Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in Barnesville

I was talking with my new friend Sally on the phone last night and we agreed it's a wonderful thing that a group of us all arrived here in Barnesville at the same time.

Tonight, Christmas Eve, we will all go to hear Clyde (and our Olney friend Ela), both of whom are musical, at a Christmas Eve service at the Presbyterian Church in town. On Christmas, we will all get together at Jane and Clyde's 100-year old blue frame house just down from the library for Christmas dinner. All of these activities will include our teenage and young adult children (except for Sally's; her children are far away). Even Sophie is home, having returned from her visit with her boyfriend Lucas's family in Yellow Springs.

I'm appreciating Christmas in a place where there's little to buy and little to do. Downtown Barnesville looks not too different from downtown Bedford Falls (circa 1946) in "It's a Wonderful Life." Maybe a little quieter. The town has hung Christmas decorations from the street lamps on Main Street. You can still pull into an (unmetered) parking space in front of the store where you'd like to shop. While there are a straggle of stores with separate parking lots as you head east toward my end of town--some fast food "joints," a Save A Lot, Riesbecks, Dollar General and Rite Aid--there's nothing like a strip mall, mall or arcade of shops. Downtown Main Street shopping could be lifted straight out of the 1950s. For me it's a delight to live in a land time forgot. (As an aside, I'm rereading Emma for my reading group in Maryland and last night was charmed by a streetscape. Emma is waiting for her friend Harriet to pick out ribbon and so steps outside to watch the activities. One is a boy urging a donkey down the street (you won't see that in Barnesville but horses and buggies you will see) and another is a group of children staring in the bow window of the bakery looking at the gingerbread. That last image struck me as more Victorian or Dickensian that Jane Austen-like, but it was charming.)

All our snow is gone, but the grass has a golden cast and we still have some reddish leaves on the trees outside our south living room window. Plus the view of the red barn with the green roof.

I keep telling people, half jokingly, that Barnesville is still in the 1970s. That's part of what I like about living here. But where ever you are, feliz navidad.

Christmas Chronos

My cyber-friend Peggy, the abbess, blogs about two different kinds of time, one more temporal, one more eternal. In the book Blessed Unrest, (Peggy, if you're reading this, could you explain your two times?) Paul Hawken names four types of time, borrowing, I believe from Stewart Brand's book, The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Repsonsibilty: 1. commerce time, the most rapid and changing time, which Hawken calls the dominant time frame of our time, 2. cultural time, which moves and changes much more slowly (for example, he says, the Russian Orthodox church was largely unruffled by the 72 year interlude of communism and picked up its liturgy as if nothing had happened after the fall of the Soviet Union), 3. governance time, which, he says, moves faster than culture, slower than commerce, and perhaps mediates between the two, and 4. what he calls "earth, nature and the web of life," which moves far move slowly than the other three.

As you might imagine, Hawkin contends that the dominant commerce time of our culture, with its breakneck pace of change, is dangerous when not tempered by other, slower understandings of time.

I read an article the other day in the New York Times that said that more people were buying crafts from small, independent vendors or making crafts for Christmas, and that, in fact, Michael's was seeing an increase in sales in these hard times. That gave me a hope that there's perhaps a grass-roots rebellion against living constantly in commerce time. Crafts handmade by oneself or another person, dearly take more time and infusion of self than a factory produced product. The Times predictably framed this switch to crafts as a money-saving trend, but I wonder if there is something deeper going on, as while crafts may be cheaper than some forms of ready made consumption, they're not the cheapest way to go, at least not if you are buying from an artisan or purchasing supplies from MIchaels.

But to get back to the beginnning: it's Christmas and for all the glomming on of commercialism and countless forms of pressure, at its core, this holy day has a timeless quality. Quakers hoped they could infuse all days with such a gentle, loving sense of the presence of God, and that is a worthy dream, but at least we have one such day. Through the birth of a baby, foretold and celebrated by angels, shepherds and magi, all joyfully proclaiming a new order, we touch the eternal, a time even deeper and more lasting than that of the earth, which will, in its time, also pass away.

My question, along with yet another merry Christmas, is this: how do you personally get yourself out of "commerce" time? And, are you buying or making crafts? I actually bought hand-crafted goat's milk soaps as Christmas gifts.


"You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler.
The wicked foe pulls all of them up in his dragnet;
and he rejoices and is glad,
Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?" Habbakuk 1:13-17

Of course, Jesus calling Peter and Andrew, fishermen, to become "fishers of men" jumps immediately to mind. Jesus calls his disciples so that they can oppose the people who devour others for their own gain. This adds a social justice dimension to the fish as a Christian symbol. The fish--the little people--get a loving ruler, Jesus, who protects them from the wicked. There's a sense of lines drawn: Who will get the fish (us): those who bring death or those who offer salvation?

As I read the Christmas story while doing the Advent calendar with Will and Nick and Roger, I again see how oppositional it is. It offers an alternative universe and a transformed way of viewing the world. Yes, there is the Roman emperor and other kings and princes, who rule through warfare and violence, but we have a prince of peace. Secular princes may bring terror but our prince brings goodwill. Our king, according to Mary, stands for the oppressed and the humble. In all of this is a complete challenge to an order based on material wealth and violence.

The peace testimony--God's commitment to peace--is underlined in God's rebuke to the proud in Habbakuk: "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed."

Jesus built his kingdom on peace, love, joy and humility.

"One of the greatest risks, I think, of living in a secular world ... is something I might call the Woody Allenization of everything. Too much reason. Too much self-awareness. Too much blah-blah. Too little wonder, and marvel and faith ... " Judith Warner, NYT, 12/23/08

The Christmas story gives us the gift of wonder, faith and miracle. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reply to Jim Wallis

In my e-mail box, I received a letter "from" Jim Wallis of Sojourners, offering me the "opportunity" to send Sojourners money!

I was irritated. Not because Sojourners is trying to raise money because, of course, as many people will tell me, they "need" to. What annoyed me was the smarminess of the letter. Addressing me by first name as if I were "Jim's" personal friend. Couching sending them money as an "opportunity." The creepy hackneyed hyberpole: "enormous," "Incredible." Treating the reader, without irony, as a fool. Maybe it was the absence of irony that bothered me most. Wanting absolutely nothing of me but my money and not even offering me a laugh for my buck. It reminded me of an old Monty Python skit where a doctor comes to pay a house call but ignores the patient while he runs around the house in a crazed way stuffing his empty black doctor's bag with any cash he can find. Of course, the skit was funny.

Here is an organization that prides itself on being different from "those people" on the other side of the political divide. Yet it seems to mirror standard corporate fundraising tactics. It seems to put all its faith in money to solve problems. Hhhm. Is it putting first the kingdom or filthy lucre? Are they anything but a mirror of the thing they purport to hate and want to "reform?" I imagine I am supposed to be naive enough to see sending them money as an "opportunity," but not so naive as to think they could "do it without my support (money)?"

I spent more than a decade in marketing and among many tasks I wrote what quaintly used to be called "direct mail" letters like the one from Sojourners. They're used because they're "proven to be effective." But just because something is an effective fundraising technique, does that justify using it? Not to be sanctimonious, but can you, Sojourners, really pour new wine into old wineskins?

I "replied" to the letter. Here's my response:

Dear Jim,

Thank you so much for contacting me personally and by first name.

In such a time as this, with both "enormous possibilities" and "incredible challenges," I too want to keep Sojourners work "alive and strong."

I am a religion journalist who would like to make you a gift worth more than a check for measly lucre: the opportunity of hiring me.

I will give you insightful, accurate and intelligent stories and columns for a reasonable salary. I will thus help you keep Sojourners work alive and strong. In fact, I will make it more alive and stronger. I am an "opportunity."

Under the new Obama proposed tax structures, this will will you a tax break of $3,000. Hiring talented people like me is part of the challenge and possibility to make a real difference in a failed economy.

Please e-mail me for my resume and more information.



Do you think I'll hear from them? :)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Peaceable Kingdom

Apparently, the above photos of a tiger with piglets are real, but despite some sweet stories circulating that a group of altruistic zoo officials brought in the piglets to help a grieving tiger mother heal from the loss of her young, the real story supposedly is that they are part of a Chinese zoo exhibit meant to startle viewers in the same way a circus sideshow might.

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together." Isaiah 11:6.

And the tiger shall lie down with the piglet ...

Who says it can't happen?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


"You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler.
The wicked foe pulls all of them up in his dragnet;
and he rejoices and is glad,
Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?" Habbakuk 1:13-17

Of course, Jesus calling Peter and Andrew, fisherman, to become "fishers of men" jumps immediately to mind. Jesus calls his disciples so that they can oppose the people who devour others for their own gain. This adds a social justice dimension to the fish as a Christian symbol. The fish--the little people--get a loving ruler, Jesus, who protects them from the wicked. There's a sense of lines drawn: Who will get the fish (us): those who bring death or those who offer salvation?

As I read the Christmas story while doing the Advent calendar with Will and Nick and Roger, I again see how oppositional it is. It offers an alternative universe and a transformed way of viewing the world. Yes, there is the Roman emperor and other kings and princes, who rule through warfare and violence, but we have a prince of peace. Secular princes may bring terror but our prince brings goodwill. Our king, according to Mary, stands for the oppressed and the humble. In all of this is a complete challenge to an order based on material wealth and violence.

The peace testimony--God's commitment to peace--is underlined in God's rebuke to the proud in Habbakuk: "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed."

Jesus built his kingdom on peace, love, joy and humility.

"One of the greatest risks, I think, of living in a secular world ... is something I might call the Woody Allenization of everything. Too much reason. Too much self-awareness. Too much blah-blah. Too little wonder, and marvel and faith ... " Judith Warner, NYT, 12/23/08

The Christmas story gives us the gift of wonder, faith and miracle. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Roger put new memory in and did good things to my computer, so now I can access my own blog again! I imagine that all of this makes me more patient and able to see that I don't need to be "wired" all the time.

I have been drawn to Habbukuk recently, so I will most likely blog about that.

And, of course, I am thinking about a lot about Christmas.

Hope everyone is well!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Award

My cyber-friend Ted (you can link to him on the right) has nominated me for the "Marie Antionette, a real person, a real award" award for my Website! Cool. Now I have to nominate seven other people's sites. I will attend to that ... but currently, I'm experiencing problems connected to my very own blog, so please be patient with me. I can't connect from own machine, so I will try to get on when I have access to other computers ... I have another new blog entry right below this one ...

Monday, December 8, 2008

What we long for

Following is a beautiful description of nature in Paul Hawkin's book Blessed Unrest. It describes Kitlope, upriver east of Kitimat in British Columbia:

“I felt as though I had been thrust into a painting by the Hudson River School, a preternatural, romantic dreamscape ... But here it was, the real thing, glaciers, rainbows, and all. The five species of Pacific salmon ... underfoot were fodder for the grizzlies and black bears denning in the old-growth spruce and cedar forests. In the glacier-fed waters, river otters peered curiously. wolf packs roamed at night, mountain goats capered on alpine croppings, blubbery seals feasted on easy pickings a hundred miles from the sea, and eagles nested in evenly spaced sequences along every spawning tributary.”
p. 41.

What I love about this passage is the way it shows the abundance in God's creation. This scene describes plenty, and paints a picture of how God meant this world to be. It raised in me a longing to see Kitlope. It made me feel sad over what we've done to our world. It reminded me that the world of scarcity we seem to live in is not the only reality and different from God's plan for us or for the rest of the animals and plants in creation. I couldn't help but contrast it to Hawkin's (and other's) depictions of polluted slums in Third World cities, where the water is toxic and most of the plant and animal life has been killed.

But what I most want to hang on to is an outlook that hopes for all things, that doesn't settle for the fallen world around us as the way things have to be. I can imagine a time in the not too distant future, perhaps my grandchildren's generation, when something as basic as having free or nearly-free water will seem like a dream. A few generations beyond that, a world of free, abundant water might seem like a "fairy story" that idealists had made up. Or in a society of increasing single parenthood, two-parent families as the norm might become scoffed at as impossible. Yet I grew up during a time when (albeit imperfectly) it was quite common. So I want to remember that the simple things we long for are not fantasies but possibilities and part what God has promised we can have in this world.

Republic Windows and Doors

What do you think of the "sit in" at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago? Workers there were told Tuesday that the plant was closing for good on Friday. They were given three days notice that they would no longer have jobs. The workers decided to stage a peaceful protest by sitting in the empty factory in shifts. They say they are owed vacation and overtime pay and question whether Bank of America was overhasty in pulling the plug on the business's credit.

This sit in caught my attention because it is a peaceful protest, and because it perfectly aligns with the kind of social justice action Paul Hawkin describes in his book "Blessed Unrest," which I recently finished reading. The sit-in participants are a small group of people on the bottom of society questioning how Bank of America, which recently got how many billions (?) in taxpayer bailout money, could refuse to extend credit to the small company. Maybe Bank of America had a good reason to deny the funds and maybe not, but at least the laid-off workers are raising the question.

So what do you think?

Friday, December 5, 2008

How to Change the World?

During the Thanksgiving holiday, I read a novel called My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru, which was on the New York Times notable book list for 2008. Now I'm reading Paul Hawken's nonfiction work, Blessed Unrest. The two books are about changing the world and are instructive to read back to back. How do we change the world?

My Revolutions is based loosely on a group in Britain called the Angry Brigade which, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, worked through bombings and acts of civil disobedienceto bring down the English government and its systems of domination and oppression. The Angry Brigrade wants to lead a political "movement" that will attract the "masses." In the fictionalized account, we see the action through the eyes of Chris Carver, a college student who falls into the radical group partly out of a desire to change the system but largely because he is infatuated with the astringently beautiful Anna, one of the group's leaders. Of course, he has to hide this regressive "bourgeois" desire for individualized, romantic love.

In the book, we watch the group do good things, such as occupying empty housing in London and refurbishing it for the homeless. But we also see the group slide into increased isolation, fanaticism, narcissism and violence. The group looks towards models such as Lenin and the Russian Revolution and Mao and the Chinese Revolution. Like many 20th century radicals, the members are motivated by "isms" such as communism, and by a desire for ideoligical purity. They think big, wanting to lead massive change all at once. In the end, as we know, they fail, and England remains much as it always has, a mixed economy with democratic elections and a titular monarchy. The book becomes an indictment of ideological fanaticism, self-delusion and violence.

In contrast, Blessed Unrest follows a different kind of "movement," which can hardly be called a movement: the organic, unorganized rise of more than a million small groups worldwide that are concerned about environmentalism and social justice. These groups follow a different model from the grand isms of the 20th century: they are pragmatic rather than ideological and they work often, though not always, for small, local changes. They are fluid, grouping and regrouping at will, and operate largely below the radar of the media.

The book's author, Paul Hawken, tends narrowly to identify Christianity, which he puts on the side of transnational systems of domination and oppression, with its worst fundamentalist forms. This secular viewpoint is a weakness and a blind spot in an otherwise splendid book.As I read about groups working in different ways to affirm one principle: the sanctity of life, human life primarily, but also animal life, I saw these groups as manifesting Jesus's message of loving God and loving one's neighbor as the most important values.

I saw Jesus' lessons flowing out of the actions of these small groups in many ways:

1. Pragmistism: Jesus came down on the side of pragmatic gestures. For example, he defends Mary Magdalene for her gesture of spontaneous love in breaking an expensive vial of perfume over him. He understood the ideoligical purity is soul killing while actions from the heart are soul expanding. Also, as just one other example, Jesus' valorized the debt-forgiving "crooked" steward who used common sense to help himself and his neighbors.

2. Working quietly: Jeus talked about being yeast and salt invisibly working its way through the culture to bring around small, incremental changes that add up to big change. Not only did he use these metaphors, he enacted a refusal to fall into the traditional patterns of "big" military "change" by refusing to lead a military uprising at the end of his life.

3. Standing for peace: Jesus' way was not violent. Even the overturning of the money lenders' tables in the Temple, his most aggressive act, didn't take any lives and apparently injured nobody permanently. This is a huge rachteting down of the violence of the ancient world and a contrast to Bibilcal leaders such as Moses, David and Ezekiel, who all killed. It's definitely a contrast to the carnage of the Roman Empire.

4. Valuing the little people: Do I need to say anything? Blessed are the meek, the poor, the broken spirited ...

5. Upside-down kingdom thinking: These groups seem to share a strong sense that the powers that oppress the world value the wrong things: that their wisdom is foolishness and that what they despise are the most precious gifts in the universe.

I wonder how many of the groups Hawkins describes, if not overtly Christian, arise out of Christian roots. Since I became a convert 17 years ago, I have fallen into a network of small groups that I never knew existed in my secular days. Just about everyone I know in the Christian/Quaker world is working for the kind of change Hawkin is talking about in the way he is talking about: small and grassroots. I think of Bill and his Consistent Life work, Peggy and her Abbess work, the raw milk network I've fallen into, the Patapsco Friends Meeting prison ministry, the peace work done by Stillwater meeting, Olney Friends School's commitment ... the list goes on. I'd be interested in hearing about what I've left out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Do Not Waste the Creation

"He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster." Proverbs 18:9

"Do rightly, justly, truly, holy, equally to all people in all things ... and there ye are servicable in your generation, laboring in the thing that is good, which doth not spoil, nor destroy, nor waste the creation upon lusts." George Fox, from Mind the Heavenly Treasure, entry for Dec. 4.

"Nor waste the creation upon lusts ..." I don't know that Fox meant creation as earth, but in today's context it sounds like an environmental statement. What would the world be like today if we didn't waste creation upon lusts (or maximizing profits)?

Fox's statement also joins a sense of not wasting creation, or environmentalism, with social justice: "do rightly ... to all people in all things." This same conjoining of environmentalism and social justice happens to be a theme of a wonderful book I'm reading called "Blessed Unrest" by Paul Hawken. Has anybody read it? In the book, (I have only read the intro and part of the first chapter) Hawken, an environmentalist, talks about all the small groups he knows of (he and his cohorts estimate at least a million such groups worldwide) that are working quietly, often unnoticed, to bring about change in the world. It's exciting to think about, and I will blog more about the book later.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Winter before Summer

"And let us not be weary in doing well; for in due season, we shall reap, if we faint not." (Galatians 6:9).

"For the husbandman waits patiently, after the seed is sown; there is winter before summer comes ... So live in patience and peace."

From "Mind the Heavenly Treasure," writings of George Fox

Fox is advising us to follow the slower but more fruitful rhythms of nature in what we do, not to expect instant results and to have a view of productivity as a long term endeavor. This is contrary to the world's frantic pace and demands, but we have a choice or so it seems.

I had a lovely week at home in Maryland as well as visiting in-law family in Pennsylvania. Now I'm back to Ohio. Some of my companions, especially e-mail companions, are in a winter funk because it's cold and dark, and I am too. So I am thinking about how people --or so we are led to believe--knew how to enjoy the season in days gone by, with festivity and hope and prayer and all those good things. Peggy is talking about Advent on her site, the Abbess (see it on the right) and Bill is reflecting in his Reflections (also to the right) on what he is grateful for. What do you do for this season?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fox: You Could Lose Your Condition

From "Mind the Heavenly Treasure," the thoughts of George Fox, for Nov. 22:

"The care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful." Matthew 13;22

"For if ye should settle down in the earth, and have plenty, and be full, and at ease for a time, and not keep in the power and spirit and service of God, you would quickly come to lose your condition." George Fox

What do you think of this? How do we not do this?

Friday, November 21, 2008

To family or not to family, that is the question

I have a question:

In "The Last Temptation of Christ," Jesus' last temptation is to get down off the cross and live a calm, happy, private life with Mary Magdelene and their children, working as a carpenter. In an episode of Millenium (did anyone else watch that TV series from a decade ago?) an emissary from the dead, presumbably from the devil, tries to persuade the series hero to retreat from his work fighting evil and embrace a quiet life with his family, his head buried in the sand. The apostle Paul, while saying it's better to marry than to burn, advocated the single life as the higher course. This path was embraced by the Roman Catholic church and led to people like St. Francis of Assiss and Mother Teresa, who did immense good in the world. Clearly, from its earliest days, the Christian church has understood the "happy family" as a stumbling block to serving God fully.

Yet, at the same time, the family is valorized in Christian circles. Nothing is more important than building strong families and putting your family first. How often is "I have to take care of my own children" accepted as an excuse, even if the "care" is frivilous, such as taking one's child to soccer on Sunday morning? In the early 19th century, Quaker meetings criticized Elizabeth Fry for throwing care of her 12 children onto the meeting while she pursued God's calling her life of prison reform. Would we be any different? Would we be worse? Would Elizabeth Fry today actually BE in prison for child neglect instead of doing God's work in the world?

I'm certainly in favor of strong families, and I understand that 35 percent of children are born to single mothers and that divorce rips families apart. However, and here's my question: How do we reconcile the message of family as a "temptation" that prevents us from doing God's work with a notion of family as all important? Do we make an idol of family? And if we do, how do we support strong families while not turning that goal into an idol?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Amish visit

Recently, I once again saw my Amish acquaintance "Sarah" and had a conversation with her about the economy. I asked her if the Amish were likely to feel the impact of the economic problems in the wider world or if they were insulated from that shock.

At first, she didn't know what I meant, but as we talked it became clear that the Amish were worried about the larger economy. Those who own stores or businesses are bracing for a downturn in business. The community may have to bail out some members who have gotten too far into bank debt. Some in the community fear that "our people" (the non-Amish) will steal from them if we have no jobs or money.

I told her that perhaps what the Amish own are not the first things thieves would desire, but she didn't seem convinced.

On a lighter note, Sarah showed me the apples she was drying over the wood stove in her living. Her living room is just like her dining room, except it doesn't have a long table or a sink. It was evening, and she turned on the kerosene lamp, which dimly lit a part of the the room. As for the apples, she had cut them up and placed the slices in a wooden box with many flat drawers. This box fits over the woodstove. The apples stand in the heat for about 48 hours, at which point they are transferred to jars.

Sarah also showed me the beautiful quilt she is making, and the stacks of wooden benches piled against one wall. She said they were used for the Sunday meeting for worship, which was held recently at her house. Tweny-eight families attend and most are young, with lots of children, she said.

Sarah is the kindest and gentlest of people. When I leave her house, I have to remind myself that she and her surroundings are real. She seems so perfectly conformed to a storybook image of the Amish, as does her house. Yet, it's real. Then, I wonder, as I drive along her rutty driveway back to the real world, how do I know I'm not imagining all this, because it is all so perfectly how I might imagine the Amish? I ponder the story of the Chinese philosopher who woke up from a dream of being a butterfly and wondered if he were a man dreaming of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being a man. I remember, in the end, though, that there is enough trouble and vexation in the world, even here in the hinterlands, to convince me that this is real life, Amish and all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sacred Compass 7: leadings and individualism

I enjoyed J. Brent Bill's Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment, which is an accessible and readable introduction to the Quaker concept of leadings. Leadings are the persistent pushings, nudgings and guidance of God in our lives, bringing us to places where we can do his work in the world in ways we might not have imagined.

As Brent pointed out in an e-mail, the book is aimed at non-Quaker Christians, since for most Quakers, the book's concepts will be familiar. However, probably even most Quaker readers will find new insights or ideas in the book to ponder. For instance, as I think about either employment, going back to do graduate work, and the overarching question of "what to do with the rest of my life," I find myself, as a result of the book, paying much more attention to how my body physically feels when I contemplate one course or another.

Fundamentally, however, I wonder if the way we understand the concept of leadings in contemporary society is too focused on the self. In a graduate course I took once, the professor, an Episcopal priest, believed that Quakers spend too much time on self-examination and on hair-splitting matters of faith and belief. He contrasted Quakerism with the Anglican tradition, in which people corporately affirm their faith through liturgy and then essentially go about their business, not having to scrutinize every action. Anglicans, he said, believe the liturgy and communion put them right with God. He recommended a book called The Doubting Disease, which he believed spoke to a neurosis of overanalysis and second guessing inherent in Quaker theology.

Clearly, as a Quaker, I come down on the side of self scrutiny. However, I also understand that a corporate liturgy can act as antidote to obsessive concern over individual conscience. I also believe that endless parsing of one's thoughts and beliefs can create paralysis. I have seen this in some Quakers. My theory is that overanalysis, coupled with the empiricist ideology of the educated classes has led to some of the "non-theism" in liberal Quakerism. I believe some Quakers get so caught up in parsing whether or not they "believe" in God with unshakeable certainty every second of every day, that they fall into nontheism. Or they are so consumed in knowing exactly what God is (which we can't know) that they back into nontheism.

That being said, I believe it's also a mistake to see weekly recitation of a liturgy and drinking and eating a bit of wine and wafer alone as the key to putting ourselves right with God. By themselves, these are empty rituals that can create in us an illusion of safety-- or a "pass" not to examine our lives-- unless they are the outward signs of an inward transformation. In other words, like a good Quaker, I believe outward change follows from inward change. Actually, it works both ways, that inward transformation leads to a life that is outwardly changed and also that willingly adopting new outward habits and behaviors can cause inward change. However, I would put the preponderance of weight on the power of inward transformation to effect change. Thus I would put more of my effort into self examination and changing my heart before changing my behavior, knowing the changed behavior would follow a transformed heart.

A good companion piece to Sacred Compass is Blackaby's Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. While acknowledging that we are all individuals who can't follow someone else's "success with God formula," Blackaby emphasizes that following God is not primarily about "me." Following where God is leading is seeing where God is at work around me and joining God in that work. This shifts the emphasis way from "me" as at the center of the universe to me as a worker in God's universe. I move toward the center of that universe as I join with God's work. I don't have to have a particular plan for me (which is what Brent also says) but I do have a responsibility to discern where God is and to work there.

So what do you think? What is the relationship of the inward self to the outward self? Do Quakers (and others) suffer from "the doubting disease?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama tidbits

In a recent newsmagazine article, it became clear that the French are having Obama envy. He is just so cool they can't stand it. He should be French!

Much has been made recently about how people identify with Obama for many different reasons. One reason cited was that he's appreciated for daring to sound intelligent and for using good grammar. Yes, yes, yes. I identify with that! Especially the good grammar part.

I also identify with Obama, as I've stated previously, for being close to me in age. I also identifited with Sarah Palin for that reason too, as well as for the way her life path has been similar to mine and to that of many women of our generation, who have "made it up" as we've gone along.

Will Obama be able to change anything or will he merely act as a servant, a quiet Jeeves, to a supra-national capitalist class that is above any national control? Maybe, but I want to believe that Obama's position as President holds power and that he has power in grassroots support. Am I naive?

I agree with those who say that the true Kingdom is built far away from centers of political power. Any thoughts on where we begin or have begun? I ask that because I think when people make those kinds of statements, they can be abstract and others might not know what exactly is being talking about. What are we talking about?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sacred Compass 6: Helping others and following God

At the end of the Sacred Compass, J. Brent Bill's book about discerning and following the will of God, he urges us to help others on their journeys of discernment. In good Quaker tradition, Brent shows that we need to use our wisdom not to tell people what to do but to help them discover for themselves what God is calling them to do. When we help others discern their leadings from God, we have to carefully listen to our own leadings. If God is telling us insistently to say something to another person, we should do it, even if it makes us uncomfortable. But more often, we need to follow the leading that tells us to keep our mouths shut and listen deeply.

Brent discusses Quaker clearness committees as a way to help discernment. Normally, a person seeking clarity about a leading will call a clearness committee, composed of a few trusted people, who will listen to what the person has to say and ask questions that help the person explore the leading more fully. The idea is not to tell the person what to do, but to support the discernment process.

In the last chapter, Brent talks about obeying God. At its core, following a leading is obeying God, even when you don't understand why you are being asked to do so. Following leadings means trusting the voice of God in your life even when it doesn't make sense.

I struggled for a time with the idea that loving God means more than "having a good feeling" toward God. When I recognized that loving God means obeying God, I recoiled. Obedience was a word I associated with following orders blindly and acquiescing to structures of power because you have no choice. Obedience in my mind was what led to death camps and to people violating their moral precepts to "follow orders." I also associated it with capitulating to the will of a charismatic but twisted leader.

As I continued to read the Bible, however, I discovered that obeying God means something completely different. As usual, Jesus is subverting the language and ways of the world. In the 13th through 17th chapters of the gospel of John the obedience that Jesus stresses is not the same as the world's obedience. Jesus' obedience is surrounded by and saturated with love. It's a free choice: you don't have to obey, but you choose to do so because of the great love and trust you have. You follow because you want to. The closest analogy, as many have pointed out, is a human love relationship. We follow our beloveds to places outside our comfort zone because we want we to be near them and we want to please them. We may not want to do the particular tasks in question, but being close to the beloved is so important, so beneficial and so treasured that anything we do for the beloved is worth the price.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blenheim Palace and Ham House

In my blog. "Take Heed of Greed," I mentioned Blenheim Palace and Ham House as typical of the type of excess Geroge Fox and other early Quakers might have reacted against. Actually, Blenheim Palace, above, was built circa 1710, so George Fox would not have seen it, as he had died about 20 years earlier. However, many of his younger contemporaries probably would have been aware of it. Ham House, the brick building at the top, was built circa 1610. What do you think? Blenheim Palace is really quite the "pile," (an example of wretched excess) as they used to say, right?

I have to repeat the question, as I think it's THE question: is the covetousness these houses represent inevitable? Can people learn to see them as prisons rather than palaces? How?

Take heed of greed

"And covetousness, which is idolatry ..." (Colossians 3:5)

"And take heed of greediness and earthly mindedness, and covetousness, which the apostle called idolatry; for it is a great spot and blot of the world that lieth in wickedness."

From "Mind the Heavenly Treasure," which offers thoughts of George Fox for every day of the year. This one is for Nov. 15.

Having just witnessed the economic meltdown, attributable mostly to greed, I find Fox's words especially relevant. In fact, having lived for a year in England and been stunned at the size and granduer of some of the great houses, I would have to say greed is a recurrent phenomenom and something which connects us with the earliest Quakers.

Two houses stand out in my mind: the first is Blenheim Palace, home of the Dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill. I had never seen a place so overwhelmingly grand in my life, not only huge but set like a jewel on thousands of acres of stunningly beautiful English countryside. I remember how huge the rooms were, how tall the ceilings, how everything was on an almost non-human scale. It was somewhat like the palace Charlie Chaplin lives in in the Great Dictator. I remember having a visceral sense of the class system, and I would argue we really have nothing comparable to this home in the United States (or didn't). I also had a sudden realization: Winston Churchill came from the highest of rarified circles. I had a sense of the huge gulf between people like him and people like me. In essence, the palace did what I imagine it was intended to do: it made me feel small and insignificant.

The other great house that struck me was Ham House, located in or near London. It's a much smaller house, more on the scale of grand houses I've seen in the U.S., and growth has surrounded it, so it's not set in the midst of vast acreage. What struck me was the silver everywhere. Because of colonial plunders, the family which owned Ham House had vast amounts of silver. To preserve it, they melted it and had it made into big tables, in part to make the silver difficult to steal. So in the midst of, in the 20th century, a still relatively low standard of living, sat these vastly wasteful tables. I almost couldn't get over it.

Now that I'm a Quaker, it strikes me that both these house were built (or begun) in the late seventeenth century (I will check this out). So Fox and his followers would have seen these monuments to greed in the midst of great poverty. And they would have seen a concentration of wealth making ordinary people feel small. Thinking about this, it's easy to see why they pushed so hard for addressing people as equals and for equality itself.

But let's not dwell on the past. If we heed Fox's advice, how do we steer clear of greed and covetousness. Do we simply have to accept it as inevitable?

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I've spent the last days processing the Presidential election.

I've mostly stayed out of politics in my adult life. I have too many friends across the political spectrum who are sincere, compassionate, thoughtful, intelligent and good people who want with all their hearts to make the world a better place for me to say that my poltical way is the only way. In fact, I've found that regardless of political orientation, most of us have almost identical goals --peace, strong families, prosperity, social justice, caring communities -- but simply believe different paths will get us there faster and more fully. When I understood that, I could no longer hang on to a "my way or no way" political partisanship. (As an aside, it's interesting to note that some of the people I know who are the fiercest advocates of all religions representing different paths up the same mountain would never, ever extend that tolerance or inclusive point of view to people of a different political party or persuasion.)

Despite my apolitical predilection, I got involved in this election, working as a volunteer for the Obama campaign even though I disagreed with him on several issues. I attended training sessions, made phone calls and knocked on doors, asking people to vote for Obama. This is everything I don't like to do. I also don't like to be identified with one politcial party or the other, because I dislike the stereotypes that are associated with party affiliation. I'd rather not be hated or misunderstood over something, that in the end, isn't that important. (Again, this makes me the flip side of people I know who militantly identify with one poltical party but don't want to alienate anybody by adopting a religious affiliation.)

I was not an Obama supporter initially. But even before the economic meltdown, this election seemed to matter more than most. Perhaps, for me, it was simply moving to Ohio that made the difference.

I was grateful when Obama won the election. And when Obama won Ohio, the people I was watching the returns with burst into applause.

I stayed up late to watch Obama's speech, because, as so many have pointed out, this was a historic moment.

I was a bit surprised, however, when the next day all the papers played up the election of the first black President. I'd almost forgotten Obama was black. For me, what made the election historic was the message from the voters that our country needs to head in a whole new direction.

As I watched the election drama, I was struck by the contrast between Obama's acceptance of the Presidency and Clinton's in 1992. I remember the Clintons and the Gores lined up on a makeshift stage together, smiling, holding up their arms and seeming overjoyed and connected to each other as "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" played in the background. The atmosphere was festive, triumphant and delighted.

In contrast, Obama seemed alone, even when his family was with him. And despite the much larger crowd, Obama appeared more somber than Clinton. Maybe it's the weight of the times we live in, and how bad things are, but Obama seemed on a different plane than other politicians, less frivolous, more conscious of the enormity of the task at hand. For that moment at least, he seemed like a great President, a transcendent President, a Lincoln, a Washington, a messianic figure who could lead us out of Egypt.

That's a lot of weight to carry. He's not a messiah, but how many Americans are pinning those kinds of hopes on him?

When, alerted by the newspapers I turned my attention to him as the first black President, I began to realize what a weight that is to bear, in and of itself. He and Michelle and their daughters already seem to be replacing Martin Luther King Jr. and his family as mythic figures in the black community. When I recognized the levels of reverence towards Obama and his family, I began to fear for him. I hope he will do everything he can do to protect himself.

And while I am trying not to expect too much, I hope he can rise to the occasion and become a great leader. And I continue to be glad to have borne witness to a joyful moment around the world. But what about you? Did you vote for Obama? Do you think Obama can bring the change we need?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sacred Compass: Getting Lost and Getting Surprised

(I started to title this post "Losses and surprises," then realized that losses can be quite different from getting lost.)

Near the end of Sacred Compass, Brent has two chapters on what we might call the darker side of leadings. In the chapter "The Dark Path," he discusses what happens when we feel lost and alone, with no idea where our spiritual compass wants us to head.

This is not necessarily bad, Brent says, and certainly not unsual. A period of seeming "lostness" can be part of the journey. It can grab our attention and cause us to scrutinize our lives more closely. It also can be the result of living in a fallen world, where many terrible things happen that are outside of our control. A sense of being lost also can lead us back to God and hope in his provision.

We can also be surprised when our leadings take us into unexpected places, as Brent describes the chapter "West of Eden." These surprises, Brent says, can tranform us and help us learn to trust more fully in God. Mary, for example, was surprised when an angel told her she was to bear God's child. That was not her expectation at all. But she trusted and was transformed.

All of this underscores that when we follow leadings, we are ceding control of our lives to God. We are not leading. God is leading. That means we open ourselves to hardships we might have avoided but also to blessings we might not have imagined. I know that in my life, there have been moments when, although I heard an inner voice saying, be patient, wait, hold steady, don't act, I've felt that no, I can't wait, I need help now, I have to take matters into my own hands, now is the moment to panick. That's always been a mistake, and I now more faithfully heed the inner guide.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Night terrors and peace

Reading last week about banks getting government bailout money to lend and choosing not to lend it gave me the terrors.

At first, this little story merely me made me unhappy. If the problem in our economy is frozen credit, I thought, then we have to insist that the banks lend the money out. That money is not for the personal good of a group of bankers, but for the common good.

That night, I jolted awake with a night terror: What if the banks kept hoarding and not lending the money ... and the U.S. government, like Iceland, went broke? And chaos ensued and it was like Germany after World War I and we were wheelbarrowing our almost worthless dollars to the grocery store for a loaf of bread and skinheads took over and everything turned into an apocalypse, with no services, no health care, no food, people racing around the countryside with guns ... I was horrified that life as we know it might end. I had an inkling of what it must have felt like to be an early Quaker, with cataclysmic events such as a civil war and the beheading of a monarch, going on around you, upending the world you had always known. I found myself praying ---praying!!!--for nothing worse than a nice, orderly Great Depression. No, no, I thought, I'm not ready for the apocalypse.

Such are the night terrors. They tend to cast a pall on the day time routine as well. I worried.

But this past Sunday, at Stillwater meeting, I had a very strong sense of the presence of God. There is a humble, grace-filled spirit in that meeting. It felt, on Sunday, as if Christ were among us. And I felt, very deeply, that everything was going to be all right. I felt as if God were telling me, with certainty: Don't worry. Everything is going to be OK.

I don't know what that means, but the deep serenity and peace I experienced stayed with me for days.

But we of little faith. I got shaken yesterday as I read the newest Religion Newswriters Association newsletter. Jobs in newspapers, which were already in horrible shape, are continuing to drop like flies. Religion reporters are taking buyouts without having other positions lined up. People with far more experience than I are unemployed. I felt a sense of terror. The whole newspaper industry as we knew it is more or less finished, I decided.

Then I leaned into my experience of God and put things into perspective. The newspaper industry has been in a long, slow collapse since 9/11 and perhaps the dire economy has accelerated the industry's demise, but there's nothing new in what's happening. I left my daily paper job a year ago because I saw the writing on the wall. This is not the end of the world, and while I will continue to freelance if opportunities arise, I will also turn my attention to other things. Part of the reason I left my newspaper job was a feeling of constraint, a desire to break out into other forms of writing or being. Now I may have no choice.

But I digress. My point is that I have a strong sense right now of living in two realities that are more sharply delineated than ever: the more superficial, false and changeable world of darkness and the deeper and more serene world of light. I wonder if others are having the same experience?

Advice time: health

Last week it was a stomach virus; now it's a sore throat/cold. This can't go on ... actually, my fear, as I listen to the wind howl around the house, is that it could on. And on and on. So please, offer me your best advice for preventing and treating winter illnesses! Is it vitamin C tea, ecichinea (sp?), oil of organo ... all of the above, none of the above or let's try something completely different ? ... and in these hard times, are there economical preventatives (I suppose all preventatives are inherently economical, but you know what I mean ...)

Thanks from someone with a very sore throat!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sacred Compass 4: From Brent Bill

Yesterday, I e-mailed J. Brent Bill about his book, Sacred Compass, because I feared being too critical and wanted to hear his point of view. If he were a superstar author or someone whose work I had profound problems with, I would simply state my issues. However, as Bill is a fellow Quaker, and I am more or less on the same page with him when it comes to leadings, I thought I would hear would he had to stay.

Here's part of what he wrote:

"I worried about that some folks might read it [Sacred Compass] as a "step-by-step" book and that was certainly not my intention. As I say in the beginning, this is no 1-2-3 steps to finding God's will. What I was trying to offer were the various ways we can use to uncover our leadings (journaling, walking, cleaning house, etc) which is why I invited so many friends to participate in sharing their ways of getting close to God and listening to the Spirit. Such as my friend Marcella's dancing. A way that would not have occured to me -- nor probably speak much to me. But it does to this delightful Quaker woman and helps her greatly.

I worried a lot about outlining the steps of sensing, waiting, and acting -- but then tried to stress it was not truly linear. That these are all stages that often intwine and weave into a pattern of discernment -- while we act, we sense and wait. And so on. My intention was to show that there are things we can all do in the various stages/movements of discernment and some will speak to us differently than they would other people. Writing works much better for me than dancing like Marcella would. And I suspect that the reverse is true -- though I know she journals as well."

There is a fundamental rhetorical problem in writing about leadings. They tend to be non-linear, not logical and unpredictable. In fact, they jar us into labeling them leadings BECAUSE of their seeming oddness. If God is telling us to eat breakfast in the morning (which he probably is), we won't see that as a leading, because it's normal, it's what we would do anyway. However, if we had an overwhelming feeling that instead of eating breakfast, we should go stand in the middle of the road and hold up a sign saying "Love God," we would probably identify that as a leading because it is such a bizarre and uncomfortable thought.

Yet books, especially explanatory books, are by their nature linear and logical. Their goal is to impart clarity and order, not confusion and chaos.

So how to capture the essence of a leading? Spiritual biography is one way. You can follow a narrative and watch one person's story unfold, thus seeing how a leading works itself out. The problem with that form is its particularity. You're left to yourself to draw conclusions. One person's experience of a leading may be so particular that you can't draw general principles from it. Or it may miss a piece of the overall leading puzzle.

Another way is for the writer to strain to create a language to convey difficult concepts (for example, when Thomas Kelly refers to Jesus as the "hound from heaven" in Testament of Devotion, he's using unconventional terminology to convey his experience), but that can lose people in the process, especially people at the beginning of a journey.

Of course, the answer is that we need to read in multiple genres to get a full sense of what a leading is. Brent's book, he said, is aimed at non-Quakers, and is a good introduction to a way of understanding God's work in the world that may not be familar to people from other faith traditions.

I want to go a little bit afield and ask what spiritual writings have most moved you or what type of writing works best for you?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sacred Compass 3: Testing our leadings

Many years ago I saw a newsmagazine program about a young tent revival preacher. During the interview, he stated that God was telling him to raise donations so he could go the Bahamas in February.

It's hard not to laugh at such a "leading." (A leading is a Quaker term for what we believe God is telling us to do.) "God wanting me to go to the Bahamas in February" sounds just a tad like using God to justify our own self-indulgence.

In chapter 3 of Sacred Compass, J. Brent Bill discusses this all-important question: how do we know if our leadings are the voice of God or own desires masquerading as God's will? How do we tell the difference?

In what he calls "sensing lab experiments," Bill offers a series of questions to test our leadings: is the leading clear (can you put it into words)?, is it compelling (can you not not do it?), does it fit your life, will it change you, and does it come from God's love? As you ask these questions, you sift through your thoughts to try to get rid of what comes from ego or self-will. Part of sifting is waiting.

Interestingly, Bill writes that we can sift with our bodies as well as our minds. If what God leads us to do will be holy, then what does holiness look like, smell like, sound like, taste like? Is our leading congruent with that?

A fundamental problem with Bill's book is that while he's doing the good work of trying to draw a rational box around leadings and lead us through a step-by-step process of discernment, leadings have a wild, unpredictable quality that defies logic. Sometimes leadings don't "fit our lives." Sometimes they will seem, on the surface, to hurt people in our lives. Often I know a leading is a leading simply because it's not comfortable for me, but is a persistent thought that won't go away even though I keep trying to dismiss it because it doesn't "make sense." Thus, I found the best of Bill's queries on leadings to be "does it come from God's love?" Anything that arises from love of God or love of others is probably pretty close to a leading.

Unsaid, but so important in discerning if leadings are from God is the spiritual preparation work --prayer, listening for God in the silence, participating in and building spiritual community--that allows us to "hear" more clearly if a voice in our heads is from God. I have been with people who insist that what is clearly self-will is God's will. (I am sure I have been that person too.) Usually, in my experience, people who insist that self-will is a leading haven't done the spiritual work to discern the difference. This gets us back to waiting ... often what we call waiting is simply building up our spiritual muscles.

Finally, as Bill points out, we test a leading by acting on it. We live in a confused, messed-up world. In the end, we step out on faith.

I have followed leadings in my life, sometimes without knowing I was doing so, and marvelous things have happened that I could never have predicted. My life has been changed and enriched in ways that have left me amazed. In my darkest moments of doubt, I can lean into the real, lived experiences I have had of God's presence in my life (I suppose there is the off chance that is all "coincidence," but it's my rational mind that rejects that) and invariably my faith floods back. Do you have similar experiences of following God's leadings?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

blogging and silence

It's been more than a week since I blogged, and I realize that my stated goal of blogging five days a week isn't always going to happen. I could give a lot of reasons why I haven't blogged lately and they'd all be true -- a stomach virus that knocked me out for two days last week, unexpected trips to Cleveland and Fallingwater, traveling to look at colleges with Sophie, my "depression" over the looming Depression ... oops, I meant "long, deep recession..." but these reasons don't entirely capture why I haven't been blogging. They're simply, as people like to say, diversions.

Really, I haven't blogged in a week because I've needed to be silent. Perhaps it's the Quaker in me. Do others have this experience of needing to be still? Of needing to listen? Of needing to process?

That being said, I do plan to pick up the blogging this week!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sacred Compass 2: let your lives speak

Chapter two of Sacred Compass, Quaker J. Brent Bill's book about spiritual discernment, focuses on the Quaker concept of "letting your life speak." In the wider community, we might use the terms "actions speak louder than words" or "walk the walk, don't talk the talk."

Certainly a central tenet of Quakerism is that salvation is more than reciting a creed. To Quakers, how you behave in the world is of utmost significance. This reflects Jesus' statement that many who call him "Lord, Lord" and yet don't follow his teachings will not find their way to the kingdom of heaven.

Brent outlines some ways we can learn to let our lives speak. Most of them involve plugging into our intuitive, rather than our rational, selves. We let our lives speak by learning to be attentive to the signals we receive from our bodies: what are our bodies drawn towards? What makes us tense up? We also learn how to let our lives speak through our stories, our imaginations, our inclinations, our dreams and our opportunties. Essentially, Bill seems to be saying, don't let your head and intellect rule you, but develop a sensitiity to other cues that may be leading you closer to God.

When we are alert to what we are hearing about how God means us to lead our lives, we start to live more authentically and our lives become more congruent with God's will. We speak to the world more from the heart and more through our everyday activities. We listen to God all the time and adjust our smallest actions to reflect our sensitivity to God's compass. We become more like the great spiritual leaders in history in that we are more patient, we pray more, our spirits become more generous and we come to love the (seemingly) unlovely.

The phrase "letting our lives speak" can become an other-focused activity in which we attempt to arrange ourselves outwardly so that we look good to our peers. This can become dangerous, both in that we can become more focused on pleasing others than on pleasing God and because people who may not have a very deep spiritual center can learn how to arrange themselves to look like "patterns" of goodness. It can be very difficult to discern who is a "pattern," because we don't where people have been or how far they have come in their journey,

So I like Bill's focus on getting "letting our lives speak" through getting our internal houses in order. If we focus on aligning ourselves with God and responding to his promptings, our lives will speak to others without our having to worry about it.

Have people's lives spoken to you? How?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Financial crisis and end times

If we have to have an economic crisis, I'm glad it happened under the most pro-free market administration I can ever remember (more so even than under Reagan, who at least was hands off about Social Security). This is good, because when a Treasury Secretary like Paulson, former chairman or CEO (let's just say bigwig) of Goldman Sachs says we have to nationalize the banks, we can't accuse him of having a secret socialist agenda. He has a huge amount of credibility. Likewise, when free market Bush comes on the air and pleads with us to support the $700 billion government bailout, we know the crisis must be serious. So I'm grateful this happened now, because if this administration is calling for a high level of government and coordinated international intervention, there can be no doubt it's needed.

I have stopped listening to Christian radio, but about a decade ago I listened to it a lot (and I learned a lot) but much of it was also ... let's say, questionable. One repeated theme was about the end times, and one of the signs of the end times was "one world government." Mostly, this warning was aimed at the EC or the UN, each of which was seen as a sign of the beast, etc. etc. Now I will say up front, that I think this line of thinking is, to put it mildly, dubious. I never saw Satan in the EU or the UN. Frankly, they both seem like good ideas to my feeble mind. But the thought has certainly crossed my mind in the past days: what of this coordinated international effort to deal with the financial crisis? Isn't that much more like "one world government" than either the EU or the UN? It's definitely the powers of the "world" coming together: the representatives of what we think of us the world's power --money and military might -- as opposed to the power of the gospel -- love, renunciation, sacrifice, non-violence, gentleness, kindness, patience, faith, etc. Now, I am not one to worry about end times, but I am wondering if anybody has heard a peep about this on Christian radio?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Financial crisis and silence

A few days ago, I was sitting in the doctor's office, waiting for Sophie to come out of an appointment. As usual, I was perusing magazines. I flipped through a Vogue and then through a Martha Stewart Living, and then I had to put them both aside. While I usually channel Jane Austen and derive a great deal of amusement out of the vanities and foibles of the human race, I realized I was too heartsick to enjoy the articles. I was heartsick because of the financial crisis. It's hard to laugh at remodeling your home into a Shaker cottage for a vast amount of money or at panicked urgings to get "preventive" plastic surgery when you're 50 "at the latest," when all the money that supported such folly seems to have suddenly disappeared.

An odd thing about this crisis is that nobody, at least in my world, seems to be talking about it. I keep wondering why. The stock market is plunging, the credit market is frozen, we're meeting lows we haven't since 1931 (not a good year for finance), such as six consecutive days of larger than one percent losses on the stock exchange, and locally, the newspaper reports the layoff of 800 steelworkers near Wheeling, an area that can scarcely afford one layoff ... and everyone is silent. Occasionally, someone will make a passing joke about nobody having any assets anymore, but as far as sustained conversation ... it's as if the crisis didn't exist. It's like being caught in one of those 1930s movies where no hint of catastrophe exists. But this is real life.

Is it, as one columnist put it, that we're at the moment before the tsunami wave hits when everything gets still? Is it that life as usual is going on as usual in most of our worlds? Are we still somehow hoping the crisis will go away? (I know I am but I also know it probably won't.) Or are many of us feeling secure enough in our jobs or situations that it's really not a worry? Or are we too fearful to open our mouths? Or too busy calculating our worst case scenario? Is it something we have to ignore like a terrible faux pas, like someone spitting out a glob of chewed up food at a formal dinner? Or is that we just don't know what to say, because we don't know exactly how the wave isn't going to hit? Ot is it just massive denial or incomprehension that life as we know it really could change?

Maybe, as Sarah Palin would say, it's all of the above. But I find it strange that it seems socially unacceptable to discuss what appears to be a worldwide catastrophe.

I'm wondering what everybody else thinks. Are people talking about the crisis in your world? What are you thinking about it? Are you making any lifestyle changes? But of course, this is inviting a discussion about ... that which won't be named.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Visit to an Amish House, 1

On Friday, I visited an Amish farm. I was quite excited to go.

The farm was a few miles from where I live, off a narrow, gravel road and down a windy, rutty driveway into a hollow.

My first thought was "this isn't the 19th century, it's the 18th century."

Before us was a white frame farmhouse with a cow and dozens of red chickens strutting around in the foresty front yard. It reminded me of the Kiera Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, in which pigs and poultry live outside the Bennet's door. I saw a black buggy tucked near the side of an outbuilding.

We met "Sara" and her son. Sara wore a long, light blue workdress, black work boots, and spoke with what sounded like a German accent. She was very kind. She showed us pears she had ripening between two blankets in her living room. One variety will become pear butter; the other will be preserved. The room also held a woodburning stove and a single bed with a quilt.

In her kitchen/dining room she had a long, narrow dining room table covered with a plastic tablecloth. I remember an enamel sink. Under the windows along the wall overlooking the front yard, she had shelves filled with empty glass canning jars. The walls of both rooms were bare, as you would expect, except for hooks for hanging clothes and implements. The walls were painted sky blue and white. Everything was very still and serene.

While there, I was struck by two things. The first that I was talking to a woman who really could have been transported straight from the 18th century. She may never have seen television or driven in a car. The difference between her, and say, a Jane Austen character, however, is that she would be aware of cars and television and other forms of technology.

The second was a flash I had, one of those moments of opening, when you really, truly see how excessively we "English" live. I don't want to idealize the Amish, and as people tell me, and I agree, I wouldn't --or couldn't-- live as they do. I'm a creature of my culture and moving to a technologically primitive farm life would be painful and difficult for me. That's not to say it wouldn't be "better" (how do I know?) but I imagine that, like one of those children raised by wolves or dolphins, I couldn't, at my age, make the transition. That said, I had my flash, standing in that simple, unadorned home, of how we overload our homes with stuff. No wonder there's an epidemic of obesity (aside, of course, from the glut of food). Our homes are filled with plush, upholstered sofas and armchairs, thick carpets, remote controls, every convenience that would encourage us to loll around being inactive. With its pears and canning jars lined up as if she were running an apothecary shop, Sara's home, in contrast, was a workplace. There was nothing upholstered, no entertainment center. It was a place to work, to eat, and to sleep. Quiet though it was, it seemed more a center of a life than perhaps many of our homes do. It seemed idyllic. It seemed like a miracle that such a place and such people still exist.

Anyway, I thought of those high Victorian rooms you see in photos or sometimes reproduced in museums, where every inch of space is covered in patterned wallpaper, tasselled pillows, and dozens of pieces of bric-a-brac crowded onto every conceivable surface. The rooms are so overstuffed and overdone you can want to throw up. And for just a second, I saw that perhaps we live the same way. That we do live the same way.

I had a similar flash about six years ago. (These flashes, which stick with me, seem to be places where the Eternal breaks through to critique the Now.) It was raining and the kids had to go to school. I began a frantic search for the boys' hooded raincoats, recently purchased. I found jackets, coats and sweaters of every conceivable sort hanging on hooks, on hangars, even crumpled into backpacks, but no raincoats. And I had that flash that we are drowning in such excess that it becomes a form of deprivation. You can't find what you need. You replace order with chaos. I say this, too, knowing we were hardly the most high consumption family in the neighborhood. We were trying to live simply.

While I can't realistically conceive of living exactly as the Amish do, I admire them for putting God at the center of their lives. I see them as patterns, not to be slavishly followed, but from whom we can learn. And I feel grateful to William Penn for opening up this country to them.

Visit to an Amish House 2

As I reflect on my visit to the Amish house, I think about how little the Amish -- especially the more conservative Amish, such as those who live here -- are likely to be ruffled by the current financial meltdown. They don't buy health insurance, so they don't have to worry about losing it. Their jobs, mainly in farming, will continue. They don't go into debt. You can't imagine an Amish person having signed a subprime mortgage. They haven't participated in the frenzy of overconsumption that has seized mainstream America, so are not going to be convulsed by having to cut back on designer clothes and expensive meals out. They will go on spending much as they have. They are not likely to contribute to the breakdown of the American economy by suddenly putting the brakes on consumption. I can envision their lives continuing placidly, much as they always have, connected to the Eternal. Those who earn their living through tourism and more interaction with the outer world may face some contraction, but I wonder how severe it will be.

I tried to research the Amish and the Great Depression on the Web to see how they fared during that period, but came away with very little: One site claimed the Amish were unaffected by the economic turmoil of the 1930s, while another site said that some Amish were forced to take jobs outside the confines of their community to survive the Depression, with some even driving trucks. That was what I could discover.

As for now, I am glad they are growing in numbers at much faster pace than the population as a whole. If there was ever a time we needed an example of simple living and community self-help, this is it.

I was a bit stunned to read in the New York Times today the that the $700 billion bailout is a mere "pebble" flung into an ocean of crisis. Wasn't the bailout supposed to be what was needed, immediately, to solve this financial situation? Now, we learn, it will take at least a month to set up the framework for the bailout and that the bailout will not solve the current problem of the seized-up credit markets. So if the frozen credit markets are the current pressing problem, and the bailout is a more long-term solution, what IS the answer to the current crisis? All I have heard is that Fed needs to lower interest rates. I hope the Fed will do that, if it's important, but is that it? Is that the short-term answer? Is the Great Recession (since was are assured it will NOT be the Great Depression) inevitably here in all it's unmitigated force? Was there really nothing to be done? Could all the banks decide to take a big, gulping breath and start lending money to each other again? Isn't commerce supposed to be about risk? (Since I wrote this, I read the Fed is moving to buy up short term loans.)

As I contemplated all this economic turmoil, not without some worry, it struck me that I was putting my faith in money to solve this problem ... and all future problems, such as my retirement and that of my friends and neighbors. And, of course, the real underlying issue is spiritual. We need to get our spiritual house in order. This really is about greed and lack of trust. We could truly transcend the crisis if we could work together out of religious conviction to build a nation for the good of all.

The answer is not 700 billion dollars but 700 billion fervent prayers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Words of George Fox, 2

For Oct.1:

"Keep out of the restless, discontented, disquieted spirit of the world about government: for you know it has always been our way to seek the good of all, and to live peaceably under the government, and to seek their eternal good, peace and happiness in the Lord Jesus Christ."

From "Mind the Heavenly Treasure," compiled by Gary Bowell

The Bible verse that accompanies this in the text: "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men." Galatians, 6:10.

I particularly like "it has always been our way to seek the good of all." I think this is at the heart of Quakerism, not to mention Christianity ("let us do good to all men."). But what of keeping out of the "disquieted spirit of the world about government?" Does that contradict the notion of trying to influence politics ? Or does it simply mean we should try to influence politics out of deeply-centered, quiet and loving spirit?

The Pumpkin festival and more

This past week has been a busy one here in Barnesville. I baked lots of pumpkin bread in the Olney school kitchens for the Olney senior class to sell at the Pumpkin festival. I got to know Quaker Richard Simon better as we worked side-by-side mixing dough and scooping pumpkin bread batter into cake tins. He is an amazing man, who goes from dawn to dusk (literally) baking for the school before and during the festival. Cleda, the alumni liaison, is no slouch herself, working for hours on end to supervise, organize and bake.

The Pumpkin Festival is Barnesville's biggest annual event. People come from all over for the food, including slicse of $2 pumpkin pie, as well as the carnival rides and, of course, the weighing of the pumpkins. This year, King Pumpkin weighed 1,175 pounds. And don't forget the tobacco spitting contest.

I liked the way the festival, rides and all, was woven right into Main Street and the other major streets of the town. I'd never been to a fair of this sort that wasn't exiled to a field on the outskirts (or far outside) of the town holding it. I think it must be great for residents to stroll up the street and be part of the festival. On the other hands, I'm told some people leave town for the duration.

I helped sell pumpkin bread in the Olney booth, helped with the Barnesville historical society's book sale (hardcovers 50¢; paperbacks a quarter), manned the Obama booth, and I marched with the Obama float in the parade, handing out literature, so I felt very involved during the festival. I've never participated in a political campaign before. (How many times have I said, over the phone, 'This is Diane, a volunteer with Barack Obama's campaign for change here in Belmont County?')

So Republican friends, don't hate me! I'm really not a politcal animal. I don't like the way politics divides and alienates people. I know thoughtful, caring and intelligent people belong to both parties and hold the same values of wanting to make the world a safer, more compassionate and more justice-filled place. And idealist friends, I know Obama is not the perfect candidate, but I am in a state where votes count, and I do believe the country needs a change of direction. So there it is, my one and only (I hope) political speech.

Tomorrow I go to an Amish farm to get milk! I can't imagine having the opportunity to do this in Columbia, and I am very much looking forward to it.

I've also picked apples in the school apple orchard last week, and peaches from neighbors Fran Taber's orchard. Have I mentioned I am enjoying the rural life?

Tomorrow, Johanna comes with the boys' friends Elvin and Phlip to visit for the boys' 14th birthday. I'm very happy to be seeing friends from home!

Of course, life is not perfect, but I won't dwell on the various vexations.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Words of George Fox, 1

Sunday, several Friends from Ohio Yearly Meeting came to Olney and gave some students and faculty a book of daily devotional readings from the writings of George Fox, Quakerism's main founder.

Here's the Fox quote for today, September 29 (or in Quaker parlance, ninth month, 29):

"Keep in the cross of Christ, the power of God, that keeps you crucified to the world, that is dead to the world, and the world dead and crucified to you: for if you do not keep in this power of God, which was before the world and its god was, to keep you crucified to the world, but let in the spirit of the world, you let in its god, which will crucify the good in you."

From Mind the Heavenly Treasure, compiled by Gary Boswell

Any thoughts?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Sacred Compass

I am reading Quaker J. Brent Bill's The Sacred Compass, the book we are using this year in our spiritual formation group at Stillwater Meeting.

Bill's compass image is a variation on the oft-repeated claim that "God has a plan for your life." Bill softens the idea of a rigid "plan" or map that tells you to go .8 miles, then take a left turn, etc. by likening God's influence in one's life to that of a compass, which is a more imprecise tool. If we follow our sacred compass, which is the Holy Spirit, we will be led by God in the right direction, but not necessarily along a predetermined path to a precise point. Instead, we will have to keep using the compass and recalibrating as we go. The implication is that we will be more engaged in a journey that is more open-ended than if we had a detailed map, though the goal is to end up where God leads.

In chapter 1, Bill explains the Quaker concept of the "way opening," which is the idea that God is revealing his will to us, and that if we trust it and follow it, obstacles will fade away. Key to the concept of way opening is waiting for God's guidance, often constructed as not getting "ahead" of where you are being led. The idea is to take a step in trust, then to stop and wait to hear what the next step will be, rather than assuming that if step A is here, then step B "must" be there. "Part of following way opening is learning to be less hasty," Bill writes.

The central conceit or metaphor in this chapter is that those of us following the sacred compass --trying to discern God's will ---are pilgrims, (which I imagine means 'not tourists'). To me, a tourist would be traveling through a place superficially, looking for pleasure and novelty whereas a pilgrm would be journeying to a destination where he or she hopes to find healing, redemption or revelation.

Brent lists characteristics of a pilgrim: Pilgrims learn from other pilgrims (often spiritual leaders from history); pilgrims can take many paths (Bill quotes Proverbs: "In all ways acknowledge him and He shall direct thy paths" (not path); pilgrims live with imagination, trust in God, pray, keep moving, see God in the details and travel in community with other pilgrims. The key idea is that God is present and active in our daily lives and that we can directly access and be guided by him.

Much of this chapter will be very familiar to Quakers.

I'm interested to see what else Bill has to say and to compare his understanding of following the Holy Spirit (or sacred compass) with the idea that rather than being focused solely on God's plan (or plans) for us, we should be looking around the world to see where God is at work and to join God in that work.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Convergence: Is "inclusiveness" the model?

C. Wess Daniel wrote a blog comment responding to my assertion that the central issue facing Quakerism is how to reconcile inclusivity with maintaining a strong core faith. He said: "So, we don't have to adhere to the terms of the debate if they are going to be locked into a question of inclusiveness. It's my contention that this question is one stemming from those still clinging to modern-liberalism, trying to rescue some kind of hegemony based in sameness rather than celebrating difference the way the postmodern does. "

I agree that modernism does try to impose a hegemony based on sameness. Modernism, in texts written primarily by white English and American males from a handful of elite universities in the early and mid parts of the last century, tried to boil the "major religions" down to a common denominator of universal assumptions. This was done for good reason: if religions could find a common ground, perhaps they would stop fighting. Of course, what happened by those embracing universalism was the creation of superficial, bland and homogenized spiritualism. Most of us, once we get past the aha moment of "all religions have a lot of common ethics" or "all religions practice the golden rule," or "Wow, Buddha sounds a lot like Christ," long for something deeper and more emotionally and intellectually satisfying. That means delving deeply into one faith tradition and struggling with its story -- and its otherness.

If we could just throw aside the question of inclusiveness and truly honor diversity by accepting that Quakerism has a particular history within the Christian tradition, then struggling with inclusivity versus faith would not be THE issue. However, Quakerism (at least liberal Quakerism) is mired in modernism. It's stuck there like an old-fashioned broken record, repeating the following worn ideas over and over: "All religions are different ways of expressing the same truth. All religions are different paths up the same mountain. We can incorporate all religions into one melting pot."

As long as a modernist notion of inclusivism is foundational to how Quakers think, we are going to have to struggle with how inclusivity dilutes the faith. One of the problems I see is that many Quakers don't perceive their worldview as modernist. It simply seems normative and true, a corrective to all the false notions of the past. They don't see themselves as caught in a particular and subjective historical moment. They don't see their concept that "all religions are the same" as the end result of a limited system of Enlightenment thinking that believes that scientific rationalism alone leads to truth and thus excludes as "irrational" diversities that don't support its presuppositions. Modernists can't stand outside the box of rationalism and critique rationalism itself. "All religions are different paths up the same mountain" is such a self-evident truth to some Quakers (despite being an immensely shaky metaphor) that they become frustrated with any challenge to it and sometimes believe that people who hold to other beliefs are ignorant or have an agenda. They believe they are straining out the impurities and superstitions within their faith tradition to produce what is clear, true and beautiful.

Religion in the world today struggles against a modernism that wants to control it and emphasize religions' universality at the expense of the different faith traditions' diversities. Many people of faith want what has made their particular faith distinct to be upheld and not softened, even if these marks of distinction are difficult for the modern mind to accept.

I have seen several house churches deal with the problem of Enlightenment thought by not accepting any doctrine that might be tainted by it. Usually this means basing the church's theology only on texts produced prior to 1700. That's a method to ensure a certain type of purity, just as accepting only those parts of a religion that are "universal" is, but it's also a wilfull distortion of the past 300 years of history just as much as Quaker universalism is a distortion of the pre-Enlightenment thought patterns of Quakerism's founders. Thus, I don't believe it's fruitful merely to ignore the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking has helped us differentiate between superstition and faith, tall tales and miracle, bigotry and fair assessment of differences. We need instead to critique where the Enlightenment has fallen short. Many would say in an inability to appreciate miracle, mystery and passion.

Liberal Quakerism has repeatedly made the decision to include the hyphenated Quaker: the Quaker-pagan, Quaker-Wiccan, Quaker-nontheist, Quaker-Jew, Quaker-Buddhist and in the process of helping all these people to feel comfortable has repeatedly chosen to deny the particular miracles and mysteries at the heart of the faith and has justified doing so on the basis of Quakerism's non-creedal history. The problem is that this emptying of the particulars of the faith narrative--of tranforming a (tranformative) story that we can participate in and argue with to a series of dispassionate testimonies describing abstract ideas--equality, peace, integrity, etc.--has left people hungry and empty, longing for something more.

None of this is new stuff but it leads me back to a question that is not abstract at all to me, but something I anguish over: how do I love and cherish and respect the non-Christian Quaker I share a pew with while loving, cherishing and respecting the Christian story and particularities that are of the heart of Quakerism? Therefore, I end up agreeing with Daniel that Convergence needs to define itself in ways other than through inclusivity. But how is that going to happen?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If Emergent is dead, what about Convergent?

Have the terms emerging church and emergent become so sullied and distorted they're no longer useful, Scot McKnight asks in a Sept. 24 blog at Jesus Creed?

Here's what Scot says:

"Full circle: like “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” the words “emerging” and “emergent” have become a liability; it has become a term that needs ten minutes of explanation before it can be used. Many are just confused about the meaning of the term. Then two fellas wrote a book that dramatized it all, contending that they were not emerging when by all accounts they should be. Well, I said to myself, this just proves that the term no longer makes sense.

So, for the last year and a half I have spent far too much time explaining the terms “emerging” and “emergent” and I’m tired of it. I don’t need either one to describe what is going on anyway."

Scot continues by describing a new movement he's starting with Dan Kimball as missional-evangelical-evangelism for a postmodern generation.

October, coming up fast, is "Convergent month." Convergent is a term that combines Conservative Friends (Christ-centered Friends doing silent worship) with emergent Christianity. The emergent or emerging church (Emergent is actually a subset of emerging, just to make things more confusing) is a big umbrella, but it includes people yearning for a deeper, more authentic and more lived faith, for relationship and community to be near the core of the faith and for a questioning of the pat answers often supplied to faith questions. Often, but not always, emerging means not having your faith defined by your politics and, as an extension of that, reaching out across denominational lines to embrace ecumenicalism.

Martin Kelly, certainly a prominent Convergent figure, thinks I'm Convergent because of the way I've woven together my Christ-centeredness with Quakerism and the emerging church. I don't know if I'm Convergent. I do know I am a Christ-centered Quaker.

In my brushes with Convergent, I've seen in Convergents a strong yearning for a deeper and more authentic faith experience and a yearning for deeper relationship with like-minded people. I've seen an attraction to a more robust Christianity than many liberal meetings provide and an impatience with the boxes that some Quakers try to keep Quakerism in. I've seen a desire to reach out and cross denominational chasms, and to cross ecumenical chasms as well. I haven't seen the same desire to cross political chasms, but I do sense an impatience with defining Quakerism in terms of political liberalism.

Emerging, because of the questions it asks, because it is seeker sensitive and because it challenges mainline evangelicalism, has been tainted with the "New Age" label. This, I believe, is unfair, in that all of the prominent emerging pastors I know of are devout Christians.

Convergent, however, does seem to attract people who are uncertain or even universalist. It doesn't, as far as I can tell, represent a wholly Christ-centered movement within Quakerism. A truly emergent (or emerging) Convergent would hunger to bring an authentic, early church Christianity back to the core of Quakerism. It would put Jesus at the center of Quakerism and show how the testimonies radiate out of his life, teachings and divinity. It wouldn't be afraid to embrace the crazy, improbable miracle of his resurrection.

A problem--perhaps THE problem--confronting both the emerging church and Christ-centered Quakerism--is how to be inclusive towards people who don't share the core beliefs without either alienating them or watering down the faith. I've certainly struggled with this because of the people I've met who are who are wonderfully caring, compassionate, humble and spiritual people but who are offended by the persecutions, misrepresentations, heavy-handedness, narrow-mindedness and judgmentalism of some Christians.

However, I fear that Quakerism is going to go away, as I fear many mainline Protestant denominations will and most non-demoninational churches, because they've elevated being conformed to the society over the faith. I believe that, unless all of these bodies start more firmly embracing their Christian core, they will die. What will be left standing are the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. I think these churches have much to offer, but I also think the world would be poorer without Quakerism and the many varieties of Protestantism.

When the early Quakers did away with the creeds, I don't think they were doing away with BELIEF in the creeds. I believe Fox, Pennington and others completely believed in a virgin-born, resurrected Jesus who sits at the right hand of God the father in heaven and will come again to judge the living and the dead. What they didn't believe in was what they saw: people asserting they were Christians because they went to church each week and recited a creed. They wanted to take away the creed as a crutch and then confront people with their need to LIVE the faith.

This won't make me popular, but I believe the starting place for Convergent would be in an embrace of the Richmond Declaration. That is a beautiful document that weaves together the cores beliefs of ancient church Christianity with core beliefs of Quakerism--the testimonies.

But if Convergent becomes just another flavor du jour of a shallow liberal Quakerism, it will fade like any fad.

Ghandi said there's no religion without sacrifice. Religion tells us we need to go beyond our own egos. Perhaps the chief sacrifice we need to make is to wildly embrace the core teachings of Christianity, even when they press the boundaries of our intellectual understanding. My experience is that by embracing the myseries at the core of Christianity and acting as if they were true, we open ourselves to miracle.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is blogging a taste of heaven? Or of hell?

Sometimes I think we get so addicted to blogging because it can be a taste of the kingdom of heaven. It can be a place where the best of our spirits meet with the best of kindred spirits across space and time. We learn from each other and support each other.

Sometimes blogs can be a taste of hell. I have been on blogs where horrible things are written and people are ganged up on and ridiculed in a vile way. I remember going on an emergent blog after pastor Mark Driscoll wrote his inflammatory blog about pastors' wives causing their husbands to stray by "letting themselves go" physically (with no mention that women are more than their looks) and about the need for male pastors "to stay away" from forward women who might "throw themselves" at the pastors. I was stunned that a 35 year old pastor (young!!) connected with what was once called an emergent church (I didn't realize that Driscoll had actually already disavowed emergent) would hold such a one-dimensional and fear-filled view of women. However, on the emergent church blog I went to for comfort, the males were jeering at the women who were upset by calling them "hairy armpit feminists." ... It was not a happy occasion for me. But then, stumbling around for support, I ended up at Scot McKnight's blog, which is a taste of heaven because it is a place of civility, compassion and intelligent discourse.

I struggle with the balance between cyber life and real life. Since the Driscoll affair, which took place at the end of 2006, I have entered blogdom, something I had deliberately avoided until then. I felt I needed to speak out about Driscoll, and then I became so taken with Scot's blog that I became a regular. It's been a way to "meet" wonderful people, enter a rich community and learn. I wouldn't trade it. Starting my own blog last spring has also been much more rewarding than I expected, because of entering into community and making new cyber-friends. I treasure the opportunity to be in conversation with people from all over the world and I treasure the kindness people have shown me.

However, my cyber-friend Regina is leaving blogdom and while that makes me sad, I can also understand why people do. I don't know exactly why Regina has made this decision, but I do see the dark side of blogging--and the Internet in general. I can get so absorbed in cyberspace that I am not present to my family or friends or to my physical environment. My son Will tells me that I can get "hypnotized" by the computer. And he's right. At times it can be as bad as any addictive drug. I can be as "out of it "in terms of my physical environment as any stoned heroin addict. The house can be covered in dust and clutter, my kids can be trying to talk to me, the cat can be meowing for dinner and I can be ... blogging. Fortunately, I don't do this all the time! And fortunately I am aware enough of my tendencies that I am intentional about carving out blocks on non-computer time. On the other hand, I will find myself going on the computer because I'm tired and the rest of the family ... is on the computer! They are playing computer games, surfing the web, checking out YouTube ... you name it. Or they're watching a DVD in the basement on the projector.

I found it liberating not to have Internet access at the house the first few weeks we were in Barnesville. It gave me time and space to focus on doing other things. It inspired our teenagers to suggest playing board games together. It was good. Sometimes I think I would like not to use the computer at home at all or even have a computer or any technology more advanced than a radio. However, I also realize that would be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water.

I realize that cyberspace connections are important, and I cherish them. The struggle is to maintain a balance. So I'm curious about how other people cope with the "heaven and hell" aspects of this medium.