How do I love the Lord exam

Do I love the Lord?

Scripture teaches us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul. How do we measure up to that in our meetings? How do I measure up to that as an individual?

The idea came up for me as I was thinking about my lack of intellectual commitment to God. So I thought I’d do the inventory and see how I’m doing.

HEART (Emotional):
I experience heartfelt depths of emotion in meeting for worship on a regular basis. I frequently end meeting with teary eyes. Also, I experience this occasionally through prayer, listening to spiritual music, or other faith-based activities. My first experience of meeting for worship in September 1990 brought me close to sobs: “Here are all these people sitting together in silence. That is so profound and moving.” There was something beyond words there for me, and there still is. That’s why I go every Sunday (except last Sunday when Younger Son was just too sick with a cold to make him go, or to inflict it on others).

On this level, I love God wholeheartedly!

MIND (Intellectual):
> 1/2 panentheistic: At some level, I believe God is both immanent (within all things) and transcendant (larger than everything). Marcus Borg has written quite a bit about panentheism. This is probably the most comfortable fit for me as a Quaker. And it definitely means you don’t have to have all the answers because God is way bigger than our minds can comprehend!

> 1/6 deistic: Having received a college degree in physics, I’m willing to see God as the Clockmaker of the Universe, having established its form and rules at the beginning and now watching as it unfolds. This is extremely unsatisfying to me intellectually and emotionally.

> 1/3 agnostic: I’m willing to believe that God is essentially a manifestation of our unconscious. That the still small voice within and the Burning Bush is literally a message from the other, primarily nonverbal half of our brains (cf. Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, an interesting book that apparently doesn’t stand up to modern research in brain science). I’m very interested in what I believe has been called “neurotheology,” the study of the brain and nervous system under the influence of religion.

Princeton cosmologist Joseph Taylor won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1998 or so. He is a member of Princeton Friends Meeting. I would love to learn more about his theology some day!

On this level, I’m affectionate toward God but really have a lot to learn.

STRENGTH (Physical Activity and also Experiential Learning):
I have a felt sense of God’s grace at work in my life. Despite being a miserable sinner, imperfect and everything!

In addition, my experiences of synchronicity, gaining a physical sense of centeredness through worship and prayer and meditation, and being given stamina to accomplish what are clearly “right tasks” all seem like manifestations in the physical world of God’s presence.

On the physical side, I used to be a long-distance runner, and achieved something more than endorphins a few times through a sense of the unity of creation while running.

I am no longer treating my body much like a temple. For seven years I walked to work every day and never owned a car until a week before my 35th birthday! But for the last five years I’ve been driving more and more and exercising less. With children in the home, we don’t cook homemade vegetarian food/Indian cuisine nearly as often (ever!), and we eat a lot of mac & cheese, pizza, sandwich meat, cheese, bread, and more cheese.

So on this one, I’m doing okay on the experiential side, but I need improvement on the physical, "body-temple" side.

SOUL (Spiritual):
When I open my soul to God, amazing things happen. Given my overly complicated office worker life, small children whose lives I maintain a strong connection with, and a wife to whom I want to stay married and with whom I share our household chores and childcare, there ain’t nearly as much time for this as I’d like.

Anyway… I've had dream experiences that point to God… experiencing a mystical union with the One in several dreams, akin to many people’s descriptions of near-death experience… One dream involved seeing the Inner Christ in a 25-year veteran of San Francisco’s affordable housing struggles who is not Christian nor overtly religious or spiritual. It was very powerful.

When I read the Bible at least a little bit every day, when I open my heart in prayer to God, when I take time for centering and reflecting, when I write in my journal openly about what’s on my mind or heart… then my life just functions better, internally and externally. Quakerism helps me stick with this practice better.


Models of peace and social order committees

Today College Park Quarterly Meeting had its one-day winter quarterly meeting at the Berkeley Friends Meeting. (The meetinghouse is conveniently located kitty-corner from the original Peet's Coffee. Many of our activities happened in the Mormon church on a third corner of the intersection, which does not allow caffeinated beverages inside. So that led to some sidewalk conversations while we Quakers consumed our verboten beverages.)

Jim Anderson led an interest group discussion on various ways meetings can and do structure their peace and social order committees. Here's the handout:

Peace and Social Order Committees: Three Models -- Plus Another Idea
(Presented by Jim Anderson at College Park Quarterly Meeting, 1/14/2006)

A. The standing committee of Friends who regularly bring before the meeting the call to become involved in local and other peace and social order work. Often a collection of “activists,” these Friends also represent the meeting’s social witness in their own active engagements.

B. An “empty” committee which has no standing members, but which forms when an individual Friend brings before the meeting a matter of concern, and invites others to join in an active response to it. The group then constitutes an informal committee for the duration of the work.

C. A standing committee who focus on encouraging and supporting peace and social order witness among Friends in the meeting, as individuals and as committees. Such a committee may bring opportunities for action to the attention of the meeting, but its main focus is on calling Friends to find their own way into social witness as part of a full Quaker life.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of these models as expressions of our Quaker faith?
What is your own experience of the corporate expression of our social testimonies in your own meeting?
Is a Peace and Social Order Committee necessary in a meeting?

Here endeth the handout from Jim. I want to add this suggestion made by a Friend during the interest group for a fourth model:

D. The committee for continuing revelation, to sit in expectant meeting for worship, awaiting the promptings of the Spirit, allowing divinely inspired action to spring forth authentically. (So, I’m embellishing the words a bit.)

What does your meeting or church do? I'd be interested in other perspectives.


Welcoming the homeless individual or congregation

I've been reading the recent posts about sacraments on several Quaker blogs recently.

Here's something of a different angle, comparing and contrasting a local Catholic church with our unprogramed Friends meeting.

My wife Robin M. used to work at St. Boniface Church, a Franciscan parish here in San Francisco, in the low-income Tenderloin neighborhood.

St. Boniface is a vibrant, multicultural parish. They conduct masses weekly in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and once a month in Tagalog. They have a neighborhood center that includes a homeless shelter. They are affirming and welcoming to all people, including gay, lesbian, and transgendered people.

The Friars founded St. Anthony's Dining Room next door, and today it includes a medical clinic, justice education workshops for donors, and numerous other services. Finally, the sanctuary itself -- restored and seismically retrofitted thanks to a citywide major fundraising campaign a few years ago -- is welcoming to the homeless, who may sit or lie on the pews, and sleep if they want to, as long as they don't disturb others.

Clearly, this is a congregation where the Spirit is alive and well, and comes through in many forms. And it is, of course, a place where the outward sacraments are celebrated.

It really blew me away recently to learn that an African American Catholic parish, Sacred Heart, which had closed because they were not able to raise funds to restore and retrofit, moved in large part over to St. Boniface to the 9 AM mass. So not only is St. Boniface welcoming to the homeless individual, they are welcoming to the homeless congregation!

To me, then, St. Boniface demonstrates that the path to the Kingdom of God is not a matter of outward forms and sacraments, or lack thereof.

It's a matter of the amount of love and community we create.

So, do unprogramed Quakers, at least at my meeting, do as good a job as St. Boniface? No, but comparing and contrasting our meeting with St. Boniface is not quite fair. For one thing, we don't have as many members and don't have the depth and the staff -- including both men and women religious -- that they do. But it's not a matter of outward sacraments or not. It's a matter of what we do with what we have.

But the question remains, as Johan Maurer has put it, whether or not we put "quakerishness" ahead of our faith? I do think the "Quaker distinctives" have a vital role to play in the wider Church body. Though in the end, the true test is whether or not they bring forth light and love and siblinghood among the brothers and sisters in the meeting....

(The question need not apply only to Quakers, of course. We could ask the same question about whether "Protestantishness" or "Catholicness" or "Orthodoxness" has become more important to some churches than bringing forth light and love within the blessed community and out into the world.)

Would our Friends Meeting be so hospitable? Not at all clear!

When I raise this question, I fear my own meeting falls far short of the ideal. We are located in the low-income South of Market neighborhood. A neighbor of ours, in the residential hotel around the corner from us was recently featured in the documentary, "Waging a Living," about people living on low wages. (Here's an SF Chronicle story about him.)

The front of our meetinghouse has a protective overhang in the rain. For several years we tried to allow homeless people to sleep on our doorstep in the face of city regulations and police officers either discouraging or forbidding same. A man died on our doorstep -- Bobby -- and we held a memorial service for him, and many folks came from the streets. In the end, though, the behavior of the folks was not very helpful either, especially as some of the "regulars" like Louie who helped self-police the looseknit community moved on, and so the practice ended a year or so ago. And we haven't taken any particular steps to interact with homeless people, that I'm much aware of anyway, since then.

We regularly have folks from the neighborhood, both housed and unhoused, stop in, either for worship or just for coffee hour or our monthly potluck. Sometimes we encourage the more befuddled or seemingly menacing folks to move elsewhere.... which is true and practical and yet I'm not sure it's really right. Will we at least try as a community to move in the direction of encountering Christ in "the least of these"? If we are not truly equipped or prepared for that encounter, what then?

And are we not equipped out of fear on our part? or is it just wilting in the face of the sheer, heartbreaking magnitude of some of the problems many unhoused folks face? and which feel way beyond our capacity as a volunteer faith community to deal with in any compassionate way?

I don't know the answers. To engage with the questions is the very least our meeting can do.


Psalm 62 the Liars and the Light

Rich the Brooklyn Quaker's post about Psalm 52 reminded me of a couple of my favorites, 61 and 62. In re-reading 62, I noticed the following passages of seeming relevance today, starting with verse 4 (New English version):

How long will you assail with your threats,
all beating against your prey
as if he were a leaning wall, a toppling fence?
They aim to topple him from his height.
They take delight in lying;
they bless him with their lips,
but curse him in their hearts.
For God alone I wait alone silently;
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock of deliverance,
my strong tower, so that I am unshaken.

On God my safety and my honour depend,
God who is my rock of refuge and my shelter.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before him;
God is our shelter.
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have learnt:
'Power belongs to God'
and 'Unfailing love is yours, Lord';
you reward everyone according to what he has done.

- - - - - -

And then to keep us mindful of our calling, lest we Quakers be tempted to smugness or superiority or self-righteousness or even hatred, 1 John 2:9-11 has this to say:

Whoever says, 'I am in the light,' but hates his fellow-Christian, is still in darkness. He who loves his fellow-Christian dwells in light: there is no cause of stumbling in him.

Sigh, it's never easy, is it? True godliness don't turn men (or women) out of the world, but into it, to paraphrase William Penn.

Letter to My Congressional Representative

I wish I could be more eloquent about Quakerism, but my creative energies just now have gone into composing the following letter. Since anyone who blogs about Quakers is probably getting sniffed by the data-miners anyway, so why not share this with y'all? Anyone reading this particularly in a majority-party district should consider drafting one of your own. The House is in recess until January 31!

Perhaps more important, keep up the vigils and the protests outside the halls of power. My humble thanks to the members of SF Friends Meeting, AFSC Pacific Mountain Region, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship who have maintained a weekly vigil outside the federal office building in San Francisco since October 2001, with the message, "War is not the answer." Check out the array of photos on Flickr!

- - - - - - - - - - -

Dear Representative ---,

Thank you for your December vote against the extension of the Patriot Act.

As a constitutent and as a member of the San Francisco Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), I am writing to express my grave concern about the recent revelations of Bush Administration practices that appear to be unconstitutional. Such activities as the NSA’s monitoring of communications by United States persons, the use of allies’ airspace to transport detainees for “extraordinary rendition,” and the Defense Department’s database tracking peaceful war protesters—which apparently included several Quaker meetings and service organizations—constitute a pattern of abuse that cries out for checks and balances from the Legislative branch.

I have no doubt that you share these concerns.

I would therefore like to request a few minutes of your time for a small group from San Francisco Friends Meeting to meet with you in your district office during the January recess. We would like to express to you personally our concerns with these practices, and to learn from you how we might best encourage the House and Senate to hold hearings and provide other needed oversight. Our nation must not allow its leaders to use war or the threat of war to scare the populace into giving up its civil rights and liberties.

I sincerely hope you will be able to meet with us, and look forward to hearing from your office.

Sincerely yours,

Chris M.