Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Building a New Ark: Our Covenant with Nature

This week the children at our Quaker meeting were told the story of Noah's ark, and their response was telling (and very Quakerly):

"Why did God have to kill all the children?"

"Good question," was the response of Quaker adults who love good questions more than pat answers.

Why did God have to kill the innocent in order to punish the guilty?

I don't have an answer to that question--maybe I will someday, or maybe not--but the story of Noah is one that I grappled with many years ago when I was asked to give a sermon on Earth Day. What I came up with was an interpretation of this story that focuses on non-violence and on our need to care for the earth and all creation. I also discovered something that links care for animals with care for children:

Much closer to home, we are discovering that those who abuse animals are also likely to abuse or neglect their children. According to a recent report, the first case of child abuse to be prosecuted in the United States was brought to trial at the end of the nineteenth century through the efforts of the ASPCA. Today the animal abuse and child abuse agencies have started working together once again. They have discovered that neighbors are more likely to report animal abuse than child abuse. So when animal abuse officers go into home, they also look for signs of child abuse or neglect. As one ASPCA worker put it, "When I go into a home with animal faeces all over the floor, and the dog's food dish is covered with mold, and a child is crawling on the floor through all this unhealthy filth, I now must report the neglect of the child as well as of the animal."

We'd be wise to follow Noah's example and care for all critters, children as well as animals.


The Bible (1966), John Huston's epic film version of the Book of Genesis, contains a fascinating glimpse of life inside Noah's ark. After Noah has followed God's directive and corralled thousands of species of animals into the ark, his skeptical family turns to him and says, "How are we going to feed all these animals?" Noah smiles, points to the cows and chickens, and replies, "No problem. We have plenty of eggs and milk." His wife laughs, "Tigers and lions drinking milk!" "Why not?" replies Noah, "They are really just big pussycats, aren't they?"

The scene is amusing and absurd on a literal level. But the more I observed the way that the Noah and his family dutifully tended to the needs of the animals, the more I was struck by the unique spiritual message of the Biblical story. In Graeco-Roman and Babylonian versions of the universal flood myth, the surviving human beings save only themselves. They have no moral or ethical responsibility to save other species; that is left up to the gods. However, in the Hebrew version, human beings are given the responsibility to preserve and protect all life. The Bible makes quite clear that the human race was threatened with destruction because of its violent tendencies. God tells Noah, "The loathsomeness of all mankind has become plain to me, for through them the earth is full of violence" (Genesis 6: 11). To atone for this sin of violence, human beings must build an ark and become caretakers and caregivers for endangered species.
Noah and his family survived because they faithfully executed God's plan to give human beings and animals a new chance to live together harmoniously. Noah's commitment and compassion restored God's faith in humanity. God therefore promised, "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, however evil his inclination may be from youth upward" (Genesis 8: 21). God told Noah that man will still have dominion over the natural world--"the fear and dread of you shall fall upon all wild animals on earth" (Genesis 9:2)--but man will also be held accountable for any unnecessary bloodshed, whether of animals or of human beings. The myth ends with God's creating the rainbow as a sign of the "everlasting covenant between myself and all that lives on earth" (Genesis 9:17).
The Jewish holy of holies is called "the ark of the covenant," which is sometimes interpreted to mean God's agreement with His chosen people. However, the covenant actually is much broader: it concerns the relationship between God and "all that lives on the earth." A key provision of this covenant is the responsibility of human beings to be stewards of nature.
Long before Buckminster Fuller talked of our planet as a spaceship, the Hebrews imagined all earthly creatures housed in a great boat, which is what the word "ark" actually means. What the story of Noah suggests is that all of us--human beings and animals--are "in the same boat." We sink or swim together. We are all answerable to the same Higher Power--the Creator of Life.

As sailors on this earth ship, we need to do what is in the best interest of all who are on board. According to the Bible, we also need to obey the commands of our captain, the Lord of the Universe.This is what the Hebrews meant when they spoke of a "covenant." To appreciate the Bible's environmental message, we need to look carefully at the three important provisions in this covenant.

1) God's covenant is based upon the belief that all life is sacred. God did not say, "Noah, I want you to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine which animals you feel are profitable, and which animals deserve to die." Instead, God said: "Save all the animals, and I will save you." In the Bible's view, all life deserves to be protected because it is God's creation. Jesus is therefore echoing a well-established Scriptural tradition when he says that God cares for the fall of a sparrow. By the same token, God may be said to care about the fate of the spotted owl, the snail darter, the Bay smelt, and other endangered species.

2) The business of human beings is not business, but serving God and respecting life. It was evident from Huston's film and from the Biblical story that everyone on the ark had a great deal of work to do. There can no problem of unemployment when you have to feed and care for all the species on earth! One may therefore infer from the story of Noah that the issue for God is not "jobs or the environment." The issue rather is, "How do we create attitudes and occupations that will help us to live harmoniously with our environment?"

The Buddhists call this kind of work "right livelihood," a way of life that helps us and others to be happy and to achieve enlightenment. Christians call spiritually enlightened work a vocation or calling. In any case, we need to make the Spirit, not employment, the guiding principle in our lives. Only then can we live in harmony and balance with all living creatures.

3) We need to be willing to risk doing seemingly silly or futile things to save the planet. Noah was not a practical man. He did not build a boat with an eye to making a profit. He is described as someone who "walked with God" and was willing to do what God commanded, even at the risk of seeming ridiculous to his neighbors and to his family. What could be more absurd than building a boat on dry land in the midst of a drought? If Noah were alive today, some people would call him an "eco-radical" or "environmental socialist" or even an "ozone man." Fear of seeming ridiculous sometimes prevents us from doing all we can to help preserve the environment. It sometimes seems futile or absurd to re-cycle newspapers, compost our garbage, or plant a tree when the whole planet is on the verge of ecological disaster. We should take heart from Noah's example, however, and do what God commands us to do to help preserve the natural world. We must be willing to say, with Noah, "Okay, God, if you want me to save all the species on this planet, I'll do it."

Today more than ever before in the history of the human race, it is crucial for us to reaffirm the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures. We need to identify with the non-human members of God's family. Furthermore, we need to take God's covenant with Noah one step further by applying the Golden Rule to our relationship with animals and plants.

In order to "do unto nature as you would like nature to do unto you," try to imagine how you would you feel if you were an endangered species. How would you feel if your food supply were cut off or drastically reduced? How would you feel if you had to abandon your home, the place where you and your family had lived for countless generations? How would you feel if your offspring were born deformed or dead?

These feelings are not too difficult to imagine since the problems which face animals are shared by far too many human beings on this planet. Hunger, homelessness, genetic damage, and a breakdown of family life have become all too common features in today's world. It is becoming increasingly clear that the fate of animals and the fate of human beings are inextricably linked.

In fact, the fate of animals may be compared to that of native peoples who were threatened with extinction after Columbus' "encounter" with the New World. The European invaders regarded animals and Native people in much the same way. Indians were either enslaved, slaughtered or compelled to live on reservations, just as many endangered species have been either exterminated or forced to live in parks and zoos. In these alien environments, animals often feel isolated, confused, and lonely. They fall prey to disease. They even lose their ability to function in the wild.

Many zoo keepers are becoming aware of this problem and are changing their attitudes and policies. Instead of preserving animals merely to satisfy human curiosity, many zoo keepers are now trying to breed endangered animal populations and restore them to the wild. Take, for instance, the wild tamarin monkeys of the Brazilian rainforest. When they became nearly extinct in the 1960's, zoo keepers decided to breed them in captivity and to release in the wild. But first, these civilized monkeys had to be taught basic survival skills.

National zoo primatologist Benjamin Beck assumed the role of master teacher in a tamarin "outward bound" program. The first class, in 1983, enrolled fifteen pupils--a group of tamarins from the National Zoo and four others....The pupils were, in effect, pampered city kids who needed to learn survival skills for a wholly different world. They had never searched for food, but had it presented--literally on a platter--on a regular daily schedule.... Here, then, were fifteen monkeys who did not comprehend the business of peeling a banana. (Jake Page, Smithsonian's New Zoo (1990), p. 33)

Captive breeding is obviously just a stop-gap measure. As Jan de Blie wrote in Meant to Be Wild (1991), a book about the struggle to save endangered species through captive breeding, this policy "provides no lasting solution to the problem of vanishing species, no means of stemming the environmental destruction that threatens to bleed the world of most of its natural diversity. It offers hope that someday human attitudes will change, political turmoils will cease, and wild landscapes will be restored; but it does not address the deep cultural and religious beliefs that encourage people to kill wildlife and destroy natural areas" (p. 7). In other words, there is only so much that science can do. We must also change our religious and cultural attitudes.

The story of Noah offers a model to help us re-think our attitudes towards wild life. Noah did not set out to dominate nature; he did not capture animals for sport; he did not study them to accumulate scientific knowledge or to discover how they can benefit human beings. He followed a simple directive: "Save all the animals, and I will save you." This spiritual principle deserves prayerful reflection. It suggests that if we save animals for their sake, and not just for our own selfish purposes, we will benefit all life on this planet, including our own, in ways that we cannot fully imagine.

The Bible shows us that human beings and the natural world are spiritually and physically linked. The Hebrew prophets frequently remind us that the moral behavior of human beings has a significant impact on the natural world. According to the prophets, if we mistreat widows and orphans, if we become greedy and selfish, if we worship material things, if we forget about social justice, the natural world becomes desolate. On the other hand, if we treat the poor and oppressed with justice, if we live simply and "walk with God," the natural world flourishes and we experience what Quakers call "the Peaceable Kingdom."

Recent events confirm this profound spiritual insight. As we look back at the legacy of Viet Nam and the Gulf War, we can see that not only people, but also entire eco-systems are damaged or destroyed by modern-day weapons of mass destruction.

Much closer to home, we are discovering that those who abuse animals are also likely to abuse or neglect their children. According to a recent report, the first case of child abuse to be prosecuted in the United States was brought to trial at the end of the nineteenth century through the efforts of the ASPCA. Today the animal abuse and child abuse agencies have started working together once again. They have discovered that neighbors are more likely to report animal abuse than child abuse. So when animal abuse officers go into home, they also look for signs of child abuse or neglect. As one ASPCA worker put it, "When I go into a home with animal faeces all over the floor, and the dog's food dish is covered with mold, and a child is crawling on the floor through all this unhealthy filth, I now must report the neglect of the child as well as of the animal."

Domestic violence, animal abuse, war and pollution: they are all related problems. To solve our ecological crisis, we must also work to eliminate the violence pervading our lives. To end violence, we must be concerned about the rights of animals and plants as well as of humans. Social justice, environmental well-being and spiritual redemption are inextricably interconnected. This is what the Hebrews meant by shalom, or peace. We therefore must work together to build a new global ark whose main business will be to preserve and protect all life. As we build this new ark, let us remember the rainbow---that beautiful and precious symbol of God's "everlasting covenant with all that lives on earth"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Experiencing the Light as a Quaker and as a Methodist

For over twenty years I was married to Kathleen Ross, a Methodist minister whom I met at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation. She had a deep affinity for Quakerism, and I came to appreciate Methodism during the course of our wonderful marriage.

Kathleen passed away three years ago, and I have remarried to a woman who is also a Methodist--a "free" Methodist, a branch of Methodists who split off from the mainstream Methodists in the 19th century because they didn't want to pay for their pews (as was the custom then) and because they strongly opposed slavery.

Obviously, I feel drawn not only to Methodism but also to Methodist women, so perhaps it might be helpful to explain what Methodism and Quakerism have in common.

When Kathleen and I were married in the manner of Quakers at a Friends Meetinghouse in Claremont, California, most of the 150 or so people who attended our wedding were Methodists. In keeping with Quaker practice, we didn’t have an assigned minister or any set order of worship. We just sat in front of the congregation, said our marriage vows, and waited for the Spirit to inspire us. There was a long silence, and then various people stood up and shared their messages. Some sang hymns. Some told stories. One Methodist pastor who was Kathleen’s buddy even told a joke. Everything happened spontaneously, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives. It’s amazing what happens when you let go and let God conduct the worship service!

When Kathleen first told her Methodist friends that she was marrying a Quaker, some of them asked, “Does he wear buttons?” So let me begin by saying that Quakers are not Amish. We Quakers believe in living simply, but we aren’t opposed to modern technology. As Quakers, what we try to do is get rid of anything in our lives that stands between us and the Spirit.

Like the Amish faith, Quakerism began during a time of violent social and religious upheaval. The world was being torn apart by religious wars. Religious fanaticism was rampant. Sad to say, things are not so different today.

Then along came George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. He was of humble origins, a leather worker by trade, and he was looking for answers to spiritual questions. He went to the ministers and religious gurus of his time, but none of them could help him. Then one day George sat down in utter despair and waited on the Lord. Here’s what he said about this experience in his Journal:

When all my hopes in [preachers] and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,’ and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy….And this I knew experimentally.”

This was the beginning of a radically new “experimental” religious movement. By “experimental” Fox meant that religion has to be based upon inward experience rather than upon dogma or external authority. All the trappings of religion—stained glass windows, church buildings, even hymn-singing and the sacraments—have to be eliminated so we can have a direct experience of God’s presence. Quakers come together, sit in silence, and wait on the Lord. There is no order of worship, no paid minister, no prearranged sermon. People speak out of the silence only when they feel a leading of the Spirit. This seemingly formless form of worship sounds simple, but it is very powerful and profoundly changed people’s lives.

In its early days, Quakerism was very evangelical. Quakers traveled all over England, and the rest of the world, sharing their Good News. “Christ is come to teach his people himself.” That was the Quaker message. Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to teach us, and this spirit is available now, just as it was in the time of the apostles. Each of us has a direct link to Christ. We just have to keep our phone line open, so to speak, and the Lord will answer.

Early Quakers had other good news. They believed that there is “that of God” in every person. This meant that women as well as men could preach the Word of God since everyone is equal in God’s sight. This was very controversial then. In the eighteenth century, Dr. Johnson said of a Quaker woman preacher. “A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on its hinder legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised that it is done at all” (Boswell’s Life of Johnson, p. 327). Fox along with other Quakers felt quite differently about women preaching. Long before other Christian denominations recognized women ministers, Quaker women could get up in meeting and preach just like men. Many Quaker women became leaders in prison reform, the anti-slavery movement, and the women’s rights movement.

The other important Quaker message was non-violence. Quakers believe that Christ does not intend for us to fight with what George Fox called “carnal weapons.” To overcome evil, we must do use spiritual weapons, and the most powerful spiritual weapon of all is love. Over the past three and a half centuries, many Quakers have preferred going to prison to going to war. In the 20th century many Quakers became conscientious objectors, and so many became active in doing relief work after wars that in 1947 they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

What do Methodists have in common with Quakers?

The Quaker historian John Punshon has noted that “there are many parallels between the emergence of Quakerism as a force in the Seventeenth Century, and the rise of Methodism in the Eighteenth. Each is due in considerable measure to the work of one tough, energetic man of vision and deep spiritual experience. George Fox and John Wesley came from different stations in life, but each found, ultimately, that the church of his birth was too narrow to contain him. Each spent his life bringing other people to Christ. Each in his way emulated Paul. Wesley was a great traveler for the faith, Fox was a great prisoner for it” (p. 148).

As many of you no doubt know, Wesley’s dramatic conversion experience took place aboard a ship heading back to England after an unsuccessful ministry in Georgia. A great storm arose, and the ship began to rock back and forth so violently that many people were terrified that the ship would sink. Only one group seemed unperturbed: a group of Moravians who cheerfully sang hymns while the storm raged. Wesley came to realize that religion is more than just following rules and being a good person. You have to have total faith in God’s love and grace. When Wesley opened himself up to that faith, he had what he called a “heart warming experience.” He knew from experience, and not simply from reading the Bible, that God’s love is limitless and can utterly transform our lives. This is also the belief of Friends.

Like Wesley, Quakers believed that God wants to save everyone. This may seem obvious today, at least to most of us sitting in this room, but it wasn’t obvious to everyone in Wesley’s time. The Calvinists and Catholics felt that only a select few were predestined to be saved by God. The vast majority of people are hopelessly damned. Methodists and Quakers have always believed that God’s plan is for everyone to enjoy eternal happiness. This is called “Universal Salvation” or “Universalism.”

Here’s how John Punshon described the enthusiasm of early Methodists and Quakers. “The religion that [the Methodists] preached was, like the Quakers’, based on personal experience and the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. The Methodist converts, like the early Quakers, were possessed of an irrepressible joy” (p. 149).

The core of the Methodist faith lay in small groups of people coming together to experience and share the good news of Christ entering and transforming their lives. This experience seemed so close to Quakerism that many Methodists became Quakers and vice versa.

In 1748, Wesley became concerned about the excessively cordial relations between Methodists and Quakers, so he wrote a tract pointing out the theological differences between the two groups. Unlike Quakers, Methodists do not deny the importance of sacraments. Methodists are also much more Christ- and Bible-centered than Quakers.

Despite these differences, Quakers and Methodists have had many fruitful contacts over the years. John Wesley became opposed to slavery largely because of a Philadelphia Quaker named Anthony Benezet. Many Methodists have been influenced by Quakers who were pacifists or activists in the feminist and Civil Rights movements.

Methodists have also influenced Quakers. If you go to a Friends Church, such as the one in Whittier or Long Beach, you might imagine you were at a Methodist worship service. There is a paid minister, hymns, and Bible reading. The only differences you’d notice is that there are no sacraments such as baptism and communion. Instead, there is ten minutes or so of silence in the middle of the worship service. This is called “communion in the manner of Friends.”

Programmed worship developed as Quakers moved West in the nineteenth century and felt the need to “compete” with evangelical churches like the Methodists.

I am a bit unusual because I have been involved with both a Friends Church and unprogrammed Meetings. When Kathleen and I lived in Whittier during from 1986-2002, I was a member of both First Friends Church and an unprogrammed traditional Quaker meeting called Whitleaf that meets on the Whittier College campus.

I am also a card-carrying Methodist. I was given a card by the Methodist men of Del Rosa United Methodist Church when I served as a youth pastor at my wife’s church in San Bernardino for five years. I was so impressed with the youth work done by the Methodists that I helped to start a youth service program for Quakers here in Southern California.

To tell you the truth, religious labels don’t mean a lot to me. The more experience I have with God and God’s people, the less concerned I am about whether what faith people say that they belong to. What really matters is how we live our faith.

Let me conclude with the words of William Penn, the Quaker who founded Pennsylvania. Three hundred and fifty years ago, when many Christians were killing each other over matters of doctrine and ritual, Penn wrote:

“The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries [or clothing] they wear here [on earth] makes them strangers.”

I say, why wait until we are dead to take off our masks and discover that we all belong to one religion? We need to experience and share this good news today. We are all part of God’s family—Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even those of little or no faith. We have been placed on this earth not to be strangers, but to be friends. Do I hear an amen?

Anthony Manousos joined the Religious Society of Friends in 1985 and for eleven years was editor of Friends Bulletin, the official publication of independent Western Quakers. He has also served on the board of numerous interfaith organizations, including the Parliament of the World's Religions, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, etc.
 Anthony has been involved in many Quaker projects and has edited five Quaker books, the most recent being "Quakers and the Interfaith Movement" (2011).

In 1993 Anthony helped to start a youth service program under the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee and has led youth and adults on service projects to Mexico and various other places. He has published several pamphlets, including one entitled “Islam from a Quaker Perspective.” He earned a B.A. from Boston University and a Ph.D. in British literature from Rutgers University. He taught at various colleges and universities before becoming a full-time Quaker editor and peace activist.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Whittier: The Poet and The City

[John Greenleaf Whittier was just not the "good gray poet" who wrote "warm and fuzzy" poems like "Barefoot Boy" and "Snowbound": he was also a fiery abolitionist, a champion of labor rights, and a mystic aware of the clash between science and traditional religion. This post is based on a talk that I gave at Whittier First United Methodist Church on June 23, 2002, in which I reflect on what I have learned from studying Whittier's life and poetry.]

My wife Kathleen and I have loved the city of Whittier from the time that we moved here six years ago. We love the small-town friendliness as well as the cultural diversity of our city. Our feelings about Whittier are summed up in a picture made by local artist, Cecilia Lowry, that hangs over our fireplace. Painted in an impressionistic style, with bright splotches of purple and yellow and pink, it shows the statue of John Greenleaf Whittier in Central Park. Behind it children are playing around a Maypole and you can see the spires of the First United Methodist Church, where my wife served as an assistant pastor for a couple of years and worked with the pre-school program. Over the years my wife and I have attended many concerts in the park, where this statue of Whittier invariably attracts children who like to play on his comfortable, grandfatherly lap. Now and then you see a beer can in Whittier’s hand, no doubt left by a college student. On the way to the library my wife and I often stop to admire another evidence of our city’s love of Whittier—the lifelike statue of Whittier’s “barefoot boy with cheeks of tan” fishing in a pond. A warm bath of nostalgia never fails to wash over us as we pause to admire this statue.
These warm and fuzzy images of John Greenleaf Whittier are not the whole picture of the man, or of the city named after him. Two aspects of Whittier’s life and work have not received the attention they deserve—his passion for justice and his deep Quaker spirituality.

Whittier’s image as a “good gray Quaker poet” reflect a period in his life after the Civil War when he was an old man reminiscing about his upbringing in rural New England. What we often forget, or may not know, is that for most of his life, Whittier was motivated by a passion for social justice—abolition of slavery, fair treatment for workers, equality for women and men of all races, and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Whittier’s values were shaped by his Quaker background and by his upbringing in Haverill, a village in northwestern Massachusetts, not far from the New Hampshire border.

Whittier painted an idyllic portrait of these days in famous and popular poems like “Barefoot Boy” and “Snow Bound.” In reality, New England farm life in the early 19th century was so harsh that it permanently damaged Whittier’s health, and may have limited his career options. One of his first poems was a bit of doggerel complaining of farm life: “Must I always fling the flail,/and help to fill the milking pail?/I wish to go away to school;/I do not wish to be a fool.”

Whittier’s parents didn’t have the money to send Whittier to school, so he had to earn his own way by making inexpensive ladies’ slippers. College was beyond his means, so he tried to make a living by editing newspapers and playing politics, about which I will say more later.

Although Whittier’s parents couldn’t afford to give him a formal education, they did instill in him the principles and practices of Quakerism. The Religious Society of Friends (the formal name for “Quakers”) is a Christian reform movement that started in the 17th century during a time of religious war and turmoil. Its founder, George Fox, was a working class seeker who went through much spiritual turmoil and uncertainty until he had a profound inner experience of Christ. His followers believed that each individual can have a direct experience of the Divine Presence without the necessity of sacraments, priests, ministers, or scripture. Friends worship together in silence and “wait upon the Lord.” Because some Friends trembled with the Holy Spirit during worship, they came to be known as “Quakers.”

Friends have also tended to be “quiet rebels” against social demands that they feel infringe on the individual conscience. One of Whittier’s early New England ancestors, Thomas Whittier, is good example of this Quaker trait, even though he himself was a Puritan, not a Friend. Nonetheless, in 1662, Thomas Whittier protested against the persecution of Quakers by his fellow Puritans and was stripped of his voting rights. His family subsequently became Friends.

Because Friends strongly believe in the sacredness of each individual, they have been on the forefront of movements for social equality. The Religious Society of Friends abolished slavery for its members in 1777 and many Friends were active in the abolitionist movement.

Whittier always felt a deep dislike of slavery, but in his early twenties, his main preoccupation was with making a living. Whittier also hoped to become famous, if not rich, through his literary gifts and his knack for politics. At one point, he even tried to change the date of an election so he would be old enough to run. He promised one of his supporters that “if my friends enable me to acquire influence, it shall be exerted for their benefit.” Whittier admitted that during this period, he was driven by “a very foolish desire of distinction, of applause, of fame, of what the world calls immortality.”

What changed Whittier’s life was the fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison first met Whittier when Whittier’s sister submitted one of her brother’s poems to a local newspaper. When the poem was published, it attracted a lot of attention. The young editor Garrison showed up at Whittier’s home and said that Whittier would some day have a brilliant career as a poet. Unimpressed, Whittier’s father replied, “Sir, poetry will not get him bread.” His father was right. It was forty years before poetry earned Whittier a decent living.

As a young man, Whittier tried his hand at newspaper editing and political writing—activities which yielded only a modest income. Many of the poems he wrote during this period are based on New England legends, written in the spirit of Robert Burns and the Romantics. When Whittier turned 25 in 1833, Garrison wrote him a note urging him to become an abolitionist: “Whittier enlist!—Your talents, zeal, influence—all are needed.”

These fiery words energized young Whittier and inspired him to study the slavery question in earnest. After several months he wrote a tract condemning slavery called Expediency and Justice and published it at his own expense. It was an act of faith and courage that cost Whittier dearly. The pamphlet was widely circulated and extremely controversial. It made Whittier famous, or rather infamous, since most Americans at this time supported slavery and disliked abolitionists. A doctor in Washington, DC, gave this pamphlet to a friend, was charged with circulating “subversive literature,” and thrown in jail. Conditions in jail were so harsh that the doctor died soon afterwards.

Writing this pamphlet changed Whittier’s life, and for the next 30 years he worked tirelessly to end slavery.

Whittier’s objection to slavery was based on religious principles—the Quaker belief that “there is that of God in every one.” For this reason, Whittier was especially critical of religious people who attempted to justify slavery. After a pro-slavery meeting in Charleston, S.C., in 1835, a newspaper reported: “The clergy of all denominations attended in a body, lending their sanction to the proceedings, and adding by their presence to the impressive character of the scene.” Whittier was incensed that he wrote these lines condemning the clergy as “kidnappers” and “robbers”:
Just God! And these are they
Who minister at thine altar, God of Right!
Men who their hands with prayer and blessing lay
On Israel’s Ark of light!
What! Preach, and kidnap men?
Give thanks, and rob their own afflicted poor?
Talk of thy glorious liberty, and then
Bolt hard the captive’s door?
One of Whittier’s most scathing and bitter satires is called “The Christian Slave.” In his preface to this poem, Whittier notes that in a slave action in New Orleans, the auctioneer tried to sell a woman at a higher price because she was a “Good Christian,” and therefore would make a more docile and obedient slave. Whittier wrote with outrage:

A Christian! Going, gone!
Who bids for God’s own image? For his grace,
Which that poor victim of the market-place
Hath in her suffering won?

Whittier contrasts this despicable Christian slave auction with the Muslim practice of releasing slaves when they make the pilgrimage to Mecca:

Oh shame! [says Whittier to us Christians.] The Moslem thrall [that is, slave]
Who, with his master, to the Prophet kneels,
While turning to the sacred Kebla [or Kaba] feels
His fetters break and fall.

Cheers for the turbaned Bey [or leader]
Of robber-peopled Tunis! He hath torn
The dark slave-dungeons open, and hath borne
Their inmates into day;

But our poor slave in vain
Turns to the Christian shrine his aching eyes;
Its rites will only swell his market price,
And rivet on his chain.

Whittier applauds Moslems who are freeing their slaves in the name of religion while Christians are using religion to boost the price of their human commodities. As you can imagine, such well-aimed attacks on religious hypocrisy made many Christians not only uncomfortable, but quite angry with Whittier.

More than once Whittier had to face angry mobs. In Plymouth, New Hampshire, Whittier was escorting a “notorious” British abolitionist named George Thompson who was hated for being an “outside agitator.” A mob of angry townspeople started tossing rotten eggs at Whittier, ruining his suit, and he had to run for his life to escape stoning. One stone grazed his leg and left him temporarily lame. Whittier and Thompson spent a terrifying night in a farmhouse surrounded by an enraged mob armed with not only rocks but also guns.

Whittier was unfazed by this mob violence and by the fact that his career in politics was ruined by his abolitionist stand. Whittier had found something more important than success and fame. He had found a purpose, and a deep sense of the Divine Presence, that sustained him for the rest of his life.

Whittier was exercised not only about slavery, but also about all forms of exploitation. He was especially concerned about women who toiled in the textile mills for long hours and could barely earn a living wage. In order to insure that workers were treated fairly and with dignity, Whittier supported unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike even though these ideas were considered radical.

If Whittier were alive today, he would no doubt be appalled by unfair labor practices caused by globalization. He would be horrified to learn that today’s American boys are not running around barefoot innocently enjoying nature, but are wearing sneakers made in sweat shops by Third World children and are playing video games with names like “Killer Ninjas” or “Global Domination.”

Because he voiced opinions that were unpopular—some would even say subversive—Whittier never earned much money until late in life, and this was one reason that he never married. Whittier had a fondness for women and came quite close to marrying on several occasions, but family responsibilities or financial worries stood in the way. For this reason, there is a certain poignancy in the fact that the town of Whittier was named after him. In a sense, this city could be considered Whittier’s child. He even wrote a poem in which he made this comparison.

Has the city of Whittier lived up to its spiritual father’s expectations? I am sorry to say that whenever I mention that I am from Whittier, the first thing that people say is: “Oh, you mean Nixon’s hometown.” At first, I used to cringe and reply lamely, “Well, actually Nixon was not born here but in Yorba Linda.” But one day I was walking to the library and noticed that this town has a street named after Nixon—a dead end street that leads to the police station. Whenever I tell people about this street, it gets a laugh.

Sad to say, the city of Whittier is not known for being politically progressive. But I have known some individuals in this city who have been faithful to Whittier’s vision of the social justice and the social gospel—people such as Edith and Gerald Haynes, Helen O’Brien, Dottie Andersen, Bill Miller, Hans Holbern, Susanne Weil, George and Judy Prather as well as others that readers of this newspaper can probably name. In them, the spirit of John Greenleaf Whittier lives among us.

Whittier was not only a political activist, he was also deeply spiritual. His spirituality was rooted in his Quaker faith, with its practice of silent worship. Quaker meetinghouses had no stained glass, no religious imagery, no music of any kind, to distract worshipers from the direct experience of the Divine Presence. Whittier describes such meetings for worship in “First Day Thoughts”:

In calm and cool and silence, once again
I find my old accustomed place among
My brethren, where, perchance, no human tongue
Shall utter words; where never hymn is sung,
Nor deep-toned organ blown, nor censer swung,
Nor dim light falling through the pictured pane!
There, syllabled by silence, let me hear
The still small voice which reached the prophet’s ear.
The “still, small voice” is what Friends listen for during their time of silent worship. To hear this inner voice of the Spirit, Friends believe that we must let go of everything that distracts us, even such pleasant things as stained glass windows, incense, and organ music.

This idea underlies one of Whittier’s most famous poems, “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.” (Because this title offends feminists, and many of today’s Friends, the most recent Quaker hymnal offers a substitute first line: “Creator of all humankind.” Whittier probably wouldn’t have minded the change since he was a strong believer in the equality of the sexes and advocated not only women’s suffrage, but also higher education for women.)

The hymn that we call “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” is actually part of a much longer poem called the “Brewing of Soma.” Soma was an hallucinogenic drink that some Hindus used to induce religious ecstasy. Whittier compares the Hindu use of soma with the “smells and bells” used in some Christian churches: “We brew in many a Christian fane [church] / The heathen Soma still!” Although Whittier was himself a lover of poetry, music, and art, he regarded such things as unnecessary during worship since the purpose of authentic worship is to help us see life (and the Spirit) clearly, and act with a clear conscience. Whittier describes the effects of silent worship like the coming of dawn after a restless night:

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.

Whittier lived in a time of intellectual restlessness when science was undermining traditional religious faith. He felt that the only hope for vital religion was to base its validity on inward experience, not outward creeds. He wrote:

“They fail to read clearly the signs of the times who do not see that the hour is coming when, under the searching eye of philosophy and the terrible analysis of science, the letter and outward evidence will not altogether avail us; when the surest dependence must be on the light of Christ within, disclosing the law and the prophets in our own souls, and confirming the truth of Scripture by inward experience.”

Whittier anticipates the direction that liberal Quaker thought would take in the 20th century, with the advent of Quaker theologians like Rufus Jones, Howard Brinton, and Douglas Steere. They made it clear that the truly important questions of religion cannot be solved by logic or dogma, but by an inward religious experience that some would call mysticism.

Several of Whittier’s most moving religious poems were inspired by conversations that he had with seekers unsure of their faith. In the poem “Trust,” he tries to help his friend understand that the “baffling questions” posed by science cannot be answered by reason alone; ultimately, we must trust in the eternal goodness of God and the universe:

The same old baffling questions! O my friend,
I cannot answer them. In vain I sent
My soul into the dark, where never burn
The lamps of science, nor the natural light
Of Reason’s sun and stars!

After this inward search, Whittier admits: “I have no answer for myself or thee,/Save that I learned beside my mother’s knee;/’All is of God that is, and is to be,/And God is good.” Let this suffice us still/Resting in childlike trust upon His will/Who moves to His great ends unthwarted by the ill.”

In a poem called “Requirement” Whittier makes clear that “we live by Faith; but Faith is not the slave/ of text and legend. Reason’s voice and God’s/Nature’s and Duty’s, never are at odds.” God’s “requirement” is for us is to act with kindness and love towards all, not to believe in miracles or in incomprehensible dogmas. In a poem called “By their Works,” Whittier suggests that a “heretic” who does good deeds is as pleasing to God as someone who professes to be religious.

One of Whittier’s appealing ideas is his utter conviction that God is better than we human beings can even begin to imagine. This may sound absurdly obvious when it’s stated like this. But consider the strange ideas that human beings have had about God. God has been described as jealous and even vindictive (“vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord). It has even been claimed and believed by millions of Christians that God created the vast majority of His children simply to damn them from birth to eternal Hell and that He created only a very small number to be saved. Even today, some believers claim that God requires us to kill or dispossess others for His sake. Of such strange ideas, Whittier writes:

In the maddening maze of things,
and tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!
Not mine to look where cherubim
And seraphs may not see,
But nothing can be good in Him
Which evil is in me.

In other words, if it is wrong for human beings to be jealous or vindictive, if it is wrong for human beings to discriminate, if it is wrong for human beings to murder, then certainly it is wrong for God to behave this way or encourage us to do so. Even though we may not be able to understand the mysteries of the Infinite Mind, we can quite sure that that neither God nor a truly inspired scripture requires us to do what we know to be hurtful or unloving.

Whittier not only believed firmly in the goodness of God, he also believed that the Divine Light shines in every human soul. Although deeply Christian, he recognized that Truth can be found in those of other religions since the true light “enlightens everyone coming into the world” (John 1:13). Whittier’s appreciation for those of other faiths is revealed in a homely incident that occurred when Whittier was quite elderly. Noticing a young man leaning at the gate of his front yard, reading a book, Whittier became curious. He spoke to the young man and learned that he was an Arab from the circus. The book that he was reading was the Koran. Since Whittier had read most of the world’s sacred scriptures, he knew the Koran well. He was able to respect for this young man’s religion and made him feel welcome in a strange land.

Whittier would, I’m sure, have been very pleased by the way that many churches have reached out to Muslims here in Whittier and elsewhere since September 11th.

The image we have of Whittier as a kindly old grandfather is therefore not inaccurate. Whittier was in fact a tolerant, loving, and gentle man. When he was 85 years old, he suffered a stroke and just before he died, he repeated over and over: “Love—love to all the world.”

I’m sure that old Greenleaf would be very pleased that children today play on his statue, and I don’t think he would have minded very much that college students place beer cans in his hands. Whittier had a good sense of humor and he loved children and animals. He sensed that the Eternal Goodness was present in even the lowliest or most unlikely creature. He had a pet rooster that used to perch on his shoulder, as well as a pet squirrel. After its death this squirrel was stuffed and placed on display in the Whittier room of Whittier College, where it was occasionally kidnapped by college students and paraded around the campus.

But Whittier’s most colorful and beloved pet was Charlie, a gray parrot with a scarlet tail. This parrot was given to Whittier by a sailor, and it had a vocabulary common among rough, sea-faring men. Whittier tried to teach the parrot to use more genteel words, but one Sunday morning, Charlie perched on the roof of Whittier’s house and began swearing at people on their way to church.

Whittier loved this parrot, salty vocabulary and all. When it died, Whittier wrote to his friend Lucy Larcom. “Charlie was an old friend… the heartiest, jolliest, pleasantest old fellow I ever saw.”

The same words could be applied to John Greenleaf himself. He cared deeply for justice and peace, but he did not take himself too seriously. Even though Whittier is not the world’s most progressive place, I think that old Greenleaf would appreciate the city named after him. He would love the diversity of people living here, he would appreciate our small town friendliness, and he would forgive our foolish ways. But he would also urge us, with gentle persuasion and occasional exasperation, to live up to the Christian ideals and the Christian love that we profess.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Palm Sunday Peace Parade....a life-changing experience

Little did I know when I went to the Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena last year I would meet Jill Shook and my life would never be the same. Three weeks after we met, I proposed  and five months later she and I were married. During our wedding ceremony, we affirmed, and we are still convinced, that "the Prince of Peace brought us together for a purpose greater than either of us can imagine."

Jill and I also joked about our encounter with Bert Newton, founder and organizer of the Palm Sunday Peace Parade. We invited him to take part in our wedding since it would never have occurred without him. We also told him he could use us to advertise this annual Palm Sunday event:

 "Maybe you should let singles know that this parade can be a golden opportunity for meeting someone special...."

This year's Palm Sunday Peace Parade takes place on April  1 with the theme: "Parade of Fools." Explains Bert:

"In these days of endless war, we march as fools who believe that another world is possible."

We will gather at 3:30 PM at Messiah Lutheran Church, 570 E Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena CA. After which we will march to the Paseo to sing and pray for peace and justice.  See ThePeaceAcademy.org/peaceparade.

Jill and I are also planning to have a get-together at our home prior to this event to celebrate the first anniversary of our meeting.

Bert Newton reports good news about the Palm Sunday Peace Parade:

"We have expanded from three cities around the U.S. to four!! In addition to Pasadena, this year there will be Palm Sunday Peace Parades in Harrisonburg, VA, Elkhart, IN, and Toledo, OH!! Let's keep this movement growing!!" 

Last year I posted a sermon I wrote about Palm Sunday as a peace demonstration, based on the writings of Marcus Borg. See http://laquaker.blogspot.com/search?q=palm+sunday 

This year Bert wrote a Palm Sunday reflection called "Jesus Rode a Donkey" in his blog (see below). Bert is a Mennonite theologian as well as an activist. He has written a book about John's Gospel that will be published by the same publishing house that is publishing Jill's book on affordable housing. Jill and Bert worked together on a chapter dealing with the theology of affordable housing. And I have come to know and appreciate Bert as a good friend and neighbor.

The  "marginalized neighborhood" he mentions in his reflection is Northwest Pasadena, a low-income, racially and ethnically diverse area that was once one of the most gang-ridden neighborhoods in Southern California. This is where Jill and I live, and where Bert lives with other committed Christians, and where my Quaker meeting is located.

Northwest Pasadena isn't as bad as some people think. It's a vibrant and colorful neighborhood where Blacks, Hispanics and people of all kinds are living together as good neighbors.

It is here that Bert and Jill came to witness (like Jesus) to the transforming power of God's shalom--peace with justice for all. And through various projects they have undertaken, they have made a real difference in this neighborhood and in this city....

Is seeking such shalom foolishness? Is it foolish to fall in love?

In our hearts we know the answer to these questions. What is bringing us together on Palm Sunday to witness to peace is the one who wasn't afraid to sacrifice everything for love's sake.

Jesus Rode a Donkey: A Theater of the Oppressed

Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40, John 12:12-19

What do country bumpkins do when they come to the big city? The city folk are so much more sophisticated: Their clothes are trendier, their speech more urbane, their transportation flashier. The country folk stick out like a sore thumb and draw contemptuous looks from the city folk. Such was likely the experience of the Galilean peasants coming into Jerusalem for Passover. They must have felt a strong impulse to try to just blend in, to assimilate. That is until one of their local heroes arrived; then suddenly they were willing to make their presence known and to proclaim their own regional candidate for king. They did not care how pathetic and absurd their candidate appeared to the city folk; in fact, they reveled in the absurdity, in the simple down home candor of their champion.

Jesus of Nazareth came in peasant clothes, riding a donkey. When Roman dignitaries came to Jerusalem, they would arrive with an impressive procession of war horses and chariots. In absurd contrast, Jesus rode this lone, pathetic beast of burden. He needed no army. He needed no chariots and war horses. He needed only the singular weapon of the common poor: the word of God, the prophetic word that cuts like a double-edged sword.

His absurdist theater sent forth a word of revelation: It revealed the absurd cruelty of the Roman occupation; it laid bare the foolish complicity of the Jerusalem elite with their Roman overlords; it revealed the defeat of the kingdoms of this world and the coming victory of the in-breaking Reign of God. The disciples recalled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-10:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
Triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off.
And he shall command peace to the nations!

Following the example of Jesus on Palm Sunday at 3:00 in the afternoon, The Peace & Justice Academy will co-sponsor the annual Palm Sunday Peace Parade. We will march from a historically marginalized neighborhood in Pasadena to the economic center of the city. There we will sing and pray for peace. We will witness against the powers and authorities of this world that make war against God’s poor ones, and witness for the in-breaking Reign of God, a reign of justice and peace.

For further information, contact Bert Newton, elbertwalkernewton@yahoo.com, or 626-793-1103.

Monday, March 19, 2012

ICUJPblog.net: A taste of peacemaking in Los Angeles

One of the highpoints of my week is attending the Friday morning ICUJP meetings that take place at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on the corner of Wilshire and Vermont in Los Angeles. 40-50 people attend each week, including some of the most interesting and committed peace and justice advocates in LA.
The only drawback: getting to  church at 7 AM to hear them!

For those who have jobs or other commitments, there is good news. ICUJP plans to have a Sunday meeting gathering soon. Stay tuned for details.

Meanwhile, I recommend checking out Icujpblog.net where you will see entries such as these:

March 16, 2012

"The Right to Wear (or Not to Wear) a Head Scarf"

by Stepehn Rohde, Chair of ICUJP "At a time when women are being raped and exploited around the world and defiled at home as “sluts” and 'prostitutes' for defending contraception, conservative columnist Dennis Prager recently chose to devote his column to the topic of head scarfs...."

March 15, 2012

Remembering Rachel Corrie

by Rev. Darrel Myers, a retired Presbyterian minister active with Sabeel and other pro-Palestinian causes, pays tribute to this brave young woman. 

"This Friday, March 16th, is the ninth anniversary of the bulldozer killing of Rachel Corrie in the Gaza Strip. The 23- year-old from Olympia, Washington, was trying to block the demolition of yet another Palestinian home…"

March 14, 2012

“Dancing in an Earthquake”

Reflection of Rita Lowenthal on her 85th birthday. "I’m not quite sure how this happened—why I decided to use my reflection time to celebrate my 85th birthday with you. It feels a little egocentric—my women friends are giving me a luncheon–the family is having two …" Rita, who authored a moving book about her son's struggle with heroin addiction, gives a fascinating, funny and wise talk about aging and coping with a 96 year old husband whom she loves dearly and who has Atzheimer's. And she also has a passion for peace and justice that shines through her talk....

March 12, 2012

Protesting unfair foreclosure, single mom is fined and given probation

by Anthony Manousos. I talk about the case of Rose Gudiel, who was arrested along with eight other protesters at a bank which was trying to foreclose on her home without just cause. The bank relented and she saved her home, but the City Attorney of Pasadena prosecuted her....

March 10, 2012

An Atheist Affirmation of Activism

by Bonnie Blustein. Bonnie discusses how her atheist "faith" animates her commitment to struggle for justice and peace.

March 9, 2012

“Demilitarize the Pacific...”

So says Carol Urner, Quaker peace activist, a 82-year-old who inspired us with her passion for peacemaking.

March 8, 2012

“Moral injury”

One of the often overlooked psychological effects of war
was discussed by Rev. Ignacio Castuera, a retired Methodist minister who is active with Process Theology.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves": a Lenten reflection on the transforming power of peace

[I was asked to give a Lenten reflection at Hamilton United Methodist Church, and decided to focus on the women of Africa who won the Nobel Peace Prize and relate their story to Jesus' temptation by the devil in the desert. I conclude that to make peace, we need a balance between the male and female energies.]

I want to thank you and your pastor Louis Chase for inviting me to speak during this Lenten series. I am always happy to speak at a Methodist church since for over 20 years I was married to a Methodist pastor named Kathleen Ross. She passed away of cancer three years ago, but I will always carry her and her beautiful Methodist faith in my heart. I recently remarried a Free Methodist named Jill Shook, so I guess I can’t keep away from Methodism and Methodist women!

I am here today because Louis and I are both involved with Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. I became involved with ICUJP because I am a Quaker—a branch of Christians who have been pacifists and advocates for peace and justice for over 350 years. Quakers not only opposed war, they were also the first Christians to abolish slavery. In 1774 Quakers in Philadelphia decided unanimously you couldn’t be a Quaker and hold slaves. Quakers also believed that women have as much right to be ministers as men. Quaker women have been leaders in our movement since George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, married Margaret Fell. An early precursor to feminism, Margaret wrote a pamphlet justifying the right of women to preach in 1666.

Since this is Women's History Month, I think we ought to honor Margaret Fell as one of the mothers of feminism.

Today I wanted to speak to you about the power of women and the transforming power that Christ embodied and taught. I want to focus on the example of the women of Liberia who brought peace to their war-tormented country and elected a United Methodist woman as their president. Three African women won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 and I feel their stories deserve to be more widely known and celebrated. Sharing the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize were Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; her countrywoman Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist; and Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni human rights leader. I will speak this evening about the first two women.

Because this is Lent, I also want to share with you some thoughts about the third temptation of Christ and how it relates to the theme of peacemaking and the power of women.

Let me begin my Lenten reflection with Jesus’ baptism. As you all know, Jesus’s ministry began with his baptism at the river Jordan. At that time, he allowed John to baptize him in this holy river. When Jesus emerged from its healing waters, he had a vision of a dove descending from heaven and telling them, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”
What an amazing experience! What an affirmation! To be assured you a God’s child and loved by God! This was the moment when Jesus was empowered to do his ministry.

I’d like to unpack this experience and explore what this dove meant. We know that the dove represents that holy spirit. We also know that the dove is usually seen as female. Why? Because the word for “spirit of God” in Hebrew is shakinah, which is a feminine noun. The shakinah was seen by Jews as the feminine aspect of God. The shakinah was also associated with Wisdom, personified as a woman in the book of Proverbs. The shakinah is associated not only with wisdom but also with prophetic power. Here’s what the Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Bible, says about the Shakinah:

The Talmud reports that the Shekinah is what caused prophets to prophesy and King David to compose his Psalms. The Shekinah manifests itself as a form of joy, connected with prophecy and creativity: Talmud Pesachim 117a).The Talmud also reports that "The Shekinah does not rest amidst laziness, nor amidst laughter, nor amidst lightheadedness, nor amidst idle conversation. Rather, it is amidst the joy associated with a mitzvah [a good deed] that the Shekinah comes to rest upon people, as it is said: 'And now, bring me for a musician, and it happened that when the music played, God's hand rested upon him' [Elisha] [2 Kings 3:15]" (Pesachim 117a). Thus the Shekinah is associated with the transformational spirit of God regarded as the source of prophecy. (Wiki.)

When Jesus heard the voice tell him he was “God’s child,” it was the voice of shakinah, the Spirit of God telling him he was destined to be a prophet, and more than a prophet, a child of God.

Because the Shakinah told him he was loved by God, Jesus was empowered and he had the strength to go into the desert and face temptation.

Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tempted by Satan. And who is Satan, and how is he represented? As you know, Satan first appears in the form of a snake in the book of Genesis. Now snakes are symbolically associated with men and male energy. They are often, but not always evil. Moses lifts up a snake with his staff and it becomes a symbol of healing. Jesus alludes to this image when he says he must be lifted up on a cross in order to become a healing force for the world. But generally speaking, snakes are seen as Satanic and evil.

Satan takes Jesus to a high place and shows him the world in all its glory and says, “You can rule over all of this if only you worship me.”

This must have been a huge temptation for a charismatic spiritual leader like Jesus. Think of all the good Jesus could have done if he could rule the world instead of its current leaders. But Jesus resisted the temptation to worldly power. He didn’t want to become another emperor, or president.

He told Satan that he worshipped only God. And what is God? We know from Genesis that God is both male and female since God created human beings in God’s image: male and female.

If God is both male and female, so are we. Each of us has a male and female side to our personality, and that’s a good thing.

When we worship only the male part of ourselves, we become out of balance. We can become violent, cruel. When we worship only the female part of ourselves, we also become out of balance. We need both male and female to be in harmony.

Jesus hints at this in the Gospels. He refers to snakes only twice. Once he refers to the Pharisees as a “brood of snakes,” which meant they were liars and power-hungry, like Satan. The Pharisees practiced a religion based on rules, a male-dominated religion. This kind of religion is out of balance.

Jesus wants his disciples to be balanced. He tells them to be “wise as serpents and gentle as dove.” Note that here the snake is associated with wisdom, and the dove with gentleness. Note the balance.

Jesus is saying we need wisdom and compassion, we need the male energy and the female energy, to be complete, to be whole. It’s like what Taoists call the Yin and the Yang.

So what does this have to do with the women of Africa who struggled for peace and won the Nobel peace prize?

This story didn’t get the media attention it deserved so let me sum it up for you.

Liberia is one of the few countries in Africa not to have suffered a colonial past. Nevertheless, it has had a bloody history. From 1989 to 1996 one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars took place in Liberia, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displacing a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. Following a peace deal between the warring parties in 1995, a man named Charles Taylor was elected president in 1997.

Taylor was a vicious tyrant. Under Taylor's regime, Liberia became internationally known as a pariah state due to his use of blood diamonds and illegal timber exports to fund the Revolutionary United Front in the Sierra Leone Civil War. The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a rebel group based in the northwest of the country, launched an armed insurrection against Taylor. In March 2003, a second rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia, began launching attacks against Taylor from the southeast.

The women of Liberia grew fed up with this war. Young boys were being given drugs and sent out in the villages to rape and pillage. So the Christian and Muslim women got together, formed a peace movement, and began to use nonviolent means to end war. Their pressure on the men eventually paid off.

Peace talks between the factions began in Accra in June of that year, and Taylor was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity that same month. By July 2003, the rebels had launched an assault on Monrovia. Under heavy pressure from the international community and the Liberian women’s peace movement, Taylor resigned in August and went into exile in Nigeria, and a peace deal was signed later that month. The United Nations Mission in Liberia began arriving in September 2003 to provide security and monitor the peace accord, and an interim government took power the following October.

The subsequent 2005 elections were internationally regarded as the most free and fair in Liberian history. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and former Minister of Finance (and a United Methodist), was elected as the first female president in Africa. Upon her inauguration, Sirleaf requested the extradition of Taylor from Nigeria and immediately handed him over to the SCSL for trial in The Hague. In 2006, the government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the causes and crimes of the civil war.

This story is powerfully told in a documentary film called “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which I showed last year at a gathering of United Methodist women. I love to share this film and hope you will all have a chance to view it.

This documentary shows how the Christian and Muslim women of Liberia banded together to make peace. They used techniques borrowed from Martin Luther King and Gandhi, but they were also very creative in their nonviolent actions. At one point, they decided not to sleep with their husbands until their husbands made a commitment to work for peace. When peace talks stalled, one of the women threatened to take off her clothes publicly, thereby shaming the men, if they didn’t get serious about a making a truce.

These women showed amazing courage and faith. And they were successful because unlike the men, they didn’t want power, they wanted peace. Peace with justice, peace with reconciliation.

This is the kind of peace that Jesus wants us to pursue. That’s why he rejected Satan’s offer of power. The power that Jesus wanted was the power of cooperation, the power of reconciliation, the power of justice tempered with mercy.

The women of Liberia discovered and practiced this transforming power and it saved their country from a bloody war. The women were not anti-men. They didn’t want to lord it over the men the way that the men had lorded it over them. They wanted men and women to share power, to honor each other.
That’s what a good marriage is all about. I was recently remarried to a wonderful woman who loves Christ and serves as a catalyst to network, inspire and educate churches in how to go about community transformation. She is involved with a variety of issues that have emerged over the years, but more recently has been called to help churches see the value of affordable housing not only as a tool for community transformation, but a way to house those in need. I fell in love with her and proposed marriage after only three weeks. I knew she was the one that God had chosen for me. We met last year on Palm Sunday at a Peace Parade in Pasadena, and during our wedding vows we affirmed that “The Prince of Peace brought us together for a purpose greater than either of us can imagine.”

The Prince of Peace brought us together, but our relationship at times is not peaceful. We have had conflicts and misunderstandings, like every newly wedded couple. Slowly but surely we are learning how to listen to each other’s hearts. We are learning how to balance the feminine and masculine when we make decisions so that each of our needs are met. We are learning to appreciate that conflict is an opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. A good marriage, like peace, is very precious and worth every effort it takes. I thank God for Jill and for what she is teaching me. She is my shakinah. (And when I told her this, she said I was her “wise guy.”)

Men can learn a lot from listening to wise women, and vice versa. As peace activists, we can learn much from these amazing Liberian women who truly earned not only the Nobel Prize for peace, but the crown that Jesus offers to those who are true peacemakers. I recommend that you all see the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and take its lessons to heart. Because we are all children of God, made in God’s image, we have much more power than we realize. We have the power to make peace, to change the world, if we work together, as the women of Liberia did. This is why Jesus refused Satan’s offer to rule the world. Jesus doesn’t want us to lord it over others, but to become a beloved community, working together cooperatively to make this world a place of peace and justice for all.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Protest Pasadena's efforts to prosecute foreclosed mom for protesting

The Pasadena Star News ran an article today revealing that the city of Pasadena plans to prosecute Rose Gudiel and others who protested the attempt by OneBank to foreclose on her home without just cause.  See http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/ci_20124822/pasadena-pursues-charges-against-foreclosed-mom

Jill and I are urging people to take action and ask the prosecutor to drop these unfair charges. You can either write a letter to the editor or directly

to http://cityofpasadena.net/CityAttorney/Contact_Director/

Thanks to Gudiel's protest, OneWest relented and Gudiel was able to keep her home. Now the city wants to prosecute Gudiel and those who helped her. City Attorney Michelle Bagneris claims that she is just "following the law." This is similar to the argument made by Southerners during the Jim Crow era when they arrested protesters for sitting in at segregated lunch counters.

Clearly there is something wrong with laws that allow banks to foreclose on people's homes, but don't allow people to protest to save their homes from unfair eviction. We need to change the laws to protect the homeowners, not the banks.

I urge the City not only to drop these charges, but to commend Gudiel and the protesters for living up to America's finest tradition: the spirit of civil disobedience that led the citizens of Boston to dump tea into Boston harbor, and the protesters in the Deep South to violate the discriminatory Jim Crow laws. We need to honor men and women of conscience like Rose Gudiel who are calling for banks to behave morally and responsibily.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Averting a train wreck: what we need to do to avoid war with Iran....

During this past week I attended the Representative Meeting of Pacific Yearly Meeting and felt led to share a message about Iran, based on the Advice and Queries which were read during meeting for worship. One of the advices said: "Inaction is sometimes a form of action." I recalled the statement of MLK at Riverside Church in 1968: "Silence [on the question of Vietnam War] is complicity." I shared my concern that the US and Israeli are racing towards war with Iran like a train out of control, much like the scene from the movie "Hugo." It feels as if a train wreck is imminent and we need to do to voice our concern about this disaster while it is still avoidable.

One of the things we need to do is call Senator Feinstein's office, as recommended by FCNL:

Next week, your senators could be asked to vote on dangerous legislation that increases the risk of war with Iran. Please call your senators TODAY using FCNL’s special toll free number, 1-855-68 NO WAR (1-855-686-6927) and urge them to oppose Senate Resolution 380, the Casey-Graham-Lieberman resolution. (See letter below).

Here's what members of the Peace and Social Order Committee recommend:
What can we do to prevent a war with Iran

Members of Peace and Social Order Committee gathered together to consider the question of what we can do to prevent a war with Iran. Israel has threatened to bomb suspected nuclear sites in Iran, and the United States has also made it clear that such attacks are not “off the table.” Many experts see parallels between the current US/Iraeli approach to Iran and the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq. Some are predicting that a military attack on Iran might take place prior to the US elections.

We therefore make the following recommendations to Friends in hopes that some of you might feel led to take action or to bring forward a minute for consideration at the PYM annual session.

As Friends, we oppose taking punitive actions, such as sanctions and preemptive strikes, against Iran based on the presumption that it may be developing nuclear weapons. We also oppose covert actions, such as the assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists or funding opposition groups to bring about regime change in Iran. We feel that such actions are tantamount to war and will destabilize the Middle East rather than promote an enduring and just peace.

As Friends, we urge our elected officials to engage in diplomatic efforts rather than military threats when dealing with Iran and other nations that some define as our enemies. We support taking steps to insure that the Middle East become a WMD-free zone, as recommended in a 1974 U.N. General Assembly resolution.

We also call upon Friends to dispel the poisonous stereotypes about Iran and Islam that are leading many people to believe that war is not only necessary, but inevitable. We recommend that Friends read books and films about Iran, reach out to their Muslim neighbors, and share truths about Islam and Iran as widely as possible. The vast majoirty of Muslims here in the United States and around the world are peace-loving, and almost all Muslims who have to emigrated to the US believe in democracy and religious freedom.

We deplore human rights violations and persecutions of religious minorities that take place in some Muslim and other countries. We stand in solidarity with those who are seeking to promote human rights and religious freedom using nonviolent means.

Actions recommended:

Ask the clerk of our Yearly Meeting to send a letter to elected officials based on the first paragraph of this minute.

Encourage monthly meetings to do likewise.

Organize book discussion groups and film showings about Iran.

Explore other creative ways to challenge the demonization of Islam and to emphasize the humanity of Iranians.

Jeff Kroeber, Lucia Van Diepen, and Anthony Manousos

March 1, 2012

FCNL Letter from Diane Randall

Dear Friends,

Next week, your senators could be asked to vote on dangerous legislation that increases the risk of war with Iran. Please call your senators TODAY using FCNL’s special toll free number, 1-855-68 NO WAR (1-855-686-6927) and urge them to oppose Senate Resolution 380, the Casey-Graham-Lieberman resolution.
Here are talking points you can use.

My name is _______ and I’m calling from _________

I'm asking that Senator _______ vote “no” on Senate Resolution 380, because it will increase the chances of a U.S. war with Iran. I also ask that Senator _____ speak out publicly against this resolution on the Senate floor.

Thank you.

Why Is This Resolution Dangerous?

It undermines diplomacy. As tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalate, Congress should be supporting the vigorous pursuit of all diplomatic options available to resolve the crisis and avert a war. Instead, S. Res. 380 puts U.S. negotiators under intense political pressure, undercutting their ability to reach a diplomatic solution, which heightens the potential war.

It is a disguised effort to allow for a war with Iran. S. Res. 380 effectively calls for a military attack on Iran when Iran when it reaches "nuclear weapons capability.”

Who Agrees?

National security and nonproliferation experts in the United States and Israel have warned against this resolution:

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell: “This resolution…is effectively a thinly-disguised effort to bless war.”

Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East: “I think that all of us in this town need to be very careful of taking positions… that box in our negotiators from being able to find a diplomatic solution....That's what concerns me about the resolution.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee: “I think diplomacy should have an opportunity to work without getting involved in political discussions about a resolution.”

See who else is opposing this resolution

Why Is it Critical for YOU to Call Now?

Your senators are under intense pressure to support this resolution. This weekend, thousands of people across the country and in Washington will be lobbying for this legislation as part of the American Israel Public Affairs Council’s annual policy conference. Senators need to hear that diplomacy with Iran is the best way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and support long-term peace and security for all people in the Middle East, including Israel.

Senators could vote on this resolution on the Senate floor as early as next week. Please make sure your senators know that many of their constituents oppose this dangerous resolution.

Please Spread the Word

Senate offices need to hear from you and others in your community this week and early next week. After you make your call, please

Email 5 of your friends and ask them to call, or send a note to your community email list

Take this message to your meeting, church, or other group this weekend and ask people to call on Monday or Tuesday next week. Bring copies of this message or make cards with the phone number on it so you can pass them out.

Post this status update on Facebook:

Say no to war with Iran: Senators will soon vote on dangerous legislation that increases the risk of war. Call your senators today at 1-855-68 NO WAR (1-855-686-6927) and urge them to oppose Senate Resolution 380. Find out more: fcnl.org/action/alert/2012/0301/

Tweet the phone number to your followers

Thank you,

Diane Randall

Executive Secretary