Monday, June 5, 2017

Love Letter to Santa Monica Friends

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I have felt "a motion of love" to travel in the ministry as clerk of Pacific Yearly Meeting's Peace and Social Order Committee and visit various meetings to see how our Quaker Peace Testimony is faring. Instead of a report, I feel moved to write love letters. I have reported not only what I observed and experienced but also provided some background about the dear Friends who have meant so much to my life.

Dear Santa Monica Friends,

I don't need to tell you how much I love you and Santa Monica Meeting. I know you feel my love and I feel yours as well. During a very difficult time of my life, when my wife Kathleen and I went on a cancer journey together, you were there for me in heart-felt and beautiful ways I will never forget. I cherish memories of my years serving your Meeting as clerk of the Peace and Social Action Committee, as well as Pastoral Care. You were the first meeting I attended nearly 30 years ago when I came to California to marry Kathleen. I loved you then and have loved you ever since.

I visited your Meeting on May 27, the first day of Ramadan, and as usual you welcomed me with open arms and hearts.

Mural at Santa Monica Meeting, where a
minute on Income Inequality was recently
The worship was deep and all the messages touched my heart, not only because of what was said, but also because the  Friends who spoke were mostly old Friends and I could hear where the words were coming from: Beautiful souls that I deeply love.

The first message was from my dear friend Elizabeth Cocca, a woman in her late seventies who wears flamboyant colors and looks like an ageless hippie. I know her well because I served on her clearness committee when she applied for membership in Santa Monica Meeting. She is always upbeat and cheerful, in part because she went on a cancer journey thirty years ago and believes she beat the cancer through the power of positive thinking. She's also very creative and loves to draw and write poetry and create quirky dramas. Most memorable for me was her re-writing of the play "Hamlet" so that all the characters reconciled and lived happily ever after. She presented it at one of our Quaker gatherings, and I smile just thinking about how crazy and audacious and delightful her tragicomedy was. Pure Elizabeth Cocca!

During this meeting for worship her message was about a project she has started called a "Youniversity" to promote inner peace. Apparently, several hundred people have signed up for it. Bubbling with enthusiasm, she was thrilled to share this good news with us.

After a time of silence in which we had time to center down, Henry Yang rose and gave a quiet and thoughtful message. A father with two kids heading off to college, Henry is an oncologist who also earned a seminary degree. He choose to work in Harbor General because he prefers low-income patients--a career decision I deeply respect. When my wife and I went on our cancer journey, he invited us to dinner at his home in Palos Verde and helped us with wise and comforting words. We really appreciated his friendship and support during this hard time.

Henry's message was simple but profound. He spoke very slowly and deliberately, as I imagine a Chinese sage would speak, and this is the gist of what he said:

"As I drove here for meeting for worship this morning, I began to ponder the question: what do we mean by worship? What are we really doing? Then the answer came to me. We are celebrating the goodness of life. As I get older, I realize more and more how important it is to celebrate the goodness of life."

After this message, there was a deep, gathered silence as we reflected on the wisdom behind these words.

The next to speak was my dear friend Stan Searl, an academic with the heart of a poet, a heart of pure gold, whose temperament is the opposite of Henry's. Full of energy and enthusiasm, he speaks rapidly and with gusto. He talked about the Quaker devotional writer Tom Kelley and even read a passage from the Testament of Devotion. Reading is a "no-no" for unprogrammed and he'd probably be eldered/criticized for it in my Meeting, but as Stan would say cheerfully, "Who cares?" He read a beautiful passage, raved about it, and the whole room seemed to fill with light. It felt as if we were definitely celebrating the goodness of life!

After another long period of silence, Gail Thomas spoke. She recently moved to Santa Monica to be close to her grown up daughter, and has a background in education, especially Quaker education. She is also organizing the George Lakey workshop at her Meeting. A warm-hearted person I'm just beginning to know as a Friend, she spoke very simply to this effect:

"With so much craziness in the news, and so much suffering in the world, I can get pretty depressed. But when I come here and center down in worship, I feel peace and joy."

"Peace and joy." I resonated with these simple, beautiful words. I felt as if we were once again celebrating life's goodness.

Others spoke, including a homeless woman, but I didn't feel led to share a message. There was no need. I felt spiritually nourished by the messages of others, and by the deep, gathered silence. But during a time when we got to share joys and concerns, I rose to share my joy. As soon as I stood up, a dear friend named Debbie who hadn't noticed I was present loudly shouted out my name and everyone laughed. Debbie is a good-hearted soul who doesn't have the filters that many of us possess: she blurts out what's in her heart and mind. It's something about Debbie I totally love.

Once the laughter subsided, I spoke about attending the Ramadan celebration at Barnsdall Park two nights before, on the eve of Ramadan. I talked about what a joy it was to see young Jews and Muslims so friendly with each other, and how I am looking forward to celebrating the Jewish-Muslim Community Iftar at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. As I spoke, I felt totally connected with Spirit and with each loving soul in the room. What a joy it is to be among Friends!

After rise of Meeting, I spent my time fellowshiping  and had an especially meaningful conversation with Stan, who was the best man at my wedding to Jill. For this occasion he wrote a visionary poem about my leaving the Westside to go to Pasadena that blew my mind. In this poem he imagined a red-tailed hawk leading Jill and me through the Arroyo to Pasadena. What makes this image so mind-blowing is that the red-tailed hawk was Jill's father's favorite animal. When he died, two red-tailed hawks circled over the memorial service in the cemetery. How did Stan come up with this image unless he was inspired by the Spirit?

I talked to Stan about my idea of writing short dramatic skits about notable Quakers to use in adult study. He loved the idea, and I suggested he would make an excellent Tom Kelley. He laughed and agreed.

After our time of fellowship, I attended a meeting of the Peace and Social Action Committee and was deeply impressed. Having been clerk of Santa Monica's PSA Committee for many years, it was gratifying to see it so thriving under Curits Raynor's excellent clerkship, with assistance from Brian Johnson, a physician who cares for the poor. (Curtis teaches ESL and his son was in my Quaker youth group many years ago.)

I was also pleased that the PSA Committee invited me to come back in September to give an adult study on how to use the FCNL and FCL-CA websites to contact our elected officials. I am eagerly looking forward to returning at that date and also three weeks from now when Santa Monica Friends host the George Lakey workshop on Income Equality and his book Viking Economics.

The main topic of this PSA meeting was whether or not Santa Monica should sign on to a statement called Facing the Challenge of Climate that was signed in 2015 by Pacific Yearly Meeting and numerous other Yearly and Monthly Meetings. Santa Monica has a commitment to sustainability, having installed solar panels and a "light scoop" over ten years ago, so there was not much question about supporting this minute. I was a little surprised that it has taken two years to consider this statement, but our Quaker process is often very slow. The only question was if the Meeting wanted to undertake two further actions in the next year in order to demonstrate its commitment to living sustainably.

This discussion confirmed for me that PYM's Ministry and Oversight's statement that "minutes of concern have not led to any action" is not accurate, since both my Meeting and Santa Monica Meeting have considered its minute of concern and are taking action. What is also clear is that change often comes very slowly. And we often need to be "on the ground" to observe it.

PSA Committee also considered how to publicize and promote the George Lakey talk. I was glad to be part of this discussion and offered to set up a Facebook event page, among other things.

Immigration was another topic that came up for discussion, inspired by the workshop led by Pedro Rios at Orange Grove a couple of weeks ago. Santa Monica Friends are exploring how to be more supportive of our undocumented neighbors. I shared with them some of the action items we listed during that workshop.

I am very happy to see the Peace and Social Action Committee thriving. It was a real joy to be part of this meeting and I look forward to my next "motion of love."

Yours in friendship and peace,


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