Category Archives: Messages

“Holding in the Light,” by Doug Bennett

From a message at Durham Friends Meeting, September 15, 2019

I recently had occasion to read again about a very unusual episode in the history of Friends.  It’s a story told in Elizabeth Gray Vining’s biography of Rufus Jones. 

November 9 & 10, 1938:  that was Kristalnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass.  All over Germany people broke into Jewish homes, stores and synagogues wreaking destruction and terror, and carrying many Jews off towards Concentration camps.  It seemed spontaneous but we now know it was a well-planned attack that helped the Nazis take yet greater control. 

In the wake of that horrible night, three Quakers resolved to make a visit to Germany.  Rufus Jones, Robert Yarnall and George Walton hatched a plan to travel to Germany, to speak to the highest ranking official in Germany to whom they could gain access, and to ask to be allowed to intercede.  The statement they eventually delivered in person to German officials stated they wanted “to inquire in the most friendly manner whether there is anything we can do to promote life and human welfare and to relieve suffering.”

They hoped to meet with Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and someone we now remember as a chief architect of the Holocaust.  They didn’t succeed in seeing Himmler, but they did meet with two very high-ranking members of the SS.  They made their presentation, the two men they met with left the room and went to speak with someone in higher authority, perhaps Himmler himself.  Jones and Yarnall and Walton sat in silent worship — holding the German authorities in the Light. 

In the end, they did receive permission for some Quaker relief work to go forward in the days before the Second World War broke out, and for some additional Jews to be allowed to leave Germany to safety.  But of course, they didn’t stop the Holocaust. 

In his journal, Rufus Jones described to officials with whom they met as “Hard-faced, iron-natured men.”   He didn’t think they were ‘good guys.’  They didn’t have any illusions about the character of the men they would meet.  Still, it’s hard to say what Jones and Yarnall and Walton expected.  But in her biography, Elizabeth Gray Vining said that “Rufus Jones to the end of his days believed there had been a softening and a moment of vision.”

A good deal of history looks back on this episode as an instance of profound naiveté.  A foolish gesture, one perhaps even bordering on treason. 

But weren’t they holding the SS officers in the Light? Weren’t they trying to lift up the way of love and peace, trying to lift it above the way of violence and death?  Whatever they expected, wasn’t it worth the effort?  I guess I think so. 

Reading about this desperate mission to the SS leave me wondering why we mostly “hold in the Light” those we most care about, our friends and family.  Certainly, we should hold our dear ones in the Light.  But shouldn’t we also “hold in the Light” those who trouble us most: those who seem most wrong-headed or dangerous?  Do we believe they are beyond God’s reach, beyond God’s love?  I guess I don’t think so. 

As we settle into waiting worship, I invite each of us to call to mind people we think are as bad as people can be, and hold them in the light, believing that the Light, the love, can reach them too. 

The full message can be found on Riverview Friend

Overcoming Militarism and Racism, by Brown Lethem

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, July 7, 2019

Good morning friends!

I want to start off my message by quoting Meister Eckhart, the 14th century theologian and mystic who believed in a personal path to God.

Know then that God is bound to act, to pour himself out into thee as soon as ever He shall find thee ready ….Finding thee ready He is obliged to act, to overflow into thee; just as the sun must needs burst forth when the air is bright and clear, and is unable to contain itself. Forsooth it were a very grave defect in God if, finding thee so empty and so bare, He wrought no excellent work in thee nor primed thee with glorious gifts.

Thou needest not seek Him here or there, He is no further off than at the door of thy heart; there He stands lingering,, awaiting whoever is ready to open and let Him in…He longs for thee a thousandfold more urgently than thou for Him; one point the opening and the entering.”

There are many ways in which each of us can project the inner spirit of God in our every day lives. Witnessing through giving of our gifts. As Lewis Hyde explained in his marvelous book The Gift, which I highly recommend.

By walking cheerfully over the earth and treating others with kindness is one way….. In service work:…. In practical ways like helping others with a problem: ….SOME, i know do it through singing: …… some by praying or visiting the sick:

Some express this gift in making art.

But as Friends we are also urged to outwardly witness for peace….., As Faith and Practice tells us, that witness is the experience of Christian love. It is that love made visible. It is a form of active prayer.

As most of you know, my leading has focused on elimination of militarism but because of growing up in a very racist culture, a small midwestern town enveloped by fear and paranoia separating me from the experience of a vibrant American multi-culture

(Racism cripples the young)

my message touches on both militarism and racism, both having directly affected my life in negative ways.

Some of you will remember my brief message in Meeting some time ago when I asked the question “ what led Friends among others in the ninetieth century to engage in non-violent civil disobedience by participating in the underground railroad, and by breaking laws that put their own lives at risk?

This question led me to a lot of reading which gradually focused on two authors: John Woolman and James Baldwin. It also turned into the subject of a series of paintings.

In reading John Woolman I got my answer: When enough people of good faith, including Quakers, could no longer tolerate the abuses of slavery. ….. Often even in the face of extreme disapproval by their peers, economic loss, and threat of death ….. They took action.

My query that followed in our recent study of queries was: do contemporary Quakers encourage outward action of liberation from unjust laws and conditions? Or do we endorse sufferance and toleration? Do spirituality and prayer take precedence over action in the world? How can we balance the two?

It is, as Parker Palmer points out, one of those paradoxes that each of us must cope with.

Each day it becomes more clear that American democratic ideals of equal opportunity have been supplanted by a permanent underclass of Native Americans, people of color, and those living in abject poverty who in ever greater numbers go from poverty , to prison, to drugs or suicide.

Why can’t the richest nation in the world change this condition?

The underlying reason, I believe, is the economics of systemic racism and inadequate education which has stacked the deck for this segment of our population.

When we increasingly question this crisis we are confronted by the power elite with the need for national security. In other words, fear.

And that 60 percent of our discretionary budget must go for the military.

It does become evident that power and greed benefit by our endless wars and that racism is built into that status quo. Martin Luther King pointed that out during the Vietnam War era.

What John Woolman and James Baldwin both spoke to so prophetically was the fact that oppression is equally destructive to both sides.

To eliminate the injustice frees up both: the slave owner’s terrible burden of guilt as well as the dehumanization of the slave in Woolman’s time.

Baldwin wrote in the 1960’s:

“The price of the liberation of the white people is the liberation of the blacks… And

in short, we, the Black and the White, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation. If we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity as men and women.”

Both Woolman and Baldwin envisioned the restorative justice principle basic to Christ’s message.

Can we envision a time when the violence of war will not be on the table? And when the abundant wealth of this nation will create an equal playing field for all Americans?

In practical terms, to restore justice, I believe we need to consider a program of reparation for those most damaged by racism, just as the Germans did for the victims of the holocaust. And we need to reallocate our priorities from the military to free education and health care for all.

The time has come.

Then and then only will we achieve full maturity as a nation.

Two Poems for Children’s Sunday

Two poems read by Amy Kustra on Children’s Sunday, June 2, at Durham Friends Meeting

On this day, we pray for tender compassion on all the little ones, whose souls, so fresh from the light, shine in our midst with a darling adorable brightness.  May we honor them deeply, learn from the truly, respecting the deep wisdom they carry.  Make us wise in our nurturing of then, generous in our loving, unending in our compassion, expansive in our wisdom, kind in our intelligence, and graceful with our hearts.  Let us give to them and receive from them, and let it be known among us that they are neither our projects nor our possessions, but messengers of light, illuminations of love.     – Daphne Rose Kingma from the book A Grateful Heart 

Today with Spring here finally we ought to be living outdoors with our friends. Let’s go to those strangers in the field and dance around them like bees from flower to flower building in the beehive air our true hexagonal homes.  excerpt from “The Whole Place Goes Up,” – Rumi

David Johnson to speak on the Gospel of John, June 9

Early Friends’ understanding of the Word was deeply rooted in the gospel of John. Come hear a student of both John and early Friends speak about early Friends’ understanding of the “measure” of Light given to each person and how it related to their understanding of perfection, and what their relevance are to us today.

Australian Friend David Johnson, author of A Quaker Prayer Lifeand Jesus, Christ and Servant of God: Meditations on the Gospel According to John (both published by Inner Light Books), will offer the message at meeting and a small workshop after worship at Durham on Sunday, June 9.  All are welcome.

We write this to make our[a] joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin. John 1, 4-7 NIV

“Learning Compassion,” by Leslie Manning

This past Sunday (May 26) Leslie Manning brought us a message that grew out of Hebrews 13:1-3:

13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

She invited us to settle into worship seeking the place where our compassion grows. After a time together in silence, she invited us to go out onto the grounds (as we felt led) and reflect on the passage from Hebrews.

When we returned to the Meeting room, she reflected on the difference between empathy, where the focus remains on what we ourselves are feeling, and compassion, where the focus remains on what another person is feeling or suffering. For many of us, empathy comes more easily than compassion.

To help us learn compassion, she taught us a Buddhist Metta, a meditation practice to learn compassion. In meditation, start with yourself, say inwardly ‘may I be healthy and whole, may I be strong, may I be at ease.’ When ready, move your focus to a friend or loved one, and say inwardly ‘may you be healthy and whole, may you be strong, may you be at ease.’ And then when ready, move your focus again to someone beyond your accustomed circle of family of friends and say inwardly ‘may you be healthy and whole, may you be strong, may you be at ease.’

“Learning to Drive” by Doug Bennett

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, May 19, 2019

We celebrated my Dad’s 100th birthday two weeks ago.  He wasn’t with us; he died in 1990.  But I made him a cake and we celebrated his good life.

He taught me a lot of things.  More things than I learned: I should have paid better attention.  One thing he taught me was how to drive.  I wanted to get my license so I did pay attention to that, and so I learned.

He was a pretty tough, demanding driving instructor.  Good enough wasn’t good enough for him, so he made sure I knew how to handle difficult situations of all kinds.  For example, this was in Rochester, New York, and he wanted to be sure I could handle icy roads.  So there was a Sunday we went down to a supermarket parking lot.  There weren’t any cars because supermarkets weren’t open on Sunday when I was a teen.  And for an hour and a half he had me get up to speed in our family sedan, slam on the brakes, and then deal with the resulting skid.  Over and over again, skid after skid.  He wanted me to be comfortable behind the wheel with the car out of control.  He wanted me to have that experience. 

We also had a little Renault that he drove to work.   It had a five speed manual transmission.  Evening after evening, after dinner, he’d take me to a dirt road on a nearby county park and make me practice with that manual gearshift. Often the road was muddy so starting up was harder.  And after I sort of got the hang of it, he had me start the car in second gear.  When I got the hang of that, he’d find a little hill and have me start the car moving in second gear on that little hill.  It all felt a little severe at the time, but I’m glad he made sure I learned to drive well. 

Learning to drive has been on my mind because now Ellen and I are teaching Robbie to drive.  He’s had his learner’s permit for several months, and his first times behind the wheel, at least legally, came in his driver’s education course.  But since he’s had his permit he drives every chance that comes his way. 

I just said “Ellen and I are teaching Robbie to drive.”  Now I know that isn’t quite right.  It’s rather: “we’re helping him learn to drive.”  There’s a big difference. 

What gets done, what gets learned, he has to do.  We’ve introduced him to a succession of challenges and he’s figured out how to handle them.  Instead of a Renault Dauphin, he’s learned to drive a stick shift in our 1987 Jetta, which has sadly just failed a basic safety check so he can’t take his driving test in that.  I’ve had him start the car up in second.  I’ve looked for muddy dirt tracks up at the Topsham Fairgrounds.  He’s dealt with starting up a stick shift on hills.    He’s handled a few skids – though no icy supermarket parking lots. 

I’m not downplaying the role of teachers when I say what we learn we have to learn ourselves.  Teachers can play a big role, but the learning is something you have to do yourself.  The learning can’t be injected with a needle or poured down your throat.  Whatever it is: learning to drive, learning geometry, learning to bake a cake – learning what’s important in life. 

Teachers can encourage, they can coach, they can challenge, they can pose tasks or problems, but they can’t do the learning for you.

As I’ve been sitting next to Robbie in the passenger seat, he’s in control and I’m not.  It’s his hands on the steering wheel; his feet on the pedals.  I make suggestions and comments. I call attention to hazards and situations.  I talk to him about other drivers; how you can’t be responsible for what they’ll do and you’d better be prepared for the worst.  I talk to him about speed limits, about conditions when even going the speed limit isn’t safe. 

I quickly realized – I already knew this, but the realization really hit me – that I can’t tell him things fast enough, even when I’m sitting right next to him.  His learning to drive has to be a matter of his having fully taken in what he needs to know to drive well.  I can’t be some voice in his head he’ll hear every time he turns on the ignition.  (“What would my Dad say about that?”) 

I can still hear my dad talking to me about driving if I really put my mind to it, but that’s not how I drive. 

Nevertheless, there are lots of occasions when I wish I could hear from my Dad.  There are lots of matters I’d love to talk over with him.  There are so many questions I never asked him, and so many others I where didn’t listen carefully the one time or two I did ask him.  Wherever I’ve gone, he’s been there before me: being a teen, falling in love, having children, working, retiring from work

All this about learning to drive and wishing I still had my Dad sitting next to me helping me learn to drive has gotten me thinking about how we learn from God – how we might learn things from God: about living the good life, about fixing the things that aren’t right in this world, about what’s worth celebrating and what’s worth mourning.  Those sorts of things.  Here I am in the driver’s seat.  Is God there next to me?  I think God is.  I think that’s something we Quakers know and maybe can teach others.

Learning life is tougher than learning to drive.  None of us ever quite learns everything we need to know.  It’s like we do need our dad, or better, our mom sitting next to us, giving us the occasional suggestion, pointing out a difficult situation ahead.  And here’s the deal, the wonderful deal.  There she is sitting beside us.  She doesn’t say much most of the time, and we don’t expect her to say much most of the time.  But she’s there sitting next to us.  She’s ready to offer advice, or simply tell us it’s all OK.  When we ask.  When we’re prepared to listen. 

Of course that’s not exactly what George Fox meant we he said “Jesus has come to teach his people himself.”  He didn’t mean Jesus would be literally sitting next to us when we’re driving.  He meant something stranger and yet more wonderful. 

He meant Jesus, or the Inward Teacher, or the Seed, or the Light was always with us, always inside us — as well as all around us.  When we need guidance, we have to be sure to ask.  We have to be ready to still ourselves and listen.  That takes some learning: how to seek, how to ask, how to still myself, how to listen.

And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 28.  What an amazing, reassuring promise. 

Today I don’t have my Dad with me in the way that I’d like.  So it’s a great comfort to me to know that I have the Inward Teacher wherever I go. 

crossposted on River View Friend

“A Language for the Inward Landscape,” by Doug Bennett

Message at Durham Friends Meeting          May 5, 2019

I’ve been reading a remarkable recent book.  It’s by Brian Drayton and William Taber, and published in 2015.  Its title is a little forbidding: A Language for the Inward Landscape: Spiritual Wisdom for the Quaker Movement.  Let me explain a little how this book came to be and what it’s about.

Bill Taber was a remarkable Quaker, an Ohio Conservative Friend who had deep spiritual gifts.  (If you don’t know what it means to be a Conservative Friend, let’s talk about that during social hour.)  I came to know Bill Taber when he was a member of ESR’s Board of Advisors.  He taught at Pendle Hill for many years.  He did many, many workshops and wrote a number of books and pamphlets. 

He had a concern that we modern Quakers had lost touch with the meaning of many Quaker phrases that we have inherited from the first generation of Quakers.  He meant phrases like “hold in the Light” or “the measure of Truth given to each of us.”  He wanted Friends to understand those terms as they were first used because he thought they were important, essential even, to understanding Quaker spirituality.  He did a number of workshops on these old Quaker phrases, which he called “A Language for the Inward Landscape.”  He imagined writing a book, but he died before he could write it.

Brian Drayton is a member of New England Yearly Meeting, a member of Weare Friends in New Hampshire, and another person of deep spiritual gifts.  After Bill Taber’s death, he drew on Taber’s notes and his own understanding to write the book Bill Taber might have written. 

Our Meeting library has a copy and that’s how I came to read it.  There’s an inscription on the cover page, signed by Brian Drayton, which reads “for dear Clarabel, friend and fellow worker in the gospel.” So this is a special book for us here at Durham Friends. 

Why do Drayton and Taber speak of the inward landscape?  Because for many, especially Quakers, our spiritual life unfolds within us, not ‘out there.’  Look around this Meetinghouse: no pictures, no statues, no stained glass, no soaring arches, no incense.  No one dressed up in robes, no kneeling, very little performance.  There may be people for whom a spiritual life requires that external sensory pageant.  But for Quakers (and not only Quakers) the life spiritual unfolds within us as we seek a still small voice: the teacher within, or “the Light.”

Today, let me just say a little about what Taber and Drayton tell us about what early Quakers meant by “the Light”  — what we’re looking for in this inward landscape. 

For starters, of course there is the remarkable opening of the Gospel of John. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 

About this, Drayton and Taber say  “It must be emphasized that the first Friends did not start with this and other “Light” passages in the Bible, and then set out to make them part of living experience.  Nor was it that these seekers read the scriptures, and found the answers to their questions, ending their search.  The “light and life” passages had power for Friends because they expressed the way in which these spiritual pilgrims encountered Christ among them.” 

In short: the experience of “the Light” came first:  the felt experience.  That helped them make sense of what it says in the Gospel of John. 

Drayton and Taber quote something written by Isaac Penington, an important early Quaker.  Penington imagines having a conversation with a person first learning about God and Jesus. 

Hearing of the Savior, the learner asks “But hath not this Saviour a name? What is his name? “

And Penington answers “It were better for thee to learn his name by feeling his virtue and power in thy heart than by rote.  Yet if thou canst receive it, this is his name: the Light, the Light of the World.”

So Penington is sating we should strive to know The Light (whatever we call it) by our own experience, not from doctrines or creeds nor even, first, from the Bible.

Drayton and Taber quote Rufus Jones, a much more modern Quaker saying much the same thing.  Here is Jones:

“The Light Within, which is the central Quaker idea, is no abstract phrase.  It is an experience.  It is a type of religion that turns away from arid theological notions and that insists instead upon a real and vital experience of God revealed to persons in their own souls, in their own personal lives….

“We no more need to go somewhere to find God than the fish needs to soar to find the ocean or the eagle needs to plunge to find the air…

The Pioneer Quakers believed with all their minds and strength that something like that was true, that they had discovered it, tested it, and were themselves a demonstration of it.”

For these early Friends, “The Light” was a powerful metaphor, a way of referring to something so powerful that it was difficult, maybe impossible, to capture in words.  They didn’t want us to know it through words; they wanted us to know it through direct experience. 

For these early Friends, The Light was a illumination, it was the source of Truth, it was an antidote to sin, and it was a basis of unity. 

That’s a lot, but they didn’t want us to take their word for it.  They wanted us to seek to experience it inwardly, for ourselves.


Drayton and Taber want us to be careful, even self-conscious, when we use the term “Light.”  So I want to read an important paragraph that ends with a few queries. 

“In areas of Quakerdom in which the language about ‘the Light within’ has come to be used in the context of a great deal of theological diversity or uncertainty, it is important to ask, ‘What do we mean when we say “I will hold you in the light?”’  When the Light is identified, as traditionally, with the inward presence and work of Christ, this identification implies some expectation of spiritual experience. The Light is interpreted by what we learn of Christ in the Gospels and New Testament Letters; at the same time, the scriptural record is also interpreted by our encounter with the living Christ in ourselves and others.

“If the Light is not linked with the Spirit of Christ, then we must seek other ways to understand what in our experience is in harmony with the Light that we know, and what is not. So it is good to take some time in our meetings to ask each other with real interest such concrete questions as:

“(1) What do you mean by the Light, and is that an important way you experience God’s presence and action?

“(2) Have you experienced the Light visually? Do you know someone who has or unusually does?

“(3) What are the ways you distinguish between some prompting or teaching of the Light, and a prompting or urging from some other source? 

“(4) What is the relation between the Light you experience and that which I experience?”

Many have found we experience the Light in waiting worship.  So let us settle into worshipful seeking together. 


  • Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, A Language for the Inward Landscape: Spiritual Wisdom from the Quaker Movement (Tract Association of Friends, 2015), chapter 2, pp. 15-38. 
  • Isaac Penington, “Short Catechism for the Sake of the Simple-Hearted,” in The Works of Isac Penington, a Minister of the Gospel in the Society of Friends, volume 1, pp 123-4.
  • Rufus Jones, An Interpretation of Quakerism,”

cross-posted on River View Friend

“When I Was In Prison, You Visited Me,” by Jan Collins

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, April 14, 2019

Thank-you for welcoming me here on this glorious Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus was welcomed like a King into Jerusalem,  less than a week before his death and rebirth. On this day, I am considering Christ’s prescriptions about what it means to lead a good life and to be transformed/reborn/resurrected. 

I consider this passage from Matthew 25. Jesus has referred to the people on his right and tells them they will be with him in heaven –

“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’…”

The righteous respond that they have never done this for him, and he says

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’

Why did Jesus choose the phrase, “I was in prison and you visited me”? At first glance it appears to be out of place.

We have all fed the hungry and clothed the naked, taken in strangers, or looked after the sick. It is easy to do. Who would not share their food with a hungry child who approached you begging?

….But, who among us have visited in prison? It is not so easy to do. Prisons and jails are not easily accessed, they are out of the way and there are barriers to visiting. They also require more than giving things. They require us to give of our deepest self.

 Do not let these barriers dissuade you, the visit will be transformative.

When I was three, my father was imprisoned. He had a drinking problem. He went to a convenience store, stole some beer and money from the cash register.

He was also the breadwinner in our family. His imprisonment meant that we had no income and were soon homeless… My mother was now a single parent of four children under the age of 5.

We were lucky. My uncle, a farmer, offered us a small plywood trailer that he used to travel to county fairs as our new home. It had a set of bunkbeds. My sister and I slept on the top bunk each of us at either end. My mother slept with my two little brothers in the bottom bunk.It was without running water, but did have electricity and an outhouse. Before winter set in we were able to move to a small house that another uncle owned and rented.

While Dad was in jail, my parents divorced because my dad was also violent when he drank.

These events shaped who I am. When a parent goes to jail, it is a public event. I grew up believing everyone knew, but trying to hide it just the same. We carried, I carried that shame.

When you visit jail or prison, you will find people of all colors, religions, and creeds…but mostly you will find the poor, the mentally ill, the abused, societies cast-offs. At a recent meeting of inmates at Maine State Prison the speaker asked those who had not had a court appointed lawyer to raise a hand. In a room of over 40 people only three raised their hand. Only three people in the room were deemed to have adequate resources to pay for their own attorney.

This week, you may or may not have seen a report from the 6th Amendment Foundation(the 6th amendment guarantees the right to an adequate defense)which was presented to the Judiciary Committee of the Maine State Legislature. The report gave a scathing inditement of Maine’s indigent legal defense system, saying in some cases it completely failed its constitutional requirements and was ripe for a class action lawsuit.

In most jails, 70%-80% are awaiting trial, too poor to pay bail. Not yet found guilty of anything, they will likely lose their jobs while they await trial. Others are serving time because they are too poor to pay their fine.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. …higher than Cuba, higher than Russia, higher than Iran. Our rate of incarceration is 7 times higher than any other NATO member.

Who do we incarcerate? In the late 1970’s we decided to stop treating addiction as a medical problem and to instead treat it as a criminal issue. Up to 80% of inmates have a substance use disorder. Sixty percent have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce is fond of saying that he runs the largest mental health facility in the state….and yet he has no mental health resources. Families tell him that they are glad that their family member has finally been arrested, because maybe now they will be able to get the help they need.

Sadly, that is not true. We do not do addiction treatment in jails, except in rare instances, and we do not do mental health treatment. In fact, the Department of Corrections will tell you they have no budget for programming. We have so many people incarcerated, that we do not have money for rehabilitation. You have probably heard of the prison “wood shop” at Maine State Prison, but did you know that most positions there are for people who will never be released? People with short sentences will likely not receive skills training.

In Maine, we release close to 1600 inmates each year. Only a tiny fraction are lucky enough to be chosen for reentry beds.

Many inmates released from Maine State Prison, are given $50 and their clothes in a garbage bag when they are released. Barely enough for a day’s meals, it is certainly not enough to start a new life.

Why am I here? In 2014 my son was sentenced to 20 years in prison. My husband and I had adopted  him and two siblings from foster care where they had been in 5 homes in 5 years.

His imprisonment began my journey of reclaiming my past and of discovering, sadly that he would not get the help he needed in prison. In fact, he would get the opposite.

I hope you will join me on my journey, because in it I have discovered just why Jesus required us to visit those in prison. They are the hungry, the sick, the naked, and the strangers among us. And they are the disappeared, the people no-one sees, and the people without a voice.

Please join me in prison and in giving the incarcerated a voice.

Jan Collins, Wilton, ME

Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition Assistant Director

“Message or Miracle: Awakening to the Light,” by Doug Bennett

From a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, April 7, 2019

For some, Jesus’s message is what you take to heart.  What he preached, what he taught, was so very different from what anyone else was teaching.  Not just turn the other cheek.  The last shall be first. Be not proud but be humble.  Ask for forgiveness.  Help the poor in possession, body or spirit.  He taught a new way of life that turned upside down the common sense of the world, and you find it oddly compelling even if very, very challenging to follow.  

For others, it’s the miracles.  There were miracles he performed while he was alive.  Water to wine, lepers cleansed of their affliction, the sick healed, a multitude fed on a few loaves and fishes, even one raised from the dead.  Like a master magician, he saved his most stunning miracle for the end by coming back from his own death. 

Message or miracle? Miracle or message?  Speaking for myself, I’ve been more drawn to the message, the challenging message, than to the miracle.  I’ve not been sure what to make of the miracle story.  This spring season presses us to think about the miracle. 

I grew up in a church that recited the Apostles Creed nearly every Sunday.  It wasn’t really written by the Apostles, but it is old, probably from the 4th century.  Quakers are suspicious of creeds.  George Fox, our founder, said, “You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say?”  But just today I want to read the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

I am struck by how much that 115-word summary stresses the miracle.  It hardly says a word about the message – maybe nothing at all.  Where is the Sermon on the Mount in that Creed?  The Good Samaritan? Where is the tenderness to the poor or broken-hearted? Where is the call to peace and justice?

That Creed with its focus on the miracle side gives us guidance about how we are to understand the miracle.  “Resurrection of the body”: that would be a miracle. “Ditto “Life everlasting” – the door to heaven swung open to believers.  “Forgiveness of sins”: some theologians speak of “substitutionary atonement:” Christ died for our sins so we can be forgiven, a dramatic ‘paying it forward.’ 

But let’s note.  People don’t write creeds to sum up what everyone believes.  They write creeds to forge agreement, maybe even force agreement.  Among early Christians there was disagreement about what the miracle of Jesus’s last days was about.  Serious disagreement.  The Apostles Creed was put together to insist on orthodoxy.  If you didn’t subscribe to that you were a heretic.  Hence the Quaker reluctance about creeds.  “What canst thou say?”

The entire message is available at Doug’s blog, River View Friend

Attending to the Light — Worship Theme April to June 2019

Quakers have an unusual way of talking about what we are seeking: we are seeking “the Light.” 

The Gospel of John, long a favorite of Quakers, begins by saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  That’s an arresting way of talking about what we are seeking, but quickly John moves to speaking of the Light.  John says the Word was “the light of all humankind.”  Moreover, “the light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  Of the coming of Jesus, John says “the true light that gives life to everyone was coming into the world.” John 1:1-9.  And later John quotes Jesus as saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12. 

The early Quaker James Naylor said  “Art thou in the darkness? Mind it not, for if thou dost thee will feed it more. Stand still, act not, and wait in patience till light arises out of darkness and leads thee.”

The early Quaker theologian Robert Barclay said “That for this end God hath communicated and given unto every [person] a measure of the Light of his own Son, a measure of grace, or a measure of the Spirit.”

And in worship we often ask that we hold someone “in the Light.”

What a remarkable gift is “the light.” How can we awaken the Light within us?  How can we wait in patience till light arises out of darkness and leads us?

Worth watching is this QuakerSpeak video: 

“Developing Habits of the Heart, Part III,” by Liana Thompson Knight

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 24, 2019

I’d like to begin with a story that may be familiar to some of you. In fact I think I have even heard this story in this Meeting room before. This is a story out of the Jewish tradition, that comes from the Hassidic masters:

Once, the Hassidic rabbi Zusya came to his followers with tears in his eyes. They asked him: “Zusya, what’s the matter?” And he told them about his vision, “I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusya, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusya replied, “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’ and that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?’” Zusya sighed, “They will say to me, ‘Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?’”

This story resonates deeply for me. I find it really easy to look around me at things that other people are doing—really good, deeply important things—and feel like, ‘well, that’s important, so I should be doing that, too.’ It takes constant work to remember that just because work is valuable and necessary, does not mean that it is my job to take it on. Perhaps I can support the people I see doing this work in some way, but I, myself, cannot do it all.

So what am I supposed to do? This is a question that has been following me around for many years now, and it resonates because I don’t have a full answer for it. And yet sometimes there are ways in which I am pulled. As Quakers, we believe that we can be guided by the inner light, if only we sit and wait for guidance. I have to admit that a lot of times, I feel like I am stumbling about in the darkness. However, sometimes, that inner light gives me a small glimmer, and occasionally that inner light shines a beacon in some direction.

One of the strongest leadings I have had recently is to pursue the Courage and Renewal work—Parker Palmer’s work—that I have spoken about with all of you before. It was out of that leading that I pursued Facilitator Training, and it is that leading that compels me to stand before you here today. And I think that the idea of leadings is useful today as we continue to consider Parker’s Habits of the Heart, from his book Healing the Heart of Democracy.

As a reminder, or super brief primer for those who have missed my previous messages, the five interlocking Habits of the Heart that Parker outlines in that book are habits that he identifies as being necessary to the healthy functioning of democracy. I believe that they are also necessary to the healthy functioning of society. The five habits are:

  1. We must understand that we are all in this together.
  2. We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness”
  3. We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
  4. We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency
  5. We must strengthen our capacity to create community

In past messages, I have spoken about the first three Habits (that we’re all in this together, the appreciation of the value of otherness, and cultivating the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways); these habits Parker connects with the idea of humility. Today I would like to speak about the fourth Habit—the sense of personal voice and agency—which is one of the two Habits that Parker connects with the idea of chutzpah.

The first three Habits ask us to be open to the wisdom of others and to be respectful of others’ positions. The fourth Habit, along with Parker’s idea of chutzpah, acknowledges that I, too, have a voice and a perspective, and lifts up my need to be heard in counterpoint with other voices and perspectives, as part of the fabric of a functional democracy/society.

In his description of this Habit, the need to generate “a sense of personal voice and agency,” Parker writes, “Insight and energy [from holding tensions in life-giving ways, part of Habit 3] give rise to new life as we speak out and act out our own version of truth, while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. But many of us lack confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference. We grow up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama, and as a result we become adults who treat politics as a spectator sport. And yet it remains possible for us, young and old alike, to find our voices, learn how to speak them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change…”

Having grown up Quaker, I am grateful that I came of age in a religious tradition that honored personal agency. However, I have still struggled mightily to find my own voice. Part of this struggle comes out of being finely attuned to what I perceive others want from me and many years spent privileging those wants—other peoples’ wants—ahead of my own voice. Another part of it comes out of feeling small in a big world: In this world of so many people, why should anyone listen to me? In a society with experts who have numbers and statistics about any topic I can come up with, why should my opinion matter?

Our society by and large functions on the level of the intellect. Facts and figures are used to make decisions, and there is utility in those facts and figures. However, to find our sense of personal voice and agency, I think we are asked to speak from a different place than the place of intellect, though we may draw on our intellectual knowledge as we speak our truth. I also think we are asked to speak from a different place than the place of emotion, though we may feel or describe emotions when we speak our truth. I think the place from which the sense of personal voice and agency can arise most naturally is from the level of the soul, the inner teacher, the inner light.

Parker loves to lift up individuals who have found a way to align their individual wholeness with their role within society. He talks about these individuals living “divided no more” – no longer having a breach between their individual integrity, the stirrings of their soul, and the way they live and/or work. He talks about well-known individuals like Rosa Parks, and also about anonymous individuals, like a doctor who realized how torn he felt between his personal integrity as a doctor on the one hand and the quotidian sacrifices he was asked to make in his professional environment on the other. Rosa Parks, as we all know, sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott; the doctor went on to change procedures within his medical practice—procedures that directly impacted the quality of care he was able to deliver and helped him to better uphold his Hippocratic oath. For all of the individuals Parker references, he talks about how they find their voice through listening to where their inner teacher called them.

Given that a sense of voice and personal agency arises from the inner teacher, and that leadings also arise from the inner teacher, there is a strong connection between having a leading and developing a sense of personal voice and agency. Having a leading certainly lends itself to developing voice and agency. When I am pursuing a leading, I have clear ideas about why this leading is important. It is easier to speak up or speak out when I feel like I have clarity on why something matters to me.

But what about all those times when my inner teacher tells me that something is right or wrong, true or not true, moral or immoral without also having a clear leading to take action or live into this belief in some new way? Do I have to have a leading in some area to be able to cultivate this sense of personal voice and agency? I do not think that is the case. While having a leading can lend strength to my sense of personal voice and agency, having a sense of personal voice and agency does not require me to be pursuing a leading in the arena about which I have a truth to share. I do not have to be actively pursuing policies that will help make life better for women with small children to be able to share the truths I have experienced about what it is like to try to navigate career and family under the current policies held in our society. I do not have to be an expert on climate change, or a leader in what to do about it, to be able to express my truth that it is a topic of great concern to me.

“Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?” Each one of us has within us a unique combination of truths that we could speak that come from the context of our individual lived experiences and the voices of our inner teachers. I do not have to try to be everything to everyone, I cannot solve all the problems, I can’t accomplish it all single-handedly. But I do have to listen for where I am called, look for where I can be of use, and lend my voice to those things that are within my realm. If I can do that, I will live into being Liana, I will speak with the voice that only Liana can speak with, I will act with the agency that only Liana can bring.

In closing I offer you three questions:

What truths has your life made evident that you give voice to?

What truths has your life made evident that you wish to give voice to?

What leading(s) are you living into?

“Developing Habits of the Heart, Part II,” by Liana Thompson Knight

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, February 24, 2019

When I last brought the message, in early December, I spoke about Parker Palmer’s Habits of the Heart, from his book Healing the Heart of Democracy. The Habits of the Heart are five interlocking habits that Parker has outlined in the belief that developing and practicing these habits can help individuals from diverse backgrounds better hold tensions in society. As a reminder, the five habits are:

  1. We must understand that we are all in this together.
  2. We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
  3. We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  4. We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
  5. We must strengthen our capacity to create community.

In December I talked about Habit 1: that we must understand that we are all in this together, and Habit 2: that we must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.” Today I am turning to Habit 3: “We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.” 

As a way in to thinking about that, I want to share with you a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.” Rilke writes:

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like closed rooms and like books written in a strange tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them—and the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.”

These words have resonated for me ever since I first heard them, probably because I have spent so much of my adult life trying to find answers that have been hard to come by. In school there was an answer for everything, or at least, so it seemed. And so, as I have navigated the first nearly-20 years of adulthood, I guess it is not surprising that I get thrown off by questions and situations that don’t have an obvious answer.

Rilke’s call to “love the questions,” and to “live the questions” is challenging for me because it means embracing not knowing and embracing the lack of a clear answer. But it is also liberating. It is liberating to take a deep breath and believe with certainty – even if only for a few minutes – that I do not have to answer my questions today.

In my adult life one of the biggest questions that remains unanswered is a question about career path. I have always been a goal-oriented person, so my natural tendency in my 20s was to pick something and aim towards it with equal parts intensity and rigidity. On the cusp of turning 30, the economy crashed, and it seemed like all of my hard work towards a career crashed out from under me. All of a sudden I was left to consider what to do with a brand new degree in a field that simply wasn’t hiring anywhere in the country. For the first time in my goal-oriented life, I was really lost.

Finding my way again has involved a certain amount of re-learning how to be in the world and how to approach navigating a path forward. In many ways, I have been living a version of what Parker Palmer would call a “tragic gap.” Parker describes the “tragic gap” as being the gap between the way things are, and the way we know they might be. In my case, this was the gap between knowing that I had all the skills to be able to land a good job and the reality of being an unemployed newly-minted dramaturg.

Parker speaks often of “standing and acting” in the tragic gap—being able to hold the tension between reality and possibility in a way that can open up a new and different way forward. Standing in a tragic gap and holding that tension is hard. It means resisting being pulled towards either pole of the gap: not resigning ourselves to the way things are or giving into cynicism and disengagement on the one hand; not allowing ourselves to escape into excessive idealism or fantasies on the other hand.

The challenge of standing and acting in the tragic gap is as relevant in the ways in which we interact with society as it is in our personal lives. I know that there are many people in this Meeting who are probably standing in their own version of the tragic gap as they work on societal, political, and global problems: climate change, gun violence, immigration, education. The list could go on and on, the relevance of the idea of the tragic gap has no limits.

I think the idea of the tragic gap is also key to understanding what Parker means when he names the third Habit of the Heart as being: An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. As he fleshes out his description of this habit, Parker writes, “Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. But when we allow their tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others.”

This tension-holding, this standing in the tragic gap, is tremendously challenging. It means having to let go of preconceived notions of what is best, of what the path forward should be, of thinking we have the answer. Sometimes we may have the answer, but I think that holding tension in live-giving ways demands of us to let go of our answers for a little while and be able to live in the questions. When we can live in the questions, and love the questions, as Rilke exhorts his correspondent to do in ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ we expand our capacity for listening to other answers. In listening, to both ourselves and others, we may be better able to walk the line between the poles of a tragic gap, finding a new way forward.

Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai has a beautiful short poem that I think encapsulates this idea of living the questions, and I would like to share it with you. It is called “The Place Where We Are Right.”

From the place where we are right

flowers will never grow

in the Spring.

The place where we are right

is hard and trampled

like a yard.

But doubts and loves

dig up the world

like a mole, a plough.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

where the ruined

house once stood.

As we settle back into silence, I ask you three questions:

(1) What questions are you living at this time?

(2) In what place are you standing that will not allow flowers to grow?

(3) What doubts and loves help you dig up the world?

“Developing Habits of the Heart, Part I,” by Liana Thompson Knight

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 9, 2018

In worship last week, Keith Harvey brought us a message that began with a story about Jeremiah. He then gave us examples of Jeremiah figures from more recent times: people like John Woolman and Martin Luther King, Jr. Individuals who spoke their truth, even when the views they expressed went against the grain of society.

John Woolman is a figure whom Parker Palmer lifts up at the beginning of his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy. Parker explores how Woolman provides an example of how an individual can hold the heartbreak they experience due to the conditions of the world in such a way as to enable continued wrestling with an issue. Woolman, traveling among Friends to speak out against slavery, continued to speak his truth even when his perspectives weren’t immediately adopted by the community. The community, meanwhile, didn’t shut him down. Woolman influenced many Friends to free their slaves, and over the years his testimony contributed to a shift in perspective on slavery in the Religious Society of Friends.

Though society has changed since Woolman’s time, our polarized society has a desperate need to learn to embrace the kind of tension-holding that Woolman and the Religious Society of Friends exemplified in the 1700s. Quakers have done this tension-holding for over three hundred years in our consensus based system. Somehow we need to model that in our majority-rule based society.

Parker believes that individuals from diverse backgrounds can better hold tensions in society through developing what he calls the Five Habits of the Heart. Taken together, these habits embody what Parker terms as chutzpah and humility. By chutzpah Parker means knowing that I have a voice that needs to be heard and the right to speak it. By humility, he means accepting that my understanding of anything is always partial (and may not be as true as I believe), and that I therefore need to be willing to listen to the perspectives of others.

Within that framework, Parker outlines the five interlocking habits of the heart as:

  1. We must understand that we are all in this together.
  2. We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
  3. We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  4. We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
  5. We must strengthen our capacity to create community.

He links the first three habits—we are all in this together, an appreciation of the value of “otherness,” and the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways—with humility, and he links the last two habits—generating a sense of personal voice and agency, and strengthening our capacity to create community—with chutzpah. Yet each of the habits grows into and out of the others in a web of interconnection.

In today’s polarized political climate, with all of the challenges that we face as a society, country, and world, I often feel like developing my sense of voice and agency is the most important thing. Certainly being able to stand up for what I believe in is important. Just as John Woolman did, we each need to speak truth as we see it. At the same time, I need to be able to listen to others who see the world differently than I do—and to listen deeply, with a willingness to learn—especially when I think, or even know, that I am right.

Listening can be hard. Listening can be really hard. Even on the level of our closest relationships, listening can be hard. When I believe I know the truth about something—whether it has to do with politics or what happened last summer—and my partner has a different perspective, it is really hard to listen and not just try to convince him that I am right. Parker believes that most of our interactions play out this way—we listen in order to respond and in order to rebut. Sometimes in normal conversation we get so carried away with formulating our responses that we’re not even really fully listening.

Through my retreat facilitator training with Parker and other leaders from the Center for Courage and Renewal, I have learned how much listening can impact a relationship. And the kind of listening that is the most impactful is deep listening—listening with the intent to hear and understand someone. Deep listening is different than listening in order to respond with answers or opinions. It is really different than listening with the intent to frame a counter perspective or convince someone of something else.

Deep listening humanizes people. As I have sat in Circles of Trust (the retreat model developed by Parker), I have been privilideged to experience the humanity of total strangers through deep listening. Often, through deep listening, I am able to find pieces of others’ experiences that resonate with my own lived experiences. Always, through deep listening, I am able to find deep compassion for the human beings sitting in the circle with me.

So I see deep wisdom in Parker’s call to cultivate the habits of the heart that connect to humility as an integral part of the fabric of community. And so, today, I invite you to reflect on the first two of the habits of the heart.

Habit One: we must understand that we are all in this together. We are dependent on the same resources, linked by interconnected social and political structures and policies, affected by the same economic and environmental crises. This doesn’t mean that we all experience these things in the same ways, or that political, economic, and ecological change affect us all in the same way. Nor does it presume equailty in our experiences. But we are all affected, for better or worse, in interconnecting ways.

Before we get too grandiose and far-flung in our thinking, I want to bring us back to our own lived experiences to help us consider how we are all in this together on a more person-sized scale. So I offer you two questions:

When in your life have you connected with a stranger due to a shared experience?

Where in your life have you experienced people coming together across differences?

Alongside those considerations, I offer you Habit Two: we must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.” Though we are all affected in interconnecting ways, our lived experience is in smaller groups that have distinct ways of being in the world and that hold different perspectives and beliefs. This habit encourages us to practice hospitality and to embrace what people from groups different than ours have to teach us. Perhaps more than any other habit, this one requires us to practice deep listening. So the question I offer you related to this habit is: When in your life have you deeply listened to another’s story?

Recognizing our interconnectedness and valuing different perspectives, beliefs, and ways of being in the world aren’t in of themselves going to bring us to consensus on difficult issues. However, cultivating these two habits of the heart may help us to connect with people who are different than we are, to hear their stories, and to begin to identify the places where we might hold some amount of common ground. It is a beginning.

As we return to silent worship, I invite you to hold the three questions:

When in your life have you connected with a stranger due to a shared experience?

Where in your life have you experienced people coming together across differences?

When in your life have you deeply listened to another’s story?

“Looking at Shame,” by Paul Miller

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, March 3, 2019

Today I would like to talk about shame.   As a counselor I deal with lots of shame in the people that I work with. Shame binds us and closes us down.

The biblical passage that comes to mind around shame is the passage in John 7.  The passage reads like this:

   Jesus went to the mount of olives.   At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again: and as all the people came to him he sat down and began to teach them.

So lets just a pause there for a moment we are talking about the Jewish temple at the time and the fact that Jesus is sitting down teaching.   He knew this could challenge the authority of the Pharisees. Yet Jesus is there and starts to teach.   So lets see what happens next.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery, and making her stand there in full view of everybody.

So rather than dealing with there frustration with Jesus teaching in the temple we now have the full display of a woman who is accused of committing adultery. What a wonderfully unhealthy way to deal with the issue of who has authority head on.

They say to Jesus, Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery and Moses has ordered us, in the law to condemn women like this to death by stoning.

What have you to say?

They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him.

So now you have the Pharisees throwing the Mosaic Law at Jesus saying so what are you going to do now buddy?  We know the right answer and if you do not agree with us you will be wrong.  Jesus if you say the wrong thing we can shame and condemn you for not following mosaic law.  But Jesus bends down and starts writing on the ground with his finger.  There is some interpretation of this that Jesus might have been writing there sins on the ground.  After they persist on this question Jesus does respond and says,

If there is one of you who has not sinned let him be the first to cast a stone at her.   After this the bent down own the ground and continued writing and they all left one by one beginning with the eldest until Jesus was alone with the woman who remained standing there. He looked up and said where are they. Has none condemned you. No sir she replied.  Then neither do I condemn you.   Go away and don’t sin any more.

Jesus calls them on the fact that they are human and have all sinned.   With the woman he refuses to condemn her.  In essence Jesus is saying we are all human and are not perfect and need to be willing to look at ourselves.

I don’t know about you but I would love to be perfect, however I keep discovering over and over again that I am human. Leaning and growing are part of the human condition and that growth and learning can at times be painful and difficult.

The reason I wanted to look at this passage today is to look at the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees.  The Pharisees are caught up in the interpretation of the mosaic law as a way to be Holy and separate in order to justify everything and potentially anything. Jesus on the other hand refuses to condemn. Jesus refuses to cast unfavorable or adverse judgment. Jesus refuses to be at a distance and releases this woman. In another biblical story Jesus asks for a person to be unbound.

How often do we separate ourselves from the human condition?  I am so glad I am not them. Guess they made their bed and have to lay in it.

The thing we have to come back to is the fact that we are all a part of the human condition. We can insulate ourselves with objects, excuses and platitudes but we all are human and imperfect.

The reason I am bringing this forward is this is the basis of shame. If you did this “right” you would be ok in my eyes. But you did not do this right therefore, I get to throw stones at you?   I get to accuse you because now I have more power than you do.  This is what shame looks like. When we take power away from others and call them bad and demand that they justify themselves to us.  So you might say not me, I would not do that.   How often do we put ourselves above others and tell them what they need to do to be acceptable in our eyes. Our mother, father, sister, wife, husband friend, coworker.   We separate rather than deal the fact that something is uncomfortable her and we have run smack dab into the human condition. It is much easer to separate than own. It is much easier to push away than to come along side.

We are all human fall short and in some way are capable of hurting each other, what do we do with that?

The first step is to come along side rather than hover over. To recognize that we are both human. It might look something like this, I deeply respect you even though I am mad at you because you did something that is human and I got hurt. I do not condemn you, how can were work on our connection so we do not hurt each other. I am proposing here that sin is our own unwillingness to own our discomfort rather than choosing to talk about it in a way that respects the other person. This means that as I face the other person I am also facing myself and my need to justify being right.   This means I am willing to face the way that I am disconnecting from those I care about in order to be right.

My husband David will sometimes confront me on a way that I acted that is self-centered.   One of those times that I poured myself coffee and not him at breakfast. My first response is to be defensive and say that does not matter because that is a little thing and after all he could pour his own coffee. In actuality it is a big thing because our relationship is built on a deep respect of one another and acts like being of service to each other are a part of our day-to-day relationship.   I am called to see him as a sacred person that I have chose to be in relationship with and to respect what the two of us have agreed that means day to day.

He gets to call me out. He gets to say you are human and I deserve to be respected and he is right. Just as I get to call him out when I am not feeling respected.

When I start to move away from that deep respect of David begin to walk away from the human condition and say things like I am better him because I can do some things better. It is at this point I have to stop and remind myself we both have gifts that are different and I need to respect and honer his gifts just as much as he needs to respect mine.

In doing this a sacred closeness and emotional intimacy continues to develop that says, I will always respect you even when it is difficulty to do so. I am always willing to learn about the human condition from you even when it is difficult to do.   The key is asking the other person to be with us in the same place of learning rather than telling them what to do. Calling the other person to be present at the same level. Letting go of the need to be right in order to connect at a deeper level. This means listening evening when its hard to listen. This means I might be wrong and might need to look at things from another point of view. This means I am willing to learn new things about myself that I might not looking at. This means I choose to own rather than shame.   Connect rather than distance and love rather than condemn.

My mother likes to say that we live in the awkward place in history between the already and not yet. It is in this place that we are 1000% human.   In being human we are vulnerable, naked and easily hurt, yet can love each other in ways that can be immensely powerful.

So in good Quaker tradition I want to leave you with some questions.

  1. Who is the person or persons that you have committed to treat in a sacred way?   How do you show that deep respect and ask for it in return.
  2. What is the way that you tend to separate yourself from others as the them, or the other?
  3. Can you think of ways that you can treat other in your life with deep respect, listening to them, holding and honoring them and asking them to do the same even when it is difficult?

May the God who created us be honored in the sacred way that we treat each other.

“Honoring the Unknowing Between Us With Open Hearts and Open Minds,” by Lisa Steele-Maley

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, February 17, 2019

I woke up with a set of expectations this morning. I knew I would rise before the sun, do some gentle yoga, eat breakfast, drive here and spend the morning with all of you. I knew I would be nervous but grateful to share this message. And I knew that, there is always more that I don’t know than I really do know. That’s a little unnerving – but it’s also exciting.

This morning, I trusted that in my not-knowing, I would be met by your open hearts and open minds… After all, you didn’t know what to expect from me either. When people come together in mutual unknowing, as we have this morning, our limits dissolve and a new space emerges, a grace-filled space where Love has room to work amongst us. In this space, speaking meets listening, giving meets receiving, and past and future dwell fully in the present…I would like to illustrate this idea.

About six years ago, my Dad retired. His already quiet and reclusive life seemed to become increasingly isolated. He stopped visiting family members and meeting friends for golf or lunch. He began to lose weight and became nervous and tentative. He said he was happy, but he didn’t look or act like he was.

When Dad invited me to attend a routine exam that required anesthesia and a driver, I had a chance to step in a bit.Dad was so grateful for the practical support I offered on that visit that I began visiting for one extended weekend per month. Together we sorted mail that had accumulated, paid bills, did laundry, went grocery shopping, and attended appointments. We also made time for long walks, healthy meals, and plenty of laughter and conversation.

On one visit, I arrived late due to a rainstorm and Friday night traffic. I had called dad a few times to give him updates and offer a revised ETA. When I arrived, Dad was peering through the window by the door. He gruffly asked what took me so long. Exhausted from the drive and unprepared for this icy reception, I snapped back – something about traffic and calling a half-dozen times – and then caught myself. He had probably been waiting for some unknown visitor for my entire 5 hour drive. No longer able to track time, he could not possibly interpret the meaning in my phone calls. Maybe he also could not connect my voice with my face or my presence.

Dad had begun to live in the unknown all of the time. Dementia was robbing him of capacity to understand, sort and organize experiences, people, objects and events. For him, every moment was a step into an unknown.

After hitting dead—ends trying to get information and support from my Dad’s doctor, I scoured the internet and the library shelves for help. I wanted a definitive medical authority or a rule book, the equivalent of a map and compass that would tell me where on earth we were and where we were heading…And while I did find some resources that offered clues and perspective, I never found an outside authority that I could really settle into.

But, I found my Dad – obscured by his illness but patiently and persistently kind, loving and intelligent. And I found myself. Even better, I found that I was enough.

While I had been looking to the world around us for guidance, I was also just spending a lot of time with Dad. As we navigated challenging, curious, and mundane details of life together, our relationship was deepening. I was learning to dwell with him in the unknown – and in the sacred space that formed between us, there was safety, love, trust, and joy sufficient to carry us both along the challenging path that unfolded over the next few years.

As Dad became less verbal, we often walked together in silent communion. If Dad felt like making conversation, he would ask, “So, what have you been up to?” After I answered, we would often fall into silence again. Within a few minutes he would ask again, “So, what have you been up to?” He never remembered asking and remained as genuinely curious and interested on the 5th asking as he was on the first. Each asking became an opportunity for me to share a bit more deeply about my life. Though he didn’t remember my responses after a few seconds, he listened to each one with real interest and attention. I offered new responses each time he asked. “So, What have you been up to?“  It was like an invitation to peel away the layers of my life like an onion, sharing myself ever more deeply, while pulling Dad in closer.

As special as my relationship with my Dad was, it does not need to be unique. We don’t need to wait until dementia or any other life change nudges us into deep, loving relationship.

Humans are social creatures. We are meant to step in close, to walk through the peaks, valleys, and meadows of our life with others. We can practice a more intentional engagement with everyone we are in contact with – it’s as simple as a smile, an open hand, a moment of vulnerability, or an act of generosity. We will suddenly notice that there are fewer strangers around us and more friends. And we notice that the lines that separated us get a little blurry. The distance between us grows smaller and less significant.

When we honor the unknowing between us with open hearts and open minds, we create that nurturing grace-filled space where Love flows freely, speaking meets listening, giving meets receiving, and past and future meet the limitless present. We meet there in worship. Let us meet the wider world there in our words and our actions too.

“Hearing Leadings,” by Doug Bennett

From a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, February 3, 2019

In the Bible, Samuel is a boy who has been apprenticed to old Eli, the priest at Shiloh.  One night Samuel hears a voice calling him, and he goes to Eli, but Eli hadn’t called him.  It happens again, and again.  Finally Eli tells Samuel it is the Lord calling him, and Samuel says ““Speak, for your servant is listening.”

The story is presented to us in a way that says God spoke to Samuel. God did not speak to Eli or to his wicked sons.  But I’m not sure that’s how we should hear it.

Here’s another story, one especially important to Quakers.  The times are troubling.  There’s war, there is inequality, there is corruption and deceit.  Sound familiar?  A confused young man, let’s call him George, is trying to understand how to be a good person, how to know what God hopes he knows and how to do what God expects him to do.  He asks a lot of wise people (let’s call them the Elis of this world) to help him figure this out, but they don’t prove much help. 

Then one day George is out for a walk, a long walk, wondering, thinking, praying, and he hears a voice say to him “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.”  That George, of course, was George Fox.  The year was 1647; Fox was 23.  And so begins the movement, the spiritual revival we call Quakerism.  We gather here today and every first day inspired by that Leading. 

What Fox hears that day, what Fox realizes, is that God will speak to each and every one of us, if we still ourselves and listen. 

This suggests a different slant on the Samuel story, I’m thinking.  It is not that God spoke to Samuel and not to Eli and not to Eli’s wicked sons.  It’s rather that Samuel heard what God was saying, and Eli and his sons did not.  God is talking to all of us all the time.  That is what George Fox realized.  

We gather here each Sunday in that confidence, that God will speak to us if we still ourselves and listen.  The question is, will we listen? Can we hear what God is saying?

How do we hear God’s call to us?  It is clear we can miss it.  That’s the main burden of the Samuel story.  Samuel was in the best place, right there at Shiloh, but he was still confused at first. How do we prepare ourselves to hear God calling?  Eli helped Samuel hear what God was saying. 

Perhaps we can help one another. 

My friend and mentor Paul Lacey wrote a wonderful Pendle Hill pamphlet on “Leading and Being Led.”  He uses another example to understand leadings: the example of John Woolman.  Woolman was an 18th century Quaker who was among the first to call attention to the evils of slavery and to press his fellow Quakers to renounce it as well.  And Woolman made striking efforts to befriend the indigenous peoples of North America.   

But after discussing Woolman’s efforts, Paul Lacey says “his example is instructive and inspiring, but ‘be like Woolman’ may not be helpful advice to those of us still struggling to be ourselves with integrity.”

That speaks to my condition.  I am still struggling to “be myself with integrity.”

And then Lacey adds: “Perhaps more apposite advice is to be “like members of Woolman’s meeting:”

“Learn with and from one another how to listen and probe and wait ;

“Help each other to be faithful to leadings;

“Bear with one another’s confusions and shortcomings;

“Persist in expecting the best from one another;

“Practice speaking the truth in love.”

The entire message is available at Doug’s blog, River View Friend

“To What Burning Issue Should I Give My Energy?” by Wendy Schlotterbeck

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 18, 2018

Like many of you, I wake up grateful for a new day and a desire to treat others with love and respect. The past few days I have heard birds singing despite the snow! And then I listen to the news and am saddened and angry about what is happening to the children, people of color, the immigrants, refugees, veterans, our food, the earth’s atmosphere, the animals, the list goes on and on. I wrestle with the questions: To what burning issue should I give my energy? How do I make that decision? How do I hear God’s voice? How do I structure my day-to-day activities, fit it all in, with the important work of helping our world? This is my current spiritual dilemma.

Last year, two messages helped me find balance.

Maggie Edmondson talked about the importance of breath – breathing in and breathing out – both equally important for life. We become still and centered, breathing in spiritual strength, then need to breathe out using that strength to do good work. We can’t take another breath in without emptying our lungs. We need spiritual strength to do good work. Then, we need to be out in the world to activate our spirituality.

Craig Freshley called finding balance “savor and save”. Here is this concept in my own words: We become still, savoring the lovely, the beautiful, and then have energy to attend to whatever needs saving.

One and a half years ago New England Yearly Meeting implored all of us, both individually and as Meetings, to take concrete steps focused on two issues:

  1. reducing our impact on climate disruption, and
  2.  examining the scourge of white supremacy in our Quaker culture and practices.

I have valued immensely the discernment of the people gathered to bring focus to these two problems. We have taken steps to work on this and I am grateful to be in a community that takes these issues seriously. I have found this focus helpful as I wrestle with how to decide where to put my energy.

How do we find balance in our Durham Friends community – breathing in as well as out, taking time to both savor and save?

Friends Committee on National Legislation is a lobbying organization in the public interest founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends. FCNL works for social and economic justice, peace, stewardship of the environment, and good government in the United States.

FCNL asked Meetings to discuss the content from the booklet The World We Seek.  In addition, Durham Peace and Social Concerns committee wanted us to read this as a Meeting. They asked us to consider a focus area and gather at a special meeting in March of 2018 to discern “what stirs the heart of Durham Meeting,” what issue calls to us to WORK ON TOGETHER, as a corporate concern or project.

In this booklet are 4 areas.

  1. We seek a world free from war and the threat of war
  2. We seek a society with equity and justice for all
  3. We seek a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled
  4. We seek an earth restored

After reading the booklet, I resonated with everything mentioned… and felt totally overwhelmed by the scope of changes needed to bring about the world we seek!

So, the questions: What issue rises to the top and how do we choose where to put our energy as a Meeting and individually? How do we find balance? What’s the value in addressing an issue? What’s the harm/risk if we don’t?

I struggle with the knowledge that even having this choice is a privilege. I don’t experience the terror of war in my neighborhood or state and have never witnessed war and its aftermath. I am free to travel and work and walk through my community free of the harassment that many others feel daily. I had a good education, a good job with a spacious house and yard, and clean water to drink, good food, good health, good friends. I do not experience the impending fear that tomorrow my life may be in ruins.

I also feel two things:

I feel impelled to work for change because I see the signs that our society and world are being irreparably harmed. As those who try to base our actions from love and the belief that there is that of God in everyone, how do we answer that call?

I also feel weary, because there are so many wrongs that need to be righted. Without a focus, expending energy on all these issues is not sustainable. What is rising in your heart? How will you find balance?

I will close with the words from a song by Donovan from the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon about St Francis of Assisi. “Do few things and do them well” has become a mantra for me, a goal that is currently out of my reach,  but my hope for the future.

If you want your dream to be,

Build it slow and surely.

Small beginnings greater ends.

Heartfelt work grows purely.

If you want to live life free,

Take your time go slowly.

Do few things but do them well.

Simple joys are holy.

Day by day, stone by stone,

Build your secret slowly.

Day by day, you’ll grow, too,

You’ll know heaven’s glory.

Diane Dicranian to speak on “Walls: Why We Build Them,” December 30

On Sunday, December 30, Diane Dicranian (Midcoast Friends Meeting) will bring the message.  She’ll speak about “Walls: Why we build them; what they are for.”

Diane Dicranian recently spent time at the militarized border between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico in a protest organized by the American Friends Service Committee called “Love Knows No Borders – A moral call for migrant justice.” Thirty-two people were arrested in that protest.

There will be a pot-luck lunch directly following worship and a program in which Diane will share with us what she experienced and learned in her time at the U.S.-Mexico border.

She will talk about U.S. involvement in Central and South America over past decades and how that has created some of the desperate conditions that lead families to flee their homes and seek refuge in the U.S. She will also talk about the caravan of refugees that has been making its way through Mexico towards the U.S. border. Should they be greeted as we have been taught – to reach out and love the stranger, opening our doors and feeding these people?  Or should they be met (as they are) with teargas and machine guns? She’ll also challenge us to consider next steps in bringing this conversation to action.

See Kerry Kennedy (AFSC) on “Standing with Migrants,” Brunswick Times Record, December 28, 2018

Listening, Being Bold, and Looking for the Divine in Everyone, by Nancy Marstaller

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, November 11, 2018

I want to share some thoughts about listening, being bold, and looking for the Divine in everyone. I’ll open by reading Dwight Wilson’s psalm 13 in Modern Psalms in Search of Peace and Justice.

For most, it would be easiest

to see You perform

solo on the universal stage

while we sit in the audience, eating popcorn.

That is not the design.

We are in this love together;

You as Spirit Prodding,

we as physical beings charged

with improving unfinished work.

We seek to perfect Your creation.

With wars and terrorist attacks

all across the globe,

and hatred running rampant,

apathy is not a choice.

We must act, or close the road

to our descendants’ survival.

Through Your call to love

You bring an arsenal of compassion.

Help us sing in tune,

spiritually rising to conquer evil,

fortifying the world

with our unwavering love.

Being a better listener has been one of my life goals. I have to work really hard at it, because I know that my attention is easily distracted. If a speaker says something that reminds me of something else, my mind can go off on a tangent about that instead of staying focused on what the speaker is actually saying. If you mention birds or ducks for example, I might start thinking about the antics of our ducks or what birds I am seeing at the feeder. I have developed strategies to help me maintain focus, like taking notes or doodling or maintaining eye contact, and use these when I can.

I’ve never been a bold person. I look around and see and hear the problems and needs of the world. I worry and wish others would do something. Every year at yearly meeting sessions I hear about great work that Friends are doing, with immigrants, with prison reform, and with many other issues. It’s always very humbling. I admire people like Wendy taking action on environmental problems. Oh, I do little things that I hope help the world, but don’t step into bold action myself. So lately I’ve been praying and meditating on how I can be bolder to help this world be a better place.

A couple weeks ago I went to one of the Makeshift Coffeehouses that Craig organizes. I’d hoped to have my husband, or a friend go with me but ended up going alone. This was definitely out of my comfort zone, and I didn’t even feel I could take my doodling supplies with me. I’d have to rely on my interest and care for others to stay focused.

The theme of the coffee house was why we vote the way we do. I WAS really interested to hear what people said. I truly don’t understand why many people believe the way they do and vote the way they do. I truly wanted to know as I have been especially discouraged about this country’s heated and angry political rhetoric and how people are swayed by it- myself included. But I have been shy and hesitant to talk with others about politics if I know they are on the “other” side of the political spectrum. It’s hard for me to remember to look for the Divine in someone whose words are strident, self-righteous, or deliberately divisive.

If you know my social and political beliefs, you know that I lean liberal. Sitting at a table with a number of self-identified very conservative people was enough to keep me focused. After a time, I realized that conversations during a two-hour coffee house were only scratching the surface. It would take much longer and more effort on my part for me to truly understand any of the people at the table.

One woman, when asked why she felt she was conservative, described growing up in a way very similar to mine, then went on to state her views about one issue that were quite different than mine. She also felt she had been snubbed by neighbors because of her conservative views. As the coffee house ended, I had the urge to ask her to meet me for coffee someday to learn more. I got her attention and started talking with her, then another woman came along, and they walked away together. I didn’t try to get her attention again so never made the offer but have regretted it.

This was a powerful reminder that we need focus and boldness to listen and respond to the Divine, just as we need focus and boldness to listen and respond to each other. I need to be better not just at listening for but also at carrying out those nudges from the Divine, like asking the woman to join me for coffee.

I’m grateful to this Meeting and the wider yearly meeting of Friends for inspiring me and reminding me to listen, be bold, and continue to look for the Divine in each person.

I’ll close with a poem by a 14th century Persian poet named Hafiz.

If God invited you to a party and said,

“Everyone in the ballroom tonight will be my special guest,”

how would you then treat them when you arrived?

Indeed, indeed!

And Hafiz knows that there is no one in this world who is not standing upon God’s jeweled dance floor.

(Hafiz’s poem is from Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky; Penguin Compass Press, 2002. Dwight Wilson’s psalm used with permission of the author.)

“Acceptance,” By Craig Freshley, October 21, 2018

A message given at Durham Friends Meeting on October 21, 2018 by Craig Freshley.

About this message, Craig Freshley says “This message is mostly a story – Acceptance was the answer – from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Craig records all the messages he gives and posts them on a website, Craig’s Quaker Messages.  You can listen to this one here.

2018 Epistle of New England Yearly Meeting

Sep 21, 2018

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

—II Corinthians 4:8-9, 17

To Friends Everywhere,

Greetings from the 358th New England Yearly Meeting Sessions. We sit on lands once cared for by Abenaki ancestors and appropriated by European settlers centuries ago. Today this is the home of Castleton University and dedicated to our use for five days.

Green mountains surround us. The many trees on campus drink in the intermittent heavy rainfalls. It is hot and humid. And we have struggled with this evidence of climate change: The unusual has become usual.

We are 620 Friends, including 109 children and youth and 56 young adults. We are queer and straight, physically challenged and able-bodied, trans- and cis-gender, are descended from the peoples of most continents of our globe, and are of various income levels. Each of us, in our own way, strives for blessed communion of family, old friends, and newly encountered friends.

We are renewed in our connectedness to the wider Quaker world, through visitors and epistles and our own travels. We affirm our commitment to the life of the Religious Society beyond our Yearly Meeting, and we grieve that the US government prevented our Cuban Friends from joining us this week.

Our Session theme is: “In Fear and Trembling, Be Bold in God’s Service.”

We are struggling with our own contribution to the white supremacy that has formed a blood-drenched thread in the fabric of this country, since the beginnings of its colonization by Europeans: contributions to systemic racism by us as individuals and by us as the body, assumptions, priorities, and practices of New England Yearly Meeting.

The unusual becomes usual as we bring our margins—particularly those people of color among us and those economically challenged—to the center of our attention.

And we are afraid for our future: the future of the earth that our domination is making uninhabitable and the future of our society, whose government manipulates us into fear by its lies and dysfunction. In dynamic tension with our affliction is our love and commitment to each other. We hope and pray that this difficult process of repair and renewal becomes an opportunity for transformation, swelling into the flood tide of Grace.

Our day begins early. Two Friends head across the lawn to early morning worship—a decades-long tradition for this pair. A member of sessions committee carries material for a photo frame. Memories of this time together. Golf carts emerge to carry some to early breakfast. A fleet of kids on scooters sails by. Life ordinary and Life extra-ordinary at Sessions.

Friends testify to the nature of God and our world, to help us in these challenging times. Sometimes, our God is a subtle God, who nudges us from the margins in a quiet voice. We have been learning to listen at those margins. And we are reminded that the enemy is no person, no matter their position, but within each of us. The norms and values of our culture (the system) hold us all in thrall.

Our business sessions have been challenging and have served as a microcosm of the work we are called to do as a faithful people. We have heard from our Development Committee and the ad-hoc Challenging White Supremacy Working Group. Their reports have begun to reveal the extent to which the orientation of our yearly meeting manifests the culture of white-centeredness and middle-class values in which we sit.  Both Friends of color and white Friends have named these examples from their own experiences. We are struggling to honor and begin to assuage the real pain felt in the moment by Friends of color, as well as the fear of loss of privilege felt by white Friends. We see that we are teachable. We are not where we were three years ago. Nevertheless, we must accept and acknowledge that real healing is long-term work.

Healing is spiritual work. Even if salvation comes as sudden epiphany, the cross must be taken up daily. We must turn our whole selves over to God, letting every nook and cranny of our culture and expectations be illuminated.

We have been reminded over and over again this week that the heart of our faith is paradox—that while we struggle we will not be paralyzed. Growing our faithfulness inwardly and being faithful to our outward work in the world are equal imperatives.

In social action, particularly about immigration and climate change, we are gaining coherence and momentum, working together as a body across our region. Friends with strong calls, in these and other concerns, are providing leadership to our Yearly Meeting to manifest the Kingdom of God, in new working groups and in revitalized committees. For these gifts and this boldness we rejoice.

The fire of the week has brought us closer together in love. Our deepening unity is based on ever more shared knowing of one another, and we find such sweetness together in our struggles to be faithful. We are tearing apart and rebuilding a ship at sea. The new ship may not look like the one we came here in, but it will be built with the strong timbers of our tradition.

Conversation and reports during our attention to business show the ties that bind our home meetings. Our memorial meeting bathed us in joy and love for those still on earth, as well as those who are present only in the hearts of those left behind. Ministry arose that halted time and made place irrelevant. We were gathered in the Eternal Now.

We have heard prophetic ministry about the meaning of money in our religious society. We know that money is not the measure of our faithfulness. Rather, we are called to turn our whole lives over to God.

How much do we hold each other accountable? How much are we able to show our full vulnerable lives to one another and place ourselves in the hands of our Meetings, as we struggle to be faithful to God? For example, are we ready to know, hold and support those who are food insecure in our meetings?

Our work challenging white supremacy in our culture and ourselves is difficult, at times jarring and messy. Friends have prophesied boldly. Early Friends were intimately aware of the discomfort of God working in us. A print of Margaret Fell’s words appeared on our podium Tuesday: “Friends, let the eternal light search you, and try you, it will rip you up, lay you open. Provoke one another to Love.”

We are feeling our way towards repentance, imperfectly and, at times, haltingly, but moving nonetheless. We feel God’s mystery working among us, and we know the fear and trembling.

We go forth with a charge to share the good news we have found. In this turbulent week we have known experientially the rock—the inward teacher, the inward Christ, the little bird—upon which we can rely. As we labor against the powers and principalities to manifest God’s kingdom, we turn our lives over to the still, small voice, finding that we, as a community, have everything we need, that we have been given the time we need in which to do our work, and that God can guide us every step of the way. All we have to do is follow.

We receive ministry. We are humbled. We wait in awe, yearning that “all may be lifted up to thrive and flourish in the shared, Life-giving fellowship of the Spirit.” [1]

Yours in God’s Everlasting Grace,

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends
Frederick Weiss, presiding clerk

[1] The quoted phrase is in Susan Davies, ”Challenging White Supremacy Working Group.” Advance Documents – 2018 New England Yearly Meeting. p.34

“Our True Colors,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, October 14, 2018

Driving to Meeting this morning through the reds and yellows brought on a different message than I had anticipated. “True Colors” was the phrase that rose and settled in my mind. I shelved the message I had prepared. Looking at the vibrant spectrum of colors of the fall leaves, I found myself wondering whether these are the leaves true colors? Or are the greens the true colors and these reds and yellows something odd and unusual?

We’re awash these days in occasions to wonder about a person’s true colors, especially in civic and political life. As we take in the news of elections and confrontations and scandals, we’re often left wondering what we make of this person or that one. Are they telling the truth? Are they trustworthy? What are their true colors? Do we see someone at their truest when they are relaxed or when they are under stress? Do we see their true colors in prepared remarks or when they are confronted in a Capitol Hill elevator?

In gathering to worship this morning we sang, at someone’s suggestion, “Still, Still With Me,” as one of our opening hymns. As we sang together, I noticed that the beautiful melody is by Felix Mendelssohn. He called it “Song Without Words.” And so I imagine he thought the piece’s true colors were as a melody without words. And then someone came along – that someone turned out to be Harriet Beecher Stowe – and wrote the words we sang this morning. So is this the song’s true colors?

Here in Maine we live in a place with four full seasons. We go through a long winter with the deciduous trees limbs empty of leaves. As the trees begin to leaf out in the spring, Ellen and I often quote to one another the Robert Frost poem that begins, “Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.”  In summer, the leaves turn a deep, lush green. And now in fall we have this glorious riot of colors. Which is the true color?

In my teens I came to have a deeper interest in the fall leaf turn. A good deal of my social life in high school involved working on science projects and competing in science fairs. I had a very good project in 9th grade, but I was beaten by Susie Burrell who did a project on Why Leaves Change Color. I was stunned; probably pouted a good deal. Susie was a good student and a friend, but not, I thought, the sort of person who should best me in a science fair. It especially rankled because we had the same advisor for ours projects – my Dad. How could my Dad help Susie win? I’m sure I wasn’t at my best when I lost. But the episode left me with a special interest in leaves turning color. Every fall I still think of Susie Burrell.

What’s happening as the leaves turn their colors in the fall? If we think about it, we know that the leaves are about to fall to the ground. Are the true colors only revealed when the leaves are stressed, about to die? Are the colors just a distraction, or are they a last burst of glory?

At first I learned that as the fall comes, the chlorophyll and other chemicals that make the leaves green disappears. As the green color fades, the underlying reds and oranges appear. Just this summer, Ellen and I learned something else: that it isn’t just that the chlorophyll dies off or disappears. It is that the tree withdraws the chlorophyll, to store it in readiness for the winter and to save it for the next spring and summer. If that’s what’s happening, what are the leaves true colors, the colors when the leaves are productive, or the colors when they are facing death? How about human beings?

With trees, it’s a relentless cycle, one strictly controlled by soil, light and temperature. The trees and the leaves have no choices to make. The colors simply turn from gold to green and from green to rust and red.

It is different with human beings isn’t it? We believe we have some control over our colors. We have the ability to choose when and how we show anger or frustration, joy or grief. Which are our best colors and which our truest colors?

Do we show our truest colors when we blurt something out or when we have a chance to prepare? Do we show our truest colors when our health is at its peak or when we are nearing death? Do we show our truest colors when we are challenged to do something brave or when we can calculate what’s best to our advantage? Do we show our truest colors in positions of authority or when we feel powerless?

How about our truest colors in Meeting for Worship? Do we shape our true colors in worship? If not, when is it we choose, and how? Does what we find in worship carry into our work and into our relationships with family and friends?

[also posted on River View Friend]

“We Are Spirits Having a Human Experience,” by Donna Hutchins

A message given at Durham Friends Meeting on September 16, 2018 by Donna Hutchins

Good Morning Friends.  I heard this quote a few years back and it has stuck with me. I think of it often and I thought it would make a good message. I hope I can deliver it the way I feel it needs to be delivered.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:  My Sophomore French is very rusty…and although I You Tubed the pronunciation of his name…I’m not gonna try to do it for you…. I’m sure many of you have heard his quote:

“We are not humans having a spiritual experience; We are spirits having a human experience.”

I think some people tend to confuse spirituality with religion. I think there are times when we humans think that being religious is the same as being spiritual … For me Religion is more specific than spirituality. Some religions come with a tenet or creed, specific to their beliefs.  Christianity has the Nicene Creed, Judaism has the Shehmah prayer, Islam has the Shahada.

Different religions have different ways in which to worship. Catholicism has full mass on Sunday and a daily mass with an actively responsive congregation, Quakers meet on First Day in silent meditative worship,  or some variation of that… Judaism observes worship on shabbat which is from Friday at sundown until Saturday afternoon.  Religion also comes with a place of worship, a temple, a church, a meetinghouse, a mosque…

The definition I found online describes Religion as a particular system of faith and worship.

Spirituality is more eclectic. It has no hard set guidelines. One can be spiritual in the out of doors or in a house, with a mouse, on a boat or with a goat… you get the picture….to be spiritual one only needs to believe.

And I found this definition of spirituality on line:  “Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all.”

So…….back to the quote…the first parts says: We are not humans having a spiritual experience.

For most of my life I have been searching for that spiritual experience. To have that strong faith that my mother had, to be overwhelmed with Jesus and his teachings the way my sister is…to feel that something others feel when they speak of their devotion and in the way they live their lives.

I have searched in the silent worship of Portland Friends, the semi programed meeting here in Durham, the congregational church in my hometown, the Episcopal Holy Eucharist with my Great Aunt, the Evangelical path with my born again sister, the Catholic Church with my husband.

When I was very young, I attended Portland Friends with my very patient mother. I remember it as a child, sitting in a circle, in an often cold and bare room…squirming in my chair…staring at the clock that never seemed to move…and listening to the gentleman behind me softly snore. As a child, I never understood the want or the need to be quiet.

In my teens I was allowed to venture out and explore other options. I went to the local Congregational church and joined the youth group with my high school friends where we held dances and retreats…fun but not a lot of religion.

I tried the evangelical path with my older and wiser sister. Lead by the Pastor Carl Stevens my soul would be saved. His hellfire and brimstone sermons lasted for hours and left me in such fear of God and my past that I felt the need for salvation. But…within just a few short years of that professed dedication to our Lord and Savior, I attended a sermon that spoke of the sin of vanity and self appreciation, all the while the dear pastor wore his blonde toupee. The irony was not lost on me and I never went back. Disheartened I stopped attending church for a while.

Years later, married with children, I joined the Catholic Church with my husband and drove into the faith full throttle. I took adult classes, did the Easter Eve confession…baptism …confirmation…first communion…we had our marriage blessed and I became a eucharistic minister, a sexton, and a sacristan. I went to mass every….single….day. But after years of this dedication, I left that too. Feeling underwhelmed by the ‘results’ and feeling more like one of a flock just following orders.

The second part of the quote goes: We are spirits having a human experience

At one point in my life I was living a rather solitary existence…. My husband was military and away more often than not…leaving my young son and I to live nestled deep in the woods, on the side of a mountain, just above a crystal clear lake. In my solitude, I became more interested in my surroundings, the pine and fir trees that season after season never lost their needles….standing tall and graceful through the harshest winter….. the oak and the elm that would produce the most amazing color changes for each season.. from vivid green in Spring to gold, red and orange in the Autumn….the water of the lake that provided life for the water foul, the fish and creatures of the woods…. the land that sustained me with wood for fire and shelter from the storms, the wildlife that entertained me in my solitude… all the things I felt God had placed there just for me. I would sit for hours, in total silence save for the wind in the trees, the knocking of the woodpecker on a lively oak, the coo of the mourning dove, the chatter of the chipmunks as they gathered their nuts and seeds for the winter, the cry of the coy dogs in the dark of night…All of God’s creatures stirring in the woods around me. I would walk for miles on the mountain roads or on the long forgotten cattle trails in the woods without seeing another human, totally at peace with this solitude. On rainy days I would curl up in a chair with a cup of coffee on the covered porch, listening to the steady drizzle of rain on the tin roof and watch the rivers of water pour from the eaves onto the path below. I enjoyed the randomly placed lady slippers, scattered among the wild low bush blueberries.

This wasn’t a religious experience, there was no creed, no preacher, no building, no other human with me.

At some point, in the quiet of those woods, I started to believe. And more than just believe, I felt. I felt peace, serenity and love.

Remember  Alexander Pope’s “To err is human” “To forgive divine.”? 

 As humans we are flawed. We love and we hate..we want peace and yet we wage war…we feel compassion and malice…we give birth and we take lives….. But…I believe that our spirits are inherently good. I believe that it is our spirit having a human experience that moves us to feed the poor, house the homeless, aid the sick, rally for peace and accomplish great and compassionate deeds.

If our spirits live on forever, and are truly inherently good, then our spirits need to feel the flaws of our humanness. And if spirituality is the search for the meaning of life, and life is experienced though being human, it makes sense that our spirits must have that human experience in order to develop and grow.

I believe that this quote should read

We ARE humans having a spiritual experience but we are ALSO spirits having a human experience.


“Looking for Lake Huron,” by Doug Bennett

Taken from a message at Durham Friends Meeting, September 9, 2018, by Doug Bennett

Much of life, I think, is like driving on the Trans-Canadian Highway, or like driving on I-95 or Route 1. You can get somewhere pretty fast. You can deal with the necessities of ordinary life. You can get to work or to a store or to a friend’s house. But the majesty and mystery of life, maybe not so much. That majesty and mystery may be nearby, but the highway won’t take you there. You have to go looking for the big water, and you may not find it. Maybe you have to get into a boat or walk a rocky path. Maybe you have to go to Meeting.

There are many days I’m looking for the big water. There are many days I’m looking for the experience of the divine, the presence of God, the holy. More often than not I never quite see the big water. I might catch glimpses. I might see bits of water through some trees. I might see boats that maybe could get me there, but they aren’t my boats, and most of the ones I see aren’t being used by anyone. I keep hoping to come round a bend and see the big water open up. I keep hoping the next bend will give me the long view, maybe even the eternal view, and take my breath away. Most days my view of the holy is blocked by dozens and dozens of bits of ordinary life.

For all the talk of God in the Bible, there are only a few instances where God makes a direct appearance. Think Moses and the burning bush. But that only happens a few times. And most of those few instances are times when someone simply heard God’s voice. Think Noah, or Samuel, or Paul. Most of the time people are just trying to find out what God wants them to do without ever catching even a glimpse.

Quakers often talk of being seekers. We talk of seeking God. We talk of stilling ourselves, quieting ourselves, getting off the highway away from the buzz, hoping to hear God’s voice. We know it takes effort, practice, prayer, waiting worship.  What’s more, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes we go through spiritual dry spells. Other times the big water, the holy, takes us by surprise. But we know, don’t we, there’s no direct route there, no simple turn-off scenic vista that promises us a view of God.

You can read the whole message at River View Friend.

“Into Unknown,” by Craig Freshley

Taken from a message given August 27, 2017 by Craig Freshley

I’m a pretty good skier, I love skiing fast. Very confident in my comfort zone, I’m experienced and when I’m on the ski slope I know what’s going to happen next. I know that I can handle it; it is so fun. Sometimes I get skiing a little too fast, a little on the edge of my comfort zone, that is when it turns from fun into a religious experience. Not a religious experience like “Oh God, Help Me!” , but a religious experience like “Oh God, this is awesome!”. I don’t know what’s going to happen next and I know I can handle it, because I have confidence in my ability and I have faith. It’s like this with lots of things, with music, theater, sports, where somebody knows well how to do something. Actors on the stage follow the script, they know it down pat. But it’s when they go off the script just a little, let the emotions get a little bit out of control, with true faith that it is going to be okay anyway – that’s when the magic happens.

Quakers have a history of going off the script a little bit. George Fox, many trail blazers, I might call it going from the comfort zone into the unknown zone. Don’t know what’s going to happen next, but if you have faith you know you can handle it anyway.

I’ve been doing an experiment in Maine… I want to tell you about that experiment. I want to tell you how I have gone into the unknown zone, how I’ve tried to bring people with me into the unknown zone. Before that, let me tell you a bit about my profession. I am a professional meeting facilitator. I have facilitated probably 3000 meetings over the past 15 or 20 years. Non-profit boards of directors, corporate groups, governments hire me. When there is contention, when there are high stakes decisions to be made, that’s typically when I’m contacted.

I first was called to do this by a Quaker woman. I’m a convinced Quaker and it was from a Quaker woman that I learned the principles of Quaker business practices and consensus decision making. I try to bring these practices into the main stream world. I worked in Augusta for many years and I sat through many bad meetings. I had the sense that we can do better. I set out to learn how to do things better. I really believe this, so I have written a book called The Wisdom of Group Decision. I’ve written many one-page tips. I have made over 100 videos. All of these are available on my website if you are interested. I’m not trying to be promotional, but there are resources available to you, you can Google my name and find that stuff.

At the last presidential election, I became deeply troubled at the magnitude of the political divide in our country, in our state, in many of our communities. I had a sense that the political divide was growing but the election results made that clearer to me. Like a lot of people, I wondered what I could do about that. What’s my part? Many people have activated in their own ways. My way was to try and bring people together. I had the idea to do this sitting one night in my Quaker Meetinghouse. Peter Blood and Annie Patterson – the folks who created the book Rise Up Singing – were there that night playing music and leading us in singing. I thought, if we are going to bring people together a good way to do that is to have arts or music or something. I invented the “Make Shift Coffeehouse”, rented space at the library, got the word out, made posters. I tried to bring Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives together with live music, food in a coffeehouse environment for some informal table chit chat and some formal dialogue where we simply try to understand each other.

I’ve had more than 6 of these so far in different parts of Maine and I have several more scheduled. There is a group that is very enthusiastic about this idea, they’ve formed the Friends of Make Shift Coffeehouse, trying to raise money and pushing me to take this further. They think this is really what the world needs.

It’s an opportunity for people to simply understand each other. Not persuade each other, not agree with each other, not find common ground. We are very clear about that. You are allowed to go to a Make Shift Coffeehouse and leave with exactly the same political views that you walked in with. The hope is that at least you shift a little bit of your understanding of where other people are coming from. Because I have learned from years of group dynamics experience that 90% of all conflicts are the result of misunderstanding. When we don’t understand our adversaries and where they are coming from, we make stuff up about them. We demonize them, we turn them into the bad guys, and it’s when we take the time to understand where each other is coming from, whether we agree or not, we have a much better chance of coming to a peaceful resolution.

Doing this, I’m outside my comfort zone. When I have one of these meetings, I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I know I’m going to be able to handle it, because I have faith, I have confidence in my ability and I have the tools I need on board with me. I’m asking other people to come with me into that unknown zone also. A lot of people are afraid to attend one of these makeshift coffeehouses. I went on a morning talk show and the guys were teasing me, “Oh are you going to need medical supplies on hand?” It’s that kind of thing. I organized one at a local library and the librarian called me that afternoon and asked if I thought we might need a police officer on hand, because she had heard from people and the public concerned about going to this meeting where there were going to be Democrats and Republicans in the same room talking to each other. There is some fear about this. But with faith on board we can walk through that fear, step into the unknown zone. I’m doing it, because I think it is what the world needs. I think it is what God wants me to do. And other people are doing it because they think it is what the world needs. It’s not like we don’t have any tools. Like I don’t have the tools for doing this. I’m not stepping into the unknown zone unequipped. In my Quaker meeting, someone brought this analogy… it’s like being in the dark, carrying a lantern. Imagine an oil lamp, it makes a ring of light beneath my feet and illuminates few steps ahead and after that it is dark and it’s scary to step into the dark. Here’s the thing, when I take a few steps the light moves with me.

I am here to inspire you to step outside your comfort zone a little into the unknown in the direction that you believe God wants you to step.

What is the direction that you will step in to the unknown zone with your lantern?

“Joy in Unexpected Places,” by Leslie Manning

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, June 24, 2018

I want you all to see my coffee cup, which says “It’s a tough world, stay Prayed Up”. Most days, coffee and prayer get me through the day. Alright, coffee, prayer and the love of a good dog.

This cup is a gift and came from a very important Christmas tradition in my family – the Yankee Swap. I see this tradition is familiar to a lot of you. Every year, about 30 of us gather in my mother’s living room with a gift, costing no more than 20 bucks, and we wrap them up and pile them up in the middle of the floor.

Then, after drawing numbers we choose one gift for our own. If we don’t like what we have drawn, we can exercise the right to take someone else’s, until the last person has drawn, and then the first person can look them all over and choose any one they want. The Elvis Presley cookbook? Lottery tickets? A pair of Jesus socks? (Not socks that Jesus actually wore.) Wine and a couple of glasses? All yours–except the chocolate body paint. That was drawn by my then 80-year-old widowed mother–and she wouldn’t give it up. (She later said it was delicious over ice cream.)

And what, may you ask has that got to do with my studies at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine? Well, my dear friends, every day at ChIME, every monthly weekend of intense study and practice, every weekly class, is a spiritual Yankee Swap. But in our version, every one of us gets not only the present that we want, but the present that we need.

I have invited some of my classmates to join us in worship today, and I hope you get to visit with them later. They are all remarkable , ordinary people.
The kind of people who show up without being called, who speak up, who stand up and who sometimes dance. It’s called chaplaining, — who knew chaplain was a verb? And it is becoming my life’s work and the work of a lifetime.

Chaplaincy Institute of Maine is an interfaith program with the intention of turning us out into the world, as called and led, to offer hope, healing and a listening presence for people at some of the darkest and most joyful occasions in their lives; and to be available, on spiritual stand-by, for all the moments in-between.

In between, that liminal space where we find grace, sorrow and joy. Today I want to concentrate on the joy. Liminal space is occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. For example: “While doctors operate, she hangs suspended in liminal space”. In other words, G-d space.

The ChiME website says, “ChIME educates and ordains interfaith leaders who serve with integrity, spiritual presence, and prophetic voice.”

As part of our studies, we learn about the world’s religions, about our own vulnerabilities, our dark and golden shadows; we learn to listen and go deep to the source of all grace, sorrow and joy. We learn the difference between forgiveness and forgiving; to hang on and to let go; to open ourselves and allow ourselves to be opened. And we are only in the first phase of this work and calling, as we go together into the “classwomb” and are churned as we are chimed.

“Quaker Values?” by Doug Bennett

Excerpt for a message at Durham Friends Meeting on July 1, 2018

Quakers often talk about Quaker Values in terms of ‘testimonies’ many of us remember with this mnemonic SPICES: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship.

Where did the SPICES list come from?  That’s a complicated story, probably one for another day.   Let’s just note this: you won’t find this list or anything like it in any Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice before about WWII. The SPICES list is of relatively recent origin. Nevertheless, this list of Quaker Values has come to define us – or we have slipped into letting them define us.

We say, “Let Your Life Speak.” That’s a Quaker phrase I like. By it, we mean our beliefs should be active, not inert. We should live out our values, even when it is difficult – like the difficult week or year we’re having now. These Quaker Values, these Testimonies, are orientations to action.

So where did the SPICES list come from? I like to think of it this way.

Quakers believe that God speaks to each and every one of us — if we’ll still ourselves to listen. We believe there is ‘that of God’ in each and every one of us — that allows us to hear God. And thus,

  • If there is that of God in each and every one of us, then we are all fundamentally equal. No one will be better than another.
  • We are all called to community, because we hear what God is saying better in community.
  • We are called to be peaceable one with another because all lives are sacred – all having that of God within.
  • We are all called to be truthtellers and people of integrity because we carry God’s sacred hopes within us.
  • And we are called to stewardship of the earth because that too is a gift from God.

And so we have SPICES list: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship. It’s a good shorthand list – perhaps a Quaker rosary.

But — here’s the but. Are these values our values in the sense that we own them, or have a special claim on them – a claim that others don’t? Are they especially ours? Are they our brand? Is that why we call them ‘Quaker Values?’

Are these our Spices, and other people use different flavorings? Do these values make us special? Set us apart? Do they make us better? (Heaven forbid!)

If we are to let our life speak, do we think that other people’s lives should speak in different ways – upholding war or selfishness or deceit or waste? How do we expect to persuade anyone of anything if we few think we have a corner on goodness, because ours are ‘Quaker Values?’

Or are these values for everyone?

Are these values for everyone because they speak to something fundamentally right about being human, about living a good life? Some would add: Are these values for everyone who is listening to God?

Aren’t these the values of the Sermon on the Mount?

Put another way, do Quakers hold these values because they are Quaker, or do we hold them because they are the right values – right for everyone?

If they are right for everyone, and I’m pretty sure they are; if they are right for everyone because these commitments are what God expects of all us, what should we call them? Not “Quaker values,” I think.

One more question.   If we should not call these Quaker values, if we shouldn’t think that these values are what makes us distinctive, what does make us distinctive?


You can find the entire message, “Quaker Values” on Doug Bennett’s blog, River View Friend 

“Continuing Revelation,” by Bruce Neumann

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 18, 2018, by Bruce Neumann, Rising Clerk of New England Yearly Meeting

I’ve been thinking lately about continuing revelation.

            This is one of our basic Quaker tenets, that while there is only one TRUTH, our understanding of it is incomplete. And that we expect to see a little more of that TRUTH from time to time, whether through sudden insight during meeting for worship or personal prayer, or whether dragged kicking and screaming over a period of time in business meeting. The revelation can be a relatively small or personal thing, like William Penn asking whether he needed to abandon his sword, and George saying, “wear it as long as you can.” Presumably Penn woke up one morning and felt or saw the change in himself and put the sword in the closet. I also remember marvelling at a story in “Lighting Candles in The Dark” about a Quaker who was in the English navy and came to the truth that he could no longer fight. The peace testimony seems such a basic part of Quakerism, yet it was not fully understood in the earliest days of the movement.

This reflection on continuing revelation was initiated by an activity at a recent Salem Quarter meeting. In groups of 3, we were asked to reflect on various passages. My group was given a Woolman quote. I actually don’t remember what it was, but I jumped to thinking about Woolman’s concern, not just for slaves, but also for the spiritual health of slave owners. It’s easy from the moral high ground of our current vantage to be dismissive of slave owning Quakers. Yet I know all too well that I have my own blind spots and areas of my life that I choose to not look at too closely. There is a way in which I can relate to the slave owners saying, “Wait, WHAT? You’re telling me that this essential part of my daily life is wrong?” I imagine that this was a slow process for them: coming to understand the issue, coming to terms with the effect that change would have, and living into the new personal reality, like cooking and cleaning, and less profit on their business.

The query that came to me a couple of weeks ago in that Salem Quarter workshop is “How is my spiritual life a prisoner of comfort and profit?” Or “What are the behaviours and practices in my life, which stunt my spiritual growth, keep me from greater oneness with God, and from doing all I can to build the kingdom of heaven on earth?”

There are three areas that come to mind which I feel unsettled about, where I feel in need of continuing revelation to provide some clarity.

1). My wife and I have been saving for years, hoping to have a reasonably secure and comfortable retirement, but I hear the echo of Jesus’ words whispering in my ear “where your treasure is, there is your heart.” While I can argue that we give money away every year, and do a lot of work for good causes, and say that we’re not overly attached to this retirement fund, I also know that the idea of giving it all away makes me feel incredibly anxious, so I think perhaps my heart IS where my treasure is. It seems that my faith is not strong enough to believe that God and social security will be enough.

2) Most of us are committed on some level to working for the health of our planet. And yet I suspect that we are not consistent in our approach. I drive a hybrid, but am flying to San Diego for a wedding in June – in a few hours of plane travel I will use up all the gains I made over the year with my car. And I use – most of the time – reusable shopping bags, but If I need a new phone or tablet, do I use as much thought about the impact on the earth?

3) Finally, with minimal awareness, I benefit every day from institutionalized white supremacy. I had no trouble getting college loans years ago, Pat and I had no trouble getting a mortgage for our house, or any challenge from our prospective neighbours. When I get stopped by a cop I am embarrassed, but I do not fear for my life. I am not followed if I go into a nice department store. If I was guilty of some minor crime like possession of drugs (pretty unlikely for me) I could probably avoid going to prison. While I can say the words “I’m not a racist”, and can say that I had no part in setting up these systems of oppression, is my conscience clear? Would Jesus be content with the little things I do?

And these are just three things that I can see into, if through a glass darkly. Are there other things that I have no clue about? 30 years ago many of us were only beginning to understand the impact of our behaviours on the planet. Even 10 years ago, while I understood that people of color had a hard time, I was not clued into my tacit participation in a system of oppression.

So, again, my query is:

What are the behaviours and practices in my life, which stunt my spiritual growth, keep me from greater oneness with God, and from doing all I can to build the kingdom of heaven on earth?