Anti-war coffeehouse - this Sunday

This is a republication of a post originally published on 7/24/2009. The first actual coffeehouse event will take place this Sunday, 11/15/2009, 4:30-7:30 pm, at San Francisco Friends Meeting, 65 9th Street (between Mission & Market, near Civic Center BART).

A vision for an anti-war coffeehouse event

A lot of pro-peace people say, "It's not enough to be against war, you also have to be for peace."

While I agree with that, I can't help but think: "It's not enough to be pro-peace, you also have to be against war."

Simplistic, but true. What have I done lately to make the world a safer place? Not much.

I had a vision of organizing a Sunday evening anti-war coffeehouse at the Quaker meetinghouse, with open mic and open wifi. You could versify, sing, or chant. You could have conversations about the issues. You could weep and moan if you needed, or laugh and dance if you were moved to.

You could email your friends to explain your views. You could write letters to your Representative and Senator. You could write letters to the editors of the local papers, which is arguably more effective because it's more public. (And "papers" is plural because the SF Bay Area still has several papers for now, including many freebies.)

If you're originally from somewhere else in the country or world, you could write to your hometown paper and express your views.

(Even if you're not a pacifist, you could come if you're against the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

And you could feel less alone and more engaged. I'd like that part.


More on the Intro to Quakerism session

This was posted on the Parents Association page of the SF Friends School today...
Introduction to Quakerism Summary and Handout

The PA's Parent Education Committee hosted An Introduction to Quakerism for some 35 parents this past Tuesday morning. SF Meeting member and SFFS parent Chris Mohr and SF Meeting member Amy Baker gave a wonderful speed history of the Quaker faith and an overview of the SPICES testimonies (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, stewardship). SFFS librarian Chad Stephenson and SFFS art teacher Caren Andrews spoke about how they incorporate these values into their work with our children.

Chris and Amy asked everyone to briefly mention any faith traditions they were raised with and/or are practicing with their own children. The answers were as diverse as our community, and included: Buddhists raised in Thailand, the U.S., and the Swedish Church in Japan; Catholics raised in the US, Ireland, and Argentina; Jewish; Estonian Lutheran; Catholic-Jewish; athiest; Protestant; Korean Protestant; Korean Presbyterian; "hodge-podge"; Episcopal; mutli-religious; non-denominational spiritual; Episcopal-Muslim; Southern Baptist; Quaker; Quaker-Buddhist; Baptist-Quaker; Quaker-Episcopal!
We passed out a handout with a brief background on Friends and a list of a few resources, including books and websites. Paper versions were included in the students' take-home weekend folders. (I was going to upload a PDF of the document here but can't quite figure it out in blogger.)


Intro to Quakerism at the SF Friends School

Today Amy Baker & I, representing SF Friends Meeting, and Chad, Caren, and Lisa from the faculty of SF Friends School, reprised Amy's and my "introduction to Quakerism" workshop for parents that we first did a year ago in this format. Amy & I tag-teamed a thumbnail sketch of Quaker theology and history. Chad, Caren, and Lisa talked about how Quakerism and Quaker values are applied in the classroom and in P.E., most notably through weekly meeting for worship, regular applications of silent reflection while doing art or writing, peaceful problem-solving, and so on.

We had one of our biggest turnouts for a Quaker-related parent education event! There were at least 30 people there, probably more. They included parents of new kindergarteners, parents of older children who had transferred to the school in the last year or two, and a few who have been with the school for a few years now. It was a nice mix. We didn't have enough time for Q&A both because we had four presenters and because we ended half an hour before I thought we would. Still, it was a good discussion, and clearly people were engaged.

Here's the outline of the talk.

Introduction to Quakerism
  1. Opening silent worship
  2. Introductions; name, connection to school, what faith community if any have you been or are you part of
  3. Quaker theology: Fox’s revelation about “Christ has come to teach his people himself” and there is “that of God in every one”
  4. Quaker values grow out of that theology: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, stewardship (SPICES)
  5. Some history about how that has played out: truthtelling, equality for women, abolitionism, peace and war relief work, prison reform, etc.
  6. How Friends schools evolved out of this faith tradition and what role do they play today: the search for truth; time for silent reflection; core values of Quakerism; cultivating outer achievement and inner goodness/morality
  7. Q&A leading to sharing
  8. Closing silent worship
The icebreaker (2) is usually one of my favorite parts. We had a large enough group that we had to go fairly briskly through this, but we still gained an appreciation for the variety of experience & identity people brought with them.


What do you do in Quaker meeting for worship?

Last Sunday -- First Day -- 9/27/09 -- at 1 p.m. San Francisco Friends meeting presented a workshop, "What do you do in meeting for worship?"

The presentation by a long-time memeber of San Francisco meeting was based on Quaker writings and on interviews of current and former participants in San Francisco's meeting for worship. Interviewees ranged in age from approximately late 20s to mid 60s. Years attending Quaker meetings ranged from 12 to over 50.

The presentation was to be followed by a time for practice or discussion or written reflection (your choice).

Young people and people new to Quaker worship were especially encouraged to join us for this event. Interested middle and high school students were welcome, too.

I couldn't be there, though I sorely wanted to participate. I was elsewhere on family business, which was quite rewarding in a different way. The turnout was modest, based in part that the Folsom Street Fair was the same day just a few blocks away.

Perhaps we'll do it again some time!

This workshop was another part of an ongoing effort to welcome new people into our meeting and to talk more clearly with one another about our spiritual practices.


Friday freeway furloughs

Here in California, because of the disastrous state budget, the state government and many cities are furloughing staff on one, two, or even all Fridays a month.

What if we had a Friday freeway furlough, too?

To save money on repaving asphalt, repouring concrete, replacing road signs, and repainting lane striping. To save money on gas and carbon and particulate matter released into the air. To save lives and the cost of emergency response.

I know, I know, if you aren't furloughed on Fridays and depend on driving to your job, it wouldn't be practical.

It's an interesting thought experiment, though, isn't it?


Interrupting the aggressive cycle

Months ago I meant to blog about how dogs interrupt the aggressive cycle for wolves.

This came from a conversation at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, during the workshop led by Robin, Wess, and Martin on Primitive Quakerism for a Postmodern Era.

Anyway, Dave was telling us that dogs are "neotonous" wolves -- developmentally, they are like wolf puppies. That's why people keep them around.

The added benefit is that they smell like wolf puppies to wolves. And wolves are instinctively tolerant and encouraging of their puppies.

The wolf's "aggressive cycle" is to hunt, stalk, and then attack the prey (usually in a pack). So when a wolf scents and sees a shepherd dog near the herd, it gets confused. When the dog snarls and barks, the wolf is interrupted in the middle of its aggressive cycle. Is this snarling animal a foe or a little one? That is usually enough to end the threat.

(I don't claim any of the above is strictly, scientifically, and technically accurate. It's a fairly faithful report of the conversation we had, though.)

The parallels with active nonviolence seem clear. The challenge is to find ways to interrupt the human cycle of aggression and violence early enough to stop it from erupting. That takes courage and seemingly endless creativity.


Something I just learned from children's religious education

I've decided to extend my leave of absence teaching Firstday School at our Quaker meeting past the summer and into the fall. I've been teaching once every month or two for, oh, seven? years now. Since Eleven Year Old was still Four Year Old.

However, I'm still on the group email list for the Children's Religious Education Committee. And tonight I reflected that the committee right now has four key -- nay, critical -- components for successful Quaker program activity:
  1. Enthusiasm: to be enthused is to be infused with the Spirit, after all! They've got that in abundance as we head back into the fall and the school year.
  2. Organization: Just because unprogrammed Friends are volunteers doesn't mean we have to be badly organized. (My #1 complaint about Quakers!) The committee has been coming back together after summer, and putting systems in place and talking about some longer-term goals and needs.
  3. Communication: Keep each other posted! The Children's Religious Ed Committee has a great and very active email list and an online calendar which is slowly gaining in utility. Teachers also have a commitment to writing brief reports about what the lesson was, what worked, and what didn't, and sharing that via the email list. I hope they can keep up this level of diligence.
       Too often, people assume others know something just because they do. Use a variety of channels: email, calls, in-person conversations and meetings, posters, flyers, the meeting's print newsletter. Bad communication is probably my #2 complaint about Quakers. (How many times has this happened at a monthly, quarterly, or yearly meeting? "Well, the fact that the children's program was going to be closed early was announced at the end of the business meeting." "Yeah, but I had to leave meeting early to go get my kids at the children's program, so I didn't hear it!")
  4. Distributed leadership: How many times has a committee suffered because the clerk kept too many of the tasks close at hand, and then couldn't get them all done? Well, this committee has a clerk and two assistant clerks, and several active, engaged members who are taking on different tasks.
The above are four fundamental building blocks to organizing successful Quaker activities and programs. I'm sure there are others (staying rooted and grounded in Love and the Spirit, for example), but these are some of important ones too often missing from our work. I think Friends concerned about other aspects of Quaker life -- such as building race or class diversity within the Society of Friends, or helping people integrate the practice of one's faith with faithful activism, for example -- would do well to keep those four principles in mind as they engage in the work they feel called to do.

I'm impressed with the level of all of the above in our committee right now. As mentioned, there is a clerk (a non-parent educator, and a blogger, but I'll leave it up to him if he wants to be linked to in this context), and two assistant clerks, of whom one is a parent and the other is both an active uncle and a childcare provider. And of course there's a nice group of committee members, most of whom are parents.

The committee has some work to do to build up the Quaker curriculum and train new teachers after a few of us laid teaching down for now. The good thing is they're building from a really solid base. Thank you, Children's Religious Education Committee!


(Unspoken) racial subtexts to social issues in the U.S.

I recently read a book from 1995 called Racial Healing: Confronting the Fear Between Blacks and Whites, by Harlon L. Dalton. He is a professor of law at Yale and a good writer with an accessible voice. It was helpful to remember the context during which the book was written, in the midst of "welfare reform" and not long after then-President Clinton caved to pressure not to nominate Lani Guinier as assistant attorney general.

As an affordable housing advocate, I was struck by Dalton’s simple analysis of the usually unspoken, at times almost subconscious subtext to so much political debate on social issues in the United States:
As a nation we lack a consensus concerning how to deal with the problems that bedevil us most. We seem unable to take sustained action in any direction for very long. And we don’t trust anyone enoughto let them lead. We are, in short, politically paralyzed.

The reasons for this paralysis are several, but chief among them is our failure to engage eaach other openly and honestly around race. Think about the issues which sit atop the American agenda: crime; welfare reform; taxes; government spending; the plight of the middle class; family values; immigration; drug abuse; AIDS. Together they carry enough racial freight to sink a nation.

In the popular imagination, criminals are Black or Brown; crime victims White. Welfare cheats are dark of hue; the “forgotten middle class” is light. Governmental “taxing and spending” favors racial minorities and comes out of the hides of the White majority. Problem immigrants have yellow or brown skin; the citizens who foot the bill do not. Needless to say, I do not endorse these beliefs, or the skewed view of reality they project. My point is simply that our thinking about the nation’s most pressing social problems has become deeply “racialized”—saturated with attitudes, beliefs, and fears about race.

We tend to dance around this fact whenever we publicly debate social policy.
It’s helpful to be reminded of some of the fears underlying these issues. One of Dalton’s main points is that until we address these fears out in the open, they will continue to remain their poisonous, hidden or sometimes only half-hidden power.


Open Letter from Friends of Color to Pacific Yearly Meeting

An open letter from some Friends of color was published in "The Daily Miracle," the daily newsletter of Pacific Yearly Meeting's annual sessions, on 7/31/09. I reproduce it here in response to a comment from Linda to my post on the Yearly Meeting's epistle.

Open Letter to Pacific Yearly Meeting
from some Friends of Color, 7/31/2009

Dear Friends of Pacific Yearly Meeting,

Some Friend of Color came together during our annual sessions at Walker Creek Ranch on July 29th and 30th in Petaluma, CA. During our time together we identified common experiences from attending annual sessions. We have felt interracial tensions in our community. There have been times when we have felt isolated and not acknowledged in a manner that is consistent with our cultural traditions it is important to us that we are recognized as fully functioning, literate, spiritual persons of equal values as the friends that you already know here.

We request opportunities be provided for people of color to come together and get acquainted with Vanessa [Julye] as a facilitator next year. We would like for the Yearly Meeting’s Ministry and Oversight Committee to request that Friends General Conference have Vanessa Julye attend our annual sessions in 2010.

We would like to suggest that we all become conscious of the way in which new people are greeted in the following ways.
  1. Roll call can incorporate having new people identified so that we can welcome them and know who they are.

  2. We improve the way that we greet one another. Whenever we see someone we don’t know make sure that we look them directly in the eye and greet them with the intention of getting to know them better.
Also we request that a time be scheduled on a daily basis for youth and adults to come together for dialogue on topics of mutual concern. Our intention with this statement is that we seek out each other and affirm our gifts.


Pacific Yearly Meeting Middle School Epistle

Here is the Pacific Yearly Meeting Middle School 2009 epistle, thanks to Tom and Sandy Farley, who left this as a comment for me on Facebook! Eleven Year Old participated in this group, though I don't know if he had a role in writing this.

Epistle from Pacific Yearly Meeting Middle School Group, 2009

Close your eyes. Feel the energy pulse, spiraling around the circle. Some energy tingles, chaotic and argumentative, some flows calmly, agreeing and joining in a harmony. This is how we have been this week, sometimes flowing together in a simple harmony, sometimes falling into a dissonance which creates arguments and then subsides into a team of energy with one goal: capturing a flag where we invented new strategies to annoy the other team.

Sometimes we calm ourselves, listening to a story, where we find hidden meaning, disguised under layers of words. We have danced and screamed, ridden in canoes over the pond where the lifeguards were kind and helpful. We learned to trust each other. We have woven rough edges into a piece of fabric: ripped in some places, maybe threadbare around the seams, but we now have a small piece of community.

The middle school program had a fun time all in all.


Vanessa Julye's visit to SF Friends Meeting

On Sunday, 8/2, Vanessa Julye spoke at San Francisco Friends Meeting about the new book she co-authored with Donna McDaniel, Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship.

We had about 25 people from three Bay Area meetings present. There were also a few people who came not because they are Quakers but because of Vanessa, including a cousin of hers.

Besides being an opportunity for us to learn more about the content of the book, and the seven-year process that led to its publication, Vanessa signed copies of the book. We also had a few copies of the study guide available. I got one for our meeting. We're going to start a book group soon, and so it will come in handy. You can order it in looseleaf format or as a PDF download.

Here's the book's homepage: http://www.fgcquaker.org/fit-for-freedom

One person shared that her aging mother wants to become a Quaker, after 80 years as a Baptist. Her mother's friends said she shouldn't do that, because "Quakers don't accept African Americans." This is a sad commentary on the image of Quakers among people of African descent. I mean, it's not literally true, of course, and yet visiting many Quaker meetings you might not know that, depending on which meeting and what day you were there.

We were also blessed to have Helen Bayes visiting from Australia Yearly Meeting. She was on her way to Canada Yearly Meeting, where she will deliver the Sunderland P. Gardner Lecture. According to the CYM website, "the working title of Helen’s talk is ‘Prophetic Community’. Expect to be challenged by the depth of her thinking, knowledge and experience in international Quaker associations."


PacYM wrapup: The Epistle (long)

Well, Anthony Manousos, Western Friend magazine, and my good friend Robin Mohr all wrote about Pacific Yearly Meeting, so I don't feel the need to go further into great detail here.

I did clerk the epistle committee, which was only possible because Robin did attend the last two days of the session. I am grateful to our friends Erik, Jennifer, and Jason, who as it is watched my kids more than I watched theirs. The nice thing is, though, that all of our boys are getting big enough to wander around without much supervision. In fact, they spent most of their free time up in a big pine tree that was great for climbing.

As I said in my worship sharing group, "Go, primates!"

Anyway, this is what Pacific Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice has to say about the epistle committee:
epistle committee (ad hoc): The Epistle Committee prepares a statement (epistle) expressing the spirit and concern of the annual session to be sent “To Friends Everywhere” when it has been accepted by the Yearly Meeting.

This committee is appointed by the Ministry and Oversight Committee and consists of three Friends who serve for the duration of the annual session. Their names are publicized at the beginning of the annual session so that Friends can contact them with suggestions. One member, who should have served the prior year, is appointed Clerk. A first draft of the Epistle is read at a plenary session prior to the final day. Then the committee may hold an open meeting for consideration and discussion of proposed changes. The revised Epistle is presented at the plenary session before the closing Meeting for worship.
Well, none of us had been on the epistle committee last year, and I ended up clerk, mostly because they asked me first.

So here is what we wrote:

Final as Presented to Plenary, 1st 8th Month 2009

To Friends everywhere:

Greetings of all peace and good to you, dear Friends!

We in Pacific Yearly Meeting carry you in our hearts here at our 2009 annual session, held 7/26 to 8/1 at Walker Creek Ranch in rural Marin County, California. We have heard epistles from other Yearly Meetings throughout the week, reminding us we are part of the larger body of the Religious Society of Friends.

Our 2009 annual session has provided us with many opportunities for worship in spirit and truth, as well as for learning, fellowship, and relaxation in the countryside. The setting, hemmed in by rolling, fog-enshrouded hills, reminded us of the musical “Brigadoon,” as we recreate once again this faith community.

This week we deepened our faith together, in community. A major topic before us was a proposal to create a Youth Program Coordinator as the yearly meeting’s only staff position. A year ago, Pacific Yearly Meeting approved the position in concept. An ad hoc subcommittee circulated a detailed proposal and gathered extensive feedback from meetings and individuals, compiled in 110 pages of appendices.

Wrestling with this proposal demanded the best of us. We were reminded to be faithful to our Quaker practice of meeting for worship with attention to business. We needed to step back from results, create space, and leave room for the Spirit to enter. We were not here for a product or goal, but to be faithful and uncover: What does God will for us? After lengthy and difficult discernment, we came to unity to try this three-year experiment. Friends were reminded we remain one community, bonded by love.

Opportunities for nurture and growth of our spiritual lives included extended worship every morning. The children participated for the first 20 minutes, with a lesson, and then retired to their programs. Vocal ministry reflected a grounding in Quaker faith and practice. The lengthened periods of worship created more space for the Spirit to breathe and allowed time to absorb each ministry.

Friends found inspiration through shared reflection and study, including Bible study and a series on transformative Quakers. Worship sharing in smaller groups explored the theme of community and our relationships with our meetings. Meeting for memorials was powerful as usual, offering Friends a chance to remember the departed. The presence of the entire yearly meeting community—babies, children, teens, adults, and elders—showed the full circle of life present among us. An intergenerational dance later that evening provided a vibrant celebration of life.

The clerk’s reminders and steady hand helped conduct business in good order. One notable example of improved process this year was the swift approval of the budget on second reading. Friends often reminded one another of the importance of our testimonies, including equality, integrity, and peace.

We approved a minute from Peace and Social Order Committee against the U.S. war in Afghanistan and supporting peacebuilding. Another minute on healthcare for all in the U.S. was adopted. We were concerned that the American Friends Service Committee reported a 50% budget reduction, a result of the economic recession. Other reports, interest groups, and a tabling fair provided opportunities for Friends to engage with numerous other organizations and concerns.

We engaged on the difficult topic of racism within the Society of Friends. Visitors Vanessa Julye and Janice Domanik, coordinator and former clerk respectively of the Friends General Conference Committee for Ministry on Racism, convened affinity groups and discussions. Vanessa also discussed the new book she co-authored, Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans and the Myth of Racial Justice. Friends of color wrote an open letter to the community, naming a certain level of interracial tension, asked to be greeted, and asked the Yearly Meeting to support Vanessa’s return in 2010.

The natural beauty of Walker Creek Ranch provided encounters with wildlife, as well as opportunities for reflection on the environment. The Unity with Nature Committee has found new energy, fostering a dialogue held in monthly and quarterly meetings about an emergent testimony on harmony with nature.

We also made many efforts to “green” the annual session. In the past year 48 committee meetings were held by conference call, saving on travel impacts. Some Friends bicycled to our site from locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Meals were primarily vegetarian, with as much locally grown food as possible. We also ate one meal of plain rice and beans in solidarity with the many people around the world who eat simply at every meal. A Friend [Rolene Walker] presented her Walk with Earth from San Diego, California, to Santiago, Chile. Over 380 people have walked part of the way, including many from our yearly meeting. She described the miracles that can open up when one faithfully follows one’s leading from God every day.

Children’s programs nurtured the children’s spirituality and their experience of our yearly meeting community through lessons, games, and outdoor activities like canoeing and swimming. Junior Yearly Meeting had a sizable turnout, and the teens created guidelines for participation and their own schedule. Their spirit and energy provided Light for all of us.

We send our loving greetings and our gratitude to you all and the larger world of Friends.

In peace and friendship,

On behalf of Pacific Yearly Meeting
Joe Franko, Clerk


Amended report, plus Unity and Minute on Friday!

My previous post about the Pacific Yearly Meeting discernment about the youth program coordinator proposal was a bit off. Unity may have been stated by the clerk at the Tuesday plenary on the topic, but it wasn't actually there -- yet.

Today, Friday 7/31, unity was found to create the position for a trial period of three years, though at least one Friend stood aside from the decision.

It was a long and at times painful discussion. Very often Friends reminded one another to speak their truth and in love. I want to nominate a couple of Friends for Minister of the Week! I'll see if I can write a little about it later.

Anyway, that's about all the coherence I can muster right now. I just printed the final draft of the PacYM epistle; I ended up as clerk of the epistle committee. I'll publish it once it's accepted (and possibly edited) at the final plenary on Saturday.


Unity found, minute elusive at Pacific Yearly Meeting

This afternoon the plenary session reached unity on creating a youth coordinator position for three years.

However, agreeing on the minute had to wait. The parents of children had to leave to sign their children out of the children's program. There wasn't time to wordsmith the minute, and there may have even been some Friends who wished to stand aside. Without being able to keep the full group together, the presiding clerk said he would write out the proposed minute, post it, and we'll come back to it later.

(For background, see my previous post; and see pacificyearlymeeting.org for the 28-page proposal and 110-page appendices!)

Okay, now I have to go listen to Rolene Walker talk about her Walk with Earth.

First full day at Pacific Yearly Meeting

Today, Tues. 7/28, is the first full day of Pacific Yearly Meeting's annual session.

Last night, presiding clerk Joe Franko welcomed us (if I had more time I'd link to his blog). He said PacYM was even more like Brigadoon that evening, because the fog was in, we were meeting in a tent not a building, and a Friend was practicing his bagpipes in the distance.

Joe said we are here as a community of faith. Yet the Spirit blows where it will. Friends need to present their ideas or proposals, then step back and make space for the Spirit to enter. We don't have a product to create or a goal. We have a process we know works, our Quaker process, and we need to give it space to work.

The plenary to discuss creation of a youth coordinator position -- which would be the yearly meeting's sole staffer -- is supposed to start in 25 minutes. I skipped the first hour of regular business, I'm afraid. (I had an urgent work matter I'm monitoring, so, here I am....)

For the first time in several years I'm neither on the Children's Program Committee nor a teacher. Nonetheless, I ended up volunteering for the first part of the morning with the elementary group. It was fun, and I think Seven Year Old was happy to have me there, without being particularly attached. Then I went to worship sharing, where the community was, "What does community mean to me?"

I'm here without Robin until the end of the week, so I'm parenting solo. Fortunately, our boys are old enough, and experienced enough with yearly meeting, to hang out with their friends with much looser boundaries, and our various families hang out together, too. It reminds me of something Bill McKibben wrote in Deep Economy, about the way humans are supposed to live in community.

I brought my camera but not the cord to connect it to the computer, so I can't upload the photos from last night of Joe Franko, and of the boys on top of a big rock. Walker Creek Ranch is beautiful.


A vision for an anti-war coffeehouse event

A lot of pro-peace people say, "It's not enough to be against war, you also have to be for peace."

While I agree with that, I can't help but think: "It's not enough to be pro-peace, you also have to be against war."

Simplistic, but true. What have I done lately to make the world a safer place? Not much.

I had a vision of organizing a Friday or Saturday evening anti-war coffeehouse at the Quaker meetinghouse, with open mic and open wifi. You could versify, sing, or chant. You could have conversations about the issues. You could weep and moan if you needed, or laugh and dance if you were moved to.

You could email your friends to explain your views. You could write letters to your Representative and Senator. You could write letters to the editors of the local papers, which is arguably more effective because it's more public. (And "papers" is plural because the SF Bay Area still has several papers for now, including many freebies.)

If you're originally from somewhere else in the country or world, you could write to your hometown paper and express your views.

(Even if you're not a pacifist, you could come if you're against the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

And you could feel less alone and more engaged. I'd like that part.


Vanessa Julye to speak at SF Friends Meeting

You're invited to hear Vanessa Julye, author of the new book Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice, co-authored by Donna McDaniel, at San Francisco Friends Meeting on Sunday, August 2nd. The meeting is in S.F. at 65 9th Street, between Mission & Market, near the Civic Center BART station.

Vanessa will discuss the book and sign copies. We expect to start around 12:45 or 1:00 pm. (Please join us for worship at 11 am and our monthly potluck at 12:15 if you can!) Vanessa is the program coordinator for the committee for ministry on racism of Friends General Conference. Vanessa will also be attending Pacific Yearly Meeting sessions at the end of July.

If you're interested in purchasing a book or the study guide, let me know. (Cover price is $28.) We will probably pre-order some copies to have on hand for the signing.

You can also order your own copy from Quaker Books of FGC.


Two Gems from Quaker Business Meeting

Today at San Francisco Monthly Meeting, the following two gems were offered, and I wanted to capture them here.

The first person said his two communities in San Francisco are the Friends meeting and the S.F. Gay/Lesbian Freedom Band (they do the "Dance-Along Nutcracker" every December). He compared making music with the band to a Friends meeting:
Silence is our canvas. We seek harmony. Dissonance is not always a bad thing. And when the dissonance resolves into harmony, it makes the harmony that much sweeter.
The second person described the possibility of some renovations in our building, the extent of which we don't have unity on yet:
I hope we'll do the things we need to do and not do the things we don't need to do.
I thought that was a really good guide, actually—a reminder that we shouldn't do something just because we can or because "everyone" does, but only because it's needed and we hear the call of the Spirit to do it.


Bill McKibben's Deep Economy

I read Bill McKibben's Deep Economy several weeks ago with great enjoyment and renewed sense of optimism about the future.

I liked the book because he presented many examples of communities that are doing real things to make changes in the way they live, farm, eat, or build community, so that they can help sustain the earth and the ecosphere. He also had some great data about trends, such as the explosive growth in farmers' markets over the last 20 years, and the productivity of small, intensively farmed agricultural land compared to huge tracts of industrially farmed land. And in places his analysis seems so obvious, I wondered why I hadn't thought of it before; such as the decline in number of U.S. farmers is because they have been replaced with machines running on (heretofore) cheap oil.

Here are some passages I found interesting:
Page 2: Shifting our focus to local economies will not mean abandoning Adam Smith or doing away with markets. Markets, obviously, work. Building a local economy will mean, however, ceasing to worship markets as infallible and consciously setting limits on their scope. We will need to downplay efficiency and pay attention to other goals. We will have to make the biggest changes to our daily habits in generations—and the biggest change, as well, to our worldview, our sense of what constitutes progress.

… The key questions will change from whether the economy produces an ever larger pile of stuff to whether it builds or undermines community—for community, it turns out, is the key to physical survival in our environmental predicament and also to human satisfaction. Our exaltation of the individual, which was the key to More [as in, the pursuit of More More More], has passed the point of diminishing returns. It now masks a deeper economy that we should no longer ignore.

[Like “deep ecology,”] we need a similar shift in our thinking about economics—we need it to take human satisfaction and society durability more seriously; we need economics to mature as a discipline.
Concluding his introduction, McKibben mentions a trip to China, where he met a 12-year-old girl named Zhao Lin Tao, who lives in a poor rural village: “about the most statistically average person on earth.” She was proud of her English; yet her mother left the family to work in a factory, and Zhao has a hard life. "In Zhao’s world, in other words, it’s perfectly plausible that More and Better still share a nest. Any solution we consider has to contain some answer for her tears. Her story hovers over this whole enterprise. She’s a potent reality check."

McKibben highlights three challenges to growth:
  1. Politically, growth is distributed unequally.
  2. We don't have the energy needed to keep growth going as it has done.
  3. The third argument is both less obvious and even more basic: growth is no longer making us happy. [his emphasis]

Striking language on page 17:
If fossil fuel is a slave at our beck and call, renewable power is more like a partner…. It seems likely that fossil fuel was an exception to the rule, a onetime gift that underwrote a onetime binge of growth. In any event, we seem to be on track to find out.
As mentioned he says that small farms are more productive, and large farms are built on cheap energy:
Page 64: Because of its reliance on cheap energy, the efficiency of our vast farms and the food system they underwrite is in one sense an illusion, and perhaps a very temporary one. The number of American farmers has fallen from half the American population to about 1 percent, and in essence those missing farmers have been replaced with oil. We might see fossil fuel as playing the same role that slaves played in early American agriculture—a “natural resource” that comes cheap…. There aren’t many people on that farm, but there’s all kinds of machinery, and every bit of it is burning fuel. Here’s the math: between 1910 and 1983, U.S. corn yields grew 346 percent. Energy consumption for agriculture increased 810 percent. [my emphasis]
The section on page 108 on the "declining marginal returns" of both income and companionship are really worth reading, so I won't quote it here. He continues:
Every measure of psychological health points to the same conclusion: people who “are married, who have good friends, and who are close to their families are happier than those who are not,” says the Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz. “People who participate in religious communities are happier than those who are not.” Which is striking, Schwartz adds, because social ties “actually decrease freedom of choice.” To be a good friend is hard work.
So, f/Friends, take heart!

PS A final Quaker note: There's a nice quote from Quaker economist Kenneth Boulding on page 24.

Busy Season

I haven't had a chance to post much lately. It's been a mite busy around here. There was Affordable Housing Week in May as well as some staff transitions and budget issues at work, plus Quarterly Meeting and our monthly meeting's retreat also in May, and then the end of the school year came this month with presentation night and portfolio day and school plays, on Tuesday the big end-of-school meeting for worship and celebration in Golden Gate Park, sleepaway Quaker camp at Ben Lomond Quaker Center for 11 Year Old this week, and no camp for Seven Year Old this week. Whew!)

Anyway, I read a great book several weeks ago, and today I had a chance to capture the good bits, which I'll post separately.

Here's a photo immediately after the end of the all-school meeting for worship, 6/16/2009:
SF Friends School end of year meeting for worship, 6/16/09
Here's a photo of the boys before they left for the last day of school:
Last day of school for the M. boysAnd for comparison, this is what they looked like on the first day of school in September 2008:
M. boys on BART, first day of school, 9/2008


Wildflower Hike 5/28/09

Today I went on the first grade wildflower hike with the first grade from San Francisco Friends School.

Seven Year Old was SOOO excited. Last night before he went to sleep, he grinned repeatedly, and said, "Daddy, Daddy, you're going on the field trip tomorrow!"

I went on the same hike when now-Eleven Year Old was in first grade. That time I had to leave a little early; this time I got to stay the whole time and carpool with another parent and child, which was nice.

The hike was in the Marin Headlands, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, specifically on the trails above Rodeo Lagoon. I love Rodeo Lagoon, and hadn't been there in either a year or two years.

The day was overcast with fog -- known 'round these parts as the marine layer -- which was thick enough to hide the sun and keep it quite cool but thin enough to let plenty of UV rays through. I got a bit sunburned because I put only a little bit of lotion on.

The best part of the hike came at the beginning. One of the two first grade teachers called the children around him, calmly, quietly, without yelling. They were quiet and rapt as he explained about the trail, where we were going, and just a few guidelines.

Then a few hands went up. "Don't step on plants." "Don't pick the flowers." "Don't touch poison oak." And so on. The children were so quiet and attentive, it was beautiful. The result of practicing learning together as a community with a respect for one another and with an ability to be together in silence. It was truly rewarding to see.

We walked about a mile and a half up the hall, to where some remains of the former military batteries are. On a flat piece of concrete we ate lunch, and the children were instructed to find three types of wildflowers to sketch. The rocks and the ruins were more interesting than the flowers for many of the children.

I was disappointed that we didn't walk back down the hill after lunch in silence, which the teacher had said we would do. Oh, well. I would have liked a brief moment of silence in a circle to close the hike, too, but we didn't. I wasn't one of the people in charge, so I was okay with that.

Overall, I am so glad that I carved out the time from work to go. I enjoyed talking to the other parents, and seeing Seven Year Old in one of his "native environments" outside the home, interacting with his friends. He had a good time, and though he didn't feel the need to stay by my side most of the time, he was really glad I went. So was I!


Traveling Friends

This weekend we went to College Park Quarterly Meeting's spring session at Ben Lomond Quaker Center. The theme was caring for our youth. The invited guest was Emily Stewart, Youth Ministries Coordinator at Friends General Conference. Her traveling companion was Betsy Blake from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Friends United Meeting).

The weekend was full and rich and I'm too tired to blog about it now. I stayed up too late visiting with Friends last night!

Betsy and Emily came to our house afterwards. It turned out that C. Wess Daniels and his friend James were stopping at Chad's house on their way to Wess's new home in Camas, Washington. So we invited Chad and his wife Da to come with Wess and James to our house to hang out with us and our guests.

We're not used to late nights like that -- they left around 11. Fortunately, we had fair trade hot chocolate to drink together.


Thoughts on the Quaker Way

The test of Quakerism does not come only on Sundays.

The test of Quakerism is not even or not only what you believe.

The test of Quakerism lies in keeping that faith and trust all week long.

When you encounter someone in trouble on the street.

When you face competitive or hurtful behavior at work.

When you see self-destructive behavior in friends or family.

How do you respond?

Can you tap into that lifespring of living energy

that we find here in waiting worship?


Eileen Flanagan's God Raising Us pamphlet

Last summer I bought Eileen Flanagan's pamphlet God Raising Us: Parenting as a Spiritual Practice (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 396). I've been meaning to post about it ever since. Well, I just re-read it, really liked it, and would recommend it to other Quakers, whether they are parents or aunts or uncles or might like to be any of the above one day.

Eileen writes the blog Imperfect Serenity. I met Eileen and her children at the Friends General Conference Gathering in Johnstown, Penna., and we got to spend a little time together. Her son and my older son even played instruments onstage together during a participatory moment in one of the evening performance times. It's always neat to know an author. Actually, by reading Eileen's blog, I already have a sense of knowing her in a way that is much deeper than if we just spent that little amount of time together. That's one of the magical things about blogging for me.

Here's a sample from the beginning of the pamphlet:
God has continually used my two children to raise me out of selfishness and make me more self-aware. Through them, God has taught me about patience, surrender, and self-control, as well as the testimonies of peace, simplicity, and integrity. They have helped me find God, not just in silence and solitude, but in the midst of chaos and crying. While I still have much to learn, I have found that naming parenting as a spiritual practice helps me follow this path more consciously.
I enjoyed her description of family practices, such as evening prayers, or extended silence as part of their evening routine during Advent and Lent. I was also inspired by how, when her daughter was very young, she prayed to God to find another mother as a friend. Soon after, by talking to someone in a grocery store, she connected with a person who was just the kind of person she was looking for. An atheist, the other mother laughed to hear she was the "answer to a prayer."

Eileen addresses an important issue in the final section, "Supporting the Spiritual Lives of Parents." She cites the FGC Gathering as a place where parents can "deepen their own spiritual lives without cutting themselves off from their children." She names the challenge of finding and creating that kind of wholeness "closer to home and at less expense, so that all families can experience it."

For myself, I find Pacific Yearly Meeting to be another place where that wholeness can very often be found. Yet it's still a week away and not cheap. And besides, that wholeness is challenged mightily on an almost daily basis, as Friends fill up the business meetings with more and more discussion. Parents have to choose between being on time to pick up their children, and respecting the teachers (I was one last year myself), or staying in the meeting for worship with a concern for business. This is an especially painful choice when the business topic is staffing the youth programs, which it was at PacYM last summer.

In sum, I recommend the pamphlet God Raising Us. For me, it was even better the second time I read it.

In addition, Eileen's new book The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make A Change–and When to Let Go will be published this fall. You can read more about it on her author website, www.eileenflanagan.com.


Quaker meetings I have attended

I was trying to learn about customizing maps on Google Maps today, so I experimented by creating this map:

Quaker Meetings I have attended

Locations are in three colors: blue for meetings or Friends Churches, yellow for Friends General Conference Gathering, and green for Pacific Yearly Meeting annual sessions.

I'm definitely a coastal Quaker!

Updated 4/29/09: fixed hyperlink


Eyes Wide Open at Stanford 4/30/09

Just found out this is happening this week. Original announcement at http://events.stanford.edu/events/188/18875/:

Eyes Wide Open: An Exhibition of the Human Cost of War

The exhibit includes over 400 pairs boots that will be on display in White Plaza, as a reminder of the fact that our country is still at war. Each pair of boots represents the death of a soldier from California in the current Iraq war.

Date and Time: Thursday, April 30, 2009. 8:00 AM. Approximate duration of 10 hour(s).
Location: White Plaza [Map]
URL: http://www.afsc.org/eyes/ht/d/sp/i/38782/pid/38782
Audience: Faculty/Staff, Alumni/Friends, General Public, Students, Members
Sponsor: Quakers at Stanford
Contact: 650-644-5130 / quakerfriends -at- lists.stanford.edu
Admission: Free to all
Download: Email event
Print: Use this permalink


Happy earth day with Tom Chapin

Today I had to take the children to school, as Robin was heading out early for a work meeting.

I decided to grab a Tom Chapin CD, as that had served me well recently on a day when I picked up the boys. In particular, Seven Year Old has been quoting the song, "Dog Rules," so I wanted to find the one with that on it. I couldn't. (It's actually a tape in our collection, which wouldn't work in the car I was driving. But I digress.)

Instead, I grabbed a CD with various songs about recycling and the environment. Good enough. We made it to the car and got going. Meanwhile, Robin had left the car radio on KFOG, the classic/contemporary rock station. Their on-air guest was talking about Earth Day.

Oh, right! I forgot it was Earth Day.

That's when I realized I had grabbed Chapin's CD, "This Pretty Planet." And song 12 is "Happy Earth Day"! It felt as if I had been guided to it. It was nice to listen to it, even during part of my day when the children weren't in the car.

At the end of the day, when I asked the boys how their Earth Days had been, Ten Year Old said he had gone to the Eco-Kids club meeting in the after-school program and wrote two letters. One was to Pres. Obama about pesticides and another to Pres. Obama by way of Greenpeace. So we can expect to get mail from GP now. (He carefully pointed out that he didn't put his school email address on it, and he doesn't check his email anyway.)

Finally, here's a link to Robin's post, Further Appreciation of Tom Chapin.


Affirmation circle: Story of a 5th grade basketball team

Ten Year Old played on the 5th grade basketball team this year, with other students from the Friends School in a league at a city rec center.

Following the last game of the season a couple of weeks ago, the team gathered for a pizza party in a room at the rec center.

Once most of the team was there, along with a hefty chunk of the parental population, the boys gathered in a large circle, mostly rather quiet and calm. In fact, I was struck by just how quiet and calm they were. No doubt part of it was they were tired after a day at school and then a game on the court. Yet clearly, they were simply used to drawing together, without anyone asking them or directing them.

Coach Chris, one of three coaches for the team and the lead PE teacher at the school, asked for a moment of silence. Whatever chatter remained disappeared. There was some rustling, but still an air of calm and quiet fell about the place.

A few minutes later, Coach Chris asked the team to share an affirmation of something or someone from the season. He said that once the first person said something, then it would go around the circle in order from him. Students could contribute their own affirmation, echo what someone else had said, or pass.

After a less than half a minute of waiting, the first student spoke up. He thanked the three coaches for their help and the parents for their support. Many of the students echoed his remarks. Another boy thanked the parents of another student for giving him rides to practice. When my own son's turn came, he said that boy had spoken for him -- the same parents had given my son rides, too.

One of the last affirmations came from a boy who thanked a teammate for his efforts, saying that he hadn't started out as the best player but he had really worked hard and been a leader and inspiration for the others. This coming from a 10 or 11 year old boy about another one -- wow!

The final affirmation came from the staff coach at the rec center. I believe this was his second year working with teams from the Friends School. He was warm and full of praise for the team and they way they supported each other. I couldn't help but think that this team must be a bit different from most he works with. They sure didn't win many games, or even score that many points, but they had a spiritual maturity that was awesome to behold.


Another Day, Another Tooth

The day after I wrote that last post, Seven Year Old lost his other top front tooth. Once again, a basketball to the face hastened the inevitable. Two days in a row he gets a basketball to the face! Poor kid.

Pretty charming though.


Stop to smell the trees

Seven Year Old and I had a nice trip to school today. (Ten Year Old is on his fifth grade camping trip, two nights at Ben Lomond Quaker Center [yay!] and one night backpacking in to Big Basin State Park.)

We brought a mix CD along that a parents of a preschool friend made of kid-friendly pop songs, so we bopped to that in the car into the city.

I parked near 14th & Guerrero, and he asked, "Why do we always park here?" Making it sound so far away. All of one block and half of another!

As we walked down 14th, we passed a mock orange in bloom, and it smelled heavenly. I pointed it out, and the smaller tree next to the first one had blossoms at nose level for both of us. Silas really liked the scent, and he stopped for a bit to sniff. (You can see the tree on Google maps' street views, at about 460 14th Street...)

As we continued walking, he pointed out the next tree, but it didn't seem to have any blossoms. I kept walking, but he stayed where he was, then called me back. A few of the branches out over the street did have flowers, and he had spotted them. Then we noticed that almost every tree on the block was in bloom.

By the time we got to Valencia, he was skipping along he was so happy, and then he reached out to hold my hand as we went around the corner.

Lord, thank you for the many blessings in my life. Here are two of the bigger ones!


Compulsive Ministers, Tend Ye the Inward Fire!

I'm reading Henry Nouwen's book The Way of the Heart. It's ostensibly aimed at "compulsive ministers" who are busy busy busy, and lose their spiritual way in the process. It's reprinted in a small, semi-gloss-covered trade paperback, though, so it's clearly got a much larger audience. People like me, for example, an unprogrammed Friend; though as the volunteer clerk of my Quaker meeting, I can certainly relate to some of the bits about professional ministers.

Really, the larger thrust of the book is about finding time for solitude, silence, and prayer as a way of refreshment. That's useful for anyone, not just those called to the ministry. (Except perhaps the theophobic, as one Facebook friend of mine describes his religious views; they can call it reflection instead of prayer.)

I liked this passage quite well, from page 47 of the recent Ballantine paperback (emphasis added):
What needs to be guarded is the life of the Spirit within us. Especially we who want to witness to the presence of God's Spirit in the world need to tend the fire within with utmost care. It is not so strange that many ministers have become burnt-out cases, people who say many words and share many experiences, but in whom the first of God's Spirit has died and from whom not much more comes forth than their own boring, petty ideas and feelings. Sometimes it seems that our many words are more an expression of our doubt than of our faith. It is as if we are not sure that God's Spirit can touch the hearts of people: we have to help him out, and, with many words, convince others of his power. But it is precisely this wordy unbelief that quenches the fire.

Our first and foremost task is faithfully to care for the inward fire so that when it is really needed it can offer warmth and light to lost travelers.
Lord, help me offer warmth and light to others.


An invitation of Friends School parents to a Friends Meeting

Text of a flyer sent home to families at San Francisco Friends School, 2/27/09:

Imagine a Sunday morning spent in silence, in contemplation, among a community of Quakers and fellow San Francisco Friends School (SFFS) families, capped off by home-cooked hotcakes, coffee and conversation….

When: Sunday, March 1st is the date to mark in your calendars for the next Meeting for Worship/Pancake Brunch at the San Francisco Meetinghouse, co-sponsored by our friends at the SF Friends Meeting and your SFFS Quaker Life Committee.
"Going to the SF Friends Meeting let me see a 'family' version of Meeting for Worship, with adults and kids sitting together for the first 15 minutes. When my kids left for their activities upstairs, I was left with my own experience of Meeting. Not getting much time on my own -- let alone in quiet –- I relished it. It also allowed me to witness those speaking from the spirit, into the silence. I was touched by every contribution.” -- Mother of 1st, 4th and 6th graders
What: An opportunity for SFFS families to experience together Meeting for Worship at 11:00, and then gather for a casual pancake meal with SF Meeting members at noon.

Newcomers are also invited to attend an optional Orientation to Meeting for Worship at 10:40, with nursery care for children (under K) starting at that time. Children K and older are encouraged to take part in the first fifteen minutes of Meeting for Worship, followed by an optional program at 11:15.
“There is something very healing just sitting in silence with other people. No advice given, no judgments made (at least not often out loud), nothing but waiting and listening to what spirit or self or others' experiences have to say. When a meeting unifies, or gathers, it is a very personal and humbling experience... to witness others' inner work, what their lives bring them, how we are so, so similar despite and because we are all so different.” -- Mother of 1st grader
Where: The San Francisco Friends Meetinghouse is located at 65 Ninth Street, a half-block off Market. Use Civic Center BART or Muni or any Market Street bus line. Parking is generally available on the street.

What else?
Want to carpool with other SFFS folks? Have further questions? Care to volunteer with clean-up? Contact [Quaker Life Committee member], who is looking forward to attending her first SF Friends Meeting for Worship on March 1st in the company of other SFFS newcomers!
“The Ninth Street Meeting is a must-attend event in that it reflects the diversity and inquisitiveness of the Quaker tradition as it lives in this city and on the West coast. It's simplicity with a complex history! (And the food is excellent...)” -- Father of 2nd and 4th graders
If you can't come on March 1st, please know that you and your children are welcome at Meeting any Sunday!


Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism - photos

The workshop "Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century" was good - Wess, Robin, and Martin have all written about it already. I was hoping to do so, too, but spent my available time trying to remember my Flickr signin credentials. Martin kindly emailed me to say that I could always post the photos directly to QuakerQuaker, so I did.

You can find his and my photos, and eventually more from other Friends, too, by clicking here.

Or just go to the photos page of quakerquaker.org and search for the tag "quakerreclaiming2009." Martin is uploading his video interviews at a mad pace, so check those out, too. I was pretty wiped out when he interviewed me, so it's not one for the ages. It was fun showing the interview with 10 Year Old to him and his younger brother tonight before bedtime.

Here's a pic of Chad explaining the Quaker schism chart (aka "The Religious Society Of Friends In North America Chart") to 7 Year Old.

Update, 2/24/09: added the tag "quakerreclaiming2009" in case it wasn't supposed to have a period in it.


Frequently Asked Quaker Questions: FAQQs

By the time this is published, I'll be packing for the Ben Lomond Quaker Center workshop called "Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century." I'm going because I know some of the organizers. :) I'm looking forward to it.

Before that, though, the draft minutes from our February business meeting are in, and I wanted to share the questions we collected at the meeting to use in our Frequently Asked Quaker Questions (FAQQ) series at San Francisco Meeting:
  • Why do Friends worship in silence?
  • What is meant by “testing” leadings?
  • What does it mean to “let our lives speak”?
  • What is the connection between spirituality and action?
  • Is there a political “litmus test” for being a Quaker? Do all Friends have the same political beliefs?
  • What about all the other Quakers? What other kinds are there besides – and even within – unprogrammed Friends?
  • What's the difference between meditation in our private lives, and meditation together as a group?
  • Why do children come for 15 minutes?
  • Who’s in charge?
  • Do you have to be a Christian?
  • What do Quakers think about paying taxes that support war?
  • What is the role of civil disobedience among Friends?
  • How do we make the peace testimony active and valuable?
  • How do Quakers make decisions?
  • Is there a spiritual “litmus test” for Quakers?
  • Why don’t Quakers wear all grey anymore? Am I allowed to wear fancy clothes to meeting?
  • How do Quakers hold marriages and memorials?
  • How do Quakers invest?
  • What do we mean by equality?
  • What is the Quaker view of the Bible?
  • How do Quakers feel about the sacraments?
  • How do Quakers feel about sex? art? music? alcohol? gossip? hell? sin? capitalism? joy? dancing? queerness?
  • What do Quakers mean by “clearness”?
  • Do Quakers have a sense of humor?
  • Why do Quakers ask so many questions? And queries?
We'll sort through these and make them available to our Ministry and Oversight Committee members, who are signing up to lead these approximately 15-minute discussions at the rise of meeting for anyone who wants to participate, whether a new or long-time participant.


Terry Pratchett Overdose

So I had been told I would probably like Terry Pratchett's novels, particularly the Discworld novels. (Whoa, I almost wrote "Discoworld" -- that would really be too much!)

Anyway, Ten Year Old brought home one of Pratchett's teen/young adult novels from the school library, Wee Free Men, and I decided to read it. So then I had to read its sequel, again featuring the Tiffany Aching character, A Hat Full of Sky.

Since then I've also read Only You Can Save the World, Johnny and the Dead, Thief of Time, Night Watch, Thud!, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, The Truth, Hogfather, and Going Postal. And a copy of Making Money is sitting on the living room floor, waiting for me to be done writing this post. And Small Gods is on my nightstand for when I'm done with that.

This is a bit much to have read in six weeks! I am behind in reading blogs I subscribe to. I don't post to this blog very often. I'm not reading thin but spiritually heavy books of biblical scholarship or social critique that are all the rage for me usually. However, I have taken this as a wonderfully relaxing opportunity to read for pleasure and amusement, with a heaping dollop of social commentary mixed in.

(I admit to also spending more time than I like to admit trying to come up with clever and meaning-free status updates on Facebook.)

Anyway, I enjoy reading Pratchett's books. His penchant for silly yet relevant names is longer-running than J.K. Rowling's. His silly situations are more reminiscent of a Fawlty Towers more than Monty Python, but there are echoes of the latter at times. And his ability to create "thrilling" plots in the parallel universe of Discworld are marvelous.

I'm late to the party but enjoying it.


Agenda for an introduction to Quakerism

Last Sunday at San Francisco Meeting, a member of our Ministry and Oversight Committee and I led a two-hour session, "An Introduction to Quakerism." We decided to take a hint from Quaker Quest and lead with the faith not the history.

Twelve people participated. Not huge, but significant. Three people were at our meeting for the first time that day, and two of them had never been to a Friends meeting before. I thought it was brave of them to stay for the whole two hours.

It seemed to go well. We got a nice email afterwards from a longtime member of our meeting, thanking us for doing the session and saying he learned something from both of us.

Here is the agenda we worked from, though what we actually said was of course different from what we wrote ahead of time:

1. Silent Worship

2. Introductions and Icebreaker:
Say your name, when you first attended a Friends meeting, and share something you remember from that first time (or, if you can’t recall, then say something about a meeting that was special for you in some way)

3. Faith: Blake
  • Foundational points from early Friends, based on Wilmer Cooper’s A Living Faith
  • Encounter with the divine in silence, unmediated, etc.
  • Inner Light/That of God in all humans
4. Practice: Blake
  • The encounter with the divine leads us to work this out in our lives
  • Aspects include various testimonies: how do our lives testify to our experience of truth?
5. History: Chris
  • Religious ferment in 17th Century England; Puritans, revolution, Seekers.
  • Fox: Great people to be gathered. One, Christ Jesus, who can speak to your condition.
  • Fell: ally who provided base of operations in North of England
  • Integrity, truthtelling, no oaths, no tithe, interrupting church services => oppression
  • No tithe = no access to state schools, so they set up their own Friends Schools.
  • Quakers and rise of capitalism: Gwyn, Covenant Crucified
  • Success of Penn’s holy experiment w/religious tolerance.
  • Social witness: abolitionism, penitentiaries and prison reform, peace;
  • Growing awareness of racism among Friends past and present, despite history of abolitionism
  • Environment growing more important for many Friends today
6. Queries
  • How do our Quaker roots guide us today?
  • Where do we find inspiration from our Quaker roots?
  • Where do we want to branch out from those roots?
  • How do we “let our lives speak” as Friends? What are our lives saying?
7. Silent Worship


Rebecca Solnit on the current opportunity

I really like Rebecca Solnit's writing. I've got Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism, and I filed a copy of an essay she wrote about the future of bio-regionalism in the U.S. And I would still like to read her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking. It came out around the time when I had less time for walking the streets of San Francisco, which I did for years when we didn't have a car and I could walk to work.

Anyway, today Common Dreams carried an essay she wrote for Orion Magazine, "Elegy for a Toxic Logic: And carpe diem for what comes next." I highly recommend it!
» Click for Common Dreams link
» Click for Orion Magazine link

Sample quote:
A decline in snowmobile purchases, overseas vacations, new construction, and so forth is very good news for the environment. The madness of postwar affluence is fading, and Americans are beginning to make very different choices about debt, consumption, and other acts of economic overconfidence-though of course desperation remains unevenly distributed...

And a second one:
[We have] an opportunity to supply a different logic, one of modesty, prudence, long-term vision, solidarity-and pleasure: all the pleasures that were not being brought to us by a system whose highest achievement was represented by endless aisles of shoddy goods made in countless sweatshops on the other side of the world.


Read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine!

Naomi Klein explains it all for you in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I highly recommend it.

The offenses committed at the highest levels of the United States during the past eight years were no accident, nor the result of bumbling idiots, nor a mere individual venality.

They were the logical, policy-based outcomes of the past 28 years of "free market" policy in the United States, and of the last 43 years (since Indonesia's 1965 coup) as practiced by the U.S. abroad.

The book helped tie together the last several decades of U.S. policy in a way that had simmered in my brain, but had never quite cohered so clearly. I learned a lot about what really happened in South America in the 1970s, for example, as well as in Russia in the 1990s.

Klein begins the book with an excruciating illustration of the effects of "brainwashing" experiments conducted at McGill University in the early 1960s. These were in fact regression techniques designed to break down personalities. The same tactics relabeled as "harsh interrogation techniques" and used throughout the world by the U.S. in the last seven years, in a way that previously only U.S. clients had carried out directly.

These techniques affirm the importance of narrative in our lives: "Without a story, we are, as many of us were after September 11, [2001,] intensely vulnerable to those people who are ready to take advantage of the chaos for their ow ends. As soon as we have a new narrative that offers a perspective on the shocking events, we become reoriented and the world begins to make sense once again. Prison interrogators intent on inducing shock and regression understand this process well.... The same is true for wider societies. Once the mechanics of the shock doctrine are deeply and collectively understood, whole communities become harder to take by surprise, more difficult to confuse -- shock resistant." (pp. 458-9)

It reminds me of the days on Quaker blogs, circa 2005 or 2006, when several of us were talking about "personal narrative theology" as a 21st century approach to theology.

This was a great line, too: "The only prospect that threatens the booming disaster economy on which so much wealth depends -- from weapons to oil to engineering to surveillance to patented drugs -- is the possibility of achieving some measure of climatic stability and geopolitical peace." (pp. 427-8)

Finally, there was a section in which she compares the concept of "The Rapture," when the saved are swept up into Heaven, with the understanding that wealthy people have that they will be swept up and away from their gated communities by helicopter in any big disaster, so they don't need to worry.

On earth as it is in heaven, indeed.


Challenging ourselves to discover life's greatest answers

The new book by John Dear, SJ, is called The Questions of Jesus, and the subtitle is, "Challenging ourselves to discover life's greatest answers."

The book is literally arranged around the questions that Jesus asks in the Gospels, grouped thematically. I have been reading a question or three a day from the book for the last month, and it has been helpful.

Richard Rohr says in the foreword of the book, "I am told that Jesus only directly answers 3 of the 183 questions that he himself is asked! This is totally surprising to people who have grown up assuming that the very job description of religion is to give people answers and to solve people's dilemmas. Apparently this is not Jesus' understanding of the function of religion because he operates very differently."

Dear is a long-time peace activist and teacher of the gospel of nonviolence. He spent time in prison with Philip Berrigan, SJ, after they participated in a Plowshares anti-nuclear-weapons action together. I read his autobiography recently, too, called A Persistent Peace: One Man's Struggle for a Nonviolent World. It was interesting, in a voyeuristic way because of all the well-known people he has worked with. The most interesting stories, though, had more to do with the ordinary individuals or communities he has worked with, as a teacher, and later as a parish priest in New Mexico.

Overall, I find The Questions of Jesus a much deeper book. It has such a gentle and loving tone to it, too. I just finished this passage about this question: "Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?" (Matthew 6:27; Luke 12:26).

Dear concludes the reflection on these questions:
"Every major religion suggests that they key to a peaceful life is the letting go of control and worry and living fully aware in the present moment. If we can live in the freedom of the present moment and center ourselves in the peace of God, we will find life turned upside down. We will no longer worry about the past or the future but will be fully alive to the present. And by being fully present to ourselves, others, and God, we will live our lives to the fullest. When we come to the moment of our death, as Thoreau said, we will not have wasted the gift of life but will have lived it to the full." (p. 102)
May you live your life to the full as well.


Environmental Sabbath

At the winter session of College park Quarterly Meeting on 1/17, in worship sharing a Friend came up with the idea of having an environmental sabbath. This would be a day without, or with greatly reduced use of, the modern conveniences that result in greenhouse gas emissions -- cars... electricity... email.

If several people in a Friends meeting agreed to do it on the same day of the week or month, it would be a spiritual discipline shared by a community. That would both enable participants to support one another, and it would give one the sense of greater impact because it's not just an individual or single household, but a collection of people making a change.

Kind of like The Compact, or Buy Nothing Day.

This is worth thinking about some more.


Geez Magazine cover story

The cover of the winter 2008 issue of Geez magazine features a story by Chris Moore-Backman called "Walking with Gandhi." Chris is a member of San Francisco Meeting, sojourning in Arizona.

Hat tip to Darryl Brown, who designed the cover and mentioned it on his blog, Darryl Designs.


Seeking Middle East Peace and Justice (vigil flyer)

This is the text of the leaflet that will be handed out this week at the San Francisco Friends Meeting's vigil for peace and justice, held every Thursday from noon to 1 pm at the federal office building, 450 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco. Text subject to last-minute edits depending on the situation.

As bombs financed by our own tax dollars rain down on Gaza and Israeli troops invade, we pray for the people of Israel and Palestine, and seek pardon for our role in the destructive conflict there. We grieve the suffering of all in the region, and the devastating consequences of the reliance on weapons and military strategy to address human conflict. We grieve the disproportionate and retaliatory approach of the Israeli government to the threats to its national security, just as we have grieved our own country's blind and wrongheaded response to the attacks suffered on U.S. soil in 2001. Both serve only to spread despair, to strengthen the cause of extremism and to sow the seeds of heightened future violence.

As some of us have done every week since 2001, we stand here in witness to another way forward: a way of listening, mutual respect and understanding, of reflection, repentance and reconciliation. As people of many organized faiths and none, and as people of the United States, we take this time to focus on our own responsibility and on what we can do to address our complicity in the violent and soul-denying policies our government pursues at home and throughout the world. For some of us it is an opportunity to pray, to examine our lives for the seeds of war and to begin the work of removing them.

The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem must be political. Rather than supporting Israel's assault on Gaza, our government must take prompt action to help bring about an end to the violence. It is not enough to urge Israel to “avoid civilian targets” and urge Hamas to stop the missile attacks. If this spiraling violence continues, both Palestinians and Israelis will suffer and the risk of a broader confrontation increases. The U.S. must demand a halt to the air and ground offensive, and discontinue military support to all parties.

Even absent the ongoing military incursion, the continued closure of Gaza and resulting shortages of vital food, fuel and medicine, has created a tragic humanitarian crisis that must also be addressed quickly. The U.S. together with international partners should seek restoration of the cease-fire, and reopening of the borders under United Nations supervision. Peace is the only lasting security.


We invite all in agreement to join us. We vigil every Thursday from noon until 1:00 pm here at the old San Francisco federal building on the corner of Larking Street and Golden Gate Avenue.

The vigil was started by two Quaker groups—American Friends Service Committee and San Francisco Friends Meeting, who have now been joined by Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Participants come from a range of backgrounds. Some of us are silent, praying or meditating. Others do not keep silence and are happy to speak with you.


American Friends Service Committee
65 Ninth St., San Francisco, CA 94103, 415 565-0201,

Buddhist Peace Fellowship
P.O. Box 3470, Berkeley, CA 94703, http://www.bpf.org/
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
415 824-0288, http://www.epfnational.org/

San Francisco Friends Meeting
65 Ninth St., San Francisco, CA 94103, 415 431-7440,

To contact the vigil, email: sfvigil -at- mac.com



Quick Quaker Talks: An Experiment at SF Friends Meeting

If you'd been to San Francisco Friends Meeting over the holidays, you'd have heard me announce that the meeting's Ministry and Oversight Committee is trying an experiment in January, tentatively entitled "Quick Quaker Talks." These will be brief discussions at the end of meeting for worship.

The plan is that for about 15 or 20 minutes following meeting for worship and announcements, a couple of experienced Quakers will give their take on some frequently asked Quaker questions—FAQQ! Then we'll have time for others to chime in with their experiences—and their questions. All are welcome.

My current plan is to kick off the series this Sunday (1/4) by asking, "How do Quakers know when to speak in meeting for worship?"

Though subject to change, here are the suggested future topics:
  • 1/11: Why do Quakers meet for silent worship rather than meditate alone?
  • 1/18: What do Quakers think of Jesus? Are Quakers Christian?
  • 1/25: What are the Quaker testimonies and what do they "testify" to, anyway?
It's our hope that this experiment will allow us to get to know one another, our spiritual lives, and our faith tradition a little better. Since it's an experiment, we can always change it "as Way opens."

Originally posted to San Francisco Meeting's email group. Essentially, we're doing "inreach" to our own meeting in a miniature version of the Quaker Quest series pioneered by London Friends, and now promoted in the U.S. by Friends General Conference.

Update, 1/6/09: We had seven people participate for the debut event. There was one person there for the first time, a Haverford student home on break in San Francisco who had been to our meeting a time or two, a person who had attended about a dozen meetings elsewhere, an attender from our meeting who's been coming for about two years or so, two members of Ministry and Oversight, and me. It was a good discussion, going far past the fifteen minutes alloted, probably more like 30 or 35. There was opportunity for sharing and discussion as well as questions. The one drawback: The potluck lunch was mostly gone by the time we were finished. Next time, we may plan to get food first, then have a discussion table. Either that or we talk quicker and end sooner.