Walking the Sea

Walking the Sea: January 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kung Fu Quaker

One of my very favorite teachers from high school is absolutely delighted I am with the Quaker church, thrilled I agree that the way to peace is not through violence. Being a Mennonite, we are what you could call peace testimony cousins and she really likes that fact.

As a high school student, I wouldn’t have guessed Mennonite the way she pushed our entire class out the door every Monday morning and into the parking lot for “Dagio taiso!” (Japanese morning exercises that I think are called Radio Taiso, but that is the way I remember her yelling it out, one arm thrust into the air.) If you can picture how much effort it takes to pull 25 high school students out to a parking lot to do exercises on Monday morning with other students watching from the windows above, you may begin to get an idea of how much stamina this woman had, and still has. Add a slight frame and red hair, and you have our beloved sensei (teacher). She was one of those teachers any high school student is lucky to have in their life. Personally, I adored her. And I loved dagio taiso. I thought it was great fun and a great way to live in my body, moving around. Our sensei really liked me.

As a college student and early young adult, I was considered sweet and of the quieter variety. I didn’t push my weight around. (I know, I overcame this later.) So, since I highly disliked hitting people, I thought it a good idea to take a self-defense class while I was in college to learn how to push my weight if I needed to. In a beautiful, naturally lit room overlooking the Quad, I learned how to scream, how to hit and kick, where to go for the vulnerable spots on an attacker, and how to keep an eye out on where I was walking. It was a transformative experience for me, learning how to defend myself and learning I had a voice. I still didn’t like to start a fight, but I felt much better about finishing one.

However, no fighting was ever needed (thankfully!) until one beautiful spring day at a medieval event called Bargamels. Bargamels has a pub theme and was actually my favorite event of the year when I was involved in medieval reenactment. My favorite sport to watch was two fighters in full armor going at each other with swords. We did that a lot. But on this particular day, I was seated in the grass wearing my red dress (an inner black dress and fancier outer red dress) reading a book for the New Testament class I was taking at the time. Nearby, they announced the commencement of the Bar Wench Smack Down. Intrigued, I listened. That was my first mistake. They wanted women of legal age who were willing to hit each other with meat cleavers and other assorted weapons found in a pub. It sounded like fun.

You have to understand, up to this point, I rarely ever participated in something even loosely resembling the word, “sport”. I was the mild-mannered lady-in-waiting. But, sitting there, I thought, “Why not?” That was mistake number two. Mariana, my Baroness, whom I served, was not there. Neither were any of our guards. That was her mistake. No one to keep an eye on Roana to make sure she behaved herself. She would later learn this is important. Multiple times over. That is another story.

Realizing, (I’m a bright one!), I couldn’t kill people in the skirted layers I was dressed in, I removed the outer red dress and joined the queue lining up around the eric where we would be fighting. They explained the rules such as no hitting above the neck as we weren’t in armor, and to be your own judge of a mortal wound. This particular group has a culture of their own where honor and chivalry is highly valued. The fighters I respected had taught me well.

When it was my turn to enter the ring, I chose the meat cleaver. All the weapons were made out of PVC pipe, heavily padded, and covered in duct tape. There were knives, mugs, and even a stool we borrowed from an earlier tournament. You could have a weapon in each hand which was handy as you could then thrust with one and defend yourself with the other. (If your arm was hit, you dropped your weapon and hid the injured appendage behind your back. If it was a leg, you either jumped on one or went down on your knees.) I showed no mercy. I liked to take the arms off first, the legs if I could get at them. I figured if they had one less weapon, it would be easier for me to go in for the kill on the chest. Many a time, I had both of their arms cut off before killing them. It wasn’t long before the other women weren’t too eager to come into the ring with me. One woman took one look at me and asked, “I have to fight her?”

I was having a BALL. The time of my life. I LOVED fighting! It was so much fun to kill people! I could see why all the fighters enjoyed it! That is, I was having fun until one of the guards saw what I was doing and went to get my Baroness. Mariana, who was busy judging the baklava competition, and she loved baklava, came hurrying down the hill and as she told me later, spotted in the ring, me, killing people with a grin the size of Texas on my face, and she cried out, “Is that my sweet Roana?”

Yes, Mariana, it was. Your sweet lady-in-waiting took second place that day in quite a crowd of women. Second place was just fine by me though, since if you took first, you couldn’t join in the smack down again the next year. Second was good. I believe it was the next year I was awarded the prize for chivalry. (Just to defend myself a bit so this post doesn’t completely ruin my reputation.)

Since that time, I haven’t had much reason to fight anyone; although that reputation did follow me around for quite some time in that group. There was one fighter practice to which I went and they said I was pretty good. But I wasn’t interested in the investment it would take to be able to last more than two seconds in a ring with a real heavy fighter. That is, until…

My friend, Emily, recently posted on facebook that she is holding Kung Fu classes in her basement with a teacher from Corvallis. I have now been a part of the Quaker church for over four years. I know the peace testimony but that old saying that, I admit, gets me into trouble, “Why not?” came to mind. I am willing to try most (moral) things once.

I showed up in time to take the first bow. This is where all that Japanese dagio taiso training and language came in handy. (Thanks Sensei!) The teacher had us warm up with some exercises in a squatting position. He showed us how to hold our arms up to defend ourselves. He showed us how to kick. Then he taught us how to move our feet back and forth, side to side and we learned a series of movements put together to defend ourselves against multiple attackers. It was rather like a martial arts dance. My favorite part was when he started teaching us how to pull someone to the ground who is pushing us or grabbing our wrist. I thought that was pretty awesome and I admit, I was pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing.

At the end of the class, the teacher asked me what I thought of the class and why I liked it. I have been thinking about this question ever since. Being a part of a peace church, you would think I wouldn’t enjoy working on learning such skills. But I do, I really do. Something in me loves a good fight, learning how to take someone to the ground if I need to. I would still step out of that red dress and join the Bar Wench Smack Down. (Don’t worry though; I will be out of the country the weekend the event is held this year.) It is a paradox that seems so strange.

I realized while driving today there is a warrior in me. Someone who really needs to know how to, figuratively speaking, use a sword, a meat cleaver. I spent so much of my life stifling that warrior down that when I started letting her out in my twenties, she had a heyday. Now, instead of shying away from conflict, I engage in it. Not to hurt another person, but to reach a good, healthy conclusion. I am learning how to defend myself, how to control the power racing through me, channeling the strength held in my hands. I need to know what it is like to live in my body, to be joined to it in soul and spirit. I need to know that my actions affect the world and the people around me. And learning how to fight in my body helps me find the courage to fight in my soul.

The peace testimony isn’t simply a call to lay down all our weapons and not fight. It is a call to lay down the weapons that maim, that hurt and kill. It is a call to lay down damaging words, harsh actions, and prideful choices. It is a call to pick up compassion and thinking of others. However, the peace testimony is not a call to let others walk all over us. It is not a call to stop sticking up for the passions of God. It is not a call to run away from conflict but to instead face conflict with love and justice evenly yoked in tandem. Better yet, approach conflict with an attitude where you cannot discern where justice ends and love begins.

We can’t afford to ignore the power out-flowing from within each of us. Part of peace is knowing our power to hurt, to maim, even to kill, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, yet instead to choose to use that power to heal, comfort, and teach. If we do not know our ability to tear down, we can never wholly build up.

It’s okay to pick up a weapon! Go ahead! But make sure it’s the right one. God tells us to take up our sword of truth. It is a powerful weapon. We are not to use this weapon flippantly or unwisely. We need to know both the power it can hold and the damage such a sword can inflict. Some of the greatest hurt in our world is done by those who abuse their power or wield power unwisely when they don’t know they have it. (For a great book on this topic, read MaryKate Morse’s book, Making Room for Leadership.)

So can I be a warrior and a Quaker at the same time? A Kung Fu Quaker? I believe so. I don’t see any problem in learning these things. It’s hard to live in the world as a lion when one walks around with the stature of a cat. Learning the right way to punch, how to take someone down, spending time concentrating on the placement of my body and the body of others, helps ground me in the physical world and teaches me how I can better carry myself and my power within that world. In fact, it is downright fun.

God gave us physical bodies to live in and it has surprised me how much I enjoy learning how to be present to the physicality of our existence. It’s an important piece of our lives and one not to be ignored. Maybe this is my way of learning to set physical boundaries after learning years ago I could have the emotional ones. And how can we have peace if we do not respect the boundaries of who each other is? If learning to fight is my way of learning peace, with others and with myself, of knowing my power in a tangible way, then I believe that is a good thing. I think even my sensei would be happy with that road to peace. One punch-kick at a time.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

England 2011 - Brilliant!

(Me in front of the London Bridge in 2001)

Dear Friends,

This last fall I was invited by an organization I am a part of called Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) to speak at their annual meeting on writing and to help release Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices, the book for which I have served as an editorial board member and contributor for the last three years. Though the book has been released since last May, the Quakers in Britain are holding a UK release and they would like to have me come and promote it as well as speak to Friends around the area.

Though I loved the idea of this opportunity when Gil, one of the co-clerks, first asked me to come, I thought about the conference and prayed over it for several months. I was, in fact, about to let the idea go due to my tight budget here at home but the idea has never let me go and so I decided to try some doors, to see what would open. First, I renewed my passport since it expired last September and started working on saving reward air miles to help with the airfare. I then talked this opportunity of ministry over with trusted mentors who gave me resounding encouragement and urged me to go to England.

Now things are falling into place. I am discussing with the Quakers in both Britain and the Netherlands where else they could use me while I’m there and the doors are opening one after another, in Lancaster, Brighton, Cambridge, around London, and in The Hague, Netherlands. I am really excited about these opportunities to minister with and spend time with the European Quakers. They are a group with a different flavor than both the Kenyan and US Quakers I have already had the gift of traveling amongst.

When our editorial board worked on Spirit Rising, dreaming of what it could be and do, we hoped the words would not only inspire a person to know God better and to more deeply understand and appreciate the diversity within Quakerism and humanity in general, but that the words would also inspire people of all theologies to discuss with each other the beliefs dear to them and form the difficult yet profound relationships we began between the ten of us editorial board members. We wanted what was birthed among us to grow in the book and come to fruition in the lives of those who read and discuss it. We wanted to see our work continued around the world, that the book would go back to the countries the words came from and spill out from there. This opportunity to go speak in Britain and the Netherlands is a part of that work. We need people in this world who will stand up and say they have done it; they have delved into the painful conversations with people different from themselves and to be honest about how they have been changed by those experiences. If we are to have greater cooperation among our various countries and theologies in this world, we need to hear the voices of those who are willing to say yes, it is hard, but yes, it is worth it. I want to be one of those people. As imperfect me, I want to stand up and help be that bridge crossing those divides and whatever country that ministry is in, whatever culture an audience comes from, that is where I want to be. This is the work I am called to.

In addition to the speaking and intervisition, I am also going to England and Netherlands on writing assignments from Friends Journal and Western Friend. I will be writing articles about experiences such as being an evangelical traveling amongst unprogrammed Friends and another on the QUIP conference. And of course, I will be blogging while I’m there.

Though different Quaker organizations are helping me fund the trip, I still have a ways to go. All told, the trip will cost around $2,200.00 between airfare, transportation, room and board, conference fees, and other miscellaneous expenses such as traveling health insurance, though this amount may grow a bit depending on the travel and time required for the additional speaking ministry. Though this amount takes into account the discount on airfare from my reward air miles and my being hosted by local Friends, this cost is still beyond my budget. I am fundraising through donations and what I can set aside out of my own income though I am trying to squirrel away whatever I can now as I will be missing a great deal of work to do this ministry. I would greatly appreciate any help you could give whether that is financial or holding me in prayer as I undertake this work. You can make out any checks directly to me. Specific prayer needs include guidance as we plan who I will be speaking to in addition to my work at the conference, smooth travel, safety, good health, and most importantly, that the words I bring to these groups are blessed and used by God.

As I said, I will be posting here to my blog as I travel, www.WalkingtheSea.blogspot.com. I invite you to check in with me to see how the trip is going, both in the planning and execution. I will leave sometime in late April and return in early May. Thank you for your consideration in helping me minister in Britain and The Netherlands.

Please contact me with any further questions. I hope you are doing well in the New Year.

Sarah Katreen Hoggatt

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Don't Ask - I Won't Tell

I have a confession to make. It's not easy to say this-much less publish it to the wide world-but I feel I can no longer continue in secret.  Though it doesn't seem harmful now, not opening up about it could be harmful and doing so, may help others who haven't felt free to be open up about their own desires. But I can't stay silent any more. Too many people need to take in what I have to say today. So here we go:

I have been to mass.

Not just a little bit.  Not just crossing my chest when I think no one is looking in an alleyway downtown, or sneaking the rosary under my coat in a dark movie theater, but everyday, and for years. The nave itself, has rarely seen me. In fact, before the last two times I've gone, it's been years since I've taken a knee in public.  But I have had a long-standing love affair with Catholicism. 

It started out innocently enough as all affairs do, a talk with a friend about transubstantiation and consubstantiation. You know, what Sophomores in college usually talk about.  This friend brought up some good points and we had a very interesting discussion. She invited me to mass. I went. I felt odd but she was there beside me helping me along on when to kneel, when to stand, and when to say what. It was a crash course in the holy rosary. 

Two years later, I was driving with Jesus to rehearsal. I liked Jesus. She was fun, a laugh a minute, and she fascinated me.  Jesus must have seen something in me too for she invited me to join her in leading her youth group at St. Mary's Catholic Church and you know how it goes, where Jesus leads, we follow.  Jesus, otherwise known outside of our play, Journey to the Cross, as Leonora, (I was the blind man she healed, a disciple she called, and a high priest who betrayed her rolled into one, but that is another whole metaphor for another story), was a gift in my life.  I joined her at St. Mary's as an intern and we had a blast. I got to help plan and sit in on all the lessons. I got to know the kids. I got to shoot Lee with rubber bands in the dark on our overnighter.  I even went to a tea with the women. I got to learn from her how to laugh at myself. 

In addition to being the youth leader in Albany, Lee also worked at the Newman Center, the Catholic student center just off campus.  Hanging out with all the Catholics at the Newman Center and playing "Dress Up Jesus" on the Internet became my favorite haunt.  We laughed until we cried.  We made comfort food in the kitchen and held regular get-togethers. I even took their class on what Catholics believe and why, taught by a local priest.  One night we went bowling and competed against the Presbyterian center down the street that I was also familiar with. They called me a traitor. But those times there among the voluminous tomes of Catholicism are some of my very happiest from my college years.

After college, I went and got religion.  Well, first I got depressed and then I got religion.  (Another longer story.) This religion came in the form of Christian History, a topic so little taught in our world. At seminary, I learned about our church fathers, "Lord, give me chastity but not yet." I learned about the early councils when the church was one. (Ha!) I learned about the Abbas and the Ammas who moved out to the desert when Christianity became acceptable.  I learned about those faithful followers of Christ who lived on top of pillars for years on end in faith to God.  (Someone should have shared with them the verse about wanting a contrite heart more than sacrifice.) I learned about the mystics, the church splits, I learned about the tree of faith and I learned that Catholics were Christians!  I walked the labyrinth and learned about the rosary. I knew the saints and venerated the icons. (Rublev's Trinity is my absolute favorite!)  From Carole and MaryKate I learned we are all one, we are from the same family.  What is more, I learned I loved the art, the images and pictures, the traditions and practices.  I loved the history. 

About a year ago, I attended an Episcopalian church and it was an enriching experience. I really enjoyed it. Some of my favorite authors and books have been Episcopalian. Then this last Christmas Eve, I decided to go to midnight mass. Every once in a while, you just need some good liturgy.  So I asked my spiritual director what times the services were going to be at (all my directors have been Catholic more or less). I wanted to remember in the midst of the all the Christmas decorations and shopping why we were celebrating. I was thirsty for mass.

Though it was the second time I had been there, I visited that church once years ago, I didn't really know what I was doing.  The room was packed, overflowing even, so it wasn't too hard to sit in the back and try to blend in, though I hoped they wouldn't find out I wasn't really Catholic, just a wannabe.  But even being an outsider, I felt very comfortable amongst them. My favorite icon hangs in the front on the right hand side, and it has enough qualities of Judaism, the rhythms of worship echo in my heart and make it sing.  The next week I went again, still crowded, and I still sat near the back, trying not to let people know I didn't have it all memorized.  But I love how they use their bodies in worship, it feels so wholesome, so life-giving. 

Really, the protestants left out a lot of great stuff when they "reformed".  It's like there having been missing pieces in my protestant spirituality that have been filled in and brought to light as I've engaged in Judaism and Catholicism.  While I was at seminary, we were taught these other Christian practices, a rich array of them, not to show what they did, but as pieces of us, our history, our heritage.  We we taught these practices, these spiritualities, were beautiful and meaningful and true. We were taught to respect them, to experiment with them, even to enjoy them.  I still do. So being a visitor, it would seem "home" is elsewhere, but I feel home there too.  Is God there?  Yes. Yes He/She is.  And wherever God is, there is home.  You can hear Him in the singing, you can hear her in the prayers. You can hear God in all of these spiritual practices.

Sister Antoinette once told me she didn't think I would be happy until I became Catholic.  I think she's right in a way.  I would never be happy sticking to just one spiritual practice. I need Catholicism too on top of everything else. There is so much out there. So many deeply enriching experiences that sticking to one all the time would be like having mashed potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  As much as I like mashed potatoes, I want variety in my diet. It keeps things interesting, keeps me healthy.  Diversity is nourishing.  And if diversity is nourishing in what we eat and what we do, then why not how we pray?  Why not how we relate to God?

Trying out different ways of relating to God is a good thing.  It's not that I'm betraying any faith I profess to have or church I am involved with, (though how I could betray Judaism, Protestantism, and Quakerism all in one is beyond me), it's that I'm enriching it. God doesn't have denominations in Heaven. We are all one. Why not embrace that here? Why not visit each other, get to know one another?  Why not break down those stereotypes and get to know someone from a different faith background for ourselves?  In my own life, I found that we aren't so different and in the places we are, those places enrich my life far more than I ever thought possible.

So I go to mass.  And I go to Quaker meeting.  I visit churches and I delight in Shabbat.  And yes, I have some practices that are rather Catholic. It's one of the reasons I have enjoyed becoming friends with people of the Catholic faith. I can share those things, those practices of mine, knowing full well they share them too and that they won't ever laugh at me or question why I do them.  And when they ask me if I have considered a religious life, I know they are not simply incredulous of why a woman would invest herself in attending seminary, but are asking sincerely, and we can have a real conversation about it.

God is just too big, and too wide, and too immense to limit ourselves to one way of prayer. Thanks be to God.

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