It’s Hard to Love When They’re Trying to Hurt You

Micah Bales - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 2:00am

Most days, I go for a run. About three miles. Lately, I’ve been choosing a route that takes me along a trail that winds through a public park in the eastern tip of the District.

This past week, my run has been a struggle. Not because of the summer heat, or tired legs. Those things I can handle. My struggle has been with people. Young people. Boys throwing rocks at me as I pass, calling me names. A little girl on the playground who cocked her hand like a gun and pointed it at me, drawing attention to my whiteness.

Yesterday my struggle came in the form of violent ambush. Teenagers lay in wait for me, attacking me with fireworks. They recorded it on a cell phone for later amusement. All I could do was run, duck, and dodge.

Today, I chose not to run along the wooded paths in the park. Instead, I ran on sidewalks and streets. The more visible the better. Throughout my workout, my eyes scanned for threats. My ears listened for footsteps behind me. My body assumed that anyone moving towards me might be a danger.

We’ve lived in this neighborhood for five years. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt targeted. I’m one of very few white people in an area that is 98% African-American. My neighborhood is home to several large low-income housing developments. I stick out like a sore thumb, and people aren’t always polite.

But this last week has been different. Three separate incidents of escalating antagonism and violence while running. But wait, there’s more. Our car was also broken into. Our lawnmower was recently stolen. Last week when I was working from home, teens came into our back yard. Casually, they destroyed one of our stepping stones.

After a week like this, it’s hard to be here. It’s hard to love the people around me. I’m having a hard time seeing my neighbors as anything but a potential threat. After a week like this, I’m tempted to move. At the very least, I could build a high fence for our backyard. Rather than risking the streets, I could get a gym membership and drive miles away to exercise.

I’m not asking for your sympathy. I’m not a victim, or a hero, or anything else. I’m just a middle class white man who would like to be on good terms with his neighbors. Or at least not face taunts, theft, and violence. That would be a good start.

This is a confession. I’ve been trying to follow Jesus for more than ten years, and I still don’t have any clue how to love those who hate me. When those kids chased me with lit Roman Candles, I didn’t have any desire to bless them. When others threw rocks at me and called me names, I didn’t feel anything resembling love. No, the honest truth – I felt hate.

I want to be a follower of Jesus, but I have no interest in being nailed to a cross like he was. Martyrdom sounds noble when you read about it in books. That’s because it’s in a book. It’s a beautiful theory – a lie we tell ourselves to justify horror.

But when Jesus died, there was no cause, no glory, no revolution. Only people who hated him for no reason. Just his decision to submit himself to the Father’s will.

I don’t have that kind of strength. What’s worse, I’m not sure I want it. I’d rather move away, or build a fence, or get that gym membership. I’d rather avoid contact with those who want to hurt me. Let the police handle them. I’d rather do what every rational human being wants to do: Protect myself and those I love.

But what would Jesus do? Surely, somehow, he would find a way to love.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Related Posts: How Can God Love Both Me And My Enemies? How Can I Love You When You’re So Wrong?

The post It’s Hard to Love When They’re Trying to Hurt You appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Feral: A Book Recommendation

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:24am
As I write this, I'm looking out my office window here at Ploughshares Farm. In 2003, most of our fifty acres was pasture or crop land. Today it is primarily tall grass prairie and native Hoosier hardwoods. With help from various foresters and conservation folks, we have -- what I just learned thanks to this week's QuakerBooks & More selection -- "rewilded" this "tamed" piece of Indiana.

Now I grew up a city boy so the idea of doing all this was, in Quaker parlance, "not a thought that would have occurred to me." Until, that is, until Nancy and I began building our home here. We began walking the land and both realized that we were called to steward it in the best sense of that word. And the best way to live up to that spiritual call was to restore -- or rewild -- it. Today we are blessed by an abundance of bunnies, butterflies, bald eagles, deer, wild turkey, and more. Hopefully the Earth is a bit better for all this work, too. I know my soul is.

So please take a look Feral (and other Earth stewardship books) at QuakerBooks & More. It will feed your spirit.Ploughshares Sunset
Categories: Blogs

Quaker History Roundtable — With Webcast!

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 9:53am

It’s Here!

The Quaker History Roundtable opens Thursday evening, June 8. Its focus is 20th Century American Quakerism, and it will continue through Sunday morning, June 11.

If you can’t join us in person, you can watch it online. It will be webcast online here.

Background on the Roundtable is at its own webpage,

The schedule is below. (Fuller descriptions are on the QHR website.)

Thursday – June 8

7:15-7:45 PM – Chuck Fager – Opening – Welcome & Overview &


8:00-9:30 PM – Gwen Erickson: History & Historiography & Friends

Mary Craudereuff: Quaker Archives & Civil Rights &
marginalized groups

Friday – June 9

Daisy Douglas Barr of Indiana: she was a Quaker pastor, renowned for her preaching, and served at several Friends churches in the Hoosier state. She was also the head of the Ku Klux Klan’s huge women’s division during the early 1920s,, in the years that the KKK largely controlled the state.

8:00-9:00 am – Breakfast – ESR – 9:25 am Welcome by Jay Marshall, Dean of ESR

9:30-11:15 am – Betsy Cazden: Friends World Committee for Consultation & Modernism: a Critique

Guy Aiken: AFSC, Neutrality & Justice

Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch – ESR

1:15-2:45 pm – Tom Hamm: U.S. Young Friends groups and their 20th century impact

Steve Angell: The Dog That didn’t Bark: The Reunification of Canadian Yearly Meetings

3:00-4:30 pm – Janet Gardner & Dick Nurse, documentarians, on their film The Quiet Revolutionaries, showing of work-in–progress, discussion

5:00-6:00 pm – Dinner – ESR

7:30-9:00 pm – Stephen McNeil: Quakers & Japanese Americans

Lonnie Valentine: Quaker Tax Resistance, 20th Century

Saturday June 10

8:00-9:00 am – Breakfast – ESR

9:30-11:15 am – Emma Lapsansky: Quakers and 20th Century Intentional Communities

Kathy Adams: Willie Frye: Controversial North Carolina Quaker Pastor & Activist [Read by Chuck Fager]

Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch – ESR

1:30-3:00 pm – Greg Hinshaw: Friends United Meeting & The Mainline

Doug Gwyn: An overview of FGC’s first 20 years

3:15-4:30 pmArchivists’ panel & Tour (Tom Hamm leading):

Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, Swarthmore College Friends Historical Library

Mary Craudereuff, Haverford Quaker Archives

Gwen Gosney Erickson, Guilford College Friends Historical Collection

Tom Hamm, Earlham College Library Quaker archives (with tour)

5:00-6:00 pm – Dinner – ESR

7:30-9:00 pm – Isaac May: Quakers, Herbert Hoover & the 1928 Election

Larry Ingle: A Quaker Elite & Whittaker Chambers

Sunday – June 11

8:00 – 9:00 am – Breakfast – ESR

9:30-11:30 amAgenda for Research & Close

Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch – ESR & departure

The post Quaker History Roundtable — With Webcast! appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Where was the Holy Spirit Before Jesus?

Micah Bales - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 6/4/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21, & 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Before the light. Before the day and the night. Before the teeming life in the sea and on the dry land. Before anything we could see or imagine, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

There’s a long tradition of Christian thought that imagines that the Holy Spirit was somehow not present, not a tangible reality in the world, until after the resurrection of Jesus. To be fair to all those Christian thinkers, there are some passages in Scripture that point to this idea. In chapter seven of John’s gospel account, he writes that Jesus taught his followers “about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

I’m not quite sure what John meant when he said that at that time there “was no Spirit.” But I have to be sure he didn’t mean that the Spirit didn’t yet exist. Because we know that the Spirit of God has existed since before time began. This Spirit, this breath, was what hovered over the waters at creation. It’s this breath that God breathed into Adam when he gave life to our species. This breath was present with Moses in the wilderness and with Elijah up on the high mountain when he heard the still, small voice of God.

We know from our readings this morning that the Spirit of God did not somehow come into being after the resurrection of Jesus. She’s been with us all along. But scripture does teach us that our relationship with the Spirit of God has changed over time. It hasn’t always been the same.

In the beginning, at the time of our creation, we were children of God in the garden. We stood innocent and simple-minded before God. We didn’t have the knowledge of good and evil. The presence and breath of God was always with us, walking in the garden in the cool of the day.

Back in those first days, the spirit, breath, and presence of God wasn’t something we even thought about consciously. It was just reality. To live as a human being was to be immersed in God’s presence, awake to his life.

But as we all know, things changed. We got into deep conversation with that very reasonable, very convincing snake. He told us that we could be like God.

We could be like God. It was such a perfect lie – such a characteristic lie of the Devil, wasn’t it? Because of course, we were already like God. That’s how God made us. We were created in the image of God. We were filled with every good thing. We lived in unity with our creator. We reflected his beauty and love. The only thing denied to us was separation from God.

And that’s the great irony. The serpent sold us the thing we already had: The life of the Spirit. The living presence of God, hovering over the waters of our lives. We grabbed that fruit with both hands, only to realize too late that to grasp at God – to try to control God – is an act of separation from God.

So from that time onward, our relationship with God changed. We experienced separation for the first time. Our breaths were no longer his breath. The Spirit of God became something distinct, apart, distant from us. In our shame we turned away. We made clothes to hide our nakedness, to hide ourselves from the radiance that we had once experienced as totally normal.

Many years passed. Thousands of years. So long that human beings had almost completely forgotten our original connection and unity with the Creator. We forgot that our breath used to share the same character as God’s breath. That he breathed in us and gave us life as children of God.

By the time Moses came around, the Hebrew people had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. The Hebrews had forgotten everything. Like the rest of humanity, they were spiritual amnesiacs. And this is what I think that John must have meant when he said that in the days before Jesus’ resurrection “as yet there was no Spirit.” For all practical purposes, that was true. The Hebrews, the Egyptians, all the people of the world had so thoroughly forgotten who God was, forgotten what it felt like to live in unity with the Creator, that it was as if the Spirit did not even exist.

Moses had forgotten, too. It took a dramatic intervention in the form of a burning bush to get Moses to wake up to who and whose he really was.

For a while, this kind of revelation was just limited to Moses. The Spirit of God hovered over Moses. Moses spoke to Aaron, and Aaron spoke to the people. It was always three degrees of separation. When Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God, he didn’t have to convince anyone to let him go up there alone. The people begged him to leave them behind. “Hey, Moses, why don’t you go up there and talk with God in the storm cloud? We’re just gonna stay down here and try not to get struck by lightening!”

For years, Moses was the only one to talk to God. Moses was the only one experiencing the presence of God’s Spirit.

But the Spirit wouldn’t stay constrained to being in relationship with just one man. As cool as Moses was – as stylish as his wild-man beard might have been – the Spirit was gonna hover. She was gonna keep hovering wherever she wanted to hover.

And so, as we read in our Scripture this morning from the Book of Numbers, it’s not too long before the Spirit starts to break out from her relationship with Moses and starts involving more people. Moses is tired, and God knows that no one person is meant to carry the burden of God’s message all alone. And so Moses called together seventy elders of the people and laid hands on them, so that they would receive a share of the Spirit, too. And it says the Spirit rested on them, and they prophesied.

But there were a couple of guys who missed the meeting. I guess they missed the memo or something, because they didn’t know up for the ceremony. But the Spirit didn’t seem to care at all. After all, the Spirit hovers wherever she wants to hover. So while the other sixty-eight elders were up at the tent revival, getting their Holy Spirit on, Eldad and Medad started hollering and breaking out in prophecy in the middle of the camp!

Now Joshua, Moses’ right-hand man, saw that Eldad and Medad were speaking out of turn. They were running around, exciting everyone, and drawing a lot of attention to themselves as they praised God in the Spirit. So Joshua ran back to the Tent of Meeting and told Moses: “Eldad and Medad are running around prophesying. You’ve gotta stop them!”

Moses couldn’t believe what Joshua was saying. How could it possibly be a bad thing for more people to receive the Spirit of God? “Are you jealous for my sake?” he asked Joshua. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

So throughout the Old Testament we see this pattern. Human beings try to corral God into specific times and places and rituals. We try to confine him to a tent, a temple, a holy-of-holies. We say that he can only show up in certain ways and to certain people. Can the high priest talk to God? Maybe. Can an ordinary person? No way. God is too holy to touch the sinfulness of ordinary human life. Let’s leave this one to the professionals.

But the Spirit isn’t afraid to touch the creation. Throughout the Old Testament, God chooses all sorts of people to breathe his Spirit onto. Some of them are the people you’d expect – kings and priests. Others – like Amos, Micah, and Elijah – not so much. God shows up in ways and people that are unexpected.

The prophet Joel foretold something even more spectacular. For so long, the Spirit of God had only appeared to some people, some of the time. But there was a day coming, said Joel, when God would pour out his presence on everyone. Just like in the old days, the Spirit of God would hover over the whole of the creation, leaving nobody beyond the reach of God’s love.

Today, we celebrate the day of Pentecost. As Christians, we remember one specific Pentecost more than 2,000 years ago. It was a day when the Holy Spirit came with such power and universality that the early followers of Jesus said: “This is the fulfillment of Joel’s promise. God has poured out his Spirit on everyone!”

On that day of Pentecost, after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended into the sky, all of the disciples were gathered together in one place. And the breath of God started to hover like she hadn’t hovered in a very, very long time.

It says, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

The prophecy of Joel began to be fulfilled that day, as God created the church of Jesus Christ. Through his breath of life, thousands of people were knit together into a new creation, a new community, a people who walked together with God in the garden. In the midst of this fallen world, the New Jerusalem had appeared.

As followers of Jesus today, this is a reality that we are invited into. When we gather in Jesus’ name, the Holy Spirit hovers over us. The breath of God covers us, comforts us, and leads us with boldness and power. The same Spirit that created the cosmos is at work in us, revealing a new creation that heals the ancient separation.

It’s significant that the apostle Paul speaks about the life of our community in terms of the movement of the Spirit. Our faith in Jesus is made possible by the Holy Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit, dwelling within and among us, that we are able to manifest God’s love to those around us.

This happens in many ways. There are many manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, and none of us has all of them. But each manifestation – whether it be wisdom or knowledge or faith or healing or prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues or interpretation of tongues – all manifestations of the Spirit are given to us for the common good. The Spirit is still creating – guiding and empowering us to heal the world.

We are so blessed. We live in the age of the Spirit, in a time where the Spirit of God is once again hovering over the waters. She’s hovering over our lives as we seek to follow Jesus together. She’s present in our midst as we gather here, in our homes, or in any other moment when we need to be knit together in God’s love.

It’s easy to miss it. It’s tempting to think that the Holy Spirit is only showing up in the most spectacular, high-energy moments. I’ve often doubted the Spirit’s presence when there weren’t tongues of fire and obvious miracles. But I’m reminded that throughout Scripture and throughout history that the breath of God shows up in many different ways. As a whisper, as a rushing wind, as encouragement, as sudden revelation. The breath of God blows where she will.

Let’s welcome her this morning. Holy Spirit, come.

Related Posts: Is Jesus the Only Way to God? There Will Be No Tomahawk Missiles in the Kingdom of God

The post Where was the Holy Spirit Before Jesus? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

How Can God Love Both Me And My Enemies?

Micah Bales - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 8:48am

The good news of Jesus isn’t just that Jesus loves me. Of course that’s part of it, but the rabbit hole of God’s love goes way deeper than that. The really radical gospel message is this: God loves my enemies. To be like Jesus, I have to love my enemies, too.

I often don’t let this sink in enough: the incomprehensible nature of God’s love. The message that Jesus loves me, that he loves those whom I love – that’s nothing special. Any God, any religious system is going to provide that. In any human religion, the center of the moral universe is always me and mine. But Jesus points completely beyond me. His message removes me as the center of the moral universe. God himself becomes the center.

The God that Jesus points to doesn’t belong to me. He doesn’t belong to those whom I deem good people. He’s the God of all people, all creatures, all creation. God sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike.

God loves my enemies as much as he loves me. Even when they’re hurting me. God loved the enemies of Jesus, even as they were nailing him to the cross. Jesus loved his enemies so much, he was willing to lay down his life and to suffer a shameful death.

To me, that’s still incomprehensible. I have to admit, I don’t get it. To write these words is one thing; digesting their truth is another.

What it will take for me to truly believe and embrace that God loves my enemies? Jesus died for his enemies. If I’m going to be like Jesus, I have to be willing to die for my enemies.

I must be prepared to lay down my life. Not because I have to, and not because I feel guilt. Certainly not because I feel righteous. I must be ready to give up everything out of love for those who hurt, betray, and steal from me. If I am to be like Jesus, I must love those who threaten me.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. It doesn’t just feel superhuman and supernatural, but inhuman and unnatural. Nothing in my genetic makeup encourages me to love my enemies, and to pray for those who persecute me. There’s no natural instinct to risk myself for the sake of those who hate me.

And yet that’s exactly what God calls us to do. What seems natural to us, what has become natural in this fallen world, is in fact unnatural. God created the universe good, in unity with itself and with the Creator. But we live in a broken version of the love and symbiosis that God built into the creation.

The fallenness of our present reality manifests itself in how we respond to enemies. In this broken nature, forgiveness is impossible. Violence and hate are easy. It’s hard to act on what we know is right.

I need God’s guidance to respond to this world with love. I need the Spirit’s help to be able to tell the difference between justice and vengeance. I need God’s grace to see the face of Jesus in those who disappoint me, make me uncomfortable, and threaten my life.

For me, this will mean baby steps. I want to embrace Jesus’ courage on the cross, to ask God’s forgiveness for those who want to attack and kill me. But I should probably start by forgiving those who stole my lawnmower.

I need to be faithful in small things if I want to be prepared for big challenges.

Most of all, I need others to be Christ to me. I need people in my life who forgive me when I’ve done them wrong. People who show kindness to me when I’ve intended evil to them. My salvation is linked to those who show the love of Jesus when I’m only filled with hate.

I thank God for the way that he reaches out to me through others. I’m grateful for those who shine God’s light on both the righteous and unrighteous. Even when the unrighteous person is me.

Related Posts: The Kingdom of God is Not a Meritocracy How Can I Stay Awake in an Age of Distractions?

The post How Can God Love Both Me And My Enemies? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Reflection on Memorial Day

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 6:41am

I’d prefer to ignore Memorial Day; another militaristic effusion.

KIA = Killed In Action. MIA = Missing In Action. Memorial Day is every day on this road to Camp Lejeune, the Marine base on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina.

But it’s not so easy. My lifetime in the U.S. has been marked throughout by war, with intermittent periods of not-war between the big ones (mostly wth secret wars going on meantime). And even though I’ve been against war for most of it, that doesn’t really erase the memories, even if mine are from much physical distance from the battlefields. Or at least, the most visible ones.

Here are two collections of images from the perch at the edges of the killing fields. They embody memories fitting for the occasion.

The first is from the Iraq-Afghanistan war, seen from a highway that passes Camp Lejeune. I visited there many times while serving as Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville. Soon enough I began noticing these homemade banners, made by family members for Marines returning from combat. They were hung in public, on a fence next to NC Highway 24, which the troops passed by in the final moments before they arrived at the base gate.

The banners often hung there for weeks, til wind and weather knocked them down. To me they were an unheralded form of military folk art, testaments to the shared character of these wars, how their tentacles reached from a world away into the small, placid-looking houses behind the fence.

I began taking pictures of them, as documentation. By 2009, as my visiting subsided, I had dozens. I put them into a photo book, called “Priceless”– see it all hereBelow are a few more.

Two weeks: a brief homecoming, then back across the wide ocean and the big desert for more war.

Almost all the banners were made for enlisted men of the lower ranks.  They must have been so young. But not too young to be missed.

The one by an officer was among the very few that was overtly “warlike” (and religious):

Many more spoke of the urgency of clinging together to capture and preserve life.



“You and me against the world.”

“Now we can finally get hitched!”

But first . . .

And then, resuming the home work that comes with it . . .

And . . .

But behind the passion and good humor there hovered the ghosts. They didn’t cluster along the fence; I found them at that secular temple of our times, the local Wal-Mart.

I suggest sitting with this array for a moment. By 2009, when I concluded this project, more than 300 Marines from Camp Lejeune had been killed in that dismal decade’s combat. Figures for wounded weren’t readily available; but other reports suggested the ratio of wounded to dead was about sixteen to one. Plus we as a country, and of course these unnamed families, are still, endlessly, counting the cost of PTSD and other domestic fruits of these wars.

Local memorials took other forms besides the banners. I found this one the most poignant.

A memorial fleece blanket, “unbeatable” for the unbearable, at $39.95.

After that, I picked this one as a kind of favorite, at least as a goal. It remains now, as a tattered hope. Hung on that fence almost a decade ago, it still haunts: is Iraq really in our rear view mirror?

And speaking of being haunted, the second collection of images is about ghosts: the ghosts from another war, which the U.S. entered one hundred years ago last month.  That war was largely sold as — remember from history class? — “The War That Will End War.” 

In England, by the spring of 1917, the war had been dragging on for three years. And the government , besides heavy combat casualties, also had to contend with a vocal antiwar movement, which it took numerous steps to repress.

Among some of the most persistent resisters were young British Quakers. Historians suggest that in that war, about a third of draft age British Quaker males joined the army. But two thirds refused, and of these, more than a hundred served prison terms, in aptly named penitentiaries such as Wormwood Scrubs. They were strongly backed by London Yearly Meeting, where many young women joined their activism, along with many older Friends.

One of the older supporters was Joseph Southall, a Quaker from Birmingham.

Southall was a successful painter, but he was also a staunch pacifist. He didn’t buy the “war to end war” rubbish for a minute. In 1915, he joined with a radical Member of Parliament to produce the illustrations for a vehement antiwar pamphlet, The Ghosts of the Slain.

The booklet –see it all here– locates its message in a mythological setting (likely to evade government censorship of specific criticism of the real war)

In it, evil arms merchants, corrupt politicians and compliant church leaders combine to shove millions of young men into the abyss of war, where they kill each other off en masse

When there’s been sufficient savagery, the politicians send diplomats out to make 
“peace.” But these men in their crisply-pressed suits aren’t able to carry out their task in the usual fashion. The “ghosts of the slain” descend upon them, to demand change in what might today be called this war-system.

Further, as the compliant clergy gather for pompously pious war memorials, they face a rebellion of women, who denounce not only the preachers, but also the deity whose blessing they claim to be dispensing:

The womens’ anger is given full and eloquent play here:

In the end,  the warmakers are pushed off the world stage by the triumphant figure of ‘Democracy.”

A century later, Southall’s style might seem dated or even antique, and his faith in the triumph of “Democracy” naive. His booklet, and the resistance of the young British Quakers, did not end World War One, or prevent the many which have followed. 

Even so,  I recall their aspirations and efforts with gratitude. After all, the diagnosis in this stylized jeremiad is not so far off: the cries for holy war still resound, the “military industrial complex” of today dwarfs the “arms merchants” of Southall’s time, and politicians continue to disappoint (to put it mildly).

So I bow to Southall and the Quaker resisters, even while staggering under the weight of the fluttering, often frantic banners of more recent, and vibrant Lejeune vintage. Maybe especially so this year.



The post A Quaker Reflection on Memorial Day appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Tell the FCC: NO To Robocall Voicemails!

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 05/26/2017 - 5:29am

Sheesh. Enough is freaking enough.

Hey, FCC: Tell Robocallers to Leave My Voicemail The Heck Alone!
(If you agree, you can tell the FCC Here)

Anybody else who gets repeated cellphone robocalls and hates ’em, raise your hand . . .

I thought so. But some politicians (along with corporate telemarketer buddies) think differently. Now they want to be able to fill up the voicemail box on my cellphone (yours too) with automated robocall junk messages:

Washington Post: “The Republican National Committee (RNC) is backing a petition that would allow political campaigns and businesses to leave automated messages on your voicemail, without your phone having to ring.

Under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission, which has been asked to review ringless voicemail, the proposal would free telemarketers from restrictions that prevent them from robo-calling people’s cellphones without first getting their permission.

For the RNC, which filed comments in support of the petition to the FCC last week, regulations designed to limit straight-to-voicemail messaging would hinder free speech, and raise constitutional questions about the rights of political organizations. Supporters of so-called ringless voicemail don’t see them as robocalls or “calls” at all.

“[D]irect-to-voicemail technology permits a voice message to go directly to the intended recipient’s mobile voicemail via a server-to-server communication, without a call being made to the recipient’s telephone number and without a charge,” wrote the RNC.

And proponents argue that straight-to-voicemail messages don’t come with the same frustrating dinner-time disruptions that many associate with telemarketing calls.

But a host of consumer groups see the petition as an intrusive work-around, designed to skirt the law and the requirement to receive a consumers’ consent. “Americans are already fed up with unwanted calls to their cellphones, which have become increasingly common in recent years,” Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst for the advocacy group Consumers Union, said in a statement Thursday.

“The FCC shouldn’t make this problem even worse by weakening consumer protections and opening the door to unwanted voicemail messages from telemarketers and debt collectors.”

Roughly 2.4 billion robocalls are placed every month, according to the FCC, making them the top consumer complaint the agency receives. . . .”

[Emphasis added.]
Full article here. 

Let me repeat: Hey, FCC: Tell Robocallers to Leave My Voicemail The Heck Alone!  (If you agree, you can tell the FCC Here)

The post Tell the FCC: NO To Robocall Voicemails! appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

In Praise of "Loafing" -- and Retirement

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Thu, 05/25/2017 - 7:20am
As I read this morning's featured poem on "The Writer's Almanac," it seemed a good way to announce my upcoming retirement and time for more"loafing."

by Raymond Carver

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I looked into the room a moment ago,
and this is what I saw —
my chair in its place by the window,
the book turned facedown on the table.
And on the sill, the cigarette
left burning in its ashtray.
Malingerer! my uncle yelled at me
so long ago. He was right.
I’ve set aside time today,
same as every day,
for doing nothing at all.

"Loafing" by Raymond Carver from All of Us. © Knopf, 1998.  (buy now)

Despite my dad's joking that I wasn't afraid of hard work -- "Brent can watch me do it all day" -- since I began working at Sears in June 1970, I've been pretty much working full time ever since. That will end on October 31 when I retire from my present position at Friends General Conference.

I have been blessed, for the most part, with worthy work, including my current position at FGC; years at United Ways in Henry, Franklin, Jennings, and Scott counties; at the Indianapolis Center for Congregations; pastoring at Jericho Friends, Friends Memorial, and 1st United Methodist in Hillsboro, Ohio; teaching at Earlham School of Religion; being on Central Ohio Young Life staff, and much more (a truly itinerant -- or easily bored, perhaps -- minister).

But over the past year it's become clear to me that it's now time to step away from full-time employment. Time to putz around the farm, spend time with my family and friends, pray with my camera, write a bit more, read a lot more, and to "set aside time today,/ same as every day,/ for doing nothing at all." And to explore what God has in store for this next chapter in my life -- maybe leading writing, photography, or other spiritual retreats here at the farm. Or maybe "doing nothing at all." Whichever, whatever -- received in gratitude.
Categories: Blogs

The Kingdom of God is Not a Meritocracy

Micah Bales - Wed, 05/24/2017 - 2:00am

One of the most cherished beliefs in mainstream American culture is the idea that anyone can make it to the top, if they work hard enough. No matter your circumstances, you too can be healthy, happy, and whole, if only you put your mind to it.

This idea permeates pop culture, politics, and business. From Oprah Winfrey to Mark Zuckerberg, the leaders of our culture tell us that the only limit to our success is our own imagination and grit. It’s almost impossible to go a day without being exposed to a commercial message reminding us that we’re not good enough, strong enough, healthy enough – but that we can be, if we keep pushing ourselves.

American mythology is one of upward mobility. All our lives, we’ve been sold the idea that the best and brightest can have it all. And if you and I don’t have it all, well – we must not be the best and brightest. We must not deserve it. At least not yet.

This myth of American meritocracy is a tempting one, because it seems to be full of hope. Greatness is within our grasp, if we’re willing to push ourselves. Any shortcomings we experience can be explained by our lack of talent and tenacity. Our lack of merit. If our lives don’t measure up to what we were promised, we have only ourselves to blame.

Meritocracy is a powerful ideology. It directs the lives of millions, including many who consider themselves followers of Jesus. Yet Jesus never taught anything resembling meritocracy. Quite the opposite. The life and ministry of Jesus teaches us a way of downward mobility.

Through his cross, Jesus demonstrates a God who releases power, control, and security in order to show love and forgiveness. As a poor carpenter and itinerant prophet, Jesus denies the supremacy of wealth and human influence. And through his association with the outcast and despised – tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “unclean” people of his day – Jesus reveals an upside down kingdom.

The way of Jesus is the furthest thing from the meritocratic myth of corporate America. It’s a community of God that upsets all expectations of our status-seeking, results-driven society. It’s a Spirit whose power is felt on the margins of society, whose love permeates those who have lost everything. The way of Jesus is not a road to glory in any human sense. It is a path marked by humility, brokenness, and shared suffering with the poor. In this kingdom, the last will be first and the first will be last.

Through his parables, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what this kingdom might look like for us. In one of these stories, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a homeowner who goes out early in the morning to Home Depot, to hire workers for a renovation project. There are men standing around in the parking lot, waiting for work, and the homeowner agrees to pay them a decent day’s wage. They jump in the back of the homeowner’s pickup truck.

Around noon, the homeowner realizes he could use some more help, so he heads back to Home Depot and finds other laborers standing around in the parking lot. He hires them, too.

Finally, late in the day, the homeowner returns to Home Depot. There are still some men there in the parking lot. They haven’t been hired by anyone, so they’ve just been standing around all day. “Come with me,” says the homeowner. “Work for me the rest of the day, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.” The laborers don’t have anything else to do, so they agree.

It’s getting to be dinnertime, and the sun will be setting soon. The homeowner calls the workers together and gets ready to pay them. He pulls out his wallet and begins to pay each laborer, starting with those who showed up last. To everyone’s surprise, the homeowner pays the first workers a full day’s wage, as if they had spent all day hauling bags of concrete and installing drywall.

Seeing this, the rest of the workers get excited. If the homeowner is paying a full day’s wage to these men who only worked for an hour, surely the rest of the workers would be paid more! But the homeowner pays each laborer the same wage.

By the time the last laborer is paid, those who had showed up earliest begin to complain. “Listen here, mister. How are you going to pay us the same as those guys who showed up just an hour ago? You’re acting like they worked as hard as we did. We slaved away all day in the sun!”

The homeowner just shakes his head. “Come on, friend. I’m not doing any wrong by you. We agreed on a fair day’s wage, didn’t we? Are you really going to complain if I am generous with those who showed up late? It’s my money to spend as I choose, isn’t it?”

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

The reign of God isn’t about being productive, or smart, or strong, or worthy. It’s not about knowing the right people or being clever. The way of Jesus is one of radical equality, even for those who we think don’t deserve it. Why? Because God says so. It’s his world we’re living in. Doesn’t he have the right to be generous?

We all need God’s generosity. The myth of meritocracy imagines that somehow each of us can earn our daily bread. But Jesus teaches us that no one can earn grace. None of us, not the richest magnate nor the homeless man on the street can say, “I built this. I make it, I keep it, it’s mine.” The whole earth is the Lord’s; our very lives belong to him. We own nothing, we earn nothing. In the kingdom of God, all that is left to us is gratitude. 

This can be scary, but also liberating. When we realize that we can’t earn anything, we awaken to the reality that we don’t have to. Our lives don’t have to be justified by the myth of productivity. We were created by a loving God who will care for us, just like the birds of the air and the grass of the field. Bad things can still happen. Birds do die, and grass withers. But no longer must we carry the burden of earning our keep. We can’t. God doesn’t expect it, and we only stress ourselves out trying.

What does it look like to shake off the shackles of meritocracy and embrace the radical grace of God? What would it mean to share in the upside-down kingdom of Jesus? Especially for those of us who have been working all day for our wages, what does it look like for us to embrace God’s abundant generosity for everyone, including ourselves?

Related Posts: How Can I Stay Awake in an Age of Distractions? Don’t Worry, Death is Your Friend

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Categories: Blogs

William Penn & the Fruits of Technological Solitude

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 8:40pm

Last First Day I needed a brief reading to open Meeting. Feeling reflective, a little book by William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude came to mind.  

Some Fruits was first published, anonymously, in 1693, and has been in print most of the 320-plus years since. A copy of it has sat on my bookshelf for a few decades. 

Some Fruits came to be written because Penn was obliged to disappear for a couple of years. He had to beat it because of his longtime friendship with King James II.

This was an odd friendship, for many reasons: For one, Penn was prominent, yet not part of the nobility; but James had known and liked Penn’s father, an admiral in the Royal Navy. It was also odd because, as a Quaker, Penn was poles apart from James religiously, as the king had become Catholic. Nonetheless, James kept calling Penn in to chat and hang out, while leaving his royal councillors, with lots of actual state business for the monarch to conduct, waiting and fuming. 

Penn was not there just to schmooze. He had an agenda, namely nudging James toward issuing a royal declaration of religious toleration, one broad enough to end all persecution of both Quakers and Catholics, both of which were opposed by the Anglican establishment.

Penn felt he was making progress with James; but then in June 1688 his Queen, Mary of Modena, had a son, also named James, who  became his heir, the Prince of Wales, destined to become a legitimate Catholic king of England.

This prospect horrified the Anglican church and most of the British establishment, which had been increasingly Protestant since Henry VIII’s reign 150 years earlier. They decided that the new Catholic prince could not be allowed to succeed. So they hatched a plot.

James also had a daughter Mary, who had been raised Protestant and lived in Holland with her Protestant Dutch husband, William of Orange. British plotters soon came to call and invited them to become joint British monarchs in place of her father.

To cut to the chase, William and Mary accepted. Then James, his Queen and the infant prince were tossed out in an essentially bloodless coup, known to British historians as the Glorious Revolution.

James first went more or less quietly into exile; but soon decided to raise an army and try to retake the crown. He failed, but the fighting put everyone who had been Friendly to James under suspicion of joining plots against William and Mary.

And “everyone” included William Penn, never mind his Quaker protestations of nonviolence.  For awhile he stood up for himself and his reputation, even braving a couple of stints locked up in the Tower of London. Finally, though, he decided it was more prudent to slip away into the country, far from London. He stayed out of sight until the wave of suspicion receded, and he was ultimately cleared of any treasonous schemes.

In the meantime, far from the madding crowd, the bustle of the city and the hazardous whirl of its politics, Penn had time to think, and write.  He had published many essays and books, most of which connected his Quaker convert’s religious fervor to heated issues of the day.  But now, out of the swim, he reflected on more general matters of life.

It is from this time of retreat and reappraisal that his thoughts were refined and compressed into a collection of maxims and advices, that became Some Fruits of Solitude.

I didn’t turn to it because of the turbulent history surrounding its composition, though the contours of it were familiar enough; rather I hoped to find and be able to share a glimpse of this broader, deeper perspective, refracted through three centuries, beyond the tumults of the present.

And so I did. Its Preface struck just the right note for me, and I decided its opening paragraphs would serve for a reading.  And if it proved useful to Friends, I also hoped to find a version of it, online, and likely available there for free.

The Harvard Classics colophon

And sure enough, I found one, in rather distinguished company, part of a set, “The Harvard Classics,” issued a century ago. These are described as a “five foot shelf” of the cream of fiction and nonfiction, as selected by the male mandarins of New England. And Penn was not just on the list with with such worthies as Plutarch and Homer, but at the head of their number, in the first of its volumes.

My research  complete, I read over the passage from the Preface again online, as a hedge against typos and other errors. 

It was grammatically correct; but reading the digital Harvard version was a totally different and jarring experience than seeing it on the printed page. So much so, it seemed to me the disjuncture ought to be shared.

So to open worship, I read the brief passage twice: first, as it was presented in the book.  Next, as it appeared online.

I’d like to do that here, only visually. You’ll see the difference shortly. So let’s hear from William Penn, in seclusion:

Some Fruits of Solitude, from the printed Preface:

READER—This Enchiridion [or collection] I present thee with, is the Fruit of Solitude: A School few care to learn in, tho’ None instructs us better. Some Parts of it are the Result of serious Reflection: Others the Flashings of Lucid Intervals: Writ for private Satisfaction, and now publish’d for an Help to Human Conduct.  

  The Author blesseth God for his Retirement, and kisses that Gentle Hand which led him into it: For though it should prove Barren to the World, it can never do so to him.  

  He has now had some Time he could call his own; a Property he was never so much Master of before: In which he has taken a View of himself and the World; and observed wherein he hath hit and mist the Mark; What might have been done, what mended, and what avoided in his Human Conduct: Together with the Omissions and Excesses of others, as well Societies and Governments, as private Families, and Persons.

And he verily thinks, were he to live over his Life again, he could not only, with God’s Grace, serve Him, but his Neighbor and himself, better than he hath done, and have Seven Years of his Time to spare. And yet perhaps he hath not been the Worst or the Idlest Man in the World; nor is he the Oldest. And this is the rather said, that it might quicken, Thee, Reader, to lose none of the Time that is yet thine.

  There is nothing of which we are apt to be so lavish as of Time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since without it we can do nothing in this World. Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when Time shall be no more. . . .

Now, the ONLINE version:

READER—This Enchiridion [or collection] I present thee with, is the Fruit of Solitude: A School few care to learn in, tho’ None instructs us better.

Some Parts of it are the Result of serious Reflection: Others the Flashings of Lucid Intervals: Writ for private Satisfaction, and now publish’d for an Help to Human Conduct.

  The Author blesseth God for his Retirement, and kisses that Gentle Hand which led him into it: For though it should prove Barren to the World, it can never do so to him.

  He has now had some Time he could call his own; a Property he was never so much Master of before: In which he has taken a View of himself and the World;

and observed wherein he hath hit and mist the Mark; What might have been done, what mended, and what avoided in his Human Conduct:

Together with the Omissions and Excesses of others, as well Societies and Governments, as private Families, and Persons.

And he verily thinks, were he to live over his Life again, he could not only, with God’s Grace, serve Him, but his Neighbor and himself, better than he hath done, and have Seven Years of his Time to spare.

And yet perhaps he hath not been the Worst or the Idlest Man in the World; nor is he the Oldest.

And this is the rather said, that it might quicken, Thee, Reader, to lose none of the Time that is yet thine.

  There is nothing of which we are apt to be so lavish as of Time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since without it we can do nothing in this World.

Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when Time shall be no more . . . .


So, you get the idea. All these popup ads appeared on the page  I was looking at, one after another. I guess one could say that, the FRUITS are still there, I think. But the Solitude is definitely gone.

Fortunately for readers seeking the fruits online, there are other versions of this text, into which the popups have not (yet) seeped.  Which was a relief.  I’m hopeful there will be such an alternative to be found for the volume right next to Penn in the venerable Harvard “canon,” which I could not bear to look at.

Yes, it’s the Journal of John Woolman (with doubtless no extra charge for the free credit report, and plenty of big little lies, and maybe even another toilet lawsuit . . . .)




The post William Penn & the Fruits of Technological Solitude appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

The Art of Fearlessness! Many Events Planned – Including on May 27 at Spring Friends Meeting NC

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 7:41pm

Saturday May 27 at Spring Friends Meeting in Snow Camp NC (Details below).

It’s a “campaign” of Quaker events linked by a common theme, under the umbrella of the Fellowship of Quakers In the Arts:

Here are some visuals from local “fearlessness” events . . .

Kalamazoo, Michigan was on it . . .

Right behind them, down in Florida, Gainesville Friends had theirs on May 13 . . .


And then another Michigan Meeting, in Ann Arbor, kicked one off on May 16, going to May 20. And that’s not all . . . 

But down near DC, a few miles outside the Beltway, is Sandy Spring Meeting, which is gearing up for May 20 . . .

Still, I have to admit my bias here — I think the best of all will be the one at Spring Friends Meeting in snow Camp NC on Saturday May 27. Not that I’m biased,  or just because  I’m helping organize it and will have some stuff in the exhibits, — but never mind that:  just join in!

There’s more information about  Spring’s program at the Facebook page for Spring;  and about the whole project, including other “Art of Fearlessness” events at the FQA page for the project.

And watch this blog for updates.







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Categories: Blogs

Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

Micah Bales - Mon, 05/15/2017 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 5/14/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: 1 Peter 2:2-10 & John 14:1-14. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs significantly from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

I love our gospel reading this morning. I think that the reason I love it so much because I used to despise it. As a skeptical young person growing up in Kansas, this passage from John was one of the Scriptures most often used as a weapon by Bible-thumping Christians. It was a proof text, used over and over again to demonstrate that Jesus is the only way to heaven. It’s used to imply that anyone who doesn’t hold the right beliefs about Jesus is headed straight to hell.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s an powerful statement. It’s a phase that has been used so many times to bludgeon people who are seeking, skeptical, and hurting. Those who have doubts. Those who have questions. Those whose experience of the world makes it hard to believe that a loving God would arbitrarily sentence billions of people to unending torment based on something as trivial as whether those people have said a particular prayer or accepted a narrowly defined set of doctrines about Jesus.

“No one comes to the Father except through me.” From the mouths of self-righteous Christians, these words of Jesus sound like a threat. “No one comes to the Father except through me. Don’t even try it. Angry Jesus will stop you.”

For those of us gathered here in this community, we know and bear witness to the fact that this kind of bullying doesn’t represent the character of Jesus. The Jesus we know is the one who came not to condemn the world, but to save it. The Jesus of our experience is a man who was willing to lay aside everything, even his own life, to pour out the unlimited love of God on people who hated him.

That’s very different from the Jesus of the fundamentalists. It’s a different kind of God, one who is more concerned with mercy, transformation, and wholeness than with being right. This is the kind of God we meet in Jesus. He challenges the violence of the mighty and the self-righteousness of religious people. He shows shocking love and forgiveness to those whom the world judges as outcasts and sinners.

As we heard in our scripture reading this morning from first Peter, Jesus is the stone that the builders rejected. He was rejected, despised, and discarded by the builders. But he has become the chief cornerstone, the key that unlocks the cosmos. The greatest minds and most powerful rulers considered him to be worthless, but God has revealed him to be essential. Jesus is this “living stone… rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.”

Are we to believe that Jesus has come to present us with capricious threats and ultimatums? He is the rejected cornerstone, nailed to a cross by all the best and brightest. Is he here to threaten those who don’t meet the religious tests of modern day Pharisees?

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Anyone who repeats these words as a threat is no friend of Jesus. To interpret these words as a message of condemnation makes Jesus into a Pontius Pilate rather than a liberator. It turns him into a tyrant and a torturer rather than a savior worth abandoning everything for.

Jesus brings us good news of the kingdom. Jesus brings us freedom from slavery and fear. Jesus comes so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

So how are we to understand these words of Jesus? If they’re not a threat, what does it mean when Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him?

In order to understand most anything in the Bible, it’s important to zoom out a little bit. Context matters. If Jesus were saying these words while sitting on his heavenly throne, reigning in judgment – like he is depicted in Matthew 25 – that would impact their meaning. So what is the situation here, when Jesus says there’s no way to God but through him?

It turns out, these words of Jesus are part of a love song. Really! Let’s take a look at what Jesus was saying to the disciples right leading up to this.

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Back in Jesus’ time, there was a proper way to go about getting married. When a man asked a woman to marry him, if she and her family agreed, they would announce the engagement. But before they actually got married, the husband-to-be had some preparation to do. In ancient Palestine, it wasn’t like today, where newly married couples are generally expected to move into their own residence. In Jesus’ day, families were much more tight-knit. The whole family lived together. So when a woman married a man, she literally joined her husband’s extended family.

In order to make room for the new couple, it was typical for the husband-to-be to go home and build an addition onto his parents’ house. Once the construction was complete, he could go back to wherever his fiancee was and marry her. The room was prepared. They had a place to live together, under the same roof with the man’s whole extended family.

So let’s hear the words of Jesus again: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Jesus is proposing to the disciples! Now, some people might say this is kind of creepy – proposing marriage to twelve people at once. And if he was, in fact, proposing to all the people of the world – well, that would make Jesus the greatest polygamist of all time.

But once you get past the weird, “Jesus is my boyfriend” aspect of this scene, it’s actually kind of amazing. Jesus isn’t standing in judgment. He’s inviting us into an intimate relationship with him. He’s proposing that we come to live with him, as part of his Father’s household, together with the whole family of God. Jesus is singing his love song.

Have you ever played that game? You know, the one where you start flipping through the radio and try to guess in the first two seconds of a song whether it’s a pop ballad, or a praise song? I mean, I don’t know if you’ve listened to the radio lately – but have you noticed how similar praise music and love songs are? A lot of times I have to wait until I hear the words “baby baby” before I can tell the difference.

But seriously, I think this points to something important. What if our relationship with God is less like a test to be passed and more like a romance to participate in? What if following Jesus is less about having the right answers, and more about giving ourselves over to a relationship and a community bigger than ourselves?

Jesus tells the disciples that he’s leaving to go prepare a place for each of them in his Father’s house. Then he tells the disciples, “You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas, who we know is the skeptic of the group, objects. “We have no idea where you’re going! How are we supposed to find the way?”

And that’s when Jesus says it: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Like most religious people, Thomas was being very task-oriented in his faith. He wanted a method, a map, a set of rules and steps that would get him where he was going. But in response to his demand for a roadmap, Jesus points him to relationship. “Look at me, Thomas. Look at me. I am the way. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. You don’t need to keep looking. Rest in my love.”

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” All this time you’ve been looking for a system, or a set of rituals, or a test to pass that will give you connection to God. But you’ve been missing the reality who is standing right in front of you. Look into my eyes, Thomas. You haven’t really seen me yet. If you can finally see me for who I am, you’ll know the Father.

There’s a singularity in Jesus. Like his Father, Jesus is who he is. There’s no substituting for him. There’s nothing that can replace a real relationship with him. No one comes to the Father except through a genuine relationship with Jesus. We can’t just speak the right words, or have the right beliefs. We’ve got to look into his eyes. We have to experience his love. We have to see him, really see him, if we want to see the Father.

Now, I want to do something that is maybe a little silly. You remember how I said that I often have a tough time telling the difference between love songs and worship music? Well, a good example of this is the song “Only You,” by The Platters. This song came out in 1955, and it was hugely popular. It was played on jukeboxes everywhere. I’m sure you’ve heard it.

Right now, I want to invite you to hear this song again, in a fresh way. Let’s hear it as a love song to Jesus, as a reflection of the kind of passionate, personal, intimate love that he expresses for each of us in our reading this morning.

Only you can make all this world seem right
Only you can make the darkness bright
Only you and you alone can thrill me like you do
And fill my heart with love for only you

Only you can make all this change in me
For it’s true, you are my destiny
When you hold my hand I understand the magic that you do
You’re my dream come true, my one and only you

Only you…


Related Posts: How My Faith Blew Up and I Learned to be Human Again There Will Be No Tomahawk Missiles in the Kingdom of God

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Categories: Blogs

Update: Friends Central School Fires Teachers Who Invited Palestinian Speaker; Invites Him Back

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 05/12/2017 - 12:05pm

Earlier this year I posted about a controversy at Friends Central School in Philadelphia, where a Palestinian Quaker, Sa’ed Atshan, was invited to visit and speak, then abruptly disinvited & the two teachers who invited him, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa,  were suspended.  

The previous posts are  (here,  here ,  here & here).  

The news site reported on May 10 that the two teachers have now been terminated effective June 30. Along with that decision came an invitation from the school to Sa’ed Atshan to speak at Friends Central sometime in the future, on “his personal experiences and path to peace education.”

The report added that

[The suspended teachers] were offered severance pay of $5,500, but that is contingent on their dropping a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit, said Mark Schwartz, their lawyer.

“This is a ridiculous offer,” he said. “I’d be surprised if they took it. Unlike the school, these two have some principles.”

School representatives on Tuesday declined to give a reason for the terminations.




The school set up a task force to consider how to handle issues around invitations to speakers. This task force has recommended  that a nearby university Dialogue Institute be “invited to work with students and teachers to promote ‘intrareligious, interreligious, and intercultural dialogue.’”

A couple thoughts: The great Yogi Berra once said, “Predictions are hard, especially about the future.” But I’ll go out on a limb here, and predict that while I have not met Sa’ed Atshan and am unfamiliar with his scholarly or activist work, that he’ll be slow to accept such an invitation, especially in the wake of the teacher firings.

Another thought: I wonder what Friends Central students are thinking about this whole matter?

And a third: I posted an open letter to FCS students, much of which still seems pertinent as a comment. So I’ve updated it a bit, and reposted it here. (They tell me repetition is good for learning.)

A Message to students at Friends Central School:

From Chuck Fager

In late January, I visited Friends Central School (FCS) and shared a story with you, about getting arrested in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and spending the night in jail with Dr. King.

I told you that for almost 50 years, that true story had a happy ending: from the black struggle in Selma came the Voting Rights Act, which had advanced freedom, elected presidents, and made America better.

But then starting a few years back, that happy ending was snatched away. In its place came massive vote suppression, and following that,  continuing attacks on the other freedoms that democracy protects. So my story about a fight for freedom was not over after all.

At my age, I said, passing on these stories is my main contribution. It’s a passing of the torch. As for the real activism, as for the new leadership demanded by our times, — and these were my final words:
“It’s your turn.”

Now it looks as if your turn has come already.

I don’t know Sa’ed Atshan; but people I respect (like former FCS teacher Max Carter) say he’s well-informed & reasonable. Yet I gather some of his views are controversial.

I’m no expert on his views, or those issues. So maybe Atshad’s views are right, or maybe they’re mistaken; that’s not for me to say.

Instead, that’s for you to say, by hearing his views, and those of others, studying & debating them & making up your own minds.

That’s what we call education. In FCS fundraising materials, like for the “Vision2020,” it’s called “Educating for Excellence.”
We also call it freedom.

But somebody doesn’t seem to want you to exercise that freedom, or get that education.

So now the line is drawn: not only in Alabama, but right there in Wynnewood, on your campus. Not just for students, but for the two teachers who were suspended, and have now lost their jobs because of it. 

So the question now becomes: are you ready to claim and defend your freedom, as part of your education?

Or will you let an unnamed few chop off this piece of it– this important piece?

The message being sent is clear:  you may not hear these views here. That topic is verboten on this campus. Teachers who stood up for that have now paid the price: not just wth their jobs, but possibly wth their careers.

Just so you know, all this makes a mockery of the claims about  educational “excellence.” And if you accept this, there are more pieces of freedom waiting to be chopped off, like limbs from a tree, and others ready to give similar orders. 

But here’s something I learned in Selma, and not only from Dr. King:
You don’t have to comply.

An order not to hear, not to consider, not to think and debate or push back about matters of this importance –such an order may be technically legal, but it defies the higher law that we were all given minds to be used, freely and fully, for knowledge, and for seeking justice.

 One of my Quaker heroes, Philadelphia’s own Lucretia Mott, put it as well as anyone: “Truth for Authority, not Authority for Truth.” For her this was a Quaker Testimony, a central one.

Dr. King put it another way:

But you don’t have to be silenced.

In 2017, it’s easy to imagine alternatives: check your social media, you’ll see that similar attacks, — and resistance to them —  is rising all around you.

Some of the 50000+ close friends I joined with at the Resistance rally in Raleigh NC last weekend. It’s their turn too.

Spring has now come and almost gone. I read that Sa’ed Atshan has been invited to speak at FCS, sometime in the future, on a carefully limited topic. I wonder if that will really happen, under the present circumstances. i also wonder if FCS students are satisfied with this outcome. And if not, how you will respond?

But, some may say, what if we protest, and get in trouble? Look what happened to the teachers: will it cut our chances of getting into an elite college? Affect our career chances?

Who knows? Freedom, as they say in the army, isn’t free. The same often goes for achieving “excellence” in education: it’s not just book work; it can mean struggle. It takes organization, and it takes courage. In Selma it led Dr. King and me to jail; a few years later it led him to a bullet in Memphis.

But chill: chances are no one will be in mortal danger insisting on real educational excellence and freedom at FCS. If you haven’t noticed, it’s a pretty cushioned, advantaged place.

So I ask that you think about how to put these advantages to work, for your benefit now, and as training in “education for excellence” in the not-so advantaged world that awaits beyond the campus.

That’s a world in which just in the past few months since I visited FCS, the struggles for freedom have heated up on every side. Looks like they won’t leave you alone even now.

Which means, my parting words to you last month weren’t a prophecy, and not even a prediction, but simply an announcement, even more accurate now. Brothers & sisters:
“It’s your turn.”

This is the Selma, Alabama jail cell Dr. King and I were put in. It was still there in 2015, fifty years later. But this time, I wasn’t in it.

Please share this post.

The post Update: Friends Central School Fires Teachers Who Invited Palestinian Speaker; Invites Him Back appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Watergate Reruns, Richard Burr & Other Pipe Dreams

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 05/12/2017 - 7:25am

Many Americans of a certain age– who watched the unfolding of the Watergate scandal after the 1972 election, recall it, rightly, as a heroic and spellbinding drama.
In it, unexpected & unlikely champions stepped forth in Washington to snatch truth and the Constitution from the hands of a crooked president and his minions. Two southern Senators, Tennessee Republican Howard Baker and North Carolina Democrat Sam Ervin, aided by dogged special prosecutors, led this successful rescue mission.

In a fitting and unforgettable climax, the villains were sent packing: Nixon into ignominy and oblivion, many of his henchmen into prison, and the heroes to a secure place in history.

Senators Howard Baker (left) &  Sam Ervin (right).

Today, after the Comey firing & many other shocks, some of us are hoping to see this story re-enacted in and around today’s Senate. (I even thought I saw Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman skulking in the background, scribbling notes.)
Unfortunately, one of our wiser peers, retired editor & columnist Edwin Yoder, just threw a big bucket of ice water on these nostalgic fantasies. In the Raleigh NC News & Observer, he lays out the more realistic, gloomy scenarios:

“Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been touted by some admirers as a potential reincarnation of the late Sen. Sam Ervin. Ervin’s Senate select committee on campaign abuses began the unwinding of the Watergate scandal.

Its most consequential discovery was that Nixon had taped his Oval Office conversations, some of which proved to be incriminating.
Burr is no Ervin, to say the least. He is a Republican rubber stamp with a record of partisan concealment – as, for instance, keeping secret his committee’s full report on the CIA’s torture practices.

Ervin was a protector of civil liberties and a distinguished defender of public integrity: As a young legislator in the 1920s, he fought off the potential disgrace of a state “monkey law”; he served with distinction on the state Supreme Court; and as a freshman U.S. senator, he helped rid the country of McCarthyism. Before Watergate, he single-handedly defeated Nixon’s design for so-called “preventive detention” – or, in plainer words, imprisonment without trial.
A standing committee chaired by Burr and under the thumb of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would – and could – do nothing useful. Burr is not only no Ervin; he isn’t even a Howard Baker.
A more plausible idea is that of a special counsel or special prosecutor. Unfortunately, such an appointment would require the wholesale erasure of historical memory. Special prosecutors tend to spend gobs of public money – $60 million by Kenneth Starr in his priggish pursuit of President Bill Clinton, to no avail but a failed impeachment. They often come up with flimsy charges and insinuations that hang in the air and are never adjudicated . . . and they typically drag out their costly inquiries for years, without salient result.
The failure to renew the special prosecutor law was universally regarded in Washington and elsewhere as good riddance. Maybe a special prosecutor (of whom?) in the Comey matter would improve on the dismal record. The historical odds are against it.
So far, then, we must cope with a president unlike any before him, in act and attitude – certainly the most unschooled, impulsive and secretive in our history. If he is to be regulated, we need to forget precedents and think anew.”

“Forget precedents and think anew.”  Yoder is right. Binge-watching “All the President’s Men” and Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” may be a comforting diversion. But if there are real heroes in today’s tawdry melodrama, they have yet to arrive.

Maybe, good grief, this time it’s up to us.

The post Watergate Reruns, Richard Burr & Other Pipe Dreams appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Breaking: Barber Goes National – Updated

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 05/11/2017 - 12:37pm

Rev. Dr. William Barber to transition from North Carolina NAACP to join the leadership of the “New Poor People’s Campaign” [Update below.]

The Kairos Center [an organization created by Union Theological Seminary inNew York City] is excited to announce that the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II will be transitioning out of his role as the president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP in June, in order to join the growing leadership of the New Poor People’s Campaign. [The New PPC is a project of the Kairos Center.] The North Carolina NAACP announced the news in a press release this morning . . .

“Rev. Barber will focus attention on the new Poor People’s Campaign co-led by the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary, where Rev. Barber is a distinguished professor of public theology. Throughout 2017 and early 2018 he will lead trainings and organize alongside moral leaders, including poor black, brown and white communities.

The forthcoming report, ‘The Souls of Poor Folk,’ co-developed by the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Rev. Dr. Barber, and noted economists, historians and public policy experts, will explore why issues of poverty have changed or remained the same since the Poor People’s Campaign of 1967/68.

In early 2018, moral activists will lead 40 days of simultaneous direct action and civil disobedience in state capitols, Washington D.C. and the U.S. Congress.

‘Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King called for a radical ‘revolution of values’ inviting a divided nation to stand against the evils of militarism, racism, and economic injustice. In the spirit of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1967/68, we are calling for a national moral revival and for fusion coalitions in every state to come together and advance a moral agenda,’ said the Rev. Dr. Barber.

‘There is a need for moral analysis, articulation of a moral agenda, and moral activism that fuses the critique of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and national morality in a way that enables organizing among black, brown, and white people, especially in regions where great efforts have been made to keep them from forming alliances and standing together to change the political and social calculus ,’ he said.”

The story has already broken in several mainstream media sources, including ABC News and the Winston-Salem Chronicle. ABC reports [And this blog].

“Barber also leads a nonprofit called Repairers of the Breach and said that group, along with the Kairos Center, Union Theological Seminary and others will lead a movement that will concentrate on 25 states and the nation’s capital where voter suppression, poverty and other problems are prevalent. The groups plan major actions next summer, which would mark the 50th anniversary of the start of King’s campaign in 1968.”


Late on May 11, Barber sent out a letter. Here are excerpts:

I write with gratitude for each of you who have entrusted me to serve in leadership and with appreciation for the broad coalition of black, white, and brown; Christian, Muslim, Jewish and those who believe in a moral arc of the universe; young and old; gay and straight; Republican, Democrat, and unaffiliated who have joined our work over the past 12 years.

I am writing to let you know that I am stepping down from leadership of the NC NAACP in order to accept an invitation from moral leaders across the nation to serve and help lead a new Poor People’s Campaign & National Call for A Moral Revival. I feel this is a deeply spiritual call in this moment, so I’m stepping down but not stepping away from our work together in this movement.

When I first ran for State Conference President on the platform of moving “From Banquets to Battle,” my family, church and I committed to this work. In our first eight years together we were able to build a people’s coalition with strength to push reluctant Democrats to raise the minimum wage, win same day registration and voting, push back against re-segregation of schools in one of our largest districts, and free innocent black men from prison.

As a result of the work we were able to do together in that time, a foundation was laid for “Moral Mondays,” which emerged in the spring of 2013. Through sustained moral fusion organizing, with a race and class critique rooted in our deepest moral values, we pushed back against extremism for four long years to see the defeat of an extremist Republican governor, the election of more progressive members to the state Supreme Court, and the overturning of the monster voter suppression law that targeted African-Americans, according to a federal court, “with almost surgical precision.”

Our work is not over here in North Carolina. But, as you know, extremism is at work in other states and has gained power in all three branches of our federal government, much as it did here four years ago. This moment requires us to push into the national consciousness a deep moral analysis that is rooted in an agenda to combat systemic racism, poverty, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable.

This is why in this moment I am entrusting the NC NAACP to other strong leaders who can continue its work; I am not stepping away from the NAACP or from you, my NC NAACP Moral Movement family. I will continue to pastor Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro [NC], to support the NAACP’s work here in North Carolina and to serve on the national board of the NAACP. As we expand our moral fusion coalition model to over 20 other states as well as the nation’s Capitol, I am committed, as ever, to moving forward together, not one step back. . . .

Visit and learn more about how you can be involved in the Poor People Campaign’s National Call for a Moral Revival.

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Categories: Blogs

How Can I Stay Awake in an Age of Distractions?

Micah Bales - Wed, 05/10/2017 - 2:00am

This past weekend the Friends of Jesus Fellowship gathered in Barnesville, Ohio. Our theme was “Stay Awake” – drawn from the teachings of Jesus to his sleepy disciples.

Even 2,000 years before cell phones, streaming music, cable news, and video games, it was hard to stay awake. The original Jesus community struggled to stay conscious, aware, and focused on the things that matter. Even when Jesus was with them in the flesh, teaching and leading them, it was a challenge to stay grounded. Peter, James, and John couldn’t even stay awake with Jesus for one hour while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane!

When Jesus was arrested and hauled off to be executed, every single disciple fled for his life. Just hours before, they had all insisted they would die rather than abandon Jesus. Now where were they?

The first disciples struggled to stay awake and responsive to Jesus’ voice, but it seems like we have an even greater challenge. While the twelve apostles knew Jesus as a man, we today only know him through the Spirit. It’s easy to lose track of who Jesus is in our lives. It’s easy to forget that he’s even real. In the midst of so many worries, comforts, and distractions, most of us operate in a state of practical atheism.

This is certainly true for us in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. We’re all tired. We get get our priorities mixed up. We lose track of who Jesus is and where he’s calling us. Like Martha, we are worried and distracted by many things. But we need only one thing.

Our time together in Barnesville was a reminder of that one Life that gathers us together. We reconnected with the still, small voice of Jesus who speaks to us when we’re ready to listen. We are part of a Spirit-led community that draws us out of distraction and into a more true and beautiful world.

It was a joy to have several families at the gathering, and to care for one another’s children. We watched them play together as friends in the family of God. Our young ones reminded us that we are all part of a larger community of friends. We’re knitted together in the love of Jesus. I’m very grateful for the grounding and sense of place that I find as part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

Coming back home to Washington, DC, I need to remember that sense of connection and purpose. The distractions have not gone away. I spent four days unplugged from electronics, but my screens were waiting for me as soon as I left the gathering.

It’s easy to wish for a simpler, more innocent age. People have always longed for that, regardless of their circumstances. But I’m not called to that kind of nostalgia. I’m wondering how I can embrace an abundant, Spirit-filled life in the midst of urban America.

My challenge now is not to remove distractions, but rather to repurpose them for good. How can I use technology to foster greater faithfulness, connection, and resilient community? Rather than distract myself, how will I connect and focus? I need more signal and less noise. How do I get there? More importantly, how do we get there together?

Related Posts: How My Faith Blew Up and I Learned to be Human Again This is the Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For

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Categories: Blogs

Never Mind Armageddon: World War III Is Coming First — I’ve Seen the Secret Plan

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 05/05/2017 - 7:18pm

No, really: Just today I found an unimpeachable source, shown below. I saw the outline of the plan sitting there, exposed & unguarded — and, once an investigative reporter, always an investigative reporter — scooped it up.

Opening it, in an out-of-the-way corner of the undisclosed location (disguised as the checkout line of a certain big-box retailer), I whipped out my hidden camera and snapped the key pages, which are about to be revealed here, regardless of the risks.  .  .  . 

[The undisclosed location]

(And sorry, but for now you’ll just have to live without knowing the details of how Kelly Busted John, who maybe was cheating with another man.  And I didn’t check to see what the “It” is that Richard Simmons just can’t take anymore.)  After all, “War is hell.” 

Perhaps you’re tempted to snicker, or even guffaw at all this, especially considering the source.

Well, laugh if you want, but be careful, because maybe the joke is on you.

After all, this blogger is rather late to the party when it comes to exploring the ties between this paper and the Oval Office guy.  Much bigger, weightier media types have been all over it for quite awhile.

Take for instance, Bloomberg, the 800-pound gorilla of business news.  This graphic is from a 2016 cover story by Felix Gillette in a pre-election issue of its Business Week :

“In 2011, shortly after Trump announced he would not run for the Republican nomination for president, the Enquirer published an article headlined, “Millions Implore Donald Trump to Reconsider New Presidential Run.” Eventually, Trump obliged. And soon after he declared his candidacy last summer, he gave Enquirer readers a world exclusive, in which he explained why he was running. “I am the only one who can make America great again!” he wrote.

More first-person essays from Trump followed. So did a flurry of articles from the Enquirer’s staff knocking his Republican primary opponents: Ben Carson was a “bungling surgeon,” Jeb Bush had “sleazy cheating scandals,” Ted Cruz’s father was linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Each of the candidates, or their surrogates, quickly disputed the Enquirer’s reporting.) In March, the Enquirer endorsed Trump for president—its first endorsement in its 90-year history.”

[NOTE: When the Enquirer threw itself a 90th birthday party [in September of 2016, it did so at — wait for it — the Trump SoHo Hotel in Manhattan.]

And then there’s the Washington Post,  which has been singing the same song, about “The very cozy relationship between Donald Trump and the National Enquirer”, as their reporter Callum Borchers  put it:

Trump and Enquirer chief executive David Pecker are reportedly palsy — “very close,” according to the New York Daily News, and “friends for years,” according to New York magazine. Conservative radio host Michael Savage, a Trump backer, told listeners last week that “David Pecker flies to Florida from New York on Trump’s private jet.” In 2013, Trump even suggested Pecker ought to take over Time magazine. 

The apparent coziness has spawned the #TrumpLovesPecker hashtag. A representative sample from Twitter: 

[Note: this blog decided to skip the “representative sample” here; some of it may be NSFW. But determined searchers can follow the hashtag.]

So  no matter how unlikely it may seem, the Enquirer looks like about as good a showcase for this administration’s war plans as any; personally, I’d say it beats the White House press briefings all hollow. 

And you’d better read fast, because the story says that the “Go Hour” for what the paper dubs “the Mother of All Wars,” but is more formally called “Operation Clean Sweep” is expected to be given at 1500 hours (3 PM for civilians) Central Daylight Time, sometime in early May.

“History,” says their source, “will long remember this day.” (In fact, this post is being written on a day in early May, and 1500 hours has passed; so maybe today was not this extra “Mother’s Day.  Maybe.)

But enough of all that. What about “Operation Clean Sweep”?  Where will its bunched bombs & bullets take their supposedly cleansing and righteous aim?

Well, the above map makes it look like those bloody bristles will be scouring many clogged corners simultaneously. “The [South American] drug cartels,” says the Enquirer source, “Boko Haram, Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong Un, the evil ayatollahs, Operation Clean Sweep has plans for them all.” And more . . . .

Speaking of the “evil ayatollahs,” The Broom’s bristles, says the paper, will mean “sweeping sanctions across all economic sectors to bring the regime to its knees. ‘We’re done fooling around with Iran,’ said our Pentagon source.”

Moving to Syria, the stakes are being raised several notches higher: the “source” claims, “in an extraordinary move, President Trump has  authorized the use of a nuclear weapon for only the third time  in world history — and the first since World War II — to take out Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, if needed.” And once it is dropped, major military maneuvers will then be staged with other NATO allies in the Baltics, says the source, “to discourage” an expected hostile response from Russia to a nuke exploding near its border. 

“America will drop a single B61 Model 12 nuclear weapon on [Assad’s heavily shielded underground] bunker. It’s the most advanced nuclear weapon in America’s arsenal, and is known as ‘Nuclear Tsunami.'”

[The B61 nuclear bomb]

Then in two other areas the plan involves newer high-tech warfare:  For ISIS, “the ENQUIRER can report American intelligence has located  [the] ISIS mastermind, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, [they say he’s hiding in Yemen, but don’t tell anybody] and he will soon meet his maker in a “surgical strike” drone attack directed by Special Forces.”

Several thousand miles away, North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons will all be grounded and neutralized by “cyber-warriors from U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, MD, [who will] initiate a massive assault on North Korea’s radar and surface-to-air defense systems,” followed by a missiles shot by “Stingray” drones from the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.

“The drones will act in concert with intelligence assets [i.e., spies] within Kim Jong Un’s regime, which America has long cultivated. These agents will reveal Kim’s location for targeting by the drone-launched missile assault.”

[MQ25 “Stingray” carrier-launched drone]

For Europe, plans are also being readied for simultaneous raids to “swoop down” on what a CIA source told the Enquirer are ISIS-connected safe houses in “Madrid, Nice, Hamburg and Rome.”

And in Latin America, “Amphibious units from the U.S. 4th Fleet will hit narcotics production facilities throughout Mexico and South America — dealing a devastating blow to the bloodthirsty drug cartels.”

All in all, the Enquirer insists, the White House is 

marshaling and mobilizing America’s military might around the globe in preparation for giving the ‘go order’ to launch a coordinated campaign across five continents that will wipe out America’s enemies in one fell swoop!

Is this all a fever dream? Campaign rhetoric taken flight? “Alternative facts” with no more substance than the Bowling Green Massacre?

Maybe. Military experts might question the practicality of some or most of these plans. Even so, there they are, laid out at length for an audience that’s been solidly in the president’s corner for years, in a journal he has communicated with directly and in detail many times.

And Enquirer Editor-in-Chief Dylan Howard is firm in his avowal of the paper’s “standards of truth”:
“What we do, that the mainstream media doesn’t do, is that we put people through lie-detector tests to prove the validity of their information,” said Howard.  (He didn’t say the sources for this story had been thus  subjected to this “enhanced interrogation,” but the implication is plain. . . .

But polygraphs aside, given the president’s well-established track record, announcing actual military plans for an imminent new version of “World War Three” in what has been his “newspaper of record” could make as much sense as floating them anywhere else. Or maybe more. 

And ignoring or scoffing at them because of where they surfaced could make even less.


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Categories: Blogs

Nancy’s Secret Garden

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 10:11am

When we came here in fifteen or so years ago, Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden was a magical oasis tucked in the middle of a block in Key West, a small forest said to be the last undeveloped acre in the city’s Old Town neighborhood. Full of winding paths and trees it was the rarest of spaces: loved, carefully tended, and shared with the public as a gift of beauty. But even then it felt besieged. In 2012 taxes and expenses became too much and Nancy sold off parcels to developers. From an article in Key News:

The tucked-away entrance to Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden off Free School Lane in the 500 block of Simonton Street will be closed to the public after today, as finances and property taxes have forced Forrester to sell the land parcels that have housed an artist’s cottage and gallery, parrots, orchids, rare palms, meandering pathways and a meditative garden for more than four decades.

These days the garden has been reduced to a small backyard on Elizabeth Street which Nancy uses as a rescue parrot refuge. In the mornings she gives educational lectures on the birds, full of facts about their brilliant behavior, the destruction of their native habitats, and gentle lectures about how we can all protect native parrot habitats by living more lightly on the land (hint: no red palm oil or beef). From behind the fence came the sounds of a swimming pool being installed in the cutdown middle of the former garden. Nancy has life tenancy on the ill-repaired house where she lives with the parrots. 

I don’t know the details of the real estate transactions or Forrester’s finances but I find it incredible that Key West couldn’t rally around one of its living treasures. I’m glad that Nancy remains along with her parrots and I’m grateful my kids got a chance to meet her. 

Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden, Parrots, Macaws, Key West, FL

The purpose of Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden as a Parrot sanctuary in Key West, is to inspire and educate people…
Categories: Blogs

Don’t Worry. Death Is Your Friend

Micah Bales - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 2:00am

I’ve always been fascinated by death. The reality that I’m going to die is a major motivating factor in my life.

I may be a little strange. When I graduated from high school, my predominant mood was one of foreboding. I had passed this milestone, and now I was another step closer to the end. Today I’m graduating high school, tomorrow I’ll be turning fifty. Soon I’ll be six feet under.

In the middle ages, these kind of thoughts would have been normal. Medieval society was fixated on the reality of death, summed up in the Latin term Memento Mori: “Remember that you have to die.” For European Christendom, all of life fell under the shadow of death. The present took its ultimate meaning from the reality that it was all about to end.

American society, on the other hand, is almost ridiculous in its optimism. We couldn’t be more different from the death-focused culture of the Middle Ages. We view death as something to be avoided. Even to mention it is often seen as morbid at best, bad luck at worst. We should focus on the present. Better yet, focus on the future. Because it’s only getting brighter.

Despite my innate tendency to reflect on my own mortality, I’ve been deeply formed by my death-denying American upbringing. I’ve seen death’s icy gaze, but I haven’t welcomed it. I’ve fought it. Fled it. My remembrance of death has often served as an impetus to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I’ve placed great pressure on myself to accomplish something worthy of the time I’ve been alloted. Death could come at any moment. That makes it all the more important to justify how I spend my days. The worst imaginable outcome would be to look back from the moment of death and see only a life wasted.

This attitude has spurred my ambition, creativity, and exploration. It has also been a heavy burden to place on the countless mundane moments that make up an ordinary life. I’ve spent much of my time feeling guilty for not being more heroic, more daring, more prepared to smile back with pride from the brink of death. Rather than making life important, my relationship with death has made it urgent.

My relationship to death has begun to alter. For most of my life, I’ve experienced death as a foe to be outwitted and conquered. I’ve sought a life that laughs in the face of its end. But something has changed. Slowly, subtly, surprisingly, I am discovering death as a friend.

A strange sort of friend, to be sure. But I can no longer see death merely a constraint that forces me to live life to the fullest. Death is revealing itself as an integral part of my existence. To truly live, I must learn to die. Not just at some sudden moment in the future, but right now. Each day, I must learn to release my life and be handed over into death. 

I’m seeing the way a thousand little deaths accumulate. Losing a job. Giving up on a dream. Letting go of one passion to seize another. Moving to a new city. Surrendering singleness for marriage, and selfhood for parenthood. These are some of the little annihilations that make room for something new to emerge. The deaths that make real life possible.

This process of dying is more powerful than my own self-directed living. This way of dying provides me with glimpses of the cross of Jesus. In surrendering my life and will, I begin to taste the cup that he drank from. My hopes, certainties, and assurances are stripped away one by one. Nothing is left except a long walk on the road to Emmaus.

Related Posts: This is the Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For How My Faith Blew Up and I Learned to be Human Again

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Categories: Blogs

Tybee Island Light

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Sat, 04/29/2017 - 2:48pm

Because our family loves lighthouses!

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