Thursday, March 24, 2016
Monday, March 21, 2016
Thursday, March 17, 2016
You have devised a shameful thing for your house by cutting off many peoples; so you are sinning against yourself. Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, And the rafter will answer it from the framework. "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed And founds a town with violence!"… (Habakuk 2:10-12)
Jesus saw that violence was endemic in the city of Jerusalem--Romans imposing their rule through violence, and Jews violently resisting Roman hegemony. Jesus understood that violence is not the answer. "Those who live by the sword perish by the sword," he told his disciples when they to used violence to try to rescue him. Jesus came to rescue Jerusalem and all humanity through the power of nonviolence, the power of self-sacrificial love.
This Gospel was written down after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Zealous Jews had driven out the Roman army using violent means, and the Romans had responded with utterly brutal retaliation. They razed the Temple to the ground, used its gold to build the Coloseum, and drove the Jews into exile, much as Jesus had predicted.
No doubt many Jews wondered: What was God doing when our City was ravaged by the Romans? Why did he destroy us?
Jesus provided an answer. God wept. And then God took action. He sent His son, His anointed one, to show "the ways that lead to peace."
This story reminded me of a time when my seven-year-old nephew asked me what God looked like. My sister is not a church goer and my nephew had not been to Sunday school, but he was a curious boy with a questioning mind. I didn't give him an answer, but told him that when we went to the Metropolitan Museum, I would show him how artists have portrayed God. When we went to the museum, he avidly studied the icons in the Medieval section but said very little. Afterwards, we went to a Chinese restaurant where crayons and paper were provided for children. My nephew decided to draw his image of God.
What my nephew drew was amazing: Jesus on the cross, with two thieves on crosses next to him. In the sky was a picture of God's bearded face, and tears were pouring from his eyes.
That picture was etched in my mind. God weeping over this horrendous scene, his tears falling like rain.
But God and Jesus did not simply weep. They also took action. After his tears dried, Jesus boldly went into Jerusalem. Filled with righteous rage, he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and spoke truth to power. He resisted oppression through nonviolence, and let himself be arrested and punished, even to death. He set an example for us of what it means to be a nonviolent liberator.
God also took action. He didn't allow Jesus, his beloved, to rot in a grave. God raised Jesus from the dead, to the amazement of his grieving followers. Through the power of a love that cannot be killed, the resurrected Christ started a movement that transformed the world.
The tears of God and of Jesus became a river of love and justice, flowing like a mighty stream throughout the course of history. This is the message of Palm Sunday. May we enter that prophetic stream and follow the ways that lead to justice and peace!
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Jill and I also joked about our encounter with Bert Newton, founder and organizer of the Palm Sunday Peace Parade. We invited him to take part in our wedding since it would never have occurred without him. We also told him he could use us to advertise this annual Palm Sunday event:
"Maybe you should let singles know that this parade can be a great place to hook up, and meet someone special...."
I am excited that this year's Peace Parade will focus on Immigrants and Refugees. As the child of an undocumented Greek immigrant, I feel the pain of those who are fleeing the violence in their homelands and seek a safe haven here in the USA. I feel we have a moral responsibility to welcome them since the violence in the Middle East and Central America has been caused in great part by our benighted foreign policies. We also have a biblical mandate to welcome them since we are told by God 34 times: "Treat the foreigners among you like your native born, for your ancestors were once foreigners."
This family-friendly peace witness and public worship event begins at 3:00 pm with a short sending ceremony at Reformation Church (see below) and proceeds to the intersection of Garfield and Colorado for music and brief words of wisdom and inspiration. Participants are encouraged to wear life vests, carry posters, and bring children’s wagons made up to look like boats. Children can ride in the wagon-boats along the parade route, carrying banners and stories of refugees throughout history—including Jesus, who, decades before riding into Jerusalem, found refuge in Egypt from the terror of a tyrant.
Hope to see you there, waving palm branches and peace signs!
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Once a year, Quaker Meetings are asked to write “state of the meeting reports,” a practice that Minneapolis Friends describe as follows:
State of Society Reports are a long-standing Quaker custom. They are annual reports written by a monthly meeting (a local congregation) to the yearly meeting (regional group) with which it is affiliated, describing the condition of the monthly meeting — its strengths, challenges, spiritual health; responding to posed queries, offering statistics and practical information
This year, our Quarterly Meeting Ministry and Council Committee requested that monthly meetings submit state of the meeting reports that describe only the "spiritual state of the meeting." They don't want a "laundry list of activities.” While I can understand their dislike of laundry lists (please don’t tell me how many shirts you washed this year!), this request implies that the spiritual life can be separated from the active life.
When I heard this, red flags went up and my immediate response was: Why are we creating a false dichotomy between the spiritual and active life? Faith and practice are two sides of the same coin. If our lives are grounded in the Spirit of Love and Truth, then our actions will flow out of our prayer life and our faithful actions will deepen our prayer life. In other words, the more we are truly faithful to Divine will, the more we will experience (and rejoice in) the Divine Presence.
When we focus only on the inward life, and on our subjective feelings, we run the risk of becoming spiritually narcissistic. This is sometimes called “navel gazing.” When we focus only on activism, we can lose our connection with Divine Love and can become compulsive. Neither approach brings deep joy and peace.
Separating the active and spiritual life is counter to both Christianity and Quakerism. In an epistle that was very popular among early Friends, James says, “Faith without works is dead” and adds that “real religion is about helping the widows and orphans, and staying unspotted by the world” (James 2:14-26). This parallels what Jesus says, “By their fruits you will know them (Matt 17: 6)”
Echoing this sentiment, William Penn wrote: “True godliness [a 17th century term we could translated as “spirituality”] does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.”
Howard Brinton and Rufus Jones championed the idea that Quakerism is a mystical religion and that our unprogrammed Meeting for Worship is the heart of our Quaker practice, yet they were also deeply involved in activism, wholeheartedly supporting the American Friends Service Committee and similar endeavors. Brinton gave the best definition I know of “inner peace”: he said it was listening to the Inward Guide and doing what it dictated. This means putting our faith into practice.
I am pleased to report that the Peace and Social Concerns (PSC) Committee in our Meeting is thriving by putting our faith into practice. I thank God for this Committee since some Meetings are laying down their Peace Committees due to lack of enthusiasm or interest. I believe that a thriving Peace Committee is a sign of spiritual health in a Meeting since the most distinctive feature of Quakerism is our Peace Testimony.
How do I know that PSC Committee is thriving? First, we have a good turnout: eight to ten Friends show up each month. Second, those who attend feel happy and hopeful (unlike some other committees, where members complain of burnout). Third, we are doing good work. I’d like to list what has been deleted from our state of the meeting report.
PSO distributed $11,000 to worthy local causes, and also supports our Quaker organizations like FNCL, FCL-CA, AFSC, etc. Two members of PSC went to FCNL Lobby Day. Two minutes of action seasoned by PSC were approved by business meeting--one calling for the US to welcome Syrian refugees and another in support of the "Facing Climate Change" minute approved by Pacific Yearly Meeting. In response to this minute, Property Committee has decided to take part in Pasadena's Green Power program, which allows customers to purchase 100% renewable energy at a slightly higher cost. PSC is also helping the Meeting to discern priorities for FCNL.
Having accomplished these things, with Divine Assistance and the support of our Meeting, it is no wonder that the Peace Committee is happy and enthusiastic (a word that literally means “filled with God”). When we work in harmony with each other and with the Divine, we experience what Paul calls the "fruit of the Spirit: joy, peace, love, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). It is significant that “joy” is listed first.
I hope and pray that all the Friends in our Meeting, as well as all people seeking to live in accordance with Divine Goodness, experience the joy that comes from putting faith into practice.
Friday, March 4, 2016
How do we rekindle the fire and spirit of the Peace Testimony in our Friends Meetings, our communities and our nation? Pacific Yeary Meeting Peace Committee Report:
David Brietzmann (San Francisco Meeting) and Linnea Hanson (Chico Meeting) are surveying Friends Meetings of Pacific Yearly Meeting to find out how meetings are serving and helping their communities. Your input would be greatly appreciated. Orange Grove Meeting approved a minute, based on a statement by FNCL, calling on our elected officials to allow at least 10,000 Syrian refugees, along with other refugees (including those from Latin America), to find a safe haven in our country. We are wondering: what other minutes have been approved in other Monthly Meetings? What are Meetings doing to promote peace and justice?
- How are Friends Meetings Serving and Helping Communities? David Brietzmann (San Francisco Meeting) and Linnea Hanson (Chico Meeting) are surveying Friends Meetings of Pacific Yearly Meeting to find out how meetings are serving and helping their communities. Their interest group will highlight some of the different ways that meetings are providing service. They would like to develop a spreadsheet that can be posted on the Western Friend website for all Friends to use to post their service activities.
- The 2016 FWCC World Plenary in Peru and its minute on sustainability. Presentations by PYM Friends who took part in this world-wide Quaker gathering, which unanimously agreed on a sustainability minute calling for specific actions by individuals and meetings. What does this minute, and the work of FWCC, mean for the Society of Friends? Led Anthony Manousos (Orange Grove Meeting), Jan Turner (Humboldt Meeting), Hulda Muaka (Palo Alto), Janet Leslie (Chico) and Roena Oesting (La Jolla).
- An AFSC presentation by "67 Suenos," an organization of high school in the Oakland area that raises the voices of undocumented high school students. See http://afsc.org/video/67-sue%C3%B1os-introduction
- Waging Peace: How do we rekindle the fire and spirit of the Peace Testimony in our Friends Meetings, our communities and our nation? When the US is bombing seven Muslim nations, when the US and Russia are threatening nuclear war, the time is NOW when we must Speak Truth to Power with our words, our actions and our lives. Facilitated by David Hartsough (San Francisco Meeting) and Anthony Manousos (Orange Grove Meeting)/
- Quaker Involvement in Government. FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) and FCL-CA (Friends Committee on Legislation—California) lobby to influence elected officials at the federal and state levels and often make ballot recommendations for us. I propose an interest group which focuses on and trains us to influence our local governments, especially our school boards. Friends should also campaign for like-minded candidate and/or run for office. Led by Janet Gastil (San Diego Meeting).
- Friends Peace Teams works for peace in many parts of the world. San Diego Meeting just gave FPT Peace in Latin America a grant to help with its work. FPT Asia West Pacific is establishing a Peace Center in Pati, Indonesia, where people from Asia West Pacific come to a yearly conference to learn about AVP and peaceful development. The African Great Lakes Initiative is working to hold together the peace in Burundi which is unstable because the President wants an unconstitutional 3rd term. Led by Gay Howard (Central Coast).