Experience comes before theology

I’m surrounded by teachers. Thankfully. They understand my eternal quest to observe, consume, and share information.

And yet… we sometimes get stuck on theology. Study: observe: quantify: qualify: and move on.

I don’t know that I can. I think I’ve been stuck in a sort of Star Trek “time loop” for the past number of years, mostly based on my desire to fixate on theology rather than experience.

Can I create space to experience here? Would you with me? Would you be willing to join in? I promise to provide virtual cookies and beverages.

Same as it ever was…

The other morning my friend (and neighbor)’s son came to my house to catch the bus.

I put on my slippers, grabbed the 5-point-harness booster, and walked my daughter up a few houses to catch her carpool to pre-K.

I thought about James, you know, the brother of Jesus. Did he shuttle kids to houses for pickup? He had a fairly important Big Brother – how did he deal with that dynamic? Did he ever want to tackle him, as my littles seem to enjoy between the hours of 7 and 8 am? What was school like? James, you’re the first biblical writer who made sense to me; does any of my American suburban life make sense to you?

Years ago, once in a lifetime, I thought I would be single. In Ireland. Schooling my friends’ kids. And yet, I’m shuffling in my slippers in suburban Oregon, shuttling littles up and down the neighborhood sidewalk, pondering what’s for dinner, contemplating the depths of the New Testament and flexible spending accounts.

It’s a new season, and yet a continuing season. Same as it ever was….

photo (3)

Real

Really, I want to write. I think. Maybe. Someday.

In actuality, I clean and organize and edit and manage and coach and fold and sort and complete forms and ignore awkward phone calls with health savings accounts personel and make appointments for well-child checks and beat my head trying to figure out local/organic/sustainable/affordable and beat myself up that the house isn’t in perfect form and the kids don’t have all the extra curricular homework done and the food contains all-purpose flour and processed sugars and mitotoxins.

It’s exhausing, and really, I’m tired of carrying this load.

So what should reality look like? What does it mean to be Aj Schwanz? Perhaps I’ll have the gaul, with these 34ish years of living, to find out.

Lord help us all.

Family and Kingdom

I tossed and turned in bed last night. The bed sheets gathered around my neck. One feline camped out at my feet while another lounged around my head until they decided to rumble around 4 a.m. The humidity weighed heavy and my husband’s breathing echoed. Finally, I gave in and got up. After a shower, breakfast, exposure to the Happy Lamp, and a deep breath, I scrolled through the all-important happenings posted on Facebook during my not-so-slumbering hours. I came across this quote:

Once you’ve left the concept of family you’ve left the concept of Kingdom. – Bill Johnson

It took me aback. See, it’s Sunday. Sabbath. The traditional day to scurry about getting the family fed and presentable and out the door (by 9 a.m., yet again, like all the days before it) to attend a corporate gathering for worship. Except for the past year-ish, my family hasn’t.

Some days we’ve been sick; some days we’ve been tired; some days we’ve been with extended family members – in state, out of state, in all sorts of states. But lately, we’ve woken up leisurely. We’ve enjoyed breakfast together. We’ve dressed down, grabbed our bags with workbooks and card games and cookbooks for weekly menu planning, and we’ve gone to a local coffee shop to hang out for two-ish hours where we connect with friends who work there and friends who hang out there and friends who wander in and out in between church services.

I don’t know if this is the right thing to do. Part of our actions stem from wanting a day of rest. Perhaps that means our weekly activities are too much; perhaps that means we’re being lazy.

Part of our actions stem from children’s ministries at our worship gathering: we have three littles participating, but we don’t have adults serving, and the need for teachers/leaders/facilitators seems great. I’ve connected with the children’s pastor about this, and she spoke freedom to my husband and me that we didn’t have to volunteer. But I haven’t been able to get past the dread/guilt/uncomfortable feeling I have dropping my kids off with my friends as they’re teaching children’s Sunday school.

A friend has written about the lack of male representation in children’s ministries. This morning I joked with my husband over our Sunday morning cup of coffee that Jamie and I have the same sense but totally different responses. He rallies people to move toward something, issuing a call for men to come alongside the current volunteers (mostly women) in the role of teaching the young among us. And I wonder about laying children’s ministries down: no volunteers, no interest/energy, no program.

My family spends a decent amount of the week apart. Well, the kids and I spend the time apart from my husband. But on Sunday morning we spend some quality time together – with people from our community who come in and out of the coffee shop since it’s in the middle of our town – and we connect.

So when I read Bill Johnson’s quote, I did a double-take. To a degree I feel like I’ve left my church family. My kids beg to attend Sunday morning service – mostly to see their best friends and get to run around bizerko during community time while my hubby and I try to balance yelling at them to behave and giving up because who else is actually trying to manage their children? – and yet I feel a block about attending the worship gathering. Actually, I feel an achy tummy. And achy ears from my kids’ seemingly constant questioning. “Why don’t we go?!!”

So I read that quote, and I thought, “Have I left Kingdom? But I want to be about the Kingdom!”

And yet I spend Sunday mornings with my immediate family camped in the midst of our greater family. I don’t know that we worship. But honestly, I don’t really worship at the corporate gathering anyway, so at least my stomach ache stems from too much caffeine instead of spiritual anxt.

“Once you’ve left the concept of family you’ve left the concept of Kingdom.” I think this means to point out the importance of relationships over power; grace over law; love over all. And I hope somewhere and somehow the actions – and nature – of my family speaks the Kingdom to our greater family; that we hear Kingdom from our greater family; and that we get the chance to glory in the unexpected and unbounded movements of the Spirit together – to and with the greater world.

Discernment

Yesterday I heard a man telling a story from a time when he was a paid pastor. He was in his office when he heard a racket coming from the next room. The associate pastors were trying to cast a demon out of a person. The pastor listened to them for almost an hour as the associates kept commanding, “Tell us your name! Who are you? Come out!” and other things I couldn’t really relate to because I was raised a Quaker and apparently we don’t roll that way.

Anywho, the pastor finally went into the room next door and asked, “What are you doing?” “We’re trying to cast out a demon, but it won’t tell us its name.” “That’s because you haven’t discerned what kind of spirit this is! It’s a lying spirit!” “Oh. Okay.” The pastor left, the associates commanded, “Lying spirit, be gone!”, and the man was delivered.

Like I said, there’s a lot to that story that I don’t understand. But the part I’ve pondered was the “discerning of spirits” element. A new “crisis” seems to be emerging (or rather, finally named) in our regional Quaker conference. New mentions of “practicing discernment” peppers the topical landscape. This sort of discernment brings to mind images of turning inward, checking in with the “inner sense,” trying really hard not to use Scripture as a means to justify belief (but really wanting to), and sheer amazement if any sort of thing is agreed upon (but now, actually acting upon it …).

Recently I’ve heard about the gift of discerning of spirits. The above case shows discerning of evil spirits – the kind that Christ cast out of the man and into the pigs. But there seems to be a different gift of discerning as well: what spiritual gifts a person may hold, what honor or favor or future God may have gifted a person with. The centurion discerned Christ carried a great deal of authority. Quakers used to recognize “Weighty Friends”: could that have been a discerning of spiritual things?

I’ve never read Scripture that says God calls me to seek his will, but I have read about being called to seek God’s face – be in right relationship. It seems that God’s responsible for letting me know when I’ve stepped out of his will, which I will know if we’re in right relationship.

I wonder if my practice of discernment has gotten a little too modern (listen til I know which way to go or act: very “holy board room”) or post-modern (listen for the mood or the vibe and leave feeling happy: very “coffeehouse chic spirituality”). I wonder about practicing true discerning of spiritual things: I don’t know how to go about it. But I sense that in this sort of discerning comes the quaking, and that I really want to know more about.

Follow Your Favor

Tonight I re-listened to a talk titled “Follow Your Favor.”

Today I’ve heard people talking about listening to dreams, finding the place where one feels most alive, and learning to dream again.

Who is dreaming? Does God truly meet us there? Or is God already present in the dreams, and we simply have to meet God in that place of Most Trueness?

I hope. Oh, I hope.

Quaker Roads Take Me Home

Today I wandered the isles of Grocery Outlet, our local selling-almost-past-selling-date store that sports random organic/not-organic/hodgepodge food stuffs, seasonal GO-branded bobble heads, blaring catchy commercial jingles on overhead speakers, and sporting  plenty of space (and gracious workers) for my littles (not so little since last I wrote) to roam. The speakers warbled a familiar tune, one from my youth: “Country roads, take me home, to the place that I belong …” Yes, my parents listened to John Denver. Yes, I saw John Denver in concert at a very, very young age. Yes, today I whistled along to the tune just as my father would have. Some habits are hard (or near impossible) to “un-learn”: they’re so engrained that they seemingly become part of one’s personhood.

This site has been fairly dormant for a while now. I’ve been busy birthing and tending to Littles: three darling persons who are a combination of DNA from me and my husband, and yet more than that. My littlest – a girl – can make a face (happy or cranky) so mirroring my mother that I have to do a double-check as to whether I’m responding as a mother or a daughter. And people I encounter in public give offerings – “Oh, he looks more and more like you with each passing day!” followed a few moments later with someone exclaiming, “THAT’S your kid?!! How is he related to you?!!” Generally comments center around the theme of energy (they have a lot), spunk (they have a lot), opinions (likewise), and rest (yeah: not so present).

Today while wandering the store isles, not knowing where my children were but sensing I could find them near the Easter decorations or discounted toys, I realized I’m formed by elements I would never have expected or desired. John Denver songs: really? And the following Beatles songs I know not from my folks but from watching Help with my high school friends. And yet: those melodies are home to me. Local stores (not truly “local” in a sustainable sense, but rather on my morning driving route) and their employees are community. And my Quaker upbringing?! …

Selfishly, lazily, I ache to know certainty – something that is solid. I thought that was my “religious” upbringing. But it’s not. This past weekend I bought my first Bible. Yes, I have a lot of versions of the Bible, but I’ve never bought my own. My work requires a certain translation that I can find on an obscure website; but I “randomly” came across a pretty, slim, cheap copy at a beach outlet mall bookstore. What should I read first in this sacred book? I thought about the first time that scripture came alive to me – reading the book of James at a junior high camp. Yeah: that should’ve sent off some warning bells about the kind of life I might be sent down (trials – tribulations – endurance: not my strong points), and yet: sigh. I whistled along as I read the oh-so-familiar words that seemed new in an odd sort of way.

Previously this website centered around my Quaker upbringing. But as of late I listen to Bethel Church podcasts and whistle along to the songs on the Jesus Culture Pandora channel. I attend local charismatic conferences and listen to some neo-Calvinist sermons. And I find life and hope and joy when a Grocery Outlet worker asks me how my day is going and if my daughter (not even three) would like a greeter job at the store (because she’s just that gregarious, hanging onto the shopping cart and smiling as though she’s in a parade, greeting her public).

Before I thought I knew what I was doing; now I certainly know that I don’t. And yet – the words still want to break forth. Just as my three children are breaking forth from their rooms, very certain that Quiet Time is over. “Mom, it’s three three zero. Quiet Time is over. And we’re cleaning up as fast as we can.” Yes, yes, you are. And so are my words.

So let it be said, so let it be done. (Ten Commandments junkie to the end – some things never change.)

Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation

Today our worship gathering finished our focused study on the book of Ephesians.  We’ve been soaking in it for over eight months.  Wow.

I sat in the balcony, feeling released from that anxiousness that generally plagues me, looking for the I-Spy hunt that God has been leading me on as of late. So much fun!

The message this morning: reflecting on Ephesians. I had an inkling in my mind.  I had put a book in my bag before running out the door for service: it seemed to need to come along.  The title: “The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation” by Watchman Nee.

“The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1.17).

“Paul prayed in his day for the saints in Ephesus that they might see the exceeding greatness of the power which God had already given them. Now if we today do not see that the power in us and the power in Christ is on and the same power, we too must pray for seeing. If the power manifested in us is less than the power that was manifested in Christ, we should acknowledge that there are still many things which we have not seen. Let us humbly confess and pray to God to make us see. Yet whether we see or not, the fact remains that the power which God works in those who believe is according to the working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ.  Hallelujah! This the spiritual fact. Let us ask God to open our eyes that we may truly perceive and understand. We will not ask His to pour upon us more power from outside; no, we will only ask Him to cause us to discover and to see m ore that is in us already. And when God opens our eyes to see, we shall praise Him more and more for what we have been given” (23).

This I prayed, for my self and my worship family as we shared some of our reflections, struggles, challenges, and encouragements from spending time in (and out) of Ephesians.

“Paul prayed ‘that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation.’ Without the Holy Spirit, what profit is there in clearness of teaching? It is the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes and causes us to see. When He truly opens our eyes we will immediately be able to say: ‘Thank God, the work is done.’ We are not to expect the Lord to give us greater power: we are simply to perceive how great is the power which He has already given us. The spirit of wisdom will  make us understand and the spirit of revelation will make us see; wisdom will make things clear and revelation will bring them to us” (33).

All this I prayed while I casually waved my son’s palm frond in a passive aggressive way in attempting to show some passion. 🙂 And I smiled as my children proclaimed their hosannas all the way to the car, with construction paper leaves and a paper windsock. Just like in Bible times. 🙂

Wisdom and revelation: be here. We anticipate you with fear and trembling. Hosanna in the highest!

Ps.  The topic of the sermon I listened to on Tuesday night when I felt like God took me on an audio Hide & Seek game (my own personal bazinga!): wisdom and revelation, freedom and joy! Nevertheless!

Ritual, Respect, and the Light of “Instead”

After a hearty recommendation from a friend, I recently purchased a book: “To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration”. The author discusses the importance of ritual in our family and worship lives through following the liturgical year, giving ideas for families to enter in without engaging in superficial piety. Due to the length of the title, my friend calls the book by the author’s first name: Gertrud. I think Gertrud would be okay with that.

So Gertrud arrived at my house, and I skimmed ahead to the section on Holy Week and Easter to get a sense if there was anything I might incorporate into our upcoming celebration. Gertrud is very holistic in her life, because instead of simply listing off craft projects and foods that could be enjoyed, she talks about an event and weaves in psychological, community, and personal implications.

Gertrud starts off talking about the procession of Palm Sunday with ideas of making bread dough chicks, gathering branches, displaying banners, and then so slyly delves into a discussion on feeling and passion in the corporate gathering. “The powerful liturgy of these holy days must tap also our deepest and most human place, the feelings of the human heart.” (157)  I remember loving to tear through the sanctuary as a kid: to be as loud as I wanted to be, especially without any adults to tell me to “quiet down, now” (as I do to my kids in the social hall – sigh). Part of that was the rambunctiousness that comes with being a kid, but I also think it’s something more.

Then Gertrud hit me, lovingly:

Indeed, in many cases it takes some educating and coaxing of priests and leaders of public worship not to stand at such a distance from the passions of what makes us human. That education and leadership, in turn, directed to the community assembled, can release a richness and a power, which can only be called a religious experience. Yes, we risk putting ourselves out. But to hold back or deny out of fear is to deny people a form to contain their human expression; it is to rob people of a religious life. (157)

Pow.

In one of his talks Graham Cooke talked about the relationship between worship leaders and the “rest” of the gathering. He said something to the effect that we’re called not to judge how worship is going or meeting our needs, but rather to intercede for the worship leaders that they may create an atmosphere of deeper breakthrough of the Holy Spirit.

My natural inclination is to sit back and point out things that I perceive are wrong or lacking, and then feel justified in disengaging. What if that negative revelation has a place, but rather calling for deeper engagement? What if that message is for me so I know how better to intercede for our worship facilitators? What would it look like to lift up rather than tear down? And what if lifted up, the facilitators can better “release a richness and a power, which can only be called a religious experience”?

One of my dearest friends facilitates worship both on Sunday morning and at our bible study on Thursdays. This past Thursday the songs she chose reflected the themes and fingerprints of God that we’ve talked about lately at our Tuesday night “crafty” gatherings. I don’t know that she did it intentionally or subconsciously, but I did grin as each song was displayed on the projector. I pray for her, respect that she’s been gifted for this task, believe she is equipped, want to acknowledge her blessings and intercede in her places of lack. I see richness and power released into our Thursday morning experience: hosanna!

I’ve been convinced I don’t carry the same posture on Sunday mornings, and this post is an attempt at repentance.

I am sorry for the times I have judged or been critical – that was not, nor ever will be, my place.

I believe God is the God of “insteads”:  Isaiah proclaims God wants to give beauty instead of ashes, abundance instead of deprivation. Instead of judging, I want to respect and honor those who have been chosen to facilitate our worship times. Instead of having a spirit of introspection, I want to have a spirit of communal adoration. I want to honor my leaders’ giftings, respect their leadings, and “coax” them into a deeper engagement and passion through a pouring out of prayer. I want to see us in the light of “instead”.

Then perhaps I, and we, will enter in more deeply to what God is already doing:

“11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.

13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 58

All glory laud and honor, to you Redeemer King! Hosanna, hosanna to the Son of David!

From the Heights to the Depths You’re There

A few months ago I had a chuckle. During our worship gathering one of my boys was sitting in the sound booth, “helping” with his favorite sound technician.  He puts on headphones, watches the computer screen, and actually sits quietly until he’s dismissed to “children’s church.”

Meanwhile, my other son was stuck in the men’s bathroom stall.  A friend’s son found him; with loving concern the whole family brought him in his distress to us and stayed to make sure he was okay.

One running things in the balcony; the other stuck in the basement bathroom.  But both helped out by our extended family.

Today the eldest was back in the sound booth and the middle child was sitting with one of his best bud’s family.  Jason and I enjoyed a moment of rest. I worked to enter into worship, trying not to get stuck on the mention of the “Quaker handraising” (described as a small extension of the hands to the side, totally non-expressive. Doesn’t quite seem in line with a denomination that got its name from describing their bodily manifestations of the Spirit). I thought about how nice it would be after worship, having received an invitation to a friend’s house for a Real Sunday Dinner (with grandparents and Wii entertainment for the tykes – delightful!).

Downstairs I ran into one of the Weighty Friends in my life.  Her face lit up when our eyes connected.  We waxed poetic about people we admire in our lives and joked about how it’s good that we don’t sit together, lest we stir up “real” trouble.

Similar to the experience I earlier described with my boys, I was enjoying life in the balcony, while another was stuck in a metaphorical crapper.

It can be hard to get through service with young kids, especially when the dismissal to children’s church occurs later than usual.  Instead of experiencing the help of a friend “opening the stall door” to get through, a snarky comment about controlling kids or not having them in the sanctuary pretty much slammed that door shut.

This is not the first time it’s happened to someone I know.

What do I do with something like that? What do *WE* do with that? What does it look like to give grace (“oh, maybe they were having a hard day”) or to call into loving correction (“this is not how we treat each other”)? My fear is I will hear more excuses (“yep, that happens in churches”) rather than being heard (“that’s hard. and not okay. what does this mean, and what must we do?”).

Ultimately it’s not my choice: it didn’t happen to me. Directly. But it happened to someone in my family.

After trying on a myriad of reactions, I take the lead from today’s message on prayer: pray without ceasing, in *all* things. In the heights/balcony and the depths/basement men’s bathroom, You’re there redeeming, O Lord. You pour Your righteous love on us all – the old, the young; the movers, the sitters; the finger-extenders, the quakers.

A song that echos through my days, and ultimately I hope to be my evident in my life:

We are His portion and He is our prize.
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

That He loves us, oh how He loves us. – John Mark McMillan