Why I'm Glad I Majored in Physics

I almost majored in English. Or creative writing. I had all A's or passes in those classes. I got to do a student poetry reading twice. And I had fun.

Physics classes, by contrast, were brain-achers. It didn't help that I'd often show up to Friday morning lectures hung over or my ears ringing from seeing some punk band the night before at City Gardens in Trenton the night before. (Usually not both! I had some limits even then.)

Looking back, these were some of the tangible benefits:

> Appreciation for the complex order of the universe, as well as the chaos

> Appreciation for the scale of the universe, from the nanometer to the megaparsec.

> Appreciation for having majored in physics as I entered the job market. One of the reasons I stayed with the brain-aches rather than switching was because I figured physics would look more impressive on my resume than English. Crass, but true.

> Chance to study under a couple of Nobel Prize laureates (admittedly, one of them was at best "undistinguished" as a teacher), and other well-known physicists.

> Being able to say I could do quantum physics and vector calculus. (Not so true any more!!)

> I even had some peripheral contact with 1993 Nobelist and Quaker Joe Taylor! His Nobel autobiography is here, including the fact that he was raised Quaker and attended Moorestown Friends School and Haverford College.

Above all, working on problem sets with my friends Charles, Matt, Kevin and a few others. This experience taught me more about working together in a group than anything else I had ever done up to that point in my life. That experience has been enormously helpful in my life as a Quaker and in my professional life as an affordable housing advocate and fundraiser. I have been blessed abundantly. I am so grateful.


PYM 3: Children’s Worship

Last year for the first time in my-then 5 years of PYM the children participated at the beginning of MFW, with a Bible-based lesson each day, from a Friend who grew up in the Yearly Meeting and whose daughter is now in the Children’s Program. This year, my successor as clerk talked about her concern to provide discipline… to follow the Christ Light within… We agreed that we don’t often teach our children what we’re doing in meeting for worship. So we included lessons again this year, with some variety:

Monday: Centering and breathing; “This Little Light of Mine”; “George Fox Song”
Tuesday: Breathing and centering exercise
Wednesday: Passage from 1 Kings 19:11-12: “The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

I said, “Quakers believe we can hear that gentle whisper (“still small voice” in the NEB which I was reading from) today. Some people hear it as words, some people hear it as a whisper and others loudly, some hear it in music, some see it in nature. You can hear it too and let us know what you hear.”

Two Friends sang lovely songs before we left with the children. I’m glad they got to hear it.

Thursday: Explanation that the adults were looking at the theme of sabbath and jubilee; that John the Baptist had proclaimed, quoting Isaiah 40, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” And that Jesus’s first lesson in the synagogue proclaimed good news to the poor, release for prisoners. And that we welcomed the children’s thoughts on these things, too.

I led the lesson on Thursday and Friday, and I was mindful of Peggy Senger Parson’s description of “catching a message.” I had a strong sense of the two Biblical passage that would connect the children respectively to the processes of worship and of discernment that the adults were doing the rest of the time. I outlined some thoughts for myself (usually as I was lying in bed awake starting at 4 AM or 5 AM… it was not a restful week for me by any means). Then I waited in the actual meeting until it felt right, I read the text, then talked about it without prepared remarks, rather a general sense of what needed to be said.

I came back to dip into the meetings for worship and discernment later on every day (I think) and found them to be centered and deep, though also so full of words that it was almost too much. (Several people I talked to were concerned about that, and yet many of the individual messages were rich and deep. Though one Friend called it “sharing and won’t dignify it by calling it ‘ministry.’”

A couple of people commented that they thought the children’s worship set the tone for the whole meeting, and that some of the themes continued to resonate the rest of the morning. I feel blessed to have been able to participate and contribute this way.
- - -
Part 3 in a series:
» Prelude: Prayers for Pacific Yearly Meeting
» Part 1: Acting Organized so Others will Act Organized
» Part 2: Committee Service as Worship Service


PYM 2: Committee Service as Worship Service

One of our best achievements, in my humble opinion, in the Pacific Yearly Meeting Children’s Program Committee this year was cultivating a real experience of worship through service. One example came at the end of our meeting of teachers and committee members on Wednesday evening. Once we had everyone settled on the porch outside the dining hall and gone through a lot of the logistical matters, I had a real sense of a gathered meeting in our closing worship. The play of the warm summer breeze over us was a wonderful reminder of Spirit, ruach, pneuma, atman...

Throughout the week, we had many conversations, ranging from the practical and logistical ("Oh, we have to clear out of the kitchen right now because they said we didn't rent it, what should we do?" or "Where's so-and-so, did he run away again?"), to the spiritual ("How can we teach our children about why we worship the way we do?"), to the personal ("So many people in our meeting need help, I'm not sure what to do..."). I felt blessed to develop these spiritual friendships.

Our committee had an evaluation meeting during the final meal, lunch on Saturday. We were pretty exhausted and punchy. Susan mentioned that one person who volunteered early in the week had expressed her concern that there wasn’t more of an orientation. Later in the week, the same person made a point of telling Susan that she now realized just what we were facing in terms of (lack of) personnel, and so she understood why we hadn’t been able to provide more support. Thank heaven!

I mentioned that I was sorry we didn’t write volunteer guidelines, as we had talked about prior to yearly meeting. “Of course,” I said, “the number one guideline for a volunteer is, 'If you see a child running away, chase him down!'”

Overly tired as we were, Susan and I laughed and laughed. Really, if some volunteers had just followed that dictum, we’d’ve all been better off!

I closed the Saturday evaluation meeting with a call for some silent worship. “May I get all religious on you?” I said. “Yes, please,” said Jennifer. So I read Numbers 6:24-26: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” We fell into a deep and centered worship, holding hands there in the dining hall, for a precious few moments. And then it was off to close up the truck with all our supplies, clear out of our dorm rooms, and get on the road again.
- - - -
Part 2 of a series:
» Prelude: Prayers for Pacific Yearly Meeting
» Part 1: Acting Organized so Others will Act Organized
» Coming next: Part 3: Children's Worship


Los Angeles Blogger Convergence

So I finally scanned a photo of the bloggers who were at the surprise Los Angeles gathering of the Convergent Friends Choir. (The surprise was, of course, that unprogrammed and evangelical Friends could sing so well together, not that we were getting together for fellowship and dinner!)

Quaker bloggers at the convergent Friends gathering in Los Angeles, 8th Month 2006
Bloggers in attendance included (from left) Chris M., Chris Frazier, Robin M., Wess Daniels, Kody, Emily Daniels, Joe "Beppepodcast" Guada


PYM: Acting Organized so Others will Act Organized

Right before Pacific Yearly Meeting -- yes, the "other" PYM -- I blogged about how the Children's Program needed prayer and help. We got it, mostly; we were a bit stretched for staff some of the time. The upper elementary/middle school program was larger than we expected (19!!) in a small room, and didn't have enough volunteers some day, yet we had great teachers and great participants, so it was okay.

My secret was to go into the week acting organized. Then, I figured, everyone else would behave in a reasonably organized way. As a result, we’d be fairly organized!

So, we scheduled a teacher meeting on Monday afternoon, which kept getting pushed back because not enough people were present. And then we had a parent orientation at 4:30 without a lot of parents, but enough to seed the community with reasonably well-informed parents. Result: bingo, we seemed to be pretty organized! And really, we were. Of course we had plenty of things to pick up and improvise on, but that’s the nature of these things.

My main regret is that we didn’t provide much in the way of Quaker content for the programs this year. That’s been a goal of the committee’s, and we did a more thorough job of it last year. The fact is, we were struggling even to find enough teachers let alone provide good support to them in the classroom. It was also a struggle being in a new venue that none of the committee members had had an opportunity to visit in advance. So, I hope next year’s committee will get further on the logistics and teachers in advance, so they can go the next step and provide that curriculum support.

I knew we were okay when we had an oversight issue with someone, and I was able to talk directly to the person involved to clarify the program’s expectations and needs.

And also when the conference staff told us, on the third day, Wednesday, that the kitchen we had commandeered was not actually part of PYM’s rental contract. At first they told us we had to move it right away, that minute! Well, the committee member on hand asked for a little more time so she could clarify with the committee clerk and our arrangements clerks, and find another location. So they relented and said we could have a little time. Yes, the arrangements clerks (nearby, fortunately) confirmed we had not rented the kitchen, though I thought they said we had. Anyway, we moved everything out, within an hour . And we did it courteously and respectfully, and the conference staff loaned us space in their refrigerator for our cold stuff, which was really a big help.

If we could maneuver past those two bumps as bumps and not earthquakes, then we were in pretty good shape.

We also have a great new clerk: thanks, Elizabeth, for stepping up and taking this on! And many thanks to Susan for her comradeship and hard work these past two years. She was the one continuing committee member (there are supposed to be four each year) when I joined the committee and served as first convenor, then clerk. We've grown to be good friends as well as comrades!

Next time: Committee service as opportunity for worship service.


Back, Safe, Home Again

As Robin M. wrote, we're back from PacYM. It was a rich, deep week of worship and a lot of hard work for me related to the children's program. Thanks for your prayers. It ended up going pretty well. We got through the rougher spots okay, and the children generally had a good time. They got some Quaker curriculum through meeting for worship, community building, and the presence of loving adults.

» Funny, I was doing this work for my children, and yet I didn't see my family all that much! Actually, they saw me around a lot, and they knew I was helping out, so I think they felt some security about that. In fact, Second Son was much less clingy than he was even at FGC a month ago. It helped that he was one of the oldest kids in the preschool program, and also that the Sunday before PYM started, we hung out in Santa Barbara with our Friend Kate and her two kids. Her two are almost the same ages as our two, and her daughter and Second Son really got to be buddies through the week. Is there anything cuter than 4- and 5-year-olds hugging goodbye?

» Meanwhile, I have hit the wall the last two days at the office. Way too much blog-surfing. I realized my heart is not yet clear after PYM. Tonight, once I publish this post, my task is to sit with my journal and just try to spill my guts onto paper. PYM's extra time for worship and discernment, and the worshipful space that the work with the children frequently entered, was in the Power. As was the gathering of convergent Friends in Los Angeles. So, I'm not going to be very productive at home or at work until I get clear.

» It doesn't help that my office is very quiet this week. Our regular admin assistant is still on medical leave, and the Friend who is temporarily helping out is away for a few days. Our organizer left at the end of July. She's now part of a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation to Colombia, and next month she'll join the staff to support their Colombia Program.

» What's amazing is my previous connection to that work: Our Friend Chris Moore-Backman spent eight months with FOR doing human rights accompaniment work in the peace village of San Jose de Apartado. I was on his clearness committee and his support committee, and I arranged a meeting with the staff of my U.S. Representative so he could get a letter from a U.S. Congress Member!

» Helpful news for housing advocates: You can now see the number of new affordable homes that could have been built at the National Priorities Project's cost of War calculator: Homes Not Bombs! (You can also pick up the cost of war calculator that I've got in my sidebar. I'm not adept at javascript so I couldn't figure out any way to put the number of new homes in the sidebar, too.)

» Finally, Friends who were at PYM are reminded to pray for Tony Prete, that he may have strength on Wednesday, 8/9/06.

Blessings to you and yours!