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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

Toy Story and the Disposable Church

June 29, 2012 1 comment

One of my favorite scenes from an animated movie occurs in the bedroom of the evil neighbor Sid, a troubled child the viewer is introduced to in Toy Story. Sid collects toys, tears them apart, and then puts them back together in hideous creations that cause fear in the hearts of every healthy toy. Yet something surprising happens just when Woody and his pals are confronted with these toys as Woody tries to rescue his fellow toy, Buzz Lightyear. It’s this scene that comes to mind as I think about a conversation I had over coffee today.

As I talked with this friend today, the subject of church came up (always seems to happen when I’m talking…) and our conversation was centered around the consumer mentality engrained in humanity’s collective psyche.

As we talked, I spent a fair amount of time talking (always seems to happen when coffee is involved) about how the consumer mentality breeds in us a disposable mentality.

And as I talked, I realized that perhaps part of the issue behind a lack of involvement by men in the ministry to youth and children is that we are afraid of people seeing how much we are broken. We are afraid that if others see our brokenness, it won’t be long before we are thrown away.

Because, you see, that is what we do. My shirt gets a hole in elbow (which all of my shirts always do!!) and I throw it away. The soles on my shoes get a bit worn down, and its time to find a new pair. My computer runs a little more slowly than it should, so I buy a new one.

And I realized that the less time I spend serving others, the less people really know me, the less they see my brokenness, the longer they are apt to keep my around.

When I choose to serve in the classroom of a child, or to speak to a group of middle school students, or lead worship for some high schoolers, it won’t be long before they see my brokenness. They’ll notice my analogy was a bit weak. They’ll hear me play a wrong chord – once, twice, even three times! They get bored of my speaking. This will happen. This has happened.

I am a broken person, and I don’t want people to see that. But the more I try to hide it, the more I pull away, the more I stay uninvolved, the more I pretend as though the opportunity is just not the right one.

Health in the church, in the world, will come when we are not afraid to say, “I will mess up, people will experience my brokenness, they will come to see my weaknesses.” And that as we say this, we still choose to engage, to become part of the fabric of a community that, like a baseball glove, is healthiest when it broken in, when it is pliable.

Back to Toy Story – its here, confronted with the maimed toys, that a paralyzing fear enters into Woody’s heart, and he is certain he has seen his final moments as a plush pull-string cowboy. But to his surprise, the broken toys come together and help Woody retrieve and re-assemble Buzz. It is a beautiful scene interrupted only by the reappearance of Sid. (Don’t worry, toys, you’ll exact revenge on Sid soon enough!)

Let’s stop disposing of broken things, and instead embrace our brokenness. For as you see my brokenness, I hope you’ll allow me to experience your brokenness. And together, we’ll come together like the toys in Sid’s bedroom, to serve each other, to bring each other into wholeness, to send each other off into service in the church and in the world, all for the glory of an unbroken God who longs to bring us into wholeness.

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…