Articles & News

Tell Congress: Don’t fall for DHS’s tricks

American Friends Service Committee - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 9:29am

Tell Congress: It's time to cut, not expand, funding for immigrant detention.

Categories: Articles & News

Kenyan Quakers Appeal for Restraint

Friends United Meeting - Wed, 09/13/2017 - 2:44pm

The leaders of all of the Kenyan Quaker yearly meetings met for a retreat in Nakuru to discern about the future of the Quaker movement in our region. During their meeting, they felt strongly led by the Holy Spirit to speak to their political leaders with a Scriptural word of warning about the threat to national unity and peace contained in their rhetoric in the lead-up to the 17 October presidential election. Here is their statement:

 

TO: HIS EXCELLECNCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA, HON. UHURU KENYATTA AND HON. RAILA ODINGA

September 14th 2017

We the leaders of Friends Church (Quakers) in Kenya, having attended a retreat on 12th September to 15th September 2017 at St. Mary’s Pastoral Centre in Nakuru, Kenya looking at the theme “Rewiring the Church for the 21st Century”, wish to express our grave concern about the rapidly deteriorating and poisoned political climate created by the two of you.

This is a major threat to Peace and National Unity.

It is increasingly becoming evident that power must be procured at any cost without regard to the lives of Kenyans and other people in the country.

Your political grandstanding, war mongering and hostile rhetoric, all in defiance of the Constitution, is not only highly dangerous to the peace of our sovereign nation but also undermines our national unity. As the Friends Church in Kenya we view this as extremely reckless and irresponsible from our leaders.

We refer to Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God”, which is in line with the Quaker peace testimony: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.”

We also remind you that in Proverbs 21:7 we learn that violence harbored in one’s heart is infectious. Violence is first a thought, then a spoken word which becomes an action and finally bloodshed. As a church that loves and promotes peace we feel called and instructed by the Lord to ask and plead with you to exercise restraint and reverse your approach. This is with the realization that as mortal men you are fallible. Please be reminded that only God exalts a man.

As Quakers we feel the dangerous effect of the reckless utterances and our prayer is that God will intervene and touch and cause you to desist from the trend which may lead to imminent bloodshed. We believe that only God has the final say in appointing leaders.

We strongly advise that the independence of constitutional bodies like the Judiciary and the IEBC should be left free to execute their duties without interference.

And to you our fellow Citizens, this is a hard time for us, let us not be carried away by the emotions of the moment, we appeal to you to exercise restraint, sobriety and promote peace.

The best Kenya is a peaceful country.
God bless our country.

Signed by:

Friends Church in Kenya
Friends United Meeting
Friends World Committee for Consultation Africa Section

 

They invite all Kenyan Friends to join us in this prophetic message by adding their names to this statement.

Categories: Articles & News

Charlottesville Quakers and the Ongoing Stand against White Nationalists

Friends Journal - Wed, 09/13/2017 - 11:21am

Charlottesville Friends in worship at Justice Park. Photo by David Lewis.

 

As Charlottesville (Va.) Meeting ended our meeting for business in worshipful silence last week, there was the sense that the meeting had accomplished something of lasting importance. In that gathering we committed to participate in the Sanctuary Movement, agreeing that our meeting should take part in the effort to shelter and protect people in need regardless of their citizenship status. We also passed a minute in support of a vigil in front of the White House to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). That first Sunday in September was the first meeting for business at Charlottesville Friends since August 12, when the rally of white nationalists converged on our city carrying torches and shouting slogans taken straight from the Nazi party. On that day Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer was killed by a white nationalist plowing his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters (the U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the attack and the FBI has said it meets the definition of domestic terrorism). Our meeting tried to deliver the most powerful rebuke we could to the purveyors of hate who descended on Charlottesville. Faced with their calls to eliminate Jews, Muslims, and people of color, we redoubled our efforts to love our neighbors. Quakers’ only possible response to an onslaught of hate can be to affirm our commitment to peace and justice.

I have been a part of Charlottesville Meeting since starting graduate school at the University of Virginia in 2014. A little over a year ago my wife, Aida, and I were married under its care. It’s relatively large for a Quaker meeting, with enough people to hold two meetings for worship each week. I’ve been on the Peace and Social Concerns Committee almost as long as I’ve been with the meeting. After the presidential election last November unleashed a wave of racial and religious hostility, the justice work of our meeting took on a fiercer urgency. The Charlottesville Meetinghouse is now adorned with new signs of support for Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community, and refugees, while our budgets for outreach have increased.

For the past eight months we’ve contemplated what it would mean to become a sanctuary congregation like Mountain View Meeting in Denver, Colorado, and to support an undocumented person who requested our help. We collaborated with several regional organizations working on immigration issues and ultimately joined a local network of other congregations committed to assisting immigrants. Yet concerns remained among us that this step should only be taken with due seasoning. The events of August 12 led the Charlottesville Friends to commit fully to the idea of sanctuary and immigrant rights.

During that weekend, opposing the forces and threats that were on display was no minor feat, and it would be understandable that some would respond by trying to move on to more comfortable issues. The night the white nationalist demonstrators arrived, my wife and I were at a community prayer service intended to denounce white supremacy. They gathered across the street from the church, carrying torches and yelling “Hail Victory!,” the English translation of the German Nazis party’s Sieg Heil. We could not see them, but as we sang with the assembled people of Charlottesville, I was sure I could hear them through the walls of the church sanctuary chanting “White Lives Matter.”

The next day Aida and I went with many members of our meeting to a worship vigil in Justice Park, about a five-minute walk from the so-called alt-right rally in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park (the “alt-right” is an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and populism). We hoped our vigil would give public expression to the nonviolence that our peace testimony demands and provide a witness against intolerance. The meeting had made signs that declared “Quakers for Peace and Justice” and “Quakers think Black Lives Matter.” We settled down to worship as overhead police helicopters made noise that filled our silence (later that day one of them would crash outside town, killing the two officers aboard). Various counter-protest groups passed by, one with musical instruments and another with a banner and a smattering of shields that made it look like a ramshackle medieval army. Some people in the park took photos of us, and a few stopped to join our worship. After about 45 minutes, we ended worship. When Aida and I left, carrying signs back to the meetinghouse, we barely avoided an approaching fascist mob waving Confederate flags and shields emblazoned with Crusaders’ crosses.

I felt afraid the entire time, afraid in the same streets where I go shopping with friends or walk with my wife after a satisfying dinner. As a Quaker of Jewish descent, I found the anti-Semitism of the new white nationalism particularly threatening. Their shouts demanded Jews leave the country; they threatened to burn down the synagogue in town and derided one of my friends who happened to walk nearby for having a Jewish appearance. Aida is Latina, and as we walked past gaggles of white nationalists armed with clubs, I was concerned for her safety as well.

 

I still don’t know what to think about the events of August 12. Did we do enough? Could we have done more? As a Quaker, I know we try to conduct ourselves in peace even as we condemn hatred. Still, the events remain too wrapped in apprehensiveness and anxiety for me to disentangle.

I am sure that the need for Quakers to speak on issues of justice became clearer to me than ever before. Seeing the white nationalists here, arrayed in battle gear as if they were going to fight a war and venting unrepeatable hatred at almost every imaginable group of people, showed that we face those who discount the very basis of our beliefs. Often the differences Quakers have with others are issues of methods; we assume a more peaceful and equal world is a goal for everyone and hence we are used to arguing about how, and not whether, to achieve it. As a consequence, it is easy to be lulled into slow or no action because of the complexities of the issues we face. Those who identify themselves as part of the alt-right unarguably do not agree with our principles. Their goal is white supremacy, and they have no qualms about provoking or using violence. They remind us that our convictions are not banal, and that to search for “that of God in everyone” has never ceased to be a provocative message since George Fox delivered it to the seekers gathered around Firbank Fell.

 

In that spirit, the Charlottesville Meeting passed a minute supporting DACA and the planned vigil at the White House. We expressed our approval for DACA by invoking the words of John Woolman: “To consider mankind otherwise than brethren, to think favors are peculiar to one nation and exclude others, plainly supposes a darkness in the understanding.” We also took steps to become a sanctuary congregation, committing to stand with immigrants and those in need. Churches participating in the New Sanctuary Movement across the nation have offered shelter to undocumented immigrants because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently does not raid houses of worship.

I do not pretend that passing minutes in a Quaker meeting for business is revolutionary or that it offers a solution to the threat of the resurgent white nationalism. I do believe that there is hope in the fact that events as horrific as August 12 can be a rallying cry for Quakers to do more, to be braver and more outspoken. Lucretia Mott once asked an audience of abolitionists, “if our principles be right, why should we be cowards?” It’s a sentiment that Quakers today are still trying to live out.

The post Charlottesville Quakers and the Ongoing Stand against White Nationalists appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

New Worldwide Quaker Map Released

Friends Journal - Wed, 09/13/2017 - 10:07am

Where are the Quakers in the world? The World Office of the Friends World Committee for Consultation released a new map of worldwide Quaker population figures, its first such release since 2012. The figures released show a Quaker population worldwide of approximately 380,000. A map showing the 2017 Quaker figures can be downloaded from the FWCC World Office.

An earlier version of this Friends Journal article compared 2017 numbers with figures from FWCC’s 2012 map, which gave a misleading indication of growth and decline in various yearly meetings. FWCC wrote to us that the “numbers are so small that the kind of simplistic statistical analysis” won’t give accurate results. They explained:

We collect the data that is available from all kinds and sizes of monthly and yearly meetings who count Friends in many different ways. We gather the data with an appreciation for differing definitions and even levels of membership. In our non-hierarchical relationship with the Quaker family, we work with what we are given. It is far from being an exact process; rather, we offer the gift of helping us all see a visual representation of where Friends live and worship.

This inconsistency exists within each Section, including in North America, where meetings do not have a standard way to count their members, attenders, and children. FWCC has the task and the good fortune to be inclusive and appreciative of differences within and across Sections, and indeed around the world. We would invite a similar generosity of spirit among Friends.

In this iteration, we made some decisions in the collecting and reporting of data to reflect the fact that yearly meetings acknowledge who is part of their community in different ways. Even when there are reported statistics, they do not line up categorically making comparisons difficult. Therefore there was no intention to construct “trends” by producing this new map.

 

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Categories: Articles & News

How Far Can We Take Thou Shalt Not Judge?

Friends Journal - Mon, 09/11/2017 - 7:00am

Author family photo: Jan, Woody, the author, and Joyce Payne.

 

Photo of the author’s father, along with his Purple Heart.

My 90-year-old mother reminded me recently of an awful day when Dad was in his final throes of alcoholism. He was home from the Veterans Administration mental hospital, where he spent most of the last six years of his life. They’d released him this time with a bottle of Quaaludes, a depressive drug that, when coupled with alcohol, makes the person swimmy drunk. Falling down drunk. They didn’t tell us that, and of course, when released, Dad went straight to his favorite beer joint. He then tried to drive home, with bad results. He backed into another car, whose incredulous driver was following him when he arrived at our house. He overshot the driveway, so he just turned a big circle in the neighbor’s yard. When the police arrived, following calls by both the driver and the irate neighbor, Dad was lying face down on the garage floor.

Around this time, Mom drove home from work. The officer made no attempt to help Dad and spoke to Mom like she was trash. Mom worked in the local bank, and we lived in a nice house. We were white. Given the racial nature of recent police shootings, I understand that this gave us a chance of being treated like humans. Still, the officer was determined to take this flailing wreck of a man to jail. Mom explained Dad’s frail condition and begged for help. The cop barely squeaked out a word.

Desperate to be listened to, Mom noted the name on his badge and made a connection. She told him that she worked with his best friend’s wife. He looked at her, startled. Suddenly, the tone changed. This time when she told him that Dad was a World War II veteran on leave from the VA hospital, he nodded. They agreed that if she got him back to the hospital they would not jail him. Suddenly, Mom was a person, not trash.

This story makes me think of the way we all judge people, from police to the angry black men who are so fed up they can’t take it anymore.

 

My husband has a young relative addicted to heroin. Her frantic parents try to keep track of this beloved daughter, though she frequently hides from their attempts to get her help. Last week, they got news that she was ill with infections from her needle usage. They found her and convinced her to let them take her to the emergency room. There, the doctor treated this frightened family as if they were trash. He wouldn’t even treat the young woman, saying she’d just go out and do it again. He was full of contempt, just like the scene with the cop and my mom. Unfortunately in this case, the family is Latino. They weren’t able to pull out a tidbit like knowing the doctor’s best friend to wedge their humanity inside his judgmental attitude.

Author Maia Szalavitz’s 2016 book on addiction, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, concludes that people who become addicted have developmental disorders similar to autism—in childhood, many future drug addicts share similar characteristics, like sensitivity to touch and tastes. Her theory is that there are some signals in the brain that aren’t wired right, and the drugs or alcohol complete that circuit. Addicts often say that with that first taste of the drug, they suddenly felt “right.” She wants us to stop treating addicts like criminals and start treating them as people with brain disorders.

 

I have one final story: about my own judgment of others that led to great harm. My kids’ dad, Patrick, was addicted to marijuana. In the 1970s, we didn’t give pot much thought. Most everyone my age smoked it. I didn’t like it myself, but Patrick did. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and marijuana was the only thing that calmed him down. I don’t think the term post-traumatic stress disorder had even been coined then. I didn’t realize it, but I fell in love with the “stoned” Pat. He was whip-smart, politically active, and gregarious: a great partner. But as time passed, I found that the non-stoned Pat would get angry to the point of violence. Once our kids were born, I wanted him to get treatment and get over the childish (I thought) pot smoking.

So I became the scorning, judging person. I treated the stoned, happy Patrick like he was trash. But I ran from the angry Patrick in terror. We separated, and I made sure he stayed away from marijuana for the kids’ sakes. Unfortunately, my threats worked, and they grew up with a terrifyingly angry dad.

Years later, once he had died and the kids were grown, I was at an antiwar rally when a veteran took the microphone and pleaded for marijuana to become legal, saying it was the only thing that kept him and many other veterans sane. He told how it kept the demons away after the horrors they’d experienced in combat. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized what I’d done. I’d haunted Pat’s life with my haughty superiority, heaping scorn on him, just like the cop had done to my mom, and just like the doctor had done to my husband’s relatives and their heroin-addicted daughter.

Szalavicz states: “We have this idea that if we are just cruel enough and mean enough and tough enough to people with addiction that they will suddenly wake up and stop, and that is not the case.”

Thou shalt not judge. I have never seen the wisdom of that more than in these troubled days. I hope we all remain open to examining the judging we do—of people of color, the police, or addicts—and spend a little of that negative energy trying to find reasons to understand.

The post How Far Can We Take Thou Shalt Not Judge? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

FUM Opens Search for next General Secretary

Friends United Meeting - Mon, 09/04/2017 - 9:02pm
Impromptu choir at the FUM Triennial in July.

The General Board of Friends United Meeting (FUM) has announced the opening of its search for the position of FUM General Secretary.

In accordance with the decision reached at the April 2017 FUM Board Meeting to enter into a year of transition as Colin Saxton ends his call as General Secretary and the Board searches for a new executive, the Board has released a series of documents describing both FUM and preferred qualifications for its next leader. Application deadline is November 30, 2017. The position will be filled by July 1, 2018.

“Friends United Meeting has grown in several ways in recent years. We have worked to strengthen our sense of community throughout the world; we have made progress in global partnership; we are placing renewed emphasis on evangelism; we maintain many programs that promote peace and justice; and we are developing programs to strengthen local meetings.

“The General Secretary is a key point person for the FUM family, providing inspiration and leadership for our work, and deeply involved in discerning priorities for the future.

“We trust the Lord will call the right person for this position, and we ask for everyone’s prayers. We also ask all friends to think of those persons who might be a great fit for FUM and to talk to potential candidates personally, or send suggested names to the search committee.”

More information about the position can be found here. Members of the Search Committee can be reached via search@friendsunitedmeeting.org.

Friends United Meeting (FUM) is a global fellowship of 34 Yearly Meetings (autonomous regional affiliations) and groups of the Religious Society of Friends located in Canada, Cuba, Jamaica, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States. As part of the body of Christ we carry out faith-based work in East Africa, the Caribbean, North and Central America, and Palestine.

Search Committee Members:

Ron Bryan (Iowa Yearly Meeting)

Margaret Fraser (New Association of Friends)

Greg Hinshaw (Indiana Yearly Meeting)

Joy Kelemba (Nairobi Yearly Meeting)

Cliff Loesch (Great Plains Yearly Meeting)

Frederick Martin (New England Yearly Meeting)

Judy Ritter (North Carolina Yearly Meeting)

More information about the position can be found here.
Categories: Articles & News

September Full Issue Access

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:40am
Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below). Features: “God as a Cow and the Duck Index” by Tina Tau, “Ah, Go Fly a Kite!” by Charles G. Jones, “Quaker Bestsellers” from the 2017 FGC Gathering, “Quaker Faith, Quaker Practice, and Quaker Boards” by Jacob D. Stone, “A Community Formed for Faithfulness” by Marcelle Martin, and “A Mysticism for Our Time” by🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Among Friends: Quaker Tools, New and Revisited

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:35am

If you are a Friends Journal reader who first heads to the Milestones section when a new issue arrives in your mailbox, you’re not alone. It is not at all rare, in my travels, for me to talk with a reader who tells me that this is exactly their habit. Often they will disclose this practice with a note of mild embarrassment, as though there were one right way to read the Journal and this represented a rebellious act. I am always reassuring in response. There’s nothing shameful at all about delighting in reading outlines of the remarkable lives Friends have lived.

A less common pleasure in this magazine’s pages is the memoir of a Quaker life in progress. Our editorial calendar of themed issues does not often permit much room for this genre, but this month we have the privilege of bringing you, our reader, “God as a Cow and the Duck Index,” a piece by contributor Tina Tau that brims with integrity, self-reflection, pathos, and humor. Tau’s central conceit also allowed our graphic designer, Alla Podolsky, some room for creative improvisation.

 

One of the classic Quaker lives is that of Thomas Kelly, the theologian and mystic who gave us A Testament of Devotion. I have to admit that I have always found Kelly to be one of the more relatable giants of Quaker thought, probably because his life seemed to have the kinds of imperfections I recognize in my own life and in the lives of people I know. He’s not a saint possessed of impossible selflessness, but a flesh-and-blood human with ambitions, anxieties, and disappointments, coupled with a connection to the Spirit rooted in an experience he documents with the vigor of a theologian and the descriptive flourish of a poet.

In “A Mysticism for Our Time,” L. Roger Owens delves into both A Testament of Devotion and Kelly’s letters to bring Friends Journal readers a window into Kelly’s life that illuminates just how clearly Kelly perceived and experienced the link between suffering and joy. Kelly wrote his most enduring works after emerging from a personal breakdown and depression into clarity and passion. As it happened, he would only have a few years left to live, and these in a world at the precipice of war. Not to minimize the angst so many feel in today’s U.S. political and social climate since the election of Donald Trump, but it is a gift that Owens sidesteps the opportunity to draw cheap-shot parallels between Third Reich Germany and 2017 America. There’s a deeper and more durable lesson to be taught about fear and the human condition, which we can all carry with us in crystallizing and responding to our own concerns.

The mission of Friends Journal is to communicate Quaker experience in order to connect and deepen spiritual lives. This mission, of course, rests on the assertion that the very sharing of what Friends experience can forge connections and foster depth of spirit—no matter whether the reader or viewer is a Quaker or not. “A Mysticism for Our Time” is the kind of piece that proves this assertion is grounded in truth. Owens, who is an associate professor of Christian spirituality and ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, studies a great Quaker thinker and distills a fresh and vivid definition of a key Quaker term, concern, that risks decaying into a cliche if not reexamined. It’s a powerful Quaker tool that every one of us can bring into our community, no matter how we define that community. I hope you’ll let us know what you think.

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Categories: Articles & News

Forum, September 2017

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:30am
Overworked caregivers can also use support I also have seen many, many people die, but from the other side of the bed (“A Quaker Approach to Living with Dying” by Katherine Jaramillo, FJ Aug. online). For the past 20 years, I have worked as a registered nurse. I grew up a Quaker, and my mother was a recorded Quaker minister. This past autumn, she slowly declined after breast cancer cells that were resistant to chemotherapy took off through her body like a drug-resistant organism, taking over her liver and bones. In🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

God as a Cow and the Duck Index

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:25am


I’m a city-dwelling woman, with nothing remotely agricultural going on. I have no chickens, no garden, not even a dog—but my spiritual life features livestock.

On a recent Sunday I decided to go to worship with Friends. A decade ago I was a leader in this Quaker congregation, but I’ve rarely attended in the last few years. Walking toward the meetinghouse, I saw the back of my 94-year-old friend Ann and ran up the sidewalk to pat her on the back of her blue jacket. She turned and hugged me and said, “I thought you might be here. You have a way of showing up when you’re needed. With all these deaths lately . . .” She introduced me to her companions: “She was a great clerk. I remember her saying she was a cow, and we were her calves.”

“No, no, no,” I said, laughing. “God is a cow.” I explained to her friends: “I’ve lived with cows, and you have to show up to milk them every day at the same time, or they’re in pain. It’s all about faithfulness. You have to show up for God the same way—it’s a relationship. It’s not like a river where you come and dip your cup, and it makes no difference to the river. It’s about being there for the sacred in yourself, and for . . .” I waved my arms around, indicating some kind of flow between me and an invisible something.

Ann gripped her cane and followed us into the meetinghouse. “Oh, that’s a much better twist. I like that better.”

I took a seat in the quiet meetingroom. Half an hour or so into the silence, another old friend of mine stood up. “It’s one of those days when I can feel the Spirit alive in this room, and it has moved me to stand and speak, though I don’t know yet what I’m going to say.” She spoke about the rain on the skylight and then, looking across the room, added, “My friends tell me to take myself less seriously. I see Tina here, and I remember when she told us that God was a cow.”

I shook my head, startled, wondering why this cow story was so present.

 

Like much of the stuff I know, I got this image from a dream. God, a big long-horned cow, is mad at me for not showing up reliably to milk her, and she is tossing me on her horns. After one high toss, a hand reaches out and catches me.

In my youth I was responsible for the morning milking of a Jersey cow. I loved that job: leaning my head against the huge, hairy, warm wall of cow; being skillful and rhythmic with my hands; hearing the pinging stream of milk hit the bucket; and carrying the warm bucket back to the kitchen.

I knew what a burden the cow carried. I knew it would be painful, and then make her sick if we didn’t milk her twice a day, every day, same time. I would never have decided one morning to sleep in, or to skip a milking because I had something “better” to do. I was responsible to this living being, so I made it to the barn every morning.

When I had the dream—years after I knew that cow—I’d just moved back to Oregon after working at a Quaker retreat center in Pennsylvania. We started every workday there with a half-hour of silence. I cherished that quiet time together: students, staff, teachers, sitting down in the old stone-walled meetingroom, placing ourselves in the stream of the sacred to start our day.

In Oregon, I jumped back into a noisy world. Sitting down for half an hour of silence by myself every morning wasn’t even a shadowy desire; it never occurred to me. The list—clean the sinks, plant the peas, please my boss—ran my life.

Then I had the dream. It was quite a corrective to my fantasy that my failures affected no one but me. What if my inability to sit quietly every morning was causing some living being actual pain, like a cow that doesn’t get milked? Ow!

Up to that moment, I’d operated along on the river model of God, the one I told to Ann’s friends in front of the meetinghouse. If I’m thirsty I can go down to the river, but the river doesn’t know—or care—whether I come or not. The river is enormous, endless, so big that I am irrelevant to its flowing. Not that I actually thought of God as a river, but it was a good picture of my lack of obligation and my lack of importance.

That is such a different model from the cow. The river lays no burden on me, and the metaphor doesn’t begin to get at the sense of belonging and connection, of being knitted in, that I now believe is key to living a happy life.

I understood the dream’s message, but I didn’t do anything about it.

 

In 1984, a few years before the cow dream, I had an important dream about horses. I don’t have much waking experience of horses: I can ride but not well. Nonetheless, this jeweled fairy tale of a dream, which I call “Ask for Horses,” has stayed bright in my heart for over 30 years:

I live in a mountain village in Central Asia. Some peddlers suddenly and mysteriously arrive, and lay out trade goods on a carpet. Someone taps my shoulder. I know it is the shy, ragged person called the bird-girl, who came with the peddlers.

“Don’t turn around. Do you think they will give you a gift?”

I ponder this strange question. Why would the peddlers give me a gift? Finally, I conclude that to keep the story going I have to say yes.

The voice behind me, relieved, says, “Good. Then you must ask for horses. They will expect you to choose one of the trinkets on the carpet, but they have a herd of Siberian horses off on the steppe. They will have to give them to you if you ask. They won’t like it, but they’ll do it.”

I walk all night, working up the nerve to ask. I never ask, but I believe there is still time.

This dream went very deep into my bloodstream. Ever since I heard those whispered instructions from the bird-girl, I’ve wondered about them.

Where do I say yes to the possibility of some mysterious gift?

How do I ask not for trinkets, or what’s laid out for me, but for something so amazing and alive and challenging that it will blow my life open? Something I can’t see from here, something far away.

You could say that this story played out in 1995 when I asked my second husband to marry me (after living together for four years) so we could adopt a girl from China. The two brilliant little girls that became our daughters—now in college—are surely horses in the spirit of the dream. It was hard to ask for them; I was afraid to ask. We had to travel a long way to get them, and they did indeed blow my life and heart wide open.

Though it did play out in that miraculous way on other levels of my life, I’m still in the middle of the Ask for Horses adventure. Those questions are as alive in me as they ever were.

 

The cow taught me faithfulness. The horses keep teaching me courage. Ducks, on the other hand, are on a mission for joy.

They didn’t come from a dream. They came from a book about the Nonviolent Communication program. Marshall Rosenberg, who developed NVC, suggested we have these unspoken words behind any request we make:

“Please do as I requested only if you can do so with the joy of a little child feeding a hungry duck.” (Not out of fear of punishment, or a need to please. Not from guilt, shame, duty or obligation, or desire for reward.)

Judith and Ike Lasater, who wrote a book called What We Say Matters about how Nonviolent Communication works in their family, expanded this idea into a duck index. It’s a scale of one to ten. Ten is the full-on joy of feeding hungry ducks, and one is no ducks at all. When wondering whether to do something, like go to a party or take on a job, Ike and Judith check in with themselves to see how high it is on the duck index. The prospect has to have at least five ducks for them to go ahead.

I love this concept. I am a pest with it. Whenever I hear someone trying to make a decision, I leap in with the duck index. I even have my own version, which is, “I know what a yes feels like, and everything else is a no.”

I do know what a yes feels like. It happens in my chest, like warmth; or in my belly, like a gong going off; or on my skin, like goosebumps. I know what a no feels like, too: a sinking feeling in my stomach; a flooded, confused feeling in my head. But I haven’t been good on the maybes. I can easily confuse a desire to please with a yes if I’m not paying attention. Just a couple of years ago, someone I admired, a hard-working volunteer, asked me to take over the chairmanship of a committee. I said yes because I wanted his approval, wanted to belong, and wanted to be a giver instead of a taker. I didn’t check to see if there were ducks in it. If I’d checked, there would have been three ducks: not enough. And it turned out to be full of stressful inter-committee politics. I could have saved myself a pile of grief had I paid better attention to my body’s clues before I took the job.

If I really lived my days following ducks, I’d have a lot of fun, like being in a parade. But the problem is that it’s been hard for me to accept that if it’s not a clear yes, everything else is a no. In a way, my maxim is stricter than the Lasaters’ duck index—at least they have room for gradations. Mine is stricter because I’m sorely inclined to do things in the “maybe” territory.

 

I offer these lovely teachings to anyone who will listen:

  • Cow: Be faithful to a daily practice of silence and presence and listening. Accept that what you do, or don’t do, matters to the whole.
  • Horses: Ask big. Ask bravely. Don’t settle.
  • Ducks: Do only what makes your heart sing.

Those teachings came to me and stuck to me, not because I was so wise, but because I was a mess. I was almost frantic since I was about 13. I lived in more than 40 places by the time I was 40, and several more since then. All that moving made it hard to live a life that had any discipline to it. I do now have a daily habit of meditation, but it took me about 24 years after having the cow dream to calm down enough to make it happen.

I’m also naturally inclined to settle for what’s on the table (the peddler’s carpet), not to ask big. My two marriages come to mind: I expertly squeezed myself—well past the point of hurting—into relationships where I did not quite fit. I got smaller and lonelier, and, in the case of my second husband, scared. And truly, most of my life has been lived by anything but ducks. I’ve acted a million times from fear or a sense of obligation. And I will again.

The two dreams had to be dramatic to get my attention. Ducks had to come parading into my mind like a set of bells. I’m so grateful to my animal guides—not wild creatures like a bear or wolf or eagle, but beautiful everyday animals—for recognizing my need, and sticking with me all these years.

Maybe the reason that the story of God as a cow was so present at meeting on that Sunday was because it was time to write about it. Or maybe it was because I need that story right now. Four people in the meeting had died in the span of a month. One died by jumping off a building. She too was a mother of an adopted Chinese girl; I helped support her through the Chinese adoption maze. Our daughters knew each other when they were little. And the previous Saturday, my boyfriend and I broke up after eight rich years. There’s blood and heartbreak in the water right now, and I have need of the milk of that cow. It helps to be reminded not only of my obligation to show up, but of the generosity of whatever is on the other side of this arrangement—the big invisible flank I’m leaning my head on, the warm, frothy, life-giving food.

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Ah, Go Fly a Kite!

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:20am

© Charles G. Jones

When I was a boy, people used to say that my head was always in the clouds. Looking skyward, I wondered what was up there. I watched airplanes, birds, clouds, the colors in the sky, and the breezes in the trees. When I heard an airplane or bird, my head turned upward until I spotted it. At night I dreamt about flying.

I would build a big kite out of bamboo and plastic, go to a field after school and test it, write some notes, take it home and rework it, then return the next day to test it again. At some point, I visited the kite store in San Francisco, California, and came away with a kite magazine and a few kites. The kites were fighter kites, now called “single-line maneuverable” kites. They go in the direction they are pointed until you put slack in the line; the nose shifts direction, and you pull on it. Off it goes in that new direction. “Wow! This is cool!” I thought. I began building my own. That’s about the time I discovered the American Kitefliers Association (AKA), a national kite organization full of grown people flying kites!

Kite flying has almost always taken my worries away. Once that kite leaves my hands, my worries go with it. I think it is tied to mindfulness. Many people who have hobbies or meditative activities feel stress and worries drift away, once they begin. Their stress is replaced with a sense of joy, and that joy goes with them when they leave the kite field to continue their lives.

A Quaker friend once told me that he felt that my soul was somehow tied to the great beyond, to that outer limit. At one of the Friends General Conference Gatherings in Blacksburg, Virginia, co-clerk Peggy Spohr suggested that I consider presenting a kite workshop for FGC. I started with my yearly meeting, then signed up to present at the Gathering. This past summer, I conducted my third FGC Gathering workshop.

One reason kite making fits in so well with FGC is the joy that is expressed while making kites and flying them. There are so many metaphors relating kites and flying them to the Spirit and our relationship to the Divine. Even the Hebrew word for spirit is the same as the word for wind: ruack (pronounced “roo’-akh”).

We make about four kites in our five-day Gathering workshop. The first is always an Eddy bow kite, the more stable version of the diamond kite. Then we decorate the kite before going out, where we tie the kites together and fly them cooperatively. This brings up all sorts of discussion about working together and how we need each other to “fly high.” I am reminded of the Greek myth about Daedalus and his son Icarus. Not only were they escaping prison, but I can’t help but think that they were flying toward God as they flew higher and higher. But they needed each other, and had Icarus stayed closer to his dad, they would have made it. Recall, Icarus flew too close to the sun; the wax holding his feathered wings together melted, and he plunged to his death.

We also learn how to tie several knots in the first part of the week. (This, of course, also has metaphors in life.) By learning these early in the week, we can use them throughout the week while making the other kites. We have made delta kites, indoor “floaters” made from dry cleaner bags, Rokkaku kites (Japanese hexagonal kites), box kites, and fighter kites. Typically I design my workshops so that the kites we make can be flown indoors or in very light winds, because we are usually around buildings and trees which create turbulent conditions. Our kites can be flown indoors by simply walking backward, but they can later be rebuilt with heavier sticks to fly in stronger winds when the participants get home. Also I design the kites to be dismantled so they can be safely taken home. And there is usually time to decorate the kites using permanent colored markers or acrylic paints. We always try to make time to fly them as well.

The final days of the workshop are spent building what I call the “mystery kite.” I don’t tell the workshop participants ahead of time what that kite will be, as a way to add some suspense. Really! It depends on what people want to build, in addition to what kites are more suited to that year’s participants. I always bring enough supplies to build six or seven types of kites. This gives me leeway to change throughout the week. The mystery kite tends to be more complicated, requiring skills acquired by learning throughout the week. Having a mystery kite is not unlike our life in the Spirit: oftentimes surprising; always mysterious; and, if we approach with an open mind, joyous.

What do people mean when they tell you to go fly a kite? Typically it means to get lost, go away, or leave them alone. But I find it to be a welcome invitation. Kite flying is about being joyful and loving, fun-loving and conscientious. In flying kites, like in our spiritual journeys, we must have hope, faith, and love.

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Quaker Bestsellers 2017

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:15am
Bestsellers at the FGC Gathering in Niagara Falls, New York

© Marta Rusek

1. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got it Right—and How We Can, Too

By George Lakey. Melville House, 2016. 320 pages. $26.99/hardcover; $17.99/paperback; $15.99/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Nov. 2016.)

2. Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice

By Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye. Quaker Press of FGC, 2009. 548 pages. $10/paperback. (Reviewed in FJ Nov. 2009.)

3. Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights

Edited by Harold D. Weaver Jr., Paul Kriese, and Stephen W. Angell, with Anne Steere Nash. Quaker Press of FGC, 2011. 278 pages. $23.99/paperback; $11.95/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Jan. 2012.)

4. Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One Is Incarcerated

By Becky Birtha, illustrated by Maja Kastelic. Albert Whitman & Company, 2017. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover. (Review in FJ forthcoming.)

5. George Fox’s “Book of Miracles”

By George Fox, edited by Henry J. Cadbury. Quakers Uniting in Publications, 2000. 176 pages. $10/paperback.

6. Our Life Is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey

By Marcelle Martin. Inner Light Books, 2016. 230 pages. $30/hardcover; $17.50/paperback; $10/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Aug. 2016.)

7. Tracking Down Ecological Guidance: Presence, Beauty, Survival

By Keith Helmuth. Chapel Street Editions, 2016. 243 pages. $20/paperback. (Reviewed in FJ Feb. 2016.)

8. Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal

Friends General Conference, 1996. 404 pages. $30/hardcover; $18/spiralbound. (Reviewed in FJ Apr. 1997.)

9. Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality (Second Edition)

By J. Brent Bill. Eerdmans, 2016. 159 pages. $15.99/paperback or eBook. (Reviewed in brief in FJ Apr. 2017.)

10. The Quaker Way

Adapted by the Religious Education Committee of FGC, illustrated by Signe Wilkinson. Friends General Conference, 1998. 70 pages. $7.95/paperback.

Previous FGC Gathering bestseller lists

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Quaker Faith, Quaker Practice, and Quaker Boards

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:10am
  Nonprofit boards, religious or secular, have a legal and moral mandate to manage their organizations diligently, prudently, legally, and in ways consistent with their charters. This mandate seems self-evident, but every board encounters pressures that can distract from faithful action. If these pressures are not managed, they can weaken or destroy an organization. An organizational failure is always a failure of the organization’s board🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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A Community Formed for Faithfulness

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:05am
Basic to our Quaker faith is our understanding that everyone has direct access to the living God; each of us can receive divine guidance and leadings of the Spirit. We want to hear and respond faithfully, but doing so is not easy. Human beings are hardwired to seek approval, focus on fear, and conform to the beliefs and norms of our culture. Essential to the Quaker🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Click here to join us! Already a member? Welcome back. Please use the Login box to sign in. If you would like to order by phone or have any questions, we’re here to help. Call toll-free: (800)471-6863 or contact us by email.

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A Mysticism for Our Time

Friends Journal - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 1:00am
Rediscovering the spiritual writings of Thomas R. Kelly

Thomas R. Kelly, “The Record of the Class of 1914.” Courtesy of Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College, Haverford, Pa.

While doing doctoral studies at Harvard in 1931, Thomas R. Kelly, a Quaker and author of the spiritual classic A Testament of Devotion, wrote to a friend and offered an assessment of famed British mathematician Bertrand Russell. He said that Russell seemed to him like an “intellectual monastic,” fleeing to the safety of pure logic to avoid the “infections of active existence” and the “sordid rough-and-tumble of life.”

When studying the papers of Kelly at Haverford College outside of Philadelphia, cocooned in the safety of the library’s special collections room the week after the presidential election, I was struck by this remark about Russell. I realized that many have leveled the same charge against mystics like Kelly himself. They are the ones, the story goes, who flee into an interior world of spiritual experience to escape the rough-and-tumble of actual existence.

The suggestion is not unfounded. Kelly’s thinking about mysticism was carried out under the long shadow of psychologist and philosopher William James: Kelly worked with James’s understanding of mysticism as the experience of the solitary individual. Kelly was also writing in the period following Evelyn Underhill’s influential Mysticism—its twelfth edition published during the years he was at Harvard—in which she writes that introversion is the “characteristic mystic art” that aids a contemplative in the “withdrawal of attention from the external world.”

That Kelly might be branded, then, a guide to the experiences of the inner life alone seems reasonable. My research has caused me to rethink this assessment; now I see Kelly as a mystic whose life is one of commitment to the world, not escape from it. And he can be a resource for those of us searching for a worldly engaged spirituality.

I started reading Kelly when I was 32. I remember this when seeing the mark I made in the biographical introduction to A Testament of Devotion of what Kelly was doing when he was 32. Because I wanted to explore the inner life of prayer he wrote about and lived, I was as drawn to the story of his life as I was to his writings.

A lifelong Quaker, Kelly was academically ambitious, driven, convinced that success as an academic philosopher would ensure he mattered. He received a doctorate from Hartford Theological Seminary in 1924 and began teaching at Earlham College in Indiana. But he pined for the rarefied intellectual atmosphere and prestige of an elite East Coast college. In 1930 he began work on a second doctorate at Harvard, assuming this would be his ticket east. But when he appeared for the oral defense of his dissertation in 1937, he suffered an anxiety attack; his mind went blank. Harvard refused to let him try again.

 

This failure proved the turning point in his life. It thrust him into a deep depression; his wife feared he might be suicidal. It also occasioned his most profound mystical experience, and he emerged a few months later settled, having been, as he put it in a letter to his wife, “much shaken by an experience of Presence.”

His friend Douglas Steere, a colleague at Haverford where Kelly was teaching at the time (he made it back east), summarized how many perceived the fruit of Kelly’s experience: “[A] strained period in his life was over. He moved toward adequacy. A fissure in him seemed to close, cliffs caved in and filled a chasm, and what was divided grew together within him.”

Three years later Thomas Kelly, 47 years old, died suddenly while washing dishes. The essays published in A Testament of Devotion were written in those few years between the fissures closing and his death. He died not only a scholar who wrote about mysticism, but a mystic himself, who knew firsthand that experience of spiritual solitude purported to be the essence of religion.

Far from sinking into the solitude of mystical bliss after emerging into his new, centered life, he promptly made an exhausting three-month trip to Germany in the summer of 1938, where he lectured, gave talks at German Quaker meetings, and ministered to the Quakers there who were suffering under Hitler.

The purpose of Kelly’s trip to Germany was to deliver the annual Richard Cary Lecture at the yearly meeting of German Friends. His letters home detail his painstaking preparation. He met frequently with his translator, working through the manuscript for several hours a day to render it in German. In a tribute to Kelly that was sent to his wife following his death, his translator—a Quaker woman of Jewish ancestry—said that his presence and his message were what the German Friends needed in “a time of increasing anxiety and hopelessness.”

 

From the beginning of the lecture, Kelly’s florid language is on display: he comes across as an evangelist for mystical experience, the “inner presence of the Divine Life.” His purpose is to witness to the inner experience of this divine life, this “amazing, glorious, triumphant, and miraculously victorious way of life.” He’s not offering an argument for it, or a psychology of it, following James, but a description resting upon experience.

Importantly, early on, he rejects any notion that this is a merely otherworldly experience. (In the published version of this lecture more than 20 years after its delivery, Kelly’s son cut out this section, maybe because it’s technically denser than the rest or maybe because it didn’t fit the mold of relevance for spiritual writing.) Kelly believed that the Social Gospel Movement of his time had too narrow a horizon, having bracketed out the persuading, wooing power of the Eternal. It is the one place, he noted, that he agrees with theologian Karl Barth. On the other hand, the experience he’s describing does not issue in withdrawal or flight from the world. “For,” as he puts it, “the Eternal is in Time, breaking into Time, underlying Time.” In fact, the mystical opening to an eternal “Beyond” opens simultaneously to a second beyond: “the world of earthly need and pain and joy and beauty.” There is no either-or.

This is precisely the place where Kelly’s experience makes all the difference. His weeks in Germany brought him into contact with many Quakers. He saw how they were at once struggling to live under the Nazi regime in fear, anxiety, and material want while also serving their suffering neighbors.

We learn this in a 22-page letter he wrote near the end of his trip. (Kelly spent two days in France in order to write and send home this frank letter describing the situation in Germany, fearing his letters sent from Germany were being read.) He notes in the letter that though Germany is “spruced up, slicked up,” its soul echoes hollow. If you were not a Nazi, you were always afraid, he wrote, because there’s “no law by which the police are governed.” He expresses amazement at the difficulty of getting good information, lamenting the lack of a free press because of the government’s stretching its “tentacles” deep in every news source. “There are many, many,” he writes, “who pay no attention to the newspapers. Why would they?”

But he puts a human face on these generalizations. He tells the story of a man who wouldn’t pay into a Nazi-run community fund because he was caring for the wife and children of a man in a concentration camp. This man lost his job and was also sent to a concentration camp. He expresses disgust at the signs everywhere that say “No Jews!” He writes about the courage some people display in not saying “Heil Hitler,” and the crushing blow it is to the conscience of those who do say it because they have children to feed and fear retribution. “It’s all crazy, isn’t it?” he writes. “But it’s real.”

He realizes he can’t ignore this suffering, even as he reflects on returning to the relatively safe, comfortable suburbs of Philadelphia and to his position at Haverford College. God hadn’t just shown himself to Kelly in a solitary moment of mystical experience, for as he says, “The suffering of the world is a part, too, of the life of God, and so maybe, after all, it is a revelation,” a revelation he knew couldn’t leave him unchanged.

This letter describes the context in which he gave the Cary Lecture. He believed these German Friends needed to hear both the message of the possibility of a vibrant inner life, and also how this inner life invites them into a sacrificial bearing of the burdens of their neighbors and a continued search for joy, the divine glory shimmering in the midst of sorrow.

And now we must say—it sounds blasphemous, but mystics are repeatedly charged with blasphemy—now we must say it is given to us to see the world’s suffering, throughout, and bear it, God-like, upon our shoulders, and suffer with all things and all men, and rejoice with all things and all men, and we see the hills clap their hands for joy, and we clap our hands with them.

A decade ago when I read passages like this in A Testament of Devotion, the admonitions seemed tame, tinged with poetic excess. When I read this today, knowing the context of its writing, I see it differently: it’s a summons to a vocation, the vocation of seeing and acting as one in the world settled in God, open both to the deepest pain and the hidden beauty in the midst of suffering—a call to service and to faith.

The very day I was reading this lecture, holding the 80-year-old, yellowing pages in my hands, students at Haverford College were walking out of their classes in solidarity with their classmates who have lived most of their lives in this country, though illegally, to protest President Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies. Similar walkouts were occurring on campuses across the country. That same week, Haverford students were in downtown Philadelphia protesting the police brutality they expect to continue under a Trump “law-and-order” administration.

 

Kelly’s lecture and letter resonate with these current events, not because of parallels between Nazi Germany and the victory of Trump—some have tried to make them, but that’s not my point. Rather, it is the suffering caused by fear (the fear immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, and refugees feel) that Kelly’s spirituality of a dual beyond—the Eternal Beyond, and the beyond within of suffering and joy—might prove able to guide us through, whenever such fear occurs. Just as Kelly’s presence and message were what the German Quakers needed to hear in their time of “increasing anxiety and hopelessness,” so too might the same message be needed in ours.

But this wisdom is useless if it’s not made concrete. There is no “suffering with all” in general, only concrete commitments to this or that person, this or that situation. Kelly knows this, and his most important point in the lecture is the exploration of the load-bearing wall of Quaker spirituality: the concern. A concern names the way a “cosmic suffering” and a “cosmic burden-bearing” become particular in actual existence. A concern names a “particularization”—one of Kelly’s favorite words—of God’s own care for a suffering world in the concrete reality of the life of this person, of this community. It is a “narrowing of the Eternal Imperative to a smaller group of tasks, which become uniquely ours.”

The Quakers in Germany can’t bear the burdens of all of Germany. But, when sensitized to the Spirit, they could discern how God’s care for the world could be made concrete, particular in their life together: in this caring for a neighbor, in this act of resistance, in this fleeting sharing in joy.

While he was reminding those German Quakers of something at the heart of their spirituality, he offered the rest of us a way out of the sense of being overwhelmed when we view the world’s suffering as a whole. “Again and again Friends have found springing up a deep-rooted conviction of responsibility for some specific world-situation.” For Kelly, mysticism included ineffable, inner experience, but also included a sense of the Eternal’s own turning in love toward the world, made concrete in particular lives and communities.

 

I left Haverford with these thoughts distilled into one word as I made my way back to my own community of Pittsburgh, a word that I knew, but Kelly gave to me anew: “discernment.” This is the word I want to carry, to offer to my church, the seminary where I teach, to all those who wonder how to live in the midst of suffering and fear—with the occasional upshot of joy. Discernment. How will God make concrete, particular, in my life, in my church community’s life, God’s own concern for the marginalized, displaced, and discriminated against? How will the mystical become flesh-and-blood in life’s rough-and-tumble, here and now, as it so longs to do?

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