Friday, May 30, 2008

Rod Parsley II

Yesterday I wrote that I thought Rod Parsley's beliefs, as expressed in the Washington Post, were inconsistent with my understanding of Jesus' teachings. Then I began to wonder if his views are being distorted and taken out of context, as Jeremiah Wright's view may have been.

I haven't yet googled Parsley. I had never heard of him, despite his 12,000 person megachurch and best-selling books.

I wish he didn't live in a million dollar, 7,000 square foot home, but at the same time, can I condemn him? Would I turn such a home down if I could have it? I hope I wouldn't want it. But then I look at how I struggle with moving to a smaller house in August. Part of me says smaller is better; part of me wants to hang on to the bigger and nicer. There's always that struggle between two worlds ...

I don't know about getting "off" on war ...the Bible seems clearly to condemn violence and look towards a peaceable kingdom. Psalm 5 says "bloodthirsty people are hateful to you Lord." But the Bible is filled with violence and with images of people like King David, roasting bulls and banging cymbals, dancing and exulting over military victory. I tend to think Jesus new version of kingship as nonviolent sacrifice wipes away the old model ... but I can't deny the old model is there.

I have been told (and have sometimes seen) that many people who have grown up in the chaos and dysfunction wrought by rapid social and economic change can thrive within the strict boundaries of more authoritarian churches. I have known some women who have flourished in fundamentalist environments. They saw their parents divorce and lead chaotic, impoverished, damaged lives, they saw their siblings struggle with addiction and single parenthood. Then these women were invited ... to church. At church, they found an alternative culture in which they could marry someone committed to marriage, have children, stay home with their children and be supported by a community that values marriage and motherhood and where there's no pressure to drink or use drugs. While the rules might be rigid and those out of bounds punished, inside the fold they have found a structure to pursue abundant life.

Mostly, I think God works through people like Parsley to bring other people to a true understanding of God. These other people will read the Bible, talk about it, think about it, pray about it, be informed by the Holy Spirit, and become true servants of God. And in doing so, they will reject a message of gross materialism and exultant violence.

On Tiredness

I went to my doctor Wednesday, complaining of fatigue. I think I need to go back on Armour, a thyroid med that's helped me in prior years, but it's out of fashion and I am now taking Sinthroid, which doesn't seem to work as well.

I went round the robin with my doctor, who said I had a "good" dose of Sinthroid: I "should" be fine. Am I sure I'm not depressed? I told her I think not and reminded her that the protocol is to exclude anything physical before addressing depression. Too many women who are physically ill get told their problems are in their heads.

She hastened to assure me she always followed protocol. The upshot is she's ordered a series of blood tests and a stress test. I meant to go get the testing done, but was too tired and groggy this morning to remember, one of the ironies of dealing with this syndrome!

I eat a healthy diet (I've lost 7 pounds) and exercise. I do have stress in my life with the move coming, but not excessive stress, and I do have good support systems in place. I have a good life and work I love. Most importantly, I have an underlying faith that keeps me from getting too panicked or worried.

Yesterday, Roger was home from work. I drank two cups of coffee and applied for some freelance work in the morning, then ran some errands. Roger and I had lunch at home, then went to Home Depot and the local Farmer's Market. When we pulled into the driveway at around 2:30, I could feel the exhaustion hitting. This was after a not terribly strenuous day! And why am I crashing ... I haven't had sugar or many carbs? Of course, I did miss exercise class ... and I drank morning coffee ...

A little after three, I crashed into a deep, exhausted sleep. (Again, I had hardly endured a difficult day). A little after five, I pulled myself up, knowing I needed to say goodbye to Roger and the boys as they left for a baseball game. I knew I needed to pull myself together to get Sophie from work and get the two of us to the game.

I tried hard to be alert but was irritable underneath because I was still sleepy. John Buck called urgently about rescheduling the camping trip. Mike called about e-mails and getting paid. I tried groggily to pray for patience and a line of energy. Sophie and I got to the game. It was a beautiful evening. We set up our chairs. I was a bit groggy, but managed to enjoy watching the boys get hits (I'm so proud of Nick's progress), and in Will's case, catching a ball for a double play. (He also hit a home run.) Sophie and I went out for coffee at a restaurant on Catonsville's main street, as I had promised her we would. (We ended up splitting shrimp quesadillas.)

I had a relaxing and enjoyable time out with Sophie. I was tired when we got home, but not in an irritable way, which was wonderful. At home, Roger started dealing with rearranging our camping trip (it's supposed to rain this weekend) and Susan Furth came over unexpectedly to drop off tents. I read to Will from his assigned school book, a fictional work about the Revolutionary War. And off to bed ...

I get frustrated with the tiredness, but remind myself that all sorts of people, from the apostle Paul to Galileo to John Woolman, dealt with physical afflictions. John Woolman, in fact, was compassionate toward the plight of slaves in part because he knew he would never have survived the physical labor their owners expected of them. He knew that a physically robust owner would have dismissed his physical limitations as laziness or lack of character, and probably would have worked him to death. This was a very real fear to him as he followed a leading to enter Indian territory. Not only did he see slavery as a reality in his own culture, he knew that disgruntled Indians were enslaving whites. He worries in his journal over the death sentence that enslavement would be should an Indian chief turn on Woolman and his fellow travelers.

The other day, was trying to make an appointment with a different doctor (and to make a long story short, it didn't work out) and in the process, I had a conversation with the woman who answered to phone, who kept demanding to know "Why" I wanted to come in. I told her, the gatekeeper, that I was tired and didn't think my Sinthroid was working. She told me, snappishly, that she was on Sinthroid too and it wasn't working for her either and she was tired all the time too. I just had to get to used to it, she told me. I wondered why we are all taking a med that doesn't work: does this make sense? And is tiredness something we just have to accept?

I went to an herbalist at one point for help with fatigue. Herbs don't seem to do it for me, but it was good to visit her. She would always tell me: If you are tired, sleep. If you are tired, sleep. Listen to your body. Well, I resist that! I'm afraid I would sleep my life entirely away. The Puritan in me says, stay awake! Force yourself through life! And mostly I do. Until I can't.

One of my fantasies about moving to Barnesville is that fresh air and a quieter life will renew my energy, so that I can go a full day without exhaustion hitting halfway through and derailing my plans. Of course, I'd hoped taking a break from working full time would "cure" me too! Relief would be wonderful, but I think I will still have to accept and work around and through this affliction. I both try to address it and also try to embrace it. As with Paul and John Woolman (and I'm guessing Galileo) it helps me feel compassion for others who are overworked and weary and who need a lighter burden. It helps me put aside my own ego needs, which say I "deserve" high energy because of all the "important" things I have to do.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rod Parsley: A Christian?

I read in the Washington Post that presidential candidate John McCain rebuked the Rev. Rod Parsley, a minister that he had initially courted.

Parsley, according to the Post, is part of a nondenominational group of prosperity-gospel churches called "Word of Faith." Parsley endorses the prosperity gospel and owns a million dollar gated home. He preaches violence: "We were built for battle! ... We get off on warfare!" He thinks that the Holy Spirit brought him to Columbus, Ohio, because Ohio is a swing state in national elections. He believes "in the geographic locating abilities of the Holy Spirit," according to the Post.

Parsley may call himself a Christian, but the beliefs named above are not consistent with Jesus' teaching as I understand it. I do believe Jesus preached a prosperity gospel: but NOT prosperity as the world knows it. I don't think Jesus found that it prospered a person to own a 7,000-square foot gated mansion. In fact, I think Jesus found such ownership damaging to a person's happiness and was directing people to find a different kind of treasure, a treasure in heaven, a pearl of greater price, that would lead them to joyfully abandon the opiate (or poison) of excessive materialism. I believe that if Jesus had truly believed our treasure lies in material goods, he would have acquired them. But he didn't.

Second, while as carnal humans we may (or may not) get "off" on warfare, Christianity preaches a transformed self, a new birth, a new spirit. This new self is explicitly a spirit of peace and love. It is not a spirit of war. It is a spirit that a creates a new heart of charity within individuals. It is a spirit that does good to one's enemy.

Parsley has, in my opinion, twisted the gospel to accord with his desires, not submitted himself to the transforming power of the gospel.

As for the "geographic locating abilities of the Holy Spirit," all I can say is that my family is moving to Ohio too.

How we as Quakers and Christians challenge (and love) people like Parsley? Do they do more damage to themselves and their followers or to the rest of us?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back from Barnesville I

What a lot of driving: Will got bored on the return trip and started counting road kill to pass the time. Quite a lot in West Virginia, especially deer, then it tapered off. We don't know why there's so much dead fauna on the side of the road in that state: more wildlife, faster drivers, a slower removal schedule, some combination of the three? Or just happenstance? Who knows?

Anyway, we returned Monday evening from our weekend in Barnesville. I got as far as posting a few pictures yesterday evening as I try to process the upcoming move.

We took a closer look at the Towe house, where we'll be living. It's being "scraped" as a prelude to painting. We're delighted it's getting a new coat of paint. The handymen took down the glassed-in porch, which was apparently falling apart, so now we have more light from the south coming into our big living room.

I was told the kitchen floor, which looks original to the 1950s-style house, is being replaced, as are the damaged yellow linoleum counters. Dan, the handyman who told me the news, said he wasn't sure when the replacement would happen, as there are certain repairs that have to made over the summer while the students are gone and they have priority. I may have to live with the kitchen "as is" for a few months, but that's OK. There's nothing like knowing relief will come!

I'll have to coexist more permanently with the "cuckoo clock rustic" (as I call them) knotty pine cabinets. They are well made and in decent condition, so no reason to replace them ... except of course the small matter of aesthetics, but I'll live. I do hope to take down the wallpaper.

Anyway, the move continues to be an exercise in perspective. Is the cup half empty or half full? I think if I could get beyond some of the tension of the move, I could enjoy the half full more ...

On the half full side:
The rooms in the new house are big.
A smaller house will be easier to care for.
We don't have to mow the lawn.
There's a clothesline (not allowed in Columbia)!
Our upstairs bathroom is big, and I misremembered it's appearance. It has pretty pearlescent white tiles on the wall, bordered with black tiles.
We have casement windows and terrific views.
The kitchen is big and has lots of cabinets, including a broom closet.
The kids love the barn.
Have I mentioned how much I am going to enjoy not cooking?
The campus meals are healthy. The school grows much of its own food.
We went to the Stillwater meeting and it had a warm, lovely, spiritual feeling. We can walk to meeting.
We can walk to town easily, at least one end of it, where we find a grocery store and a Rite Aid.
There's a big library in town.
No more $600 heating bills to pay!
Enough for now ...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Barnesville photos

View from the back of our house across the pond to the Olney Friends School campus.
The Towe House, where we will be living in Barnesville. This is the back view, looking across the pond and towards the campus. The house looks to have been built between 1955 and 1960.

View of our bathroom, which has pretty white tiles with black trim, not formica, as I misremembered. That's a view of me in the mirror.

View of girls dorm from the back of our house.

Peace symbols and Rebel flags

When we were in Barnesville last weekend, we walked to town from the Olney guest house--the Edgerton House-- and saw a Confederate flag flying in front of an old-fashioned clapboard home. I was startled. Will called it racist. I cast about looking for some meaning in the iconography of the flag beyond the evident racism. I found intimidation. There's something scary about a house that flies a Confederate flag. But maybe the owners are, on Memorial Day weekend, remembering relatives who died in the Civil War. I think about the Sheppard Fairey control icon (discussed in my first post of a few months past) that had no intended meaning. So possibly I am projecting my own interpretation onto this flag. Maybe it means something entirely other to the people flying it.

My reaction to the Confederate flag made me think of other people's reactions to the peace symbol. As I would drive to a job in Laurel a few years ago, I would pass a peace symbol someone had drawn on the wooden backing to an American flag draped over an overpass to Route 95. One woman who saw the peace symbol wrote to the local newspaper that it disgusted her and turned her stomach because it was a sign of hatred of America. I also remember news reports of a woman in Colorado who objected to her neighbor displaying a peace symbol in her window during the Christmas holidays.

Some people I know who embrace the peace symbol get angry at the suggestion that for many people, it stands for something other than peace. "It's just a peace symbol," they say. "How can anyone object to peace?" But is it truly a peace symbol if other people see in it hate, chaos, drugs and rejection of their values? If it makes them fearful? In that case, it can be like putting up a swastika and saying, wide-eyed, "oh, but it' just a symbol of ancient India."

While I can't say for others why they display either rebel flags or peace symbols, one thought is that they are expressing their identity and reaching out in a public way to the like minded. I've heard members of both groups get defensive about their "right" to show their symbols and their sense that it is other people's problem if they misunderstand the intent. To many, I suspect, the symbols bring back warm fuzzies from childhood. I know in my case, the peace symbol was a positive sign in my childhood, and I've had to step back and see it through other people's eyes. At first, I was surprised that others would object to it. Now, I try to be sensitive to that fact, and see that displaying a peace symbol is perhaps not the best way to build peace.

People do have a free speech right to display symbols that create a fear reaction in others. People who display rebel flags and peace symbols are probably right to say that their most vocal opponents misunderstand them. However, in the interest of civility, should some symbols, like the Confederate flag and the peace sign, that evoke so sharp an emotional response, be handled with greater care?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Barnesville Weekend

Tomorrow, we head for Barnesville. I will be bringing my measuring tape so we can decide what furniture will fit in Towe House on the Olney Friends School campus.

We received this cryptic message:

"Saturday the
ninth graders are cooking a Greek meal for dinner that features the goats
they raised."

I'm going to assume this means goat's milk and goat's cheese.

We're informed the weather is supposed to be good in southeast Ohio this weekend. We're looking forward to the trip. I will probably post again on Tuesday. I hope everyone enjoys the Memorial Day weekend.

Question: Do people in this country actually eat goat meat?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Snow Day theory: Is Life as we know it Ending?

Yesterday, I had a conversation with Mike.

Mike said, waving his hand to indicate all the houses in view in my neighborhood, that all of this, this whole way of building, will be obsolete in five years time. It's too
energy wasteful. Seeing our heating bills last winter, I can't help but agree. And, he says, energy prices will only get worse.

There's a sense that everything's changing. This is largely driven, I think, by the ever-rising price of crude oil as well as growing awareness of global warming. We're also becoming more aware of the shortage of such basic commodities as water. As the environmentalists have been saying, for our society to become sustainable, how we live
will have to change.

A part of me says we're enjoying the thrill of exaggerating this crisis and in a few years everything will be all right, just as it was after the price shocks of the 1970s and early 1980s settled. But yet another part of me says, no, this is different. This time it's real, and we will have to change or "perish." Can it get more melodramatic?

I believe we will change, because we can change, and because perishing is so ... awful.

So what changes do I see? Snow day changes. For example, if we can't drive much, in the way that people can't during a big snowstorm, is that such a terrible thing? Maybe our lives would slow down and we'd get to meet and know our neighbors. What if we had to grow some of our own food and turn our non-productive yards into vegetable gardens and fruit orchards? Keep chickens in our garages? People did that in the 1930s, and it would not be so terrible to do so today. For many lawn enthusiasts, it wouldn't be much more work than the labor they put into nurturing the perfect grass and showiest ornamental flowers. We would have locally grown produce, our chickens would be treated more humanely than by agribusiness,and we would use fewer pesticides. We'd get exercise and our kids would learn more about the food chain and the cycle of life than that food comes wrapped in packaging in the supermarket.

And what about exercise? Would it be so terrible if our kids walked to and fro from school, as past generations of children have done? Most of them would not be kidnapped, raped or molested by perverts, because there are just not that many active perverts in the world. Plus, if people were actually staying in their communities, there would be more eyes to monitor and stop trouble. Would walking alone or with parents to or from activities be terrible? No, it would help everyone lose weight and be a chance to experience nature. Studies show too, that children who walk places have a better sense of space and of geography. And instead of far away activities, maybe parents --or kids -- would organize more games and events in the neighborhood, another old-fashioned practice.

Some people would be inconvenienced by having to use public transportation. Roger takes the coach bus and subway to work in Northern Virginia, and he is more tied to a schedule than if he drove. But it's hardly the end of the world. Using public transportation gives him a chance to read, sleep and experience community with his fellow bus riders.

Two generations ago, buses, subways and trolleys were the standard way to get around. A train to the beach, a bus to work, a bike ride to the mall --these are not tragedies. In fact, approached in the right spirit, they're adventures. And given how rushed everyone's life is, I wouldn't mind going back to a world in which, instead of everyone in a car rushing to and fro, the milkman (or woman) and perhaps the grocery store delivered the food. Not only would we probably regain all sorts of time now dribbled away in the car, it would probably cost less in the long run.

Of course, I dream of some mythic moment, some re-creation of a golden year--1949 or 1958 or?? --before our consumption began to consume us. I dream of that year existing without the sexism and racism that marred it. With a greener and safer mindset, so that we are not smoking, spraying pesticides in our homes and driving around without seatbelts.

I think in some ways we would regret living in a new world of limits where we wouldn't be able to buy every consumer good we want on a whim, and sometimes we would feel poor and sometimes we would have to make do without things we might really need. We would dream of the good old days of endless bounty, when you could throw out whatever was the least bit worn, dented or dated and replace it with something brand new. On the other hand, would it be so terrible to live without the choking, drowning, overwhelming clutter of consumer goods that has spawned a whole organization industry and a whole simplicity movement? Might it not be pleasant to know what you own and where it is? Isn't there something deep inside that feels there's some benefit in taking care of our belongings? Wouldn't we feel less uneasy in a world where it would make economic sense to repair a small appliance rather than throwing it out and replacing it? Wouldn't less, as the saying goes, be more?

Life is just as likely to get bad as to get better if we react poorly to seeming scarcity. A few could hoard, throwing others into want. People could fight each other for resources. Dictators could take over and try to turn back the clock on minority rights. Or true scarcity and poverty could come, never a good thing.

I hope the changes that may be here soon will be beneficial, a liberation from wretched excess, an opportunity to draw together for mutual support. Now's the time to do the spiritual work to build ourselves into the kind of people who react well to change and limits.

What are some other good changes an energy shortage could bring?

Wise and foolish

Yesterday, I read Paul writing in Romans 1:14:

"I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish."

Paul was extremely and unabashedly Christ-centered; here he sounds like a Christian universalist, inviting everyone to the table. He seems eager to reach out to anybody and everybody. He is not elitist.

What do you think?

Seton Hill Worship Group meets again

I'm late in posting, but the Seton Hill Christ-centered Worship Group met again on Sunday at the Metropolitian Church near Druid Hill Ave. in Baltimore.

Ten people convened for some singing (we missed Rachel and her guitar, though Kevin-Douglas did a great job leading us with his voice alone) and silent worship.

The fruit of the Spirit emerged as a topic: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22).

Two people traveled from Northern Virginia to attend, and, as with Friends in Christ, there seems to be a hunger for this fusion of Christ worship with silent worship in the Quaker tradition.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What is God?

Sometimes people tell me they don't believe in God, and when they describe the God they don't believe in, I think (or say) "I don't believe in that God either." Usually, it's some version of God as a Jewish Zeus, enthroned in the clouds of Heaven, hurtling lightening bolts or visiting pestilences on those who displease him. Much as I love Michelangelo and Baroque art, I think their images of God present a distorted view.

Jews and Muslims don't depict God. To Jews, this is, in part, because God is ultimately unknowable. We can discover attributes about God, but we can't completely understand who God is.

The Bible uses many metaphors to describe God. I started a Bible study once with a group in which we were going to study 122 names of God in the Bible, but the study was too abstract for the group, so we dropped it. Some names I remember are creator, all knowing, wisdom, love, shepherd, all powerful and lord. The many names, of course, point to the multi-faceted nature of God.

I like N.T. Wright's notion of God as not far away, but as all around us here on earth, separated by invisible and yet permeable walls. This, to my mind, aligns with the early Quaker notion of God as present and accessible.

I also like the description of God in 1 John as love: "God is love and he who lives in love lives in God and God in him."

What I find within all the unspeakable violence in the Old or First Testament is a group of people growing in their discernment of a loving God. Most of the violence in the Old Testament is perpetrated by humans, and is, unfortunately, an honest depiction of how humans behave. Sadly, the Israelites often believe they are enacting God's will with their violence. Whether or not this is true, I don't know, but there are clues in the Old Testament that God deplores the violence and allows a military state to develop only to show the Israelites the unpleasant consequences of that way of life. And the vision of Isaiah and other prophets is not of a glorious and hierarchical warrior state but of a gentle, equalitarian and peaceable kingdom.

Many people say they can't believe in a God who would allow suffering. Clearly, a God who prevents all suffering doesn't exist. The bigger question becomes how we retain faith in God amid all the suffering in the world. One answer is to see God as giving us free will and letting us suffer the consequences of our choices. Another is to see God as particularly present to those who suffer, but that doesn't always seem to be the case. Another is to acknowledge there is so much we don't know or understand but that we do see glimmers of something totally loving and beautiful that we call God and yearn for. Another is to realize that we humans can alleviate much of the suffering in the world with our own actions. Another is to see a bigger picture, in which suffering never totally subsumes love and hope. Jesus' life can be understood as showing that love overcomes violence, humiliation and pain. The power of the Roman Empire, which tried to shut down Jesus, collapsed long ago, but nothing has ever been able to shut down Jesus' words or the followers, such as Francis of Assisi or John Woolman, who have tried to enact his vision of love and peace.

Sometimes when non-theists describe their non-God-infused universe it sounds very much like my God-filled universe. They describe believing in leadings, experiencing inner peace, loving nature, believing in the love-your-enemy ethic of Jesus as well as the entire tenor of the Sermon of the Mount, believing in social justice and believing in the power of a religious community. To my mind, believing in and trying to live out all of that IS believing in God ... but we're back to how we define God. So how do we do that?

Evangelical Manifesto 2

I loved what Mike Rucker had to say about the Evangelical Manifesto:

more than anything, i found myself motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece - that it isn’t yet another “here’s everything we’re against” rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that - the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic that once served it well.

there are a few things i question, but nothing is going to please everyone, i suppose. for instance, i’m not sure i agree with this statement: We Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally. Jesus’ message uses “action” verbs: teach them to DO as I have commanded you, LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor, by this will all men know … if you LOVE one another. any theology that defines us must have feet.

i did, however, like these words:
We are also troubled by the fact that the advance of globalization and the emergence of a global public square finds no matching vision of how we are to live freely, justly, and peacefully with our deepest differences on the global stage.

somehow we've got to figure out how we we're going to happily share the same bathroom over the next few decades in our ever-shrinking world.

I too liked the positive nature of the Manifesto. If emergent/emerging has done anything, it's brought a new tone of caring and civility to the Christian dialogue. I'm grateful for this and find it liberating. Them and us, hate and vitriol, can become prisons we get trapped in.

On the lack of a counter-ideology to globalization, I'm glad Mike lifted that passage from the Manifesto. I couldn't agree more that we need an alternative vision of how to live freely, justly and peacefully on a global stage. The "market vision" is at best incomplete. What about the abundant life we're promised: the joy, the peace, the love, the patience, the kindness of all the world's people? How do we address this so that the wealth globalization brings is not a source of misery but a tool to build a spirit-infused world?

Maseo Abe, a Buddhist and interfaith scholar, addresses this when he calls for people of different faiths to join together (not become the same, but to work together!), rather than fight, so we can together stand for an alternative set of values than that of the marketplace.

And yes, how are we going to share the same bathroom? Ideas?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Irresistible Revolution: Wrap up

Many posts later, a summary of Claiborne's book.

Perhaps what most jumps from Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution is the way he reinvents countercultural leanings of the 1960s and the 80s and the 90s and makes them seem fresh again. Antic happenings, young people changing the world, peace, simplicity, intentional community, sharing joyously and directly with the poor ... we've seen this colorful, seemingly naive exuberance before, and yet we can't help but be touched by the sincerity of Claiborne's recycled (now there's a green and complimentary term!) vision.

Maybe the twist is the Christianity that is the backbone of his revolution. There's no sex or drugs here, and no personal liberation devoid of history or tradition. Instead, we glimpse Shane serving the destitute in Calcutta with Mother Teresa and sense his unfettered delight in passionately trying to live out a Christian witness. If evangelicals and the rest of us could just get beyond a concern with personal salvation, be it assurance of heaven after death or the personal salvational fortresses of wealth and intellect, we could all be part of building a kingdom of God world in the here and now, Claiborne says.

It's enticing to see him doing what he preaches, living it, being the change he wants the church to be. I liked the simple, direct language of the book, the stories he included, and the challenge to live a more genuinely counter-cultural life.

Evangelical Manifesto: two responses

Two interesting perspectives on the Evangelical Manifesto: Bill Samuel blogs about it in light of Quakerism at and Scot McKnight blogs about it at the Jesus Creed.

Here's a passage from Bill's blog, but I recommend reading the whole blog entry as a snippet might distort:

The Manifesto, and here it is indeed representative of Evangelicalism, refers to sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), the “supreme authority of the Bible,” and “the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.” It claims this is shown by “Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude.” This is a Manifesto, not an apology, and it doesn’t do references, so I’m not sure what they rely on for that.

I find Jesus saying in scripture that I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6, NIV) This is a radical statement, and one hard for us humans to accept because we want to be able to package up truth in a neat, rational box. Jesus tells us this impulse is wrong. The people that he has such conflict with are precisely the religious leaders of his day who wanted to tie up faith in a neat little box. Relying on purely the written word of the Bible as the Truth doesn’t really quite succeed in achieving the goal of the neat little box, but the urge to make the book supreme is an attempt to move in that direction. Evangelicals also proclaim Christ is Lord, but their emphasis on the written word as the sole determiner of Truth tends to contradict that. I am not an Evangelical because, in the end, I’m not sure that Evangelicalism is really centered on Jesus Christ.

I believe the premier Quaker apologist, Robert Barclay, put this question of authority well in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity. He states that the scriptures do contain revelations of God to the saints, but notes that, “because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners.” Barclay notes “that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth” and goes on to make this key argument:
If by the Spirit we can only come to the true knowledge of God; if by the Spirit we are to be led into all Truth, and so be taught of all things; then the Spirit, and not the Scriptures, is the foundation and ground of all Truth and knowledge, and the primary rule of faith and manners

I find Barclay’s arguments convincing. (See also Friends (Quakers) and the Bible.)

Scot McKnight weighs in at the Jesus Creed with the following:

Two recently published items illustrate the “evangelical” problem — David Wells’ grumpy summary screed of his four volumes that, for over a decade, have attempted to reveal how superficial evangelicalism is and the generously-spirited Evangelical Manifesto. What is happening? Let me explain it this way:

There are too many today who want to usurp control over evangelicalism by demanding uniformity in theology. Evangelicalism never has been and never will be uniform in theology. Three groups today threaten to destroy the fabric of historic American evangelicalism:

The Religious Right, which seems to think all evangelicals have the same political views;
The Neo-Reformed, who think Calvinism is the only faithful form of evangelicalism; and
The Political Progressives, who like the Religious Right think the faithful form of evangelicalism will be politically progressive.

Let me offer a peace offering into this unfortunate turn of events. I believe the threat of complete disintegration is far more serious than many today seem to realize.

Evangelicalism has always been ecumenical for the sake of the gospel.

Evangelicalism has always dropped theological distinctives (confessional level statements of faith) for the sake of the gospel.

Evangelicalism’s approach has always been more like George Whitefield than Jonathan Edwards.

Now a few words of explanation:

Evangelicalism is essentially “gospel ecumenism” instead of “theological conformity.” Evangelicals unite around the gospel but tolerate all kinds of diversity theologically. Thus, from the time I’ve been around this theological issue — and I began reading this stuff in the 70s and have not stopped — evangelicalism has agreed to agree on the basics — the gospel — but has been willing to let theological confessions be what they are: church confessions for local congregations. Instead of haggling over theological confessions, evangelicals have agreed to agree on the gospel.

It is essentially “cooperative” rather than “confessional.” Yes, evangelicals — as Bebbington and Noll have made so abundantly clear (see M. Noll’s The Rise of Evangelicalism and Bebbington’s The Dominance of Evangelicalism) — there are four hubs of thinking in the center of evangelicalism: the Bible, the cross, conversion, and active Christian living.

What alarms me is that some of those today most concerned with taking over evangelicalism, namely the Neo-Reformed and the Southern Baptists, seem to have forgotten the last fifty years of evangelical history: Many in the Reformed camp didn’t think and still don’t think evangelicalism is their kettle of fish. Thus, Hart’s book is a good example of this (see his Deconstructing Evangelicalism). And the SBC was at best a distant “member” of the early rise of the neo-evangelical movement shaped by Billy Graham, Wheaton, and the likes of Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, Harold Lindsell and others.

To be sure, a robust Reformed faith or a clear commitment to the SBC way of life were more than welcome, as long as the cooperative spirit of a commitment to an ecumenical gospel was what guided the participation. Today many seem to have forgotten this.

Hence, I love what I’m reading now in An Evangelical Manifesto.

1. It welcomes a universality to the presence of evangelicals throughout the world (p. 2).
2. It believes the word “evangelical” is worth saving (2-3).
3. It embraces a world setting where co-existence is paramount (3).
4. It defines “evangelical” by “gospel” (4) and theologically (4).
5. There is some humility to this statement: “We do not claim that the Evangelical principle … is unique to us” (5). We illustrate our own doctrine of sin (6).
6. There is a healthy balance of theology and praxis in this document.
7. It affirms classical christology, salvation, Holy Spirit, Scripture, discipleship and evangelism and social action, return of Christ, and also discipleship for all. [Could be more Trinitarian and have a deeper ecclesiology.]
8. Evangelicalism here is defined as larger than, deeper than, and older than Protestantism (10).
9. It bemoans failures among evangelicals (11ff).

I could go on … this is historic evangelicalism. It’s the kind I embrace.

I'm glad the Manifesto is sparking dialogue. What do you think?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tipping into grace: How?

Yesterday I posed the question of what it takes to "tip" us into taking the steps that lead to kingdom of God living. In kingdom of God living we would follow where God led, trusting that, perhaps after a period of struggle, we would find joy, contentment community, meaningful work, etc. but not necessarily material wealth, fame, public esteem, ease, luxury etc.

Kingdom of God living will never happen perfectly, but how do we get started --or moved along -- on that path?

Some ideas:

1. Realizing there is another way to live and another community out there. Realizing that we have choices.
2. Prayer.
3. Conversation about this other life with like-minded people.
4. Questioning and examining the barrage of messages we get from the culture about what matters and how worth is measured.
5. Perceiving the abundance that is in the world.
6. Leaning into past times when we have made decisions, even tiny ones, that would seem crazy by the world's standards but which turned out to have been the right thing to do.
7. Reading about people who have lived alternative lives.

Other ideas?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Claiborne: Final chapter: Get crazy to make sense

In the final chapter of The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne quotes Catholic Worker movement cofounder Peter Maurin: "If we are crazy, then it is because we refuse to be crazy in the same way that the world has gone crazy." Then Claiborne tells Nietzsche's story of the madman who is mocked by his fellow townsmen for seeking God. The madman decides God is dead and says "'We have killed him, you and I.'" The madman sees a world growing colder and darker without God and likens churches to tombs.

Claiborne remembers a sermon he once preached, "a clever little talk about how the world is filled with the walking dead, people who breathe air but who are not truly alive. I compared the deadness to vampires and said that vampires can't stand light. They can not stand the cross." He sees the sermon as a little silly now, but still with a hint of truth ...

Claiborne finds hope everywhere that "ordinary radicals" all around him are quietly building a new world. He also makes a plea for these radicals to stay part of the traditional Christian church or at least traditional Christianity: "So we mustn't allow ourselves to detach from the church in self-righteous cynicism. That's too easy and too empty. To those communities who have severed themselves from the established church, please build a bridge, for the church needs your prophetic voice. We can do more together than we can do alone." He also quotes Augustine: "'The church is a whore, but she's my mother.'"

Claiborne makes several good points. I would agree that the kingdom is being built all about us, under our noses, in ways that are invisible unless you have eyes to see. One of the joys of a transformed heart is the ability to discern the work. It reminds me of Harry Potter: suddenly you can perceive a hidden world right next to the prosaic muggles world you've been living in: you see platform 9 3/4s and Diagonal Alley, hidden, to use the cliche, in plain sight. And it becomes less about you as an individual saving the world or doing something grand and more about becoming part of something bigger than yourself. I'm reminded of an interview with N.T. Wright that I recently read. Wright says it's a mistake to think of God as "out there" in outer space, somewhere so far away that you'd need to take a spaceship to reach it. That makes God remote, he said, and not part of our reality. Instead, we need to recognize that God is all around us, in the air we breath, but separated from us by invisible (and yet penetrable) walls.

I think liberal Quakers could take heed of Claiborne's warning that it can be self-destructive to remove one's group from the Christian world, flawed as the church might be. I also agree with Claiborne that, perhaps unwittingly, the secular world will do everything it can to paint participation in this alternative world as crazy. And I wonder what it takes to "tip" us into taking the small steps that get us into that other world. I know the pat answer is "grace," but what, concretely, gets us where we need to be?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Claiborne: to activism, add love, mustard seeds

In chapter 11 of The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne urges political activists to temper their actions with a sense of humor and add a strong dose of love. It's not enough to help other people through supporting causes: you need to love the people you are helping. Ideally, you get to know the people you are helping. Likewise, don't feel superior to those who are less active; instead, laugh at yourself and try to spread some joy.

He writes on an old theme: fair wages for college campus employees, such as janitors. In his case, he and his friends got to know a janitor and his family trying to live on $6 a hour. They were able to introduce this man to the president of Eastern University, part of a process that led to the university paying a living wage and benefits to its workers.

In chapter 12, Shane expands on the argument that small is better and small is kingdom. We find God in the little people, express God's love through small actions and see God in the everyday. It's not growing church numbers and budgets that builds the kingdom of God, it's growing strong relationships.

"We have a God who values the little offering of a couple of coins from a widow over the megacharity of millionaires."

"The pervasive myth is that as we grow larger, we can do more good. But there is little evidence that this is ever realized."

He condemns churches that build big complexes while people are hungry and homeless, saying God prefers a tent. Small is beautiful.

"And the contagion of God's love is spreading across the land like a little mustard plant, growing smaller and smaller until it takes over the world."

It's hard to argue with putting people ahead of programs and infusing our social and political actions with love and joy. None of these are new ideas; all of them are good ideas.

However, is all diminution good? We see a move toward a smaller, but more pure and orthodox Roman Catholic church: Is this a way of sweeping issues under the carpet? Often I have heard people in shrinking mainline denominations speak of getting rid of the dead wood or not regretting when the people who don't think like them leave. I do believe that God works and exists in the crevices, under the radar and among the humblest people. But sometimes I fear that groups use the rhetoric of smallness to justify an unwillingness to make needed changes or to exclude people that Jesus would gladly invite to his table. When does embracing the small become an excuse for exclusion or unresponsiveness and when is it evidence of God's kingdom at work? How do we discern?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On Atheists

Below is a recent exchange from The Jesus Creed Blog, edited slightly to remove cryptic references. What do you think of it? Does every spiritual community need an atheist to keep it honest?

“I feel a closeness and kinship to anyone who struggles to know God.”

Right with you there.

And I feel a similar kinship with devout atheists and anyone actively seeking to discredit spirituality, for I see the work of the Spirit in them - they just don’t know it yet.

But the in-between stuff, the comfort zones - that’s not interesting to me. Spirit is fluid and disruptive.

In his Letters from Prison, Bonhoeffer shared something of great importance,

“I often ask myself why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, but which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, “in brotherhood.” While I’m often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people – because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it’s particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) – to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course…”

Another personal hero, A.W. Tozer, said something that seems equally appropriate to this conversation,

“if someone can talk you into being a Christian, someone better can talk you out of it.”

Comment by John L — May 10, 2008 @ 10:27 am

John L, that’s one of my favorite passages in LPP by DB. I, too, feel tremendous kinship with atheists, agnostics and those who “seek to discredit” spirituality. I used to say that every spiritual community needs an atheist to keep it honest.

Comment by Julie — May 10, 2008 @ 10:52 am

Julie: I have come over the past year or so to just accept the mystery and uncertainty and try to avoid absolutisms. Not because there are no absolutes or truth but because I’ll never have any sort of certain grasp of it. And may not be meant to. It does not mean I don’t believe or have a sense of what I must do to live it out. Since I am indeed no expert on scripture, it was kind of a relief to know others that are had some similar thoughts. And JC and EW has supplied me with just that…knowledgable folks who don’t shame me for asking and wrestling around with questions such as the one that started this thread.

I read this two days ago. It was written by Evelyn Underhill: “Perfect clearness in religion often really means just shallowness, for, being what we are, we cannot expect to get eternal life into sharp focus.” And in the next paragraph: “It is also true there are moments in life of communion when the soul DOESN’T wish to see, to fully comprehend….It is not in our comprehension, but in God’s will, that our peace abides.”

I think I am rediscovering the peace she is talking about. Only this time, it feels as though it has dug in so much deeper, like a dandelion root, penetrating further into my soul.

Comment by Nancy — May 10, 2008 @ 11:49 am

The dialogue above challenges me to see the seeker in the atheist, agnostic and non-theist, and to love that person. I am often moved by the generosity of the Jesus Creed blog community.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Two evangelical Baltimore meetings

Yesterday evening, Ken, Sophie and I attended not one, but two, Evangelical Friends churches in Baltimore.

Oh what an adventure! Luckily, almost everyone in the initially large group that hoped to attend punted. This was fortunate because I had googled the wrong address and hence published the wrong directions. Ken and I had quite a debate about where to go while in the car driving. I was convinced that the Latino meeting was in the city; he was sure it was in Baltimore County. He was right: It was outside the beltway on Liberty Road. Moreover, the weather was miserable, at some points pouring rain, so I'm glad people weren't searching the wrong address in bad conditions. (Apologies again to the Furths!)

We were surprised to find a two-month old Kenyan Friends church having a service in the basement of the church were the Latinos meet. We spent about 20 minutes in the Kenyan service, listening to a female preach about 2 Peter. Then we went upstairs. The Latino Quakers sang praise songs, led by a rock band up front. Then a preacher wearing a tie talked to us about God's promises to us and how we need to have humble hears and pure hearts to receive these promises.

We left early because I had to get to my reading group, but nothing that we saw resembled the unprogrammed Quakerism with which I am familiar. I was told by Lukas, our "translator," (the Latino service was, of course, in Spanish) that the Latino congregation doesn't like silence, so it's not used.

Both services seemed indistinguishable from a straight non-denominational evangelical Christian service. There was no set liturgy and nothing beyond singing and preaching, so the proceedings were very low church, but not different from, say, a Baptist service.

As with other non-Western European services I've attended, the Latinos started late and were open-ended about when the service would finish. Being an uptight, Westernized alpha woman, this drives me crazy! I feel entitled to know when things begin and end, and I like them to start on time! However, all these experiences help me to understand that the box out of which I function is smaller and more culture-bound than I like to think.

Now that I know where to go and what to expect, I'd find it interesting to go back, stay longer, and really try to understand what makes these churches Quaker.

Quakers and pagans

Recently, Christianity Today ran an RNS story about pagans joining liberal Quaker meetings. The article, among other things, argued that Wiccans and other pagans are using what they consider a mainstream faith to gain legitimacy.

Is this OK?

Many, obviously, say yes. But Wicca, as I've experienced it, is so highly ritualistic that it clashes with Quakerism's emphasis on unmediated worship. Two examples: For a newspaper story, I once watched two Wiccans cast a spell. The spellcasting involved cutting the air with special knives to create a sacred space, lighting pillar candles at the four corners of their kitchen table to represent North, South, East and West, lighting a candle in front of a statue of a goddess, saying incantations and burning written requests to the goddess. For another story on Wiccans and earth practitioners, I watched a winter solstice celebration with people standing in a circle wearing capes and reciting scripted nature verses, while a King of sorts stood at the head of the circle wearing horns (or maybe it was antlers) and passing a bowl of wine.

Needless to say, all of the above is extremely ritualistic behavior, probably more so than the wine and wafer communion Quakers so thoroughly reject. So how Quakers can accept Wiccans ... as Quakers ... is difficult for me to understand, unless the Wiccans give up their rituals, at which point, are they still Wiccans?

It can be easy to see the liberal Quaker embrace of Wicca as hypocrisy: a highly ritualistic faith practice is fine as long as it's not patriarchal, and more to the point, not Christian. However, I think the embrace might more stem from blindness and kindness: people not perceiving non-Christian ritual as ritual and people wanting to include those who've been wounded by Christianity or life. But shouldn't the inclusion of pagans cause some soul-searching about what Quakerism is? And isn't? Is Quakerism about accepting the trendy and rejecting the Christian? That's what I think in my darker moments, and I struggle to find a better place.

Friday, May 9, 2008

On Baseball, etc.

The boys won their baseball game last night in the final inning after trailing most of the early innings. Will has always been a baseball natural but this season Nick, who keeps getting taller and skinnier, has come alive. He's hitting well and fielding well. He seems engaged and enthusiastic. Will continues to catch, play third base and sometimes pitch.

We have a busy weekend ahead of us. Sophie has a dance performance at school tonight and tomorrow we will visit Roger's parents for an early Mother's Day and late birthday celebration. Roger's mother is now 87. Hard to believe. His father is 91 and both parents are doing quite well. After the visit, we have another baseball game.

Hostess or Tastycake: which do you prefer?

I'm on a diet, which means I'm thinking about food more than usual, especially desserts. For the record, I've lost more than four pounds.

Anyway, the other day I was in Target looking for Splenda, so hungry that I wanted to mainline high-fructose corn syrup. I saw a box of "100 calorie" packs of Hostess chocolate cupcakes on sale, and I pounced on it like a starving lioness. One-hundred calorie three packs of cupcakes! Oh yes.

As soon as I got into my car, I tore open that box. I felt a twist of guilt as I thought of all the truly starving people around the world, but that didn't stop me. I pulled out a three pack. A row of miniature chocolate frosted cupcakes sat on a thin piece of white "cardboard covered with clear plastic. They looked bite size, and for a moment I was disappointed. But not for long. Each little cupcake was a taste of heaven --and more than one bite. They were classic Hostess decadence--dense black chocolate with white cream in the center and chocolate frosting on top. The three little gems were more than satisfying.

The experience caused me to reminisce on a lifetime of Hostess and Tastycake eating.

I remember how, as a very young child, I loved the Hostess pink snowballs with the black chocolate and whipped cream inside. Even at three I knew they were decadent, though I didn't know the word. I have wonderful early childhood memories around the pink snowballs and also the chocolate cupcakes with the ripple of white frosting down the center. ... Memories of Hostess connect in my mind with an early childhood spent in Edmondson Village in Baltimore. Those were the days. I was innocent and never had the least worry about weight back then.

Of course, I was also a fan of Tastycakes, which you can't (or couldn't) get on the West coast, to my horror. They had better cupcake texture, spongier and lighter, but could never compete with Hostess for size and sheer decadence.

The new bite size cupcakes manage, to my mind, to preserve the wretched excess, the trademark decadence, of a Hostess product. A difference is the sticky, glistening moistness of the chocolate topping, not a classic Hostess trait.

Roger says he never liked the pink snowballs, preferring Twinkies. Twinkies were not my favorites. Today, I'm not sure I would like the snowballs.

Roger and I discussed the architectural nature of Hostess products: the marshmallow coating on the snowballs that could be peeled away, whole, to leave a perfect half-circle of black chocolate with white cream inside; the white braids on the chocolate cupcake that could be peeled off; the hard, almost wax-like circles of chocolate you could remove whole from the cake. The unnatural darkness of the chocolate.

Tastycakes were always smaller than Hostess products, daintier, more restrained, more neutrally colored. The three demure cupcakes in a Tastycake package could never compete with two giantesses in a Hostess pack. Peanut butter candycakes, while delicious, were, well ... small.

I could ramble on endlessly but I'll stop. What do you prefer: Tastycake or Hostess?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

On Barnesville, the pendulum swings

My list of the good things about moving to Barnesville (what I can think of today):

I won't have to cook. The joy of this is hard to overstate.
Roger can walk to work.
The kids will get more individualized attention in school.
We will be around Quakers.
We will be in a quieter place, with fresh air and fewer crowds.
We're not that far from the big city.
It will be a good experience for everyone to live in a new place.
We won't have to mow the grass.

Of course, these are surface issues and all about us. Self, self, self. The real question, I imagine, is can we better serve or become better servants in this new place? If we are really called there, the answer is yes. But how do we know?

Shane Claiborne: Christianity is non-violent

Like the Quakers, Claiborne believes that Christianity is a religion of non-violence and that Jesus, in his life and death, modeled non-violence. To Claiborne, there's no room for "just war" theory, only "no war" theory.

A couple of quotes: here Shane is quoting a doctor in a hospital in Iraq: "Violence is for those who have lost their imagination."

From Claiborne: "The only thing harder than hatred is love. The only thing harder than war is peace. The only thing that takes more work, sweat and tears than division is reconciliation."

Claiborne likes "creative" acts of nonviolence that surprise people and get them to think.

I believe these "playful" surprises can be helpful if understood; possibly harmful if misunderstood or seen as frivolous. Cultivating a spirit or mindset in which violence seems unnatural and non-violence natural is more important, I think. (Here, for example, I think of the day-to-day lives of the Amish, who don't need to do performance art for peace because their lives speak peace.) Also I believe it's important to cultivate patience because sometimes we turn to violence in frustration as a way to resolve a problem "once and for all." Patience and peace, now that I think about it, are fruits of the spirit.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Seek the welfare of the city

From "Barclay Press Wess:" (You can link to his full blog entry on the right)

Jeremiah 29:7, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
When this was written, the Hebrew people were living in exile under the Babylonian empire, yet God called them to live in such a way that the very neighborhoods and cities would be better because of them living there. The church as an exiled people always rubs up against the powers of the world, yet it doesn't retreat from it, it constantly seeks the peace of the kingdom within those places.

What do you think? How do we seek the welfare of those "cities" whose values differ from our own? What does this mean?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On Barnesville Again

My blog on moving may (or may not!) have romanticized Barnesville, but there's another side to the story.

The side that usually strikes late at night, when I crawl into bed, curl up in the fetal position and think "Why oh why are we doing this?"

Yes, in reality the "little white cottage" is a circa-1960 ranch house that needs, as the head of the school put it, to be seen for its "potential." Meanwhile, the kitchen floor is cracked and coming up, the bathroom walls are coated in some sort of vinyl-covered formica and the house could basically make you throw up. Plus it's small. Not to mention that the kitchen, though large, is closed off and claustrophobic, with knotty pine on the walls and ... well, let's not go on.

Barnesville itself doesn't look as if its changed much since the 1970s. A lot of it is quaint and charming and a lot of it looks beyond worn out.

I don't like cold, and we are moving to Ohio, where I am sure the winters will be long and dreary. The whole area, I understand, is depressed, and jobs are hardly a-plentiful. The coal companies own most of the coal under people's yards and can come take it, sinking your lawn a few feet in the process. Zoning, I understand, is fairly nonexistent, so you have to be careful that you don't buy a house across the street from a port-a-potty business.

It is going to be different.

So, in my bleaker moments, I ask myself, why are we taking a pay cut to move to a tiny town in rural Ohio to a smaller house in disrepair to ... what? Be part of a Quaker boarding school? Why are we leaving our friends, our jobs, our nice home, our affluent area, our money, our conveniences, our lives? We're told there's no Thai food, nothing pretty to buy out there, and then I wonder what are we to do about Sophie's senior year in high school? ... And I curl even deeper into the fetal position. And how are we going to find a renter, pack, move? Is this going to eat up our savings? Surely Roger could find a job he likes in this area.

As I said to Roger, it feels like dying. The only question is are we going to heaven or to hell?

But beneath all that surface noise it simply feels that this is the right thing to do. I can't explain why. It's not quite a leading as much as just a sense that right now, in this moment, this is what we should be doing. And that if we're wrong, all this of this will come skittering to a halt (though I don't think it will). While at this point it seems incomprehensible, I think that by September we will be moved into Barnesville.

So if Don Quixote could turn windmills into jousting knights, I can turn my new house into a cottage. Or so I hope!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Why so much stuff?

One of the most stressful aspects of moving to Barnesville is considering moving our household, which is packed to the gills with stuff. Everywhere you look is ... stuff. Now we are supposedly people dedicated to simple living, and yet we are surrounded with, bulging with, bursting with ... stuff. What are we going to do with all this stuff? How are we going to fit into a smaller house? What do we get rid of? What do we move? What do we store? How do we find time?

How does it happen that we ended up with a house overflowing with stuff?

This past weekend illustrates how busy-ness intersects with stuff collection. Though we had a very busy weekend planned, I was determined I was going to sort through at least one closet. Probably, I figured, 50 percent of what we have in closets and drawers can be thrown out, and once we get rid of that stuff, we'll be clearer on how to deal with the rest of the stuff.

However, the weekend involved non-stop running. On Saturday, Sophie had to be taken to dance rehearsal, I had a picture that had to be reframed, Sophie needed a last-minute purchase for her dance performance, which involved time in a very crowded mall, I had to bake brownies and stuff cannolis for the performance, Roger had to clean out the garage (which he did, with Will's help), while Nick had to mow the lawn. The boys had baseball team photos in Catonsville. Will had a guitar lesson. The boys had a baseball game. Sophie had to be dropped off two hours ahead of her performance. I had to get showered and changed for the performance. By the time 7 p.m. rolled around, no decluttering had happened.

On Sunday, we had worship services and photos to shoot for the Washington Post, which made the day somewhat less hectic. Bill came over to talk to us about house rentals. I went to my Quaker writing group and then out with my friend Alice. I was able to clean my closet a little bit. But as usual, junk got stuffed away so the house would look neat.

I think the busy-ness of our lives drives the clutter accumulation. There's no time to deal with stuff so it gets stuffed away. And there it lingers, waiting for the magic moment that never comes.

Until it comes. And then it's not so magical.

Shane Claiborne: Beyond Self-righteousness

In chapter nine of the Irresistible Revolution, Claiborne makes a pitch for us to move beyond self-righteousness and into love.

A few quotes: "Conservatives stand up and thank God they are not like the homosexuals,the Muslims, the liberals. Liberals stand up and thank God they are not like the war makers, the yuppies, the conservatives. It is a similar self-righteousness, just with different definitions of evil-doing. ... Rather than separating ourselves from everyone we consider impure, maybe we would be better off just beating our chests and praying that God would be merciful enough to save us from this present ugliness and to make our lives so beautiful that people can not resist that mercy."

"If [purity] ... is not born of relationships, if it is not liberating for the oppressed and the oppressors, if not marked by raw, passionate love, then it is the same old self righteousness ..."

Shane suggests that instead of looking at people as objects and labeling them, we can look "into" them and see humans.

None of this is new stuff, but I think it's useful that Shane highlights the way the self-righteousness or "purity" of left and right mirror each other. What do you think?

Friday, May 2, 2008

We're leaving home: Quakers on the Road to Barnesville

I haven't known how to approach this subject because there's so much to say.

Roger, my husband, has accepted a job, with my support, as technical coordinator at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio.

In some ways, this is a dream come true. How many times have I said "I'm going to get away from all this and go live in that cabin in Maine"? I remember when we vacationed in "Down East" Maine two summers in a row, near Machais ("near" meaning 40 miles away), I thought how wonderful it would be to live there. No subdivisions. Lots of empty space. Fresh air. A simple life.

Barnesville is very much like that--no subdvisions, rolling hills, empty space-- with the added bonus of the Stillwater Friends Meeting nearby. Quakers, in general, seem to travel through and to the area fairly often.

We will live in a small white cottage on campus, on the other side of a pond from the main buildings. Roger will walk to work. It will be the first time we have not lived in a subdivision, apartment or city. We will have a barn next to the house. On the lower level of the barn, a farmer keeps his cows.

We will drink well water. We will take our meals on campus and the kids will attend the school. We're happy that they will be getting a Quaker education, small class sizes and more contact with nature. When we visited, the ninth grade humanities class got up in the middle of their session to go gather eggs from the henhouse. Other students were making maple syrup.

On the other hand, leaving the place we've lived all our lives is frightening. We're leaving friends, families, our network, our known world. I will have to restart my freelance writing career. We're old enough to know that there are no nirvanas. We know that no matter how far you go, you can't escape yourself. We also know that change, even good change, means loss, and loss means grief.

While we are being given use of a house, utilities and meals, we have partial tuitions to pay for our children, and much less cash compensation than we're used to. In my more spiritually-centered moments, I don't worry about the money at all and even feel grateful that we'll be living more simply. In my more worldly moments I am on the edge of panic: what if we run out of money? What if I can't find work?

Part of me simply can't fully comprehend that we're leaving. Three months. How can we get our house here rented, our stuff moved? Why do we have so much stuff?

I'm grateful for the Quaker community and the way it stretches into Barnesville. I'm grateful for all the support our current meeting has offered. The Quaker community is like an extended family. And I know this move will stretch us in ways that are good if painful. I have faith that this will all work out, even if in ways we can't imagine.

For another post: How did we get to the point we could do this?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A reader responds: copays for firefighting?

A reader responded to yesterday's blog about health care:

I think it is immoral for health care to be treated as a commodity, as we do in this country. For someone to die because they don't have money for treatment (or for basic health screening and prevention) is as outrageous as having to fork over one's credit card to a firefighter or a policeman before they'll act in an emergency.

I thought the analogy to fire fighting or police protection was perfect. What do you think?

As an aside: For those who read the newspapers on line, do you find it a bit hard to absorb some of the ads first thing in the morning? This morning the Washington Post ran an ad across the top of the front page with a cute bunny hopping along and the tag line: Do you know rabbits don't vomit?