Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Catching Up on Gandhi's Birthday

As Gandhi's birthday approaches (Friday, Oct 2), I feel in the mood to celebrate peace and also to catch up on my daily blog. The book about Howard and Anna Brinton is now 80% complete: the biography part is finished, but the hardest part is still to be written: assessing the theological writings of these seminal Quaker thinkers/educators.

Last week I spent two days at the library of Whittier College doing research, and spent the night at the home of Bill Miller, a retired Methodist pastor who is a dear friend. It was fun to spend time in a city where Kathleen and I spent many wonderful years. I even had time to have lunch with Lynda Ladwig and Susan, who are members of First Friends Church, which I attended when I lived in Whittier.

This past weekend I took a break from my writing to attend a workshop led by John Calvi, one of the most beloved spiritual healers in Quakerdom. John was trained as a masseuse and originally wanted to work on cruise ship, but God had other plans. He ended up working with victims of torture, rape, and other forms of trauma abuse. He is a gentle, deeply intuitive spirit who can "read" the body the way others read braille. Around 18 people took part in his workshop, which took place in a beautiful setting: the redwoods near Santa Cruz.

It was a very healing weekend, and I learned a lot. At one point, John rubbed his hand up and down my back and it was like a warm fire lighting up every muscle and nerve. As he "listened" to his hands, he said, "Hmmm. You've been doing your homework. Everything seems very clear." That was a very reassuring reading, one I could concur with. I do feel very clear, thanks be to God. Later he did another "reading" of my back and made a prediction: "You've been working for 25 years and you will have a big voice." I don't know exactly what it means to have a "big voice" but I know I am being called to travel in the ministry. I hope my voice is gentle and loving and clear.

I have received such a warm response from Australian Friends I've decided to stay an extra month in Australia so that I can attend Australia Yearly Meeting as well as the Parliament of World Religions. I plan to visit Friends in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. I am eager to learn more about Australian Friends and share what I learn with American Friends upon my return.

I am also scheduled to give two talks this week: one at ICUJP (Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace) and another at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Los Angeles.

My first talk will be at ICUJP on Gandhi's birthday (Friday, Oct 2). It's titled: “Let Peace Begin with Us”: Reflections on Gandhi, Quakerism, and My Spiritual Journey Towards Peace" and contains passages on Quaker peacemaking from the Brinton book. Here's what I plan to say to my friends in the interfaith peace community:

I feel honored to be sharing my spiritual journey and my Quaker faith with you on Gandhi’s birthday. It seems fitting for a Quaker to honor Gandhi on this special day since Quakers and Gandhi share many things in common. Quakers supported Gandhi’s efforts to bring about Indian independence through nonviolent means, and many Friends resonate with Gandhi’s experimental approach to religion, and vice versa. So I’d like to begin with a story about Gandhi and the Quakers told by William Sessions, a British Friend.

Back in the 1920s, when a British Cabinet Mission went out to India to try to settle the Indian question, they took part in several Quaker Meetings which were attended by prominent Indian leaders, both Muslim and Hindu. Mahatma Gandhi attended one of these meetings.
Afterwards Gandhi spoke highly of the calm atmosphere which prevailed at this Quaker meeting for worship. "I greatly admire the silent prayers," he said, "We must devote part of our time to such prayers. They afford peace of mind."

Gandhi also said: "In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness." He also saw a connection between prayer and activism: "Prayer is not ...idle amusement,” Gandhi said. “Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action."

Silent worship is what drew me to the Quakers back in 1984. At the time, I had completed my Ph.D. in British literature at Rutgers University and was finishing up a stint teaching at Carleton College in Minnesota, but my life was in crisis. I had just gone through a painful divorce and my widowed mother was dying of emphysema. I went back to Princeton—my hometown—to help my mother and my kid sister during this difficult time.

My family situation was so complicated, so fraught with emotional turmoil, I felt helpless, so I asked God for assistance. Not long afterwards, an old friend of mine from graduate school days showed up at my house and seemed to radiate calmness. He had changed drastically from the hyper person I knew from grad school so I asked him what had caused this change in his life. He told me about Quakerism and how it had helped him to find inner peace. Since I needed some peacefulness in my life, I decided to give Quakers a try.

Princeton Quakers meet in an old 18th century meetinghouse located in a beautiful, peaceful wooded area near Stony Brook where I used to go fishing as a kid. I entered this ancient meetinghouse and sat down on a bench in front of a stone fireplace with forty or so others. We soon settled into deep silence. It was the most profound spiritual experience I had ever had, and it was just what I needed. I realized I didn’t need a preacher, or music, or words of any kind to have a relationship with the Divine. It was enough to sit in silence and experience the calm, peaceful Presence that lies deep within us. Quakers call this by many names: the Inner Light, the Inward Christ, the Seed. But there is really no word that can begin to describe what this experience is like. Paul perhaps said it best when he called it “the peace that passeth understanding.”

After worship, I discovered that the Quakers, or Friends as they like to be called, were extremely friendly folk who loved to talk and socialize. They were a close-knit community that practiced their faith not only on Sunday, but during the rest of the week as well. I was pleased to have such a community in Princeton, which can be a highly competitive, class-conscious place. The Quakers did not seem to care about status and prestige. They gave me the support and unconditional love I needed to help me cope with my personal issues.

I was also extremely impressed by how Quakers were committed to hands-on peace and justice work. Princeton Meeting was part of the sanctuary movement and took under its care two Salvadoran refugees whom I came to know and who practically became part of my family. I later came to know Jim Corbett, a Quaker from Arizona who helped start the sanctuary movement.
Along with Quakerism, I also practiced Buddhism at this time and lived for nine months in a Zen center in Providence, RI. To earn a living I co-edited a magazine called Fellowship in Prayer with the Friend who had introduced me to Quakerism. Fellowship in Prayer, which is now called Sacred Journey, was started in 1949 to promote peace by showing that all religions have a practice of prayer or meditation that leads to inner peace and ultimately, to peace in the world.
I was pleased to discover that Quakers are a non-exclusive branch of Christians who embrace a Universalist approach to religion. Quakers believe there is “that of God” in everyone, and there is Truth in every religious tradition. William Penn expressed our interfaith ideal beautifully over three hundred years ago:

"The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the liveries they wear here make them strangers."

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, told Friends to “walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in everyone.”

Quakers interpreted this to mean that there “that of God” even in one’s enemy. This is a belief that Gandhi shared and which helped him in his struggles to gain India’s independence from the Brits. Gandhi befriended General Smuts and others whose racist policies he opposed.
Similarly, Quakers don’t demonize our enemies, we try to humanize them by reaching out in friendship. Throughout the Cold War, from the McCarthy to the Reagan era, Quakers reached out to the Russians in the spirit of friendship, even though it made them suspect and unpopular with some Americans. In fact, Quaker have been reaching out to the Russians ever since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. As you may remember, Claire Gorfinkel published a book about Quaker outreach to Russians called The Constructive Spirit.

This spirit of friendship and outreach is what made it possible for me and other Quakers to work with Russians during the 1980s when Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and threatening them with a nuclear arms buildup. At that time I became involved in a Quaker-inspired Soviet-American joint book project whose purpose was to dispel stereotypes and to promote peace. We went to the Soviet Union and found a Russian publisher willing to work with us on a collection of fiction and poetry about everyday life in our two countries. This book was to be jointly edited and published in the US and USSR. No literary project like this had ever been done before, but our Russian publisher felt confident we could do it because he trusted the Quakers. Later we gained the support of Norman Cousins and the book called The Human Experience was finally published in the Soviet Union and the United States in 1989, just as the Berlin Wall was coming down. Projects such as these played a small, but significant role in building the trust needed for the Cold War to end.

One of the things I appreciate about Quakerism is that it has given me the opportunity to use my gifts and talents as a writer in the cause of peace and justice. Over the years I’ve written numerous articles and edited books that deal with various concerns, from Compassionate Listening to Spiritual Ecology. I’ve brought some of these books to share with you.

My most recent work-in-progress is a biographical study of two Quakers educators named Anna and Howard Brinton. They were two of the most influential Quakers of the 20th century. They met during an AFSC relief project in Europe after World War I and they were active in the AFSC all their lives. In 1936 they became directors of Pendle Hill, the Quaker think tank and educational center near Philadelphia. During the nearly forty years that the Brintons worked and lived at Pendle Hill, they wrote about and modeled what Quakerism is all about. The Quaker historian Thomas Hamm said that Howard and Anna Brinton were “the most remarkable Quaker couple since Goerge Fox married Margaret Fell.” (George and Margaret are considered the founders of Quakerism.)

Pendle Hill is where I met my wife, and where I had planned to spend a year writing a book about the Brintons. Even though we had to make other plans because of Kathleen’s illness, this book is almost complete, thanks be to God. So I’d like to conclude by sharing with you some of Howard Brinton’s ideas about peacemaking and showing how they are similar to Gandhi’s.
As World War II broke out in Europe, Howard began writing essays on pacifism which were collected into a Pendle Hill booklet called Critique by Eternity (1943). In this booklet, which was widely used in Quaker First Day Schools, Howard lays out what have become the seminal ideas of Quaker peacemaking.

First, Howard argues that isolationism and pacifism are polar opposites. The true pacifist is engaged with the world, and seeks to bring about a peaceful society by eliminating injustice. A pacifist is someone who has experienced inner peace, usually within the context of a supportive religious community, and then seeks to bring out peace in the world through the elimination of selfishness. The root cause of war is a sense of isolation that leads to barriers between people—borders, tariffs, armies, etc.

In “Why Are Quakers Pacifists?” Howard uses an historical approach. He discusses the faith and practice of early Friends and observes that they did not write a lot about pacifism or the Peace Testimony because they were primarily concerned not with “right action in itself but a right inward state out of which right action will arise.”[1]

In “Blitzkrieg and Pacifism” Howard takes an approach rooted in biology (Howard was trained as a scientist and frequently described Quaker process as “organic” as opposed to the “mechanical” approach to religion).[2] According to Howard, violence depends on quickness because its very nature is mechanical and self-destructive. Pacifism, on the other hand, works slowly because it is an organic process.

“The pacifist therefore cannot depend on blitzkrieg methods,” concludes Howard. “He must abide the slowness of the organic. An inanimate bomb reaches its goal swiftly, annihilating whatever is in its way. A living object is soft and pliant, slowly adjusting its environment to itself. It must always depend on small beginnings, germ cells which are perhaps invisible. The pacifist is not afraid of minute beginnings, aimed at the distant future. Violence works quickly, but in the realm of life results are never swift.”[3]

These observations seemed especially relevant during the Bush years when proponents of American imperialism used blitzkrieg methods, otherwise known as “shock and awe,” to try to enforce their agenda upon the world. We know now that such methods don’t work in the long run. In Howard’s view, curing the unhealthy tendencies in a violence-addicted society like ours will not be accomplished quickly through some kind of pacifist “wonder drug,” but will require a slow, organic healing process.

Howard was convinced that pacifism cannot succeed if it is based merely on facts, theories and intellectual concepts. Many professed pacifists (like Reinhold Nieburh) adopted a pro-war stance (sometimes called “Christian realism”) because their pacifism was an intellectual construct.
True pacifism must be grounded in spiritual experience, and in a community where peace and reconciliation are practiced as a way of life.

Howard’s ideas about peacemaking have permeated Quaker thinking and still have relevance today. When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Friends General Conference reprinted a pamphlet based on Howard’s writing about the Peace Testimony. Gandhi would agree with many of Brinton’s ideas. For Gandhi believed, like the Quakers, that peace begins within us, and that we cannot achieve peace in the world unless we have attained some measure of peace within ourselves. Gandhi also believed that peace is a way of life, a spiritual discipline.For Howard Brinton, the examplary approach to peacemaking is best summed up in a rejoinder by Joseph Hoag, a nineteenth century peace advocate. When Hoag advocated the Quaker peace testimony in 1812, a member of the audience said, “Well, stranger, if all the world was of your mind I would turn and follow after.”Hoag replied, “So then thou hast a mind to be the last man to be good. I have a mind to be one of the first and set the rest an example.”[4]

Gandhi expressed the same idea in a memorable phrase, “We must become the change we want to see in the world.”

This is my hope and prayer for us at ICUJP on this day celebrating the birth of Gandhi. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.

[1] Critique by Eternity, Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill, 1943, p. 21.
[2] Brinton’s ideas here may also have been influenced by Taoism and by the mystical works of Jacob Boehme, who was the subject of Brinton’s doctoral dissertation.
[3] Op. cit., p. 19.
[4] Ibid,pp. 196-7.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Post-traumatic growth syndrome....

If you want to watch an inspiring film about 9/11, I highly recommend "Beyond Belief," a documentary by Beth Murphy. The film follows Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, two women who lost their husbands on September 11, 2001. Susan and Patti were "ordinary" housewives from Boston, who were pregnant and had kids when their husbands were killed. Grief-stricken and devastated by what happened, they became friends and found comfort in each other's company. Later they decided to reach out to war widows in Afghanistan, and even went to Kabul to meet the women they were helping (and being helped by). It's a powerful and moving story of how these women overcame the horrors of 9/11 through love and commitment to something bigger than themselves.

During this film, Patti talked about "post traumatic growth syndrome." By this term she meant that sometimes trauma can help us to grow emotionally and spiritually, if we channel our grief and pain into the path of love and compassion.

I guess I have been experiencing "post traumatic growth syndrome" since the death of my wife.

This is what I talked about in a podcast interview about our cancer journey for a podcast weblog called "Methodistdisciple". You can find it at ://methodistdisciple.podbean.com/

Don Leiffer asked me to do this interview after I gave a presentation about my cancer journey with Kathleen in San Bernardino at Del Rosa United Methodist Church, which we served for six years in the early 1990s. Betty Finn, a member of this church, invited me to speak at the United Methodist Women's monthly circle. A few good men showed up, including Don from St Pauls' UMC.

Don was the program director for KVCR-TV, Ch. 24 (PBS) for forty years and is a deeply committed Christian. Now that he is retired, he works with Tom Pilkington on a weekly podcast featuring Methodists who exemplify "discipleship," i.e. faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus. Don felt that I would make a good interviewee, even though I am a Quaker, not a Methodist. I was honored to be chosen for this interview.

I appreciated having the opportunity to share my story of "post traumatic growth" with a sympathetic group of Methodist women.

I must say they were extremely tolerant of my Quaker eccentricities The potluck began at 6:30 and I was supposed to speak at 7:15. However, I am observing the fast for Ramadan and the sunset didn't set till 7:17. So after I was introduced at 7:15, I told the group that in two minutes, the electronic muezzin on my computer would chant the call to prayer in Arabic and that would be the opening devotion. At precisely 7:17, the call to prayer resounded, I'm sure, for the first time in this Methodist social hall. After it subsided, I told them the story about how Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of So Cal, came with his wife to the bedside of Kathleen to pray on Mother's Day, and how moved I was by this act of kindness on the part of my Muslim friend.

The Methodist women were moved, too.

"We truly are one family, God's family," I said. "Can I get an amen?"

And I did!

I am very grateful that I married a Methodist and am now part of this loving and inclusive Methodist family as well as my Quaker family. But most of all, I'm glad to be part of God's family.

One final story. As you may know, Kathleen was very close to a homeless couple named Melissa and Shawn who live on the streets of Torrance. Melissa is a thirty-two year old mother who is legally blind and crippled with a degenerative joint disease and must use a wheelchair. She lives on the street because the $900 she receives in SSI isn't enough to pay for rent and food. She and her boyfriend live for a week each month in motels and the rest of the month on the street. Recently her wheelchair began to break down and she needed a new one. Because of budget cutbacks, she couldn't see a medical doctor for six months.

I told my Quaker meeting about her plight and Friends donated $350. Melissa was thrilled. This was enough for a wheelchair, plus $60 left over for food and a gift for her 10-year-old daughter Crystal, who lives in a foster home and whom Melissa adores.

Kathleen's last words were about Melissa. When Kathleen regained consciousness in ICU, and the doctors were still hopeful they might be able to take her off the respirator, I told her various stories about how her friends and family members had come to see her over Mother's Day weekend. The last story I told her was about Melissa.

Kathleen was still on the respirator and couldn't speak but she could respond by nodding her head and squeezing my finger.

I told her that Melissa had called dozen of times to find out how Kathleen was doing, and sent her love. I also told Kathleen that Melissa was very sad because she had wanted to see her daughter on Mother's Day, but her aunt wouldn't let her come and visit. (The daughter was staying with the aunt at the time.) Melissa was heart-broken, so I told Kathleen I sent her a card and some money.

"That's what you would have done, isn't it, darling?" I said.

She nodded and squeezed my fingers, real hard.

That was the last story I shared with her because she was tired. She went to sleep and never woke up.

I know that buying Melissa a wheelcar is something that Kathleen would definitely have done.

On Wednesday, I went with Melissa and Shawn to buy the wheelchair. Afterwards, we had lunch at Buffy's with Sara Dickens, one of the pillars of Walteria UMC. (Sara sprang for lunch, bless her heart! I knew she would.)

Melissa is such a sweet, Christian soul. During our lunch she told one of her typical stories. "There's this guy named Mickey at Starbucks. He is autistic or something, and he was cleaning the bathroom. And this guy came up, all impatient like, and said, real angry, Hurry up or I'll pee on you. And I go, you better be nice to Mickey or you'll have to step outside and answer to me."

Ordinarily as a Quaker I don't approve of such threats, but the idea of Melissa, half blind and crippled, standing up for the rights of an autistic man made me smile. She then went on:

"Mickey does a real good job of cleaning up things. He's real slow and careful like. And we always can tell when he's cleaned the windows cause they shine. And we tell him he's doing a great job. You know, he needs a lot of encouragement."

I think you know why Kathleen and I love Melissa. She has such a good heart.

Please hold Melissa in the Light. This week she goes to find out if she will qualify for Section 8 housing. She has been waiting for five years. Without Section 8, it is almost impossible for her to get housing because her former husband was evicted from an apartment and that's on Melissa's record. I offered to cover Melissa's deposit but landlords won't let her sign a lease with her "record." And being homeless and poor, she can't get legal recourse. So pray for Melissa. Pray hard, please!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Signs of hope in Meetinghouse and mosque...

This week has been divine, thanks be to God.

On Sunday, I got up at the rise of Meeting and told Friends about my friends Melissa and Shawn, a homeless couple in Torrance that Kathleen and I have known, and loved, for several years. I reminded them that Melissa is living on the street because the $900 per month she receives from SSI isn't enough to pay for food and lodging, and because she has been waiting for Section 8 housing for 5 years. I told them I wrote a glowing recommendation of Melissa for her social worker. Melissa is a truly good person who doesn't use drugs or alcohol and often helps out her homeless friends. She loves her 10-year-old daughter dearly and Melissa's big dream is to have an apartment so she can take her daughter out of a foster home and live with her. A deeply believing Christian, Melissa often calls me and we pray together over the phone. But Melissa needs help. Her wheelchair is breaking down and because of Medicare cuts, she can't see a doctor for six months. I asked people to make a contribution and sign a card for her.

To my surprise and delight, Friends donated over $350, enough not only to pay for a wheelchair but also to cover a night's lodging in a motel and a meal! Melissa was thrilled by this news, and so was I. In facebook, I wrote: "I love Santa Monica Friends!" A friend I hardly know responded on my wall: "I love Santa Monica Friends too, and I don't know them!"

I love Santa Monica Friends not only because of they are generous and kind, but also because they stand up for justice. Last week seven members of our Meeting went to Senator Feinstein's office to urge her to take a stand in favor of the House health care plan, especially the public option. I know that many Santa Monica Friends have been calling up their elected officials and letting them know the time has come to provide health care for all Americans!

On Sunday I went to an "Interfaith Celebration of Hope" at the Islamic Center of So Cal, where I saw many old friends and was pleased to learn that Dr. Jerry Campbell, the President of the Claremont School of Theology, was being honored because his school has decided to become an interfaith seminary. They plan to hire at least one Muslim scholar and a Jewish scholar to teach in this new program. This is certainly a sign of hope!

Also honored was Steve Gilliland, a Mormon interfaith activist, who is just back from a trip to Israel/Palestine and spoke with great feeling about the oppression of the Palestinians.

While in Israel, he went to the village of Bil'in, where Palestinians, Jews and internatonals are nonviolently protesting the confiscation of Palestinian lands and the erection of a wall separating them from their livelihood. He told us that last month over 200 masked and camouflaged Israeli soldiers swarmed into the West Bank village of Bil’in at 3 a.m. and raided five homes. Eight people were arrested, including Mohammad Khatib a leader of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements. I applaud Steve's courage and passion for speaking out against these injustices.

Most of the talks were not political, however. They dealt with the theme of hope from a variety of religious perspectives--Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish. Among the speakers were Father Alexei Smith, Betty Cooney (a 7th day adventitst), Randolph Dobbs (a Bahai), and Jonathan Freund (Board of Rabbis). We also heard about humanitarian efforts that are being undertaken by different religious groups, including homeless feeding and micro-loans to people in developing nations. It was very inspiring.

After the talks, we had a time of prayer and then broke fast with dates and water. The non-Muslims were ushered upstairs for a magnificent feast. I got to sit next to my dear friend Gwynne Guibord, interfaith rep for the Episcopalian church. I had a nice chat with my Episcopalian friends.

In addition, I had an iftar potluck at my home on Satuday. Four Friends showed up and we had a good time. On Friday I went to Darlene's for a meditation session and we also had a potluck iftar. (Since Ramadan began, we have included a potluck with our meditation so that I would be able to attend.) I am grateful to Friends for supporting me during my Ramadan fast since I don't have Kathleen around any more to be my support.

This has also been a good week for writing. I am finally back in the swing of writing my Brinton book and have written nearly 10,000 words since Ramadan began--bringing the total to around 60,000 words. At this rate, the book may be almost complete by the time I go to Pendle Hill next month, inshallah.

Loving God, words cannot express the gratitude I feel for you bestowed upon me, especially Your presence in my life, the greatest gift of all being You!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More iftars, and thoughts on Quaker worship

I have attended two iftars this weekend, and they were both wonderful, thanks be to Allah!

The first iftar I attended was held by the Palestinian American Women's Association (PAWA), This group holds an annual fundraising banquet during Ramadan. I went because I wanted to support the Palestinian people and because the main speaker was my dear friend Shakeel Syed. He is just back from his second visit to Israel/Palestine and gave a powerful speech describing the deplorable conditions that he witnessed. His prophetic call to action was irresistible: like apartheid in South Africa, or the Jim Crow world of the South before the Civil Rights Movement, the situation in Israel/Palestine is morally indefensible. Palestinians are being brutalized and treated as second-class citizens. They are being surrounded by wall, ghettoized, and deprived of their dignity. Just as people of conscience rose up to oppose the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, we must do the same to oppose the racist apartheid policies of Israel. Another speaker, a woman lawyer, showed us a powerpoint about the horrific conditions left in the wake of Israel's brutal massacre in Gaza. The ongoing seige of Gaza is a blot on the conscience of humanity.

There were also some upbeat notes. PAWA raises money to send 35 young Palestinian-American women to study at Birzeit University in Ramallah. A young nurse testified about how meaningful this experience had been to her. We also heard songs by Palestinian children, and some traditional Palestinian music. I was also impressed by the vibrant visionary art of Ibrahim Al Nashahibi, a Palestinian artist living in San Diego.

I sat at the table of a Palestinian woman named Nazreem whom I know from Whittier. A self-appointed good will ambassador, she goes about giving talks (nonpolitical) about Palestinian culture and Islam. I met her husband Dalal (a physician), her son Noor (studying to be an engineer), and her teenage daughter. I enjoyed their company very much.

The next day (Sunday) I went to an iftar that the Islamic Shura Council of So Cal presents each year. This is an interfaith event which has become like a family reunion for me since I have been going for many years and know many of the attendees. I was touched when I saw Hassam Ayloush (exec dir of CAIR) and he told me he used to read my cancer blog and was inspired an moved. "You are like family," he said, and I felt the truth of his words. We have moved beyond tolerance, beyond even appreciation, to realizing that we are all one family, created by one God.

I sat at a table with Quakers from the AFSC and a Mormon couple, the daughter of my friend Judy Gilliland. Her husband Steve has worked tirelessly to create interfaith understanding and he received an award for his efforts. Steve is a professor and he and his wife taught for a year in a Mormon college in Jerusalem. They have gone back many times and are knowledgeable about the situation there.

Besides going to iftars, I went to a healing meditation at the home of a homebound Friend. In order to support my fast during Ramadan. this group of Frends decided to move the time of the meditation to 6:30 so that we could eat together at 7:30, the time of sunset when Muslims break their fast.

We did the same thing last night at the home of my Jewish friend Ruth Sharone. We were having a mailing party for the Parliament and decided to meet at 7:30 for dinner in order to be supportive of my fast. Before eating, we said prayers in Arabic, Hebrew and Sanskrit. (Several of the volunteers belonged to the Vedanta Society.) Our group also included a Catholic, Thomas, who came later.

As Ramadan progresses, so does my book about Howard and Anna Brinton, two of the major Quaker educators/theologians of the 20th century. I was finally able to do some significant writing after a week of preparation. Here's a sample:


For Howard Brinton, the core of Quakerism was its unique approach to worship. One of his earliest writings on this subject was a talk about worship which he gave at Pickering College in 1914. He began by observing:

Of all our Quaker heritage, the most important part is the highest and holiest act of which mankind is capable—the worship of his God. Our theory is so simple that it
hardly deserves the name of a theory. Worship, we believe, is a personal
communion with God Himself, and the form it may take, or its place or time, or
any outward circumstance whatever are far less in importance to the sincerity
and reality of the act itself.[1]
Howard’s tone switches from the lofty to the scientific as he compares meeting for worship to a laboratory—an image he often uses in later writings.

This Quaker method, if method it can be called, might be described as the
laboratory method. The modern teacher of science does not require his class to
blindly accept the authority of a book. Experiments are done which prove the
facts. Similarly the Quaker worship is not a worship by proxy, but a worship of
actual personal experience.[2]

Equating worship with the experimental method of science was one of the characteristics of modernist Quakerism. Modernists saw Quakerism as differing from traditional Christianity because it relied not on the authority of scripture or of dogma promulgated by a priestly elite, but rather on the Inward Light present in every human being. Quakerism was therefore an experiential religion, like Buddhism; it validity was based on inward states of consciousness that each person could verify in his or her own heart.

Because of his scientific training and background, Howard was able to make this case for modern Quakerism most convincingly in his talk “Vocal Ministry and Quaker Worship.”
Howard’s arguments are as follows:

1) Quakerism is a methodology, not a “fixed doctrine.” It is therefore possible for someone to practice Quakerism and be a non-Christian.

2) Quakerism is compatible with science because it is an experiential, not a dogmatic or creedal religion.

3) The faith and practice of Quakerism are congenial to the evolutionary and holistic world view of modern science.

I go on to talk about the relationship between Quakerism and the scientific worldview of Darwin and Einstein.

[1] Brinton, “Worship: A Resume of an Address Given at Newmarket, Feb 8th.” The Canadian Friend, vol. IX/No. 9, Newmarket, Ontario, March 1914, p. 8.
[2] Ibid, p. 8.
[3] “Vocal Ministry and Quaker Worship,” a Paper read at the Conference on Ministry at Friends’ Meeting House, Coulter Street, Germantown, Third Month, 1928.