on earth there is no one I desire who compares with you.”  “In God I live and move and have my being.” God alone is my source of glory (recognition, acknowledgment, and the fulfillment of my longings for beauty, love and belonging). God is my glory and the lifter of my head. Jesus is my companion on the road, my resting place, my home. The Spirit in me is the fulfillment of my dearest dreams. I live to love, praise, honor, rejoice in and glorify my Lord. “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.”

Declaration of Interdependence
--Thank you God for providing me with a human companion on the road. Thank you for Hal, my best friend, my lover, my colleague in work, my prayer partner, my peer mentor, someone to laugh at my jokes and understand my tears, the human being I love above all else in ways that are ever changing. What a life you’ve called us to and what a joy now to be able to grow old together. We do depend on one another. In our case, two definitely are better than one. We walk forward hand in hand to the dawn of a perfect day.

Declaration of Independence
--In terms of the beautiful children and grandchildren you’ve given us, we declare our ongoing love and, at the same time, our independence. I’ve raised my children to be independent mature persons, and now they are passing it on to their children. I release you, dear ones. More than that, I not only get to rejoice in your independence from me, I get to declare my own independence. I will always love you, but I do not need you to keep needing me. I am even becoming free of any need for your approval. While I am still parent and grandparent, the roles have changed. I am free to be who I am with you and to go beyond the role. I don’t have to be “Super Grandma” or “Ancient Wise One” or “Whatever.” I can let the roles mature and meet you face to face.

Independent, yet interdependent. All of us together dependent on our Lord and the creator of all this joy. So help me, God.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Young Quaker artist from Africa

I realize that I’m walking the dangerous edge of a proud grandmother. But I think I have good reason to be proud. Gwen Emily Amahora Thomas, currently a senior at Newberg High School with only a few weeks before graduation, is sharing her art with the world. The lobby of Friendsview Retirement Community is displaying her African portraits, fruit of assignments from her AP art classes.
She describes her art in an essay accompanying the portraits:
“Home. That word has both enchanted me and haunted me my whole life. I was born and raised in Rwanda, Africa as one of the few white kids in the country. However, my skin color didn’t prevent me from finding my home in Africa. In recent years, I have had to leave my beloved home and live in America. Saying goodbye to my life-long friends, taking a last glimpse of my childhood home, and finally boarding that plane was the hardest thing I have ever done. But boarding a plane and living somewhere else doesn’t mean that I leave it behind. Rwanda will always be in my heart and a part of who I am. It’s no wonder that most of my art work reflects my love of my country. The portraits are all created as a reflection of the transition I was and am going through.
“I am currently a senior a Newberg High School. I spent my freshman and sophomore years at a boarding school in Kenya where my art began to improve. After graduation this June, I will be going to George Fox University to study nursing.”


 Self portrait

Proud grandparents!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Devotional chocolate and Mother's Day

Yesterday my grandchildren prepared a Mother’s Day tea and invited their two grandmothers and, of course, their mother. We grandmothers received flowers but the kids presented their mother with a bar of Super Dark Matcha Chocolate. Very gourmet and very appropriate. My daughter-in-law, Debby, is currently drinking matcha tea every day and expounding its merits. The spirulina algae it contains helps make it super-healthy.
The packaging contained instructions on how to taste “an exotic chocolate bar,” and as a party activity, granddaughter Gwen read the instructions while we all attempted to have the ultimate chocolate experience. It was great fun, and the chocolate was quite good.
The kind of language used in the packaging of this product either angers or amuses me. In this case, the instructions, the information about the creator of this chocolate bar (a woman named Katrina) and her hopes for the effects it will produce are obviously meant to be taken seriously. It sounds like a new-age spirituality of chocolate.
I asked Debby to loan me the package, told her I was sure I could find a poem hidden in all the verbiage.
And so I did. A “found poem” (a real genre, by the way) lifts words and phrases from a text and rearranges them into a poem which, in many cases, plays around with the meaning of the original. I was definitely playing. But, at the same time, while this found poem may seem totally whimsical, it is actually serious literary/cultural criticism.
Please keep that in mind as you read.

Chocolate Devotions
Katrina, the medium of chocolate,
invites you to follow
as she travels the world
in search of a superior source.
Are you ready?
Take three deep breaths,
taste, and….
You will hear a crisp ringing pop
as your mind and spirit
open to new ideas.
Even though you have only
rubbed your thumb on the surface
of the chocolate experience,
a meticulous process has begun.
Your inner spices, nuts, roots,
herbs and liqueurs will be ground
by low friction, then fused
to bring you to the pinnacle
of your taste profile, thus
enabling you to harness
the power of storytelling.
Can you believe it?
At the end of the day,
if you have followed Katrina’s instructions,
you will have
an exotic chocolate movement,
thus releasing you
to enter the super dark
where spirulina algae
will swim through your dreams
spreading peace, love, and, as ever,

Celebrating Mother's Day with granddaughter Alandra

Friday, March 31, 2017

A living hope

A friend of mine in California is reading 1 and 2 Peter this year. Only 1 and 2 Peter. He is focusing his heart on what the Spirit might be saying to him through these two books.
He inspires me. So in my morning exercises on the elliptical machine, I’m reading 1 Peter. Over and over and over. It actually makes the exercise less painful, keeps me from ticking off the minutes. This morning I read the first chapter in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Aymara, all while running nine laps around the football field. (Pardon me, but I feel so virtuous!)
I’ve noticed some interesting things:
1)      ---The book clearly presents the Trinity: “…chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ….”
2)      ---Like James, Peter talks about the Father who gives us new birth. I find that fascinating. A father who gives birth. It shows the inadequacy of our anthropomorphic images of God. Both Father and Mother, but neither the one nor the other. Mystery.
3)      ---I love the “living” references: a “living hope” (1:3), the “living word” (1:23), the “Living Stone” (2:4) and us as “living stones” (2:5) in a spiritual house.
Especially the living hope. Right now in the middle of the break-up of Northwest Yearly Meeting, hope is hard to grab ahold of. What is a living hope?
Spirit, sow that kind of hope in me.
Here’s an old poem, come back to help me now.

Meditation on 1 Peter 1:3-4
Rooted in red-rich dirt,
resurrection soil,
my hope is a green and living thing:
a wide willow
offering respite from summer’s heat;
a blossoming sorrel
left to surprise squirrels and deer mice;
a licorice fern.
It has texture and hue;
real edges define it;
its roots are credible.
Tiny fingers stroke moisture/life
from ground.
Each single cell drinks light and air,
releases an energy green and good.
My hope is a young sequoia.
Slender now,
its trunk will thicken
in a larger garden--
a sure inheritance.
My hope enriches Eden’s slopes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

First Light

Response to the query: "How did you first become aware of the light?"

The reflection of flames pulsated off the walls of my bedroom, and the scent of smoke filled the air. Distant sirens did nothing to calm the panic I fought as I lay there. I was nine years old, and that summer the brush fires surrounding my Southern California community raged out of control. Although told we were in no immediate danger, I was terrified.
Our home was not Christian, although my parents were good, educated and loving people. We didn’t go to church as a family, said no grace at meals, and the Bible was up on the shelf alongside Dante, Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam. Good Literature, there for reference but not necessarily for reading.
But when we first moved to this small town, my parents decided we three children needed to go to church and learn Christian values. They were drawn to the Friends, mostly because of the underground railroad and how Quakers had treated the American Indians. So when I was seven, my mom started taking us kids to the local Friends church.
And it was there, in the second grade Sunday school class, that Mrs. Kunkel taught us about Jesus and about confessing our sins and asking him into our heart as our personal savior and friend. I already trusted grown-ups, so I was predisposed to believe her. And it sounded good, like something I might want to do someday. Mrs. Kunkel put no pressure on us, and as my sense of sin was totally undeveloped (remember, my parents actually liked me and told me so), I was in no rush. She did tell us that people who did not know Jesus went to hell.
So laying there that night, with the sirens and smoke feeding my fear, the thought of hell popped into my brain. I decided that I never ever wanted to go there, and that I’d better do something about it quick. I knew just what to do. I said that little formula Mrs. Kunkel had taught us. I was not motivated by any need to repent of sin or any deep sense of longing for God. I was simply afraid of fire. So I pulled the covers over my head, whispered the right words and waited to see what might happen next.
What happened was—he showed up. Without great emotion, without tears or repentence, I quietly became aware that I had a new friend. He really was there. I had no doubts. So I began talking with my new friend, having no idea that this was called “prayer.” After a while, I noticed that I was no longer afraid of the fire.

He’s been my friend ever since.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"The Leader" by Wendell Berry

Head like a big
frequently thumped
and still not ripe.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The right to be safe

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 other.
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.

It sort of makes “safe” irrelevant.