Thursday, March 31, 2011

Interfaith Youth Work: Hope for the Future

Preparing young people for a pluralistic world is one of the great challenges of our era. Interfaith youth work, an essential component of this burgeoning movement, has many aspects: service, dialogue, worship sharing, leadership development, fun and games, and of course pizza—the universal sacrament uniting youth of all traditions.

Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, has committed his life to bringing together young people of different faith traditions through service projects. He writes:

What if people of all faiths and traditions worked together to promote the common good for all? What if once again, young people led the way? Across the country, Muslims and Hindus, Jews and Christians, Buddhists and non-religious, are coming together in a movement of interfaith cooperation. They are proving that the 21st century can be defined by cooperation between diverse communities instead of conflict. (
I know from experience how important service projects are in helping young people to form their religious identities and to see the world from different perspectives, including that of the poor and marginalized. In 1992, I helped to start a youth service program jointly funded by the American Friends Service Committee and Southern California Quarterly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). This program mainly drew Quaker youth, but around ten to twenty percent of the participants hailed from different backgrounds, including a significant number of African American teens. For ten years I took teens on service projects to various sites: homeless shelters, a shelter for wild animals, an AIDS hospice center, and communities in Mexico where we built community centers and homes for workers living in utter poverty, without running water or electricity. These service projects were a powerful learning opportunities for all involved, especially the teens. Many reported having had life-changing experiences.

Today interfaith youth service projects are becoming increasingly common and popular. Greg Damhorst, a young Evangelical Christian, describes how one such project arose after the earthquakes in Haiti. Determined to help, Greg turned not just to his own religious community, but also to his friends of other faiths:

I brought the idea to a small group of friends – the “executive committee” that organized Interfaith in Action’s programs. We were an Evangelical Christian, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and a Humanist, and we set out to plan an event at which our campus could package these meals for Haiti.

I got a hold of the cell phone number for Rick McNary, founder of Numana, Inc., with whom I discussed the logistics of the project. We started a search for facilities to host the event, the money to fund the event, and the volunteers to staff the event.

We connected with the regional office of the Salvation Army who connected us with the local corps at the same time that a phone call from Washington, D.C. out of the Salvation Army World Service Office confirmed that a federal grant was going to fund our project.

With that, a community-wide, multi-faith endeavor was born. The event was moved to an abandoned Hobby Lobby building on the west side of Champaign and staff from Numana, Inc. flew in prepare for the event.

In a single weekend, 5,112 volunteers from every walk of life, faith and philosophical tradition passed through that site to lend a hand. In less than 12 hours, 1,012,640 meals were packaged for shipment to Haiti where they were protected by the 82nd airborne and distributed by Salvation Army humanitarian workers.

This is a story of coming together; it’s a story of cooperation; and it’s a story of interfaith work. As an evangelical, this is a snapshot of how I desire to live out my faith. To do so alongside people who I desire to show the compassion of Jesus makes it an even more compelling endeavor.

Jesus said “I was hungry and you brought me something to eat.” Consider the significance of inviting others to join in such an activity. If you ask me, this is a simple yet profound way to communicate the compassion of Christ, meet the needs of the world, and build a better community. (
Another way to enable young people of different faith traditions to connect is through interfaith get togethers. In 2005 I helped organize an “interfaith icebreaker” which included Muslims, Jews, Bahais, Christians and Hindu youth. We met at a synagogue, played games, sang songs, and shared stories about our faith journeys. It was a powerful experience that was written up in a local newspaper.

We also organized an interfaith café, which took place during the month of Ramadan/Tishei (October) in 2006. Around fifty youth showed up for discussions about their faith traditions at a local Presbyterian church. Later many went to the nearby mosque in order to partake of iftar, the breaking of the fast at sunset. We ate delicious South Asian food, watched the Muslim prayers on close-circuit TV, and learned about Islam from various Muslim speakers.

Our local interfaith organization created a youth council. We called on youth from different faith traditions to come together to plan their own programs and also to have input into adult programs. This work led to discovering and nurturing youth leaders, some of whom went on to organize programs of their own.

The local chapter of the Parliament of World’s Religion also encouraged youth participation. Youth were involved in planning our pre-Parliament events and took part in panels and organized workshops. They also provided service at our banquets and other events. Several were given financial assistance so that they could attend the Parliament gathering in Melbourne, Australia, in 2008. This event, which drew over 6,000 religious leaders from around the world, had an exciting and inspiring youth program.

I am convinced that interfaith organizations are ideally and uniquely suited to do this work. The need for building interfaith understanding among youth is clear: we live in a society that is not only culturally but religiously diverse. We need to appreciate religious as well as cultural diversity in order to get along. Schools have made an effort to teach about cultural diversity, but have been reluctant to focus on religion—a much riskier topic. Interfaith organizations can provide opportunities for youth of different faith traditions to get together, talk openly, and learn from each other in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. The goal of this work is to help youth to gain a clearer understanding of their own faith and an appreciative understanding of other faiths.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to prevent what is happening in Japan from happening here....

Two leading Quaker organizations, Quaker Earthcare Witness ( and the Friends National Committee for Legislation ( , have endorsed a letter calling for the US to end its reliance on nuclear power. This letter was sent to elected officials in the name of 142 environmental groups.

The Peace and Social Action Committee of Santa Monica Meeting has agreed to bring this letter forward to business meeting for its consideration. The Peace and Social Order Committee of Pacific Yearly Meeting has agreed to circulate this letter as widely as possible so that Friends and others can give it their consideration.

As we hold the people of Japan in our prayers, and hope that the effects of this disaster can be mitigated, we need to remember that we are also vulnerable.

California has two nuclear power plants directly facing the ocean and built on fault lines--San Onofre reactor in So Cal and the Diablo Canyon reactor near Morreau Bay. They were built to "withstand" quakes of 7.6, while the Japanese quake was 8.9. It is doubtful that either reactor could withstand a tsunami.

Such is the slender thread by which the safety of Californians is hanging. It is imperative that we let our elected officials know that we do not favor government subsidies of nuclear power; we prefer to see our tax dollars go to support renewable energy and conservation.

Tomorrow I will post a statement by a FCLN lobbyist about the threat of resource wars due to climate change...

8606 Carroll Avenue, #2; Takoma Park, MD 20912
301-588-4741; 301-270-6477 x.11


March 23, 2011

President Barack Obama
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu
U.S. Senator Harry Reid
U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell
U.S. Representative John Boehner
U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi
Members, U.S. Congress

Dear Sir/Madam:

We, the 142 undersigned safe energy advocates, have been speaking out about the risks and dangers posed by nuclear power for years – for many of us, since before the 1986 Chornobyl and 1979 Three Mile Island accidents as well as the hundreds of other radioactive releases, unplanned shut-downs, and other mishaps that have continuously plagued both the U.S. and the international nuclear industries since their founding.

While nuclear power’s unacceptable safety, environmental, public health, economic, and national security risks should have been self-evident long before now, the latest unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan once again underscores the following:

Nuclear plants can never be designed to withstand all potential “acts of God.”

Nuclear plants can never be designed to withstand all instances of “human error.”

Nuclear plants can never be designed to withstand all types of “mechanical malfunction.”

Nuclear plants can never be designed to withstand all forms of “terrorist attack.”

There is no such thing as “safe” nuclear power.

There is no such thing as “clean” nuclear power.

There is no such thing as “cheap” nuclear power.

Consequently, the Price-Anderson cap on liability in the event of an accident should be repealed, all proposed governmental financial and regulatory incentives for new nuclear plant construction - including loan guarantees, accelerated licensing, and inclusion in a “clean energy standard” - should be rejected, and no new reactors should be built.

Existing nuclear reactors should be phased out as rapidly as possible, beginning with the oldest and/or most unsafe, and no presently-licensed reactors should have their operating lives extended.

Safety standards for existing reactors should be substantially tightened while they continue to operate and federal nuclear funding should be redirected to the orderly phase-out of those reactors as well as the safe decommissioning of closed reactors and disposal of radioactive waste.

National energy policy and funding should be refocused on greatly improved energy efficiency and the rapid deployment of renewable energy sources which are far cleaner, safer, and cheaper than nuclear power.


Michael Closson, Executive Director
Acterra: Action for a Healthy Planet
Palo Alto, CA

Aur J. Beck, Chief Tech
Advanced Energy Solutions
Pomona, IL

Lesley Weinstock, Coordinator
Agua es Vida Action Team
Albuquerque, NM

Rochelle Becker, Executive Director
Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility
San Luis Obispo, CA

Laura Filbert Zacher, CEO
ARE Systems, LLC
St. Louis, MO

Thea Paneth, Secretary
Arlington United for Justice with Peace
Arlington, MA

Mari Rose Taruc, State Organizing Director
Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Oakland, CA

Lara Morrison, Board Member
Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust
Los Angeles, CA

Kay Martin, Vice President
BioEnergy Producers Association
Gualala, CA

Kay Firor, President
Blue Mountain Solar, Inc.
Cove, OR

Sandra Gavutis, Executive Director
C-10 Research & Education Foundation
Newburyport, MA

Laurent Meillon, Director
Capitol Solar Energy LLC
Denver, CO

Elizabeth C. Battocletti, President
The Carmel Group, LLC
Reston, VA

Gwen Ingram, Vice President
The Carrie Dickerson Foundation
Tulsa, OK

Don Timmerman, Roberta Thurstin Timmerman
Casa Maria Catholic Worker Community
Milwaukee, WI

Kieran Suckling
Center for Biological Diversity
Washington, DC

Andy Kimbrell, Executive Director
Center for Food Safety
Washington DC

Lenny Siegel, Executive Director
Center for Public Environmental Oversight
Mountain View, CA

Lucy Law Webster, Executive Director
Center for War/Peace Studies
New York, NY

David Hughes, Executive Director
Citizen Power
Pittsburgh, PA

Deb Katz
Citizens Awareness Network
Shelburne, MA

Janet Greenwald, Co-coordinator
Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping
Albuquerque, NM

Caroline Snyder
Citizens for Sludge-Free Land
North Sandwich, NH

Robert Singleton, Nuclear Issues Chair
Citizens Organized to Defend Austin
Austin, TX

Charlie Higley, Executive Director
Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin
Madison, WI

Pam Solo, President
The Civil Society Institute
Newton, MA

Norm Cohen
Coalition for Peace and Justice
Linwood, NJ

Cristina Castro, Coordinator
New York, NY

Medea Benjamin, Co-Founder
CODEPINK Women for Peace
Washington, DC

Bill Gallegos, Executive Director
Communities for a Better Environment
Huntington Park & Oakland, CA

Tam Hunt, J.D., President,
Community Renewable Solutions LLC
Santa Barbara, CA

John Calandrelli, Chapter Program Director
Connecticut Chapter of Sierra Club
Hartford, CT

Nancy Burton, Director
Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone
Redding, CT

Luke Lundemo, Director
Conscious Living Project
Jackson, MS

Lois Arkin, Executive Director
CRSP Institute for Urban Ecovillages
Los Angeles, CA

Stephen M. Brittle, President
Don't Waste Arizona, Inc.
Phoenix, AZ

Kathryn Barnes, Board of Directors
Don't Waste Michigan - Sherwood Chapter
Sherwood, MI

Lois Barber, Co-founder & Executive Director
EarthAction & 2020 Action
Amherst, MA

Jane E. Magers, Coordinator
Earth Care, Inc
Des Moines, IA

Chris Trepal, Executive Director
Earth Day Coalition
Cleveland, OH

Al Fritsch, SJ
Earth Healing
Ravenna, KY

Lester R. Brown
Earth Policy Institute
Washington, DC

Jim Bell, Director
Ecological Life Systems Inst. Inc.
San Diego, CA

Mahlon Aldridge, Vice President
Ecology Action
Santa Cruz, CA

Cara L. Campbell, Chair
Ecology Party of Florida
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Dan Stafford, Organizing Director
Environmental Action
Denver, CO

William Snape
Environmental Law Program
American University Law School
Washington, DC

Lillian K. Light, President
Environmental Priorities Network
Manhattan Beach, CA

Don Ogden, Producer
The Enviro Show-WXOJ-LP & WMCB
Florence, MA

Jennifer Barker
EORenew/SolWest Fair
Canyon City, OR

Ben Mancini, President
EV Solar Products, Inc.
Chino Valley, AZ

Judi Poulson, Chair
Fairmont, Minnesota USA Peace Group
Fairmont, MN

Linda S. Ochs, Director
Finger Lakes Citizens for the Environment
Waterloo, NY

Dan Brook, Ph.D.
Food for Thought---and Action
San Jose, CA

Jon Blickenstaff, Treasurer
Footprints for Peace
Cincinnati, OH

Nick Mann, Legislative Program Assistant-Environment
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Washington, DC

Richard V. Sidy, President
Gardens for Humanity
Sedona, AZ

Amanda Hill-Attkisson, Managing Director
Georgia Women's Action for New Directions
Atlanta, GA

Peter Meisen, President
Global Energy Network Institute
San Diego, CA

Bruce K. Gagnon, Coordinator
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
Brunswick, ME

Casey Coates Danson, President
Global Possibilities
Los Angeles, CA

Barbara Harris
Granny Peace Brigade NY
New York, NY

Vicky Steinitz
Greater Boston United for Justice with Peace Coalition
Boston, MA

Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director
Green America
Washington, DC

Jennifer Olaranna Viereck, Executive Director
HOME: Healing Ourselves & Mother Earth
N. Bennington, VT

Bonnie A. New, MD MPH; Director
Health Professionals for Clean Air
Houston, TX

Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, Program Director
Hibakusha Stories
New York, NY

David Morris, Vice President
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Minneapolis, MN

Jaydee Hanson, Policy Director
International Center for Technology Assessment
Washington, DC

Victor Menotti, Executive Director
International Forum on Globalization
San Francisco, CA

Christian May, Founder
Frederick, MD

Daniel Ziskin, PhD; President
Jews Of The Earth
Boulder, CO

Andy McDonald, Director
Kentucky Solar Partnership
Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest
Frankfurt, KY

Kay Tiffany, Steering Committee
Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition
Lexington, MA

Paul Gallimore, Director
Long Branch Environmental Education Center
Leicester, NC

Greg Mello
Los Alamos Study Group
Albuquerque, NM

Claudine Cremer, Owner
Meadow Cove Farm
Weaverville, NC

Linda Belgrave, Secretary
Miami for Peace & Justice
Coral Gables, FL

Barbara Jennings, CSJ, Coordinator
Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment
St. Louis, MO

Mark Haim, Chair
Missourians for Safe Energy
Columbia, MO

Judy Treichel, Executive Director
Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force
Las Vegas, NV

Lilia Diaz, Outreach Director
New Energy Economy
Santa Fe, NM

Penelope McMullen, SL
New Mexico Justice and Peace Coordinator
Loretto Community
Santa Fe, NM

Carolyn Treadway
No New Nukes
Normal, IL

Wells Eddleman, Staff Scientist
North Carolina Citizens Research Group
Durham, NC

Larry Bell, President
North East Arizona Energy Services Company
Concho, AZ

Barbara Haack, Member
North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice
Ipswich, MA

David Borris, President
North Suburban Peace Initiative and Chicago Area Peace Action
Evanston, IL

Nina Bell, J.D., Executive Director
Northwest Environmental Advocates
Portland, OR

Alice Slater, NY Director
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
New York, NY

David Krieger, President
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Santa Barbara, CA

Wendy Oser, Director
Nuclear Guardianship Project
Berkeley, CA

Jack & Felice Cohen-Joppa, editors
The Nuclear Resister
Tucson, AZ

Arn Specter, Editor
The Nuclear Review
Philadelphia, PA

Glenn Carroll, Coordinator
Nuclear Watch South
Atlanta, GA

Chris Daum, President
Oasis Montana Inc. Renewable Energy Supply & Design
Stevensville, MT

Philip Tymon, Administrative Director
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center
Occidental, CA

Patricia A. Marida, Chair-Nuclear Issues Committee
Ohio Sierra Club
Columbus, OH

Dave Robinson, Executive Director
Pax Christi USA
Washington, DC

Judi Friedman, Chair
PACE (People's Action for Clean Energy, Inc.)
Canton, CT

Aviv Goldsmith, President
Precursor Systems, Inc.
Spotsylvania, VA

[Message clipped]

Quakers and the Interfaith Movement: New Book and Workshop at FGC

Quakers and the Interfaith Movement is the title both of my soon-to-be-published book and also of a workshop I plan to facilitate this summer at the Friends General Conference Gathering at Grinnell College in Iowa ( This book contains practical tips on how to do interfaith work (such as interfaith cafes and compassionate listening) as well as indepth essays by weighty Friends such as Michael Birkel, Sallie King , Gene Hoffman, Kay Lindhal, Rachel Stacy, Max Carter, Ralph Beebe, Michael Sells, David Ruth, Tim Sallingers, Richard Bellin, Rhoda Gilman, and Pablo Stanfield. The book will be published under the aegis of Quaker Universalist Fellowship and will be available in time for this summer’s FGC Gathering. Below is a draft of the introduction describing the contents of this new book.

During June and July I plan to drive across the United States again, sharing my interfaith ministry with interested Friends. If you’d like for me to visit your Meeting, please let me know as soon as possible.

Introduction: A Quakerly Approach to Interfaith Peacemaking and Dialogue
in the Twenty-First Century

During this era when religion has become an excuse for terrifying violence and endless wars, we need to take to heart the words of the Catholic theologian Hans Kung:

There can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There can be no peace among religions without dialogue. And there can be no dialogue without a common ethic.

Quakers have had a Peace Testimony for 350 years, but it has become clear we cannot achieve our dream of world peace unless we work in concert with those of other religions who share our vision. As the British Friend Sylvia Stagg put it:

When I joined the Quaker Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations (QCCIR), interfaith work was of general interest. Now in 2005… interfaith relations has become an over-riding necessity in all our community relations. It is no longer a choice but an absolute necessity.

This handbook consists of writings by Quakers who have played significant roles in the interfaith movement and have helpful advice and insights to offer. While this book is mainly intended for Quakers, we hope it will be useful for all who are concerned about interfaith peacemaking and dialogue.

The book begins with “Advices and Queries,” the traditional method used by Quakers to stimulate reflection through pithy quotations and open-ended questions. Quakers feel that before considering the ideas and opinions of others, it is important to reflect upon one’s own experiences, motivations, and inward wisdom.

The first section deals with reasons why the interfaith movement is important and describes various approaches to interfaith peacemaking. This article was the first to be published on this topic by a major American Quaker magazine.

The second section deals with compassionate listening (one of the most important Quaker contributions to peace making) and offers practical advice on how to organize encounters that can build trust and understanding among people of different faith traditions.

The third section contains essays by leading Quaker scholars/activists who examine interfaith dialogue in depth from various theological perspectives. Michael Birkel is a professor of religion at Earlham College, which was founded in Richmond, Indiana, by Quaker in 1847. A liberal Christian, he worships in an unprogammed meeting and engages in interfaith dialogue both locally and through the World Council of Churches. His colleague, Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, belongs to a pastoral Quaker tradition and is a campus minister. Sallie King, on the other hand, is a Buddhist Quaker who teaches comparative religion at James Madison University in Richmond, Virginia. Finally, Rachel Stacy is a young Friend who recently graduated from Earlham School of Religion and describes herself as a Universalist Christian Quaker.

The fourth section describes Quaker Universalist Fellowship (QUF) and the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee (CIRC) of Friends General Conference (FGC), Quaker organizations that promote interfaith dialogue and understanding. It also contains an essay about the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which helped to launch the modern interfaith movement at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Quakers played an active part in this extraordinary interreligious gathering, which led to the formation of CIRC.

The last two sections deal with how Friends can reach out to Muslims and Jews. It includes my pamphlet “Islam from a Quaker Perspective,” as well as my writings on the Qur’an and the Bible. Also included are excerpts from Michael Sells’ translation of the Qur’an, with an insightful commentary.

The final section of the book also examines the question of Israel/Palestine, the most divisive issue for those involved with interfaith work. Because a considerable number of Quakers are of Jewish background, and because Friends have had a deep commitment to this region for over a hundred years—since the formation of the Ramallah Friends School—Friends have played a small, but not insignificant role in the search for a just, compassionate and lasting peace in this region.

Those who wish to learn more are encouraged to go to the QUF blog: or our website: The QUF blog contains lively and up-to-date information about what Friends and others are doing to promote Universalism and interfaith understanding. The QUF website is an online library of introspective pieces from renowned Friends, historical overviews and incisive book reports, and over 40 pamphlets downloadable for free. As QUF continues to put ever more content online, this Quaker Library will grow to become a great index of contemporary Quaker writings.

Because much of this material has been used in workshops I have facilitated at Friends General Conference, Pendle Hill, Quaker Center Ben Lomond, and various other Quaker venues, I would like to thank those who have taken part in these workshops, and are involved actively in nurturing what Martin Luther King called “the Beloved Community.”

I also want to express my heart-felt appreciation to QUF and CIRC, and to the numerous Friends and faith leaders who have made my interfaith ministry not only possible, but joyful: Stanford Searl, Diane Manning and Kathy Forsman (members of Santa Monica Meeting who are part of my accountability/support committee); George Amoss, Larry Spears, Sallie King, Sally Rickerman, Lynn Cope, Steve Angell, Michael Birkel, Jim Rose, Rachel Stacy, Mark Kharas (members of QUF); Tom Paxson, Dorothy Walizer, Michael Birkel, Charley Earp, Brad Oglivie (members of CIRC). I am also deeply grateful to my various interfaith colleagues and friends: Joseph Prabu, Ruth Broyde-Sharone, Noor Malike Chisti, John Ishvardas Abdallah, Rev Jeff Utter, Rev Jan Chase, Rev Richard Rose (Parliament of the World’s Religions); Milia Islam-Majeed (South Coast Intefaith Council); Steve Rodhe, Grace Dyrness, George Regas, Shakeel Syed, Cheryl Johnson (Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace); and many others too numerous to name.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Challenge of Fasting

The Lenten experience also entails some form of self-sacrifice--giving up food or some other pleasure that stands between us and God. The point of sacrificial giving is to give not just to the level where it feels comfortable, but to give until it hurts. "To turn all of our treasures into channels for universal love is the real business of our lives," is how John Woolman put it. Self-sacrifice opens the door to love as we learn to care for others the same way that we care for ourselves.

Like repentance, the act of self-sacrifice can be perverted. Take, for instance, the phrase which I am sure that many of us had heard (or perhaps uttered) at least once in our lives:

"I made all these sacrifices for you, and look how you treat me."

Playing the martyr is not self-sacrifice; it's just a power trip with fancy bows and wrapping.

To understand self-sacrifice, we need to look at its root meaning: "to make sacred." To sacrifice oneself means to "make oneself a sacred gift, an offering" to God or to others.

True self-sacrifice is not about pain and self-deprivation, except in the sense that a drug addict experiences pain when going cold turkey. Self-sacrifice means giving up an addiction to a lesser good so that we can experience ultimate goodness. Giving up alcohol or heroin may be painful at first, but in the long run, sobriety is much more satisfying than addiction.

For this reason, self-sacrifice can be one of life's most fulfilling experiences. What a relief it is to say, "I am not a slave to my own selfish desires. I can choose not to eat candy or to drink alcohol or to be judgmental." Each time one gives up a lesser good for the sake of a greater good, one is "making oneself sacred." What freedom and joy such self-sacrifice bring!

For early Christians, "going without meat" meant "enabling your brother to eat"--or as we would say it today, "living simply so that others can simply live." In 128 A.D. Aristides explained to Emperor Hadrian the strange manner in which Christians lived: "When someone is poor among them, who has need of help, they fast for two or three days and they have the custom of sending him the food which they had prepared for themselves." Early Quakers had the same reckless habit of sharing with others: "Justices and captains had come to break up this meeting, but when they saw Friends' books and accounts of collections concerning the poor...they were made to confess that we did their work....And many times there would be two hundred beggars of the world there, for all the country knew we met about the poor....." (Journal 1660 p. 373).

The spiritual power of fasting and sharing with the poor came home to me recently when I helped organize a program for Junior Friends. During one of our planning sessions, I showed a video about starving children and asked how many of the teens would be willing to "give up meat so that others could eat." To my surprise, the entire group said that they would!

Fasting is something that Friends don't ordinarily do, especially out here in California, so I was taken aback by the enthusiasm with which these young Friends looked forward to self-denial. It was as if they had a spiritual hunger that could only be satisfied by giving up what teens sometimes seem to value most---food!

During Quarterly Meeting, our small, but enthusiastic group fasted for 30 hours to raise money for relief and development work in Third World countries. During the course of our fast, we watched videos, heard talks, and learned about the root causes of hunger in today's world. It's amazing how much more meaningful dry statistics about hunger become when you hear them on a empty stomach!

Fasting can be a powerful testimony, as I recently learned from the example of Joseph Havens. A psychologist and a peace activist for many years, Joe published a Pendle Hill pamphlet called The Fifth Yoga. I came to know Joe when he and his wife Teresina ran a retreat center called Temenos on a wooded mountain top near Amherst, Massachusetts. Temenos was a place where peace activists, artists, and spiritual seekers came together for spiritual growth and healing.

Joe and Teresina took very seriously the Quaker testimony on simplicity. They had no running water or electricity. They re-cycled everything; even their outhouse was equipped to turn waste products into compost. When I first met the Havens, they were both in their seventies, and yet they seemed full of zest and vitality. At the end of our lunch together, Joe asked me if I liked Greek dancing. Being Greek, I couldn't turn him down, but I wondered how he was going to create music without electricity. It turns out that he had hooked up a stereo system to car batteries. For the next hour, Joe and I danced with Zorba-like exuberance. Never have I met any one who loved life more than Joe Havens.

A couple of years ago, Joe came down with Parkinson's disease. As his palsy grew worse and worse, he kept a sense of humor ("Now I really am a Quaker," he once quipped.) But when his condition reached the point that he finally had to go to a nursing home, Joe decided to stop eating. When he died, this final message was sent to all his friends:

I believe that we each must look at our dark side, and learn from it, in order to become more complete, whole persons. In the same way, we need to look at the dark side of our society and its institutions, and at the fact that our prosperity is founded on the hunger of others. In sharing what we learn, we can shed light on the adjustments required to forge a more just and equitable society....

Joe passed through his final Lenten experience with a clear mind and an open heart. His testimony was both a political statement and an act of love, even of joy. "Look around us!" he affirmed. "Talk to a stranger, hug a friend, or share with your family, but please, do help this wonderful process along."

The Lenten experience is not only about penitence and self-denial, it is also about prayer and renewal. For Friends, the highest form of prayer is silent worship. Silent worship, like meditation, can be a wonderfully relaxing and healing experience--a "safe haven" during times of spiritual upheaval. But silent worship can be also extremely painful. Many people (particularly those who are young) find silence so excruciating that they cannot handle it for longer than ten or fifteen minutes. As Caroline Stephen once pointed out,

Silence is often a stern discipline, a laying bare of the soul before God, a listening to the 'reproof' of life. But the discipline has to be gone through, the reproof has to be listened to, before we can find our right place in the temple. Words may help and silence may help, but the one thing needful is that the heart should turn to its maker as the needle turns to the pole. For this we must be still.

The seventeenth-century Quaker apologist Robert Barclay sometimes talks about meeting for worship as a birthing process. He says that when worshippers get together, their inner struggle can be like the battling of Jacob and Esau within Rebecca's womb. This inner conflict results in "many groans, and sighs, and tears, even as the pangs of a woman in travail...." According to Barclay, it is from this that the name Quakers, i.e. Tremblers, was first derived.

Nowadays, Friends are not apt to shake physically from their struggles against self-will. But when difficult issues arise, or when troubled personalities appear on the scene, it is not unusual for Friends to experience times of pain and turmoil, when it feels as if dark forces are tearing the meeting and our souls apart. In silent meetings, it is hard to gloss over or hide from what is painful, neurotic, or demonic within ourselves and our community.

During these dark times, it is tempting to withdraw from meeting altogether, or to fall asleep, as Jesus' disciples did in the garden of Gesthemane. But those who stay attentive during these times of spiritual crisis can make some astonishing discoveries. In the heart of darkness one can discern a light that cannot be extinguished---a sense of peace that cannot be shaken--a love that never fails. No one who has ever experienced this peace, this light, would ever want a mere "safe haven." But this peace has a price. In order to taste it, we must take the cup of fear and trembling to our lips and say to the Creator of the Universe, "Let Thy will, not mine, be done."

Homage to snow drops and other early spring flowers

During my recent visit to Pendle Hill, I was enchanted by a tiny white flower that shyly drooped its petals towards the earth. It was the first flowering of spring. Clustered together in little groups, shivering in the brisk breezes, these delicate blooms seemed incredibly fragile... and incredibly brave.

I later learned these flowers were snowdrops and are so hardy they sometimes emerge while the snow is still on the ground. Some think this flower may have been the mysterious moly--the flower that Hermes gave Odysseus so that he wouldn't be affected by Circe, the enchantress.

I am always happy to make the acquaintance of a new flower--it's like making a new friend. And I love to share these little discoveries with others, especially with those I love.

Several years ago I wrote a letter to my wife Kathleen while I was at Pendle Hill in which I described another flower that tugged at my heart. This yellow flower with star-like petals takes over Pendle Hill in April, yet no one knew its name. I was intrigued to learn this flower was called the lesser celandine and was loved by William Wordsworth even more than he loved daffofils.

Inspired by this flower, I wrote the following piece that became the lead story in the spring 2008 issue of Friends Journal.

On Falling in Love with a Weed at Pendle Hill:

A Letter to my Wife Kathleen

Dear One,

Today a flower caught my eye—a little yellow flower which grows everywhere here in Pendle Hill in the spring, and which I must have seen hundreds of times, but I’ve never paid any attention to it before. It’s the kind of flower you would have noticed and admired with the enthusiasm that I love so much in you. I can almost hear your “oohs” and “ahhs” of admiration.

As I sat outdoors with friends eating lunch, I looked out across the unkempt lawn and noticed that it was covered with little yellow flowers strewn about like clusters of stars.

“Does anyone know what these little yellow flowers are?” I asked.

“They’re buttercups,” someone said without much interest as she grazed on her salad.
“I’m pretty sure they’re not buttercups,” I replied. “Buttercups are round and when you put them under someone’s chin, you can tell if they like butter.”

The memory of buttercups brought smiles to both our faces, but still I wanted to know more about these yellow flowers with star-like petals and heart-shaped leaves. I asked again if anyone knew the flower’s name.
“It’s an invasive weed,” someone else said as if she were talking about an undesirable alien that had moved into the neighborhood. “We have to pull them up all the time in the garden. They’re a nuisance.”

“At least, they’re an attractive nuisance,” I replied.

All day as I went about my other business, I puzzled about this little flower. Its tiny yellow petals reached out to the sun with such joy and hopefulness. Surely it had a name and a story.

I went to the Source of All Knowledge, Google, and found images of hundreds of little yellow flowers, but none were like the ones that blanket Pendle Hill.

Later I had dinner with an interesting young African American man named Adam who told me about his spiritual journey. Born into a Baptist family, he had discovered Islam and then explored various African religions and now was experimenting with Quakerism. As often happens at Pendle Hill, our conversation took a mystical turn and we both agreed that everything is interconnected. We are all One, and yet somehow diverse and individual.

“It’s like those flowers,” I said. “We are all alike and yet unique. Each of us has been given a unique name so we can know each other. As God says in the Bible, I will call you each by name. When we can name each other, we can have a relationship. We can love each other, as God loves us.”

Adam has a beautiful wife with the lovely name Saba and two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, whose names are Morningstar and Little Bear. It’s nice knowing that my new friend’s name is Adam, and that Adam means “earthling” in Hebrew. If I didn’t know Adam’s name, how could I be his friend?

As a wandered about Pendle Hill, enjoying the trees with their nametages, I continued to wonder about the nameless flower that seemed to pop up at my feet wherever I walked.

Not far from the Barn, I ran across O. “O” is the name of an African American woman who wear all-black clothing (t-shirts and pants) and has a Mohawk tinged with gray (she has a daughter in her 20s). O often gives messages during meeting for worship that speak to and about the mysterious depths of the soul and body. O’s official job is to clean up the rooms and do other chores, but her real position is that of prophet-in-residence. I asked O if she knew the name of this flower.

“It’s a lesser celandine,” she said very calmly and confidently.

I was impressed but not surprised that O knew what no one else seemed to know or care about. O knows everything worth knowing about Pendle Hill.

So I returned to that lesser oracle, Google, to find out more about the “lesser celandine.”

Its Latin monicker is ranunculus ficaria. It is described in Wikipedia as a “low-growing, hairless perennial with fleshy dark green, heart-shaped leaves.”

Hmm. Hairless. Fleshy. These are adjectives that never would have occurred to me. And there is no mention of its lovely yellow petals. Who could fail to notice the celandine’s most striking feature?

The article went on to note that the celandine is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring. and is found throughout Europe and west Asia and was imported to North America. It prefers bare, damp ground and is considered a persistent garden weed by many people.

But not by all. William Worthworth “discovered” the celandine and was proud of the fact that he was the first English poet to celebrate it in verse. Like most of us, he passed by the celandine for many years until one day he noticed its simple, yet striking beauty:

I have seen thee, high and low,
Thirty years or more, and yet
Twas a face I did not know.

Once he came to “know its face,” the celandine became a flower that Wordsworth loved and celebrated throughout his life. He identified with its ordinariness, its lack of aristocratic pretense. Unlike the rose or the orchid, the celandine did not expect or need special treatment. Unlike the tulip or the daffodil, it was never prized. Yet it was at home everywhere:

Kindly, unassuming Spirii
Careless of thy neighborhood.
Thou dost show thy pleasant face
On the moor, and in the wood.
In the lane—there’s not a place,
Howsoever mean it be,
But ‘tis good enough for thee.

Wordsworth saw the celandine not simply as a ubiquitous presence, but as a “prophet of delight
and mirth.” And like most prophets, the celandine is “ill-requited upon earth."
The Germans called the celandine Scharbockskraut (Scurvywort) because they believed that the leaves, which are high in Vitamin C, could help prevent scurvy. The English nicknamed the plant Pilewort because the knobbly tubers of the plant resemble piles and therefore could help alleviate hemorrhoids. I don’t want to speculate how this herb was used.

Folks in earlier times may have given this little flower unappealing names, but at least they thought that it was a useful herb. Nowadays, we regard it simply as an invasive weed.

Excited and delighted to learn so much about this flower, I went back to the dormitory to see if I could find anyone to share my discovery with. A bunch of mostly young students were about to watch a documentary called “The End of Suburbia.” It’s a doomsday film about peak oil and how the American way of life is about to go down the tubes. I told them about the celandine.

The only thing that caught their attention was my comment that the celandine was a non-native species. This factoid got everyone talking about how awful non-native species are, and how they are ruining the environment.

In a sense, this is true, but many indigenous folk would see all of us in the room as “non-natives” and we are indeed ruining the environment in ways far worse than what the celandine is doing.

But maybe that’s being too hard on the celandine, and on ourselves. Maybe we need to see the world through the eyes of a prophetic poet like Wordsworth.

Wordsworth saw the world with the kind of vision that enabled Jesus to say of wildflowers. “They neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

The compulsive workaholism of Americans, and our obsession with celebrity and success, would not have impressed Wordsworth. He enjoyed debunking the pretensions of “great men” by praising this simple, everyday flower known to all, but noticed and appreciated by very few:

Eyes of men travel far
For the finding of a star;
Up and down the heavens they go,
Men that keep a mighty rout!
I’m as great as they, I trow,
Since the day I found thee out.
Little Flower! I’ll make a stir,
Like a sage astronomer.

Wordsworth ends this poem by addressing a flower as humble as an old shoe, yet as praiseworthy as a pyramid, when seen through the eyes of a lover:

Thou art not beyond the moon,
But a thing “beneath our shoon.”
Let the bold Discoverer thrid
In his bark the polar sea;
Rear who will a pyramid;
Praise it is enough for me,
If there be but three or four
Who will love my little Flower.

Wordsworth continued to love and to write about this little flower even as he grew older and became aware of his infirmities and dark moods. In a later poem, he writes that “there is a flower, the lesser celandine, that shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain.” But on “one rough day” the poet notices a celandine that doesn’t close up against the storm; it stands up stiffly in the icy blasts. That’s because the celandine is old and dying. Wordsworth again identifies with his “old friend.” “In my spleen,” writes Wordsworth. “I smiled that it was grey.”

Perhaps it seems sentimental or “romantic” to have a long-term relationship with a flower, particularly one that most people regard as a weed. Yet I feel somehow richer and more complete having shared this experience with Wordsworth. I am grateful to have had the time to commune with the living things here at Pendle Hill and to have come to know the lowly celandine as a f/Friend.

Whenever I come back to Pendle Hill in the spring, I will remember the time when I first noticed this little flower that caught my eye and captured my heart. There will doubtless come to a day when I am old and gray and have to hobble along with a walker just like some of the older Board members who come here faithfully each spring.

Feeling the need to write and reflect on the celandine, I left the room where the young students were watching “The End of Suburbia.”. When I returned, I said, “What did you think of the movie? Are we doomed or is there any hope?”

“We’re all going to die someday,” a young man said with a brave show of cheerfulness.

This is true. But when I pass on, I will have experienced the little celandine in all its glory. Maybe at my memorial meeting, someone will remember me by saying, “Anthony was someone who loved flowers and wrote a little essay about some little flower here at Pendle Hill thought was an invasive weed. What was that flower’s name anyway?”

When Wordsworth died, it was proposed that a celandine be carved on his memorial plaque inside the church of Saint Oswald at Grasmere. But unfortunately they used the wrong flower, the Greater Celandine.

Only those who know the little celandine and love it as Wordsworth did would notice or care.

That, my Friend, is the latest news from Pendle Hill, where there are no weeds, only flowers and plants that we don’t have a name or story or a poem for yet.



Saturday, March 26, 2011

As we grow closer to God, everything and everyone seems more beautiful....

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about Doris, an elderly Friend who had a spiritual breakthrough in ICU and realized that she was "the luckiest woman in the universe" because she was alive, and because she was loved by God and by Friends.  See

Like many of us, Doris lapses in and out of this amazing state of grace/enlightenment. Soon afterwards, she resisted the advice of her doctors and went home prematurely before her body was strong enough. In her cluttered, filthy apartment, she relapsed and had to return to the hospital. She is now coming to the realization that she may no longer be able to live independently and plans to move into a nursing home--a difficult decision for her, one she has  resisted for a long time. But now that she has made this decision herself, she seems at peace.

Visiting her, I was struck once again by Doris' cheerfulness. Her toothless smile lit up the room when I greeted her and gave her a kiss. In spite of her tiny, shriveled body, she seemed larger-than-life and incredibly beautiful to me.

I was reminded of a story about two elderly Quaker women t who opened my mind  and heart to one of the most profound truths revealed in Dante's Divine Comedy.  Dante's guide to Paradise is of course Beatrice, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her beauty of body and soul inspired his poetry and his spiritual journey through hell and purgatory, and even through the cleansing fires that lead to paradise. In paradise, Dante sees many scenes of incredible beauty and at one point he says to himself, "This is the most beautiful sight I've ever seen." No sooner does this thought enter his brain than he feels guilt. To think that anyone or anything is more beautiful than Beatrice violates the code of courtly love that Dante follows. He turns to Beatrice to apologize only to discover that she has grown more beautiful. He realizes that as one ascends towards God, everyone and everything seems more beautiful.

This passage opened up for me the meaning of Dante's Paradise, and indeed, of this Divine Comedy we call life. The Muslims also have it right when they say, "God loves beauty." It is through beauty that we are drawn to the Ultimate Good.

Well, that's a long prelude to my story about two elderly woman I dearly loved: Martha Dart and Edith Cooper of Claremont Meeting.

Edith and Martha were old Friends who both lived in India for a time with their husbands. Dick Cooper worked for the YMCA, and Leonard Dart was an academic. Their wives became close friends while their husband had jobs in India, and their friendship lasted for 40 years or more. Both were extraordinary women. Martha wrote a Pendle Hill pamphlet on Hinduism and Quakerism, and Edith was an artist. Both raised families and served the RSOF in many useful ways. They were both delightful Friends--warm, caring and often very funny.

I was visiting Edith in the hospital when Martha appeared.  Like her friend Edith, Martha was quite elderly, in her 80s, and she needed a walker. She slowly made her way across the hospital room to her friend's bedside, and took Edith's hand tenderly in hers. Looking into her  friend's eyes, Martha said words I will never forget.

"Friend Edith, thee seems so beautiful to me."

Martha's voice trembled with emotion and Edith's face was radiant. Tears welled up in my eyes. For a moment, I saw both of these woman as God sees them--eternally young and beautiful beyond what words can tell.

This is also the way that I see my friend Doris, and also dear Gene Hoffman of blessed memory. Let me close this blog with her story.

Gene passed away last summer and was my dearest friend and teacher. I had the privilege of editing her book of writings called "Compassionate Listening." I also had the honor of being the presiding clerk at her memorial meeting (see

My wife and I visited Gene many times over the past twenty years and  thoroughly enjoyed her humor, her passion her peace, and her spiritual wisdom. I looked upon Gene as my spiritual mother.

Soon after Gene's book was published, she began to have serious lapses of memory. She called me several times each day to tell me how wonderful the book was. Soon it became apparent she had Altzheimer's. After a difficult struggles--like many gifted people, she didn't want to give up her independence--she was sent to a nursing home and spent the rest of her life there. Since Gene lived in Santa Barbara, we visited only a couple of times each year. Over the years witnessed the deterioration of her once brilliant mental faculties. When we visited, she clutched her book as a lifeline to her past and we often took trips with her down memory lane.

But after a few years, she could no longer remember us or her name, or even speak in coherent sentences. She lost her book and never seemed to miss it. As she mumbled senseless phrases, I leared how to "practice the art of listening beyond words"--a phrase from our Quaker Faith and Practice. I could feel what Gene was trying to say, and I would nod or smile or frown and she would respond with appropriate facial gestures when I "got it." Once I thanked her for teaching me how to listen in this compassionate way, and she smiled at me as if she understood perfectly.

Later, she stopped talking altogether and I would simply look into her radiant blue eyes and tell her how much I loved her--sometimes with words, sometimes just with a smile. She smiled back and we communed wordlessly with a deep, radiant love that cannot be put into words.

I love words and can't resist using them, but I know they are limited and ultimately unnecessary. As we grow closer to God, to Truth, to Love, we find that words aren't needed. We see the beauty in those we love, no matter what their age or condition. As we grow closer to God, to Truth, to the Source of Life, everything and everyone seems more beautiful.

Thank you, Martha, Edith, Gene, Doris, and of course, Kathleen, for showing me the beauty of the soul, the beauty that grows more beautiful as we grow closer to Thee, O God.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Lenten Desert Experience from a Quaker Perspective

Lent is associated with the fourth-century Christians who followed Jesus' example and went into the desert for a period of prayer and fasting as a way of getting into closer touch with God. The desert is a place where we encounter the Truth and the Truth encounters us. Desert spirituality means much more than getting out of the noise of the city into the silence of the wilderness. In the desert, life is reduced to the utter simplicity of "What Is." On the desert, there is no name for God other than "I exist." There is no place for diversions, distractions, luxuries or trivia. When Friends speak of "simplicity," they are recalling this desert experience.

Like the Hebrews who were called out of Egypt into the desert to wait for Moses at the foot of Mt. Sinai, we are called to the utter simplicity of desert living, so that nothing might stand between us and the living God. The desert experience begins with the deliberate decision to deny one's physical pleasure to receive a greater spiritual treasure.

But Lent is more than just self-denial, it is also a time self-examination. Jesus went to the desert to confront the forces of darkness within himself. This is a journey that each of us must take if we want to know ourselves, and to know God. Self-examination does not mean a morbid fixation on our shortcomings; it means trying to be realistic-- acknowledging the failings that are really ours and then resolving to set things right.

For several years, I used to go out to the Nevada nuclear test site with a group of Friends for what was called "the Lenten Desert Witness." In early spring, as the wildflowers begin to bloom, the desert was surprisingly beautiful. Looking out over the blue mountains in the distance, it was hard to believe that just over the ridge a village of scientists and workers was busily planning the most efficient means to create weapons of mass destruction. Most of these people had no qualms whatever about what they were doing; many were no doubt church-goers.

Witnessing in the desert with like-minded Friends was a powerful spiritual experience. We ate, slept and prayed together. Many of us were arrested, manacled, and kept in holding pens by the state troopers. Sharing our feelings and our stories while hand-cuffed, we felt deeply connected to each other and to the source of Life.

We worshipped together under the open sky, acutely conscious that we were standing on holy ground, and that this ground belonged not to us, but to the Native People and to the Great Spirit. (Before beginning our vigil, we were given "passports" by local indigenous people, who were trying to reclaim their land.) During a time of worship, a woman confessed how deeply sorry she felt for the way that white people had desecrated this beautiful and sacred land. Her voice choked with emotion and her pangs of conscience flowed through the entire group. Finally, after a long and painful silence, a Native American woman spoke: "Our elders have heard your words, and so has the Great Spirit. And they forgive you." It was as if the Earth herself were speaking. No moment of worship has ever been more precious.

You don't have to go to the desert to confess your shortcomings and experience healing. One of the most important spiritual experiences of my life was attending the "Surrender Group" at Princeton Meeting. This group was started by Herrymon Maurer, a Friend whose translation of the Tao Teh Ching draws fascinating connections between Taoism, John Woolman, and Jewish mysticism. Each week we met to reflect upon "Ten Queries" that were based upon the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the queries that I remember best is, "Are you willing to take a fearless moral inventory of your life?"

There is a real power in conducting this kind of inventory, whether you do it alone or in a group. When we examine ourselves alone, however, we are apt either to wallow in vague, unspecified guilt ("I'm a terrible person! Poor me!") or to deny our guilt entirely ("I'm okay, the world's okay"). In a group, or with a friend, it is sometimes easier to be more specific and honest. Such honest acknowledgment of our shortcomings can profoundly change our behavior.

In the course of a vigorous self-examination, one discovers that just as there is "that of God" in each of us, there is also "that of the devil." During the time of Fox, the devil was often seen as something purely external. Fox resisted the temptation to see evil as something "out there," apart from oneself, that had to be combated, often by force of arms. Fox realized that by far the most dangerous demons are those we carry within us:

Yet I was under great temptation sometimes, and my inwards sufferings were heavy; but I could find none to open my condition to but the Lord alone, unto whom I cried night and day. And I went into Nottinghamshire, and there the Lord shewed me that the natures of those things which were hurtful without were within, in the hearts and minds of wicked men. The nature of dogs, swine, vipers, of Sodom and Egypt, Pharaoh, Cain, Ishmael, Esau, etc. The nature of these I saw within, though people had been looking without.

Horrified by this glimpse of human evil that each of us carries inside, Fox asks:

'Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit those evils?' And the Lord answered that it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else could I speak to all conditions; and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God (Journal 19).

This experience corresponds to what Carl Jung called "facing one's shadow." Long before Jung, Fox recognized that we must confront the dark side of ourselves before we can be of psychological or spiritual assistance to others.

Friends prefer talking about the "darkness" rather than about "sin," perhaps because this latter concept has been used to manipulative ways. The Catholic theologian Matthew Fox (no relation to George) once pointed out that the church invented sin so that priests could administer sacraments and thereby control people. It is for this reason that Fox (George, not Mathew) infuriated the 16th-century religious establishment by insisting that those who have given up self-will and are living in the Light are no longer sinners; they live in the state that Adam was before the fall.

The Puritanical sometimes use the concept of sin as a peculiar form of self-advertisement. John Bunyan, for example, wrote a popular book confessing (or was he boasting?) that he was "the chief of sinners." Nowadays, people go on television parading their sins in a parody of penitence. Such self-advertising guilt is not new, nor is it spiritually helpful. Some of Jesus' contemporaries "repented" with such ostentatious fervor that Jesus finally said, "Enough of this!" He instructed to keep their penitence and fasting as a private encounter with God, rather than trying to show the public how sinful (and therefore how holy) they were. As those in AA learn, we are wise not to make a big deal out of our misdeeds and our repentance.

As we mature in our spiritual life, we come to see our shortcomings in a larger social context and as part of a larger divine order. When mistakes are made, they are to be acknowledged and learned from. Just as we cannot achieve spiritual health alone, we do not become not spiritually sick alone. Each of us is interrelated. We each carry the seeds of war and social dis-ease inside ourselves. As Woolman notes in an often quoted passage,

"O that we declare against wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the Light, and therein examine our foundations and motives in holding great estates...."

Once we have acknowledged our complicity with the society that fosters injustice, war, and numerous forms of neuroses, we can begin the process of healing not only ourselves, but also our community.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ministry of Interfaith Reconciliation

I like the word “ministry of reconciliation.” It means going to a situation where people have been demonized and learning to appreciate their humanity as well as their unique culture and beliefs. You don’t have to go to Iran to find Muslims who are misunderstood and demonized, however. You can find Muslims everywhere in the United States; and unfortunately, they are often the target of misunderstanding and prejudice. As I write this, Congressman Peter King of New York is conducting a hearing in the House, focusing on what he calls the “Radicalization of Islam in America.” Many in the interfaith movement have pointed out that this hearing unfairly targets Muslims. Sheriff Lee Bacca of Los Angeles, one of my heroes, was the only law enforcement officer to testify about this alleged threat and he pointed out that two thirds of terrorist acts in the US were committed by non-Muslims since 9/11.

This hearing is just one of many blatant example of Islamophobia. I wonder what FWCC has done to counteract this growing prejudice. When I re-read its book Friends Peace Witness in Time of Crisis, a collection of talks given at a FWCC-sponsored peace conference two years after 9;11, I found only two references to Muslims. This was odd because in 2003 the United States had just launched invasions of two Muslim countries, Iraq and Iran, and has planned what the military calls “The Long War” to subdue the Muslim and make it safe for American business interests. The longer this ill-conceived war lasts, the more blood is shed, the more resources are wasted, and the more Islam itself becomes the target of fear and bigotry in the United States.

That’s why the work of the Wolfes is so important, and why I am wondering if anyone in FWCC has thought introducing an interfaith element into the 2011 Triennial. 10% of the population of Kenya is Muslim, and religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians have sometimes led to deadly violence. What role have Quakers played—what role can FWCC play—in helping to bring about reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in Kenya?

As I said before, there is much interfaith reconciliation work to be done here at home. Last summer I traveled 7,000 miles in the ministry and visited 14 monthly and yearly meetings, sharing the good news about interfaith reconciliation and peacemaking. Everywhere I went, even in the most remote areas, I found evidence that America is a multi-religious country where most people are trying to live together in peace and harmony. But there are also serious conflicts fueled by politics and religious prejudice.

In Nashville, TN, a place some have called the “buckle of the Bible belt,” I found that there are over 10,000 Kurdish Muslims. They emigrated here after the first Gulf War. These Muslims have been trying to build a mosque large enough for their needs but they have met with considerable resistance from those who see Islam as a threat. But they have also received support from many mainstream Christians. When I was visiting Quakers in Nashville, I learned that over 800 people had marched in support of building a mosque on the outskirts of their city

Friends have the opportunity to practice the ministry of reconciliation both here in the US and around the world in many ways.

Learning how to listen compassionately, nonjudgmentally, is key to doing interfaith or intrafaith reconciliation. This is a gift that I have learned from my 25 years as a Quaker. It’s something that you and I can bring to the interfaith movement.

The goal of interfaith work is to have an appreciative understanding of other faiths, and a clearer understanding of one’s own. That’s why it is important not to gloss over differences, to say “we are all alike.” We need to be prepared to have clear, succinct answers when people ask questions about our faith. Dialoguing with Muslims after 9/11 is what led me to think more deeply about Quaker theology and to write a pamphlet explaining Quakerism to Muslims, and Islam to Quakers.

Interfaith work has led me to a new understanding of theology. I no longer see theology as inherently divisive. Theology simply means “to think as clearly as possible about one’s religious experiences.” If we share our thoughts and insights with others in a respectful and humble way, we can all benefit.

We also need to go more deeply than just dialogue. We need to join in opportunities for worship and spiritual sharing with those of other faiths. Douglas Steere calls this “mutual irradiation” and I have found it to be the most rewarding aspect of interfaith work. As Linda points out, those who are contemplative and prayerful share a common experience and perspective, regardless of faith tradition

To overcome prejudice, we also need to learn how to give religion a human face through stories and anecdotes. These stories can change attitudes much more effectively than reasoned argument..

As one builds trust, one can also ask tough questions as long as one does so respectfully.

The hard part for some of us is to let go of our assumptions and prejudices, especially when such assumptions and prejudices seem reasonable and self-evident. For example, as a liberal Friend, I believe fervently in toleration and pluralism. That’s why it drives me crazy when people have rigid dogmas and believe theirs is only path to truth. Yet if I stop and think, I realize that beliefs cannot hurt me.

What of hurtful actions that stem from these beliefs? Here I must learn how to speak the truth, as I understand it, with love.

To deal with tough issues, there must be trust and trust takes time. No issue is more contentious in the interfaith work than Israel-Palestine. Most Muslim-Jewish dialogue groups avoid this issue. Yet it can be addressed if one is willing to devote enough time to building trust, and if one is willing to engage in compassionate listening.

The same is true about the conflicts among different branches of Quakerism. We may not agree, but we can learn how to disagree agreeably.

A Friend of mine asked me how to deal with anger when we encounter someone whose beliefs differ from our deeply cherished beliefs.

I paused and asked her: “What do you love more, your beliefs or the other person? As long as you love your beliefs more than the person you’re dialoguing with, you will find it hard to relate to ‘that of God’ in the other person.”

Can we learn to love and appreciate those whose principles are fundamentally different from our own? Appreciation doesn’t require agreement, just compassion and respect for the other. That’s what it means to “walk cheerfully answering that of God in everyone.” The operative words are “cheerfully” and “answering”—that is responding in love. That, to me, is the essence of our Quaker faith and practice.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quaker Mohammad and Other Stories from Iran

One of the ways to break down stereotypes about the Other is to tell stories that humanize them. Linda Kusse-Wolfe is a master storyteller, and her anecdotes about her experiences in Iran were very revealing (and often funny).

She and her husband spent a year and half in Qom, the holiest city in Iran, as part of a Mennonite Reconciliation Project. Qom is a city of one million people, a religious center that is similar in some way to the Vatican. Over 50,000 clerical students reside in Qom and can be identified by their turbans: those wearing white turban are regular students, and those wearing black turban are descendents of Mohammad (they are called Saidi).

David and Linda were the only publicly professed Christian in the city. (Some Iranians who were Christian preferred not to reveal their religious views for political and social reasons.) The Wolfs were affiliated with an Interfaith Institute whose director was a very conservative Shia cleric. He didn’t want the Wolfs to downplay their faith. He told them:: “I want you to be Christians.” In other words, he wanted them to be honest, not gloss over their “errors.”

The Wolfes noted that many of the Iranians they met were called Mohammad since it is a common name among Muslims (and indeed, is the most common name in the world). To help distinguish among the many Mohammads they met, the Wolfes gave them nicknames. There was “Pizza Mohammad,” “Student Mohammad,” and “Quaker Mohammad.”

They nicknamed this student “Quaker” Mohammd because of his keen interest in Quakerism. After researching the Quakers online, he told the Wolfs: “Quakers are people that speak the Truth.” He had done his Master’s thesis on Quakerism.

The Wolfes were taken aback when Quaker Mohammad asked them:  “Are you Hicksite or Gurneyite?”

“That’s when we realized he really knew what he was talking about,” explained David. “He was also translating Quaker stuff into Farsi.”

One of the challenges for Linda was the obligation to wear hijab and a black chador with black shoes and undergarments. This was a requirement because Qom is a holy city.

.”I made up my mind I would not complain.” explained Linda. But it wasn’t easy.

Women must ride in the back of the bus—a requirement reminiscent of Jim Crow laws in the South.

“It was annoying but it enabled me to talk more openly with women,” said Linda. She came to appreciate the graciousness of Muslim women. And she found some of their request surprising. Asked what gift she’d like from USA, Muslim woman requested “Harry Potter.’

The Wolfes shared many stories about the challenges faced by Christians in Iran, but since these stories are “off the record,” I suggest that those interested should read a pamphlet called “A Quaker in Iran” by Steve Angell, a professor of religion and Quaker studies at Earlham College. This pamphlet is available for free at the QUF website: I am also willing to send my pamphlet on “Islam from a Quaker Perspective” to anyone who is interested. Just email me at

Holy hospitality: the essence of Islam and of interfaith reconciliation

“Being a guest in the home of an Iranian is like being elected a dictator for life,” Linda Wolfe explained. “You can have anything you want. Even if you simply admire something in your host’s home, they will give it to you. And you dare not eat everything on your plate, since they will keep giving you more.”

Linda knew whereof she spoke since for a year and a half, she and her husband David Wolf were not simply visitors in Iran, but guests—a term fraught with deep religious as well as cultural meaning for Muslims, and especially for Iranians. Muslims take very seriously the example of Abraham, who was the founder of monotheism and hence (in their view) the first “Muslim” (the term “Muslim” means someone who has submitted to God and therefore Moses and Jesus are also considered Muslim). When God sent three angels to Abraham and Sarah, they responded by providing the most generous hospitality. They later learned that the strangers who appeared at their tent were actually angels, messengers of God.

Linda spoke of “holy hospitality”—a term that has meaning for Christians as well as Muslims. Henri Nouwen defined holy hospitality as welcoming the Other, the Stranger, without preconditions. The goal of holy hospitality is not to change the Other, but to create a safe space where change can happen. A stranger can become a friend, and a friend can become a messenger from God, but such changes cannot be forced. They happen in God’s time and in God’s way.

The Wolfes were in Iran at a tense time, when Bush was still in office and there was a threat of a US attack. The Wolfs were told by a Muslim friend, “If war comes, you are welcome at my home and you will be our family and we will protect you.”

Linda explained: "For Muslims, hospitality is for people who don’t fit into our paradigm, for the outcast." Linda then asked: "Can you imagine Americans practicing this kind of hospitality if we were attacked?"
On another occasion the Wolfs were invited to the home of a Muslim family whose child Noor was brain-damaged because of US attack.

“When they invited us into their homes for dinner,” recalled Linda. “Her father washed everyone’s hands and sprayed them with perfume.”

The Iranian term for this kind of etiquette is tarof. Tarof involves elaborate rituals governing the relations between guest and host—rituals that go back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years and are deeply embedded in a culture which centers on trade and courtesy. When a guest arrives at a friend’s doorstep, he or she will protest:“I am not a good friend, please don’t go out of your way for me, I don’t deserve it.” The host will reply: “You are the joy of my life. I have been waiting for days for you. If you don’t come in, I will jump out of the window.”

Linda said we Americans have a lot to learn from the Iranians. Many Americans are fearful of the Other. Xenophobia is rampant. Linda said we need to covert xenophobia to philoxenia, “love of the stranger.”

Linda’s message spoke to my condition. I have learned a great deal from Muslims about how to be more hospitable, and how to see hospitality as a spiritual practice. In doing so, I feel I have become a better Christian and a better Friend. Hanging on the wall of my kitchen is an icon that shows Abraham and Sarah hosting three guests and plying them with food and drink. The Greek word under the icon is PHILOXENIA. It means “love of the stranger”—another word for hospitality.

What Linda and David shared is at the heart of what FWCC is all about. FWCC is about “holy hospitality”—creating a safe, welcoming space where people can change, where strangers can become friends, and where xenophobia can become xenophilia.

The Wolfes said much more about their trip, some of it “off the record,” since Iran is a country dominated by a theocracy that severely punishes those who transgress the rules or are seen as threatening. Suffice to say that it is not easy to be a Christian, or a non-Muslim, in Iran today.

Tomorrow I will talk about “Quaker Mohammad and the Ministry of Anecdotes.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A leading to go to Africa and the FWCC Triennial

This week I went to my first annual meeting of the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC), Section of the Americas. Founded in the 1930s, with help from Rufus Jones, FWCC is a Quaker service organization that brings together Friends from the different branches of Quakerism world-wide. It encourages intervisitation and organizes local and global events, including Triennials that draw as many as a 1,000 Friends from every continent and theological persuasion.
I went to the FWCC annual meeting in Philadelphia as a representative of Pacific Yearly Meeting.

I felt drawn to FWCC because I have been doing interfaith work for over twenty years and it seemed like a good time to undertake intra-faith work within my own denomination. Since the 1820s, American Quakers have been splitting up until various branches and twigs. Today there are five main branches---FGC (liberal, unprogrammed), FUM (mainstream Christian, pastor), Conservative (unprogrammed, Christian), EFI (Evangelical Christian), and Independent or Unaffiliated. The branch that I represent—Pacific Yearly Meeting—is unaffiliated and very independent.

When one feels a leading of the Spirit, one is never sure what Spirit has in mind. All I knew was that I was supposed to take part in FWCC, and my Yearly Meeting agreed and sent me as their rep. I didn’t expect to go to the Triennial in Kenya next year because two members of my meeting are going as official delegates.

But when I attended the FWCC annual session and came to understand more clearly what FWCC is about, I realized that going to a Triennial is essential if one is to be an effective spokesperson for FWCC. Like the Parliament of the World's Religion, the FWCC Triennial is a deeply transformative experience that must be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated. If I miss this Triennial, I will miss the chance to connect with African Friends and there will probably not be another opportunity like this in my lifetime.

This Triennial is also a unique opportunity to visit Africa not as a tourist, but as a Friend. Santa Monica Meeting has had deep ties with Burundi Friends thanks to Rachel Fretz and Friends Peace Teams. We have supported the Women's Center in Burundi and hosted African Friends when they have come to California. I serve on Rachel's clearness committee and have a deep appreciation of her work. I hope that in addition to attending the Triennial, I can go to Burundi and connect with Friends there. If not, I hope to encounter some of the African Friends who have come to my Meeting.

The other draw I felt during this session was its focus on interfaith work. After our business meeting, there was a “Salt and Light” event, focusing on a particular international ministry that has received FWCC support. On Friday's “Salt and Light” event, the speakers were David and Linda Wolfe, a pastoral Quaker couple who took part in a Mennonite “Ministry of Reconciliation” in Qom, Iran. Hearing their message, I knew that I had definitely come to the right place. I had been drawn to FWCC in part because of my interfaith work, and the Wolfs epitomized what I have been sharing among Friends for the past ten years. After spending a year and a half in Qom, the holiest city of Iran, a country demonized by conservatives, they came back to the USA full of fascinating stories, insights, and perhaps most importantly, questions that help humanize Muslims and illuminate Islam, which James Michener called “the world's most misunderstood religion.”

As I listened to their presentation, I realize that I have something unique to offer to Friends in Kenya. My training in interfaith work and compassionate listening could be of some use in a country where Muslims comprise 10% of the population, and where blood has been shed and houses of worship destroyed because of interreligious conflict. I would like to go to Kenya to learn what kind of work Friends are doing to alleviate such conflict, and to share with Friends what I have learned from my interfaith ministry of reconciliation.

Interfaith ministry has become central to my work as a Quaker. I have a letter of support for my interfaith ministry from my monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting. I also have a support/accountability committee that I will be consulting regarding my leading to go to Kenya to take part in the Triennial.

This is probably a good place to close this blog entry. Tomorrow I will describe the amazing journey of faith that took Linda and her husband David to Iran.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why military intervention in Libya is a bad idea....

FNCL recently posted a very compelling explanation of why a Libyan no-fly zone would worsen, not improve the humanitarian crisis:

Libya's humanitarian crisis is of great concern. However, as with Afghanistan and so many other conflicts in the world, there is no military solution. The humanitarian crisis should be handled through aid and relief by expert humanitarian organizations, not with bullets and bombs by military intervention.

Moreover, a no-fly zone in Libya—whether by the U.N. or U.S.—would not improve the growing humanitarian crisis in the country, nor would it ensure the removal of President Muamar Qaddafi from power.

The U.S. should not intervene militarily for several reasons:

First, war rarely if ever improves a humanitarian crisis. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates--second in command of the U.S. military only to President Obama--recently told the House Armed Service Committee “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s what you do in a no-fly zone.” Gates went on to say a no-fly zone would be “a big operation in a big country.” On its way out of Iraq and bogged down in Afghanistan, the U.S. cannot afford--costing billions of dollars--another "big operation" in yet another country.

Second, it is a near certainty that innocent civilians will be killed. From 1992-2003, the United States maintained two no-fly zones in Iraq, as well as crippling sanctions from 1990-2003 against Saddam Hussein's government. The sanctions were directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Iraq civilians. The combination of sanctions and the no-fly zones crippled the civilian population but failed to dispose Saddam from power. The outcome would undoubtedly be the same if more aggressive, hard-power tactics are used in Libya.

Third, U.S. strategic interests in promoting democracy and human rights in Libya will not be helped by military intervention. The U.S. will gain nothing by going to war with the faltering Libyan government or by attempting to occupy the country--even with a small, temporary force and the best of intentions.

Fourth, some contend that the U.S. has significant energy-related strategic interests. Yet, the Economist reports that Libya contributes "some 1.4m barrels a day, or about 2% of the world’s needs." According to Reuters, "Over 85 percent of its crude exports go to Europe, while around ... 5 percent [goes] to the United States." Nearly 80% of Libya's oil supply is currently controlled by the anti-Qaddafi rebels.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, American interventionism has brought neither peace nor stability to Iraq or Afghanistan, and is unlikely to deliver either in Libya as well. Moreover, military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has in fact disrupted the power structures which officials marching the U.S. to war did not take the time to understand--sound familiar? Senators John Kerry (MA), John McCain (AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (CT) are leading the rhetorical charge in the Senate while Rep. Buck McKeon is making similar remarks in the House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated "no options are off the table" and a no-fly zone should "have the backing of the U.N." Let us be reminded: all of these people were wrong on Iraq in 2003; they are wrong on Libya in 2011.

To take action, go to:

Islamophobia...the Latest Paranoid Style in American Politics

In 1964, Richard Hofstadter wrote a classic article for Harpers called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in which he analyzes an aspect of the American psyche that goes back to the Puritans with their witch hunts and fear of the Other (including Quakers):

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years, we have seen angry minds at work, mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated, in the Goldwater movement, how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But, behind this, I believe, there is a style of mind that is far from new, and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style, simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind....The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization . . . he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

The latest manifestation of this paranoid style is the attack on Muslims and immigrants. Bashing Muslims and immigrants has become the right-wing strategy for dividing and conquering the middle class vote in America, and "taking back America."

I am grateful to John Esposito and Sheila Lalwani for exposing this ugly political strategy:

Conservative Republicans and Islam: A New Crusade for Votes and Funds

by John L. Esposito and Sheila B. Lalwani

Recent hearings of Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY) on the radicalization of American Muslims represent a growing campaign to discredit Muslims, witnessed most recently in the Park 51 controversy (the so-called mosque at Ground Zero), the 2010 elections, and efforts to promote anti-Sharia (Islamic law) legislation. King joins the ranks of other Republican politicians, including Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann, who have jumped on the anti-Islam bandwagon to garner votes and fill their campaign coffers. They do not simply target dangerous extremists and terrorists, but question the loyalty of the majority of mainstream Muslims, flouting fundamental American principles and threatening civil liberties.

Post 9/11, King's criticisms of the Muslim-American community included his unsubstantiated assertion that 80 percent of mosques in America were radicalized. The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives and his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee provided a bully pulpit which King was quick to use in calling for hearings on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."

Conservative and Tea Party Republicans have been quick to support the hearings. Rep. Michele Bachmann defended Rep. Peter King's investigations in an interview with Boston's Talk 1200, claiming like King that a "veneer of political correctness" jeopardized the security interests of the country. The New York Times, political commentators, academic experts, civil liberties organizations and religious leaders criticized his actions, referring to King's obsession, witch hunt or a new McCarthyism.

Republicans since the presidential primaries and recent congressional and gubernatorial elections have resorted to Islam and Muslim bashing to win votes and funding. The King hearing came after the 2010 elections in which a perceived threat of Islam was used as a political tool. At the September 2010 Values Voters Summit, Gingrich called for a federal ban on Sharia law. Oklahoma voters passed a resolution in November that prohibits the use of Sharia law when making rulings. Since Oklahoma passed that bill, anti-Sharia laws have been proposed from Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama to North Dakota and Missouri, despite the fact that there has been no call for the implementation of Islamic law in America by the Muslim-American community nor would our legal system and courts allow it. Most recently, Rick Santorum, a 2012 presidential hopeful, speaking in New Hampshire, called Sharia law "evil" and claimed that the reason Muslim immigrants came to the U.S. was to escape Sharia law: "They left because of Sharia law." Mike Huckabee called Islam "the antithesis of the gospel of Christ."

Pew Research Center data demonstrates that these Republicans and Tea Partiers know the fears and prejudices of their political base. They are the only groups to think Islam is more likely than other religious groups to encourage violence. Fully 67% of those who agree with the Tea Party movement say Islam is more associated with violence than other religions. This contrasts by more than two-to-one (61% to 29%) with liberal Democrats who believe that Islam is no more likely than other religions to promote violence.

Lost in the fog of war is the fact that these political Muslim bashers are long on fear mongering and short on providing any supportive evidence. They ignore major polls by Gallup, Pew, Zogby and others that show that the vast majority of Muslims are politically, economically middle class and educationally integrated into American society. Their desire not to be confused by the facts contributes to a growing climate of Islamophobia that has led to discrimination, hate crimes, violence, desecration of mosques and the violation of the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Surveys have shown that Muslims are not looking to install Islamic law in the U.S., promote terrorism or undermine the American Constitution.

It's time to call a spade a spade, a bigot a bigot and stop those who would resurrect the intolerance of the past and add Muslims to a long list of groups that has included Jews, African Americans, World War II Japanese and others who have been victims of religious discrimination and racism.

Prof. John L. Esposito is the founding director of the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University and author of The Future of Islam. Sheila Lalwani is a research fellow at CMCU.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Remembering the Cross

After two thousands years, some of the meaning and shock value of the cross has worn off; it has become for many a comforting symbol of religious tradition, and for others a "red flag" reminding them of Christianity's failings. But if we could somehow transport ourselves back to the second century, and look at the cross with the eyes of Jesus' contemporaries, we would see how scandalous this image really is, and how astonishing it must have seemed to early believers. Imagine a noose or an electric chair as an object of worship! Why then put the Cross, that symbol of humanity's worst impulses, at the center of one's religious faith?

Before attempting to answer this question, it should be noted that Friends are not supposed to put any images in their worship space. Early Friends were so concerned about focusing on the "inward Cross" that meetinghouses were as austere as the cells of a desert hermit. But modern Friends occasionally deviate from this austerity by decorating their meeting space with flowers or other pretty objects. Unlike the cross, such images are in keeping with our comfortable, modern faith in natural goodness. These little bouquets are like the touching messages that one occasionally hears at meeting: "I went out for a walk in the woods today, and I felt close to God" or "If only we could convince people to be reasonable and loving, and to pray together, we could achieve world peace!"

These are "nice" sentiments. But early Quakers, like early Christians, knew better. They knew that peace has a price. "No Cross, No Crown," wrote Penn. Strip all ornaments from religion, he said, and stand naked before Truth. Before you can experience "that of God" in other, you have to face what George Fox called the "ocean of darkness."

There is no darker moment in the 20th century than the Holocaust. For this reason, I have made it a practice to take groups of students, including Quaker teenagers, to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in downtown Los Angeles. This museum not only commemorates the Holocaust, but it also attempts to open our eyes and ears to the darkness of racism and bigotry in contemporary society. For instance, in the "hall of bigotry," you walk down a darkened corridor and hear voices whispering insults like "male chauvinist pig," "dago," "nigger" and finally, "Jew boy." Exhibits like these are intended to shock us into realizing what it feels like to be the victim of prejudice.

The museum also presents graphic reminders that the 20th century has been the era not just of scientific progress, but of that peculiarly modern form of mass murder known as genocide. Beginning with the mass slaughter of Armenians by Turks, our century has seen one blood bath after another: the holocaust of Jews, the mass exterminations by Pot Pol Communists, and most recently, "ethnic cleansing" in Serbia and Bosnia.

The vast numbers slaughtered during these acts of genocide can be mind-numbing, so the museum tries to "personalize" the victims. Before entering a reconstructed Nazi death camp, each visitor is given a "passport" with the name and life history of a single person who was killed. You can also go to computer terminals and hear videotaped testimonials of survivors.

Efficient though the Nazis were in their diabolic misuse of technology, they failed to obliterate the Jews or Jewish culture. The victims of the Holocaust live on in the memory banks of these high tech computers, and in our hearts.

The Cross serves a similar purpose, reminding us that at the very heart of human existence is suffering--the slaughter of innocence. If we stare long enough into what Fox called "ocean of darkness," we also see that those who have tried to exterminate the Truth have failed utterly, and always will.

This act of remembering the Cross, like that of remembering the Holocaust, can be painful as well as redemptive. It is disquieting to recall the complicity of so-called Christians who went along with the Nazi regime. But it is salutary to remember those who heeded the cries of the victims and were true followers of Christ. They are called by the Jews "the Righteous of all Nations." Among these were many Quakers. However, the figure who most caught my imagination was a Greek Orthodox archbishop who was asked by the Nazis to list all the Jews on his island. "Why should I?" he replied. "The Jews have lived here peacefully with us for centuries. We consider them Greeks." When the Nazis insisted, the Archbishop took a piece of paper and wrote down a single name: his own.

Remembering the Cross, like remembering the blood smeared on the doorposts of Jewish homes during Passover, is another way of remembering God. For the Moslem, the act of prayer is called dikr, remembering.

The more that I recall (literally, "call back") enlightened souls such as Jesus and Fox and Woolman and Lucretia Mott and countless others, the more present they seem to me. Paul spoke of being surrounded by a "cloud of witnesses" who cheered him on as he ran his spiritual race (Hebrews 12:1). Joanna Macy, a Buddhist psychologist, conducts a guided meditation in which she asks people to visualize a giant ball in which every act of kindness and self-sacrifice is stored. "Imagine this ball of merit as a reservoir of strength that you can draw from," she says. Sometimes, in my prayers, I can feel a host of friendly presences laying their hands on my shoulders. Remembering our spiritual fathers and mothers and their deeds of kindness and self-sacrifice can give us new life and new strength to do the work that we are called to do.