Archive for the ‘Faith’ category

Reflections on Holy Week: Then and Now

April 17, 2014

I admired that about you
That you would stand
In truth-Trusting that all would be as He intended
You recognized the need and your call
You followed your heart and our Father’s voice

To speak truth
To be love, to represent truth, to act in love
Regardless of the consequence
Oh! the mystery of it, and the certainty of it

Grace under fire, grace in the moment, in the pain
Amidst the pain and the hate, the insistent hate and ignorance

Where I sought convenience
You showed the way
Acceptance,
Sorrow,
Joy
Then and now

Secure within the Secureness of our Security?

February 21, 2014

Heading home…

Psalm 35: 4-5
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.

The driver took the back roads, moving through the countryside at a pretty good clip. We passed at least three settlements. In the darkness, the settlements looked like military installations, with their bright spotlights shining on the tall chain link fences, topped with barbed wire. While traveling in the West Bank, the major highways may not be the best choice. My passport, safely resting within my front pocket, providing me with a sense of security that my driver could not have.

Arriving at the airport, we parted ways. I paid my guide, my friend and thanked him for the ride. He gave me a refrigerator magnet of a Christian icon. I moved closer to home in the lobby of Ben Gurion Airport. The security agent was professional and courteous. The questioning went on for quite some time. She would ask a question, walk away (I assumed to confer with a superior), and then come back to ask more questions. Ultimately, she thanked me for my patience and passed me through from her station to the next, the XRay machine. The XRay technician passed me on to a hand-search area. At this counter, the agent asked me a few questions and chose not to open my bag. I did see a number of other bags being searched carefully. Again, this agent was professional and courteous, and even gave me a smile and a “Have a safe journey” after he was done with his questioning.

On and on, through Tel Aviv, through Newark, through Seattle. Through scanners and questions and bag checks and XRays, through bag checks and ticket checks and credential checks.  Through, “take off your shoes, your belt, your jacket”.  Through security…

Security: the state of being protected or safe from harm (Merriam Webster). Security is becoming more sophisticated and comprehensive. The opportunity and means to threaten security is also becoming more pervasive and sophisticated. A glance at a newspaper, news website or a popular magazine reveals a number of types of security:

  • Homeland Security
  • Food Security
  • Social Security
  • National Security
  • Financial Security
  • Data Security
  • School Security
  • Emotional Security
  • Job Security

Can we have security, is it our ultimate need and desire? Perhaps . If so, I need to work on accepting and trusting the Creator of the universe.  Situations are not in my control, people are not in my control.  Whom I choose to trust is.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35,37 NIV

Meeting with Friends

February 16, 2014

In a few hours, Friends at North Valley will have their worship time.  Following worship will be the annual chili cookoff.  Sadly, I will miss the event this year.  I enjoy making chili and I do enjoy entering a new chili into the competition each year.  I also enjoy sampling the various chili dishes that others bring! I am sure that many will join in and have a great time of food and fellowship.

Today, I had the opportunity to worship with Friends at the Ramallah Monthly Meeting.  This meeting had about 15 people in attendance.  Friends from Palestine, Germany, USA, England and Sweden gathered in the meeting house that was built in 1910. 2014-02-12 04.50.51After the meeting, we had a time of fellowship in the annex, where tea was served and  lively conversation ensued.  I went to do a little shopping and then met up with Jean Zaru, the clerk of the meeting, and about 10 Friends at the Nazareth Restaurant.  The menu was in Arabic so Jean helped us order.  The falafel was great, as was the entire meal! Jean shared with me about the history of the meeting and of the Friends School in Ramallah.  I enjoyed visiting with the others gathered around the tables, including a German fellow who was working on a project to introduce animation as a teaching and learning device into Palestinian schools.

The meeting for worship was unprogrammed, with the clerk giving a brief introductory comment and greeting.  We sang two songs during the meeting, one was a hymn from the mid 1800s and the other was Song of Peace, to a Sibelius tune, Finlandia. The sense of the meeting, and confirmed through vocal ministry was that the love of Christ is manifest as people step out to represent hope, justice and peace to their world.  What a blessing to be a part of this time of worship.

I will be leaving soon to begin my long journey home.  I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends.  I am also looking forward to learning more about what is next for me in my journey along the path.  I am grateful to have had this time to serve with Friends in Africa and in the Middle East.  I am grateful for all that I have learned and for what has been given to me.  I have been welcomed as an honored guest and I accept that welcome with appreciation and joy!

Singing and Dancing

February 9, 2014

Sunday afternoon in the guest house in Musanze

The celebration for the opening of the Rwanda Friends Theological College is over and what a time it was!  I heard signing coming from down the road at about 0830 this morning, signaling the call to worship.  When I had left the church building where our in-service program had concluded yesterday evening, some men were setting up a tent on the road-side of the property, but it was the only preparation I actually saw by the time we left.

I walked down the road this morning feeling quite a bit better than I had felt the morning before.  I was not quite sure if I could sit through a four-hour worship service, but I was ready to give it a go.  My friends and colleagues had gone on ahead of me, as I needed a few more minutes of rest after breakfast.  I did have a little breakfast this morning, and the passion fruit was excellent, as was the African tea with ginger.  Ron and Carolyn Stansell joined us for breakfast.  Ron was invited to give the main address today.  He and Carolyn are on their way to Burundi and the Congo for consultation work there with the Friends churches.

As I arrived at the church site, the music continued, upbeat chorale music with dense harmonies.  I noted all the additional preparations that had occurred, with benches set up in the grassy compound, and already many people seated.  There were scores of people milling around the front of the library and the church building.  As I looked under the tent, I spotted some white faces on the far side and so I walked a little further down the road and entered the church compound through an archway festooned with balloons. I saw my colleagues sitting in the front row.  I went to sit down next to Debbi, who was on the left flank of our row.  A man approached me and moved me further toward the center on the row, next to Ron Stansell, with Nicodemous to my left. Carolyn sat on Ron’s other side and to her right were the mayor of Musanze and David Buchura, the yearly meeting superintendent.

Nicodemous had participated in our workshop and it was obvious that he was a well-educated and studious man.  Ron told me that he would translate for Ron when he brought the message.  I sat behind a table that had floral arrangements on it.  I sat on a very comfortable couch and my feet rested on a carpet.  I looked around me and behind me.  The entire tent area was filled with visitors and honored guests.  On the one hand, I was surprised that we had been designated as honored guests, yet, on the other hand, I realized that the typical cultural expectation here required us to be considered as such.singing

The singing continued, interspersed with a greeting from the presiding pastor and some prayers from various people.  The choirs performed to the accompaniment of electronic keyboards and so we got a very nice lilting, rhythmic effect from the music.  Many of the songs, Nicodemous told me, were composed just for this occasion.  Most of the choirs did wonderful dances as they sang.  At one particular moment, I noticed a young girl, probably about 4 or 5 who was dancing enthusiastically along with the choir. The joy of the Lord welled up inside of me and all I could think was, “My soul does magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior”.  I recognized the significant blessing of the Lord in that place, the excitement of a gathered group coming to give thanks and celebrate the goodness of God.

Part way through the celebration, the master of ceremonies called honored guests to stand and walk to the steps of the Bible College building.  We were included in the delegation.  I realized that we would participate at that time in a ribbon cutting ceremony.  As the crowd of honored guests made it down the roadway of volcanic rock, I positioned myself at the bottom of the steps.  Habimana, the Principal of the College, called my name and brought me up to the top of the stairs.  The ribbon was cut and we proceeded into the building, receiving a tour. I am so glad we had taken the time to walk with the entire group of faculty in our workshop through the building on Friday morning, praying for each room.  This brief tour was like icing on the cake, the ceremonial opening.  I feel as if the faculty themselves actually dedicated the space as we did our prayer walk on Friday morning.  The tour ended with a peek at the library and a prayer for it.  We returned to our seats.

The ceremony went on with various prayers, messages and songs.  Remarkably, the program maintained the schedule and I thought I heard a joke from David Buchura referring to them being on Mzungu time for this celebration.  RonRon’s address was taken from Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  He did a nice job of working with his translator and the message was quite stirring and appropriate.  The worship time ended with a speech from the mayor of Muzanse and one from David Buchura.  The mayor was given two bibles as gifts, Ron Stansell was given a plaque in the shape of Rwanda with two hands clasped as a gift to be taken to EFI.  Lon Fendall was given three gifts, a floppy straw hat, a traditional eating bowl and a carved boat.  All were symbolic gifts to reflect the appreciation of the Rwandan Friends to Lon for his years of service in support of them and the RFTC.

At the conclusion of the service, the honored guests were sent back to the steps of the building.  It was to be a time of prayer, I thought.  It was a second ribbon cutting ceremony.  Once again, Habimana called me up to the front, this time, asking me to hold the ribbon as the Mayor cut it.  We entered into the building and there was lunch laid out for us!  I took very small portions.  We sat and visited in the same room we had eaten dinner on Friday evening, this time in a much more formal manner.  I asked Ron to tell me about the roots of the Friends work in Rwanda and he filled me in quite a bit.  Carolyn told me that a book he has written has chapters on this region.

A Ritual Common to Them

May 23, 2011

Through years of experience, through the development of routine, through practice and reference to the conventional wisdom of our elders, our leaders, our supervisors and the priests of the common culture we acquire set patterns of behavior which become natural response to circumstances and need.  Our national culture is influenced by what sells in 15 seconds, our community culture defined by our history and local language and our standards of conduct are informed by popular media and our basic hungers. What a potent mix of traditional values and contemporary urges.  Liberty has become license and only the restraining power of the force of arms or threat of incarceration hold back the tide of self inflicted on others.

But, we Americans also have “the book” and a history of respect for God and man, yes?  We worship on Sunday and pay our regards to the God we know through our attendance at our sanctuaries and our heartfelt prayers.  Who dare question the integrity of our lives of piety? We freely admit our love of our heavenly father. We stop to listen to the oft-spoken prayers and bow our head and say Amen.  The commandments speak true, we nod our head in assent.

And yet, the torn man sits by the road begging, and the child eats empty meals for breakfast.  The widow, not abandoned by death, but by man’s choice, tends to her young lads and weeps while nearby the highways gleam with late- model cars, carrying each commuter to their safe place of work, or back to the patios, microwaves and well-stocked freezers of home.

A story is told of a day long ago, of a gathering on a hill, two worldviews competing.  The conventional wisdom of the day exposed by an odd man with an odd challenge.  Elijah (found in 1 Kings 18) represented the Living God and answered God’s call in pointing out the futility of conventional thought and acceptable worship. When those followers of Baal expected their god to speak, they did all they could to ensure his response.

“O Baal, answer us!” But nothing happened—not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made.

27-28 By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, “Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?” They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives—a ritual common to them—until they were covered with blood.

What rituals common to us will be used to wake the sleeping gods and those on vacation?  What reminder does the overly-involved god need to be summoned at our request?

Could it be that our cultural icons and vacationing deities will never respond, never fulfill, never satisfy?  Or could it be that we just haven’t worked hard enough to get them to get involved in our project, our concerns and desires?  Perhaps we are not yet covered with blood?

Dimensions of Peace

September 27, 2010

My impressions regarding our Sunday morning (9/19) worship service are varied. I was pleased to be hosting two Chinese professors who are visiting scholars at George Fox University. Alice and Catherine are professors of English at a University of Post and Telecommunications. They had expressed an interest in learning American culture by attending church. I thought the Sunday morning service was a good one to have them participating in as we were commemorating the International Day of Peace and having a service that was a little out of the ordinary. By hosting Alice and Catherine, and answering a number of questions that they posed about our meeting for worship and our barbecue afterward, I was able to think about the meeting and the meaning I make of it.

I tried to draw a word picture of sorts out of the raw material that came from the meeting. From the introductory comments that one of our worship leaders brought, I learned that the concept of peace is a multilayered one. From personal peace, to peace in the family, the community, the nation and in the world, each of us can focus on a different layer. I reflected on what was said, that we can get stuck if we exclusively focus on personal peace, looking to enhance our own well being and relationship with God; of if we are solely concerned with international peace. At either end of the spectrum, we could become so focused that we lose opportunity to truly reflect peace as God intends.

I found it hard to find a way of tying all the ideas together, but I reflected on the structure of the worship meeting, from the songs that helped us focus on the work of God in our lives to the specific activities that we were invited to participate in as part of the meeting. We had the choice to walk the path, to use the labyrinth, to make a peace flag or to read and reflect on quotes there were displayed in the sanctuary. During the story that my wife, Debbie read to the children I was challenged to reflect on what peace is like and how I experience it. I also realized that certain boys’ inappropriate words during the response time were probably inhibiting other kid’s participation, and I did not like that.

I invited Alice and Catherine to walk on the path which extends around our property with me. We were blessed with lovely weather and the walk was slow and lovely. We talked about church, worship, the property and the beauty that surrounded us. We also visited the labyrinth that had been set up in the gym and both Alice and Catherine walked it as I conversed with others. I recognized that I was in the presence of two persons who may have never been in a worship experience before this time. I did my best to be open and sensitive to their lack of connections with what we were doing. How is my commitment and outreach a “peace making” activity.

I reflect back on Stan’s sermon of the previous week regarding holy dissatisfaction. In my mind there is a distinction to be made between standing up to injustice or in carrying out peacemaking from an ethical sense of doing the right thing or challenging wrong doing and acting out of a transformed heart which is compelled to respond to God. However, do I dare speak against ethical stands for justice and peace? Should I only act on God’s clear direction? And how is my heart transformed anyway? Do my actions in doing good themselves cause a transformation?

These thoughts lead me to some of the reflections shared by others at the conclusion of this Sunday’s worship service. Again, I tried hard to find themes to categorize these thoughts, but could not easily group them. I heard that a need for Jesus is important and that stillness and a release of my need to control are needed to be at peace. I was challenged to think about how my brokenness itself becomes a venue for sharing light (a thought that Parker Palmer shares in his book; A Hidden Wholeness). This thought is actually one that will form a foundation for a webinar I am doing next Tuesday on balancing work and life. The audience will be educators who work in Christian schools and I have been thinking about maintaining a peaceful life related to our professional roles and responsibilities.

Regarding a peaceful life, we were challenged during the service to find peace inside so that we would be able to influence others. In order to find this peace, we need to give up our own rights and see that God may be investing us into something bigger than we realize. Spiritual renewal is hard work, in a sense; we are not passive in seeking or maintaining peace, but actively working toward achieving peace on the many dimensions from personal to international. One person made the point that strong and clear messages of peace can come from secular voices, and those are not to be ignored.

It Isn’t Quite Right

September 16, 2010

During the open worship time on Sunday at our Friends meeting, I was wrestling with concerns and ideas, but did not believe that anything I was thinking was intended for the group. I found myself being in a position of “knowing too much”. My upbringing and personal dispositions have prepared me to be a person who is willing to identify needs and to accept responsibility. This willingness makes me a prime candidate for saying yes to invitations for service, and also compels me to volunteer for service before I am asked. Once I accept a responsibility, I am diligent to carry it out. I know that as a result, I am busily involved with the politics of organizations.

I serve as department chair at my University. As such, I have many responsibilities that go beyond what would be expected of a faculty member. I serve on the editorial board of a scholarly journal and am president of an international association of scholar-teachers. In these roles, I am expected to plan programs, lead people, assess efforts and teach others professionals. In my local congregation  I have been active in leadership for several years in varying capacity.

What this context provides for me is an understanding that when I say, “It isn’t quite right”, I am in a position of knowing more than I should about various groups I am a part of. As a result, whether I am dealing with other professors, with university business or with local church politics, I can say, I know too much, and things aren’t quite right.

My realization about things not being quite right does indeed come from my vision of what an ideal organization would be like. The three organizations I mention are all made up of people who are followers of Christ, and I can say with confidence that the actual practice of people in these groups does not measure up to the ideal.

So what? Does it really matter to me that life is less than ideal, that people are less than perfect, that love and respect and servanthood have been replaced by “every man for himself”, “the wealthy and powerful have first crack, they’ve earned, it after all” and “why should I be the one to get involved, it is not worth hassling with”.

I make sense of my lack of response in various ways. For instance, since we are all human and none of us measure up to the fullness of the ideal, I can just learn to live within a comfortable margin of tolerance between what I would characterize as my ideal and what is awful. In this grey, in-between area there are gradations which are less than totally light but light enough for me to be content, and other, darker levels in which I am uncomfortable. If I am lacking courage or energy or focus, I can lower the threshold of acceptability of the environment and say, “yes, I guess this is okay after all.” Or, I can say, “I don’t want to get so single minded that I am unable to enjoy a balanced life that allows me time with my family, some leisure, and the opportunity to continue to grow professionally”. At times, I find myself getting to the edge of speaking out, saying, it isn’t quite right.” And then I wonder, “how will this affect me personally, will my willingness to confront and offend other people bring me discomfort and pain from others whom I choose to challenge.”

I reflect on the people that were featured in the sermon on Sunday. Jesus, Paul, Peter and Martin Luther King Jr. were all killed for taking stands. George Fox suffered at the hands of the church people of his day and was imprisoned for his efforts. Martin Luther was harassed, run out of the church, and had a death sentence pronounced on him. Mother Teresa embraced a life of poverty, and although honored for her efforts at service, was also attacked by others for her attempts to influence culture. Lucretia Mott’s opposition to slavery and advocacy for women’s right seem mainstream today, but in her day, she was so far ahead of the culture that she was attacked, ostracized and considered to be out of bounds both within the church and in the culture at large.

Are these the kinds of lives that I aspire to? Or, am I Like the disciples that Jesus dealt with in Mark chapter 10, who were amazed that Jesus stated that rich people would find it extremely difficult to enter the Kingdom of God.

23-25Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”
26That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.
27Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

I say I want to follow Jesus, so why is it so difficult for me to accept the fact having it all is actually a barrier to God’s kingdom, not an indication of my heavenly citizenship. Those folks that we were reminded of in the sermon on Sunday saw things a bit differently. I learned from the sermon that my behaviors, my choices, my life will reflect my grasp of the vision of Christ in my life. The work of transformation that Christ can do, desires to do and will do occurs only if I am willing to let God to it. I realize that I am attempting to pull off things on my own, figuring out how to make transformation occur at my behest, all within my comfortable notion of, “things are just about right”. I suppose that at this point in time, I am looking for ways of holding on to much of what I have, not in laying it down for the sake of saying, “it isn’t quite right”. And that isn’t quite right, is it?