Quaker Discernment

You might have noticed that the entries on my blog are rather few and far between at the moment.  Part of the reason for that is that MSA is in the midst of reinventing who we are as an organization.  We are moving from being a project oriented to a community oriented organization.  We have been working on a rule of life, morning and evening prayer booklet, and a total restructuring of the way we operate.

Yesterday as part of that process we met with our good friend and Quaker pastor Stan Thornburg who helped us to understand the Quaker process of group discernment and consensus decision making in which decisions are made not by a leader who tells people what to do but by the whole group who are responsible together to listen to the voice of God, and search actively and openly with other group members for clarity before making decisions.

Group discernment is experiential and mystical not rational.  At the centre is our commitment to put Christ as leader not just in theory but in practice.  The main skill we need to accomplish this is listening which of course sounds simple but isn’t.  This process strongly affirms the fact that God speaks through all individuals and that all people has the potential to be Christ’s message bearer.  However it also recognizes that some people are better at discerning the voice of God than others are (What the Quakers caller weighty messengers) and that these people need to recognized and given voice.  However it also affirms that it is only in community together that we are able to discern what the Spirit is saying and how to act on this voice.

We are in an exciting and somewhat scary place.  We say that we want community to touch the fibre of all we are and do but this is where the rubber meets the road.  Group discernment and consensus decision making mean we need to bring our rational thoughts and ways of doing things into the mystical chamber so that they can be touched by the light of Christ and in that light they may be anointed but they might also be discarded.  The exciting thing is that this process opens us up to a broader array of possibilities – possibilities that we may not be aware of when we allow our rational minds to guide and direct us.  And that of course opens us up to be transformed by the abiding spirit of Christ.

For those of us with very rational brains it seems a very slow, messy and inefficient process.  Quaker business meetings might take hours and if there is no consensus then a decision is not make.   However I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that our so called “efficiency” which is often a rationalization for letting some guy who loves to have his own way make all the decisions, is not always the Christlike way to do things.

Jesus constantly gave up power he did not grasp for it.  In fact he refused to allow his followers to make him into the kind of leaders the Jews and Romans specialized in where authority was used to control and often to subjugate others.  Jesus leadership model was that of true servanthood.  Through word and example he embodied a different model of leadership.  He rarely told his followers how to do something he asked questions that enabled his disciples to find the answers that God had already placed within their hearts.


Eliacin in Sojourners

Eliacin Rosario Cruz who works with us at MSA and lives in the upstairs apartment at the Mustard Seed House with his wife Ricci and children Gabriel and Catie is featured in the current issue of Sojournes

Read the article

Cloned meat anyone

Did you know that the FDA determined in January that meat from cloned cows, pigs and goats is safe to eat?  Which means that there is no need to label it – so in a few years we may all be eating cloned meat and be none the wiser.  That is enough to make me a vegetarian – or at least try to go totally organic.

What does it matter you may ask – well they gave us the same assurance about genetically modified food a few years ago and the evidence is mounting that there are new health problems arising as a result.  When I was in Australia recently my sister in law told me that she has developed an allergy to soy milk – but only the genetically modified varied – organic soy is fine.  Evidently genetically modified food has introduced new proteins into our diet that some people are allergic too and food producers don’t need to label the food then we don’t know which can have dire consequences because soy protein is in a wide range of goods from baked goods, to breakfast cereals and even meat products.  So if you have developed some new allergies recently beware the genetically modified food may be to blame…. and the increase in allergies particularly in children since the introduction of GM food in the US is well documented.

Thin Space: Learning From the Celitc Saints

Our workshop on Celtic Christianity is coming up in a couple of weeks.  If you do not live in the Seattle area but would like to participate on Skype please let me know.

Thin Space Learning from the Celtic Saints: a day long learning/sharing experience hosted by Mustard Seed Associates and the Mustard Seed House.

Register online

The rediscovery of Celtic Christianity has been a delightful revelation for many followers of Christ in recent years. Many Christians are intrigued by this rich tradition and by the men and women who led it. They were described as God intoxicated people who lived with an intense sense of the presence of God. All of life and all of creation were embraced by the triune God whom they believed walked with them throughout life’s journey.

The invigorating prayers and traditions of this movement continue to inspire people today. Come and learn from the Celtic saints and see how this wonderful Christian tradition can enrich and empower your prayer life and your spiritual observances. This day long seminar will explore the lives of Patrick, Columba, Brigit and Brendan and the rich understanding of prayer that each of these Christian leaders brought to their faith.

Discover new ways to connect your prayer walk to your everyday life as you explore the many examples of prayer that under girded the lives of these dynamic ancient followers of Jesus. Discover a deeper understanding of prayer as you learn to write Celtic prayers based on your own life situation.

Schedule for the Day:

  • 9:00 Welcome & morning prayer
  • 9:30 Learning from Patrick – the all encompassing presence of Christ
  • 10:30 Break
  • 11:00 Learning from Columba – rhythms for life
  • Lunch
  • 1:00 Learning from Brigid & Brendan – journey into hospitality
  • 2:30 – 4:00 Writing prayers for the journey
  • 4:00 Sharing.
  • 4:30 Closing and afternoon prayer

Register online

Backyard Gardeners

Well, I am back in the garden & have been furiously trying to plant tomatoes before the plants get too root bound or die because of the record May temperatures here in Seattle.  Evidently I am part of a rapidly growing group of urbanites who have discovered that food not only tastes better straight from the garden but that it is cheaper, more nutritious and you don’t have to worry about what kinds of toxic chemicals have been sprayed on it.  And there is nothing that lifts my spirit quite as much as a couple of hours spent in the garden – it is a wonderful way to connect to our God who not only created all of life but who sustains all creation and whose glory is revealed through it.  there is nothing that gets a kid out of the grumps more quickly than getting out into the garden wither. Even apartment dwellers can grow a few vegetables in containers on a balcony or if nothing else is possible then under a grow light.   Would love to know how many of you have joined this green revolution.

Here is a great little Celtic prayer that affirms creation.

Our God, God of all men,

God of heaven & earth, seas & rivers,

God of sun & moon, of all the stars

God of high mountain & lowly valleys,

God over heaven & in heaven & under heaven.

He has a dwelling in heaven & earth & sea

And in all things that are in them

He inspires all things,

he quickens all things

He is over all things,

he supports all things.

Ordinary Time is Extraordinary

The season of the church calendar after Pentecost is usually known as ordinary time not because it is dull and boring, but because it does not have a distinct theme such as the birth, death or resurrection of Christ. I prefer the less familiar term Kingdomtide reflecting the fact that this second half of the liturgical year focuses on the work of building God’s kingdom.

There is still much to celebrate as we move into the second half of the liturgical year – and like the Jews I love any excuse to celebrate – everything good and everything bad that has happened in my life or around the world.  During this season I like to focus my devotional times on the foundational elements of my faith that have not as yet been celebrated through the seasons of Christmas and Easter – God the creator and the call to steward creation, Christ and the call to be his incarnational presence to our broken world, the Holy Spirit who equips our lives for service, and God’s kingdom and the cloud of witnesses who have gone before me. I am actually working on a book of morning and evening prayers that focus on these themes.

This is a great time to start looking around at all that is happening and find ways to join in the celebrations of God – maybe by attending events that tap into the spirit of kingdomtide or by getting involved in ministry out into your neighbourhood or around the world that are building God’s kingdom and alleviating the pain and suffering of our sisters and brothers.

A good place to start is with the Viva Network’s World Day of Prayer for Children at Risk June 7 & 8. They have some great resources that you can download to help focus your prayers and educate yourself about the challenges that many children around the world face.

The Healing Power of Pets

Did you know that having a cat around the house can cut the risk of heart attack by almost 50% and that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol? Those of us who are animal lovers have known for a long time that animals buffer us against stress and anxiety – it is just good to hear that science has finally caught up with us and “proved it”. All this from a recent article in Alternet which quotes a recent study by the University of Minnesota. Interestingly kids who have pets when they are young are less likely to get allergies too. Pets are now not just being used by the blind and disabled to act as eyes, ears and (in the case of diabetics) glucose monitors. They are also being used as therapy in hospitals and hospice care centres. Pets as Therapy is one organization that provides this service. They are not just good for preventing strokes and heart attacks but often assist in people’s recovery after these illnesses.

We have several people at our church that train service dogs. I particularly love to see them wagging their tails up at the altar rail for communion. Once a year we do a dog blessing before the dogs are sent out to their service assignments. I think this is a wonderful ministry – another one of God’s hidden mustard seeds. Imagine how many people a ministry like this must bless.

So my recommendation for the day – go out and pet your dog or cat – and if you don’t have one of your own borrow your neighbour’s.

Gimmicks for God

Well I am finally back from New Haven and getting my brain and body back on West Coast time. Have been browsing through a few of my favourtie blogs this morning and came across this great post by Eugene Cho.

Can you believe it GodTube has just raised $30 million for its site. Read the story here

This reminded me of Ship of Fools website which is my favourite window on Christian bloopers, crass Christian merchandise and such.

Wash away your sins

You might also like to check out Geez magazine – Holy Mischief in an Age of Fast Faith. It is a wonderfully challenging look at the inconsistencies of our faith with some great challenges for all of us.

Disaster in Myanmar

This week I am teaching a course on spiritual renewal at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven CT.  Five of the participants are from Myanmar which has brought the horrors of the devastation of the cyclone in Myanmar very close to me.  Most of these brothers are still unable to contact their families.  Those that have already know of the deaths of family friends, loved ones and colleagues.  Whole villages in which they worked have been swept away.  Fellow church workers have been killed.  One participant has lost 5 of his 6 pastoral colleagues.  See before and after aerial photos here

Devastation in Myanmar

More images from New York Times

This kind of devastation is unimaginable for us.  There are already 22,000 confirmed dead and many think the death toll could rise to 100,000.  For many of us the closest we can come to imagine this is the devastation after Hurricane Katrina or after the tsunami of 2004.  The pain and suffering that people are and will continue to endure is unimaginable to us.  All we can do is pray and respond with relief goods and support.  But what we can do seems so small in the wake of such devastation.

Why does God allow events like this that sweep away Christians and non Christians alike.  I don’t know The verse I continually return to is Lamentations 3: 31 – 33

For men are not cast off by the Lord forever.

Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,so great is his unfailing love.

For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.

My pray is that God’s love and compassion will be poured out on the nation of Myanmar today and throughout the coming months and that out of this terrible pain and suffering God may bring hope and wholeness.

Women in Leadership

My friend Eugene Cho has just published an excellent post on Women in Leadership which expresses not only his views but also those of the Covenant church. First let me say how much I appreciate Eugene for speaking out like this. Men in leadership are so often silent on these issues. Second let me express a big amen to all that Eugene has said. Like most women in leadership I have struggled with the attitude of many in the church towards women to whom God has given this type of gift. We have so often been made to feel like second class citizens who are not really doing what God has called us to. Somehow the freedoms of Christ are more liberating for men than for women. I know that I have written about this before but it doesn’t hurt to repeat myself here.

One person who really helped me understand this issue was British theologian Elaine Storkey. I remember meeting her in England several years ago when she pointed out that Jesus miracles always embraced men and women. He raised both Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter from the dead. He healed the unclean male leper and the unclean woman with an issue of blood. He equated the kingdom of God with a man finding a pearl in a field and a woman finding a coin in a house. And after his resurrection he revealed himself to men and women alike. Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ was just as important as Peter’s.

So often even women read the gospels through male eyes. All of us know that Peter proclaimed “You are the Christ.” Few of us remember that Martha made the same profound theological statement. In fact according to Elaine Storkey, the story of Mary and Martha is completely misconstrued. In the Jewish culture where it was not unusual for a man to pray “Thank God I was not born a woman”, women were thought to be unable to understand theological concepts – witness the movie Yentl and the extreme measures she uses to learn theology. In the story of Mary and Martha Jesus is basically saying – “Mary (and Martha too) has as much right to sit and learn theological truth from me as the men do.” The story does not recount whether Mary and Martha continued to sit at Jesus feet but maybe Martha’s proclamation of Jesus as the Christ is meant to imply that she did.

Recognizing that Jesus liberated women in the same way that he liberated men was extremely freeing for me. It has helped me to realize that any time one human being sees another as inferior – as less human – they deny part of the message of Christ and the freedom that Christ offers to us all through his death on the cross.