Don't play with dead birds; they leave scars

I recently came across some free writing I had done in preparation for a poem I have yet to finish. It was about a dead bird I had seen, laying on a busy sidewalk. Some of the phrases and images are good, but there isn't a cohesive thought behind the poem yet. Mostly because I'm not clear how I feel about the idea of God and the sparrow. You know the sparrow I'm talking about:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I've always had trouble with the idea that God is taking care of all of us, down to the smallest of us. Sparrows freeze to death, get hunted for sport by well-fed housecats, get hit by cars. Surely if each individual sparrow mattered, they wouldn't be prone to senseless deaths. Never mind the meaningless suffering of people around the world from poverty, hunger, war, etc. Why doesn't God care enough to stop suffering?

But the verses that it is based on, Matthew 10:29-31, don't say that the sparrow will come to no harm. It says that if the sparrow comes to harm, it is through the Father. Not only did God know about that dead bird on the sidewalk in front of Moody's Falafel Palace, he let it die. That seems even more callus than not knowing/caring about the fate of the sparrow.

The important lesson for me isn't around the symbolism of the dead bird. It's all about I value judgment I made a couple paragraphs back. I decided that the sparrow's death was senseless or meaningless. And I don't get to decide things like that. Just a few verses earlier in Matthew 10 we are told that "there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed" or "hid that shall not be known". We are reminded not to fear anyone other than the Lord. If something bad happens, God knows why.

If we are suffering and we can find no reason why He should let us suffer, we should not curse Him, nor doubt Him. He's got a plan. He's keeping an eye on us and it'll all make sense later. I can get so caught up in myself and my sense of what is fair that I forget that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:25).

I'm feeling pretty weak and foolish right now, so it's comforting to know that He's got His eye on me and that I don't need to understand anything else right now.

Elizabeth Bathurst


An update from Crazy Camp.

I wanted to drop a quick note to let folks know that I am doing a lot better. I had said this before, but my doctor, upon seeing me in the middle of a bad day, disagreed. Together we decided that spending a few days in the hospital would be a good idea. I ended up spending two weeks in the hospital, five days or so in a locked ward, and then a little over a week in a partial program.

I've started a new medication that is working wonders. I've learned how to make some of my coping skills more effective and I've gained some valuable insights into my illness. My improvement has been so incredible and life-changing that I still need some time to adjust.

I intend to be back to blogging soon, if only to keep Friend James properly supervised at first. Your continued prayers are appreciated as I readjust to life on the outside.

Elizabeth Bathurst


May thy heart sing

My favorite season is Autumn. There is something about a day when the air is clean and crisp with the bluest of skys that makes my heart sing.

Ironically, fall is the time of year that things are the hardest for my mental health. Its been about a year since I got the courage to begin treating my depression. I had always had a fear of going into public...but when I began crying and hyperventilating at a bank, I decided I coundn't continue like this anymore. What I found the hardest was learning that being happy is ok. That I really do deserve to go through life with all the negetivity in my head muted to a dull roar...I actually have the ability now to see that all that noise is just noise. I don't come from a background where therapy is an option...just pull yourself together and get through it, no one has it easy, quit your whining. Or better yet, never under any circumstances admit that your bad moods, which include sitting in a dark room drinking after work are a problem, much less depression--aren't midwesterners great!

My best friend from college has a history of clinical depression. Its been a really hard year for her. Things have gotten worse of late. I asked her if she wanted me there, she said no. I had urged her a few months ago to talk with her social support network in the city she lives in. I have met them, they are good people. It took time but she has let them in and they are standing with her in her time of need. I have been talking to her two or three times a day for the last week, but its not the same as being physically with her. I am so grateful that she is surrounded in a loving community. Really that is all a person can hope for in a lot of ways.

I know she hears the strain in my voice when she talks to me. Its one part worry and one part trying to decern what is appropriate to say. She has always been the one I go to when I am unwell...but I can't burden her right now. It is important that she get to a good place and learn ways to maintain it. She has just discovered the fact (that through proper medications) life can be wonderful, that it is possible for people like us to live in ways other people do. It is a joyful revelation and one of the most terrifying I have ever experienced. And everyday is not perfect, but the weight of it all is so much lighter. I can now navigate through life easier. I pray that what she is experiencing right now will continue, that finally she can actualize her potential without being weighted down with depression.


Social reject and general pariah

I have recently gotten lured into the weird "quaker cyber-culture" of blogging...what I mean is I have been spending more time looking at the cyber community Quakers are creating. I like some of what is out there like A Place to Stand (granted he's family with Ms. Bathurst, who is like a sister to me). Some make me think, some remind me why I have a hard time with corprate worship these days, and some speak to my condition...but really I would prefer to be under the radar. I know that my ramblings are reaching someone if they so choose and perhaps it provides entertainment or ministers to their condition...but really it is a way of keeping connected to my own spiritual needs in my time in the desert.

Really why did I decide to start this blog with "Ms. Bathurst." Well...for reasons stated in some of the earliest entries. I really feel that many young adult friends are wandering and not connecting back to Quakers. I am one of those. I want to be apart of meeting and the spiritual community offered, but I never feel like I am what meetings want in a young friend. They want someone to be the poster child for the next generation of Quakers, someone who will join committees and have lengthy discussions about their spiritual resume and who will make a meeting proud to send to events like the World Gathering of Young Friends that took place not to long ago; young adult friends whose enthusiasm, piousness, devotion, and blandness (I am sorry simplicity is what I meant) will make our fraidy-cat brand of contemporary Quakerism proud...keep up the status-quo, don't rock the boat.

Ooops, I am slipping into anger. I have been struggling with the idea that this blog is a form of ministry since we began. I like the idea of getting my ideas out, instead of rolling around in my head. But I can't promise to always be speaking in the proper Quaker manner, something like being PC only its more like QC. Its why I liked the article that was picked up nationally from the Philadelphia Inquirer...those Friends speak my mind. I have a lot of respect for the AFSC and Philadelphia Yearly meeting has its place, but that is not the center of the Quaker world.

I don't want anyone telling me how to blog. Or have a Quaker Blogging Faith and Practice. The more we create a "quaker cyber-culture" the more it will resemble the current status-quo of Quakerism and the less visionary it will be. I don't want to express myself differently. I have been thinking on and off for months on the fact that this is a form of ministry. I am better at writing with the spirit than speaking from it in meeting. But I won't necessarily express my understanding of the spirit the way others see as appropriate for a quaker. In fact I like functioning in ignorance from the other quaker blogs. Mostly because I don't have time to find them and then read them. I am actually trying to conduct translational research that will aid people rather than resting on my laurels, which happened at least 30 years ago or more. And if anyone thinks I am being too acidy for a young upstart...I have the Quaker pedigree to back myself and the knowledge of OUR history to keep saying these things though you won't see me attending every committee known to quaker and functioning soley in the insular world of quaker-dom.


The reality of race part II (miscegation is awesome!)

I have recently encountered several people with the mind-set that you shouldn't date people from other cultures (too many cultural differences). It's odd how anthropology has become pop-cultured and now people talk using its terminology...but its used to hide behind things instead of for seeking a greater understanding of the world...though considering that it came out of a white-colonialist-academic setting I guess that isn't surprising. However, through my interaction with people in the fields of Anthropology and Sociology the vast majority tend to view dating someone from a different culture with more openness ie that while there may be cultural differences it is not all that different from all the other more "typical issues" involved in dating anyone (even those with a background similar to your own). My only concern with dating someone from another culture is when there is a language difference. Communication or lack of it is a bigger issue than culture or race. I mean I often can't communicate effectively with my own family.

This is not to downplay the role nationality or race will impact a relationship, I have recently started dating someone from another country. We are having some issues in the early stages of our dating. Rather than bore you with those details, I will say that the funny thing is that despite people saying its cultural differences...his behavior is pretty much like any other guy I ever thought I could end up in a relationship with. Which in fact may say more about me...back to the point. I have grown up in an untraditional household, granted from the outside it would seem typical: white middle class, two parents and whatever else is supposed to indicate "normal american." However, I grew up in the rural mid-west, part of my life was spent without indoor plumbing and living "off the grid" ie solar power (though there was a brief time with kerosene lamps), we had the use of a wood stove for our primary heat source for a number of years, and I even lived in a cabin with only a loft, no bedrooms. This list is an incomplete g;impse of why I am not really "typical" especially by american standards.

I don't really get men (or boys cause there is a lot of grey area about when a boy becomes a man, he may be 30 and still a child of sorts) and I am definately not an east coaster by nature. I embody too many of the deeply instilled mid-western qualities to really ever become fully adjusted to the east coast whether I am living in the south or the north. By this logic I have been dealing with "cultural differences" for 9 years. So taking the step and dating an African isn't so far-fetched. I mean New Yorkers, New Englanders, and North Carolinans are all pretty foriegn to me. The issues in my new relationship aren't so much "cultural differences" unless the cultural differences we are talking about are men vs women.

I guess what bothers me so much is that the people who have told me not date someone from another culture are hiding behind cultural differeces, when it is racism. Cultural differences was not mentioned when I was briefly infatuated with a European last year. It's attitudes like this that really pisses me off. I guess what is interesting about this situation is that it is a dear F/friend I like a lot and care about saying what is essentially racist BS. But she has no idea that its racist or that it is a good example of Northern racism having never been challenged to think about race before. I have been spoiled with all of my friends being pretty much aligned with my personal views on such topics.

Of course what we are talking about here is also addressed in "Jungle Fever" and I think that the movie tells us that it can never work (inter-racial dating) not because of so-called "cultural differences" but society's prejudices and the history of racial tensions especially in America. I watched it again recently and was a little pissy with Spike Lee for making it seem like we need to not date across racial lines...whatever those are. I think more people need to date interracially. The more it happens the less people freak out about it. Miscegenation is awesome! That is why the movie made me so sad. I felt like it made things seem hopeless.

And if things are hopeless what does that say about America? Where does that put those who are bi-racial or multi-racial? Are we always going to be afraid of the "other?" Once in this country we labeled the Irish as black on the census...there is a tale in my family that when my grandparents got married the Irish sat on one side of the church and the Germans sat on the other. There are no photos from the wedding. Of course in contemporary America no one thinks twice about Irish heritage or finds it shameful. Thus, the sociologist in me says, "See race is just a social construct!" So first a generation marries different ethinic groups, but within the same religion. Then their kids marry folks from different religions and the next generation is even more likely to marry (I am using that term to illustrate the historical precendent and evolution of social mores--so substitute partnership or whatever if you prefer) who they choose for love whether that is someone of the same sex or of a different race.

So here is to the cultural differences of men and women. And I understand that this is not going to be the first instance of racist attitudes that will try to influnce my current relationship but if we avoid examining such things we can never get to the root cause and work to change things. Whether such negative attitudes are being expressed by whites, African-Americans, Africans, Latinos, or Koreans they are still at their foundation prejudicial and ultimately racist. We all carry the means for racism within us, what matters is if we take time to examine and deconstruct it for positive change or if we let it continue to inform our thoughts and actions no matter how subtley.


Query #9

The Faith and Practice of NCYM-C (which is available online here) includes lists of queries for monthly meetings, ministry and oversight, and individuals. The reading of the monthly meetings' query answers is a very important part of our sessions and so too is the answering of individual queries a significant gauge of my own spiritual life. The queries allow for regular introspection into every facet of our spiritual lives as individuals and as groups. The formality of the monthly structure does not allow allow me to disregard the questions that are uncomfortable.

The following is the 9th Query for Individuals and my answer:

#9 How have I contributed to the spiritual growth of the Society of Friends? What have I done as a member of my meeting for worship and meeting for business to carry out my responsibilities as a member of the Society of Friends?

I have to admit, I haven't been to a business meeting in ages. I keep in contact with my home meeting, something that would be far more difficult if the clerk of my meeting wasn't also one of my parents. I'm able to give input into meeting decisions via long-distance calls and feel that my involvement in the meeting is appropriate for the distance involved.
I do feel that I use my NCYM-C membership as an excuse to be under-involved with the giant liberal meeting that I attend. When the spirit moves me I attend worship and give ministry, but I have avoided getting involved in the life of the meeting I attend. I tried attending the biweekly Bible study, but found that my more traditional interpretations of Scripture weren't always welcome. It is a major flaw of mine to back down from conflict. I feel so uncomfortable in the big NEYM meeting I attend that I didn't turn in the letter of sojourn that was written for me. In order to remedy my lack of contribution to the big yucky meeting, I am seriously considering teaching first day school at the meeting this trimester. The set curriculum for this trimester is Quaker History, an area which ought to be relatively similar throughout the branches of Quakerism and not cause me any conflicts. I'm not committing to teaching the class until I've seen the curriculum and I'm certain that I am clear to teach it.
I do feel that I am contributing to the spiritual health of the Society of Friends by blogging here. It has given me a new medium to discuss spirituality and faith with people that I might never have spoken with in person about such issues.

While I have been using the personal queries as part of my own spiritual practice for some time now, I'm going to try to publish my answers here on occasion. I imagine that I will occasionally feel the need to keep my answers private. I may, for those months, post the query without an answer.

Elizabeth Bathurst