Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lobbying with Quakers and my interfaith friends



This month I haven't had time to blog since I've been busy lobbying with Quakers and my interfaith friends.  On Nov 14-17 I went to Washington, DC,  to take part in Quaker lobby day, sponsored by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (fcnl.org), the oldest religious lobby in DC (founded in 1942). Over 250 Quakers from 32 states descended like a flock of doves on the offices of dozens of elected officials calling for a trillion dollar cut in the Pentagon budget, and no cuts to social programs. It was awesome experience---deeply spiritual as well as politically effective. I recommend going to fcnl.org  if you want to write your elected officials on key peace and justice issues.

Haroon, Anthony, Simon Simonian, Steve Rohde, Betsy Hailey, Molly O'Brien, Carolfrances Liken, Carolyn Wilkins, Frank Wulf and Andy Griggs
Upon my return to LA I went with a group from ICUJP to the office of Senator Feinstein, where we met with Molly O'Brien, one her aides (see picture above). We addressed a number of issues: the need for transparency in government, our concern about NSA spying, the Pacific Trade Partnership, Guantanamo, drones, torture, etc.  We shared personal stories as well as our spiritual and moral values from our various religious traditions.

Molly was very receptive.This was a good follow up on our previous visit. I feel we are creating a good relationship with aides in this office, which is essential for effective lobbying.
 
I'm very excited about FCNL's campaign to  "end endless war" by repealing the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that gives the President authority to engage in war anywhere in the world to combat "terrorism." Rep. Adam Schiff is leading efforts to repeal AUMF--an important step towards ending the misguided "war on terror."
 
What impresses me about FCNL is not only its political savvy, but also its spiritual commitment. We had times of worship and worship sharing that made me feel deeply connected to God and to Friends.

I was especially impressed by Noah Baker Merrill, a Young Friend who just became the general secretary of New England YM.  I first heard Noah speak at the World Conference of Friends in Kenya, where he gave a powerful prophetic message based on the story of Elijah.

This time he shared about how Moses went up to mountaintop to  bring back God's word for his people. God responded by inscribing the ten commandments with his own finger onto tablets of stone. But the people were impatient and couldn't wait for God's message; they created their own god, a golden calf. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw what his people had done, he was so angry he smashed the stone tablets to pieces! His people repented, so Moses went back up the mountain to get another message. Noah said he always assumed that God simply repeated what he had done before and inscribed the commandments once again with his own finger. But actually God did something quite different. He dictated the commandments to Moses and Moses had to carve out the message himself.

Noah applied this to what we have been doing at FCNL when we worked on our policy statement, seeking guidance from the holy spirit. God did not write FNCL's policies with God's own finger, but Spirit empowered us to write, as best as we can, the kind of laws/policies that we felt are consistent with God's will.

Noah went on to speak passionately about the Quaker "movement" (he doesn't use the word "Quakerism,"  since that implies an ideology; Noah feels very strongly, as I do, that we are a God-inspired movement.) He spoke about young Friends and need to create an inclusive community. He laid out some of his visions for 21st century Quakerism.
 
But what was most powerful and memorable for me was his story about hope. Not a na├»ve hope, but a hope grounded in the cross. He spoke of going to Iraq and ministering to Iraqis and how painful that was, how it led him almost to brink of despair. At one point, he was among Iraqi Christians who had been tortured--one of them in the presence of American CIA. His tormentors used electric screwdrivers and pinned him to a wall and crucified him--this is horrible, I know, but what comes next is the hopeful part. While being tortured, this Iraqi had a vision of Jesus--Jesus came and joined him on his cross--and he felt unspeakably peace despite his pain. As the Iraqi told this story to Noah, he smiled and Noah was blown away. This is the kind of faith that brings hope in spite of the grim realities of the 21st century.
 
As Noah shared his testimony, I felt the presence of Jesus and was led to share this during the time of open worship:
 
"Many years ago a young man stood up in his home meeting and shared this message: "The Lord is upon me and I have been chosen to preach good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to the captives, and the acceptable year of the Lord. This prophesy has been fulfilled in your hearing." I feel that these words have been fulfilled here today. I am glad we appreciate the words of the prophets among us. They are not always appreciated in their home meetings. But I am going home feeling empowered and strengthened by what we have heard and done together. Thank God for FCNL!"
 
Speaking of having visions of Jesus, I was astonished during Saturday night's meeting for worship when Dorsey Green, a Friend from Seattle I thought I knew quite well, spoke about having visions of Jesus--seeing him at business meeting and other worshipful gatherings. She spoke with such passion and honesty--she admitted it sounded weird--that had no doubt she was sincere., She isn't a "kook"--she served as clerk of FCNL and also of her YM--and is highly respected. Afterwards, I hugged her and thanked her and said I felt closer to her for sharing her experience with Jesus and she replied: "It was easier for me to come out as a Lesbian than to tell Friends visions of Jesus!"
 
I am beginning to see that one reason I'm feeling so at home among FCLN Friends is that you can speak openly about Jesus as well as about God's prophetic message of justice for the poor and healing for planet. This is good news indeed!

 

Eric Moon, Mary Lou Hatcher, Inez Steigerwald, Tim Root, Karen Putney, Sandy Robson, Frank Massey (members of the FNCL nominating committee)