Category Archives: Messages

“The Light In Winter” by Jo-an Jacobus

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, April 22, 2018

Today is Earth Day.  The synchronicity of that being the day I give the message was an unexpected fluke.  I was to have given the message last week but things shifted to meet other needs, and I was flexible.  So, here we are…

I live with major depression, and it cycles, but only below the midline. I do not go into the mania.   Usually, I cycle right around the midline.  That is not too bad.  I can live there and manage in the world, doing the things that need doing, enjoying the world around me.

This winter it has been very bad, the worst in many years.

I have had a hard time feeling my usual connection with the Spirit, the God of my understanding.  In that regard, I’ve bumbled along “acting as if”, as they say in 12 Step programs, acting as though I still felt the connection with my Higher Power: saying prayers as best I could. Prayers asking for help for myself and others. Prayers of thanks were harder.  Sometimes prayer became short indeed, something along the lines of, “I’m still here.  It’s awful in this skin.  Please don’t forget me.”  Or even, “G’morning Goddess.  Help!”  But I always tried for more.

When I am this depressed I do not manage to keep commitments – to myself or others.  My self-care suffers, often feeling insurmountable to me: keeping my world running smoothly, or running at all, even doing the basic daily care people take for granted seems beyond my reach.

Sometimes I don’t make it to Meeting, or anywhere else, or if I get out, I don’t interact with Friends, with people all that well.  Being with people is sometimes too much.   Yet, in these worst times, I sometimes rise above to have moments of laughter and good interactions but those moments do not mean all is lightness and joy in my world.  Everything seems to be going along just fine, until… it’s not.

In March, for the first time in over twenty years, I went back on antidepressants.  They have been added to the medications I take for the cycling.

The saving Grace of the winter was unexpected and came in small instants offering blessings of Love every time I drove my car.  What a strange place for the darkness to lift, but there it was.

The Light this brought into my life carried me through this darkest of winters.  As I drove I noticed Nature in all Her glory.  The small field of hills behind the tree farm.  The trees nestled up next to the road hugging me tightly.  The stream that roared over the small dam as I passed.  The smaller and smaller lines of the tree branches against the sky.  The mist and fog slowly moving between the trees, around the houses, over the hills.  The rays of light flashing from the diamonds stuck on all the trees, the roof lines, on the stone walls, the power lines, and street signs.  All standing quietly available for my glance. Fortunately, I was able to see.  My eyes, my soul soaked in the beauty, the wonder.  It carried me through the darkness of each day.

Most important, I was able to be thankful for living in this world of beauty.  I couldn’t say prayers in the forms I was used to. I could not say thank you for the life I had been given.  But I could say, “Thank you for this world”.

Happy Earth Day, Friends. 

“Overcoming Obstacles” by Roland Gibson

Teacher, what is the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love our neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:36-39

Have you ever asked yourself, why, our Country, ‘founded on Christian Principles’, has had difficulty honoring that commandment? Why is our Country still struggling with issues of Race, Gender, Inequity and Injustice?

The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others. Albert Schweitzer

Schweitzer was a person who made a conscious effort to align his actions with his beliefs. He made a life-long commitment to honor the two greatest commandments. I don’t think he was a Quaker, but he shared Quaker values.

Justice will only be achieved when those who do not suffer injustice feel the same outrage as those who do. Socrates – Socrates was definitely not a Quaker. However, he could have been.

This morning will be about interventions, by individuals who Overcame Obstacles.

Thank you for inviting me to return to Durham Meeting. I have been uplifted by our previous conversations and hope they have added value to your life-journey. We’ve all been inundated with bad news, so today, I thought it would be refreshing to share some good news. For those in this room, for the first time, previous conversations have included asking questions:

Why are things related to race, the way they are today?

What did Quakers do, from the beginning, about issues of inequity and injustice, related to matters of race that was very different from the ‘mainstream’?

Two significant events embracing ‘Outrage’, ‘Love thy neighbor’, and ‘Showing the will to help others’, initiated by white people; that got my attention.

1965 – August. I was just hired to teach, my first job. Looking for an apartment, I came upon a church, drove into parking lot, hoping someone could give me information about a Realtor. I met the minister.

I did not know, that minister, along with other church members, college students and professors, from Oberlin College, were ‘outraged’, made a commitment to ‘help others’, and took a significant risk. They went to Blue Mountain, Mississippi, in December 1964, to rebuild one of the 30 Black Churches that had been burned. They all returned. Some white people, from the North, who went to help Black people in their struggle for Justice and Equity, in the South, returned in a box. That got my attention. 2 of 8

1973 – August. I was hired, as an Elementary Principal, in the Town of Weston, MA. After I was hired, I learned 7-years before, 1966, a handful of individuals, were ‘outraged’, and made a commitment to ‘help others’ by addressing decades of inequity and injustice in BPS. That got my attention.

Quakers understood, before Independence in 1776, there was something very wrong, fundamentally wrong, with a social, political and economic system that was unjust, and oppressive, and supported by The Christian Church.

Quakers understood the lofty concepts of ‘Freedom’, ‘We the people’, and ‘The pursuit of life, liberty and happiness’, were not inclusive, they were a ‘Myth’! Some groups were intentionally excluded from the Social Contract: Native People, People of Color, Women, and those who did not share ‘religious beliefs’ of those in power.

There have always been two versions of The United States of America story:

  • ‘Land of the free and home of the brave’.
  • ‘Land of the free and home of the brave, with significant flaws, from the beginning, which continue to result in profound conflict’.

Today, I will draw your attention to interventions, created by individuals, to address one of the profound flaws – inequity and injustice in education.

There are two take aways. First, Quakers have had a long history of challenging tradition, being outraged, and trying to live enlightened lives, by actively honoring the Greatest Commandments. Second, here are two illustrations of non-Quakers, being outraged, and acting on Quaker values.

  • Jonathan Kozol, and
  • A few citizens of Weston, MA.

“Overcoming Obstacles”  Time Line: 1950’s and beyond, modified by Roland A. Gibson

1954 – Brown v. Board of Education, Supreme Court landmark decision. Implications?

1955 – Roland graduates high school, enlists US Air Force. I took an oath to ‘Defend the Constitution and the United States’. What was I supposed to do about the flaws that impacted me and others? A conversation for another time.

1960 – Roland attends College, in Quincy, had to deal with matters of race; puzzled, because this was a ‘Christian College’. Race matters never addressed in classes.

1963

a. Spring – ‘March on Washington’. Why?

b. Every city in America was in turmoil – why? Boston – Huge Demonstrations by black parents and boycotts by their children. Why? Gross inequity and injustice in BPS; was never addressed in college classes.

1964

a. Operation Exodus – Black and White parents came together to address problems.

b. Jonathon Kozol begins teaching at Gibson Elementary School, Dorchester. He was 28. The next year I was 28, teaching in Town of Harvard. (Read excerpts – ‘Frozen In Time, Remembering The Students Who Changed A Teachers Life’, June 30, 2015, NPR, All Things Considered)

1965

a. Spring – ‘March on Selma’. Why?

b. Summer, Camp Blue Hill, Roxbury Weston – Initiated by a handful of white suburban parents, women who were ‘outraged’! See Weston Historical Society November 2017 Bulletin, pages 8, 14-16.

c. Fall, Roxbury Weston Pre-School. See Weston Historical Society November 2017 Bulletin, pages 11-14.

d. Fall, Roland begins teaching career Harvard, Mass, upper income, suburban town. My students were baffled by turmoil. What was I supposed to tell them?

e. Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), created, transportation initially funded by Carnegie Foundation, and later by the Massachusetts Legislature.

1966 – 200 Boston resident students bussed to 6-suburban towns:

Arlington, Braintree, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton and Wellesley.

1967 – Weston Public Schools becomes METCO partner, along with close to 30 other suburban towns.

1968 – National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, Kerner Commission Report:

a. Our country is moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.

1973 – Roland appointed Elementary School Principal, Grades 3 – 6, Weston Public Schools; first cohort of Boston resident students in grade 6.

1974 – U. S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity found Boston’s Schools to be Unconstitutionally segregated…initiated forced busing plan.

1984 – Roland becomes 5th Weston METCO Program Coordinator, inherits major challenges.

See Historical Society Bulletin, pg. 27

1993 – District recognized by Mass Board of Education – ‘Exemplary Integrated Education Model’; and The Network, a Private Non-Profit – ‘Outstanding efforts in celebrating diversity’. See Weston Historical Society Fall Bulletin, pg. 29.

2017 – November: Roxbury Weston Preschool and Weston METCO Celebrate                 50 years.

a. Weston Historical Society Forum speakers: 1 – Founder citizen; 1 – Founder                     educator; 2 – Weston METCO Coordinators.

b. Over 100 people in the room, standing room only! Founders, parents and students from Boston and Weston. Some parents and students were in my school and spoke with me about the impact this program had on them and their children.

c. One panelist asked: ‘Why are you here?’ Responses:

  • (1) To say ‘Thank You.’
  • (2) To continue to support the program’
  • (3) I see value and have personal experience with the program.
  • (4) Panelists are great!
  • (5) We still have ‘flaws’ and not dealing with them is not an option!

d. Follow-up meeting, to ‘Brain Storm’ initiated.

This is not about ‘blame’ or ‘guilt’. It’s about making a commitment to honor the ‘Greatest Commandment’; it’s about being ‘Outraged’; it’s about ‘showing compassion and the will to help others’, something very personal, seeking and finding ‘the purpose of human life’.

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Mr. Gibson began his education career as a Social Studies Teacher, grades 7 – 9, at Bromfield School in 1965, during The Civil Rights Movement – the latest struggle by African American citizens, to achieve Civil Rights equal to those of white citizens, following centuries of oppression, inequity and injustice. His 50-plus years of service, in public and private schools include positions as: Department Head; Teacher; Assistant Headmaster, Director of Admissions; Field Elementary School Principal, Grades 3 – 6; Graduate School of Education Professor, UMass Lowell; School Committee member in Littleton, his home town; Educational Consulting, and facilitating workshops in: conflict resolution, parent training, problem solving, board development, staff development, cultural identity, equity and diversity.

Mr. Gibson challenged traditional views of identity, which profoundly impact student achievement. He believes strongly that each educator has a role to play in improving the education process for all students and creating change in society. As a result of his work to improve outcomes for all students and facilitate change Mr. Gibson has received numerous awards.

 

“What Were We Expecting from Christmas?” by Doug Bennett

Excerpts from a Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 7, 2018 by Doug Bennett

This Christmas season I found myself very struck by the passages in Isaiah where the birth of the Messiah is foretold. It was all foretold by this prophet: that’s the suggestion. Says Isaiah,

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end…” and “with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.”

And then there’s this: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them…. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (from Isaiah Chapters 9 and 11).

All this sounds like the coming of a king doesn’t it, a mighty ruler who will bring peace and prosperity. My goodness, what a promise. Lie back and enjoy it because here come the good times. Those good times, those peaceful and just times have been promised to us – without our ever lifting a finger.

Is that what you got for Christmas? I didn’t.

I woke up with the same President, the same Congress, and the same war in Afghanistan. I woke up with mass shootings, rampant racism, rising inequality and falling life expectancy in the U.S.

Were we cheated on Christmas day?

Maybe Isaiah was just a fool, or maybe we’re fools because we just don’t know how to understand his prophecy. But there’s a third possibility: Maybe Isaiah is on to something. He sees the possibility and he tries to tell us about it in a prophecy, but it’s so new and so surprising that he really doesn’t quite understand it. So what he says isn’t exactly right. It’s important, and we should hear it, but what he says isn’t the whole of the matter, the last and complete word.

I want to add here that I think this is more or less what happens in our worship together. Someone rises to speak out of the silence. What they say is important and truthful, but it isn’t perfect and whole. It’s a message we all need to hear, and yet it needs something added – more to be added, or greater clarity. One message adds to another.

What happens after Christmas is the real jaw-dropping part of the story. Jesus doesn’t turn out to be what we think of when we think of all-powerful, all-just rulers. He’s a carpenter’s son, an itinerant preacher/story-teller. He hangs out with low-lifes, he enrages authorities, and he ends up crucified.

In this surprising, unexpected example of Jesus, God asks to live a completely different life than what people had previously thought proper: to be humble, not proud, to be generous, to love our neighbors and to forgive.

Isaiah didn’t quite get it right in his prophecy. It won’t just happen by itself. If we are to celebrate the Prince of Peace, we must keep His memory alive and live by His example. If we are to have righteousness and peace and justice, now and forevermore, WE will have to make it so. We will have to live by this new way of living that Jesus taught.

God has no hands but ours. That’s what Isaiah didn’t tell us.

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The entire message is on Doug Bennett’s blog, River View Friend.

An After Christmas Poem by Howard Thurman

In Meeting today we did a version of Lessons and Carols, alternating carol singing with passages bout the birth of Jesus from the Bible.  The last passage read was this poem by Howard Thurman.

The Work of Christmas, by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and the princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music in the heart.

“What to Make of the Christmas Story” by Doug Bennett

From a message by Doug Bennett, November 26, 2017

Here is something surprising about the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke, the only Gospels with Christmas stories: there is never any mention of the Jesus’s birth in the Gospels or in the rest of the New Testament for that matter. It’s as if everyone forgot about that miracle birth. No one ever says to Jesus, “Aren’t you that guy that was born under a gigantic star?” Or “aren’t you the one the Magi came and showered gifts on? Whatever became of all that gold? Do you have a trust fund?” Or even, “wow, you must be the real deal! I remember what a fuss the angels made about your birth. That was amazing!”

Not a word. If no one in the Bible remembers, why do we make such a deal out of it? The collective amnesia is all the more surprising when we remember that the Gospels are full of hints and suggestions and confusions about whether Jesus really is the Son of God. Wouldn’t this have clinched it, if someone had just said: “Remember the amazing birth, the Magi and the angels and all that?” So what’s the point of these two Christmas stories that are part of these Gospels and yet not part of them?

There were plenty of other born-of-a-God stories in the world into which Jesus was born: Achilles (in the Iliad), Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar: all claimed to have gods as parents. This Jesus that is born in glory turns out to be completely different from anyone else who has a “born-of-a-God” beginning. Those others were garden-variety heroes, strong warriors, born to rule and to dominate others. Those others become powerful. They dominated others. They had the ‘right stuff’. Now in Jesus we have something completely different. Strength is turning the other cheek. Love, not power is the major chord. Peace seeking, humility and simplicity are the order of the day.

For me, it’s not possible to understand the Christmas story without thinking about the other stories about Jesus that the Gospels tell, the stories after the Christmas story. These are stories that challenge us to live a different life.

Every so often you read a story about a guy who seemed to have everything: smarts and charm and wealth, and then it all goes bad. Everything sours. He ends up without friends, in prison, and finally he’s executed. Maybe he was guilty of something, maybe he wasn’t. But he’s forgotten soon after the news story. So sad, we say.

Jesus’s story is like that. It starts in glory and ends in execution. Only we’re not supposed to think ‘so sad’. When Jesus dies, he is ushering in something completely different; he triumphs. But he triumphs only if we follow the new way: the way of love and forgiveness. We certainly won’t see that surprising triumph if we only remember the first part of the story, the part in which he is born having it all, a good family, wealth and adoration. It’s what happens next that really matters. So stay tuned. Can we make the new way triumph?

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The entire message can be found at the blog River View Friend.

“Beatitudes for the Future” By Edwin Hinshaw

From a message in November by Edwin Hinshaw

A beatitude is prophetic pronouncement of joy, hope and promise used most effectively by Jesus in his teaching. Beatitudes are not peculiar to the New Testament. They are found throughout the Bible. They are pronouncements upon the person who is righteous, who keeps his/her hand (life) from doing evil, looking forward with confidence and trust in God. Beatitudes are not eschatological in nature (such as rewards after death or the end), but promises realizable during one’s life time upon earth.

The joy and happiness expressed in the Beatitudes comes not from good fortune or reward but from the fact that action being considered reflects the nearness of God. While the Beatitudes cited by Jesus follow the general pattern of all Beatitudes, he adds a special dimension or paradox. Persons who in no way appear fortunate are those declared blessed. The special dimension comes from taking a risk in faith with justice, peace, simple living and witness to God’s love.

In addition, Beatitudes are so stated as to release us from the tension of the present into the joy of the moment. In planning for tomorrow, the next day after that, or the next year, may our goals be joyful, hopeful, risky, moral and affirmations of the nearness of God: Beatitudes for the future.

“How Can I Help You?” by Craig Freshley

A message by Craig Freshley on November 19, 2017.  You can listen to a recording of it here. Here is a partial text:

I’m going to retell a story that I heard from my friend Gary, I’ve colored in some of the details but basically it goes like this…

Gary was on a business trip for a month, in Bangkok. He was tired, ready to go home. He had been dealing with translators, restaurants, hotels, and difficult relations with business partners. He was headed home to New York, but he had to stop half way there. The flight from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi went well but when he walked into the airport, his heart sank. There were people everywhere: sleeping, talking on cell phones, babies being fed, crying. He made his way to the flight information board and saw his flight… cancelled. He was trying to get home for Thanksgiving. He was tired, hungry, and he kinda snapped. He was angry. He had been doing pretty well with the customers and the changes, but he didn’t need this.

He made his way to the customer service line, and figured he was about 40th. One ticket agent. Tempers flared, tears cried. As he waited, he planned his speech. He figured he was going to get about 3 minutes with this representative, a face-to-face conversation with the faceless corporation that had done him wrong.

After about 1 1/2 hours, he found himself maybe 4th or 5th in line, close enough to overhear what other people were saying, and he refined his speech. He heard the customer service representative. After each person walked away, she gathered herself, looked in the eyes of the next person, and she said, “How can I help you?” He watched her do this repeatedly.

Gary closed his eyes and meditated. He prayed for help, his prayer began with something like “Please help this woman get me to New York”. But then his mind wandered a little bit and he started thinking about her, wondering: Did she have kids? She was about his age. How does she get to the airport? Drive like everyone else and park in the same garage? Maybe she takes the bus – it must be a long bus ride; this airport is kinda far outside the city. Does she wear her uniform on the bus? Do they have to check in through TSA? Maybe… she was called in. Maybe she was called away from her family on short notice, to deal with all these cancellations… I wonder if this is a holiday in Abu Dhabi…

Suddenly he had a new way of looking at the situation and he decided – when I get up to the counter – I’m going to have an attitude of “How can I help you?” He threw out the old speech. He didn’t make a new speech, but he just cultivated a new attitude of ‘how can I help you?’

He decided that he was going to try to see the problem as “their” problem. Not her problem to solve for him. They were both just trying to do their jobs, both in a difficult situation that neither one of them asked for. He decided he was going to be polite, to be patient. He was going to offer her compassion and respect, he was going to provide a respite for her in between dozens of angry customers. And when he got to the counter, he did those things. He acted out the attitude and when they were done, and he was about to walk away, he thanked her for being so helpful.

Gary walked away from that customer service counter feeling better than when he had arrived at that customer service line, not because of what he got from the transaction, but because of what he gave. I never heard if Gary made it back for Thanksgiving. But I’m thinking that maybe it doesn’t matter so much. I suspect that Gary walked away from that counter proud of himself for flipping his attitude and brightening that gal’s day, and he was probably okay with the outcome, whatever it was. I’m guessing.

You know what else? The material outcome probably wouldn’t have changed one bit if he had used speech number one. To me, the story illustrates the power of prayer. To me, I haven’t really seen direct evidence that prayer changes outcomes. Not in a way that is scientifically, or evidence based defensible. I have seen that prayer changes attitudes. That’s what happened in this case. What matters is not the accounting ledger of how people have done me wrong versus how people have done me right. Stuff happens. Bad things happen to good people. I can get myself in such a knot, such a bad mood trying to keep track of that ledger and trying to manage that ledger. What matters is a feeling of peace and happiness. We are seduced into thinking that by managing the ledger, by trying to get more than I paid for, that’s going to bring me peace and happiness. But, there is a short cut. The short cut is a change in attitude. In Gary’s case, his attitude changed through prayer and meditation. Attitudes are contagious. I like to think that while Gary was at the customer service counter, having his conversation, a person 3 places back overheard a snippet of that conversation and a way opened for that person to see things in a new light.

“Transformation Towards Racial Justice” by Nancy Marstaller

From a message by Nancy Marstaller in October, 2017

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what God’s will is—God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Transformation was the themeof yearly meeting this year. I was blessed to be able to attend and want to share a story from that meeting that has stuck with me.

Friend Xinef Afriam retold us the familiar story about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but added new information that I didn’t know and that gave us a whole new view of transformation- both for caterpillars and for humans. I was so intrigued, I looked up more about this when I got home.

As we know, after a time of eating and eating, a caterpillar finds a place to make a cocoon or chrysalis. Imagine the monarch butterfly caterpillar, which makes the wonderful J shape and spins its gold-decorated chrysalis around itself. But it’s not as simple as we think. There are cells, which are dormant in the caterpillar and called “imaginal cells.” It turns out that before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing from an egg, it grows an imaginal disc for every adult body part it will need- such as eyes, wings, and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs remain dormant throughout the caterpillar’s life. In other species, the discs begin to take the shape of adult body parts even before the caterpillar forms a chrysalis or cocoon.

When the imaginal cells are awoken from dormancy, at first they operate independently as singlecelled organisms inside the caterpillar. They resonate at a different frequency so are regarded as threats and attacked by the caterpillar’s immune system, which digests some of them. But they persist, gradually multiply and grow stronger. The caterpillar’s immune system can’t keep up and the caterpillar digests itself. The imaginal cells survive, forming clusters and clumps. Because they resonate at the same frequency, they can communicate. They connect and become a multi-celled organism – a butterfly is formed!

What really struck me was that the caterpillar at first resisted this transformation, which got me pondering about how humans change.

There is a hymn we don’t sing often but did recently. The first verse is, “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side. Some great cause, some great decision, off’ring each the bloom or blight, and the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.” It terrified me as a young child. I worried that I had missed the moment, that somehow, I had chosen for evil, that I was doomed. As an older child, I felt our country had chosen for evil, that we had been slaveholders, didn’t give equal rights to all, were killing innocent civilians in Vietnam. But I also believed that there is that of God in everyone, meaning we could change, be better.

Now I realize that for most of us there is no one dramatic moment, but constant moments of choice throughout life in which we can choose right or wrong, better rather than worse. One of the ongoing discussions at yearly meeting and among many of us in our country is white supremacy. I feel like I am called to do something about overcoming it, and currently that is mostly reading. When talking with people of color at yearly meeting and hearing their stories, I was saddened and angered by the ongoing overt and structural racism that pervades our society. How one mother feared for her dark-skinned middle-schooler to go downtown in Castleton, Vermont, worrying what could happen just because of the color of his skin. Something I never even thought of as a mother of a fair-skinned boy. I am learning how privileged my life is in ways I have taken for granted – I don’t worry I will be discriminated against in any aspect of life because of my whiteness and that is SO different from the experience of many others.

So, I am praying, hoping, and visualizing that the “imaginal cells” that seek racial justice, that seek to do what is right, that seek to do God’s will, are growing within myself and within society. May we resonate at the same frequency, communicate and grow stronger, so that together we can bring more peace and justice into the world.

I’ll close with a passage from Psalm 19, to which I’ve added a line: O let the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, and the transformations of my life be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.

“Setting the Web A-Tremble” by Sukie Rice

An excerpt from a recent message by Sukie Rice in October, 2017

“Humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling… As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together.” (Frederick Buechner, 1926 – )

I have pondered this quotation many times; it makes me very aware how we “tremble each other’s webs” all the time. Sometimes in large ways, sometimes small, although we rarely know when it happens. An example: I’m a total grouch early in the morning. I would drive to school each morning, grumbling about all those children I was going to have to be nice to, wishing I could just be left alone. But then, in the parking lot, a child would run up to me exclaiming, “We have music today, Ms. Rice. I can’t wait!” “That’s great, Maryann, I’ll see you soon,” I’d say, and my grumbly web would be shaken. Then two boys would come up with, “Can we help you carry the autoharps, Ms. Rice? At home I’ve been singing that song you taught about Charlie on the MTA. And my mom knows it.” By the time I’d reach the school door, I’d be feeling chipper and looking forward to being with the children. They trembled my web. They never knew it.

Now here is a story of something major that happened this summer. Friends of Kakamega decided to provide a SunKing Solar Light for every child/youth in our program. For this we needed to raise over $8,000, a hefty amount. But because clean, renewable light in a home is so important, we made this commitment. It happened!

But it wouldn’t have happened without one of the people going on our summer trip to Kakamega, a college student named Liz, researching solar lights. She discovered this unique light, specifically designed for Kenyan homes and convinced Friends of Kakamega to make the big commitment. She trembled our imagination.

Backing up the web: Liz wouldn’t have gone on the trip except she had gone to school with Mitch Newlin, who has been to the Care Centre seven times and is now a valuable member of the Friends of Kakamega board. He trembled her web with stories of the Care Centre. But Mitch never would have gone to Kenya except he attended a benefit dinner at Durham Meetinghouse when he was 12 and exclaimed to his parents he wanted to go to Kakamega Care Centre when he was old enough. When he turned 16 in 2011, he went with his dad, John, and the rest is history for Mitch. The Care Centre has trembled his web in a huge way and his whole life will be different because of it.

The trembling doesn’t stop there. Durham Meeting wouldn’t have held that benefit dinner (and all the subsequent ones) except that Dorothy Selebwa, founder of the Kakamega Orphans Care Centre came to Durham Meeting one Sunday at the end of April 2002. She trembled my web and turned my life upside down, as this project has done for so many people: children and families in Kenya, and for Americans who have visited and experienced themselves the hope and miracle of the Care Centre.

There is more. I wouldn’t have been there to meet Dorothy, but I began to visit Durham Friends Meeting in 1980 and, although it was very different from my Quaker experience before, I wanted to return again and again. I was an odd duck for Durham, but the women welcomed me. Betty White, Charlotte White, Mary Curtis,

Lydia Rollins, Margaret, Clarabel. They made me feel so welcome and I wanted to make it my home.

So, because the women of Durham meeting trembled my spirit, I was there so Dorothy could tremble my web – and that of Durham Friends. Mitch’s web was trembled. His telling Liz about the project trembled her web. She decided to go, and did research on solar lights. Her research influenced Friends of Kakamega’s determination to provide solar lights for 260 homes, which has had a terrific impact on the lives (and webs) of so many people.

“Who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt.” May we all keep trembling each other’s webs and let the trembling live on!

Nuggets from Messages at Durham Friends Meeting in August, 2016

AUGUST 7: DOUG BENNETT: “I’m with Stupid”:  I try to remember that Jesus’s Disciples regularly had difficulty learning what Jesus taught.  I take comfort and guidance in their showing that spiritual learning is hard, and not well or easily captured in any Creed.

AUGUST 14: DOUG GWYN: George Fox’s last words: “All is well.  The Seed reigns over all.” And “I’m glad I was here.”  The Seed is the eternal dimension hidden within each of us, hidden within time and place.  While we live, we exist in particular places and times.  When we die, we no longer exist, we’re in the eternal.  The point is to start living eternity now, which is the kingdom of heaven on earth.

AUGUST 21: NANCY MARSTALLER: To stay open to the Holy Spirit, it’s important to have an open heart, to keep listening to others’ stories, for the messages they bring in various ways, even if the language is not our usual or not to our liking. We need to stay open to Spirit’s promptings to share our own stories and act as Spirit moves.  As Stephen Grellet said: I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

AUGUST 28: DOUG GWYN: We exclude others through either/or thinking, like racism or sexism.  To build a civil society, we must work toward both/and, across our various identities and differences.  Life in community, especially religious community, goes still further, to neither/nor.  In community, we become real persons to one another, no longer this or that identity or difference.  And such communities are leavening agents, helping the wider society grow beyond either/or, at least to both/and.

Attracting an Audience

current unit focuses on mass media, and how language is used to reach a certain audience and achieve a certain purpose. I figured that the lessons would be easier to plan and assignments simpler to grade if I helped the class narrow down the possible topics to three or four, and everyone could write on one of those; we could get some basic subject knowledge in each area, and they could supplement their own standpoint with individual research. In one of the first class sessions, a Dana pointed out that bloggers often don’t take full advantage of the freedom that blogging theoretically provides, since they are afraid of being labelled as biased, or of being attacked for their opinions. I thought quite a bit
about her point, which, although not new to me, struck me as more significant for Palestinian bloggers than for American ones, and it influenced the way I wanted to teach the unit. We began focusing on tactics to gain and maintain an audience, with a critical eye to how commonly used tactics to win “views” on the internet can alter a message. Provocative, exaggerated or gossipy headlines, polemical language, humor and metaphor are some of the popular devices employed as “click-bait,” a phrase the students taught me. But does the use of these tactics impact the message? “I’m writing about feminism,” said Nour. “I can’t use a gossipy tone.” Her classmates retorted that she could; “OK, but I wouldn’t” she clarified. Why not? I asked. “It would be unethical,” “It makes the topic seem unimportant,” “People wouldn’t take the topic seriously.” We discussed the dance that bloggers must do, in attracting an audience, while maintaining the integrity of their message. I’ve been impressed with how thoughtfully they have considered what degree of “self-selling” is appropriate to their topic, since many have chosen weighty issues such as stereotypes of Arabs, young girls sold into marriage in Syria, and the dangers Palestinian children face when travelling across occupied territory to get to school. I imagine Early Friends having contemplated a similar challenge: the truth they wanted to convey was too vital to be diluted for the sake of mass appeal. And yet they had to make their new message feel compelling and alive. In one sense, Friends then and now have it easier than bloggers. The blogger’s message is evident only through his written language. Friends can count on their lived example to attract others to their truth, a “click-bait” strategy which seems to speak louder than words. Mimi Marstaller, Volunteer Teacher at Ramallah Friends School

“A New Smell” – Peter Crysdale

Slowly, silently the molten core bursts

Turning everything up side down.

Leaving radical amazement- smoke and ash.

There are streams of Concern at the heart of existence-

bursting forth in places like Bethlehem and Lisbon Falls.

Creation is infused with Divine Concern-

so the Prophets say.

Rouses some of us from sleep –

waking into the Life and Power.

Christ is not Jesus’ last name.

Christ is the Divine Concern-

the Boundless-Source and Center-

Mustard Seed- the Question?

Early Quakers let let their lives speak the answer-

“We live in the same Life and Power as the Prophets and the Apostles.”

Isaiah 43 [19] Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. — Peter Crysdale, Dec. 18, 2013

“T’was First Day Before Christmas” – Leslie Manning

Created by Leslie Manning and presented at the Christmas Program, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013
T’was First Day before Christmas and all through the Meetinghouse

Not a creature was stirring, not even the Meeting mouse.

The Mitten Tree was hung by the doorway with care,

In hopes that each knitter would donate a pair.

Worshipers were nestled all snug on their benches,

Musing on Quakers from Foxes to Denches.

Nancy and Clarabel were planning to groove,

While Sukie and Choir would get us to move.

When out in the parking lot there arose such a clatter,

Some sprang from their seats to see what was the matter.

And there, on a blanket of new fallen snow,

Two weighty Friends were going at it, toe to toe.

Oh, No! “We ought not have a program,

A tree in the Meeting Room! We don’t have a liturgy,

that’s gone – Just like Naylor’s groom.”

“But, Friend, can’t you see we are all kinds of Quakers!

If we don’t adapt, we’ll be gone – like the Shakers!”

Right into that fray jumped a jolly old elf,

Our own fount of wisdom, Margaret Wentworth, herself.

“Christmas”, she said, “is more than the day.

Christ’s birth is lived as a path, as a Way

For all homeless parents to find room in our hearts,

Whether out at a manger Or working at WalMarts.

We are called to feed all of God’s children,

Bellies and souls, so shall we fill them;

To treat each other with love and respect,

To offer to ease the weight of neglect.

We don’t need a star to show us the Light,

We know in our hearts to do what is right.

So, friends, let us gather, As we do every week,

And honor the meaning of

“Let your life speak.”

“Advent 2013” – Peter Crysdale

Advent 2013

By Peter Crysdale

Come with me to a little town in the mountains in Austria. The year is 1816. There’s a little church in the town called St. Nicholas. The story goes that the organ was broken. It was Christmas Eve. The pastor Joseph Mohr had written a poem a year or two earlier. He gave it to his friend Franz Gruber and asked him to compose some music — simple music that could be played on the guitar. The music and the words for ready in time for midnight mass. “Silent Night” was born, perhaps the most wonderful Christmas carol of all.

Silent night holy night,

All is calm all is bright.

Round yon Virgin mother and child,

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace. ———————-

Come with me, we will leave Austria and go to Spain, the year is somewhere in the middle of the 1500s. We’re off to visit a Carmelite monk named John; here are some of his words. They are best read aloud.

One dark night filled with love’s urgent longings –

Ah, the sheer grace. I went out unseen— everything was still—

there was no other light or guide – than the one that burned in my heart.

This guided me more surely than the light of the moon to where He was waiting.

Him who I knew so well.

Oh guiding night more lovely than the dawn oh, night that has united the the lover and his beloved

I went out from myself I left my cares forgotten among the lilies.

Now come with me to Washington, D.C., and meet a man named Gerald May, a psychiatrist who wrote several important books on the spiritual life. In 1995 he was diagnosed with cancer and began a heavy-duty course of chemotherapy. The cancer was put into remission. However his heart was damaged by the chemo and he spent the last few years of his life waiting for a heart transplant. He wrote a book on the dark night of the soul. Then he died. He had discovered the monk named John, the Spanish Carmelite monk — John of the Cross. The dark night of the soul has a kind of morbid reputation in Christian circles. However Gerald May discovered it to be profoundly beneficial. He described it as a process of the Spirit freeing us from the deceptions and attachments that keep us from knowing our true selves.

Silent Night Holy Night The darkness is not sinister Just have to sing Silent Night to experience that. A freeing is going on beneath what we can put into words. Silent night bestows hints of a deeper Divine activity. From the obscure (the dark night) a guidance rises and moves gently through our lived experience – comforting, and steadying through all and sundry. I expect you’ve been there while you were singing or listening to that carol. it brings a deep stirring and awareness of our longing hearts. Advent is the season of the longing heart.

Silent night, holy night,

Shepherds quake at the site.

Glories stream from heaven afar.

Heavenly hosts sing alleluia.

Christ the Savior is born,

Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night holy night,

Son of God, love’s pure light

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth.

From our Pastor

From our Pastor’s message of Sunday, April 15, 2012
Rufus Jones grew up near here in South China, Maine. In his book “Trail of Life through the Early Years,” he wrote about what it was like to grow up as a Friend, to grow up “Quaker.” In the following quote, he is talking about what going to Meeting was like when he was just about 10 years old. He says: “Very often in these meetings for Worship, there were long periods of silence … I do not think that anyone ever told me what the silence was for. It does not seem necessary to explain Quaker silence to children. They feel what it means …”
Then on the next page he says: “Sometimes a real spiritual wave would sweep over the Meeting in these silent hushes, which made me feel very solemn and which carried me – careless boy that I was – down into something deeper than my own thoughts, gave me a momentary sense of that Spirit who has been the life and light of people in all ages and in all lands.”
It is that same “something deeper” that we are gathered this Easter in family Worship to recognize and to celebrate. What we are actually doing is FEELING … in the same way that Rufus Jones says Quaker children feel and just know why they’re sitting here together even without explanation. We are feeling our way down to the place where we get it that God is with us. Since that first Easter morning when Mary sees that the stone has been rolled away, when she meets and recognizes Jesus there in the garden; since that very morning we have all had direct access to the Light of the risen Christ. And Friends have always seemed to know that we find it in our own hearts. From the oldest of us to the youngest it is this that we come to know in Meeting for Worship.
But, until George Fox made his great discovery on Pendle Hill in England, until he had his direct experience of God — of the inward teacher — the risen Christ; until then, for nearly 1,500 years (and sometimes even today) this kind of knowing was almost forgotten. It got hidden, locked away really, in church ritual. And for most people hope got postponed, put off to the distant future … till the end of time.
Hope postponed reminds me of our human tendency of putting off until tomorrow what might be better done today. Why? Because moving the very present reality of God close at hand, into the future, into another time … a second coming … could be a way of saving the actual practice of Christianity for later. If we say “Christ is risen” but continue to see this spiritual reality only as a metaphor, something that is not real and certainly not very practical, we may be able to convince ourselves that it’s OK to cut some corners where justice is concerned. We may be able to rationalize slashing budgets for social programs, but continue to spend countless billions on armaments. These are the sort of corners that we might not cut so easily, if we knew, really deeply knew, felt from our own experience, that Christ is risen, eternally present among us. Would knowing this deepen our integrity and compassion?
At Easter we do this every year — we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection — but what, I wonder, does this inner resurrection actually look like? I know myself that I have been slow to understand and receive the guidance
of this Light. I think this is largely because the inner experience can be quite subtle, and because the Light of the inner resurrection shows up in the most ordinary places and times. It shows up in the everyday events of our lives.
Remember how from time to time you’ll have a flash of insight or a wise moment when you perceive some deeper truth, perhaps a truth that once you see it you just know and have always known it to be true?
Or perhaps you are working on a problem and suddenly you see your way forward, you just know how to proceed? These are, I think, gifts … gifts of the spirit to our better selves. But, for so much of my life I misunderstood them to be the product of my own mind. I did not understand the source of that still small voice within — I did not understand just how intimate God is, or what part Spirit plays in our daily lives. I do not think that I often realized just how much help we really receive. This is how it is: the inner resurrection helps us trace the footsteps of God as they wind their way through the ordinary moments of our lives.
The resurrection lets the Truth of God’s Presence shine.
So, it’s Easter and we celebrate the beauty of God’s world. We celebrate the shining Truth of the Resurrection, and we give thanks … for all the help we do receive.
For, He is, indeed, Risen this day.

Message on Palestine

Markus Schlotterbeck will be giving the message on Sunday, April 22, about his experiences in Palestine. A potluck follows meeting that day. Markus will also be speaking following the meal.

From Tess Marstaller

Peace Corps Volunteer, Cameroon

Asinge, Friends!

At a few degrees above the equator, my Cameroonian village in West Africa can at least depend on one thing arriving with consistency – nightfall at 6:30.  Water in the public taps, phone network, electricity, the long promised road repairs, teachers for the new school year, cross your fingers but don’t hold your breath.  Electricity has been out for almost a week now.

Today I traveled to charge my computer, only to find that riding over broken roads on motorcycles, or jungle humidity, or maybe lizard droppings, have gotten the best of my keyboard.  So many letters don’t work, what I’ve typed looks like code!  I’m typing by candlelight and have put out buckets to collect rain for my bath and dishes.

My alarm clock will be the bustle of early morning village life: chickens, babies, wood-chopping, open-fire cooking, neighbors yelling greetings to those trekking to their cocoa farms or hauling water.

It’s all part of my roller coaster ride as I try to integrate into my community as a Peace Corps health volunteer, the first foreigner to have a presence here in 20 years.  The learning curve has been more like free fall as I get used to hearing “WHITEMAN” yelled as I pass by villagers still taken aback by my presence, and keep my front door open despite my desire for privacy to respect the culture of openness.

My job, helping this community identify and address their health development needs, has been the most rewarding, exasperating, and eye-opening experience I’ve ever been thrown head first into.

Perhaps most moving has been teaching reproductive health to young women who are going through adolescence and womanhood without even basic information.  The school curriculum includes no sexual education, though premature pregnancy and STD’s are major problems among youth.  The first time I held a seminar for 7th – 9th grade aged girls I put out a “Question Box” for their confidential matters and could not hand out slips of paper fast enough for their outpouring of uncertainties.  I cried reading them later, realizing I’d hit a nerve of serious need that I could actually respond to.

Helping them navigate pregnancy, child-rearing concerns, introducing the benefits of family planning, and sending the message that they can positively influence their own lives is a role I love.  Doing so in the context of rampant need and the social and cultural complications I’ve been learning about for years is a dream come true.

Still, the going is slow.  The heat, harassment and endless house malfunctions can make crawling out of bed utterly overwhelming.  Yet, the headaches of trying to function where basic functioning often seems out of reach are made immediately worth it by the thrilling moments.  Yesterday a nurse and I hosted the first session of a support group we are trying to launch for HIV+ women.  It has taken months to find even a few women willing to share their status with others.  Talking about the free treatment available to these women, who have never had autonomy over so much as a dollar, let alone their own health, was powerful.

Kids have been the golden ticket to feeling at home here.  Their adoring greetings (“Auntie Tasse, Auntie TASSE!”) and laughter as we draw and play cards on my porch always brighten my day.  I can’t wait until they return from their relatives’ holiday care so I can distribute the equipment and supplies you sent through the Women’s Society.  What an amazing outpouring of childhood goodies that these kids have never known.  My heartfelt thanks to you all.  For pictures of my recent summer camp, check out my blog at tessincameroon.blogspot.com.  For questions or more dialogue, email me at tmarstaller@gmail.com Thanks for your prayers of support!