Monday, March 5, 2018

When God is calling

ESR MDiv student Keelin Anderson delivered the following message during ESR worship on Friday, March 2, 2018:

Luke 9: 1-6 NRSV

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

Luke 9: 57-62 NRSVAs they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

In our readings today, Jesus doesn’t pitch discipleship very well. He basically tells us that if you follow him you will be barefoot, hungry, homeless, and alienated from your family and your former way of life. So, I ask you, what are you all doing here contemplating seminary?

I joke here, but Jesus is saying his call is not an easy one. There will be people in your life who will not understand. There will be habits and assumptions of your own you will have to leave behind. God is calling for an ongoing radical transformation in your way of being in the world. Not everything and everyone in your life is going to come along with you.

Three years ago I was minding my own business, walking home from a yoga class in my neighborhood in Portland, OR, when an idea popped into my head. “Go find out what it takes to become a hospital chaplain,” it said. I had been a nurse and a massage therapist, so in a way this made sense, but I had never had a religion. I was raised by divorced parents, my mother a scientist and atheist, my father, a psychiatrist who during my teen years, lived in a cult that followed the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Religion at the least was suspect, at the most, dangerous.

I had come to my own sense of God in my late twenties through meditation, a practice I mostly did by myself. It had never occurred to me to do religion with other people. My sense of religious people came from American media. Throughout the world people were fighting wars in religion’s name. At home, “Christian family values” meant homophobia and misogyny. As far as I could see, religious people wanted either to control me or kill me. Now God wanted me to get an MDiv?

And here I am three years later giving a sermon! I have not made a dime since I began school. I have abandoned my husband and two cats alone at home in Portland for this Spring Term. I have discovered I am a Quaker. I am learning to appreciate that there is something to this “gathering together in Jesus’s name.” I feel more able than ever to express my true self and allow God to move through me, and, I have to work constantly on my faith and courage. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Jephthah’s daughter then and now

The other day, after grading a set of Intro to Old Testament Studies papers, I posted on Facebook, “It’s a good day when you learn new things about how to read well known texts from your students.” This post by ESR M.Div. Access student Nikki Holland is one of the papers I learned from. The assignment was to write about what you would say about one of the women from Joshua and Judges for an adult Bible Study group. Nikki chose to write on Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:29-40). I invite you to read what Nikki’s response. I hope you find it as illuminating as I did.
 - Nancy R. Bowen (Professor of Old Testament)

From the surface, the story in Judges 11:29-40 seems foreign and weird to us. A man makes a foolish vow and keeps it, though it results in the death of his daughter; and what is maybe more astonishing, she participates. But with a close examination of this story, we can see several themes that echo through our lives today.

1)      Victim blaming
   Upon realizing that he has vowed to sacrifice his own daughter (hereafter called “Daughter”), Jephthah lays the blame immediately on her head. “You have brought me very low,” he says. “You have become the cause of great trouble to me” (Judges 11:35). He explains that he has made a vow, but the emphasis is on her culpability. Never mind that he made a foolish vow and she was simply fulfilling her role as a faithful daughter in celebrating his victory.[1] Jephthah deflects blame from himself onto Daughter. I hear echoes of his words in my own generation, “Look what you made me do…” and “Well, you shouldn’t have been in that place anyways."

2) Internalized misogyny
   Daughter’s response when she hears that her father has made a vow to kill her is, “Do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth.” She cares more about her father’s honor than her own life. Contrast this to Jonathan’s response to a similar vow made by Saul in 1 Sam 14:43. In the NRSV, Jonathan’s response is a statement, but in the CEB and most Spanish translations, it’s a question: “‘I only took a very small taste of honey on the end of my staff,’ he said. ‘And now I’m supposed to die?’” Jonathan has the self-assurance to protest Saul’s foolish vow (see 1 Sam 14:29-30), whereas Daughter understands herself to be her father’s, to do with what he will.
   We read this and we feel superior (we would fight – we would run away) – but how many of us have been violated and rather than protesting, have been more concerned about the feelings of the violator? How many of us have soothed his guilt or laughed it off so as not to appear rude? How many of us have chosen to be polite rather than fierce when our boundaries are crossed? How many of us have excused men’s exploitation of women by saying something like, “Oh men.” How many of us have let doctors do things to our bodies that we didn’t actually want done? And then thanked them for it? Like Daughter, we are still vulnerable to the belief that our bodies are here for other people to do with what they will.

3) Solidarity of women
   The one request Daughter makes for herself is that she and her friends be allowed to mourn her virginity for 2 months (Judges 14:37). After her death, “the daughters of Israel would go out to lament” Daughter (Judges 14:40). These women are linked in sorrow by their belief that nothing can be done for the women. They lament her fate. It is what it is, it’s horrible, but there’s nothing at all we can do about it. [2]  
   Each generation of feminists builds on the previous generations. I wonder if this lament is the very first women’s rights protest in western history. As we know, the first step to a solution is recognizing the problem. Although these women could not imagine a different world, they are recognizing and bringing attention to a problem – and that is Something.
   This story is a cautionary tale, from which we can learn to hold people in power accountable for their choices; to maintain a strong sense of self – and the awareness that our bodies are our own and no one may violate us with impunity; and to gather with other women in solidarity with the full knowledge in our hearts of a different world and the hope that we can change the injustice we see.

Nikki Holland lives in Merida, Mexico with her clan, including her husband Brian, their three boys, and their kitten Ellie. She enjoys meeting for worship in her sister’s house (and occasionally on the beach), and loves all that she’s learning as a seminarian at Earlham School of Religion. Click on the link to check out more of Nikki's writing on her blog:

[1] Karla G. Bohmbach, "Daughter of Jephthah." In Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the HebrewBible, the Apochryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament, ed. Carol Meyers, Toni Craven and Ross S Kraemer (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 8359.

[2] Again contrast the women’s response with the men’s response in Jonathan’s situation – in 1 Sam 14:45 – the men join in solidarity with Jonathan in opposition to Saul, confidently imagining a world in which Jonathan is not at the mercy of his father. And they succeed.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Preparing for war: Are we ready?

ESR Professor of Peace and Justice Studies Lonnie Valentine shares a reflection on the importance - and timeliness - of conscientious objection to war:

With the love of war growing strong, what will follow after the attack on Syria, the “Mother of All Bombs” dropped on Afghanistan, and now the threats directed at North Korea?  As with all previous war-making, this US administration sees how the people praise war.  Presidents going to war show strength. Is it so that every US President must have his own war?  Is our government now preparing to do what Mark Anthony exclaims in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar: “Cry ‘Havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war” (Act 3, Scene 1)?  Unlike us, Mark Anthony was regretting that this would be the cry heard as the Roman Empire descended into civil war.  He says:

“Blood and destruction shall be so in use 
And dreadful objects so familiar 
That mothers shall but smile when they behold 
Their infants quarter'd (i.e. cut to pieces) with the hands of war.”

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra 

And so it came to pass that Mark Anthony entered the Roman civil war. However, he faced the one who would become Caesar Augustus. Anthony lost the war and fled to Egypt with his queen, Cleopatra. Reaching the shore, they committed suicide together.
Real child soldier, US Civil War
And so what of those of us who seek a better way?  Many young people have been drenched in war propaganda and think it could be grand.  My spouse, Genevieve, is the piano accompanist to a middle school choir. One girl was wearing a sash and Genevieve asked what it meant.  The girl replied, “I am a diplomat. I and the other diplomats will gather to make war.” With Genevieve's horror discussion ensued, but the young ones replied: “Peace is boring; war is fun.”

Of the many things that we can do to prepare for war, here is one option for consideration: Quakers and others seeking peace and pursing it need to teach our own young people about the option of conscientious objection to war.

Anyone is eligible to become a conscientious objector under current law. No specific religious affiliation is required and those with deeply held philosophical or moral objections as well as religious objectors can qualify. Therefore, all those who would be subject to a military draft can be informed about what conscientious objection is and how to establish their claim, if a draft were reinstated.

Yes, the military draft did end, but all the regulations were put in “deep stand-by” and not repealed.  This means that Congress could vote tomorrow to activate the draft.  Given the war that some in Congress are seeking to wage against Americans seeking health care, do you think they would hesitate to support war against those “foreigners” who may—or may not—be a threat to our way of life? Further, all the mechanisms for Selective Service, such as local draft boards, are in place to begin to draft.

And yes, currently, only young men are required to register for the draft, but the question of women being required to register for the draft has come up, so young women need to be informed. 

There are resources on line, such as the Center on Conscience and War at

Also, I was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam war and trained as a draft counselor and happy to talk with anyone about this. I can be contacted via e-mail:

Here are four initial steps that a young person could take now:

1. A young man turning 18 is required by law to register for the draft. If you know of a young person not yet registered for the draft, they can write on the registration form that they are a conscientious objector to all war.  They then copy that form, seal it in an envelope, and mail it to themselves and put it unopened with the post date in their brand new conscientious objector file. Also, those with religious affiliation could get their church or Meeting to minute that the young person has stated they are a CO.

Such actions establishes a clear date that a person is claiming to be a conscientious objector, which can be very important in a draft board’s consideration of a CO claim.

Some young people have chosen not to register, but there are consequences in terms of federal loans for college, and some states have automatic registration if you get a driver’s license or refuse to issue a license without proof of registration.  No one since the initial days of the draft registration being reintroduced by Jimmy Carter has been arrested, but understand the consequences. See “Should I Register?” at the Center on Conscience and War web site:

2. As a young person starts high school often their contact information will be turned over to military recruiters unless they submit an “opt out” form early saying they do not want to receive solicitations from military recruiters. Some schools have not been familiar with the opt out form, so it may take some work. Copying this form and putting that in your Constitution Objector file is more evidence for dating a claim before being subject to the draft.

3. Next get the  “Who Is a CO?” and “Registration and Basic Draft Information”  publications of the Center on Conscience and War:
The Quaker House in Fayatteville North Carolina has a video describing what needs to be done to establish a CO claim:

4. In the “Registration and Basic Draft Information” publication there is a step-by-step outline that helps a young person start to think about their beliefs about war. This resource, “What Do I Believe About War?” will take you through the current form that would need to be completed and submitted to the local draft board, if a draft were re-instituted.  There the applicant must describe their beliefs and whether or not those beliefs would permit them to serve in the military, but as a noncombatant; they must describe how they acquired these beliefs; they must describe how your their beliefs affect the way they live and work they do.

In conclusion, it is very important of establishing a verifiable date that a young person is saying they are a CO and beginning the process of creating their own conscientious objector file. However, even if a draft does not come, the exercise of talking to our young men and women about conscientious objection is vital. In Quaker history we can see that young people were not often prepared for the fascination of war and the strong nationalistic urges for going to war.

As Trueblood Chair of Christian Thought, Lonnie is engaged in projects related to Quaker war tax resistance and process theology. He earned a B.A. from Raymond College, University of the Pacific in 1970; a B.A. from University of California at Irvine in 1975; an M.A. from Earlham School of Religion in 1983; and, a Ph.D. from Emory University in 1989. Lonnie joined the ESR faculty in 1989.

Monday, June 19, 2017

New student introduction: Mebin Mathew

We are excited to begin introducing to you some of our incoming students for the fall 2017-18 entering class. Our first introduction is from Mebin Mathew, who joins us as an MDiv Cooper Scholar from Bangalore, India. She shares some thoughts on coming to ESR below:

My full name is Mebin K. Mathew. I am basically from South India. Kerala is my home state but I was raised in Bangalore, India which is also called the Garden city of India. I speak four languages including my mother tongue. During my childhood days, I have also been in many North Indian States like Punjab, Bhutan, Delhi because my dad was working with the Indian Army. My mom was working as a nurse in military hospital. They both took voluntary retirement from their jobs and dedicated their lives for serving the Lord. My dad is a pastor and my dad and mom are working among the Indian unreached people group.

I did my basic schooling in one of the English medium schools in Bangalore and finished my Bachelor of Arts (B.A) specializing in Journalism, Psychology and English Literature. I got married to Binu B Peniel. My husband Binu just finished his Doctorate from United Theological Seminary specializing in Pastoral Care and  Counselling and his research was in Human Trafficking.

We are blessed with a daughter (Keren) who is 7 years old now. She brings so much of joy to our lives. Especially I just want to thank God for bringing us here in this wonderful country and to this great school. We truly believe Earlham School of Religion is a great opened door for us. I am so grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to study here and to answer God’s call upon my life.

I am looking forward to get to know each and everyone one of you in person. Really excited about it.

Thank you.
Mebin Mathew

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reflections on a Sojourn in Switzerland: Time, Friendship, and Faith

In this reflection ESR MDiv student Anne M. Hutchinson shares about her recent visit to Switzerland: 
It’s hard to conceive of Switzerland without thinking of chalets, cheese, chocolate, cleanliness, and clocks. There are indeed chalets with their wide roofs and elaborate exterior wood carvings. However, La Chaux-de-Fonds, the town in which I stayed, is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture and design. Cheese was plentiful, and is essential for traditional dishes including raclette and fondue. Switzerland is a chocolate lover’s dream: grocery stores offered every kind and flavor of it. And then, cleanliness. An acquaintance once told me that her mother instructed her to clean the house as if Jesus were to visit. Whether the Swiss believed the same or not, homes were impeccably clean and tidy and subject to regular dusting and arranging. Messiness was simply unimaginable. If cleanliness is next to godliness, the Swiss meet the criteria.

And as for clocks: When I spent two weeks with a friend in that historic watchmaking town, it was well-nigh impossible to not be conscious of time. Clocks were everywhere, on public buildings, in the window displays of watch shops. The museum of horlogerie showcases a dazzling display of all kinds of timepieces: miniature painted pocket watches, an outdoor carillon clock, talking clocks, a Turk on a flying carpet clock, and numerous other timekeeping devices. Several of the large timepieces featured the figure of the Grim Reaper, a memento mori of the ephemeral nature of life. At one time, the three churches in the town center all rang their steeple bells on the hour and the quarter hours, but they did not ring in synchronicity. One church’s bells would stop only for the second to begin ringing, and the second barely ceased before the third began. It was a real challenge for anyone in the neighborhood around them to sleep amid that joyous cacophony.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Rethinking Dinah

In this post, ESR Professor of Old Testament Nancy R. Bowen shares a reflection on the interpretation of the Biblical figure of Dinah through history and its continuing relevance today:

I have been rethinking the story of Dinah in Genesis 34. Feminist interpretation is focused on the question, “Was Dinah raped or not?” At the moment the debate is at an impasse. I am not attempting to resolve the debate, but rather to consider whether there are other questions feminists should ask with regard to Dinah’s story.
I started thinking about this in the aftermath of the tragic killing of nine African Americans in Charleston, SC (June 17, 2015). A relative of one of the survivors recounted that the shooter had told her that the reason he was killing them was because “you rape our women…” The day before (June 16, 2015), in his speech announcing his candidacy for President of the US, Donald Trump announced he would build a wall along the US/Mexican border to keep out “Mexican rapists.”
It turns out that the trope of “you rape our women” has a long, sordid past in U.S. history. The accusation of rape was used as the justification for lynching in the Southern states during the post-reconstruction era (1880-1920). Lynching was justified as as the “desperate effort of Southerners to protect their women from black monsters.” Ida B. Wells, an African American reporter, demonstrably proved this accusation was false and racist. Using police reports in the Chicago Tribune, Wells documented that of 504 men who were lynched between 1896-1900, only 96 were charged with rape (19%). Although black men who were lynched were described as “moral monsters,” they were also lynched for reasons as varied as “unknown offense,” “mistaken identity,” and “resisting arrest.” As Wells wrote, “This record, easily within the reach of every one who wants it, makes inexcusable the statement and cruelly unwarranted the assumption that negroes are lynched only because of their assaults upon womanhood.” Upon analyzing the records she concludes that the real causes for most lynchings is “contempt for law and race prejudice.” In other words, the accusation that black men raped white women was used to cover up that they were lynched for economic, political, and ideological reasons, namely, to ensure the uncontested authority of the while male ruling class.1

Monday, April 17, 2017

A student reflection on attending the 2017 International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education

In the post below, ESR MDiv student Andy Henry shares about his experience attending the recent International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education in Columbus, Ohio:

On March 16-17, I joined two fellow ESR students—Tom Decker and Ashlyn Stanton—in attending the 11th annual International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education. The event took place at the student union on the campus of the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. It was encouraging to see and hear from so many diverse practitioners during such a tumultuous time. There is a great need for healers and coaches who are skilled in modes of conflict engagement and teachers who can impart those skills to others. Our country and world are anything but short on conflict and violence so we need all the help we can get. My fellow students and I attended workshops on circle processes and restorative justice in various contexts as well as ones that focused on the conference theme.  

The theme of the conference was “Tools for Preparing the Change Leaders of the Future: Social Enterprise, Innovation, and Education.” I was particularly attracted to this topic of social enterprise and was curious about how it could be connected to conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Through the workshops, I learned about social enterprises like zero waste initiatives, produce auctions, and revitalization efforts in Appalachian Ohio. I also learned about the value of tying social enterprise to a larger narrative rooted in a community’s history. These enterprises are vital for providing services in a sustainable way, innovating for a community’s future, and promoting peace through cooperative ventures. It is interesting to consider these themes of social entrepreneurship in conversation with ESR’s emphasis on spiritual entrepreneurship. There are several places of overlap and the language of faith and spirituality provides a unique source of inspiration and vision.

While we hosted a table and provided materials for folks interested in exploring ESR, our presence in the workshops and discussions seemed to be the primary point of contact in representing the school. To the best of my knowledge, ESR was the only seminary present at the conference. We were able to bring a unique perspective to the workshops, reflecting on how the ideas and practices discussed by the facilitators can be applied or reframed in terms of spirituality, theology, and faith community. That is one of the great qualities of ESR: we seek to be present to conversations happening in society, particularly those related to peace and justice. We also have a unique perspective to offer, one rooted in the enduring language of faith and the living light of spiritual vitality. I think we all left carrying some beneficial ideas and topics for reflection. And I hope that we were also able to contribute to the conversation of the conference.       

Andy, Ashlyn, and Tom are all currently pursuing their MDiv degrees at ESR. Andy and Ashlyn are pictured here.