Friday, September 09, 2011

Flashback Friday: Bend Institute

A week ago, I left work an hour early so I could catch a ride with a family from church to Bend, Oregon. A forest fire meant that the highway south of Mount Hood through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation was closed, so we had to go an alternate route. The alternate is actually a more scenic one, because it takes us through the mountain pass near the Detroit Reservoir, the tiny town of Detroit (which I've eaten in before), and through Sisters, a cool tourist town where all the stores, restaurants, gas stations, and even car wash are made up to look like buildings in a classic "Old West" town. Its a big tourist attraction and worth spending a day in.

This is my third year attending. I stay with the Weaver family. The family attend the same congregation as me and the husband's parents have a beautiful three story home in Crooked River Ranch, which is near Terrebonne. They have a mini Grand Canyon in their back yard. From various windows in their house, they can see all the major mountain peaks (Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and one more which name escapes me). As the previous two years, they have put me up in the third floor guest bedroom, which has a balcony that I love to sit out at night staring up into the star-filled sky. In fact, this has become a major part of my "ritual" in attending Bend Institute. There is something about seeing a sky full of stars that always makes me feel close to God. I'm not sure why that is, but I think it stems from childhood, when my favourite activity was laying down in the backyard on a nice summer night and staring up into the sky. I like the feeling that we are small in this huge universe, that there are stars and planets out there and it goes on forever. I love the feeling I have when I star into the star-filled sky. I'm just in complete awe. So, each of the three nights I stayed, that was my routine. A 30 to 45 minute meditation outside on that balcony. Sometimes, I'd have to fight sleep and occasionally, I'd see a star fall and think I had imagined it. Each time I saw a falling star, I made a wish. Hope it comes true!

The retreat this year featured the guest ministry of the President / Prophet of the Community of Christ, Steve Veazey and his wife Cathi Cackler-Veazey. The theme was "Move Forward With Divine Vision." We missed the Friday night worship service because we were still on the road, but we made it for everything else. The interesting thing is that the weekend's festivities feels really long. Two full days (Saturday and Sunday) along with Friday evening and Monday morning. I forget how many worship services we had. Including the one we missed, I believe that we had seven. Plus three workshops. And campfire, meals, and time to visit people.

I attended the first workshop offered by Cathi about finding out one's leadership style. There was an interesting dialogue that happened about the differences between how males and females view things or communicate. I know that feminists would disagree about there being real differences, but it is true. For example, Cathi said that when a woman nods her head, she's showing that she hears you and understands what you are saying. From the male perspective, a head nod means that you agree with what is being said. This difference could create problems because of assumptions being made. This kind of info should be widely disseminated so that people can understand the communication differences.

A young lady from a local congregation spoke up and admitted that she has a tendency to be vocal about her opinions and demanding, which she is working on. A lady I had met and become friends with over the weekend suggested that I date this young lady, but the truth is that we aren't compatible and I'm not attracted to her. The lady asked me why and it was hard for me to explain. I know my "type" and I've never liked bossy girls (since elementary school). I also don't like loud. Besides, her personality can be grating at times. I did not say this either because I don't want to hurt feelings, but I've never been attracted to women who are bigger than me. But mostly, its just an incompatible personality as I learned on our visit to Astoria for the Goonies anniversary festivities last year. It'll be interesting to see what kind of man she ends up with.

Another thing that intrigued me about Cathi's workshop is that she mentioned different personality tests to take, including one that I took a month or so ago: Enneagram. I did not post about my three complimentary counseling sessions with a spiritual counselor. I wanted to, but I'm not sure what happened. Anyhow, Cathi said that she took the Enneagram test and discovered that she was a type 5, which is the one that I scored. This personality type is known as "The Observer". There are nine personality types and the test can be taken online. If I remember correctly, it takes about an hour and you can score in different personality types, but the one you score the most points in is the one you are most likely to be. I'm definitely a 5, with two minor ones that didn't come close to my strongest one. What this means is that we like to stand in a corner and observe everyone, or sit in the back of the room so we can see everyone in front of us. I may write a longer post on this later, but for now, I was stunned that our church uses this (and other personality tests, such as Meyer-Briggs, which I took in 1999 and discovered that I am INFP) to determine people's personality types. This kind of information can be dangerous, though. However, I have a higher faith in the church using it for good, than I would of a corporation that wanted to know about its employees.

I attended Steve's two workshops after that. What strikes me about him is that he seems to shy away from the "prophet" title. He prefers to think of the church body being a "prophetic people" rather than himself as "The Prophet, Seer, and Revelator" as the title was known for earlier prophets of the church. I see this view as being quite healthy and I'm glad that our church is moving away from the "charismatic leader" model, which can get people into trouble if they allow their egos to get in the way of their leadership. Throughout the weekend, he would sit with various people at the worship services or during the meals. If a non-member attended the weekend events, they would not be able to guess that the leader of the 250,000-member church was among us, nor be able to spot him out. In contrast, the Mormon church holds their prophet in complete awe. I was stunned at BYU to hear people younger than me gushing about their prophet like he was some kind of rock star (the Mormon prophet is more like your grandfather). You can't mistake who the Mormon prophet is because in any space he occupies, he is the center and focus of attention. He likely has an entourage, and he wears a white shirt. So, if any evangelicals think we're a cult, they would realize how wrong they are if they even attended one of our events.

Saturday night, the Young Adults was in charge of the worship service. This is where I should have listened to my intuition! When I was packing my bag for the trip, I heard a voice in my head tell me to pack my Muslim headdress. I thought that was ridiculous so I ignored it. Well, at the service, we did an update of our classic one that featured a focus moment with a young gay man, a child labor, and a girl who got pregnant. This time, we featured a Mexican immigrant, a Muslim, and a bully victim. Man, that intuition! Fortunately, the girl who portrayed the Muslim had a scarf and she has darker skin so she could pass for someone from the Middle East or India. The service was good and I like the new characters. The reason we changed was because we had done this service at many congregations in the Pacific Northwest Mission Center and many people had already seen it. Its good to update things to current issues, though.

The other intuitive prompting I should have listened to was that I heard a voice in my head tell me to bring my shirt that has the words "What Matters Most?" on the front and a big question mark on the back. Over this weekend, I saw quite a few times, the words "What Matters Most?" or "The Mission Matters Most." So, what I learn from this is that the quiet voice in my head that makes suggestions like this is not crazy, even if I think it is. I mean, really! Why would I bring a Muslim headdress to Bend Institute? Next time, I should just do it and not second guess myself or my thoughts. I'm learning to listen to my intuition because I think my not listening to it has gotten me in trouble in the past (regarding accepting the job that I ended up hating and being stuck in for four years, regarding not moving quicker on a certain lady I was interested in).

What I most appreciated about Veazey's workshop is learning about the Mission Initiatives and the Enduring Principles, which is part of our new evangelism focus (what we can tell others what the church is about). In fact, as some people shared, our Enduring Principles have inspired at least one person to join our church. A lady read them and felt that this was exactly what she is looking for in a church. The Enduring Principles are: Grace and Generosity; Sacredness of Creation; Continuing Revelation; Worth of All Persons; All Are Called; Responsible Choices; Pursuit of Peace; Unity in Diversity; and Blessings of Community.

President Veazey shared a little about a letter he had received from a young man who was planning to commit suicide. Somehow, he had found online a copy of Veazey's Vision document from 2010. The words touched him and he wanted to contact a local congregation, which Veazey had said that his reaction to reading that was, "Oh no!" This caused some laughter because we're all too aware of how others might judge a local congregation (most run on the small side). However, the young man ended up getting baptized into the church. As a fifth generation, family heritage member, I've often been intrigued by someone who finds this church and why they join. I consider myself lucky to have been born and raised in a church family and have this church as my extended family. I think it says a lot, though, when someone discovers this church and joins because its something they are looking for. Of course, we also have people leave, too (my brother being a prime example).

The entire weekend was just an amazing experience and just one more example of Zion for me. For those who aren't familiar with the term or who have a different connotation of the term, I need to explain what this means. I am not a "Zionist" (which is a radical Jewish view that all of Palestine belongs to the Jewish people as promised by their Yahweh). In the Community of Christ, Zion was talked about for as long as I can remember. Its the belief of heaven on earth, where all will dwell in righteousness. As one church member explained it to me when I was a teenager: in Zion, you can leave your bicycle outside and it will still be there a year later. His wife corrected him and said, "Well, in Zion, someone will probably bring it back to you rather than leave it outside to get rusty." In other words, Zion is a place where people won't steal, where people don't commit violence towards one another, where peace actually reigns. Where people live in fellowship with one another and serve a common purpose.

One thing that the Community of Christ does well are the camping and retreat programs. We own campgrounds all over the country (with Samish Island in the Puget Sound being my favourite of the ones I've been to). During the summer months, we hold summer camp for children of various age groups, and reunions, where church members from congregations throughout the mission center spend a week in fellowship. It has been years since I've attended a reunion and I miss it. A week is a good amount of time to experience Zion. During reunions, people volunteer for serving and clean-up duties and my favourite is always washing dishes (with their special machines). Since I have not been able to attend a reunion, I take advantage of attending retreats. Because I feel like I'm in Zion for real, I don't lock things up and I don't worry about people stealing my things. I love the ability to let my guard down.

After such experiences, though, the adjustment back to the real world is always a little rough. I keep wondering why the real world can't experience such a place for a time. This was especially hard during my last job because my supervisor was like a psychic vampire. Every time I came to work happy, she would be on my back all day, nitpicking and control freaking on me. When I came to work in a foul mood, she'd keep her distance. It happened enough times for me to learn that she really can't stand to see someone happy at work. It was no wonder, then, why last year's Bend Institute changed my life. For it was my going to Bend Institute last year that lead to the flare ups between her and I that caused me to be liberated from the worst place I've ever worked.

For the Monday morning service, a YAPS member sang a different melody version of my all time favourite hymn: "We Are One in the Spirit." This song has special significant for me because it was the only hymn I remember being sung at my mother's baptismal service in the late 1970s. I love the melody and the lyrics. For me, it represents exactly what it means to be a Christian: "We will work with each other, we will work side by side..." and "We will walk with each other, we will walk, hand in hand..." with the closing stanza line of "And they'll know we are Christians by our love." Just an absolutely beautiful hymn that I think is unique to our church. Whenever I visit another church, I always look for this song in their hymnal and have not found one yet. Even the Mormons don't have this hymn! When I brought a few of my Mormon friends in D.C. to a church service in D.C., we actually sang "Pass It On" and "We Are One in the Spirit" (my two favourite church songs in one service?!?), my Mormon friends had never heard of either song, so this is another reason why I'm grateful that I grew up in this church.

Anyhow, because the hymn is perfect for me, when Allison said that she had heard another version and wanted to sing it, I was skeptical that it could be any good. How do you improve upon perfection?!? You can't! Well, as she sang, tears welled in my eyes it was so beautiful. Apparently, you can have a different melody for a perfect hymn and it can be just as good. Someone really should record the new version and put it on CD. Perhaps the church band "Webb of Life" can sing that song on their next CD!

Near the end of the final service, after people had shared their testimony (I had shared about taming my snark and being more inspiring about what I write), Leonard mentioned that he wanted some "old time religion"! I nearly laughed because at my work, I had discovered a CD set that features classic hymns and one of the hymns I liked was called "Old Time Religion." When I first attended Bend Institute in 2009, Leonard struck me as a Southern Baptist-style preacher. He resembles Joseph Smith III (the son of the church's founder and the first president / prophet of the Reorganization of the church) with the beard. Leonard is definitely old school, which kind of scared me at first (especially when the Bend congregation sets up tents, which conjures up images of "revivals" that were popular in the South in the past). However, Leonard gave a special prayer on my behalf last year and there is magic in his words. I had wanted to be out of my intolerable work situation and by month's end, I was. Of course, it could just be a coincidence, but a part of me thinks that the spirit world saw how desperate I was to get out of the hell I was in that I consulted a person who might be a little too evangelical for me. But, he really is a nice guy and I'm so glad that he's part of this faith community and not a Southern Baptist or something!

Bend Institute was so great this year that already, I can't wait until next year's! I hope they get someone good to be the guest minister. And even though I was thinking about not going to the Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island this year, I think I need another dose of Zion and to be on the most beautiful of campgrounds that our church owns. Even though that place is the site of one of the biggest mistakes in my life (not accepting Christine's invitation to explore the campgrounds with her in 2007), I've attended the past five retreats and have nothing but wonderful memories, particularly of the first one in 2006. This year, I thought that I'd only go if I had a lady love so she could experience something I consider special and sacred, but I'm not going to let a lack of relationship keep me from going. Besides, this may be my very last Young Adult Retreat. I'm officially "aged out" after this year ends.


T said...

You're an interesting contradiction, Sansego!

Sansego said...

How am I a contradiction?