Friday, May 20, 2011

Heroes of Love: A Talk Given at Interfath Communities United for Justice and Peace

This morning I would like to talk about the heroines in my life—four women who have inspired me with their courage and faithfulness. I am titling my talk “Heroes of Love.”
First, I’d like to begin with some quotations about heroism that are relevant to what I want to share with you this morning. Joseph Campbell defined the hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”
      By this definition, everyone in this room is a hero since all of you are giving your lives to something bigger than yourselves--the cause of peace and justice. 
Campbell went on to say:
“When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”

Christopher Reeve had this transformation of consciousness when tragedy struck his life. His definition of heroism came out of his own painful experience:
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Finally, I’d like to share the definition of heroism given by Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman who showed extraordinary courage and grace in the cut-throat and often nasty world of American politics. She said:
“We do not have to become heroes over night. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

My Mother when she married
As I began to think deeply about heroes in my life, I was surprised to realize that my mother fit these definitions of a hero. I’d never thought of my mother as a hero. After all, she did what good wives and good mothers are supposed to do—she loved her children and her husband, and gave of herself selflessly. That’s a mother’s job, for which few receive the credit they deserve. So I’d like to begin by lifting up my own mother whose birth name was Anne Milne (as in the author of "Winnie the Pooh").
First, the very fact that she married my father was an act of bravery. Not that my father was a dangerous man; he was, in fact, very kind and gentle. My parents met in a very scary time, however, in the midst of World War II, when my father was serving in the US infantry. He was stationed in England, where he met my mother—a young woman in her early 20s. They were an odd couple. My mother was Scottish, my father Greek, and he was 20 years her senior. But they fell in love practically at first sight and decided to marry after the war ended. I realize now how much courage it took for my mother to leave England and go to the United States to marry a strange, Greek-speaking man she’d known less than a year and had seen only a few times. But her love was real and deep and that love gave her the courage to go to a new land and start a new life.
      My mother and father had a very happy marriage, and I was born soon after their wedding. My sister was born 12 years later. Then misfortune struck our family. My father had to quit his job for health reason and became permanently disabled. For the next 12 years, my mother took care of my father and my sister and me. We didn’t have much money—my father had worked as a janitor at Princeton University—so my mother became a seamstress to earn extra income to supplement the meager funds provided by Social Security. Her hard work and diligence helped me to get through college and begin my life as teacher and writer.
Looking back on my mother’s life, I realize she is one of those heroes that Christopher Reeve talked about—“an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
Her strength came from her loving heart, and her faith in God. She wasn’t a church-going person—in fact, she had a deep mistrust of organized religion—but she had a simple faith that could be summed up in six words: “Believe in God and help people.”
Gene and me in 2003
The next hero in my life was Gene Hoffman, who became my spiritual mother. I first heard of Gene when I was doing a Soviet-American reconciliation project for the Quakers in Philadelphia. Gene was doing similar work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Santa Barbara. We finally met until I came to California to be married, but I admired Gene from afar for her creative efforts to dispel stereotypes about the Russians and to show that they are people just like us, who want peace. When I actually met Gene in Santa Barbara, I was enchanted by her warm and enthusiastic personality. She loved people—that was the basis of all her peacemaking efforts. And she was a tireless bridge-builder, and as you know, a compassionate listener.
Throughout her life Gene showed unwavering chutzpah in following her convictions. Her wealthy parents were staunch conservatives, supporters of Richard Nixon, but Gene became a Quaker and an unapologetic liberal. Her parents were ashamed of a Jewish relative in their Danish family tree. Gene was proud of the fact that she had the “blood of the prophets” in her veins. In the 1950s, when neighborhoods in Pasadena were almost as segregated as those in the South, Gene sent her kids to an integrated school and had black and white children play in her home—something that shocked her neighbors. Gene ended up writing a column for a black newspaper called the Amsterdam News. During the 1960s Gene went to Watts for interracial dialogues which took courage since sometimes these dialogues became very heated. Gene demonstrated for peace during the Vietnam War and opened up her home to peace activists. Much as she worked for peace, her home life was not peaceful. When her husband left her, and her teenage children became involved with drugs, she had a nervous breakthrough.
      What Gene did next was perhaps the bravest thing anyone can do. She looked at her own psychological problems and issues, her own demons; and she worked hard, extremely hard, to accept herself, warts and all, and to become whole. Because she accepted the shadow side of herself, she could do the same for others. She went back to school and became a pastoral counselor and started counseling programs in Santa Barbara. She became what Henri Nouwen called a “wounded healer.”
      When Gene turned sixty, she decided to devote the rest of her life to peacemaking. She traveled around the world to study what peacemakers in other countries were doing. And then she came home and began to apply what she had learned. She developed a  program she called “Compassionate Listening.” She used these techniques gleaned from pastoral counseling and Quakerism to bring together Israelis and Palestinians, and to help them to hear each other at a deep level. This work is now being carried on by Leah Green who has taken interfaith groups to Israel/Palestine and trained Israelis and Palestinians in listening skills.
Listening deeply takes courage. We have to acknowledge the fears, the negative feelings, and the pain in ourselves and in others in order to hear the Other’s story and to honor that story as a gift. I consider Gene a hero for facing her own inner pain and for helping others to appreciate the partial, but nonetheless sacred truth each of us carries deep within.
There are two other courageous woman whom I want to honor this morning.

My sister Elizabeth, Kathleen and my Mother
The first is my wife Kathleen of blessed memory who passed away two years ago, almost to the day, on May 23. Many of you know her, so I don’t have to sing her praises. This booklet I compiled for her memorial service is filled with moving testimonies from those who knew and loved her—people of diverse religious faiths, and diverse backgrounds—the Bishop of her church, the executive director of the Islamic Shura Concil, a young man whose life was changed because of his involvement in one of her many youth programs, a homeless couple who loved upon her not only as their pastor, but as their friend and mother. Kathleen reached out to everyone in love and was loved in return. What you probably don’t know about Kathleen is that she was a painfully shy teenager—so shy that she said she recognized adults by their shoes since she was too shy to look at their faces. In college and grad school she overcame her timidity, thanks to God’s grace and her growing confidence in herself, and she became a gifted preacher as well as a compassionate pastor.

I admire Kathleen because she was never afraid to stand up for what she believed. For a while, she was a war tax resister. She went to the Nevada test site to protest. And during the run-up to the Iraq war, she was practically the only pastor in Torrance to take part in anti-war protests.
Perhaps the bravest thing she ever did was to marry me, a rather eccentric Quaker who was divorced and not exactly prime marriage material. But she took a leap of faith and married me in spite of my failings. She saw in me (as well as in others) the divine potential. And somehow her faithful and courageous love helped turn me into the kind of person she knew I had the potential to become. For this, I am eternally grateful to her.
Today, I’d like to pin the badge of courage on another amazing woman—Jill Shook, my wife-to-be.

Jill demonstrating
I know many of you are thinking. Wow! How did this happen so quickly? I admit this has  been a whirlwind courtship. Jill and I met at the Palm Sunday Peace Parade on April 16th  and I proposed to her 25 days later, at the Getty Villa on my birthday, May 9th. When she accepted my proposal, my heart leaped for joy. It was the best birthday gift I have ever received.

Jill is a woman of many gifts, and achievements. A visionary, organizer and catalyst, she started a nationwide program for Food for the Hungry, taking teams from Berkeley to Harvard into developing nations to do work projects and living in Mexico for two of her four years with FHI. She created STARS (Students and Tutors Achieving Real Success), an after-school program out of Lake Avenue Church that has helped hundreds of low income students to succeed in life as well has help this 4,000-member church to have meaningful relationships across racial and economic disparities. She authored and edited Making Housing Happen: Faith Based Affordable Housing Models, a book that features unique ways that a breadth of denominations across the US have created affordable housing. She also helped build several networks, one to address the gang violence by networking churches, the courts, schools and Pasadena City College to bring the Parent Project to hurting parents looking for answers to their sons and daughters entering gangs and a West-San-Gabriel-Valley-wide network called Family Promise: This network of 14 churches rotate hosting 3-5 homeless families in their facility for one week, with a day center where a full time social worker helps them find jobs and housing. It is scheduled to start in June.
          I admire Jill for taking seriously and literally Jesus’ injunction to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I also admire her for having courage to move out her “hood” and explore other lands and cultures, sometimes all alone. She has traveled all over the world on missions of one kind or another. She’s been to China, South America, Europe, and Africa. Everywhere Jill has gone, she has made life-long friends and spread the gospel of Love.
       Like my mother, like Gene Hoffman, and like Kathleen, Jill has what Martin Luther King called the “strength to love.” This is a great gift, and a blessing.
      I feel blessed that Jill has opened up her big, loving heart to me, and agreed to be my wife. Proposing marriage can be a pretty scary thing, especially when you’ve known someone less than a month, but as Jesus said, “Perfect love drives out fear.” I wasn’t afraid to propose marriage to Jill because I know her life is dedicated to the kind of Love that never quits and never dies.
The good women in my life are my heroes because they have taught me the meaning of  perfect love—love that is mature and committed and willing to make sacrifices joyfully. Perfect love is what I feel for Jill, and perfect love is what she has shown me. Jill is my latest hero, a hero of Love.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Quakers and the Interfaith Movment": A New Book!

This summer I will be traveling again in the ministry, sharing my new book  "Quakers and the Interfaith Movement" and  giving a workshop on this topic at the Friends General Conference Gathering at Grinnell College in Iowa. During June and July I plan to visit Friends across the country, sharing this book and its message with Friends everywhere. Please let me know if you'd like a visit. My intinerary includes Phoenix, Flagstaff, Denver, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Richmond (IND), New York City, Philadelphia, DC, Princeton, etc. I hope to see you in my travels!
You can also order the book  online at:

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. Contributors include Alexander Kern, Gene Hoffman, Kay Lindahl, Michael Birkel, Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, Rhoda Gilman, Michael Sells, Sallie King, Rachel Stacy, Jim Cason, Richard Bellin, Pablo Stanfield, Max Carter, David Rush, and Tim Sallinger.

"With its numerous advices, spiritual queries, and clear examples, this book is a wonderful, engaging guide to the challenging yet essential work of interreligious dialogue for those of us living in a world all too frequently disrupted by religious violence. It is filled with an eminently practical wisdom that can stimulate Friends and others to consider how we, too, may become involved in working toward interreligious understanding and harmony. Highly recommended reading for aspiring peacemakers in the 21st century!" -Stephen W. Angell, Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at the Earlham School of Religion.

"The 18C Quaker sage, John Woolman, spoke about 'the language of the pure Spirit, which inwardly moves upon the heart.' In the 21 C, Anthony Manousos and others in this marvellous volume have wisely discerned that the Spirit is leading us to interfaith dialogue and understanding. The distinctive way of being religious in our time is to be interreligious. I am grateful that the contributors to this volume are leading the way in that urgently needed and transformative endeavor."-Joseph Prabhu, Professor of Philosophy, Cal State Los Angeles. Ex-president, Society of Asian and Comparative Philosophy. Member, Executive Committee, Parliament of the World's Religions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Amazingly good news: I am getting married!

I  have some totally amazing, wonderful and surprising news to share: I have fallen in love and plan to marry an amazing woman named Jill Shook in September. Because this will no doubt seem unbelievably sudden to most of you, we are sending out this joint letter to let you know of our intentions, and how this miracle happened.

Anthony: It seems auspicious that Jill and I met at the Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena—an event that draws together peace-loving Christians from all around the city. Since I am a full-time Quaker peace activist, I went to this event and met Jill, who seemed like a very interesting person (to say the least). We exchanged cards, then emails, and then had long phone conversations. We went to Venice Beach on our first date and it was magical. I then met Jill’s delightful mom and sister and was so welcomed and loved by them I immediately felt a part of Jill’s family. On my birthday (May 9), I proposed marriage to Jill at the Getty Villa and she accepted. It was the best birthday present I have ever received in my life!

Jill is everything I have been looking for in a life partner: a passionate, fun-loving Christian who cares deeply about peace and justice. Like me, Jill is a writer. She has written a book about how to help churches become involved in creating affordable housing for low-income families (see She also walks her talk and lives in one of the lower-income parts of Pasadena, where she has done amazing work to help people in the community. Jill has a Masters in Biblical Studies from Denver Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry in Transformational Leadership for the Global City from Bakke Graduate University. She is environmentally conscious, drives a hybrid car, and her home is a charming model of green living, with a beautiful organic garden, fruit trees, and even chickens. (I won’t lack for free range eggs!)

A little about me. I am a writer, teacher, editor and peace activist. I have a BA from Boston University and a doctorate in British literature from Rutgers University. I spent a year studying at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia. For many years I taught English at various colleges and universities. I also edited books and a magazine for Quakers, did Soviet-American reconciliation work in the 1980s, and, and started a youth program for the American Friends Service Program in the 1990s, taking teen groups to Mexico for service projects. For twenty years I was married to Kathleen Ross, a wonderful Methodist minister, who passed away of cancer two years ago. (You can learn more at my blog at

Just as I helped support the ministry of my wife of blessed memory, I look forward to helping Jill with her marvelous ministry. She also feels an affinity for my work as a Quaker peace activist, and I’m sure she will be of great help to me. I look forward to sharing my life and ministry with this amazing woman who is the answer to my prayers. Besides our commitment to God, peace, and justice and following the teachings of Jesus, we also have many fun interests in common. We love biking, camping, gardening, and traveling. And Jill is teaching me how to dance. I look forward to dancing with Jill at our wedding, and for the rest of our lives...

Jill: I feel that I have been kissed by God and given a totally unexpected and simply amazing gift in having met and now being engaged to Anthony. Getting used to the idea of saying that I am “engaged” is both scary and wonderful music to my ears (and likely a bit scary to the ears of you reading this). Yes, it’s been very fast, but very right and honorable and God-ordained in every way. When I told my mom she said, “God is smiling and the angels are rejoicing.” I am so happy I can hardly contain myself. I have dreamed all my life of being married but had little hope it would ever happen. My dad taught us to dream big, so as a visionary I can envision and make big things happen, but when it came to my personal life and envisioning marriage, I have not been able to see it—until now.

When I reflect on my life as a visionary, organizer, and catalyst, I am amazed at all that God has enabled me to do: starting a nationwide program for Food for the Hungry (FHI), taking teams from Berkeley to Harvard into developing nations to do work projects, living in Mexico for two of my four years with FHI; creating STARS (Students and Tutors Achieving Real Success), an after-school program out of Lake Avenue Church that has helped hundreds of low income students to succeed in life as well has help this 4,000-member church to have meaningful relationships across racial and economic disparities; and authoring and editing Making Housing Happen: Faith Based Affordable Housing Models, a book that features unique ways that a breath of denominations across the US have created affordability. I have also helped build several networks, one to address the gang violence by networking churches, the courts, schools and Pasadena City College to bring the Parent Project to hurting parents looking for answers to their sons and daughters entering gangs and a West-San-Gabriel-Valley-wide network called Family Promise: This network of 14 churches rotate hosting 3-5 homeless families in their facility for one week, with a day center where a full time social worker helps them find jobs and housing. It will open in June. I could go on with many other ways I’ve had the joy of participating in God’s work in the world. But you probably get the picture. My life has been about ministry with little time for marriage. But God is now saying, “It’s time.” My ministry with Missions Door will continue, but now I will have a partner. Though we come from unique theological perspectives, we can envision our ministries dovetailing beautifully, as we are both called to and gifted as bridge builders.

Anthony will be and already is a wonderful complement for my rather dyslexic ways, with his writing and editing skills and especially his ability to create humor from my creative blunders. From someone with such an intellect, I didn’t expect such delightful romance. I have heard, “I love you” in French, Greek, Latin, Spanish… it’s so much fun. What a huge gift from heaven! When I begin to feel overwhelmed with having to plan something that feels like too much, he jumps in and takes charge. I love it. I can relax. He is great with financial planning, quick to ask for feedback, he knows himself and what he wants.. and he wants me. Wow. I feel loved beyond measure by Anthony. When my mom and sister met Anthony they immediately fell in love with him.. they can clearly see why I too have fallen in love.

May 7th I had the joy performing a wedding for my neighbor. Before the ceremony in Laguna Beach I went to the ocean for one final practice. While sitting with my feet burrowed in the sand, God spoke deep into my spirit that Anthony is the man God intends for me. Two days later, when he proposed marriage on his birthday, I replied, with a shy confidence deep in my spirit, “Yes!” As I talk with friends about this unexpected miracle and how our gifts and strengths compliment each other’s so well, again and again God confirms that this is our intended path. I feel blessed beyond measure.

We are looking at a September wedding, but will have more clarity on this as we go through our premarital counseling. Then Anthony will be moving into my home in Pasadena. Stay tuned!

Yours in Love,

Anthony and Jill

Monday, May 16, 2011

Paul as Apostle of Peace: a Quaker Perspective

In March, 2003, my wife Kathleen of blessed memory and I went on a cruise to places associated with the Apostle Paul. This trip was sponsored by the Methodist church and attracted over 300 Christians, of whom I was the only Quaker. As we traveled to places like Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Phillipi, etc. we heard the sobering news of impending war and our hearts were chilled. When the bombing of Baghdad took place, we were headed to the island of Patmos, where John had his revelations, and I burst into tears--tears of shame and grief for what my country was doing. One of the blessings of this trip was learning to appreciate "that of God" in the Apostle Paul. I saw his mission in new light--as someone whose life had been transformed by Love, and who became an aposlte of Peace. This is a talk I gave at a Quaker church when I returned to the USA:

Let me confess that I have never particularly appreciated the apostle Paul. Unlike Jesus, who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and told wonderful stories, Paul mostly went around preaching and trying to convert people, just like a modern-day evangelist. A lot of Paul’s letters are filled with notions that don’t seem particularly relevant or appealing.

Take, for instance, his advice, “Slaves, obey your master,” or “Women, keep quiet and listen to your men folk.” Not exactly the sort of advice that we Friends are likely to take to heart.

Unlike Jesus, Paul made homophobic statements that have been used by right-wing Christians to justify the persecution of gays and lesbians.

I also have a hard time with Paul’s concept of predestination. I can’t imagine why God would choose some people to be saved, and others damned, before their birth. Why would our Heavenly Father do permanent damage to unborn kids when an earthly parent would get prosecuted for trying to pull such a stunt? The idea of predestination was popular with the Calvinists who settled in New England. Being God’s Chosen People gave them an excuse to persecute Indians and Quakers. The idea that some people are Chosen and some are not still infects the thinking of many Americans. Our current leadership seems to feel that our American birthright is a divine Blessing which entitles us to do pretty much whatever we want, regardless of law and consequences. This is not an idea that Paul would have endorsed, but unfortunately, it is one of the negative consequences of believing in the concept of a Chosen People.

I also can’t believe that God required that His Son Jesus lay down his life in order to redeem man from the original sin of Adam and Eve. It seems absurd for God to hold against us sins that were committed by our great, great, great grand parents, and then require His own so to die to square these old debts.

Finally, Paul’s idea that we are saved by faith, not works, has been used by some to justify a brand of Christianity that emphasizes personal holiness at the expense of social responsibility. That’s why Quakers have generally preferred James’ epistle in which he says that true religion requires us to help widows and orphans, and that faith without works is dead.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. It is easy to find fault with Paul’s theology.

I also had some problems with Paul as a personality. He was raised to believe that he, as a Jew, alone had possession of the Truth. The rest of the world was wrong. This is not an idea that sits well with liberal Quakers, or Christians, for that matter.

When Paul heard about a sect of Jews who believed what he saw as heresy, he was willing to persecute and even kill those who disagreed with him.

These are the ugly facts about Paul’s life and upbringing. His beliefs had much in common with fundamentalists and religious fanatics of our time.

One of the benefits of going on the tour of places associated with Paul was that I decided to do what an old Indian saying suggests: Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. As we walked in the footsteps of Paul, I began to see this man differently.

He didn’t stay the same person all his life. Something happened to him on the road to Damascus that changed him and the course of human history. He “saw the Light,” he had a vision of Christ, and he was never the same. He experienced physical blindness and realized that he had been spiritually blind all his life. Thanks to the healing work of Christ, his sight was restored and he was able to see not only the physical, but the spiritual world in a new way. As George Fox put it after a similar experience, “creation had a new smell.”

This is incredibly good news. If Paul could change, so can George Bush and Osama Bin Ladin. There’s even hope for you and me!

Paul remained passionately convinced that he had found the Truth, but he was no longer willing to impose his beliefs on others. Instead he became committed to building a community based on Love and forgiveness. He preached not just by words, but by example.

It was interesting to go to the places where Paul traveled. We began at one of the endpoints of Paul’s journey, Athens, a city of intellectuals where Paul was welcomed, but where he made few converts. We went to the hill of Ares, God of War, on the Akropolis where Paul was questioned by the Athenians. The Athenians were polite, but it was clear that they more interested in philosophizing about religion than in changing their lives. So Paul moved on. His job was to heal the spiritually sick, not to intellectualize.

Our second stop was Corinth, a seaport city known for its excellent brothels. There you still see ruins of the famous temples where the devotees of Aphrodite plied their trade. Paul was well received in Corinth, and it was there that he gave his famous message about love that has become so popular at weddings. Those acquainted with the debased forms of love found in the temple of Aphrodite must have been astonished to hear about the new kind of love that Paul advocated. A love based on forgiveness, patience, and self-sacrifice. Paul himself tried to model this new form of love, although it wasn’t always easy. He lost his temper with the Corinthians, but they forgave him, and he forgave them. That’s what this new kind of love is all about.

Our next stop was Thessalonica, in northern Greece. This city is very different in character from Athens, a seaport, industrial city rather than a tourist haven. Thessalonica is the gateway to the Balkans, and most of its old buildings date back to the Middle Ages, not to classical times. In Paul’s time, Thessalonica was associated with the Alexander the Great and the Northern Greeks known as Macedonians, a rough sort of people who loved to wage war. Paul was not well received at first in Thessalonica. He was basically run out of town, but he kept coming back. He was anything if not persistent. And his persistence paid off. He managed to help establish a Christian community there. Paul’s love, like Jesus’, was relentless. He never gave up.

From Thessalonica our cruise ship passed by Mt. Athos, the famous center of Orthodox monasticism. Mt. Athos is an interesting place. The monks at Mt. Athos basically live in another world. No females of any kind are allowed, not even female animals like cows and chickens. These monks have decided to follow the example of Jesus and Paul and live utterly celibate lives. But unlike Paul and Jesus, they have separated themselves from the temptation of women. (Not even teenage boys are allowed.) We cruised within half a mile of Mt. Athos and were able to see its marvelous monasteries at sunset. It was very romantic. We joked that we were not allowed to come closer than half a mile to Mt Athos lest some of the monks try to swim out to the ship and catch sight of our lovely Methodist women.

From Mt. Athos we went to Philippi, where Paul made his first European convert who was, interestingly enough, a woman. Lydia. He converted her at a stream outside of the city where there is a small chapel today. Many people from the formerly Communist Bulgaria come there to affirm their conversion to Christianity.

It was a Phillipi that I had the staggering realization that without Paul, Christianity might never have become a world religion. It may have simply faded away as a minor Middle Eastern cult. If it weren’t for Paul, you and I might be worshipping oak trees or Apollo or maybe even Aphrodite today!

We next went to Istanbul where we visited Top Kapi, the Blue Mosque, and Agia Sophia, the greatest church of Orthodox Christianity, but since Paul never set foot there, I won’t talk about it.

On the boat, my wife read to me the passage from Corinthians in which Paul describes how meeting for worship should be conducted. “This sounds just like a Quaker Meeting,” she said. You may recall Paul’s instructions:

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret.But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent.For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets,
for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.(27-33)
My wife wasn’t the first to note how closely Quaker worship resembled that of early Christians. Voltaire wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary:

If there is any sect that recalls the times of the first christians, it is undoubtedly that of the Quakers. Nothing more resembles the apostles. The apostles received the spirit, and the Quakers receive the spirit. Three or four of the apostles and disciples spoke at once in the assembly on the third floor; the Quakers do as much on the ground floor. According to saint Paul women were allowed to preach, and according to the same saint Paul they were forbidden to preach; female Quakers preach by virtue of the first permission.

Yes, Paul contradicted himself. He told women to keep silent and not preach, and then quoted the passage from Isaiah in which it was said that “your sons and daughters shall prophesy.” He also said that “in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, Gentile or Jew…”

Paul the mystic was sometimes at odds with Paul the first-century Jew. It’s Paul the mystic that I find most appealing. This is also what also attracted Rufus Jones to Paul.

According to Jones, Paul’s “Letters contain many testimonies of experiences which under girded his life and which explains his unique apostolic power. “God, who said in the beginning, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shined into my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor 4:6). “Though my outward man decays, my inward man is renewed day by day while I look not at the things that are seen but at the things that are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.”

A great deal of what is sometimes called St. Paul’s theology is rather an interpretation (in terms of his Jewish and Hellenisic background of thought) of his profound personal experience” (p. 254). Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion

One of the most impressive places we went on our trip was Ephesus, a city on the coast of what is today Turkey. In ancient times, Turkey was called Asia Minor and consisted of Greek-speaking colonies.

The ruins at Ephesus are fantastic, some of the best preserved Greek ruins in the world. An earthquake covered up part of the city, and it’s been restored by archeologists so that you can get a feeling for what it’s like to stroll down the marble streets of an ancient Greek city. On each side of the streets are columns where there used to be porticos and various businesses, including a library and of course a brothel. Paul not only found plenty of converts in Ephesus, he also found strong opponents. Ephesus was very big in the idol business. Their chief goddess was Diana, not the virgin goddess of the Greeks, but a local fertility goddess thought to have awesome powers. The idol makers thought that Paul’s message would be bad for business and they ran him out of town. Thanks to the Ephesians, Paul was sent to Rome and his final martyrdom.

Our final gathering was in the huge amphitheater where the idol makers attacked Paul. There five hundred of us shared communion, sang hymns, and worshipped God together. It was a powerful experience.

All in all, Kathleen and I had a wonderful trip. It was a chance to hang out with over 500 Christians of every imaginable type, from California liberal to deep-Southern convervative. We were all on the same boat together, both literally and figuratively.

Our trip was overshadowed by war. We all knew that war was coming. I was the only Quaker on board, so I felt that it was my job to preach peace. Most of the Methodists were very grateful. Some said, “You said what I would like to say.” It was interesting to realize that we Quakers are expected to be prophets. That’s our job as Christians, to speak out about the peace that God intends for the world.

War broke out just as we were leaving Ephesus to go to Padmos, an island not far away where St John was exiled and where he wrote his Revelations. We were on a ferry to Padmos when I heard the news that we were bombing Bagdhad. I immediately burst into uncontrollable sobbing. A minister came up to me and said, “Are you okay? Are you sick?” I was crying so hard that I could hardly speak. When I finally was able to talk, I said, “Yes, I am sick. Sick of what our country is doing.” I later heard that Senator Byrd gave a speech on the floor of the Senate in which he said that he wept in shame for what his country had done.

We live in a time not unlike Paul’s. Only instead of the Roman empire trying to rule the world and impose its version of peace, the Pax Romana, we now have an American empire, a Pax Americana. Just as the Roman emperor felt that he had a direct connection with the gods, our current President feels that he has a direct line to the Almighty.

Those who support the American empire believe that peace can be imposed by force. Peace means bowing to American authority and doing what American interests require. But Paul, like Jesus, had a different vision of what peace means.

He saw humanity as ruled by selfishness and greed, vainly trying to control its desires through laws and ordinances. This approach doesn’t work; it only creates guilt and anger and conflict. We become “children of wrath.” And we end up hurting ourselves and others.

So God sent Jesus Christ to show us a better way. No longer would the world be separated into the Chosen and the un-Chosen. Those who were alienated from God would be brought home, brought back into the family of Christ.

While in prison, Paul wrote these words to the Ephesians—to the Jews and the pagans as well to the Christians:

“For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us….He came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father, so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (1 Ephesians 2: 14-19).

Paul’s vision is one that I cherish. There is no “us and them.” There is only us, part of one family, united by a loving God who is willing to sacrifice everything out of love so that we can know peace.

Paul’s heart was changed by this love, and he came to know true peace, the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that transforms the world, one person at a time. Let us pray for that peace to begin with us.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Building a culture of peace, abolishing war: an interfaith effort

Yesterday, when I was asked to speak at a Methodist Women’s Conference here in LA, I told the women that I believed war must and can be abolished, just like slavery, and that if women united, they could abolish war. Do you agree? If so, how can we go about this critical task? I makes some suggestions in this talk, but would love to hear your ideas. I am convinced that ending war will take a huge interfaith effort, comparable to what the women of Liberia did when they drove out the warlords and elected an enlightened woman president–a little known story that I discuss in my talk.


Building a Culture of Peace, Abolishing War

I am delighted and honored to be back at this church after only six months to be part of this distinguished interfaith panel. Last fall I spoke to you about my experiences with the Parliament of the World’s Religions inMelbourne,Australia. This gathering takes place every five years and brings together 6,000 plus religious and spiritual leaders who meet to seek ways to make the world a better place.

The local Parliament group that I belong to is striving to create a culture of peace by bringing together people of different faith to share insights, music, religious practices, and ways of worship. This kind of trust-building work is essential for creating a culture of peace. For too long, differences among religions have been seen as a source of conflict, and have even led to bloodshed. The interfaith movement says, in effect, Vive la difference! Let’s appreciate our differences and learn from each us, because deep inside we are all one—one human family made in the image of God, and made to serve God and love each other.

The fact that you have invited representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Islam and Christianity–to be part of this panel is a sign that this church is committed to building a culture of peace.

Today I would like to share with you about another side of interfaith peacemaking, what I call the prophetic.

All three Abrahamic faiths believe that God sent prophets to speak the truth to those in power, and those in power don’t really like the truth very much, as we have seen in their reaction to Wikileaks. Bradley Manning was not only imprisoned, but subjected to conditions tantamount to torture, for allegedly revealing government secrets. If governments were following the teachings of the prophets, if they were acting morally and ethically, they wouldn’t have to keep secrets. Dictatorships thrive on secrecy. Democracies require openness and transparency, and a free press willing to publish the truth, no matter what people in power say.

The prophets speak out for the concerns of the poor and marginalized. They call for the redistribution of wealth so that everyone will have enough to live comfortably. They condemn usury, what we call predatory lending. They also call for an end to war, and for people of all faiths to worship together in peace and harmony. As Isaiah said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” Jesus echoed these words when he went to theTempleand threw out the money changers. “My House will be a house of prayer for all people, and you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

The prophets recognize that you can’t have peace without justice, and you can’t have peace unless you make peace your daily practice.

The Holy Qur’an has a beautiful passage stating that true worshippers of God are those practice peace in their daily lives. It says, The worshipers of the Most Gracious are those who tread the earth gently, and when the ignorant speak to them, they only utter, “Peace.” (25:63)

The Torah makes it clear that peace and justice are linked. The prophet Zechariah says: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD.” 2 Zec 8

And of course, Jesus makes peace his core teaching: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9.

The prophets are clear: in order to build a culture of peace, we must also work for justice and oppose war and all its lies. That is the mission of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that I support. It is also the mission of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace—an organization that was founded after 9/11 with the motto: “Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing War and Violence.” And it is the mission of organizations such as the Methodist Federation for Social Action.

As a peace maker, I have a clear and simple mission. I want to abolish war, not simply end the current ones inAfghanistan,Iraq, and nowLibya. How many in this room feel that war can be abolished?

I know it seems like a daunting task. But it is not impossible. Wars are man-made institutions, created for political purposes. Human beings were not created by God to be warriors, nor are we genetically programmed to be killers. Psychologists and even military experts agree that people must be trained to be soldiers, and it’s not an easy task. Without such training, normal human beings would not willingly kill other human beings.

Yet many people falsely believe war is part of human nature. This myth is similar to the myth once widely believed that some people are born to be slaves. For thousands of years, people held this false belief. It is even written into the original Constitution of theUnited Stateswhere slaves are defined as 3/5 of a human being. Today we look back on slavery with horror and are ashamed that our country was founded on the myth that slavery is normal and natural.

How did we come to abolish slavery? People of faith banded together—men and women, Methodists and Quakers, Congregationalists, and many others. These abolitionists worked tirelessly and courageously to free the minds of those who believed slavery was divinely ordained. Abolitionists were often reviled, and sometimes attacked and beaten. When the Quakers built a hall inPhiladelphiain 1838 so that abolitionist speakers could have a place to express their views, an angry mob burned down the hall. John Greenleaf Whittier, after whom the city ofWhittierwas named, was stoned by an angry mob when he spoke out against slavery.

It took many decades and much blood and tears to end slavery, but today it is universally recognized that slavery is immoral and illegal. Sad to say, forms of slavery still exist, but every country in the world regards slavery as a crime.

I believe that if an institution as deeply entrenched as slavery can be abolished, so can war. But we can’t end war unless we join together—men and women of diverse faiths—just as the women ofLiberiadid. I am glad that you will have an opportunity to see what women of faith did inLiberiato end the bloody civil war in their country. “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” is an amazing story of faith and courage that proves nonviolence works. This is a story that deserves to be more widely known. When women unite, they can be amazingly powerful.

Trying to end war is a huge task. But if each of us made a commitment to do something each day to promote peace, and if we do it with deep faith, I believe we can make a huge difference. When I became involved in helping to end the Cold War in 1980s, I imagined it would take decades to bring this 40-year conflict to an end; in fact, I wasn’t sure it would end in my lifetime. But I felt a deep sense of urgency and took part in the citizen diplomacy movement that helped build bridges of peace between our two nations. Thousands of Americans went to the Soviet Union to promote peace and good will, and thousands of Russians came to theUnited Statesfor the same purpose, during the Reagan era. These committed peace activists influenced Reagan and Gorbachev to end the Cold War—one of the great achievements of our time. Today Reagan and Gorbachev are given credit for ending the Cold War, but they would not have been able to do so if the citizens of their respective countries did not support them and insist that the Cold War must end.

Today our country is committed to endless war, a war that uses terroristic means to end terrorism. Most Americans know this is a futile effort, and most want to see the troops brought home fromAfghanistanand elsewhere. We have hundred of military bases around the war. We spend trillions of dollars killing people, destroying homes and polluting the environment. These actions are not bringing us any closer to peace; they are simply enriching those who are in the military industrial complex.

We need to do more than oppose the current war. We must make a determined effort to end ALL war, just as abolitionists wanted to end ALL slavery. To abolish war, we must be as committed and courageous as the women ofLiberia. We must do everything we can to build a culture of peace and to remove the seeds of war from our lives. There are many things you can do: write your elected officials, support peace organizations. Also, live simply. Consume less. Depend less on fossil fuel. Our consumerism helps to fuel war. War is an addiction, but it is curable I hope that in our discussion, we can brainstorm ways to end our addiction war.. Let’s work together to build a culture of peace and justice. YES, WE CAN!

(The movie “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and then screened, and we had a very good discussion, led by a female UCLA student.)

Liberia facts from Wikipedia:

A peace movement called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace was instrumental to the end of hostilities in Monrovia. Organized by social worker Leymah Gbowee, thousands of Christian and Muslim women staged silent protests and forced a meeting with President Charles Taylor and extracted a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana. Gbowee then led a delegation of Liberian women to Ghana to continue to apply pressure on the warring factions during the peace process.[23] They staged a sit in outside of the Presidential Palace, blocking all the doors and windows and preventing anyone from leaving the peace talks without a resolution. The women of Liberia became a political force against violence and against their government.[24] Their actions brought about an agreement during the stalled peace talks. As a result, the women were able to achieve peace in Liberia after a 14-year civil war and later helped bring to power the country’s first female head of state. The story is told in the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell.[25]

After the exile of Taylor, Gyude Bryant was appointed chairman of the transitional government in late 2003. Because of failures of the Transitional Government in curbing corruption, Liberia signed onto GEMAP, a novel anti-corruption program. The primary task of the transitional government was to prepare for fair and peaceful democratic elections.

With UNMIL troops safeguarding the peace, Liberia successfully conducted presidential and legislative elections on October 11, 2005. There were 23 candidates; an early favorite was George Weah, an internationally famous footballer, UNICEF goodwill ambassador, and member of the Kru ethnic group expected to dominate the popular vote. Though Weah garnered a plurality of the votes, no candidate gained the required majority, prompting a runoff election between the top two candidates, Weah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and former minister of finance who had been jailed twice during the Doe administration before escaping and going into exile. The November 8, 2005, presidential runoff election was won decisively by Sirleaf. Both the general election and runoff were marked by peace and order, as thousands of Liberians waited in the harsh West African heat to cast their ballots.

Upon taking office, Sirleaf became the first elected female head of state in Africa. During her administration President Sirleaf established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address crimes committed during the later stages of Liberia’s long civil war.[26] Sirleaf also requested the extradition of Taylor from Nigeria and immediately handed him over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which had charged Taylor with crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions and “other serious violations of international humanitarian law.”[27] The trial by the Special Court is being held in The Hague for security reasons

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What do Quakers believe?

What do Quakers believe? This is a question I will be exploring this summer as  I travel once again in the ministry, this time to Pendle Hill where I will be taking part in a symposium on Howard Brinton, one of Quakerism's leading 20th century theologians.
I will share with Friends my own reflections on Quaker theology along those from Howard Brinton's classic work "Friends for 300 Years." Quakers of the liberal sort tend to be averse to theologizing. We do not have a creed or dogmas, but we do have thoughts about our religious experiences and it can be helpful to share those thoughts with others in a friendly, respectful way. That is what theology is all about—reflecting on and sharing our thoughts about what we experience in times of worship. In Friends for 300 Years, Brinton makes it clear that what unites Friends is not our theology but our “secret want” to find “something beyond words which might satisfy [our] weary souls” (p. 39). Nonetheless, Brinton felt it was important to engage in theological reflection. I have found that friendly discussions about what we believe can be helpful and illuminating.

This time of theological reflection can be an opportunity to share what we believe, and  to learn what others believe, and especially to learn something about what early Friends believed, according to Howard Brinton. Here are some questions that Brinton addresses in Friends for 300 Years.
•Is the Bible the ultimate source of authority, or the Inward Light, or both?

•What is the difference between conscience and the Inward Light?

•What role does reason play in Quakerism?

•Is the Light universal? Is there a Christian basis for universalism?

•How do Friends feel about the historical Jesus? What is the Universal Christ?

•What is the Quaker view of the atonement? How has this shaped Quaker attitudes and actions?

•What did Quakers believe about Good and Evil and human responsibility? What about the Fall of Man? Original sin?

•What did Quakers believe about human perfectibility? How do Friends feel about the relation between the Divine and the human?

For Brinton’s response to these questions, see Friends for 300 Years, Chapter III, “The Light Within as Thought About.” Here are some quotations from this very important, though often overlooked, chapter:

Scripture and the Holy Spirit. “For the Protestants, the Scriptures were primary and the Holy Spirit secondary as an aid to their understanding. The Bible was the word of God. Nothing could be added to it or subtracted from it by any further revelation of religious truth. For the Quakes the Light Within or the Spirit was primary and the Scriptures a word of God, that is, secondary, confirming and clarifying the revelations of the Light Within”(Brinton, p. 40).

Conscience and the Light Within. “The Light Within is not to be identified with conscience. Conscience is not the Light in its fullness but “the measure of Light given us.” The Light illumines conscience and seeks to transform an impure conscience into its own pure likeness” (p.43).

Reason and Religious Truth. “A great deal is said in Quaker writings about the inability of reason to reach religious truths unless the Light, or the Scriptures or other writings inspired by the Light, furnish it with the right premises on which to work. The same is true in science. Scientific truths are not produced by reason alone, but by reason operating on physical facts ascertained through experience” (p. 45).

Universalism. “No Quaker belief aroused more opposition than the doctrine that the Light of Christ had been given to all men everywhere, since the beginning of the human race. This concept was especially repugnant to Protestants who believed that only the elect would be saved” (p. 45).
“Eternal Christ” and the “historic Jesus.” Brinton distinguishes between the “Eternal Christ” and the “historic Jesus.” Brinton saw Jesus and both human and divine. Jesus was one with God because his will was in harmony with God’s will. The Light shone completely in Jesus. He was the “supreme revelation of God in human term” (p. 50).

The Atonement. “The Quakers did not apply to the sacrifice of Christ the Old Testament concept of a blood sacrifice offered to appease an angry God….” Rather, Christ’s sacrifice was to “bridge the gap between the divine and the human, overcoming the isolation and estrangement of the human individual. This would be an at-one-ment, a uniting of that which had been separated” (p. 53).

Man’s Responsibility for Good and Evil. “On two important religious doctrines the Quakers differed from their Protestant opponents and were closer to the Catholics. They believed that righteousness could not be imputed to man by God unless man was actually righteous, while the Protestants believed that God, because of the sacrifice of Christ, could impute Christ’s righteousness to man even though he continued to sin. The Quakers also believed that perfection and freedom from sin was possible in this world, while the Protestants believed that all men, even the saints, continue to sin in ‘thought, word and deed’” (p. 55). “This brings us to the heart of Quaker theology as it grew out of actual experience. Man finds himself in the twilight zone of reason, poised between two worlds, an upper world of Light, and a loser world of Darkness, a Spiritual world which is superhuman and a material world which is subhuman. He is free to center his life in one of the three: he can live by the Light, he can live by human reason, or he can live at the mercy of his sensual cravings. His body is animal, his mind rational and the Light Within him is divine. He is never without all three, though the three are so intimately related it is impossible to distinguish between them sharply. Much depends on their relationship. The Light of Truth should be a guide to reason and reason should help instinct in a properly ordered life. This is a simple empirical theology, but it seems up much of early Quaker thought” (p. 63).

Perfectionism. “The Quakers believed that the process of redemption and regeneration might go so far as sometimes to free man completely from sin and leave him at least temporarily in a state of perfection. It is easy to misunderstand this doctrine. Perfection not only permits growth, it requires growth. Did not Christ grow in wisdom and stature (Like 2:52)? As Barclay says, a perfect boy can become a perfect man and he is not a perfect boy unless he is on the way to becoming a man.” (p. 59).