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An Open Letter to the NWYM

September 3, 2017

Dear Friends and Elders of Northwest Yearly Meeting,

It is with a heavy heart and deep concern that I write this letter. Due to my accident I have been unable to engage in much of the business of the YM the last couple of years. This has turned out to be a blessing and a source of sadness. As I look at the events of the last few years I see an influence at work among us that has led to the exact outcome we are witnessing. The influence is the scourge of instant gratification, discipling us in impatience. From the earliest times, the church worked with diligence to live differently than the impatient empire surrounding them, and that patience is what compelled so many around them to join their ranks. That same reemphasis on patience gave the earliest Friends power and life in the Spirit and was equally compelling. The damage among Friends leading to splits has always been heralded by a lack of patience and an unwillingness to cast ourselves in the mold of the long-suffering Jesus.

This is the true danger that I see at work, that we have abandoned the patience that God pours out upon us with new mercies every morning. What would the processes that led to the shattering of the NWYM have looked like if we had employed the long-suffering of Jesus rather than the desire for instant change? My mother-in-law has a saying she penned, which is posted on her bathroom mirror: “We want things done in a microwave minute. God uses a crock-pot.” It is my experience in my listening to many around the YM and who have fled the YM that we have thrown others under the bus many times in our impatience, and I humbly ask that rather than continue with a split in the spirit of impatience we instead repent of our impatience and seek again the mercy found at the throne of grace. Never in the history of the church has it agreed on everything, and the greatest outcomes in our history came when we exercised patience with each other rather than executed power in order to control outcomes to our personal comfort.

Friends, the Holy Spirit has laid this conviction upon me, and I call us to set aside our human politicking and desire for control and accept instead the burden of the long-suffering servant, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who suffered in the extreme for us. That burden is to bear with one another in love, and frankly it looks a lot more like human power plays than actions of love going on right now. There is a third way, but it is hard for everyone, and that is to discipline ourselves to the patience of Jesus. If we are to mold ourselves to the pattern of Jesus who, at the last supper, served first the one who was to betray him then we must change our actions and business to match his patience. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we see an injunction to patience as the first key descriptor of what true Christian love is:  “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” 1 Corinthians 13:4 (emphasis mine) Can we truly say that our interactions over the last few years have been characterized first by these things? If we are honest, at least with ourselves, the answer is no.

It is time for us to lay aside everything else that seems so important and repent of the sin which has so easily ensnared us, submit to the discipline of the Holy Spirit, and declare the business of centralizing power, separation, and attempts to control the beliefs of others to be rooted in the sin of impatience.

I would like to take the opportunity at hand to begin with myself, and beg forgiveness of God and the NWYM for the impatience with which I have:  acted towards, and thought of, many people in the Yearly Meeting. Friends, take some time to examine your heart in the presence of the Holy Spirit, because this sin is part of the very cultural air we breathe, and we are squandering the opportunity to be a witness to the power of the gospel which enjoins us to be patient with one another as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

There are many who have been greatly wounded by the lack of mercy and patience in recent years. Their cries have gone unheard in the anxious press to impose a resolution, and their patience has been the most Christ-like. Many left, not out of impatience, but from the knowledge that impatience going against the heart of God won the political battle for control. While it is too late for us to undo the results of the sin we have committed, what might God accomplish among us through our visible repentance?

With Deep Sorrow,

Gilbert L George

Recorded Pastor and Minister of NWYM

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Missing Things

My concentration and ability to focus are slowly returning, and as I think and heal I have been struck by how much I was taught to despise myself. I grew up learning that I was depraved and only redeemable if God felt like it. That just by being born I was worthy of destruction. This wasn’t an overt message, no it was a very well packaged and incremental build up to what is called, in those spheres most influenced by Calvinist thought, total depravity. Total depravity meant that even the best that I did was unbearably evil to a Holy God, and that only by being chosen could I live. That God chose some to live and some to die, and that no matter what we were nothing. God didn’t love us really, he just pitied some. When I learned to hate myself, loving others was difficult, because even if I was chosen for God’s pity, those other wretches on the outside weren’t. If I wasn’t worth loving, “they” surely weren’t.

God, how screwed up is that?

As I studied and spent time in the scripture I saw a different message proclaimed. I saw a message that was truly good news. I saw that from the beginning we were created and acknowledged as very good: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31a Nowhere in the chapters that follow does God change his mind about the goodness of creation. Are there hard consequences to the way humanity has messed up? Of course, but nowhere did that change God’s love for us or the universe. What we see throughout the pages and writings to come is all the things God does to bring restoration of relationship, finally culminating in God’s own self-sacrifice to redeem and show as powerless the worst of what humans are capable of. Paul the Apostle goes further than I in saying that “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 Wow!

I thought I did a great job of loving God and neighbor, but there was a love that was missing. When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus said:

28One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. Mark 12:28-34 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=359537346

There is a third love hidden here that is bound to the others. We must love our neighbors, yes, as we love our selves. This is where I failed for so long. I no longer beat myself up over this, but instead remind myself when those voices from my past rise up within me that Jesus came to demonstrate the love of God, that all are worth loving, even me. It is incredible that I still feel the need to add that qualifying “even”, but I am growing in the knowledge that God truly loves me exactly as I am, and that the same is true for all of creation. It is that reminder that enables me to love my enemy, even when that enemy so often is myself.

Clearness Committee How to

I was asked by the folks over at QuakerSpeak.org to collaborate on a video about pulling folks together to find clarity on a decision. Here is a very well put together video:

Ongoing Recovery

I still have no memory of my accident other than brief memories of an ambulance and flying in a med-evac chopper. My wife still is dealing with the trauma of seeing me injured, as are my kids. My body is still slowly traveling the path to recovery, and I have learned more about the aftermath of concussion than I ever wanted to. I will begin writing again soon, but am still pretty hit or miss in terms of mental energy and migraines. I have begun getting my mental process flowing again by editing the Godspace Blog, and am enjoying the diversity of perspective there. I recently recorded a video for Quaker Speak that I will link to when it goes live.

It might be another couple of months or a couple weeks, but thank you for your support thus far.

Gil

Being a Male Nurturer

Amy R. Buckley

Gil George-Male NurturerMy friend Amy Buckley asked me to share some of my process around being a stay-at-home dad/ male nurturer. I hope that this writing can be a good window into some of what it is like to be a male nurturer in American Christian culture.There are all these lists of things that make you a “real” man, a “biblical” man, or a “manly” man. All of these lists and cultural norms promote this distant “provider” figure who exerts authority and discipline over the whole family. These are the lists I heard growing up, and I died inside every time I heard them because I knew that I wasn’t that person.

I am a male nurturer; my gifts are the gifts of hospitality, generosity, mercy, and teaching. I love with depth and passion, and my dream work is to develop others’ gifts so they can grow as people and do God’s…

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Insecurity and Domination – A Male Perspective

The Torah begins with a description of the way things were made to be and how quickly we humans stepped away from the goodness of creation. We went from mutually reflecting the glory of God to a battle for domination that left the weak at the mercy of the strong. We went from being stewards of God’s garden to fighting the soil for domination, bending the created order to our will rather than submitting to God’s will. This state of affairs persists and even though we have been freed from the curse that afflicts us, we still find ourselves trying to live it out. For those of my readers unfamiliar with Genesis 3, the main text of the curse is:

stewardstodom16 To the woman God said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam God said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (NRSV)

It is important to note that this passage refers to a consequence of leaving God’s will for creation. Nothing in the above passage reflects God’s original intent in creating the universe. Many people who are sincerely trying to follow Christ miss that: ruling, dominance, toil, and pain are a curse and are not God’s intent for us.

For many years I held to the misunderstanding that The Curse was a divine edict establishing the way things should be. I was wrong, and my belief had consequences in my relationships because the standards of manhood, which were promoted by my churches of origin, were impossible to live into in a healthy way.unhealthystandards

“Dominate women, but love them as Christ loved the church. “

“Dominate the Earth and use it up because God’s going to burn it all up anyway, but be a good steward of the resources God gives you.”

“Real men are always in control, but do what we say and don’t ask questions.”

These are just a few of the unrealistic expectations that breed isolation and which led to deep insecurities and self-loathing in me. I felt a deep sense of shame that I couldn’t do all of the “man things.” No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t control everything at all times, least of all myself.

I witnessed how structures of domination in relationships led to insecurity on the part of dominator and dominated. My parents struggled through this for most of my growing up, and it got very hard at times when the fear of disconnection that lies at the core of all shame reared its ugly head. All parties ended up living in fear of each other: The dominators fear the uprising of the dominated and the dominated fear the reprisals of the dominators.

Structurally imposed fear and insecurity are very difficult to disentangle ourselves from, truly living up to being “The Curse” imposed in Genesis. What a doozy of a curse that is. We keep coming back to it and trying to order our lives by it, but we forget that to live under the curse is to live a dis-ordered and disconnected life.

When we give into fear we respond by trying to exert power over others, to control them for our benefit. This leads to relational damage, and the feedback loop begins. Take a look at the rhetoric surrounding the current political campaigns and try telling me with a straight face that there isn’t a feedback loop of fear in any of the candidates. Every candidate has an “enemy” that they offer “control” over, and it degenerates pretty rapidly as the fear travels down the lines of listeners.

I see the same fear feedback pattern in the churches I grew up in that esteem systems of Patriarchy and male domination. The rhetoric gets harsher and deeper control and gatekeeping result from the insecurities inherent within the system itself. This leads to a
fully enclosed feedback loop which ends up burning out or isolating everything connected to it. When peoples’ livelihoodsjesusconfronted are dependent on a structure anything that endangers the structure in any way is perceived as an existential threat, and any proposed change to the system creates anxiety, fear, and insecurity.

The most common response to insecurity is to attack what is threatening the status quo but not the system that is creating the context for the insecurity in the first place. This gets even more complex when religion is thrown in the mix because God then becomes the enforcer of the insecure system. There is hope however. Jesus confronted a patriarchal, top down, “God ordained” system and freed humanity from The Curse through surrender of power.

We have been released from the bondage to systems that thrive on insecurity, and most display the light and life of Christ when we step away from trying to exert control over others’ lives. We have been freed from the power dynamics of The Curse and have been given the paradoxical power of the resurrection life.

Paul’s writing in Galatians 3 is really the centerpiece of the argument that we are no longer under the dominating rule of the Torah contained in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Galatians 3 reminds us that:

10 For all who rely on the works of the law [the Torah] are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”

21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. NRSV (Emphases mine.)

This is our hope as articulated by Paul: When we submit to being one in Christ Jesus all of the external indicators become irrelevant in the presence of the suffering servant. The feedback loop of insecurity and domination is broken for us and we can live out God’s call on us regardless of any external category.

Coming Out of the Darkness

In the past few months I have ridden the roller coaster of grief and loss that comes when things end. Between the end of my call at Clackamas Park, the ongoing implosion of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, and my daughters’ illnesses I caught the lead brick of depression and went down hard. I am finally coming out of it, have done a LOT of reading, and will start posting within the next week or so. I am back, and I feel a sense of direction in what to say after spending a lot of time in the writings of Brennan Manning and Brené Brown.

I have seen the light and it is not at the end of the tunnel but shining from within.