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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.

The Fallacy of the Glass Slipper…(Part 2 of, “Where Are All the Men Hiding?)

June 28, 2012 4 comments

There has been significant interest in my previous post, and I have been thankful for the feedback, questions, support and general feelings of resonance – and, not surprisingly, most of the feedback has come from women! (Surely men read blogs, too?!?)

As I have been able to think about the responses I have received, I have realized one important problem that perhaps need to be addressed above all the others – I would like to call it The Fallacy of the Glass Slipper.

The glass slipper, as the story goes, was made to perfectly fit Cinderella and no one else. It had unique design features that made it impossibly uncomfortable for anyone else who put it on, and was only at home when snuggled perfectly on Cinderella’s foot.

As improbable as this seems, it has become a cultural myth we unthinkingly embody.

We have come to believe that unless something fits us perfectly, it is not meant for us. We have come to believe that there is a glass slipper out there for us, and it is just a matter of time before it finds us – but until then, we are just fine waiting for it to appear (even better, waiting for the dignified person who is surely seeking me out, slipper in hand, because they know how talented/beautiful/awesome I really am).

I see this in many college students with whom I am privileged to journey. There are dreams spoken of that include the perfect job in the ideal location, the right spouse at the right time, the best church when I am most in need. Are these dreams wrong? I don’t know. I do know that these dreams are stifling, and that in itself is a problem.

This image of perfect fit has become an idol, and it has created within us an acute case of Cinderella-itis.

The world I know is not a world of perfect fits. This is a fallen world. I have had several different jobs within higher education, and while I have really enjoyed them all, none of them have been a perfect fit. It’s not because of the job, but because there is no such thing as a perfect fit.

There will always be aspects of anything we do (that is, anything we do that is worth doing) that doesn’t quite feel like it fits. And in this moment of realization we have a choice.

Our choice is this – we say “no thanks” to the opportunity, sit back in our comfortable chairs, and wait for the next one to come along (to which we will most likely say no thanks, or take begrudgingly which will quickly lead to life-sucking cynicism).

Or, we develop the ability to listen and to trust, and step into shoes that might not seem to fit at first, and maybe even seem like they will never fit. But as our feet get used to them, and the shoes grow with us (these are not literal shoes, people!), we begin to see that maybe our perceptions of the perfect fit were imperfect themselves.

And we begin to like these shoes. Sure, there is scuff mark here, and they might not be quite wide enough or have enough arch support. But I can dance more beautifully in these shoes than I ever have danced before, and it almost seems easier than I imagined it would be.

Let’s be people who learn to live beyond the maxim, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” Instead, let’s be people who say, “The shoe might not fit, but I am not Cinderella.”

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.

A Prayer for My Heart…and Yours?

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I needed this word today, which came from a dear friend. Let’s all pray it together:

“Lord, I have not lived like a contemplative. The first essential is missing. I only say I trust you. My actions prove that the one I trust is myself—and that I am still afraid of you. Take my life into your hands, at last, and do whatever you want with it. I give myself to your love and mean to keep on giving myself to your love—rejecting neither the hard things nor the pleasant things you have arranged for me. It is enough for me that you have glory. Everything you have planned is good. It is all love. The way you have laid open before me is an easy way, compared with the hard way of my own will which leads back to Egypt, and to bricks without straw.

If you allow people to praise me, I shall worry even less, but be glad. If you send me work I shall embrace it with joy and it will be rest to me, because it is your will. And if you send me rest, I will rest in you. Only save me from myself. Save me from my own, private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement’s sake, to unsettle everything you have ordained. Let me rest in your will and be silent. Then the light of your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for your glory. This is what I live for. Amen, amen.”

(Merton, The Sign of Jonas, pp. 76-77)

 

A Holy Spirit Ambush

January 9, 2012 1 comment

Yesterday I experienced what I’m choosing to call a Holy Spirit ambush. It’s nothing that was overly dramatic – in fact, in was in small episode that came to life from the spoken words of a 2nd grader.

I get the privilege of serving every so often in a first and second grade classroom for Sunday school at Newberg Friends Church. I really like working with grade school aged children. They are joyful, fun-loving and have short-attention spans. (What was it I was just now doing?)

This is great, because if something is not working, you just stop doing it and move onto something else – and they just think its normal. Talk about grace!

We were having one of those moments in class this past Sunday. I was fumbling around with an activity where they were sitting and answering questions I was asking. No matter which question I asked, the only two answers I got were Jesus and Prince Caspian.

And so, since we had been talking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I had them get up and begin a game of follow the leader. I spent time appointing each different student as the leader and giving them time to lead the actions of others.

I was just about to end the time and then ask them some questions about how the game paralleled a life of following Jesus, but it turns out what needed to be taught was going to be taught through one of the 7 year-old followers.

As one of the kids was leading, he got stuck behind one of the other adults so that a portion of the line could not see him, and therefore could not follow. A few of the kids just stopped moving at all, waiting for the leader to reappear.

But he didn’t. He stayed hidden behind the adult, and those who could not see began to get a little impatient.

The conversation which came from this is what has glued itself to my heart. It went like this:

Girl: Why are you guys not following the leader?

Boy: Because we can’t see what he is doing! 

Girl: That’s ok – just follow me – I can see him and I’ll show you what to do.

A simple spoken word, a profound truth for what it often means to be a follower of Jesus.

Because sometimes my view of Jesus is skewed or blocked. Sometimes I can’t see him because I’m stuck in self-pity, or I’m blinded by my own pride, or someone else’s actions or words are blocking me.

And when this happens, I have a choice:

Either I stop moving, assuming that at some point it will get better.

Or I listen to the voices around me, those encouraging me to just follow them because at this moment they can see Jesus.

My life as a follower of Jesus is not just about me. It is also about us, and how we point each other towards Christ. This is something that I (and many others!) think the early Quakers were right on about – and something we need today in the life of the American church, perhaps more than anything else.

Sometimes we will be those who are blocked, and sometimes we will be those who need to bring others along to a place where even if they can’t see Jesus, they are not left out in the darkness.

I’d encourage you to listen to this sermon by Gregg Koskela. It actually happened after this little God sighting in Sunday School – see what I mean by a Holy Spirit ambush?

 

 

That Dude in the Wool Sweater

December 13, 2011 1 comment

My deepest fears were realized this week, early one morning as I was out for a nice, brisk run.

Lost in thought as the soles of my technically designed running shoes bounced quietly off of the frost-laden sidewalk, I was jarred back into reality by the loud pounding of clumsy feet.

If you are a runner, you probably take pride in your smooth gait, your quiet footstrike and your effortless-looking glide.

But this dude had none of that.

And to make matters worse, he was running faster than I was.

And to make matters even more worse, he was dressed in the most garish running outfit I have ever seen: a patterned wool sweater, a wool hat, ankle-baring cargo pants and shoes most likely purchased at Payless Shoe Source. It was like he’d rummaged through a long-forgotten clothes-drive bin and picked out anything that looked warm.

And he was running faster than me.

Me of the dri-fit shirt, the running tights (don’t judge!), the specially sewn running socks, and well-placed reflectors that made oncoming cars think they were caught in the tractor beam of a low-flying UFO.

And he was running faster than me.

My first thought came rather quickly and easily – he was late for class, for a meeting, for something important. Or he wanted to be first in line when the library opened.

But he kept running.

So then I told myself he was just out for a short run, perhaps a quarter mile or so – you know, to get his blood pumping for his morning study session in the library which he would be the first to enter once the doors opened.

But, he kept running.

That dude in the wool sweater was running faster than me.

Then my mind flashed back to the New York Marathon – and those last few miles that felt longer than I-84 in the middle of Wyoming – and me, dying on the inside and dying on the outside, struggling to put one foot in front of the other, being passed by 80 year old ladies, 250 pound dudes and 16 year old kids who in their angst-y teenage bravado decided to enter the race that day.

Right then and there I knew that running was about more than looking like a runner. It was about putting in the time to make it to the finish line, to finish your goal, to accomplish something difficult. And even if you did all those things, you still might get passed by a man with a cane, shorts that barely covered his underwear and a mouthful of $20,000 dentures.

That dude in the wool sweater made all these thoughts flash through my mind, made me remember what was so clear that November morning on the streets of the Big Apple – that thing I vowed I would never forget.

But until that dude in the sweater came prancing by, I had forgotten.

So here it is, in hopes you’ll help me remember.

Whatever my task in life, whatever my hopes, whatever I might be dreaming about, the way I look will not get me there.

I might appear to you to be spiritually grounded, but perhaps I just know the lingo. I might seem like I have it all together, like the problems of the world just roll off my back, but maybe I’m just good at knowing in which dark corner of my soul they need to be hid.

So when I’m dressed in my running gear, when I’m holding my Bible, when I’ve got a scowl on my face, when I’m standing in front of you as someone who must have something to say, when I’m praying out loud, when I’m sitting down in worship while everyone is standing with hands held high – don’t be fooled.

I might just be a dude in a wool sweater…or might be the guy who’s dressed for the occasion but is getting passed.

I can’t tell anything just by looking. What I want to know is, what does the inside of my cup look like?

That’s what matters. That’s where Jesus looks. And when that is clean, then the outside will take care of itself.

And who knows – maybe next time you’ll see me running in a patterned wool sweater…