Saturday, December 27, 2014

"A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of Creation" by Douglas Gwyn

I just got my copy of Doug Gwyn's new book, and would love to find a few folks with whom to discuss it.  I've read most, possibly all, of Doug's previous books and always found them stimulating, challenging, very worth the time.  His first book, Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox (1624–1691), in fact, was quite a formative experience for me, in my early years of being enamored of George Fox and the Bible.

Here's an overview of the new book, available from FGC, https://www.quakerbooks.org/book/sustainable-life:

"A well-known Quaker historian explores the qualities of Quaker faith and practice that contribute to living sustainably in the world today. He explores such paradoxes as equality and community, unity and differentiation, integrity and personal discernment, and other aspects of life that Quakers have worked to bring into balance through their 350-year history. How have Quakers learned to create the kind of individual and community life that can prepare us to live fully and responsibly into a time of social and planetary change?"

Any takers?  Or anyone know of an ongoing online discussion?

Thanks!

Susan J.

All Days Equally Holy ?

When I first came to Friends, one of the many happy surprises was the Quaker tradition of not celebrating holidays.  I heard the expression "all days equally holy" and it made sense to me, alongside early Friends' avoiding fancy clothes and bowing to their social "betters."  Nowadays it seemed consistent with Quaker simplicity, and avoidance of consumerism.

Later on, I was surprised to find myself a member of a Meeting that marked Christmas with a decorated tree in the lobby, a Christmas pageant by the children, and carol singing.  I was Not Pleased.  Annually for several years I struggled to understand both why I felt these outward observances were inappropriate, and also why I myself felt so strongly about them.

One year at FGC Summer Gathering a Friend used this issue as his exercise in a clerking workshop.  His assignment was to find a Friend who held a position with which he disagreed, and to talk with that Friend about the issue until he could explain the Friend's views in a way that the Friend would agree was accurate:  Yes. You've got it.  I believe X and my reasons are A, B and C.

If you've never tried such an exercise, it's quite amazing.  Very difficult.  For one thing it's very difficult even to *care* about really understanding what the person thinks, and why.  Mostly I just want them to see things my way!

What stood out for me, though, as the Friend with the unpopular opinion, was how my friend really didn't understand what I thought or why I thought it.  I was sure I'd explained very clearly, several years in a row, in Business Meeting and elsewhere.  How could he not "get" what I'd said?  As he and I went back and forth in a series of conversations, it became more and more obvious how VERY difficult it is, truly to articulate another perspective so it can be heard, or to hear another's perspective.

Well, human communication is a wonderful and frustrating and challenging thing.  I guess all we can do is just keep on keeping on.

But here's the kicker.  Yesterday I looked up the Bible verse from which comes that phrase I've loved so:  All days equally holy.  It was the cornerstone of my reason why Quakers Ought Not Put Christmas Trees In the Meetinghouse.  It was my mantra, my meditation, my excuse, my defense.

Guess what?  If I really look at soundbites that appeal to me, often there's a message I wasn't wanting trying to get through to me --

Romans 14:4-6 (NRSV) 
Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.  Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.  Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

Turns out that verse, that I was using (not very effectively) to support my hard-and-fast position, actually in context admonishes me to "lighten up" and do as I myself feel led, but NOT to "pass judgment" on those who are led differently!

So -- all you Friends out there, and all you Friends meetings who sing carols and have a tree and a children's pageant -- God bless us every one!

Susan J.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

 
Two fathers who walked and ran for 6 hours in the rain to get their children into the BQEF hostel



Potato harvest on the Altiplano -
subsistence farming is their way of life
It’s Christmastime. One of the things I love about Christmas is the many opportunities that are brought to our attention to help those in need.  There’s something about helping others that just gives you that warm feeling we associate with Christmas.

Quakers see those needs every day, and the number of Quaker organizations that try to create a better world are out of proportion to the number of members we have. At my first large gathering of Quakers, our regional yearly meeting, I became aware of this when I saw the involvement of so many in some of these organizations.  I was particularly moved when I met a young Quaker woman from Bolivia representing the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund (BQEF).


As Alicia showed us pictures and described the life of her indigenous people, the Aymara, I was hooked on the cause.  The BQEF is an organization that helps young Aymarans get an education. As an educator myself, I firmly believe that education is the best way to help people out of poverty. Organizations that give people a hand up rather than a hand-out have a more lasting impact. 


A student on the trail from home
to the high school in Sorata
Bolivia is the poorest nation in South America, and the indigenous people have largely been ignored by the government until recently, with the election of  Evo Morales, the first Aymaran or native person to ever be elected President.  The Many young people have stunted growth due to poor nutrition. The remote mountain villages only offer education to the sixth grade, and not having a transportation system in the mountains, students must walk for many miles to the larger villages that have a junior high and high school.

There are about  30,000 evangelical Quakers in Bolivia, most of them Aymaran.  The BQEF operates a student hostel in Sorata that provides housing, meals, and tutoring for Quaker and non-Quaker students attending the high school. The students go home on weekends to help their families with subsistence farming or working in the mines.

As I listened to Alicia describe how many of the students in the hostel, who had never had three meals a day, or slept in a real bed, were helped, I was touched by her dedication.  She was herself a recipient of the BQEF’s programs, and its impact was obvious in her -- a
Students having a meal in the new
addition recently added to the hostel
trilingual, self-assured young woman on a quest to help her people.


Another part of the program helps Quaker students who go on to college. Sponsors donate $65 a month to help them buy books, bus tickets,  and other things needed to help them successfully complete their studies. They correspond with their sponsors and this creates a bond that is hard to describe.  My husband and I have sponsored a young woman for the past few years, and have been able to encourage her when things get tough.  We feel so lucky to have had a small part in helping her as she has struggled to get an education.

There are other facets of the BQEF, and if you would like to learn more, you can go to: www.bqef.org. There, you can also  read some letters from recipients and how the BQEF changed their lives.
University scholarship students, La Paz, Bolivia
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Peace, and Love,

Karen

Monday, November 24, 2014

"The right of the people...to petition the Government"


Lobby Day in Washington
Several hundred Friends getting briefed before going up on the Hill


The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is a Quaker organization that lobbies Congress on issues reflecting Friends' concerns about peace, social justice, and stewardship of the Earth. We were humbled to participate in their annual day of legislative lobbying this year in Washington, D.C. It was exhilarating to be among the 430 Quakers from 41 states as we listened to learned and well-informed speakers on the importance of promoting peace and diplomacy with Iran and the Middle East. 
 
Although our lobbying efforts with the members of the Senate were not what we hoped, we came away with the realization that we need to let our representatives know how we feel. Many people, ourselves included, are frustrated with the political process in our country. But, as Benjamin Franklin remarked after work on our Constitution was finished, "you have a republic, if you can keep it." This means that our interests will be safeguarded or advanced only if we stay involved. We have always participated in voting, but now we are realizing that it takes more – lobbying for the issues that are important to us, writing letters to newspapers and legislators, and helping promote and support candidates that have the courage to stand up in support of those causes, even when they risk political fallout. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leadings and Being Led

Quakers often speak of "being led" or of "having a leading" or of "divine leading." Here's an excellent description of some of the historical background on the terminology:

"Five Tests for Discerning a True Leading" by Hugh Barbour

This morning I'm reflecting on some past leadings I've felt and acted on:

1. To undertake a more disciplined study of Scripture, which led to my attending the Earlham School of Religion (ESR) and eventually to teaching online Bible courses.

2. To speak up, or to remain silent, in many many conversations, among Friends and otherwise.  The result was not necessarily obvious at the time, but surely worked better than either suffering in silence or just blurting out whatever thought was bothering me.

3. To do what I could to support a couple of different Friends educational institutions, namely Friends School in Detroit, Friends Theological College in Kenya, and ESR.

Most of the time my daily life is subject more to what we call "promptings" or "promptings of the Spirit" which I understand to be more immediate and short-term, in contrast to "leadings" (activities that take more planning and sustained effort) -- in my short list above, I should probably have called number 2 instances of "prompting."  In the moment, it really feels like God is literally prompting me to speak, or prompting me not to speak.  It feels a lot like a tap on the shoulder, or a whisper in my ear.

One risk in this sort of "listen and obey" process is that it is not always obvious whether it's God leading me, or me just bowing to my own personal preference.

Another risk is that having a sense of divine leading can lead to self-righteousness, or make me ignore input or observation by other people, as to the effects of my actions.  Even if God really did lead me to do this or say that, perhaps I'm also meant to listen to what others say about what I've done or said.  Or to evaluate just how well my words and actions have served the greater good.

Well.  This post has gotten long enough.  I feel that I'm outrunning my Guide - in other words, I'm feeling prompted to stop.

But before I go, here are two articles from Friends Journal that speak to the issue of Friends' sense of leading around charitable giving:
 
"The Ministry of Giving Money" by Merry Stanford, of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting, Lake Erie Yearly Meeting

"Doing Good Well" by Charles Schade, of Charleston (WV) Friends Meeting, the group that sponsors this blog.

I hope to write more on these matters in future... 

Susan J.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The West Virginia Gathering of Friends


Last weekend we were blessed to attend a gathering of West Virginia Quakers. It had a lasting impact on me in a variety of ways.
` First, it was energizing to be surrounded by people who are seekers that share a common set of values. Unprogrammed Quakers are a diverse group of people from a variety of religious backgrounds, but we all recognize the importance of the Inner Light. The lack of a dogma or strict creed was what attracted many of us to the Friends. When you see God as a Light within each person, you are able to respect their spiritual journey without judgment. And, you can draw inspiration and strength from their shared stories. We shared and were moved as each person reflected on their life experiences. We reflected on how we can move forward as individuals, and as a group, to enhance our spiritual journeys.
I am always impressed when I am with Friends on the level of concern and action shown for sustainability, and living a life that reflects those values. Quaker events always feature recycling, using resources that allow us to reduce waste, and conversations with individuals about how to be a better steward of the earth's resources. You see the people driving gas efficient cars, circulating petitions to help our politicians realize the importance of sustainability, and involvement in groups that promote these values. How can I not be inspired and motivated to do my part when surrounded by such examples?
It seems we all treasure the natural world, and draw a sense of connection with the Divine when we are surrounded by it. The Gathering was held at a beautiful state park, and that place, combined with the peace in our method of worship was rejuvenating. The silence and spoken messages in the shared Meeting for Worship were food for my soul.
The desire for social justice is another important witness for Quakers. As we listened to speakers talk about their work to help create a more just and humane world, I was moved and inspired by the amount of work that Quakers do on a personal, local, national, and international level to help bring the kingdom of God to the world. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to those who do this work. One attender commented to me that she felt inadequate in her own efforts when surrounded by such people. I reminded her that her many email messages to her friends about these very issues and other spiritual topics are just as important as the big efforts of activists. The world can be changed in many small ways and even big ways when we use the inspiration that God provides to each of us.
I would like to thank the Mid-Ohio Valley Friends Meeting for organizing such a wonderful experience.



Karen

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Light


Light

The imagery of light is a beautiful thing. The concept of God shining within, as a Light to guide our lives, speaks to me. I am currently reading the book I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, one of the recipients of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. In one part, she was describing how her father struggled to keep his school open because of the imam, who did not believe in educating girls. Her grandfather made the comment to her father that he needed to continue in his quest to “be a star in the sky of knowledge.”

As I thought about that image, its beauty really struck me. That lovely, small star, surrounded by darkness, is a thing of beauty, displacing the darkness. If we consider every kind action or word as a pinpoint of light, like that star, dispelling the darkness of the world, then we don't have to be so worried that the darkness will prevail. Imagine a clear night with a star-filled sky. Then think about how beautiful the world can be if everyone lets the Light of God shine through their actions and words.

Our Meeting has been reading John Woolman's Journal, and he is one of my new heroes. He saw darkness in the slavery of the times, but spoke about it to Quaker slave owners in such a way that his personal conviction rather than harsh words caused them to think. He traveled to England, and saw the misery of the poor, and tried to dispel that darkness, setting an example to the affluent by experiencing some of the misery of the poor and speaking about it.

So, as I go through the days ahead, I will remember the image of the star, and try to speak kindly, help those I am able, and be aware of how my life can shine God's light into the world. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” It's up to us to show it to the world. We are His stars, shining His Light.

One of my yoga teachers used to close every class with the statement, “The light within me worships and bows down to the light within you.” I would like to express gratitude to everyone who has shown that Light to me or to the world.


Karen

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Awareness

Once a month, Charleston Friends read queries at the beginning of Meeting for Worship, for reflection and perhaps sharing.  This past Sunday the queries related to "Awareness" - I'll post the actual queries later if I can find them :-)

What's stayed with me these past couple of days, since Quaker Meeting, is a feeling, a warm embrace of my moment-to-moment existence and connection to other people and the world around me.

We Quakers often speak of the Spirit, and of the movement of the Spirit.  We testify to the reality of the "parallel universe" that is present and among us (us humans, all of us!) and in us, all the time, there to be noticed whenever and wherever.

This morning it seems to me that all of our Quaker testimonies, all of our "distinctives,"  all of our sense of who we are as Friends, can be traced back historically and spiritually to our sense of the importance of Awareness:  awareness of the Divine, awareness of the movement of the Spirit, awareness of the Still Small Voice.  We have used a variety of words and phrases over our several centuries as Friends, all pointing to that which is beyond words and available to all people and perhaps all of Creation...

Grace and peace and love and joy and awareness, to all who read this!

Susan J.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lessons from Chuck the Cat

Lessons from Chuck the Cat

Quakers have a strong belief in community. Our Meetings are not just a place to seek God and strengthen our own spiritual journeys, but also a place to nurture one another with loving care. In doing so, the world can see our communal witness of God working through us.
This week the passing of a special community cat reminded me that simple things, like a cat, can bind us and remind us that despite our differences, unconditional love can help us come together as a community.
Everybody in the small community where I taught loved Chuck, and Chuck never met a stranger. He roamed the school, church, Boy Scout meetings, and neighborhood homes. He demanded nothing but admittance to our presence. He plopped himself into the middle of parent teacher conferences as if he were a participant. He was able to calm children who just needed some love. How could we be upset with such a calm and gentle presence among us?
Chuck was a loving presence and everyone who knew him mourned his passing. His ability to bring together a whole community in love leaves a big void.
As his community mourned, I began to think about the importance of community. I began looking for words of wisdom on community. I particularly liked Mitch Albom's words: “The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” Caring for others and unconditional love are a legacy.
So, thanks, Chuck, for reminding me that when we devote ourselves to others, we let God into our presence, and we are bound by His unconditional love. We are more open to seeing that Light of God in those around us. This simple act of letting God's presence in, and letting it work in our community, gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The Light shines as we treat others with that same love that we are given.
And, also for providing a reminder that that inspiration can come in simple places if we are open to seeking. Your legacy will be remembered for a long time.

Karen W.




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You're a Quaker? – So What Do Ya'll Believe? You're Pacifists, Aren't You?

In the World, Of the World

I have a part-time job with a literacy group. A year or so ago I approached some of our state legislators about getting a small grant for materials. That is a pretty easy sell, so one of our state senators and I quickly settled into a get-acquainted conversation. I didn't know he was an ordained minister, and when I mentioned I'm a Quaker, he perked right up – asking the question that titles this piece.

I stumbled rather badly. I'm not used to talking about it, I didn't yet have an “elevator speech,” so I mumbled in an ineloquent and distressed way through the “SPICE” list of Quaker testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality). I was evading, of course, and soon enough admitted that, while that is what most people think when they hear “Quaker,” I do not meet the ideal.

I don't consider myself a pacifist. I grew up in a Methodist family, which makes me a convinced Quaker, not “birthright.” While no one in my family was enthused about war, we didn't have that tradition of pacifism. And since it is so strongly associated with Friends, I find I need to look at this.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Charleston Friends Queries - On the Life of Jesus

Charleston Friends Queries - On the Life of Jesus

Many Quaker Meetings practice corporate reflection on queries, using a variety of processes including worship-sharing, written responses, and in spiritual friendships.

Charleston Friends posted three queries for the month of August 2014, titled "On the Life of Jesus."
Here are a few of my thoughts on each query -- thank you, Charleston Friends, for posting these!

Do you find inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus?

Yes, often, and in many ways.  I find myself inspired by the gentle way some Friends speak truth in love in difficult situations, modeled surely on Jesus' life and teachings.  Jesus' words sometimes pop into my head unexpectedly, e.g. "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" or "go, and sin no more" or "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

Reading the "annunciation" passage in Luke's gospel (1:26ff) this past week, about Jesus's mother Mary and her pregnancy,  reminded me of motherhood, the sense of joyful anticipation a mother may feel, and the sense of being loved and encouraged that, ideally, the mother imparts to her child.  The very word "inspired" is cognate to "Spirit" and I can feel the Spirit in me, and in Mary, and in the mother-ness and child-ness of my life in the Spirit.

And don't even get me started on the several stories about Jesus feeding and healing so very many crowds, and individuals!  I am fed, I am healed, I am called to community in which we are to feed and be fed, to heal and be healed.

Are you learning from his life the reality and cost of obedience to God?


Hmmm... the reality and cost of obedience to God.  What first comes to mind is Jesus' admonition to "take up your cross and follow me" (Matt. 10:38,  16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23,14:27).  The plain sense of these repeated reminders teaches me, again and again, that following divine leading may well bring me to suffering or embarrassment or fear or disappointment: a pretty high cost!

On the other hand, Jesus' life went on after the crucifixion, and indeed he lives on, in and among us.  I take seriously the free gift of life, both outward/biological and inward/spiritual. Jesus also said "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).


The Presence in the Midst
As I sit in Quaker worship I often picture the beloved old painting of our spiritual ancestors, "The Presence in the Midst" and I give thanks for our spiritual freedom, waiting and listening for Jesus together.

How does his relationship with God challenge and inspire you?


The verse that comes to my mind is Jesus saying "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life" -- and Jesus' special father-son relationship with the divine.  I often feel challenged to acknowledge the blessing and responsibility of being a child of God.

I find it amazing and inspiring to have an open invitation to pray with Jesus, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."  But later on in the prayer, the idea of truly asking for forgiveness of debts or trespasses "as I myself have forgiven" is pretty humbling.  I'm actually counting on God to forgive me much more than I've managed to forgive...

John's gospel is especially rich in images of God as Jesus' father, and I take encouragement from John 8:19, where Jesus says "If you knew me, you would know my Father also."

I like to think of us sitting in Quaker worship, waiting -- though each of us may use different language or no language for the precise nature of the waiting -- and the "knowing" that we breathe in and out, the listening for the still small voice, the grace and peace and love and joy that manifests in our midst.

Thank you, Friends!

Susan J.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The speck in your eye, the log in my own


Jesus said something like “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not the log in your own eye?  First remove the log from your eye, then you can help your brother with the speck in his eye” (Matt 7:1-5, Luke 6:39-42).

Most of the time I think of these sayings in connection with hypocrisy: I hear teenagers mocking a bossy or know-it-all friend, saying “You think you’re so smart, clean up your own act before you start picking on Joe.”

But this morning I’m reminded of the simple fact that it really is easier to see the problems of other people, even very small problems, than to assess my own.  I often don’t even realize I’m tense, or upset, or tired, or angry, until someone close to me asks me “Are you OK?”  I don’t know there’s mustard on my chin, or or spinach in my teeth, until my friend across the table tells me.

I think of myself as seeking truth, wanting to see things (and people) clearly, as they (we) really are. I really do need other people to help me see things despite my blind spots.

Thank you F/friends, for helping me get some of that pesky debris out of my eyes!   I know I often strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel, to borrow another of colorful phrase from Jesus (Matt.23:24).

Grace and peace and love and joy to all who read this post!

Susan J.



Saturday, August 23, 2014

Integrity, or Words Matter


 Quakers don't swear to tell 

the truth, they just do it.


Most of the people I know value honesty or integrity. It seems like a simple concept until you really try to analyze your words and actions.

One of the things that attracted me to the Quakers was the importance they place on integrity. Although integrity seems to be important in numerous Biblical writings, and throughout many philosophic writings, the Quakers, to me, seemed to historically take this principle very seriously. Probably, most of us consider ourselves to be honest and truthful people. But when you think about every word or action, sometimes it's not as easy as it appears on the surface.

A few Biblical quotes that emphasize the value of honesty gave me reason to think that to live in the “Light” or spirit with God, one should consider integrity part of daily interactions and decisions. Proverbs 2:6-8 For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.

From the New Testament,Titus 2:7-8 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

Historically, Quakers have refused to swear in court to the tell the truth, instead “affirming ” that their word, as always, would be truthful. Quakers were often able to conduct affairs with the Native Americans successfully because they could be trusted to stay true to their word. They were successful in business dealings for this reason as well.

Integrity is central to being a Quaker. In the words of George Fox, you should “let your lives preach.” Living “in the Light” means every word or action should be guided by the Spirit of God. This is a great idea, but in everyday life it's often difficult to stay on the path. There will always be others, or yourself, trying to encourage you to be less than honest to make life easier. I was recently faced with several situations where this was the case. It was not that hard for me to stick to my principles, and I found out, once again, that things work out better if you just tell the truth.

But, there are other times where my words have been less guarded, especially when I am upset, or gossiping. I guess we all have our Achilles' heel, and this seems to be one of mine. But, life is a spiritual journey, and being mindful takes practice.

I'm so glad that I have the wisdom and example of others to help guide me, either through their writings or actions.

I'll end with a quote from Bob Marley: “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”

I will have more to say on integrity in another posting. 
 
-- Karen W.