Friday, September 27, 2013

Top Ten Posts and Quaker Parrots Complaining about Life

I am pleased that my blog continues to interest web surfers from around the world, including places such as Latvia, Germany, France, UK, Canada, Australia, Russia, Ukraine, Netherlands, etc. (See below)

This month  my site will probably exceed 4,000 pageviews, and over 80,000 since I first began this blog four years ago. Below is a list of the top ten posts, which you can access simply by clicking on the title.

To put this into context, it is humbling to realize that the "Talking Quaker Parrot" youtube has received nearly 300,000 views and "Boogie the Quaker parrot complains about life" nearly 200,000 --far exceeding those of my blog or that of most Quaker organizations. If you want to see how Quaker parrots express themselves, here's the link: and (I don't want those who came to my site expecting a talking Quaker parrot to be disappointed.)

My most popular post by far is an article I originally wrote for Friends Journal, the national Quaker magazine. It is about some humble wild flowers I encountered at Pendle Hill, the Quaker center where I met my wife Kathleen twenty five years ago. Written as a letter to my wife, it was never intended for publication. When I had lunch with the editors of Friends Journal soon after writing it, I gave them a copy and a week later they emailed me asking to print it. I'm glad they did. In many ways, this essay "speaks my heart"--my love for poetry, nature, and the Creative Spirit.

The titles of most of the other posts speak for themselves, with a few exceptions. "The Parable of the Family that Went Broke" is a satire about our government's absurd fiscal priorities;  and "Seeing the Light through a Prism" is a reflection about Quaker testimonies, based on what I have learned from Howard Brinton and my own experiences in worship.

My blog continues to be a medley, a potpourri, a smorgasbord, mixing the political, the spiritual and the personal. I hope you find something among these entries that feeds your soul, lifts your spirits, and "speaks to your condition." And if you do, please feel free to comment. I am always eager to hear what you have to say, unless you happen to be a Quaker parrot!

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Prophetic listening and the power of silence

I volunteered to give a reflection at ICUJP's Friday morning session. When I was reflecting on what to reflect on, it occurred to me that the best way for a Quaker to share what is truly important would be to let us have five minutes of silence.
Instead, I decided to talk briefly about why silence is important to us as activists. I hope that my brief reflection will encourage us to listen prophetically.
When we think of prophets, we often think of people who speak truth to power,  people whose stirring words move people to action. But we need to remember that great prophets were also great listeners. They listened to the cries of the poor, they listened to the yearnings of the oppressed, and most of all, they listened to the voice of the One who called them to be prophets. Prophetic listening is just as important as prophetic speaking.
Howard Brinton, the Quaker educator and peace activist whose life I describe in my book, gave a talk about Creative Worship in which he describes how great leaders—from Moses to Mohammad, from Buddha to Jesus—became prophetic voices because they listened deeply to the Spirit:
When Moses saw God in the burning bush or Elijah heard the still, small voice, when Paul went to the desert of Arabia after his conversion, or George Fox on Pendle Hill saw in vision a great people to be gathered, when the Buddha sat in meditation under the Bo-tree or Mohammed listened to an angelic voice in the cave near Mecca, above all, when Jesus Himself faced temptation alone in the wilderness, a great new message to the world was born not because God was spoken to but because God was listened to.
All of these prophets withdrew from the noise and the confusion of the world in order to center down in silence and listen deeply to the still, small voice within. Take, for example, Gandhi. For him, prayer and silence were “food for the soul,” as necessary to spiritual life as breathing is for physical life. Here’s one of his many testimonials to the importance of silence:
It has often occurred to me that a seeker after truth has to be silent. I know the wonderful efficacy of silence. I visited a Trappist monastery in South Africa. A beautiful place it was. Most of the inmates of that place were under a vow of silence. I inquired of the Father the motive of it and he said the motive is apparent: 'We are frail human beings. We do not know very often what we say. If we want to listen to the still small voice that is always speaking within us, it will not be heard if we continually speak.' I understood that precious lesson. I know the secret of silence. (YI, 6-8-1925, pp 274-5).
Gandhi took time to pray and meditate on a daily basis, and so have many other Spirit-led activists. This year I am embarking on a new ministry by taking a spiritual direction program called Stillpoint.  My goal is to learn how to listen better to the still small voice within myself, and to help others hear the still, small voice within their hearts.
I’d like to end this reflection with Gandhi’s confession about his need for prayer:
Prayer has been the saving of my life. Without it I would have been a lunatic long ago. My autobiography will tell you that I have had my fair share of the bitterest public and private experiences. They threw me into temporary despair, but if I was able to get rid of it, it was because of prayer.
It was a great consolation for me to hear Gandhi admit he would have gone crazy without prayer. I feel the same way. Prayer has helped me to stay relatively sane during crazy-making times of my life. Prayer saved me when my first marriage ended disastrously, when my dear wife Kathleen died at too young an age,  when I open up the daily newspaper, read the latest doings of our politicians and want to scream or act out in very un-Quakerly ways. Whatever good I do, I owe largely to prayer. I hope we can find in prayer the strength and inner peace we need to do the work we have been called us to do.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Becoming a "Human Being Fully Alive": Spiritual Direction from a Quaker Perspective

I've just begun a spiritual direction program through Stillpoint ( It feels good and right to be starting this new ministry at this point in my life, when I am retired and "jubilado" (the Spanish word for "retired," recalling the year of Jubilee).

I've had a spiritual director for over a year, and it's a wonderful experience. Thanks to my spiritual director, I have been able to grapple with some tough issues and find glimmers of the Divine in the midst of my daily struggles.

I've also been involved in intensive pyscho-therapy that has taught me important listening skills and helped heal some of the deep traumas of my past. I now know from experience what my mentor Gene Hoffman taught in her Compassionate Listening work: many of us carry with us unhealed wounds, and these wounds are often the source of conflict. Even "peace people" are not exempt. Indeed, we may be the most wounded of all. As she put it so well,

"During my lifetime I've worked with many peace people and peace people. Rarely were the people I worked with peaceful. Perhaps I was the least. In the peace movement I found wondrous people, people, people who sacrificed themselves, who often turned the other cheek, who could write eloquently of compassion, forgiveness, love of the enemy.... I found, too, that the seeds of all society's ills were also in us, often hidden or disguised. Few of us recognized or admitted it to ourselves. We felt exempt. But the anger, the anxieties, the jealousies were still in place, camouflaged. Peace people, I found, weren't all that different from non-peace people except that we had found a humane goal to work toward" (Compassionate Listening, p. 177).

Gene's words ring more true the older I get, and the more  I become aware of my own inner turmoil. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to study and practice Compassionate Listening, both here in the US and in Israel/Palestine.

The main reason I am drawn to spiritual direction is that I am eager to deepen my relationship with God and Christ, and also help others to find a deeper connection with the source of Life and Light. I know that it helps me to spend time with others who share my yearning.

Part of my preparation for spiritual direction was my marriage to Kathleen Ross, a Methodist pastor with whom I engaged in contemplative prayer for over twenty years. Kathleen was a humble and insightful teacher, from whom I learned much, especially about the art of listening. She had the gift of listening from the heart, mentored a number of pastors, and led many workshops on prayer and meditation. One of her unfinished goals in life was to become a spiritual director. I feel as if I am honoring her memory by taking up this new ministry.

Prior to meeting Kathleen, I spent nearly a year living at a Providence (Rhode Island) Zen Buddhist Center, practicing meditation as a way of life. We would rise at 4:30 am to do prostrations, chant, and meditate, and ended every evening with meditation. I once remained silent for an entire week--which many friend of mine would regard as a miracle!

I also had the privilege of editing a magazine called Fellowship in Prayer (now called Sacred Journey), which gave me the opportunity of meeting and interviewing spiritual teachers of various traditions (Jewish, Native American, Sufi, Orthodox Christian, New Age, etc.) throughout the United States.

Spending a year at Pendle Hill, the Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation near Philadelphia, also helped me to "center down" in the Quaker practice of silent, expectant worship. Each morning we would spend half an hour in silent worship, and there were also opportunities for worship in the evening. I had the opportunity to study with some of deeply spiritual Friends like Bill Taber (author of The Prophetic Stream) and Sandra Cronk.

Last year I spent one Saturday a week on a Stillpoint "Spiritual Journey" in a small group led by an outstanding teacher named Wendy Edwards,  a Stillpoint spiritual director.  This year I am not only meeting once a month for spiritual direction training, I am taking part in a monthly "spiritual practice" group, led by my dear friend Jeff Utter, a UCC pastor. I came to know Jeff through the So Cal Committee for a Parliament of the World's Religions, on whose board we both served.

All of this has led to feel that God is calling me to this new direction in my life, but there have been additional "signs."

A week before beginning my first spiritual direction class at Holy Spirit Retreat Center, I received a call from a friend who wanted to have lunch and talk about documentary films. I like him a lot (though we are not close friends), and I was pleased to reconnect with him after having not seen him in two years.

As we settled down to lunch at a Salvadorean restaurant, he totally surprised me with his first words.

"I am looking for a spiritual practice," he told me with great earnestness.

"Why are you looking for a spiritual practice?" I asked.

"I want to connect with God," was his reply.

What followed was a rich and meaningful conversation about God, life, and what truly matters. It is a conversation I will always remember and cherish. And I am pleased he wants to see me again for another such conversation.

It was hard not to see this encounter as a sign that God wants me to become a spiritual director!

There was a second sign this weekend. A young Fuller seminary student heard I was studying to be a spiritual director, and asked to be my "directee." He is a young man I like a lot and deeply respect, and I am eager to get to know him better in "that which is Eternal" (to use the Quaker phrase).

One of the requirements of the Stillpoint program is that we find at least one directee to "practice on" during our first year. When I heard of this requirement, I wondered how on earth I was going to find a directee. But now I realize I don't need to go out looking for one. I just need to let God send those who share my yearning to draw closer to the source of Life.

For those who want to find out more about spiritual direction, I highly recommend Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction by Susan Phillips. It is beautifully written and gives concrete examples of how spiritual direction works in the lives of actual people. At times this book brought me to tears, and opened up my heart to glimpses of the Divine in ways I had never before imagined.

I also recommend this insightful article by Patty Levering, a Quaker with deep experience of spiritual direction and Divine guidance.

To those of you reading this entry, I wish you all the best in your efforts to become "a human being fully alive," (to use the words of Irenaeus). If you have read this far, you probably share my yearning to connect more deeply with God.  I hope you find (or have found) a spiritual friend or director or spirituality group or a spiritual practice that will help you to connect at the deepest level with the Divine that is already present in your life and in the inmost depths of your being.

Spiritual Direction as a Resource for Friends

Friends come to their meetings out of some kind of spiritual hunger—a desire for belonging and encouragement in making the world a better place, a search for Truth we are not finding elsewhere, an awareness of something missing. There are many Quaker venues in which these needs are addressed; and yet for many of us, at some time, our spiritual hunger is not satisfied. There is no adequate place to see through the fog, get out of stuck places, ask the deepest questions, and be sufficiently supported in an intentional, spiritual seeking. Spiritual direction is a resource for a person in such a condition. It is a complement, not a substitute, for meeting for worship and the meeting community.

Spiritual direction is an opportunity to explore your relationship with the Divine, to be more aware of God’s presence and action in your life, to look for the More that you sense is there in the midst of your life, to listen for the guidance of the Spirit, to be open to the Holy. It happens with the help of a "spiritual director," a person who listens to your story, concerns, or desires, and seeks to be a companion, nurturer, and guide as you explore that relationship.

I am using the term spiritual direction because it is the current, ecumenically recognized, technical term to describe a certain kind of spiritual attending.

Seeking spiritual direction is not about submitting one’s life and faith to some other person’s shaping, or accepting someone else as the authority on spiritual matters. Spiritual directors know that the real "director" is the Divine (God, Christ, the Light, the Spirit, the Inward Teacher). The "direction" happens in the attentive listening of the director to God and to the directee. It also happens in sharing and listening during the direction session, and it happens in the heart, mind, and soul of the directee long afterward. The directee sets the agenda and owns the discernment. The director and directee come together, radically trusting in the One whose presence teaches, guides, and transforms; the One who is directly available and speaks to one’s condition. The director is not more likely than the directee to hear or say the words that most illuminate the condition that needs to be addressed. For a directee, it is like being in meeting for worship, but having someone else to help listen. That can be true whether the director is Quaker or not.

In worship, we gather corporately in expectant silence, listening for the leading of the Spirit or opening to the Divine. One really can’t explain just how the spiritual knowing or the "being moved" happens. The directee listens in the same way and for the same kinds of things in the direction session as in meeting for worship, but the context includes more words. The director is likely to have had more experience in listening for and recognizing the voice of the Divine, or at least is outside the story told by the directee, and thus may be able to help the directee see the Light or hear the Voice.
It seems as if what I do as a directee is to bring in a bag of blocks, dump them on the table helter-skelter, and then watch as they are moved into some kind of order, or until I see them differently, or as additional things are added that make them a satisfying sight. Sometimes it happens as I hear my own words, sometimes it comes from the words of the director, and always the rearranging has a luminous quality from something within and beyond me. Of course, the rearranging may not happen in the session but rather much later, or even not at all. Still, my experience is that something happens more often than not. I am challenged, taught, changed, invited, encouraged, supported, opened, redirected. Isaac Penington writes, "There is that near you which will guide you. O wait for it and be sure that ye keep to it." The experience of spiritual direction is to have someone stand with you in a way that makes it more possible for you to do just that.

Many Friends have tried another form of spiritual caring called "spiritual friendship," an intentional relationship between two persons who take turns listening to each other’s stories and being present to and for the other. Spiritual friendship has a rich history. It is accepted among Friends, and it is especially wonderful and fruitful when the two persons are well-matched and mutually able to support and challenge the other, at levels appropriate to their needs and openness.

Spiritual friendship does, however, have some shortcomings, especially with the kind of mutuality it calls for, the level of informality and passivity it sometimes allows, and the more complicated character of the relationship. It can also cause a burden for someone who is especially gifted in this kind of caring and listening, because many people will want to be with that person, and spiritual friendship takes double time (your hour and my hour). I have been in and seen spiritual friendships where one person, a natural caregiver, ends up giving a lot and getting little; where both choose to avoid the hard work and opt for friendly conversation at a discussion level; where one or both want most to preserve the friendship and so avoid the risk of challenging the other or telling the raw truth; or where the intimacy of deep worship is too uncomfortable for two people who see each other on a regular basis.

I don’t want to disparage spiritual friendship, but I do want to lift up and encourage Friends to be open to spiritual direction. For the person longing for a closer relationship with God, the serious social activist who knows that a deep spiritual grounding is required for the long haul, or the Friend feeling a call or carrying a concern, spiritual direction offers unique possibilities. In fact, spiritual direction is for anyone willing to give it the time, do the listening, and risk being open. It is particularly doable, because it usually takes place nearby, for roughly an hour about once a month, and can go on for months or years. I believe it is especially useful for Friends because it fits so well with our contemplative ways, our experience of corporate discernment, and the fact that we are friends (equal but not the same).

Not wanting to be too vulnerable is a reason some choose spiritual friendship rather than direction. It seems to require less vulnerability because each party is vulnerable with the other. In fact, though, spiritual direction calls for the same kind of mutual vulnerability even if the focus is on the directee. What happens in the direction session very often has an impact not only on the directee but also on the director. Sometimes what is said leads to some new insight into the director’s own condition, which the director will explore later. Maybe there is an opportunity to share a story that has just begun to take on meaning for the director. Maybe a story that is heard will inspire or speak deeply to the director. And it is true that to exercise one’s spiritual gifts is what most challenges the spiritual life of a director and makes that person vulnerable. The two persons in the relationship are equal, yet different. Ultimately, both are trying to listen and respond to God’s call in their lives.
Spiritual direction does have scary aspects. It asks for our time. It expects us to be real, to know and face feelings, to risk being vulnerable and intimate with God. We may fear sharing our spiritual life, because for that to be received poorly can even feel life-threatening. We may want to avoid wrestling with God. We may refrain from asking for help because we really don’t want to deal with the things that block us. We do not want to change, or be asked to change.

Perhaps even more daunting is a fear of intimacy with God, a distrust of any notion of a God who relates to human beings, or a sense of personal unworthiness. One can have such a feeling without knowing it, even though it impacts how one lives. Or one may have the feeling, know it, be clear about its truth, and choose not to examine it or give oneself a chance to go beyond it. Sometimes that is the best one can do. But sometimes that means choosing to live lukewarmly instead of with the abundance Jesus said was to be ours. Spiritual direction is a good place to see if there is a way to stretch oneself and experience more.

Let me give an example, from outside Quakerism, of how spiritual direction can be a safe place to explore faith questions. Rabbi Jacob Staub is a Reconstructionist Jew who wanted to help rabbinical students know and pass on the spiritual treasures of their ancestors. To do so he had to deal with many obstacles, including that many liberal Jews do not believe in a God who intervenes supernaturally in human affairs, hears prayers, or responds to them. He chose a spiritual direction program as a way to see what could be done, and began with Rev. Sue Cole, a United Methodist minister and spiritual director. In his first session, she was able to hear his story and use his experience to help him reframe what it means to see God at work in the world and in his life. He reports in Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction:
She listened to my narrative, pointed to a moment that I had described as "breathtaking," and had me revisit and re-experience that moment for ten to fifteen minutes, after which I knew I would never thoughtlessly run by a breathtaking moment again. After three months, I could feel God’s palpable presence when I entered her office and at many other times as well.
Over time she used his experience, his Truth, and his terms to make it possible for him to reconnect in a living way with the deep treasures of his Jewish heritage. He did have to be vulnerable and open, but the rewards for him and, later, his students, were great.

What I think I like best about spiritual direction is that, as a directee, it is my time. It has been set aside for me alone. I don’t have to worry about taking care of the director or anyone else. Primarily the relationship we have is not about friendship, but about the relationship each of us has with the Divine and, through that, with each other. I can use each session in whatever way I choose. The matters discussed are private and confidential. I can pursue whatever issue I desire, counting on the director to hear me where I am and to work at understanding my particular context and faith language (or lack of faith or language). The director’s response will be tailored to me, my needs, my situation. The director will not attempt to impose a particular faith on me. I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not in order to be in the relationship or to learn. It is an opportunity to grow in ways particular to me, but also in ways that others have traveled before me. And I don’t have to be sick or broken or in pain in order to be in spiritual direction. It is about the whole of life, the ups and the downs. Things get fixed, but it is about the relationship with God, not about fixing things.
There is something awesome about spiritual direction. Somehow it is ultimately about love. Somehow, from time to time in sessions and in the overall experience, one gets a real taste of God’s unconditional love, in the listening, accepting love of another (the director) through whom God’s presence and love become clearly and truthfully communicated.

I have experienced that love in both mundane and profound ways. One director, after we had met over a long period of time, heard my distress about a particular situation and offered me an insight: the rhythms of my life are very much affected by the seasons, and in the winter I simply need more sleep. Those very mundane words took a huge weight of frustration and unmet self-expectation off my back. It was as if suddenly my blind eyes had been given sight. There have been other times when what transpired left me touched to the depths of my being, rearranged and empowered, aware that I have been on sacred ground. Very often I go into a session confused, troubled, lost—or with very positive emotions. I tell my story, I am heard, I am met, and I leave enriched, touched, challenged, loved. Even between sessions, that love lingers. A memory of my director comes to my mind, and I know that I am being remembered, prayed for, held, carried, and strengthened—by God, made manifest through the director.

If you decide to try spiritual direction, finding a suitable director is important. You want to find a director who can help you see things you otherwise miss, someone who is deeply centered in God and in love for others. The director should be someone who has been there before you, someone who has been on an intentional spiritual path long enough to be humble, and to know some of the traps and keys. Your spiritual director needs to be a person whose light draws you, whose depth invites you, whose presence is attentive to you while at the same time attentive to God, whose insights are opening for you. At times it is especially helpful to have a director who is not part of your faith tradition (i.e. not Quaker), which can give you more freedom to ask questions, make mistakes, try out different language, and be stretched. Sometimes it is especially helpful to be with someone who is from the denomination in which you grew up and knows things about spiritual formation in that tradition that you may not be aware of, even though you have been impacted by it.

The person may not appear ideal. That may not matter. Because you approach the relationship the way you would an open, expectant, waiting meeting for worship, you may still receive the gifts you need. It is the fruits of the interaction that count.

My hope is that the day will come soon when spiritual direction will be such a recognized resource for Friends that yearly meetings and regional associations of Friends will have lists of Friends who do this kind of spiritual nurture. When that day comes, I believe the spiritual lives of Friends will be enriched, and the work we do in the world will be even more transformative.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Quakers need the Christian Community Development Association, and vice versa

Michelle Alexander, author of "TheNew Jim Crow,"
with two former inmates at CCDA
Jill and I just returned from the annual gathering of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in New Orleans. This is my third CCDA gathering, and I look forward to attending on regular basis, just as I look forward to our national Quaker gathering, Friends General Conference. As a Quaker peace activist, I am inspired as well as challenged by CCDA.

Each year between three and four thousand  Christians gather to worship, take workshops and hear speakers address a broad range of social issues ranging from immigration reform, housing justice, violence prevention, prison reform, etc. The mission of CCDA is

"to inspire, train, and connect Christians who seek to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities....Following the example of Jesus, we commit to the work of reconciliation, seeking the shalom of our communities and world. This calling is radical but in line with the Biblical prophetic tradition. To help create a Kingdom reality that is already accessible but also 'not yet, we cultivate our prophetic imaginations and draw on spiritual sustenance for the journey."

Noel Castellanos, CEO of CCDA, explained its mission through a circle that has four quadrants (like the cross):
  • compassion for the poor
  • proclamation of the Gospel and spiritual formation
  • restoration through community development (bringing God's kingdom to earth),
  • confrontation, dealing with issues of justice.

Most of the participants come from an Evangelical background, but you can find Christians from many denominations, including Mennonites and members of the Bruderhoff community. Conspicuously absent are the Quakers. I can understand how liberal, unprogrammed Friends might be uncomfortable with the enthusiastically Christocentric approach of CCDA, but where are the Evangelical and pastoral Friends?

As someone committed to building bridges between Evangelical and liberal Friends, I feel we could learn from each other and find common ground for a number of reasons:

1) CCDA is one of the most diverse gatherings of Christians I have ever encountered. There are blacks, Latinos, Asians, young and old, middle class and the poor, formerly incarcerated, etc. They are not only present but are given a voice and positions of leadership. We could learn a lot from CCDA about creating diversity in our own Quaker circles.

2) CCDA is deeply committed to social transformation and justice, particularly at the local level. Members of CCDA practice the 3 r's: relocation (moving into or remaining in an under-resourced community),  reconciliation (between races and classes, and also reconciliation with God through Christ), and redistribution (moving the wealth around so that all members of the community can be self-sufficient--not only teaching someone how to fish but making sure they have access to and ownership of the fish pond). One of the basic principles of CCDA is "asset-based community development," which means looking not only at the problems but also the assets (leaders and other resources) already present in the community." This focus on community empowerment is similar to the Quaker idea of "answering that of God in everyone."

3) CCDA is a deeply spiritual and transformative movement. This is evident not only in the enthusiastic praise music, the passionate sermons, but also in calls for silent prayer. "Coach" Wayne Gordon, one of the founders of CCDA along with Dr. John Perkins, urged us to practice Sabbath by turning off our cell phones and computers one day a week and devoting ourselves to bible study, prayer and hanging out with family and friends. He also encouraged us to practice the "3 s's and 2 p's": solitude, silence and scripture and prayer and praise. His words were music to my ears as a Quaker!

I also was pleased to learn that the CCDA's prayer room included a spiritual director since I have just begun a spiritual direction program. I was drawn to this room and had a wonderful time of silent worship with Delia Realmo, the spiritual director.

Jill and me with Pastor Camellia Joseph in the French Quarter
This year's CCDA session touched me deeply as a Quaker because of its fervent commitment to reforming our criminal justice system. The two most famous speakers were Father Greg Boyle (the LA priest noted for his amazing work with gangs) and Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow," a scathing indictment of racism and mass incarceration. Equally powerful were speakers who had served time in prison and are now doing work around Restorative Justice and helping former inmates.

There were workshops with groups like PICO, who have been working to organize former prison inmates to help them gain their rights.

Here are the titles of some workshops to give you a flavor of what this conference is about:

Jill presenting a workshop on affordable housing
  • "From Gangs to God"
  • "Black Brown Partnerships: Challenges and Future Opportunities"
  • "Developing Housing Solutions in a Challenging Context"
  • "Standing in the Justice Gap: Can Public Defender Partnerships Help Reduce Recidivism?"
  • "Current State of US Immigration Laws and Opportunities for Service"
  • "The Basis of Cross Cultural Ministry"
  • "Cultivate Affordable Housing that Transforms Your Community"
  • "The Church's Response to Mass Incarceration"
  • "Understanding and Serving Homeless Youth and Young Adults"

Many of CCDA's concerns dovetail with what Quakers are doing; and we could learn a lot from them, and vice versa. I shared with CCDA members Laura Magnani's important work "Beyond Prison: A New Interfaith Paradigm for a Failed Prison System." No one had heard of this work, or of the work of AFSC and FCNL, but were excited to hear what Quakers are doing around prison reform.

History shows us that the most of the great social movements in America have involved collaboration between the Quakers, Evangelicals and other Christian denominations. We need each other if we are going to help bring God's kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven."


Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Process of Seasoning a Minute/Statement Relating to Justice and/or Peace

Once upon a time, when I first came to California in 1989, minutes relating to peace and justice were supposedly quite common at Pacific Yearly Meeting, like orange groves in Orange County.  To some Friends,  these minutes seemed more like political statements rather than Spirit-led concerns. They seemed facile and half-baked, and intended mainly to make us feel we had “done something” when all we had done is simply make a feel-good statement.

This approach to presenting minutes changed in the new millennium. For a minute to be considered at the Yearly Meeting annual session, it first had to be approved by monthly meeting. It then had to go to Quarterly for its consideration and approval. Only after being “seasoned” in this way was a minute presented to the Yearly Meeting.
The term “to season” is Quakerese meaning “taking the time to seek the Light rather than moving into a matter hastily”—A Western Quaker Reader, p. 305.
As a result of such seasoning, no more than one or two minutes per year come up for consideration by the Yearly Meeting, and sometimes none at all.
This seasoning process meant that a minute that came to Yearly Meeting had essentially been prayerfully considered and approved by half of the Friends in YM. The process took time and care.
The purpose of approving a minute at YM was three-fold:

1)      to draw upon the collective wisdom and spiritual power of the YM to insure that the minute truly reflects the Truth (as we understand it).

2)       to lend the authority of the YM to that of the local or quarterly meeting, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the minute. (Elected officials pay more attention when a statement comes from a large representative body than from a local one or an individual.)

3)      to insure that the minute circulate as widely as possible among “Friends everywhere” as well as among elected officials, thereby witnessing to our faith commitment.

Let me share a brief story about how the minute on drones arose and was seasoned. For many years I have been active with Interfaith Communities Uniting for Justice and Peace, a group that meets every Friday morning to work on various issues. One morning in the fall of 2012 Medea Benjamin came to our meeting and shared her story about how she became involved with the anti-drone issue.
Her passion and commitment touched me deeply. I later learned that a Quaker had been part of the delegation that went to Pakistan with Medea Benjamin.  Reading articles about drones in Friends Journal and Western Friend convinced me that this concern was one that many Friends were taking to heart.
Reading Benjamin’s book on drone warfare, I learned that two of the main manufacturers of drones are located here in Southern California. This mean that California Friends should probably take the lead on this issue since our state produces and profits from them.
The more I learned about drones, the more clear it became that these weapons could make “cheap and easy” and thereby more palatable to Americans.  This is a dangerous new direction in warfare with profound moral as well as political implications.  
I brought up this concern with the Peace Committee of Orange Grove Meeting and we came to unity about bringing it to business meeting. Orange Grove Friends approved a minute and sent it to Quarterly for approval.
By this time, I was becoming aware that FCNL and AFSC had both taking on the anti-drone concern. It seemed as if this is an issue was becoming increasingly important to Friends and therefore our support for this minute would be helpful.
I hope this explanation helps Friends better understand the seasoning process for minutes that are presented at Yearly Meeting.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

Light a Candle for Peace in Syria

Beginning Sunday, September 8,  hundreds, perhaps thousands, and maybe even millions of people, will light a candle at 8:00 PM and let the whole world know we want peace for the people of Syria. We will continue to light candles throughout the week as Congress deliberates.
Place your candle in your window so your neighbors can see it. As you light your candle, send loving thoughts or pray for the people of Syria. If you have Syrian friends or neighbors, tell them you are praying for peace.
Invite your friends, family members, and neighbors to do likewise.
Imagine millions of households around the country, and the world, praying for peace in Syria and throughout the Middle East!
There are of course many other things that you can do in addition to lighting a candle.
  • Attend a peace vigil.
  • Call your Congressional Representative. (Many are still undecided.)
  • Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.
Here are some links to sites that can help you contact our elected officials:


This is an historic moment in which we can make a difference and show there is a better way--a nonviolent way--to end conflict and bring peace to this troubled region.
  • Let's bring all parties (including the Russians and Iranians) to the negotiating table. President Obama has said there is no military solution, only a political solution, to this conflict.
  • If war crimes have been committed, let the matter come before the international court of justice.
  • Provide humanitarian assistance, including gas masks, to the people of this region.
See also:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Why what we say, or don't say, at Yearly Meeting matters

During the recent Pacific Yearly Meeting Plenary a weighty Friend shared his belief that minutes of social concern approved by the Yearly Meeting are not effective.  He dismissed them as mere “pronouncements.” He suggested that they carry no weight unless every member of the Yearly Meeting is willing to do something to advance this concern. This comment almost led Friends not to consider a minute opposing drones that was seasoned and approved by Orange Grove Monthly Meeting, Southern California Quarterly Meeting, and submitted by the Peace and Social Order Committee of PYM.

Because this belief is becoming more widespread among Pacific YM Friends, I’d like to give this novel idea some serious consideration.
First, it needs to be noted that this view is a radical departure from Quaker faith and practice for the past 350 years. Since the days of George Fox, Friends have issued minutes of concern at the Yearly Meeting level, and they have done so regardless of whether such statements had any guarantee of effectiveness.
The test for Quakers has always been faithfulness to the Spirit, not political effectiveness.
Quakers were not unaware of political context, of course. When Margaret Fell and other Friends composed the “Peace Testimony” statement in 1660, they hoped it would persuade the new King that Friends were not violent subversives like the Fifth Monarchists. But they also felt the need to make their convictions clear. They were being faithful to the Spirit AND they hoped their statement would help prevent the persecution of Friends. 
In today’s world, statements are made by religious groups for similar reasons: to express a religious conviction with the hope that they will reach the conscience of those in power. It is generally agreed that elected officials pay more attention to letters and statements by representative groups than by individuals. That’s why the National Religious Campaign against Torture solicited endorsements of religious organizations and leaders for its leader to Governor Brown.
In considering the effectiveness of a minute, it is important to consider the context and timing. A minute becomes more effective when it supports the work of an organization committed to that cause. For example, a minute opposing drones supports the ant-drone work that is being undertaken by AFSC and FCNL (as well as many other groups).  Organizations feel more confident in lobbying for policies when a constituent Quaker body affirms its support through a minute of concern.
Last but not least, I think we should look on minutes not simply as a secular statement, but as a movement of the Spirit. An authentic minute arises from a deeply felt concern by an individual, or a group of individuals, who feels distressed by some injustice or suffering in the world. If we regard a minute of concern not simply as a secular statement, but as a spiritual commitment, it can be seen as a form of prayer. We are lifting up our concern not only to our elected officials, but to God. I am convinced that if we understand minutes of concern in this way, they can be empowering.  I know this to be true both from Scripture and experience. The Bible frequently asserts (and demonstrates) that the prayer of a righteous/just person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).  I know from personal experience that when people pray for me, or for a concern I am carrying, I feel energized and empowered.
When Laura Magnani came to our Yearly Meeting and asked us to endorse a letter to the Governor, I think we were being called to do more than simply sign a political statement. We were being challenged to be faithful to a minute we had endorsed two years ago, expressing our opposition to long-term solitary confinement. And we were being invited to hold her and this concern in the Light—to surround her and her work with our loving thoughts.
We didn’t do this for various reasons. And our failure to do so was more than just a missed opportunity.
When we are asked to speak out on behalf of justice and peace, and we refuse to do so, we are also making a statement. Speaking of the refusal by many religious leaders to speak out against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King said: “Silence is complicity.”
If a Yearly Meeting were to decide not to consider minutes of social concern, such a decision would be a profound statement. It would be a repudiation of 350 years of Quaker history—a renunciation of the prophetic impulse that inspired Quakerism.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What can we do to oppose the evils of empire: war in Syria, and torture in our prisons?

"The world needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope and of peace," --Pope Francis, speaking about the war in Syria. 

As summer winds to a close and the fall begins, my heart is torn. First, I feel hope and joy when I contemplate the legacy of Martin Luther King, a beacon of light that grows brighter each year. He showed us the beautiful power of nonviolence, and he had the courage and faith to carry this method to its logical conclusion--calling for an end to war and poverty. His spirit still lives on, as we saw in the recent celebration in Washington, DC, and in movies like "The Butler."

But another spirit is abroad in America--a dark and malignant spirit. The spirit of redemptive violence, empire and punitive justice.  

We see this vengeful spirit in our criminal justice system--the "New Jim Crow" and the struggles of our inmates who are fasting for justice and humane treatment. We hear the demonic drumbeats of war pounding furiously once again in Washington, DC--echoes of the run up to the disastrous Iraq war.

President Obama insists that President Assad used chemical weapons and "crossed a red line," violating international law, and therefore his regime must be punished with limited air strikes. Obama expresses concern that if we don't bomb Syria, America's "credibility" will be jeopardized. The President doesn't pretend that such punitive strikes would save lives, shorten the war, and accomplish anything except "send a message" that the use of chemical weapons will be met by retaliation from the world's "lone sheriff." Republicans like John McCain and Lindsay Graham differ from Obama only in wanting more than simply a punitive strike: they want him to launch a full-boar campaign to oust Assad. 

This sounds like Iraq revisited and we all know how that movie turned out, which is why 90% of Americans don't want a rerun of that war. Hundreds of thousands dead, millions of terrified Iraqis displaced, and a country in ruins, with 800 people killed in August. A staggering number when you consider that Iraq is a tenth of the size of the US. How would we feel if 8,000 Americans were killed in violent attacks each month? The situation in Afghanistan is not much better.

Unlike Iraq, we don't even have a shred of authorization from the UN to justify attacking Syria. We don't have the support even of a close ally like Britain. Most of the world doesn't believe we have the moral authority to make the grandiose claim we are interested in the welfare of the Syrian people. But for Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the opinion of the world doesn't matter. Nor does he feel he needs authorization from Congress. His aids tell us he plans to launch a strike even if Congress votes against him.

If this happens, it would mean the US is even less of a democracy than Britain, where Parliament was able to put a stop to Prime Minister Cameron's desire to attack Syria. Cameron felt that he had to bow to the will of Parliament, and of the British people. King Obama seems to feel no such compunction.

In the face of such hubris, what can we do?

First, I think we need to fast and pray on Saturday, Sept 7, as the Pope recommends (see below). What we are witnessing in our country is not simply bad policy, but "spiritual wickedness" (to use a term that Rev Lawson is fond of). During the Vietnam era, Senator Fulbright called this "the arrogance of power." Because the US has the military means to inflict dire consequences upon those who oppose our will, we feel we have the right to do so.

This monumental hubris would make me feel hopeless if it weren't for the legacy of Martin Luther King. He claimed "the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice." He showed us that if we persist and are faithful, we can overcome even entrenched evils like racism and Jim Crow.

I believe there is a "force more powerful"--the power of love in action. That's what the peace movement and our Quaker Peace Testimony is about.

Moved by a motion of love,  I am calling on Friends and others to work together and commit ourselves to take whatever action feels right:

1)    Call or email your elected officials, using FCNL makes it easy to write letters to the editor of local papers. FNCL has produced excellent material explaining why diplomacy, humanitarian aid and negotiations are preferable to punitive military action.

2)    Fast for peace in Syria on Saturday, Sept 7, as Pope Francis recommends (see below)

3)    Encourage your friends and neighbors to do likewise.

4)    Veterans for peace has produced an excellent 11-point explanation of why military intervention in Syria is not a good idea. See
5) Remember the hunger strikers in Guantanamo and in our prison system here in California. Go to the FCL-CA website and write to Governor Brown, and to elected officials. One hopeful sign is that that State Senator Loni Hancock is calling for hearings on the hunger strikers and conditions in California's prisons. After the deafening silence of Gov Brown, this is good news. See You can also express your support by writing a letter to the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. That's something we did at ICUJP and the responses we received from inmates were amazing: courageous, articulate, and faithful calls to justice by men living in subhuman conditions. See

Pope Announces Day of Fasting for Peace for Syria

VATICAN CITY September 1, 2013 (AP)

By FRANCES D'EMILIO Associated Press

Pope Francis on Sunday condemned the use of chemical weapons, but he called for a negotiated settlement of the civil war in Syria, and announced he would lead a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace there on Sept. 7.
Francis abandoned the traditional religious theme of the weekly papal appearance to crowds in St. Peter's Square and instead spoke entirely, and with anguish, about Syria.
"My heart is deeply wounded by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments" on the horizon, Francis said, in an apparent reference to the U.S. and France considering a military strike to punish the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack.
Francis reiterated previous appeals for all sides in the civil war to put down their arms and "listen to the voice of their conscience and with courage take up the way of negotiations."
With tens of thousands of people in the square applauding his words, Francis delivered his strongest remarks yet to express his horror at the use of chemical weapons.
"With utmost firmness, I condemn the use of chemical weapons. I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart," the pope said, in an apparent reference to photos and TV images of victims of chemical weapons in Syria.
"There is the judgment of God, and also the judgment of history, upon our actions," he said, "from which there is no escaping."
Usually soft-spoken, Francis raised his voice as he declared, "War brings on war! Violence brings on violence.
His admonishment against resorting to arms as a solution recalled the repeated emotional implorations a decade ago by the late Pope John Paul II in a vain attempt to persuade the U.S. administration then led by President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq.
The deteriorating drama of Syria inspired Francis to set aside Sept. 7 as a day of fasting and prayer for Syria.
Francis invited Catholics, other Christians, those of other faiths and non-believers who are "men of good will" to join him that evening in St. Peter's Square to invoke the "gift" of peace for Syria, the rest of the Middle East and worldwide where there is conflict
"The world needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope and of peace," Francis said.
He said the prayer vigil in the square will last from 7 p.m. until midnight.