Seeking the Living Water

Quest for Adequacy - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 10:21
[The message I gave out of open worship at the Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas consultation in High Point, NC.

At Freedom Friends Church, we always begin with gratitude.  I am grateful to be here with all of you this evening.  I am grateful for safe travels and warm welcomes.  I am grateful for Deborah S, who is eldering for me, and for all of the Friends who are holding me in prayer.  I am grateful for all of you, for the joy and hope and love you bring to this gathering.  I am grateful that God is not finished with us yet.

In Jeremiah 2:13, the prophet Jeremiah speaks the word of the Lord, saying, “My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns, cisterns that cannot hold water.”
As I was preparing this message, two images from the natural world came to me.  The first is of dead trees filled with salt in Alaska.
I was born and raised in Alaska, and so was my mother, and so were her parents.  That place is deep in my bones.  There are certain colors and smells and images that I associate with it, and when I see them or smell them, I know that I am home.
One of the most haunting images of my childhood was of these dead trees.  They are a result of the 1964 earthquake.  That earthquake was 9.2 and lasted for four minutes.  My grandparents and my mother thought that it was the end of the world.  They ran outside as their house fell off its foundation.  The destruction was incredible.
In one part of Alaska, the ground sank below sea level, and the trees’ root systems filled with salt water.  Decades later, you could drive by and see these ghost trees, standing exactly as they stood during the earthquake.  It is a haunting image and one that seemed like it would last forever.
This was a natural reaction to a natural disaster.  The water that killed those trees had been living water, but it was no longer life-giving for those trees. 
Sometimes when we encounter God, it feels a little like that: overwhelming.
There is a story in the Bible where Jesus takes three of his disciples up onto a mountain to pray, and while they are there, they have an encounter with the living God.  As Jesus was praying, his face was transformed and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening.  (Luke 9:29)
This story is like another story in the Bible, where Moses also went up a mountain to encounter God.  After he did, his face also glowed.  His face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.  (Exodus 34:29)
But the first time Moses went down from the mountain, he found that the people had built a golden calf and were worshiping it.  (Exodus 32:5-6)
The question that people always ask is, How could the Israelites do that?  They had just had an incredible encounter with the living God; God had just rescued them from slavery in Egypt and performed miracle after miracle.  But I think it is not in spite of that encounter with God that the Israelites built the golden calf, but because of it.
A phrase you often hear Quaker ministers say to each other is, “Watch what you fill up on.”  When we encounter the living God, that experience changes us, inside and out, and others can see it.  We feel different and we look and sound different. 
Afterward, there is a strong impulse to recreate the experience, to fill the hole that was so recently filled by the presence of God.
And, in the story of Jesus on the mountain, this is what Peter wanted to do.  He saw Jesus’ radiant face and the two men with him and said, “Master, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters―one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  The Bible says that he did not know what he was saying.  (Luke 9:33) 
But Peter knew that he had encountered the living God.  He wanted to mark the experience and hold on to it by making a tabernacle, but the spirit of God had moved on.
I began with Jeremiah 2:13, a passage that has been important to me.  But when I was in North Carolina a couple years ago, a Friend from Ohio Yearly Meeting reminded me of another passage about water.  Proverbs 5:15 instructs us to “drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.”
The context of this verse is faithfulness to one’s spouse, but I think it works for the Religious Society as Friends as well.  We are all here because we have found something, we have encountered the living God, we have found the living water here among Friends.  Where have we found it?  Where have we abandoned it?  Where do we find it now?
Even if we have abandoned the living water or we have set up monuments to the past, there is always hope.  Even those ghost trees that haunted my childhood won’t last forever.  When I was a teenager, an artist began to make salt and pepper shakers out of the trees. 
The second image from the natural world that came to me is of a place that I used to pass by in Salem, Oregon when I would take walks on my lunch break.  It was a place that had been a concrete driveway, but the concrete had been taken away and there was grass growing where it had been.  After a while, you couldn’t even see where the concrete had been, it was just grass.
Concrete seems permanent.  It is heavy and it seems like it will last forever, but it doesn’t.  It is possible for grass to grow where there was once concrete.
Transformation is always possible.
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Thoughts on Leadings III

Quest for Adequacy - Wed, 04/02/2014 - 18:47
[My reflection paper for the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference.  The theme and quotes for reflection are available online here.]

As I write this from Atlanta, the Pacific Northwest feels very far away.  At the same time, the theme of “Wilt Thou Go On My Journey” speaks to me, and especially the quote from Luke, where Jesus tells the disciples to go out and take nothing on the journey.  Last year, I sold and gave away almost everything I owned because I felt God leading me to go to seminary.  At the end of my first year, I am still not sure why or what I will be doing when I am finished with this degree.  But I felt clear that this was the path for me and I am continuing on it.

The quote from Isaiah (“Here I am.  Send me!”) made me smile.  Out of context, it seems so hopeful and encouraging.  But the chapter goes on to say that Isaiah will speak but the people will not understand.  When Isaiah asks how long, God responds, “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate.”  (Isaiah 6:11)

This is a hard message.  God is asking Isaiah to go out and speak to a people whose eyes are shut and ears are closed, until everything is destroyed.  But at the end, a stump remains, and “The holy seed is its stump.”  (Isaiah 6:14)  This passage and the other quotes remind me that in ministry, our goal is faithfulness, not success.  God may be calling us to do or say hard things, things that others may not understand.  And yet, even when it seems like everything is falling apart, God is still there.

At the beginning of a leading, everything feels easy and rightly ordered.  I am afraid, of course, because I am taking on something new, but I also have a deep sense of joy.  As I go on and follow that leading, things become harder.  I find myself feeling worn down, or in conflict with people I care about, or simply questioning whether I heard correctly.  I start to calculate the costs of setting out on the journey and think that it would have been easier just to stay home.

I have also found that following leadings tend to bring up my deep stuff―the things I need to work through.  In fact, this is one of the signals for me that I am on the right track.  When I find myself struggling with old issues, I know there is something for me to learn from the situation and that my perspective is valuable in some way that I can’t quite see.

Fortunately, I don’t have to go it alone.  I have a massive “spiritual pit crew” for this journey including my spiritual director, an anchoring committee, elders, peers in ministry, and many friends who are willing to provide a listening ear or a timely prayer.  It is also a blessing for me to be able to accompany others in this way, whether it is through an ongoing spiritual friendship or a spontaneous phone call from a different time zone.

When I get to the end of a leading, it never looks quite the way I expected.  The fantastic visions I had when I first felt led have been replaced with a more solid reality, but one that feels earned and better than what I imagined because it is real.  I am grateful for the things that I have learned along the way, even the hard things, and for the relationships that have deepened.  I can see how God was with me through it all.  Most of all, I am tired and ready for a rest―happy to lay down this particular thing for a while and take a break before the next journey.
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A day in the life of the citizen actor: vol. whatever

Benjamin Lloyd's blog - Sat, 03/29/2014 - 01:19
  Another in a series. Here, here and here. 6: 30 something a.m. Amazingly consistent body clock lifts me to consciousness before 7:00 a.m. alarm. Bathroom and iPhone activity but not at the… Continue reading →
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Tory government v Eastlands Homes

Jez Smiths blog - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 16:39
In March 2014 the Conservative government slightly cut the cost of alcohol and reduced tax on bingo in its budget announcements. And this was something the Conservative Party chose to celebrate with a now infamous posting on social media.  It was almost a year to the day that Eastlands Homes, a housing association in Manchester […]
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MH370′s two suspects

Jez Smiths blog - Fri, 03/14/2014 - 06:05
The Malaysian transport and defence minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said this week that authorities were looking at two more possible cases of suspicious identities, telling reporters: “All the four names are with me.” This was reported in the Guardian on Tuesday 11 March. The first two had turned out to be Iranian. But has there been […]
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junk v politics

Jez Smiths blog - Fri, 02/07/2014 - 13:42
 We have 2 signs on our door asking people not to put junk mail through our letterbox. One is from Lewisham Council and is on the letterbox. The other is in French, from our Geneva days, and is on our door.  I hear the familiar sound of a flyer being stuffed through our letterbox and […]
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Phil and his families

Benjamin Lloyd's blog - Wed, 02/05/2014 - 16:45
They say you can’t choose your family. They’re wrong. What is a collaborative creative process but a small family working towards a common goal? At the front end there’s mom or dad, and… Read More →
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Daddy, what’s that hole for?

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 02/03/2014 - 14:06
Boy: Daddy, what’s that hole for? (Points at largest hole in fence) Daddy: I don’t know. Boy: oh. (Boy and Daddy walk on and out of sight.) Since we pass this hole on our way to nursery, I  think I’d better learn what that hole is for before my son learns to ask questions.
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The running revolution

Jez Smiths blog - Tue, 01/28/2014 - 20:37
Tonight, someone from our home went out running and it wasn’t me.
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Janathon, so near and yet…

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 01/27/2014 - 18:05
I. Couldn’t. Quite. Do. It. All I had to do was exercise each day and blog about it, within 24 hours,  for just one month. Sound easy? You would think. But I couldnt do it. The Janathon organisers suggest that the writing is the hardest part. They’re partially right. When push came to shove, I […]
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A Date

Quest for Adequacy - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 23:00
[This semester, I am taking a class called Vocational Discernment for a Sustained Life of Ministry.  Our first assignment was to write a creative conversation in which we discuss our call to ministry with another person.  This is my paper.]

I have been going on a lot of dates lately and inevitably at some point during the date, the conversation turns to how I am in seminary and that I am a Quaker.  Here is an only slightly exaggerated version of how those conversations go.

DATE:  So, you’re in seminary.  Does that mean you want to be a minister?

ME:  Actually, I already am a minister.  I was recorded as a minister by my Quaker meeting last June.

DATE:  Recorded?  What does that mean?

ME:  Quakers do not have ordination―we believe that only God can ordain ministers.  Instead, Friends observe and record the gifts of ministry.  My meeting observed my gifts of minister over several years, then I went through a recording process, and the meeting recorded me as a minister in a special business meeting.

DATE:  I don’t really know much about Quakers.  How are they different from other denominations?

ME:  Quakers believe that everyone has direct access to God.  Instead of looking outside ourselves for guidance, we turn to the inward Christ, or the light of God that we believe is inside of each of us to guide us.

DATE:  If we all have God inside of us, why do Quakers need to get together in groups?  Can’t you just turn inward?

ME:  A couple reasons.  One is that we are not always good at discerning what is coming from God and what is coming from us.  Our Quaker meetings help us to tell the difference.  Also, we believe that God can speak to us through anyone, so during our meetings, we wait in silence to see if anyone will feel led by God to speak.

DATE:  Wait, do you hear God talking to you?

ME:  Yes, I believe I do.  I hear God in the things that other people say to me, and in the things they do without speaking.  I also hear God in messages in meeting, and in nudges that I feel throughout the day to do or not do something, or to hold someone in prayer.

DATE:  But have you ever heard God speak to you directly, with words?

ME:  Yes.  That doesn’t happen very often, but I have experienced it.

DATE:  Can you tell me about a time when it happened?

ME:  A good example is the story that I consider my call to ministry.

It was in 2008, at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference.  I enjoyed the conference very much, but by the end of it, I felt exhausted and very ready to go home.  I had agreed to be co-clerk of the planning committee for the next conference, and I was feeling overwhelmed because I had never done anything like that before.

I was sitting in our final worship for the conference when I heard God say to me, “It’s not always going to be this easy.”

I said, “What?”  Of all the words I could think of to describe my experience at the conference, “easy” was not one of them.

God responded, “Yes, this is the easy part.  It is going to be a lot harder after this.  But I will be there too.”

DATE:  Wow.  That sounds intense.

ME:  It was.

DATE:  Has it been hard?

ME:  Yes, sometimes ministry has been very hard.  I tend to resist God―mostly out of fear―making it harder for myself.  But I have always had the sense that God is with me.

DATE:  I get the sense that for you, ministry means something different from being a pastor of a church.  Is that right?

ME:  Being a pastor is one form of ministry, but I do not feel called to pastoral ministry right now.  My ministry has taken lots of forms: I have done traveling ministry among different branches of Friends, I lead workshops and preach, and I do quite a bit of writing.  I try to stay open to what I feel God is calling me to do.

DATE:  But what about seminary?  Why go to seminary if you are already a minister?

ME:  One reason is that I carry a concern for supporting leaders in the Religious Society of Friends.  We don’t always do a good job of supporting leaders, and I wanted to go to a school that was clear in its support of leadership and bring what I learned there back to my denomination.  

I was also hoping that seminary would help me learn how to have a sustained life of ministry.  Burnout is far too common, and I would like to be able to do this for as long as I feel God is calling me.

DATE:  I know that you are also a lawyer.  Are you planning to continue practicing law?

ME:  I am doing some legal work while I am in seminary to help pay the bills, but I am hoping to transition to full-time ministry over the next few years.

DATE:  And you’re from Alaska?  Are you planning on going back there after you finish seminary?  Or back to Oregon?

ME:  Probably not.  I love the Pacific Northwest, but I will probably go wherever I find a job.

DATE:  It sounds like you are going through a lot of changes in your life right now!

ME:  Indeed.  How about you?  Let’s talk about you for a while!
Categories: Blogs


Jez Smiths blog - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 22:54
D and I ran for 26 minutes and 42 seconds. The usual story – up to Victoria park and then one lap. It was D’s fastest timed run so far. I’m looking forward to seeing if I can replicate my form at parkrun on Saturday. Can’t write more – my book is unputdownable.
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Car! Door!

Jez Smiths blog - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 21:04
Today we did jobs, Junior and I. Visited the launderette, pruned the hedge, refilled the birdfeeder, did some online retail therapy (secateurs, bath mat, doormat, that sort of thing). Every day Junior learns new words. Every day, Junior has to label the things he sees. The route to the park is a slow one, though […]
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Bright Invention

Benjamin Lloyd's blog - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 04:06
Long form improvisation has returned to my life with vengeance. It was 2007 when I was last immersed in it. But now White Pines has formed its own ensemble. I’m in it. Jenn… Read More →
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Dancing in the street

Jez Smiths blog - Tue, 01/21/2014 - 20:55
On the way back from nursery we danced in the street to the sounds of music coming from a car. We crossed a zebra crossing in front of this car, which was stuck in traffic. When the driver noticed us 3 dancing (as badly as we could for 2 of us) he turned his music […]
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City farm

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 01/20/2014 - 21:48
We hocked it over to Surrey Quays City Farm on Saturday. It’s a great place to go for a family outing. Junior crowed back after a cockerel cock-a-doodle-dooed. He oinked at the pigs too. We bleated with the goats and watched the ducks. Junior liked the geese especially, but we tried to keep him apart […]
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Thank you Hilly Fields parkrun, Janathon, Jantastic

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 01/20/2014 - 14:39
Oh my, Elizabeth Fry! Today, I really didn’t fancy running. I put my clothes out last night and my beloved put them away thinking I wasn’t running until Tuesday. I got to work and my running colleague, D, said she’ll run tomorrow instead of today. At least she went out running on Saturday, so she’s […]
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Our London

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 01/20/2014 - 08:56
We have this park near us with a fabulous view of London. Every time I take Junior up there I show him the panoramic view from the city in the east to battersea power station in the southwest. At new years eve and fireworks nights hundreds of people gather here. In the summer people gather […]
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Jessye days

Jez Smiths blog - Sun, 01/19/2014 - 20:37
Today was a Jessye day. You know the ones, you probably have another name for it, or maybe you don’t call it anything. They’re the days when you do nothing for the whole day, but you do lots of small things. It’s usually a day of rest, of respite and refreshment. A day for getting […]
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Baby bedtime routine not working? How to get Out of the Woods

Jez Smiths blog - Sun, 01/19/2014 - 20:10
They say that’s it’s good to have a bedtime routine for your baby. A bath, a story and a drink of milk all feature in the various books and websites I’ve seen. Our bedtime routine has all of these things. But I think we might be unique in the world to have included laughing with […]
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