A Feast for 30

10527292_614414512610_1616659194758470439_nSome of you may be aware that – in order to mark my 30th birthday (which will take place in December) – I set up monthly challenges for myself. In truth, I’ve been better at following through on some of these celebratory challenges than others. In December,  I challenged myself to do yoga every day for 30 days. I made it to about day 17, and then participated sporadically for the rest of the month. In January, I successfully completed the Whole 30 food cleanse. In February, I had challenged myself to 30 days of morning prayer and meditation, but quickly switched to evening prayers, when I realized that waking up extra early for quiet time was a surefire way to end up sleep meditating. In May, I planned a tea or skype date with a friend for each day of the month (one of my personal favorite months so far!). Anyway, you get the picture. (If you’re interested in any of my other challenges, or on what still lies ahead, you can check out the full list online.)

In a lot of ways, 30 feels like a big turning point. And, in the grand scheme of things, I’m sure it’s just one more transition in a life marked with transitions. But come December, I’ll be saying goodbye to the decade that started in college, saw me through two graduations (Bachelors and Masters, baby!), included a marriage (7 years and counting…), and the birth of my first child. And, frankly, depending on the timing of his arrival, my twenties could also hold the birth of my second child, if only by a few days. It’s been a decade of experimentation. Of job searches. Of coming into my own as a “career woman.” Of self-doubt. Of great triumphs. Of loss. Of shifting communities and learning to make new friends.

Although I know every decade will be filled with these things, it’s hard not to feel like the 20′s was special. It was life at a breakneck pace, filled with one change after another and more self-revelation than I could have ever imagined. But I would also be lying if I said I didn’t feel ready to make a transition into something new. It feels like the time is right to begin moving into a new era. I wanted this year to be one of celebrating who I’ve become throughout this past decade and also to mark where I’m headed and all the possibilities that lie ahead in the next ten years.

So today, for my July challenge, I threw a feast! A feast for 30+ people. Admittedly, I threw this feast with lots of help from others, perhaps most notably the hubs and my mother, who also spent many hours in a kitchen to make “feasting” possible, as well as all the friends who took time out of their morning to come celebrate and who brought food and drinks to share.

And in many ways, today, to me, it felt perfect. That sounds really trite, I know, but I really think it’s true. Today was a celebration of friends. It was a celebration of the connections that we’ve forged in a new community over the past year since our move.  It was a celebration of good food. It was a celebration of the outdoors, and the magnificently cool so-unlike-Kansas-July weather that we’ve been having. It was a little mini love-fest.

Now that the dishes are all (or mostly) returned to their shelves and people have returned home, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. The truth is, I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months just feeling overwhelmed. I tend to consider myself a generally happy person, but over the course of the last few months, the times when I’ve felt overwhelmed and tired and unsure and frustrated have seemed to crop up more often. So this feast couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a reminder that, in each season of life, there will be hard things. But there will also always be things and people and places worth celebrating.

I’ll leave you with a few snapshots from the day. As well as some of the “sage” advice on aging that I received from feast-goers in a “journal for my 30′s.”

“30 is so young. Enjoy!”

“It’s hell getting older, but it’s better than the alternative. Happy to see you embracing 30. That’s when my life

began!”

“Don’t buy into the lies of the culture, and be sure to eat lots of cookies (they’re good for the soul)!”

“Embrace your inner child! It helps keep things in perspective, your heart joyful, your dreams alive. Each day you grin a childlike grin you’ll live longer!”

“Party on and enjoy both excess and austerity. Enjoy yourself!”

“Wear shoes less.”

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The Menu:

And just in case you’re like me and want to know what people ate, here’s what we cooked (and guests brought more food to add). If you’re interested in recipes, you can check out my “Feast for 30″ Pinterest board:

  • Monkey Bread Muffins
  • Lemon Blueberry Bread
  • Eggs Florentine Casserole
  • Vegetable and Egg Casserole with Feta
  • Breakfast potatoes (with hot sauce on the side!)
  • Strawberry and Rhubarb Salad with Hazlenuts and Fresh Mint
  • Peach and Blueberry Tart with Moscarpone Whipped Cream (if you make only one recipe, make this!)

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On “Influential Mennonites”

GordonHouserLast week, Gordon Houser sparked some social media debate when he invited readers of The Mennonite magazine, Mennonite Church USA’s denominational publication, to submit names of the most influential Mennonites. Modeling his call for names off of Time magazine’s annual issue of worldwide influencers, Houser wrote, “By ‘influential’ Time doesn’t necessarily mean “powerful,” as managing editor Nancy Gibbs writes in the May 5-12 issue. Influence, she writes, is subtle. ‘Power is a tool, influence is a skill.’” He goes on to write, “I already hear the objections. In our bones, we [Mennonites] resist focusing on individuals or lifting some up as more important than others. But we’re discussing influence. Do we deny that some people in our midst have influence? What might we learn by naming them or at least debating who they might be? Is there some value to talking about influence?”

And Houser was right. As soon as the question was posed, many responded with objections and said publicly that they would decline to participate. They noted that lists are, by their nature, exclusive. That this was an un-Anabaptist undertaking, and amounted to the equivalent of celebrity worship for Mennonites.

But others participated. Today the Mennonite posted the list of names that were submitted, and it’s an impressively long bunch of 104 people, including 68 men and 36 women. The list would have been longer, but Houser limited it to living Mennonites only.

As soon as the list was posted, commentary erupted again. I was surprised, honored and a little taken when I learned that I was mentioned on this list (for those of you who sent in my name, thanks much!). One of my friends on social media, Carol, mentioned that – even more than this list – she found that the question was an important one to be talking and thinking about, and I tend to agree. So, at the risk of seeming like a narcissist by extolling the virtues of this list that I’m on, I’d like to share several reasons why I think this can be a helpful and important exercise for those of us who consider ourselves Mennonite.

1. We don’t like to talk about influence, and we need to.

As Houser said, influence is not equal to power, but they both involve the ability to impact decisions that get made, to move the public and to get things done. In the Mennonite circles where I have grown up, there have certainly been influential people present. There are those who everyone knows can make things happen, for better or for worse. But we rarely like to talk about these people. Whenever someone is presented with the suggestion of their own power or influence, it seems like their knee jerk impulse is to downplay it and to respond with humility. I understand this. Today, when I saw my name, my first thought was, “Me? Surely not. Who thinks that I have influence?” It’s the same reason I tend to back away from a compliment when it’s presented to me: humility, for me, is equated with appropriateness.

This also manifests in our systems. Anabaptists have historically emphasized non-hierarchical systems and the importance of community discernment. But sometimes I think we idealize our systems and fail to realize that – even in communities that strive to be egalitarian – there are people who have the ability to influence others and who hold power. When we don’t talk about these things, it can be really dangerous. It can be really confusing to people who are new to our systems and trying to figure out how to interact with them. It can mean that problematic status quos can continue to exist unchallenged, because they are essentially invisible. And this list could go on. If nothing else, I’m grateful that Houser got us talking about influence, a subject which we tend to avoid like the plague.

2. This list tells us something about ourselves and our priorities.

Although this list only features submissions from one cross-section of Mennonite Church USA who reads The Mennonite (we can probably infer that this is a group with a high level of institutional and denominational loyalty, etc.), it does give us a window into who TheMennoniteMennonites are listening to and watching. It shows us who we – whether consciously or not – pay attention to. This sort of honest snapshot can give us an insight into whether or not we’re where we want to be, and can be a tool to help us unpack the ways that power and privilege are operating across our church.

There are some really positive things about this list. Although it’s not exactly equal, it’s moving towards gender balance, especially in the smaller list of people mentioned more than once. The list includes people spanning multiple generations: by my count, there are people listed in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. The larger list includes non-cis-gendered people and those who have been vocal allies. It includes people in many different lines of work: people who are denominational leaders, pastors, activists, scholars, lay leaders, mission workers and more.

But the list also reveals some things that we need to come to terms with. For instance, in the list of people named more than twice, all the names are of white people, and the majority of the names reflect people who are so-called “European cradle Mennonites,” who were born and raised as Mennonites. Although the larger list does feature several people of color, it is overwhelmingly populated with white Mennonites whose families have been part of Mennonite Church USA for generations. As another friend, Grace, mentioned on social media, this list could, at its worst, be seen as “the Mennonite game on steroids,” used to reinforce the fact that the real test of one’s ability to be Mennonite lies in the cultural cache carried by your last name.

The list also features most prominently people who hold formal positions of power within Mennonite Church USA’s structure. Although our theology would suggest a community-based leadership model, it’s clear that we still see those who hold power in formal, institutional roles as some of the most influential.

In addition, although Houser clarified on several occasions that this list was not limited to Mennonites in the United States, only one international name was submitted, and that person was from France. This would suggest that our national identity is still very strong, and we don’t feel highly connected to our global Mennonite brothers and sisters, even though Mennonite churches in the global south represent the fastest growing sector of our church.

Getting these insights into our own psyche are invaluable. In our desire to become an anti-racist, globally-minded, kingdom-oriented church, we need to take stock of where we are at, who we are paying attention to and who is missing from our “lists.”

3. Jesus, the one we follow, was a great influencer

Some people have suggested that Jesus himself would have hated this list. That he shied away from the limelight and was, at his heart, a servant leader. And I think that’s right. Jesus embodied leadership that didn’t depend on external validation and didn’t seek out formal positions of power. He may not have cared about being named on any list.

But that does not mean that Jesus was not influential. Jesus’ life and witness started a movement that those of us who call ourselves Mennonites and Christians are a part of, along with billions of others around the world. Jesus’ pull over people was so strong that he could entice them to leave their solid livelihoods and to follow him, even though the way forward was unknown. Jesus’ life was so influential, in fact, that the powers that be – those who protected the status quo – found it necessary to kill him in an effort to quell his influence.

It seems to me that we need to unpack our own baggage around the ideas of being influential. In fact, if we take Jesus’ call to follow him seriously, than shouldn’t we each be striving to be influential in our local communities, in our workplaces and in our church? Wouldn’t we want people to see a faith and a witness embodied in us that is so compelling that they want to know more?

Influence and power are only bad when they are hidden, unacknowledged and abused, or when it’s wielded as a tool to shut down conversation.

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Laura Schlabach: Muddy and fulfilled: Lessons from daily life on a restoration crew

LauraSchlabachGuest post from…Laura Schlabach moved to Seattle for a Mennonite Voluntary Service position at the environmental news site Grist; she’s now completing her second year with Washington Conservation Corps. Outside of work she can likely be found hiking or backpacking, perusing a farmer’s market, learning how to cross-cut saw, or eating a cupcake.

The day I came home smelling like fish guts was one of the grosser days during my time as a Washington Conservation Corps crewmember. That day, my restoration crew was getting ready to plant trees and shrubs along a creek inlet to enhance the channel for salmon migration. Part of this meant wading into said inlet dotted with spawned, decomposing pink salmon carcasses to retrieve willow branches to plant. Every time I heaved a pile of willows onto my shoulder, a thick string of fish goo smeared across my sweatshirt and pants and I had to concentrate on not gagging.

Fun stuff, eh? It is, actually. My restoration crew works in riparian areas in King County, Wa., primarily to create and enhance salmon habitat. We work ten-hour days, four days a week in rain or shine, identifying and planting native plants, mulching them, and then coming back to free them from encroaching invasive species.

I’ve learned a lot about both riparian ecology and myself during my first year as a crewmember and this second year as an assistant supervisor on my crew. Here are some musings.

Nature teaches constantly, if you pay attention

I see symbolism everywhere during my workdays outdoors. I’ve found myself especially drawn to rocks, which dot streamside banks and riverbeds that we plant alongside. I’m mesmerized by their contours, their colors, both subtle and brilliant, their differing sizes and their rugged submersion in the earth. During breaks I’ll shuffle my feet along the riverbank, rolling the rocks and stones over with my boot so I can see their full shape.

Rocks make me feel both significant and gloriously small. I see my own stories in rocks’ multiple shades of white, green, grey and gold. I see my own triumphs and failures in their colorful bands, indentations, divots and chipped edges. Tiny pieces of shell or pebble molded into the rock I roll between my fingers illustrate to me that my stories matter, and are a permanent part of who I am – and yet, they don’t define me. (And rocks are just one example – give me an hour and I could tell you about the metaphors in grubbing out invasive blackberry roots or in the saltwater emergent species that crave the push and pull of the tide.)

Laborious work can be empowering

I’m talking about physical strain here. Tasks that aren’t necessarily enjoyable or glamorous are part of our job, like carrying heavy buckets of mulch 300 feet through the mud to dump around a plant, and doing it for hours on end. As someone who entered the job with little upper body strength, I was surprised both by how quickly I got stronger, and how empowered I felt by this. It feels satisfying to see a task through, and come home sore in places I didn’t even realize I had muscle. Multiple times a week I feel grateful for a healthy body that allows me to do strenuous, repetitive tasks and I’ve come to realize this has had a positive effect on my body image. I feel more connected to my body than I ever have in my life; I notice how different foods affect my energy levels, and I feel more spiritually grounded with this connection and awareness.

In my current role as a crew assistant supervisor, I’ve also become more vocal in encouraging fellow women crewmates in tasks stereotypically deemed as male. I’ve been privileged to work alongside supervisors who don’t assign lifting tasks to male crewmembers only, and I’ve been impressed again and again by the physical strength of my female coworkers and supervisors.

There’s beauty in un-groomed wilderness

I’m a destination hiker, often choosing trails that lead to an alpine lake or a summit. But my job with WCC takes me to places I never would have wandered, to the seemingly dull pockets of land behind agricultural fields, or the middle of dense thickets of forest beside a meandering river. These places aren’t a classic image of beauty – they wouldn’t appear on a Northwest Landscapes calendar, or draw visitors wanting to kick back and relax. But these places are so real - piles of soggy grasses clinging to sapling trunks show the height of recent floods, and slender branches of a willow tree blocking my path show the resiliency of a tree knocked over, yet growing over and up to reach nourishing sunlight. I feel an intimacy with the natural world that comes with seeing it in it’s most brilliant and impressive landscape in addition to it’s every day reality, untamed, raw and rough. I see God in these places and feel they are as sacred as the alpine lakes and mountaintop summits. 

I echo Michelle Voth’s words in her recent Femonite post, “As I have come to see it, life is all about connection. Connection to ourselves, our community, our planet.”

In the midst of close encounters with salmon goo, I’ve developed connections this year – to myself, to the earth, to my body. I’m grateful for this.

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Janet Trevino-Elizarraraz: The Body, Pleasure and Spirituality

JanetTEGuest post from…Janet Trevino-Elizarraraz. When Janet isn’t exploring her body and her spirituality, you can find her unschooling her four children ages 8, 7, 5, 3; taking camping trips alone with them across the country exploring God’s creation and our sacred connection to all of life.  You can find her other writings featured in other blogs and magazines online. 

They say that zombies don’t really exist.  I would agree if you imagine people walking around clumsily with torn and tainted clothes, skin shrunken in, eyes bulging wanting to eat human brains.  Except that really, many of us women are really dead inside.  We know how to walk about, get the job done, make sure everyone’s needs are met, and really, everyone is seemingly happy, but where are we in this picture?  We’ve painted ourself outside of it not realizing the harm we’ve done.

Hannah is inviting us all to consider the ways our bodies, our spirituality, and our Earth intersect, and when I allowed images to float up into my consciousness on what I’d find aligned between them all, a simple word arose: pleasure.  Pleasure is at the center of our wholeness and being.  So then, why does it seem that even the word, pleasure, is conceived in naughtiness in our perception?  Could it be that the religion we believe has told us that anything that would bring us delight and joy and is exclusively for our own good, is bad and that we must shy away from such things because they could lead us down the road of damnation?  Less of who we are and more of everyone else… the list grows, first God, then our husbands, children, extended family, friends, church… do we even appear on the list?

Pleasure in our bodies.  Our Creator specifically gave women an organ that’s sole purpose is for our pleasure.  Let’s sit with that for a second… or on it?  <Seriously, I hope that made you smile, ladies.>  There are parts of our bodies that when touched and stimulated can do wonders for our mood, health, life perspective, and our own relationship with ourselves.  All we need to do is touch.

As I travel down exploring this path in my own life, I started to realize the beliefs I had held about my own body before I was married and early on in marriage.  Bizarrely I didn’t believe my body was mine.  I didn’t think I was allowed to touch myself for pleasure.  ‘Are you crazy?  Those parts are only for your partner!  That doesn’t belong to you!’  Now as I consider how I saw myself, I imagine how ludicrous it’d be if someone told me that about other body parts: my feet or my hair.  Is it possible that any part of my own body is not mine?  Is it possible that I’m not allowed to touch anything on this body given to me by God?  I would not be surprised if there are women believing these exact thoughts.  I believed them, even though I don’t remember anyone telling me that exactly.  In the Christian world that speaks strongly against masturbation and self-pleasure in our sensuality, the true message we get is that our body is not our own.

And so what do we do with the clit?  This is a special organ, ladies, that’s only purpose is for pleasure.  Our clitoris is God’s special gift to us to remind us that our pleasure is important.  And it’s time women were liberated from believing that we leave our pleasure up to our spouses to make a reality.  It’s within hands distance, and we can access our pleasure whenever we need to.  Don’t wait.  It’s there for you.

Pleasure in our earth.  Do you know what else is there for you that’s also a simple distance away (becoming unfortunately more and more difficult for some depending on where they live) that was created to be God’s source of pleasure given to us to also enjoy?  Look out your window!  Creation!  Many of us have had the opportunity to gaze upon the majesty of a mountain range, the cascade of power in a waterfall, the delicacy and care of a single flower, the engulfing embrace of a deeply wooded forest; the sensuality of holding a small creature, furry and warm in our bosom, the ways riding a horse can take us away and allow us to experience the exhilaration of flying and wind, the joy of milking a cow and finding pleasure in the mutual experience of giving and taking.  All of these and more, passive and active, are present for us to remember that life is more than hard work and obligation.  Children teach us this because it’s in our human nature to stop and have fun and play with what’s been given to us all around us.

God from Her pleasure created all that we know!  Spirit as She roamed the earth cultivating from Her own deep and powerful womb and clit has given us the gift of her creation.  It’s time we put our bare feet into the dirt and thanked Her for being a God dedicated to Her pleasure.  Thank you, Creator, for sharing it with us as well teaching us your sensual ways!

Pleasure in our spirituality.  In turn, we return back to our own bodies again but going within… finding the depth of Spirit within us and finding that all is one.  When we enjoy ourselves, others, creation, life, and allow our minds to soften as we allow our hearts to swell, it is then that our connection to Spirit and the expressions in that relationship grow in oneness.  We are no longer human and God separate, wrestling to be in relationship, wrought with guilt of our frailty and shame of our sin.  We enter into the relationship of oneness that God has sought for us and with us from the beginning… a relationship of joy and pleasure in each other and all.

How will you enter into your pleasure today?  Where will you find that place where the body, creation, and Spirit intersect into one?  May there be joy and laughter there!  (And a good, fulfilling groan of release, healing, and restoration if necessary!)

 

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Michelle Voth: The Transformative Power of Dealing With Your Own Shit

MichelleVothGuest post from…Michelle Voth is a certified massage therapist and owner of Shiro Therapeutic Massage in Hesston, Kan. She and her husband, Aaron, and two rambunctious cats, George and Miso, live in Newton, Kan.  When  not giving great massages, Michelle enjoys gardening, reading, playing the flute, cooking, and overall enjoying life.  I met Michelle at our shared “church home,” New Creation Christian Fellowship. 

I spent six years living on a farm/intentional community in the middle of Kansas during my mid twenties. This was a very formative time for me. I had recently graduated from college and I was searching. What I discovered in the vast Kansas prairie on a small 80-acre farm was life changing.

To understand this transformation, you should probably know a bit of background. I grew up in the suburbs of Sacramento, California, a pastor’s daughter, raised on evangelical Christianity that permeated every aspect my young life. While I was fortunate enough to be exposed to organic gardening and a wealth of other sustainable practices by my grandparents, I was very ignorant about most things connected to farm life.

Fast-forward to my mid-twenties, and six years spent living in a one-room cabin with a composting toilet on a farm in the middle of Kansas, and we have the makings of a transformative experience. There are many different types of composting toilets with different emptying needs. This particular toilet had to be emptied about every three weeks, and so, on a triweekly basis, I had the pleasure of dealing with my own shit. Yes, it’s a bit unpleasant, but it has to be dealt with one way or another. And here’s the thing, when mixed with sawdust and ash and left to sit for 9-12 months, it becomes beautiful, nourishing compost. Who knew our shit had so much potential?!

We all inevitably have to deal with shit of one variety or another throughout our lives. Not one of us has come out unscathed, some more than others, but the necessity of identifying and dealing with these issues remains the same. For me, during this time at the farm, it was dealing with the shit my evangelical Christian upbringing had heaped on my young impressionable self. In short, this meant that the basis of my spirituality and understanding of God was defined by fear and guilt. It was only through the process of questioning what I thought to be true and letting go of those “truths” that were harmful, that I discovered a spirituality and a truth that is life giving and open to lifelong discovery and growth. Throughout this process, I was nurtured by a community of Christians who welcomed my questions, whether or not they had answers, and encouraged me in my journey to find truth.

Not only did I have the opportunity to discover the wonders of a composting toilet during my time on the farm, but I also discovered the wonders and joys that come with other aspects of self-reliant living. It is a wonderful thing to be able to grow food, cook that nourishing food, deal with the shit on the other end, and watch it complete the cycle by becoming nourishing food for the soil. That joy was even more pronounced for me because it was done in the context of community. There were 9 of us living on the farm, and we would often gather together to complete the tasks at hand. Whether it was canning tomatoes, picking apples and making applesauce, weeding the gardens, bringing in hay from the fields, or just gathering together to eat a meal, life was made more abundant by enjoying the process together.

As I have come to see it, life is all about connection. Connection to ourselves, our community, our planet. When we lose those connections, we lose something of ourselves. The connection is about the process, and the process takes time. This connection has never been more important because, as a society, we live in a way that so often separates us from the process of everyday living. Something as simple as cooking a meal from raw ingredients can connect us in a way that processed food never can, even more if that meal is shared with others. As rule, the more mindful we are, the more connected we will be. For the sake of ourselves, our communities, and our planet, we need to identify the shit we are living with and take the time to deal with it. Only then will we experience healing and transformation.

 

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Nancy Flinchbaugh: Earth Day Reflections

NancyFlinchbaughGuest post from…Nancy Flinchbaugh writes as a spiritual practice. Her educational background includes degrees from Otterbein College in sociology and religion and a Master’s Degree in education and counseling from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She currently lives in Springfield, Ohio, and is a longtime friend of my family from our days living in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the novel, Revelation in the Cave.

Here, in the Midwest where we live, it’s Spring… The earth is awakening after a long winter. The season ushers in new birth, love, new leaf green on leaves, beautiful blooms. The first crocuses have poked through in the yard. In the woods, miraculous wildflowers adorn the thawing paths. Along my walk the daffodils and tulips are showing green, and I know the delicate yellow trumpets will be opening soon. In another week or two the flowering trees along my street will be filling the air with fragrance. In the midst of this magical time of opening, we pause to celebrate Earth Day – a day to honor and remind us to care for our little planet from which we have emerged and on which we depend for life.

As I become more contemplative on my spiritual path, I enter silence more frequently, sitting into mystery. Scientists now explain that 95 to 99 percent of the universe consists of dark space or dark matter, of which they know very little. I believe this mystery contains marvelous love, spacious hope, and the mystical wisdom of our Creator. I now start each day entering this mystery, absorbing God’s first language of silence and I have been cultivating the spiritual practice of listening to the earth.

When you open the holy book of nature, God’s Spirit dances, inspires and speaks in so many ways. Have you ever tried listening to the earth using the ancient practice of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading)? Often applied to scripture, this discipline can also help us connect with God’s Word deep in nature.

Begin with Lectio (Reading): carefully observing and watching for something that shimmers or speaks to you. Then, continue with Meditatio (Meditating): ruminating on how this particular aspect of nature applies to your life.  Next, enter into Oratio (Prayer), talking with God about the message you’ve received, and finally, sit into silence Contemplatio (Contemplation), rest in this aspect of God’s truth deep in the heart of the earth.

As we take time to listen to the earth, we discover that there are endless miracles, but also serious problems these days. The ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. The seas are acidifying. Species are becoming extinct. Our water is becoming more polluted and now at greater risk from new fracking practices. The bees are dying. The temperature has been gradually rising, which is creating climate changes – increasing winds, increasing quantity and severity of storms. Although there have been great efforts to minimize and deny this problem in our media, over 90% of the scientists tell us that we should be concerned. Increasingly, the scientists are also calling us to action around this global crisis.

I believe the earth, too, cries out for us to listen. I hear a cry of pain, but also a cry for hope and resolution. I believe within the silence, deep in the mystery, our Creator’s presence is stirring us into action and movement toward healing opportunities for our planet.

A wonderful book edited by the Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, assembles an esteemed group of prophets from many spiritual traditions. They encourage us to listen to the earth, to wake up to the pain, and to take action. The MAMs Book Club Springfield read this book a few months ago and you can use our Study Guide on my website to check it out at: http://www.spiritualseedlings.com/the-mams-book-club/8-spiritual-ecology-the-cry-of-the-earth/.

As Earth Day comes this year, I encourage you to develop a practice of listening to the earth. I encourage you to wake up into the hope of love and mystery in God’s unfolding creation. I encourage you to take action. Here are a few specific things you can do:

1)      Read some of the spiritual books written in this area to ground you in your work and to give you hope. I started with Judy Cannato’s books Radical Amazement and Fields of Compassion. Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, also summarizes many traditions. Read Thomas Berry, the Catholic priest who told us that our great work at this time is to wake up and learn to take care of the earth. You can find a list of books I like here.

2)      Incorporate listening to the earth into your spiritual practice. Some books have explained how to do this as noted on my bibliography. I will be glad to come visit you and lead a retreat in this practice, if you want some instruction. Email me at nancyflinchbaugh@sbcglobal.net or visit my website at www.spiritualseedlings.com. I’m flexible and willing to travel!

3)      Ask God to use you. When I first started in this area, I was rather pessimistic, feeling overwhelmed. “What could I do?” I thought. With some prayer beads, I began praying each day a simple prayer, asking God to show me the way. Over time I have discovered that there is so much that I can do. I’m sure that will be true for you also.

4)      Take action. There are important things you can do each day to conserve energy, recycle, and cultivate the earth. I would also invite you to check out the Citizen’s Climate Lobby (www.citizensclimatelobby.org) and become involved in a local chapter or start a local chapter if needed. They have a plan for a revenue neutral carbon tax which would let the market push the drive to development of alternative fuels, to slow down carbon emissions for a sustainable future. They are very good people. They teach you to lobby by building relationships, affirming your congress people and listening.

Thanks Hannah, for inviting me to do this post! Happy Earth Day! Please join me in listening for solutions and taking action to keep the world inhabitable for that adorable little Baby E Heinzekehr and for all of our children and their children. Let’s do it!

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Filed under Bodies, Stewardship

Femonite Bites: April 14, 2014

It’s time to share a few of my favorite things heading into Holy Week. Apparently men around the blog-o-sphere were just writing some really great stuff this week. Enjoy!

Toddler E with some chickens.

Toddler E with some chickens.

Isaac Villegas on Misrepresenting Strangers and Jesus

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Important Post: How to Talk to Kids About Sexual Abuse

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Tyler Tully on the “Real Jesus”

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Drew Hart on White Supremacy and the Church

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Rod on what it means to really make space for people of color at Christian conferences

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This song, because it fits the season. Whole album here.

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That’s it for me. What would you add?

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Filed under Church, Life, Racism

What We Might Unintentionally Say When We Gather

Thanks to Eddie Gonzalez for this reminder that Anabaptism is a movement for all people.

Thanks to Eddie Gonzalez for this reminder that Anabaptism is a movement for all people.

Over the course of the last few years, I have been a part of more conversations than I care to admit and/or remember about Christian conferences, gatherings, conventions, etc. and why they lack diversity. Sometimes these conversations have been proactive, with planners asking from the beginning whether or not they are asking the right questions, whether or not their planning committee is representative of the voices they are hoping to see represented and what might contribute to making a space unsafe for some people. But more often than not these conversations have taken place after the fact, when publicity has been launched and an organization or group has come under fire for the lack of gender diversity, racial/ethnic diversity or a number of other factors.

Again, more times than I care to remember I’ve attended and/or been invited to events whose keynote lineup features 90% straight white men, perhaps with a woman or person of color thrown in at the very end to add some “flavor.” Too often these voices are added as afterthoughts to meet some unspoken “diversity quota” and to allow planners to feel like they’ve addressed the “diversity question.”

In truth, when I look at these posters or Facebook events or e-mail invitations, it’s hard to feel excited about attending these events. Why would I want to go some place where my voice – and the voices of other diverse people – are clearly not valued? If it’s true that so many of these gatherings are, in fact, wanting to wrestle with the future of Christianity and the church, then why do their panels reflect an outdated and harmful model of whose voices are valued?

I also realize that it is complex. As a cis-gendered white person myself, I carry a lot of privilege. And I sometimes wonder: when I receive invitations to write, to speak or to contribute, do I pause to think about who may or may not be at the table? Am I willing to turn down a good opportunity for myself to make space for a voice that’s not already represented in the conversation? I’d like to think the answer would be yes, but it’s hard. It’s hard to willfully walk away from the center or any glimmer of the spotlight, no matter how larger or small.

But what I do know is that our current reality is not acceptable. Anabaptism was certainly a movement that began in Europe, and therefore was, at its genesis, primarily composed of white Europeans. However, even then, Anabaptists were pushing the limits of what was acceptable and who could participate. Women were key leaders in the early church, and their stories are memorialized in books like the Martyrs Mirror right alongside the stories of males. But as our structures congealed and became more formal, perhaps so did our rules and our expectations about who and how was an acceptable participant. When our survival was not at stake, we had time to get down to the business of institutionalizing oppression and policing people’s bodies.

As a member of Mennonite Church USA, which is part of the Anabaptist fold, I know that we have worked long and hard to undo some of the legacies of this harm. And so much work still remains. We are not there yet. Unpacking the ways that “isms” are wound into our church will require constant vigilance. But we are taking steps forward. Sometimes they might feel like baby steps, but I believe we are moving. One of our churchwide priorities is a commitment to intercultural transformation.

So it pains me to see the Anabaptist name getting used as a promotional term for gatherings that seem to just repackage and reaffirm the same power structures that have been so harmful throughout all these many years.

Before I go too much further, let me just say: I know firsthand that planning conferences is hard work. I am not exempt. There have been times (recently, in fact!) when I have needed my teammates to call me out and to remind me that the ways I am working are based on privileged ways of knowing and being.

But I do want to offer at least a few suggestions:

  • Let’s find ways to celebrate difference. There is value in being united behind a common goal, but too often, we let unity become almost a spiritual end in itself. When Paul suggests that there is neither “Jew nor Greek nor slave nor free” I don’t think he was suggesting that we just ignore the different gifts we bring in order to be Christian. Christianity should not try to be a melting pot, which asks people to melt their distinctiveness down so that it can all be assimilated into some “dominant culture stew.” Instead, can we be a salad? Or a smorgasboard? Or something else that doesn’t have to be a food image? Can we recognize that to be together with the complexity and the beauty of our diversity on display is a gift from God?
  • Practically, when planning conferences, your planning committee must represent the people that you hope to see there. Naturally, when we’re excited about something, we want to draw in people from across our networks. But our networks can be limited by our social location, our geographic location, our interests, etc. So if a planning committee consists of a group of people who are all drawing from the same network or communities, it should be of absolutely no surprise when the gathering that they plan fails to reach beyond those boundaries or include diverse voices.
  • Nobody wants to feel like a token. There have been times when I’ve received an invitation and it’s been clear that the only reason I’ve been invited was to fill a quota, and not because the planners had any interest – and sometimes even knowledge – about who I am, what I do and what I care about. Nine times out of ten I’m going to turn an invitation like this down. I don’t want to be someone’s “get out of jail free card” or offer an easy rescue. If I’m included, I want it to be because the planners value having a feminist voice represented and are actively committed to undoing oppression.
  • It is not fair to invite speakers into a space that will not be safe for them. Too often, people invite one or two minority voices to be a part of an event that is largely run and populated by privileged voices, without giving any thought to how the culture of this particular gathering might feel confusing, threatening and downright unsafe to those people invited in. If there is internal work that needs to be done, it seems like planners or institutional leaders must do this ahead of time. It’s important to ask ourselves the question: what about this space and its assumed culture could be harmful? Where is power at play in violent ways? How must we make space?
  • Don’t use universal language to describe something particular. There may be times when a homogeneous gathering is called for. Maybe women want to get together to talk theology, maybe people of color need to be together in a safe space to talk, and maybe men want to get together to talk, too. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this. But if we’re targeting one particular demographic, then we need to be really clear. For too long, whiteness has been synonymous with a universal subject. For instance, you don’t hear people talking about white theology or white movies or white literature. No. These things produced by and for white people are just called “theology,” “movies” and “literature,” without any qualifiers. This is damaging. And we should not perpetuate this with our gatherings. If we want to host an Anabaptist conversation, then it should represent at least some of the diversity found within Anabaptism. If we want to talk about the future of the church, how can we expect to come up with anything different when we’re only listening to the same people who have held institutional power in the past? Like I said, a gathering for a particular set of people is fine. It becomes a problem when this gathering happens under the guise of universal language which makes it seem like it’s representing a broad movement, when in fact it’s open only to particular conversation partners.
  • Nothing will change until privileged folks start saying no to being a part of oppressive gatherings. It’s true. Those of us who carry a lot of privilege must bear this weight. It is not enough to simply pull new people in if we are not willing to make space for them. As long as straight white men consent to speaking on panels full of other straight white men, and these sessions make money, nothing has to change. We have to vote with our dollars, with our time and with our energy. And sometimes this will mean stepping back and saying no. I’m preaching to myself here, too.

The truth is, it is hard. There will be no such thing as a perfect conference. We all need grace. But I have to believe that – if we’re listening for the movement of God’s Spirit — we’ll hear it calling us and challenging us to keep wrestling with these tough questions so that we might live into a better future together.

What would you add? What have you learned as you’ve tried to bring together groups of people for conversation? You might also be interested in these guidelines for healthy groups and gatherings developed by the Mennonite Church USA Racial Healing Task Group

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Filed under Anabaptism, Church

Four More Things Better Left Unsaid

Huh

It was not so long ago that I released a list of several questions that I felt should just be struck from the common lexicon. Since that time, a few more have risen to my attention, so here we go with round two. Anything else you’d add?

1. Anything referencing original sin, Eve and women in the same sentence. Really? Really? I’d like to think that this would just be common knowledge by now, but as I’ve witnessed in several recent conversations, the trope of Eve as the original susceptible sinner/temptress still carries quite a bit of weight in some Christian circles. So let’s clear the air on this one. This particular take on original sin and the creation narrative was developed by St. Augustine. I think anyone who has read St. Augustine knows that he had some sexual hang-ups. And the story he perpetuated have led to hundreds of years of abuse and mistreatment of women. Rather than reading the creation story as an allegorical exhortation to care for creation and to see the ways that God cares for us, we’ve turned it into a story about evil with the woman as its root. When you pull these examples out, you should know that many people, myself included, don’t hear it as neutral, but as a way to again marginalize people who are not male.

Instead, try: What’s your take on the creation story? How would you read that passage? and/or Simply affirming the gifts of the women around you.

2. Oh, is your baby/toddler/small child doing _______ yet? Again, this comes across differently when shared in conversation with friends who you know. But for some reason, when it comes to parenting, it’s never just the people you really know who want to get in on the action. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in the past year that have gone something like this:

Stranger/Acquaintance: Hi. What a cute little girl? How old is she?

Me: Thanks. She’s 11 months old.

Stranger/Acquaintance: Oooo, so she must be walking all over the place, huh?

Me: Nope, not yet.

Stranger/Acquaintance: Huh, that’s funny. My son was walking by the time he was 10 months. I’m sure she’s fine…

You could insert talking, climbing, waving, and a handful of other developmental milestones into this same formula. Bottom line: almost never helpful. Because whenever you start a conversation like this with someone competitive and achievement-oriented like myself, there are only a few possible results: my child has achieved said milestone and we all feel good (Win!); my child has not achieved said milestone and now I’m worried (Fail); my child has not achieved said milestone and now I feel protective and defensive (Fail); my child has not achieved said milestone and now I feel like a parenting failure (Fail)… You get the point. The list could go on. Just don’t do it.

Instead, try: Wow, your child is really cute. I bet she’s learning a lot these days. What are some of the new things she’s been doing lately?

3. Hate the sin, love the sinner. I get that there is a loving impulse behind this. I really, really do. But I just think it’s so misguided and full of violence that it should never be used in polite conversation. Often when this phrase gets thrown around, there is a disagreement on what constitutes sin. And more often than not, this phrase gets thrown out when someone’s fundamental personhood or identity is being equated with sin. For instance, this phrase has been applied over the years to women feeling a call to ministry, divorced people, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and the list could go on. We may not all be able to agree, and I respect that, but I would hope that we could understand that this phrase is the direct opposite of loving. It’s equating a person with sin personified, and that is no way to start a “dialogue” or to show love.

Instead, try: Making space for open conversation with those with whom you disagree. It’s not about changing each other, but about hearing one another.

4. How can you handle being away from your child all the time? (to a parent working outside the home) Big sigh. Do I sometimes feel like I work too much? Yes. Do I sometimes feel like I miss things at home? Yes. Do I still appreciate the opportunity to have a career and feel like a pretty kickass parent at the same time? Yes. People parenting children make all sorts of choices. At its core, it seems like this was/is what feminism was supposed to be about: validating everyone’s right and access to a broad range of choices. In our family right now, Justin is home with Ellie during the days while I’m at work. But I still flex my hours two mornings a week to be home with my daughter, and I’ve taken her on 85% of my work trips over the past year and a half. And even if I didn’t do those things, it would not make me a “bad mom.” There’s frankly enough mommy guilt to go around, so let’s help support each other by respecting each other’s choices and not asking questions that are pre-loaded with judgment.

Instead, try: Acts of love and support to help parents juggle it all.

So there you have it. All snarkiness aside, I think these are phrases we could do without. Anything else you would add?

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Filed under Relationships

Femonite Bites: March 29, 2014

Six Things Worth Checking Out This Week

New Nickel Creek Music: Stream it Live (Before you can buy it!) and then pre-order your own copy

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Face Palms and Heartbreak re: World Vision: Thoughts from Timothy, Tony, and Rachel

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An April Albuquerque event that you should put on your calendar

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This sweet baby

2014-03-22 14.48.56

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This sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber

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This info-graphic

EducateNotIncarcerate

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Filed under Life