Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Report from Brigadoon....

At Walker Creek Ranch, a 1700-acre educational/retreat center near Petaluma in Marin County, around 330 Quakers have gathered this week for worship and business. Our mornings are spent in Bible study, worship, and worship sharing. "Meetings for worship on the occasion of business” were held in the afternoon. In the evenings there were discussion groups as well as opportunities for sing-a-longs, dancing, and other fun activities.

This is the first YM I’ve attended since my wife passed away. Last year I had to miss PYM for the first time in twenty years because of our cancer diagnosis. On Monday when I showed up at Walker Creek Ranch, I was warmly welcomed by Friends, many of whom knew my story and were surprised/pleased to see me. Throughout the week I have felt an outpouring of love and support from many Friends and am grateful to have PYM as my spiritual family.

I became a magnet for Friends who have had close encounters with mortality. I feel as if I have entered a new community, the society of “those who grieve” and are seeking to be blessed and comforted.

One Friend who is a Lesbian tearfully told me how her baby died several hours after birth, and what a devastating experience this had been for her spiritually and emotionally. A woman shared how her husband died of cancer six months after their wedding, and how painful it was to lose someone during the honeymoon period of their relationship. Another woman told of how agonizing it was to lose her husband after 30 years of marriage and how it utterly transformed her life. A gay man told me of the pain he felt when his lover died in 1985—a time when the AIDs epidemic in San Francisco killed thousands of people—including nearly 300 friends of his friends who died within a couple of years during this time of plague. A mother wept fresh tears recalling the death of her seven-year daughter four years ago due to leukemia. A woman in her fifties confessed that her boyfriend died in a boating accident thirty years ago when she was a college student and she suspected he may have committed suicide. She not only grieves his loss, but also feels responsible because that weekend she refused to go out with him because she needed some space in which to do her school work. As people shared their sorrows, and I listened as compassionately as I could, I realized how much grief people carry and how much they yearn for a blessing. Led to do what I could to help, I organized a “bereavement group” which met last night. Four people showed up and shared their experiences.

We ended our precious time of sharing with a time of prayer and a song (“Thank you for this healing day”). I also led them in a quick laughter yoga exercise. We parted feeling relieved and light-hearted.

After this encounter, I thought of the phrase that Handel’s Messiah uses to describe Jesus: “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” I like the phrase “acquainted with grief.” It implies that somehow we can befriend our grief and become intimate with these painful feelings. By doing so, we can experience a deeper communion and friendship with others.

The main issue addressed during this YM session was whether to hire a full-time youth coordinator. The young people of this YM feel it is important to have such a person to provide a high quality youth program. They worked hard to prepare a 120-page report addressing the concerns of adults regarding cost, safety, program content, goals, etc. Friends listened to a summary of the report, asked questions, made observations, and nearly came to unity in approving this proposal. One Friend strongly objected, however, and the final decision is being held over until Friday.

We also heard about the financial crisis that the American Friends Service Committee is undergoing. Like many nonprofits, the AFSC has suffered a great deal due to the meltdown of our economy. Because 30% of its income comes from bequests, and because donors have drastically cut back on their giving, AFSC is reducing its program budget by 50%. Shan Cretin and Laura Magnani, directors of the AFSC regional offices in the West, talked about how this cutback will affect their programs and movingly pleaded for the support of Friends.

Shan is shown here with a guitar she just made, and is very pleased with.

We heard a fascinating report from Rolene Walker, who has been walking from Tijuana to Santiago, Chile, sharing a message of environmentalism with Latin Americans. She found that many Latin Americans are more ecologically conscious than North Americans. Joe Morris (with whom I stayed in Morro Bay) gave a thoughtful report about the state of environmental concerns among Friends and urged us to follow the example of Elijah and listen to the "still, small voice" of God amidst the earthquakers, droughts, and storms of our current ecological crisis.

The Peace and Social Action Committee, of which I am a member, presented minutes on Afghanistan and health care. Friends quickly approved the minute opposing expansion of the war in Afghanistan (how could we not do so?), but we could not come to unity about the wording of the health care minute. This minute was held over until a later meeting. Last night we had a lively discussion of health care reform in which twenty friends took part, and a newly worded minute emerged.

I have had many meaningful discussions with Friends over the past few days, and I feel I am connecting with them in a new and deeper way in part because of the cancer journey I have undergone. I feel as I am entering a new phase in my spiritual life: I am finally becoming an elder.

During our plenary session, I shared with Friends an intimate “secret” about my spiritual life. I explained that just as I used to tell my wife how much I loved her, and how much I loved hearing the words “I love you” from her, I also tell God “I love you” many times a day. As Mother Teresa once observed, we were created to love and be loved. By expressing this love openly and often, we strengthen our connection with the One who created and sustains us.

Another insight I shared: Trained to think scientifically, we may imagine that the best way to know something or someone is to be objective and detached. But it is difficult truly to “know” a person if we are indifferent to him or her. To “know” a person, we must be able to feel love and empathy—to be in relationship. True love—the kind of love that sees both the weakness and the gifts inherent in the other—is also a way of knowing the other. God, the ultimate knower/lover, both loves and knows us, warts and all.

Here at our Quaker gathering, we provide each other with many opportunities to deepen our knowledge and love for one another. Especially helpful are our worship sharing sessions, in which Friends reflect on open-ended questions about their spiritual life. We listen to each other’s reflections without commenting or arguing; we give each other the precious gift of listening from their heart to whatever is shared with us. This can be a powerful and liberating spiritual practice.

Over thirty Friends attend Steve Matchett’s 6:30 AM Bible study, which is conducted in worship sharing fashion. Steve (shown here with Kathy Hyzy, editor of "The Western Friend") is clerk of the Friends Bulletin board.

Equally well attended has been a series of early morning lectures by Brian Vura-Weis on important figures of Quakerism, such as William Penn, Rufus Jones, Joel and Hannah Bean (the founders of unprogrammed Western Quakerism) and Ken and Elise Boulding, 20th century Quaker peace activists.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this YM, in spite of the damp, foggy weather. When we arrived, Joe Franko, our clerk, compared Yearly Meeting to “Brigadoon” in part because it magically appears each year, and in part because of a bag piper who played in the background. Even more Scottish were the fogs that rolled over the hills and into our valley, bringing a chill to the bones and the need to huddle together for warmth, preferably over a cup of hot tea or coffee. I am glad that I brought my Northern Californian accoutrements—a thermal t-shirt, sweat shirt, clunky shoes, and an extra “blankie.”

Thank you, loving and gracious God, for giving me everything I need for my comfort and peace among these dearly beloved Friends.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The God who appears when God disappears...

Yesterday I went to Palo Alto Meeting where I heard an interesting talk about "trans-theism"--the latest hot topic among Friends. This particular word was coined by Paul Tillich, a theologian who had a big influence on me in grad school. I found esp. memorable the last line of his book "Courage to Be": "The courage is be is the courage to believe in the God who appears when God disappears in the anxiety of doubt."

The question raised by the British Quaker David Bolton (and other non-theist Friends) is: do you have to believe in God to be a Quaker? Why can't you be an atheist or non-theist or trans-theist as long as you ascribe to Quaker values, such as peace, simplicity, equality, community, etc.? Why don't we become the Ethical Society of Friends rather than the Religious Society of Friends?

The latest issue issue of "The Western Friend" contains articles by two Friends who see themselves as "non-theists." One regards himself as an existentialist/rationalist and believes that the Religious Society of Friends has no need of the mystical or transcendent; we simply need to be "good" Friends and live ethical lives. Another writer explains that he no longer believes in a personal God who created and sustains the universe. He feels that we can live the Quaker testimonies without believing that we are inspired or guided by a higher or transforming power.

For me, such an approach would dilute our religion and weaken its power. When Quakers come together in silent worship, we come together for a reason. We come together to experience the presence of the Divine--something greater than our individual egos. If we deny the reality of this experience, then the only source of authority becomes the ego.

(If we say that "Reason" or some other abstraction is our guide, then we are turning this into a transcendent value and that becomes our God, or "Ultimate Concern," as Tillich would say.)

One of the major problemes of modern life is that we make a god out of our own egos. This tendency is sometimes called "individualism"--the belief that the individual is the supreme authority.

Many Quakers (like many members of society as a whole) already suffer from individualism/ego-centrism. I consider myself a recovering ego-holic. Ego-holics feel that Quakerism means "doing and believing whatever we feel like doing and believing." This is not what I understand to be our Quaker faith and practice. What drew me to Quakerism was the recognition that I could not trust my ego to make wise decision. I had to go deeper and connect with my Inner Light--the Christ Spirit--in order to make wise choices and to live a life based on love and truth--a life that leads to fulfillment and true happiness. In the silence, I can look at my fears and desires and let go of their hold upon me. I can sense the presence of an inner wisdom that is greater than my conscious mind. The more I practice our Quaker form of worship, the easier it is for me to discern that deep wisdom in others as well as myself.

This is the basis for Quaker theology, not a creed or a set of traditional beliefs.

I believe that all of us have transcendent experiences, glimpses of the Divine, at some point in our lives. It may occur when contemplating the mystery and awesomeness of nature. It may happen when experiencing a liminal life experience--like witnessing or experiening the birth of a child, or caring for a loved one who is dying, or facing a life-threatening illness. At these moments, we realize that our limited egos are not enough. We feel ourselves reaching out to something vast and mysterious that is both within and beyond us.

We can dismiss such moments as subjective, or we can recognize them as glimpses of a reality that is greater than our conventional way of experiencing the world. Otto Rank calls this an experience of the "numinous."

I think children sense the numinous more readily than adults. That's why I enjoy the company of children like my nephew. He is very bright and rational, and at the same time open to the wonder and mystery of life.

Yesterday afternoon I had the delightful experience of taking Edward to the Rosicrucian museum, where there is an excellent collection of Egyptian artifacts. You can even go down into a reconstruction of an Egyptian tomb. This was one of Kathleen's favorite places, and I am glad I had a chance to share it with my nephew.

I spent last night at the home of Stephen Matchett, who is very active in AVP and clerks the board of "The Western Friend." It was good to catch up on his life and find out all the good things he is doing. We also had some time for an "opportunity"--which is what Quakers used to call a meeting for worship in a home or other setting apart from the Meetinghouse. It was very precious to spend time in prayer with Stephen and to connect with him at a deep spiritual level.

He has headed off to Yearly Meeting by bus and bike (he eschews the automobile since he feels it is not part of the Peaceable Kingdom). I plan to drive to Walker Creek by noon so that I can help with registration.

Thank you, God, for the wonder and joy of being alive!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Playdate with my Nephew

I spent this weekend on a "play date" with my seven-year-old nephew Edward. He was so excited about my coming to visit that he was talking about it for days. When I arrived, he was beside himself with excitement. Edward has such enthusiasm for everything he does and learns he doesn't know the meaning of the word "boredom."

My first job as uncle was to help Edward to put up a tent in his backyard. It was his first real tent and he loved every thing about it. He had a concern about rats and other critters (something he picked up from his mother), so I reassured him that he need not worry. Even bears won't bother you if you don't bother them. This is what uncles have been telling their nephews since Cro-Magnon times.

Once the tent was put up, I unpacked my camping equipment and we boiled water on my primus stove and made some mint tea and pretended we were camping out in the wilderness.

In the evening I sat around with Edward and his mom in the tent and told the funny scary campfire stories that are old, yet eternally new. We also ate some-mores, a childhood favorite with a modern twist. Being certifiably liberal, we used free traded, organic chocolate and gluten-free rice imitation graham crackers. But the marshmellows were the traditional kind.... how can you improve upon this perfect junkfood?

We also went to a birthday party for Edward's friend Rustam. The party took place in a park and had Indian food (samosas) along with pizza, chicken wings, and cake. Rustam's family is Zoroastrian, from India. They were rather impressed that I know a lot about Persian culture and Zoroaster. There are only a few thousand Zoroastrians in Northern California and they have a temple near Palo Alto. I had an interesting conversation with a Zoroastrian engineer and learned how this ancient religion is practiced today. Few people realize how much Christianity and Judaism was influenced by Zoroastrianism.

I also learned that the mother of the boy who is having a birthday has breast cancer and is undergoing chemo. She is a young woman in her thirties and seems to be doing amazingly well.

Cancer has become epidemic. Marianne Sabelman, the wife of the Friend I am staying with, also had cancer. Hers was ovarian and she underwent treatment last year at about the same time as Kathleen. Thanks be to God, Marianne is doing fine and seems very healthy and upbeat.

I have thoroughly enjoyed having conversations with Marianne and Eric, who are delightful and thoughtful people as well as gracious hosts. Eric is a biomedical engineer who designs and fixes the complex machinery used for high tech operations. Marianne is an active Episcopalian with a zest for life. (She grew up on a farm in Denmark.)

I plan to go to Quaker meeting this morning and look forward to seeing old (and not-so-old) Friends. I am also looking forward to spending one more afternoon with Edward before heading up to San Francisco to visit with Stephen Matchett, the clerk of the Western Friend board, and then on to Pacific Yearly Meeting's annual session.

Thank you, God, for the gift of family and friends! What a blessing!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pixie dust and serendipity

I am coming to see my trip up north as a kind of pilgrimage--visiting places that were special to Kathleen and me, and scattering her ashes (which I have come to think of, I hope not irreverently, as "pixie dust").

I stopped off at many places along the coast to savor amazing views--far too many and far too beautiful to describe here. One of the places we enjoyed visiting is the New Camoldoli Hermitage located just north of Lucia in Big Sur. To get there, you must drive up a winding mountain road with spectacular views of the ocean below. When you reach the top, you find yourself in one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on earth.

You must book reservations six months in advance for a room, but you can make "mini-retreats" for an hour or two just by stopping by and finding a bench that overlooks the ocean. Or you can go to the lovely circular chapel where there are cushions for those who want to meditate Zen style, as some of the monks do.

There is also an excellent bookstore with books on spirituality from a variety of religious traditions--Jewish, Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, as well as Catholic. Among the books I perused was "Dying, Grief, and the Family" by George Bowman--which helped me to see my grieving process from a pastoral perspective. Bowman mentioned the importance of rituals to help people mark the various stages of their grieving. This is what started me thinking of my trip north as a "pilgrimage."

I also was fascinated by Thomas Ryan's "The Sacred Art of Fasting" which takes an interfaith approach and looks as fasting from a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian perspective. Ever since I began fasting for Ramadan, I have been interested in this spiritual practice. For the Christian, the most important part of fasting is giving back to the poor, and being mystically open to the arrival of the Bridegroom. Jesus said that his followers do not fast while the Bridegroom is present. This implies that fasting is preparation for and anticipating of the arrival of the Bridegroom--a time of joy and celebration.

I left the Camoldoli Hermitage feeling very spiritually nourished. And I scattered some of Kathleen's "pixie dust" there as a reminder of the times we had spent in this sacred spot.

I arrived at the Fernwood (our favorite campground) and found it extremely crowded. I was the only single person there. All the rest were either couples or families. I reminded myself that I am not alone--God and Kathleen's spirit are always with me--but I still felt solitary. As the sun began to set, and the "vesper light" created a sense of deep stillness, I hiked through the redwoods on a path that Kathleen and I had taken many a time. I found comfort and peace among the great old trees who preceded me by many hundreds of years, and will be around long after I am gone. I nourished these venerable trees with some of Kathleen's ashes.

I also went to the Henry Miller library, which was not only open but was also hosting an open mike for local musicians. The library is situated in a redwood grove where there are various strange outdoor sculpture, including a ten-foot high crucifix made out of all TV monitors, with a Christ-like figure made out of wire. There is also a stainless steel ladder that leads upward and has various body parts (hands, feet) on different rungs.

The library contains not only works by Henry Miller, Annais Ninn, Lawrence Durrell, but a curious assortment of fascinating books--modern and ancient. And no best sellers!

I stayed till around 10 PM as a colorful crowd of locals showed up to see and be seen, to listen and to be heard. I heard one intense young man sing his passionate, mystical, and incomprehensible songs and decided it was time for me to go back to my tent and rest. One of the best "souvenirs" I found at the Henry Miller Library was a copy of "The Colossus of Marousi," his wildly imaginative account of his trip to Greece just as WWII was breaking out.

When I got back to my campsite, I discovered that my neighbors were rather loud. Snoring to the left of me, and a bawling baby to the right. But by midnight things settled down and I was able to sleep reasonably well.

The next day I went exploring and discovered places that Kathleen and I had never visited. For some reason we had never gone to the Nepenthe Cafe, which has the best view of Big Sur. We had never gone to the Molera State Park, which has a trail leading you to a pristine beach and the mouth of the Big Sur River. We had also never been to Point Lobos, one of the most beautiful convergences of water and rock on the planet.

Serendipity means making unexpected discoveries while looking for something else. It was surprising for me to discover how many remarkable places Kathleen and I had missed during our many years up and down the coast. There is still a lot for me to discover and to do as my new path unfolds before me.

I spent the night at the home of Ellie Huffman, who lives in Monterey. Her beautiful home (which was designed by Julia Morgan, the architect of the Hearst Castle) has been open to traveling Friends for many years. Ellie has made hospitality her spiritual practice and is a wise as well as gracious Friend that I love to spend time with. Kathleen and I often visited her and her husband Jack, who has Parkinson's and now is unable to move or speak. Ellie is a wonderfully loving caregiver and it is inspiring to see how she looks after her husband in his diminished state.

To cheer up Jack, I showed him funny clips about Kathleen, which made him smile. I also gave him a hug and told him how much I love her, which also made him smile. It was good to connect with this dear man.

Ellie and I had a wonderful visit and now I am off to see the Monterey Aquarium and my nephew Edward. The journey goes on, and where it will finally end, Spirit only knows!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Abundant New Life Begins, at 65!

Yesterday I began my trip north to Pacific Yearly Meeting annual session, where I am to help present several minutes on behalf of the Peace and Social Order Committee.

When I drive the Coast route, I usually travel with Kathleen. This is one of the few times that I drove this route alone. I decided to stop off at places that were special to us and have times of remembrance. I brought with me her urn and ashes.

I began my trip by meditating at the Self-Realization Temple near the Lake Shrine. Then I drove along Pacific Coast Highway through Mailbu. Passing the Pepperdine campus, I remembered how I taught there when I first came to Los Angeles. I commuted from Torrance to Malibu three times a week. Pepperdine is a very conservative school, both politically and theologically, and I was a liberal Quaker doing Soviet-American reconciliation. When I had to go to Moscow for a meeting, I was nervous about asking my dept. chair for permission to take time off from my classes. But he turned out to be very supportive. He told me that the Chancellor of Pepperdine, Norvell Young, was working with Norman Cousins on a Soviet-American writers’ project. I was advised to meet with Norvell, who was very excited about the Quaker book project I was working on. He in turn introduced me to Norman Cousins, who became involved in our Quaker book project.

Kathleen and I were invited to have breakfast with Norman and his wife. This left an indelible impression on Kathleen, who mentioned it in her autobiography.

As I drove further along the highway, I remembered that as I was finished up my novel “Relics of America,” I imagined that my next novel would be about a man whose wife had died, and who travels to places along the California coast where he and she had spent time. Was this a coincidence, or did I have a premonition of Kathleen’s death back in 2006?

At Point Magu, I stopped at the Sycamore Grove campground—a place that Kathleen “discovered” when she drove alone along this route a couple of years ago. She wanted for us to camp there, and we scoped it out last fall on one of our trips, but she was unable to go camping because of her chemo treatment.

I stopped at this lovely campground by the beach under a little grove of dwarf trees. I sat her urn on a picnic table and meditated. Then I scattered some of her ashes in the ocean and among the roots of a tree.

I then drove up to Santa Barbara and visited Gene Hoffman at the Alamar Altzheimer facility. Gene was one of the pioneers of Compassionate Listening, and my friend and mentor for many years. Kathleen and I often visited her and we became very close. Gene was always so full of energy and enthusiasm.

When I saw her, she smiled and took my hands and began stroking them. I got down on my knees and looked up into her blue eyes. Her whole face radiated love and happiness. I spoke to her but she didn’t respond in words. She just smiled and rubbed my hands and I felt waves of warmth flow out from her.

This encounter lasted about fifteen minutes. An attendant came to take Gene to lunch. Gene resisted, and then went reluctantly. She clearly preferred to sit and commune with me. But I had to go, and so did she.

I later spoke to Sue, one of her caregivers, and learned that Gene has entered a new phase of her Altzheimer’s journey. She is turning inward, finding the inner peace that she sought all her life. A peace without words. Dear God, may she experience Your pure love and peace forever.

After leaving Gene, I felt led to go to the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens, which Kathleen and I explored for the first time during our last visit in March. I wanted to go there to scatter some of Kathleen’s ashes.

Our trip in March was rather poignant. While we were in the redwood grove, we received a cell phone call from Kathleen’s oncologist Eric McGary telling us that the rice chemo had not knocked out all the cancer, as he had hoped. As a result, he was recommended that Kathleen undergo a more drastic form of stem cell transplant—the allo rather than the auto. This was somber news, but we meditated together and then looked for the bright side. We had been told that the allo had a better rate of cure, and that’s what we both wanted.

The Botanical Garden looked very different in August than it did in March. The whole place was radiant with sun and blooming with flowers—monkeyflowers, live for evers, and California poppies. I also saw evidence of the big fire that almost destroyed the garden. Whole hillsides were scorched and only the blackened skeletons of trees remained. Fortunately, the redwood grove was spared, and all of the buildings are intact, and the core of the garden remains as lovely as ever.

As I walked through the garden, I recalled a phrase Kathleen often used: “Gardens are my life.” She was echoing what the 85-year-old Eileen Slusher, the organist at Walteria UMC, once said in desperation after her stroke, when it seemed as if she’d never be able to play the piano again: “Music is my life.” Kathleen felt some of that desperation when she was told by her oncology nurse that she must avoid gardening while on chemo because of the mold and bacteria found in soil. Kathleen tried to be philosophical, but the idea of life without gardens was painful.

Kathleen loved to garden, and came to love it even more than I do. I just now realized that gardening was one of my gifts to her. When we first began living together in Torrance, I made a garden with a little pond in our backyard. Up to then, Kathleen had been to busy pastoring to do any gardening. From then on, everywhere we lived, we planted flowers and vegetables. One of my fondest memories of Kathleen is of her quietly singing to herself as she worked in our garden in Walteria.

Whenever I walk through a garden, I think of Kathleen and feel her presence. Isn’t there an old Methodist hymn about walking through a garden and feeling the presence of the Lord? I’ll have to google the words. If Kathleen were around, I could have just asked her. She had practically memorized the Methodist hymnal!

I found a quiet spot at the Botanical Garden where Kathleen and I meditated during our last visit. I sat on a bench under a live oak near some boulders and scattered some of her ashes. While I was meditating, I looked up and saw a picture of her smiling face peering out of a bag I brought along. A beam of sunlight breaking through this shady spot fell upon her face and made it even more radiant.

My next stop was the beach, where Kathleen and I often went for walks. I scattered some of her ashes in the water near the inlet where the pelicans and other water fowl like to gather. It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny with a cool sea breeze freshening the air.

Then I drove up to Morro Bay to visit Joe Morris, a retired psychology professor who taught for 30 years at Cal State Northridge. Joe was very kind to us when he learned Kathleen had cancer and we stayed in his condo in Santa Monica for a week or so. I just now learned that he is a survivor of prostrate cancer (and is doing very well since his surgery five years ago).

Joe has moved into a lovely apartment in Morro Bay, with a view of the bay. He is very happy in his new digs and his new life. For much of his life, he has lived in crowded LA, and now he lives in a place he considers close to nature. He can look out from the balcony of his apartment and see the bay with its gulls and pelicans and cormorants. The sounds of the sea—the foghorns and the cries of the gulls—feed his soul. He is close to hiking trails that he knows and has come to love.

He has been leading Sierra hikes (he prefers to call him “strolls” or “santers”) for the past 25 years, and the first one he led was here at Morro Bay. Since retiring, he has become one of the leading environmentalists among Quakers on the West Coast.

Joe took me a brief tour of Morro Bay and showed me the “rookery” where egrets, cormorants and heron nest. He shared with me fascinating stories about this and other sites. I can see why he is such an excellent teacher and sought after guide.

It is wonderful to see how Joe has embarked on a new life since retiring three years ago. He loves where he is living, and what he is doing, and that love is contagious.

He is also becoming a leader in the local chapter of the Sierra Club. In the evening he took me to a Sierra Club meeting at the Steinberg Gallery in San Luis Opisbo.

Bill and Phyllis Davies were giving a slide show (yes, a slide show) presentation about a 2600 mile hike he took along the Pacific Crest in 2000. The presentation turned out to be quite fascinating in part because of the people who gave it.

Bill was 67 years old when he did this trek and had virtually no experience in hiking. Yet he not only persisted and did the entire hike, he has since gone on to hike the Appalachian trail, the Pyrenees trail, etc. At age 74, he is an enthusiastic and committed hiker who radiates love for what he does.

It was also inspiring to see how this husband-and-wife team worked together. As Bill hiked the trail, his wife Phyllis drove an RV to trailheads to bring him supplies. Altogether she drove 12,000 miles to provide him with supplies, while he walked only 2600 miles. Hers was obviously a labor of love.

I later learned that Phyllis is a member of Central Coast Quaker Meeting and has traveled to 62 countries doing humanitarian projects. She has even visited Cuba and Iran and come home to dispel stereotypes about our “enemies.” She often stands in solidarity with the Women in Black, an Israeli/Palestinian peace group.

I was amazed by her energy since she is also “retired.” She told me that a year or so ago she went to 16 countries!

“When I came back, I was really tired,” she said. “I think I’m going to stay home for a while.”

God bless you, Phyllis! You and your husband have definitely inspired me, and no doubt many others. It is encouraging to realize that a new and abundant life can begin at 65!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering Kathleen on her birthday

This is a special day. Today would have been Kathleen's 56th birthday. Today also marks my twenty-first year here in California. In the summer of 1988 I drove from Philadelphia to Torrance in hopes of marrying Kathleen. I arrived in time to take Kathleen to lunch on her birthday. I brought her red carnations and we had a lovely celebration. It was the beginning of a new and wonderful life.

Yesterday when I gave my talk on a "Nuclear Free World" at Grace Presbyterian Church, I told the group about Kathleen, shared with them her memorial booklet, and we had a time of silent reflection. Kathleen was, and continues to be, an inspiration for everything I do.

Kathleen has also inspired others. Among them was Leslie, a nurse in Dr. McGary's office who became very close to Kathleen during her cancer journey. Leslie attends Grace Presbyterian Church and is a beautiful soul. We had precious moments together sharing our love for Kathleen.

The talk at Grace Presbyterian went very well. 30-40 people atttended and were very lively. I told them about my experiences going to the nuclear test site in Kazakhstan with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. It was the most colorful, amazing experience of my life. When we arrived in Semipalatinsk, we were met by thousands of Kazahks, many in native costumes, many on horseback, carrying signs saying "No More Nukes." They had even erected a village of yurts to welomce us to their anti-nuke movement.

This was an historic as well as telegenic moment--the first time in the history of the Soviet Union that an independent peace movement had formed a coaliton with international peace activists.

Yet there was no news coverage. Peter Arnett, a CNN journalist, told me it wasn't considered "newsworthy." I told the group that's because the media doesn't take seriously what grassroots peace movements can accomplish. It pays attention only to "Great Men."

Yet most experts agree that the Nuclear Freeze movement, in which tens of thousands of Americans participated, influenced Reagan and Gorbachev to sign a treaty that eventually led to a 50% reduction in nuclear arms. People power matters!

To have peace, you need 1) a leader willing to take risks, and 2) popular support for such a leader.

We don't have a big anti-nuke movement today, I explained, but we have a sympathetic president as well as the support of conservative realists like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry, Sam Nunn. We also have the support of Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, Glen Stassen and a group of Evangelicals who created the Matthew 5 Project, which calls for nuclear abolition and the negotiated settlement of disputes in places like North Korea and Iran.

I told my liberal Presbyerian friends that with such broad-based support, we could reasonably hope to abolish nuclear weapons, if we take political action.

The group was very jazzed and many signed a disarmament petition and vowed to contact their elected officals (and their pastor!). I felt as if I was among very enthusiastic Quakers!

After this talk, I had lunch with Rev Lee Carlile and her husband Don. Lee pastors Grace UMC in Long Beach and was presiding pastor at Kathleen's memorial. We had lunch at a Greek restaurant called Ambrosia, a family-run place with good food and a unique atmosphere.

We had a conversation that ranged over a variety of topics, from spirituality to politics. Don called my attention to an hilarious clip about health care reform which shows a group of conservative men and a woman staffer they keep referring to as "adorable." When the woman's foot catches on fire through spontaneous combustion, they call in the "private fire fighters" (since they are fervent free marketers). What happens next is too funny. See

Today I am getting ready for a trip to Northern California, where (God willing) I will attend Pacific Yearly Meeting's annual session. Among other things, I will be bringing two minutes on health care reform that I helped shepherd through my meeting and quarterly. These minutes call for universal health care, preferably single payer, and enhanced funding of health care to developing countries.

Along the way to PYM, I plan to visit friends and family. I hope to see my dear friend Gene Hoffman, my mentor in compassionate listening, who is now in an Atzheimer's facility. There are many others I look forward to visiting: Joe Morris, a leader of the Quaker environmental movement on the West Coast; Ellie Huffman, a dear friend Kathleen and I have often visited in Monterey; a Quaker woman in Santa Cruz who lost her husband of 20 years to cancer in April (I have never met her, but we both serve on the Board of Pendle Hill); Stephen Matchett, clerk of the "Western Friend"; and Marianne and Eric Sabelman, with whom I worked on the "EarthLight" book (Marianne had cancer and is doing very well, thanks be to God!). Last but not least, I look forward to having a play date with my dear nephew Edward.

I also plan to camp out at Big Sur in a campground my wife and I were very fond of. This will be the first time I will have driven up the California coast without my beloved traveling campanion. There will no doubt be poignant moments as I go to places rich with memories of my Beloved. I plan to bring her urn and scatter her ashes in some of these special places, as she requested.

My dear precious one, you are always with me...I carry you in my heart. As e.e. cummings wrote:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Several years ago, I read this poem during Family Night at Pacific Yearly Meeting. I hope to read it again to remind myself and others what love is all about.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Global Peace Begins Locally...

When I showed up at my second meeting of the Unity and Diversity Council (, it was even better than the first. Instead of being a speaker, I got to listen. (Hence my t-shirt, "Real Men Listen.")

The UDC meets monthly to address issues of peace, economic justice and the environment from a universalist, progressive, multifaith perspective. Pictured here are Roger Eaton, yours truly (wearing my "Real Men Listen" t-shirt), Leland Stewart (founder of UDC), Margarite Spears, Randy Ziglar, Chris Gutierrez, Gary Hubertson, and Andre Graham.

We had a lively meeting, which began with Philip Freeman's presentation about the World March for Peace and Nonviolence (

Starting on October 2, 2009 (Gandhi's birthday), over 100 people will travel to 100 countries around world asking for the end of wars, the dismantling of nuclear weapons and for an end to all forms of violence (physical, economic, racial, religious, cultural, sexual and psychological).

This project is being sponsored by the Humanist Movement, but is has a decidedly interfaith approach and appeal. It has hundreds of endorsers from every imaginable background, including Desmond Tutu, Penelope Cruz, Yoko Ono, and Queen Raina of Jordan!

The plan in to engage thousands of initiatives, events and people in marches, festivals, forums, concerts, sports activities, workshops, as well as acts of civil disobedience--all for the purpose of raising consciousness about the urgent need for peace and disarmament.

It sounds like a Quaker's dream!

The first planning meeting for the local chapter of this global group will take place on Sunday, August 2, from 3:00-5:00 PM at the Santa Monica Meetinghouse, 1440 Harvard St, Santa Monica (between Santa Monica Blvd and Broadway). We will be discussing plans for local events scheduled to take place on October 2 and December 3.

This group ties in nicely with the Gandhi event that the Parliament of Religions is planning to organize at USC on October 9th. It also dovetails with the work that the LA Nuclear Disarmament Committee (LAAND) is organizing (see

LAAND has now finalized its plans for an August 9th event. It will begin at 3:00 PM at the Nigashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, 505 E 3rd St, where a short service will take place commemorating the bombing of Nagasaki. This will be followed by a mindful walk to City Hall.

Participants are asked to bring umbrellas (to protect themselves from nuclear weapons). Speakers include ICUJP President Steve Rohde, congressional candidate Marcy Winograd, and others tba. The event is scheduled to end around 5:00 PM. See

Speaking of events, ICUJP's big summer event is taking place on Monday:

War, Violence & Religion

Monday, July 20th, 2009, from 7:00 p.m - 9:30 p.m.

Rev. Dr. James Lawson …whom Dr. Martin Luther King called “the leading theorist and strategist on non-violence in the world”
Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr. Emeritus Professor, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate School, Co-founder, Progressive Christians Uniting

Milia Islam-Majeed, Executive Director of the South Coast Interfaith Council, will present the Closing Prayers.

What: An important dialogue of the times and a call to action. Two historical figures of the Civil Rights Movement and Theology discuss the explosive topic of "War, Violence and Religion."Is war and violence justified by any of our Religious/Spiritual traditions when done in the service of combating oppression, tyranny, injustice or in self defense? ICUJP invites youto witness and explore these and related issues with Q & A.

(ICUJP meets every Friday Morning - 7:00-9:00 AM - same location)Where: Immanuel Presbyterian Church (side entrance)3300 Wilshire Blvd. L.A. 90010 @ Berendo St.FREE, Limited Early Bird Parking in Rear
(Alternative Parking @ UTLA Structure - Berendo St. - North of Wilshire)
One of the other delightful happenings of the day was meeting Rebecca Tobias, a passionate devotee of interfaith work who serves on the board of the Wallenberg Institute, the United Religious Initiatives, as well as other organizations. We had communicated via email about a film she is helping to promote called "Amreeka"--a comedy about a single mother who leaves the West Bank with her teenage son, with dreams of an exciting future in the promised land of small town Illinois. The film shows something rarely seen by Americans--Palestinians who aren't terrorists, but ordinary people wanting what everyone wants--a home, a family life, and a future. I am looking forward to previewing the film (you can see a trailer at

I learned good news and sad news about Rebecca. The good news is that she is getting married. The sad news is that she is moving to St Louis. This is probably good news for her, but sad news for the interfaith community in LA, which will miss this dedicated and gifted interfaith activist.
I shared with Rebecca my tribute to Kathleen and then gave her a hug and my heart-felt congratulations because I am a big supporter of marriage.

When she talked about her upcoming marriage, with that mixture of excitement and nervousness that most people feel when embarking on Life's Greatest Adventure, I could sense that hers will be a "marriage made in heaven." I expressed my wish that her marriage will be as happy as the one I enjoyed with Kathleen.

My wife used to say that if everyone's marriage was as happy as ours, there would be peace in the world.

So let world peace begin with us!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fasting and Finding God's Signs....

Yesterday was a challenging day as I fasted from water and food from sunrise to sunset to express solidarity with the people of Gaza. That meant fasting from 6:00 AM till 8:00 PM--fourteen long summer hours. (See my post for July 10 or

Prior to learning about the fast, I had arranged a dental appointment in Torrance and promised a homeless couple that I would have lunch with them. I also planned to go to the DMV when it opened at 8:00 AM. This required waiting outside from 7:00 AM so I'd be first in line.

I find that when I set an intention to do something for God, I often receive a sign of God's approval.

In this case, the Lord's response came in the form of a song. As soon as I arrived at the desk of the DMV clerk, a cheerful black woman in blue jeans, she began to sing quietly to herself, "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. " I laughed and began to sing with her.

I had to laugh because I knew that her singing was a sign from the Lord. I had come to the DMV in order to obtain a new title for Kathleen's Honda so that it could be sold and some of the proceeds used to help our homeless friends Melissa and Shawn.

After the clerk and I had sung together, I explained to her that my wife and I used to sing this song every day during our cancer journey, and she understood immediately that the Lord was giving us both a sign.

We had a good time sharing our experiences with the Lord as she processed my forms. How pleasant it is when we do our mundate tasks with a sense of the Divine Presence!

Jesus told us not to be gloomy when we fast, but to be cheerful. That's because, by giving up food, we are not depriving ourselves but deepening our connection with our Heavenly Father and Mother, the Source of Life. How liberating, how joyful, to give up earthly food and feast on the Spirit!

It is not always easy, however. When I met Shawn and Melissa, my homeless friends, I knew it would be a challenge to watch them eat while I fasted. But as we sat together at Buffie's restaurant, I felt calm and at peace as I offered to pay for a deposit on an apartment for them. I was pleased that they accepted this offer as something perfectly natural, something that family members do for each other, out of love. I also knew they realized I was doing this not only for them, but also for Kathleen and for the Lord.

My leading to help them had been confirmed by a sign. On Wednesday, during midweek communion, I was asked to read from the Gospels and the passage was the one in which Jesus tells Peter to "feed my sheep." I have always interpreted this passage metaphorically but this time I realized he also meant it literally. "Feed my sheep" means give food to those who are hungry and homeless. That's how you show Jesus how much you love him. I was so moved that I choked up and was almost unable to read the passage. Another sign of Spirit at work....

After lunch with Shawn and Melissa, I went to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned. By this time, hunger was beginning to set in. After I left the dentist, I had a splitting headache--probably a symptom of withdrawal from my daily intake of tea.

This excruciating pain reminded me of what the Gazans must go through daily as they endure almost unimagiable deprivation due to the seige. This is one of the precious lessons of fasting--to teach us to empathize at a gut level with those who are suffering. I was pleased to learn today that my friend Carol Frances and others in the Free Gaza movement were able to reach Gaza yesterday with at least some of their humanitarian aid....

I went home, took a nap, and felt a bit better. When I awoke, I avoided hunger and thirst by plunging into work, gathering material for my talk on a "Nuclear Free World." I also called up family and friends. The hours flew by and soon it was 8:00 PM and I could break my fast with a Mexican meal--tamales and Spanish rice and beans. Yum!

I felt very liberated and close to God after this day of fasting. I couldn't have done it without Divine Assistance, and the little signs that there really is Someone who listens and cares....

Loving God, thank you for the signs of Your presence and of Your love. May I always walk in ways that are pleasing to You and be conscious of those who are suffering and in need of my love and support...and please, Lord, help the homeless and the people of Gaza to know that You care, and that we care....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thank you, Lord, for this healing day....

"Thank you for this day, O Lord, thank you for this day.... this healing, this healing, this healing day...."

This was a song that Kathleen and I used to sing every evening after our devotions. Yesterday was indeed a healing day. It began with my attending "Marketday Communion" at St Augustine's by the Sea. Every Wednesday this communion service takes place in conjunction with the farmer's market. Kathleen loved to go to this communion service since it was small and intimate and deeply Christian. I love to go for the same reason, and also because it reminds me of Kathleen. As we went through our cancer journey, and as I have been going through my grieving, this little group of Episcopalians, and especially Rector Hartshorn Murphy, have been wonderfully supportive and kind. I feel the presence of Christ whenever I break bread and drink wine with these good people.

Following this communion service, I go to the Farmers' Market and enjoy the fresh food and happy people. I also make it a practice to talk with Severina, a black woman in a wheelchair who asks passersby for money. Severina is from Brazil and has a Portugese accent. She used to pray fervently for Kathleen's healing. After Kathleen's death, she began praying for me and was very concerned about how I am doing. She even tried to set me up with a new wife!

Yesterday Severina told me that the state has cut back her disability by a couple of hundred dollars. This is happening to many of the most needy in our state.....It's a sin....

Stan and Laurel, members of my Quaker "care committee," came for lunch and a "house blessing." Quakers don't have paid pastors, so pastoral care is done by members of a ministry and counsel committee. Last summer, when Kathleen was diagnosed with cancer, I requested a care committee and they met with us over the course of the year to pray with us and to offer support and comfort.

I asked to meet with my care committee so that I could reflect on my new life as a single person.

Stan and Laurel brought food--delicious homemade bean soup and bread from Trader Joe's--and we had a time of silent worship. (Quakers used the term "opportunity" to describe such home worship.)

During this time of worship, I reflected on how I am entering a new stage in the grief process. I no longer feel the intense pain of loss, but rather a dull ache of loneliness that comes over me from time to time. I feel more inspired than ever by Kathleen's spirit, but I miss her physical presence. It is hard, especially for men, to lose one's best friend and constant companion. How does one form new friends, and new relationships with old frends?

Sometimes it's the little things that are most challenging. How does one go to a movie or a concert and ask a friend to join you without its being considered a "date"? I don't want to become romantically entangled with anyone, but I do want to return to some of the recreational activities that were part of my normal life.

It occured to us that maybe we could form some kind of singles' group at our meeting and help each other figure out how to be single and be together as a community/family. We decided to bring this up for discussion at our next ministry and council meeting.

I spent the afternoon working on a mailing for ICUJP and putting together a report on development and outreach. I also answered emails, made some phonecalls, and had a pretty quiet day.

In the evening, I went to a "meeting for healing" at Santa Monica Meeting. These meetings take place every first and third Wednesday. Friends gather together in silence, as in a regular meeting for worship. The main difference is that instead of vocal ministry, people pray for each other's healing. A person who feels the need for healing may rise and sit in a designated chair. Others will gather around him or her and pray, often laying on hands. Some of those involved in these meetings for healing have been trained in therapeutic touch or reiki. Others, like me, simply try to channel healing energy as best we can.

It is very comforting and healing to be "prayed over" in this way. The silence and the laying on of hands, and the loving energy, can be a powerful force.

Between five and ten people gather for these sessions. At the end of last night's meeting for healing we sang, "Thank you for this day, O Lord...." at the request of Barbara. She later said she felt Kathleen's presence in the room. So did I. She loved these meetings for healing and is no doubt happy that I am continuing to take part in them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"The Interfaith Adventure": An Historic Opportunity

Today I went with Thomas, Ruth, Joseph and Noor Malika to meet with Varun Soni and Jim Burklo, who are deans of Religious Life at USC. We discussed plans for our upcoming Parliament of the World's Religion event, scheduled for Sunday, October 11, and focusing on Gandhi and the interfaith movement. We had a good discussion and more or less finalized the program for the day. We still need to determine the speakers and workshops, but the structure and plan are now in place.

We also tossed around ideas for titles for this event: "Gandhi and the Interfaith Adventure" and "'Gandhi Remixed': Religious Pluralism and Nonviolence in Today's World." We haven't yet decided which is more "sexy."

It feels very good to be collaborating with USC. This university has made a major commitment to interfaith education and has bold plans for the future. Here's some background from their website:

"For the past decade, the University of Southern California has been bringing together students of diverse faiths through its Office of Religious Life. The Office accredits more than 70 student religious organizations from 11 different religious traditions, encouraging each group in its own particular practice and providing opportunities for multi-faith learning that have garnered national acclaim, placing USC religious life among the top five in the country.

"USC now proposes to create a setting unparalleled in any other instutution of higher education -- a center dedicated to interfaith learning and particular practice side by side with the academic study of religion. Designated The Multi-Faith Center for Research, Reflection and Practice, this will be an educational entity as well as a physical place where students' informed awareness of world religions, including their cultural and political context, will be stimulated by a broad range of meaningful contacts and programs" (see

Varun explained to us some of the plans that his office has to reach out to the local schools and create an interfaith curriculum that could be used as a model nationally. This curriculum will be academic in nature and avoid promoting any particular religion--a challenging assignment, but well worth undertaking since we live in a world where better understanding among different religious faiths is urgently needed.

President Obama clearly sees this need and has established an interfaith council. Joshua DuBois, a former Associate Pastor and Advisor to Obama in his US Senate office and Campaign Director of Religious Affairs, has been appointed to lead this office. Eboo Patel, an Ishmaili Muslim and founder of Interfaith Youth Core, has also been appointed to this 25-member council. It is very encouraging to see our President show such concern for interfaith work.

There is also an initiative for the United Nations to declare 2011-2020 the "Decade of Interreligious Understanding and Peace" (see

I am glad to be part of this historic movement and to play a part, however small, in promoting religious pluralism and a nonviolent world. I feel as if I am truly on an adventure, like the time when Janet and I did our little bit to promote Soviet-American understanding and help to end the Cold War!

Monday, July 13, 2009

WWKD ("What Would Kathleen Do?")

The initials WWJD ("What Would Jesus Do?") has been used on bracelets by many Christian youth as a way to remind them to follow the example of Jesus. This phrase (as I recently learned) was born out of Charles Sheldon's 1896 novel "In His Steps." The lead character suggested that if each person asked "What Would Jesus Do?" with each decision they made, then the world would be a much better place.

I used to joke with Kathleen that I didn't see myself as good enough to do what Jesus did, so I would adopt instead the slogan: WWKD? "What would Kathleen do?" I figured if I followed her example, I couldn't go wrong.

The last time I spoke to Kathleen was in ICU when she returned briefly to consciousness. During this period, she was on a respirator and unable to speak, but she was able to respond to what I told her by squeezing my fingers. Among other things, I told her about Melissa and Shawn, a homeless couple that she had taken under her wing. I told Kathleen how fervently Melissa was praying for her, and how she had called me twenty times to find out how Kathleen was doing. Melissa was very sad because she had not been able to see her daughter on Mother's Day, and so I sent Melissa a Mother's Day card and a hundred dollar bill (which one of our adopted daughters had given us).

"That's what you would have done, isn't it, darling?" I said to Kathleen.

She squeezed my fingers very hard, in a way I will never forget.

I thought of this story this morning as I drove to Skid Row to pick up Clarke, a homeless man whom Kathleen had taken under her wing. Clarke is a 64-year-old man who has never found his niche in life and was living with his ailing mother when Kathleen befriended him. Among other things, Kathleen helped Clarke to get early social security so he would have some income when his mother went into assisted living and he found himself homeless. At Kathleen's memorial at Santa Monica Meeting, Clarke expressed gratitude to Kathleen for "saving his life" by taking him by the hand and leading him to the Social Security office.

Since Kathleen's passing, I have come to realize how much Clarke needs a helping hand. Living on Skid Road in a shelter for mentally ill vets, Clarke tends to become depressed and his judgment becomes impaired. When he got a $180 ticket for jay walking, he didn't show up for his court date and the fine jumped to $800. Since Clarke receives $400 per month from SS, this fine was devastating.

When I contacted him around the time of Kathleen's memorial, Clarke was in such deep depression he felt unable to attend. I knew he'd feel even worse if he didn't attend Kathleen's memorial so I went down to Skid Row, picked him up, got him lunch, a shower, and new clothes, and he was able to attend the memorial in reasonably good spirits.

I've stayed in touch with him ever since. I was pleased to learn that he had appointment to see a psychiatrist to determine whether he is eligible for SSI, which would increase his benefits to $900 per month. But Clarke didn't want to go. He insists he isn't crazy and therefore doesn't merit these benefits, but I told him to keep an open mind, he might be eligible.

The problem with people who are truly mentally ill is that they are often convinced they are quite normal. I didn't tell him this, of course. When he told me that he would try to fake mental illness by pretending to be a dog, I said, "Don't try to fake it. Just be yourself." He got my joke and laughed, which was a good sign that he isn't as ill as I had feared.

This morning I got up before dawn to pick him up and take him to the psychiatrist in Santa Monica. All the way back he told me sad stories about his dysfunctional family and how it had left him feeling that God didn't care about him.

"If God cares about me, why did he give me such trashy people for my family?"

I felt such love for Clarke at this moment that I could barely hold back tears. I wanted to let him how much God loves him, and how God has been sending people like me to show His love. What I told him was that many people with family problems find a supportive church family to help them through difficult times. I know that's been true in my case. I don't know if Clarke heard me. He was so busy rehearsing all the bad experiences of his past it was hard for him to be present to the "now."

We arrived at my place a couple of hours before his appointment, so he had chance to sit outside, relax and enjoy the greenery. He became restless so he went for a brief walk and got lost a block away from my house and I had to guide him back by cell phone.

Fortunately, I was able to get him to his appointment on time. Whether the shrink's assessment will make any difference, I don't know. What I do know is this is what Kathleen would have done, and I felt good doing it.

When I dropped Clarke off at a bus stop on Wilshire, he thanked me and shook my hand, "I would never have come here if it wasn't for you."

He was actually smiling for the first time all morning!

I would probably never have done this if it weren't for Kathleen. And Kathleen would never have done what she did for Clarke if it hadn't been for Jesus. Thanks be to God for such examples to follow!

Please hold Clarke and others like him in your prayers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rejoicing with Interfaith Friends

"This is the day the Lord has made/Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

This phrase, which Kathleen and I sang daily over the past year, describes this day to a "t." The picture on the left shows me rejoicing with some of my dear interfaith friends from the South Coast Interfaith Council: Roni Love (a Jewish SCIC board member), Rini Ghosh (Vedantist, Pres. of SCIC), Milia Islam-Majeed (Muslim Exec. Dir. of SCIC), and Khalil Momand (Muslim, facilitator of the Interfaith Cafes). I'll say more about this interfaith cafe later.

In the morning I went to the Grace Presbyterian Church in Long Beach, where I attended the worship service. I was favorably impressed with the vitality of this beautiful church: twenty or so youth were blessed/"commissioned" as they sat out on a mission project, the music was great, and the preaching by Rev. Stephen Wirth very inspiring. It also helped that I sat next to a friendly elderly woman named Jane who gave the church rave reviews.

I recalled my graduate school days in Princeton, NJ, when I attended Nassau Presbyterian Church. The preaching was stellar but the atmosphere was--how can I put it nicely?--a bit on the chilly side. We lived up to the phrase, the "frozen chosen." The Presbyterians here in Long Beach were quite warm and friendly. Because the church was air-conditioned, I joked that they were the "air-conditioned chosen."

The pastor and others saw embarassingly nice things about Quakers when I told them of my religious affiliation. Everyone made me feel very welcome. The social hall where I spoke was packed with thirty or forty people who seemed very interested in what I had to say about Interfaith Peacemaking and the discussion was quite lively.

Sharon Shohfi, the woman who invited me to speak, told me that she and her husband spent a year in Israel/Palestine. She was quite knowledgeable about the region and very receptive to what I had to share. I felt I was among kindred spirits and am looking forward to next week's presentation about a "Nuclear Free World."

I had lunch with a bright, enthusiastic young interfaith website designer named Zach Perlman who is working on a project called "Monks Without Borders," a kind of online interfaith museum (see

Then we went off to an interfaith cafe at Bixby Knolls Christian Church in Long Beach. This social hall was packed with forty or fifty attendees from an amazing diversity of faiths: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Vedantist/Hindu, Sufi, and of course one Quaker.

Interfaith cafes are quite simple. People sit around a table with a set of open-ended questions and some guidelines on "etiquette" (speak from personal experience, don't debate or try to convert, listen from the heart, be open to new insights).

We considered the following questions:

First hour: Who Are You? What religion are you and why? Do you see any difference between organized religion and personal faith/spirituality? Do all religions teach the same basic truths or are there significant differences? What do you think is the biggest misperception people have about your reli­gion?

Second hour: What was your biggest misconception about other religions? How have your views about religion changed over the years, and why? Is it possible to separate religion from politics? How does your religion affect how you take a stand on issues relating to social justice and peace?

I sat at a table with a retired Methodist pastor (my dear friend Bill Miller), a Unitarian, a Palestinian Muslim, a Sufi Muslim, a traditional Muslim woman who wore a hijab. (The other two Muslim women did not wear a head scarf and would be impossible to identify as being Muslim.) It was interesting to hear the views of three months who differed so much in appearance and viewpoint, proving (as if it needed to be proved) that Muslims are as diverse as any those in any other religious group.

We had a lively discussion on a variety of topics ranging from stereotypes about our religious faith to same-sex marriage. We even made up a question of our own (proposed by our traditional Muslim friend): How do we know that a religion is "true"?

After a time of sharing with and learning from each other, we felt very uplifted. As we were about to leave, my Sufi friends from the MTO Sufi group posed for a picture and I was allowed to join them.

"Can I be part of the picture even though I'm not a Sufi?" I asked.

"You're more of a Sufi than I am," replied a young Sufi woman very graciously (proving that she is indeed a Sufi).

Thank you, God, for this special day and for these special friends!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Gift of Friendship

Today has been a good day spent among friends. In the morning I had a visit from Louis Chase, pastor of Hamilton UMC and former president of ICUJP. A native of Barbados who studied at Oxford, Louis is a fascinating and charming man--full of humor, joy, and a passion for justice. He came to check out my wife's laptop, which he wants to purchase, but we spent quite a long time in leisurely conversation about family and friends and even politics. I feel blessed to have Louis as a friend.

Roger Eaton came for lunch and we talked about the "Never Again Campaign" and his efforts to build connections with the Iranian community in hopes of resuscitating the sister city relationship between Tehran and Los Angeles. I've only known Roger for a short while, but am already coming to see him as a friend. He is a smart, funny, gentle spirit--a computer wizard who cares deeply about peace and people. What a gift!

In the afternoon I worked on my talk on "Interfaith Peacemaking" which I am supposed to deliver tomorrow at Grace Presbyterian Church in Long Beach. I found a lot of interesting stuff about preventing war at the FCNL website which is an excellent resource.

In the evening I went with my landlady Cathleen (who is also my friend) to a dinner party at the Bel Air home of Elfie and Jim Shuman, two Quaker friends. Jim is a birthright Friend and a journalist who worked for Gerald Ford and is conservative in a good way. Elfie is a Swiss artist with a big heart and a gift for hospitality. Jim and Elfie met at a grief support group when Jim lost his son and Elfie her husband. They arranged the party to cheer me up after the loss of my Beloved. I was very touched and pleased. And I had a lot of fun at the party as we shared stories and had some good laughs together.

Friendship is such a precious gift. I am glad I belong to the Religious Society of Friends, and to what Martin Luther King called the "Beloved Community." I often think of the story about the Buddha and friendship. One of the Buddha's disciples asked him if friendship was an important part of the spiritual life.

"No," the Buddha replied. "Friendship is not a part of the spiritual life, it is the whole of the spiritual life!"

I've been reading Henri Nouwen's book, "Life of the Beloved," which was given to me by my friend Cathleen. I have found it very inspiring bedside reading. Last night I was moved by what Nouwen had to say about giving ourselves to others, in life and in death. He writes:
"I know now that we are called to give our very lives to one another and that, in so doing, we become a true community.
"Secondly, we are called to give ourselves, not only in life, but in death as well. As the Beloved Children of God, we are called to make our death the greatest gift. Since it is true that we are broken so as to be given, then our final brokenness, death, is to become the means to our final gift of self...
"For the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God, dying is the gateway to the complete experience of being the Beloved. For those who know they are chosen, blessed and broken to be given, dying is the way to becoming pure gift...:
As I read this passage, I of course thought of my Beloved and how she gave herself so freely to others both in life and in death. What a testimony her memorials were to how much of herself she had given, and how grateful her community was for the gift of her life.
Nowen goes on to say: "The death of those whom we love and who love us, open up the possibility of a new, more radical communion, a new intimacy, a new belonging to each other. If love is, indeed, stronger than death, then death has the potential to deepen and strengthen the bond of love. It was only after Jesus had left his disciples hat they were able to grasp what he truly meant to them. But isn't that true for all who die in love? It is only when we have died that our spirits can completely reveal themselves..."
Kathleen, I am so grateful to you for your continuing presence in my life. Although I miss your voice and your laughter, I know that you are with me, you still love and care about me, and you are still living in my heart. And I am sure that I will learn even more about you as I draw closer to the One who created us....
Thanks be to God for this day of friendship and love!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fast for the People of Gaza

Today I rose bright and early to attend the 7 AM meeting of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace ( As usual, I'm glad I went. I was awakened from my complacency!

Rabbi Haim Beliak gave the reflection and told us he has joined the Fast for Gaza, an ad hoc group of rabbis, Jews, and people of conscience who have committed to undertake a monthly daytime fast in support of the following goals:

1. To call for a lifting of the blockade that prevents the entry of civilian goods and services into Gaza;
2. To provide humanitarian and developmental aid to the people of Gaza;
3. To call upon Israel, the US, and the international community to engage in negotiations without pre-conditions with all relevant Palestinian parties - including Hamas - in order to end the blockade;
4. To encourage the American government to vigorously engage both Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict. (See

Talk about synchronicity! On Wednesday, Janet asked me to record a story I'd written about a Gazan teenager named Yousef Bashir who lived with his family in Gaza in a house taken over by Israeli soldiers in 2000. Yousef told me his story orally and I gave it a bit of literary polish (without changing any details). Here's what happened:

While saying goodbye to some UN aid workers, Yousef, a 16-year-old whose passion was soccer, was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier. He was taken to a Gazan hospital where there was little hope he would ever walk, much less play soccer, again. His father managed to arrange for Yousef to go to an Israeli hospital, where he received excellent care and was able to regain use of his legs (although the bullet remained lodged in his spine).

During this recovery period, Yousef's attitude gradually changed: "I came to see that one Israeli soldier had shot me, but many Israeli people had worked to save my life."

Instead of becoming bitter or angry, he decided to work for peace and reconciliation and became involved with the "Seeds of Peace" camp.

It's an amazing story about the power of forgiveness. If you want to read it in its entirety, please email me at my new email address:

Janet wants to include this story in the second edition of a Quaker book for children and teens which is called "Lighting Candles in the Dark" in the English version and "The Power of Goodness" in the Chechen version. With support from the educators in Russia and Chechnya, she has published a trilingual version of this book in English, Russian, and Chechen that is being used to teach alternatives to violence in Chechen and Russian schools.

I plan to read this story at the next Friday meeting of ICUJP. I also plan to fast in support of the people of Gaza. It seems the least I can do given the suffering that the Gazan people have to endure.

In case you hadn't heard, on June 30 a ship loaded with humanitarian aid was stopped in international waters, its cargo confiscated, and its crew arrested by the Israeli navy. The crew included Noble laureate Mairead Maguire and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and 21 human rights workers from 11 countries. If you like to express support for these brave men and women whose only crime is to want to help the beseiged Gazans, go to:

As you read this, it is worth remembering that over 1200 Gazans were massacred during the recent invasion of Gaza, billions of dollars of destruction was done to homes and infrastructure (with America-made weapons), and people (including children) are dying prematurely because critical supplies are being withheld. As Rabbi Beliak reminded us, the Torah commands us: "Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is being spilled" (Leviticus 19:16).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Encounter with Janet Riley, an Amazingly Faithful Friend

Yesterday was a wonderful day! I had a visit from Janet Riley, a Quaker friend I've known for over 25 years who helped initiate me into Quaker peace work back in Philadelphia. She and I were involved in the citizen diplomacy movement during the 1980s and helped put together "The Human Experience," a collection of stories and poems by Soviets and Americans. The goal of this anthology was to dispel American stereotypes about Russians, and vice versa. It was the first literary anthology to be jointly edited and published in the USA and USSR and came out in 1989. Our supporters included people such as Norman Counsin, Stanley Kunitz, Yevtushenko, Garrison Keillor, et al.

When Janet felt led by the Spirit to undertake this work during the dark final days of the Cold war, she was not a Soviet expert. She was simply a Quaker housewife with a vision. With dogged determination and amazing faith, she went on to put together a series of Russian-American Quaker books, culminating in "The Power of Goodness." This tri-lingual children's book includes stories about peacemaking in Russian, English and Chechen. (See

Janet did all this work on a shoestring budget, out of her home office, with modest support from Friends and others that just barely paid her expenses.

Janet told me she doesn't want me to mention her age, so I will say only that she has at least ten more years of life experience than I do, and the youthful enthusiasm of a 30 year old! She also has a son and a daughter and several grandchildren.

For the past few years she's lived in San Luis Opisbo and has volunteered in prisons doing conflict resolution training with the Alternatives to Violence Project.

Last year she decided to go to India to help teachers at the Hariharananda Balashram, a school/ashram in the state of Orissa in the northeast part of India. The children served by this school are orphans or from single parent or very poor families. You can learn more about Balashram at:

For the past six months, Janet has been living in this community, helping out in various ways. Now she is back in the USA and plans to spend some time in NY City visiting with her daughter.

She stopped off to see me yesterday and we had a marvelous time. We had lunch at Govinda's (the Hare Krishna vegetarian restaurant in Culver City) and went to the Self-Realization Fellowship Lakeshrine. (Besides being a Quaker, Janet is a follower of Hariharananda, a guru who teaches kriya yoga like Yogananda.)

We went for a walk in the Santa Monica mountains and also along the beach. I was amazed that Janet had the stamina not only for the walk, but also for scrambling up boulders to get from the shore to the highway.

We then went to the Santa Monica pier where we had an encounter with Terry Prince, the extraordinary young black musician whose deeply spiritual music touched my soul a few weeks ago. When he saw me, he touched his hand to his heart and I did likewise. He told me later that he was so moved by our encounter that he had called his father to tell him about me. I bought a copy of Terry's CD to give to Janet. I especially wanted her to hear the lyrics that spoke to my condition and seemed to be written especially for me:

I wish the world was peace,
I wish that wars would cease.
I wish we found the cures to heal the world of all disease.
I wish it snowed someway
Everywhere on Christmas day
We’d watched the snow fall down
And take children’s breath away….
I wish that rainbows stayed in the sky
I wish grownups weren’t ashamed to cry
I wish we could pull the stars down from the sky
But the one thing I wish most in my life
Is that we never have to say goodbye…..

Unfortunately, we do have to say "goodbye" eventually to everyone and everything we love, but I like to think it's more of an "au revoir." This morning, when I gave Janet a farewell hug at the airport, I was glad that we had shared a day full of love, good memories, and amazing encounters...Such is the life of a peace maker!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A World of Opportunity for Interfaith Understanding

Today I arose at 5:30 AM so that I could go to breakfast with a remarkable spirituality group in Beverley Hills. I was invited by my Catholic brother Thomas Hedberg, one of the guiding lights of this fascinating group of professionals who meet together weekly to deepen their spiritual life.

This week's speaker was my dear Jewish friend Ruth ("God and Allah Need to Talk") Sharone. She spoke eloquently about her work with the Parliament of World's Religions and discribed her travels to such far-flung places as Morocco and Argentina, where she labored to bring together Muslims and Jews. Her presentation was quite impressive and deepened my conviction that the Spirit has led me to be part of the Parliament's work to bring together people of the world's religions. (See

After this enlightening breakfast, we met at Thomas' place to discuss the Parliament's Gandhi event at USC, of which I am the chair. More will be said about this later.

There are lots of interesting interfaith events to look forward to this month:

On Sunday, July 12, at 10:30 AM I will be giving a talk about "Interfaith Peacemaking: Challenges and Opportunities" (with a focus on Middle East and Afghanistan) at Grace First Presbyterian, 3955 Studebaker Rd, Long Beach. I will also give a talk about a "Nuclear Free World" on Sunday July 19 at the same church and time.

There will also be an Interfaith Cafe on Sunday, July 12, 2:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. sponsored by the South Coast Interfaith Council ( at Bixby Knolls Christian Church, 1240 E. Carson St. Long Beach Co-host: Long Beach Islamic Center. The purpose of these cafes is to foster greater understanding about different faith traditions; inform the South Bay community about the work of SCIC; and encourage greater participation in our communities in opportunities of serving others. Refreshments will be served. A free-will donation will be accepted.For more information please Call (M-Th) 562-983-1665or email:

There will be an event focusing on "War, Violence & Religion" on Monday, July 20th, 2009, from 7:00 p.m - 9:30 p.m, sponsored by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace ( The speakers will be Rev. Dr. James Lawson ...whom Dr. Martin Luther King called "the leading theorist and strategist on non-violence in the world" and Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr. Emeritus Professor, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate School, Co-founder, Progressive Christians Uniting. The speakers will address the question: Is war and violence justified by any of our Religious/Spiritual traditions when done in the service of combating oppression, tyranny, injustice or in self defense?

If you want to find out more about ICUJP, you are welcome to join us every Friday morning 7:00-9:00 AM at same location:: Immanuel Presbyterian Church (side entrance) 3300 Wilshire Blvd. L.A. 90010 @ Berendo St. FREE, Limited Early Bird Parking in Rear (Alternative Parking @ UTLA Structure - Berendo St. - North of Wilshire)

I am grateful to God that so many opportunities are available for people of different faith traditions to work together for peace, justice and reconciliation. I feel as if we are the dawn of a new era--similar to what happened just before the Berlin Wall fell down. Only when the walls separating people of different faiths come down, the world will be even more dramatically changed. This is the legacy I hope to pass on to the next generation--a world in which people of different religious faiths appreciate and respect each other, and therefore have no reason to resort to violence.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Nuclear Free World: What Is the Religious Community Doing?

It's exciting and encouraging to read in the NY Times that President Obama is calling for a "nuclear-free world" and is visiting Moscow to negotiate a reduction in nuclear arms. Can I hear a hallelueiah?

To support this effort and to make sure that a nuclear free world becomes a reality, Roger Eaton, a local peace activist, has started a group called the Los Angeles Area Nuclear Disarmament Coalition ( This group has launched a campaign called "Never Again" and is calling on religious leaders to preach and speak out against nuclear weapons on August 9, "Hiroshima Day."

Seems like a no-brainer. Why wouldn't religious leaders speak out against weapons of mass murder and destruction?

Yet so many churches are as silent as the grave when it comes to this issue. How do we wake them up?

One way is to become noodges! Thanks to the noodging of LAANDC, the South Coast Interfaith Council and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace are urging religious leaders to take part in the "Never Again" campaign. If you or your religious group is doing something around this issue, please let me know so I can spread the word and encourage others to do likewise.

LAANDC is also involved in the Mayors for Peace campaign, a nation-wide effort to engage political leaders at the local level. So far, they have persuaded the city of Long Beach to sign onto this campaign and are working to persuade LA to do likewise.

Yesterday (Sunday) I attended a planning meeting at Roger's home in which eight or nine people took part, including Leland Stewart (the veteran interfaith leader and founder of "Unity-and-Diversity World Council" -- see We discussed an anti-nuke event being planned for August 9. As Roger explains: "There will be three parts to the event: first a solemn commemoration of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings probably at a Buddhist Temple in the downtown area. Then a silent sidewalk march to Pershing Square where there will be a rally and at least two speeches for nuclear disarmament. We are thinking an Iranian Muslim Religious Scholar, and a Jewish Rabbi, perhaps also Iranian."

More details will appear on this blog as this promising event unfolds.

The "Never Again" campaign will be part of a call to action at ICUJP's event on Monday, July 20. This event will feature two outstanding speakers, veteran civil rights activist Rev. James Lawson and influential theologian John Cobb who will discuss the topic of "War, Violence and Religion." They will also address questions such as: Is war and violence justified by any of our Religious/Spiritual traditions when done in the service of combating oppression, tyranny, injustice or in self defense? There will also be an opportunity for Q and A. For more info, see

I also attended a meeting of the local chapter of the Parliament of World Religions ( We are planning an event at USC in early October around the time of Gandhi's birthday in which we will examine and lift up the legacy of Gandhian non-violence and the interfaith movement. I will talk more about this event in a later blog.

Please let me know what you or your religious community is doing to promote peace and justice. We need to insure that there is more good news like Obama's trip to Russia!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Beginning anew on Interdependence Day

Today is the fourth of July, "Interdependence Day," a time when Quakers and others who care about peace ask themselves: what if we Americans had won our freedom not through bloodshed, but through patience and negotiations, like the Canadians? What kind of country would America be today if we didn't equate violence and freedom?

What would America be like if instead of imagining the goal of life to be "independence," we recognized that the reality of life is that we are all interdependent. No one is an island--every one's life (and death) affects us all--what we do to the least creature, we do to ourselves.

This seems like a good day to begin a new blog after a ten-month caringbridge blog in which my dear wife Kathleen and I chronicled our journey through cancer land. Kathleen and I were interdependent: we depended on each other, and loved and supported each other, but we knew our ultimate dependence was upon God and Christ.

Five weeks ago, Kathleen passed away in the City of Hope and now I am beginning a new life in a new apartment in Culver City. During the past month, there have been two beautiful and moving memorials for Kathleen--one at my Quaker meeting, and one at Torrance United Methodist Church, where she served as an associated pastor twenty years ago. Having celebrated the life of this amazing woman who was not only my wife, but also my best friend and soul mate for twenty years, I feel it is time for me to move on and begin a new life, with help from the Spirit, and also from my Beloved, who is still very much in my heart.

I feel as if I have been led by Spirit to my new apartment since my new landlady is a dear Friend (i.e. a Quaker) whom I have known for twenty years. She is renting me the downstairs of her home. It's a welcome change from the apartment in Santa Monica where Kathleen and I had been living for the past year. Our old apartment looked out onto a car lot on Santa Monica boulevard. When I open the front door of my new apartment, I see a large grassy front yard with a pine tree, roses, and other greenery. Since I am only three miles fro Venice Beach, sea breezes cool the air.

This residential street seems very peaceful, though I have been told my neighbor was busted for growing pot in his house and a crackhead lives in the adjacent apartment building. But this is West Side of LA, where such things are to be expected, even in paradise.

My new life will be devoted full-time to peace making and interfaith work, and to writing. And of course, to friends and to Spirit (last but certainly not least). I am very grateful to my Beloved that we saved enough resources so that it is now possible for me to realize my dream of being a full-time peace maker.In this blog I will write about all the fascinating interfaith and peace activities that are taking place in the Los Angeles area. Despite what you read in the newspapers, we are living in marvelous times and the Spirit is at work bringing people together and creating a new world in which peace is possible (if we are willing to work for it).

I hope that this blog will help to bring together some of the interfaith peacemakers in LA and provide a place where we can share our insights and concerns. And I hope this blog will be a source of inspiration and hope for all who read it.

With best wishes, Anthony Manousos