Tag Archives: Quaker

There’s a Girl in the Room.

I don’t usually post about things that get me riled up online.  There are plenty of angry people on the internet already, and since the temptation to be articulately nasty is one of my besetting sins, I do a lot of counting to ten and clicking over to funny cat pictures when I’m reading about the discussions about gender roles in today’s church.

angry cat

Today, though, I’m making an exception.  Dr. John Piper is an author and preacher whose theological writings have blessed and challenged millions, myself included.  However, virtually every time he decides to make pronouncements about the modern application of his theology, I want to beg him to please, please stop talking.

I’ll let you listen for yourself:  http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/do-you-use-bible-commentaries-written-by-women

The first part of the podcast is rife with the usual assumptions and overstatements common to his viewpoint – men are like drill sergeants!  Women are like city planners!  It’s just confusing and wrong when women try to teach and preach like drill sergeants!  (Or something along those lines – I was laughing too hard to remember it verbatim.)

However, toward the end I stopped giggling because my jaw dropped in astonishment when he explained why he is comfortable reading and teaching from Biblical commentaries written by women, but he would not allow the same women to teach the same material from the pulpit.  He says that the book “puts her out of my sight, and in a sense takes away the dimension of her female personhood.”

Takes away the dimension of her female personhood.

This surprised me, coming from the man who teaches that we are intrinsically male or female, and that our roles in family and church life are permanently and irrevocably determined by our maleness and femaleness.

It’s tempting to joke that all I have to do to be a God-approved preacher is go into the next room, where I’m out of sight of anybody who might be offended – ta-daaa!  My female personhood is balanced out, and I can teach now!  It’s also tempting, as other women have done, to wonder exactly what it is about my female personhood that is a problem when men can see me, but not when I’m on the other side of a book or the internet.  (The answer here is generally “boobs.”)

But the reality isn’t quite that amusing.  In the movie “Erin Brockovich”, a woman diagnosed with cancer asks the poignant question, “Ya think if ya got no breasts … no uterus … you’re still technically a woman?”  The answer, of course, is an unequivocal yes.  Even the staunchest complementarians draw the line at saying that a man who has survived testicular cancer, but at the loss of the relevant body parts, is now disqualified to teach – he is still a man.

We are still men, still women, even when we are sick or old or childless or unmarried or (dare I say it) not all that romantically interested in people of the opposite gender.  We do not stop being men or women for any of these reasons, and we darn well don’t stop being them just because we’re not in the same room as John Piper.

I am a woman.  I love the Lord, and I love His Word.  In earlier seasons of life, I’ve taught and done well at it, by all accounts of the people I’ve taught.  Even though this season of life has me listening and healing instead of talking, I am still intrinsically a teacher – and still intrinsically female.  I don’t believe that combination of traits is an accident.  I think that if God has given me things to say and a woman’s voice to say them in, then it’s because he wants those words spoken in this voice.

We are his hands and feet, but we are his voice too.  These hands are small.  These feet have red nail polish.  This voice is a soprano, and it’s the voice of a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt.  If God decides at some point that people need to hear it, then I hope they hear what He wants them to hear.

And on the off chance that Dr. Piper decides to drop by my little Quaker congregation and I’m contributing to the discussion that Sunday, then I will set up a chair for him in the hallway, pray that he will be blessed, and talk loud enough for him to hear.

Teeny Tiny Lent

I didn’t mean to give up blogging for Lent, honest.  It just worked out that way.

I thought about giving up something big for Lent, even though the whole concept of the liturgical calendar is pretty much the opposite of the fiercely independent Baptist tradition I come from.  (Liturgy?  We don’t need no steenkeen liturgy!)  And, come to think of it, it’s probably not what you’d call a standard element of Quaker faith either, what with the pointed lack of symbols, rituals, and creeds.

I still feel a need for it, though – that sense of community that comes from knowing that a whole bunch of other Christians are doing this thing, at this time.  Granted, Lent looks really different, depending on who’s celebrating it – and that probably means quite a few of them are doing it right.  It ought to be individual, and play out differently in the faith journeys of different people.  Some people loudly and theatrically give up chocolate.  Some of the more traditional folks grumble and mumble and give up meat, while their more modern-minded cousins give up their favorite iPhone apps.  And you can always find a few students who want to give up homework for Lent.  (This rarely works.)

I thought about giving something up, thinking spiritual thoughts, and blogging about it, as many people seem to be doing these days.  I have loved reading their thoughts, but when I thought about doing the same thing here, all I could think of was that pesky verse about praying on the street corner in a loud voice.  For me, getting all holy and blogging about it was going to be the spiritual equivalent of standing at the corner of State and Commercial and hollering about what an awesome Christian I am.  Thankfully for my blog and the state of my soul, I frankly didn’t have the energy.

So I gave something else up.  It wasn’t this blog – that hiatus had more to do with several weeks’ worth of insane music schedule followed closely by a respiratory virus from the lowest pits of hell and a stomach bug which I will not gross you out by describing.  (You’re welcome.)  Instead, I gave up something small and silly that would register about a 0.001 on the Richter Scale of Sacrifice.  I did not have deep and holy thoughts about it, or at least not very many.  But I stuck with it, and every few days I thought, “Hey, it’s been a while since I … oh, yeah.  Lent.”  And I did think, “Jesus did a lot more than this.  That is pretty awesome.”  But that was pretty much it.  I didn’t have epiphanies or decide to give 50% of my income to the poor.  I just remembered, now and then, and I was thankful.

And really, that’s the point, isn’t it?  So maybe my observation of Lent was on a tiny, tiny scale.  Maybe next year I’ll give up something a little bigger, a little less silly.  Maybe the  year after that, I’ll be a better person and I can write about it.  Maybe those thoughts will bless others, and turn around and bless me all over again in the process of putting them into words.  But for now, I am just going to smile, close the door for today on my little metaphorical prayer closet, and try to keep that mental habit going:

“Hey, Jesus.  Thanks.  I haven’t forgotten.”

Holy Scrub-brush, Batman!

When I first started looking into the Friends tradition, the concept of sacramental living made immediate sense to me.  Even as a child, I had a sense of lingering holiness about everyday things like trees and fields and books, although I couldn’t possibly have articulated what I felt.

Making laundry a prayer seems obvious, if I just remind myself.  The folding and sorting can be a quiet, domestic form of worship.  The feel of the cloth is soothing under my hands, and the rhythm of folding becomes a liturgy of socks and shirts.

Balancing the checkbook takes a little more thought, but I can find God there too.  The numbers and logic are satisfying, and it’s not a huge leap to imagine that God must find an exponentially greater satisfaction in the ordered rhythms of molecules and planetary systems.

Even driving can be its own meditation (as long as I pay attention to the road, of course).  I am learning the welcome discipline of shutting off the litany of work-related concerns, and replacing it with a conscious gratitude for the trees and fields and open sky on my way to work.

That said … if anybody figures out how to sacramentally scour burned rice out of the bottom of a pot, come on over to my house.  I will give you a scrub-brush and let you meditate the hell out of my pots and pans.

Hangin’ Out with the Spirit

The Holy Spirit.  I hadn’t given Him a lot of thought in recent years until the summer of 2011 when God said in no uncertain terms, “See this guy you know?  Guess what – you really are the only Jesus he sees.  He wants to know Me.  Start talkin’, honey.”  And in my first really honest prayer in several years, I said, “God, You’ve got to be effing kidding me.”

(I apologize – sincerely –  if the profanity offends you, but that IS the edited version, so let’s call it a compromise.  God didn’t strike me down, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a fatal error to cuss at Him.)  He said He wasn’t kidding, I grumbled and shared the Gospel, and the guy accepted Christ.

So I kind of couldn’t ignore the Spirit, given that He’d just splashed down in the middle of my life and made a big exciting mess, but I also wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  Can you talk to him?  Pray to him?  Worship him?  What does he DO, exactly?  Get up in your business when somebody needs God, obviously, but what else?  Is He what gives me the heebie-jeebies when I’m driving home from work late, and something in my head says “TAKE A DIFFERENT ROAD TONIGHT” and I say “OKAY I WILL” and feel like I’ve dodged a bullet?

Now, I know I wouldn’t do too well as a full-blown charismatic.  (Somebody will have to tell me some day if you can be introverted and Pentecostal at the same time.)  When people sway too hard during the song service, I’m always thinking, “Steady there.”  People shouting “Preach it!” and “Truth!” during the sermon make me want to thump the back of their heads because I can’t hear the pastor.  The one time I attended an Assemblies of God service, a guy started twirling in circles and hollering in tongues.  It scared the living daylights out of me.  Mostly, though, the service made me sad.  They spent half an hour singing the same songs over and over, begging the Spirit to descend on them / be present there / set them on fire, and I just stood there thinking, “Guys!  He’s ALREADY HERE!”

As time went by, though, I didn’t make a very good Baptist, either.  We talk about the Holy Spirit, and we – funny, that collective pronoun is a hard habit to break.  It’ll do for now … I’ve only been officially non-Baptist for three days, so bear with me.  We believe in the Spirit, no doubt about that – He’s the one who makes all the believing happen, and reminds us to do right when we’re tempted to do wrong.  But we’re just not very comfortable with Him.

I wish I was joking about this, but my just-barely-former church actually made the decision back in the 90’s to not sing the third verse of “Glorify Thy Name”, a simple and lovely modern hymn that mentions all three members of the Trinity.  “Jesus, we love You, we worship and adore You / Glorify Thy name in all the earth.”  That’s fine for Jesus, and it’s fine for the Father.  But they just weren’t sure that it was kosher to worship the Spirit [insert long debate about how the Spirit always directs attention to the other members of the Godhead and there’s no Biblical precedent for worshiping him], so we just sang two verses and skipped to the next song.

That’s an extreme case of literalism run amok, I grant you.  But even on the best days, I always felt like the third member of the Trinity was a little like that one uncle who lives in California.  He’s a great guy, we love him a lot, and it’s a blast when we get to visit him.  We send him pictures and Christmas cards, and sometimes we call him up just for fun.  He loves us, and we love him, but we don’t live together or anything.  Also, he’s a little odd, you know?  Not BAD or anything, don’t get me wrong, but he’s just a little offbeat.

So you can imagine my bemusement when I started my gradual drift into Quaker readings and church services.  They talk about the Spirit a lot, but not like I’ve ever heard him talked about.  No fanfare or excitement, but he’s not the invisible elephant in the room, either.  He’s just … part of things.  Like the air, and water, and food.  When the church I’ve been attending had a business meeting recently, they started it out with a few minutes of silence, in order to open their minds and hearts to whatever the Spirit had in mind for the meeting.  Nothing woo-woo about it, just “Hey God, we’re having a meeting, wanna start us off?  Thanks!”

If I’ve been used to the Holy Spirit as somebody who comes to church just a little overdressed and never stays for the whole service, this view of the Holy Spirit has him in jeans and work boots, getting there early to turn the lights on and staying afterwards in case anybody wants to go to lunch and hang out for a while.  And you know, I think I just might.

Go To Sleep, Brain!

Be still and cool
in thy own mind and spirit
from thy own thoughts,
and…thou mayest receive
God’s strength to allay
all blusterings, storms, and tempests.
                 — George Fox, 1658

At 9:30 on a Tuesday morning when the kids are at school, I don’t have to be at work for a couple more hours, and I’m savoring the quietness in my rocking chair with a cup of tea, I ROCK at being still and cool.  When it’s almost midnight and my brain’s keeping me awake, not so much.

The blusterings, storms and tempests are no joke.  Everybody’s got some version of them, and they come and go with distressing regularity.  But I think it’s telling that Fox starts out with the encouragement to be still and cool “from thy own mind.”  Not in thy mind, from thy mind. The worst noise comes from inside, not outside.

I can pretty much order anything else I want at midnight.  I can get pizza delivered.  I can order a Princess Leia costume on Ebay.  I can sit right in my own room and pick up a handheld battery-powered device and access THE ENTIRE INTERNET, including pulling up any episode of the original series of Star Trek to watch it in the middle of the night.  Google’s not helping me out here, though … I need stillness on demand!

At Peace With All Men

This year I rashly announced on Facebook that my New Year’s Resolution was as follows:  “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

I wasn’t counting on getting nine days into the New Year and having a conversation that made twenty years’ worth of hurts (that were supposed to be just faint scars by now, dang it!) come slinking back in again. The Bad Bee part of me wants to list them all, along with all the pithy rejoinders and profound insights I wish I’d had the nerve to say when they all happened.  Rebuttal!  Unassailable logic!  Pow! Pow! Pow!

And then Good Bee (see Rom. 7:21-25 for a more official version of Good Bee and Bad Bee) waves her hand and says, “Um … hey?  Peace toward all men, and all that?”

Bad Bee says, “But, but, how can I be at peace with someone who’s WRONG?”

Good Bee says, “Er … do you remember that one story with the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees and that whole mess?”

Bad Bee says, “Well yes, but I’m not THE SON OF GOD, for Pete’s sake.  And I’m, y’know, RIGHT!”

Good Bee says, “Tea.  Hot tea.  Then Philippians.  And maybe that Quaker devotional book you won’t shut up about.  NOW.”

And I, good and bad both, sigh and make a pot of tea and open Philippians.  I haven’t even gotten to the good bit in chapter 2 about humility when I am pinned to my chair by this verse, written by a man who is in jail – not just heartachy, IN JAIL:  “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.”

This verse is still simmering as I read through my Quaker devotional book in the section on sorrow.  Hannah Whitall Smith wrote to her friend Priscilla Mounsey 130-some years ago:  “Thy circumstances are lonely, but thy loneliness of spirit does not come from these, it is the loneliness of humanity.  Therefore, nothing but God can satisfy it.”

I close my eyes and let these words shift around in my mind, and I’m surprised to discover that the hurt of my heart keeps my mind focused, almost completely free of its usual “oh look a chicken” tangents.  The thought that keeps surfacing from the angry, frustrated fog is that there are two kinds of loneliness, and both are very real but easily mistaken for each other.

We do need people.  Community is important, and there are times when it is somehow always just beyond our reach.  This is normal.  But there is a separate loneliness, where we are aching for community – communion, perhaps – with God.  We need a closeness that human words and bodies and thoughts simply can’t achieve, and we ache for Him.  This is normal too.

The problem arises when we confuse them.  Relying on people, burying our heads in noise and meetings and play dates, can result in a peculiarly surrounded loneliness, if that core spot reserved for God is not filled.  But relying only on God, when maybe we need to get out of our chairs and off our laptops and find a human with real ears, can leave us wondering why God isn’t enough – when He is probably sitting right beside us saying, “I AM enough! Now go call Jen!”

And now, in the midst of all these percolating thoughts, up bubbles my verse from before, and I realize that my quarrel isn’t really with the man who flippantly dismissed my pain by rebuking me for not having more friends.  Would I have liked more friends in my dark valley?  You bet.  Was it my fault for not having them?  Hard to say.  Do I want him to understand it from my perspective?  Well, Bad Bee does, which is why she’s not allowed to talk right now.

The real problem is not just with one man, or even one church.  It is with the idea that the best defense is to hit the person who is suffering, and this is everywhere.  I can’t fix this by myself, and I don’t intend to try.  What I do plan to do, though, is ask myself this question every time these old hurts float up again:  “Can this hurt, this pain, this memory be used for the greater progress of the gospel?”

And already, in the still small corners of my mind, I can hear a quiet maternal voice whispering, “Yes, My daughter.  I can use it.”

Well, That Was Unexpected.

Meditation is HARD!  Who knew?!

This morning for my quiet devotional time, I decided to sit in silence with one of my favorite passages, Ps. 1:1-3.  My brain apparently does not do silence well.  I won’t burden you with all its tangents, but it was very enthusiastic with ideas! and prayers! and requests! and things to do this morning! and things to write! and things to do once the kids get up! and all manner of other absolutely non-helpful noise.

I think I may have spent thirty seconds really silent, really listening.  That’s thirty seconds TOTAL.  If you add up all of the 4- and 5-second bits, and round the answer up to the nearest ten.

I may need some more practice at this whole “shut up and listen” thing.