Thursday, November 6, 2008

Quakers, Voting and the Seeds of War

I know many people are very excited about the election results, but I have had something weighing on me for the past few weeks that I think I am finally able to express.

Elections seem to me to be another form of battle, perhaps more civilized than trying to kill each other, but there is still the underlying feeling that it is a battle. What does that mean to us as Friends?

In our business meetings, we don't vote. I'm not suggesting that I think that a Quaker business meeting will work in conducting the national affairs of 300 million people, but I think that our emphasis on not voting does reflect an understanding of what voting really is - the majority forcing its will on the minority. That isn't the main reason why we don't vote, of course. Friends have always understood that when we are rightly led by the Spirit, we are brought into unity with the will of God and have a shared understanding of what to do that is beyond even the idea of consensus.

We need to be particularly aware of how we are affected by political battles. We hear Friends speak of how we are opposed to the wars that "those people" are so eager to fight. For some Friends, "those people" are Republicans, or Evangelicals, or Baptists. When we look at others as "those people" we are sowing seeds of war. You can't have a battle until you first have a way to identify friend from foe. How many people in your meeting have bumper stickers like "F the President" or "Republicans for Voldemort" or "W(orst) President"? Those are seeds of war.

Over the past two days I have read various messages about how we should all come together now and support the president. These have almost always been from those whose candidate won, and I found myself thinking the same thing at first. Then I remembered how I felt after the last election, and that I could not just put the result aside and put on a happy "I support the president" face. I also must acknowledge that while the electoral college was roughly a 2-1 margin, the popular vote was about 53% to 46%. So 46% of Americans are going through the same struggle that I did 4 years ago.

The other part of this is my fundamental belief that the Spirit of Christ in every person can change hearts for the better. A hard-fought political victory doesn't usually change the loser's heart, and more often hardens it for the next fight. We need to keep that in mind while campaigning for change in the world. Sure the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the powerless need someone to speak up for them, but when we speak, we should be answering the witness of God in the hearts of others that their voices might join ours.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"That of God" and the Peace Testimony

I must confess that I often roll my eyes when I hear "there is that of God in every person" used as an explanation for the various testimonies. I have written before about how I think "that of God" is misused, turning it into an outward philosophical outlook instead of an inward transformation. It is interesting, however, that Joseph Hoag gave a defense of the Peace Testimony using essentially the idea of "that of God" in others:

I shall state, that myself and wife are true Christians, and our children are in the minority - and thou knowest it is natural for children to believe what their parents teach them - and therefore we are all true Christians as far as our several capacities enable us to be; and now the question lies here; which is most like the precepts and example of our King - the author of the Christian religion - to lay down our lives, and all go to heaven together; or kill that wicked Indian, and send him to hell; for he must be in as wicked a state as he can be, to kill a family that would not hurt him. General, it is a serious thing to send wicked folks to hell; they have no chance to come back and mend their ways; and thou dost not know, but that if that wicked Indian was spared he might feel remorse enough to make him repent, so as to find forgiveness, and go to heaven. I really believe, I should feel much better to see him come there than to send him to hell;

I find that this speaks powerfully to me, and has come to mind frequently, especially when related to death penalty issues. While it speaks of how we treat others, it still maintains the inward workings of "that of God", and also speaks of our own personal transformation, since he is basically saying "I have been transformed by Christ already, I would die before denying another person that opportunity."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Journal of Joseph Hoag

Cover of The Journal of Joseph Hoag

I have just completed my first experiment with's print-on-demand service. Using the LATEX typesetting system, I reformatted and indexed The Journal of Joseph Hoag and made it available as a paperback. The cost is $12.37 before shipping, and that is just the manufacturing cost, I don't make any money off of it. I just thought it would be nice to have the journal back in print. The text comes from the 1861 edition published by Knapp & Peck.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My third visit to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

I asked for time to speak about my visit to NCYM-C at the upcoming business meeting at Atlanta Friends this first day, and between now and then we will be taking a van-load of teens from AFM to Lilli Manis' memorial service in Chapel Hill. Since I wanted to be able to give the clerk some form of a written report, I thought I'd try to do that here first.

The 311th annual gathering of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was held on the campus of Guilford College from the 9th to the 13th of seventh month, 2008. We drove up with two other Friends from SAYMA - Austin Wattles from Atlanta, and Kristi Estes from Memphis (there were a total of 6 SAYMA Friends there this year). This was my first time staying at Guilford, although I have visited the library there several times. The dorm felt more like someone's house with old wooden doors and floors, and a nice porch with a swing. One of the things that impressed me most about the food, other than the good salad bar and vegan options, was that they didn't overcook the vegetables! I had snap peas that still had some snap, and asparagus that was crisp.

The session opened with worship, then after dinner was the meeting of Ministry and Oversight. The clerk, Charlie Ansell, asked me to share briefly about some of the things I have been doing - my workshop at SAYMA on George Fox's use of the bible (which I realize I haven't blogged about) and my work on making a print-on-demand version of Joseph Hoag's Journal, which is almost ready. I had given early copies to Lloyd Lee Wilson and Craig Fox, and that prompted Lloyd Lee to ask me to share about my work with the M&O meeting. After that, many people also shared what they had been doing, and it was beautiful hearing how the Spirit has been moving in the lives of Friends.

Lloyd Lee also invited us to the 6am "morning communion" and asked me to bring a bible passage to get the discussion started. I should explain more about how this came about. Last year, I posted a list of bible verses most frequently quoted by George Fox. Kirk Wattles (who is Austin's son) pointed out that many of the verses in that list were ones used to defend Quakerism against attacks from outside, so they weren't necessarily the ones most important to Quakers. Shortly before we left for NCYM-C, I made a new list that was drawn only from Fox's epistles, figuring that since the epistles are mostly pastoral in nature, it might be more interesting. When I mentioned this to Lloyd Lee, he suggested that maybe I could find something good in that list to get us started. After the M&O meeting, I went back to my room really excited about everything going on, and I identified several good verses, finally opting for Numbers 11:26-29.

But two men remained in the camp; one's name was Eldad, and the other's name was Medad. And the spirit rested on them. (Now they were among those in the registration, but had not gone to the tabernacle.) So they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!" Joshua son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his choice young men, said, "My lord Moses, stop them!" Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for me? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"

It was the thing about the Lord putting his Spirit on all the people that really grabbed me. With that, the morning communion got off and running, and it was one of my favorite parts of the day. I didn't mind having to wake up at 5:30.

The business sessions were well attended, and felt very worshipful. Someone raised the question of whether the meeting had something to say about the perceived drum-beating with respect to Iran. An ad-hoc committee was formed, and came back with a proposed minute in the final session. Although the final minute was a bit wordy, it was approved with just a few changes. I was particularly impressed by the unity of the meeting, it really felt like one body.

Carl McGruder was the plenary speaker for 6th day, and he was an amazing, dynamic speaker. He spoke on our caring for creation, not so much from a "how-to" perspective, but rather from one of being faithful, as well as hopeful. Carl showed how the peculiar way we are called to live as followers of Christ extends into how we interact with the planet. Elaine Emily, Carl's traveling companion, remarked later about how she tries to hold a gathering in the light to get it settled before Carl speaks and how it can be difficult, but that this group of people just centered down almost immediately.

Elder John Blackfeather Jeffries and his daughter Vivette Jeffries (fire carrier of the Occaneechi band of the Saponi) spoke on seventh day. The original idea was to get us started telling our own stories, but a lot of it was them telling their stories, as well as talking about their relationship with all creation - which is not so much a relationship as it is a recognition of being an inseparable part of creation. John spoke about his tribe finally being officially recognized by the U.S. Government - "Isn't that something, the white man is telling me I can be an Indian". Vivette spoke about growing up black, not knowing that she was an Indian. Now as a "fire carrier", she carries the story of her tribe.

I also enjoyed meeting David Martin, who I understand started the morning communion about 20 years ago. He has had health problems the last few years and wasn't able to attend many sessions. He didn't speak much, but when he did, he really made it count with a perfect blend of deep insight and humor. He told a story about some sailors who saw a signal fire just in time to keep their boat from smashing against the rocks. They were so grateful that they stayed in the area and kept the signal fire lit all the time to help warn other sailors. Eventually, they built a museum that showed the history of the signal fire and the various phases it went through. The sailors got so busy with the museum, they forgot to light the fire. And that's what we have been doing to the Religious Society of Friends.

My memory is a little hazy, but I think it was Liz Oppenheimer who remarked that it was interesting how often we heard the word "corporate" during the yearly meeting, and it really showed in the way the yearly meeting acted as a unified body. There's an old query "Are love and unity maintained among you?" For this yearly meeting, I think the answer would be a simple "yes".

Monday, July 14, 2008

Heartache in the Midst of Joy

Ceal and I got back from the 311th annual gathering of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) last night. I will post more about it in the next few days.

On saturday evening, we got a call from Samantha, our granddaughter, informing us that Lilli Manis who had just graduated from high school and from the SAYF (Southern Appalachian Young Friends) program was killed by a drunk driver that morning. Her boyfriend Philip Jurov, also from SAYF, was seriously injured but as of saturday night was listed in fair condition.

Lilli was a beautiful person, and very smart. She was going to study Asian Studies at Earlham this fall, where Philip also planned to study Computer Science (Lilli seemed to be quite the computerphile as well, I had several very geeky discussions with them both during retreats).

Here is a picture of Lilli and Philip:

Lilli Manis and Philip Jurov

After we learned of the accident, Susan and Lloyd Lee Wilson came and sat with us in worship for a while, and Cheryl Sutton of Iowa YM-C joined us. The next morning at the "morning communion" Friends were again very comforting. I don't really have words for my appreciation of the deep, loving care we were shown.

There is so much prayer needed, for Philip, for friends and families, for our SAYF community, for the 19 year-old who caused the wreck and for his friends and family.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Legend of Bagger Vance

I don't watch many movies these days, which is why I am only now getting around to seeing "The Legend of Bagger Vance". I probably never would have seen it, except that when Craig Fox and I were discussing the Bhagavad Gita, he mentioned that Bagger Vance was loosely based on it.

I don't know if I would have picked up on the BG connection, although naming the Arjuna character "Junuh" might have tipped me off. I am not the kind of person to pick up all the fine similarities, so my coarse view of how BG comes out through Bagger Vance is this:

  • Junuh is a golfer who "lost his swing" and now needs to find it again. Vance (the Krisha character) tells him that everyone has their own swing that has always been with them, but they have forgotten it. I am pretty sure that the swing is supposed to be a metaphor for dharma.

  • It was his participation in World War I that caused Junuh to lose his swing, which I think refers to the opening of the Gita where Arjuna is in between two armies each made up of his extended family, and he does not want to fight - Krisha says that he is abandoning his dharma.

  • There's some stuff about focusing on the field and ignoring everything else that may refer to the path of yoga.

  • Towards the end, Junuh penalizes himself a stroke because he accidentally moved the ball while removing a twig. No one saw it, so he could have pretended it didn't happen. It is at this point that Vance leaves, having nothing more to teach Junuh. I think this is supposed to refer to a detachment from the results - that it is "playing the game" or "living out one's dharma" that is the important thing, not winning the game - in fact, there are several mentions of the game not being something you win.

  • I think my view of spiritual gifts and service to God has been influenced by the Gita. My understanding of spiritual gifts is that we all have different ones, and our purpose is to use them in service to God. Just as each person has their own dharma (vocation, maybe?), each person may have different gifts. We should not strive to mimic other's gifts, but use what we have been given. As George Fox wrote "And therefore all mind your gift, mind your measure; mind your calling and your work. Some speak to the conscience; some plough and break the clods; some weed out, and some sow; some wait, that fowls devour not the seed". I think we sometimes have a tendency to mistake our calling as something everyone should be doing (although there is also the problem of writing of something important, like business meeting, as being "someone else's calling").

    The detachment from the results is also very important. When we do something in order to get a reward, or recognition, we run the risk of feeling ourselves a failure if we don't get what we are expecting. It also means that we may ignore some small act in search of something with a bigger rewards. For example, if one acts faithfully in speaking out against war, the fact that the war continues does not mean that the speaking out was a failure. When one is moved to engage someone one-on-one about war and instead stands on a corner with a sign because it visible to more people, that could be considered being unfaithful to one's calling. Inviting someone to meeting isn't necessarily a failure just because the person doesn't come. That is a difficult thing to remember in our society.

    Sunday, May 4, 2008

    She Ain't Heavy, She's My Sister

    I read this story earlier this week, and it has been on my mind ever since. Sara Tucholsky, a senior at Western Oregon college, hit the first home run of her life in a softball game against Central Washington. Unfortunately, after she missed first base and turned back, her knee buckled and she fell to the ground. If her teammates were to touch her, she would not be able to continue around the bases, and her knee wasn't letting her do that anyway. That's when Mallory Hoffman, the first basewoman for the opposing team said to the umpires "Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?" And that's what they did..

    I have a great feeling of joy, and of rightness, when I see something like this, and I believe it is the Holy Spirit within me saying "That's what you should be doing! That's what 'love your neighbor' and 'love your enemy' is all about!" It is yet another reminder that there is no team, no company, no sect, no club, no uniform, no country, that is more important than our membership in the Kingdom of God. There is nothing that should come between our love for God and for each other.

    Sunday, March 30, 2008

    Getting in Deep

    I was thinking this morning about our attitudes to the Light of Christ within us and our willingness to trust in it, and I imagined a swimming pool in which the water represents God.

    Some people like the pool area, maybe like the people who swim there, but aren't willing to jump in. They just sit in the chairs around the pool, and talk about the nature of the water.

    Others, like me, get in the pool, but stay in the shallower areas where they are still standing on their own feet.

    Where I wish to be, though, is the deep end, where I am no longer standing on my feet, but bouyed completely by the love of God.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Quiz time - Who said this?

    I came across an interesting quote I'd like to share:

    Well, Christianity and being a true believer--you know, I think there's the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven.

    Do you have a guess who might have said it? (Hint: It wasn't a Quaker) I'll put the answer in a comment.

    Monday, March 3, 2008

    You're in charge of the house

    I have seen numerous movies and TV shows where the parents say to their teenage son or daughter "you're in charge of the house while we're gone", setting up the inevitable plot in which the teen makes a wreck of the house and tries to get it all cleaned up before the parents get home. Obviously being "in charge" of the house is not a license to wreck it or have one's way with it.

    What called this to mind was the notion that we as human beings have a special God-given dominion over the Earth and the creatures living upon it, and that we can do with it what we like. When I remember that "the Earth is the Lord's", it reminds me that like the partying teen, we are still responsible for taking good, responsible care of our house.

    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    J.S. Rowntree on Gospel Ministry

    I was reading a book about Lewis Benson recently, and in a chapter written by Joseph Pickvance, he mentioned two chapters from John Rowntree's works that Lewis had recommended to him These two chapters had to do with the work of gospel ministry in the Society of Friends. It was written around 1908 and contains some great insights about how things were then, as well as in George Fox's time.

    One of the interesting things to me was that early in Friends' history, ministers would meet together each week and plan what meetings they would attend on the following First-day. This was to ensure that the work of the ministry was spread out amongst the various meetings.

    One thing I often hear about is how, from the beginning, men & women had essentially an equal role in ministry, yet I find signs in Rowntree's writings that it wasn't quite as rosy as I had pictured. In looking at some of the schedules for what ministers would visit where, it is mostly men - Rowntree includes a replica of one such schedule that shows only one woman on the list. Another chart showing the decline of ministers (based on how many have died) does show that about 3/5 were men, which isn't that bad a ratio. One of the most disappointing items with respect to women that Rowntree presents came from the minutes of the Second Day Morning Meeting on 1st Month 10, 1700:

    This meeting finding that it is a hurt to Truth for women Friends to take up too much time as some do in our public meetings, when several public and serviceable men Friends are present, and are by them prevented in their services. It's therefore advised that the women Friends should be tenderly cautioned against taking up so much time in our mixed public meetings. Benjamin Bealing to give a copy of this minute to Sarah Plumley and Margt. Munro, for them to communicate to other women Friends, and that it may be prevented for the future.

    You can read Rowntree's works on Google Books, or if you just want the two chapters Lewis Benson mentioned, I have reformatted them with LaTEX and created a PDF, which is here. You are welcome to use the PDF in any way you like. If you want the LaTEX source, just ask.

    Oh, don't be frightened by the first paragraph of the chapter on "Gospel Ministry In The Society", the rest of the chapter is not nearly that obtuse.