Walking with the Duchess

"'Be what you would seem to be' -- or if you'd like it put more simply -- 'Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.'" - The Duchess, "Alice in Wonderland"


Movin' on up

. . . to the WordPress side (I'm not the only one who thinks this is a good thing).

Ok, I haven't been neglecting my blog. Well, I've been neglecting *this* blog due to the institution of a *bigger!!* and *better!!* blog that my beloved hubby got up'n'runnin for me.

From now on my primary blogging efforts will be taking place at http://www.ajschwanz.com. My hope for this site is that it will be a resource:

-- for those interested in discussing how to be and live out church
-- for those curious the Quaker testimony - we can be some wild and wacky folks!
-- for writers as they explore how best to "use your words"
-- for anyone interested in what it's like to be a Friend in a small town in the Northwest, chasing a little one around in order to fish inedible objects out of his mouth, baking treats for loved ones, and dreaming about the day when she might actually get to visit the Cook Islands

Please, comment away: I look forward to hearing from you!



Being church Iron Chef style

My article posted at Barclay Press.

"Allez! Cuisine!" my husband, Jason, exclaimed. On a Sunday evening this could mean only one thing: Iron Chef was on! This Japanese knock-off program pits Food Network chefs against guest chefs in a cooking competition. "The Secret Ingredient" is revealed (eggs, mushrooms, buffalo, etc.) and must be incorporated into four courses prepared within one hour of the utterance "Allez! Cuisine!" (French for "Go! Kitchen!"). As Battle Trout began, I plopped down on the love seat; but rather than wondering how to incorporate fish in a dessert, I was thinking about "Doing Church."

These thoughts began percolating a few months ago while sitting in church: I looked around and noticed that I was one of the youngest folks present. My high school youth group had had a number of attendees: where did they go? I contacted a few and heard a number of explanations: "I'm too busy" to "Oh, I used to be spiritual, but my beliefs have changed" to "I can't find a church that I like." One thing remained clear: my peers no longer attended church. Ten years ago we were passionate about Doing Church - what happened? Was our excitement just a hormonally-induced phase that passes like acne and uncoordination? Or is there a deeper problem?

Jason voiced his desire for a grill pan while my thoughts drifted to a recent sermon series looking at Acts. The "Founding Fathers" of the church - Peter, Paul, the earliest disciples - lived difficult lives, but lives of giddy joy and constant activity. Their testimonies are bold, passionate like a Pancetta & Parmesan torte, particularly compared to my current lackluster experience of Kraft Easy Mac. How did they stay so upbeat, so energized while Doing Church? How did they balance worship gatherings, committee meetings, school, home, work – life? Did they not become "churched out"? I sure did.

My childhood church bustled with activity with my family in the middle of the action. My parents participated in Sunday school, potlucks, committee meetings, bell choir, backpacking trips. I loved congregating after service: adults gabbed while kids ran around hopped up on sugar cookies and red kool-aid. Like going to school, the library, or the grocery store, Doing Church was a regular event in our week.

Parents of adolescents joke about sending their kids off to a remote island until the hormone roller coaster subsides; if their church has a youth group, this wish is granted. In high school I was "shipped off" to Do Church with my friends. In this segregated state we mimicked Doing Church the way our parents had: participating in camps, mission trips, and Bible studies while balancing school, family, and life in general.

Once through the leprous state of adolescence, I assumed I'd rejoin the larger church collective. This never happened; there wasn't a reason to. Spending time solely with my peers left me unfamiliar with participants in the larger church gathering. Weary of trying to fit the multitude of activities in with my already bustling life, I burned out and barely stepped foot in a sanctuary for eight years.

What was different between my experience and that of the disciples? I thought about the early church in Acts.

– They worshiped, focusing on Christ rather than themselves.
– They taught and equipped the congregation, both spiritually and vocationally.
– They lived in community, pooling their resources, helping the poor and wounded.
– They ate together (all ages and walks of life), sharing in each other's daily journeys.
– They discerned God's will through the use of the spiritual disciplines.

I did many of these things: was it something deeper?

The television blared that five minutes remained. As the chefs creatively plated their courses to gain presentation points, I realized I could never be an Iron Chef. Creative cooking is a recreational activity: I'm not familiar enough with the culinary world to improvise recipes. But for the Iron Chefs cooking is their culture, their way of life, their everything.

Then I realized the difference between me and the apostles --

Their actions didn’t stem from Doing Church; their actions flowed out of Being Church.

The apostles' culture was uniquely dictated by God - not just worship, but the nitty gritty everyday details of life: how to live, eat, take care of the land, treat each other. Church wasn't a weekly activity; church dictated their culture.

I've experienced the opposite. American culture is driven with activities: a productive life is marked with checklists for work, family life, free time. The church, as a part of a culture based on "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," looks much different that the church of a culture centered on "loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength."

God created an elaborate plan for world-wide redemption through the creation of a very specific God-centric culture. Has His intentional and detailed plan changed? Has God released me to incorporate His teachings, His Light, His Love into my nation-oriented culture? Or does God desire that I continue in the tradition of the Jews, living a God-directed holistic life as exemplified by Christ – not a way of doing, but a way of being?

My re-acquaintance with the church came through participating in a small group testing spiritual formation material. Folks from all walks and ages of life made up our group, meeting weekly to discuss our experiences with the exercises and to engage in different spiritual disciplines. I no longer felt 'segregated" to a group of peers, but rather "incorporated" in a group with layers of wisdom and depth of experiences. We shared snacks, our life journeys, our daily joys and hardships. Using the spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, and meditation among others) enabled God to equip us in engaging culture in our practical, everyday lives.

Like the early church, we worshiped, taught, committed to being in an intergenerational community, engaged in daily activities like eating together, discerned God's direction for our individual and corporate lives. For the first time my activities were a result of being connected and anchored in God's love, being Christ-centered rather than self-centered, Being Church.

I felt called to go outward and share this news with others. First I re-immersed myself in traditional church by attending Sunday service. Then, I found an internal desire - to share that we don't have be burned out by Doing Church. I wanted to let others know what I had found, what the apostles had found: a joyful renewal in having our actions flow out of Being Church.

Time was up, the announcer exclaimed; all kitchen utensils were laid aside. The chefs stood next to the judges as their creations were tasted. Responses were varied: yummy noises, scrunched-up faces, curious looks as they sampled unusual tastes and textures.

The Iron Chef's final dish was trout ice cream. Trout ice cream! That can't possibly be a dessert, I thought. But it's true: the commentator listed the requirements for a dish to be ice cream: cream, milk, sugar, and a certain percentage of fat, frozen to a particular consistency. If it contains those elements, it can be ice cream. But you wouldn't find me trying it (and I *really* like ice cream).

A similar attitude can creep in regarding different forms that Being Church might take. God is so amazingly creative: He doesn't do the same thing twice. Being Church naturally follows in that vein. From simple house churches to megachurches to traditional institutional churches, a million different ways abound that God could call his people to in Being Church. Each manifestation will not resonate with me. If it contains the critical elements - a particular consistency - modeled by the early church, it's church: just a different church for different tastebuds.

The Iron Chef won as he tends to do. Battle Trout came to a close, and I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord that He wants to Be with me; that I might be able to Be Church to my friends, my peers, the rest of the world; that God shows me how my Christian-cultural need to Be Church can supercede my American-cultural predisposition to Do Church; that I could eat coffee rather than trout ice cream.


– What activities do you associate with church? Which ones do you participate in? Do they fit within the criteria, the 'particular consistency,' modeled by the Early Church?

– Why do you participate in activities within the church? Are they a habit? A cultural expectation? A call from God? Do you find joy in doing them?

– Do you feel like you are Doing Church or Being Church? What would Being Church look like to you? Have you spent time discerning this, both individually and corporately?

– Do you have a spirit willing to accept that not all expressions of Being Church will resonate with you? Will you allow God to show you how to recognize and respect these "different styles for different tastebuds"?



Peace Be With You

"Peace be with you" - Christ said that He left peace with us.

These words can seem flippant when events such as today's bombing in London take place; but I hope our Brothers and Sisters in England receive and experience them with all authenticity and sincerity.

From an Easter meditation given by Pope John Paul II:

"Sr Faustina Kowalska wrote in her Diary: "I feel tremendous pain when I see the sufferings of my neighbours. All my neighbours' sufferings reverberate in my own heart; I carry their anguish in my heart in such a way that it even physically destroys me. I would like all their sorrows to fall upon me, in order to relieve my neighbour" (Diary, p. 365). This is the degree of compassion to which love leads, when it takes the love of God as its measure!

It is this love which must inspire humanity today, if it is to face the crisis of the meaning of life, the challenges of the most diverse needs and, especially, the duty to defend the dignity of every human person. Thus the message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God's eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy.

This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope. How many souls have been consoled by the prayer "Jesus, I trust in you", which Providence intimated through Sr Faustina! This simple act of abandonment to Jesus dispels the thickest clouds and lets a ray of light penetrate every life. Jezu, ufam tobie."



Workin' for Worship

Continuing query: Are meetings for worship held in expectant waiting for Divine guidance? Are Friends encouraged to share spiritual insights? Are special gifts of ministry recognized and encouraged?

It's a wonderful blessing to be part of the Friends tradition: gender equality, fair practices, social justice are some of the compassions impressed upon Quaker hearts. A practice that I relish, particularly as I visit other worship gatherings, is that of open worship: a time of sharing prompted by the Spirit.

Open worship has had an interesting history. In the beginning it seems that Quakers spent time dialoguing with others, discerning if the Spirit laid a message on their heart for the greater group, preparing that message to be delivered at the worship gathering (which was an entire time of open worship: nothing was really planned). Sometimes it was an impromptu sharing; sometimes it was a very intentional sharing; but always it was to be at the prompting of the Spirit.

Then Quakers entered a period of quietism: they became proud of their practice of silence because it differentiated them from other traditions. They began to worship the practice rather than worship God. A good meeting was if it was quiet the whole way through.

Somewhere along the way as the American Church movement developed (I hope my History and Doctrine professor isn't reading this) Quakers divided and divided and divided again. Now there's meetings that consist solely of open worship, and meetings that are completely programmed (no silence), and meetings that incorporate both: I attend the later.

I feel as though my meeting is coming out of a time of 'internal viewing' - focusing inward rather than being missional. Resources, teachings, time - most things were spent buoying up the church building/structure/programs rather than going out into the community. But times are changing.

And as our focus become Christ-centered, Christ leading us to share His light, open worship has become more . . . vivid: deep: lush: fruitful. Folks sometimes use it as a “personal sharing” time: prayer requests, updates, random thoughts as they verbally process an issue. But many times the Spirit makes a message apparent through seemingly unrelated sharings.

Are Friends encouraged to share spiritual insights? I think I am. But it would be more beneficial if I spent time discerning potential sharings throughout the week - both individually and corporately. Reading and steeping in the word, sharing and being in community: being intentional in creating space and listening. Oftentimes I think a message will be given to me in the middle of worship: an instant 'bang! Something to share!' slammed into my head by the Spirit.

But it takes practice: becoming acquainted with God’s touch, the Spirit's tuggings. And it takes processing: working with others to clarify the message - if it's meant for me or the great worship body. And it takes accountability: a place to work out what it feels like when I don’t follow through with a leading.

Worship is work. It’s not a time to sit back and be entertained. It takes preparation, intentionality, and a willing Spirit. It's scary: it's a rush: it's totally worth it.

Abba Father, work with me during the week. Clearly impress upon my heart your message for our worship gathering. I want to be Your Light.



Expectantly tapping my feet

Continuing query: Are meetings for worship held in expectant waiting for Divine guidance? Are Friends encouraged to share spiritual insights? Are special gifts of ministry recognized and encouraged?

Additional queries voiced in the comments: How do we who are released help release others to do as you're talking about? How do we join in together? How do we teach each other about living in day to day reality with Jesus? And, is there anyway to combat that expectation? Do we who are in released ministry contribute to the very problems we try to fight?

You know, I'm not good at waiting: in fact, I'm lousy. I dated my husband for about a year: we were engaged for two months: we got pregnant six months later. If I was going to do the whole "family thing," then I was going to jump in with both feet . . . and drag the others along with me!

But it's part of my American culture to demand instantaneous results. BK - have it your way. Pizza places that promise delivery within the half hour. Amazon offering overnight shipping of the next Harry Potter. Self-checkouts at the grocery stores so I don't have to wait in line - it might take just as long, but at least I'm busy doing something (and it has bigger isles so I don’t have to wrestle knick-knack junk away from my squirmy baby).

The Israelites had to wait . . . for a loooong time. I'm not too up on my OT timetable (though I did only miss three on my Bible Literacy test given as part of an object lesson in church on Sunday. Yes, it was given by my old man; no, he did not give me the answers; yes, my mom scored higher than I did - she always does), but I'm thinking between the time of Joseph and the time of Moses that a significant period of history passed. Like a couple hundred years. They had the promise from their old old man Abraham (who put in his time twiddling his thumbs waiting for God to "show him the money") that they would be a great nation - and yet they were enslaved in Egypt. I don't know that they necessarily recognized Moses' miracles as signs from God; I don't know if they had given up on God. But looking at the history of Israel, it's apparent that God doesn't always work on our time schedule.

Am I expectantly waiting? Nope: I think I've given up. If God was going to move, wouldn't He have done it already? With big fireworks? And grand pronoucements? With lots of conversions and testimonials and confessions and with folks rallying "Onward Christian soldier" like they did at camp? . . . . though most of those folks have gone back to their mundane ways. Since I haven't gotten it "my way", I figure it's not going to happen.

What would it look like if I expected something to happen? My dad's explained faith as a circle consisting of three actions (hope I get this right!): faith is *knowing* what God says is true, *believing* it, and then *acting* on that belief - if any element is missing, the conduit of power is broken. Do I have faith that the Holy Spirit is present, moving among us, guiding our worship, infusing us with God's love and light, prompting us to share messages, bringing us into wholeness?

Lord, you promised to send us a Helper, the Holy Spirit. You also have told us that you do things on your own time. Abba Father, would You awaken a spirit of "expectant waiting" in my heart? I know that you move among us - I believe it - and I will wait faithfully, acting when prompted, expecting Your will and love and light to be known in my worship gathering. And I promise not to tap my feet . . . or at least to try and hold them still. :)



Pastoral Pay-Off

I've decided to use Quaker queries as prompts for my entries. They're tools for discernment and evaluation for individuals as well as corporate meetings. I may linger on certain queries for a while as a means of continuing to process. I greatly welcome your thoughts and experiences.

Query: Are meetings for worship held in expectant waiting for Divine guidance? Are Friends encouraged to share spiritual insights? Are special gifts of ministry recognized and encouraged?

You know, I don't think I really expect anything to happen in church. I think of it more like school: the teacher does all the hard work of preparing materials, gathering information, and creating a palatable presentation; the students choose to accept it, reject it, or ignore it based on self-interests: does it apply to me? Will it get me further in life? Do I have other things I'd rather think about, like my grocery list or the bald spot of the person sitting in front of my or the next episode of "House"?

My common cop-out is attending a church with a paid pastoral staff: it's *their* job to wait on the Spirit and let me know what the Spirit says. Don't I pay them to do the "hard work"? And they must know more: I mean, they went to Seminary and stuff - I just graduated with a degree in the Humanities.

What would it look like if my meeting had no paid pastoral staff? I don't begrudge the pastors their salaries at all: I’m so pleased that they are freed to pursue a more intensive ministry, provide greater assistance, and focus on equipping the larger body to be missional. My dad works in the ministry; he's never been recorded (the Quaker version of being ordained) so that way he's "just a lay person" working in the ministry: he doesn't want the flack that comes from the congregation leaning too heavily on the pastoral staff, paying the ministers off for their own individual salvation.

I've thought about working in the church: being a pastor or a counselor. My present dream is to be a living, breathing resource for others who want to pursue God's missional/incarnational call in their lives - working with them to imagine what that might look like. Oftentimes folks don't realize that they're doing the work of God, or they think it needs to be some Grand Plan, but really it's the day to day interactions . . . and sometimes taking them one step further. I'd love to share ways that people are doing this, so my worship gathering could say, "Hey, I'd like to do that!" or perhaps hear the call of God through an example that resonated with them.

When I think about doing that, I automatically assume it would be in a pastoral role: have a cubical in the church office, be on the pay roll, attend the weekly meetings. But if I do that, would people lean on me to do the work that they should be doing? I'm not going to do it for them (Lord knows I'm too lazy), but would they have that expectation? Would this be enabling them to continue in incorrect thinking?

Do I meet for worship expecting that God's going to talk to me, or do I meet for worship expecting that God's talked to the pastor who will relay the message on? Lord, I want to be an "expectantly waiting" example: please correct my lazy ways.



"Emergent" queries

In the emerging church blogosphere there is great buzz generated over the decision to create an organization called "Emergent", what I believe is meant to be a centralization of resources for those interested in the ec world.

I find it mildly amusing in how we are analyzing and critiquing this action. Isn't part of the whole emerging church thing recognizing some of the flaws of the enlightenment (not everything should be deconstructed, weighed, quantified, qualified)? Now those measurements seemed to be applied to evaluate whether or not this is a smart move (how to define who fits in with "Emergent" or just the emerging church movement, how to organize something that's defined by being unorganized, etc.).

What about using the spiritual disciplines to gather a sense of if/how we should be involved? What about looking at the fruit that has been produced by the folks who are spear-heading this organization (i.e. do things they touch bear fruit or wither? I’d assume if they're following the will of God, their efforts would bear fruit). Wouldn't those be the tools to use?

And isn't this detracting from the spirit of ec: being incarnational and missional? How much time is being spent pondering whether to join in with the organization or not? Whether to change the name or not? Whether we’re "a part" or not?

Isn't the whole goal to live out God's love in our daily moments, our day-to-day lives? If something's taking away from that (this seems like an internal problem: it's not equipping folks to go out but rather drawing their attention inward), that's probably not a God-blessed use of our time.

The one good thing: it's causing some conversation and some thoughts on what's important, what's equipping, what's meaningful. Now if we can use that to spread the Light of Christ in the world, that'd be *AWE-some*.

(Yes, these are a lot of questions, but hey, I come from a rather 'query'-oriented faith background). =)

(Personally, it seems like Emergent would be like an emerging library, full of resources for seekers, which I would *so* appreciate. Librarians don't shove information down patrons' throats, but they wait for folks to ask for help. I believe that's what the Emergent friends desire - an organization of their helpful materials and collective experiences/wisdom. Many many dankes for sharing!)



"Doing Church" - Bleck

I've been recruited to write an article on "Doing Church", specifically aimed at talking about what appeals to my generation (young adults).

What a crappy phrase: doing church.

I understand the concept of the assignment, but the pictures it conjures up is along the lines of "doing pushups" or "doing taxes" or "doing crack" - nothing very appealing. Actually, it's about as appealing as "traditional" church is (and by traditional, I mean the predominant amount of churches that are simply a once-a-week management of your (and every once in a while others') personal salvation).


How do you convey "doing church" to others? The most effective means, obviously, is to live it out and be in other people's daily lives (novel concept!). How have you put that into writing?

Have you been successful at painting a picture for folks who've attended church forever and ever amen, but just don't seem to get it?

Have you ever paced around your apartment and sighed so much due to writer's block that it's becoming a regular aerobic activity? :)