When an oak leaf is enough

Recently Martin Kelley wrote on the Quaker Ranter, "Apparently it’s that time of year again. The days grow shorter, the nights grow chillier, and we bemoan the death of blogging." 

And Wess Daniels wrote on Gathering in Light posted, "Recently, I came across my old blogroll (a set of links of blogs you followed, supported, wanted to give props to), and 8 out of 10 of the links were dead."

It got me to thinking about this blog. I hardly post even once a year here any more. Yet I also don't post as much to social media as I used to. For a while I was putting my artsy photos on Flickr, but now there is a limit to how many images you can upload for free, besides all the business issues they've had.

So it occurred to me I could just post stuff here again. It doesn't have to be weighty thoughts on Quakerism or theology or the like. It could just be a photo of 
a brown oak leaf -- 
rain droplets on its surface --
against the backdrop 
of red brick pavers, with moss in between.
And that would be weighty enough.

Brown oak leaf with rain droplets lying atop red brick pavers


Victoria Greene’s presentation on EMIR Healing Center, 1/14/2018

About a dozen people came to the Green Street Friends Meetinghouse on 1/14/2018 to hear Victoria Greene talk about her work with the EMIR Healing Center.

She founded the organization in memory of her son, Emir, who was murdered on March 26, 1997. EMIR stands for “Every Murder Is Real.” They provide support and counseling to families of murder victims in Philadelphia and even beyond.

The Problem
There were 317 homicides in Philadelphia in 2017, the first time since 2012 that the number has been over 300. Many of the murder victims are young black men. Police Commissioner Richard Ross said the increase is because of opioids, and the fact that the Police Department is down by 400 officers. There should be another 300 new officers by fall 2018 when the next class graduates from the academy. There are also gangs in many areas of Philadelphia.

Support Groups
EMIR Healing Center runs support groups for families of murder victims. Friends from Green Street Meeting provide meals so that the families can eat together from 6 to 6:30 pm. The meals enable people to get there without having to worry about eating first. Having a meal together helps people socialize and bond, which is a very important step in the healing process. There are about 25 people per group. Over the course of a year, Green Street Friends are providing something like 700 meals a year!

Friends from Green Street who want to help can sign up to cook a meal, bring takeout food, or just donate money toward buying food for the evening. If you do cook, please don’t use pork or nuts.

The process starts when, each week, EMIR gets a fax from the Police Department with the list of homicides from the past week and contact information for the next of kin. EMIR follows up with a letter and later a phone call to invite them to participate in the support groups. Some people are referred by other individuals or organizations in the community.

In the groups, EMIR teaches families about trauma: how to recognize it; and how to cope with it in healthy ways. Frequently people who do not recognize trauma end up coping in unhealthy ways. People can come back again, too. Often the second year is hardest for people – the second Christmas or birthday – when they realize it’s real, the person is never coming back.

The first two meetings of the groups are open to drop-ins, but after that, no drop-ins are allowed. The group needs a chance to bond together, and that rule helps them do that. Each time there are separate groups for women, men, and teens and kids.

Intervening to Prevent More Violence
EMIR has sometimes gone to individuals to prevent them from retaliating with violence after a murder. Recently a family asked them to intervene in a gang dispute in South Philly. They are looking at being mediators.

At one point EMIR was part of a collaborative that applied for grant funding. It would have included money to pay “interruptors” who are already on street corners doing this work, for no pay. It did not work out for EMIR in the end. There is a still a serious need for interruptors.

Public Policy
EMIR also has growing interest in public policy. First, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) the Victims Compensation Fund. The source of money for this fund is fines paid by convicted criminals, not taxes. However, the VOCA law excludes families of people accused of “causing their own demise.” If a police report says the victim was committing a crime when killed, then the family cannot get money from the fund. There is no process for judging whether or not the police report is correct; and even if it were, why should the families of the victim suffer?

EMIR has worked with attorney Angus Love on some cases. In one of them, a father was upset that his son was accused of dealing drugs, when he didn’t, and there was no evidence he did. They were able to get the office in Harrisburg to overturn the initial decision. There may be a lawsuit in the courts or a change in the law in the legislature.

In September, EMIR held a forum on gun violence. Families of victims had the chance to be heard by public officials, including Congressperson Dwight Evans, Commissioner Ross, several City Council members, and some state legislators. EMIR has formed committees around illegal guns, education, and housing.

Families who get involved with activism often find some healing. It’s therapeutic because they may find some help for other people and also work for the common good. This can especially be helpful when the perpetrator of the murder isn’t caught. Less than half of murder cases in Philadelphia are getting solved now, so there is a lack of closure for many families.

Victoria’s Spiritual Journey
Finally, Victoria spoke about her spiritual journey through this work. Soon after she started EMIR, she organized conferences two years apart. She had no experience doing this. Yet when she asked, people said yes. And both were successful. She felt God was guiding her.

People ask Victoria how she can cope with the stories, so similar to what she went through with her son, Emir.  She said, “When I hear a family’s story, I am with them. I’m holding their hands, listening to them. That’s God.”

She sees how fragile life is. When she felt suicidal after Emir’s death, she heard his voice saying to her, “What? It’s bad enough I got killed, now you’re going to go?” And she held on. Now she won’t hold grudges. If someone is good, she’ll tell them. She added, “Because you never know if you’ll see them again. Be authentic. Don’t take people for granted.”

That’s why Quakerism attracted her. She heard about Spirit-led activism. She had never heard that anywhere before finding Quakers. Her experience is definitely of Spirit-led activism.

·         Join Green Street’s brand-new Quaker Social Change Ministry group! We hope to have our first meeting to get organized on Feb. 19 (this is still TENTATIVE).
·         Work with EMIR on amending VOCA
·         Join one of the committees formed after the September forum (education; stopping illegal guns; or housing)
·         Volunteer to help with the annual fundraising concert, usually late in the year
·         Donate! If you do, you’ll multiply the impact of our meeting’s annual gift to EMIR
·         Watch Victoria’s QuakerSpeak video and share it with people you know: http://quakerspeak.com/every-murder-real/


Faith to Move Mountains

Last fall I was blessed to co-lead the Inquirers' Weekend at Pendle Hill with Emma Lapsansky.

We had a deeply engaged group of eight people on varying places in relation to Quakerism. One had attended four meetings for worship; one is an Episcopalian minister with ancestors who were Quaker, and so she wanted to better learn Quaker vocabulary and practice; one had been a member 30 years ago and eventually resigned, and now is considering joining a meeting again; and many of the others are regular attenders at meeting for worship and are considering next steps.

I had never facilitated a full weekend workshop before, though many afternoon or evening ones, plus many a Sunday morning class with children. And I've clerked 12 weekend-long Friends Journal board meetings in total over the last four years; those are somewhat similar, logistically anyway.

Anyway, it went very well. Emma was a fantastic co-leader, with her probing questions and knowledgeable answers in turn--the very model of a well-loved professor. I brought some different activities to mix it up a bit and make sure we took stretch breaks. We watched a couple of QuakerSpeak videos that spoke to the group's condition.

Afterwards, I reflected that this had been something of a "mountaintop" experience for me, but it wasn't a tiptop peak experience, either. I've had them before. I hope to have them again. The fact that I drove home every night to be with our sons while my wife was also away meant I didn't engage 24 hours a day, and that may have had an impact.

But the mountain didn't feel as high as when I was newer to Quakerism.

In considering that, I realized, that's partly because I am further up "the mountain" of spiritual experience in my daily life. I fall far short of Paul's injunction in Thessalonians to "pray without ceasing," yet I often remember to. And I've been practicing as a Quaker for 25 years now. It makes a difference.

It occurred to me that when Jesus spoke of having sufficient faith to move mountains, maybe it wasn't as literal as the words recorded in the Bible, at least as translated into English:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
- Matthew 17:20, New International Version

Perhaps this passage gives us a clue that we can move the mountaintop to us. We can have a daily spiritual practice that brings us closer to God, closer to the feeling we get on retreat at the top of a mountain, a peak experience literally and spiritually. I can't believe in prayer literally moving mountains, at least not with what I understand of how the universe works. I can totally see how we can move the spiritual mountain to us - and ourselves up it - so that we are there all the time.

During the weekend, Emma had reminded us the early Quakers believed humans can attain a place, as she said, "above Adam, and beyond falling." I felt we touched a little bit of that place in our weekend together.

Written November 2015, posted May 2016.

Just Step S'ways

I've been reading The Long Utopia, the latest and presumably last book in the Long Earth series by Stephen Baxter and the late Terry Pratchett.

It occurred to me that the Fall's "Just Step S'ways" from Hex Enduction Hour is the perfect soundtrack because of the lyrical parallel to the central conceit of the series.

The original album version of the song is here.

Click on the image for the Wikipedia entry on the album.


Three perspectives on the Friends peace testimony

1. Quakers are a religious society with a stance against participating in war
Quakers are a faith community. They have a collective position that participating in warfare is wrong and against the teachings of Christ Jesus. This is a clear and longstanding corporate witness growing out of Quakers' understanding of Christianity.

2. Individuals must still make their own choices
Even when the teachings are clear, each individual has to decide for himself or herself what is right action in a particular context.

Even though Quakers opposed all war, many individual men signed up for the US Civil War. Many of these volunteers were read out of meeting; and a goodly portion of them were accepted back into fellowship afterwards, especially if they expressed contrition. Even if the official witness of Friends was against the war, Friends supported an end to enslavement, and as a result many could understand why an individual might choose to sign up, even if it was officially outside the Quaker testimony.

Later, many young Quaker men even signed up for World War I, to the consternation of many elders, including Rufus Jones. The American Friends Service Committee was founded in 1917 in part to provide young Quaker men with meaningful service opportunities outside fighting in the military. One option was the Friends Ambulance Corps.

3. An individual may find a different answer than society at large, and need not have all the answers for everyone
Today, most people think of Quakers as not just refraining from serving in the military themselves, but also as people who act to stop war before it begins. This is a relatively modern approach.

Many Quakers involved in peace work have analyzed past wars, diplomacy, and popular movements to understand strategies and tactics to prevent war in the future. There are too many examples to name here, so I'll list just one information resource: Quaker George Lakey led the creation of Swarthmore College's Global Nonviolent Action Database, where you can learn more about popular nonviolent movements. (Side note: And there can be practical benefits to a peaceful approach: According to Waging Nonviolence, in researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan found that nonviolent struggles were successful significantly more often (56%) than violent ones (26%). See their book Why Civil Resistance Works.)

In some cases, Quakers have identified the failure by "good actors" to act in a timely way to prevent demagogues and dictators from rising to power. Once those moments are past and it's "too late," war may seem inevitable in hindsight. For example, theologian Walter Wink faulted the churches in Germany for not speaking out against Hitler and the Nazi putschists in the early 1930s. For another, peace activist David Hartsough and five colleagues were arrested in Kosovo in 1998 while there to support the mass student nonviolent movement against the Serbian dictatorship. Despite the pleas of the students, Hartsough, and others, the nonviolent resistance was not supported by other Western nations and so was crushed, leading to genocide, internecine warfare, and US and NATO bombardments when it was "too late" to support the movement.

So one may intellectually concede that wars of international aggression appear to have no solution besides war -- when they reach that point. They are not inevitable, however, if people of good will and conscience resist before that point.

Finally, even when one or more nations begin warfare, people of good will and conscience have a choice. They can refuse to participate, no matter how just the cause may appear, or seem to appear, in order not to damage their own spiritual well-being. Such a person can know in her or his heart that this is the right action for him or her. Even when the larger societal answer seems to point to war as the answer, the still small voice can still tell that individual, "War is not the answer." And if everyone lived that way and followed that voice, the world would be a different and better place.


WPRB-FM's 75th anniversary website

I'm ridiculously happy to have been chosen as the photographic subject for the Facebook page announcement that WPRB-Stereo 103.3 FM has launched www.wprbhistory.org in this, its 75th anniversary year.

WPRB means a lot to me. It particularly meant a lot to me from fall 1980 to fall 1989, when I either listened to the station pretty much every day or got to be a DJ on it.

A WPRB-themed exhibit will open at Princeton University's Mudd Library this fall.

We're thrilled to introduce a new WPRB History website for DJs, listeners, and college radio historians! Click through...

Posted by WPRB 103.3 FM on Thursday, May 28, 2015

In the words of then-Fall guitarist Craig Scanlon, in a station ID for WPRB in the early 1980s, "Enjoy!"