Sunday, September 17, 2017

Observations of a CASA volunteer

Lawyers in suits; social workers in "business casual;" parents in whatever outfit they can find for a court appearance. Some of them wear the garb of prisoners, complete with shackles. These are accompanied by officers in uniform.

I watch them come and go. They all have stories -- those in tailored suits and those is jumpsuits. The stories of the parents have intersected with the Department of Child Services. Their missteps are being aired behind the closed doors next to me. I will hear only one of those accounts today. Only a handful of people, including the judge in his robe will hear more than one. No one will hear them all. Not in a lifetime.

What brought these people here? What back stories lie behind their current stories?

I have lived in this relatively small jurisdiction almost four decades. As I look around I realize I know one of those waiting for their turn in the courtroom. At least I knew her as a teen. Now she's a grandmother and our paths seldom cross. We chat for a few minutes. Her granddaughter had drugs in her system at birth and is in foster care.

I was wrong. I heard more than one story today. It is a sad one.

As I continue to sit alone and wait for my turn in the courtroom, a lawyer approaches a mother nearby and instructs her to make an appointment with her office. And keep it! As the court-appointed lawyer walks away, the mother says, "I need to see about getting another attorney. I can't handle this!" The lawyer keeps walking with no indication she is listening. I was warned about her during CASA* training. Someone to watch out for. The young mother continues, "I don't have a phone! I don't have a vehicle! I don't even have a place to lay my head!" The lawyer is gone and I'm not sure who the mother is addressing. Being in her line of vision, I make eye contact and invite her to tell me more. She vents some frustration, repeating her assertion that she has nothing. I have nothing to offer beyond sympathy. She wanders off. I try to imagine the life of someone who doesn't even have an old car to stash their stuff in. I wonder about the rest of her story, how she got here, but realize I'm unlikely to see her again once I leave this place.

So many sad stories. I will not fix anything for anyone today. The best I can hope is to possibly remind a few that God hasn't forgotten them.

I figured out several years ago that I have a choice. I can live my comfortable lifestyle while avoiding the sad tales around me. Or I can offer to listen to the stories and live with the discomfort of being aware of the pain around me while I'm doing well and realize my resources aren't nearly sufficient to make it all better for anyone. Maybe the awareness of my inadequacy is a blessing. That awareness reminds me I'm not self-sufficient.

I choose to listen. And sometimes people talk to me. I pray for these people. It truly is the best I have to offer them. And maybe it is no small thing to bring their pain to the God of all comfort. After a while I might even be moved to do more. CASA is at least a start. It gives me a reason to be sitting here today in the midst of the pain.

*CASA -- Court Appointed Special Advocate. A CASA speaks for the child in CHINS (CHild In Need of Services) cases.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Forum Grieved

In May 1994 we brought home the first Windows computer to join our household. It came with several pieces of software, two of which have endured in some form -- Quicken for managing personal finances and America Online for email. I often cringe when giving out that AOL email address in 2017, but someone recently noted that it signifies a certain longevity - starting early and staying steady. Maybe. Or maybe I'm just old. Whatever the case, it still works.

In 1994, AOL was one of few options for finding one's way around the wild, frontier town of the internet. As the AOL community grew, discussion groups formed, including one for members and friends of the Church of the Nazarene. It opened a new door for me. After a while, I moved beyond AOL and stumbled across I don't remember the day that happened, but by June 1997, I was thrilled by the opportunity to meet some of the participants in real life at the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene in San Antonio.

That was twenty years ago. In August 2017, the discussions at came to an end and the slate was wiped clean. Over twenty years of discovering I wasn't nearly so alone as I had thought in my experiences as a Baby Boomer raised in the CotN. Despite how numerous we Boomers are in the larger culture, I always felt alone and isolated in my church life, like no one else was dealing with the issues I saw around me. I read about how churches worked so hard to attract the Boomers (as they do now to attract Millennials), and, yet, felt like an invisible demographic wherever I participated in church life. It's all fine. I accept that church is not about me. But it's still hard when no one else shares your struggles or even seems to comprehend the questions that drive you crazy.

NazNet came along and introduced me to a whole new set of Nazarenes, the likes of whom I had never encountered in my life. It turns out I wasn't the only one left disturbed by viewing "The Thief in the Night" as a teen at church camp! I wasn't the only one to later question the entire idea of the "secret rapture." I wasn't the only one to see a disturbing gap between holiness as it was preached and the actual observed lives of holiness people. Who knew?

And now it's gone. We're being urged to join equivalent groups on Facebook, but it turns out there are no equivalent groups on Facebook.  And an attempt to recreate as is failing to thrive. It seems the NazNet glory days are over.

Still, it happened. It did what it was created to do -- opened up new levels of discussion among Nazarenes and their friends around the world. My joy in what NazNet gave me over these past 20 years far outstrips my grief at its passing. The words may be gone from and even from the enormous collective memory of the internet, but they remain as essential elements of who I am as a person and follower of Jesus Christ today.

Thank you, Bryan Merrill, Dave McClung, G.R. "Scott" Cundiff, and all the rest who made NazNet happen. You have been a blessing.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Bad deeds (and good) exposed!

1 Timothy 5:24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (NIV)

In Sunday School recently, we read 1 Timothy 5:24-25. The main topic here is the exposure of sin, but Paul assures Timothy that good deeds are also eventually exposed.

It's sobering to realize my own sin will eventually be exposed. It is more difficult to believe that the sins others seem to get away with will someday slip past their careful efforts to hide them. And to resist the urge to try to help that process along. This passage is a good reminder that my efforts are not required to expose such sins.

Competing with the temptation to expose hidden sins in others is the desire to have others see and acknowledge my own good deeds. It's easy to be envious when the good deeds of others get recognition and mine are overlooked. This desire is strengthened by messages from the church like we find in Casting Crowns' "If We Are the Body":  If we are the body, why aren't His arms reaching ..." These lyrics expose those of us who claim to follow Christ as falling short in good deeds. My inner response to messages like this is a strong urge to point out all I'm doing that no one seems to notice.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us against doing good deeds for show. He explains that when our goal is to be seen, being seen is our full reward.

To bring it together, Paul tells Timothy good deeds will come to light on their own. Jesus warns us against making a show of our good deeds. We're left doing our deeds of kindness simply as a humble offering to God and the recipients of that kindness without acknowledgment from the people telling us we aren't doing enough. We trust God to direct us to opportunities to do good in quiet ways and to be the One to reward us. Faith; believing the teaching of the Bible is true even when we don't see the evidence.

This is a lesson worth revisiting often.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A journey in short chapters.

I once wrote a blog post pondering the best length for a blog post. That was before I subscribed to Seth Godin's blog on marketing. I have come to appreciate his brevity, particularly when life gets crazy and my blog feed accumulates a ridiculous number of posts.

I have concluded the best length for a blog post is long enough to express a thought while avoiding TL;DR (too long; didn't read) territory. In a world full of words, that is pretty short.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Space. An empty page to fill with words. Words spinning in my head. So may words. Which shall I stream into this space?

 I am on a journey. So many possibilities to explore as I seek to discover who I am in God. And what God is doing in me and my world. Jesus said the gate to life is narrow and few find it, but on this side of the gate I find the horizon wide and the possibilities endless.

 I have come to value the daily blog entries from Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. I don't remember what first led me to that blog, but it builds on a way of thinking I was first exposed to in Matthew Fox's Original Blessing. That book was a gift from my son-in-law.

 My mentors in life come in a variety of forms and from various sources. I love where they are leading me.

More later.

Friday, September 30, 2016

On Being a Quakarene

My father was a Quaker -- part of the Society of Friends.  As were his parents. And their parents before them.  Various family lines go way back, one to William Penn's settlement, others from England through Virginia to the western push into the Carolinas, moving north to Indiana only when war clouds loomed on the horizon in the mid-1800s.

In contrast, I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene.  At age eight, I insisted on joining the church along with my parents and older brothers.  Two years later, in 1968, I carried a flag at the 17th General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene in Kansas City.  I have now attended ten General Assemblies.  I was a student at a Nazarene institute of higher education for two years and a parent of Nazarene students for twelve.  My older daughter is a Nazarene pastor with an M.Div from NTS and has an article in the latest issue of Holiness Today!  I'm all in.

Still, I am sometimes acutely aware of the Quaker DNA passed on to me from my ancestors.  It manifests itself in several ways, including:

1. Pacifism.  My natural instinct is to put violence into the same category as profanity: a sign of weakness, demonstrating either an underdeveloped vocabulary or little imagination.  I want to say, "Oh, come on, people.  Surely you can do better than that!"

2. "Authority issues"  I put this in quotes because I've actually heard those words directed toward me.  The Quakers take seriously the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 23:8-12 and advocated equality long before it was popular to do so.  It's a view that sets well with me.

3.  Inward Light.  I love the journey I'm on with God and the way his Spirit speaks to me and guides me by many means.  Although I listen carefully to a variety of mentors, I have yet to run across any individual I would trust to be my spiritual director.

4.  Silence.  Quaker meetings are known for their silences as those gathered wait for the movement of the Spirit in and among them.  I value silence in my life.

5.  Simplicity.  The simple life tugs at me more than any fancy get-up in either appearance or possessions.

These Quaker values have often left me out of step with what I encounter in the Church of the Nazarene.

1.  Pacifism.  I have found a spirit of militarism that seeks to destroy anyone or anything perceived as a threat.  Even when there is no physical violence, I still see the need to strike out against others as a sign of weakness and want to say, "Come on, people.  Surely, there's a better way!"

2.  Authority issues.  In the hierarchy of the Church of the Nazarene, pastors are set apart -- more accountable to higher authorities, more responsible, having more authority.  There is a tendency to view congregations as flocks of sheep of small intellect in need of a rod-carrying shepherd to direct them.  Hierarchy is built into everything we do, setting some up higher and encouraging others to follow in submission.

3.  Inward Light.  Going along with the view of the pastor as a shepherd of intellectually- and value-challenged sheep, there is often little regard for the witness of the Spirit to individuals, particularly those who are seen as "less."  This would include lay people in general, but particularly women and children, racial minorities, sexual minorities, and those less fluent in the language spoken by the leaders.  There is a sense that the leaders go up the mountain and bring down the commandments (and vision) to the huddled (and stupid) masses below.

4.  Silence.  I can't count how many times I've been encouraged to be more demonstrative (louder) concerning my faith.  Silence is regarded as a lack of life rather than proceeding out of an inner calm.
I tend to lean the other way, associating shouting with either a lack of underlying substance ("If I say it louder, I'll be more convincing, right?") or the world gone out of control. When I'm confident of my position, I find no reason to raise my voice apart from an emergency situation.

5.  Simplicity.  This value is actually a shared one if one looks at the early Church of the Nazarene, but is not always acknowledged as a goal worth pursuing in present times.

It's a considerable distance from where I live to the nearest Friends Meeting.  And I suspect there is a gap between the lives of the members of that meeting and any idealistic faith community I might conjure up for them based on historic values.  The ideals coursing through my inner being don't necessarily match any real life faith community.  It's just interesting to observe the impact they have on me and how they sometimes leave me marching to the beat of a different drummer in the Church of the Nazarene.

Related posts: 
Why I Go to Church 
Why Ministry in the Church Is Difficult

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Library Story

Years ago, I wrote an unfinished story.  I will now publish it.  It needs an illustrator. It has several possible endings because when I wrote it I didn't know the ending. Now I do.

The Rowdy Young People at the Library

by Marsha Lynn
the Library Director

Once upon a time in a not-very-exciting little town in a not-very-exciting state in the middle of the country, far from exciting things like big cities and mountains and beaches, there was a library with some pretty exciting stuff inside.   At least the people who worked in the library thought so.  There were magazines to tell the people in the not-very-exciting town about what was happening in more exciting parts of the world.   There were newspapers that excitedly reported the most interesting happenings in the not-very-exciting town.   There were computers that connected the people of the not-very-exciting town to the whole wide wonderful world. There were videos that showed pictures of the whole wide wonderful world and told stories about it.  Best of all ...

 ... there were books in the little library in the not-very-exciting town.

The people who worked in the library thought the books were the best part.   Not only did books connect people to the whole wide wonderful world; books took people to worlds that used to exist or could exist or maybe could not exist but are fun to think about.  With no batteries required.  Only imagination.

Unlike big libraries in big exciting cities with lots of money and lots of workers . . . the little library in the not-very-exciting town had only a little money and a few workers. Yet, the library was sometimes a busy place.  It was right on Main Street and was a warm, friendly place.   In the afternoons and evenings when school was out and work was done and most of the stores were closed, people would come to the library ...

... and make copies of important papers or take tests for classes at far-away universities.   They would look at magazines telling what was happening in the wide wonderful world and look around at the world using the computers.  Or they would play quiet computer games.  Or they would borrow books or videos to take home.

Most of the people who came to the library were quiet and polite.  But not all of them.  Some of the people were children, too young to know about being quiet and polite at libraries.  Others were people who should have known about such things but didn’t.

There were young people in the not-very-exciting town – too old for the children’s story hour at the library; too young to be busy with grown-up tasks.  What they wanted was excitement!   But it’s hard to find excitement in a not-very-exciting town.  So they learned to make their own excitement. Sometimes they took their excitement to the library.  They talked and laughed with loud voices.  They said words that shouldn’t be said at the library.  They did things that shouldn’t be done at the library.  In short, they were rowdy!*

*rowdy: rough, disorderly, quarrelsome.

The quiet and polite people in the library said to the library workers, “Oh, those rowdy young people!  Something must be done!”

The library workers said to the library director, “Oh, those rowdy young people and those complaining people in the library!  Something must be done!”

The library director had no one to tell.  Sighing a deep sigh, she added “Do something about the rowdy young people” to her library to-do list.  Then she thought and thought and thought about what to do.  She even prayed about what to do.

The library director remembered that her husband had told her she should write a book about the library.  So she wrote a book about the rowdy young people at the library.  But like many people who start to write a story, she didn’t know how her story would end. Which ending should she choose from among all of the possible endings?

Possible ending #1:

The library director left her family behind each evening that the library was open so she could go to the library and say, “Be quiet!” “Don’t use those words!” “Quit bothering him!” and “No skateboarding in the library!” to the rowdy young people.   While the library director was at the library, her husband ate pizza with friends without her.  He went to the movies without her.  When her grown-up children came home for their Christmas vacation, they went shopping without her.   The library was still full of loud and impolite people, including the library director who didn’t want to be there and yelled at the rowdy young people.  The library director did not like this ending.

Possible ending #2:

The library director put a sign on the door of the library.  It said, “No rowdy young people allowed!”  This made the library director and all the workers at the friendly little library sad.  Where would the rowdy young people go?  Where would they take all the excitement they made if they were no longer allowed to bring it to the library? The library director did not like this ending.

Possible ending #3 
AKA, the real ending to this real story:

The library director went to the rowdy young people and said, “Hi, there.  I am the library director.  I have been hearing about you and need your help.  We need to work together to make the library a nice place for people to come. "

Then the library director talked to the rowdy young people whenever they came into the library for a few days.  She took her laptop and sat with the rowdy young people.  She even signed up for Facebook so she could be friends with the rowdy young people.

The library was not quite so exciting when the library director was around.  But it was still warm and friendly in the library on cold winter afternoons.  So the no-longer-quite-so-rowdy young people kept coming back.  Even when the library director went to the movies with her husband and grown-up children, the library was still a warm and friendly place with only a little rowdiness. The quiet and polite people in the library were happier.  The library staff was happier.  And the library director had new Facebook friends.  This made her very happy.