Quaker Mystics - Wed, 05/16/2018 - 8:15am

Of a sudden
my earthly being
betrayed me

Sprouting deadly disease

What am I to think

Am I to succumb

Or fight

Where is God in this

Back I go
seeking what I know

It is blessed to give
But giving needs receiving

For long I gave
and that was holy

Now I receive
which may be holier yet

I do not fear death
a coming home to Wondrous Love

I’d just as soon
dodge pain

But I can face it calmly
pushing me
into God’s arms

Why me I won’t know in this life
Look forward to understanding in the next

Mean time I will bask
in the care and love that surrounds me

Categories: Blogs

President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminiary on Simon Jenkins article

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 4:03pm

Chalk this one up as another whisper-down-the-lane. As readers will probably remember, a few weeks ago, non-Friend Simon Jenkins wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian about the possibility of British Friends dropping God from their Faith and Practice. There were a lot of exaggerations in it; the yearly meeting session was mostly deciding whether it it felt led to start the long process of revising the document of Friends’ belief and practice. Many yearly meetings do this every generation or so. AFAIK, there was no substantive discussion on what the revisions might bring. At the time, I speculated that “Jenkins is chasing the headline to advance his own argument without regard to how his statement might polarize Friends.”

Now we have another headline chaser. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary more or less reads Jenkins’s piece aloud on his radio show (hat-tip havedanson on the Quakers subreddit). He lightly skips over the fact that Jenkins isn’t Quaker and admits to limited experience of Quaker worship. The SBTS president, Albert Mohler, repeatedly calls the Guardian article a “news report” even though it is clearly labeled as an opinion piece. If any publicity is good publicity then it’s good that non-Friends like Jenkins and now Mohler are talking about the decision-making process of a Quaker yearly meeting, but this is stupid piled on stupid.

From a media perspective, I get it: Mohler has a daily 24-minute podcast to fill. He has interns who scan buzzy news items. They rearrange the text with interstitials like “he continues, and I quote” and “he goes on to say” so that Mohler can spend five minutes reading an article without sounding like he’s just reading an article. But seriously, how does the president of a major seminary have such disregard for anything approaching academic rigor? Also: how much regurgitated junk is on the internet simply because people need to fill time? The Quaker caution about giving ministry just because you’re paid to give ministry and it’s time to give ministry seems apt in this case.

Monday, May 14, 2018 — The Briefing

Daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview
Categories: Blogs

The Embassy, the White House & the Bigots: Tears For Jerusalem.

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 05/14/2018 - 9:58am

Matthew 23:37

 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. . . .”

There’s lots that’s wrong about moving the U. S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, not least the trail of dead Palestinians.   Here I’ll focus on what might seem a sideshow, but is actually crucial to the whole project: the administration’s deadly alliance with so-called “Christian Zionists,” who were the move’s loudest promoters, and who have plenty of religious bigotry to spare.

Jeffress & friend. There’s an unconfirmed rumor that the friend was asking, “Is it okay if I say, ‘just grab ’em by the Bible?'” Here I find myself again in unusual company, agreeing with Mitt Romney, who pointed up & condemned this:   NBC News: “Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney lashed out at the decision to have a controversial evangelical leader give a blessing at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Monday, calling him a “religious bigot.”

 The Senate candidate from Utah criticized the inclusion of the Rev. Robert Jeffress — the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas who is also an an adviser to President Donald Trump. The president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year.   “Robert Jeffress says, ‘You can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell,’” Romney wrote in a tweet. “He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”  Romney is Mormon.”   Jeffress denied he was a bigot, but added that he believed Mormonism was “wrong,” and said the Southern Baptist Convention had designated it a “cult.”   “Mormonism has never been considered a part of historic Christianity. People may disagree with that view, but it’s not a view unique to me,” he said in an interview with NBC News.   COMMENT: Jeffress is, sadly, right that religious bigotry is not unique to him: lots of people share it. But there’s a difference between murderous bigotry and dissent:  after all, I happen to think there’s stuff that’s both nutty and dangerous in Mormon doctrine & theology; I also have serious doubts about various tenets in Islam, and others in some Jewish subgroups. (And did I mention my quarrels with much of so-called “Christianity”?)  Jeffress’s theology represents some of the worst of all (Speaking of “heresies from the pit of hell . . .”) and seeing him put by the White House front and center in a U.S. embassy anywhere, and especially in such a critical and hazardous spot, is way beyond belief.

Except that it’s true.

And You go, Mitt.
The death toll mounts in protests against the embassy move.  PS from the BBC:  

Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, who are both senior White House advisers, joined US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan for the ceremony.

Ivanka & Mnuchin at the opening

After Ivanka Trump had unveiled the seal of the embassy, Mr Kushner said in his address: “When President Trump makes a promise he keeps it… We have shown the world that the US can be trusted. We stand with our friends and allies.”. . .

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “What a glorious day. Remember this moment. This is history. President Trump, by recognising history, you have made history. All of us are deeply grateful.”

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday: “With this step, the US administration has cancelled its role in the peace process and has insulted the world, the Palestinian people and the Arab and the Islamic nation and it has created incitement and instability.”

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said it was “shameful to see countries participating with the US and Israel in celebrating the former’s embassy move to occupied Jerusalem in a clear and grave violation of international law”.


The post The Embassy, the White House & the Bigots: Tears For Jerusalem. appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Making meetings simpler

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 05/11/2018 - 2:44pm

British Friend Helen Drewery writes about what might be a universal desire to make Quaker organizational life simpler

How can we achieve a flexible simplicity – living by the essence of the Quaker approach but not treating old habits as sacrosanct? Early Quakers saw simplicity as stripping out of their lives the superfluous activities and things – John Woolman called them ‘cumber’ – so that they could more fully follow the leadings of the Spirit.

Making meetings simpler

Helen Drewery introduces a new project that will support growing Quaker efforts across Britain to find ways to…

Categories: Blogs

Foxy George

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 05/11/2018 - 2:40pm

Reader Carl Abbott of Multnomah Meeting in Portand, Oregon, wrote in with a bit more context about the local public school that’s shedding it’s Quaker mascot:

The Franklin High mascot  issue was very low profile here in Portland, basically raised and advocated by one person. Individuals in our meeting signed her petition, but the question did not rise to formal consideration ( I think also the case with other area meetings and churches). The question of Native American names used by schools around Oregon HAS been a substantial and difficult public issue, and I suspect that the Portland School Board was looking to avoid a quagmire. I’m supportive of the change, although it seemed to me that there have been much more important things to worry about.

Meanwhile, for your entertainment I dug out this old press release from George Fox University (whose date I can’t read). I do agree that Bruin is better than Foxy George.

Mascot press release.pdf

It looks to me like the handwriting reads Fall 70 to me. Am I going to be the only one to think that Foxy George is pretty creative in a charmingly obvious way?

Categories: Blogs

Barking up the family tree

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 6:16pm

There’s a number of common gateways for seekers to discover Quakers–activism is a common one (see last week’s QuakerSpeak interview with Lina Blount), as is plain dress (my posts on the topic are my most popular), as is childhood experiences at Quaker schools.

But a big gateway is genealogy. Over the years I’ve gotten countless emails and phone calls from excited newcomers who start off the conversation with details of their family tree (when I used to answer the Quakerbooks phone, I would let these folks go for about two minutes before gently interjecting “wow that’s fascinating!, do you wanna buy a book?!?”)

One fascinating factoid in this week’s QuakerSpeak video comes from Thomas Hamm:

If your family arrived in the United States before 1860, there’s probably a 50–50 chance that you have a Quaker ancestor somewhere.

Quaker Meetings shouldn’t try to be the gathering spots for prodigal family reunions. The early Quakers were strangers to one another, joining together because of the fire of their convictions. Ours is a living, breathing, ever evolving spiritual practice. Still: we are also a grouping of people. We look for belonging.

The longer I’m with Friends, the more I think ours is a religious community that draws strength from the tension of paradoxes. I have a soft spot for the old Quaker families. If Jesus brings some of the new people in through Beliefnet quizzes or search results, well, maybe that’s okay.

How to Research Your Quaker Ancestry

How do you know if your ancestors were Quakers? Here’s how to research your Quaker ancestry.

Categories: Blogs

Photons Don’t Phail

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 5:51pm

A few weeks ago I wrote about a New England Friends meeting that was working to share the electricity generated by its solar panels with its neighbors. In response, one of our longtime blogging Friends Doug Bennett, now of Maine’s Durham Meeting and formerly president of some college somewhere, wrote me about lyrics that its former pastor Doug Gwyn (this guy) wrote. I love both of these Dougs so of course I’ll share the link with you all, including this first stanza of “Photons Don’t Fail Us Now”:

it would be foolish to vote on the nature of a photon
as Quakers we simply approve
you can argue to the grave it’s a particle or wave
we just want to let it hit our roof

“Photons Don’t Fail Us Now,” Song Lyrics by Doug Gwyn

April 30, 2018 Former Pastor Doug Gwyn writes, “I’ve been reconnecting with First Friends Meeting in Richmond, where…

Durham Friends Meeting (Quaker)
Categories: Blogs

Words and Wounds: Reflections from Britain Yearly Meeting

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 7:32am

Words and Wounds: Reflections from Britain Yearly Meeting

I was particularly moved by the presence of our international Quaker visitors. To travel all that way just for our little gathering! It struck me that, when we say ‘our diversity is our strength’, this must include all the ways that Quakerism is expressed throughout the world. It must even include those expressions of Quakerism that make us uncomfortable. For our diversity to truly be our strength we must pay a price, and that price is the need to have deep and difficult conversations with each other, face to face, about what we hold most dear.

Words and Wounds: Reflections from Britain Yearly Meeting

Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) has discerned that now is the time to begin revising our book of discipline,…

Jolly Quaker
Categories: Blogs

Portland, Oregon high school ditching controversial ‘Quakers’ mascot

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 9:32am

On the list of religious problems, the use of “Quaker” by non-Friends is more mystery than problem. There’s the multinational giant Quaker Oats Company of course, periodically making tone deaf statement with its name. Friends of a certain age might remember 1989’s rebranded Popeye the Quaker Man and every eighteen months the laugh-out-loud Quaker Oats threatens to sue us story goes re-viral on Facebook (the page is undated and so always feels new; the incident is at least 15 years old).

There are also various schools who brand their sports teams with the Quaker name. But a Portland, Oregon, news station says that list is getting a bit smaller: Franklin High School ditching controversial ‘Quakers’ mascot

An assistant principal and another teacher told FOX 12 they shifted away from branding the school as “Quakers” several years ago. Several students also said they don’t know much about who Quakers are or the religion. Several seemed to think Benjamin Franklin, who the school is named after, was a Quaker. Franklin was not a Quaker. FOX 12 also spoke to Kelly McCurdy, who put three children through Franklin High. He said he believes the district is making a mistake and erasing tradition. “I think it’s silly, personally,” McCurdy said. “It’s not racially insensitive.”

It seems that the Fox affiliate went out of its way to find a cranky person to deplore a point no one was making. Of course it’s not racially insensitive. But these appropriated names are always… well, weird. No public school would call themselves The Jews or The Muslims or The Catholics or anything else smelling of religion. It’s a sign of how dismissed Friends are as a actual living religious movement and denomination that our nickname is considered fair game. We must turn to the local newspaper to get the real background:

Lisa Zuniga told the board that in 2014 she met Mia Pisano, a fellow Franklin High parent who is a member of the Quaker faith, and the pair started an effort to change the name. The name, they argued, violated the separation of church and state. The district, they said, should never commandeer a religious symbol or connotation for a mascot. Despite interest in the name change, Zuniga said, parents met stiff resistance from the district. It was hard to even get anyone to explain what the process would be to bring about a name change, she said.

Portland school board finds Quaker mascot name discriminatory

Franklin High’s mascot, The Quaker, is an offensive appropriation of a religious faith and must be changed, the…

Franklin High School ditching controversial ‘Quakers’ mascot

Portland Public Schools’ Education Board unanimously voted Tuesday night to ditch Franklin High School’s controversial mascot, The Quakers.

Popeye Quaker Oats Commercial 1989 80s Commercials

Popeye Quaker Oats Commercial 1989 80s Commercials

Categories: Blogs

After Blowing Up The Iran Deal: Anybody Feeling a Draft?

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 05/08/2018 - 11:32pm

After thinking about the remodeled “backing-up-new-Iranian-sanctions-with-War” scenario, I did some searching & quickly came across several disquieting facts:

1. Iran’s population is at least twice that of Iraq;
2. it’s also more homogenous, linguistically, culturally & especially religiously (90+% Shi’a Muslim; Iraq, 60/40 Shia vs Sunni); further,
3. Iranians tend to be quite proud of their country & culture even if they despise their government;


4. Iran’s land mass is also 3.5 times bigger than Iraq, with lots of mountains; (Iraq is mostly desert)
5. Teheran, the capital, is several hundred miles farther from the bases & seaports necessary to supply an invading force than, say, Baghdad; and —by the way:
6. Iran has a real army, a big one, rather than the pretend bunch of mutually hostile gangs that Saddam Hussein “led.”

Now, I’m no expert at grand military strategy. But considering how U. S. forces got their butts kicked in Iraq (& —oh, did I forget to mention Afghanistan? And, er, Vietnam?)

Not: Une part de gateau, non.

I figure that the war with Iran the Orange mob seems to be working up to is gonna be something other than a piece of cake.

But it will be huge.


So, what can we do?? I’m guessing that after this week, soon might be a good time for American parents of pre- & teenage boys to start digging around on the internet for dog-eared copies of such 1960s bestsellers as, 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft, to pass around & ponder until some very woke Millennial updates & uploads it.

Free Advance Excerpts:

10 Invent a time machine and go back to the 19th century.
11 Start to menstruate. (Better red than dead.)
18 Rent a motel room with a ewe.
19 Rent a motel room with a ram.
20 Say you’re crazy.
21 Say they’re crazy.
23 Marry J. Edgar Hoover.

Tehran, Iran to Montreal, Canada: 5858 miles.

(For backup, there are lots of YouTube videos for beginners on Quebec French.)

Just sayin’.
(I mean, Juste dire!)

The post After Blowing Up The Iran Deal: Anybody Feeling a Draft? appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Quaker Abolitionist Benjamin Lay Remembered

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 05/08/2018 - 3:02pm

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has published a piece on the rehabilitation of disowned seventeenth century Quaker rabblerouser Benjamin Lay

On Saturday, April 21, 2018, Abington Monthly Meeting unveiled a burial stone for Sarah & Benjamin Lay. The event which featured opening remarks by author Marcus Rediker and local resident and Quaker Avis Wanda McClinton was followed by a gathering in the meetinghouse in the manner of a Friends Memorial Meeting.

Abington was the first Friends meeting I ever visited and I’ve loved the story of Lay since the time I first stumbled on it (even as a kid I was enough of a local history nerd that I might have read of Lay’s antics before I ever met a Quaker). I’m personally so happy to see him get this wider recognition. The PYM piece is all-text but much of the grave marker ceremony has been posted to YouTube.

Benjamin Lay Grave Marker Ceremony

Categories: Blogs

Fired teachers sue Quaker school

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 05/08/2018 - 11:45am

Well, it’s in the courts now. The Philadelphia Inquirer headline reads Former Friends’ Central teachers sue school after firing over Palestinian professor invite while the PhillyVoice has an article on the discrimination case filed by two teachers fired by Friends’ Central School last year and the

Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa allege the Quaker school violated their civil rights by suspending and terminating them last year for supporting student protests to permit the Palestinian professor [Sa’ed Atshan] to speak. Additionally, they claim school administrators conducted a smear campaign after they were fired.

Friends Journalcovered the incident last year, as did multiple news outlets. It also came up in an interview I had with Sa’ed Atshan a few months ago. When we contacted Friends’ Central to fact-check Sa’ed’s account, the school couldn’t point to any inaccuracies but still said “we disagree with the fact pattern, including the timeframe, as described.” I still not sure what that’s even supposed to mean.

Former Friends’ Central teachers sue school after firing over Palestinian professor invite

In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ousted teachers Ariel…

Fired teachers sue Quaker school for discrimination, defamation

Lawsuit claims Friends’ Central wrongfully dismissed teachers who invited Palestinian speaker to address students

Categories: Blogs

The Spooks Vs. The Brass: Will This Duel Stop Haspel’s Rise?

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 05/08/2018 - 7:01am

As Gina Haspel prepares to face Congress and the press tomorrow in her quest to become CIA Director, there’s a duel underway in the background.

The duel is between two letters: one from a company of former spy chiefs, endorsing her nomination. The other is from a battalion of retired generals and admirals, vehemently opposing it.

Torture is the nub of the clash. Haspel ran one of the CIA’s “black sites” in which prisoners were tortured. She also helped run the whole program, and called for destruction of videotapes of torture sessions, in defiance of court orders to preserve them.

The contrast between the two letters is remarkable, and worth examining.

The Washington Post notes today that 

“To say that she was part of this [detention and interrogation] program, from a management standpoint, and is not qualified to lead the agency, is misguided,” said John Brennan, who served as CIA director under President Barack Obama.

Former CIA Director John Brennan

Brennan joined 52 other former senior national security officials in signing a letter of support for Haspel’s nomination, calling her a “true intelligence professional who brings care, integrity and a commitment to the rule of law to her work every day.” 

The full text of the Brennan letter is here. It is relatively brief, barely 400 words. The money quote:

Ms. Haspel’s qualifications to become CIA Director match or exceed those of most candidates put forward in the Agency’s 70-year history. She has spent more than 30 years of her life quietly serving America and the CIA, routinely stepping up to handle some of the most demanding assignments around the globe. Ms. Haspel is a proven leader who inspires others and has what it takes to make tough calls in times of crisis. . . . She will speak truth to power, offering unbiased intelligence to policymakers no matter how difficult the situation. 

Throughout her distinguished career, Ms. Haspel has received numerous honors, including the Intelligence Medal of Merit, the George H.W. Bush Award for Excellence in Counterterrorism, the Donovan Award and a Presidential Rank Award, the highest award in the federal service. 

Those who have served alongside Ms. Haspel have only the utmost praise and respect for her . . . . 

“Speak truth to power?” A striking phrase. Many others who served on the ground, and have had to deal with the continuing fallout of the CIA’s torture program, have also spoken, and declared a very different kind of truth.  As the Post also reports:

But more than twice as many retired military generals signed a letter opposing Haspel. [The full text of the letter is here.] “We do not accept efforts to excuse her actions relating to torture and other unlawful abuse of detainees by offering that she was ‘just following orders,’ ” they wrote. 

And rejection of the “just following orders,” which is what the CIA case for Haspel comes down to, was just the beginning. Where the spymasters’ letter was fulsome but clipped, the generals are, not to put too fine a point on it, outraged:

We urge [Senators] to examine closely the full extent of Ms. Haspel’s involvement in the rendition, detention, and interrogation program and, should you find that she played any role in carrying out, supervising, or directing the torture or abuse of people in U.S. custody, or the destruction of evidence relating to these activities, we urge you to reject her nomination.

“Any role”? Most of Haspel’s career is still secret; but the facts of her being deep into the torture program, in numerous roles, is one of the few sets of facts even the CIA has acknowledged. And for the generals this is not a quibble, but a matter of “profound concern”: 

We are deeply troubled by the prospect of someone who appears to have been intimately involved in torture being elevated to one of the most important positions of leadership in the intelligence community.. . .

In addition, former CIA general counsel John Rizzo has stated that for some period of time a person we now know to be Ms. Haspel oversaw the CIA’s entire interrogation program—a program that was rife with mismanagement and abuse.

Moreover, the generals flatly reject the excuses & assurances by Brennan and the spymasters:

We understand that some well-respected former senior government intelligence officials have spoken highly of Ms. Haspel’s experience and long record of service to the Agency. However, we do not accept efforts to excuse her actions relating to torture and other unlawful abuse of detainees by offering that she was “just following orders,” or that shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks should excuse illegal and unethical conduct. We did not accept the “just following orders” justification after World War II, and we should not accept it now. Waterboarding and other forms of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment are—and always have been—clearly unlawful. Individuals in the service of our country, even at the lowest levels, have a duty to refuse to carry out such actions.”

And that’s not all:

Moreover, Ms. Haspel appears to have been involved in inappropriate actions that went beyond what was authorized by Congress or senior officials in the executive branch. Public reports suggest that cases of detainee abuse she supervised or otherwise had an operational role in involved conduct even more abusive than what the discredited legal memos supported. In addition to her role in overseeing and implementing torture, Ms. Haspel also appears to have strongly advocated for and played a key role in carrying out an order to destroy 92 videotapes of individuals in U.S. custody being subjected to torture. She did so despite federal court orders requiring preservation of all records pertaining to detainee abuse, and over the objections of congressional leaders, the Director of National Intelligence, Director of Central Intelligence, two successive White House counsels, Department of Justice officials, and the vice president’s top lawyer. This disregard for lawful checks on the CIA’s power is troubling.

“Troubling,” indeed. More than that: it’s dangerous to the troops they command and the country they have sought to protect:

The torture and cruel treatment of prisoners undermines our national security by increasing the risks to our troops, hindering cooperation with allies, alienating populations whose support the United States needs in the struggle against terrorism, and providing a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm. It would send a terrible signal to confirm as the next Director of the CIA someone who was so intimately involved in this dark chapter of our nation’s history.

“A terrible signal.” The 108 signers’ names sprawl across three pages.

So there it is: The generals vs the spooks.

Will the brass will get to have their say at Haspel’s hearing?  Regardless, I hope their protest, for that is what it is, will be heard as the Senate works its will.

More about Gina Haspel & her life in the CIA is in yesterday’s post, here



The post The Spooks Vs. The Brass: Will This Duel Stop Haspel’s Rise? appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Continuing the Conversation

What Canst Thou Say - Mon, 05/07/2018 - 8:34am

A conversation was begun in the May issue of What Canst Thou Say around a submission from William Shetter, A Milestone Birthday, his thoughts about his ninieth birthday. Here is the continuation of the conversation and one response. We encourage Friends to continue the conversation continue the conversation by commenting to this post.

February 15-16, 2018
Two quotes from William Shetter’s answers published in the WCTS print edition caught Guest Editor Rhonda Ashurst’s attention:
“I’ve come to feel that like each of us have one life that is composed of two dimensions, one in time and the other untouched by time.
“Living in these two inescapable dimensions, time and timelessness, sets up the enormously creative tension we call “our journey”—our human adventure of discernment and discovery.” —William Shetter
Rhonda: At this stage in your life, do you have a sense of your timeless Self returning again into time and the physical body to create another human adventure?
William: No, I’ve never had any sense other than a single dependable ‘me’.
Rhonda: Do all our adventures “in time” really happen at once?
William: For me, just the opposite. That’s the part of my life that is “strung out,” giving me the sense of time in the first place. My challenging quest is for that hard-to-reach timeless part of me, not part of my everyday experience.
Rhonda: Is there some kind of progression, or is that only a human illusion? Or, perhaps it is a both/and? It is all happening in the now, and there is a progression…
William: The hesitant nature of these questions somehow signals that you’re as much baffled as everyone (at least since St. Augustine including me) is who has ever tried to understand what TIME is! …

by Jessica S.

A strong image of color came immediately to mind when I read the opening lines “the day is past and gone / the evening shades appear …”. Instead of grays and black representing the foreshortened time ahead, I found myself thinking of rich shades of blue and violet and purple. Yes, they ultimately shade into black, but before they do they are vivid and bursting with richness and unexpected beauty. I encountered these colors again when William Shetter asks “shall I endow these evening shades with a deeper, newly richer, vibrant life …?” His clear answer is “yes”, reaffirming that the evening shades are indeed saturated with intense color before they fade to black – if we strive to peer beyond.

Categories: Blogs

How Can I Know When I’ve Seen A Real Miracle?

Micah Bales - Sun, 05/06/2018 - 7:52pm

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 5/6/18, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Acts 10:44-48, 1 John 5:1-6, & John 15:9-17. 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

One of my favorite movies is Pulp Fiction. When it first came out, I was a kid, so of course I wasn’t allowed to see it. My parents watched it, and they told me that they thought it was terrible. Way too violent!

Well, like all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, Pulp Fiction has no lack of violence and gore. But, more than any other of his films, I found it deeply compelling on a variety of levels. The characters are vivid and memorable. The scenes are colorful and imaginative, managing to be both dark, tense, and hilarious at the same time.

I’ve watched Pulp Fiction a number of times over the years, and it’s entered into my own personal canon. It’s among the pieces of literature, art, and film that I come back to repeatedly for reflection and inspiration. It’s the kind of movie that grows with you. When I was a teenager, it was just fun and entertaining. But each time I’ve watched it, I’ve found a new angle to consider.

Pulp Fiction is a movie that has many storylines, many threads to follow. But I would argue that the core storyline, the key thread, is the one that follows a pair of gangsters named Jules (played by Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (played by John Travolta).

Jules and Vincent are thugs. They’re hit men, hired muscle for the crime boss Marcellus Wallace. And early in the movie, they pay a visit to a lower-level criminal who has attempted to defraud Mr. Wallace. We find out pretty quickly that the penalty for this betrayal is death. Vince and Jules summarily execute the unfaithful criminal in front of his gang.

What they don’t know is that one of these guys is hiding in the bathroom with a large revolver. The door opens, this man bursts into the room, and fires all six rounds into Vince and Jules.

And nothing happens.

The two of them stand there for a minute, processing it. Bullet holes cover the wall behind them, just barely visible on either side of their heads. The bullets must have passed within an inch of them. But they are completely unharmed.

From this point on, Pulp Fiction becomes a movie that is, at least in part, an extended theological reflection.

Vince is ready to shrug off the whole incident as a fluke. “Things like this happen.” But Jules is convinced that the two of them have just witnessed the hand of God. “This wasn’t luck. This was divine intervention.”

Vincent clearly doesn’t buy it, but with police on their way after this firefight, he placates Jules and they make their way quickly from the scene of the crime.

Fast forward to another scene towards end of the movie. Vince and Jules are sitting together, having breakfast at a diner, and they take up their theological reflection once again. Rather than describe this scene, I think it would be best if we watched it together. (Just as a warning, there’s some profanity in this clip, but I hope you’ll bear with me!)

“God got involved.”

Vince and Jules could argue and theorize about whether God had intervened in history to move the bullets and spare their lives. What happened to them may or may not have been a miracle in that sense. But for Jules, who felt the presence of God in that moment, it was a miracle regardless of the physical details. It’s not what happened; it’s the Spirit that was present in what happened. God got involved.

In our scripture readings this morning, we hear about someone else who God has called to wander the earth, Kung Fu-style, meeting people and getting into adventures. We hear the story of Peter and his journey to visit the household of Cornelius. Peter was up on a roof top praying before lunch, when a vision from God appeared to him. Something like a large sheet came down from the sky and in it were all sorts of unclean animals, that the law of Moses commanded should never be eaten. Then Peter heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”

At first, Peter resisted. “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” But the voice persisted, telling him three times that he was to get up, kill, and eat these creatures that up until now had been forbidden by God. The voice from heaven said to Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Just then, as Peter was trying to make sense of this confusing vision, men came from the household of Cornelius, inviting Peter to come visit him. Cornelius was a faithful, God-fearing man. He was also a pagan, a centurion in the Italian Cohort of the Roman legion. He was unclean and uncircumcised, outside of the household of faith. A good Jew like Peter should have nothing to do with a man like Cornelius, no matter how good his reputation and how charitable his actions.

But God had determined that the time for these barriers between peoples had come to an end. The distinction between clean and unclean, Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free were to be abolished. Despite his the fact that Cornelius lay outside the bounds of the Jewish nation, God was pleased with him. Though Peter could not see it yet, Cornelius was part of the household of faith, the church invisible, the body of Christ.

Because of God’s love for Cornelius and his family, angels came to speak with him. They told him to seek out Peter and invite him to Cornelius’ home. God got involved, setting in motion a series of events that would bring reconciliation between peoples long divided by tribal divisions and animosity.

This wasn’t easy for Peter. Peter was a good Jew. He knew the rules. He knew what to expect, how life was supposed to be lived. His worldview provided him a sense of order and predictability. Yet here, suddenly, was this experience of God’s intervention, changing the whole picture. Externally, nothing had changed. To any outside observer, Peter was just sitting on a rooftop during the heat of the day. But God got involved. The Spirit was at work. Inside Peter, something changed.

That’s how Peter ended up in the house of Cornelius, an unclean place that the Jewish law taught him he should never set foot. Peter had travelled to Cornelius’ house out of obedience to the unseen Spirit of God, the hidden power that breaks down barriers and redefines life in ways we can’t possibly see coming. This life, this Spirit touched his heart so that he knew: God was breaking down the barriers between clean and unclean, Jew and Greek, male and female.

God got involved. You know, that was the only way this was ever going to happen. Everything in Peter and Cornelius’ life argued against this apostolic visit. For Peter to step into the household of Cornelius was a transgression against everything that Peter believed that it meant to be a righteous person. To be a son of Abraham was to be separate, set apart, holy. This leading of the Spirit to visit Cornelius seemed to contradict everything that Peter knew about leading a faithful life. But he felt the touch of God, and he couldn’t go back to sleep.

Cornelius felt it, too. He knew that this whole encounter was a miracle. Only God could have brought Peter to visit his house. After years of prayer and devotion, God was doing something he had never expected. Cornelius was so overwhelmed by Peter’s arrival that he fell down at his feet and began to worship him! Peter had to tell Cornelius to get up – “Cut it out! I’m just a man like you.”

That’s kinda awkward, huh? I hate it when people fall down and start worshipping me when I visit them in their homes. Don’t you?

The truth is, this whole meeting was really uncomfortable for everyone involved. Both Cornelius and Peter knew that God had commanded them to come together, but they had no idea for what purpose. Like Jules in Pulp Fiction, they know that God has gotten a hold of them, but they don’t know where he is leading yet.

When Peter arrives, he’s basically like, “Hey… So, uh, yeah – I got your message, and God told me to come and visit you. So what did you need?” Cornelius doesn’t really know anything more. All he can say is, “Well, yeah. Very glad to have you here. You come highly recommended by the angels. So, um… Why don’t you just go ahead and tell us whatever you have on your mind? We’re interested to hear it!”

With this invitation to speak, Peter proceeds to lay out the gospel for Cornelius and the members of his household. He tells them about Jesus, about how he healed people and liberated them from demonic oppression. He tells them about how Jesus was put to death on the cross but now has been raised from the dead and reigns in a new community of God. In very simple, straightforward terms, Peter lays out the basic facts about Jesus.

And God gets involved. As Peter is speaking, everyone present notices something changing. The Holy Spirit is present with them, touching every heart. God gets involved, touching the hearts and minds of everyone present. It’s an experience that goes beyond the gospel story that Peter is sharing with them; now it’s not just the words Peter is speaking. God gets involved. They feel the presence of the Holy Spirit together. It’s a miracle.

And it says that “the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” And then Peter says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Peter orders them “to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” And they stay together for several days.

God got involved. Peter and Cornelius couldn’t have been more different from Vince and Jules from Pulp Fiction. But they have at least one thing in common: They each experienced an event that broke them free from the life and worldview that they had been traveling along. God worked a miracle in their lives. A hidden power breathed into their hearts, allowing them to change course entirely, to make a new life and find a new community. To wander the earth until God put them where he wanted them to be.

John – in his gospel and his letters – speaks to us of this experience. He writes of the hidden power of God, the Spirit that touches our hearts and makes change and transformation possible. He tells us about how God gets involved – how he got so involved in this world that he loves, that he sent his only begotten son to live among us, to become one of us. He tells us about the living Spirit of Jesus that is present to guide and teach us right now. This life, this power gets involved.

How can we recognize God’s power and presence when he gets involved in our lives? John is very clear about this: We know the Spirit of God when we act in love. We know that God is involved when we are filled with compassionate joy. This is the kind of joy that moves us to bless others and free them from brokenness and confusion. It’s the kind of joy that called Jules out of a life of murder and crime and into a path of trust – wandering the earth until God places him where he ought to be.

This is the power that pulled Peter out of his safe and comfortable religious existence, so that he could discover just how big God’s love is for the world – all the people of the world, not just Peter’s tribe. It’s this love that calls us together into community, despite all our differences and all the factors that threaten to pull us apart. This is the love that conquers the world.

The Spirit of God challenges us so deeply, and yet it’s not burdensome. The love that comes from God disrupts our lives in ways that we can’t ever predict. We’re often tempted to ignore it, because we want to be in control. But the love of God conquers the world. It’s not burdensome. It doesn’t force us to be something we’re not. Instead, it frees us to be truly ourselves for the first time – the lively, unpredictable, joy-filled men and women that God created us to be.

This is the victory that conquers the world: our faith. God gets involved. Whether or not God stops the bullets, turns Coke into Pepsi, or finds our car keys – we can’t judge these things on merit. When we feel the touch of God, our lives must change.

When we abide in the love of the Spirit, we will be transformed. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

That our joy may be complete. Like Peter and Cornelius, we are finding a new and unexpected family in the Spirit. Like Jules from Pulp Fiction, we are being pulled out of the predictable track we’ve been following, the life that we have settled for. God gets involved, and we’re shaken out of our complacency.

That our joy may be complete, God calls us into a new way, an unpredictable path. It’s a path of love, making us brothers and sisters to people that we may never have gotten involved with previously. It’s a love that casts out all fear. It gives us a fresh start, and the boldness we need to live in ways that seemed impossible before.

This is the victory that conquers the world: God gets involved. He shows us the love that is in Jesus. He transforms our hearts. He breaks us out of determinism and teaches us how to love.

We’ve experienced this love, life, and power. God got involved. Now things have to change. We can’t go back to sleep.

Related Posts: Nobody’s Perfect – Is It Possible to Be Like Jesus? The Kingdom of God is Freedom – Why Are We So Busy and Anxious?

The post How Can I Know When I’ve Seen A Real Miracle? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs


Quaker Mystics - Mon, 04/30/2018 - 12:56pm

Are we all so frail?

I heard a story about
Mother Theresa with a cold
being crabby with a visitor

That comforts me

In my spiritual youth
having seen You
I felt so special

And so like a worm
when I reflected
on the humongous diffrences
between You and I

Having matured
to understand a little

Greatly blessed,
I continue to be small

Subject to ecstasy
when I reach for you

And despair
over my puny efforts
to serve You

So much pain
yet no one listens

Thank you
for the support
of fellow travelers

Reminding me
that I have only to
do what I can

The work is mine

Outcomes are Yours

Categories: Blogs

Urgent – Act to Stop Torturer Gina Haspel

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 04/25/2018 - 11:28pm

Friends, there are many deeply disturbing things going on in Washington; it’s hard to keep up.

But here’s one I’m keeping up with, and I invite your attention:

The beaming face of torture: Gina Haspel, nominee to be CIA Director.

The nomination of longtime CIA officer Gina Haspel to be head of the CIA.

Her nomination should be stopped. Haspel is a torturer, with deep involvement in some of the most horrible abuses and crimes of the ‘War On Terror” era.

Yes, torture IS already a crime. A federal felony. We don’t need Congress to pass new laws about that. Just enforce the laws already on the books. And one big step toward such accountability would be to stop the Haspel nomination.

Time is short for action to stop Haspel’s ascent. A hearing on her nomination is slated for early May. One of those who has made the case against promoting Haspel is libertarian Senator Rand Paul. Here’s part of his argument:


“Why I’m Against Gina Haspel”
Some details may be disputed, but it remains true that Haspel ran a secret center in Thailand where prisoners were tortured.

There is no question that during her career, Haspel participated in and helped develop the program that our own government has labeled torture. Though there have been the typical suggestions that she was “simply following orders,” Glenn Carle, a former CIA interrogator, has described her as “one of the architects, designers, implementers and one of the top two managers of the [“Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” torture program] and a true believer, by all accounts, in the ‘Global War in Terror’ paradigm.”

This does not sound like someone who was simply “following orders.” This sounds like someone who was giving them, which I would argue is far worse.

Nor is it debatable that she was present in Thailand when Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was waterboarded three times in late 2002.

Further, multiple accounts have discussed her involvement in destroying video documentation of the torture program.

Think about that for a moment. She helped destroy the very evidence of this program, and people tell us we have no reason for concern?

Direct participation in the program itself would be disqualifying enough for me, but appointing someone who also helped push for destroying evidence of that program to run one of the most powerful organizations in the world should not be acceptable to Congress.

Paul was preceded by Senator John McCain, who has spoken out against the CIA torture program many times. Here’s part of one statement:

“What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism.

And I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure – torture’s ineffectiveness – because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.

“Obviously, we need intelligence to defeat our enemies, but we need reliable intelligence. Torture produces more misleading information than actionable intelligence. And what the advocates of harsh and cruel interrogation methods have never established is that we couldn’t have gathered as good or more reliable intelligence from using humane methods.

“The most important lead we got in the search for bin Laden came from using conventional interrogation methods. I think it is an insult to the many intelligence officers who have acquired good intelligence without hurting or degrading prisoners to assert we can’t win this war without such methods. Yes, we can and we will.

“But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

“We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights.

How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily. . . .

Much more material, pro and con, is available online. But my view is clear: torture is a crime, she pushed for it, led it and helped conceal it. Such behavior should not be rewarded. In fact, my meme is:

Haspel should be investigated, not nominated. 

If you agree, I invite you to let Washington know, now.  You can call, write letters, FAX the Senate, show up and protest.

And my colleagues in QUIT (the Quaker Initiative to end Torture) have prepared a convenient postcard to send to Senators, the White House, the media, and other “influencers.”

Its message is succinct:

If you’d like to join this effort, I’ll send you a dozen postcards free, while supplies last. Just send me a private message or an email at chuckfager(at)aol(dot)com & tell me where to send them. (If you want 100, thats okay too, but please add $10 to help with costs.) Pass some along to others who are concerned. If you use them up, send for more.

To be sure, this is a long shot. But ten years ago, I interviewed a Swiss investigator named Dick Marty.

Dick Marty, in Ticino, Switzerland, 2008

A seemingly modest, unassuming man, Marty’s brilliant & relentless detective work had ripped the cover off the CIA’s “black sites” torture centers, and exposed the “torture taxi” flights that serviced them (many of which started in my home state of North Carolina, to our continuing shame).

He told me then that uprooting the U.S. torture program would be “a long work,” calling for “patience and determination.” He was right when he said that. He’s still right.

I agree with him about determination. 

But I have trouble with the patience part. Accountability is years overdue. Opposition to promoting a known torture chief to the top CIA job is before us. Now. Let us act.

PS. These cards are available too. Same deal.

The post Urgent – Act to Stop Torturer Gina Haspel appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs


Quaker Mystics - Mon, 04/23/2018 - 8:25pm

In the moments before sleep
my lonely soul

Covered over all day
Escaping myself

Till I’m alone
faced with me

Am I to be a mirage
evanescent as could’s shadow
skimming a meadow

No I say

I make choices
Am in control


Till pillowed head

Am what?

Categories: Blogs
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