The Bolivian Quaker Education Fund, by Helen Howard Hebben

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, July 18, 2021

Thank you very much for inviting me.  I became a Friend in Poplar Ridge NY, a hamlet so small that it is frequently not included on maps of New York State. The Friends Meeting is located in an area of the finger lakes that many Friends settled in the early 19th century and is the only surviving one from about 7 within short distance that were active at one time.  It is semi programmed three Sundays a month and unprogrammed the last Sunday.

I will share a bit about me and why I am passionate about BQEF:  the worst day of my life was the day my younger daughter was killed in a terrible accident.  Emily was 23.  It was a year after she graduated from Hampshire College.  My Friends Meeting cared for me and gradually I began to see my way again.   A hospice grief counselor told a group of us bereft parents that we needed to find a way to take our children with us through our lives.  A Friend from my Care Committee suggested that I join the Bolivian Quaker Education Program Board and share the story in my new home in Michigan. Way opened to for me to do that, and the work has stretched me and brought me joy.

There are more than 30,000 Quakers in Bolivia, and they are all Evangelical.   Almost all of them are Ayamara, which, with Quechua are the largest groups of Indigenous people in this majority indigenous country.  You may wonder why they are Quaker.  Quaker missionaries and educators went to Bolivia in the early 20th century from the West Coast, Indiana, and Ohio.  It was illegal to educate indigenous people until 1950, but somehow Quakers built schools and taught in them.  The cultural values of the Ayamara are very similar to Quaker values, which may have made our religion attractive.

Newton Garver, a philosophy professor at the University of Buffalo, made several trips to Bolivia starting in the late 80’s. There he met and had conversations with Bernabe Yujra, a leader in the Aneala Yearly Meeting, about what Quakers in Bolivia needed.  Bernabe was clear that they wanted more connections with Friends in the North and that their young adults wanted higher education and needed some help with it.  A few were enrolled in the tuition-free public universities, but because they also had to work to pay for food and housing and transportation, it often took them 8-10 years to complete degree requirements. 

In the new organizations, it was determined that Bernabe would manage a small office in LaPaz, recruit and choose scholarship students, and pay the stipends, and support and counsel the students who are the first in their families to attend universities or other schools of their choice.  In most cases their parents are only partially literate.  In the 19 years of its existence, BQEF has graduated 220 young Bolivians!  It is a drop in the bucket of need, but it has been highly successful in bringing those young people and their families out of crushing poverty!

The US office of BQEF is modest with one part time contract employee.   We raise funds to support the program and make sure that all US laws are followed in handling funds and transfers to Bolivia.  The program is funded largely by individual Friends, monthly and yearly meetings.  We have also run study tours, the most recent having been postponed due to Covid.  We hope that may go next year.  

BQEF has sponsored graduate teaching assistants to come to the US to work in Quaker schools.  After a year in the US they take home teaching resources, and hands-on methods of teaching. Their English and leadership have greatly improved, and they are comfortable in international Quaker settings.

We have had North American and European volunteers go to Bolivian that have used their skills in a variety of ways.  Because there are very few native speakers teaching English in Bolivia those skills are always needed.

One of the ways that Friends Meetings can help is to sponsor a student, currently at $850. per year.  This has the advantage of connecting First Day Students to a real person in Bolivia, with the possibility of an ongoing relationship. Scholarship students write letters to their sponsors and we have just begun a program of connecting sponsors and students via Zoom with the assistance of a translator. 

 Zoom is an asset that Covid has brought to our attention.  We now have meetings with staff and students in Bolivia, and if you are interested, we could arrange a session with an English-speaking graduate.  In fact, on Tuesday there will be an interest group as part of NYYM annual sessions, on how Covid has affected our students and their families. 

I will be glad to answer your questions following Meeting for Worship.  Thank you for your attention.

A Prayer of Gratitude, by Brown Lethem

        In gratitude we come, opened and childlike Lord,
        God, source of all Life, all Beauty, and all Mystery  
        Enfold us in the water, light and air of your Goodness
        Your fertile soil
        That we, your small seeds might grow
        Worthy of your Harvest.

July 18, 2021, at Durham Friends Meeting

“A Call to Harmony Amid Harm – or ‘I am glad you are here,’” by Mey Hasbrook

Message given at Friends Meeting, July 4, 2021. Slightly edited for publication. Scripture quoted from NRSV.

—–

Friends, I am glad you are here.

Gratitude for the grace and presence of God in this exceptional time – exceptional for the planet, our home; for humanity, our species; for most of us individually as Beings who are linked to one another throughout Creation, and who are here as Quaker family.

Today’s message is an invitation to welcome new Light, what Friends also call continuing revelation. Let us take up “the new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) that is the path of Jesus – that of Love. Let us review and renew our encounter with God on this declared Day of Independence by the nation-state, the United States of America.

I’m grateful to be here with you – alive, surviving overlapping upheavals.

With respect to my mixed lineage of Cherokee Celtic-Irish Descent, I acknowledge the First Nations of this continent, Turtle Island, who are the remnant descended from those who survived genocide in successive waves over centuries, and who continue to strive to survive life-threatening conditions.*

Gratitude for this living legacy of resilience and survival that is empowered by Hope, Faith, and Beauty. It is a call to Harmony Amid Harm, a way of living that says, “I am glad you are here.”

Harmony is the journey from Unity into Right Relationship, transforming us in unexpected ways that heal one another and that brings wholeness to Creation.

I give thanks for the precious ways that we’ve shown up for one another – some visible, and many beyond naming in a public space. Let us continue showing up amid the harm that seems continuous, especially patterns of living that draw us away from Love – Love being that which draws us into Harmony.

I’m grateful for the leading to have served among Durham Friends Meeting as Meeting Care Coordinator in times such as these even amid personal losses, which also is the stuff that living is made of.

I’m grateful too for the ministry of birds, whose songs and calls have returned me to remembering God’s presence and grace amid moments of pain and frustration.

These recurring invitations are Spirit-held openings, as are difficult surprises and inevitable changes. All together, they are the stuff of which living is made.

Indeed, Friends, I am glad you are here.

~ ~ ~
What the Fourth of July carries for me personally is a memory – that of being the sole companion of my maternal grandmother, Margaret, as she transitioned from this material living onto the Otherside Camp at sunrise. That was 15 years ago.

Margaret was a retired middle-school science teacher who became a full-time volunteer, a mother of four, and a spouse to a hard-working poor farmer.

That same summer, I worked with senior refugees, most of whom did not speak English. I picked them up in a van to buy fresh produce and eat lunch at a community center. Many of them had survived adult children lost to violence.

The job ended when the funding stopped that summer, as did the vigil by my grandma’s bedside after her death. But the invitation to Love despite Loss and to seek Harmony Amid Harm persisted.

Beings of Creation, we are glad you are here.

~ ~ ~ 
“I am glad you are here, Liza,” ** she in a security uniform, me re-packing carry-ons, I looking through wet eyes to her over our masks. And she replied, “I’m glad you’re here too.”

Liza was the agent tasked to give me a second security screening after the first had a false alarm. As a survivor of violence from childhood and adulthood, and someone living with chronic PTSD, airport security can be very trying on the central nervous system.

This occasion was especially taxing, because I was told that I would be taken to a room with a closed door for another screening. Despite panic and immediate tears, I somehow stayed tuned-in to the presence of God and said, “No, I cannot go to a closed room. I’m a survivor of sexual violence. You’ll need to do this in the open.”

Liza replied that she too was such a survivor and would talk with her supervisor. You see, my request wasn’t protocol, so required approval. Permission granted, we proceeded to a calmer adjacent area.

The re-screening brought on a lot of tears. I had to remind myself to breathe. And upon completion, I began the work to re-pack my belongings. Despite wanting to be left alone to recollect my composure, Liza stayed. It was Mother’s Day this year.

Liza spoke fast. She shared that the nearby chapel and sensory room were good places to sit. And then confided her story in me, a complete stranger: surviving abuse as a child from her family, and dis-engaging with them as an adult; later surviving breast cancer, and rejecting subsequent efforts by family to reconnect.

What the presence and grace of God gifted me in that painful moment was to say, “I’m glad you’re here.” 

~ ~ ~

Friends, my Quaker family, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as our self (Matt. 22:37, 39).

We are invited to show up – regardless of pandemic, or personality, or pain – to show up for God, for one another, and in turn for ourselves.

We are challenged in order to open us up to “the new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) who is Jesus –  or the Living Path of Love.  Such is the movement of Spirit amid Harm, calling us toward Harmony.

This is the message I hear from a fresh reading of Matthew ch. 12, vs. 1-8.  As Friend Denise reads for us, let us welcome in new Light or continuing revelation:

Not long afterward Jesus was walking through some wheat fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began to pick heads of wheat and eat the grain. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Jesus, “Look, it is against our Law for your disciples to do this on the Sabbath!” 

Jesus answered, “Have you never read what David did that time when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his men ate the bread offered to God, even though it was against the Law for them to eat it –  only the priests were allowed to eat that bread. Or have you not read in the Law of Moses that every Sabbath the priests in the Temple actually break the Sabbath law, yet they are not guilty? I tell you that there is something here greater than the Temple. The scripture says, ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ If you really knew what this means, you would not condemn people who are not guilty; for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

In v. 6, Jesus says, “I tell you that there is something here greater than the Temple.” Yes, just as there is someone here greater than our Meeting House, which we sorely miss. I hear the rush of Spirit’s movement – even with space between us –  that is, the presence and grace of God within each of us.

As Friends, we honor the Light carried by each Being in this beautiful Creation. In our honoring of Light – or the Divine in the Human and All – Jesus calls us to be merciful and kind. The Living Path of Love tugs us beyond routine sacrifice or elective service, even beyond how we have done things and how we expect to be doing things.

And this also is Jesus calling us to Freedom:  Truth Telling and Integrity all the way down to the Roots of Love, Liberation, and Lies; that is, to face Harm in our pursuit of Harmony.
~ ~ ~

Friends, when are we glad to be here with one another, and why? How do we say this, show it, feel it, and mean it? Just as honestly, when are we not and why?

This is the query I bring for today’s message. Let us listen for Truth, even beyond Facts or Reason or secular Common Sense. Let us seek Harmony while healing Harm. Let us open our hearts to Love, who is Jesus and is carried within each of us.

To draw this query down into our daily lives, I pair it with “The Final Appeal” by Linda Aldrich, former Maine Poet Laureate. You can find the poem on Maine Public Radio’s website <mainepublic.org>, published 29 June 2018, also with an audio version.

The poem’s last line reads, “his words closing around us like sea smoke.” May the “sea smoke” be

like the Spirit of the Living God falling afresh upon us to melt us, mold us, fill us, and use us. ***

——

* On the whole of the US population today, Native Americans are counted below 2%. One historical comparison: North American Indians have been estimated at 15 million in 1500 versus only 237,000 by 1900.  A widely used figure is that 90% of Native Americans were killed due to the onset of settler-colonialism. For a current perspective with historical context, read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s article, “Yes, Native Americans Were the Victims of Genocide” online at <truthout.org>, published 4 June 2016.

** “Liza” is a pseudonym.

*** I refer here to the lyrics of the hymn “Spirit of the Living God”. The song partly is inspired by Acts 10:44, which often is described as the Gentile Pentecost.

“Making Things Right: Apologies and Reparations,” by Cush Anthony

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, May 9, 2021

Despite our best efforts, all of us make mistakes from time to time, and sometimes they come at the expense of others. When that happens, we try our best to apologize in a meaningful way.

            All good apologies include a statement such as “I am sorry for what I did.” Or perhaps you simply say, “I was wrong,” or “I made a mistake.” A true apology focuses on your own actions, and never on the other person’s response. And it never includes a phrase which to you justifies what you did. Never should you say “I’m sorry, but…”  That is not a true apology.

            Is saying you are sorry enough? A good apology should also include efforts on your part to make things right. Making amends. Doing an action to repair the damage you have done. In other words, some reparations are called for.

            We should apply those same principles when considering a wrong done by our society to someone or some group of people. When the dominant culture in this country harms another group of Americans, reparations should be a part of an apology.

One of the most shameful moments in American history was establishing internment camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry, during World War Two. Innocent people were made to live in prison like conditions, solely because of their ancestry. After the war was over and when Americans came to recognize that the country had done wrong to those people, a bill was passed by Congress that gave some cash reparations payments to those who had suffered at our hands. This is an example of commendable governmental action in granting reparations when offering an apology for mistakes made by our society.

Alas, we have not done that in regard to the harm done to former slaves and other black and brown Americans. It is time we did so. There is in fact a bill in Congress that calls for just that. HR 40 is an act to establish the commission to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans. It was first introduced by Representative John Conyers in 1989 and has been reintroduced each year since then. The current version recently cleared a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee and is headed for markup and then to the floor of the House. It seeks to provide money payments to repair the harm done both by slavery and by the Jim Crow laws that followed. It deserves our support.

Also note the excellent Friends Journal recent article by Harold Weaver of Wellesley Friends Meeting entitled, A Proposed Plan of Retrospective Justice. It is well worth reading.

We should also examine government treatment of indigenous people. Congressional proclamations have expressed apology for our treatment of Native Americans generally, but including no reparations have been proposed.

Here in Maine, we are currently doing something similar to offering reparations. A series of bills pending in the legislature will give the Wabanaki greater sovereignty. While not true reparations, enacting these measures will constitute a form of making things right after not doing so for many years. Unfortunately, the bills were recently tabled and will be acted on in the next legislative session, in 2022. The Peace and Social Concerns committee encourages lobbying for them both now and when they come up next year.

In summary, making things right should always be part of the apologies we offer when we have made a mistake, both as individuals and collectively.

[You may also be interested in a Pendle Hill Pamphlet (#465, October 2020) by Hal Weaver, Race, Systemic Violence, and Retrospective Justice: An African American Quaker Scholar-Activist Challenges Conventional Narratives.]

“Beacon of Light,” by Linda Muller

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, April 18, 2021

Reflecting back on our rather unique winter, I am reminded how our neighbor down the street did a great service for our neighborhood. During the dark of winter he added light — white lights all up and down the great reaching branches of a large maple tree in his front yard — beautiful and encouraging. On the night of the winter solstice we made note of it — walked down to its base and paused — in appreciation. We paused in appreciation of that beautiful light, and for all that the solstice and Christmas symbolize…. the return of the light.

And so, all along through the rising numbers of the pandemic, the January shocks emanating from Washington, D.C., and diminished opportunities to be with friends and family, that tree — that light — was a beautiful, faithful reminder of hope. The way forward towards light.

And now, Friends, I will turn my attention to that hope.

How have I kindled and rekindled hope and light to envision my way forward? Will the joy of rebirth, as spring comes on, open me to more creativity and sharing? More prayerful listening? Is this the way we each empower the light?

Beyond that, how have I helped my family and household to keep hope and serve our neighbors?

And, of course, as our Meeting envisions our way forward, we will want to consider:

  • How can we as a Meeting be a beacon of light to our local and wider community?
  • What changes will come when we are able to gather in person?
  • Can we help the many people grieving losses (of loved ones, jobs, and homes)?
  • Are we a community that appreciates and supports creativity? With this in mind, do we want to grow the Cafe Corner that Mey has begun?
  • Are we a community that provides material assistance — a play group? a music and poetry night?
  • Are we a community that provides a place for listening and sharing — a support group, or perhaps a safe space for reflection and contemplation?
  • Do we want to create a productive organic vegetable garden? then share the produce?
  • Are we willing to share a place to take a walk in the woods, perhaps with benches to rest, perhaps a place for children to develop a relationship with the land?

Of course, Friends, I speak of the community outside of our Meeting, to provide a service. I hope we will all give some consideration to these and other ideas, because these are just a starting point. If we want to, we can be a beacon of light to our local community.

As a final reminder, friends, a quote from the young inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to BE it.”

Thank you, Friends, for your attention. Blessings be with you as you continue with your day.

“The World We Build,” by Leslie Manning

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, March 28, 2021

Also available on the NEYM Website as Ministry Cannot Be Untethered

Mind the light of God in your consciences which will show you all deceit; dwelling in it, guides out of the many things into one spirit, which cannot lie, nor deceive. Those who are guided by it, are one. ~ George Fox, 1624-1691

Early Friends refer to the Inward Light, which, we are warned, will rip us open.  And, my conscience is troubled.

As we observe the beginning of Passover, the festival of liberation, and the observance of Holy Week, which celebrates liberation in a totally different Way, let us remain open to that searching Light.  It blazes into the empty tomb no and emanates from it. It serves as a beacon in the wandering of the desert that is our culture, our economy, our politics.

It is a pillar of fire and a still, small voice.

As I prepare for the completion of my time with the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and to graduate in June, I have made the decision to be ordained by that wisdom school in the Interfaith tradition.  ChIme’s mission is to educate and ordain interfaith leaders who serve with integrity, spiritual presence, and prophetic voice. 

And, I cannot do any of this without you.  We friends believe that the Spirit delivers a variety of gifts, but not equally. These gifts are given to an individual for the benefit and the greater good of the community.  In our tradition, we name, claim, nurture and care for the gifts given to us all and hold those so gifted accountable for those gifts.  So you, my community, have done for me.

You heard me when I came to you and asked, as a condition of my membership

 to become an open, inclusive and affirming community.  

You offered me leadership and teaching roles here 

and encouraged me to step out into our wider Society.  

You held me as I served with the Maine Council of Churches,

 and provided me with a travel minute when I was led to visit other FUM affiliated meetings   nationally and many here in New England ==with a concern for unity among all Friends.  

You embraced me when I served as an openly lesbian member of the General Board of Friends United Meeting as a representative for New England, even as that association continues to discriminate against me.

You provided me with clearness committees and prayerful support, 

you challenged me to remain faithful and held me while I mourned for members of my family, our state and this world.  And you will, I have no doubt, continue to do so.

Because, my ministry cannot be untethered. It must have root in our faith community and be subject to the wisdom and discernment of our gathered body in order to flourish.  Our Quaker history teaches us, especially today, Palm Sunday, what happens to a ministry gone astray; what happens when a Friend seeks the support of a wider community and is refused.  We are challenged by the James Naylors and Benjamin Lays of this world and it is our responsibility to take them under our care.

Leadings must be tested, within community.

Ministry must be supported with prayer and accountability, within community,

Care must be exercised, so that Truth may prosper.

I have a young friend who speaks of the “many awfuls” of this world, the many awfuls – but believes, as I do, that we are here to help heal them. I have close friends who have been baptized in a Christian tradition which asks them, every year “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” And their promise is, “I will, with God’s help.”

And, so it goes.  I commit to showing up and speaking up, here and in the wider world, not with all the answers, but hopefully asking some of the right questions.

And my conscience is troubled.

 I ask this of us:  How do we live together in peace, knowing all the sins and darkness of this world — embracing and celebrating our differences, if we continue to prize our comfort over our convictions? 

 In a time of deep uncertainty and turmoil, of climate catastrophe, increased militarization and commodification of the world’s resources, my hearts asks:

What would our conscience have us do? 

I hold these questions for ourselves and for our wider Religious Society>  

Is capitalism compatible with Christianity?  with Quakerism?

Is our capacity to commit to being an anti-racist faith community in direct proportion to our ability to live with difference?

How can we be living our testimonies if we remain conflict averse and afraid of engaging in the work it takes to love our enemy and pray for those who would do us harm? 

AS I prepare to leave the Chime community and take up my work in the greater world, I will need your love and challenging support more than ever.  For you see, Friends, I am not content with our condition of seeking a world, as articulated by Friends Committee on National Legislation who say:

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

I am not content with merely seeking that world, I am building it.  And I invite you to join me.

And When I Rise

Sung at Durham Friends Meeting, March 14, 2021, by Rebecca MacKenzie

based on a poem by Wendell Berry, from The Mad Farmer Poems (Counterpoint, 2014)

“Getting to Know God,” by Joyce Gibson

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, February 14, 2021

G’ Morning Y’all,

I am pleased to be here this morning.  Thank you for being here. My message this morning is “Getting to Know God

My resources today are from a new book I found on prayer—called simply PRAYER, by Timothy Keller, published in 2014.  After 911, Keller, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife were both suffering from serious illnesses, and on her suggestion, they decided to pray together.  They already had individual prayer practices, but she challenged them to make this a habit together, to be closer to God.  They have been praying nightly since that time in 2001, often on the phone when one or the other is away, but it is now a daily practice—not taking the place of other forms of prayer they are still engaged in.

My other sources are old stand byes:  The Bible, and Thomas R. Kelly.  I am using sections of his book Testament to Devotion, published in 1941, and excerpts from an article titled “Reality of the Spiritual World” from the Pendle Hill Reader.  (This 184-page reader sold for $2.75 in 1942!)  And finally, the small book published in 1982—at least my edition, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

In his book called Prayer, Keller tells us something some of us have come to believe, others not so fully, as we are still testing, still learning:

God is the only person from whom you can hide nothingBefore Him, you will unavoidably come to see yourself in a new, unique light.  Prayer, therefore, leads to a self-knowledge that is impossible to achieve any other way.  Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge.  It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves—NOT our lives, but our loves.  Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable thing he has for us.  Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire.  It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God.  Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.

Paul also tells us the way we get to know God better.  In writing to the people of Ephesus, he offers thanksgiving and prayers.  Ephesians 1:16-17:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Getting to know God and experiencing His love is what this special relationship is all about—Not just getting our desires met.  And there are many benefits to this relationship according to Thomas Kelly:

Within (us) is a meeting place with God, who strengthens and invigorates our whole personality and makes us new creatures—then the tempests and inner strain of self-seeking, self-oriented living grow still.  (Overriding our deep levels of selfishness is indeed a tough job!)  Something of the cosmic patience of God Himself becomes ours, and we walk in quiet assurances and boldness for He is with us, His rod and His staff, they comfort us.

Kelly goes on to write that this practice is not unlike that of Brother Lawrence who lived in the 17th century—the same period as George Fox who discovered after long searching—this Inner Light.  The Light we Quakers believe is in every person.  Brother Lawrence found God when he was 18 years old, and began experimenting with prayer, continuous prayer over the years.  When asked how he came upon this habit, he reported that he believed that God was at the beginning of each day, at the end and throughout the day, no matter what he was doing; thus, uttering prayers of thanks, reporting mistakes, just having a conversation just became a habit.  He was convinced that God loved him, forgave him for his mistakes, and heard his confessions.

Finally, I want to share that Thomas Kelly thought that the practice of continuous prayer is difficult, but that we should be gentle with ourselves, beginning again and again, even after long periods of drought—not praying at all.  Daily, hourly, at every opportunity—a running conversation that he believed happens on two levels; two levels that ultimately evolve into a mature, sound connection with God.  I will quote from the Pendle Hill Reader from the article called the “Reality of the Spirituality World”, pp. 26-27.

This practice of continuous prayer in the presence of God involves developing the habit of carrying on mental life at two levels. At one level we are immersed in this world of time, of daily affairs.  At the same time, but at a deeper level of our minds, we are in active relation with the eternal life.  I do not think this is a psychologically impossibility or an abnormal thing.  One sees a mild analogy in the very human experience of being in love.  The newly accepted lover has an internal life of joy, of bounding heart, of outgoing aspiration toward his beloved.  Yet he goes to work, earns a living, eats his meals, pays his bills.  But all the time, deep within, there is a level of awareness of an object very dear to him.  This awareness is private; he shows it to no one; yet it spills across and changes his outer life, colors his behavior, and gives new zest and glory to the daily round.

Oh yes, we know what a mooning calf he may be at first, what a lovable fool about outward affairs.  But when the lover gets things in focus again, and the couple (my language) settle down to the long pull of the years, the deep love-relation underlies all the raveling frictions of home life and re-creates them in the light of deeper currents.  The two levels are there, the surface and the deeper, in fruitful interplay, with the creative values coming from the deeper into the daily affairs of life.

Think about getting to know God through continuous prayer.  Getting to know God and His love for us.  Getting to know yourself in new ways, undergoing a deeper love of change with God—in ways that are unimaginable.  Amen.

“Moving From Your Center,” by Alicia McBride (FCNL)

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 24, 2021

I appreciate that Quakerism recognizes that God can speak in everyday life. William Taber talks about worship as a stream that is always present and that we can dip into at any time. Knowing those moments of connection are possible both eases my frustration when my mind won’t settle during the appointed hour of worship, and also encourages me to be open to the wisdom I encounter outside of that time.

About 15 years ago, when I was just starting to practice yoga, one of my teachers described it as “the art of moving from your center.” He was referring to anatomy and body alignment, but that description sunk deep within me and has been something I’ve come back to, again and again, to describe the alignment – the integrity – I want to live into in my life more broadly.

Of course, this description presents two questions: What is my center, and how do I move from it?

I am holding these questions today, in the midst of the emotional roller coaster of the last few weeks. Excitement, joy, fear, anger, relief, and cautious optimism have all been present in my January alone. That roller coaster is profoundly un-centering and exhausting.

At times, I’ve responded to this kind of destabilization by trying to push ahead and power through – to focus on what’s in front of me, not on what’s behind. Sometimes, that’s necessary. But, in the long run, I have found that this approach, while tempting in the moment, ultimately works against the kind of centering I need to move with integrity.

In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk discusses the ways trauma reshapes both the body and the brain – and I would add the soul. We are what we experience. Ignoring what we’ve been through, however painful and unsettling in the moment, only means more we have to work through later.

I believe that all of us, in the United States today, are facing our own experiences of individual and collective trauma. There’s a layer of that trauma that’s personal to our identities and circumstances. There’s also a layer that is corporate – coming from the mounting death toll from Covid-19, and efforts to subvert the U.S. election, culminating in the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol and what it symbolizes about our country. Those layers often intersect; on January 6, for example, I experienced the Capitol riot as a threat to our government, a stark demonstration of the power racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic worldviews have in the U.S. today, and also a personal attack on a part of the city where I work and where friends and family live. I can only imagine the trauma of those who hold marginalized identities, people who work in the Capitol building, and others more directly affected than I am.

In these circumstances, what does it look like to move through, not past, to re-center for the work ahead?

To me, it looks like taking the time to acknowledge my experience and to celebrate or mourn as I need to. It means recognizing the gaps – between how I want things to be and how they are, between what our country claims to stand for and how it acts – and radically reimagining how to shrink them. It means accountability and learning. It means absorbing the experience of our personal and national trauma to give us empathy and bring us resilience.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself coming back to a passage from 1st John. It reminds me of what centered movement means, as well as what it looks to move away from it.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:7-8, 18)

As we settle into waiting worship, I invite you to consider: what is your center, and how are you led to move from it now?

“We Worship on Land That Is a Homeland for the Wabanaki,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 17, 2021

“We worship on land that Is a homeland for the Wabanaki.”  We say those words each Sunday when we gather.  I want to say something more about that today.  I want to tell a fuller version of the story.

 “In the last of the eighteenth century when the present town of Durham went by the name of Royalsborough and was part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts we find the record of the coming of several Quakers from Harpswell among whom were Lemuel Jones, Joseph and Caleb Estes, Andrew Pinkham and Elijah Douglas.  They were soon followed by Samuel Collins of Weare, New Hampshire and Robert and Silas Goddard from Falmouth.  Many of these names have a familiar sound in our ears and many people here present could trace their lineal descent from these founders of our meeting.” 

Those are the opening sentences of Hattie Cox’s history of Durham Friends Meeting that she wrote and presented in 1929 on the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of our current brick Meetinghouse.  These Friends held their first Meeting in the home of Joseph Estes in 1775.

Told that way this is a story that sounds like it starts at the very beginning, the story of the gathering here of a group of Quakers for worship together, a gathering for worship that continues to this day.  But we should realize there is another story that the Hattie Cox version jumps over.  It is a story we should also know and remember.  

What went before are the thousands of years of indigenous peoples living in the Androscoggin River valley — and up and down the Atlantic Coast and across the Americas.  The coming of the Quakers and others of European descent tore apart the communities of these indigenous peoples.  It’s that longer story, the story of peoples on this land, that I want to tell today.  It’s an unhappy story in many ways.  It is a story of disease, disruption and dispossession. 

In their own telling, the indigenous peoples of New England and the Maritime Provinces (as we call them today), were placed here at the beginning of time by Glooskap, a trickster god who still watches over these peoples.  The way of knowing we call archeology tells us that indigenous peoples filtered north into Maine following the retreating glacier, the last glacier to cover this terrain, about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago. 

When European explorers and fishermen first intruded, the indigenous people they encountered numbered, perhaps, 20,000 people in what is now what we call Maine. 

These people lived in villages and encampments.  They followed the seasons harvesting the fruits of the forest, the rivers and the sea when and where these were most abundant.  They grew corn and some other vegetables.  They were a mobile people moving often across the land in a rhythm with the changing seasons. 

They travelled by waterways using birchbark canoes.  The rivers were their highways.  They had ‘carrying places’ where they portaged between streams or around waterfalls.  They lived in wigwams or teepees and long houses that could be moved seasonally.   

On the Androscoggin, there was a large year-round village at Canton Point near the town we call Livermore Falls.  On the Kennebec there was a village on Swan Island and a larger village at Norridgewock, near the town we call Skowhegan.  When the fish ran in the rivers, the alewives and salmon, they camped near the falls, like the ones at Brunswick/Topsham and at Lewiston/Auburn. 

The Indigenous people who lived in what is now Maine were all part of a broad grouping of Eastern Algonquian people.  Those who lived in southern and mid-coast Maine we now call Eastern Abenaki.  We can call the people who lived in the Androscoggin Valley the Arosaguntacook.  (That’s a name from which the word Androscoggin was probably derived.  In their language it means “rocky flats flow” or “a river of rocks refuge.”)  Later, in the 1680s, they joined together with other indigenous people in what is now Maine and the Maritimes to form the Wabanaki Confederacy, a word with the same language root as Abenaki.  It is a word root that means Land of the Dawn.  They were the first people on this continent, the world they knew, to see the dawn each new day

What became of these people when Europeans intruded? Again, this is a story of disease, disruption and dispossession. 

Disease.  Many of us have an image in our heads of armed conflict or warfare between these indigenous peoples and the European settlers.  And there was such conflict, but there is a different and deadlier image we should put earlier than that.  From the moment of first contact, the indigenous peoples were exposed to diseases carried by the Europeans, diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, plague, chickenpox, measles, cholera, syphilis, typhoid and typhus.  Those diseases proved enormously deadly to indigenous peoples because they had no immunity to these diseases whatsoever. 

Perhaps 75% of the population died in the first decades after contact – that is, in the early 1600s.  These epidemics had their most deadly effect before there were colonial settlements.  The mere intrusion of Europeans — fishermen or trappers — set off epidemics.  The years from 1616 to 1619 – that is, before the Mayflower — are spoken of as ‘the Great Dying’ because in those years, especially in Massachusetts, the deaths were so numerous.  Whole villages were wiped out.  The arrival of Europeans was lethal to the indigenous people already living here. 

The diseases did not just kill people, they also tore apart their ways of living.  It deprived them of able-bodied people. It wiped out their leaders.  It weakened their confidence in themselves, in those they trusted, and in what they knew. 

Disruption.  The diseases that the Europeans carried were one kind of disruption, and there were others.  The European intruders brought goods with them that the indigenous people did not know.  They brought metal goods useful for cooking and for hunting.  They drew the indigenous peoples into trading relationships – for beaver pelts, for example.  The Abenaki began to hunt not just for their own use but to trade with the Europeans.  These new relationships began to change their way of life. 

The Europeans also settled themselves on the land in ways that disrupted the more mobile ways of the indigenous peoples.  English intruders built a fort at the lowest falls on the Androscoggin, where the building we know as Fort Andross now stands.  It was a wooden fort then, but it was a powerful indication that the intruders meant to dominate that site, make it their own.  The intruders fished at the falls not just for their own subsistence, but to send salted fish back to Europe for trade and profit.  The Abenaki were pushed out. 

These were uneasy times.  There were insults and thefts, kidnappings and killings.  At times the two groups, the intruders and the Abenaki, managed to live near one another without much conflict.  But after several decades of the Abenaki trying to live with the European intruders there came to be full-scale war between them.  Beginning about 1675 (that’s about 100 years after the first intruders) and lasting for about another hundred years, there was war in this part of Maine that involved the Abenaki.  These wars go today by a series of names of our making: King Phillip’s War, King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, Dummer’s War, the French and Indian Wars.  They involved the French as well as the English intruders:  these wars were part and parcel of a long struggle between the English and the French for domination of these lands, and each found allies among the indigenous peoples. 

In the early stages of these wars, the English settlers were largely driven out.  But when these wars were concluded, in the 1760s, it was the Abenaki had been driven out of southern and mid-coast Maine.  They had been driven inland, north and east – scattered and decimated. 

Today, the eastern Abenaki are not a group that is recognized as having continuing existence by the U.S. federal government.  They are a recognized group by the Canadian government in a settlement on the St. Lawrence River in present day Quebec.  And, of course, some Abenaki live among us, drawn to living more like we do, but also holding as they can to their long-established ways. 

Hattie Cox’s history of this Meeting starts where those wars end.  With the Abenaki largely pushed out of southern and mid-coast Maine, the land was open to settlement by European newcomers.  Among those newcomers were the original members of this Quaker Meeting.  In these parts, the wars ended in the mid-1760s, and this Meeting began just a few years later, in 1775. 

Dispossession.  What became of their land?  There were treaties by which the intruders took possession of large tracts of land.  We know those treaties were seen differently by the indigenous people and the intruders.  The Abenaki and other indigenous people did not think of land ownership the way we do.  And, of course, most of these treaties were not respected – especially not respected by the intruders.  Promises were not kept. 

The history of land titles in our part of what we now call Maine is full of disagreement and ambiguity and quite complex.  But we can say that most of the land we on which we live, work and play, those of us who are members of Durham Friends Meeting, were legally secured by Richard Wharton in 1684, in a deal with six members of the Abenaki that Wharton, at least, considered ‘Sagamores’ or leaders.  Whether the Arosaguntacook (the Abenaki in this Androscoggin valley) saw these six as leaders with powers to trade away their land is very much open to doubt.  But we can say that this Wharton Deed (it’s also called the Warumbo Deed after one of the Sagamores) contains this provision: 

“Provided Nevertheless yt nothing in this Deed be Construed to deprive us ye Saggamores Successessors [?] or People from Improving our Ancient Planting grounds nor from Hunting In any of s’d Lands Comgo [?] not Inclosed nor from fishing or fowling for our own Provission Soe Long as noe Damage Shall be to ye English fisherys,”

I believe every current deed of land within the bounds of this Wharton Deed derives from the deal that was struck that day.  (That’s pretty much all the land lived upon by every one of us gathered here today.)  And we should remember that in their understanding the Abenaki never after gave up that crucial legal proviso:  to have use of the land for planting, fishing and fowling for their own provision.   But as the intruders crowded in, the Abenaki were dispossessed.  The animals were driven out, their habitat destroyed.  Forests were cut and the rivers were poisoned.  The land was fenced in and built upon.  Roadways replaced waterways.  These lands were no longer ones familiar to the Abenaki.  The lands no longer sustained their way of life. 

Something like this is what we mean when we say that ‘we gather on land that is a homeland for the Wabanaki.’ 

Perhaps we can remember they had a life here. 

Perhaps we can remember that some still live among us. 

++++

Here are some resources for better understanding of the Wabanaki on the Durham Friends Meeting website. 

You can see a copy and a transcript of the 1684 Wharton Deed on the Maine Historical Society’s Maine Memory Network. 

Cross-posted on Riverview Friend.

“Has Anyone Asked Jesus What He Wants for His Birthday?” by Leslie Manning

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 20, 2020

From Richard Rohr:  “The common Christian understanding that Jesus came to save us by a cosmic evacuation plan is really very individualistic, petty, and even egocentric. It demands no solidarity with anything except oneself. We whittled the great Good News down into what Jesus could do for us personally and privately, rather than celebrating God’s invitation to participate in God’s universal creative work.”  

Grace is available to all.  Grace, the unmerited favor of God to all humanity, is always present, always available, always abundant, if we but see it.   This season, called Advent, meaning arrival or coming, is not part of our Quaker understanding since we believe that the long-awaited Jesus is already in our midst.  “Christ is born” not “Christ was born”.

But we welcome it and practice our waiting a little more intentionally.  In this season, say from December 6, the feast of Saint Nicholas to January 6, the feast of the Kings, or Mages, the world joins us in waiting for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us, to dwell within us–Emmanu-el, the in-dwelling God.  Living together – in the things that endure.

This time of darkness deepens and the natural world stills; We celebrate the Festival of Lights of the Jews, the Solstice of the Pagans, the Saturnalia of the Romans, the lighted evergreens  and Yule of the Druids, and call it Christ mas—Christ’s Mass, which is the celebration of his birth, death and resurrection in the rites of the Catholic Church, enacted daily in every Mass.

But, if it is Jesus we are celebrating, has anyone asked him what he wants for his birthday?

The origin stories of the birth of Jesus differ, as accounts written down after being told for generations would.  Matthew tells us what we as observant Jews need to know to fulfill the Messianic prophecies; Luke tells us of the non-Jewish world about the Christos, the anointed one, through the eyes of his mother; Mark cuts right to the chase and tells us about the priest, teacher and healer who calls us to action. 

It might be said that Matthew tells us what we need to know, Mark tells us what we need to do, Luke tells us who we need to know and John, often called the Quaker evangelist, tells us who we need to be.  Living together in love.

And yet, none of this is necessary.  We don’t need to know the origin story of Christianity to be filled with grace.  Christmas happens, in the veins of the needle user and the dealer, whether it is recognized or not.  Grace is available to all.

Whether our drug is consumption or caffeine, Christmas happens.  Whether our shopping is done, our presents mailed, our bills paid, our rent overdue, our stomachs empty or full, Christmas happens.  Whether the baby is conceived before the couple is married, after the ruling power orders his death, the family flees to safety in another land or the angels stop speaking to us in dreams, Christ’s birth, Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection happen, because grace is available to all.

Have we asked, “What does Jesus want from me for his birth day?”

So, whether this Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah, or Messenger, or Metaphor to you; whether you walk with Jesus in your daily life or honor him as a prophet or use his name as a cuss word, remember, Christmas happens.  And not just on December 25th.  Grace is available to all.  Just ask his mother.

“My soul”, she sang, “magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in the One who has saved me… He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich– he has turned empty, away….

Yet, grace is still available to all.  The Light returns.

“We Wear the Mask,” by Mimi Marstaller

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 13, 2020

This week in my class we discussed the poem “We Wear the Mask”. I teach 11th and 12th grade English literature, and most of the students are immigrants and refugees from Central Africa, Central America, the Middle east, and Southeast Asia.

The poem “We Wear the Mask” was written in 1892 by the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. I’d like to share with you some of my students insights about this poem, so first I’ll read the poem.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

Each day we explored different lines of the poem that students drew out as being interesting or bringing ideas to their minds. At the end of class each day we wrote our thoughts, and have been working on editing those thoughts into an essay. I’ll share some of the thoughts that students wrote.

Leya, who is a 12th grader from Tanzania who has been in the US for three years, wrote this.

 Nobody knows your struggle until you tell them, or it comes to them, a common saying is “people throw the spear to the pig and they feel good but if you throw it to the humans it hurts them”. This means if somebody struggles you don’t feel it even when they tell you, you will think they lie. A quote from the poem says, “We sing but oh the clay is vile”. This means to me, we are telling people we struggle but they are not hearing us and even if you tell the world, it will not help you. If we look back at how black people have been tortured, nobody was able to give them the rights, but they were telling people we need the right which is like singing to someone and they don’t even listen to you.

Asho is from Somalia. She has been joining our class on video each day, because her mom’s health is fragile and she doesn’t want to bring exposure from school into the household. Participating in an in-person discussion from Zoom is hard, but Asho does great. She will break into the conversation flow saying “Miss, can I say something?” We in the class are always glad for her insights, and we often spend the rest of the class discussing her point. In this instance, she presented a totally new way to read the poem. She said,

This poem seems to be talking about the problem of celebrity with the media. I think wearing masks is not about the physical mask but another mask that has different meaning. In this poem it seems like the writer is talking about the two faces of the famous people. Famous people have two faces that they used. One is which they show the media, while the other is the one they show when they are far from the media.

Famous people can’t express their feelings in front of the media for many reasons. The most clear reason they don’t express their feelings is that they are scared the world will know them. In the poem it says, “Why should the world be over-wise, In counting all our tears and sighs?“  It seems this line is saying that the world shouldn’t care about us and neither shouldn’t care if we are happy and sad.

Another Somali student, Hamda, wrote about this same idea of whether the world cares for us. She started out by saying,

This poem is an example of how many of us view the world today, which is all people just being selfish, nobody cares about how other people are feeling. People are no longer interested in speaking about how they feel because they will be judged for expressing their feelings. 

When the author says, “Why should the world be over-wise in counting all our tears and sighs?” This sounds like he is saying that the world feels great about noticing that he is in pain and crying.

In a writing conference, I asked Hamda to say more about how she thinks people have changed in how they relate to others. Had she seen such changes over her own lifetime? In her parents’ generation? When she answered, I encouraged her to add that to her essay. Here is what she wrote:

People always change after they fight for unification, in my own experience I think that selfishness was beginning after my parents’ generation because they had developed as a nation and all they could think of was getting ahead of each other.

            These three students were not the only ones to identify the problems of competition and judgment in our society. Their comments reveal their understanding that while showing one’s true self sounds like a good thing, the mask provides protection from the judgment and violent misunderstanding of others. The mask protects us, but they acknowledged there is a cost to concealing the true light within us. The last student I’ll quote is a young woman named Aluet. She is from South Sudan.

Everyone wears a mask and we all know, if we do then why are we wearing the mask? We cannot live life peacefully if we keep wearing the mask, we are also teaching this generation to wear the mask.

The prayer these students’ words bring to me this morning is,

Guide me in my own use or disuse of the mask. And help me create, especially for the young people in my life, a space where the mask is slightly less necessary. Where we can work toward creating the kind of peace Aluet mentions, a peace based on our understanding of each other’s truths, not the phony peace that comes from masking our differences. Help me remember that that space is created mostly by listening. Listening without judgment. And let the light of our joy and our complexity and our pain and our passion shine from beneath the mask. Amen.

“Advent Message,” by Beth Bussiere Nichols

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 6, 2020

Opening Advent Hymn: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Words: Charles Wesley, 1744. Music: Rowland Hugh Pritchard, 1844

Come, thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us

Let us find our rest in thee

Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring

By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine own sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne

Today begins the second week of Advent so I was encouraged to look in the Advent section of the hymnal. In a Friends hymnal, who knew? There I met the Advent carol Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Though it is a couple of hundred years old it was new to me. As I went through my day, I sang it to myself trying to learn it. Later I checked the words and discovered that I had changed Long-expected to Unexpected. How very Advent! We are waiting and expecting but what actually arrives is always in some important way, every year, Unexpected. Sometimes it is what we know but have forgotten.

One important part of my spiritual journey was examining the spiritual seasons of the year when my children were young. How could I take my inward Quaker experience and bring it to life to invite my children to connect?

Early Friends distained separating spiritual truths and giving them specific days. But Early Friends also lived in an ecclesiastical age when the holy days and language of the church were everywhere. Those days in turn were built on the older fabric of our knowing and celebrating that creator and creation were one. How to invite my children into the mystery?

One thing I did was to look at many traditions then trust my Inner Quaker Guide. My mother’s Presbyterian tradition of daily lighting of Advent candles was a joy in my childhood, an invitation to a special season. As I researched, I learned of an Advent practice in far northern Scandinavia to take a wheel off the wagon and use it as the Advent candle holder. The message was: It is time to stop going into town and running errands. It is time to be still, to be centered. This really spoke to my condition. I have always been someone with to do lists for work, family, meeting, neighborhood, etc. In fact, I even have Post-Its with sub to do lists on top of my long written to do list. If we aren’t careful the season before Christmas adds a layer of more to do lists.

The other thing, which I heard in so many traditions was that the spiritual calendar, indeed the turning of the world, requires our human prayers and participation. The pivoting of the season from the longest, darkest night to lengthening days requires our stopping, our centering. This year is a special challenge. How do we wait when we feel stuck? What does it mean to take the wheel off the wagon when we never got a chance to use it? The wagon has been sitting in the yard. The vines have been growing over it — since March.

I learned something about waiting when I was pregnant with my first son Colin. I went four weeks past my due date. Something they wouldn’t allow anymore. I remember standing in the supermarket a week past my long-expected delivery date and listening to people complain about the slowness of the line, the checkout clerk… I thought these people are amateurs— they know nothing about real waiting. This year, I am waiting: to hug my grown children and my dear friends, to gather once again with our beloved community in our beloved meetinghouse. I long to visit with our friend who lost her husband to COVID and did not get to be with him for what turned out to be the last 3 weeks of his life. We are living in exile— forcibly separated from what we have felt was our rightful place. We are given advice on how to live in exile in Jeremiah 29:4-7,11-13.

 Thus, says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  6 Marry and have sons and daughters; … 7 Also seek the shalom of the city where I took you as captives in exile, and pray to Adonai for it—for in its shalom will you have shalom.”….11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

The wisdom in exile is to live into the small acts of our daily life, plant gardens, care for our families. Seek shalom where we are. Ask for the Divine blessing of shalom for our place of exile. If you seek me with all your heart you will see, I am with you. Emmanuel!

Starting when the kids were young, each year we put up the old family creche. We placed Mary and Joseph and the animals under the roof. The Advent tradition that we created with our children was to light the advent candles each night and sing a carol. Beneath the Advent candleholder we placed the empty manager. We had spools of thread and scissors and invited all to name good deeds which they had noticed. For each good deed we added a thread to the manger. Thus, we made the invisible visible.

Advent begins
Each good deed remembered adds a thread
Christmas morning!

On Christmas the Christ child is placed on the thread softened manger.

Christ shall have the rude stable no longer but shall be born into his rightful place in the human heart.

The small acts of our lives became the bed of the holy child, the long-expected, unexpected child. The invitation of advent is to make sacred the everyday and that is really the difference between being stuck and waiting. Not what we do but the spirit that infuses it. Shalom. The Word becomes flesh and dwells with us. This doesn’t make creation sacred. It has been from the beginning. As humans, we need moments, perhaps even seasons and celebrations, to remind us that that sense of separation from God and all creation is illusionary. Emmanuel, we sing! Emmanuel! God with us!

Closing Advent Hymn: O Come O Come Emmanuel

Words from 12 cent. Latin, trans John M Neal, 1851 and Henry Sloan Coffin in 1916; Music: Ancient plain Song, from a French Missal, arr. By Thomas Helmore, 1854.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

“What Can We Name That Is Ours?” By Fritz Weiss

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 29, 2020, by Fritz Weiss, a member of Portland Friends Meeting (NEYM)

One of the ways I understand the world is through stories.  I am beginning today’s message with two stories.

God’s truck: For as long as I can remember, my Uncle Bob owned a small Toyota pick-up truck. It was mostly for bringing in his winter wood, but even after he started having his wood delivered, he kept a truck.  For the twenty years I lived nearby, anytime I needed a truck, I could use Bob’s.  He would buy it, insure it and register it, and I would maintain it, inspect it and keep it fueled.  Bob also gave the church next door a key and they used it whenever they had need, and he gave a key to the family shelter who used it to move families into the shelter or into housing. I think for the last five years of his life, Bob never drove his truck.  He referred to it as “God’s truck”.  It was ours, and it was the church’s and it was the shelter’s truck.

We don’t do that in Sharon: In Vermont, the first Saturday in May is Green-up Day.  Communities organize to clean the roads of any litter exposed by the melting snow.  In Sharon, my town, I was on the conservation commission and we organized a community wide day of picking up litter, sorting the trash, cleaning the riverbanks, collecting scrap metal, used tires, motor oil and electronics.  At the end of the day we had a community pizza party hosted by the local high school.  It could be discouraging as year after year there was so much litter to clean up.  One November morning as I walked into the local store before work, Dustin drove up in his truck and jumped out.  He was excited, and told us how, as he drove to work, he had seen someone throwing garbage over the guard rail.  He had stopped his truck and jumped out and told the driver “We don’t do that in Sharon!” and had made the man climb over the guard rail, pick up all the trash and put it back in the truck.  And then he thanked me for organizing Green-up every year. In our community effort and celebration, we had created a community value that we shared, that was ours.

This summer the FUM mission project was supporting Friends in Turkana, Kenya.  There was no travel, so the support was virtual.  In an FUM newsletter a query for the children was posed. “In Turkana, land is held in common for the use of the whole community, and there are no title deeds for privately owned land in Turkana County. Can you think of some things that are ours, rather than mine or yours?”  This query stayed with me and eventually led me to remember the two stories I just told.  This morning I am sharing some of the thoughts that were prompted by this query.

In the same newsletter there have been excerpts from Howard Thurman’s essays. In one of these he wrote about how Jesus taught at a moment in history when the Roman Empire had taken all that the people of Israel thought of as theirs – their kingdom, their city, their temple – and in that moment Jesus taught a new story  that ours is the kingdom of god, that we all are welcome, we all belong and that there is enough.

What can we name that is Ours?  … the kingdom of god, this meeting, our relationships, shared experiences, God’s truck, shared community values  ..

And then if all this is ours, then how do we forget and begin thinking of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ instead.

What contributes to thinking of “mine” “yours” “theirs”.  What separates us from each other, and in so doing, separates us from the divine;

In our moment in history there is a powerful story being told, that there is not enough and the other is going to take my safety away, it is a story of fear and anger and greed and pride which divides us from each other. It is a story of ‘othering’.  A story that tells us that some of us do not belong, are not welcome that there is not enough.

The query for the children left me with the query, “Are we able to tell the powerful stories of a kingdom that is ours, where we are with and of each other, profoundly connected? Can we tell these stories with power and salience such that minds are changed? Can we respond to the story of fear and anger with stories that connect us?  Stories which convince that there is enough for all, and that each in our own particularity is welcome.  Stories of thanksgiving.  It is one of the challenges of this time for people of faith. To tell the new story again.  As I say this, I realize that this is a call to evangelism! To share the good news.

Last week I joined the program offered by the BTS center (the successor organization to the Bangor Theological Seminary) on “Imagining a new Church”. Each of the two guests cited Wendell Berry’s poem “What we Need is Here” and the program closed with the entire poem read as a closing blessing.  I am closing today’s message with the last few lines of that poem.

“… what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.”

“And So We Pass from One Season to Another,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 8, 2020

And so we pass from one season to another. 

The leaves are mostly gone now, gone ‘til next spring, their bright colors just a memory.  The sun is down by late afternoon.  It’s growing chilly.  Mid-day there still may be some warmth in the sun, but there’s a bite in the air toward nightfall that’s there again when we greet the morning. 

It’s a great cycle of life, and I’m one who loves to live in a place that has four robust seasons.  I say this even as I know that I hate the shortening of the days.  There are pleasures, too, in fall, I know, and pleasures, too in winter.  The sun will return. 

And so we pass from one season to another. 

Sometimes seasons are human-made.  We’ve just passed out of one season with yesterday’s election announcements.  I’m sure some hearts were gladdened and others disappointed.  I’m feeling a little of both.  We’ve heard the speeches and taken down the lawn signs. 

And so we pass from one season to another.

I know all this, and yet I also feel like time is standing still, going nowhere.  ‘Every day is Wednesday’ I’ve found myself saying to distant friends for the past few months when they ask how I’m doing.  It’s true, every day is the same, and tomorrow will bring nothing new.  I already know that.  In this pandemic, it feels like someone has hit the pause button on the cosmic remote control.  Nothing moves forward.  The story doesn’t advance. 

We’re like the Israelites stuck in the desert for 40 years unable to enter the Promised Land. 

Of course this week, it seemed like every day was Tuesday, not Wednesday.  Something was supposed to happen on Tuesday.  Tuesday was supposed to be a day when the votes were all counted.  Tuesday was supposed to be a day when the we knew something about the future.  But it didn’t happen that day.  Then it didn’t happen the next or the next, and I found myself thinking it would never happen. 

I’m stuck between these two accounts.  The seasons are turning, the cosmic ones and the human ones.  Time is standing still. 

I’m trying to find my bearings, my spiritual bearings, stuck between these two accounts.  The seasons are turning, the cosmic ones and the human ones.  Time is standing still.  How am I called to faithfulness between these two accounts, these two rhythms, that each have a hold on me? 

Neither seems to be doing me anything good.  One is telling me I’m irrelevant.  Watching the seasons turn I can find myself thinking I don’t have anything to do with any of this.  I can think I have no responsibility. We’re just watchers; it doesn’t make any difference what we do.

But watching time stand still also makes me think I’m irrelevant.  Nothing I do matters; nothing anyone does seems to matter.  We’re just waiting. 

Most people who call themselves Christians follow a liturgical calendar that tells them what spiritual season we are in. It tells them what Saints days to celebrate, or what feast days s are to be observed, or what Bible passages are to be read each Sunday.  Advent leading to Christmas is a season.  Lent leading to Easter and then Pentecost is a season.  Some portions of year are “ordinary time.”

The first Quakers pretty much rejected this way of thinking or doing things.  Just as they believed no persons had special access to God, just as they believed no buildings were more sacred than any others, they also believed no days were more special or sacred than any other.  Early Friends didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter.  Friends schools were in session on those days. 

For me this goes a little too far.  I like observing the seasons – both the seasons of nature and the seasons of the soul.  I know that I should be the same person each and every day.  I know I should be caring for the same things each and every day.  But it helps me to be reminded, in turn, of various things.  It helps me focus. 

It’s very useful to me that there is a sabbath, a day each week on which I am especially called to worship with others. 

In the same way, it’s useful for me to have a season of thankfulness, a season in which we especially turn our hearts and minds to feeling grateful for the many, many blessings we have received.  Even in this time of pandemic, even in this time of polarization, I know there are many things for which I should be thankful, for which I am thankful if I’ll take a moment to notice. 

I’m grateful for the gift of life,

I’m grateful for the gift of time,

I’m grateful for the gifts of family and friends.

I’m grateful for the love that surrounds us all. 

This year I’m especially grateful that a season of Thanksgiving, a holy season, a spiritual season, follows a season of political combat.  I’m grateful to turn my focus to something else.  As the hymn we sang this morning puts it: “Come, then, thankful people, come, Raise the song of harvest home.” 

Perhaps that is all I should say.  But just as I know that many things have their seasons, I know that some things do not. 

I recently re-read a Pendle Hill pamphlet by Wilmer Cooper.  He was a midwestern Friend who was the first Dean of the Earlham School of Religion.  Ellen and I got to know Wilmer and his wife, Emily, when we were at Earlham. The pamphlet is titled “The Testimony of Integrity.”  Wilmer begins it by saying that for many years he had a hard time giving a short, helpful answer to the question “What Is a Quaker,” or “What Is Quakerism?”  And then he realized “Perhaps the word ‘integrity’ comes as close as any single-word answer.” A Quaker is one who lives a life of integrity.   

We Quakers speak often of the testimonies, and more often than not we’re thinking of the peace testimony or the testimony of equality.  But Wilmer Cooper says “’integrity’ is the essential Quaker testimony.”  At all times and all seasons, a Quaker is called to speak the truth and to live a life that is genuine and straightforward. 

Britain Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice puts it this way:  “Arising from the teaching of Jesus as related in the writings of John and James: ‘Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no’, Quakers perceived that with a conscience illuminated by the Light, life became an integrated whole with honesty as its basis.”

Even as the seasons change, we are called to live with integrity in all things.  That is something we can do, each of us every day. 

And so we pass from one season to another.

Also posted on Riverview Friend

Queries for the 2020 Election

On November 1, 2020, our worship focused around Query 11, Social Responsibility, from New England Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice.

  • Do you respect the worth of every human being as a child of God?
  • Do you uphold the right of all persons to justice and human dignity?
  • Do you endeavor to create political, social and economic institutions which will sustain and enrich the life of all?
  • Do you fulfill all civic obligations which are not contrary to divine leadings?
  • Do you give spiritual and material support to those who suffer for conscience’s sake?

“Those Who Go Out Weeping … Will Return With Songs of Joy,” by Johan Maurer

The message at Durham Friends Meeting on October 25, 2020 was given by Johan Maurer, a member of Eugene Friends Meeting, worshipping now at Camas Friends Meeting. His message drew from Psalm 126:

Psalm 126

A song of ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Johan Maurer regularly posts messages on his blog Can You Believe Me.

“My Rose, My Thorn and My Bud,” by Brown Lethem

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, September 27, 2020

Good morning Friends,

My heart is torn in two directions as I speak this morning, no actually three.  I want to share my rose and my thorn, as we used to say at the Addams/Melman house dinner table. We had four adults and two youngsters, so it was a way to draw everyone in as we talked of the days activities.  The rose was our joy for our day, the thorn our sorrow, and not to overlook the bud, that was our hope.

So my message today will have those three parts.

Linda spoke my mind last Sunday, as did Eden Grace previously, when they kept us focused on the urgency of racial justice at this time.  They also engaged the issue of reparations.  I believe the time is right and I join Linda in calling for our federal government to address it.

At the expense of spending six times more on military hardware than all the developed nations in the world, I hope we can find a way to afford reparations.  That hope is my bud for the future.

I want to speak next of my rose.  It is a positive and loving message to this meeting, especially as I am leaving soon to be with family in California.

I  came to this meeting after 45 years of attending silent, non-pastoral meetings, so I arrived with a stubborn mindset regarding worship as well as an abiding interest in activist peace and social concerns.     

What I found was a small but beloved community, truly devoted to Christ’s message of loving as the essential commandment.  I also found a vital vocal ministry coming from depths of experience. So I am thankful to Durham Meeting for accepting me into this community, and for helping me to grow with it’s loving concern for its children and it’s active sensitivity to those in need.

That said, I continued to be outspoken regarding my concerns for a deepening of silent, expectant waiting that I needed personally to center down.  I did find ways to make this happen.  Way opened, as we like to say.

My other concern was my leading to advocate for peacetime conversion of our local industry of weapon production, Bath Iron Works.  I did, with time feel supported in this leading. Again, my gratitude to Durham Friends.

On turning 88, I find the past does become more insistent. Reaching this age opens more awareness of the arc of my life and the culture which influenced it.  The two overriding or recurring threads in my life have been expressed most effective in my painting: they are (1) Human vulnerability to violence and the fear and distortion which arises from the enormous human potential for violent behavior.  (2) Racism, specifically, the racial incident which took place in my home town which haunted my imagination and profoundly  shaped my sensibility.

This paradox arises:  That my creative joy in the craft of painting was combined with an overriding need in its content to deal with the demons of a racist and violent society, that was acculturated into my subconscious.  That is my thorn.

The degree to which I was affected by hearsay accounts of the rape and murder of a young country school teacher in 1931 continued to permeate my subconscious until my 30’s and 40’s when it began to surface in my painting.  In my 60’s I tried to write a novel about it.  That it percolated all those years to become something of an obsession was evident.

It is the story of Raymond Gunn, a young black man growing up on the fringe of a small north western Missouri town and being accused of the crime.  It was my home town and the county seat, with a population of less the 10,000.  The town had maybe thirty black families.  The country school house in the incident was in a much smaller community five miles west, within the area where Raymond trapped.

As a young and very idealistic adolescent, the story confused me and I identified with the accused but untried young black man who was immolated by a mob.  Raymond’s fate kept cropping up in my painting as though it was a personal buried trauma.  I later learned how traumatized my mother was by the incident while I was in utero.  The lynch mob had spilled over on to our front yard with great noise and dust as Raymond was being dragged by rope to his death.  My mother emerged from the house searching frantically for my five year old brother playing outside.  That she developed some phobias around human violence as well as natural events like the flood of her childhood in Nebraska, is not surprising.  Nor is it surprising that I grew up with a guilty view connecting sex, violence and justice. The entire small town reacted immediately after the incident with massive paranoia and fear of reprisal.

My father was out of town working when Raymond way lynched.  The failure of the good town fathers to prevent the violence always puzzled me.  The threat of a violent mob was known.  The governor had anticipated it by ordering the local National Guard to stand by.  The local chain of command chose to stand down doing nothing.  The lone sheriff escorting Raymond to the court house for arraignment was over powered.  There were reports of instigators having come from other places.  The local papers reported that Raymond led the police to the murder weapon making the case against him.  That a fair trial would have changed the opinion was doubtful.  Raymond was, after all, an illiterate black trapper who lived in the shadows of the woods and creeks.  He had been raised an orphan by his uncle who lived in abject poverty, collecting trash with a mule and wagon.  Newspaper accounts called Raymond a moron.

All the blacks moved out of town overnight.

As a teenager raised in communities that were predominantly white, my contacts with people of color were few and charged with false stereotypes. The  inability to break through the surface to make real human contact with Afro-Americans continued until the age of 19 when I moved to New York.  I now realize how crippling that pervasive cultural racism was to my growth as a human being despite the mantle of white privillage, with it’s accompanying guilt.  I felt the frustrating sting of being quietly turned away when trying to bridge the gap to a Black high school classmate and  not understanding why he was so wary of me.  It took years living and working in Brooklyn, N.Y. in a neighborhood of predominately Black and Latino population and at close quarters to build intimate friendships and to fully understand the tragic divide created by the underlying “white supremacy”.  The irrational fears perpetuated by distorted White superiority, I later learned were coverups for the deeply buried economic injustices of slavery and genocide of Native Americans.  The resulting Jim Crow system keeping Blacks locked into a caste system of poverty just as the Indian laws did the Native Americans.  The institutional and systemic racism buried in my cultural background that has crippled countless thousands of Black and Brown children, has also wounded and impoverished my life.  James Baldwin was so right in his recognition that White people will never be free until equal justice is accorded all Americans.

Only now, sixty years after the civil rights movement,  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and affirmative action we are seeing the burst of wonderful artists of color, writers, intellectuals and politicians that were lost to previous generations. This is the time to openly admit to a national injustice  and debt to those who still suffer under the system of Jim Crow, Indian Policy, redlining, segregation and inferior education, health and housing opportunities.           

We now  see the relationship between the concept of restorative justice, Baldwin’s insights and Christ’s message.  A restorative justice that leads to forgiveness, reconciliation and ultimately to love, is the hope for an extended Beloved Community.  Christ led the way.

“Reparation and the Reconciliation Process,” By Linda Muller

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, September 20, 2020

Friends please join me in exploring an emotional and important subject. As we seek understanding, we want to work from emotions other than fear, anger and defensiveness. I say this because of my own experience, upon initially hearing of reparations I was overwhelmed, even angry!  How can I possibly restore, repair or repay for wrongs committed deep in the past.If reparation is cash payment from individuals, then I must tell you that all in my possession is nowhere near enough. Besides, how does it help the injured if I am penniless?

So, there is my defensiveness!

Another fundamental concern for me is this; I am set against the injustice and oppression occurring RIGHT NOW!As this has intensified lately, my feelings of; frustration, fear and anger at my own lack of effectiveness loom.

NEVER THE LESS, there is work to be done!

One way forward in the reconciliation process starts with getting HISTORY more accurate. It is essential to start this  process. As Eden Grace shared last week; It is part of the work that white people have to do, and can be done on the  personal level.  Active remembering and telling ALL the story, including how the engineering for longterm inequality occurred. This is how we become ANTIRACISTS and find our way to APOLOGY. Apology frees our hearts, bringing-up courage and creativity.

Since our US history includes severe inequality, perpetrated to keep black, indigenous and brown people  impoverished and powerless, AMENDS must include deep policy change. At the tip of this iceberg we can see economic and racial injustice in; healthcare, ecology, agriculture, housing, finance, government, education and all  access to resources. These aspects of life are still deeply permeated and injustice will only give way through courageous  action. This action attended by longterm commitment to work together;  white, black, brown and indigenous, is needed.

To repair our relationships, white people must PERSIST, despite the inevitable resistance of the upper 10%, the top 1%. The AMENDS and REPARATION that will bring RECONCILIATION will have to take into account;

1) The labor RIP-OFF of enslaved African Americans and the further engineering to prevent wealth, choice and security for people of color .

2) The land RIP-OFF and violent cultural erasure  visited on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

One way to move forward with REPARATION is to explore what would be best to do first, what would be effective and fitting to do at the Federal government level. That is the purpose of HR40, a bill in the US House of Representatives. It is “stuck” and needs people power to “unstick” it.

Another essential motion must take root in our hearts and minds. We must quiet our defensiveness and have the HUMILITY to seek spiritual guidance. We must dredge up the energy and courage to commit to this work longterm.

This is what is ahead of us if we want to reach real RECONCILIATION, peace and the joy known when justice prevails.

Verses from the Book of Ruth (Bader Ginsburg)

[From Worship this morning at Durham Friends] At our house we’re mourning the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a slight woman but a warrior for justice, for equality, for the rule of law.  She was someone who won some important victories, and also someone who spoke up forthrightly when she was on the losing side.  So this morning, a few verses from the Book of Ruth:

1. “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

2. “So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.”

3. “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

4. “When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out.”

5. “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

6. “You can’t have it all, all at once.”

7. “I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”

8. “In the course of a marriage, one accommodates the other”

9. “In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

10. “A gender line…helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”

11. “If you want to be a true professional, do something outside yourself.”

12. “Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.”

13. “Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time.”

14. “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

15. “If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”

16. “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

17. “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”

Source: https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/17-powerfully-inspiring-quotes-from-ruth-bader-ginsburg.html

“Telling the Truth About Whiteness,” by Eden Grace (Director of Global Ministries, Friends United Meeting)

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, September 6, 2020

Scripture: John 8:31-33: 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Thank you for inviting me to worship with you this morning. I’m joining you from our family home in Ocean Park Maine, but I normally worship with West Richmond Friends in Richmond Indiana. In this time of Zoom, it seems a particular blessing that we can gather from wherever we are, and experience the bonds of the body of Christ across the distance.

I had perhaps my first real and acute awareness of my own whiteness at the 1998 Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Harare Zimbabwe, an experience of the emptiness at the heart of white American identity. During the three-day pre-assembly gathering of the youth delegates, there was the “cultural night”, which I now know to be a tradition at WCC youth events. Each delegate is invited to wear the beautiful clothing of their cultural identity and to share a song, dance or other cultural expression that represents their belonging to a particular cultural group.

The youth were instructed to gather in country-groups to organize their offerings, so all of us from the United States gathered in our assigned room. Quite quickly, the Native American delegates formed their own group and went off to plan their part of the program. The African-American delegates did the same. The Latinex. The Asian-Americans. Until finally there were about 5 or 6 of us white Americans left in that room. We were lost. None of us had any idea what our “culture” was. Do we try to represent MacDonald’s and Walmart on that stage? Wear blue jeans and t-shirts as our national costume? Who, even, are we, this group without a hyphen, without a particularity, without any self-knowledge of our ancestors’ particularity? We were the “norm” against which all others were hyphenated, but there was no “there” there. Just a sense of emptiness and loss. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

In the end, we decided to sing “Simple Gifts”, thereby co-opting a culture that we were not – Shaker – in perhaps the most unironic and unaware meta-representation of ourselves as white American master co-opters and erasers of particularity. I left that event with a deep sense of the hollow anguish of whiteness, which has stayed with me ever since. So much has been lost in the grand bargain that provides me with white privilege in exchange for any sense of story and identity.

That was my first moment of self-aware exploration of the meaning of being a white American, and it has sent me on a decades-long personal quest to understand how whiteness functions.

So it took me by surprise when, in early August at New England Yearly Meeting, I was swept up with a completely new question about my own white identity. Why had it never occurred to me before? I don’t know. But now that I’ve had this idea, I my mind is exploding like fireworks with it.

This new idea, this new question that has gripped me, is to learn the particular story of my slaveholding ancestors. I’ve always known that I was descended from Virginia plantation-owning aristocracy. I’ve always known that they were enslavers. And in my childhood there was even a certain kind of classist “pride” in being descended from such high-status people. (Lord, forgive me.)

Who were these people, my people? In the just-concluded AFSC course on racism, which maybe some of you participated in as well, we learned about the process of white identity development. We learned that one of the stages of becoming a white anti-racist is to research our family history, to reclaim our identity story. To make whiteness a conscious, rather than invisible, aspect of our personal story. Not just the vacant norm against which others are hyphenated, but a self-knowing story.

Who were these people, my people? Where, specifically, did they own plantation land? Which indigenous people were displaced so that they could occupy that land? How many slaves did they “own”? Who were those enslaved people and how did they come to be under my family’s control? How much wealth was created, and passed down to me, through the exploitation of those enslaved people? Do I have distant dark-skinned cousins as a result of rape committed by my ancestors? What do I do with that information, when I find it? How does it become part of my story, my particularity? What responsibility do I have, to apologize, to atone, to make amends, for the sins of my ancestors?

The Bible seems to say contradictory things about whether the sins of the fathers are a responsibility of the sons (or daughters). Ezekiel 18:20 says “A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent”, but in Exodus 34:7, God says that he will “visit the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” None of us want to be held responsible for something we didn’t personally do, but I think we can also understand the concept of collective responsibility, especially when we have inherited wealth and privileges derived from the sinful acts of those who came before us. I feel under the weight of this knowledge, as a moral burden.

But at this point, I don’t even know enough to name the specific sins of my ancestors. I can’t jump to taking responsibility and making amends, when I don’t yet know what I’m atoning for. I have to do the work, to learn the Truth, to uncover the stories, to find the details. Will knowing the Truth set me free?

Jesus said “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And they answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Seriously?? “We’ve never been enslaved to anyone?” Have they completely forgotten that they were slaves in Egypt? They have so erased their own story that they have no conception of the moral plumbline of what it means to be Children of God, offspring of Abraham? Their hypocrisy is rooted in their utter forgetting of who they are.

The fact that they went immediately to the implication of slavery says something about the word Jesus used that we translate “free”. Perhaps liberate or emancipate would be a more specific English translation? We are enslaved by the untrue stories we tell, by the “whitewashing” of our history. In the case of the story of whiteness, we are enslaved by the negation, the “white space” of the story. It takes active forgetting and erasure to manufacture an identity of whiteness.

I’m only just beginning to uncover the stories of my ancestors, but already it is fascinating and provoking so many questions! I stumbled upon the fact that my mother is a first cousin of Robert E Lee, and that the future Confederate General lived with, and was educated by, his aunt and uncle, my great great great great great grandparents, at Eastern View Plantation in Fauquier County, Virginia, from the ages of 7 to 13. My ancestor John Carter established the very first slave plantation in Virginia, in 1613. My 1st cousin 7 times removed, Robert Carter III, emancipated his 500 slaves in 1791 under religious conviction, having converted to Swedenborgianism. My second cousin seven times removed, James Robinson, was the child of my slaveholder ancestor and a black woman. He became the richest black man in America, and built a home he called Bull Run, where two Civil War battles were fought literally in his front yard.

I didn’t know any of these people’s names until this last month, but I wasn’t completely unaware of my family’s “status”. I was raised with stories (maybe not as specific as stories, but more like the air I breath) that conveyed a sense of pride at being descended from this class of people. As the Book of Hebrews says, we are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” – those who came before us bear witness to us, with who they were, about who we are. What if they are not such a benevolent cloud? What if it feels more like smog?

It takes active forgetting and erasure to manufacture an identity of whiteness, and it will take active remembering to resist the inheritance of white supremacy. Resistance requires telling the stories, uncovering the silenced narratives and speaking them out, not just the stories of heroism and justice-making, but also the stories of sinful actions and misguided beliefs.

My mother clearly remembers her mother saying, with warmth and pride, that “the slaves loved our family.” This echoes, of course, the widespread myths that many aristocratic plantation families treated their slaves humanely, that slaves were happy in their condition, that there was genuine affection and even love between enslaved and enslaver, and that the cruelty exhibited by some slave owners was an aberrant exception to an otherwise bucolic situation of mutual contentment. The persistence of these myths attest to the skills of enslaved people in masking their true feelings, for the sake of their own and their family’s safety. The fact that my grandmother’s cherished self-image as the daughter of the beloved master was founded on utter rubbish was actually quite apparent to my mother, even as a young child, although she couldn’t at that time put words to the unease she felt with the received narrative of her family. She could only grasp that this version of whiteness was founded on a profound lie.

I wanted to be able to speak in this message about apologizing for the sins of our ancestors, about healing and making amends and offering reparations. I wanted to give Biblical direction on how this could happen, and what it would mean for me, and maybe for you too.

I have some experience with the power of an apology for collective sin, since I received a gut-compelling leading to offer an apology on the floor of New England Yearly Meeting in 2011, an apology to LGBT Friends on behalf of Christians, apologizing for the harm caused by homophobic theologies, policies and biblical interpretations. The experience of offering that apology was profound, and will stand as one of the moments in my life in which I felt most connected to the power of God, the power to repair that which has been broken.

So I find myself now yearning for a similar sense of leading in relation to the harm caused by my family’s participation in slavery. And I wanted to have clarity about that for you today. But I have to admit that I’m not there yet. I don’t know yet what that will mean, for me. What it will cost, not just in terms of money and words, but in terms of risk and reorientation. I can’t intellectualize it, and I certainly can’t preach it, until I’ve discovered how to live it. So, in order to stay within the integrity of what has been given to me experientially, I think at this point all I can reflect on is the importance of uncovering our ancestor stories and grappling with them. I can’t yet talk about how healing or apologizing or making amends or reparations will take shape for me.

But surely, truth-telling is a necessary step in the process of making amends. Unearthing the truth, especially when it has been purposefully forgotten or whitewashed, can in itself be a liberating task. As I scour the internet for information about my own ancestors, and rush into the other room to tell my family what I’m finding, I feel the magnetic compulsion toward the Truth. And I continue to believe that the Truth will set me on a path to freedom from white supremacy, for Jesus promised that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“A Strong Foundation,” by Max Carter

Max Carter, of New Garden Friends Meeting in North Carolina gave the message at Durham Friends Meeting on August 23, 2020. His text was Matthew 7:24-27:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish person who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

An audio recording of his message is here.

The message made frequent references to the Quaker Meetinghouse in Ramallah, Palestine, built of limestone (and on a sturdy foundation) in 1910 through the efforts of a Quaker couple from Maine, Timothy and Anna Hussey. The Meetinghouse was restored in 2005.

The Quaker Meetinghouse in Ramallah, Palestine

“Preyed Upon and Prayed For,” by Leslie Manning

A Message at Durham Friends Meeting, August 16, 2020

Leslie Manning began with a query and a thought:

I. “Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.” Britain YM Queries and Advices

II. Trauma constricts our vision and breathing, interrupts our compassion and restricts our ability to give and receive trust. It leaves us unable to open to the promptings of love, for our selves, our neighbors, our enemies or the Divine. Trauma robs us of joy.

Leslie invited us into a guided meditation, in which we each were asked to see ourselves, and then to see ourselves “just as we are” as a baby. We were asked to see this baby cradled in someone’s arms, tenderly. And we were asked to imagine saying these words:

“Just give me this:

A rinsing out, a cleansing free of all my smaller strivings

So I can be the class act God intended,

True to my purpose,

All my energy aligned behind my deepest intention.

And just this:

A quieting down, a clearing away of internal ruckus,

So I can hear the huge stillness in my heart and feel

How I pulse with all creation,

Part and parcel of Your great singing ocean.”

This guided meditation is from Belleruth Naparstek, a social worker and educator who specializes in working with trauma, and has created a series of guided imagery.  Her program of healing is called Healthjourneys and is widely used in hospitals, some prisons and jails and among refugees.

“NEYM Sessions: An Apology to Native Americans,” by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, August 9, 2020

“Each year, hundreds of Quakers from across New England and beyond join together for worship, fellowship and seeking how God will guide us in meeting for business.  Having first gathered in 1661, in 2020 New England Yearly Meeting of Friends celebrated 360 years of journeying together as a community of faith and witness. 

Annual sessions provided many opportunities to connect with Friends old and new: vibrant youth programs, adult small groups for interpersonal connection, encouragement, and spiritual exploration, discernment of how Quakers in New England are led by the Spirit to act and serve, and guest speakers offering explorations of the Bible and sharing ministry responding to our condition and the challenges of our times.”  New England Yearly Meeting Web site.    

We gathered over zoom to share ideas, to share stories, to share an apology, to encourage breathing, to be invited, by Amanda Kemp, to move into the heart when facing racial injustices and move toward restoration, to learn of the interrelationship of ecology and theology with Cherice Bock.

Amanda is the bestselling author of ‘Stop Being Afraid! 5 Steps to Transform your Conversations about Racism’, and ‘Say the Wrong Thing’, a collection of personal essays about racial justice and compassion.  

Cherice Bock is adjunct professor of ecotheology at George Fox University and Portland Seminary, and she works as the Creation Justice Advocate at Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.  A recorded Quaker minister, Bock sees environmental concerns as one of this generation’s most important social justice issues.  Her academic work focuses on nonviolent theology, Quakerism, contextual theologies, feminism, environmental justice, and ecotheology. 

There was a greater intensity this year.  There was greater intentionality.  Business meetings were devoid of the usual reports with the aim of focusing on racial justice and ecological restoration.  Another enriching element this year was the presence of a group called ‘Noticing Patterns of Oppression’.  Yearly meeting being intentional about noticing how those who have benefit from privilege may unknowingly speak and act in ways that oppress and ignore.  This was the second year for this group to offer their observations and help some become more aware of how their words can imply a sense of other, disregarding, self/cultural centrist perspectives.  Eye opening for those of us who need help in seeing, understanding how words impact others.  

Minutes and letters were presented.  Discussions engaged.  Challenges presented.  Encouragement given.  Minds opened.  Hearts softened.  Souls led. 

To do, to walk, to grow, to learn new language, to envision a world of inclusivity of the oppressed, of earth of life and health.  Two statements came out of the work of YM sessions.  NEYM Apology to Native Americans, and Call to Urgent, Loving Action for the Earth and Her Inhabitants.  Both will be sent out to Monthly Meetings to ponder and reflect upon in the coming year. 

This morning I want to share with you the apology for us to begin that process. 

In the silence that follows ponder:

  • How this letter affects my thinking, my heart, my leadings, my understanding of my journey with others. Others of the past and present. 
  • What do I know? What do I feel?  What do I think?   
  • What is my story? What is the story I want to create?  What do I need to learn? 

Do not let your guilt or defensiveness lead your response but your hope and leadings for a restorative future.

At yesterday’s last Bible half hour Cherice Bock invited us to understand ourselves as fractals of hope, embodying our part in the unfolding of Love, in relationship with and throughout Creation.  May this influence how we hear the letter. 

NEYM Apology to Native Americans 

To the Algonquian peoples of the Northeast who continue among us: the Abenaki, Mahican, Maliseet, Massachusett, Mi’kmaq, Mohegan, Narragansett. Nipmuck, Passamaquoddy, Pennaook, Penobscot, Pequot, Pocumtuc, Quinnipiac, Tunzis, and Wampanoag,

Apology

As participants in European colonization and as continuing beneficiaries of that colonization, Quakers have participated in a great and continuing injustice. For too long and in too many ways, we as a faith community have failed to honor that of God in you, the original peoples of these lands, and in doing so betrayed that of God in ourselves. We are deeply sorry for the suffering we caused in the past and continue to cause in the present. Today we acknowledge that injustice and apologize. 

We acknowledge that Quakers participated in and benefited greatly from the colonization effort which stole your land and displaced your ancestors and caused genocide and sought cultural erasure. We know that the injustice of displacement and disrespect continues. We also see the ways that we continue to benefit from broken treaties and genocidal policies. We have much work to do to attain right relationship.

We are sorry for our advocacy of the “Indian Industrial Boarding Schools,” which we now recognize was done with spiritual and cultural arrogance. Quakers were among the strongest promoters of this policy and managed over 30 schools for Indian children, mostly boarding schools, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We are deeply sorry for our part in the vast suffering caused by this system and its effects.

On behalf of New England Quakers, in particular those of us with European ancestry, we offer this apology. We commit to continuing our efforts to learn, to see more clearly the implications of settler colonialism in our own lives, and to work toward right relationship. We hold ourselves open to suggestions and to dialogue, holding no expectations of you. We will continue to pray for guidance and to seek divine assistance in the transformation we know is needed within each of us, and in the world.

A Call for Us to Act  

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends acknowledges that we have much work to do to enter into right relationship with Native Peoples and with all of Creation. To that end, we urge each of our monthly meetings to undertake the following: 

• Determine the identity of the Native occupants of the region in which their Meeting House rests and acknowledge that with a plaque. 

• Work within the meeting to raise awareness of the history of settler colonialism and our debt to Native Americans. 

• Follow the lead of Native Americans and support their efforts toward social and environmental justice, including preserving the integrity of their lands in the face of ongoing resource extraction, recognizing that theft of Native American land is not just a matter of history; it is happening today. 

• Support state and federal recognition of the status of tribes as acknowledged sovereign nations entitled to self-government and reparations. 

• Explore the implications for the meeting of restitution of lands unlawfully taken from Native Americans in violation of treaties. Once clear on what it would actually require of the meeting itself, support efforts by Native Americans to reclaim control of their sacred and culturally significant lands, including the restitution of lands unlawfully taken from them in violation of treaties.

Friends are encouraged to apply to the Legacy Gift Committee for funds to support their spiritual leadings in response to the above objectives.

“Six Things We Have To Offer,” By Doug Bennett

Most of us are living a closed-in, closed-down life.  We’re waiting for this strange time to pass.  And by ‘strange time’ I certainly mean the pandemic, but I mean more than that:  I mean what’s been unleashed in public life in recent years: corruption, bigotry, violence. These also can put us back on our heels, sheltered, for safety.  The pandemic requires me to stay apart from others, but the bigotry, violence and corruption can lead me to cower in a bunker, shut up in my house, waiting for it all to pass. 

Sometimes it feels like a strange dream: this is not my country; this is not my world.  But I know that it is my country and my world.  Waiting it out, cowering: these are not what I should be doing, or certainly not all that I should be doing.  It can feel like I don’t have much to offer – or that we don’t have much to offer.  It feels like I just have to wait it out – all the bad stuff.

But on second thought I think we do have things to offer.  That’s what’s on my mind this morning.  What Have We to Offer?  I’ve been making a list.  So, six things we have to offer– and I’m sure this is a partial list. 

…….

3.  Here’s a third thing we can offer: “Jesus has come to teach his people himself.”  In this community, Durham Friends Meeting, we know God will speak to us if we still ourselves and listen.  God will give us comfort.  Even more, God or Spirit will show us the way.  What an amazing thing this is that we have to offer. 

We’re not alone in the bunker.  We’re in this together, and we’re in it with God.  This idea that God speaks to us in the present: that is a very special thing that Quaker Meetings have to offer.  We should take advantage of this gift, and we do.  And we should share this gift with others – as often and loudly as we can.  We have a Teacher with us, always, to give us insight and courage, reassurance and encouragement.  So this is a third thing we have to offer.

4.  And here’s a fourth thing we have to offer, one we grasp when we truly grasp God will speak to us in the present.  We can remind ourselves that the Kingdom of Heaven is here now.  Of course it doesn‘t come automatically; it’s ours to build, this Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s not easy and not quick; it will take persistence and courage.  Still, the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t in some distant future, the Rapture or the Second Coming, something in the unknown future. 

We’re not waiting; we’re building.  We remind ourselves of this, and if we’re on our game, we tell other people this.  This understanding that the Kingdom of Heaven is really here, now, is a tremendous gift that Quakers offer the world.  If we’re really on our game, we show them this.  We join with others in building the beloved community. 

…..

We can take these offerings for granted.  They may come too easily to us.  We need to remember them when we feel like cowering or just sheltering in place.  Nevertheless, we mustn’t be shy or withdrawn.  We have things to offer – to one another, to our neighbors, to Mainers, to Americans, to the world. 

We have much to offer.  Let us be generous. 

[The full message is available on Riverview Friend.]

“Being at Friends Camp,” by Natalie Bornstein

A message given at Durham Friends Meeting, July 12, 2020

Good Morning. My name is Natalie Bornstein. I want to thank you for inviting me to be with you
today and to share a message on behalf of Friends Camp. I am a member of the Friends Camp
Committee and I also was a camper and a counselor as a young person.
For folks who may not know, Friends Camp is a Quaker sleepaway camp in South China, Maine
for youth ages 7-17. Friends Camp has been around since 1953 and due to the Covid-19
pandemic, this is the first summer that we have been unable to offer camp. But, before I share a
bit about the situation that Friends Camp is in today, I’d like to invite you to imagine Camp as it
usually is.
If you are comfortable, I invite you to think of yourself at around 12 years old. If that feels
uncomfortable in any way, you might imagine a 12 year-old you know and love or just listen
without any particular person in mind. For the next few minutes, you are 12 years old and you
are at Friends Camp for a two-week session with about 100 other young people. Twelve is a
great age to go to Camp. You’re young enough to fully give yourself over to silliness and
pretend and old enough to enjoy some of the independence that overnight camp allows. Once
you have your mental picture, I’d like to guide you through a day at Camp.
In the morning you wake to the sound of a bell. It is a sunny day and you are warm in your bunk
bed in Dove Cabin. You get up slowly, put on your clothes, and swing open the screen door.
The camp is awake and buzzing! There are children swinging on the log swing, playing tether
ball, reading books under the shady pine grove, and braiding each other’s hair for the day. You
take a seat at a picnic table with a couple of other kids and a counselor who is drinking coffee.
They are laughing and talking about the upcoming day.
The final bell rings at 8 and it is time for breakfast. You head into Big Bird dining hall. It’s loud
and a little chaotic, but you get to sit next to some friends from another cabin who you haven’t
seen since yesterday. It’s Tuesday at Camp which means Bagel Tuesday. There is a buffet
smorgasbord of bagels laid out for you. You like blueberry bagels with cream cheese – sweet
and sour together.
After breakfast you have some free time. You head to the tree house with a couple of friends.
You’re hoping nobody else got there first. It is one of your favorite spots at Camp – high above
the ground, quiet and private. You and your friends sit on the floor of the tree house so that no
one can see you from the ground. You talk about things at Camp and things from home, too. It
is the third day of Camp and you’re starting to feel close to them.
The bell rings again and it’s time for Meeting for Worship. The whole camp heads up to Aviary.
Aviary is a big, one-room building with a large stone fireplace. An Aviary is a home for birds and
all the cabins at Camp are named after birds. Once you’re inside Aviary you have to be silent,
and there is a cacophony of shushing as you enter the doors.
You’re not totally sure how you feel about Meeting for Worship. It can be hard to stay silent.
What are you supposed to think about? Sometimes another kid will do something silly like fart in
the middle of the silence and everyone will laugh. But, sometimes, it can feel like a moment
that’s all yours and shared with everybody else at the same time. Everyday a counselor shares
a message. They make you feel calm, like having a story read to you when you were younger.
Sometimes they make you feel small, but not in a bad way. Some kids share messages too.
You never have, you’re not sure what you would say, but maybe one morning you will.
After Meeting for Worship, it’s time for Programs. In your program, you and 7 other kids are
writing a play together. You’re going to perform it at the Variety Show at the end of camp. It’s
very silly and doesn’t totally make sense and yesterday when your Program group was together,
you laughed so hard you couldn’t catch your breath. You volunteered to create the costumes
because you learned to sew recently, but you have a role in the performance too. The counselor
who is leading the program is very cool. They are studying theater in college.
Other kids are in their own programs. Some of them are making art, some are learning how to
build a fire, some are canoeing to a nearby island, some are organizing a protest, some are
inventing new sports, and some are getting dirty just for fun.
After Programs and lunch, you and your cabin mates retire to Dove for Rest Hour. While the sun
is high and hot outside, in the cabin, it’s cool and shady. Your counselor delivers the cabin’s
mail, while reminding you to talk quietly so that they can get some rest. Talking with your
friends, you try, unsuccessfully, to keep your giggles hushed. Eventually, your counselor tells
you that they really need sleep and that the remainder of Rest Hour will be silent. You climb
back into your own bunk and stare up at the ceiling. The walls of the cabin are covered in writing
and doodles. Writing on cabin walls is encouraged at camp. There are names of kids from 20
and 30 years ago! You read their names and their jokes and their favorite bands and imagine
kids in the future reading your name. You get out your black sharpy and sign your bunk bed,
adding ‘slept here 2021.’
Soon another bell rings and it’s time for Waterfront. You change into your bathing suit, grab your
towel, your water bottle, your book, and your friendship bracelet materials. You consider your
sunscreen but disregard it. You’re working on your tan!
At Waterfront, there is a wide grassy field that leads to a small rocky beach and a long dock
extending out onto the lake. Campers sit together in circles – talking, reading, playing cards,
making friendship bracelets. Some run to the water immediately, hand in hand with their
swimming buddies. They breathlessly declare their partnership to the counselor stationed at the
buddy board and run forward, feet pounding the slippery dock. The sounds of splashing,
shouting, and the high tone of a lifeguard’s whistle travel from the beach up to the field.
Another group of children rush the Boat House. Kayaks, canoes, and a small sailboat are
marched toward the rocky boat launch. You’ve never been on a boat like that, but think you’d
like to try. Some of the kids seem like they’ve been captaining boats forever. But, you think: it’s
your third summer at camp. If not now, when?
You talk to the counselor in charge of all of Waterfront. She’s excited that you want to learn how
to use the boats! She says, maybe for today you could go out on a boat together to see if you
like it?
Out on China Lake you feel powerful and quiet at once. The Waterfront counselor steers the
kayak confidently into the wind, and it blows your hair back and ripples in your ears. The feeling
of gliding across the water, away from camp, toward the islands makes you feel free and sets
your mind to thinking about big things – bigger than camp.
Remembering the counselor captaining your craft, you suddenly feel shy and unsure of what to
say to her, but she seems happy and comfortable with the silence. Suddenly, using the oar as a
pointer, she whispers: ‘Look! On that rock – it’s a turtle!’
After returning from Waterfront, there is time to rest or enjoy an elective before dinner. And by
dinner you are tired and hungry from the day. You pile your plate with pasta, garlic bread, salad,
and Nestor Cake (a peanut buttery, chocolate frosted, Friends Camp original dessert). Once
everyone has eaten, the counselors stand up in front of Big Bird, and call names for jobs. You
cross your fingers under the table and chant: ‘Not me. Not me. Not me.’ in your head. You were
planning to meet your friends at the log swing to continue the comic you’ve been reading
together. But, it’s the third day of camp and you haven’t gotten an assignment yet. And as they
call the names for dinner wash, you hear your own and sigh: ‘At least it isn’t bathrooms.’
When jobs are done, everyone comes together for Evening Games. You are given the role of
‘seaweed’ in the game Fishy, Fishy Cross my Ocean. Campers are running, falling, laughing,
and tagging one another. Some sit on the side of the field and watch or cheer. Tired and out of
breath, you put 3 fingers up to the sky to estimate how long until sunset like the Camp Director
taught you. It’s almost time for Vespers.
As the sky becomes dusky, campers rush to change into long sleeves and pants. In a line led by
counselors holding giant, light-up stop signs, you cross the busy road to the Vespers Field. As
you enter through a clearing, everyone begins to quiet down. You find a spot at the edge of the
field and sit cross legged in the grass. From this point at the top of the hill, you can see the
brilliant orange sun touching down on China Lake. The clouds around the sun are pink, the sky
above your head holds on to blue, and the water shimmers with the day’s remaining light.
Across the field, campers and counselors are gazing at the sunset, writing in journals, or laying
on their backs and staring at the sky – waiting for the first stars to arrive. You love the quiet at
the end of the day. There is no nervousness inside you, asking what should I say? What could I
contribute? The sunset and the lake is more than enough and says everything about the day.
After the sun slips past the horizon, a counselor stands up and stretches – signaling that
Vespers has come to an end. Campers and counselors come together in hugs, handshakes,
high fives, and smiles. Welcoming each other back to the realm of talking and noise. You walk
back to camp chatting and laughing again, but a calmness remains.
In Aviary, tonight’s Evening Program is singing together. Some of the early songs are loud and
involve coordinated movements. Others are inspiring and exciting like ‘Solidarity Forever.’ The
last song is a round called ‘Sanctuary,’ and in the final verse, campers begin to leave Aviary,
group by group, singing into the night. As you pass through the doors, a counselor hands you a
bedtime snack. It is a warm, gooey cinnamon roll. This is your favorite bedtime snack.
Once everyone is in bed in Dove Cabin, your counselor says goodnight, turns off the light, and
leaves for their hour off. Almost immediately, you and your friends launch into your favorite night
time game: attempting to make it all the way around the cabin without touching the floor. You
climb from top bunk to top bunk, scurry over bureaus and shelves, and swing across the
doorway, feet on either side of the doorknob.
It isn’t long before a counselor on night patrol, comes by with their flashlight, and tells Dove
Cabin to settle down. After they leave there are lots of giggles, but soon voices lower and your
cabin mates wiggle into their sleeping bags and drift off to sleep. In the darkness and quiet, you
feel awake. Your mind wanders and you feel unexpectedly sad and wish some of your friends
were awake to keep you company. After tossing and turning for a bit, while a mosquito squeals
in your ear, you decide to get out of bed and go outside.
You find the night patrol counselor sitting on the bench under the floodlight. Above them, moths
dive in and out of the light. You tell them you’re feeling sad and don’t know why. They ask if
you’d like to go for a walk?
The night is extra dark at camp. The frogs singing in the pond are the only sound in the hot air.
All the familiar places feel different, special and secret. As you walk, you tell the counselor about
how you miss your family while you’re at camp and that there are things you’d rather not think
about while you’re here. But, at night when you’re alone in your bunk, those things tend to come
back. You stop at a swing between two trees. You swing for a bit while they sit on a stump and
watch you. They mostly listen. It is nice to not be alone.
After a while on the swing, you feel more settled. The counselor walks you back to your cabin
and says goodnight. You creep quietly back into your bunk. The mosquito seems to be gone
now. You look out at the night sky through the small window by your bed. You hear the soft
sounds of your friends snoring and rustling in their beds. As you close your eyes, you can still
feel the waves of the lake underneath the kayak in your body. The memory rocks you as you
drift off to sleep.
Thank you for listening. Much of what I shared with you is based on moments that I experienced
as either a camper or counselor. I wrote this imagination about summer at camp in the year 2021. But, it could have been set at any time in the last 40 years. That is one of the aspects of
Friends Camp that make it home for so many people. While our values and vision continue to
evolve to better support the needs of youth, the daily routine, the summer activities, and the
feeling of community and friendship are timeless. I can say from years of experience, the rhythm
of life at camp is very grounding. And I hope my words were able to convey some of that feeling.
Of course, Camp is more than swimming, and games, and singing. It is a place where youth and
young adults from all backgrounds build community together that is rooted in Quaker values.
Youth and young adult staff work together to care for both the physical environment and the
relational and spiritual needs of the community. Quaker values at Camp are more than children
attending Meeting and Vespers everyday. It is built into the uniquely accessible structure of
camp. For example, among many other scholarships opportunities, Friends Camp offers
free-of-cost camp for any child in Maine who has a parent/guardian who is incarcerated. This
option lasts for all the years a child is able to attend camp, even if their parent or guardian is
released. Friends Camp is also a participant in the Level Ground program, a scholarship that
intends to make summer camp more accessible for youth in Maine from immigrant and refugee
families. And Friends Camp has long been a safe place for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults.
Recently, camp began offering a ‘gender expansive’ cabin for youth who do not feel affirmed by
the limited options of ‘girls’ and ‘boys.’
I also wrote this message as a prayer that Friends Camp will be able to open in summer 2021.
The cancelation of this summer’s sessions left Friends Camp in a challenging economic
situation. In order to insure that we can hold camp next summer and for years to come, Friends
Camp staff, committee members, alumni, and families have been working together on an
initiative called the ‘Flock Together Campaign’ to raise $75,000 to sustain camp. Thanks to the
generosity of the camp community, we are 90% of the way to reaching that goal.
Members of the Camp Committee, like myself, are also visiting with Meetings throughout New
England to connect with the wider Quaker community and share our need. Friends Camp is not
only an important summer resource for youth, it is an opportunity for them to connect with
Quakerism in a way that it is fun, age appropriate, and meaningful. And we appreciate the
generosity of the wider community for helping us keep this beautiful site of youth ministry alive.
If you feel moved personally or as a Meeting to support camp you can go online to
friendscamp.org/support or reach out to me personally. Thank you for listening and for inviting
me into your worship today.

“Leaning Into Invitations and Blessings,” by Lisa Steele-Maley

Notes from Message for Durham Meeting, July 5, 2020


It is a serious thing,

Just to be alive

on this fresh morning

In this broken world.

These words from Mary Oliver’s poem Invitation help me to embrace the immensity of this moment. They invite me to step into the responsibility to stretch widely enough to embrace both the despair and the hope in this moment — mine, yours, and everyone else’s. When I found this poem in early April, the invitation provided ballast for navigating the push and pull of the everchanging, uncertain landscape. I gave myself to the responsibility of showing up, naming “paying attention” as my primary commitment and trusting that the next right thing to do will emerge.

Invitation

Mary’s invitation gave me courage, energy, and strength to show up and I gave myself to it fully and wholeheartedly, until I was exhausted. In my exhaustion, I become impatient, eager to return to some action, some form of doing. Fortunately, John O’Donohue’s poem meets me there, with gentle reassurance that “empty time” is where I need to be. He encourages me to let go of “doing” and give into “being”.

For One Who is Exhausted, A Blessing

The ballast provided by giving into the exhaustion balances that of showing up. Settling in more deeply to embrace both the exhale and the inhale, the rest and the exertion, I recognize Spirit at work in me. Recognizing the accompaniment of spirit, I more easily trust that the ebb and flow of my energy and attention is natural and necessary. It is how I remain faithful. Parker Palmer wrote, “the struggle for love, truth and justice is forever. Those of us who care about it are not asked to win a final victory in our lifetimes. We are asked to remain faithful to the task…”

At this time, let us lean into the invitations and the blessings that help us to remain faithful to the task. And let us remember that “it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world” and “we must be excessively gentle with ourselves.”

“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass

Note: This morning (July 5, 2020), Joyce Gibson opened worship by reading excerpts from this speech by Frederick Douglass. Here is the whole speech.

Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852, Corinthian Hall, Rochester, N.Y., on invitation of the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, N.Y.

Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens:

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He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.

The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable — and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.

Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.

But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.

Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not the men to look back.

As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure. The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.

The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the lesson is wholly lost on our present ruler.

Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it.

Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.

These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.

Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.

On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. “Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness.

The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.

The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interest — a nation’s jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.

Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men shout — “We have Washington to our father.” — Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

The evil that men do, lives after them, The good is oft-interred with their bones.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mineYou may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. — There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Take the American slave-trade, which, we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our DOCTORS OF DIVINITY. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and America religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh-jobbers, armed with pistol, whip and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field, and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-chilling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man, with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the center of your soul! The crack you heard, was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard, was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow the drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me citizens, WHERE, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street, Fell’s Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves, the slave ships in the Basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed CASH FOR NEGROES. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.

The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered, for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the antislavery agitation, a certain caution is observed.

In the deep still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains, and the heart-rending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathized with me in my horror.

Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horsessheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

Is this the land your Fathers loved,
The freedom which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?

But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented. By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason and Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the Star-Spangled Banner and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your lawmakers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, our lordsnobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, not religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes mercy to them a crime; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side, is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, hear only his accusers!

In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenseless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on the globe, having the brass and the baseness to put such a law on the statute-book. If any man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.

I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.

At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise, and cumin” — abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church, demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal! — And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner. Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old Covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door, and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox, to the beautiful, but treacherous queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mintanise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation — a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain ablations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”

The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.

In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have appeared — men, honored for their so-called piety, and their real learning. The Lords of Buffalo, the Springs of New York, the Lathrops of Auburn, the Coxes and Spencers of Brooklyn, the Gannets and Sharps of Boston, the Deweys of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land have, in utter denial of the authority of Him by whom they professed to be called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example or the Hebrews and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.

My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend (Rev. R. R. Raymond) on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.

One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in England towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating, and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a high religious question. It was demanded, in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, and Burchells and the Knibbs, were alike famous for their piety, and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable, instead of a hostile position towards that movement. Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that the right to hold and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic.

Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped

To palter with us in a double sense:
And keep the word of promise to the ear,
But break it to the heart.

And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest imposters that ever practiced on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape. But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe. There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length — nor have I the ability to discuss it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by Lysander Spooner, Esq., by William Goodell, by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., and last, though not least, by Gerritt Smith, Esq. These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour.

Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a track of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this right, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas tells us that the Constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the Constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tell us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.

Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic, are distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign,
To man his plundered fights again
Restore.

God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end.
And change into a faithful friend
Each foe.

God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower;
But all to manhood’s stature tower,
By equal birth!
That hour will come, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Go forth.

Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive —
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Be driven.

Source: Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Philip S. Foner (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1999), 188-206.