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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.


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.

“And Thank You For This Day …”

My sons enjoy praying at night. At least, they like to draw out their adult interaction just a few more minutes, and what parent can turn away the cry of “please pray with me!” More water, tomorrow morning. Additional books, you have plenty in your room. Complaints about one brother doing something to the other, a resounding “work it out and get back to bed!” But praying: well, that’s the “get out of sleep free” card, and they cash that in every night.

I often wonder if any of it sinks in. My oldest is a creature of routine and following-by-example. When he was younger, I thought he was creatively broken: I’d give him legos, and he’d look at me blankly. It was only once my father sat down with him and a lego kit with instructions did we realize he.follows.instructions. Gasp. So with his prayers, he says the same thing often: prayers for healing of owies, thanks for a good day and playing on the playground, and and requests for “more screen time tomorrow”. Ah, the heaviness of being six.

My middle child likes to hear himself talk – he so rarely gets an open forum. He often directs the pre-prayer discussion. “Mama, you ask who have a good day. Me or Judah go first? Okay, you ask who had hard time. Me or Judah?” And often his responses don’t correlate to anything I’ve asked. Last night he thanked God for getting to go to school and play on the playground: it’s been a week since he’s been at school. I ask for praises: for his owies. I ask for prayer requests: he talks about the kids his brother plays with on the bus.

At the end of our corporate prayer time each of the boys prays their own prayer. Judah repeats word-for-word what he stated before. Abel keeps the prayer going – never a moment of silence. “Thank you for this day and thank you for school and thank you for this day and thank you for recess and thank you for this day and for my owies go away and thank you for this day and thank you I get to go to school and thank you for this day ….”

All I want, of course, is thankyouforthisdayamen. Loveyoumama, sweetdreams, goodnight, GOTOSLEEP. 🙂 But as I sighed, leaning against the wall, waiting for the thanks to end, I realized: I don’t want the thanks to end. Annoying and inspiring all at the same time: to draw out the day giving thanks over … and over … and over. Of course I have my own thanks for the day – coming to a close – while I sit on the couch, next to my husband, watching tv on the computer, knitting or reading a magazine. Like I do almost every night. To each his own, I guess.

Wanting to Want

Today at Women’s Bible Fellowship a woman commented, “I don’t know how you do so much!” “Oh, it’s not that much,” I said, shifting my littlest one on my hip, trying to wipe off the evidence of her spitting up on my clothes – clean, nice-looking, “adult” clothes that I find myself wearing fewer and fewer times during the week …. month …. year. “Oh, yes,” she insisted, “Nursing her, facilitating a group. I don’t know how you even get your study done.” I let her in on a secret: I did most of it before WBF even started because I *knew* that quality chunks of quiet time would be packed away with my Grown Up Clothes.

Really, life feels more simple these days. Daily routines, check-off lists for chores, homework, bills, well-child checkups. Planning a meal, shopping for a meal, cooking a meal, eating a meal, convincing others they want to eat the meal, wiping up the meal, cleaning up the meal. And beginning it all over again in about three hours.

One of the questions from our weekly homework looked at anointing and serving: when God gives us a Word about something God calls us to, our journey begins by serving rather than leading in that area. A homework question asked something about what area did we feel called to that we might begin serving in. For me initially: Writer? Pray-er? Baker? But this week I reversed it and wondered who am I serving and how might that speak into who I’m called to be in the future: my kids. I realized I serve them most of the day, and I actually want to be more like them: joyful, carefree, innocent, curious, full of hugs, and seemingly full of endless energy (as evidenced by putting my son into quiet time for the fourth time in 20 minutes).

I have a piece of paper next to my bed with a quote from the previous week’s homework: “God, I want to commit to starting every day by asking for you to remind me of your presence with me.” The author didn’t start off with “I want” – that’s more Perfectionist Me knowing I can’t perfectly commit; but I want to commit, and that’s gotta be something, right? I overheard my kids’ playing in my room last week. Abel: “Play with dis piece of paper!” Judah, “No, Abel, put that back! Mama needs that: it makes her feel better.” How do they know? Wanting to want seems to be a good first step. 🙂

Adjusting the Focus

Worship Fully – pondered on Luke 15:  what kind of lady looks for a coin that hard when she has other coins?  What coins have I deemed as lost and non-findable?

Spend Less – I plan on spending less time focusing on the things I do wrong or don’t want in my life.  A parenting book I read (can’t remember amongst the slew) talked about focusing on the behavior or action or element you’d like to see rather than always pointing out what you don’t want to see, because chances are you’ll keep seeing more of that.

Give More – I gave more time to letting the kids decorate the house (although there was definitely room for more gracious comments on my behalf, rather than “Stop using Baby Jesus to beat up your brother!”)

Love All – Today I wanted to love my friend by watching her little boy (and likewise love my children by letting them have a playmate come visit), but the playmate got sick.  So I sent my friend cookies because apparently baking is my love language.

Tonight I planned a wonderful family night at the Art Walk event in Newberg:  gathering at the local bookstore to hear the NFC Brass play holiday music and enjoy the company of the listeners.

My boys planned on finding a friend at the event, getting the toys, shooting everyone in sight, and running amuck.  Really:  A Muck.

When my focus is on their behavior and my enjoyment is dependent on it, I lose every time:  oh so crabby.  But when my focus is on realizing that my eldest didn’t run quite as much amuck as he has in the past, and that I got to talk with a few adults, and that this too shall pass, and that I will have GREAT compassion for young parents with crazy amuck running boys in the future, I am able to deem this an okay evening.

Next Steps: Room to Step

Now that you’ve heard a bit of our process, you may be wondering where our recommendations came from. Remember: I’m sharing only from my experience and journey.

I shared with the group some about my thoughts on worship and community as I experienced them as a child. I also wondered if such an experience would be possible at NFC. We have three services with half and hour in between. The service structure is packed: not a lot of time for flexibility.

And not a lot of space to congregate, so if service runs over, people are backed up everywhere — and not in a good way when it’s commonly known as the “cattle shoot”. When I first experienced worship at NFC, I was floored at how quickly folks vacated the sanctuary. I figured it was to congregate somewhere superdupercool because why else would people run out as though their pants were on Holy Fire? Because where I came from, the earliest we got home from church was about an hour and a half *after* service had ended. People chatted; kids played; kids maneuvered their parents into going out to lunch with friends so that the conversation and community didn’t have to end.

As the Next Steps group shared their longing for community, we recognized we didn’t really have either the space or the time. So folks began to brainstorm: what would it look like if we went to two services and had a longer time for fellowship? What if we knocked down the walls to the library and built out onto the lawn? What if we removed the pews from the sanctuary and installed interlocking chairs that could be moved around for fellowship time? Should we remodel the Friends Center to make it more conducive to congregating for a longer period of time?

People got excited. But they also felt bogged down by the idea of fundraising: did God want us to spend our time raising money to build a bigger building? Is that what would help us reach out to those in our community, or would that weigh us down?

I started to wonder if the setup of Newberg created an environment for fellowshipping for longer periods of time. If we had space, would we actually use it? When I lived in Boise, I lived 20-25ish minutes away from the church. After getting up, getting dressed, getting fed, getting in the car, we weren’t going to go anywhere for quite some time after arriving at church: we were settled. So we’d go to children’s church and then Sunday school and hang out with friends and come home after a long bit – enough time to make the drive “worthwhile”.

But in Newberg, everything is close and convenient. A drive across town is about seven minutes. It’s easy to have a ‘drop-in’ mentality: I’ll drop in to church, and then drop in to the store, and then run back home. If I forget something at home that I wanted to take to church, I can make it there and back and not miss any significant amount of time. I don’t know that people would come and stay for fellowship at NFC.

So what does that mean? I started thinking about Newberg in general, noticing the types of buildings and establishments. And you know what’s abounding right now? Empty buildings. A number of businesses have moved or closed, and empty facilities are left standing. I wondered what it would be like for faith communities to move into those empty places: not necessarily as a church building, but perhaps as a ministry, creating space for the community of Newberg as a whole to fellowship. What would it look like if we moved into one of those buildings as a community center? And on Sundays we could set up activities for fellowship after church (to “drop in”)? Or what would it look like if some folks from different faith gatherings took on leasing a building and putting in a business that helped those who needed a job have one? Or make it a place to teach? Or just hang out (a bowling alley? Hello!).

There’s an empty building I pass every day as I drive from Newberg to Dundee, and I’m so moved to pray that God will fill that building with something that will bless the people of Newberg. I hope my faith gathering gets to be a part of that – the redeeming of the empty places . . .

Is It a Generational or An Everybody Thing?

Oh, goodness, how I’m letting dust settle on my blog. My writing efforts have had to be laid aside for a bit due to relocation events: yes, my little family purchased a house and moved two miles outside of the ‘berg to “snooty wine country” (a.k.a. Dundee). Boxes abound, an eleven-month old finds a wealth of things he shouldn’t get into, and somehow my time is occupied with things other than blogging.

A friend sent me an email:

Greetings. Just a quick question, or in honesty your response to a premise. I suspect that most of the reasons the “missing generation” is indeed missing from organized religion are the same reasons the masses aren’t interested in church. Any thoughts?

I have some thoughts, but they’re packed away with my missing salad bowl. I thought that calling on the collective wisdom of my readers would provide a much more deep, varied, and probably coherant response.

So, what’s your take? Is it a generational thing? An “everybody got their somethin'” thang? Bueller? Bueller?

Welcome, Marta!

My friend, a delightful and wonderful and warm and eloquent new friend, Marta, has a blog. She has a knack of playing with words that is fantastic, and her view of the world is unique (something I so appreciate – there really does have to be a better name for Stay At Home Mom). Go: read her blog: leave her comments – you know you want to. 🙂

Bah Gahbunga!

Man, it’s hard to walk the fine line of “appropriate” community interaction and bonding. Much of our society is independent – nuclear – solitary: not wanting to commit to the time, effort, and self-sacrifice it takes to be part of a community.

And then there’s this: Gahbunga, a new site that allows you to take a picture of a person with your cell phone and send it to your online community to rate whether someone is “hot or not”. Because Lord knows that a) physical attributes are a *definite* determination of whether someone is “worthwhile” or not, and 2) you should never act without the superficial input of your community.

I’ve played stupid games like that before: the “your team” game (if you see an “interesting” looking person, you lean over to your friend and tell them that the unfortunate soul is on your friend’s “team”. The goal is to fill your friend’s team with all sort of unlucky folks). Except we didn’t invest hours and dollars into it – just some laughs.

Bleck. When has “community building” gone too far?

Warm Quaker Fuzzies

Every once in a while, after hearing countless hurricane disaster stories and Pat Robertson denuciations and pro-peace versus pro-war protests, it’s nice to read a story like this from the front page of the Oregonian. The pastor who officiated the wedding is none other than the clerk of the board that I’m on: his picture was in the paper and everything! I wonder if he read the Bible verses from his palm like he does in our meetings . . . . somehow I doubt. 🙂 🙂