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.


Friday, September 16, 2016

On Online Communities and Faith

In May 1994, my husband and I crammed our first Windows computer system into our minivan and brought it home.  Included was a floppy disk for installing America Online software.  We were about to join the internet age. And our telephone bills would reflect that new era.

Before long I discovered online discussion groups.  People with common interests were starting to find each other.  It opened up a new world to me.  For years I had struggled with spiritual questions it seemed no one else was asking.  First AOL, then the World Wide Web gave me access to people discussing the topics that nagged at my soul, people with journeys similar to mine whom I wouldn't know any other way.  I was also introduced to new authors, such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell.  I found a new kind of Christianity in postmodernity.  I discovered I already new the fundamentals of the language before I even knew it existed or what it was called.  It was revolutionary!

More than twenty years have passed since those initial adventures in online communities.  Many of my early mentors have moved on.  Social media has become a place of raised voices and contention, especially when discussing politics or religion. In what has long been my favorite community I'm now finding fewer people walking the path I'm walking  I'm relying more on blogs and podcasts for fresh thoughts and guidance down new paths.

One thing I appreciate about online conversation is its pace.  It allows time to think before responding.  And even to edit one's response after further consideration.

It may be time to seek out or form new communities, but I definitely need internet-based communication in my life.  Without it, my world is too small.

Monday, August 29, 2016

On Writing Poetry

This may be crazy talk, but I am close to being frustrated enough with what is available for congregational singing in churches to create my own offerings.  This requires two things, just to start, and then more to continue.  To start, the two requirements are:  1. Lyrics. 2. Music.

I mentioned to someone once that the poets of today are not publishing books of poetry.  They are writing lyrics for songs.  The person with whom I was speaking disagreed with that statement, but I think I'll stand by it.  Almost all of the exposure most people get to poetry comes in the form of song lyrics.

Composing music comes easily to me.  The first time I did it was when I was a teen playing the organ for a wedding.  There was a delay and I was out of music.  I didn't want to go back to start again on one of my songs, so I just wandered through a typical chord progression, weaving an impromptu melody until we were ready to proceed.  As far as I know, no one noticed.  Composing good music may be beyond me, but if all we need is a melody for some words, it doesn't seem like a big deal to me.

Poetry, on the other hand ...  This is not part of my skill set.  It would be nice to find someone else to do that part, but I haven't found such a person.  While I wait, I suppose I may as well try my own hand at it and see what emerges.

That said, here is attempt #1:

  It stirs up fear in me,
  In my heart. It's an art
  I don't know.

  How can I let it flow
  From my heart to the place
  I would go?

Words on words
Must they rhyme?
Must they beat
Out in time?

More than words,
Thoughts unfurled.
Seeking space
In this world.

  I must perfect this art
  If I want to impart
  To the heart

Of this world
  All the stuff I feel
  Swelling up in my heart
  Full and real.

  Is it my destiny?
  To write words never heard,
  Never shared?

  May be the death of me.
  How can I squeeze my thoughts
  Into rhyme beating time?
  How can words stuck in structure
  Lead the life that I picture
  For the fruit of my work
  In poetry?