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,

"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?


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: 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,