Notes from the 2014 Cary Lecture by William Graustein

I attended the 2014 Stephen Cary Lecture at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat center in Wallingford, Penna., in April. The following are my notes, pretty much unedited.

A sound recording of the lecture is here.

Bill Graustein – Stephen Cary Lecture, 4/7/2014

“Prophets and Nonprofits: Tending Quaker Roots in Secular Soil”

How do scriptural referents (parables, prophets) appear in the inward experience of the Light?

He went to a high-church Episcopal boarding school; there was some tension around religion with one of his parents. After he graduated he was struck upon meeting a Quaker, who talked easily and simply of her faith. She invited him to meeting for worship in Purchase, NY. When they all shook hands at the close of meeting, he felt very welcomed. Later, he reflected that this was indeed a radical sign of welcome.

Parable of the sower: had heard it back in school, but it came alive for him one time stopping by a farm field one winter evening in December. He realized sowing seeds then would not result in anything; but sowing them in the same location four months later would. So he saw the parable could be about time as well as physical (or spiritual) location.

His father had founded a company back in the late 1940s. Although it didn’t do well, he started a foundation, too, (later?) named after his late brother, Bill’s uncle. The company was sold much later, for about four times what they thought it would, so they had a lot of money. Holy sh**! He was in the 1%.

They agreed to start a family foundation with his mother’s share. Bill consulted people for guidance. As a geophysicist, he expected data and analysis. Instead, he heard stories and narratives. Meanwhile, his mother’s withdrawn stance was diagnosed as paranoia.

His father, son of an uneducated dairyman, had gone to Harvard, class of 1902. He was friends with Amos Wilson, (one of?) the only African American at Harvard then. He stayed friends with Amos throughout his life, as they found a pile of correspondence from Amos in his dad’s papers. Bill realized racial justice was important to his father [and so could be appropriate for the foundation’s work].

Bill attended a retreat on “emerging ministries” that he heard about at a ministry and worship committee meeting.  He didn’t feel emerging or like a minister, but went anyway. Found that people there had the same story in different forms: many had suffered some hurt, faced facts, chose life, got moving, and now wanted to figure out how to give back.

He organize a planning meeting with 20 people in New Haven. What’s your vision for the future, and what’s getting in your way? He found two major themes:

  1. Yearning to look outside the bounds of their own organizations to work together for something greater;
  2. Seeking support to be more fully alive in community. The work wasn’t necessarily supportive.
He realized he was hearing things that Friends address, for example, listening non-judgmentally.

He founded an organization called the Community Leadership Program. It encouraged storytelling. Then he introduced the clearness process to them. After the first year, they did an evaluation. They learned people of color held back on issues of race, because the two initial leaders were both white. In the second year they brought in a third facilitator who is a woman of color. This helped.

Bill also brought in Donald Davis, who uses the power of storytelling.

Niyonu Spann is now working with him to help transfer the skills and talents of holding space, consciously creating. They have founded an organizaton on co-creation; she is doing most of the day to day work.

He felt his work was difficult, yet there was vitality in failing, and it was rewarding work. The work pulled him away from his meeting, though.

He told the story of a 57-year-old woman on Metro North, who was told not to sit down next to a white man because he didn’t want her black skin touching him. She was shocked, paralyzed, and troubled that no one else spoke up. There was only one other person of color in the car at the time.  Bill was in meeting for worship two days later and thought, “The composition in this room looks like that Metro North car.”

He told the story of a man from a low-income background whose father had left the family. Once he was on a commuter train, where he saw an African American man in a suit and tie and sharp as can be. He resolved to be like this older man. Now he has founded a couple of nonprofits in New Haven to help young men in circumstances he had grown up in. He chanced to meet his father once, in Florida; but he suffered from mental illness, and could not truly see his son. Yet this was hard, as his whole life the younger man had tried to be a man his father could be proud of. Bill could relate because his own mother could not really see him, either.

Quoted Cornel West’s take on Ephesians: “love the people.” Most radical thing Bill ever did was listen.

People in the world outside Quakers are longing to be heard, to be affirmed. Quakers have something to offer. Many Quakers want to “get outside the Quaker bubble,” as the December issue of Friends Journal said.

Renewal : Power flows from the practice of Friends for him. What do we have to offer the world as patterns and examples?

He concluded, “To listen to our neighbors as if they were prophets is a necessary step toward justice.”


Q (J): Sometimes white people want people of color to tell their stories at meetings. But that often doesn’t work well.
A: Yes, there’s an imbalance of power/privilege. Start with questions that are not about issues: “Who’s someone you admire who you wish the others here could know?” (Otherwise it puts the less-privileged person at risk.)

Q: What’s a success and a failure you’ve had?
A: CLP is resulting in collaborations because people see commonality. Personal friendships are growing across difference. Mistake was not getting on the ball sooner. We often make mistakes in CLP and then say, “Oh, okay, what can we learn?” And the biggest mistakes are the ones I haven’t learned anything from yet.

Q (LD): I’m part of a small group of white people who meet to talk about racism. It’s a spiritual practice. One person said, “I used to be able to forget about racism. Now, not a single day goes by when I don’t think about it.” This is important work you’re doing. Can you do this work with national Quaker organizations?
A: (bows = yes) Q (O): Gravest sin is not to recognize the divine in others. My prayer is that we acknowledge the brokenheartedness in not seeing one another.
A: We all need refuge at times. And other times we nee to step out of refuge and into action.

Q (V): RSOF is either at a breaking point or a breakthrough point. How might we step into and through the difficult bits?
A: 1) Boundary between RSOF and outside is more permeable today. Revitalization can come from without as well as within. Patterns of exclusion can be worked on. 2) How do we get people the “psychic Wheaties” to enable them to do the hard work? Sometimes, we nee to ask for help—from elders, accountability partners. Celebrate small steps.

Q (S): Say more about the distance with your monthly meeting.
A: I did not feel the meeting was letting me down, more that I was busy, stuck in “facilitators mind” when at meeting for worship, and didn’t know how to invite people along with me. Feel closer to my meeting again, serving on a committee again.

Q: Point is to go forth, not to build meetings. Beatitudes turn everything upside down.
Q (A): I affirm that you choose to do this work. You could choose not to and still have a foundation and have people around you say you’re doing good work. This, this is important work. [Didn’t write much in the way of notes, because I responded to her emotion with my own deep emotion welling up. Definitely felt like a moment of Presence.]… Is there anything that you get angry about in this work? A: I don’t do anger well, but I’m kind of starting to get worked up: Why aren’t more of us doing this work in our culture? There, did I do better [in expressing anger]? [Niyonu shakes head, everyone says “No!” and we all burst out laughing together. Together!!]


Approaches to having children in Quaker meeting for worship

[NOTE: I wrote this as a comment on Wess Daniel's post, "Thoughts on Bringing Children to Meeting for Worship."

[His article in turn also refers to Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby's excellent article in Friends Journal, "Bringing Children to Worship: Trusting God to Take Over from There."]

Green Street Monthly Meeting, our liberal unprogrammed Friends meeting in Philadelphia, is looking at how to better integrate the children with the rest of the meeting -- though I doubt we're ready to ditch Firstday School.

A commenter on Wess's post decried the practice in some unprogrammed meetings of having an occasional "all-ages" meeting that is poorly conceived, and a "poor hash." I can certainly imagine being in an otherwise-unprogrammed meeting that did a semi-programmed one poorly. However, I wanted to share some of my recent experience of the last two years.

Green Street has the children in Firstday School for the first 45 minutes (in two groups, elementary and middle school aged), and to worship the last 15 minutes. The teens generally come to meeting for worship.

On the 5th Sundays, a few times a year, we have a mostly programmed meeting for worship. It's definitely a hash, and a tasty one at that!

The one or two I've attended were led by a Friend who grew up expecting to be a minister in another tradition, so has some ability to lead worship; and more important, who is now a high school teacher, with a real gift for drawing young people at many different ages.

One 5th Sunday I missed featured my older son singing a Green Day song ("21 Guns") with his peers playing electric guitar. Since he has never sung with those peers before or since, I'm sorry I missed it. (And it's not like we're about to organize a worship band or something; I have personally never seen anything more high-powered than an acoustic guitar or a violin, usually around the year-end holidays, at this meeting myself.)

The warmth of the greetings at rise of meeting and expressions of joy following these semi-programmed meetings are enough to reassure me that we are saying something quite positive about our worshiping community. To me, it needn't imply anything negative about expectant waiting worship the other 48 Sundays a year.


Summer living in the city

I appreciate living in a large city again. For the four years before we left the SF Bay Area, we lived in a small city to the south of San Francisco. While technically it was in the suburbs, it was definitely pretty urbanized, but in a fairly unsatisfying way, and so I missed "real" city life.

Now I work in Center City Philadelphia, which I enjoy; I still miss downtown San Francisco sometimes.
This afternoon I'd been meeting with my boss when the fire alarm in our office went off. It was the most bureaucratic recorded emergency instructions I'd ever heard: "Leave the building! Cease operations! Do not utilize the elevator!"

On the sidewalk, I saw several people I knew, as there are two Quaker organizations in the same building where I work. One Friend asked if we could plant-sit again, and I said yes. She said she'd come over tonight with them. I enjoyed seeing her and the other people I knew. And my boss and I continued our meeting on the "front porch" of the Convention Center across the street from our office. It was a great day to be outside.

At home, we live in a section of Philadelphia that is considered one of the oldest "streetcar suburbs" in the country, yet it's most definitely within the city limits. But the trees are tall and mature, and the pace is calmer here than in Center City.

Tonight Son #1 and I had dinner on the back porch, and it was neither cool nor warm, just pleasant. Then we went (by car, alas) to an ice cream parlor for dessert. We sat on the bench right outside the shop on Germantown Avenue, and watched the clouds turn pink and then many shades of gray.

This afternoon he had helped another Friend pack up her moving truck. I had gone by last night with some of our remaining boxes, and to help with packing, and heard that she needed help while I'd be at work today. We moved twice in the last two years, so we owe the universe some help-with-moving karma. I asked Son #1 if he'd be willing, and he said okay. And it was close enough for him to walk—there's that living in the city again.
Robin called shortly after we came home to say hello. She will be one of the keynote speakers at Baltimore Yearly Meeting, on Friday evening.

While we were talking, the Friend came over with her plants. Well, it just so happens that she is a member of Robin's support committee, so I put the phone on speaker so we could both talk to her. In fact, our Friend gave Robin some really good advice and some very kind words of reassurance. I felt enormously blessed to be part of a community in this way.

It's good to remember my blessings. It is practical and useful, as well as probably healthier, to be grateful and to focus on what's good and how to be helpful and loving in life, it seems to me.


Ears whose drums you can scratch: WPRB-FM

I'm "going back" to Princeton for a day tomorrow, 6/1/2013. It's been 25 years since I graduated from the university there, and they have a big party for that kind of thing.

As I reflect on that time in my life, it's worth remembering why I went to college there in the first place: WPRB-FM.

Today, their slogan is simply, "Community-supported independent radio."

Back then, when I was in high school and then college, the slogan was even more simply, "Stereo 103.3."

Today they have a new studio in a new building, and I hope to drop in for the open house they're having. I will be pining for the basement of Holder Hall, a little bit. Not too much. Especially because if we turned up the speakers too loud, the students who lived on the first floor were liable to come down and lecture us. And it was pretty hot in the summer, with one window unit air conditioner stuck in the tech closet next to the studio, and pretty much venting into the rest of the station offices, making them often unbearable.

As the person who could well be the 25th or 26th successor to me as station manager says in this piece, "Playing music on WPRB is a way to reach out and commune with faces you may never hear, hands you may never feel, but hearts you have a few fleeting scrambling hours each week to try to touch. Ears whose drums you can scratch."

Thanks for scratching this Central Jerseyan's eardrums, 'PRB!
That's me cueing up a Brian Eno record
while taking a request at WPRB-FM,
probably in 1985 or 1986. The t-shirt
is from The Fall's tour in support of
their 1985 LP, "This Nation's Saving Grace."


Guest Post: Quaker Food Pantry, by Christine Hoang

My friend Christine Hoang is a parent at San Francisco Friends School. She coordinates the school's participation with the San Francisco Friends Meeting's neighborhood food pantry, which is a local outpost for the San Francisco Food Bank. I was clerk of the meeting when we went through the discernment process to create the pantry, and I'm pleased that not only has the pantry expanded to serve more people, it has helped keep the relationship between the school and the meeting vibrant.

The following piece by Christine was originally published in the school's "Circle Back" newsletter and is reprinted with the author's permission.

Quaker Food Pantry
At the Meeting House

By Christine Hoang
SFFS Parent & Board Member

Saturday mornings, the Friends Meetinghouse on 9th Street begins its bustling day with deliveries from a wide variety of vendors. There’s the regular delivery from the San Francisco Food Bank, which drops off staples like pasta, bread, fresh fruits or vegetables from suppliers or farmers; deliveries from Food Runners which picks up fresh and prepared food items and pastries from specialty stores like Whole Foods; and a very special bread delivery from a volunteer named Al. Al spends his Saturdays gathering bread donations from Safeway and other stores and delivering his bounty to the Meetinghouse. Al’s bread delivery now accounts for over half of the bread distributed by the Pantry.

Three years, ago, when SFFS first began partnering with the Quaker Pantry, the Pantry served 60 – 70 people every Saturday; now, the Pantry serves well over 100. Clients are slotted into twenty-minute windows in which they can shop. Each client usually brings one or two bags to fill up with groceries for the week. For most clients, the Pantry is their only source of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as staples like bread or pasta.

SFFS families contribute to the Pantry in vital ways. Several families contribute financially, a commitment that has allowed the Pantry to feed another 25-35 clients a week. A few parents are also trained to work as shoppers, going to the Food Bank to order the week’s delivery, and filling in when volunteers are short. Most families though, contribute time. For the past three years, each SFFS grade has adopted a month in which families are responsible for staffing the Pantry. The day starts around 10:00am, when the first deliveries arrive. Working alongside delivery drivers and Meetinghouse volunteers, SFFS families unload crates and boxes off of food trucks and create a real store! Vegetables and fruits are placed into large bins or buckets, cans are sorted, pastries and perishable items are arranged delicately on tables, and loaves of bread are stacked into towers.

Another wonderful aspect of the project is that kids work alongside adults.  As SFFS parent Tawni Sullivan has noticed, “Kids feel empowered by really owning their own jobs, not just helping the grown ups with theirs.” Younger kids blacken bar codes on donated bread, organize and stack cans, and count out the vegetables for clients. Older kids break down cardboard boxes and do the math necessary to ensure a fair allocation of food for everyone. 

Around noon, the Pantry opens its doors and the first clients filter in. Most of the clients are elderly; many are monolingual Cantonese speakers; several are homeless. The Quaker Food Pantry affords them regular access to healthy, fresh food. During the shopping hour, all volunteers work at distributing food, handing out three oranges a piece, two onions, or a can or two. For Jen Maeder, “working side by side with your classmates and their families on a weekend really cements the SFFS tenets of community and stewardship. Playdates and soccer games are a great way to socialize with the school community on the weekends but there is something different about once in awhile rolling up your sleeves and working alongside your classmate on a weekend. To me, it shows my kids that I take seriously what they are learning about community and stewardship in school. It’s not something I just expect of them, but I am choosing it for myself as well.”
This is my younger son at the food pantry in 2010,
when it was just starting out.


Vital Quaker Tools (Kitchen Remix Version)

Today in leading the Firstday School for our middle school/early high school group, I brought a few props to help me make some points.

Among other things, I brought our sifter and our funnel.

When the lesson was over, it was time for the group to go to meeting for worship for the last 15 minutes. I gathered some of my things up, but left others, including the kitchen gear.

In meeting, I had a nudge to talk about the funnel and the sifter. I wanted to stand up and hold them up, for these simple, everyday tools to be visible, not just imagined. However, I had left them upstairs. So it seemed that this was not a message for that time and place.

We had meeting for business after lunch. It started with the Third Query for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, on spiritual nurture, ministry, and religious education. Among the many queries of the Third Query: "How do we teach about Quaker practices in business and worship and their importance to the functioning of our Meeting community?"

By then I had my funnel and sifter with me again, and I felt clear to speak the message, more or less like this:
These tools are important for Quakers. As with a funnel, in meeting for worship we can take all of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and focus them toward the center, and drop them into the container of meeting.
As with a sifter, in meeting for business we sift through the flour and strain out any chaff or pebbles, and let the good stuff drop through to be used. [spin handle of sifter for emphasis]
The tools -- centering, discernment, or even meeting for worship or meeting for business themselves -- are not the point of Friends worship. However, in my experience, they are very helpful tools indeed along the way to learning to love God and to love my neighbor. It's important for adults as well as teens to be taught, or reminded, of this.