I grew up in central New Jersey. My dad grew up in Bethlehem, Penna. My paternal grandfather, Howard, was an accountant for Bethlehem Steel.

I didn't learn that until my grandfather's funeral, when I was about 12 or so. According to a former neighbor that day, he had also been treasurer for his church -- which was Lutheran, I'm pretty sure. "Howard was so good at it. He knew where every penny was!" the neighbor said.

Also at that funeral, I learned that my dad had played first base -- just like me! I'm not sure I had known that before. What can I say? My male forebears were definitely members of the silent generations.

My grandfather was born on a farm. Some time when he was a boy, he moved to the closest town: Quakertown, Penna. He wrote about it for my cousin Lindy when she had a school assignment to gather some family history. He wrote such a great narrative about moving to town that she copied and mailed it to the rest of the family. (I'll have to ask her for a copy; my mom probably has my dad's copy, in a drawer that's far away.)

I've often wondered what interaction, if any, my grandfather had with Quakers in Quakertown, what he thought of them, and what he would think of me becoming one, which happened well after he died.

As regular readers of this blog will remember, in January I flew back to New Jersey to help my mom pack up and move closer to my oldest sister, in upstate N.Y. I drove the rental truck by myself. My mom and sister followed a day later in her car. I actually flew home before they got there.

En route to upstate New York, I drove on the Penna. Turnpike to the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike (476), past towns like Gwynedd, North Wales (where my grandfather lived most of his retirement), and Plymouth Meeting that recall the Welsh and Quaker and Quaker Welsh history of that area northeast of Philadelphia. And where else would you find a town named Bala Cynwyd?!

So anyway, there it was, listed on a sign on the Turnpike: Quakertown!

I just had to get off and visit. I trundled the 16-footer off the exit, turned left at the Wawa, and drove nine miles to town. I imagined the fields being where my grandfather had grown up. I had no idea how far out of town they had lived before moving.

Then I got to the downtown. It has that look of old, long-settled villages in the Northeast: close-together houses, steep roofs, twisty narrow roads trying to accommodate the modern SUVs and pickups. Strip malls and convenience stores on the state highway at the edge of town.

When I was a child, we didn't visit many relatives besides my cousins and grandfather, usually for Thanksgiving and occasionally at other times. We also used to go to the Kutztown Fair (where my main memory is being held by my dad, probably when I was about three, while he was smoking, and the cigarette touched me briefly and burned me.)

My dad had an uncle and aunt and cousin who still lived in Quakertown, I think. We must have gone to Quakertown at least once, because I had a dim recollection of the Liberty Hall, built in 1772. Seeing that building stirred an old, old memory of going there as a young child, and hearing about how the Liberty Bell was there briefly.

Finally, before turning around and heading back to 476, I stopped at a locally owned bakery and bought a coffee and pastry to give something back to the local economy. That was the extent of the visit. Oh, I also bought gas at the Wawa on the way back to the Turnpike, but that money wasn't going to stay local anyway. So the truck trundled back onto the Turnpike, and that was this Quaker's visit to Quakertwon.

P.S. The "Quakertown Alive!" website of the Upper Bucks County Chamber of Commerce has a picture of Richland Friends Meeting as part of its webpage masthead. How cool is that?


Queries for our state of the meeting report

At our business meeting last Sunday (2/10/08), we used the following five queries to provide input into our State of the Meeting report. There was time for three sequential worship-sharing groups, so people got to pick which three queries they most wanted to respond to. The exercise was well received, and several people who had to leave early got to participate in at least one small group.

Afterwards, I realized how important it is in an unprogrammed Friends meeting to have time for "voice and choice." We spend the bulk of our official time as a community in large group meetings for worship or for business, and in practice only a few people talk much. Breaking up into small groups is a crucial way for more people to have a chance to speak up and be listened to.

And the opportunity to pick which three of five queries meant that people had some control of what they would talk about and in what order. That seems important, too -- so often, the clerk or perhaps the committee clerks set the agenda for business meeting, and so to offer an occasional chance for individuals to help regulate the flow for her- or himself seems healthy.

Here's what we considered:
  1. In what ways are we a community for growth and transformation – individually, corporately and in the world?

  2. What challenges do we face as a meeting? In what ways can we make our challenges into opportunities for growth?

  3. What are the gifts and assets we have as a meeting, that we bring to all of these questions?
      » spiritually: personal spiritual gifts, community relationships
      » financially: investments, assets, donations (to and from meeting), property
      » communally: acts of service and care for one another and the wider community/world

  4. In what areas do we need to know more, either through education or through worshipful discernment?

  5. Where is God calling us at this time?

If anything, we didn't have enough time for the amount of possible material. Most of the groups were three to five people, which seemed just right. I received several positive comments that engaging this way was positive and inspiring. I also realized that in writing the queries -- as with any set of Quaker queries -- I got to insert my own values implicitly into the process by which questions I posed. All around, an interesting process!


Another post about Everything Must Change

In my first post about Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope, I summarized his four laws of "theocapitalism" -- the modern-day, veritable national religion in the U.S. that the current form of capitalism [which I would describe as having significantly socialized risk and substantially privatized profit - ed.] is the triumphant peak of history. (Or even the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama once famously suggested.)

Here is McLaren's list of the four ways in which "Jesus’s Gospel Confronts Theocapitalism":
  1. The Law of Good Deeds for the Common Good

  2. The Law of Satisfaction through Gratitude and Sharing

  3. The Law of Salvation through Seeking Justice

  4. The Law of Freedom to Prosper by Building Better Communities

And here is McLaren's reworking of the Beatitudes:
Don’t get revenge when wronged, but seek reconciliaion.
Don’t repay violence with violence, but seek creative and transforming nonviolent alernatives.
Don’t focus on external conformity to moral codes, but on internal transformation in love.
Don’t love insiders and hate or fear outsiders, but welcome outsiders into a new “us,” a new “we,” a new humanity that celebrates diversity in the context of love for all, justice for all, and mutual respect for all.
Don’t have anxiety about money or secuirty or pleasure at the center of your life, but trust yourself to the care of God.
Don’t live for wealth, but for the living God who loves all people, including your enemies.
Don’t hate your enemies or competitors, but love them and do to them not as they have done to you – and not before they do to you – but as you wish they would do for you.

Sounds good to me!

Maybe I could say more about all this, but I have an ear infection and some other duties to attend to. So, to finish this post though perhaps not the series, here's another quote I liked: You can get A in math and F in contemplation/self-knowledge and still be “a success” (p. 290).


How much must change? Everything!

In January I read Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope. (Robin blogged about it here.) I finished it while back East helping my mom to move. On the way home, I had a four-hour layover in JFK, and so I took the time to write down some of my favorite sections of the book. I think I can give the following two quotes and two lists and remain within fair use; especially because I highly recommend you read the book yourself!

Three favorite quotes:
  1. "We don't have an environmental crisis; we have an overconsumption crisis." (page 260)

  2. The underlying problem is a disease of ideology. (p. 50) [not sure of the exact words, and I can't check because I returned the book to the library]

  3. "If we disbelieve the dominant framing story and instead believe Jesus’ good news of the kingdom of God, we will suddenly find ourselves making new personal decisions – not because we have to, as a duty, but because we want to." (p. 297)

The Theocapitalist Religion (p. 190)
"Theocapitalism" does for its adherents what any religion does [quoting Tom Beaudoin]:
  1. gives an identity
  2. helps one belong to a community
  3. develops trust
  4. allows one to experience ecstasy
  5. communicates transcendence
  6. provides conversion to a new way of life
  7. promises rest for the heart

Four Spiritual Laws of Theocapitalism:
  1. Law of Progress through Rapid Growth
  2. Law of Serenity through Possession and Consumption
  3. Law of Salvation through Competition Alone*
  4. Freedom to Prosper through Unaccountable Corporations
* including people who don’t accept Darwinian evolution in nature, but who are fervid believers in social Darwinism!

I have more material already typed up -- including the response of Jesus to the rules of theocapitalism -- and will post that when I can.


Firstday School: Walking with God

Our friend Rolene Walker begins her Walk with Earth in a month (see www.walkwithearth.org). She will be walking from San Diego, Calif., to Santiago, Chile, for the beauty of the earth.

Ruah Swennerfelt and Louis Cox from Quaker Earthcare Witness will be in San Francisco later in March as part of their Peace for Earth Walk (http://www.peaceforearth.org/PeaceforEarthWalk/itinerary.htm).

Of course, a year and a half ago, Marshall Massey walked from Nebraska to address Baltimore Yearly Meeting's annual sessions (see this link for a description of his leading).

Today in Firstday School, I talked about people being led by God to walk. Here's my outline.

Introductions: What's the farthest you've ever walked or run?

Objectives: Learn about people being led on walks; specifically, George Fox and Rolene Walker. Consider how far the walks might be.

Strategies: I read a brief excerpt from George Fox's Journal, in which he talked about being 11 and having a strong sense of right and wrong, and saying Yea and Nay. I showed a map of England, highlighting the general area of Leicestershire where his home village, Fenny Drayton, was, and connecting it to Pendle Hill and Kendal, near where Swarthmoor Hall was located. He walked most of that distance.

Then we looked at the map of Rolene's walk route (shown). I had made copies of maps of Central America and South America from my historical atlas, which showed when Santiago was founded (in the 1540s) and the names of the indigenous peoples in Mexico and the Inca empire.

Finally, we calculated how many steps her walk might take each of us. On a straight line, the distance is about 5,500 miles. Her route will be something over 7,000 miles.

I put a long piece of butcher paper on the floor, we taped markers to the front of our shoes, and we took turns marking how long our strides are. Fortunately, there were only two students; if the class had been as big as sometimes, it might have been a bit chaotic. Anyway, our strides ranged from 14" to 27". So the estimation was:

  • Six Year Old: 7,000 miles x 5,300 ft/mi x 12 inches/ft x 1 stride/14 inches = 31.8 million strides!
  • Me: 7,000 mi x 5,300 ft/mi x 12 in/ft x 1 stride/27 inches = 16.5 million strides

    Affirmation: We reported back to the full meeting about our findings. Before we said the number of footsteps, Rolene said, "I don't think I want to know!"

    Best wishes, Rolene. We will hold you in the Light as you go.