Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Saints Day Reflection: the Experience of God and Spiritual Direction

Today I am going to spend the weekend at Mount Calvary Monastery with members of the Stillpoint spiritual direction program.  The theme of this weekend retreat is "Listening to the Experience of God." Our reading is a book by an Episcopal priest named Sandra Levy called The Imagination and the Journey of Faith. I love this book: it speaks to me as a former professor of literature and lover of the liberal arts, music, poetry, etc. Historically, Quakers have regarded art, music, ritual, etc. as distractions and they can be,  but I (and many other contemporary Quakers) see enormous spiritual value in the arts, when we approach them from the right perspective. Levy does a great job of showing how we can use the arts and the imagination to deepen our connection with God.

During this retreat, we will be creating a community of trust where we can practice spiritual direction, learn skills, identify pitfalls, explore the relationship of narrative, image, and metaphor to spiritual experience, etc. It promises to be a spiritually rich and rewarding experience. Here's what I wrote in response to our assignment for this session:

Assignment: Write a brief reflection on your own experience of God/Spirit and on that of others. Include how this impacts your role as spiritual director. Drawing from class discussion and your own experience, explore these questions from the perspective of spiritual experience. What are my beliefs about spiritual direction? How would you describe it to someone else?

The experience of God. It’s hard to talk briefly about God, just as it would be hard to talk briefly about love. These are vast topics, with many dimensions, facets, levels and nuances.

I believe that the experience of the Divine/Infinite cannot be reduced to words or images, but words can be pointers or sign posts—like a finger pointing towards the moon.

Since I have been assigned to write about my experience of the Divine, let me begin by saying I have experienced the presence of God in innumerable ways. What I mean by “the presence of God” is:

·         an awareness of something greater than myself;

·         a heightened sense of being alive, of being fully present to the person I’m with, or the situation I’m in;

·         a sense of awe, wonder, and mystery (often experienced in the context of some natural phenomenon, like a sunset, starry night, etc.);

·         a feeling of deep interconnectedness with everything around me, the “we are all one” feeling;

·         a sense that there is a purpose and “rightness” about my life, beyond the narrow confines of my ego and rational mind;

·         a sense of being called or guided by a Power beyond my imagining.

·         an “inner voice” or Inward Teacher, a not physically audible but nonetheless palpable response to my perplexities and questionings.

I often experience the Presence of God in silent worship and contemplation, when the chatter in my head fades away and there is a holy stillness.

The  Presence frequently comes in quiet moments when I am reading, looking at art, listening to music. (That’s one reason I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sandra Levy’s book The Imagination and the Journey of Faith.) I also experience the Presence when I lose myself in writing, inspired by the Spirit.

I  sometimes experience the Divine in the midst of “good works,” like doing a service project, feeding the homeless, getting arrested at a vigil, etc. On such occasions, I sometimes feel a profound sense of joy and wonder, as if the Kingdom of God or Jesus himself were present. I have even felt the Divine Presence while doing mundane household chores, when I do them mindfully.

I experience the Presence during bible studies or worship sharing, during religious services, when the Holy Spirit seems present in the prophetic words of a sermon, or in the rituals, the music or the silence.

Silent worship is where I usually feel closest to God. That’s what drew me to Quakerism. As the 17th century Quaker theologian Robert Barclay wrote:

In the inward quietness and withdrawal of the mind, the witness of God arises in the heart, and the light of Christ so shines that the soul becomes aware of its own condition. (Apology for the True Christian Divinity)

These epiphanies when God seems utterly and unutterably real are moments that I cherish. They are moments when I feel most alive. They are also moments that are hard to talk about, except with trusted friends. Like experiences of love, they are intimate and personal.

That’s why I am drawn to spiritual direction. It provides opportunities to reflect about how to draw closer to God, how to see the Divine in one’s everyday life, and how to help others to see ways in which the Divine is calling us.

I've enjoyed class discussions in which people share their spiritual journeys. They are similar to what Quakers call "worship sharing." We create a safe space, a container, in which we can open up and share what we truly feel, what we have actually experienced. This is a precious gift.

What is spiritual direction?  I would describe spiritual direction as a commitment to explore one’s spiritual life with another person who is experienced in such exploration, a “companion along the way” or a guide we trust to help us open up more fully to the presence of God/Spirit in life.  A guide who can also help us to see and face what is blocking us from fully experiencing the Presence of the Divine.

I believe that spiritual direction is an important spiritual discipline, like prayer, fasting, service, healing, prophetic witness, etc.

The biblical basis of spiritual direction/contemplation: Jesus provided spiritual direction in his intimate moments with his disciples, when he modeled how to be alone and pray, how to deepen one’s personal connection with God:

And early in the morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. ( Mark 1:35)

And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethesda, while He Himself was sending the multitude away. And after bidding them farewell, he departed to the mountain to pray. ( Mark 6:45-46)

And they came to a place called Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here until I have prayed." And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch." And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground, and began praying. ( Mark 14:32-34)

And when day came, He departed to a lonely place; and the multitudes were searching for Him, and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from going away from them. ( Luke 4:42)

But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. ( Luke 5:16)

And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. ( Luke 6:12)

He also gave his disciples spiritual direction on how to pray authentically:

“But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get " (Matt 6:6).

The “reward” for contemplative prayer is not specified, but I suspect Jesus means an experience of intimacy and connection with God. This is the most precious reward of all!

I feel extremely blessed to be part of the Stillpoint program at this stage of my life. I am a writer and peace activist, and I need to set aside time to reflect and pray in order to do my work authentically. To be a peace maker, I need time to deepen my connection with the Source and Inspiration for what I do and seek: the peace/shalom of God, which is beautifully described by Jesus:

Peace (shalom) I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27)

Thank you, Stillpointers, for being instruments of that peace that passeth understanding.





End Racial Profiling!

Tomorrow ICUJP is organizing a vigil at the corner of Vermont and Wilshire at 9:30 am to protest racial profiling. Here's our statement calling for support of the "End Racial Profiling Act."

Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) opposes all forms of violence, including the systemic violence caused by institutional racism and racial profiling. 

As Hilary Shelton, NAACP Washington Bureau Director, notes, Racial profiling is a serious problem in the United States, and can lead to deadly consequences...Law enforcement agents should not endorse or act upon stereotypes, attitudes, or beliefs that a person’s race, ethnicity, appearance, religious affiliation, or national origin increases that person’s general propensity to act unlawfully.” 

Far too many people of color are being stopped, arrested and even killed by police officers, often with little or no accountability. 

For this reason, we support the End Racial Profiling Act, sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI). We urge you to contact your Congressional representative, urging him or her to support this bill.  Visit or telephone 202 224 3121; Sen. Barbara Boxer (213 894 5000); Sen. Diane Feinstein 310 914 7300. 


Comunidades Interreligiosas Unidas por la Justicia y la Paz (ICUJP) se opone a toda forma de violencia, incluyendo la violencia sistémica causada por el racismo institucional y la discriminación racial.

Como Hilary Shelton, directora de la Oficina de NAACP en Washington, DC, dijo: "La discriminación racial es un problema serio en los Estados Unidos, y puede resultar en consecuencias mortales. Los agentes de policía no deben apoyar o actuar sobre estereotipos, actitudes o creencias de una persona creyendo que su raza, origen étnico, apariencia, religión u origen nacional aumenta la propensión general a esa persona a actuar ilegalmente.

Demasiadas personas de color están siendo detenidos, arrestados e incluso asesinados por agentes de policía, y a menudo con poca o ninguna rendición de cuentas.

Por esta razón, apoyamos la Ley “End Racial Profiling” (Detener la discriminación racial) patrocinado por los congresistas Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) y John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI). Por favor contacte a su representante en el Congreso, insistiendo que apoye esta ley. Visite o por teléfono al 202 224 3121. Sen. Barbara Boxer (213 894 5000); Sen. Diane Feinstein 310 914 7300.

The witch of Ridley Creek: the only Quaker witch trial

The Witch of Ridley Creek
The story of how William Penn dealt with a woman accused of being a witch  is vividly recounted by Pennsylvania Jack, the "alter ego" of Jack Graham, professional storyteller. His story is included along with the “true facts” about this case compiled by an historian named Sheila Martin. (See  )
It is worth noting that Pennsylvania never had any laws against witchcraft, unlike both New England and England itself. Perhaps this is one reason that Wiccans and other nature worshippers feel welcome among Friends.
Here’s Jack’s tale of William Penn and the woman accused of being a witch:
There were other witchcraft trials in the early colonial days, but none ever received as much publicity and renown as those in Salem. Even colonial Pennsylvania got in on the act. One and only one person was ever tried for witchcraft in William Penn's province.
The year was 1684, and her name was Margaret Mattson. Margaret and her husband arrived in this new world before William Penn, before the land was ever granted to him by England's King Charles II. They were Swedish, and along with their neighbors, made up the first group of immigrants to settle along the lower Delaware River. They soon would be displaced by the ever more numerous English settlers who followed Penn. That was probably the cause of it all.
Margaret and her husband were very successful farmers. Having arrived early, the claimed much good river-bottom land, good for crops and the raising of cattle. Later arriving Dutch, and particularly the English, found they had to look harder, and go farther inland, to find suitable lands to claim. There was not a little jealousy regarding these Swedish farmers. They didn't even have the decency to speak English for goodness sake. By 1684, the Mattsons were settled along Ridley Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River, which it joined at Upland (present-day Chester PA.)
And so, as often happens in the case of jealousy, false rumors would be started, and well believed by others as they spread. If an Englishman's cow failed to give milk, it must be because it's been hexed. If the Englishman's crops did not do well, there had to be a reason. It must be that old Swedish woman. She must be a witch and was casting spells!
Or so the rumors spread. Eventually, one of the English farmers went so far as to file a complaint with the authorities charging that Margaret Mattson was indeed a witch. A date was set for a trial. A jury of twenty-one Englishmen was selected. The Proprietor himself, William Penn, would preside over the trial as Judge! Of course in those days, the defendant was not provided with legal counsel, and poor Margaret Mattson couldn't even speak English.
The prosecution tried to ask Margaret many questions. Finally the gist of the matter came down to two questions asked of Margaret by none other than William Penn himself. "Art thou a witch? Doth you fly though the air on a broomstick?"
Margaret, of course not understanding the questions at all, seemed to answer in the affirmative. The prosecuting attorney and the English farmers who coveted the Mattson's lands were delighted. It seemed Margaret had confessed to the crimes. But William Penn had sensed that the whole thing was a sham, that the charges were trumped up just to deprive these old established settlers of their property. As the chief judge, he deliberated. Then he announced to the court that there was nothing in the laws of the Province that made it a crime to fly about on a broomstick! "Not guilty," Penn decreed. "Let the woman go."
But Penn's advisors quickly pointed out that it was against English law, and the law of the Commonwealth, to be a witch. She could not be found totally innocent. So William Penn compromised. He assessed a fine on Margaret, and forbid her to "practice" any witchcraft for a period of two years. He realized of course, that she had never practiced it at all. Needless to say, the English farmers were downtrodden, but the will of the Proprietor would stand.
Margaret Mattson and her husband continued to live on the banks of the Delaware River for many a year. To the best of anyone's knowledge, she, nor anyone else, was ever again accused of being a witch!
Postscript: The tale as related above, was compiled from sources that are suspect in their historical accuracy. In addition, it was additionally enlivened by the author's sense of "the telling of the tale." One should, as I believe Mark Twain once pronounced, "never let the facts get in the way of a good story." I recently came across "Margaret Mattson, Accused Witch" by Sheila W. Martin. Ms. Martin is/was an Associate Editor of the Bucks County Panorama. Her story was obtained from the archives of the American Swedish Historical Foundation in Philadelphia. Ms. Martin's story sticks closely to the factual version, including actual transcript from the 1684 trial. I include the following information, "just to get the story straight."
Margaret and her husband Nils Mattson were among a group of Swedish settlers who landed near Wilmington, Delaware, in 1638. First settling along Christiana Creek in what is now Delaware, they moved to the vicinity of Upland. Several land transactions by Nils Mattson appear in colonial records, and by 1680 it appears they owned land along both Crum Creek and perhaps Ridley Creek as well. They were well-established members of the community. Early records sometimes also call him "Neels" and at other times "Neals."
Whether the motive of her accusers was the Mattson's land or simply petty jealousies over other matters remains unclear. Most of the testimony given is hearsay. Not one witness accused Margaret of a direct act of witchcraft.
William Penn is portrayed in my original version of the story as the true "hero," defending Margaret as well as he could from what he truly knew to be false charges. The record puts Penn in an even better light, as not only were there Swedes on the trial jury, but Margaret was provided with an interpreter as well. Margaret stated to the court after the testimony of the many witnesses, several of whom were Swedish also, that she "denyeth all things and that the witnesses speake only by hearsay." The jury, after quick deliberation, found her guilty of "having the Common fame of a witch, but not guilty in manner and forme as Shee stands Indicted." So Margaret was only guilty of being considered a witch. Her husband Nils paid fifty pounds to assure her good behavior for a period of six months.
It is most interesting to note that in 1684 there was no law against witchcraft in Pennsylvania, and that William Penn had abolished the death penalty in his Colony for all but "willfull murder." Laws against witchcraft were not imposed until 1718, when they were forced upon the Colony by England's Privy Council. So it is interesting to speculate what actions would or could have been taken against Margaret had the jury pronounced her guilty of actually practicing witchcraft. Why did the trial ever commence in the first place if no law was broken? In spite of this, the verdict returned may well have averted a sudden rush of similar jealousy-based charges against other equally innocent women, as happened in Salem, Massachusetts, where one conviction led to another.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Man Who Lost His Face: A True Story for Hallowe'en

On Halloween kids and grown ups put on fright masks and get a thrill imagining what it's like to be a monster. Suppose you found out that you couldn't take this mask off? Sound horrifying, like the plot of Stephen King novel?

That is essentially what happened to Chai Kyu-Cher, a Korean Quaker whose face was horribly disfigured in a car accident. He suffered horribly and his life nearly fell apart.

Yet he was able to transform this tragic disfigurement into a "legacy," a gift he shares with audiences throughout Korea and the world, inspiring them to see their challenges in a new light.

I never cease to be amazed at the resilience of the human spirit, and the profound truth of what the apostle Paul wrote: "All things work for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

And I will never forget my experience meeting the amazing man who lost his face....

Quaker Life
December 1999

The Man Who Lost His Face
and Other True Stories

by Anthony Manousos

How would like you to come down to Long Beach," Fred asked, "and meet a man whose face has been disfigured beyond recognition? His name is Chai Kyu-Cher and he is one of most famous Quakers in Korea."

This invitation was hard to refuse, especially coming from Fred Newkirk, one of the most amazing Friends' pastors I know. A graduate of George Fox College, Fred doesn't serve a church; he brings the message of Jesus Christ directly to the streets, to gang bangers and former prison inmates.

For the last seventeen years or so, Fred has worked in the slums of Long Beach. He has ministered to what some would consider the "scum of the earth," and he has helped them to turn their lives around. Fred has accomplished this miracle through the power of unconditional love, and a lot of hard work and dedication, at a safe haven he started called simply Orange House.

Probably the best testimonial to this work is a young African-American man named Nate Redfern. Nate's story appears in a recent book, Face Forward: Young African American Men in a Critical Age, by Julian C. R. Okwu. At age thirteen Nate became a "shooter" in his brother's gang, and was jailed for attempted murder at seventeen. When released from jail, he moved into Orange House and got to know Fred. Defying the House's rules, he dealt drugs and was sent back to jail. Here Nate's story sounds like the parable of the prodigal son:

"After I was released the second time, the first person I wanted to see was Fred. When he came by I just began to cry, and he gave me a hug and told me that he loved me and that he wanted to be my brother. Before that, the last hug I had received was maybe nine years before, from my junior high school basketball coach after we won the city championship. You may never send money to the inner city, but if you come down and work with the kids here, hug them and tell them that you love them and you sincerely mean it-that means more than one million dollars to a young person. That's why I started to channel my energies into something positive."

Nate's chance to do "something positive" came during the L.A. uprisings, when there was a lot of ugly tension between the Korean and African-American community. Thanks to Fred, Nate went on a cultural mission to Korea where he learned about and came to appreciate the Korean people and culture. He came back to Long Beach and started visiting Korean shopkeepers, building good will between them and the African-American community. Since then, he has been named a liaison/public relations representative for the two communities by Donald Gregg, the former United States Ambassador to South Korea, and the New York Korean Society.

When I arrived, Nate and Fred were standing in the narthex of the Long Beach Friends Church-a church that now serves a mainly Thai congregation and is very multicultural. It was not hard to spot Chai Kyu-Cher.

Not only was his face scarred, but his ears had been burned away. He looked like the Phantom of the Opera in a beret. His appearance was, to say the least, shocking.

But when Chai smiled, it was impossible not to smile back. He was clearly at ease with himself. He could even make jokes at his own expense, like calling himself the "six million won man" (that's how much the hospital bills cost after his terrible accident).

He told me that he first heard of Quakers through an AFSC work camp program in 1961. He became acquainted with Ham Sok Hon, the "Korean Gandhi," and was resident director at the Seoul Friends Meeting from 1971-75. He talked cheerfully of the numerous "weighty" Friends he has come to know over the years. And he fondly remembers a 1988 visit to L.A. Meeting, a multicultural group of Friends that included quite a few Koreans.

Fred led us down into the basement, where a couple of dozen people had gathered. Half of them were African-Americans, many of them "street people" who gather there every Sunday night for Fred's Bible study. The rest were Koreans. They had brought lots of spicy Korean food-kimchee and rice and meatballs-and the atmosphere was festive.

After dinner, Chai got up to speak. Despite, or rather because of, his appearance, Chai now makes a living as a public speaker. This is quite remarkable since in Korea (as well as in many other Asian countries), disfigurement is seen not only as repulsive, but also as inauspicious. But Chai exudes self-confidence. He doesn't see his disfigurement as a punishment, but as a gift.

He begins his lecture by talking about Gandhi and Martin Luther King, whom he has translated into Korean. He is a very learned man, and sprinkles his talk with quotations from Emerson and Thoreau. Even the Korean translator is astonished. "How do you know so much?" he asks at one point, laughing.

This mixed audience of Koreans and African Americans-so different culturally and economically-were riveted by this amazing speaker.

Finally, Chai begins telling what we are all eager to know-his own story. When he graduated from college, he taught the children of poor farmers, and then traveled widely in Europe to learn more about development work and educational methods. Returning to Korea, he became involved in farm development work. On a beautiful fall day, he was being driven to a meeting at a Christian center out in the country when the driver lost control, skidded off a cliff, and crashed. Unfortunately, the car was carrying two large containers of flammable paint thinner. When the car turned over, the paint thinner spilled all over Chai and burst into flame.

Third degree burns covered fifty percent of his body. His arms and legs were so badly burned that the doctors considered amputating them. He was given the best treatment that Korea had to offer, and he made remarkable progress in his recovery, but the results were still grim.

"Both eyebrows and one eye were gone," he explained. "My hands and feet were puckered up like a duck. Neighborhood boys might well have called me 'Uncle E.T.'"

Chai lost his face, but not his sense of humor, or his faith.

As he told the amazing story of his recovery, I could easily see why he has become such a popular public speaker. He is utterly without self-pity. He is thankful for whatever has come his way-good or bad. He told us:

"After the accident, I had no face at all. Thanks to the plastic surgeons, I have a face. From nothing to something is certainly an improvement. Plastic surgeons are not mere technicians. They are artists."

He adds, "When I walk down the street, people take me for a beggar or a leper, but I don't think of myself that way. I am the work of an artist, a walking masterpiece of art."

"Sometimes I think of myself as an expressionist painting," he adds.

Thanks to his sense of humor and irrepressible faith, Chai was able not only to recover, but to prosper.

He was blessed with a wonderful, devoted wife who stood by him during this ordeal. She even offered to donate her own skin for skin grafts!

But no sooner was the family back on its feet than tragedy again struck: in 1970, Chai's wife died of tuberculosis.

Chai was stunned and even contemplated suicide. But God once again intervened. A female student that he had taught moved in with him as a caretaker. One thing led to another, and they were married. And have been happily married ever since. They even had a "beautiful" daughter together. ("She must take after her father," Chai joked.)

With his positive attitude, Chai found himself in demand on the lecture circuit. "Sometimes I look back on my life and wonder without the accident, what could I have become? I would most likely be working for a salary in a college or welfare organization. Now as a well-known free-lance lecturer, my income is several times what it would have been."

Chai ended his lecture with words that left a deep impression on his listeners. Many of them had been through difficult times, but nothing like what Chai described. And yet, somehow, he managed to seem cheerful and optimistic.

"Though some may look at me with contempt or pity, I know that I have within me a vital ray of hope that lights up my life. I devote myself to sharing that inner 'light of life' with those whose situation may seem worse than mine."

He then told us that we all had something to leave behind as a legacy-something more precious than money or even great literary works.

"What is the greatest heritage we can leave? It is something that anyone can accomplish, regardless of wealth, power or education. This heritage is a story. A beautiful, inspiring story. The story of one's life, starting with some difficulty or hardship, recounting the pains and struggles, and ending with the conquest of the problem through belief, confidence and religion."

Nate, Fred, Chai-all have amazing stories, stories that they have crafted out of the pain and struggles of their lives. And what of us? What kind of story will we leave as our legacy?


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Need for Police Oversight in Pasadena

As people of faith, Jill and I are concerned about the use of deadly force by Pasadena police, particularly recent instances, such as the shooting of Kendrec McDade and most recently, Paris Holloway.  In this particular case, an unarmed 22-year-old black man was shot by police because he was allegedly wearing gang clothing and had a gun. Police chief Sanchez admits that Holloway wasn’t actually carrying a weapon when he was shot, but one was found in his vicinity. Yet Councilman Steve Madison jumps to the conclusion that the gun was the “primary proximal cause of what happened” and “I have little doubt we are going to find there is justifiable use of deadly force in this case.” This may be true, but we need to know the facts before jumping to conclusions, and we need to know that those investigating this incident are not biased. Jeanette Miyamoto of All Saints Episcopal Church noted at a City Council Meeting that this is “another example of the way the police department discriminates against poor people of color. I can’t imagine they would have shot a white man.”

Jesus told us, “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 13). Jesus also warned us that “those that live by the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52).

We agree with Councilwoman Jacqueline Robinson that “any time there has been officer-involved shooting that results in the death or even a serious injury at this point it’s one too many.” We also agree with Councilman John Kennedy that we need an independent review board that can provide impartial oversight of officer-involved shootings.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why I love Yearly Meetings

Since coming to California in 1989, I have attended over twenty sessions of Pacific Yearly Meeting. As editor of Friends Bulletin, I attended Intermountain and North Pacific Yearly Meeting for 11 years. That adds up to over 40 Yearly Meeting sessions! In addition, I've been to almost every Quarterly and regional gathering. Finally, I've taken part in over a dozen gatherings of Friends General Conference, where I have usually led workshops.

So I love going to Quaker gatherings. Not that I see them as perfect. In my previous blog entry, I shared research showing that Pacific Yearly Meeting has not lived the Peace Testimony as deeply as it has in the 1960s, or even as deeply as other Yearly Meetings in our region have done in the past decade. But I still love Pacific Yearly Meeting. In fact, it's because I love PYM that I am willing to be honest and critical.

One of the earmarks of a true prophet is that they criticize their own religious community out of love. They do so because God calls them to hold their religious community accountable, and God does so out of love. Love is, or should be, the primary motive of the prophet as well as of the peacemaker.

When I did my research for my blog entry "How is the Peace Testimony faring in Pacific Yearly Meeting," I read many back issues of Friends Bulletin and was struck by how much I loved my job as editor and how much I loved going to Yearly Meeting. The following editorial was written for the July-August, 2003, issue of FB.

"It’s like heaven with angels and everything. Friendship is divine andthere’s a lot of it here."

When I asked Jorge Martinez Garza, a first-time Yearly Meeting attender from Mexico
City, what he thought of IMYM, he replied enthusiastically, "It’s like heaven with angels." I had to smile. I know the feeling. I have felt the same way myself, especially when I first went to the annual gathering of Friends General Conference in 1984. What an incredible experience to be among so many fascinating and caring Friends, with such a diversity of talents and concerns, and such a willingness to listen and to share at a deep level! The thought crossed my mind: Is this heaven or what?

I still feel like purring whenever I come to a Yearly Meeting and see a Friend whom I have come to know and love, or meet someone new who turns out to be a kindred spirit. The more often I attend, the deeper these friendships become. We laugh, we cry, and we pray together, and it’s like a good marriage: it gets better with each passing year (and yes, with every crisis overcome through the power of understanding, love and sheer grace).

When a large group of people get together, problems and conflicts naturally arise that need to be worked through, issues ranging from accountability to money (always a bugaboo among frugal Friends). But these are the kinds of issues that have to be worked through in any family or any living situation. In such encounters, with Divine Assistance, we learn how to be honest with each other, and speak truth with the power of love.
"Speaking Truth with Power" was the topic addressed by Bruce Birchard, this year’s keynote speaker at IMYM. After doing peace and justice work at the American Friends Service Committee for many years, he now serves as General Secretary of Friends General Conference. Bruce is someone I have known personally ever since I started attending Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in 1985. He is in every sense a true Friend. What I admire most about Bruce is his genuineness and his spirituality. Before giving his message at IMYM, he asked a group of us to sit and pray with him. As he spoke to the gathering, we held him (and everyone else present) in the Light. And it made a profound difference. That’s why our cover shot shows Bruce not alone, but surrounded with a group of smiling Friends.

Lest all this talk of friendship and love seem maudlin, let me say that the love I experience at Yearly Meeting is not just warm fuzzies, but empowering. Friendship and love are what enable me to look unflinchingly at the grim realities that afflict our world. When the Durlands shared with us the horrific facts about the Palestinian situation, or when Mary Reisley talked about her trip to Iraq just prior to the outbreak of war, the room was packed with Friends willing to listen and to care. We are willing to care because we know we are cared for.

What enables us to look at the "Ocean of Darkness" is the knowledge that beyond the darkness is an Ocean of Light, and a Presence Who is the Source of that Light. This Source is the life preserver that keeps us afloat during tough times, and for which I am eternally grateful.

I hope to see each of you at Yearly Meeting. That would be heavenly.



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How did the Peace Testimony fare at Pacific Yearly Meeting after 9/11, and during the Vietnam War era? An instructive comparsion....

How is the Peace Testimony faring among Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends today, and how has it fared in the past? As someone who has been involved with Quaker peace activism for over twenty years, and has been attending Pacific Yearly Meeting since 1989, I decided to do some research at the Whittier College Quaker Archives and see how Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends responded to 9/11 and to the Vietnam War. Such a comparison is instructive and can help us understand how Friends today are living our most distinctive Testimony at a time when a perpetual war is being waged world-wide by our government, with no end in sight.

On September 11, 2001, the United States suffered a horrendous terrorist attack on our homeland that left many Friends questioning how Friends can respond to the seemingly irrational evil of terrorism.  Articles began appearing in Friends Journal wrestling with the relevance of the Peace Testimony for our time (see Answering Terror: Responses to War and Peace after 9/11/01, edited by Sharon Hoover, Friends Publishing, 2006).

Organizations such as AFSC and FCNL crafted statements and waged campaigns with the message “War is not the answer.” Seasoned activist Friends such as Mary Lord and Steve Carey saw this as an opportunity to explore the spiritual basis as well as practical implication of our Peace Testimony. Mary’s essay “Can Love Overcome Violence and Hate” is a classic—combining spiritual depth with broad knowledge of political realities.

By the summer of 2002, it was becoming clear that the Bush administration was pursuing a policy of “perpetual war for perpetual peace” (to use Gore Vidal’s phrase). Our government was locking up Muslims in the United States, setting up detention camps in places like Guantanamo,  and planning war in Iraq.  Some monthly meetings responded with deep concern about the US policy of a preemptive global War on Terror.

Pacific Yearly Meeting’s response to this new era of perpetual warfare was muted. When it met in 2002, it did not approve any minutes questioning the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan or its bellicose response to terror. Instead, the 2002 PYM epistle contains this somewhat enigmatic statement:

The events of September 11th and its aftermath gave new significance to the question, ‘What canst thou say?’ Reports from our Monthly Meetings told of our responses and our advocacy for alternatives to war.

Non-Quakers would be puzzled by this statement, and even newcomers to the Religious Society of Friends might miss the allusion to George Fox’s question “What canst thou say?” In a fiery sermon, Fox criticized those who quote scripture but lack personal spiritual experience. “What canst thou say?” was a challenge to speak our truth from the heart. PYM’s statement about the aftermath of 9/11 gave no evidence of any heart-felt concern about the effects of war on the people of Afghanistan. In fact, Pacific Yearly Meeting did not call for the US to withdraw troops from Afghanistan until 2009, seven years later!

PYM’s initial response to 9/11 was to approve a $1000 “one-time gift” to FWCC “for the purpose of putting on a Peace Conference in January 2003” and another $1000 to send four delegates to that conference.” It also approved a Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund (HR1186) supporting war tax resisters.

Friends also approved a minute supporting the “Peace Communities of Colombia in their efforts to find a nonviolent path” and gave support to Christopher Moore-Backman and Carin Anderson “who have been led to bear witness and support the community in San Jose de Apartado.”  The clerk was directed to write a letter to the President of Colombia as well as to President Bush and others to insure that the work of the Peace Communities could be carried on.

The Yearly Meeting did not feel led to write to President Bush about the ongoing war in Afghanistan or the war being planned against Iraq.

In contrast, in the summer of 2002, North Pacific YM approved a minute opposing the planned invasion of Iraq.  In October, 2002, Montana Gathering of Friends approved a lengthy statement  expressing deep concern about US foreign policy, some of which is included here:

In the past few months the executive branch of the US government has determined that global military dominance and preemptive use of military power will be its main weapon on the war on terrorism and, more immediately, against Iraq. The administration has stated its intent to launch a military invasion of Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, with or without cooperation from other countries, and has not made a clear commitment to seek the authorization of Congress and the approval of the American people for the prospective military invasion.

The Montana Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) share the global concerns about terrorism. However, because we see that of God in every human being, we oppose the use of war as an instrument of national policy and are convinced that violent responses to terrorism are simplistic, shortsighted and beget more violence (Friends Bulletin, Oct 2002, p. 9).

In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq despite overwhelming opposition from the American public (including Friends), and from the world community. Millions of people protested, religious leaders (including the Pope) spoke out loud and clear, but President Bush wouldn’t listen. His pretext for war—the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction—proved to be a lie.

The response of Western Quakers to these events at the YM level was slow. No statement opposing the war was made in 2003 or 2004. In 2003 Paul Lacey and Mary Ellen McNish spoke at PYM’s Annual Session and discussed AFSC’s tireless work to mobilize opposition to the “unending War on Terror.” But the Yearly Meting didn’t minute its concern about war. Instead, it approved a minute supporting “the concept of universal health care” (but fell short of supporting the more controversial idea of single payer).

In 2005, the AFSC launched a campaign called “Eyes Wide Open” that displayed publicly boots representing American soldiers who had been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. This campaign galvanized and unified the many monthly meetings that took part in this effort.

The organizing efforts of the AFSC and FCNL may have been one reason that North Pacific and Intermountain YM approved strong statements calling for an end to the war in Iraq.  In 2005 NPYM Friends declared:

“We believe we are called to live in that love and power that takes away the occasion of war. We are anguished by the death of over 100,000 Iraqis and by the deaths and lasting scars inflicted on another generation of soldiers and their families. We accept the moral and legal obligations of our country to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, in concert with the international community and the people of Iraq. We acknowledge our own obligation to remove the seeds of war that are embedded in the way we live our daily lives. We call for renewed effort to prevent our nation from engaging in similar conflicts in the future. We hold in our prayers the people of Iraq, the troops of the United States as well as those of other nations, the humanitarian workers in Iraq, the families of all in harm’s way, the leaders in Iraq and of the United States, and all others affected by this war” (FB, September 2005, p. 6).

NPYM’s minute also called for actions that included support for FCNL, AFSC QUNO, etc. and recommended that monthly meetings consider adoption of similar minutes to “to convey these statement to our fellow citizens through the news media, and to our Senators and Representatives in the Congress.”

As editor of Friends Bulletin, I was part of this gathering and can testify that Friends took time to reflect deeply on this minute. Many changes were suggested during Plenary and it was brought back for further seasoning. When it was finally approved, I felt as if the minute was truly Spirit-led and I am sure that Friends present felt likewise.

In contrast, Pacific Yearly Meeting approved this brief statement not in its own words, but in words borrowed from FNCL:

Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends calls on the US Congress to adopt a Sense of Congress resolution declaring: ‘It is the policy of the US to withdraw all military troops and bases from Iraq.’ We will send this minute to all members of the US Congress.

This statement was so unsatisfying to many Friends that the the following apologetic statement was included:

“While finding unity in this [minute], [Friends at PYM] regret this minute reveals so little of the moral force and divine urgency we feel in regard to war.”

What was lacking in the PYM statement was any sense of empathy or concern with human suffering. In contrast, IMYM’s epistle in 2006 expressed a deeply felt response to the ongoing horrors of the War on Terror, and our militarization of the southern border:

Our country continued to be mired in the war in Iraq, our military was accused of torture; genocide raged on in Darfur; and we mourned the loss of Quaker Peace activist Tom Fox. Thousands of people have died in the desert while crossing our militarized southern border. One truth has become clear: we have inflicted possibly irreversible damage on our earth” (FB Sept 2006).

As wars and torture continued unabated in 2007, Pacific Yearly Meeting decided to have a “year of discernment,” which was interpreted by many as meaning a withdrawal from considering social justice and peace concerns. In an epistle consisting of comments by Friends, Friends wrote:

There is a shift in monthly meetings and PYM toward the spiritual (away from the strictly social action), a move towards the more personal in ministry… I think in the year of reflection we had a ‘quietist period.’ Turning inward to discern, diminishing and response to the larger issue of Iraq and elsewhere. I find that surprising, given our peace testimony. Our look inward has been valuable, but it came at a price’ (Attachment 15, PYM, p. 60, Eighth Month 4, 2007).

No minutes relating to peace and justice were considered during 2007-2008.

In 2009, the PYM approved “a minute from Peace and Social Order Committee against the U.S. war in Afghanistan and supporting peacemaking.”

This minute was brief and lacked any sense of deep commitment or any feeling about the suffering of the Afghan people. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned in the YM epistle, which alludes instead to a demonstration that took place commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “And how does the tragic horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago instruct us in this present time of fear and war?”

One answer to this question is that after 9/11, Friends became involved in starting a school for Afghan girls in a refugee camp in Pakistan. But no mention is made of this significant work in any PYM epistle.

In 2010, PYM approved a minute “encouraging Friends to take part in interfaith efforts to foster peace and understanding ranging from the local to the international level. Friends are encouraged to send representatives to local inter-religious councils, to teach out to those in other faith traditions in the spirit of friendship, and to engage in interfaith peace and justice efforts” (Plenary 7th Month 2010, p. 12). The clerk was also authorized the clerk to write a letter of support for Anthony Manousos’ interfaith work. This was the third time in ten years that the Yearly Meeting minuted its support for a Friend with a leading (the other two instances being Humboldt Friends and Carin Anderson and Chris Moore-Backman).

One issue that did evoke some feeling from PYM Friends was torture. It approved two substantial minutes on torture, one in 2006 and one in 2011. The minute of 2006 was inspired in part by “six Humboldt Meeting Friends who had a leading to travel with a concern for the condition of all who are involved in the conflict at the Guantanamo Bay Prison” (PYM, Plenary, p. 30). The minute in 2011 reaffirmed PYM’s opposition to torture and included support for the anti-torture work of AFSC and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It also condemned solitary confinement as a form of torture. This minute was approved, with a couple of Friends objecting to “the process.”  

It is not clear from the minutes what some Friends found objectionable about “the process.” My recollection is that a minute on the environment and torture were presented towards the end of the week,  at the end of an hour mostly devoted to financial matters. There was insufficient time to give either minute the attention they deserved, and many of us found this deeply frustrating.

Two years later, Laura Magnani came to Pacific YM  asking the clerk to sign on to a letter to the governor endorsed by over 1000 religious leaders and organizations (including the AFSC and NRCAT) supporting the hungers strikers in solitary confinement. For various reasons, this request was not brought up and no action was taken.

No minutes relating to peace and justice were considered in 2012, even though Orange Grove Friends and others expressed concern that the US was being pressured by Israel and conservative hawks in the US to bomb alleged nuclear facilities in Iran.

Finally, in 2013, Pacific Yearly Meeting received the following minute relating to drones that was approved by Orange Grove and So Cal Quarterly Meeting:

Minute of Concern regarding Drone Warfare

(approved by Southern California Quarterly Meeting on April 27, 2013)


As Friends (Quakers) who believe there is "that of God" in everyone and therefore every life is sacred, we are deeply concerned about the proliferation of lethal unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. The United States is leading the way in this new form of warfare where pilots in US bases kill people, by remote control, thousands of miles away. Drones have become the preferred weapons to conduct war due to the lack of direct risk to the lives of U.S. soldiers, but these drone strikes have led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians (including American citizens) in countries where we are not at war, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

We urge our government to put an end to this secretive, remote-controlled killing and instead promote foreign policies that are consistent with the values of a democratic and humane society. We call on the United Nations to ban the international use of lethal drones.

Recommended actions

We recommend that the Clerk of our Monthly Meeting send this minute to our elected officials and encourage Friends to do likewise. A copy of this minute will be sent to Quarterly and Yearly Meeting for its consideration.

Friends are also encouraged to read Medea Benjamin book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control and to engage in study on how to address this concern.

This minute met with resistance from Friends who questioned whether it was Spirit-led, and whether the Yearly Meeting had the authority to speak on behalf of Friends. After much discussion and a special called threshing session, this minute was reduced to the following statement, with no action component, and approved:

“Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends oppose weaponized drones, as they oppose all weapons of war.”

In contrast to the response of Yearly Meeting, Friends at the monthly meeting level have been quite active in peace concerns, including opposition to drone warfare. But little of that energy and commitment has been apparent at the Yearly Meeting level, where Peace Committee concerns are usually placed at the bottom of the agenda.

Given Pacific Yearly Meeting’s response to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the use of drones to terrorize people of color in places throughout the globe, how did it respond to the Vietnam War?

Let’s briefly review some of the history of this war. In August 7, 1964, in response to an alleged attack on a US vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin (later shown to be untrue), the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing President Johnson to send troops to Vietnam. On March 2, 1965, sustained U.S. aerial bombing campaign of North Vietnam began (Operation Rolling Thunder). On March 8, 1965, the first U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam. The war soon escalated.

A year and a half later, in August 1966, Pacific Yearly Meeting approved the following statement:

We are aware that there is widespread anguish over the war, and that this anguish is shared by Americans, Vietnamese, and men of other nation; by those who support the war, those who oppose it, and those who are undecided. We share that anguish with our fellow men, whatever position they may hold with regard to the war itself.

We believe that the US government is profoundly mistaken in the course of action which it is currently embarked in Asia. It has violated many of the moral values which we have cherished. It has violated the US Constitution, the UN charter, the SEATO Treaty, and its own assurances regarding the 1954 Geneva accords; violations which have flouted not only legal ordinances in themselves, but also whatever sense of security men were previously able to feel in the existence of those laws. And in so doing it has undermined the beginnings of international order.

Furthermore, men can no longer safely rely on the truth of statements issued by the US government. This impairs the basic trust essential to free democratic government. We cannot be sure of the real purpose of US policy in Southeast Asia, and are led to wonder whether it seeks long-term domination in Asia. Are the domestic implications of this action merely one step in the control of the US by an undemocratic minority? Even the right of dissent has been attacked by men in high places….

The statement goes on in this vein for three more paragraphs. What is remarkable is that the entire Yearly Meeting came to unity in approving this powerfully worded statement! It also proposed a number of recommended actions, namely, that Friends refuse to pay the 7% telephone tax and send a 1% of income each year to the United Nations. Friends at Pacific Yearly Meeting shared their deep feelings in their 1969 epistle:

Our Yearly Meeting in McMinnville, Oregon, this year is an oasis of peace and gladness in the midst of an awesome world of violent, conflicting forces. These forces impinge upon us even here, for we must struggle for understanding, to find adequate response to the violence, to find ways to demonstrate the value of peaceful solutions. We must strive to sustain each other as we search. We treasure the bonds of kinship which link us in the knowledge that Friends everywhere are engaged in the same struggle.

"We are particularly awed and shaken by the immensity of what is required of us. Confronted by the policy of violence which the United States employs towards weaker nations, we are caught in the contradiction of being anguished and yet unable to extricate ourselves from this responsibility and involvement. We are part of the fabric of our society, and the sins of our government are upon our shoulders. We fear that our mildly said ‘No!’ is equivalent to acceptance. Though we are convinced of the relevance of the peace testimony and of the truth we speak, feelings of impotence and frustration too easily make us prisoner. We continue to look for imaginative ways to break through this dilemma.

"Faced with such staggering tasks, we are lonely, because that is the nature of choice-making. We worship together and wait together on God. Yet ultimately each of us must choose his own response to the will of God as he is led to bear witness through his life."

The depth of feeling and soul-searching in this epistle is quite extraordinary, especially when contrasted with the shallow, unemotional response to the War on Terror by Pacific Yearly Meeting over the past twelve years.

A book could be written about the bold steps taken by Pacific YM Friends on behalf of the Peace Testimony in the 1960s. Among other things, Pacific YM recommended sending medical supplies to Vietnam, supported draft counseling, and gave significant support to the Phoenix, a ship of protesters that sailed into the forbidden waters near a nuclear test site in the Pacific. Orange Grove Meeting opened up its meetinghouse as a sanctuary for soldiers who no longer wanted to serve in the military.

The minutes and epistles of this period show a deep concern for the Peace Testimony, and also for Civil Rights and race relations. In its minute of concern for medical aid to Vietnam, Friends wrote:

[We] feel committed to a stand of total opposition to the war our country is waging in Vietnam. The war is a close and immediate thing in our lives, for it is from among us that the physical material upon which the war depends is drawn. It is with a feeling of impatience that we have sought ways to end this war. We feel now that the situation is so critical that strong, positive action must be taken….The restrictions that have been placed on medical aid to war victims in “enemy” controlled areas of Vietnam is absolutely intolerable to men of conscience. They must not be silently accepted” (1967 minutes, attachment #10).

During the Vietnam era Pacific Yearly Meeting did not feel a need to apologize for weakly worded statements, nor did Friends raise objections about “Quaker process” when minutes relating to peace and justice were presented. There were of course lively disagreements and much discussion, some of it no doubt contentious, both during Plenary and interest groups. But it is clear that during the Vietnam era Pacific YM strongly supported the Peace Testimony and were confident that Yearly Meeting had the authority to speak out prophetically about matters of war and justice.

As Chuck Fager has pointed out in his “Quaker Declaration of War” (2003), American imperialists have a long-range plan and are thinking fifty years ahead, with the goal of world domination and hegemony. Those of us in the peace movement, and Friends in particular, need to be prepared to wage the “Lamb’s war” over the long haul. If we are going to dismantle the war machine and build a culture of peace, we need courage, faith, and commitment to each other and to the Spirit. We need to be “innocent as doves and as wise as serpent” (Matt 10::16)—hopeful and realistic.

We also need to be self-critical, learn from our mistakes, and move forward as Spirit leads us. Si, se puede!


1.      The Vietnam War was more intense, involved more bloodshed, and touched the lives of middle class Quakers more directly than the War on Terror, which has largely been conducted by low-income people of color. How can Friends be helped to see how their privileged status makes it difficult for them to empathize with the suffering caused by our government’s endless wars?

2.      Creative ways need to be used to engage Friends at an emotional as well as spiritual level with the suffering and injustice in the world. How do we help enable this to happen? What is blocking such engagement?

3.      There needs to be consensus around the procedure and purpose for bringing minutes to Yearly Meeting.

4.      There needs to be opportunities for the Peace Committee to educate and inform Friends about a concern with sufficient time for questions and discussion at the Plenary and also in interest groups.

5.      Friends who are deeply committed to a concern and are following a leading need to be given opportunities not only to present a report, but to ask for the support of Yearly Meeting. E.g. Carin Anderson, Humboldt Friends and Anthony Manousos.

6.      Representatives from FCL, FCNL and AFSC also need to be able to seek the support of PYM Friends for concerns that involve their organizations.