Thursday, August 22, 2019

Seasons for Speaking and Silence

Some seasons are for speaking; some for silence.

Each way I turn, these days, the tape tightens on my mouth.

The message was clear, this spring, when I went forward at revival meetings--the minister's wife!--that what I thought was my problem wasn't the issue at all. Instead, this word: I was to stop being afraid to speak.

Yet--silence. But not because of fear.

I can't tell all the stories about my adult children because they are not children but adults. Decisions, changes, rearranging. Work, school, and travel. Even romantic drama, some of which keeps me on my knees and some that makes me laugh till I cry. We Skype and scheme and talk at the kitchen counter in the late evening. I write it all down in a notebook with yellow pages.

Other people's secrets ricochet in my head. One of these days, I think, they are going to pop right out of my mouth. Sometimes, their private sins finally become public knowledge. "Terrible," people say. "Shocking." No, I think, blessed relief. I no longer have to carry this secret. Now everyone knows.

The minister's wife "went forward," as I said, which is something we don't usually do, because going forward is for people who are about 12 and "under conviction," or for those unstable people who are always "struggling."

Well, this minister's wife feels like she's about 12, under conviction, unstable, and struggling. Actually, she feels she's about 7, pounding her useless little fists on a laughing big brother's leg as he dangles her doll just out of reach. Feeling powerless and helpless makes her mad, and she gets all feisty and fierce, lashing out at systems, structures, situations, and a silent Deity that are all much taller and bigger than she.

But it isn't time to speak. The tape is tightly wound.

I was made to be a teller of stories, I think. So why this silent season?

So few stories are entirely my own; so many require another's permission. Their "not yet" must be respected.

Other stories can't be told until someone else is dead.

Still others simply need a safe place to rest until the situation is resolved.

Others beg to be told so that justice can be served, but timing is crucial. So I wait.

Ideas are growing; fruit and conclusions are forming, but not yet ready to pick.

Pages turn, and new chapters emerge, but the ending is so far off that none of it makes sense.

Josh Harris talked a lot, for years. People listened to him. Then, when it all went down in flames, he kept talking when he should have been silent for once.

Similar things happen in the Mennonite world. Trusted people turn out to be unreliable, misguided, dark, preying on the vulnerable. Almost without exception, these trusted people were the ones who talked a lot via articles, sermons, and seminars.

Speaking is dangerous. Silence is safe. Right?

If I don't speak, I won't ever deceive and disappoint, manipulate and mislead. Plus, I won't get in trouble--a blessed prospect. Surely that's the wisest course.

But I also remember those women in Pennsylvania who came to my book signing, standing in line with patient determination. They were plain and plump, in dark polyester dresses, with black strings on their white coverings. I felt compelled to extra propriety. They would never need to go forward at revival meetings--I was sure of that.

"Please don't ever stop writing about what it's like being a minister's wife," they said, one by one, all independently of each other. Their hands clutched mine; their eyes told me things the words weren't allowed to convey. I was too stunned to reply with more than a nod, tears, and holding their hands a bit longer.

If someone speaks the things you aren't allowed to say or don't even know how to shape or form, a weight is taken off and you can breathe. To say the words and lift the weight might be a calling of its own, dangerous but desperately needed.

Sometimes not speaking brings a curse, and the truth in darkness grows shaggy and large, with sharp teeth, gnawing in the night at the back of your head. "If you tell, I will destroy you," it whispers. When the gnawing teeth finally cut through the last layer of skull and skin, the morning light shines in. The dark truth shrinks into something of normal size. It can be held and examined and laid to rest. "What was I so afraid of?" you wonder.

Earlier this month I walked into a small room, plopped on a couch, and dramatically poured at least a gallon of my own secrets and stories into the open hands of three other women.

They held my splashing words with care and didn't flinch when they were boiling hot. Then they carefully placed the words in jars and sealed them.

The ricocheting in my head calmed down. The things I knew and felt no longer pushed my skull toward bursting.

I drove away into the wider world, the silence winding once again around my head. But I was going to be all right, and when the time was ripe, the tape would tear and words would fountain everywhere.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Writing Conference

The first-ever Western Anabaptist Writing Conference is over. We call it WAWC, pronounced "Walk."

It was held at the new Pioneer Christian Academy in Brownsville, which used to be the old Brownsville Elementary School. Everything looked a bit mid-renovation because the old carpets were ripped out but the new ones weren't coming until two days after WAWC.

But you know how it is--fifty years from now, the old-timers will tell stories of how makeshift it was the first year, but oh my, what a good time we had.

"First-ever" and "fifty years from now" imply that there will be more conferences. Many attendees thought this event should be repeated next year, but I think we should sleep for a week before we actually make that decision. 

Why was such a conference needed? you ask.

1. Anabaptist* writing and publishing are different from most other publishing, both Christian and secular. More collaborative, less competitive. More about excellence and humility than platform and promotion. And more about steady, long-term material than quick bestsellers.

2. Mennonite writing conferences in the East are a very long way from here, and writers in the West are a long way from each other.

3. Writing is a lonely process at the best of times. Meeting with other writers who "get" you can be a powerful boost and can re-start a neglected calling to write.

*An umbrella term that includes Mennonites, Old Order Amish, Brethren, Holdemans, Hutterites, Western Fellowship, Eastern, Pilgrim, Midwest Fellowship, New Order Amish, Beachy Amish, Conservative Conference Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, German Baptists . . . you get the idea.

I did most of the planning. Paul supported me fully. Lots of people helped out.

Our daughter Amy took care of the book and resource tables. My friend Jane's family decorated with old books. Another friend, Shannon, took care of the registration table with her daughter Annika. Others made food, taught workshops, and cleaned.

Did you ever see such cute decorations?

Chris Miller, the principal of PCA and the husband of Paul's niece Stephie, was our keynote speaker and taught us about what we have to offer and the phrases that silence us.

Chris is an excellent motivator and storyteller.
Some of us were afraid he would either leap off the stage or knock over that arrangement.
He did neither.
Around 30 people attended, including Penny from British Columbia who was in the middle of moving and had lost her passport. "You need to go!" said her husband and son, and her 6-feet-2 son crawled around in a trailer full of boxes and found the passport.

Non-Anabaptists were welcome to attend, and a handful of them did, adding a fun flavor to the conversations.

I heard people say, "I don't know which workshop to take! I'd like to take them all!" Those words were music to my ears. Imagine! Too many good options!

Today, instead of a WAWC I took a WALK. Our son Ben took me to Finley Wildlife Reserve and we walked for 5 1/2 miles. I felt like it burned up all the residual stress from the last crazy weeks.

What would it take for WAWC to become a destination conference, I wonder, and for writers from Idaho, Washington, California, BC, Alberta, and other places to get their friends together and take a trip to Oregon in August, just for this? (With a few stops at Crater Lake and Mt. Hood besides, of course.)

Like the local non-Anabaptists, Mennonites from the East would be welcome to attend. But we would always try to focus on the unique needs of Anabaptist writers in the West.

As you can see, I'm already convincing myself to do another conference. If WAWC continues, many decisions arise about turning it over to a committee, forming an organization, bylaws, constitutions, and other confusing things.

For now, I'm resting, grateful, and ready to write.

Dolly did lots of baking and also cut and arranged fruit.
Hannah helped Dolly.

I taught about how to begin writing when you don't know what you're doing.

Some of Jane's crew. They put hours into making those beautiful folded-book

Penny from BC is in the middle, with Kathleen and Laura from Oregon.

Laura taught how to write another person's story.

Mary taught one class on self-editing and one on children's stories.

Paul shared about how he supports a writer in the family.
It was a small class but they had a fun discussion, he reported.

Quote of the Day:
". . . as I was driving down south on I-5, I probably said, "Wow" about twenty times.  I just so thoroughly enjoyed the seminar, I so thoroughly enjoyed the people I was around, I so thoroughly enjoyed learning in a Christian context where we sang hymns in four part harmony, and I just felt a wonderful humility, as you called it, because how can people be thinking about others and smiling and be happy in their work if they didn't have a sense of purpose that shined through, and that was of course, Christ."
--Bill Northrup