War and Foolishness, by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, September 19, 2021

War is what’s on my mind and in my heart today – and foolishness, too.  War and foolishness because war, I believe, is one of the most profound forms of human foolishness, and tragic, too.  War and foolishness have been on my mind because of the recent end of the war in Afghanistan and also because of the recent 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the subsequent launch of the ‘war on terror.’  Hundreds of thousands of lives lost – who knows how many? – and trillions of dollars spent badly. 

In October of 2012 –I jotted down the following list of things that are likely to happen in a war – things that are likely to happen beyond soldiers being killed or wounded.  I don’t remember what led me to write down this list.  This was nine years ago, and eleven years after 9/11.  Most U.S. troops had left Iraq a year earlier, and U.S. troops would still be in Afghanistan for almost a decade longer.  So I don’t remember why I jotted down this list.  We were very much in the middle of a never-ending war, as we always seem to be. 

  • Young lives will be ruined.  The survivors will wake with terrible memories. 
  • Civilians will be killed.
  • The costs will be much, much higher than anticipated.
  • Unspeakable acts will be committed, some by us.
  • Civil liberties at home will be trampled.
  • There will be secrecy and lies that undermine democracy.
  • We will worsen our relations with some otherwise uninvolved friends and serve the purposes of some opportunistic bad actors.
  • We will create massive, distant wreckage that we will not want to repair.
  • We will entangle ourselves in ways that will make it hard for us to disengage.
  • We will set in motion an unfolding humanitarian crisis that will last for years: refugees, divided families, deprivation and the like. 
  • We will sow the seeds of future conflict. 
  • We will fail to learn lessons of peacebuilding because we won’t have tried it, again. 

All these things happened in Afghanistan.  All these things happened in Iraq.  And they happened in Syria and Lebanon and Libya, too – and not only in those places.  It would be foolish to go to war and not expect that most of the bad things will happen.  Those who support wars should have their eyes wide open and their hearts hardened in anticipation of these tragedies. 

I’ve opposed this sequence of wars.  When I’ve written my Senators or written a letter to the editor, I’ve talked about these terrible things that are likely to happen and urged them to oppose these wars.  I’ve mostly written about things on this list. 

Let’s call the items on this list the prudential arguments against war.  War won’t get us where we want to get to.  It won’t bring peace; it will bring further war.  It will not bring understanding; it will bring mistrust and hatred.  War today will bring war tomorrow.  You’d have to be foolish to expect anything else.  We have abundant recent evidence. 

But these prudential reasons for being against war aren’t really why I’m against war.  These prudential reasons are important – very important – but deep down I know I am against war because I am a foolish person – foolish in a very different way. 

I’m a different kind of foolish person because I’m a pacifist. 

I became a pacifist in the late 1960s during another war, the one in Vietnam.  (All those bad things on the list happened then, too; they always do.)  I became a pacifist before I became a Quaker.  It was in understanding why pacifism made sense, even though it was foolishness, that I found my way to Quakerism.

Why is pacifism a kind of foolishness?  Do you even need to ask?  Tell someone you are a pacifist and they look at you with utter dismay and incredulity.  Voiced or unvoiced you hear a torrent of questions.  Would you have let the Nazis win?  If someone attacked your mother, wouldn’t you try to stop the attacker?  If they attacked your wife? Your children?  Would you really not raise a hand to stop an aggressor? 

It’s unfathomable; people can’t believe you’re serious; as soon as you say you’re a pacifist they know you are a fool. 

You certainly put yourself beyond the boundaries of reasoned argument.  You can no longer have any standing whatsoever in discussions of foreign policy.  There is no point in writing your Senator and telling her she should oppose a war because you’re a pacifist.  That letter will carry no weight.  When you say you’re a pacifist you put yourself out of bounds – beyond the pale.  Only ‘serious people’ get to participate in the decisions about going to war – and no ‘serious person’ is a pacifist.

I understand being a pacifist is foolishness.  It’s a very, very different kind of foolishness from the foolishness of thinking that war won’t bring those twelve terrible things I listed before.  You have to choose which kind of foolishness is yours:  believing that war will work, or believing that one door to a different, better world (the “beloved community”) is marked “I will not go to war.”  Let’s call the pacifist argument against war the transformational argument against war.  It’s an argument deeply grounded in Jesus’s argument to love your neighbor as yourself. 

“What if everyone acted like you did?”  That’s one of the torrent of questions you provoke if you declare for pacifism.  And that one question is easy to answer:  You can say, that would be wonderful.  You have to believe – you should believe – that everyone can and should make the same choice, the choice to say no to war.  Not just your family and friends, not just your fellow citizens, but everyone would make the same choice. 

Pacifism is a kind of foolishness that begins by saying I am not going to accept that what has happened over and over again is the only possibility. 

“I told them I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars.”  That’s from George Fox, of course.  He’s saying, I took myself out of this world and put myself in a different world.  And, he might well have added, I’m not coming back. 

Join me in the that new world, Fox is saying.  Sign up for the foolishness that says there are new possibilities.  We can do this together.  We can choose to love one another.  We can put ourselves into an understanding that each and every one of us is a child of God, capable of giving and receiving love.  But each of us has to begin by making the individual choice to say no to war.  Each of us needs to make a solid commitment to the way of love, not a tentative or half-hearted, ‘but you go first’ one. 

Yes, that’s foolishness.  It is a rare and wonderful kind of foolishness.  Here’s a statement from British Friends in 1920 – that is, just after the end of another horrible war – in which all those terrible things happened. 

“When the early Friends said that the ‘Spirit of Christ would never move them to fight and war against any man with outward weapons!’ they not only testified that war was wrong, but they also indicated that there was a new and right way of dealing with men consonant with Love, and certain to be attended by a success far greater than had ever been attained by war. Instead of destroying or suppressing the evil-doers, the new method would transform them into children of light. These early Friends were come ‘into the Covenant of Peace which was before wars and strifes were’ and by their lives lived in the power of the light they were helping others to enter that same covenant.”

Or as A. J. Muste once put it, “there is no way to peace; peace is the way.”

Yes, pacifism is foolishness by the world’s lights, but it is, I believe, a far, far better foolishness than the endless alternative of war. 

So here is the choice, a choice between two kinds of foolishness.  Do you choose the foolishness of war and its terrible train of tragedies, or the foolishness of a new life lived in love?

Also posted on Riverview Friend.

“Praying for Zoom Support,” by David Coletta

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, September 12, 2021, by David Coletta, Three Rivers Meeting

Good morning, Friends.

I want to thank you for inviting me to bring the message this morning. Just to say a little about where I’m bringing it from… I live in Boston, but I happen to be in Hanover, New Hampshire this weekend, so that’s where I’m physically Zooming in from. Back when you invited me a couple of months ago, it seemed like maybe by now it would be safe to come visit you in person to give the message, but it didn’t turn out that way. And this is only the second time I have ever brought a prepared message to a Quaker meeting. The first time was a couple of months ago, as one of the hosts of Three Rivers, where we bring a prepared message each time. As you heard in the introduction, Three Rivers is a worship experiment that has been meeting online under the care of Fresh Pond Monthly Meeting since the beginning of the pandemic. Before it was Three Rivers, it was a project called “Quaker Dinner Church” started by Kristina Keefe-Perry. As a worship experiment, we are not even formally a worship group, although we are hoping to gain formal status as a preparative meeting under the care of Fresh Pond some time in the next year or so. Anyway, I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring a message a second time.

There’s someone here at this meeting today who is responsible for the “Zoom” aspect of worship, and sometimes that person is called the “tech host”. I think maybe you call it “Zoom support” here? I’d like to take a moment now and invite us all to hold that person or people in prayer as they work to support us.

Thank you, Friends. A little later on I’ll say more about why that bit of prayer is important to me.

But first I want to share about my personal journey of the last 18 months or so – how I came to this work. At the beginning of 2020 I finished a career in software engineering. For quite some time before that, I had been aiming at February 2020 as the time to wrap up my software career and start something new. My work had been focused for a long time on technology, and I wanted to transition into doing work that was more about connecting with people. I really didn’t know what the work was going to be, but only a few weeks after I quit my job, I found out. There was this Sunday in March 2020 when we went to our local meetings in person, not realizing that it was going to be the last time for a while. And then the very next Sunday many of our meetings held worship online via Zoom for the first time. It wasn’t yet obvious to me what my work was going to look like, but what struck me then was how many folks were going to need tech help in order to do the basic things that were necessary in order to join Zoom worship: besides getting Zoom to work, it suddenly became important to manage all these Zoom links somehow! So I made a website where people could sign up for free one-on-one tech help, and I spent some time every day helping people figure this stuff out. This turned out to be excellent preparation: it was obvious, it was sorely needed, and it was challenging for me. I was used to having complete command and facility with technology, and this work required me to develop compassion and understanding for what it felt like not to be in command.

Back to Friends Meetings. It quickly became clear that it was one thing to hold meeting for worship over Zoom, and quite another to hold meeting for business. I studied how Beacon Hill Friends Meeting and Friends Meeting at Cambridge were experimenting with the features in Zoom like “raise hand”, and noticed how some of our business practices were being modified in small ways to accommodate the needs of the clerks’ table and of the body in an online setting. I found opportunities to try being the “tech host” for worship and business, and helped write some of the guidelines we were using. I joined these new things called “tech teams” at Beacon Hill and Cambridge, who met every week or two to identify tech hosts for events, teach each other how to use the tech, and generally huddle for warmth and mutual support. It was and is challenging work. 

By now it was early June and I could see we were going to need this same work to happen at Yearly Meeting sessions, which were going to have to be online if they were to happen at all. I approached the Yearly Meeting staff and offered to recruit and lead a team of volunteers who would do the tech hosting work for the business meetings and plenary events of Yearly Meeting sessions. We only had about eight weeks to prepare, and these were eight of the scariest weeks of my life. I had seen business meeting work over Zoom at the monthly meeting level, but I had never seen it work with hundreds of people present. A great blessing for us was that New York Yearly Meeting was a couple of weeks ahead of us all summer long in their preparations, so I reached out to my friend Jennifer Swann who was helping New York Yearly Meeting figure out their sessions tech, and the two of us worked together to bring those learnings to New England. At the same time, amidst all that fear, there was a still small voice at the center of it all telling me that I was in the right place, doing the right work at the right time, that I had been preparing for that work my whole life, and that everything would be okay. That everything already was okay.

This is probably a good point to explain why praying for the tech host is important to me. When the tech for a Zoom meeting is going well, it’s invisible. Everything just works. And this is like so much of the infrastructure in our world that we take for granted: we mostly only think about electricity when the power goes out, right? But the tech team is doing all sorts of little things, quietly, invisibly, to make sure that everything just works. Being on the tech team can feel a lot like being on the backstage crew of a theater production! But that’s not what we’re doing in our meetings for worship and business: it’s not a show, it’s a living, breathing witness to the promptings of the Spirit. So we don’t judge our meetings by how well the clerk hits their cues, or whether the finance committee report starts and ends on time. When we pray for the tech team, it’s a chance to let go of our expectations that the show follow the script.

After 2020 sessions I was hungry for more of this work. So in the fall, I went on to recruit and lead the tech team for FCNL’s Annual Meeting, and in the spring of 2021 for the FWCC Section of the Americas meeting, and then this summer for our recently concluded 2021 Yearly Meeting sessions. I learned more and more at each of these conferences about the work and how to lead it. My first priority was not to put on a glitch-free show, but to create a fulfilling opportunity for service for the people on the tech teams. That meant providing training and practice sessions, it meant not asking any one person to do more than they were capable of, and it meant putting structures in place by which we could support each other. The work can be really scary! Press the wrong button and end the meeting by mistake? That happens! And it feels terrible! And yet it somehow has to be possible to move past these mistakes with the understanding that God is inviting us to be faithful — not perfect! What makes that moving-past possible is being present to each other, over the physical distance, praying for and supporting each other, literally whispering messages of support — and reminders of upcoming cues — in each others’ ears. So another thing that is mostly invisible to you when you go to a big Zoom event is that we members of the tech team are connected to each other in additional ways beyond Zoom, via invisible threads of technology. And these connections somehow manage to restore a great deal of the intimacy of being together in person, for us on the tech team to be sure, and maybe for everyone else too.

So with all that in mind, now I want to talk about a stark contrast that I have been experiencing this year. It’s a contrast between the richness and sense of great abundance that I feel on these tech teams at big Quaker events, versus the burnout and sense of scarcity that I hear about when I meet with Friends’ meetings who are trying to discern the way forward with online and hybrid worship. And it’s different for different sized meetings. Some of our smaller meetings never went on Zoom at all: they kept meeting on each others’ porches, or they met each by themselves in their own homes at the appointed time. Some of our bigger meetings formed tech teams and created that same sense of mutual support that I described. And our medium-sized meetings struggled. I heard stories of meetings where there were just one or two people doing all the tech hosting, and they were tired and burned out. And this was just from holding online-only worship. When they heard that holding hybrid worship was even more work, it was as if I was describing a trip to another planet.

Friends, we are tired. The work of holding our communities together when we can’t be together in person is hard work. We are tired from not being able to come together for our Yearly Meeting sessions, tired from being afraid for our health and safety when we perform the basic functions of daily life, and so, so tired of the uncertainty. It can feel like we are wandering in the desert sometimes. And you know we have lost folks along the way. Friends for whom online worship just doesn’t work. Friends whose passing cannot be commemorated in person. And our young Friends, for whom Zoom church and Zoom retreats on top of Zoom school is just more Zoom than anyone should be asked to endure, let alone kids. When we are this tired, we yearn for things to go back to normal. That’s legit, right? Please just let us all come back to our meeting houses together and sit next to each other and sing together and shake each others’ hands and feel safe and connected. Let’s take a moment now and hold that yearning in our hearts, breathe into it, and acknowledge that it’s a totally valid thing to want.

One of the things I had to learn the hard way during the pandemic is that there are at least a couple of different ways that Friends respond under these circumstances, in the ways that we care for our meetings for worship. One is what I’ll call “holding”. It’s about calming, being careful and predictable, about protecting meeting for worship, and resisting change. The other way some folks respond is what I’ll call “experimenting”. It’s about changing, learning, about embracing chaos, about making lots of mistakes, and figuring out new things that work. Both of these kinds of care are needed! As you might guess, my response was mostly about experimenting, and I came up against a lot of resistance to that in the week-in, week-out meetings for worship of a local meeting. I had to accept that I was going to have to create my own opportunities to experiment, and as it turned out, the large events with big tech teams were the perfect place, because that abundance of energy and creativity and connection that came with such a big tech team created the safety within which to experiment. That experimentation was and is a big part of what sustains me through this time. But I want to caution you: every meeting needs both kinds of care, holding and experimenting. If your meeting tends to lean in the direction of holding, don’t forget to embrace and support those among you who want to experiment and learn. And if, like Three Rivers, your meeting is all about experimenting, remember those folks who come each time looking for something that feels familiar.

I want to share with you the vision that has been breaking through for me, just here and there a little, of what’s around the corner for us. One of the things we have been learning about online and hybrid worship is that it’s an opportunity to create accessible space for those Friends we were leaving out in the “before times.” People who couldn’t come to the meetinghouse because of health or distance or ability now can join online. People who could come, but couldn’t hear, now can read closed captions. And these are just a couple of the many ways that our meetings have become, and have the potential to become, more accessible. 

When I think about and speak about hybrid worship, I try to resist the idea that it’s centered in the physical meetinghouse, with a few remote participants. Instead I talk about it as an online meeting in which some of the “Zoom squares” have groups instead of individuals in them. One of those groups might be the folks at the meetinghouse. Some of those groups might be families at home. By my definition this meeting today is a hybrid meeting for worship. Maybe that was already your picture of hybrid worship! If it wasn’t, try it on for size. 

I feel like one of the effects of the pandemic has been to atomize us into soap bubbles! Early on during the pandemic we tried to stay in the smallest bubble we could. Later on some of the bubbles popped as things got safer. Maybe now we are trying to find smaller bubbles again. It’s like some of the bubbles are popping and joining together, and other new ones are forming. But imagine that we start to actually get good at this. Good at holding meeting for worship with bubbles of all sizes, and at adapting the sizes of our bubbles as the needs of the pandemic dictate. Who’s to say where it stops? If we can hold hybrid worship in one meeting with lots of different sized bubbles, could we join two meetings together in hybrid worship? How about a whole quarter? or a yearly meeting? What does this mean for the idea of your “local Friends Meeting”? What does it even mean to be a “Friend at a distance” any more? And what does it mean for the burnout and exhaustion that many meetings are experiencing? Maybe it’s okay to let the meeting down the road do the online hosting, and just show up? Maybe each meeting doesn’t have to do it all on their own? Maybe it’s okay to let down some of the boundaries that separate us?

By the way, if you find hope and inspiration in this vision, I recommend reading Emily Provance’s piece called “Fruit Basket Upset and the Eighth Continent”, published in March 2021. I’m indebted to her for some of these ideas, and I share her sense of hope.

I want to close with a poem that I first heard at Three Rivers. It’s called “The Way It Is,” by William Stafford, and best as I can tell it was first published in 1998 in his collection of the same name. For me this poem touches on what it feels like to be doing this particular work in this moment.

The Way It Is, by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

“Faith Without Works Is Dead:” an exhortation from Leslie Manning

In Meeting this morning (September 5, 2021), Leslie Manning encouraged and exhorted us all to do more to make this troubled world a better place. She drew upon the Epistle of James, and a poem attributed to Rumi.

From the Epistle of James, 2:14-20 Faith Without Works Is Dead

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish mortal, that faith without works is dead?

Unfold Your Own Myth by Rumi

Who gets up early
to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet?
Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Soloman cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow one drop.
Now there’s a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins.
Suddenly he’s wealthy.

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others. Unfold
your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.

Start walking toward Shams*. Your legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,
lifting.

*also Sharms, City of Peace

“A Prayer for Reconciliation,” by Pádraig Ó Tuama

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, leader of the Corrymeela Community, read by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon this morning (21.9.5) opening worship

Where there is separation
there is pain.
And where there is pain
there is story.

And where there is story
there is understanding
and misunderstanding
listening
and not listening.

May we — separated peoples, estranged strangers,
unfriended families, divided communities —
turn toward each other,
and turn toward our stories,
with understanding
and listening,
with argument and acceptance,
with challenge, change
and consolation.

Because if God is to be found,
God will be found
in the space
between.

Amen.

“There Is a Balm in Gilead,” by Fritz Weiss

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, August 15, 2021

Hymn – “There is a balm in Gilead”

This hymn comes from Jeremiah’ despair – 8:22 – “Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there..” This hymn is the communities response to the prophet’s lament.

 In the Bible half hour talks in NEYM’s sessions in 2019, Colin Saxton mentioned that his favorite character in the Bible is the crowd.  It is the crowd who question, or doubt, or seek or follow.  Colin said he could find himself in the crowd.  A faith journey is a journey of questions, doubts, seeking and following.

The message I have today began when I participated in a brief bible study group last summer with a group of clergy affiliated folks in Portland supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.  We specifically were pondering the shift from being allies to being in solidarity with the BLM protesters. Our Bible study explored the story of the loaves and fishes.  Today I want to think about how this story starts.  I want to pay a little attention to the wisdom of the crowd in the beginning of this well know story.

Mathew 14: 13 13 “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns”

John 6 1 -2 “Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, and a great crowd of people followed him.

The story begins when Jesus learns that his cousin John had been brutally and unexpectedly executed. – When Jesus heard that John had been brutally executed, he withdrew.

I imagine that Jesus himself was angry, scared, grieving, despairing, and so he withdrew from people. Jesus knew John, loved John, traveled with and preached with John. John’s execution was personal; and it may have challenged his confidence that the beloved community of God that Jesus was proclaiming was already here. So Jesus withdrew.  I certainly do this when I feel broken, I withdraw to be by myself. It’s a very human response.   

And the crowd also knew and loved and traveled with John were also probably angry, scared, grieving and despairing.  The crowd followed Jesus and would not let him be alone.

The version we read in the bible study group next said that Jesus came to the crowd and “all felt compassion and all were healed.”  I couldn’t find that version as I prepared this message; most translations say that Jesus came to the crowd that Jesus felt compassion and the all in the crowd were healed. I prefer the version we read last summer.

All felt compassion, all were healed, not simply the crowd, but also Jesus.  And then they stayed together for the rest of the day and did not want to return to their homes and the story goes on from there. But I want to stay focused on that miracle of healing at the beginning of the story – All felt compassion, which literally means ”to suffer together” and all were healed. I’m sure after the healing there was still grief, despair, and brokenness, and there was compassion. The movement from suffering alone to suffering together was the movement of healing. Healing was moving to a space where both profound grief and profound love could be known as parts of a whole rather than as contradictory impulses.

I hear in this story that the crowd was wiser then the teacher.  The crowd knew that, as early quakers knew, that the ocean of darkness and death are real and are a part of our experience;

and that we bring the light which overcomes the darkness to each other.  We help each other to the light.

This message germinated for me in that small group gathering in Portland after the execution of George Floyd, and when we read the story we were feeling grief, and anger and some despair. This past year has been hard for most of us in many ways; the pandemic, we’ve been isolated, the politics have been hard, the systemic racism in our country has been exposed again. And we’ve remembered that our “city on the hill” is built on a foundation which includes genocide and slavery. At times I’ve continue to feel despair, grief and fear.  And we continue to gather together.  This morning I remind us of the wisdom of the crowd, who calls us to be together with compassion – suffering together-  with compassion and to be healed.  This is the movement to wholeness. This is what we learned when we affirm that “there is a balm in Gilead.”

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