Monday, February 28, 2011

Indra's net and the Internet

When I look at the statistics for this little blog and discover that people from all over the world are tuning in to my daily ruminations on spirituality, peace and poetry, I am always astonished. It seems incredible that I have kindred spirits in Germany, UK, Russia, Australia, China, Slovenia, Canad, Israel, Denmark, Ukraine, etc, but that's what the stats reveal:

Here are the stats for the past week:

United States------------- 255
United Kingdom----------93
Germany------------------- 40
Canada-------------------- 17
Russia---------------------- 11
China------------------------ 5
India-------------------------- 5
Japan------------------------ 5
Australia-------------------- 4

And here's the stats since I started a year and a half ago:

United States-------------- 8,963

United Kingdom----------- 643
Germany--------------------- 281
Canada---------------------- 275
Netherlands----------------- 220
Russia------------------------ 176
Denmark--------------------- 111
Ukraine----------------------- 105
Australia---------------------- 95
Slovenia---------------------- 78

These stats are mere numbers. I'd love to hear from you personally and find out why you tune into this blog and also what you are doing to promote peace, how your spiritual life is unfolding, and how you express your creativity. I'm sure if we met, we'd have lots to talk about and soon become good friends!

In the age before the internet, Walt Whitman wrote this poignant poem called "To a Stranger."

PASSING stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me, as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl with me, 
I ate with you, and slept with you—your body has become not yours only, nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass—you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

Whitman captures the deep yearing we feel to connect with others because at one one time we have all been connected, in some way. (Did Whitman believe in reincarnation? It would appear so.)

The Internet reminds us we not separate, and never truly alone.

My blog is just one of thousands, perhaps millions of blogs, each interconnected to what is truly a "world-wide web."

Sometimes I think of network as a manifestation of what Buddhists call "Indra's net." Francis Harold Cook describes the metaphor of Indra's net from the perspective of the Huayan school in the book Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra:

“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring."

Each of you reading this is, from a Buddhist viewpoint, a facet of the Buddha, or as the theists would say, a reflection of the Divine. Millions of mirrors, mirroring back to each other the miracle of life.

In a Buddhist temple, I once saw this beautifully illustrated: statues of the Buddha had been placed in case with one-way glass facing the viewers and mirrors on the opposite side. This caused the Buddhas to appear as if they were infinite in number, one image reflecting another, with jewels of light. An infinite number of enlightened beings! What a concept!

Will the Internet help us to realize our Buddha nature? Will it help us to become enlightened and  free?

The power of the Internet cannot be underestimated. As we have come to see in Egypt, Tunisia and throughout the Middle East, realizing our interconnectedness has world-wide consequences. No longer can tyrants create hermit kingdoms or closed societies. Nor can Empires or corporations hide their dirty secrets from the world in this age of wikileaks. The internet enables each individual to broadcast the truth world-wide.

And sooner or later, the Truth will make us free...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Guibord Center: Unleashing the Holy through interfaith "convivencia"

Yesterday I went to the inauguration of the Guibord Center at St John's Cathedral and was inspired, uplifted and blown away by the spirit of "convivencia"--the amazingly vibrant interfaith culture that is evolving in LA. Convivencia is the word used to describe the "golden age" of Muslim Spain when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived and worked together in deeply transformative ways. The convivencia helped usher in the Renaissance in Europe, and set an example for us in the 21st century. I believe we are living through another convivencia here in Los Angeles.

Several hundred people attended the inauguration of the Guibord Center  with prayers, messages, and music by sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Greek Orthodox, Episcopalians, etc. The theme was "bringing people together to challenge assumptions, unleash the Holy and affirm the faith that transforms the world."

All I can say about this fabulous, deeply spiritual program is "Amen" and "Wow!"

Here's what Gwynne Guibord (rector of St John's Cathedral) has to say about this bold new initiative:

Religion, once a common way of making sense of the world, a way of connecting to a set of beliefs and a code of ethics that unite us with something beyond and deeply within ourselves, has often come in today’s world to be perceived as a jumble of justifications that are used to separate and injure those deemed “Other”. While all religion at its root joins us to that which is far more expansive than we are, religion stops being religion when it separates us from the Living Force that inspires and transforms us and affirms the good within all people. In a world that is rapidly changing and challenging us daily, we need to be able to claim the richness that lies at the heart of religion and at the depth of our own experiences of “The Holy”.
We need to be able to turn religion inside out: to unleash The Holy and affirm the faith that does, indeed, truly transform not only our own lives but our families, our communities and the world.


The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out founded by The Reverend Dr. Gwynne Guibord is an independent California non-profit corporation located in one of the most religiously and spiritually diverse cities in the world – Los Angeles. The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out is dedicated to creating and upholding a sacred space in the public square that honors The Holy in The Other. It is a place of meeting and interaction for an extraordinary variety of spiritual and religious traditions.

Unlike many other wonderful interfaith educational institutions that have as their final goal to define differences and similarities between faiths and facilitate a spirit of cooperation and collegiality, our intention is something more – it is not only to enable people to hear each other’s religious or spiritual voices without fear or intolerance but with openness to the presence of The Holy – to experience the Holy through the eyes of the Other. We will achieve this by inviting participants from different spiritual and faith traditions into an environment that is not only academic and cognitive but also close and personal – that involves the “heart” as well as the “head”, where participants can come to trust and respect one another. Such openness will not only deepen one’s own faith but also encourage multiple faiths to play a constructive role in shaping our collective life and doing the good works that all religions and spiritual practices believe in. Turning religion inside out will deepen our own personal and collective faith experiences and serve to free our communities from prejudice and hatred.

The Guibord Center is planning a series of impressive interfaith event on a monthly basis.
For more, see

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Springtime in Los Angeles!

Such a glorious spring day--LA seems so fresh-scrubbed and beautiful after last night's rain I felt like dancing when I went on my morning walk. Everything is in bloom and the trees seem so happy they too look as if they want to dance.

Here are two poems I wrote 25 years ago when I was just embarking on my spiritual journey as a Friend. They embody the spirit of joy and "beginner's mind" that I feel today, and which I wish all the world could feel.


(for Yuki Brinton*)

The sunlight seemed to sing out
in a weeping cherry tree
that spring day I arrived at Pendle Hill.

Someone had hacked it halfway down,
and yet it sang to me:
There’s that in me no one can ever kill,
There’s that in me no one can ever kill.

I stood amazed and listened
until someone told me how
a widow old and small but hardly frail
had hurried to this spot when she had heard
the horrid sound
of a chainsaw and its silence-shattering wail,
a chainsaw and its silence-shattering wail.

This tree her husband planted,
and it is now was in her care.
Some say she climbed it like a mother cat.
Some say she brought the woodman down
with just a piercing stare.
This much I know: this broken tree still stands.
This much I know: this broken tree still stands.

In the stillness of the morning,
in the stillness of my heart,
it sings its light-filled song to joy and spring,
it sings its light-filled song to joy and spring.



It’s nine o’clock, and rain is falling gently on South Street,
an end-of-summer rain.

I am a newcomer to the city,
curious and mildly hopeful,
surprised at how easily the pieces are falling into place—
the tiny, but necessary pieces of my life.

The rain feels cool and refreshing.

A couple of shriners,
with plastic covering their purple turbans,
hurry past as if they have somewhere important to go.

A crowd of young people, dressed in Sunday finery,
bored with the wake their parents dragged them to,
dawdle in front of a Baptist church
and watch the rain.

Walking briskly past,
I remember the words of a woman I have just met:
“Here I am thirty-seven,
and I figure there must be more to life
than just consuming stuff and dying.”

With hardly a word spoken, or a question asked,
the fever of summer is being washed away.

All I know is that’s the rain is falling
as if it had been falling forever,
or for the first time.

And everything seems brand-new,
and completely familiar,
as I walk briskly by.

Philadelphia, 1984
*Yuki Brinton was the wife of Howard Brinton, well-known Quaker educator and writer who was a director of Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quakers, the Atonement, and the Saving Power of Nonviolence

With Lent upon us, I decided to post an article about the atonement I wrote a couple of years ago. Not all Quakers would agree with my views--many pastoral and Evangelical Quakers agree with Anselm about the need for Jesus' blood sacrifice to placate an offended God. But Howard Brinton, William Penn and liberal Christians believe, as I do, that Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross so that we could experience God's redeeming Love and transforming power.

My interest in Quaker ideas about the atonement was renewed when I read Terry Rynne's recent book Gandhi & Jesus: The Saving Power of Nonviolence  (Orbis 2008). See

In this thoughtful book,  Rynnes, a progressive Catholic theologian/peace activist, discusses various ideas about the atonement and makes the case that those who believe in Anselm's ideas about a vindictive God also tend to support war, while those who tend towards an approach in keeping with Abelard and the early Greek church fathers did to be less violent in outlook.

Rynnes never considered Penn or Quakers like Howard Brinton, but many of Penn's theological ideas seem very contemporary and progressive, esp. his ideas about the atonement.

Penn rejected Anselm's "satisfaction" view of the atonement and was thrown into the Tower of London for dissenting from the prevailing Protestant dogma. As far as I know, Penn is the most prominent figure to have been jailed for rejecting Anselm's doctrine of the atonement. Penn's views also anticipate those of many modern liberal theologians. Howard Brinton also supports Penn's view of the atonement, which rejects the idea that Jesus had to die for our sins to satisfy God's justice.

Penn writes: "I can boldly challenge any person to give me one Scripture phrase which does approach the doctrine of satisfaction, (much less the name) considering to what degree it's stretched; not that we do deny, but really confess that Jesus Christ, in life, doctrine and death, fulfilled his Father's will, and offered up a most satisfactory sacrifice, but not to pay God, or help him (as otherwise unable) to save men; and for a justification by imputative righteousness, whilst not real, it's merely an imagination, not a reality, and therefore rejected; otherwise confest and known to be justifying before God, because there is no abiding in Christ's love without keeping his commandments." (For full story and text, see

Penn argues that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for our sakes, so that we might be inwardly transformed. Through taking up the cross of Christ, we are given transforming power enabling us to "abide in Christ's love" and "keep his commandments." For Penn and other Quakers, the most important commandment is to "love our enemies" and "lay down our lives for our friends" (hence the name, the Religious Society of Friends). By accepting Jesus as our savior, and Inward Teacher, we become empowered to live "in that life and power that takes away the occasion of war" (George Fox).

Because Quakers experienced this transforming power, they were willing to risk their lives and go to stinking dungeons for the sake of their convictions. Some were willing even to go to jail on behalf of other Quakers. When George Fox was sent to a peculiarly noisome dungeon, a Quaker petitioned Oliver Cromwell and asked to be allowed to go to prison in Fox's place. This act of self-sacrifice shook up Cromwell and he decided to let Fox go. I am reminded of Gandhi's satyagraha--enduring suffering for the sake of the Truth.

Quakers were empowered not so much by a theological interpretation, but by a religious practice that enabled them to experience the power of God's love and grace. They "were still" and knew the power of God within. By turning to the "Inward Light of Christ," we see our own fallen condition (alienation from God and others, self-will, selfishness) and also its cure, self-sacrificial love.

Quakers not only rejected the idea of a vindictive God who required "satisfaction," they also rejected the idea that Jesus' death on the cross "imputes righteousness" to us sinners and thereby relieves us of the responsibility of living up to Jesus's commandments. We are saved not simply by "believing" in Christ but by living our faith in "evangelical obedience" (a lovely phrase!). As Penn writes:

As for justification by an imputed righteousness, I still say that whosovever believes in Christ shall have remission and justification, but then it must be such a faith as can no more live without works than a body without a spirit; wherefore I conclude that true faith comprehends evangelical obedience.

As Penn said elsewhere, "True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it."

Like modern liberals, Penn was not interested simply in personal salvation or transformation. He wanted (with Divine Assistance) to change the world. That's why he founded Pennsylvania as a "Holy Experiment," a model community where religious toleration was practiced. He also advocated for a League of Nations to resolve conflicts nonviolently among the nations of Europe.

To which, Gandhi and liberal theologians would say, AMEN, SHANTIH!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Importance of Interfaith Dialogue

Tomorrow I will be taking part in an event at the Long Beach Congregational Church, with this heartening motto: "A Liberal Church, Welcoming All, and Passionately Committed to Social Justice." The theme for this event is the "Importance of the Interfaith Movement." The keynote speaker will be Dr. Jerry Campbell, president of the Claremont School of Theology. I will be one of the panelists, along with the following religious leaders:
  • Rabbi Haim Beliak, Executive Director of HaMifgash: An On-Going Conversation Among Jewish Intellectuals, Co-Founder of JewsOnFirst.Org, former Chaplain and Hillel Rabbi for The Claremont Colleges
  • Judy Gilliland, Director of Interfaith Relations for the Public Affairs Council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President of the Interreligious Council of Southern California
  • Aziza Hasan, Southern California Government Relations Director and Interfaith Coordinator for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Co-Director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.
I have been asked to give a five-minute presentation, which will go something like this:

I am honored to be asked to be a presenter on this panel. As many of you know, I have been part of the interfaith community here in LA for nearly ten years, ever since 9/11, and now I serve on the board of many interfaith organizations, including the South Coast Interfaith Council, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. My dear Sufi friend John sometimes describes himself as an interfaith junkie. I must confess that I am also hooked.

As has been noted, I am a Quaker. Quakers are a small but influential group of Christians who for the past 350 years have tried to take seriously and literally Christ’s injunction to “love your enemy.” During the 16th century, Quakers did not take part in the religious wars that rocked Christendom. Instead, they urged their fellow Christians to follow the teachings of Jesus and become peacemakers. The Peace Testimony has been an essential Quaker practice for over 350 years and has spawned organizations like the American Friends Service Committee, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the Quaker UN office..

Unlike most other Christians in the 17th century, early Quakers practiced religious toleration. Quakers were savagely persecuted for their religious beliefs in England—over 15,000 of them were thrown into dungeons, and many others lost their property or were killed or had to flee to the colonies. The Quaker William Penn founded a colony called Pennsylvania where people of all faiths were welcome, and where there was no religious persecution, and no witch hunts. Even Voltaire, no friend of religion, was impressed with Pennsylvania’s record of religious freedom.

I became involved in interfaith work as an extension of my work as a Quaker peace activist. During the 1980s, I was involved in Soviet-American reconciliation work and helped to edit a book of Soviet and American stories and poems. Our goal was to dispel stereotypes and to show that Russians and Americans had much in common. This book was edited and published in both countries, and I traveled often to the Soviet Union at a time Russians were regarded as being even scarier than Muslims. I was thrilled when the Berlin Wall fell, and I was pleased when Americans finally came to the realization that Russians were not monsters, but people just like us. I was pleased to learn that Reza Aslan, a Muslim writer, has recently edited a book of writings by Arab writers with a similar purpose.

I believe we are living in a period similar in some respects to the Cold War, only now endless war has been re-framed as a clash of civilizations. Religion is being used to justify this new cycle of violence and war. This is a Big Lie. The real causes of conflict in today’s world are greed, politics, economics, and nationalism. These are the demons that authentic religion tries to exorcise.

We need to engage in interreligious dialogue, not political diatribes. You all know how last summer’s campaign of Islamophobia was orchestrated by Conservatives and Fox News just prior to the midterm elections. With another presidential election looming on the horizon, a new witch hunt is being planned by Congressman Peter King of New York. He is organizing a series of hearings to investigate the alleged threat of Islamic radicalism. Singling out a religion like this is not only un-Constitutional, it is dangerous and divisive.

To dispel stereotypes, we need to engage in religious dialogue at all levels. Religious leaders need to model civil dialogue, as we are trying to do now. We also need to empower lay people to engage in interreligious dialogue, as the South Coast Interfaith Council does with its interfaith cafes.

Dialogue helps to build friendship and trust so we can stand up for each other when our religious liberties come under attack. That’s what happened last summer when the interfaith movement stood in solidarity with Faisal Rauf’s efforts to build an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan. The interfaith community also stood in solidarity with Muslims in Temecula who were finally given permission to build their mosque. And we are standing in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters in Lomita who are trying to build a social hall next to their mosque.

In addition to working together to promote religious freedom, we also need interreligious dialogue that enables us to explore the spiritual depths of our faith experience. The Quaker theologian Quaker Steere called this “mutual irradiation.” “Mutual irradiation” is defined as a interfaith encounter in which “each is willing to expose [him or herself] with great openness to the inward message of the other, as well as to share [his or her] own experience, and to trust that whatever is the truth in each experience will irradiate and deepen the experience of the other.”

"Mutual irradiation" can be fostered through a shared religious education. I am very pleased that the Claremont School of Theology has taken the bold step of becoming an interfaith institution. This has not been easy, but it is crucially important that the religious leaders of the future are equipped to work together in a pluralistic and interfaith world.

As Dr. Campbell put it so eloquently, religion is not a competitive sport. It is more like a symphony orchestra in which each religion plays a crucial part. Some religions are like the string section. Others are like the brass. Some are percussionists. I think of my own little sect, the Quakers, as like piccolos or maybe the guitars. The important thing is for us to play as well as we can, and to play in harmony. I believe we play at our best when we follow the score and listen to each other and to our Divine Conductor.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A walk in the graveyard near Whittier

This essay was written ten years ago when Kathleen and I lived in Whittier, CA. I am grateful for the time I've spent meditating in graveyards. Ironically, this time has enhanced my appreciation of life as well as the mystery of death. The only change I would make in this essay today is to say that I would prefer to be cremated, like my beloved Kathleen, and for my Friends to scatter my ashes in places that are dear to them. In the words of a sign I was saw in Santa Anita Canyon, "Treat the earth well. Someday you will return to it."

My wife and I live within walking distance of Rose Hills, one of Southern California’s largest and oldest cemeteries, which overlooks the San Gabriel Valley and the LA basin. Recently we went walking just as afternoon was waning and saw an amazingly peaceful sight: deer grazing among the live oaks and the grass. The more we lingered, the more we saw. We counted several dozens of them. They were so quiet and solemn: whole families of gentle deer, bucks and does and fawns, walking past us, in the soft, late afternoon light, utterly fearless, munching on grass and flowers and feeling safe among those whom Homer called the “Silent Majority.” It was so quiet and still and peaceful that it was hard to believe that less than a mile away was the freeway during rush hour. The sound of cars at this distance was like a far-off waterfall.....

I often go to cemeteries just to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, and to “center down.” Rose Hills is very different from the cemeteries I remember on the East Coast. There each headstone is a different size and shape, and tells a story--usually about the social status of the deceased. You can tell who the movers and shakers of the community were by the impressive monuments erected for them after their death. Even the pastors were caught up in this game. In Princeton, where I grew up, headstones were often inscribed with curricula vitae—“John Q. Witherspoon, graduate of Yale, class of 1799, pastor of the Hopewell First Presbyterian Church, 1820-24,” as if the departed soul wanted to make sure that passers-by (and God) knew about his accomplishments!

Rose Hill cemetery has only flat markers, each the same size, so that it is impossible to know the social rank of the deceased. There are no titles, no indications of religious denomination or career. There are no references to "beloved teacher, lawyer, doctor." There are no ranks, except for PFC, and I expect that's because the former privates receive free markers, and their families are being frugal. I know that was true in the case of my father, who was a PFC during WWII. "Beloved wife, husband, child" are the only roles mentioned on the markers. If there are lieutenants or generals buried in Rose Hills, they prefer to be remembered as "beloved father, husband, or grandfather," not "beloved officer so-and-so."

The use of flat markers has a practical purpose: to make it easier to mow the grass. But flat markers also have an aesthetic and spiritual appeal. The cemetery becomes a lush green field of grass, with occasional trees, where squirrels and deer find a welcome refuge.

Spiritually speaking, it is appealing to see death presented for what it truly is: the great equalizer and simplifier. The multiplicity of roles we play in life is reduced to a common denominator: our family nexus. What the markers say is that, in the end, family is what really matters.

This egalitarian spirit reminded me of the Quaker graveyard in Princeton, where the markers were all the same size—about a foot tall—with just the name and date of birth and death. The equality testimony practiced in death as well as in life gave me pause when I first saw these modest memorials.

Perhaps this was the kind of graveyard that John Greenleaf Whittier walked through when he wrote his poem “Forgiveness”:


My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounts of the village burial-place;
Where, pondering how all human love and hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

When my turn comes to join the Silent Majority, and all the quarrels and abuses of this world are revealed for what they were—mere background noise--I would like a flat marker, with the inscription: “Beloved husband and friend.” No capital letters, please. No need to mention religious affiliation. In the end, love and friendship are the only things that really matter. In the end, that’s all that God really expects of us.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"The One and Only": A Divine Love Poem

Two poems from my Emily Dickinson drawer, saved by Kathleen, written from the heart, speak of our passionate love for God....and God's passionate love for us....

The One and Only

God does not overpower, like a seducer.
God empowers, like a friend,
coming in the dark times, opening our eyes,
listening, whispering, nudging us along.

How fearful and suspicious I was
when first God knocked,
and said, "There is no need to fear.
I'm always here."

How my heart trembled when I finally dared admit,
"Perhaps there's something to this voice
crying out in the wilderness of my heart,
perhaps there really is something at the heart of things
that can be trusted...."

Like snow melting, cascading down a mountainside,
tears pour from my eyes, my heart opened
--a seedling cracking,
unfolding, thrusting out of earth, seeking the light.....

Like a teenager discovering love,
finding in every flower and every spring breeze
a token and reminder of something unknown, unnamable,
I ached with new and mysterious desire
for you, the light of my being.

Like a gardener, you patiently watched,
waiting until the moment
when the question rose naturally
from my heart's dark and wormy depths,
"Can I be yours?"

Your loving "Yes" filled my whole being
as spring fills each pore with ineffable scents,
with the kiss of life, your Yes sustains me
when the world grows cold with the No's of the knowing...

From that moment of your coming
I vowed to honor, serve, and listen....
but only you know how often I broke this vow
betraying you and my own better self
to false idols and dreams
yet you never lose faith, you remain true
eternal friend, lover, counselor, spouse
everlasting Lord of Life,
you never issue orders, never overpower;
instead, you lift up and affirm
despite my own and the world's putdowns:
"Do what you will,
my loving friend,
your heart and will are good.
I know. I made you,
I chose you,
I led you out of darkness."

So now I tremble not with fear,
the way a suitor fears to be rejected,
the way a philanderer fears to lose control.
Instead, I tremble like a blade of grass
swaying with my brothers and sisters
in the wind and rain
that nourishes our roots,
and makes us strong,
and gives us what we need to grow.

The Peaceable Kingdom

In the Tree of Life
every part is crucial:
the roots draw nourishment from earth,
the leaves draw energy from light,
the trunk gives strength,
the flowers and seed give hope of things to be.
Here is no hierarchy,
no "center of authority":
eternal life flows in and through
each portion of self-renewing tree.

Whenever two or more are gathered
under the wings of Eternity,
the Tree empowers
branch and root,
trunk and fruit,
till in our heart's depths we cry:

"We obey no law, we know no truth
but love's great mystery!"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Riddles, koans, and queries

Riddles are language games that force us to think in new ways and are extremely popular with children, as well as with adults (though we may be loath to admit it). Who can forget such endlessly repeated riddles as "What's black and white and read all over?" with all its variant answers: newspaper, embarrassed zebra, etc.

Riddles have been popular since ancient times.  One of the oldest riddles was told to Oedipus by the Sphinx:

"What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening."

(This answer to this and other riddles will be at the end of this piece.)

One of my favorite riddles was told to me many years ago by a teenager:

"Those that make me do not use me, those that buy me do not want me, those that use me do not know it. What am I?"

Riddles often tease us with metaphysical questions, such as this seemingly unanswerable theological and social conundrum:

"I am greater than God, and more evil than the devil. The poor have me, and the rich lack me. Who am I?"

Other riddles are mini-poems, such as "I am a box of keys that unlocks your soul. What am I?"

Many of Emily Dickinson's poems resemble riddles, so much so that the Emily Dickinson Museum has created a riddle page for kids on its website:  "It sifts from leaden sieves" reads like an extended riddle that stretches the limits of language:

It sifts from Leaden Sieves --
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road --

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain --
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again --

It reaches to the Fence --
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces --
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack -- and Stem --
A Summer's empty Room --
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them--

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen --
Then stills its Artisans -- like Ghosts --
Denying they have been --

Hm mm, what could this strange creature be?

A riddle can also be used like a koan, a Zen story that forces us to think outside our rationalistic box. Like riddles and poems, Zen stories explore the boundaries of language and the mind:

A philosopher asked Buddha: `Without words, without the wordless, will you you tell me truth?'

The Buddha kept silence.

The philosopher bowed and thanked the Buddha, saying: `With your loving kindness I have cleared away my delusions and entered the true path.'

After the philosopher had gone, Ananda asked the Buddha what he had attained.

The Buddha replied, `A good horse runs even at the shadow of the whip.'

Here the message of enlightenment is conveyed not through words, but through silence and body language and metaphor--the "shadow of the whip."

Riddles are questions that open up our minds to new possibilities. In this respect, they are like the Quaker practice of using "queries" or open-ended questions to stimulate us to reflect more deeply. One of my favorite Quaker queries is:

"Do you practice the art of listening, even beyond words?"

Just before meeting for worship this Sunday, I felt led to compose this poem, which is based on a riddle: "When you say my name, I disappear. Who am I?"

Again, the answer to this and other riddles are listed below.

Who Am I?”
A Quaker riddle/koan/query

If you say my name,
I disappear.
I am the one
who can’t be named.

I am the one who comes
before the still small voice,
before the Word,
before the Om.
Before the beginning,
and after the end,
I am.

Without me you can’t hear
a symphony, a lover’s sigh,
or your heart’s desire.

The good speak of me often,
while the wisest ones say nothing.

To know who I am,
and who you are,
just listen, truly listen.

Answers: Man, Coffin, Nothing, Piano,  Snow (Emily Dickininson's poem), Silence.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Tao Teh Ching and the Revolution in Egypt

As the Egyptian people have amazed the world with their courage and commitment to freedom and democracy, and non-violence,  I have been thinking of the wisdom of the Tao Teh Ching, which was (among other things) a manual for ruling a country (since only the ruling class could read in the old days). The "Old Fellow" (as Lao Tsu's name means) gave advice that Mubarak and his ilk would have been wise to follow.

76. The Soft and Weak

A man lives soft and weak,
Dies hard and stiff.
The grass, the trees,
The ten thousand things
Live soft and supple,
Die brittle and dry.

The hard and stiff
Are followers of death;
The soft and weak
Are followers of life.

When armies are stiff,
They will lose;
When trees are stiff,
They will fall.
The stiff and mighty
Will be cast down;
The soft and weak
Will be lifted up.

Herrymon  Maurer comments on this passage by recalling the words of the Psalmist:

The weak. The Psalmist also declares that, in the mind of Truth, though not the world, the weak fare well:

For the Eternal saves the forlorn
who cry to him,
the weak and the helpless;
he pities the forlorn and weak, he saves the life of the weak, rescuing them from outrage
and oppression ... [41: 1]

Mindful of the extortions and oppressions of the well-off, the Psalmist [72:12-14] states further, “Happy is he who remembers the weak and the poor.” [41: 14]

Lao Tsu also gives advice that those following in the wake of Mubarak would be wise to consider:

74. Handling the Hatchet

When people don’t mind death,
Why threaten them with death?
If, afraid of death,
They were still unruly,
Who would dare to seize and kill them?

The great executioner
Kills those who kill.
To take his place is like
Handling the hatchet
For a master carpenter.
Whoever handles the hatchet
For a master carpenter
Usually get his hands cut.

What the Tao Teh Ching proposes is what all the great prophets have declared: we need a radical revolution of values. True power come from following the Way, the Eternal and Timeless Word, not by trying to impose one's will on a situation.  Martin Luther King and Gandhi understood this powerful truth, and that's why they were able to launch movements that radically transformed society. They understood there is a "force more powerful"--a Truth force--that enables people to overcome the forces of oppression. To tap into that Truth, we need to experience the transforming power that comes from within.
This is a lesson that all of us in the peace movement need to take to heart. Non-violence, satygraha, the Way of Truth, works!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egyptian Muslims and Christians Are One in the Struggle for Freedom

Today I posted this at blog.

There has been much rejoicing in the world today, and especially in the interfaith community, when we learned of the downfall of the tyrant Hosni Mubarak. As we try to assess the import of this watershed moment–comparable to the fall of the Berlin wall–it is worth noting that Egyptian Muslims and Christians, women as well as men, risked their lives and worked together to bring about freedom and democracy for their country. As one Egyptian protester put it, “”There’s an overwhelming sense of solidarity here between Muslims and Christians.” Let us hope this sense of solidarity continues and becomes the cornerstone of a new society in Egypt and throughout the Middle East and the world. This is my prayer as a Universalist Friend.– Anthony Manousos

Egyptian Muslims and Christians are One In the Struggle for Freedom

Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani, Inter Press Service (IPS) Adam Morrow And Khaled Moussa Al-omrani, inter Press Service (ips) – Thu Feb 10, 9:33 pm ET

CAIRO, Feb 9 (IPS) – Over recent years, Egypt has witnessed mounting tension between its Muslim majority and its sizeable Coptic Christian minority. But in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the site of ongoing mass protests against the ruling regime, members of both faiths chant in unison: “Muslim, Christian, doesn’t matter; We’re all in this boat together!”

Since Jan. 25, Egyptians countrywide have hit the streets in the hundreds of thousands – even millions – to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and his 30-year-old regime. The first week of demonstrations was marked by almost daily clashes between police and protesters, in which hundreds were killed and thousands injured.
The demonstrations were initially organized by online activist groups of no particular religious affiliation, such as the 6 April protest movement and the Youth Movement for Freedom and Justice. Nevertheless, some commentators have attempted to paint the uprising as a would-be “Iran-style” Islamic revolution.

In statements that would later be parroted by much of the western media, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Jan. 31: “Our real fear is of a situation that could develop and which has already developed in several countries including Iran itself – repressive regimes of radical Islam.”

But according to protesters arrayed in Tahrir Square, which on Tuesday was home to hundreds of thousands of protesters, Muslim-Christian unity remains a central feature of the almost daily rallies.

“There’s an overwhelming sense of solidarity here between Muslims and Christians,” 32-year-old Muslim protester Ahmed al-Assy told IPS. “Practically all of the protesters’ rallying cries, and all the sermons led by Muslim sheikhs, stress the importance of national unity.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Quaker Dreams Are Made Of: A Radio Interview

Tonight at 8:00 PM I will be interviewed by Darlene Lancer, a therapist friend of mine, who is interested in dreams.

I will be talking about how Quakers experienced God or Truth through an inward voice, or vision, or dreams. More than most mainstream Christians, Quakers placed great emphasis upon visions and dreams as a way of finding guidance for one's personal life and also for one's religious community.

George Fox, the founder of Quakers, distinguished between three types of dreams: those inspired by our daily business, those that came from the devil, and those that came from God. Daily life dreams simply process what has happened during the day and were not seen as particularly significant. Satanic dreams deal with our desires and fears in ways that are disturbing and not helpful. Dreams from God give us insight into our lives and help us to find guidance.

In his Journal George Fox described a significant dream vision he had in which he went underground and found people in vaults and graves and he liberated them. He did this repeatedly until he went to a very deep place in which he found a beautiful woman in white guarding a treasure. This woman told him that he was not to touch the treasure.

In this dream, Fox is describing both his inner work and his public ministry. Through the practice of silent worship, he not only found liberation for himself, but also for others. But the dream suggests that there is a deeper dimension to the spiritual life that is beyond words. The mysterious woman with the treasure is what Jung would call his anima, his soul essence. This is the place that "cannot be touched." It must remain inviolate.

Howard Brinton gives a Freudian interpretation of this dream: he notes that Fox had married a widow named Margaret Fell two years before this dream occured, and the dream may have had something to do with their sex life. I personally prefer the Jungian to the Freudian interpretation, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Dreams can have many meanings on different levels!

Quakers recorded dreams like this in their journals and often provide their own interpretations. Brinton devotes an entire chapter of his book on Quaker journals to dreams. By the way, Quakers use the word "journal" to mean "spiritual autobiographies." These journals were an extremely important aspect of Quaker ministry. It has been said that Quakers prefer biographies to theology because biography is based upon real experiences, not upon theories and ideas.

Some Quakers had encounters with deceased loved ones in dreams, much like the ones described in Raymond Moody's book. Others had prophetic dreams that foretold the future or a new direction in a person's life.

For example, when John Woolman, an 18th century anti-slavery activist, became very sick and nearly died, he dreamed that he was in the silver mines of Petosi in Bolivia where the natives were being treated horribly. They were crying out and damning those who called themselves Christians. Woolman then heard a voice that said, "John Woolman is dead." When he got over his illness, he interpreted this to mean that his ego was dead, and that he had become a new person. He never again used silver utensils and he became an outspoken defender of the poor and downtrodden.

Early Friends saw God-inspired dreams as something inspirational to be shared with the community. They weren't simply personal; they were collective. In the early 19th century Francis Hoag, for example, had a dream vision which predicted the schisms that took place in the Quaker community in the 1820s and also the Civil War. He traveled all around to various Quaker meetings telling people about his vision and was given the name "Vision Hoag."

Recently Carla Gerona wrote a book about Quaker dreams and visions called "Night Journey: The Power of Dreams in Transatlantic Quaker Culture." In this book she talks about the role that dreams played in the public lives of Quakers---how individual Friends shared their dreams with their community to help shape attitudes.

It is the collective quality of dream interpretation that truly distinguishes Quaker dreaming during this period. By contrast, most people today sees dreams as a private experience (though sometimes shared with friends, relatives, dream groups, or analysts).. Most people do not normally pronounce dreams in more public forums to instruct the entire society. Quakers did. And they applied the knowledge gained from dreams to the most important issues of their time; for example, African slavery, Indian relatiations, changing gender roles, and shifting economic systems. Their dreams moreover helped them to expand their church and ideals across the Atlantic and to sustain a coherent vision of community when their worlds seemed to fall apart, as when Americans revolted against Great Britain. In short, Quaker dream interpretations provided future fantasies, of utopia and dystopia. Quakers could share their desires and fears in this creative manner because they collectively understood that dreams were signals from God and because they were on a mission to transform both the landscapes and the people of the world.

Many Quakers today consider themselves mystics and take their dreams seriously. Today's Quakers have been deeply influenced by Jung and to a lesser extent by Freud, but we also see dreams an expression of the Divine.

Dreams have played a very important role in my life, often through poetry which arise from dream states, e.g, the "Dream Dance." See

I also have had a significant dream during the past year which I occasionally share with friends. For many years I have dreamed of flying, which is strange because in so-called real life I am acrophobic. But in my dreams I glide upward effortlessly and fly over cities and mountains and have a wonderful time. For me, this symbolized the freedom of spiritual life. But last year, after the death of my wife, I had a slightly different flying dream. As I flew upward and glided about in a plaza full of people, some of them were rather surprised at what I was doing. "It isn't hard," I told them. "Anyone can do this with a little practice." So I began showing the people how to fly.

I interpret this dream to mean that I am supposed to do more spiritual teaching--encouraging others to fly.

I hope this dream comes true!

What's next? Thoughts about life after death....

Obviously I don't have any direct knowledge of the afterlife, nor does everyone else, but much has been written about Near Death Experiences that give hints about what Eternity may be like. Some books I have been reading lately include "Surviving Death" by Scott Degenhardt, "Messages of Light" by Christopher Coppes, and "Glimpses of Eternity" by Raymond Moody.

These books reflect the tremendous amount of research that has been undertaken in the last few decades to determine what the next stage of existence may be like.

It will of course be utterly different from what we can imagine with our finite minds. The Sufis say that explaining the afterlife is like trying to explain to a foetus in the womb what it is like to be a human who has been born into this beautiful and complex world.

Those who have had glimpses of the next life say that time as we know it doesn't exist. Beings in the next stage of life experience time differently from us and are able to move back and forth in time.

Pain and suffering do exist in the next stage of existence for those who have turned away from the Light in this lifetime. This pain can be even more intense than what is felt here. But it apparently not eternal. People can and do change in the next stage of existence.

It is clear from reports of near death survivors that after this phase of existence we will have to review everything that we did and said in this lifetime, in the presence of a loving and compassionate Guide (Christ spirit), if we want such a guide to be present (some do not, and for them the life review is a fearful experience). Those who have hurt others will experience that hurt, while those who have love others will feel that love. This seems to be an inescapable reality of the next life stage.

My sense of the afterlife is that it a state of existence where we can (and must) make further progress in our journey towards the Divine. Some of us will choose to return to this physical existence (hence reincarnation), while others will enter into various planes of existence that will help us move closer to the ultimate goal, which is to become one with the One. I therefore believe that Hindus, Buddhists and Christians all have a piece of the truth about what the next stage of existence will be like.

But who knows, really? A few years ago this poem came to me:

This Must Be The Place

Some say it's like coming to a city at night
after a tedious drive through winding country roads
and you glance over a ridge and see a valley filled with stars
and you can't wait to get there
and finally encounter the place you've heard so much about.
And some say it's like leaving a city
you've lived in all your life
and driving down a long, dark road
with an overcast sky, and no signposts,
and no way back.

Some say you get a one-way ticket
with no refunds,
and others say it's like a revolving door,
you don't know whether you're coming or going.

Some say they've been there,
met the inhabitants, learned the geography,
and now can act as travel agents.
Others say they've been there, but there are no guidebooks,
just as blaze of light that puts in the shade
everything you've ever wanted or thought important here.

Some say there's no use talking of a place no one has ever seen,
it's like speculating about the dark side of Pluto.
Others say this place is the only one worth speculating about,
given the state this planet's in,
so keep your house in order and your suitcase packed.

Some say we're already there and don't even know it.

Some say to take one step at a time
and to watch out for loose rocks and
sudden turns in the road.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pay Your Taxes Under Protest

I have decided to take part in this campaign since it wounds my conscience that half of our tax dollars go to war. Even though I don't earn enough to pay taxes, I still feel the need to protest this misuse of our tax dollars, which are being squandered on the war machine instead of being used for peaceful and useful purposes.

Pay Under Protest
A Campaign for War Tax Resisters – Winter 2011

This year, take a stand against war taxes.
Follow your conscience! Be counted!

Easy and legal.

Join the Pay Under Protest campaign organized by a group of experienced California Quaker war tax resisters.

Members of this group are Steve Leeds (SF), Bob Runyan (Chico), Ed and Janet Hale (Palo Alto), and Elizabeth Boardman (Davis). Elizabeth is serving as contact person.

Our goal this first year is to get at least 200 Quakers (and some others as well) to pay under protest.

Filing the IRS 1040:

File your IRS 1040 as usual in 2011. Your tax accountant can do it for you, on-line or by regular mail.
Find the addresses (e-mail or snail mail) of your federal legislators. (See phone book or

By April 15, 2011, write to your legislators saying that you are paying under protest the portion of your tax bill that goes for war (about half).

For a sample letter or more information, contact or 530-759-1980.

Important: Even if everything you owe was already withheld from your paycheck, even if you will be getting money back, you did pay taxes for war, and you can still write your letter of protest.

4. Send a copy of your letter by April 15 to Elizabeth at, or at 1808 Drexel Drive, Davis CA 95616, so that you can be counted.

Not filing the IRS 1040:

If you are not required to file because you earned too little (perhaps deliberately), or because your only income was from SSI benefits, you can still be counted.

Let your legislators know that you are glad you are not required to support the military-industrial establishment (and you wish they wouldn’t either).

Send us a copy.
For a sample letter, contact

For more information, see www.

Distribute copies of this flier to Quakers and others from now until April 15, 2011.
For more information contact

Sunday, February 6, 2011

From Lucknow to Israel/Palestine

Yesterday was a fascinating day. I went with a friend to the LA County Museum to see an exhibit on the art and culture of Lucknow, a prodominantly Muslim city in Northern India. See The art of Lucknowwas amazingly rich, with lots of surprises. One of the most surprising images for me was a miniature scene of an extremely realistic, half-dressed Prophet Mohammad being visited in bed by the angel Gabriel, a very handsome, scantily clad young man (the prophet's wife was sleeping nearby). Images of the Prophet Mohammad are strictly forbidden in Islam, and portraying him in his provocative way would cause riots among many contemporary Muslims, so I am still trying to wrap my mind around what this image means culturally and religiously. Clearly the inhabitants of Lucknow had a more sophisticated notion of art and religion than many who live in this region today.

The city of Lucknow was incredibly opulent, and its way of life was beautiful and refined. But all this glory was to end abruptly. In 1857, the Muslims of Northern India revolted against British colonialism, and the city was destroyed. Fortunately, reminders of its glorious past remain in the form of art.

After visiting the museum, I went to hear Richard Falk and Jeff Halpern at the Iman Center in Culver City. This event was sponsored by LA Jews for Peace and other progressive Jewish groups. The hall was packed with Jews and others who support a just solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Halper and Falk presented a pessimistic assessment of the current situation, with few glimmers of hope. What thing was clear: unless there is a huge shift in American public opinion, especially among the Beltway politicians, the situation for Palestinians will grow increasingly bad and so will US standing in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world. It is clear that Israel/Palestine is a key factor in peace throughout this region, and throughout the world.

Halper is a founder of Israeli Committee Aginst Home Demotions: Many Americans are unaware of the fact that Israelis have demolished over 5,000 Palestinian homes and uprooted over half a million olive trees, and that Jews of conscience stand opposed to cruel acts of oppresssion. Halper writes on this site:

Struggling as I have for the past decades to grasp the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and find ways to get out of this interminable and absolutely
superfluous conflict, I have been two-thirds successful. After many years of activism and analysis, I think I have put my finger on the first third of the equation: What is the problem? My answer, which has withstood the test of time and today is so evident that it… Read more

In his talk at the Iman center, Halper told us to "let go of our fatalism" and imagine that peace is possible. Look at how unexpectedly and quickly political situations can change, e.g. Egypt, Tunisia, the Phillipines, Eastern Europe, Seoul (Korea), etc. We need to have a world-wide movement to make a difference. We have to push the US government to make a just peace, since Israelis don't really care about peace. They believe that the Arabs don't want peace and never will. Therefore, the Israelis don't really try to bring about peace, as the recent Palestinian papers revealed. No matter what concessions the collaborationists on the West Bank offered, the Israelis weren't interested. In Halper's view the Israelis don't care about peace because are doing well financially and have effectively "warehoused" the Palestinians into enclaves that are invisible to the average Israeli. "Thailand seems closer to Israel than the West Bank," is how Harper put it, echoing a commoon sentiment in Israel. The plan is to confine the Palestinians to smaller and smaller areas, and to make their lives unendurable so many will leave and the rest will lose hope and become docile.

Israelis is profiting from the anti-terrorism business and uses the West Bank and Gaza as a testing ground for its weapons and strategies, which it then sells to the rest of the world. Israel is dying to attack Iran.

The cost of supporting Israel is huge, both politically and economically. Not only does the US give 3 bilions in military aid to Israel, it gives tens of billions of military aid to repressive Arab regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to support Israel.

Israelis believe that the Arabs don't want peace, but Halper says the evidence shows otherwise. The Arab League met and said it would recognize the state of Israel if it abided by UN agreements and went back to its 1967 borders and let the Palestinians have a viable state--something Israel refuses to do.

Falk has a similar bleak assessment of the situation, which I don't have time to sum up. Falk was a political science professor at Princeton and an expert on the Middle East. He has served a UN rapporteur for Israel, a fact-finder. His efforts have been so honest that, like Goldstein, he has been vilified and is not allowed to returnh to Israel.

Finally, ICAHDUSA published a legal study funded and coordinated by the government of South Africa which argues that Israel meets the criterion of an aparteid state and therefore nations around the world have a legal obligation to "not recognize the illegal situation as lawful, 2) not render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation, 2) cooperate to bring the illegal situation to an end."

This is a damning but utterly persuasive and sobering assessment. If anyone should be able to recognize and name aparteid, it should be the government of South Africa. Yet many Jews refuse to acknowledge the obvious and one Jewish lawyer in New York is even trying to sue Jimmy Carter for 5 million dollars for his book "Peace or Apartheid," claiming that this book is a work of fiction that defames Israel. How dare Carter suggest parallels between Israel and S. Africa!

I'm grateful to Jeff Halper, Richard Falk and other Jews of conscience for insisting on justice for all, regardless of religion and ethnicity. We must do all we can to insure that Palestinians have the same human and legal rights as Israeli Jews. Until that day comes, there will not be true shalom or salaam in the Middle East.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Perfect Sound

Many years ago, when I was practicing Zen at the Providence, RI, Zen Center, I also attended the Quaker meeting in Providence where I met an extraordinary Quaker by the name of Suzanne Schmidt--a passionate peace activist and a lover of sail boats. She inspired this poem.

One of the practices that Quakerism and Zen have in common is listening--listening deeply to what stirs within us, as well as to the sounds that surrounds us. But the sound that we are truly listening for is one that cannot be heard except with the ears of the heart. That is the perfect sound this poem seeks to evoke.

The Perfect Sound

(For Suzanne Schmidt)

Sometimes I wonder what it would sound like if all the weapons in the world were beaten into ploughshares. I imagine it would sound like a tremendous bell ringing out through he whole world, louder than all the Victory bells that rang out during World War II....
--Ann Kellam

Each morning before dawn I ring a large bronze bell
and chant the Bell Chant with the rest of my sangha:

"Vowing this bell sound spreads through the whole universe,
Making all the Hell of Dark Metal bright,
Relieving the three realms of suffering,
Shattering the Hell of Swords.
All beings become enlightened."

I ring the bell, and try to let go of all thoughts--
forget the pretty poetry, the dream of Enlightenment,
my own situation, changing, and always the same, day by day--
just ring the bell, just listen,
experience the world-as-it-is,
the birds outside chirping from the eaves of the temple
as the bell clangs and clangs--
all of us making our first babysteps towards peace.

This morning a woman spoke of the sound
she imagined would be made
if all the weapons in the world were beaten into ploughshares,
the sound of a great bell ringing round the world,
and another woman wept,
silently, but openly, thoughout Quaker Meeting.
I went to her afterwards to offer what comfort I could,
and found her strong and clear as a bell.
She had broken into a munitions plant, beaten on a missile tube
with a balpeen hammer called "Hope,"
served a month in jail, and now awaited sentencing.
She had been weeping not only for herself,
but for the whole world trapped in a Hell of Swords....

In her silent weeping I could hear
the one perfect sound that would heal the world--
a sound that has never existed, and is always with us--
a sound that cannot be heard, or ignored--


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Peace and freedom in the Middle East, in our hearts, and elsewhere

Like many of you, I have been following with keen interest the developments in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere--thrilled that Arabs are taking to the streets to demand an end to tyranny and corruption, and calling for democracy and freedom. I also feel a certain apprehension and concern. Will people power prevail? Or will dictatorship and the empire's business-as-usual reassume its control? Let's pray for freedom and democracy, and remind ourselves that people power can succeed and has brought about positive social transformation in Eastern Europe, the Philippines and many other places. It can happen even here!

I am especially impressed with this article by Stephen Zunes, a Quaker professor of Middle East Studies who has written a fine piece for YES magazine:

As clerk of the Peace and Social Order Committee of Pacific Yearly Meeting (California's unprogrammed Quakers), I convene a monthly conference call for interested Friends. This month we had an especially good turnout (9 people) and a rich discussion.

Here's a summary of what we discussed for those of you who are interested in what Friends are doing to promote peace and justice:

Alvero Alverado and Patricia Portillo of Sacramento Meeting shared an inspiring report about how their Meeting has started a scholarship fund so that undocumented students can attend Sacramento State U. It is difficult for undocumented students since they are not eligible for financial aid, through no fault of their own. Over 65,000 high school students who graduate in California are undocumented. Sacramento Friends have raised $3,000 to help three students receive scholarships. An article about this project was published in the November issue of The Western Friend.

Laurel Gord, a member of Santa Monica Meeting and clerk of FCL-CA, is coordinating with other groups to put together an interest group on racism in our criminal justice system, based on the book "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. She wants to work with AVP, AFSC, etc.. It was suggested she get in touch with AFSC interim director Laura Magnani and Dottie Vura-Weiss, clerk of Latin America Concerns. Xenophobia as well as racism plays a big role in our criminal justice system.

Michael Dunn of Inland Valley Meeting shared about the racism and xenophobia among the police in Riverside country, and how they are impounding cars of undocumented workers under the guise of enforcing the DUI law. Michael expressed interest in taking part in the workshop that Laurel is proposing.

Michael Dunn also expressed concern about the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how these wars are draining the federal budget. Cuts in the military should be a priority. We need to be vocal about this. It was suggested that we show the film "War Made Easy" at the PYM gathering.

Stephen McNeil, AFSC staff, mentioned the "New Priorities" network (which deals with war and the economy) and also provided other links for the following activities:

FCNL workshop proposal: Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict: What bipartisan efforts are going on with FCNL supporters aid and what local activists in the San Francisco Bay Area are doing to prevent genocide or mass atrocities.

Social Fairness and Ecological Integrity: Strategy and Action For a Moral Economy with Keith Helmuth, George Lakey, Phil Emmi, Sandra Lewis and Shelley Tanenbaum March 4 - 6, 2011

Anthony mentioned that Santa Monica Friends approved a minute calling for a sustainability coordinator at PYM to track our carbon footprint and to suggest ways we can be more earth-friendly. He suggests that other Meeting consider such a minute, which is also being recommended by FCUN.

Jeff Kroeber told us he is involved in the newly begun Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, which is holding its first formal meeting on March 6.

Lucia Van Diepen, Liveoak and Marin County, spoke movingly of homelessness, and how a homeless man appeared at her meeting in Marin wet to the bone after the recent storms, and asked for help. This man spurred the meeting to take action. Poverty is a form of violence. She is active with an interreligious group called "Open Table" that is helping the homeless. 12 people help or guide one homeless person over a year or two period with the goal of enabling him or her to become self-sufficient. How can we bring about the abolition of homelessness? What part can Friends play in this social transformation? Interest group?

Laurel spoke of Housing First movement in LA, to help homeless people with drug and alcohol problems.

Lucia also spoke about the meals provided at Dorothy's House and how she has helped start a very viable worship group at Soledad State prison. Three members of her Meeting attend regularly and a 4th is interested. They have brought Faith and Practice to Soledad and the prisoners are very interested in Quakerism and silent worship.

David Chandler of Visalia Meeting received a minute of support for his interest group on the truth about 9/11. There was talk of inviting David Griffin.

Anthony spoke about his interfaith workshop and how he might include discussion of FWCC and the upcoming Triennial in Kenya. Anthony is a PYM rep to FWCC and believes "intra-faith" work is just as important as interfaith work. Because PYM is taking place in Claremont, he plans to invite Bill Lesher, one of the leaders of the Parliament of World's Religion, who just retired to Pilgrim Place.

Anthony closed the meeting by calling for prayers for the people of Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world who are yearning for freedom and democracy, and are putting their lives on the line.

Our meeting ended silent worship and deep gratitude.

Our next meeting will take place on Feb. 28, the final Monday of the month, at 8:00 PM.

Here's a meditation from a Sufi friend of mine who borrowed it, I believe, from the Buddhists:


"May I be happy; May I be well; May I be filled with kindness and peace!" (repeat 5-10 or more times ... :)

"May you be happy; May you be well; May you be filled with kindness and peace!" (repeat 5-10 or more times ... :)

"May we be happy; May we be well; May we be filled with kindness and peace!" (repeat 5-10 or more times ... :)

When you say 'you', think of (or imagine) one person at a time, and specially of one who you have most intense trouble/issue with ...

and when you say 'we', think of small groups first and then extend it to the entire planet ... local to global ...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Dream Dance

Digging into my Emily Dickinson drawer, I found this poem, written 25 years ago, when I returned home to Princeton to take care of my mother, who was diagnosed with terminal emphysema. I was teaching at Carleton College in Northfield, MN, when I received an urgent phonecall from my sister, summoning home. She told me our mother was given a year to live by her doctor, unless she gave up smoking (which she refused to do).

I immediately drove back home--a total of 1,1000 miles--only to find my mother and sister sitting in the living room in a cloud of smoke, watching TV. My mother barely acknowledged my homecoming she was so enthralled with her show. A little irritated, I asked her to step outside to talk and she did so reluctantly. As I explained how concerned I was about her situation, she grew very huffy and lit a cigarette.

"You make me nervous," she said. "I have to smoke."

As you can see, she was quite a challenging person to deal with, and we had many conflicts--some so bitter we didn't speak to each other for months.

During this crisis, my heart softened and I felt an urgent need to learn how to get along with my mother. It was literally a life-and-death matter. I prayed for help, and God answered my prayer. I was led to the Quaker Meeting in Princeton and Friends proved enormously helpful. Through the practice of silent worship, I learned how to be more patient and how to be a more compassionate listening.

I also sought help from my father, who had died 15 years before, when I was just graduating from college. My father had never argued with my mother. They got along beautifully. And I wanted to know how he managed to do it. So one day I looked at his picture and asked him for help.

"Please help me to figure out how to get along with that woman!" I said with some exasperation.

Immediately, I felt a surge of energy and the hairs on the back of my head stood up. I knew my father was present and my prayer for help had been answered.

From that point on, I knew what to say and how to act with my mother so I wouldn't push her buttons, and she wouldn't push mine. She lived another seven years and we never quarrelled once.

Another manifestation of my father's ongoing presence in my life after his death was this dream, which I turned into a poem called "The Dream Dance." It is not uncommon for our loved ones to come to us in dreams, often to give us insight and help. This happened to my wife six months before she died. Her dead uncle came to her in a dream, revealing himself as a radiant being of life and light. But that's another story I will share at another time.

What canst thou say, my friends? Have you had close encounters with departed loved ones? How did these encounters change your life?

(For my mother)

For years, it was the same dream,
and always the same ending:
Father is alive, and we are talking,
finally talking, man to man, no longer father and son;
We walk back to the garden and inspect the vegetables,
children of the same earth.
The sun is setting,
the light soft and pale as Hymettan honey.
At last I realize he's dead,
and it's all a dream. I wake up inconsolable.

For years this dream came and went,
until one day I sensed the time had come
to share it with my mother. Tears came to her eyes.
She understood. The dream had done its work.

This fall another dream arrived: we're dancing, the three of us,
mother, father and I--dancing a Greek dance,
nothing between us
but a white handkerchief. I wake up happy.

Father in heaven, and in my heart,
who weaves these dreams that we must humbly live?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Strange encounters with Jesus

Some Light verse about Jesus, written God knows when by God knows who

“I don’t believe in the resurrection,” said the corpse
when Jesus appeared to him one morning.

Jesus watched the corpse with pity as it got dressed,
washed up, and drove to work, cursing the freeway traffic
and the stupidity of its boss….

“The saddest part is when they don’t even know they’re dead,” said Jesus.


“I don’t believe in Jesus,” said the girl.

“Neither do I,” said Jesus.

“You don’t?” said the girl. “But didn’t you say that we have to pray and stuff in your name?”

“What is my name?” said Jesus, smiling slyly. “You don’t think I’d reveal my real name, do you?”

“Cool,” said the girl. “Tell me some of your aliases then.”

“Oh, they call me many things—Love, Truth—but these are just words.”

“What’s your real name, then?”

“You have to know me first,” said Jesus.

“Know who?” asked the girl, smiling slyly.

“Yourself,” said Jesus.

“Am I you?” said the girl.

“Only if you want to be,” he replied. “But being who you are is better,
and much, much more difficult.”