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An Open Letter from Quaker Youth, Part 3

January 24, 2013 2 comments

Here is the third installment of these open letters from youth to the Northwest Yearly Meeting. Please also read Letter 1 and Letter 2. I welcome any insight or feedback you may have.

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Dear Northwest Yearly Meeting,

We hope you all find yourselves doing well and blessed in life.  We are coming to you with this letter regarding our thoughts on bettering our perspective of diversity in our yearly meeting, which will help us become a more welcoming community.

We believe that if our community were to be more welcoming of different opinions, we would also become more openminded and accepting to others.  Having a the same views on life should not be the main focus of our meeting.  Our focus should be on God and on loving each other while worshiping together.  A relationship with God is between that person and God, and others are in no place to judge someone else’s relationship.

Throughout our studies of Quakers in this course we have learned that throughout history Quakers have been a leading voice of radical and welcoming movements.  For example, Quakers were one of the first to put women in leadership and provided assistance in the underground railroad.  From the beginning of the early Quaker movement it has been deeply in our roots that everyone is equal.  Equality has played a strong role on how we relate to others in and out of the church.  Quakers believe that the Light of God is in everyone and therefore everyone has the ability to have God speak through them. We believe that this should in fact include everyone.  People who have opinions that differ from our own still have the Light of God in them and therefore we should still hold them with the same respect.

We hope you will hold this close to your hearts and discern on this deeply.  As a yearly meeting that believes in equality and that everyone can have God speak through them, our main goal should be to love and worship together and we should not let diversity in opinion get in the way of that.  We should still be able to be in community together without having unity in all of our opinions and views on life.

Peace,

Quaker students from George Fox University

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“I Can Pray” by Sandra Fish…(Post 1 from P-yoo to Pew)

July 6, 2012 2 comments

This post is the first in the series called, From P-yoo to Pew. Please Let Sandra know your thoughts!

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Over the years of being involved in church, I have thought often about children’s ministry.  Not just the idea of, “where are the men in children’s and youth ministry”, but also, “why do we always have such a hard time finding anyone to fill the many needed positions in our churches”.  If we really value children and young people, shouldn’t there be a waiting list of folks, young and old, male and female, lining up to be involved?

Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.  They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty…they will tell of the power of your awesome works.”   I was struck by the idea that “One generation will commend your works to another…”.  I have been so blessed by those in generations older than mine who have shared their journey with me.  There are times when I am in the midst of a challenging time and I know just whom to call to ask for prayer because they have been through a similar thing.  So then I ask myself, “Am I being faithful to share His works in my life, the times when I have experienced His glorious splendor and seen the power of His awesome works”?  Am I sharing these things with those younger than me?  I don’t have to be a skilled teacher, nor does it matter if I am male or female, to share of God’s faithfulness in my life!

A regular thing I am trying to practice is asking someone how I can be praying for them, and then to pray right then for their request.  This can feel so awkward!  I remember teaching 4thand 5th grade Sunday school and being asked over and over again to pray for one particular little girl that her parents would let her have a kitten.  I think in my mind I rolled my eyes a little but then went ahead and prayed, wondering what God might be thinking.  I don’t remember if that little girl ever got a kitten but I do remember several years later when her parents were going through a divorce, she called me one day and asked me to pray for her.  Then in her last years of high school, her brother was arrested….she called again.  I was glad to pray for her.  I wonder if that willingness to pray for a kitten somehow let this little girl know that there were adults in her life who cared about the things she cared about and were willing to pray for her no matter what her requests. I don’t have to be a skilled teacher to ask a young person how I can pray for them!

One of my boys plays football (okay, he might live and breathe football).  He doesn’t have any friends at church right now who play football.  But there is an older gentleman in our church who played football in high school and college.  He found out that my son played football and began to ask him every Sunday at church how his game went that week!  Then there was one week when this man even came to one of his games.  One of the first things said to me after that game, “did you see ______ at the game”.  That Sunday, my son sought him out to say, “thanks for coming”.  My son now has a friend at church who played football.

For me this has been an amazing example of how meaningful it can be when one generation shares with another.  You don’t have to be a gifted teacher to notice young people in your church who have similar interests to you and then reach out to them and start a conversation.

I have had the privilege over the past 15 years of teaching Sunday School with a team of 4-8 people.  Teaching with a team lightens the load and makes being committed to teaching Sunday School do-able.  Some of the people on these teams would say, “teaching is not my gift”.  Somehow they were able to see being involved with the young people in our church not just as an opportunity to “use their gifts,” but as an opportunity to reach out to a younger generation and build a lasting relationship, sharing what God has done in their life.

One wonderful thing about being part of a team is that each adult seemed to connect with different young people in the class.  When there was a challenging situation, there was a group ready to listen and pray with. If I taught a lesson in a way that didn’t make sense, a different teacher would follow up the next week with a different teaching style that might help the class understand better.  It’s wasn’t just one adult in the room sharing their experiences with Christ….

It’s not always easy, in fact sometimes it’s hard and exhausting, but God’s faithfulness and blessing have been overwhelming.  I don’t have to be a skilled or trained teacher to be part of a team of people reaching out to young people.

Our church and other churches in the Northwest are going through a 50-day prayer journal. As we do so, we are being challenged to ask those around us how we can pray for them.  In fact we are being asked to seek out and ask others how we can pray for them.  I notice that it is easier to ask my friends how I can pray for them than it is to reach out to someone new.  I wonder if it would make a difference if we were all intentional about asking as least one young person every week how we can pray for them!  I don’t have to be a skilled teacher, or a woman, or a man, to ask a young person how I can pray for them and then do it!

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Sandra Fish is a member of Newberg Friends Church and serves as Chair of the Board at Twin Rocks Friends Camp and Conference Center, and has taught Sunday School in a children’s classroom for the last 15 years!

Moving from P-yoo to Pew…

Here is your official invitation – so pay close attention. Over the next week or so I want to feature your thoughts about the church – or as I have affectionally titled it, Moving from P-yoo to Pew.

In this space I will feature your post about the church – the things that confuse you, that challenge you, that you wish you saw more of, that you wish you saw less of, that make you scratch your head, that make you shout for joy…anything to do with the church.

Anything that represents your wrestling with what the church is and what you long for it to be is welcome!

If you would like to write a post for this, please do! Aim for 300-500 words, include a bio, a related photo, and email it to quakerleaders(at)gmail(dot)com.

Together let’s have a conversation about the church.

Where Are the Men Hiding?

June 26, 2012 17 comments

I want to start this post by stating something I want everyone to hear clearly – I am not writing this as a guilt trip. I am not trying to manipulate or coerce service out of anyone.

But I believe this message needs to be shared, needs to be heard, and ultimately, needs to be acted upon.

Two occurrences have happened over the past two weeks that have made me no longer able to keep silent:

1) During Vacation Bible School, in which 200 children were present every day from 9-11:30 engaging their minds, their hearts, and their bodies with the wonder of a life lived for Christ, there were hardly any men who volunteered to help out. Out of what was probably 50 volunteers (maybe more?) less than 10 were male.

2) When the summer list of volunteers came out for the children’s programming at my church, there were a total of 100 spots that needed filling. 60 of them were filled by women (women who also serve in classrooms throughout the school year), and 10 of them were filled by men (of which one man is filling 8 spots).

And the issue is this:

Men are, generally speaking, absent from our children’s classrooms in the church – and I don’t think this is just a problem at my church.

This is not ok.

I am not suggesting that our educational programs in the church are lacking due to the many women who work tirelessly to plan lessons, share Bible stories, listen to children talk about their week, and create a safe environment for kids to encounter Christ. In fact, in my church experience our children’s classrooms are places where all of these things happen extremely well.

I am not in any way advocating for men to take over the education of our children. That would be equally egregious to men staying out of the classrooms.

The spiritual education of our children is not just the work of women. It is too serious of an enterprise to just leave all of the work to one gender.

The women get this. Thank God for these women!! And here, just like when Jesus rose from the dead and Mary and Martha were given insight to be shared with the men who had scattered, our women are sending us a message we need to hear. The spiritual formation of our children is a vital enterprise in which men and women are needed. The women get it. The men, for the most part do not.

Let’s stop hiding, men! Let’s stop expecting the women to do all the work. Let’s stop making excuses. Let’s join together, men and women, to create space where our young people can see that Christ is present and moving in all of us.

They see it in the women who serve them every week. Many of our children do not get the chance to see it in men.

And so I am calling you – dad, single guy, grandpa, young, old – to be courageous and volunteer your time in a child’s class. You are capable of holding a baby, of rolling a ball across the floor, of reading a Bible story, of telling a child about how you saw God this past week.

The spiritual growth of our children is everyone’s business. Stop making excuses, either to yourself or to others, and give one hour a month, or perhaps even 1 hour a week, to investing in our children. Help them to see that many people care about who they are becoming, how they are experiencing Jesus – because the more people they have in their lives who express care for their growth, the more likely they are to remain committed to serving Jesus their entire life.

My Mentor is Evil…

December 9, 2011 2 comments

There is something deep within us that is drawn to evil. In the imaginary world of children, it is more fun to be the bad guy. The most memorable roles in books or movies are often the antagonist. Being mean is, at least temporarily, cathartic.

But being is also something that eats away at our soul. If we continually choose to be mean, we start to realize to become hard people, incapable of loving or being loved. We begin to believe that the whole world is against us, and therefore it is our mission to return the favor.

Mean people, people who continually choose to be mean, hate the entire world – they even hate themselves.

And the more I encounter people like this, the more I want to believe that deep down there is no hope for them. If I experience someone being mean, they lose credibility in my eyes.

But this is not how the Bible teaches me to act.

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In 1 Kings, we encounter King Ahab, of whom it is said:

“There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord…he behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols.”

The story of Ahab is one great example of knowing what God requires and doing the exact opposite.

Yet, as I read the story of Ahab, he has become a mentor for me. Here is what Ahab is teaching me:

No one is too evil to be an instrument of God’s work in the world.

Ahab places his trust in the pathetic prophets of Baal. Ahab uses his wife, Jezebel, to take things that he cannot get himself. Ahab is evil. But in 1 Kings 20, a prophet comes to Ahab and tells him that YHWH will use Ahab to do YHWH’s work in the world. And what God promises, God delivers.

No one is too evil to be used by God. That is why God is God and I am not.

We can be held responsible for the sins of our community.

After Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, kills their neighbor because they want his vineyard, Ahab is held responsible by God for the sin Jezebel committed.

Our sin does not exist in a vacuum. What we do effects other people, and I cannot be so naive to think that the sins I am committing only affect me.

What’s most interesting is that Ahab does not complain about being held responsible for this sin. Instead, he humbles himself and repents.

God’s forgiveness is unlimited in its scope.

Amazingly, God forgives Ahab! This is even more amazing in light of the fact that just a few verses before God uses Elijah to tell Ahab that dogs will eat his family.

Ahab repents, and God forgives him and saves his life from a ferocious pack of dogs.

Godly leaders seek Godly counsel – no matter how inconvenient it might be.

Ahab joins Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, in a conversation about taking over the nearby kingdom through force. Jehoshaphat agrees to join Ahab if YHWH approves of it. So Ahab calls all the prophets of Baal, his yes-men, who tell him that it is the Lord’s will.

But Jehoshaphat is skeptical, and when he asks for a prophet of the Lord, Ahab tells him there is one, but he does not like him because he constantly tells him things he does not like to hear.

Micaiah comes and does exactly that. And Ahab dies.

We can;t just surround ourselves with people who tell us what we want to hear.

Godly leaders take responsibility for their actions.

Ahab’s story ends when he decides to remove his royal robes and enter battle dressed as a normal soldier. His actions are in response to his desire to be responsible for the choices he had made earlier. He knows the other army is looking for a King in royal robes to kill. He thinks he can escape his responsibility by tricking those to whom he is responsible.

Instead, he dies and Jehoshaphat, who was dressed in royal robes, does not die.

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Lord, help me to see the Ahab within me. Help me to see that I can learn from mean people. Help me to see that you use mean people. Help me to see that this means you can use even me.

The Fastest Man in the Bible…

December 7, 2011 2 comments

Elijah is perhaps one of the most famous Old Testament characters today. The stories of his taking on the prophets of Baal, of being fed by the widow of Zarephath and of being visited by the still small voice of YHWH are both instructive and memorable – they are great stories that should be and are often told.

As a prophet of YHWH, Elijah is for us a good example living boldly for God. He was also, apparently, incredibly fast. In 1 Kings 18, after Elijah has defeated the prophets of Baal, he notices a small rain cloud developing, which will bring epic amounts of rain onto a dry and weary land. And so he encourages Ahab to get on his chariot and ride quickly to Jezreel in order to beat the rain. And then we get this gem: “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.”

Talk about speed! Perhaps this was the true beginning of the marathon…and the world record before they were ever kept!

Despite his incredible speed, I’m drawn to Elijah’s faithfulness in spite of knowing what was ahead.

When we are introduced to Elijah, he is prophesying to King Ahab that there is a severe drought coming upon the land for the net few years. The land will dry up, rivers will stop flowing and the earth will crack open like a broken jar.

And then YHWH says to Elijah, “Go to the nearest ravine where you will be fed by ravens and drink from a brook.”

A severe drought is coming.

Drink from a brook.

Without hesitation, Elijah does as he is told. He knows a drought is coming, and he knows that God is telling him to go to a brook.

What faith is this – to know the road ahead, a hard and difficult road, and to still follow it. The brook dries up, just as YHWH says it will, and Elijah does not escape this reality.

And yet, here I am, not knowing whether the road ahead is hard or easy, and afraid to step onto it.

Elijah knew the road was hard, and he still followed.

Lord, help me to be more like Elijah. Both in speed and in faith.

Of Monsters and Fear-Based Kingdoms

November 29, 2011 1 comment

As the parent of young children who are constantly imagining new worlds and creating new environments in which they are the boss, I often get to be whatever it is they declare me to be.

Recently, this has been in a game they call “Be a Monster.” In this game, I start out by being a scary monster, chasing them around the house, snorting, growling and trying to capture them. If I capture one of them, I take them to prison where they must be rescued by someone else.

We’ve played this countless times, and one of the first things they realized was that if, once I had captured one of them, they somehow managed to “kill me” I would fall limply to the ground and the prisoner would escape. While down on the ground pretending to be dead, they would push some imaginary buttons on me and say something to the effect of, “Be a daddy, come alive.” I would then pop up as their dad, give them many hugs and kisses until they realized that the game was more fun when I was a monster.

And the whole thing would begin again.

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In 1 Kings 12 we read that after Solomon’s death, Israel is divided into a Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom. Jeroboam reigned in the North over ten of the tribes from Israel, just as Yahweh has promised him years before.

But Jeroboam was afraid. He was afraid that his people would continue in their custom of visiting the Temple in Jerusalem in order to offer sacrifices, and that as they did so they would leave his kingdom and return to the southern king Rehoboam – and Jeroboam’s rule would slowly die away.

So in fear he created his own places of worship – golden calves and other altars throughout the northern kingdom so that his people would not leave. He did all that he could to maintain a sense of power, a sense of control over the situation. And his disobedience to Yahweh cost him not only his God-given position but also his life.

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As I think about these two stories, I’m reminded of my own desire to control my surroundings out of fear. If I can just create this, do this or be this type of person I’ll be secure, my life will be good.

If I don’t like the monster, I can resurrect it as a daddy. When the daddy overwhelms me with love I can bring back the monster. I make the rules. I enforce them. I create my environment. I can manipulate it to get my way, to make sure I stay in control, to make sure my fears are never realized.

But this fear-based kingdom is nothing more than an idol. It is nothing more than my personal attempt to be God.

And living in this fear-based kingdom keeps me from experiencing a God whose imagination is so much bigger than I could ever dream.

Let’s stop our fear-based kingdom building. Let’s begin to believe the promise that while we may not be able to control our reality we serve One whose imagination for us and for this world is so much more than our puny attempts to be King or Queen for a day.