Monday, November 9, 2015

What are Friends for?

The other day in a discussion about Quakers, I commented that perhaps our numbers are gradually declining because many of our fundamental principles have been adopted and internalized by many other groups, and by large segments of the public at large.  Many people believe in and experience unmediated access to the divine, the power of church hierarchy is surely in decline, lots of Christians live out of a desire for Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, etc, whether or not they have an explicit list of what Friends nowadays call "testimonies."

In other words, as with the commandment in Genesis to "be fruitful and multiply" maybe we're done now.

On further reflection, I don't think so.  Here are some things that strike me as pieces of "What Friends Are (still) For" - in the sense of what our calling has been and still is, what we're supposed to be doing during our time here on earth, and also what we're "for" as opposed to what we're against.

Please do jump in - I'd love for this blog to be more of a discussion -

Susan J

Some thoughts on "What Friends Are For":

1) peace, integrity, simplicity and the other Testimonies - there are a couple of other blog posts about these.

2) waiting on the Lord (see Isaiah 40:31) in the sense of spiritual openness as well as our traditional form of worship, where we wait in expectant silence.

3) being friends, being friendly, being community among ourselves and in the larger world.

4) walking cheerfully over the earth, speaking to that of God in every person.

5) listening and watching for that of God in every person.

What say ye?  What are Friends for?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Growing New Quakers; Re-energizing Old Ones

Nearly all spiritual denominations wrestle with the questions of gaining and retaining followers.  Our small group, like many, must deal with attrition due to personality or theology conflicts, health issues, or simply people moving away.

What about us Quakers? How do we encourage others to embrace, or simply sample, our way of worshiping? One idea is have Quaker Meeting occasionally at a college or university, with the idea of attracting students.  Perhaps a pithy ‘elevator’ speech on Quakerism, initiating a discussion about living simply or speaking about our own inward spiritual journey would intrigue someone enough to find out more about Quakers.  Another aspect of outreach would be making more use of social media, such as Facebook or press releases of our activities in the community.

What about those who do come to our Meeting?  How do we nurture and encourage them spiritually? One way to do this might be to periodically have a potluck lunch after Meeting for Worship – once a month, perhaps?  Words, ideas, and fellowship often flow more easily over food. Our Meeting has regular discussions and readings about Quaker individuals whose lives have had an impact. We discuss what those Quakers taught and wrote.  We also have out-of-Meeting gatherings such as book discussions, potlucks, and Bible study. 

The activities above are crucial, though perhaps carrying friendships outside of Meeting events and into the social realm are even more important. How often do we invite a new attender out to lunch or coffee?  These invitations are powerful gestures to those seeking a spiritual home and show a genuine interest in the seeker as a person worth knowing more deeply, not just as a ‘recruit’.

Early Quakers were often good at sensing the spiritual condition of those they encountered and speaking to that condition.  Can contemporary Quakers hone this skill?   A life spiritually lived can be a beautiful statement of our beliefs on its own. Is this enough? In many instances, Quakers today, tend to be introverts, shying away from discussing their faith and beliefs unless asked directly. 

There is one important point to remember. Sometimes, people are impacted by Friends outreach and testimony in ways we’ll never know, in times and places we are not privileged to see.

Susan W, Charleston Friends Meeting

(This post focuses on ideas gleaned from a discussion of “Outreach” in Charleston Friends Meeting.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

What are Your Testimonies?

Recently, our Meeting had a discussion on the Quaker testimonies, based on Eric Moon’s article “Categorically Not the Testimonies” in the June/July 2013 of Friends Journal. We examined the meaning of testimony and explored several connotations, including vocal ministry, the witness of the Spirit in Quaker lives, the inward leadings of the Divine that lead to outward expression.

Over the years, Quakers have developed an acronym (SPICES) to stand for the testimonies that have been important to Quakers.  Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship all play an important role in our description and identity as Quakers. As we listen to the leadings of the Spirit, or Inner Light, we are led differently to each of these testimonies. One Friend asked everyone at the discussion to tell which testimony they felt was most important to them, and the result was diverse. That is one reason that our community of believers is so spiritually rich -- we all have something unique to offer the Meeting.  

Moon’s article spoke about his concern that the testimonies have been “overused as an explanation of Quakerism,” and may limit our awareness of the possibilities of God’s working in our lives. At our discussion, we shared other words important to us as individuals that could be included in the list.  Compassion, joy, generosity, awe, respect, listening, and honesty were mentioned. Can you think of anything else?

I think it would be a beneficial exercise for anyone to examine how testimonies are manifested and practiced in our lives. Sharing our self examination can be a testimony to others. Moon described a question posed at a workshop he attended -- “the testimonies are important because they are __________________”.  His favorite response was “unfinished”. That is the essence of Quakerism to  me. This is how we remain living witnesses, responding to the issues of our times. That is why Quakers remain important to the world.  Last year, when several of us were lobbying with the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) for the nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the legislators asked us how many Quakers were in West Virginia.  One of our delegation responded, “Our numbers are small but our witness is powerful.“

Generally we felt that the testimonies are an important part of who we are, and they can provide a discussion point when we try to explain to others what is means to be a Quaker, but Moon feels that it should not become a creed or the focal point in our discipleship. That is what early Quakers escaped when differentiating themselves from the established religions of the day. More important is the working and recognition of the Inner Light, or that of God in everyone.

I would really like to hear from readers of this blog on how a particular testimony resonates with them, or how it plays out in their lives.

Peace and Joy to you all.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Good Result from a Small Project

Debbie, a Friend who recently joined with our Meeting, brought a project to us and wrote this note:

The Charleston Friends Meeting collected about 15 suitcases, dufflebags and backpacks along with lots of personal care products, blankets, flipflops, stuffed animals, etc., for Mission West Virginia. The Mission's Carry On project helps foster children transition into foster homes or care facilities. It was begun to help kids have something other than garbage bags for their meager personal possessions. It's a wonderful program and I am very thankful for the generosity of my fellow Quakers.

Bless you all at Mission WV for your kind work.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mother Margaret and her friends

A bit of free association this morning - we've been reading and discussing Michael Birkel's delightful
Pendle Hill Pamphlet #398 (2008) "The Messenger That Goes Before: Reading Margaret Fell for Spiritual Nurture."

Which got me thinking about what-all thoughts and ideas were "in the air" back then.  I picture George Fox tromping around on his own, with a well-read Bible under his arm, and Margaret Fell living at Swarthmoor with a nice big library...  The political scene was pretty intense all around, and which party you favored at what time could land you in prison or worse, depending on what you did about it.  Yikes!

I happened upon this lovely paragraph by one of my Quaker heroes, Arthur Roberts:

"Many early adherents were drawn from Seeker communities of Northern England. These Christians, disillusioned with monopolistic state religion, whether Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, or Independent, had been meeting informally for Bible study and prayer. George Fox forcefully articulated their criticism of the institutional church for its secondhand faith, sin-excusing doctrine, hireling ministry, and compromise with political powers. People responded eagerly to his proclamation of a new Day of the Lord in which the true church is being recovered and kingdom righteousness effected through Christ's presence and power."

Nice!  I love the idea of folks in time of turmoil getting together to read and reflect (tilling the soil so to speak) and then being ready for a word from someone who "speaks to their condition."

And then I got to thinking about John Milton, who was a contemporary of Fox & Fell, he of "Paradise Lost" -- Wikipedia says that toward the end of his life "Milton had come to stand apart from all sects, though apparently finding the Quakers most congenial."  Huh.  I wonder whether his poetry was known among the early Friends?

Well.  This sonnet by Milton is really speaking to me today, especially the end, which I'd heard all my life but never knew the context:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Amen!  thank you, F/friends!

Susan J.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

How is Being a Quaker Like Riding a Motorcycle?

 In the World, Of the World

 Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone -- George Fox, 1656

Driving back from the North Carolina coast a couple of weeks ago, I had a train of thought. We frequently used a smartphone to guide us around the Outer Banks. It's fascinating to watch that little blue dot move around the map as you drive through an unfamiliar town. I definitely felt the master of the situation, at least as long as we had a good cell signal.

Heading home, we first rolled across the coastal plain for a couple of hours. It is mostly large farms with intersecting roads, and the flatness of the terrain is alien to this hillbilly. A mental image came to me of being that blue dot on a flat map. The vastness of the seascape and the uncommonly distant horizon I had been viewing for the past week came back to me. Then a feeling that I used to get in my motorcycling days returned, that of being a small but finite presence in an immense world, not in insignificance, but as one of many sentient beings.

Most bikers have probably had that same feeling, and maybe horsemen too. Unprotected by a shell of steel, you are unbound, and there is a unity with creation that brings a profound peacefulness. It is a wonderful feeling, and I thought of how much I missed it.

Then I drew a parallel. There is a well-worn quote by George Fox, the man usually described as the founder of the Religious Society of Friends: "you will come to walk cheerfully over the world," and it seemed to fit the moment. There aren't very many Quakers, so in some ways we're as isolated in this world as a rider on a motorcycle. But the satisfaction we get from our lifelong seeking of truth is a gift that brings honest joy. For most, the space we occupy in society is small, but at least for this Friend and probably all of us, walking cheerfully because of a full and active sense of spirituality expands us, grounds us, and gives us a place.

It's a lot like riding a motorcycle.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Being Messengers

As usual I've struggled and struggled (wrestled?) with this post.  Whatever it is writers are supposed to do, in terms of wordsmithing and getting it right, that ain't me.  It's so frustrating, to feel that one is meant to Say Something but it just doesn't come together.

Same thing in Quaker Meeting - sometimes the churning is so strong - sometimes it passes, other times it just becomes obvious that I'm to Speak, whether I know what I'm going to say or not.

So here goes - what I scribbled yesterday on a break from Physical Therapy, mixed in with thoughts in the night, and more nudges this morning - Lord guide my typing!


Quakers traditionally have tried to listen to (or read) the Bible in the same manner as we listen to spoken messages in Meeting for Worship: we listen for the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures; we seek the Light to which the words point.

There's an old saying about the water sometimes tasting of the pipes:  sometimes the message seems like no message at all, just a familiar, annoying repetition of same-old-same-old, nothing new, nothing worth considering.

Other times a message - a biblical passage or spoken ministry in Meeting - may just seem incomprehensible, or offensive, or too long, or too short.

Who knows how early Friends managed to sit in Meeting for hours on end, who knows how much of the ministry felt edifying to the hearers, who knows how they actually "did their thing"?  I certainly don't.

But yet I sense a thread, a breath of the wind of the Spirit, a tender morsel of the spiritual food of which they partook, a bit of the Light by which they found their way...


Last time at Quaker Bible Study we discussed Luke 7:1-17, two stories of healing.  I found it an edifying discussion, with many new glimpses of the Spirit.  I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to read and listen to and sit with the Bible, with F/friends!

Today I'm thinking about how these two miracles fit in with what comes just before and after, in Luke's gospel:  Luke is such a careful writer, I'm quite sure the order is never accidental. 

Just before is the Sermon on the Plain, roughly comparable to Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, just the sort of "teachings" that liberal / progressive Christians have in mind in advocating following Jesus's teachings (as opposed to Paul's doctrines about Jesus, emphasized by Christians of another sort).

Then come these two miracle stories:  the healing of the centurion's slave (Luke 7:1-10) and the resurrection of the widow's son (Luke 7:11-17).  Two unnamed people "returned to service" for the benefit of the centurion and the widow, respectively.  Interesting.

And then, along come two of John's followers - John the Baptist, that is, the forerunner, the one announcing the coming of Jesus and calling for repentance to make straight the way - and John's guys are messengers:  John tells them "Go ask Jesus this" and they go and ask Jesus just what John told them to say (Luke 7:19-20).  Jesus answers the question John has sent, and sends the messengers back to him.

In verse 24 John's guys are even called messengers, the Greek being "angelloi" -- the very same word is translated as angels or messengers depending on context - "When John's angelloi had gone, Jesus began to speak..." about John, whom the crowd had previously gone out to see.

Jesus says of John, in verse 27: 
"This is the one about whom it is written,
'See, I am sending my angelos ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you'"

So John is a messenger (angelos) and John's followers are messengers (angeloi) sent to Jesus with a question and they bring the answer back, most faithfully, and we ourselves give "messages" in Meeting for worship - you know it's no accident we call our verbal sharings "messages" and "ministry" -- the idea of people "tuning in" to God and sharing the message we've been given, as faithfully as we can, and turning one another to the Light within, listening to the Still Small Voice, each of us individually and all of us together, helping one another along the way -- all this is so very central to who we are as Friends.


Well, this post / message has gotten way too long, but I still feel one more tidbit I'm meant to share, one morsel, one breath...

Michael Birkel in Pendle Hill Pamphlet number 398 (titled :The Messenger That Goes Before: Reading Margaret Fell for Spiritual Nurture)  writes:

"Read Scripture, [Margaret Fell] says, not only to find out what happened in the past but also to discover what is happening within us now.  We are invited to an inward preparation for the coming of the One who baptizes not with water but with fire and Spirit."

I commend the Michael Birkel's pamphlet to all who read this post - but in the meantime I pray:

Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and thy servant shall be healed (cf Luke 7:6-7)


Show me truly your message and your messengers and help me speak your message as you would have it spoken


Make of us Friends, in Charleston WV and all Friends everywhere, your faithful messengers, speaking when you give us words and silent when you may very well be speaking your truth to and through someone else, to whom we ought to listen.  Prepare our way for you.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

What Is Mine To Do?

Reflections on our Yearly Meeting, 2015

There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places  and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation so ever, they become brethren. – John Woolman
The crossroads of Yearly Meeting at Warren Wilson College
Friends are organized into Yearly Meetings, like a District for Methodists, or a Diocese for Roman Catholics. The Liberal branch of Quakerism has several Yearly Meetings covering the eastern United StatesIn the mid-Atlantic region, we have Philadelphia, Baltimore, North Carolina, Southeast, Lake Erie, Ohio Valley, and ours, Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association. And every year, Yearly Meetings have a yearly meeting
This was our 4th year to attend the SAYMA Yearly Meeting, and the theme was based on the writings of John Woolman: What is mine to do? As usual, we were uplifted spiritually and exhausted physically. Each day is filled with opportunities to meet new people, learn about Quakerism, and become informed about the many ways our faith has led people into service.
The campus of Warren Wilson College is the perfect venue, nestled in the Smoky Mountains with fantastic scenery and serene surroundings. This year, we had a trek from the dorm to the building where the activities were held, and enjoyed a nice walk several times a day.

The plenary speaker on Thursday was Michael Birkel, a professor of religion at Earlham, and a recognized scholar of John Woolman. Michael emphasized how carefully Woolman wrote. He took three sentences from Woolman's journal to demonstrate how the rather archaic words and phrases illuminated Woolman's whole philosophy:

From an inward purifying, and steadfast abiding under it, springs a lively operative desire for the good of others. All faithful people are not called to the public ministry, but whoever are, are called to minister of that which they have tasted and handled spiritually The outward modes of worship are various,but wherever men are true ministers of Jesus Christ it is from the operation of his spirit upon their hearts, first purifying them and thus giving a just sense of the conditions of others. (Chapter 1, 7 paragraphs from the end)

For example, Woolman used purity or pure in the sense of clear, the opposite of being confused – pure wisdom, for example. He uses the words right and just in such phrases as right order to refer to the priority one gives to the leadings, behavior, etc. in one's life.

Birkels's presentation went much deeper than just the connotations of words, however. He pointed to Woolman's selections of scripture that inspired him, particularly the Epistle of James and the Prophets. We now realize the need to partake of Woolman multiple times, to deepen our understanding of his insight. Michael offered two workshops as well.

In what is so typical of our experience of Yearly Meeting, Michael happened to get in line behind Karen for Friday breakfast, with Roger following just behind. We asked a question about his talk, and in the ensuing chatter, mentioned Susan, a former student. That led to sharing a table at three meals with him. His deep understanding, gentle spirit, and humility were a pleasure to experience.

The many displays showing the good work of Quakers around the world again made an impact on us. The projects stem from someone who saw suffering and responded to a personal leading to do something. It is truly amazing how one person's leading can mushroom into a project helping many.

We encourage all Friends to attend Yearly Meeting to experience the richness and camaraderie of being with other Quakers

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Woolmanomics / "On Schools" / spirit and spirits

Chapter 14 of John Woolman's "A Plea for the Poor" is titled "On Schools."

Its first paragraph consists of two long sentences, which I've broken up into phrases, after the manner of poetry:

When we are thoroughly instructed in the kingdom of God,
         we are content with that use of things
               which his wisdom points out,
both for ourselves and for our children,

and are not concerned to learn them
         the art of getting rich,

but are careful that
         the love of God
         and a right regard for all their fellow creatures
may possess their minds,

and that in all their learning
         their improvements may go forward in pure wisdom.

Christ our Shepherd
         being abundantly able and willing to instruct his family
                   in all things proper for them to know,

it remains to be our duty
         to wait patiently for his help
                   in teaching our families

and not seek to forward them in learning
         by the assistance of that spirit
                   from which he gave his life to redeem us.

This chapter seems to me to have one main "outward" point, namely that teachers ought to live very modestly, so they don't need much pay, so they can teach only small numbers of students and thus give each sufficient attention.   This is typical economics-according-to-Woolman, in which everyone living simply allows plenty of resource for everyone, with no overwork for anyone.

Compare Woolman's ideal to this news story from BBC, about a super-rich entrepreneurial teacher whose income is directly a result of the vast number of students she teaches, not to mention her energetic teaching style:

Besides his analysis of how to achieve small class size and so rightly teach the young, however, Woolman also conveys, very subtly, a bit of theology, and spirituality.

Notice the last 2 lines I quoted above, about what people ought NOT do, in teaching:  we ought not "seek to forward them in learning by the assistance of that spirit from which he [Christ our Shepherd] gave his life to redeem us."

Woolman uses the word "spirit" a lot in this chapter, much more than usual for him.  He doesn't name "that spirit" whose assistance we are to avoid; some might call "that spirit" Satan, or evil, or the spirit of worldiness.  It's an interesting theological question, from what, or whom, does Woolman consider Jesus to have saved us?

Here are some other uses of the word "spirit" in this chapter:

"the spirit of pride" [not a good thing to nurture!]
"the pure Spirit" [which we should obey]
"that spirit which seeks honour from men"
"the spirit of this world"
"[the teacher's] spirit and conduct in directing and ordering the children"
"[the teacher should] attend to the spirit and disposition of each individual [child]"
if the teacher has too many students, "the minds of children often suffer and a wrong spirit gains strength"
"the spirit of Truth"
"this good spirit in which [a good teacher] governs"
"the true Christian spirit"
"the spirit of Truth"

I noticed this proliferation of spirit-talk just a day or two after our Quaker Bible Study group read the part of Luke 6 where Jesus heals those "vexed with unclean spirits" (KJV) -- the way John Woolman speaks of spirit and spirits and the Spirit, reminds me of the reality of spirituality... 

May we and our offspring obey the spirit of Truth, and attend to the spirit an disposition of our families and friends, and do our best to avoid strengthening any wrong spirit!

Susan J.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sweeping the Parlor in hopes of a Visit

Yesterday my friends Larry & Ellie posted on a part of John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" (a book I've never read, but not for lack of trying), and showed William Blake's illustration of the servant trying to sweep out a long-unused room - a parlor - representing the human heart in need of the Presence of God / enlightenment (I'm loosely paraphrasing).

The sweeping stirs up a lot of dust, so much that poor Christian chokes and presumably can't see a thing, let alone receive a Visitor.

I can't get this image out of my mind:  people (especially of course myself) in need of the Light, the Presence, sweeping and sweeping and choking and choking.

In Bunyan the dust is sin and the sweeping is trying to adhere to the Law.  I gather that Blake wasn't on the same page with Bunyan on many things, but I'm pretty sure he would have agreed that trying to sweep up sin wouldn't likely help a person's spiritual state.

One thing that Quaker Meeting for Worship does for me, is at least let the dust swirling around in my busy-busy mind and heart, to settle and be still and perhaps the divine Visitor might tiptoe in despite my messy ways....

I also pray for the woman with the bowl of water to come and sprinkle me, and the room, of course... but right now I'm just so aware of how I/we stir up the dust...

Saith the LORD God:
I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you....  Ezek 36:25-27a (KJV)

Early Friends were clear that Christians ought not be proud or think they/we are free of sin, for Jesus came to sinners, not the righteous.  So I hold out hope that my dusty Parlor might be graced with a Visit....

Saith Jesus:
They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  Luke 5:31-32 (KJV)

Grace and peace of the Lord to all who read this!

Susan J.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Knock Knock

Who’s There?

We started the blog about seven months ago, and we have learned a few things from the experience. Probably the most salient is, maintaining a blog is not easy. The three of us figured we could write one piece each every month, and maybe more. Well, that has not been the case. Life tends to get in the way of the best of intentions -- holidays, illnesses, family trips, projects. Sometimes you need to do a little research, only to find you have dropped into a deep, deep hole.

Finding or picking a topic can be problem as well. Sometimes you get an idea that seems fruitful, but as time passes, it loses its luster and fades away.

The sheer audacity of deciding to blog can be an obstacle as well, the idea that you have something to say that your friends and others are going to read. It is not like any of us have any great stature to justify the venture. On the other hand, it is another way to stretch your spiritual sense. The pacifism pieces I wrote led me to some writings and biographical sketches I may not have read otherwise. I was rather surprised at my conclusion.

Visitor map, scaled (sort of)
We were thinking our audience would come from our home area of Charleston. It was a real surprise to see the geographical range that emerged. As we expected, the Charleston area accounts for the largest slice of our audience. Over half of the new users in West Virginia are in our home metropolitan area. The second largest in WV is the city of Huntington.

Now, this is intriguing:  Huntington is the second largest city in our state, and the home of Marshall University, but it does not have a Friends meeting. No other area of the state comes close to Huntington's count. So, who are the people in Huntington? Maybe they could get together sometime? We would be happy to intermediate.

The national extent of our audience is another surprise. In the US, 82 visitors, half of the national count, come from about 30 states. About a quarter are drive-bys, and about a quarter come from our border states.

Only one or two have visited us from Russia,
China, India, and Canada, not like the map shows
Internationally, we have had visitors from 22 countries. Again, most are only making 1 visit. The remarkable exception is Russia, where users have visited the blog 60 times, nearly all from Moscow. This presents something of a mystery. The analytical tool does not pick up any ISP, so the number of  users is zero, but we've had 56 visits from Moscow. I know there is a Friends meeting there, a small one, but it would be interesting to know who is visiting from Moscow.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Return of the Prodigal Son

    Quakers base our belief on the “Inner Light,” the spirit of God that exists in everyone, which allows us to discern how to approach daily living. We often use queries, or questions that we can reflect on, when trying to come to an understanding or decision about an action.
    Our Meeting poses queries each month, and this month we have been reflecting on queries related to forgiveness:
  • What does God's forgiveness mean to you?
  • Can you think of a incident where you couldn't forgive?
  • How can you be forgiving even when you aren't asked for forgiveness?
    When I begin searching for ideas on a topic, I like to use wisdom from the Bible and other sources to help lead me to my own conclusions.  Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness. The gospel of Matthew has him saying  “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.(6:14-15, NIV). Later in Matthew, he tells Peter not to forgive just 7 times, but 77 (18: 21-22). In Luke, he urges us “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (6:37 NIV). In his final hours, he asked God to forgive his executioners (Luke 23:33-34) His understanding of forgiveness led him to remind us all, if any of us is without sin, let him throw the first stone (John 8:7)
    From these verses, I think that Jesus wants us all to understand that we can hurt or be hurt by others, but in order to create a peaceful world within ourselves, forgiveness is  necessary.  It brings about that inner peace which will enable us to live more fully in the spirit of love that God wants for all of his creation.  Forgiveness rids one of anger, resentment, and disharmony and allows the person to rise above the hurt. Forgiveness is not for the other person, it is for yourself.
    George Fox taught that if one lives in the virtue and power of God, then one can come into a perfectly restored relationship with God. Therefore, we can live in a condition where the kingdom of God is already present. We will be able to “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.” Many Friends believe that this is what God's plan for humankind really is.
The Buddhist writings I came across seem to approach forgiveness from the perspective of compassion for the pain of others. To have compassion for the person who has wronged us will enable us to rid ourselves of thoughts of hatred.  Compassion can rid us of  negative thoughts and stop us from shaping an identity around the pain.
    Another source of inspiration for me has been The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.  He writes about agreements made with yourself that can transform your life into an experience of freedom, happiness and love. One of the four agreements is “don’t take it personally” when others do things you perceive as hurtful.  Their actions are about them, not you.  When you take it personally, you take on their emotional baggage and set yourself up for needless suffering. Not taking the words or actions of others personally will shield us from hurt by the words or actions of others and we will then be able to live in a state of bliss.
    With so much wisdom from so many sources about forgiveness, why does it seem to be so difficult for us? I think one reason is that we confuse forgiveness with justice.  We want perpetrators to apologize and show remorse,  We want them to suffer as we have suffered. Forgiveness does not imply that justice is served, it merely allows one to move forward in peace and harmony with the world. How much better our lives can be if we can let go of the negative emotions associated with not forgiving.
    For me, I believe that God wants his creation to be happy, and to bring happiness to others, even though we live in a world of imperfect people. I like one quote from a Friend that says “Forgiveness is the act of letting go of all hope for a better past.” It is up to each of us to make our own happiness, and it seems that forgiving others, or ourselves, is one of the choices that can help us create that world. 

Charleston Gazette: "Quakers' teachings emphasize peace, simplicity"

Here is a very nice article about Charleston Friends Meeting, from the Saturday Charleston Gazette.

Thank you Bill Lynch!

Susan J.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

You Are Pacifists, Right?

In the World, Of the World

In an earlier post I considered the common perception that Quakers are all pacifists, and usually in the strictest sense. Well, that story is mixed. It would seem there have always been fighting Quakers. As one historian wrote, “pacifism was not a characteristic of early Quakers: it was forced upon them by the hostility of the outside world.”

The Society of Friends emerged from the disorder of the English Civil War, which was burdened by religion as well as the politics of representation. The Parliamentary “New Model Army” was one of Christian Soldiers, and the growing Quaker movement attracted numerous soldiers, often officers,  who were dissenters - those at odds with the Church of England.

After the monarchy was restored, an unrelated group of dissenters,the Fifth Monarchy Men, attempted an uprising, casting royal doubt on other religious factions within the military. To allay the monarchy’s suspicion of a possible fifth column, a dozen leaders of the early Friends authored A Declaration from the Harmless and Innocent People of God called Quakers Against all Plotters and Fighters in the World. The pamphlet explained that “wars and fightings proceed from the lusts of men [from which] the Lord hath redeemed us, and so out of the occasion of war.”  They informed the king “that the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ nor for the kingdoms of this world.”

As a pacifist statement, it was less than complete. It says we will not fight for kings or to impose our beliefs on others, but not a thing about defending family, home, property, or country. What early Friends called the “magisterial sword” that protects the innocent from the evil was accepted.

Come on up, I used to know your daddy.
So, what about bearing arms in support of a great principle?

 Quaker thought develops over time. As an example: in Colonial America, slavery was not widely questioned, but the Friends who recognized the inhumanity of it early challenged their Meetings.  Eventually, owning a slave was grounds for a Meeting to disown a member. It took time, but the truth of it finally overcame self-interest, and Quakers became leaders in the Abolitionist cause.

The question of bearing arms was posed for some of the first Quaker colonists. The large contingent of Friends in Rhode Island, facing the Indian raids and attacks of of King Phillips War (1675-76), responded defensively -- and maybe offensively. After another 75 years, the pacifist stance became more institutionalized. During the buildup to the French and Indian War, Pennsylvania Quakers would not support even defensive measures for frontiersmen facing Indian raids, or later the threat of French warships sailing up the Delaware and closing the Philadelphia port. Philadelphia Friends disowned supporters of the Revolution. One was Betsy Ross, for providing flags for the army. By 1780, there were enough disowned Friends to form their own Meeting, and the Friends community did not reunite until the mid-1830s.

A different conundrum came with the Civil War, being leaders in the Abolition movement. With the war, two essential principles came into contradiction, the inherent equality of all mankind and the refusal to take a life. I don’t know that anyone has done a comparison, but from my reading it seems that disownment for joining the military was more common in the Revolution than in the Civil War. One was essentially a political war, the other presented a clash of principles, as with the Second World War, when numbers of Quakers chose to fight tyrannical and merciless invaders of two other continents.

The Quaker way is about seeking and discovering truth. We have made it a point not to have a creed, a code of standards of orthodoxy or membership. We talk a lot about matters like this. Such freedom of thought might have led to dissolution by anarchy, but we allow for varying opinions to contend and reform as our Meetings proceed to discern the truth together. It is the spirit of seeking -- or seeking of the Spirit -- that holds us together.

National wars are still the curse of civilization. Idealists like Quakers are a needed example, and I am with them. I feel strongly that war is not a legitimate answer to almost any problem. I wish that everyone else believed that. But how do you handle sectarian wars, or ruthless cartels? In the dialectic between war and peace, I favor the pacifists  by a wide margin, but I think that sometimes, under extreme conditions, we have to stand aside. Maybe the best contribution a pacifist can make then is to urge national combatants to cool their passions, remind them that they need to show human compassion, and constantly recalculate the many costs of a war.

I asked a few months back, if Quakers are expected to be pacifists, am I one? To my surprise, it seems that  I am, conditionally. A decade before I found the Charleston Friends Meeting I wore a uniform, but I was never comfortable in Navy blues during a national war. Whether I would feel the same if threatened by the sectarian and political paramilitary thugs that are so common now, that might be different.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Gwyn Chapter 2: A Prophetic People

Chapter 2 of A Sustainable Life concerns Quaker thinking about and practice of "ministry" and "worship." 

These terms often function as Quakerly technical terms:  often when we say "ministry" we mean the spoken messages in our mostly-silent Meeting for Worship.  And "worship" is often shorthand for those same Meetings, where we sit in silence and wait for (we hope divine) prompting to speak.

Charleston Friends have a nice explanation by Douglas Steere, about that specialized terminology, and Doug Gwyn does a great job of describing it as well, bringing us back to our roots and encouraging us to faithfulness in "the mysterious interaction of silence and speaking" (p. 19) at the same time.

I find all this quite inspiring, but also frustrating.  Calling us "A Prophetic People" sounds pretty grandiose.  I certainly don't feel much like a prophet, or like what I imagine a prophet should be.

The part that really gets to me is on p. 35, just under the heading "Creature and New Creation" -- how I long to be a New Creation!  and to be part of the creating anew to which I believe God calls us!  Gwyn writes:

"In the ongoing life of a particular Friends meeting, we hear certain familiar themes and concerns (perhaps even “hobby horses”) from particular Friends. We may recognize them in ourselves as well.
The old Quaker expression, “the water tastes of the pipes,” acknowledges that even the most inspired message is marked by the personality of the speaker."

Certainly in my friendships and vocal ministry and emails and rants there are "certain themes and concerns" - no doubt the water tastes of the pipes.  How can we, in our Meetings and in our personal friendships, better speak and listen for the Living Water? - so to speak (seriously mixed metaphor - sorry).

This morning I'm feeling a hopeful lift:  some of us Friends have been friends for 10 or 20 or 30 years now, or even longer.  What if we could use this very familiarity with one another's "pipes" to listen more deeply, to hear God more clearly, to see into one another's hearts, to be prophets one to another, to hear the prophecy that one another may speak or live?

In the past I'd heard that old Quaker expression about the water tasting of the pipes as a wry criticism, a sort of "there she goes again" rolling of the eyes.  But whatever treasure we may have comes in earthen vessels.  Surely knowing one another very well over decades gives us an opportunity to taste the water of one another's ministry in a way that cannot be open to people just newly acquainted.

Grace and peace to any who may read this ---

Susan J.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Friends in High Places

A Long Post on Our Lobbying Trip

Susan made a comment, wondering about the process of the FCNL Lobby Day Karen and I wrote about. Here is a description.

It Does Take Some Nerve

It is a bit audacious to decide that you should travel to Washington and speak with Senators and Representatives about the nation's domestic or foreign policy. After all, while I am a little better educated than most, I'm just a citizen from a small state of no special significance.

But when you participate as one of hundreds of like-minded citizens, you do become significant. The Friends Committee on National Legislation recognizes this as an important strategy to get the attention of Congress, what you might call a force multiplier. Since we travel in groups for our visits, and we are representing our Friends Meetings, the idea of looking a Member of Congress in the eye and advocating a position for them to consider is not actually all that intimidating in person.