Sunday, February 21, 2010
Since becoming a Friend, I have almost always had a garden. I even had one when I lived in Philadelphia. See the poem below, which was recently published in a book of poems entitled Enlivened by the Mystery: Quakers and God (Friends Bulletin, 2009).
Using a solar-powered clothes dryer is relatively new, however. I started using one in Torrance six years ago, and am glad to return to this practice. The Australians have developed one of the world's best clothes lines, called a Hills Hoist, that can open and close like an umbrella, thereby making more room in the backyard. My solar powered clothes dryer is simpler and more Quakerly, as you see.
My landlady says I'm making her place look like the 1940s. Hey, retro is in!
The Surrender Garden
(for Wendell Berry)
I farm a room-sized plot of earth
where once a factory stood.
In spring, I'm met by eager volunteers--
onions and leeks, swiss chard and kale
green and sweet as those in paradise.
But as I turn the soil for the first time,
bricks the size and shape of potatoes
stick in my digger's stubborn teeth.
My brow sweats. My winter-weary muscles ache.
I feel the effects of the fall.
My seeds are scattered to the sound
of kids and cars, trolleys and boom boxes.
I use my hands instead of a digger
because I love to mold and stroke the earth,
to feel it touch my skin.
I sit in my garden like a kid in a sandbox
and think of my Greek grandfather
for whom gardening was no game.
With the sun and rains
weeds rise up like angry peasants
insisting on their squatter's rights.
I can't blame them.
I've been an absentee.
Down on my knees, I make a space
for my seedlings as I pull the weeds
carefully by the roots,
roots that go on and on
like my compulsions and obsessions.
This is the work that never seems to end,
the work my father and his father handed down.
Some evenings I come here simply to sit alone,
and watch things grow.
It's quiet and still as a church.
At the far end of the garden
a woman waters her flowers,
and the smell of wet earth rises
like a prayer, an offering,
into the darkening sky.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I must confess I miss Kathleen more, not less, as the days go by. But this year I celebrated Valentine's day in a new way--one I know that Kathleen would appreciate and approve. I led an interfaith service project at her former church, where she was beloved by the homeless folk who come each month for a hotmeal, and where I have many homeless friends whom I dearly love and who love me.
Here's a description of this love feast:
On Valentine's Day weekend, Walteria United Methodist Church hosted an interfaith youth service project co-sponsored by the South Coast Interfaith Council (SCIC) and the So Cal Committee for a Parliament of the World's Religions (SCCPWR). Our team of teens and adults came from a variety of backgrounds but were all united in loving service. Participants included Milia Islam-Majeed (exec dir of the SCIC), Sarina Van Zyl (Jewish Vedantist), Arin Ghosh (Hindu), Jasmine Hailey (Christian scientist), eight or nine MTO Sufi Muslims, and a dozen or so Christian youth from various churches. A photographer from a local newspaper took some great pictures. See http://www.dailybreeze.com/ci_14399066?IADID=Search-www.dailybreeze.com-www.dailybreeze.com
Our group served a homemade meal to around 60-70 poor and homeless guests, and the MTO Sufis performed one of their religious chants--zikir--which was well received. During the time of devotion I gave a brief message about the Parliament and the interfaith movement.
At 1:00 PM, after we finished our work, we went to the sanctuary for a program about the Parliament and the meaning of service from different religious/spiritual perspective. We showed a video made by one of the teens (see http://sccpwr.org/page6), and Jasmine and Sarina spoke about their experiences at the Parliament in Melbourne.
Our guests speakers Melissa and Shaun then shared their experiences as a homeless couple living on the streets of Torrance (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEXJZ749_5g). Their moving story gave us all a deeper awareness of what it means to be homeless, and brought tears to many eyes. It also made us realize that we need not only to help the homeless through acts of charity, but also to change the laws so that homeless people will be treated fairly and compassionately.
Many expressed a strong desire to return to this church for another service project in the future.
We are now gearing up for a follow-up service project on Sunday, April 25, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of EarthDay. We are looking for one or two churches, synagogues, and/or mosques to co-sponsor the event to guarantee a good turnout of young people.
What better way to honor those we love than to devote our lives to loving service?
I've been so busy I almost forgot about this event, but a "little bird" (the Holy Spirit?) reminded me to check the website yesterday morning and I immediately emailed PCU to make a reservation. Fortunately, a few seats were left. (See http://www.progressivechristiansuniting.org/file/Progressive_Christians_Uniting.html)
I have been a fan of Mary Ann Swenson ever since she became "our" bishop in 2000. Kathleen and I admired Mary Ann's deep commitment to peace and social justice and her irresistible enthusiasm and love for people and for Christ. She also had a Quaker quirkiness and integrity that I found very appealing. For many years she gave up her car and rode only by bike--a very Quakerly quirk--as a way to testify to her environmental concerns/
In March of 2003 Kathleen and I went with Bishop Mary Ann on a cruise ship to places associated with the Apostle Paul--Athens, Corinth, Thessaloniki, Phillipi, Ephesus, and also a couple of place where Paul never set foot, namely, Istanbul and the Island of Patmos. During the cruise we got to spend time with Mary Ann and her husband and became good friends. The shadow of war loomed over our journey, with the US invasion of Iraq taking place on the final day of our cruise, just as we were visiting the Island of Patmos. Being the only Quaker on board, I was often seen by the Methodists as the prophetic voice of peace.
I was not only peace activist on that boat, however. Mary Ann has been a powerful and compelling voice for peace and justice throughout her life. As it says in the PCU program booklet, she championed radical hospitality, civil rights, ecumenical and interfaith relationships, LGBT inclusivity, labor rights, an end to war and violence, women in ministry, the renewal of Creation, etc. I have been always been proud of the Methodist church for having such an enlightened leader.
I was also deeply impressed by new and ongoing work of PCU: the ongoing campaign to end torture, local community projects in Echo Park and other areas, and the newly launched "Believe Out Loud: A Creative New Campaign for Advancing LGBT Advocacy."
Finally, I was blown away by the keynote speaker--a charming, witty, and brilliant scholar activist named Diana Butler Bass. A Episcopalian (born Methodist), Bass interprets church history and tradition from a progressive perspective and helps us to connect with our past in creative and empowering ways. (See http://www.progressivechristiansuniting.org/file/Blog/Entries/2009/11/12_All_Saints_Day__A_Progressive_Call_to_Remember.html
I am thoroughly enjoying her book, which is worthy of its title (an allusion to Howard Zinn's tome, which I am also reading once again).
During the PCU banquet, I connected with many old friends--George Regas, Louis Chase, Sara Dickens, Mary Larson, Peter Laarman, etc--and made some new ones.
The only thing that troubled me was the lack of Quakers. Why am I the only Quaker to be present in a gathering of progressive Christians? I am certainly not the only "weighty" Quaker--there are other Friends in our area far weightier than I am, who have served as clerks of our Yearly Meeting and in other positions of responsibility. But I was the only Quaker present.
A few months ago I riled up the executive director of a certain national Quaker organization when I accused Friends of being parochial and sectarian. I said that just as Friends had to learn to admit their racism, Friends also need to recognize their parochialism. Unless we play an active role in our local interreligious community, we run the risk of becoming an obsolete and irrelevant sect.
By the way, it was not only progressive Christians, including a large contingent of Mennonites and Seventh Day Adventists, but also progressive Jews and Muslims who showed up on this occasion.
The fact that only one Friend bothered to show up at this important progressive gathering underscores our need to get out of our bubble and to join the progressive choir. The Quaker voice needs to be heard, along with the voices of others seeking to follow the way of Jesus and the great prophetic tradition.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
The only news I know
Is bulletins each day
The only shows I see
Tomorrow and today,
The only one I meet
Is God, the only street
Existence; this traversed,
If other news there be
Or admirable show,
I'll tell it you.
The daily "news" is the "same old, same old"--senseless violence, criminality, and of course war, endless war, with the empty promise of peace...
Ezra Pound once defined "literature" as "news that stays new." Dickinson's poem definitely falls into that category. The good news is "the only one I meet is God," is You, who are reading this and know what I write is a love letter to You, the Divine One within each of us, on this day before Valentine's Day.
Thank you, dear God, for this good news, and for the good news proclaimed in this poem by Charles Wesley:
Love Divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down,
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesu, thou are all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.
Today I look forward to going to Walteria United Methodist Church to take part in a hotmeal program to feed the poor and homeless. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than by showing love to God's precious children--including Shaun and Melissa, my adopted homeless family. This hotmeal will be special because I have invited the interfaith community to take part.
Another Christian verse that spoke to me this morning is by Christopher Smart, the 18th century poet who was often confined to a madhouse, but who had the deep wisdom to see that "there's God in every man most sure":
Tho I my party long have chose,
And claim Christ Jesus on my side,
Yet will I not my peace oppose,
By pique, by prejudice, or pride.
Blessed be God, that at the font
My sponsors bound me to the call
Of Christ, in England, to confront
The world, the flesh, the fiend and all.
And yet I will my thoughts suppress,
And keep my tongue from censure clear;
The Jew, the Turk, the Heathen bless
And hold the plough and persevere.
There's God in every man most sure,
And every soul's to Christ allied:
If fears deject, if hopes allure,
If Jesus wept, and pray'd and died.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Huston's response spoke to my condition:
"I thought it a ridiculous question. What about the Holocaust and all the other catastrophes we know as history? They did not make my own loss less but kept me from imagining that I had suffered a unique vengeance that impugned the idea of God instead of making God more necessary.
"Christ said, 'Blessed are those that mourn.' Had I been living in Jerusalem, I would have joined the mourners grieving and praying at the Wailing Wall. Suffering led the Buddha to enlightenment, and it may cause us, against our will, to grow in compassion, awareness, and possibly eventually peace. In Buddhism monks recites daily the Five Remembrances, which are: I will lose my youth, my health, my dear ones and everything I hold dear, and finally lose life itself, by the very nature of my being human. These are bitter reminders the only thing that continues are the consequences of our action. The fact that all the things we hold dear and love are transient does not mean that we should love them less but--as I do Karen and Serena--love them even more. Suffering, the Buddha said, if it does not diminish love, will transport you to the farther shore" (p. 94).
This is the lesson I have learned from the loss of my Beloved--to love God and my fellow human beings more, not less, because everything is transient, except Love itself.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
It would probably not have surprised George Fox and early Friends to learn that there was a gospel according to Mary Magdalene and that in this gospel Mary speaks of silence as the highest form of worship. Fox and Margaret Fell both endorsed the view that Mary Magdelene was the first evangelist and carried to the message of Christ’s resurrection to the male disciples, who in their chauvinist ignorance derided her. For this reason, Fox believed that women had a gift for prophetic ministry and should be allowed to speak out of the silence during meeting for worship.
In the Gospel of Mary, Mary shares with the other disciples her vision of the inner life, as it was revealed to her by the one she calls the Teacher. Towards the end of her vision quest, she describes an internal struggle between Craving and the soul. Craving tells the soul that it has no right to ascend to the spiritual realm since “you belong to me.” The soul responds by describing how it transcended Craving and Ignorance and became conscious of itself and of the forces blocking its ascent. After overcoming these various opponents (darkness, craving, ignorance, enslavement to the body, intoxicated wisdom, guileful wisdom), all of which stem from wrath, Mary’s soul became liberated. “My craving has faded, and I am freed from ignorance,” proclaims Mary’s soul. At this point, her soul experiences inner peace, as the text makes clear:
“Henceforth I travel towards Repose,
where time rests in the Eternity of Time;
I go now into silence.”
Having said all this, Mary became silent,
for it was in silence that the Teacher spoke to her.
This is the “good news” that Mary proclaims to the disciplines: the soul can find peace by letting go of selfish desires and resting in the silence that is rooted in Eternity.
Several of the disciples balk at being instructed by a woman, thereby revealing the tension between chauvinist patriarchal Christians and the emergent women prophets and teachers. Karen King has observed, "The confrontation of Mary with Peter, a scenario also found in The Gospel of Thomas, Pistis Sophia, and The Gospel of the Egyptians, reflects some of the tensions in second-century Christianity. Peter and Andrew represent orthodox positions that deny the validity of esoteric revelation and reject the authority of women to teach."
But not all men are chauvinists. In the Gospel of Mary Levi (i.e. Matthew, the tax collector) responds with humility and defends Mary, saying: “Surely the Teacher knew her very well, for he loved her more than use. Therefore, let us atone, and become fully human (anthropos), so that the Teacher can take root in us. Let us grow as he demanded of us, and walk forth to spread the gospel, without trying to set down any rules and laws other than those he witnessed”( p. 39).
This of course is Margaret Fell, one of Quakerism’s founders, proclaimed in her pamphlet with the long and self-explanatory title: "Women's Preaching Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All such as speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus And how Women were the first that Preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus, and were sent by Christ's own Command, before he Ascended to the Father, John 20. 17." http://www.godswordtowomen.org/fell.htm .
Today Christians are still divided between those who acknowledge the spiritual wisdom of women, and those which see women as second-class citizens in God’s heavenly kingdom. I recently went to a talk given by a courageously faithful priest named Roy Bourgeois who is calling for the ordination of women. The Vatican is threatening him with excommunication for taking this stand.
We need to remember that women played a vital role in the spiritual life of the early Christian community, and continued to do so through its history, despite opposition from the instituional patriarchy. I am glad that Leloup and Needleman have done such a fine job of making Mary's Gospels accessible to modern readers interested in learning Sophia from one of Christianity's great early teachers.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
It's been over a month since I last posted, and what a busy month it's been! I attended Australia Yearly Meeting in Adelaide, exploried Melbourne, came back to LA and connected again with the interfaith movement and my various writing projects! It's been an incredibly full life.... a fulfillment of what Jesus meant when he said, "I have come to bring life, and to bring it more abundantly..."
So let me "catch up" by posting observations about Australia Yearly Meeting (AYM), the annual national gathering of Australian Quakers.
Adelaide is supposed to be the hottest city in the hottest part of Australia and I came at the hottest time of the year, but most of the week the temps were in the 80s and not too uncomfortable. It wasn't until the last day that the temp reached 100 degrees F.
On that day I "wagged" (an Australian word meaning "to play hookey"). Instead of attending meetings, I went to Brighton beach for a swim. Brighton beach is a perfect for swimmers, with immaculately clean water and hardly any waves (unlike Sydney, where the surf is huge and surfers abound). Brighton beach attracts families with kids, who all seemed very happy.
I also went downtown and visited Chinatown and the oldest mosque in Australia, built in 1888 by Afghan (Indian) camel drivers who came here to help with the camels that were brought here because of the climate. Many of these camels have gone feral, and there are now over 1,000,000 of them in Australia.
The Muslim community in Adelaide has also thrived. I was told that the imam of this mosque once rented a room in the home of Quaker family.
There is a lot of ethnic diversity here, with Greeks, Italians, as well as people from various parts of Asia. My bus driver was a Basque, and very friendly (like most Australians). He told me all about his family as well as about the city as he drove the city loop.
1) Approval of a minute in support of same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriages have been performed by Australian Friends for the past few years, but this is the first time the YM has come to unity on this concern. I'm glad that Australian Friends are in unity with Western unprogrammed Friends on this issue.
2) Support for the newly founded Australian Quaker Center in Canberra. This center was started a year ago, and is still in the preliminary stages. A million and a half dollars is needed to pay for the facility, and to insure that the center can continue. Please hold this concern in the Light!
3) Aboriginal rights. Probably the most troubling aspect of Australia has been its shocking treatment of aboriginal people. It was gratifying to see what Australian Friends are doing to address this concern in a thoughtful, heart-felt way, but clearly much remains to be done. Thanks to Friends like David Carline et al., I will go back to the United States with a renewed commitment to connect with and respect the native people of my own land, and to encourage American Friends to do likewise.
4) Environmentalism. I was deeply impressed by how Australian Friends are taking on this concern, both in word and deed. I am glad that Australian Friends are reaching out to British Friends to exchange ideas and hope that you will also form links with Quaker EarthCare Witness, the American Quaker environmental group. Friends world-wide need to communicate and work together to help build a global ecological movement. Thanks to skype video, such exchanges can take place cheaply and without making a huge carbon footprint, as I learned when a British Friend named Lauri Michaelis of BYM's Living Witness spoke to us via Skype during one of our morning summer school sessions.
5) Young Friends. I cannot say enough about how brilliant it was to invite Young Friends to give the Backhouse Lecture, and how brilliantly they rose to the occasion. The sharing among young and older Friends that took place afterward was honest, deep, and enriching. I hope that this idea can be imported to the United States and that Young Friends in my Yearly Meeting will be encouraged and empowered to share their wisdom and experience. It would be wonderful if a couple of Young Australian Friends could come to one of our Western Yearly Meetings and inspire us to follow your example.
6) Interfaith movement. I came to Australia to take part in the Parliament of World's Religions and to share my concern about the interfaith movement with Australian Friends. Many Australian Friends are involved in this concern, but a great deal more needs to be done. My sense is that the United States has gone a lot further than Australia in creating local interfaith councils and networks. Our task in the 21st century is to move beyond ecumenical work (important as it is) and and to build a vital and effective interfaith movement at the local and international levels. With our experience and skills in conflict resolution and consensus decision-making, and our lack of dogmatism, Friends can play a significant role in fostering this important peace-building movement.
Report on Interfaith Work
delivered at Australia Yearly Meeting
by Anthony Manousos
In December, 2009, I came to Australia and to the Parliament of the World's Religion gathering in Melbourne as a representative of American Friends who have a concern for interfaith peacemaking. I serve on the Christian Interfaith Relations Committee of Friends General Conference. The primary work of the Christian Interfaith Relations Committee (otherwise known as CIRC) is to send Quaker representatives to the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches. But CIRC was originally founded in 1893 to provide a Quaker presence at the Parliament of the World's Religions, which took place at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. If you are interested, I'd be glad to email you a copy of my take on this gathering which will be published by the Quaker Universalist Fellowship. In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I serve on the executive committee for the Los Angeles chapter of the Parliament so I am bit biased.
My role in the CIRC has been to support local grassroots interfaith efforts. Since 9/11, I have been very active in local interfaith efforts in Southern California. I have also given workshops on interfaith peacemaking at national Quaker gatherings and at regional and Yearly Meetings.
It has been interesting to learn more about interfaith work here in Australia. The United States seems to be a bit ahead of Australia in interfaith work. Since September 11, most of the local ecumenical councils in California and many other parts of the USA have become interfaith councils. This has enabled Muslim, Jews, Buddhists and other to become involved and assume leadership roles. This has also made it easier for Friends as well as other non-Trinitarian Christian groups, like the Mormons, to become involved.
The Muslim community is much better organized in the US than here in Australia. In the US major Islam lobbying organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council on American Islamic Relations are becoming increasinlgy influential and effective and are having a growing impact. The Muslim voice will, I hope, help to balance the Jewish voice that currently dominates the political scene in Washington, DC.
I'm pleased to report that President Obama is very supportive of interfaith efforts. He established an national interfaith council and invited religious leaders from different traditions to take part. One of these leaders is Eboo Patel, an Indian Muslim who started the Interfaith Youth Core, one of the most important interfaith youth programs in the United States. Eboo works with a young Evangelical Christian woman, which is a bit unusual since most older Evangelical avoid interfaith work. This collaboration between a young Muslim and a young Evangelical Christian is setting a very hopeful example for the next generation of Americans.
Much of my work in the interfaith movement has involved interfaith youth work. Drawing on my background as facilitator of a youth service program for the American Friends Service Committee, I have enjoyed facilitating programs in which young people of diverse faiths have come together to build understanding and friendship. Just prior to coming to Australia, I helped organize a conference at the University of Southern California exploring the legacy of Gandhi and its importance for our time. Young people and distinguished professors were invited to speak as equals during the plenary session, and young people also organized and ran their own workshops. One of my goals is youth empowerment and leadership development.
I also work on Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, which was founded after 9/11 with the slogan: “Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing War and Violence.” We are the leading anti-war religious group in Los Angeles.
In 2005 I went to Israel/Palestine with an interfaith delegation sponsored by the Compassionate Listening Project. I have edited a book about Compassionate Listening and have done workshops at Friends General Conference and at Yearly Meetings on compassionate listening and interfaith peacemaking.
(At the end of my talk, I handed out copies of my pamphlet "Islam from a Quaker Perspective" and various books that I had brought to give away to all the Australian monthly meetings: "Compassionate Listening," "A Western Quaker Reader," "EarthLight." I also gave away copies of "Friends Bulletin" and material from Quaker Earthcare Witness.)