26 April 2007

Last morning at Twin Rocks

I've spent the last three days at the Friends pastors' retreat at Twin Rocks Friends Camp, a beautiful and extraordinarily well-managed Quaker camp on the Pacific coast. The original reason for me to be invited was to help Friends pastors get better informed about our concern for service in Russia, but the actual effect was the gift of a healing and badly-needed true spiritual retreat.

Among all the highlights, the most amazing blessing has been to hear the presentations by Lisa and Mark McMinn. Lisa teaches sociology and Mark teaches psychology at George Fox University, but together they have been teaching us perennially dissatisfied Quaker ministers about contentment.

Their collaboration has been delightful and very fruitful. "Contentment" probably looks a bit different at times for men and for women, but their interwoven presentations covered the differences--and the fertile mutuality. Thank goodness they made it clear they were not perfect exemplars of contentment; their struggles were as valuable as their theories. But the theories were good, too, grounded as they were in the gracious possibilities and hard-won insights captured in the Bible and in centuries of recorded Christian (and human) experience!

Why did I just assert that Friends ministers are perennially dissatisfied? I'm not sure that it is true, although anecdotally I know that many Friends pastors seem to suffer from far more stress than ought to come with serving our dear little bands of idealists that make up most Friends churches and meetings. Mark McMinn pointed out that while clergy--his area of specialization--suffer from an outsized amount of stress, they also have abnormally high rates of career satisfaction! Serving as a traveling denominational bureaucrat, as I did for seventeen years, gave me plenty of data to back up the impression of high stress. Friends compound the problem with our internal culture's ambivalence toward leadership, often expecting (as I have said before) people to be Superman and Clark Kent at the same time.

Anyway, everyone needs to learn about contentment, but it would seem especially ironic if Friends ministers (who, after all, are supposedly gifted for public ministry!) remained unable to teach or model or enjoy this state of being. So it was a gift to this retreat at Twin Rocks to have that as a theme. Hopefully, the ripple effect of learning contentment will reach those in each of our meetings who are restless, self-doubting, self-inflated, insecure, fearful, tense, ashamed, or prone to shaming others. The human cost of lack of contentment is staggering, and not just in psychiatric terms; how much of our inability to solve conflicts nonviolently, share our resources equitably, or exert a sane stewardship of our earth, comes from an inability to be contented? How many times do we misdirect our zeal for social justice because we flail out at evil from an uncentered place, and become (as John Perkins said in my quote last week) "co-victims"?

Lisa McMinn's contributions were in part concerned with the place of choosing fortitute and choosing joy in our journey toward contentment. Here are a couple of excerpts from her book The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life:
When we embrace the struggles of embodied souls making their way through life, we give dignity to a humanity crying out for redemption and receiving mercy. This is not glorifying pain, but it is acknowledging the frailty and limits of our humanity. In a willingness to embrace them, we can see what mercy and good may come through them.

So can we sit with some measure of sadness, some level of anxiety, some amount of sleeplessness, recognizing the world isn't the way it's supposed to be and we can feel it in its flesh and bones? There is a wise sadness that comes from recognizing how unlike paradise earth has become. We bring a kind of dignity to our embodied existence when we sit with our suffering, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gesthemane, and attempt to listen to the underlying woes, recognizing that no matter how much we attempt to dissuage our discomfort, the contentment and fulfullment we long for will not be fully ours this side of eternity. [Something anyone with a pastoral heart needs to hear!]
. . . . .

Contentment and care for creation are interwoven strands emerging from who we are: image bearers of God and dust of the earth. As creatures of the earth, we have been given the capacity to respond to and comprehend the wonders of creation. As image bearers of God, we have been given the role of caretaker, an obligation born out of our nature. Contentment is a byproduct out of living rightly, properly understanding our obligatory relationship to creation.

The wonders of the earth call out, inviting those who are mindful--who hear, see, taste and smell--to praise and honor God, whose creation gives us pleasure and sustenance. Gratitude and obligation take tangible form as we walk gently amid God's creation.
Mark's presentations were organized around an elemental recapitulation of the Christian narrative from a psychologist's viewpoint: from creation (the connected self, intimately involved with God and partner) to alienation (the isolated self, going beyond exploring Eden, rejecting relationship and boundaries), to redemption and reconcilation, reconnecting by returning home with a wiser sense of self and a palpable experience of God's limitless mercy and grace.

I don't want to say much more about the McMinns' presentations, because I hope you will organize a setting to meet them yourself, and I don't want to pretend to represent their rich materials adequately in this dry summary form, outside of the context of worship, singing, laughing, crying, storytelling, and all the other elements that made those few days at Twin Rocks so wonderful.

To be honest, I went to this retreat at the last moment, and really didn't have time for it. So I did attend the worship sessions and the McMinns' presentations, but the rest of the time I was either doing my paid work at my laptop, or (this morning) gluing pictures to a display about our service in Russia. But how could I be so close to the beach and the Pacific Ocean, and the Twin Rocks walking trails, and just sit in a building all day? But even as I sat working in the Friendship Center, I was somehow very aware of the quiet enormity of the Pacific Ocean, despite the clouds and intermittent rain. And this morning before breakfast I finally went across the Twin Rocks pedestrian bridge that connects the main camp with its beach, and paid my respects to the ocean.

Righteous links: This item on women and stress may be seven years old, but it's news to me, and fascinating in its implications--especially after listening to the McMinns' presentations. (Thanks to Mary Kay Rehard.)

The "Life Behind the Wall" collaborative e-zine tackles Palestinian teenagers' attitudes toward religion in a fascinating and candid set of first-hand comments.

Sean's Russia Blog has recent posts on these important topics:And as for the last item, do trauma and fear govern in the USA? An op-ed piece in the New York Times (archive$) by Jim Dwyer, "At the Protest, a Civics Lesson Gets a Twist," describes the experiences of Bob Curley and his son Neal, arrested with hundreds of others during the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004. According to Dwyer,
. . . the people arrested that day — hundreds at a time, about 1,100 across the city — had landed in the jaws of a new and largely invisible intelligence bureaucracy, that the mayor and police commissioner said they had set up to protect the city from the murderous strikes of terrorists. For 18 months, preparations for the convention included police surveillance of political groups across the country, most of whom had no plans to break the law.

The intelligence operation was conducted legally, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said, and helped make the convention “a huge success” by protecting the rights of protesters and Republican delegates. How much did it cost to send detectives and support teams around the country, with big overtime and travel bills? Mayor Bloomberg’s press office won’t say. The Police Department says there was no budget. The city’s chief lawyer, Michael A. Cardozo, says there was no surveillance program.
When I see the wrinkles of editorial concern about Russian authoritarianism creasing pundits' brows in the USA, I can't help thinking of our own episodes of preventive detention and the "perception management" that helps us keep our own sins in proper perspective as we lecture the rest of the world about democracy.

*exhale* And now for some contentment!

Part A: I am about to head off to the Guardino Gallery to see Smith Eliot's latest show. It will be there through May 29--come and see her beautiful acrylic lifts for yourself.

Part B: Susan Tedeschi on Austin City Limits:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Johan, I agree with both you and Bill about IVCF and Blacksburg. You might also be interested in the letter from the pastor of the Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren there. She certainly is conducting a listening ministry. You can imagine the resentment in town and gown there about media and and preachers.

Thank you for sharing an unorthodox---but I'm afraid accurate---view of Yeltsin. It's important, I think, to emphasize that the U.S.A. is ruled by trauma and fear these days.