Flashback 2002 - Berkeley and Ramallah

By Request

So There I was……

In Berkeley California, 2002. There was a war going on, so the Mecca of non-conformity seemed like a good place to be; but that was not why Alivia Biko and I were there that weekend. We had another quest. We were expecting. Pregnant with that of God.  Gestating a miracle, and we were looking for a stable where we could bring it forth.
We were carrying within our hearts a new creature named Freedom Friends Church - the culmination of everything our God had been teaching us to this point in our lives. A place where Christ the present teacher is passionately worshiped and radically obeyed. A place where the precious truths of Quakerism are explained and lived out in a new millennium.  A place of intentional inclusivity where God’s marginalized children of all stripes are welcomed and given a place of service.

However, the sad truth of Quakerism at the turn of the 21st century is that we are polarized and fragmented.  Our larger groups and organizations tend to be Christ-centered and non-inclusive (a thing we find to be contradictory), or inclusive and theologically muddy, (a thing we find to be lacking in unction and power). We needed another option. It seemed unlikely that our home, Northwest Yearly Meeting, was going to be able to give us such an option or claim us as their own if we created it. So we were in Berkeley investigating an option.

It was a “tender and broken meeting,” as the Quakers of old would say. We listened to a Quaker leader describe Friends work around the world; hospitals in Kenya, oppressed but vibrant faith in Cuba, and heartbreaking tales of Palestine. She gave us the unforgettable picture of an old Palestinian man and his wife, separated for thirty five years by an Israeli fence, meeting daily to entwine their fingers in chain link, whispering of faithful love kept apart by institutional violence.

We listened to the leader of our hoped for option describe how she had once considered her own ministry unacceptable, because she was a divorced woman, and how God had surprised her by calling and empowering her to serve in spite of this. She described her joy at being found acceptable.

And again and again through the day we heard the call for workers - help was needed. The fields were white. There was no heart there that did not feel the tug

I sat on the back bench and watched two brilliant, gifted friends - our hosts for the weekend. Two women - committed to the Light and to each other. One whose gentle heart was broken by the reality of an evil that would put a fence up, careless of the separation of love. The other, deeply gifted with insight, knowledge and the ability to empower others - who has been begging God for a clear commission to the work. I watched my friends’ hearts respond to the call. I watched the spiritual struggle and the surrender. I saw my friend stand and ask if her service would be accepted.  And then I saw the Christ-centered Quaker fence go up. “Policy” did not permit the service of Christ’s gay and lesbian servants we were told. 

I slipped away and into a bit of a vision. I saw the work of Christ on one side of an endless fence, desperately in need of help, and on the other side, a Christ-called worker, fingers entwined through the fence straining to be of use. And I knew in that moment, that it was my people who had erected this fence. Well meaning, Jesus loving, but fear based people.  And I saw that I was searching for a group of fence-builders to join. And then I saw Jesus, the lover of my soul, on both sides of the fence, and the Jesus nearest me handed me a pair of boltcutters.




Hero of the Faith

I have always loved Jimmy Carter. He has been the best ex-president I have ever seen. He is 90 years old and still taking up the cause of righteousness.

This is an article well worth reading.
Jimmy Carter on Women's Rights



Sweet Relief

I like relief. It is one of my favorite feelings.

It is all floody and warm. It  moves from chest to head to hands. It is indeed sweet in the mouth. It makes you want to laugh. (laughing like you just got away with something is not advised within earshot of the TSA)

Pulling the bike into a hamlet that ought not to be there, with gas you really need, is a nice flood of relief. The thing about relief is that you can only get it if there was the chance that something might go wrong. I think it is meant to be occasional. If you are afraid all the time, then the relief when the bad thing doesn't happen is dampened by the immediacy of the next possible ill.

I might, maybe, as I age, be losing my taste for the deluge of relief. The big relief after the big dangers makes your knees weak and your head swim. Niyonzima just talked us out of the hands of the rebels... again... I used to like that quite a bit.

But, sincerely and truly, here is what I wish. That I will continue to live a life where bad stuff can happen, big and little. That at the end of my days I will face a big danger for a good cause, and then the supposedly bad thing will happen. And as I fall, I will call out His name, and He will catch me in His arms, and my knees will be weak and my head will swim with the biggest relief ever.

And we will laugh!

So may it be.



When Extroverts Grieve

When Extroverts Grieve

Grieving is hard. It is good to have some friends to help. Extroverts are people who are neurologically wired to aggregate energy through human social contact. They then spend that energy on tasks that require focus and solitary work. Some parts of grieving are solitary. No one can do it for you, and because your loss is as unique as the relationship you had with your loved one, no one can truly be with you in your personal pain. But extroverts need accompaniment. They need a steady stream of energy producing contact. And some of what they need is counter to our expectations.
Here are some suggestions and tips for helping your extroverted friend or family member grieve. Remember, the default instruction is always ASK them what you can do to help, and then do that thing.
  •  Extroverts will want to see and be seen sooner than some people expect. Open the house or the church up, and make a gathering place. Bring food.
  •   Extroverts will want to tell their stories of their loved one. They will not get tired of this. Listening is the greatest gift you can give them.
  •  Extroverts want you to share your memories. They will not get tired of this.
  •  Extroverts desire feedback. They want active listening. Your silent presence is not enough, although it helps. They need you to interact with them around their grief.
  •  Extroverts will appreciate the public rituals of grief. They may take on roles that others consider heroic, or even unseemly. They need to be actively involved.
  •  If the extrovert is despondent, do not leave them alone. Work with others to keep them accompanied. This will require teamwork.
  •  They will appreciate it if people are willing to carry their story with them. The shared experience is what makes it seem real to them.
  • Ask them if they want a care committee or grief support group to meet with them. Let them set the time schedule. Do not put too many introverts on this committee. Have a plan for switching people in and out as needed. The griever will often need it to last longer than people can commit to.
  •   As the weeks and months go by, continue to call and email and visit your friend. They understand that the world must go on, but they will FEEL abandoned, when everyone else seems to have moved on.
  •  Use social media. Where the introvert will use it as a buffer, the extrovert will use it as a lifeline. Share pictures. Memories. Whatever you have.
  •   If you are a pray-er – call them up and pray with them on the phone.
  •   As the months go by, have play dates. Fun times of re-engagement. It is ok for people who are grieving to have fun. They will use the energy they gain from this to do their hard work of personal grieving.
  •   Group therapy may be better for the extrovert than one on one counseling, although they will like that too.
  •   Church, AA, hobby groups, all groups will be safe places for the extroverted griever.
  •   They may need to be reminded to rest and do self-care.
  •   If the extrovert has an introverted – focused and solitary -  job,  they may have severely decreased productivity.
  •   Extroverts may seem to be doing better than their introverted counter-parts – because our culture applauds the social and the busy. But know that they are hurting just as much and for just as long.


When Introverts Grieve

“Whatever you would want done to you, do so unto others” – Jesus, according to Matthew

OK, I could go out on a heretical limb here and say that Jesus was wrong, but I am more comfortable blaming Matthew, or whoever wrote down Matthew’s recollection. In either case, I think this rule is more gold plate than golden.

Because here is a true thing. Other people aren’t just like you - sometimes they want different things than you do. What I think we ought to do is find out what they want, and try and help them with that if we can.

Grief is very individual; no one can grieve for you. Ultimately, we all grieve solo. Culturally, it is also very corporate. Our rituals and our training tell us to huddle when we are hurt. This is a paradox, and it is likely that one side of it or the other is hard for you.

There is a neurological reality that expresses itself as a personality trait. It is the spectrum of introversion to extroversion.  Extremely simplified, it can be defined thusly:

                Extroverts recharge their emotional batteries in the presence of others. They then spend that energy on activities that require focus and involve individual concentration.

                Introverts recharge their emotional batteries during solitude. They then spend that energy on activities that involve others.
About two thirds of Americans are on the extrovert end of the scale. In churches that percentage will be higher, because many introverts will not be drawn to larger communities. Extroverted church members who are trying to follow the golden rule have a hard time ministering the grieving introverts.

So I am going to lay out some general guidelines, the application will need to be individualized. These suggestions apply to the care of a HEALTHY introvert.
  •   Isolation is not bad for introverts unless they are suicidal. Introverts call isolation solitude – as in Fortress of Solitude – they need to go there – a lot. That is where they heal.
  •   A grieving introvert will have depleted emotional batteries. The public rituals of grieving drain them even more. They need outs, and limits. This doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate the rituals – they do.
  •   They want to hear from you. But write – don’t call. Don’t be afraid of saying something stupid – they understand better than anyone how hard it is to find words.
  •   Don’t expect a response - at all. Extroverts like and need feedback, your gift during this time is to forgo your need for a response. Their silence does not mean that you did anything wrong.
  •   Don’t just show up, because that is what you would want people to do. Ask if they want a visit; be willing to be take “no thank you” gracefully and not personally.  If they want to see you, make an appointment, with a start and end time, and leave at that time. Keep it brief.
  •   It is good to send food, use the internet to set this up. Bringing food does not give you permission to stay and talk.
  •  They probably don’t want hugs except from their true intimates. If they have not been a hugger before, they aren’t likely to become one now.  If they surprise you and initiate a hug – then ok.
  •   They will not have the capacity to fulfill many or most of their previous efforts to care for anyone else. They have lost the capacity. There is no money in that bank. They feel bad about this, but they will just need to bail. If the introvert has been performing an extroverted job, they may not come back for a while, or at all.
  •   They will probably avoid church for a while, and when they do come back, they may want to come in late, sit in the back, and leave early. This doesn’t mean that they have lost their faith.
  •   They will seek out help in one on one situations like a therapist or spiritual director. They will not likely benefit from a support group.
  •   They probably have a good friend (or even two) to lean on. If you are that person, you will know it. If you aren’t, you probably don’t know who they are.  If the introvert just lost their only, or best, friend, they are indeed in a hard place. But they will want to decide who they are going to move up the roster into that position. It may take a while.
  •   A healthy introvert can ask for what they need, or the person nearest them can ask for them.
  •   If they designate a spokesperson, that is a good sign. Talk to that person about what is needed.

Take these suggestion and extrapolate. Identify the other introverts in your group and let them lead your care of this individual. Love them, and pray for them, and give them space and time. They will revive. It is what humans – all kinds of humans – do.

With love and respectful concern for my friend Mike.


Déjà Vu All Over Again

photo wiki commons

I presume this happens to other people... the standard conversation. You know, when your normal way of being provokes predictable comments from the hoi polloi.

I have several of them. 

The one where I subvert little girls.

The one where people confuse me with the Amish.

And the one where motorcycle dudes have to comment on me and my bike.

These convos are so familiar that it is like Name That Tune!  two notes in and I know where we are going with this. I have learned to play with these chats, seeing  how the outcome changes if I change my lines. 

In Miracle Motors, there is a classic example of the MotoDudes convo. That time I succumbed to the temptation of a wee bit ó snark. Snark is one of my besetting sins.

Last weekend I had a great Off the Grid ride. One of the things that made it great was that every meal that I took in public, I took at a lunch counter. I don't always want to rub elbows with randomly selected humans, but sometimes I get in the mood. I was in that mood last weekend. 

When I was a child, all sorts of people sat at the lunch counter, men, women, working people, old ladies in fancy hats and gloves, kids with enough coinage to get a hand made soda. These days it's hard to get anything more than pie at the counter and  mostly men sit there, often old men. Solo women take the booth. So sitting at the counter has become a micro-subversion.

Last week I stopped for the mid-morning, gasoline, pie and coffee break.  The gal aimed me at the booth  - 

"I can sit at the counter?"
"I have plenty of booths, honey, right over here"
"Thanks, I'd like to sit at the counter - these fellows won't mind - I hardly ever throw food." 

Two middle age guys look up at me. I put my helmet down on the counter 
One guy grins.
"Well!  I bet you aren't riding a Goldwing!"     Here we go...

"No, and honestly, I wouldn't ride one if you gave it to me for free." (oops, snark)
" Well, then - I don't like you!" He said laughing and turning to the next guy who got up and paid for his pie.
"Well, sir. I am completely ok with your dislike and the side order of judgement. - Mind if I eat pie?" (probably snark) The waitress arrives and chuckles as she pours me coffee.

"Aw, I was just kiddin' - I ride a Goldwing."
"I had guessed that."

I let the silence sit while I got my triple berry heated up. Then I decided to turn this convo for the friendlier.

"I ride a Kawasaki Vulcan 750." I volunteered
"Well, that a nice bike, a good size for .... you"  ( a female person)
(swallow snark) "Thanks - I've been riding this bike for 20 years, we are well suited for each other." 
"Actually, the Goldwing is so big it's only fit for the freeway - it's not like you can ride it downtown here just for pie. It doesn't actually get out much. Where are you headed?"

"I'm not sure."

He looks perplexed. I explain the off the grid trip, where I go where the wind blows me, sans electronics, and even I don't always know where I will end up." The waitress is back, trying to refill full cups.

"Wow, that sounds like fun, my reckless buddy asked me to ride with him to Reno once, but Jeez, that's too far..." 

We bonded by comparing our best and worst weather days. His was a rainy day exploring Mount Saint Helen's after it blew, mine was on Macos Pass in Colorado." 

"You used to live in Colorado?" 
"Nope, I was on my way to Texas and back." He stares, blankly, checking his mental map.

"So you pretty much don't have any immediate family, do ya?
"Oh, not at all, I am married and have grown kids and a grandchild - I am a regular matriarch."

Now he is looking a little confused. "Does your hubby ride?"
"I am married to a beautiful woman named Alivia." The Waitress is no longer pretending to pour coffee, she's just standing there watching this exchange.

"Well, ok, fine, does your.... does She ride?"
"Yep, but that doesn't change my need for the occasional solo ride - she understands."
 Now his tone has changed, he is speaking softer, it's gone from challenge to confessional.

"Honestly, I'm jealous. My wife would never tolerate me going off by myself or going farther than a day ride." 
"That's tough, I bet your Goldwing is missing you. You know, I never have asked permission, but it is important to have a blessing. Sometimes you have to earn that blessing." 

"When do you have to be home?"
"Monday morning - I have to be at work."
"What do you do?"
"I'm the vice principal of an alternative high school - And on Sundays I am a Quaker minister..."

And then the traditional silence ensued.





St. Orville's Day

August 13th is St Orville's Day.
I believe deeply in keeping your own calendar. 
It should be populated with saints and commemorations.

Orville, my father. In his youth he was wild and reckless. It is a multiple miracle that he lived to procreate. As an adult he was steady, and funny, and  observant. He had no cusswords that anyone else would recognize. He never hit a child, or a woman. In the 48 years I knew him I never heard him raise his voice, or use a racial slur, or treat any human as anything less than fully human. He was crazy about our mother. In old age he liked to prank nurses. He was musical and painted. He was an amateur botanist, geologist and astronomer. 

Appropriate ways to celebrate St Orville's Day.
  • Go out and watch the Perseid meteor shower that comes for his name day.
  • plant something, anything - especially a tree
  • eat a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich, but only if you grow the tomato
  • Indulge in a Green River Float.
  • Paint in watercolors
  • enjoy some bluegrass
  • pull a good but harmless prank
  • tell a tall tale
  • read the funnies (or anything) to a child
  • repair something rather than throw it out
  • Tell someone you love them