I gave ministry at meeting this past week about the importance of thinking about the traditions we choose to uphold. I was thinking about the advent wreath and Christmas trees and all the other trappings of Christmas, but perhaps a more important thing for me to be thinking about this time of year is the tradition of making New Year's resolutions.

For me, the new year is a good time to reflect on the past year and think about the changes I want to make in my life. New Year's resolutions have been a good way for me to make those changes. Sometimes they stick beyond the year, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes I meet my goals and sometimes I don't. The year I decided to read the Bible I didn't quite make it in time. The year I decided to stop buying leather I not only succeeded, but haven't gone back.

I'm aware that the new year is an arbitrary date, just like Christmas. But it serves a purpose in my life as a way of marking time. The tradition of New Year's resolutions is helpful to me and so I choose to observe it. Last year I didn't make a resolution, as a way of trying to be gentler with myself, but I missed it. I don't think I was any gentler on myself for laying the tradition aside. This year, I think I'm going to try to do something again, perhaps trying the whole Bible thing again. I want to find something that adds something to my daily spiritual life and encourages thoughtfulness and gratitude.

This past year has been a difficult one, filled with health and financial problems, but I am feeling blessed today. I'm feeling somewhat better, if not fully well. I have friends and family who can afford to help me weather the financial strains of my illness. I have a positive living situation and job security. I am loved and I want to add something to my spiritual disciple to help me remember that. Any suggestions?



World of Peacecraft

I head about this new video game from a couple of different people today. It's supposed to be like World of Warcraft, except as a history of Quakerism. I'm probably one of the few people who would consider playing it. However, in reading the blog entries about it, I began to suspect it was a hoax. I mean, I've been hanging out in Quaker circles for some time and I've never heard of the "Quaker United Service". I'm amused by the descriptions of the game however, which is why I've linked to it here.

It does provoke the question of what sort of video games are Quaker-friendly. I really like one in which you shoot space bunnies with plungers. Not exactly peaceful, but not exactly realistic violence either.



A poem, and thanksgiving

I'm feeling better, so much better that I'm getting to all the things I've had to set aside over the past eight months. In doing so, I found a poem I don't remember writing:


You have always given me
just a little more than I can withstand,
leaving me broken. You know
that I carry each failure
like an aching wound.
These are not garments
I can shed to take on the new.
I am red and raw and cannot
imagine surviving another stripe.

But You have known me
from before I was anything at all.
Only You can heal me
Only You can make me whole.

Oh, Lord, let this be something
I can do.

I have no idea what leading I was resisting, or when I wrote this, except that it probably involved crying the the shower, given some of the scribbles on the same page.

I am so thankful to be far from the place I was in when I wrote that, even if I was there only a few weeks ago.



Why I haven't posted in a while.

Today it feels quite a bit like fall. It's about sixty five degrees in my room and the little dog has chosen not to get out from under her blanket in the other room to sit at my feet while I type.
It was winter here when I fell headlong into this depression. I've weathered a lot of tough things since it began and I am tired, so tired that I'm now getting worse and not better. I'm in talks with my doctor to be admitted to an inpatient unit for a short stay, starting this afternoon.
I'm looking forward to it. It's a relief to have that space where I don't have to think about if I've eaten often enough or taken the right number of pills. I won't have to do anything but take care of myself, and I'll even have help with that.
I'm in the process of rallying my support network and I need your prayers, my internet Friends. I'm losing the ability to take comfort in my faith. I'm bitter about my suffering and feel He's given me more than I can handle this time. I know that I've been handling this depression far better than earlier ones, but that's hard to access right now. I need your prayers, Friends.



Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4 NIV Study Bible

And he was in the desert forty days being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:13 NIV Study Bible

I have been trying to attend to my spiritual needs more lately. It is hard. I allow myself to get pulled in too many directions and have a hard time saying ‘no’ especially when other people need something. I had a leading last August that I needed to start volunteering with a local Friends organization…and well, it is July now and I just sent the volunteer application in. So I am moving at a different pace than maybe the Lord would like to see. I have wanted to go to meeting more often for the last year or so yet still only make it maybe once a month. I know this is the direction I need to go in; to return to my spiritual home. But reincorporating it into my life seems difficult. But I feel the pull clearly…when I let myself.

A series of events recently had me thinking, again, on why it is that so many young adult Friends seem to drift away…I have many lines of thought on this phenomenon. Currently, I am pondering how it is that few of my year in QLSP are actively involved with Friends. Some are definitely, for example one of us is a pastor now. Some are slowly being drawn into projects in the larger society. Some of us do work that has some meaningful benefit to society and that work is tied to our spiritual beliefs. But I started to contemplate how it is that individuals from other parts of my Quaker life are more actively involved in the SOF then my QLSP friends. I think back on the unspoken currents of trying to “out Quaker” each other or those “super-Quakers” among us and if some how that un-quakerly attitude has attributed to some of us departing on another path rather than one serving the larger SOF. I don’t have answers or even any idea if what I just said is grounded in a reality that others experience.

Mainly, this is my attempt to say, “I am still here.” I think it has become clear that I need to make my way out of my personal desert and come back to the fold. It may take time but I am starting that journey—again.

Lapses and forgettings are so frequent. Our surroundings grow so exciting. Our occupations are so exacting. But when you catch yourself again, lose no time in self-recriminations, but breathe a silent prayer for forgiveness and begin again, just where you are. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion.


Jesse Helms died yesterday.

The Guardian described him as a "rightwing senator who opposed civil rights, gun laws, hippies, foreign aid and the UN." My initial response was that they left out art. The man opposed funding for the arts with vigor.

My earliest political memory is of a senatorial campaign between Harvey Gantt and Helms, which featured ads describing Gantt's political record and ended with the phrase "too liberal for North Carolina." I remember thinking that everything mentioned in the ad was a good thing and then being really surprised that it was an attack ad.

I remember watching "Dear Jesse" in college, and aside from being taken aback by the appearance of Matthew Shepard (yes, that Matthew Shepard), I remember being really surprised at how fair and balanced the documentary was, given that it was about Jesse Helms and was made by a gay man.

I almost had a party to celebrate his retirement. (I was thwarted by the rules in my apartment complex.) After his retirement, he settled into a fairly quiet life only popping into politics to endorse the occasional candidate. But he also became convinced that AIDS was a bad thing and argued for funding to fight AIDS in Africa. So much so that Bono praised him for it at one point.

He adopted a child, not because he and his wife could not conceive, but because the kid, who had cerebral palsy, had asked for parents for Christmas.

On this forth of July, I am struck by how similarly I think about Jesse Helms and America. I feel deeply conflicted when I think about them both and rack up more negative connotations than positive. They both are mostly symbolic in my mind, but they symbolize home: deeply flawed, well-intentioned and capable of change. That Jesse Helms, who in many ways was a symbol of hate, was capable of good deeds throughout his life, both large and small and was capable of rethinking things even late in life gives me hope for a better day in America, and in the wider world.

I'm hoping that Jesse is facing a merciful judgment in the Heaven of "Angels in America" :

Big city. Overgrown with weeds, but flowering weeds. On every corner a wrecking crew and something new and crooked going up catty corner to that. Windows missing in every edifice like broken teeth, gritty wind, and a gray high sky full of ravens... ...prophet birds, Roy. Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies and obsidian, and diamond-colored cowspit streamers in the wind. And voting booths. And everyone in Balenciaga gowns with red corsages, and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. And all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers. Race, taste and history finally overcome.

I think that only in the Kingdom of Heaven can race, taste, and history be overcome. Good thing we've got the chance to catch glimpses of it here and now.

Elizabeth Bathurst


Why I'm doing this Youth Book Project thing.

Those of you who know me well (which is most of our readership so far as I can tell) know that Quakers drive me up the wall.
I'm not a big fan of YAF gatherings. I'm not a fan of ecumenical Quaker gatherings either. My reasons are twofold. First, while I value my friendships with Quakers my age, I see no reason to segregate myself from older Friends. In fact, I'm more likely to find common ground spiritually with older Friends.
As for ecumenical Quakerism, I find that I like it in theory but in practice it is deeply draining and frustrating. Part of this is my experiences as a teenager with the joint yearly meeting sessions of the NC yearly meetings when we celebrated our triennial. Part of this is being a fly on the wall, so to speak, at YouthQuake before that was laid down. When the in-group dialog is very different from the out-group dialog there's a problem. When the planning is done in an ecumenical cooperative spirit, but the implementation is proselytization, there's a problem.
While I was in NC, I had a conversation with Will T. (at least I think it was Will) about my Quaker identity. I had identified myself as a member of one yearly meeting and an attender of another, a graduate of a Quaker college, YouthQuake and blah, blah, blah. I don't think I ever mentioned Friends Music Camp, but I did that too. He was inquiring about how confused I must be about what kind of a Quaker I am, and I had to reply that I am not. Each time I interact with the wider world of Friends I become more and more certain that I belong with the Conservatives. The silence is different somehow and it feels like home.
So how is it that I, who avoid ecumenical and YAF gatherings, came to be a part of the Quaker Youth Book Project? Well, it was a leading.
See, several years ago I was sitting in worship with my big liberal meeting. And that still small voice which is never really all that small to me said "Speak to them" and then didn't give me anything to say. He also didn't give me a clear sense of who the pronoun was referring to, other than that "they" were Quakers.
Since then, I've started this blog. I've been teaching First Day School. I taught Bible Study for NCYM-C and found that while that felt led and was wonderful experience, it didn't calm the "speak to them" leading much at all. And in January, when the call for ed board applications came my way, I promptly felt the need to answer some of the questions in the application. The next thing I knew I'd filled out the whole application, except for the references. I realized that He wanted me to send it in, so I did. Lo and behold, they wanted me on the board. I didn't need any time for discernment. The message was clear. I was going to have to commit to 2-3 years of ecumenical YAF work. At least it will involve some sort of end product, right?
Actually, I'm pretty excited about the book. I can't wait to get my hands on the call for submissions (I was recording during the session when we crafted it, so I have no personal notes). I'm so happy that the board works so well together. I'm hopeful that we'll get quality writing about interesting topics. I'm looking forward to finishing up the guide for writing workshops and leading a few myself.
Oh, and I'm really grateful that I'm off the hook for the Young Adult Friends Conference at Earlham later this month. If you're going to be there, I'm sure you'll hear more about the Project from other ed board members. Rumor has it we're pretty awesome, so make sure to say hello.

Elizabeth Bathurst


With wings as eagles

So, I used up all my patience on my trip to NC. I'm excited about QUIP's Youth Book Project, relieved that the board works so well together and a little bit cranky about getting dragged back into the wider world of Friends. I'm also feeling a little anxious about the amount of energy this project is going to require. I'm already exhausted.

It's hard work speaking in front of a group, even when it's just a bunch of Quakers who want to pat you on the head and tell you you're awesome. It's hard to have your photo taken over and over and over again when you've gained a lot of weight over the past year or so and are still really uncomfortable with it. It's hard work to act as recording clerk in most situations, but when you factor in theological and cultural differences it's even harder.

Moreover, I had to face a lot of difficult memories while I was there. Memories of a dear friend and mentor who committed suicide two years ago. Memories of past experiences of ecumenical Quakerism gone awry. Memories of campus drama from college and feeling unsupported by all the communities I identified with. I really wasn't expecting to have to talk to anyone about how I came to leave QLSP, or what the joint North Carolina Yearly Meeting sessions or Youth Quake were like for me. And I really wasn't prepared to see a portrait of my mentor hanging in the library.

There was a lot of talk about life transitions over the course of the long weekend and in a lot of ways I was truly blessed as I transitioned from college student to working girl. I never questioned my faith, although I struggled and grew with it. I never questioned my career path, although it hasn't always been easy. I really wish I could talk to my mentor about work right now.

I've grown a lot since college. I've learned to build community with individuals and no longer believe it intrinsically when groups tell me I'm welcome. I've learned to accept my abilities and leadings with a great deal less angst. I've even learned to speak in public without dissociating! I've learned to stand up for myself and to ask for what I need. Most importantly I've learned how to take care of myself.

So tonight I'm taking care of myself. I'm going to go to a tequila tasting and then an opera performance. Later this weekend there will be a tour of local artist studios, most likely a viewing of R. Kelly's entire Trapped in the Closet, and perhaps I'll even perform the 1812 overture as part of a "Last-Minute Orchestra". I'm filling my weekend with the silly, the outrageous, the artsy and the delicious. In the meantime, I'm enjoying work emails that warn of a potential "interruption as a result of the manhole fire."

Perhaps on Monday I'll be ready to transfer my notes about what I've agreed to do into my big to-do list. Maybe by First Day I'll be ready to go to worship. And if not, I'm not going to worry about it. He always gives me enough strength to do the things He's asked me to do, so I know I'll be fine.

Elizabeth Bathurst


"For oft, when on my couch I lie"

I've been having a hard time of late. A pretty wretched GI bug landed me in the ER about a month ago and my recovery has been long and drawn out. Multiple visits to the doctor's office a week for blood tests on my thyroid, adrenal gland, and lithium, sugar and electrolyte levels and the occasional IV have worn me out, spent out my sick time and left me frustrated. Taking me off all of my psych meds has proved to be a really bad idea, especially since it didn't help them to a diagnosis other than "not a prescription side effect." I'm feeling better physically now and I don't have to drink two liters of Gatorade to sit upright all day.

It'll take a while to get me back on all of my psych meds. It'll take quite some time for my bank accounts to recover. Hey, Bush! That stimulus check would be awesome about now. I'm worried that I'm wearing out my support network and I'm not out of the woods yet. I'm hanging in there like a kitten on a motivational poster and I really wish I could just curl up in someone's lap for a little while.

I turn to the Bible, I turn to God. I have received great comfort. But God isn't going to pack a bag for me if I have to go into the hospital, or for that matter drive me there. He isn't going to fill out the FMLA forms for me. He can't play Super Smash Brothers Brawl with me. He can't go to the grocery store for me. But he will never leave nor forsake me.

In the depths of my loneliness, wishing that someone would just step in and take care of me, I am reminded that I have known the highest form of Love. I have been stripped bare and found worthy of His forgiveness. I have a Holy memory to hold on to in the darkness. I am blessed and I'm going to be fine.

The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
-Isaiah 51:3

The depths of His mercy brings tears to my eyes and I am filled with prayers of Thanksgiving. All my love is Thine, Lord.

In the midst of my own miseries, my aunt Mary Beth lost her battle with breast cancer. My loneliness cannot compare to what my uncle Ed is going through, having lost his wife of over twenty five years. My own troubles are compounded by the loss, however, and by my concern for Ed and his kids, both grown and nearly so.

As they circle the wagons, I am praying that they are taking comfort in each other and in knowing that she is no longer in pain. I am hoping that they are able to relish the memories of her humor and kindness amidst their grief. I am praising God that they took care to get their affairs in order as best they could before she passed. I pray for them to know the comfort I have known and that someday we will all (friends, family and strangers alike) be singing songs of praise in the gardens that are rising from the ruins in our lives.

Elizabeth Bathurst


I believe in miracles

A couple of weeks ago my First Day School class was talking about some stories of healing from the books of Matthew and Mark. We had to take a break at one point to discuss the differences between the old and new testament. You know, Jesus is in the new testament, which was written after the old testament. We also had to stop and talk about Jesus' teachings about the Sabbath and what they have to do with Bud Selig and the steroid scandal. They weren't able to convince me that it was an apt metaphor. 

And as much as they tried the kids also couldn't convince me that Jesus was just a dude. They were pretty much in agreement that He couldn't actually do all that healing stuff. And that nonsense about how it's your faith that heals you is really condescending because that means that if you're paralyzed then your faith isn't strong enough to make you better.

I find this such a sad world view. As someone who struggles with mental illness, the kind of mental illness that requires multiple daily medications, weekly therapy and the occasional hospitalization, I don't believe that my lack of healing is due to a weakness of faith. In fact, it's my faith that gives me the strength to keep fighting especially in times like these when the going gets pretty rough. I believe that my experiences on earth and my physical body are fairly unimportant. I believe that my soul and my relationship with God are far more important. Sure, it'd be great if God would relieve my suffering and balance the chemicals in my head for me. If he'd cure my aunt's breast cancer, that'd be pretty rad too. But I'd rather be right with God than right in the head. Knowing that I'm right with God brings me great comfort.

Here's what I think about the stories of healing: I'm buying it. I believe that Jesus was able to heal people. I think that being able to work miracles was an important part of getting people's attention. He had amazing things to say about the way things are and the way they should be and he got people's attention by doing amazing things while he was on earth in a corporeal form. And even if the stories about healing aren't literally true, I think that the messages about faith and forgiveness are so true and so important that I'm not concerned about whether or not touching the hem of His garment might actually cure leprosy or a hemorrhage or HIV.

Maybe they aren't ready to really think about miracles and healing and forgiveness. I'm pretty sure I wasn't at that age either. On the other hand, there was no throwing of graham crackers that week and that's a little miracle in and of itself. 

Elizabeth Bathurst


Doors and Windows

The phrase that so many seem to quote in times of change is, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” I used to think this was a peaceful image. It seemed to reassure me that there was hope when things ended.

Recently, I have begun to look at this statement differently. However, if there are always doors and windows being opened and closed…at some point several of them are going to be open. This could cause a draft. Not only could this cause a draft but it could contribute to a wind-tunnel of sorts that creates havoc in one’s life. With little bits of paper swirling around—flying here and there. It gets chaotic and messy. And soon these potential opportunities and hopeful reassurances are nothing more than stressful, confusing change. And how do you weigh these things and know which windows are worth shutting and which are worth crawling through? Perhaps I should see it as luck to have too many windows and doors opening and closing on me in rapid succession…but I find it stressful. It can be hard to discern in some situations which is the better option. Sometimes I have kept the door open too long and sometimes I let it shut too soon. But for this year all I ask is please don’t let it be a wind tunnel.

And with this, I begin 2008 year of the purge. God, please let this be a good year. Let my heart and home be happy places so that I may be more faithful in doing your work.


Won't you be my neighbor?

I'm teaching the parables of Jesus to my junior high first day school class this trimester and hopefully, you'll be seeing more posts like this as I prep my lessons.

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)

Why do people keep asking Jesus this question? Seriously. Lawyer-Guy is all; "What do I need to do to get a cookie? I don't want to clean my room. What if I just make my bed? Is that enough to get a cookie?"

I'd be tempted to tell the guy to just shut up already. If I were to come face to face with someone who I thought had all the answers, I wouldn't be asking him about cookies. Fact of the matter is, I've got access to Jesus (and so do you!) and I've never asked Him about what I need to do to get into heaven.

I've asked "What do you want me to do?" and "Is this okay?" and in fits of anger and despair I've been known to ask "why me?" but I really don't care about heaven. I am willing to believe that God is always just and often merciful and therefore I can trust that I'll deserve whatever comes next. What it is exactly doesn't interest me all that much. Let's get back to the story.

When the lawyer dude who is harassing Jesus this time about his cookie asks for a little clarification about who his neighbors are, Jesus responds with the whole half-dead guy in the ditch story we've heard a million times. You know, some dude passes by, then some other dude passes by, and then this other dude, one of an ethnic group everybody looks down on 'cause they're smelly stops to help out and even pays for the half-dead guy to stay in the motel 6.

But wait. Jesus ends the story with a question:

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:36-37)

Sounds to me like Jesus isn't just telling us that we need to be kind and loving towards everyone (not just our in-group, our literal neighbors, our friends). Seems to me that Jesus is actively shaming our little cookie-seeking lawyer by telling a story about someone who had call to be selective in defining who his neighbors were not only not trying to weasel out of helping others, but actively going out of his way to be kind to a complete stranger in need. I'm going with the shame-on-you version of the story, 'cause I like that Jesus best.

Seeing as my kids really get the whole Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, I'm probably going to work in the story about how A-Rod once saved a kid from getting hit by a car on Newbury Street. The Yankees might well be the closest thing we've got to Samaritans in Boston.