Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

No Such Thing as Faithful Disagreement

As I prepared to resign from my role as pastor I sat in my office with a friend that I have deeply respected and we had a conversation about what was driving me away from ministry in the Yearly Meeting. One moment in the conversation still echoes in my head. I told my friend that it seemed that there was no space for faithful disagreement in our Yearly Meeting, and my friend who I respected couldn’t bring themselves to say that disagreement could in any way have faithful people on both sides.

This is the state of the Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM):  There is a sense that people who disagree with each other cannot have come to a different conclusion if they were “really” being faithful. Krissi Carson posted on Facebook that:

Yesterday and today I attended Northwest Yearly Meeting’s mid-year boards. I came with a heavy heart and left with a heavier one. We approved a new YM presiding clerk, but the preceding discussion and discernment over the nominee was tense and loaded with the weight of our desperate desires to voice and silence the conversation on human sexuality. Many of my friends felt, in the end, unheard and unsupported, that the process did not follow the open steps we believe in as Jesus-loving Quakers. But then as I sat downstairs afterward waiting for a friend who was in a board meeting, I overheard another group of folks who felt the opposite. What struck me about their conversation was that these folks used the same divisive phrases about my friends who felt unheard (they came with an agenda, they didn’t want to listen, they this, they that) as my friends and I have said about them. Liberal or conservative–it was an interchangeable conversation. (Emphasis mine. Full text at end of post.*)

At this point I would have to say that to a certain extent, everyone is right. It has felt to me like everyone has an agenda and is unable to hear past that agenda. The sad thing to me is that these agendas match the political allegiances of the principality in which we live. I am also seeing political actions that more closely mirror the methods of political parties in the nation. Below is my analysis of what I have witnessed. This is strictly opinion, but there is ample evidence of spiritual violence being exchanged between factions in the NWYM. This may not cover all the details, but this is how it looks to an outsider. Whether or not you agree with my analysis, please take a moment to realize that there are enough things going on to justify my perceptions.

The current conflict is ostensibly about the murky subject of LGBTQ inclusion in the life and ministry of the NWYM, but I believe is actually about who gets to set and enforce the identity of the NWYM. This particular fight has gone on for many, many, years with skirmishes dating back to the 1960s and is rooted in Christian reactions to the culture shift that began then. Not having been around the NWYM, I cannot speak to the ways the conflict played out in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. What I can speak to is some of what I saw and heard about in terms of this conflict around the turn of the millennium to now.

At the turn of the millennium there was a concerted push to distance the Northwest Yearly Meeting from the Quaker part of its identity, culminating in the writing of a “white paper” calling for the removal of Friends’ terminology and questioning Friends’ aspects of faith and practice. This push included work to bring in pastors and church planters from other, more conservative, evangelical denominations in order to influence the direction of the Yearly Meeting (YM) by changing the tone of visible leadership. The then Superintendent of the Yearly Meeting, in frustration with the ways the Friends’ process was being used to undermine this agenda, called the Faith and Practice of NWYM “So much jot and tittle.” during the business sessions of the Yearly Meeting. This statement, along with what has been characterized as his “heavy handed” leadership style, gave those who were working for his ouster exactly the ammunition needed to bring him down and he was eventually removed from leadership within the Yearly Meeting.

After the Superintendent’s ouster, the Board of Evangelism, a group mainly on the side of distancing from the Quaker tradition, came under increased scrutiny and attack as they pursued their agenda using funds from the sales of Friends church properties which had been shut down and designated to their board. The Yearly Meeting leadership who were trying to redirect the function of the Yearly Meeting out of conflict mode initiated a reorganization of the Yearly Meeting in a way that would disenfranchise those most engaged in the Quaker vs. Evangelical conflict within the YM. The Board of Evangelism (BoE) and Board of Peace and Social Concerns were dissolved and not reconstituted with their functions spread out across the new structure of renamed boards. This also had the effect of freeing up the money that had been previously controlled by the BoE. Along with the change in structure came a centralization of power that eventually gave the Board of Elders the authority to: remove a Church/Meeting from the YM, nominate persons to the Administrative Council (those who would oversee the administrative functions of the YM including serving as the court of appeals for Elders’ decisions), appoint an un-nominated clerk for the Yearly Meeting Nominating committee (the committee that recommends people to be nominated to the various YM boards and committees, including Elders), while retaining the power to nominate the Faith and Practice Revision Committee, and exerting oversight and discipline over staff, pastors, and leaders in the YM. The change was also made to require minutes from individual meetings to be run through and approved by local areas before being accepted for distribution to the Yearly Meeting as a whole or be brought to the floor of YM business sessions, this was mitigated to allow the Presiding Clerk of NWYM to distribute, or bring to the floor, minutes from local meetings at their discretion if the local area wasn’t functioning or on a case by case basis if there was sufficient urgency.

The centralization of power had some long term effects including fights over how to best stack Committees and Boards in order to achieve the desired ends of controlling whether the NWYM would be Evangelical or Quaker and arguments over the proposed changes to the area structures. Eventually there were nominating fights and differing factions gained and lost control of the Elders and the gate keeping subcommittees of the Church Planting Sub-committee and the Recording Sub-committee. This pattern was also evidenced in the fighting over whether to join Friends World Committee on Consultation, a minute to George Fox University challenging changes to the faculty alcohol use policy,  and the lead up to the removal of West Hills. It remains to be seen whether this pattern will continue in the aftermath if some serious course correction isn’t made.

So far I have spoken of two groups within the NWYM: the EVANGELICAL quakers and the evangelical QUAKERS. There is a third group that has been marginalized in this fight even though I would argue that they constitute an overwhelming majority of the NWYM: the Evangelical Quakers who actually value both aspects of our heritage. Until recently this group has remained silent, with a few notable exceptions, about the infighting that has been plaguing the YM. That changed drastically with the ouster of West Hills Friends Church for welcoming and affirming of those who identify as LGBTQ, ie. not being “Evangelical” enough. There is a bit of tit for tat going on with a push to kick out/severely discipline an Idaho church for not allowing women to be in visible positions of leadership, ie. not being “Quaker” enough. That church is now the latest casualty in the fight as they have decided to leave the denomination. It seems like there has been a wakeup call that by allowing the warring Evangelical and Quaker factions to continue their infighting we have risked the destruction of the Yearly Meeting. On good days I like to think that this group has woken up in time to call a halt to the fight over control, and on bad days I think that it is too late and the expulsion of West Hills and potential expulsion/departure of other churches are the signs that we have committed to a death spiral of mutually assured destruction that will result in the complete shattering of the Yearly Meeting.

The human in me wants to remove those I perceive to be bad actors from their participation in the Yearly Meeting, but I recognize that would only serve to splinter things further. The truth is that when one group is uninvited from the table we create the context in which everyone can be uninvited. I deeply love people who are active on both “sides” of this argument and mourn the wounds that are proliferating more and more rapidly. As I have seen things played out over my time here in the Northwest the fight over power and control has been a bitter one and most of the casualties are being ignored. Many people on either “side” of this fight, as well as innocent bystanders, have been severely wounded and some have even stepped away from faith entirely because of the behavior of those they had respected as followers of Jesus. Regardless of who is on the “right” side, I want to remind us all as followers of Jesus: The means we use to achieve our ends determine which ends we actually achieve.

I think the NWYM as a whole is struggling with whether the Holy Spirit can be trusted to change people’s hearts, and over the last few business sessions there has been impatient action prioritized over listening for the voice of God. The fact is that many people on all sides have decided they have a monopoly on God’s truth and that those who disagree with them cannot possibly be faithful. I have completely given up on there being a Christ honoring resolution to the current disagreement as long as we continue to dishonor the image of God borne by those with whom we disagree. Many people have been pressuring me to take a side in this conflict and I will: I am getting bandages together so I can be by the side of the wounded.

 

*

Long post, but I need to get this out, and my wall is as poor a place as any:

Yesterday and today I attended Northwest Yearly Meeting’s mid-year boards. I came with a heavy heart and left with a heavier one. We approved a new YM presiding clerk, but the preceding discussion and discernment over the nominee was tense and loaded with the weight of our desperate desires to voice and silence the conversation on human sexuality. Many of my friends felt, in the end, unheard and unsupported, that the process did not follow the open steps we believe in as Jesus-loving Quakers. But then as I sat downstairs afterward waiting for a friend who was in a board meeting, I overheard another group of folks who felt the opposite. What struck me about their conversation was that these folks used the same divisive phrases about my friends who felt unheard (they came with an agenda, they didn’t want to listen, they this, they that) as my friends and I have said about them. Liberal or conservative–it was an interchangeable conversation.

Folks, I bring forth a plea: if we truly hope to see our yearly meeting unite even as we disagree, we (myself included) must, MUST, find a different way of talking with each and must stop talking ABOUT each other. This will require a humility and wisdom that is well beyond our years and a willingness to be vulnerable and even wrong that I have not yet practiced or seen. This will require leaning on the Holy Spirit in ways we didn’t know we weren’t already doing. I implore us to stop making assumptions, to stop using us/them language, even when it feels as if our limited language pushes us to do so. No one person has all the answers and sometimes we have wrong ones. This is why Quakers so clearly value the community voice over the individual. And remember that Jesus was right about everything he said but let the people execute him anyway. I beg you. I beg us all. We must search for the way forward that we do not, at the moment, understand and can not yet see.