23 April 2015

Home, part two

OK, you may have noticed that during our recent travels I've developed the habit of heading these posts with scenic photos from the places we're visiting. The photo below is equally authentic -- my load of clean dishes this evening:

To tell you the truth, I get just as much pleasure from this scene as I do from beautiful landscapes and seascapes. I'm no Brother Lawrence; dishwashing is not a time I usually spend in conscious prayer. Instead I totally enjoy the physical process of scrubbing and rinsing and placing the dripping dishes in the drainer as compactly as possible so that I can do as many dishes as possible in one session.

Two things are especially helpful: first, I use rubber gloves because the water is extremely hot. I like the way that our hot water makes light work of dirty dishes, but not at the expense of my skin. Secondly, with the right music in the background, the job can go by almost too quickly!

One thing I like very much about our kitchen: the working area is a straight line from the sink on the left to the stove on the right, with a decent length of countertop in the middle. In many small kitchens, it's hard for two people to work together without getting in each other's way, but we work easily side by side. When Judy is making a lot of things for our guests and needs to use the same bowls and implements over and over again, it's super-easy for her to hand them to me for a quick cleaning.

In many American homes, the kitchen is definitely a work area, distinct from the more social parts of the home. Many ways have been developed to make sure there is plenty of open space between the kitchen and the dining area so that those in the kitchen can join in the social life going on in the dining room. But ours is a Russian kitchen, the heart of our social life. Although our relatively rare formal dinners take place in the living room, we've been known to fit ten or eleven people into our kitchen on a regular basis. (Truthfully, when they're all sitting it's a bit hard to open the refrigerator, but it's totally worth it!)

During the Portland-Amsterdam flight I finally saw the Russian film Leviathan, one of the foreign-language nominees in the last Oscar awards. Aware of the controversies around this film (sample one, sample two), I've put off watching it. One reason is my sympathy for the irritation expressed in Pushkin's famous words, "Of course I detest my homeland from head to toe -- but it really bothers me when a foreigner shares this feeling with me." Is there any other country where the capacities for thorough self-criticism and fervent patriotism are so tightly interwoven? And how do I interpret this complexity to westerners accustomed to having to choose between vilifying or romanticizing Russia?

In actual fact, the film serves neither vilification nor sentimentality. On a perhaps more trivial level, it is a master-class in film-making. Its sheer stunning quality is a good enough reason to see the film and celebrate what a good director and team can do. But to go beyond its stunning quality, it is very much NOT a "Russia is crap" film as some of its critics here have charged. Its themes and dilemmas are universal. The heroes and villains are very complex -- certainly the main hero's own flaws contribute to the mess he's in.

Yes, corruption is very much part of the plot, but as a Chicago boy I cannot claim that Russia has a monopoly on corruption! Furthermore, the elemental decency that is so characteristic of the Russians we know is portrayed with lovely directness in this story. Finally, while it's true that the film confronts puzzles of church-state enmeshment, it doesn't do so in a simplistic or tendentious way, and it's also true that the Gospel is preached very directly. As in every country where the church has a toehold, and every real ethical situation confronting believers worldwide, the issue of faithful implementation of the Gospel message is left unresolved, or rather it's left for the viewer to resolve.

Good marriage advice. Don't try to be humble. Just Try to Be Yourself. At some point I may blog about my own experience, but not just yet....

A Jolly Quaker writes thoughtfully about Ben Pink Dandelion's Swarthmore Lecture at the Britain Yearly Meeting sessions last year. (This post is the third in a series of reflections on that lecture; there are links at that page to the two previous posts.) I've not read the lecture, but watched the video of the lecture on the same flight as the Leviathan movie! --  and that lecture provided a very interesting commentary on Ben's QuakerSpeak video I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in my post on "The ecstasy of worship is connected to pure intention."

More about ecstasy in worship: we sang this unusual song at Twin Rocks last week.

Two Hound Dogs, nearly fifty years apart -- one with Buddy Guy in the audience, the other with him on guitar:

16 April 2015


Pastors from many of the meetings of Northwest Yearly Meeting are here at Twin Rocks Friends Camp, a few miles north of Tillamook, Oregon. Yesterday evening MaryKate Morse led us through an exercise of naming the values we cherish in our Quaker community, and Bob Henry drew up a sort of minute in the form of a cartoon. Some of the references might be obscure if you didn't hear the stories that evoked the images, but I think many are clear enough. They help me understand why I feel so much at home in this specific community of believers.

Today Becky Ankeny, our superintendent, spoke about the preciousness of home -- whether it's our church, our yearly meeting, our vocational community -- and about the risk of letting that beloved home become an idol, obscuring the reality that our only true and constant home is in God. It can be incredibly painful when we're separated (by our choice or by someone else's) from one or another of the places that we've grown to call home, where we've found shelter and anchored our identity, but which ultimately cannot be home.

For me, this year in the USA, away from our home and work in Elektrostal, has made me think about what home means to me. I'm not a nest-builder and could live pretty much anywhere there are books, music, and friends. (Judy jokes, with some justification, that I really define home as "where Judy is.") I've lived in six countries and seven states. My father was Norwegian, and my mother was a German born and raised in Japan, so I come by my portability honestly. What makes things complicated is that all of these places have claims on my heart.

Elektrostal and the Moscow community of Friends, however, have a peculiarly powerful claim at the moment. Maybe it's because of the international tensions that have grown over this past year, and in our absence we've been mostly powerless to work for mutual understanding and Christian reconciliation. And we're missing a whole year of our students' progress; some of them will graduate without our being there to cheer them on. I even miss the rhythm of shopping and visiting our landlords and celebrating the holidays and washing the holiday dishes.... I miss the music and subtleties and endless humor of the Russian language.

It's a good discipline to remember that God is a constant home, a home that puts distance and boundaries and alienation in their place.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:13-20, NIV.)

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:2-4, NIV.)

How churches can prepare for disasters.

The short, secret life of academic articles. "What articles have influenced you or do you return to the most?"

Conversations on race ... What "national conversations" actually need to cover.

The problem with hating Rob Bell. "We forgive people an awful lot when they don't come from within the camp."

"The EU's technocratic approach to Ukraine sleepwalked us into a crisis." Bring the humanities back! Here's more from Vsevolod Samokhvalov's article:
The institutionalist and technocratic approach cannot answer the question why, despite all our efforts, Ukrainian society tolerates controversial and mutually exclusive modes of existence: to aspire for European values, but to ignore Europe's advice on how to build a European way of life; to accept Europe's technical assistance, while returning to authoritarian rule. To make sense of these contradictions, Europe needs an ethnographic insight into societies like Ukraine in order to understand what they value, what they dream of and how these and other conditions transform our policies in these regions.
Oops. When it comes to untrustworthiness, the US trumps Iran. Is this a fair article? Why or why not?

Last week's taste of Otis Spann's piano just made me want more.

09 April 2015

How do your evangelists and theologians get along?

Happy Easter to Russian readers! (Photo: US 395 between Ritzville and Pasco, Washington.)
A few days ago I was part of a small group discussing the theological challenge of Easter for nonchurched people. We were invited to share our thoughts about how would we explain the importance of the Resurrection to people who didn't already see themselves as part of the story.

As we touched on various themes of atonement and Jesus' victory over death, I felt a strong inclination to make a distinction: the work of the evangelist is not always the same as the work of the theologian.

Theologians get legitimate pleasure from thinking about God with devotion and maximum brainpower. They are right to pursue questions, to explore intellectual and biblical linkages, to question each other and the rest of us, to leave no stone unturned in their godly curiosity.

Sometimes we might wonder how important some issues are in the greater scheme of things. For example, how important is it to know details of local culture in biblical times? Specifically, how crucial is knowledge of biblical sacrifice to your personal understanding of Jesus and your ability to invite him into your life as Teacher and Lord? How much do you need to know about the compilation and ratification of the Bible in order to use it well for devotion and discernment?

Evangelists communicate Jesus' invitation: be reconciled to God! They do this on multiple levels: by earning credibility and permission through the quality of their relationships and their ability to listen, then by accurately repeating Jesus' own invitation, by honestly revealing the crucial difference this has made in their own lives, and by inviting their audience to experience the Christian community formed by the invitation. (What have I left out?)

It seems clear that evangelists and theologians need each other, and both need to be servants of the larger church. Don't theologians sometimes get tempted to think that their special insights are crucial for salvation? Aren't evangelists sometimes tempted to oversimplify doctrinal issues? Aren't both sometimes inclined either to overemphasize confessional distinctives, or leave them off the table altogether?

Of course I'm exaggerating the distinction to make a point; we're all theologians and all evangelists to some extent. But I think we operate best as a church when we honor our specific gifts and a deliberate, collaborative division of labor. What's been your meeting's or church's experience? Do your systematic theological thinkers and your most effective invitation-givers get along with each other? How do they remain accountable to each other and to the church as a whole? How might they bless each other more effectively?

Just as I finished up this post, I was delighted to come across some Deep Thoughts on "Holidays and atonement" ... "When I first learned about other theories of atonement, the question that crossed my mind was which one is right?"

And here's a relevant item on "Word/Spirit complementarity": "Too Reformed for Revival?"

A question for theologians and evangelists to ask each other: "Will you move into the new land?"

How might Anglicans more adequately nurture Christian intellectuals? "Christian Scholarship Beyond the Theological Guild." And does American academia deserve the praise given in this article?

"The American credibility trap."
Whether it’s McCain’s solid record of uncritically supporting anyone anti-Moscow, Mitt Romney’s claim that Russia was America’s ‘No. 1 geopolitical foe,’ or Obama’s talk of reducing the Russian economy to tatters, American leaders have an annoying habit of bumbling right into the Kremlin’s own game. The counterproductive, utterly irrational idea of maintaining US ‘credibility’ as some kind of world leader seems to make them incapable of changing these tactics....
Haaz Sleiman, Muslim actor: "It's an Honor to Play Jesus."

Obituary for Dwaine Williams in Spokane's Spokesman-Review.

"This train don't carry no liars, no false pretenders, no back-biters...."

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, with the great Otis Spann on the piano. Enjoy!

02 April 2015

Arlington, Oregon

This is how far we got on our way to Spokane today. We pulled into the gas station, coughing, sneezing, and wheezing, and saw a motel shimmering in the distance. We spontaneously decided to see whether the motel was habitable and had spare beds. Now we are doing our best to achieve a horizontal orientation in preparation for tomorrow's driving, and blogging is hard to do while sleeping.

So this week I will use my few remaining active neurons to make some recommendations:

First, before I slip away entirely, I'll spend some time keeping watch with Nancy Thomas. The dear friend she mentions in her post, Dwaine Williams, is the one whose memorial meeting we're on our way to Spokane to attend. And a related post from Nancy ... "Lord help us trace our way."

Second, Micah Bales poses an important query for Friends, "Are Quakers Capable of Planting Churches?" I appreciate the long and interesting series of comments that follow the post, and hope you will join in.

In sorrow and Easter hope....

26 March 2015

The ecstasy of worship is connected to pure intention

I spent most of my birthday right beside Judy ... on three different airplanes as we returned from the Midwest to Oregon. Here we're leaving Los Angeles en route to Seattle.

Photo: Marisa Borg, from Dwaine's Facebook page.
More about ecstasy and intention below. First, we want to pay tribute to our dear friend Dwaine Williams of Spokane Friends Church, whose death this past Monday was the first piece of news to hit us as we returned from the Midwest. Dwaine and Becky really understood our love for Russia and supported us in so many ways we can't count. As a gifted physical therapist, Dwaine had a striking ability to combine the spiritual with the practical. Having lived in Southeast Asia, South America, and Jamaica, he also knew the rewards and challenges we face in our transcontinental lives.

Maybe a little later we'll have more words to express our sense of loss, but I didn't want this post to go online without at least a few words right away, in honor of Dwaine. Despite our sorrow, I can't help smiling at the image of Dwaine the musician enjoying the "new, new song" of heaven.

"The ecstasy of worship is connected to pure intention." I found these words, without commentary, in one of my odd lists of possible future blog post themes. The trouble is, I can't remember where I got them from. They sound vaguely like Kierkegaard, but Google gave me no clue. But today I came across two items on the Internet that drew me back to those words.

The first item was Ben Pink Dandelion's QuakerSpeak video on "The Difference Between Quaker Meeting and Other Christian Services."

Ben is careful to specify that he's talking about his own tradition of unprogrammed worship, conducted in silence except for unscripted vocal ministry that can be offered by anyone present. Given my own caution about hints of Quaker superiority over liturgical tradition, I was glad that he says, "We do have a liturgy: it's a silent liturgy." That's exactly what my Quaker "godmother," Deborah Haight of Canadian Yearly Meeting, taught me. It's something she learned from the years she lived in Ottawa before the advent of the Quaker meeting she helped start. During those years she attended an Anglican church.

Ben reports the reluctance of many Friends in his yearly meeting to say anything too definite or certain about faith or God. For example, he says,
One of the differences, say, between Quaker meeting and other Christian services is that we're really not sure. We're not sure what we're going to experience in meeting, and we're also, in some curious way, not particularly sure about what it is we're finding in our experience. I think this should be tremendously popular in today's society. There are a lot of people out there who are spiritually hungry, who may be slightly cautious about organized religion, and what we Quakers are offering is a space to explore our spirituality.
Ben has visited Friends all over the world and is completely aware that the majority of Friends worldwide are not offering a space to explore our own various spiritualities but a space to gather around Jesus as the head of the meeting and learn from him. But he's accurately expressing the way many British Friends are positioning Quakers in the religious marketplace--a marketplace that is shaped by secular trends of caution and skepticism.

I found it fascinating to contrast Ben's presentation with a blog post by Rachel Held Evans, "On Going Episcopal," describing some of the ways evangelical Christians have reacted to her adopting an Episcopal church as her spiritual home for the present. I was struck by the breathtaking arrogance of some who have reacted negatively to her decision, and their glib assumptions about what she's given up. (She only quotes a small sample, but I've seen a lot more of the same on various Christian news sites and blogs that have commented on her move. I don't feel any obligation to link to them here.)

As a Quaker, I cherish our low-overhead approach to worship and church life, as I experience it in Ottawa Friends Meeting and Reedwood Friends Church, and in just about every other corner of the Quaker world that has been my extended family ever since I became a Christian. Whatever my role in a particular meeting for worship, or in the church structure, and whatever I'm going through in my own life, when worship begins, I'm in a very special zone of reality, for which the word "ecstasy" is not too strong a word. I would like to think that this experience is linked to my faith that I'm there, with my co-worshippers, to meet with God. Nothing more, nothing less.

It is this pure intention that is the center of Quaker simplicity in worship, but isn't it also at the center of every other worship tradition that has integrity? I may worry that too many rites and procedures might weaken this pure intention, or that a corrosive skepticism may discourage those who are actually hungry for this meeting with God, but it is not for me to say that your tradition (liturgical or militantly unprogrammed) does not allow you to express that same intention that fuels my life.

Will you be in Chicago on March 31? Hear John Lewis and his colleague Andrew Aydin present a program on the second volume of John Lewis's graphic biography, March: Book 2.

Becky Ankeny on the lessons--or the imperatives--Jesus has for us when he cites the story of Jonah and Ninevah.

Unusual for me, an instrumental:

19 March 2015

Ohio Byways


Stillwater Meetinghouse, Barnesville, Ohio

Quaker Scenic Byway public presentation. (Christine Snyder
at right.)

Ruth Brindle presents the Quaker Scenic Byway project.

Cranes fly above Quaker Heritage Center.

The cross that survived the Nagasaki bomb. Peace Resource

T. Canby Jones Meetinghouse, Wilmington College.

T. Canby Jones Meetinghouse, interior.

Routes of the Underground Railroad.

"Who sends thee?" Isaac and Sarah Harvey. Sculptor: Alan
Cottrill. Photo by Christine Hadley Snyder.

This week, my Ohio "scenic byways" began at Barnesville, where I was attending the spring gathering of the Friends of Jesus Community. Micah Bales talks about the weekend here.

Next stop was Wilmington, Ohio. On our first evening, Christine Hadley Snyder took Judy and me to the municipal building's committee room to a public meeting on the Quaker Scenic Highway, currently under development within the Ohio Scenic Byways program of the state's Department of Transportation.

I knew this area of Ohio had a lot of Quaker history, but until I saw the inventory of locations proposed for the Quaker Scenic Byway, and their historical significance, I had absolutely no idea how dense that history is. Looking at the grand sweep of world history, Friends seem like a tiny, marginal presence, but in this corner of Ohio, the impact of the Friends movement is impressive. Thousands of individual Friends, hundreds of homesteads that can still be located, and dozens of Quaker meetings (many still in existence) settled all around Clinton and nearby counties. Quaker schools and businesses were established in nearly every meeting and population center. Their records (and furnishings and wardrobes) still provide a rich source of social and cultural history for the region.

Yesterday we saw some examples of current stewardship of these treasures. Christine Snyder showed us the family-maintained Hadley homestead/museum on Lebanon Road where many exhibits are carefully preserved. Along with the evolving Quaker architecture, we saw such specific examples as a general store account book from 1846, and a beautifully preserved Quaker plain dress from around the same period.

Later we visited Wilmington College, which was a huge part of our life a quarter century ago, and which now has a large and impressive Quaker Heritage Center. We also visited the Peace Resource Center with its moving Hiroshima-Nagasaki Memorial Collection. With my own family's connection to the Hiroshima tragedy in the back of my mind, I was moved to see the 1500-plus origami cranes hanging from the ceiling of the Quaker Heritage Center.

Four interrelated thoughts struck me during this dense exposure to this region's Quaker heritage:

First, the cumulative impression I got was of an amazing testimony to what might be called "domestic discipleship"--the artifacts and social evidences of several generations' attempts to live a simple and faithful life. Nowadays we might best remember those Friends for their testimonies against slavery and for peace, but their homes, schools, and businesses also show how discipleship and piety shaped their daily lives. No doubt their lives also included shadow elements that are less flattering, but somehow the testimony still shines through.

A second impression: the role of prophecy in this history. Two examples:

A Friends minister named Zachariah Dicks traveled among Friends meetings in the south in the early 1800's, preaching against slavery. The bicentennial history of Springfield Friends Meeting (Wilmington Yearly Meeting) quotes the story of Zachariah Dicks from an article by H.E. Smith in the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Sociey Quarterly (vol. 31, 1928), as follows, excerpted:
He was born in Pennsylvania and went to North Carolina about the year 1754. He was therefore, not a young man when he preached with remarkable power to the Quakers of the Southland. He visited Wrightsborough, Georgia, and Bush River, South Carolina, in 1803, and urged Friends to leave their homes. He prophesied "an internecine war within the lives of the children then living." Bloodshed and destruction were to follow. The cause of this devastating warfare, which he foretold in vivid language, was slavery. The Friends at Bush River, a short time previously, a commodious and substantial meetinghouse which they had expected to occupy for many years. To the number of 500, they had frequently assembled there for worship.

On one occasion, when they had gathered there, Dicks concluded a stirring appeal with the words, "Oh, Bush River! Bush River, how hath thy beauty faded away and gloomy darkness eclipsed thy day." He traveled southward repeating his startling prophecy to Friends who heard with alarm. The result is a tribute to his power of prophetic appeal. In 1800, the Quakers had become well established in South Carolina and Georgia. By 1809, nearly all of them had departed for the West. They "sold their lands, worth from ten to twenty dollars an acre, for from three to six dollars, and departed never to return." They came in great numbers to this section of our state.

Many prophecies have been unfulfilled and forgotten; but the prophecy of Zachariah Dicks had an awful fulfillment in the cataclysm of the Civil War, which our ancestors, who fled at the warning cry, and their descendants, did not wholly escape.
Another very specific instance was the story of how Isaac and Sarah Harvey were seized by a leading to travel to Washington, DC, to plead with Abraham Lincoln for the emancipation of the slaves. As the plaque before their statue at Wilmington College tells the story,
"One day while plowing I heard a voice, whether inside me or outside of me I knew not, but I was awake. It said 'Go thou and see the President.' I answered 'Yea, Lord, thy servant heareth.' And unhitching my plow, I went at once to the house and said to mother, 'Wilt thou go with me to see the President?' 'Who sends thee?' she asked. 'The Lord,' I answered.

In September of 1862, Isaac Harvey, Quaker farmer, and his wife Sarah Edwards Harvey, traveled to Washington D.C. to speak to President Lincoln on their concern for the emancipation of the slaves. At the conclusion of their visit, he gave them a note, which ended with these words: "May the Lord comfort them as they have sustained me."

The Emancipation Proclamation was announced on September 22, 1862.

Isaac Harvey (1809-1883), and his wife Sarah (1812-1902) were members of Springfield Friends Meeting and lived on Lebanon Road, Adams Township, Clinton County, Ohio.
Third: It's interesting to think how the visibility for Friends gained through the Ohio Scenic Byways program and the exhibits in and near Wilmington College can open up our outreach beyond the usual pathways by which people find us. Dare we anticipate that casual encounters with these landmarks might lead tourists and others to want to know us better, find out what motivated these fascinating ancestors, and picture themselves living this kind of domestic discipleship? I'd love to think that one result would be a wider social range of people drawn to us than we often see now.

The fourth thought was actually a question: How do we fully enjoy and appropriate this rich heritage without getting sucked into the cult of quakerishness? For the most part, we no longer live in the cohesive communities that supported the piety and lifestyles of those earlier Friends, and I worry that pride in their accomplishments might be an artificial substitute for finding equivalent ways to support each other in discipleship today? How do we harvest the lessons without idolizing the teachers?

Anna Rose thinks it's easy to lose track of how stimulated we are as a culture.

Is Chicago "one of America's most segregated cities"?

Pope Francis: Reality is superior to ideas....

How to survive a human apocalypse.

Marco Marchi and the Mojo Workers, with warm thanks to David Finke.