12/18/2008

Albert Nolan's Jesus Today

A couple months ago I read Albert Nolan's book Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006).

Nolan is a Dominican priest from South Africa, which very much informs his world view, in a positive way, from my experience. His first book, Jesus Before Christianity, is apparently relatively widely read.

I have finally had a chance to type up some of the passages that spoke to my condition, and reproduce a few of them here. The book starts with a review of the current situation in the world, the "signs of the times."
P. 7: In our present circumstances of uncertainty and insecurity, spirituality could be seen as yet another form of escape. While this may be true in some cases, it seems to me that by and large the new search for spirituality, the deep hunger for spirituality, is genuine and sincere. It is one of the signs of our times.
     The sign, however, is not the number of people who have found a satisfactory form of spirituality to live by. Some have done so, but the sign is rather the widespread hunger for spirituality, the search for spirituality, the felt need for spirituality. One could argue that all human beings need, and have always needed, spirituality. What is happening today is that many more people are becoming acutely aware of their need for spirituality.
Nolan then reviews what he sees as the core of Jesus's spirituality.
Page 135: Trusting God, as Jesus did, does not mean clinging to God; it means letting go of everything so as to surrender ourselves and our lives to God. There is a difference between attachment and surrender. In the end we must become detached from God, too. We must let go of God in order to jump into the embrace of a loving Father whom we can trust implicitly. We don’t need to hold on tightly, because we will be held—like a child in the arms of its parents.
     There are people who cling to God. They make God into a crutch... Clinging, even clinging to God, is the work of a frightened ego. Surrender and trust come from the depths of our true self.
p. 146: For many of us the process of unlearning or unknowing our previous images of God might include a stage of atheism or at least a period of grappling with a de-personalized God. But as our search continues, and especially if we are learning from Jesus, we will come to experience God in personal terms. This will of course be very different from the childish images of a personal God some of us grew up with.
Part III of the book is titled, "Personal Transformation Today." Nolan's goal is to outline a practical spirituality for today. The chapter titles indicate the elements of this: In Silence and Solitude; Getting to Know Oneself; With a Grateful Heart; Like a Little Child; and Letting Go.

Finally, Nolan concludes with Part IV: Jesus and the Experience of Onenes: one with God with ourselves, with other human beings, and with the universe.
p. 191: We are God’s handiwork, a small but unique part of God’s great ongoing work of art. But we are also invited to participate in the process by becoming co-artists and co-creators of the future.
     We do this by allowing God to work in and through us. When we are radically free or on the way to radical freedom, divine energy can flow through us unhindered. This divine energy, which is also called the Holy Spirit, infinitely powerful, creative, and healing. We see it at work in the prophets, the mystics, and the saints, but above all in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ spirit....
     God’s Work, like God’s Wisdom, is revolutionary. It turns the world upside down. We participate by adding our voices to the many prophetic voices that are speaking out boldly in our day and age. There are countless numbers of people around the world who are doing God’s Work. The challenge we face is to join them, if we have not already done so.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in what could be likened to an "emergent" or "convergent" view of Jesus, from a religious in the Catholic church.

12/16/2008

Stuck in US with the bailout blues again

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a piece by David Sirota, "Political establishment trashed consumer protections - and look what we got." They ended with the following links, which I helpfully reproduce here:(About that last one, as my Ten Year Old might say, "Well, duh!")

Here's what Sirota said:
"Please, forgive me for saying it. I know it's a tad annoying, but it has to be said to America's ruling class in this humble column space. Because if it's not said here, then you can bet it won't be said anywhere else, and it needs to be said somewhere on behalf of the millions of citizens who were right.

"We told you so."

12/14/2008

Firstday School Lesson: The Meeting Community

Advices and Queries for 12th Month, Pacific Yearly Meeting: The Meeting Community

1. Song: Pat Humphries, "Swimming to the Other Side"
This was an improvisation by the other grownups when I had some extra preparation for my lesson when we walked in. The students at the Friends School have been learning this, so several of the participants in the class already knew it. Whew!

2. Circle/Silence

3. Introductions and Icebreaker
The person who is speaking will get the Talking Feather. (This is like a Talking Stick. It signifies that the holder is the person who is entitled to talk. It gets passed from person to person around the circle.) Say your name, where you were born, and the name of a family member other than parents, siblings, or children. (We had three adults in the room, all of whom were parents, so that last item was relevant.)

4. Pedagogy: Community
a. Teacher describes roots of the word = "com-" with + "unity" as one. The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, is one type of community.

b. What are some of the communities you are part of? Stand if the following apply to you:
  • Are a member of a family.
  • Ever been a member of a team.
  • Ever been part of a musical or dance group.
  • Part of humanity.
  • Part of the mammals.
  • Part of the earth. Solar system. Milky Way. Universe.
c. Read two passages from Catherine Whitmire's Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk through the Quaker Tradition: p. 76, Tom Mullen, "Oh God, help us not to cry over spilt milk"; p. 83, Deborah Fisch (quoting a Friend from SF about redwood trees)
Point: One of the places we find God and the Spirit of God is in community – a group of people together

5. Light and Livelies: These are fun group exercises conducted during Alternatives to Violence Project workshops. We did about three: the rain is coming down; "I love you honey, but I just can't smile"; and vampire frogger.

This was very good for the boy energy in the room; we had one girl and six boys (three pairs of brothers, in fact). The girl had fun, too, though!

6. Affirmation: Sing first verse and chorus of "Simple Gifts" (partly because one child asked for it!) Closing silent worship. Thanks for being here, and help me move the table back to the center of the room and distribute the chairs around it.

Update 12/15: added tags.

11/25/2008

How much is that bailout in the window?

Gack:
Bailouts Dwarf Spending on Climate and Poverty Crises
Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh | November 24, 2008
Foreign Policy In Focus

The financial crisis is only one of multiple crises that will affect every country, rich and poor alike. [hat tip to commondreams.org]
Tsk.

The bailout is at well over four trillion and counting. Higher after the new backstops for Citi and credit cards. LOLFed has the best summary I've seen, but it's now a whole week old, which means it's terribly out of date and at LEAST $500 billion too low (=$300B for Citi [not counting the measly direct capital infusion!] and $200B for credit card issuers. Really, really amazing. Not in a good way.

Anyway, here's a link to the LOLFed bailout balance sheet: Why Hijack A Supertanker When You Could Hijack A $4.3 Trillion Dollar Failboat.

Kthxbai.

Update: Okay, I was really out of date myself. Today (11/26) Kathleen Pender in the SF Chronicle says the total bailout is $8.5 trillion so far, though not all of it has been tapped yet. The article includes a good summary chart from Bloomberg and a helpful timeline. And, oh, by the way, the LOLFed graphic came from CNBC originally.

11/22/2008

Some of the organizing tasks of a clerk among Friends

I wrote up the following as a handout for a workshop for staff and board committee clerks that I'm leading on 11/24/08 at the San Francisco Friends School. The board of trustees of this particular school is very well organized and well run, in my experience. They need some time to grapple with the spiritual nature of Friends decision-making, and how to apply it in a school context, so that will be a focus of what I address. Nonetheless, every committee clerk should be mindful of good organizational practices, so I created these two lists.

In my experience, unprogrammed Friends meetings have a great need for lists like this, especially because most of us don't have staff. Does your monthly, quarterly or yearly meeting have anything like this? I assume Philadelphia Yearly Meeting does, because of the work Arthur Larrabee has done through the years on teaching clerking. Feel free to add links to other resources in the comments. It wasn't meant to be comprehensive; rather, I was trying to fit it all onto a one-page handout.

SOME OF THE ORGANIZING TASKS
OF A CLERK AMONG FRIENDS

  1. Set an agenda, preferably in writing; if feasible, distribute in advance.
  2. Begin and end the meeting with a moment of silent reflection or worship.
  3. Facilitate the meeting.
      • Create the opportunity for all views to be heard.
      • If it is a large group or if it is a contentious discussion, ask people to be recognized before speaking.
      • If necessary, allow for a short period of silence between speakers.
      • If someone hasn’t spoken, ask if he or she has something to add before the discussion concludes.
  4. Take minutes, or assign someone else to take minutes.
      • If there are “action minutes” recording a decision by the committee, consider reading back the wording of that minute to be sure everyone agrees about what was decided and how it is recorded.
      • Distribute the minutes soon after the meeting, or have them available at the next meeting.
  5. Check in with committee members between meetings as needed to remind them of assignments and learn about progress.
  6. As needed, consult with the board clerk or other committee clerks who may have relevant information about the matters your committee is addressing.
  7. Find outside resources to help with the work of your committee, or ask for help from the committee to find the resources or to follow up on your leads.
  8. Find or develop queries as needed.
  9. Publicity and communications:
      • Give enough advance notice for meetings, especially to people who weren’t at the last meeting.
      • Send a meeting reminder by email; leaving a phone message can be even more persuasive.
      • If a meeting will be open to the rest of the community, provide enough advance notice for everyone to hear about it.
Some Printed Resources for Clerking Among Friends
  1. Beyond Majority Rule, Michael Sheeran. The classic text on Quaker unity decision-making, written by a Jesuit.
  2. Growing into Goodness: Essays on Quaker Education, Paul Lacey. See especially Chapter 3, “Roots and Fruits: Quaker Decision Making.”
  3. Faith and Practice, Pacific Yearly meeting: See www.pacificyearlymeeting.org.
  4. Beyond Consensus by Barry Morley; Pendle Hill Pamphlet. Discussion of the distinction between consensus in decision-making and a “sense of the meeting,” reached through discernment of a greater wisdom or continuing revelation of truth.
  5. Friends Council on Education: See www.friendscouncil.org. Publications for sale include:
      • Governance Handbook for Friends Schools, with a section on decision making;
      • Principles of Good Practice for Friends School Boards & Trustees.
      • The Quaker Decision-Making Process: What is it? How do we use it in a Quaker school?
Finally, in the context of a Quaker meeting, rather than a school, I would also highly recommend San Francisco Meeting Member Elizabeth Boardman's Where Should I Stand? A Field Guide for Monthly Meeting Clerks, published by Quaker Books of Friends General Conference. Elizabeth also has a blog for it at whereshouldistand.blogspot.com.

11/18/2008

Guest post: What really happens at a Meeting for Worship?

This is a guest post by Amy Baker, San Francisco Monthly Meeting & San Francisco Friends School Quaker Life Committee member. Reprinted with her permission from the "Quaker Question" column in the SF Friends School newsletter.
I remember the first time I went to a Quaker Meeting. The things I didn’t know about the Quaker faith could fill a book, and I was utterly at a loss as to what to DO. There were none of the usual cues- no priest, no prayerful call & response, not even a cross on the wall indicating what direction to face. I fidgeted and felt self conscious and then finally hit an “aha” moment: you mean, this is up to ME? This relationship with God, this form of worship, the ability to find meaning in silence?

It was a radical thought.

I also remember the ministry that was shared. To this day I turn over the words, the messages. At the time I marveled at how accessible the message was -- simply spoken, grounded in personal experience, but related to a worldly outlook and to a spiritual challenge faced by the speaker. Some of the messages related directly to inner struggles of my own, not yet articulated.

It was a revelation that a form of worship that had less structure could be more relevant, and somehow speak to me directly. Back in San Francisco, I sought out the Meeting House and went a few times on my own, before becoming a regular attender. At first I enjoyed the respite, the completely accepting and non judgmental environment. Later, as I understood more of theological underpinnings
that create such a space, I experienced Meeting on a more spiritual level. Soon I noticed that if I didn’t go to Meeting, my week was missing something.

Not all Meetings for Worship are like that first one I went to- sometimes I spend the entire hour trying to quell the mind chatter.

Some are even more powerful. Each one is different and yet I have worshipped this same way in several different US cities and a few foreign countries and they are remarkably similar, right down to the announcements after.

As the Quaker guide Faith & Practice puts it: “The Meeting for Worship is the core of the Quaker practice. There, Friends gather together in expectant silence… without prearranged program. Meeting for Worship is different from solitary prayer... Friends seek connection to one another and to God dwelling among them. In some Meetings, the ministry may have a common theme, each message deepening and enriching the other, and connecting to one’s own thoughts. Some Meetings are entirely silent... Together we can more clearly see Truth; we can better receive and understand continuing revelation.”

If you have ever been curious to join a Meeting for Worship, as practiced by the San Francisco Monthly Meeting, please join other members of the SF Friends School community on Sunday, December 7th at 11am. The Meeting House is at 65 9th Street, between Mission & Market.

There is a short intro session at 10:40 if you want a primer, and there is supervision for children who choose not to stay in the Meeting after the first 15 minutes. There is also a caregiver in the nursery for babies and toddlers. We would love to see you there!

11/15/2008

The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition

As I mentioned in my last post, the 11/5/08 issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly has a review of a book about a famous Quaker by a contemporary Quaker.

The book is called The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition.

The title of the alumni magazine article is, "Decoding an early abolitionist: Thomas P. Slaughter *83 pens biography of tailor and preacher John Woolman." You can read it here.

Here's a quote from the book review:
Slaughter, a Quaker himself, delved back into Journal to make sense of this quiet revolutionary. The result is The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition, published by Hill and Wang in September.

From the scant threads in Journal, Slaughter has provided a deeper understanding of Woolman by tracking thinkers who probably influenced him, from John Locke to Ben Franklin. Slaughter examines the source of Woolman’s convictions by employing a type of psychological excavation he learned at Princeton, where mentors such as Lawrence Stone and Natalie Davis were “interested in the workings of people’s heads,” says Slaughter.
By the way, the asterisk next to his name indicates Slaughter received a graduate degree from Princeton in 1983. Undergraduates get an apostrophe.

The publisher's page for the book is right here.

11/14/2008

Elegy for an undergraduate

I was a middle-class to upper-middle-class kid at a decidedly upper class university. Princeton.

I still remember a picnic back home, probably the summer after high school. A friend of mine from middle school was there, who went to high school at the exclusive St. Paul's School. A couple of his friends from St. Pauls' were at the picnic, too. One of them told me, "The smartest kids I know are from public school. I think they have to work harder." That has stayed with me since then. Even as I send my two boys to a relatively elite Friends School, the only one in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I'm a little embarrassed about having gone to Princeton. I do have it listed in my Facebook profile, partly in hopes that friends from college will find me. And I cross-post my Blogspot blog to my Facebook account, so presumably they could read this stuff I write about Quakerism.

My favorite story illustrating how people react to my attending Princeton actually happened the summer before I matriculated. I was working for a temp agency, and I got a one-day assignment to wash dishes at a cafeteria at an AT&T office building. As my supervisor for the day walked me down the hall to the kitchen, she asked what my I was doing other than temp work. I said I was going to college in the fall. She asked where. I said Princeton. She laughed and laughed and laughed. "Oh, a Princeton man washing dishes! I love it!" I thought it was funny, too.

I like to say that I went to Princeton over other choices because of the radio station, WPRB. I spent hours and hours in high school listening to PRB. I wrote fan letters and called the DJs. I visited the studio a couple of times, en route to the Princeton Record Exchange.

When I got my admission letter, I called "Death Ray" Gonzales and asked him to play "New Face in Hell" by the Fall. He obliged, saying, "And a more appropriate song I couldn't think of." I still have a cassette tape of that.

I spent a lot of time at the station when I was in school there. Suffice it to say, I could've received better grades in physics if I hadn't been going to see the Replacements or the Fall or the Ramones or Sonic Youth or the Minutemen or whomever at King Tut's City Gardens in Trenton or Maxwell's in Hoboken.

One of the benefits of being a Princeton alumnus is that they send me a magazine every couple of weeks whether I want them to or not. And I have never had to pay for it! The Princeton Alumni Weekly, more accurately a biweekly, is actually pretty interesting. Robin says it's better than her alumni magazine.

The latest issue features a book about a famous Quaker, by a contemporary Quaker. I think I'll post about that one separately.

Then online, there's Michelle Robinson Obama '85, but I think you know about her already.

Oh, and my classmate Chris Lu is executive director of President-Elect Obama's transition. "Lu, a Harvard Law classmate of Obama who until recently served as the senator’s legislative director, has worked in law and government for the last two decades."

Clearly, I'm an underachiever. And that's okay. Cf. the dishwashing story above.

11/02/2008

Thank you, Sister Bernie Galvin

I've been carrying around the October issue of Street Sheet, the monthly newspaper of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. There's a lovely tribute to Sister Bernie Galvin, who founded Religious Witness with Homeless People in 1993, and retired earlier this year, after 15 years.

Robin and I moved to San Francisco in January 1995. Religious Witness had just wrapped up a series of sleepouts in city parks to protest then-Mayor Frank Jordan's "Matrix" policy of shuffling the homeless along. An elderly attender at our meeting, Pauline, had joined the sleepouts -- at the age of about 80 or so, as I recall. I was a co-signer of a statement that Religious Witness ran as an advertisement in local newspapers. I went to several vigils by City Hall.

One of her best results came in the Presidio National Park, on the site of the former military post. The Presidio Trust had planned to tear down an entire neighborhood of former military family housing out by the beach, and Bernie organized to prevent it from happening. The housing didn't go to the homeless, but it did prevent much-needed rental housing from simply being torn down. Destruction of the housing is still part of the Presidio's long-term management plan to restore parts of the park to more pristine natural areas, but at least in the meantime the housing is still in use, rather than getting torn down well ahead of restoration. The photo on the Religious Witness home page is from a march they held at that housing tract.

I'm afraid I wasn't as involved after my initial participation. My explanation is that I got a job for a nonprofit housing developer in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which was all about creating homes that marginally housed people could afford. For a while, Robin had her office in the same building Sister Bernie did, so they would see each other from time to time.

I was delighted to find that the Coalition now publishes its stories on a wordpress blog, so I can link to it right here.

I particularly liked the closing quote from Sr. Bernie:
“This I know from my life experience,” she offered: “Hearts that beat strong with genuine compassion for the poor find each other. Hearts that beat with a fierce demand for justice find each other. It is as if the human heart has a magnetic element that pulls us so tightly together around our passion for the poor that our hearts begin to beat as one.”
Blessings to you, Sister Bernie, as you take time for rest, reflection, and discernment of what's next. Thank you for your good work!

10/30/2008

Convergent October, kind of: Ryan Bolger links Kos and Jesus

I haven't been maintaining my blog or reading other Quaker blogs much lately because I've been distracting myself with election news. Particularly by reading DailyKos, which critics have derided as "crack for liberals."

Well, imagine my surprise today during a little lunchtime reading to see a link from Kos himself to Ryan Bolger, Associate Professor of Church in Contemporary Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary—and thesis advisor to C. Wess Daniels, Quaker theologian, blogger, and QuakerQuaker contributor.

Here's what Kos wrote (look for the second bullet point in the "midday open thread"): "Theologian Ryan Bolger is mashing up Taking on the System [Kos's book] with the story of Jesus.... My book is obviously forward-thinking, but it's kind of cool seeing it applied to a completely unforseen field like this."

Here are the links to Bolger's posts:

Part 1: Jesus and Kos — A Mashup of Biblical Proportions

Part 2: Kos and Jesus Mashup #2 — Moving Past the Gatekeepers

Part 3: Jesus and Kos #3 — Mobilization

This is from part 2:
"Jesus-following bloggers must change the conventional wisdom of the church and the media through creating an alternative message to the status quo of church and culture. As they connect online, they facilitate conversations that threaten to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional church structures.... In addition, they push the culture to reconsider the practices that do not mesh with the dreams of God for humanity.... These bloggers do not have the power on their own to be the 'church'.... However, they can push both the church and the culture to listen to what they have to say and move the conversation and practices into more inclusive, just, participatory, and egalitarian directions. In turn, this will transform the conventional wisdom on what it means to follow Jesus."
To me, that could sum up what the "convergent Friends" aspire to be about, at least those who aspire to follow Jesus. How can we better see the conventional wisdom of whichever branch of Friends we're part of, and move the conversation?

10/22/2008

Quarterly Meeting Fall Session

So I totally resonate with Liz Opp's recent post about being distracted from God by the events of this world. I think that's going to continue at least until November 5 or 6 for me. If not January 21~!

It doesn't help my ability to center that the work I do has been generously funded by banks. Until the past ten months, that is... It seems like every day for the past two months, when we get to work, we ask each other, "Did any major banks or small European countries fail last night?" If the answer is yes, we distract ourselves with the news. If the answer is no, we try to get back to work but still distract ourselves with the news from time to time. There's just a lot of uncertainty for lots of people right now. (Of course, I recognize there are billions of people who never stopped living with uncertainty in the first place.)

The M. family recently traveled to College Park Quarterly Meeting's fall session. We left the evening following the annual conference I organize at work. In time to be there for my birthday on Saturday. It was lovely to be there for the weekend.

I wrote the following for our monthly meeting's newsletter and decided to share it here.

Clerk's Corner: College Park Quarterly Meeting
Recently, several of us from San Francisco Meeting attended the fall session of College Park Quarterly Meeting. It was apparently the 200th session of our quarterly meeting. What became our quarterly meeting was founded by Joel and Hannah Bean in the College Park neighborhood of San Jose in 1889. You can read more at collegepark.quaker.org, as well as in A Western Quaker Reader, edited by Anthony Manousos.

(Anthony is the former editor of the monthly magazine for Western Quakers, then called Friends Bulletin. The magazine is now called Western Friend. Our member Stephen Matchett is the clerk of the Western Friend board of directors. Our meeting pays for each member to receive a subscription to the magazine, by the way.)

College Park Quarter extends from Humboldt County in the north to San Luis Obispo County in the mid-Coast, and from San Francisco in the west to Reno in the East. Just under 200 people gathered for the weekend in the crisp air of Sierra Friends Center in Grass Valley/Nevada City. The nighttime sky gave us a stunning view of the skies, including the Milky Way. (Ten Year Old loved it!)

The theme for the weekend was our peace witness. A panel of conscientious objectors gave us views from World War II, Vietnam, and the current war and occupation in Iraq. Pablo Paredes was an Iraq war resister while in the Navy. He is now a counter-recruiter with American Friends Service Committee and Bay Peace (www.baypeace.org). If you know a high school in the Bay Area where he could build relationships, please let me know!

During the final plenary (business) session at the quarterly meeting, I reflected on a lesson I recently led in Firstday School, when we explored where the Quaker peace testimony came from. We read several quotes from early Friends and imagined how being in meeting for worship led them to that place of peace.

What stuck with me from that lesson and rose up for me in the plenary was this story about George Fox. He was approached by Army recruiters from Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army. They saw he was a good leader, that he was a charismatic speaker, and they wanted him to help them. He refused, saying he “live(d) in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars.”

May we all find that same virtue, and discover there that same life and power.

10/14/2008

Lesson on development of Quaker peace testimony

Recently I taught a Firstday School lesson that aimed to get the group of older elementary students to think about the origins of the Quaker peace testimony.

We specifically read quotes from George Fox ("I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars"), James Nayler ("There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil"), and the declaration to King Charles II in 1661 ("We utterly deny all outward wars...").

It helped that the week before the lesson had been a timeline from George Fox's first journeys through the north of England in the 1640s, through to Margaret Fell Fox's death in 1702. So they had a bit of the historical context.

I asked them to think about where the early Friends had developed this view, and where could we find it today. (I'm hoping to feed this into some preparation to being in meeting for worship for longer periods.) Then we went to change the window signs at our meetinghouse.

As grace would have it, the sign was the declaration of 1661! The children noticed it and made the connection right away. Through a modified business process, they reached unity on picking the sign for equality. It also gave them a chance to explore the meetinghouse basement, where the signs are stored, so that was a bonus for them. All in all, a pretty good lesson.

Here's my outline for the lesson:

Introductions and Check In:

· Tell us your name and about a time when you felt peaceful inside

Objectives:

· Learn about early Friends, the Inner Light and the testimonies in our window

Strategies

1. Hear three passages from early Friends, including the peace testimony of 1661

2. Talk about where that sense of peace comes from

3. Discuss terms Inner Light, Inward Teacher, Christ Within, Seed, Spark

4. Review window signs from News Committee

5. Choose a new sign for October and replace it in the window

Results:

· Discussion happens

· New sign in window

Activity (this was filler, and we didn't have time for it):

Write what would you like to put on a sign in the window of the meetinghouse, your house, or your school

Affirmation:

Shake hands, like at the end of meeting, and say, “Good morning.”

10/13/2008

More Free Lunch

I posted about David Cay Johnston's book Free Lunch a few weeks ago ("Where It Is Easier to Mine Gold"), and now I've finished it. It's a tremendous expose of the costs and results of the unregulated, trickle-up economics of the last eight, if not twenty-eight, years in the U.S.

I can't resist posting a few pointers to some of the articles about the current crisis that I've found most insightful, including an interview with Johnston himself:

10/12/2008

The Enduring Strength of Quakerism - Douglas Heath

I fear that many Friends schools and colleges [and meetings? ed.], not guarded by a strong inner certainty about the real strength of their religious tradition, may be too open to such cultural forces that could undermine the power of their tradition to leaven the insistent individualistic and anarchistic demands of the times. As anarchic as Friends may appear to others, Friends are severely, and sometimes too severely, self-disciplined persons who do not countenance a laissez faire morality. What is the enduring psychological strength of Quakerism? Contrary to what many students in Friends schools would like to believe (a belief some adroitly use by which to rationalize their attacks on any communal responsibilities), the strength of Quakerism does not lie in its emphasis on the right—in fact the duty—of each person to search for truth in his own way, to follow his own inner guidance. Meeting for worship, our institutionalized witness to such an experience, is, despite its anarchistic appearance to others, an effort to experience a divine corporateness. Nor does the strength of the Quaker tradition lie in its emphasis on the binding allocentric ties or social responsibility of one person to another—an emphasis we institutionalize, for example, in the American Friends Service Committee.
The enduring strength of Quakerism lies in the reciprocal and integral combination of both its individualistic and communal traditions. One emphasis without the other produces a caricature of Quakerism.
—Douglas Heath, Why a Friends School? To Educate for Today's Needs, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #164 (1969), page 7. Emphasis added.

9/26/2008

Tables, chairs and oaken chests... indeed

From an email to the San Francisco Monthly Meeting list-serve:
Just a reminder that the Young Adult Friends would like to invite you to our next movie night. On September 27, Saturday at 7:00, we're going to talk with Chris Mohr about about how the musical Jesus Christ Superstar was one of his main connections to spirituality for a period of time. The talk will be followed by a viewing of the film, and there will be dessert/snack potluck. I think it can be family friendly, but let me know if that's a need of yours, so that we can plan accordingly.

I hope you can come, I think it will be a really fun time!

~cubbie

I hope he won't mind me quoting him here. :)

9/22/2008

Where It Is Easier to Mine Gold

Because it is so apropos today, this is from David Cay Johnston’s Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill), published by Penguin in 2007, pp. 6-8:
Among the father of capitalism’s [Adam Smith’s] lesser known but equally significant insights is what he wrote about the eagerness of business owners to make even more profits by thwarting the invisible hand. He warned that unchecked self-interest, especially when aided by the government, will spoil the benefits of capitalism….

Thoughout his writings Smith warned of the damage done when government interferes in the market by guaranteeing profits or handing out gifts. This damage can exceed that caused when government taxes unwisely or imposes rules that needlessly obstruct commerce.

It is a universal truth that it is easier to mine gold from the government treasury than the side of a mountain.

The harsh reality is that for the past quarter century, policies adopted in the name of Adam Smith, policies that supposedly strengthen the invisible hand guiding the market, have weighed down our economy while simultaneously stuffing the pockets of those among the rich and powerful who solicited them or… were just standing in the right place at a lucrative time. This is our story, not of one free lunch, but of the many banquets at which billions and billions of your dollars are being served to the richest among us.
Of course, with the Wall Street bailout, "billions and billions" is now adding up to a trillion or two. Almost as much as the cost of the Iraq war. Hat tip to big sister Debbie for giving me the book.

9/14/2008

Reading roundup

Some items that have been stuck in the "to-read" email basket until now:

Tyranny on Display at the Republican Convention (truthdig): "St. Paul is a window into our future. It is a future where constitutional rights mean nothing and where lawful dissent is branded a form of terrorism."

Co-Producers of Our Own Economies "An independent regional economy calls for new regional economic institutions for land, labor, and capital to embody the scale, purpose, and structure of our endeavors. These new institutions cannot be government-driven, and rightly so. They will be shaped by free associations of consumers and producers, working cooperatively, sharing the risk." (From the e-newsletter and blog of the E.F. Schumacher Society, www.smallisbeautiful.org.)

Tolstoy's anarchistic Christian views: Against the Grain radio show

Bay Area Cities Issuing Fewer Building Permits: "Amid the worst housing downturn since the Depression, fewer units are being built, exacerbating the Bay Area's critical need for places to live, a government group said... Cities in the nine Bay Area counties issued 22,843 permits in 2007, down 24%... Particularly striking was that most of the permits were for housing designed for affluent populations."

And in the Piling-On Department, Frank Rich of the NY Times has this to say about "Palin and McCain’s Shotgun Marriage," via this link at commondreams.org: "His speed-dating of Palin reaffirmed a more dangerous personality tic that has dogged his entire career. His decision-making process is impetuous and, in its Bush-like preference for gut instinct over facts, potentially reckless."

9/12/2008

The Grace of a Ten Year Old

Our family usually has mealtime grace at dinner. Each member of the family gets a turn to choose how to pray: silence, sing a song from a prescribed list, or speak a prayer. (Six Year Old sometimes chooses laughter, but that's another story.)

Tonight, we didn't observe grace. Robin left before dinner to go to a committee meeting at Ben Lomond Quaker Center. She is serving her last meeting as clerk of the board of directors tomorrow.

So tonight at bedtime, Ten Year Old said, "Daddy, if we had had grace tonight, it would have been my turn. I would have spoken a prayer. I would have said how lucky I am. I said that another time on my birthday. Another time, I said silence, but then I thought of a prayer, so I just said it in my mind."

There was another time recently -- not his birthday -- when Ten Year Old shared a vocal prayer at dinner. He gave thanks for the food and our family, and for how blessed we are, and he asked for help for those who need it. He went on to say something like, "Take care of Yourself, so you can be okay and help people."

I wish I had written it down at the time! It was really touching for him to be concerned with God's own Well-Being. Beautiful.

God, how blessed I am. Help me remember that in every moment, and to give thanks to You continually!

8/31/2008

Does the military hold the dollar up?

So claims Catherine Austin Fitts:
The Military Holds the Dollar Up
July 30, 2008 at 12:07 pm

My assessment is that 90% of the value of the U.S. dollar comes from the U.S. military. After we had our satellite systems in place, Cheney said “deficits don’t matter.” The US debt and deficit financing is no longer a debt system. It is a global taxation system....

Global treasuries and sovereign wealth funds, central banks and a variety of large institutions buy Treasury securities or hold dollars not because there is economic value behind them or because these financial assets are sound fiscally or in terms of credit.... If they don’t buy, they and their population will be subject to a wide variety of demonstrations of physical and financial force that will result in loss of life.
Could it be?

8/30/2008

Signs of a Healthy Quaker Meeting

Meetings/congregations are healthy when…
  1. They resolve conflict and tension with attempts at healing and reconciliation.

  2. They have vision, direction, goals, follow-through and implementation.

  3. They have a missions mindset rather than an institutional or maintenance mindset.

  4. They welcome new ideas, creativity, and new leadership.

  5. They tend to elevate “Quaker faith” over “Quaker culture.”

  6. They provide adequate opportunities for people to grow spiritually and they provide a safe place for people to seek and ask questions.

  7. They foster healthy emotional systems and people, creating space for emotionally unhealthy people.

  8. They are solution-focused rather than problem-focused.

  9. They focus on the essentials and forsake the non-essentials.

  10. They have an ability to deal directly with one another in times of disagreement, change, and conflict.
Adapted directly from a post by Paul L. on Showers of Blessings, “Symptoms of a Crippled Meeting” that was inspired by, or perhaps reprinted from, a post on Quaker Renewal Forum. (The QRF post is no longer available.)

8/21/2008

Origen's Goal Was Different

I've been meaning for some time to post about some of the interesting books I've read lately, by Geza Vermes, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Doug Pagitt, and the editors of Plain magazine.

However, this week while Robin and the boys are away, I had time to attend midweek meeting for worship, and go to dinner with a friend afterwards for two hours, for some tasty Vietnamese food; and then to attend the Thursday night Quaker study group tonight. So I haven't had as much time for writing as I might have.

The Thursday night group is reading Quakerism: A Theology for Our Times by Patricia Williams. They're on page 60. Our group was bristling at some of the assumptions, and some of the projection of contemporary Quaker views back in time onto Fox and Barclay as quasi-original universalists.

On the BART ride home, I was reading Karen Armstrong's The Bible: A Biography and found passages in there that spoke to what we had been discussing. So I typed a couple of passages up and emailed them to people in the group. And I wanted to share this one here, too, since it's typed up already, from pages 111-112:
Exegesis brought the interpreter and his students a moment of ekstasis, a ‘stepping outside’ of the mundane. Modern biblical scholarship seeks to place a text in the worldly economy of academe, treating it like any other ancient document. Origen’s goal was different…. ‘The contents of scripture are outward forms of certain mysteries and the images of divine things,’ he explained. When he perused the New Testament, he was constantly ‘amazed by the deep obscurity of the unspeakable mysteries contained therein’; at every turn he came upon ‘thousands of passages that provide, as if through a window, a narrow opening leading to multitudes of deepest thoughts.’
For me, modern biblical scholarship definitely opens fascinating windows into the texts of the Bible. Yet the purpose in the end is to open the mysteries, not to figure out "the facts" underlying all these manifold bits of spirituality, morality, allegory, ritual, poetry, folklore, myth, history, and wisdom teaching which have been put together in the sprawling, puzzling, inspiring, and fascinating book called the Bible.

8/20/2008

Truly stable systems expect instability

This quote could describe a healthy, spiritually vibrant Quaker meeting -- or any congregation, for that matter:
"True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed."
—Tom Robbins
I found this in the e-newsletter of david baker + partners, architects, a truly thoughtful and progressive architectural firm in San Francisco.

8/14/2008

A New Sonic Universe is Expanding in Front of Our Ears - Byrne-Eno

A new sonic universe is expanding in front of our ears: new music by David Byrne and Brian Eno. I happened to tune into KFOG-FM's "New Music Thursday," which I almost never listen to, and quickly realized this monumental event was unfolding in real time.

The song "Strange Overtones" is available as an advance download from the website for the album, "Everything That Happens Happens Today": www.everythingthathappens.com
"This groove is out of fashion.
"These beats are 20 years old."
Just for fun I thought I'd provide the URL for the download so you don't have to sign up for the email newsletter like I did:
click click.

8/05/2008

Chris presenting epistle

Western Friend (formerly known as Friends Bulletin) has a photo of me presenting the Early Elementary Epistle to the plenary session at Pacific Yearly Meeting. Click to enlarge...


From Western Friend's Pacific YM photo album on Flickr: http://westernfriend.org/photo-gallery/

8/04/2008

Epistle in Three Parts

Early Elementary Program Epistle, Pacific Yearly Meeting, 2008

Part I

Part II

Part III

8/03/2008

Tents at Pacific Yearly Meeting

We got back from Pacific Yearly Meeting yesterday and I downloaded some photos today.

This was the Tent of Meeting:


And here was the Tent of Sleeping:

Here is the Ten Year Old pogo-sticking:


And here is Six Year Old after having his face painted by his friend, Seven Year Old:


I was the afternoon teacher for the early elementary children's program and hope to blog about that soon, especially about the epistle we did together.

Overall, yearly meeting was a rich and personally rewarding experience for me as an individual, and yet at the community level, I also felt frustrated and aware of the "pinch points" for the community. I realized how much I identify with my meetings (monthly, quarterly, and yearly), and feel their joys and sorrows as my own! After all, they are.

7/28/2008

The community organizer's strategic plan

So there was this community organizer. He went to the town hall meeting, and they asked him to speak. He said it was time to start a new organization.

They asked him what was its mission statement. He said, "To preach good news to low-income people everywhere."

They asked him what his vision was. He said, "To liberate the oppressed. To release nonviolent offenders to community courts. To bring restorative justice for the felons, so they can seek forgiveness from the people they've hurt. To fill the food banks everywhere, so no one goes hungry. And to accompany the elderly, so no one has to die alone."

A group of them said, "We want in! Sign us up." So they formed the Board of Directors.

They went out holding community meetings and bringing their vision around to different neighborhoods. They were having great success, and crowds of people were coming. So they decided to have a board retreat.

"We need a strategic plan," they said.

"I've got one," he said, "and it goes like this:
  1. Say good things to the poor and the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kin(g)dom of heaven.

  2. Say good things to the sorrowful,
    for they shall find consolation.

  3. Say good things to the gentle,
    for they shall possess the earth.

  4. Say good things to those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail,
    for they shall be filled.

  5. Say good things to the merciful,
    for they shall be shown mercy.

  6. Say good things to the pure in heart whose inner light burns bright,
    for they shall see God.

  7. Say good things to the peacemakers,
    for they shall be called children of God.

  8. Say good things to the people who are persecuted by the system
    for doing the right thing,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And when he was finished, the retreat was over, and they put together a big meal and invited the neighborhood, because they knew the first principle of community organizing is to have good food. And everyone sat down together and broke bread. And it was good. The moment had arrived.
vocal ministry more or less as delivered at SF Meeting, 7/27/08

7/27/2008

In case I didn't have enough to do

So I'm getting ready to be a teacher for a week for the first time ever, at Pacific Yearly Meeting's annual sessions (Yearly Meeting being the name of a regional Quaker gathering).

I've taught plenty of Firstday School (Sunday School) lessons but never four hours long, for five days. I have an outline and some curriculum. And the social curriculum of letting kids hang just out together and play is a big part of it.

Meanwhile, today I clerked a threshing session at our meeting, a time when we discuss an issue and "put all the laundry on the line." The topic was the meeting's relationship with the American Friends Service Committee, and the session was sparked by some frustration in the meeting. What was clear was how much Friends value AFSC, even with some of the frustrations, mostly around communications, and how long a history we have together. So sure, if you're married for 75 years you'll have a few complaints about each other. But you're committed to each other and you want to make it a bit better if you can. That was the sense I had of the meeting.

7/26/2008

Quaker Witness at Performance of "War Requiem"

The following is from San Francisco Meeting member Charles Martin:

Friends: Here is announcement for the public witness at the Davies Symphony Hall. The Symphony Hall administrators are aware of our intentions and wish us well but we are restricted to the public sidewalk. Please announce and or pass on to your mail lists.

Public Witness Against War
Saturday, 8/2/2008, 7-8 pm
at Davies Symphony Hall
Corner of Van Ness and Grove
San Francisco


The San Francisco Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends invites you to join with us in a public witness for peace outside of the Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday, 8/2/2008, between 7:00 and 8:00 PM.

The San Francisco Choral Society will be performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at 8:00. We plan on holding some signs, distributing leaflets, and engaging with anyone who wants to speak with us about peace, the traditional Quaker opposition to war, and how we can work to create the conditions that would lead to peace.

Part of our desire for this public witness is to emphasize the spiritual nature of Peace. That is, that peace is something more than an absence of armed conflict. Britten's War Requiem is a universal denunciation of war, not any particular war, and we would like to encourage those attending the concert to meditate on that fact. We acknowledge that as Friends we are to deal with real problems and the Iraq & Afghanistan wars are the most pressing current concern we have. But we also need to realize that if both wars ended tomorrow that we would not be at peace in the world and that our society is organized around the use of force to exploit and suppress most of the rest of the world for our economic benefit.

There will be a meeting for worship starting at 5:30 at the San Francisco Quaker Meetinghouse preceding the public witness. We will walk to the Symphony Hall taking signs and leaflets to distribute around 6:30.

Anyone wishing to participate or help with the preparations should contact Charles Martin at charles -at- innerlightbooks -dot- com.

7/25/2008

Preparing for Pacific Yearly Meeting 2008

I've signed up to teach afternoons in the Lower Elementary level of the children's program at Pacific Yearly Meeting, 7/28-8/2/2008. Six Year Old is happy because that is his group. I hope that Ten Year Old's group will be nearby. I don't know, because I haven't been to the site before.

I've never done something like this before. However, I've taught plenty of Firstday School lessons, and I was clerk of the Children's Program Committee for two years. So I do know the lay of the land, the current committee members, and many of the children and families, which gives me comfort. I helped out plenty of times at the parent participation nursery school where our sons went. But I've never had to be "on" with a group of children for that many hours, for that many days in a row before.

Do say a prayer for me if you have a chance. Thanks!

7/17/2008

The Fall are, er, Quaker?

"Just about my favourite rock band on earth are the Fall. Or The Mighty Fall, as they're known to me." -- John Peel, late DJ on BBC Radio

Mine, too. For example, I have a Fall quote in my blog's sidebar from Iceland, off 1982's Hex Enduction Hour (scroll down or search for "Iceland; the individual blog entries don't seem to have separate URLs).

My one little claim to fame is that I am still on the credits for The Fall Lyrics Parade; scroll down to the bottom for Version 1, 1994.

And it turns out The Fall are, er, Quaker?



(click for larger picture on unofficial Fall website)


Answer: Not! I'm sure Mark E. Smith has acerbic things to say about Friends, as he does about so many things.

The quote on the sign is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, who was quoting a proverb.

7/16/2008

Groaning Quaker Bookshelf

I've been reading quite a bit lately, borrowing more books than I can read from the library, and eagerly eyeing books that Robin's been receiving as gifts or loans from various sources.

Read recently:

- God Raising Us: Parenting as a Spiritual Practice, by our very own Quaker blogger Eileen Flanagan. This Pendle Hill Pamphlet would make a great topic for a discussion group among parents and other people involved with children in various ways in their lives.

- Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw.

- A Christianity Worth Believing, Doug Pagitt.

- Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, Tony Jones.

- National Treasure: Changing Tides, kids novel based on the Disney series.

Okay, now here's what I'm in in the middle of:

- Where Should I Stand? A Handbook for Monthly Meeting Clerks, by Elizabeth Boardman, my friend, a Friend, and a predecessor as clerk of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, and my current helpmeet as assistant clerk. Highly recommended for practical advice and good humor (as in good-humored, not that there are jokes in it). She created a blog with Robin's help at http://whereshouldistand.blogspot.com/ which is just getting started.

- The Secret Message of Jesus, Brian McLaren

- The Plain Reader, edited by Scott Savage. I still have a bunch of original issues of Plain magazine. It's been interesting to dip back into these essays after nearly a decade.

- Soul Grafitti, Mark Scandrette. Robin recommends this one more than some of the other ones listed above, but this particular volume is not due back at a library so I'm not reading it actively right now.

- The Changing Faces of Jesus, by Geza Vermes. I love Vermes. He seems to keep writing the same book over and over, or variations on a theme at least, but they still seem fresh. I believe the first one on the topic was called Jesus the Jew, back in 1974. His reminder of Jesus's essential Jewishness strongly informs the messages of McLaren, Pagitt, et al.

Finally, I'm figuring to read Robin's copy of The New Conspirators by Tom Sine soon, too. This also means that the copy of The Rich Heritage of Quakerism by Walter Williams, which I bought for my birthday last fall, will continue to languish. I've read the epilogue by Paul Anderson, but haven't really dipped into the main text yet. Thank you, Barclay Press, for reprinting it, in any case!

To sum up, I guess I operate with the subconscious belief that salvation comes through reading books. Lord, have mercy on me!

7/15/2008

Notes from Convergent Friends interest group

Notes from the Convergent Friends Interest Group at the Friends General Conference Gathering, 7/2/08
with ~ in 30-35attendance

(Note: Liz has already posted her more thoughtful reflections here, so consider this a backup source. I haven't had a chance to process the experience, merely time to post the notes I typed while in Johnstown while the wifi was down...)

Liz Opp: Heard about blogs @ FGC Gathering ~5 years ago from Martin Kelley. Found his blog through a Google search. He was exploring going deeper in Q faith tradition, a concern Liz shares. Some traditions endangered. Left long comments on his blog. Found she had a unique voice and started her own blog. Found there were conversations happening across schisms. Holding concern for Quaker faith. How to name it? “convergent” – Vibrant.

Robin M.: Defined convergent Friends. Quaker practices that bring transformation and life. It’s not a precise term. Fuzzy understanding. What does it mean to be a Quaker today? Not just in her monthly or yearly meeting. Many Friends are exploring this. Evangelical Friends in Newberg are interested in the Quaker distinctives. Quaker institutions are developing vision statements, often in conjunction with fundraising campaigns. Her experience meeting Friends in FUM meetings this last year confirms winds of the Spirit are blowing across different branches of Friends.

Questions:
Participants were invited to write down questions on index cards. They then read them in turn with a (very) brief silence between.
  • How can we bridge the growing divide around sexuality?
  • Where can a universalist or nontheist Friend find common ground with a Christian Friend?
  • If you don’t blog, how can you engage in this exciting conversation more than once a year at the FGC Gathering?
  • Will the conversation become more?
  • Where is the movement on the continuum between formal institutions and informal conversations?
  • Is convergence reforming, renewing, or revolutionary? (Paul)
  • You use terms like “renewal” and “reclaim.” Do you think Quakerism is degenerating?
  • How can we bring this to our monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings?
  • What roles if any can existing institutions play? How does the involvement of those institutions change the conversation?
  • Does the convergent church expect the Kingdom of God? What’s it mean?
  • Is this a process that requires unity in meeting?
  • You mentioned commonalities about renewal among different faiths, including Judaism and Islam. What are the possibilities for an emergent interfaith conversation?
  • You mentioned people being enriched by practices that their meetings don’t embrace. What are they?
  • What will convergent Friends look like in 50 years? Will the convergence be complete? Or is it a process, like seeking, that is never complete?
  • What are some of the topics you discuss? Is there consensus, especially on issues that are controversial among Friends more widely?
  • What would convergence look like in my meeting?
  • Are inclusive Friends the same as convergent Friends?
  • How is it specifically, “mechanically,” you find common ground?
  • Is it good or bad, helpful or prohibitive to institutionalize convergent Friends?
  • What queries have you used at your “convergent Friends meetups”?
  • How much interest is there about this in EFI?
Robin and Liz offered some responses to particular questions, then we moved into worship sharing. At this point, I was aiming to provide a worshipful center and did not take notes. It felt centered, as people spoke their truth and were able to listen to different points of view.

What’s next?
  • See the book Quakerism: A Spirituality for Our Time
  • Friends World Committee for Consultation
  • Worship sharing
  • Don’t be afraid to speak of our spiritual experiences. Let’s hear them!
  • Organize times or series at meeting for Friends to share about their spiritual journeys
  • Quaker Quest
  • Convene a discussion at your meeting or QM or YM. Doesn’t have to be about convergent Friends. Could be about Quaker practices that help renew or transform you.
  • Small support groups among people you know. Take care for it not to compete with the meeting.
  • Spiritual formation groups through the Yearly Meeting level.
The conversation continued past the formal closing worship, as several Friends stayed behind to process the session together.

7/14/2008

You can take the Quakers out of the S.F. Bay Area...

but you can't take the San Francisco Bay Area out of the Quakers.

Here's a photo of Robin and our older son at a peace vigil in Rochester, N.Y., which appeared to be sponsored by the downtown Episcopal church.

7/13/2008

Hands Make Good Lobster Claws

After the FGC Gathering, our family went to upstate New York to visit family. Returning home, our flight from Buffalo to Las Vegas was 5 hours. I sat next to Six Year Old. He was pretty much in heaven to have five hours of nearly undivided daddy time.

He had the best time playing with my hands. He pretended they were lobster claws, so I had to keep making pinching gestures. He immobilized them with imaginary rubber bands or strings. Then he decided to layer them with metal. He spent quite while putting the metal on. Then he “made it flexible” so the claws could pinch—though they weren’t supposed to pinch him. Finally, he said the metal had been on for two years, and he needed to strip it off again.

After a long time of putting metal on and off the claws, he decided to “make a hammer” to use on the metal. He pounded away at the air, like the blacksmith we saw at the DeYoung Museum a few weeks ago. He did this long enough for me to read several more pages of Shane Claiborne’s and Chris Haw’s Jesus for President.

What an imagination! Every now and then I’d look over at him, and he’d smile and stop his play for a minute, almost embarrassed to be observed. Then I’d look away and he’d go back to it. All in all, it was a fun time.

Here is a photo of the boys at my sister's place.

And here is one of me with them sitting in the statuary laps of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y.

7/12/2008

Quakers' stopover in Vegas

What’s a Quaker to do when plonked down in the midst of Babylon? Sit and stare. Or sit, state, and type on a laptop, symbol of my own participation in Babylon.

I wrote this sitting in the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, waiting for a connecting flight to San Francisco. I know it’s called McCarran International Airport because an electronic signboard across the waiting area says so. This sign repeatedly flashes moving images of showers of dollar bills spinning out and floating down. The showers repeat in a cycle, starting with a small shower and getting bigger each time until they cover half the screen. Then the cycle repeats.

On the flight in from Buffalo, the flight crew said it was 102 degrees here. Yet I’m sitting in my short sleeves with my arms tightly held to my body to preserve warmth in the air conditioning. I want to put on my sweatshirt but it seems ridiculous.

There is a TV here which has mesmerized my wife and children. It was a seemingly innocent program about dog trainers. Still, I couldn’t stand it. I had been reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw on the flight in, and on page 185 it says right there, “Kill your TV.”

When I went to the bathroom, the fellow behind me in line was on his cellphone checking in with a buddy. He got off the phone and went to the urinal. He then picked up his phone and said, “Howya doin’, Pops? I’m in Vegas!” I couldn’t tell if his phone had been on vibrate and he answered it, or that he actively placed a call while peeing. In any event, he went on to explain he was going to his first bachelor’s party and that he was happy because he hadn’t been to Vegas in two years.

(I went to a bachelor party in Atlantic City once. A native of New Jersey, I had maybe been there once before, and it was soon after the casinos were opened and weren’t as big as they became by 1990. I decided to treat it as a sociological experiment and just look at the casinos and observe my friends as they gambled. It was interesting… including the fact that I was the only one in the group to leave whatever hotel we were in and go over to Trump’s Taj Mahal, even though nearly everyone in the group maintained that he had wanted to check it out. But they were all too busy gambling to bother. Oh, and several of them were annoyed that the casinos shut down for one or two hours overnight. At breakfast the next morning, some of the guys were betting on everything. One of them wanted to bet that we would all have cellphones by 2000. If I had taken him up on it, I would have won that bet, since I didn’t get a cellphone until 2002. Overall, it was some party—not! But it was a great New Jersey experience.)

Anyway, when we got off the plane in Las Vegas, the sensory overload was noticeable, with all the gambling machines pinging and flashing.

I noticed a young couple sitting at a gate with their approximately two-year-old daughter. The daughter was on a toddler restraint, which is sometimes a necessary tool; however, I was perturbed that the mother was flipping through a celebrity type magazine while tugging on her daughter’s leash, without talking to her to coax her back or anything. Robin said you don’t know how long they’ve been here. True. However, I do know that when we’ve experienced long periods of waiting in airports, we don’t just ignore our children and read, much as we would LIKE to.

I will confess, however, that in addition to Robin letting the children watch the TV in the waiting area, I let them play the silly bowling game on my cellphone. Better than having them ogle the casino games, in my opinion, but probably only slightly better.

We did get home eventually, around 2:30 am, with yet another delay in SFO because I had to fill out a form for my suitcase, which got routed to Seattle by mistake. Our children were awake and civil for a remarkably long time that day. We are blessed!

7/04/2008

Blogger dinner at FGC Gathering 2008

Quaker Blogger Dinner at FGC Gathering 7/1/2008






So the wifi wasn't working yesterday and I haven't had a chance to get online. Here's a quick list of people who made it to the dinner:

Liz Opp

Linda S.

Jeanne Burns

Robin Mohr

Chris Mohr

Paul L.

Timothy Travis

Steve Chase – welltrainedactivist.blogspot.com

Eileen Flanagan

Bill Warters – creducation.org / campus-adr.net

Micah Bales – Lamb’s War plus new “Valiant for the Truth”

Peterson Toscano

Glen Relief (sp?) – Quaker writer, not a blogger (yet)

Tom Davis – lurker

The participants requested follow up information on:
· how to post your blogposts to your Facebook account
·
links to educators who write about class and race – ways to present without divulging too much information

6/30/2008

Worship in paint (and sand and song)

June 29, 2008
FGC Gathering, Johnstown, Penna.

Worship in paint today was pretty amazing.

We got there a bit late, and the participants were gathered in a circle around the volleyball court.

A Friend gave vocal ministry, clearly and loudly enough to be heard 40 feet away, about smiling in your heart, and radiating gladness to the people around you. He repeated himself rather, but it was good.

Beverly Shepard began leading a chant, which a few people took up around her. Mostly Psalm-based chants, as I recall. Taize-like.

Soon thereafter a person took up a brush and began a swath of red paint across a few of the sheets of paper attached to the volleyball net.

Then most of the people – all the children and young adults certainly --went to pick up brushes and began to paint.

Several of the younger children, especially, began to play in the sand of the court.

A woman began etching out a labyrinth with her heel.

H. and S. painted happily. Then got too involved with flicking paint from their brushes onto the paper – they got eldered by JG friend in residence!
They went to play in the sand. Both made sand castles.

S. joined other boys in running about, then found the labyrinth and began running through it w/2 other boys.

A little girl, about 2, was happily painting her hands white and green with a brush. Then she enjoyed playing in the sand with her painted hands.

Beverly chanted, “Let the little children come to me/For heaven belongs to such as these.”

Then several of the adults were weeping. So were a couple of the teen girls. There were many long hugs given – between women in the 50s, between teen girls and women in their 60s or 70s. It made my eyes all wet, too, to see it. And to see that part of it was my six year old happily running through the labyrinth that was triggering these emotions for many of us.

And then the paintings were there, bright and vivid and vibrant colors and shapes moving across the papers, and all along the length of the volleyball net.
It was tremendously stimulating in an unprogrammed Quaker context – the visual (paintings), the auditory (chant), the tactile (sand and paint). Plus the emotional.
It was pretty great and overwhelming.

6/29/2008

Bloggers at the 2008 FGC Gathering

I'm currently grabbing a few minutes of wifi at the Friends General Conference 2008 Gathering. Attention bloggers: Liz, Robin & I are planning to announce a dinner get-together of Quaker bloggers on Tuesday night in the student union dining hall. Not sure which corner yet -- see the daily bulletin.

I've met the following bloggers so far here:

- Robin M.
- Liz Opp
- Jeanne Burns
- Peterson Toscano
- Rebecca Sullivan
- Linda
- Staśa Morgan-Appel*
- Paul L.
- Eileen Flanagan*
- Brent Bill*
- Timothy Travis
- Carl Magruder
- Zach Alexander*
- Karen Street
- Kody
(* = met for the first time)

Please leave me a comment if I've forgotten you, or if you're here and our paths haven't crossed yet.

Robin and Peterson are leading workshops. Robin, Liz, Jeanne, Staśa, and Eileen are leading interest groups. Brent read from his book Sacred Compass today at the FGC QuakerBooks bookstore. Paul and Linda and I sang Sacred Harp this afternoon.

Linda is in the same workshop I am, namely "Chant." My one complaint about the workshop is that the Pitt store is not open this weekend, so I can't buy more tissues. Based on my experience today, I'm going to need a lot more.

Updated 6/30, and 7/4: Bloggers I've seen but haven't talked to:
- Claire

Added the fact that Jeanne had an interest group on Quakers and social class. I heard good reports about it.

6/21/2008

My dream for our meeting

My dream for our meeting

A place for spiritual growth,
formation, and transformation.

A place where spiritual gifts are named and nurtured
for a season or for years.

Where we support one another on the Way
of transformation

Where we devote ourselves
to God
and the common good
through acts of service
to build the kingdom of God
on earth as it surely is in heaven

6/20/2008

The Big Stick: America's "Sorry"?

"The Big Stick" is a song by d. boon of the Minutemen -- the faboo, lefty 1980s punkish band from San Pedro, California, not the goons on the border.

Replace Managua with Baghdad and it's today's news. There is "time to heal the scars we've caused." Look at Australia with "National Sorry Day" and lately even Canada. C'mon, USA, what are we waiting for?

THE BIG STICK (2:27)
(boon)
Now over there in Managua Square
With American made bombs falling everywhere
They kill women and children and animals too
These bombs are made by people like me and you
And we're told that we hold a big stick over them
But I know from what I've read that peace is in our hands

Now over there in Guatemala my friend
We're making mistakes there once again
Uncle Sam supports a fascist regime
That doesn't represent the people over there
We learn and believe there is justice for us all
And we lie to ourselves with a big stick up our a--

Now if we stand and yell it out
That war isn't what we're all about
Then someone will come and bring us back
To get the peace train back on its tracks

This is what I'm singing about
The race war that America supports
Indians will never die
They'll do just fine if we let them try
Though we hold, we're never told that peace is in our hands
If we stop there is time to heal the scars we've caused
To heal the scars we've caused...
From http://forums.appleinsider.com/showthread.php?t=11439

I guess there's also REM's "I'm Sorry," but much as I love it, it's too individualized and privatized. And Nigeria has Femi Kuti's Sorry Sorry ready and waiting whenever it's needed...

6/15/2008

Music-based lesson in Firstday School

In spring 2008, I taught a Firstday School lesson that involved playing recordings of music having a spiritual theme and wildly different styles.

I asked the students to listen, then to comment on how they felt and what they thought of when they heard it. There were seven children, ranging from six to 11. It was too big of an age range.

The two 11-year-old girls loved this lesson. They were very engaged, and they really enjoyed listening and then commenting. They had a rich variety of observations to share.

The 10- and 11-year-old boys did not show much interest. One of them (fortunately not my own) kept reaching for his book to read, until I put it out of reach. The same boy mostly said he didn't like the songs, but he couldn't or wouldn't articulate why not.

One six year old boy was just too hyper for this lesson. I spent a fair amount of the time following him around to get him to put things down. I encouraged dancing to the music (don't let the ancient Quakers know), but it wasn't enough to engage him. The other six year olds, a girl and a boy, seemed content just to listen. The girl got her hair braided by one of the 11-year-olds, and she (the 6-y.o.) was surely in heaven about that.

I played the songs on a boombox with CD and cassette. I left my own at home despite having pulled it out of the closet and left it near the door. Fortunately, I called someone who lives near the meetinghouse, and she had not left yet and she did indeed have such a boombox. So I was saved by the community -- thank you, God, for your manna!

Here is the list of songs I chose:
Ensemble Project Ars Nova, "Lucis Angeli" (medieval polyphony)
Anonymous 4, "Jewett" and "New Britain" (two very different versions of "Amazing Grace" from the American Angels CD)
U2, "Yahweh"
Godspell, "Prepare Ye" (from a tape I made of the original vinyl album I have from the early 1970s!)
Reading of the passage in Isaiah 40, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord..."
Lisa Gerrard, "Abwoon" (an atmospheric rendition of the Lord's Prayer in ARAMAIC!, from a solo CD by the Dead Can Dance'r)
Moby, "God Moving Over the Face of the Water"
Reading of the beginning of Genesis, the source of the image for the song title
Incredible String Band, "The Mountain of God" (very postmodern in that it combines snippets of lyrics from hymns as well as a glancing reference to Christopher Robin)
Five Blind Boys of Alabama, "This May Be the Last Time" (this upbeat R&B gospel song was the most popular of the set, by far)
Willie Nelson, "Uncloudy Day"
Carin Anderson, "Instrument" -- from a lovely album by a member of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, now living in southern Arizona, the song is a prayer to "Make me an instrument."