“An Indigenous Quaker’s Relationship with Christianity,” by  Gail Melix/Greenwater (Sandwich Monthly Meeting)

“An Indigenous Quaker’s Relationship with Christianity,” by  Gail Melix/Greenwater

Message to Durham Friends Meeting, June 2, 2024.

Wunee keesuq -good day- friends. Nutus8ees – I am- Gail Melix. My Native name is Greenwater. Nutomas – I am from… the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe of Plymouth, the tribe that met the Pilgrims. Plymouth was originally called Patuxet, a Wampanoag name meaning The Place of Little Waterfalls. I am just beginning to learn my Wopanaak language. There is great joy in this. 

My father was Wampanoag and German. He is deceased. My mother’s people, from England, came over on the Mayflower, and were Puritans who became convinced Quakers. Many generations ago someone in my family tree decided to marry other than a Quaker, so they were no longer members. In 1980 I attended my first Quaker Meeting, the first in my family to return, brought in hand by a friend who told me, “You are a Quaker, you just don’t know it yet.” From that very first meeting for worship I knew this is where I belonged and had been seeking it for many years. 

I am a member of Sandwich Monthly Meeting, and I attend East Sandwich Preparative Meeting, which is located on ancestral homeland of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. The Wampanoag of Massachusetts and Eastern RI have lived in these areas for more than 12,000 years.

It is delightful to be here. Thank you for the invitation. The plans were to come in person but I fractured my fibula where it meets up with the ankle, making it difficult to travel. I’m here to share part of my journey as an Indigenous Quaker. 

When preparing for today I felt led to begin my message to you with an Indigenous translation of the Lord’s prayer. [Creator-Sets-Free is the Indigenous name given Jesus in the First Nations version of The New Testament)]

“Our Father” (First Nations Version), Matthew 6: 9-13

Creator sets free, Jesus, said: 

“When you send your voice to the Great Spirit, here is how you should pray:

O Great Spirit, our Father from above, we honor your name as sacred and holy.

Bring your good road to us, where the beauty of your ways in the spirit world above is reflected in the earth below.

Provide for us day by day—the elk, the buffalo, and the salmon.

The corn, the squash, and the wild rice.  All the things we need for each day.

Release us from the things we have done wrong, in the same way we release others for the things done wrong to us.

Guide us away from the things that tempt us to stray from your good road, and set us free from the evil one and his worthless ways.

Aho!  May it be so!”    

This prayer can be found in the book, First Nations Version, an Indigenous Translation of the New Testament. This publication of the bible really resonates with me and other Indigenous peoples that I share it with. “It connects, in a culturally relevant way, to the traditional heart languages of over 6 million English speaking First Nations People of North America” as stated by the Indigenous authors. It follows the tradition of storytellers of our oral cultures. I find the language profoundly beautiful, as did the Indigenous who wrote this translation, which included Native Americans from over 25 tribes. More information about how this bible came to be, the method of translation and a list of the tribes that were involved in the writing of it can be found in the introduction of the book.

Great Spirit, Creator, Great Mystery, Maker of Life, Giver of Breath, One Above us All, and Most Holy One are a few of the names for God you will find in this translation. 

I have had several opportunities to share the First Nations Version of the New Testament with my Indigenous friends and there has been a lot of interest in it. I met 7 Indigenous Grandmothers who led a recent retreat at Woolman Hill and represented many different tribes. There was interest in knowing more about the First Nation’s version of the New Testament and plans to order it.  

 I belong to a group of Indigenous Quakers from across North America and a few from Canada who meet regularly on Zoom to share our stories and our concerns. We discuss the ways in which we are addressing Indigenous rights. We’re asked this question, what draws you to the Quaker faith? What does it add to your Indigenous ways? The number one answer is…. We are Quakers because of the worship.  Other factors: Because of the peace testimony, because of social justice work, because it is a living faith, because of the connection to Creator that is possible from silence. Indigenous Quakers also attend the Decolonizing Quakers steering committee meetings. It’s a good example of how right relationship can blossom when Indigenous and Quakers spend time together.     

I’d also like to share what it means to me to be an Indigenous Quaker.  Choosing Indigenous or Quaker is not a choice for me. What I know is that together they make me whole. The mix adds a tenderness and warmth to my sometimes-rough edges. Worship from a deep well of silence with expectant waiting is one of my favorite places. I don’t see it as just a place of waiting.  Sometimes it becomes a place of mystery for contemplation and discovery. Sometimes I bring a hawk or a favorite tree into expectant waiting with me and I can feel God’s smile. God loves when we witness and acknowledge the beauty of his creations. I love that Our Living Quaker faith is always in the here and now, any moment the possibility of revelation, of incarnation… And Jesus connects me more deeply with a God that I can’t fully conceive of or imagine a face for. When I am despairing it is Jesus who weeps with me and comforts me. He teaches me how to better Love God, myself, and others.  He knows me. 

The named Christianity that came to this country during colonization, fueled by The Doctrine of Discovery, allowed Christian explorers in the name of their sovereign, to claim and seize land if it was not owned by a Christian. There were over 1,000 treaties that were never recognized or honored. The named Christianity that came to this country ran boarding schools for over 150 years that stripped Indigenous children of their identities, cultural values, and traditions, abused them and separated them from their families and caused intergenerational trauma. Genocide. This is not Christianity in any form. There is nothing of Jesus’ teachings here. When my Indigenous friends question me about the effect of Christianity on Native people during colonization this is what I tell them, this was not Christianity being practiced.

I believe that Quakers had good intentions. Education is important to Quakers and some worried that if children did not learn English and the ways of a changing world it would be to their detriment.  That may be true but how come they could not see that of God in Native people? That’s such a basic tenet of Quakers. How could Quaker Indigenous Boarding Schools go on for over 100 years and no one see the harm being done? It’s unbelievable to me. No one had an inkling that their sense of privilege and superiority was destroying a culture? So I struggle with this part of our Quaker history.  I opened myself up to grieving all that was lost, all the harm done, and the great suffering that resulted. I did this alone and in worship with others. This is ongoing.

My father raised me with traditional values and cultural practices.  There was respect and gratitude for the natural world. We were taught to be thankful. We were taught to be kind and help others. To share what we have. He was a quiet and gentle man, spoke sparingly and only when something needed to be said. You take care of the land and the land will take care of you Gail. He walked softly and when he was outdoors his eyes were everywhere, taking notice of everything. He loved animals and trees and gardening and fishing.  He would say with a smile, “Nature is my church.” He was very kind and rarely raised his voice. He was the one who took splinters out of us. Even though my mother was a nurse. He liked peaceful spaces and harmony. Dad was outdoors whenever he could be. In part, prayer worked best for him outdoors. He could communicate better with his ancestors in the natural world. 

I am thankful for my mixed heritage and my two faith communities which connect me so deeply to my Creator and the Lord. I see and feel the many similarities, including core values that both faiths share. Building relationships between Indigenous and Quakers will take time but I see many places where this is already happening. I look forward to serving in this way, as led by the Divine, doing what is mine to do. 

Lakota prayer: 

The Elders tell us the greatest gift we can seek is peace of mind; to walk in balance, to respect all things. For us to do this, we must have peace within ourselves and peace within ourselves cannot come unless we are walking the path the Creator would have us walk. Sometimes the tests on this path are difficult, but we know that each test makes us stronger.

Oh Great Spirit, I ask You to whisper your wisdom in my heart. You are the only one that knows the secret to peaceful living and the mystery of harmony. Teach me of Your peace, understanding and balance, and guide me onto your good path.

Aho /Amen

Thank you, friends, at Durham Friends Meeting for your invite. I want to thank my elders who have been holding all of us and this meeting space in prayer: Leslie Manning and Ken Jacobsen.

Getry Agizah at Durham Friends on Sunday, May 19 and again on Monday, May 20

Getry Agizah will bring the prepared message to Durham Friend’s semi-programmed worship this Sunday at 10:25 

and

visit with Woman’s Society Monday evening at 7 PM.  Both events are available by Zoom or at the Meetinghouse, durhamfriendsmeeting.org.  FMI contact durham@neym.org

Getry is the Programme Coordinator for FUM’s Africa Ministries Office in Kisumu. She coordinates the work of the Friends Church Peace Team, as well as overseeing the Girl Child Education Programme, and guiding the formation of the new Shepherd Boy Scholarship program. She also manages FUM’s relationships with Turkana Friends Mission and Samburu Friends Mission.  Her ministry has been financially supported by the Falmouth QUarter for many years.

Getry’s will and heart are in peace work. She has spent the past fifteen years working for peace, both in and outside Kenya in countries like Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, China, South Africa, Guatemala, and Ireland. She has also traveled within the U.S.A. to raise support for Friends Church Peace Teams, visiting Quaker churches and Meetings in many of the States. Her hobbies are traveling, doing reconciliation work, and helping her society to know real peace.

“Transformation,” by Jan Collins

Jan Collins, assistant director of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coaltion (MPAC), brought the message at Durham Friends Meeting on April 7, 2024

Greetings and welcome.

Thank you for inviting me to your house of worship and into your lives. The topic of my message is transformation. Before I begin, I would like each of us to take just a moment to reflect on our own transformation. You may have changed slowly, or as the result of an event, often a trial by fire or a time of great suffering. As a result of that tribulation you became a different person. Try to recall how you were before and how you changed. How did your thinking change?

I chose “Amazing Grace” as our first hymn because of its tale of transformation. The song was written in 1772 by a former captain of a slave ship, John Newton who, by his own words, labelled his young life as depraved; filled with greed, violence and debauchery.

On March 2, 1748 at age 22, his ship the Greyhound was caught in a violent storm and was about to sink. He watched shipmates wash overboard. When he took the helm he began to pray for God’s mercy. He remained at the ships wheel for 11 hours while his crew attempted to staunch leaks in the hull. Gradually the storm eased and the ship survived.

He began changes to his life immediately, but they were gradual. He left his life aboard ship in 1754, began studying Hebrew, Greek, scripture and the ministry. He was ordained in the Church of England and was appointed to a church in Olney, England where he wrote Amazing Grace for a Sunday service to compliment his scriptural reading of first Chronicles 17:16-17 in which King David looks back on his life and asks, “Who am I that God hast brought me here?”

”Amazing Grace” is about redemption, the joy of receiving God’s grace, even when you have done terrible things. John Newton wrote the song at age 47. He had already been a pastor for 18 years, yet he reflected daily on his previous life of wretchedness and the path before him.

But how do we get from a life of complacency to one of transformation?

I decided to Google it. Although Google is a fount of information, it is lacking in wisdom.

According to several articles, you can achieve transformation in seven easy steps… or six… or five, depending on which site you consult.

If you follow “7 Steps to Transformation: How to Radically Change Your Life …” You must – “identify your goals; visualize your future; create an action plan; take small steps; overcome challenges; celebrate success; and live a transformed life”. Sounds simple.

Certainly some of those steps apply to John Newton’s life, take small steps, overcome challenges, live a transformed life, but there are essential ingredients missing in this recipe.I have found that transformation chooses us, not the other way around. John Newton did not choose to be in a life threatening storm, or to watch his shipmate be washed overboard never to be seen again. When faced with his and his crews mortality he became keenly aware of his own powerlessness and the fragility of life.

That awareness and the pain that accompanied it provided an opening, a hole for grace to slip in.

The process of transformation is as much about giving up things that no longer serve us as it is about learning new things.

It can be extremely painful to give up those things, those beliefs that may have insulated us from pain or given us great comfort. A person seeking sobriety, must give up the comfort of addiction…a good friend that protected them from deep pain.

When we give up racism or sexism, we must give up the comfort of believing that we are somehow superior to those around us and instead accept the humanity of others.

I spent most of the first decades of my life believing that I could erase the pain of my early childhood and my father’s incarceration by being a great student and a hard worker. I avoided people who were troubled or trouble makers. When my husband and I adopted three children ages 7, 8, and 9 from foster care, we truly believed that our love could make up for the years of abuse they had suffered in there biological home and the trauma of being in 5 foster homes in 5 years.

But at age 21, my son was arrested for a terrible crime and sentenced to 20 years in prison. I felt like I was on a sinking ship.That experience opened up a hole in me, a terrible pain that allowed grace to step in. I stopped running, stopped building protective walls.

I learned several lessons –

1. Good people can do terrible things. John Newton could participate in the violent, inhumane and heartless slave trade. My son could commit a violent crime.

2. The answer to violence is not more violence, and the answer to inhumanity is not more inhumanity. It is love.

3. We are all capable of transformation. We are all capable of redemption.

4. An environment of support and nurturance encourages transformation. A trauma filled environment stifles it. John Newton found his support in the friends he found in the church and in slavery’s abolition. I in the community of folks affected by incarceration.

In his transformation John Newton eventually became instrumental in the f ight to end slavery in England, a fight that was achieved just months before his death.

For my part, I am fighting to end our system of mass incarceration in Maine and the US. I recognize that it does more harm than good, that it is a war against the poor, the sick and the black, and that it perpetuates the very harms that John Newton saw in slavery.

The parallels are uncanny. Both an enslaved person and an incarcerated person lose everything, including their family. The state may take their children and give them to someone else. Others will lose family members to death, never having the opportunity to say goodbye. In prison you are expected to work for free or next to nothing, Your clothing will be of the poorest quality, as will your food and your medical care. Punishment will be your daily lot with very little support for real change in your life. It is no wonder so few succeed upon release and almost 700 individuals have died in Maine in the last 10 years while on probation.

Just as abolition of slavery was the cause of the nineteenth century, abolition of the carceral system should be the cause of this century. The thirteenth amendment of the US constitution, ended slavery in the United States except for those who are incarcerated. Now it is time to end incarceration.

I would ask you to join me in recognizing that fight. We heal in community, not in isolation.

In closing, it is not enough for to us believe in our own ability to transform, our own redemption: we must also believe in the transformation and redemption of others.

Thank you for believing in the humanity of those in prison and their ability to change. Please join me in making the abolition of prisons a reality. It is not an easy task, but it is a just one that our faith demands of us.

“Let the Mystery Be,” by Craig Freshley

Craig Freshley brought the message at Durham Friends Meeting on April 14, 2024. An audio recording is HERE. The message started with Craig playing a song by Iris Dement, “Let the Mystery Be.” Below are the lyrics.

“Let The Mystery Be,” Song by Iris DeMent

Everybody is wondering what and where they all came from
Everybody is worrying ’bout
Where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Some say once you’re gone you’re gone forever
And some say you’re gonna come back
Some say you rest in the arms of the Savior if in sinful ways you lack
Some say that they’re coming back in a garden
Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Everybody is wondering what and where they all came from
Everybody is worrying ’bout
Where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Some say they’re going to a place called glory
And I ain’t saying it ain’t a fact
But I’ve heard that I’m on the road to purgatory
And I don’t like the sound of that
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be

Everybody is wondering what and where they all came from
Everybody is worrying ’bout
Where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Source: Musixmatch

Let The Mystery Be lyrics © Universal Music Corp., Songs Of Iris

Swearing an Oath, by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, February 18, 2024

“He swore an oath.”  What does that mean and why does anyone do it? “He swore an oath.”   That’s what’s on my mind this morning. 

Notice that “he swore an oath” could mean two quite different things.  It could mean, he said a lot of bad words in frustration or anger, words that no one should say and certainly not in a bad, loud tone of voice.  Or “he swore an oath” could mean he mean that, on a solemn and important occasion, he assured us that he would do all that was expected of him.  Like when the newly elected President stands on the steps of the Capitol and says certain words with his hand on the Bible in front of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and tens of thousands of others.  “He swore an oath:”  oddly, two quite different meanings. 

This morning, it’s the second meaning I have in mind: the solemn and important occasions, the assurances that are  given, the magic words that are spoken.  Just the second meaning. 

Here’s an example, an oath a witness in a criminal trial is likely to be asked to give:  “I swear that the evidence that I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

Notice, of course that God is invoked here.  The oath is given knowing that God is right there as a witness.  The implication is that if I swear this oath and don’t do what I’m swearing I’ll do, there be divine punishment.  (That’s why it is a solemn occasion when we swear an oath. The original – 14th century – meaning of solemn” is “performed with due religious ceremony or reverence.”)

Of course, we Quakers know – don’t we – that God is always right at hand, paying attention to all that we do.  So what’s the point of an oath?  And you probably know that Quakers from our earliest days have refused to swear oaths.  We have often gotten in trouble for it.  In the 17th century, many Quakers went to jail simply because they would not swear an oath that was asked of them. 

Why is that?  Well, because of Matthew 5:37:  37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” 

Or James 5:12:  “12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.”

And because of these two verses in the Bible, and because of  how Friends understand what God is saying through them, Quakers have a testimony against swearing oaths.  Here’s how the Advices from NEYM’s F&P puts it:  )  “Let us maintain integrity in word and deed.  Holding to the simplicity of truth, let us keep free of oaths”  (p 207).  

And here’s how Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s 1955 Faith and Practice put it:  “Friends regard the custom of taking oaths as not only contrary to the teachings of Jesus but as implying the existence of a double standard of truth.  Thus, on all occasions when special statements are required, it is recommended that Friends take the opportunity to make simple affirmations, thus emphasizing that their statements are only a part of their usual integrity of speech” (p20).

This admonition against swearing oaths is a part of our Testimony of Integrity.  To swear an oath to tell the truth, Friends have believed for hundreds of years, is to imply that you might not be telling the truth when you do not swear an oath.  That’s the ‘double standard.’  We believe we should always be telling the truth and telling it straightforwardly.  Let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Instead, we make simple affirmations when expected to ’swear an oath’, and we remind people that we endeavor always to speak the truth. 

So Quakers don’t swear oaths, but other people do.  What do these other people think they are doing in swearing an oath?  I agree we shouldn’t swear oaths, but there’s something in oath swearing worth noticing.  What do people think they are doing?

I want to acknowledge, in truth, that all this is on my mind and on my heart because the business of swearing oaths has been much in the news.  And that’s because oath swearing is in the U.S. Constitution in several places. 

The President is asked to swear this oath before taking office:  “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” (Article II, section 1, clause 8).

For members of Congress, the Constitution provides that they “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this constitution.”  The exact words of that oath are up to Congress and here’s the current version:  I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

This business of swearing oaths seems a little quaint, doesn’t it, a little old-fashioned.  Maybe it made sense back when people really worried that God would strike them dead on the spot (maybe a lightning bolt?) if they had their fingers crossed when they swore an oath, or simply thought, ‘who is this God; this God will never catch me?’

So, again, why do we do this?  Or more bluntly, if someone isn’t going to support the Constitution, why wouldn’t they just lie?  Why does saying the words matter?  Wouldn’t someone who lies be prepared to lie while taking the oath? 

Think of what’s happening when you swear an oath.  You are speaking in front of others, probably a crowd of people, some of them holding positions of importance.  You know they will hear you say this oath.  Maybe that puts you on your best behavior.  Maybe even for selfish reasons, you care what they think.  So shaming is at work. 

You are also hearing yourself say the words.  Maybe that doesn’t mean much, but maybe it does.  It reminds you that you are promising to do the right things.  So embarrassment is at work here. 

And of course you are speaking out loud to God.  Maybe that means something to you.  If it does, then fear and awe, and the promise of redemption are at work here.

There’s an understanding of human nature bound up in our having this requirement to swear oaths in the Constitution.  It’s an understanding that knows that people sometimes act selfishly or meanly.  It’s an understanding that realizes people sometimes just do what’s best for themselves and the hell with anyone else.  

But it’s also an understanding that knows that people can act honestly and generously, with the welfare of others fully in mind.  The oath is an effort to call people to their best selves.  The oath is sworn to draw someone to that best self.  It’s an occasion to remember God is listening, and will remember.  There’s a religious backdrop, no doubt about it, no matter what God you believe in. 

I’m not trying to make a narrowly political or partisan point here, really, I’m not.  I’m asking us to notice that in this business of oath swearing is a view of human nature that has a religious underlay that our Founders thought important, even as they also believed in the religious liberty voiced in the First Amendment.  This view of human nature is far from cynical.  I know there are days I can slip into thinking ‘everyone is just in it for himself.’  ‘What did I expect?  Of course all politicians are corrupt’ always, always.

That’s not my best self, however, and it doesn’t expect that others have their own best selves.  A different understanding of human nature is far more accurate.  We Quakers believe that God can and will speak to each of us if we still ourselves and listen. 

This business of oath swearing is a reminder that the Founders of our nation believed that people could stoop to selfish, corrupt behavior but also believed that people could be called to their best selves.  Swearing an oath is one way to do that.  There’s nothing magic about it; it doesn’t always work.  We shouldn’t elect people who will swear a false oath.  But when we elect someone who can act honestly and generously, let’s also ask them to swear an oath that they will promise to act out of their best selves.  It nudges them in the right direction. 

What else nudges us to be our best selves?  We should think about that, even as we Quakers reject the swearing of oaths.  We, too, believe, maybe more than most people, that we can all be called to our best selves, and we probably need nudges, too. 

I believe we all have worst selves and best selves, selfish selves and loving selves.  How do we find it in ourselves, regularly, to be at our best?   That takes effort.  It takes nudges,  If oath swearing doesn’t do it for us, what does?  For me, I know coming here on Sundays helps.  I know prayer helps.  I know our Quaker advices and queries help.  I know having a spouse and friends with high expectations helps. 

This is a challenge for each of us. 

Also posted on River View Friend

“Prayer” by Maya Angelou

At a Meeting for Worship for Healing on February 11, 2024, Leslie Manning led us in the following:

Prayer by Maya Angelou (call and response) 

Father, Mother, God, 

Thank you for your presence 

during the hard and mean days. 

For then we have you to lean upon. 

For this we give thanks 

Thank you for your presence 

during the bright and sunny days, 

for then we can share that which we have 

with those who have less. 

For this we give thanks 

And thank you for your presence 

during the Holy Days, for then we are able 

to celebrate you and our families 

and our friends. 

For this we give thanks 

For those who have no voice, 

we ask you to speak. 

We ask your mercy.

For those who feel unworthy, 

we ask you to pour your love out 

in waterfalls of tenderness. 

We ask your mercy. 

For those who live in pain, 

we ask you to bathe them 

in the river of your healing. 

We ask your mercy. 

For those who are lonely, we ask 

you to keep them company. 

We ask your mercy. 

For those who are depressed, 

we ask you to shower upon them 

the light of hope. 

We ask your mercy. 

Dear Creator, You, the borderless 

sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the 

world that which we need most—Peace. 

Amen

“Our Anti-Bias Curriculum,” by Ingrid Chalufour

Ingrid Chalufour brought the message at Durham Friends Meeting on February 4, 2024

Today I bring good news. Your money for children’s books is well spent. The 7 teachers who worked with us this fall have completed a process of using books to help them create an anti-bias classroom community. Basically, we have layered an anti-bias approach onto what they already do to create community. A definition:

“Anti-bias curriculum is an approach to early childhood education that sets forth values-based principles and methodology in support of respecting and embracing differences and acting against bias and unfairness.” From Teaching for Change

Note that we not only introduce injustice but we let children know they can do something about it.

The teachers received books about kindness; books that elicited empathy including topics such as homelessness and bullying; books that introduced all kinds of diversity (race, ethnicity, family structure, gender). They wrote reflections for us about the use of the books and the children’s responses. In conclusion, they wrote reflections about the impact of the whole unit. Their stories have provided evidence that the books do have an impact on children’s learning and on the teachers as well. I will share a few quotes:

Jeanne, who teaches a combined 1st-2nd Grade wrote, “I see that my work has had an impact this year because… my students feel comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas about the similarities and differences between us. I think the sense that any of these topics (race, ethnicity, language, religion, other aspects of culture…) are open for discussion and wondering is a key aspect of the anti-bias classroom. The other key component is the idea that we can each make a difference…. We all have such a long way to go but pure curiosity, without judgement, in a space of caring is how we start the journey.”

Aja, a PreK teacher wrote, “The books and conversations we had helped create a safe space where our ideas are not right or wrong but used to build knowledge from one another. We found joy in our physical differences and people colors are now widely used and discussed in the classroom. Children went home and talked about learning about melanin. We challenged some biases around gender stereotypes, abilities, and family and home structures. The kindness book was a wonderful book to read over and over and was such a simple yet helpful book in establishing a caring classroom community.”

From Emma another 1st-2nd Grade teacher, “I believe that because I made an effort to have open and honest conversations about identity, the children became more comfortable talking about the different ways they identify and the different ways people in their community identify. We spent time defining words like ‘empathy’, ‘race’, ‘diversity’, ‘community’. I know the majority understand these words because when I first asked what they meant, few students raised their hands and their answers were off-base; now when we have conversations revolving around those topics, it’s clear that we don’t need to define them because they are either a) using those words, or b) able to answer the questions I pose that contain those key words. I think in these early stages of language acquisition, this is a critical piece.”

Finally, from Kate a Kindergarten teacher, “Adding this layer has made me look more closely at the curriculum in order to figure out where could I weave in these books, so along with content students are experiencing, accepting, celebrating differences.”

We, the work group, are continually learning from the work of the teachers and from the consultants who are informing our journey. The teachers work this fall has taught us that spending time on creating an anti-bias classroom community is an essential foundation to the social justice work that follows which is exploring the Black experience in America and Wabanaki studies, with attention to care of the environment.

As we move from creating community to this new work about People of Color, we are introducing racism. Some ask why do you introduce 4- to 8-year-old children to racism. A primary reason is that small children are keen observers of the world. They are noticing similarities and differences and forming opinions, making judgements. When their judgements are made in the white dominant culture, they can begin to discriminate. At the same time these children are very quick to see unfairness. It is the perfect time to introduce the unfairness of racism. The question we have tackled recently is how do you do this. Young children are concrete thinkers so you must scaffold the message, moving from experiences the children can identify with to more abstract concepts like race. It is also essential to our approach that introducing any injustice is accompanied by the idea that you can do something about it.

Recently I happened upon a book at Curtis Library that does all of this. It is just the perfect book as our teachers transition to their new topic this winter and spring so we bought one for each of them and I will share it with you now: Our Skin, by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli and Isabel Roxas.

James Nayler’s Last Words

At Falmouth Quarterly Meeting on January 27, 2024, held at Durham Friends Meeting, Brian Drayton led a worship sharing session on James Nayler‘s last words. With a short introduction from Britain Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, here are those last words:

In 1659 [James Nayler] sought to be reconciled with George Fox, from whom he had become estranged, but was rebuffed. William Dewsbury was at last instrumental in bringing a reconciliation, and James Nayler resumed his Quaker service, ‘living in great self-denial and very jealous of himself’.

In 1660, after his release, he set out on foot for the north, intending to go home to his wife and children. On the way, he was robbed and bound, and found towards evening in a field. He was taken to a Friend’s house near King’s Ripton, where he died. These were some of his last words:

There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end.

Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations.

As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other.

If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God.

Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind.

In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It’s conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it, nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world’s joy it is murdered.

I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places in the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.

“We Enter Singing, Then Fall Silent Before the Lord,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 21, 2024

“Make a joyful noise.”  “Come into his presence with singing.” In recent weeks Craig has gotten us talking about prayers.  Today I want to talk about singing. 

One of the things that led me to drift away from religion when I was younger was that very little of what religion involved made any sense to me, and no one really tried to explain it to me.  Church was different from anything else in life.  That was clear.  But why?  Just to be different?  As I grew older, I started realizing Church was supposed to help make sense of things that went on the rest of the week, a different more all-encompassing sense.  But – and this was a problem for me – Church itself didn’t make any sense. 

Every week it was the same pattern in my Presbyterian Church.  Organ playing, a hymn sung while the minister walked down the aisle, an Old Testament Reading, a prayer, a New Testament reading, an offering, the Doxology, a responsive reading, and so on, eventually a sermon.  And of course, I came to realize it was different at other churches.  Why do we do all this, I wondered?  Why our pattern? Why not the others?  There seemed to be no answer other than “this is the way,” “this is the way we’ve done it for ages and ages.”  For me, that didn’t make any sense. 

That was just how it was:  many things about going to church were different, even odd, yet left unexplained.  No one ever said, “here’s the deal;”  or “this is why we do it this way.”  This is why we sing; this is how and why we pray, and so forth. 

I mentioned “The Doxology.”  That was an especially puzzling word.  Most hymns are known by their first line.  I now know the Doxology is a special kind of hymn, one tacked on to the end of something else, like an offering.  It’s a word from the Greek meaning literally “a speaking of praise.”  The idea of singing such a thing reaches back to Jewish worship liturgy.  There are a few different Doxologies, but in most Churches, they use the same one each week.  There isn’t a Doxology in our Quaker Worship in Song hymnals (Quakers for the most part don’t use a Doxology) but there are a few in our brown hymnals, The Singing Church.  Let’s sing one: #556.  (This Doxology, by the way, comes from a psalm, Psalm 150). 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen

You can see it’s a joyful noise, a hymn of praise to God.  And it’s brief, just one stanza; it adds a little excitement to something that has just happened. Think of it as an exclamation point after whatever just proceeded it. 

No one ever said why we sang the Doxology right after the offering was taken. It was like the Bible: no one ever said what that was, either.  It was just there, and ponderous.  Also, a little odd.  No one ever said ‘here is a book written over time by many people telling stories about people being faithful to God, and people not being faithful to God, and about what happened next.  Thinking about all these stories can help you be more faithful to God.’   (Maybe you would explain what the Bible is in a different way than what I just said, but any explanation would be better than none at all.)

One of the many reasons I became a Quaker is that we have a simpler form of worship, and we often talk about why we do it the way we do.  Like why we settle into silence or stillness.  When we Quakers are not being silent, we talk about that, about why we fall silent to listen to God, and what we hope we do after one or another of us hears from God. 

Sunday School made a little more sense.  I learned some things there.  At the Presbyterian Church my family attended, there were two Bible passages we all learned by heart.  Perhaps you did, too.  (I know Ellen did.)  Both passages were Psalms.  We learned the 23d and the 100th Psalms. 

But still, as I recollect it, no one explained to me, then, what a Psalm was.  There they were in the middle of the Bible, pretty different from the stuff that came before or came after inn the Bible.  Sometimes they were part of what was read or recited as part of a Church service.  Why? I had no idea. 

 It was some years later that I realized that the psalms were songs.  Now I even know that the word “psalm” means “a sacred poem or song, especially one expressing praise or thanksgiving.”  The word “psalm” comes from a Greek word meaning “a song sung to a harp” or more simply “something plucked.”  That Greek word found its way into Church Latin, and then into English.  The Hebrew word, by the way, for that book in the Bible is “Tehillim,” meaning “songs of praise.”

Here at Durham Friends, we begin worship with a song, and we end worship with a song.  I like that.  I’m grateful that Dorothy Hinshaw and Nancy Marstaller play the piano for us.  And KJ Williams before, and Sukie Rice especially encouraged our singing, and Craig Freshley sings occasionally for us, and now Ezra and Laura.  Tess has a striking voice, and really, all of us sing.

You probably know not all Quakers do it this way.  It’s more an Evangelical or Friends United Meeting way of doing things than a Friends General Conference or Conservative Friends way of doing things.  I first became a Quaker at Germantown Meeting, part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.  Hymn singing was definitely not part of the regular worship service there.  We gathered in silence, and we ended in silence.  Hymns might be sung as part of a midweek potluck supper gathering, but not during First Day Worship.  Not.  No. 

Psalms 23 and 100.  I spoke earlier of those two.  Today, I hear the 23d more often than the 100th, but today it is the 100th that is on my mind.  Like the Doxology, it urges us to praise God, but it says more.  Here it is, from the King James version of the Bible. 

100th Psalm

1Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness:

come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God:

it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,

and into his courts with praise:

be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good;

his mercy is everlasting; and

his truth endureth to all generations.

It is not only a psalm – a song – it is also a psalm about singing – about singing a song of praise and thanksgiving.  It is a song giving us some guidance about how to worship God. 

If you look more closely, you’ll see that this psalm consists of four instructions followed by three reasons.  (Now here’s somebody explaining what the deal is – why we do things the way we do.)  The instructions are about how to worship God.  Remember Craig’s three kinds of prayer: please, thanks, sorry?  The instructions in the 100th psalm – there are four of them —  are these:  sing, serve, know God, and be thankful. 

Sing:                1Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve:              Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know God:      Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Be thankful:     Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

Why should we do these things?  That’s the subject of the three reasons that come at the end of this psalm.  Like many Psalms, the 100th takes a turn in its middle.  It starts out one way, and then it shifts to another.  Sometimes that’s a change in focus or in voice or in perspective.  Here the change is from encouraging us to sing our praises to God towards giving reasons for such singing:  serving, knowing and thanking God. 

In a nutshell, those reasons are goodness, mercy and truth. 

God is goodness through and through. 

God’s mercy extends to every person through all time. 

And God’s truth is rock-solid and eternal. 

Here are the words of the psalm.

For the Lord is good;

his mercy is everlasting; and

his truth endureth to all generations.

You might also be thinking that this Psalm is like a prayer, and I think you’d be right.  Psalms are songs, but they are also prayers of a sort, ones that praise God and voice our thanks. 

So I’m thinking, that’s a good reason we sing as we enter our worship (we make a joyful noise), and why we sing at the end.  That’s the deal.   We sing our praises to God, then we fall silent to hear what God has to say to us, and then we sing again in praise as we leave worship. 

Also posted on River View Friend

“Breach of the Peace,” Iona Community

At worship this past Sunday (January 14, 2024), Leslie Manning brought the message. You can see and hear a recording of the lecture here (password is UL7WA?zi). She read this poem from the Iona Community:

She also read this passage from William Penn:

True religion does not draw men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it. — William Penn

Meditation from Steven Charleston

Read at the opening and closing of worship at Durham Friends Meeting, January 7, 2024:

Meditation of the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Ret. Episcopal Bishop of Alaska, of Choctaw Ancestral Lineage. 12/24/2023, Sunday.  

Please join me today, whoever you are, whatever you believe: join me in releasing love into the world.

Love as mercy, love as peace, love as forgiveness, love as healing: join me in sharing love in every way you can.

And when you do, join me in believing it will make a difference. Love always makes a difference.

Please join me today in extending that love as far as your heart can reach.

“Please, Thanks, Sorry,” by Craig Freshley

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 3, 2023

You can hear a recording of Craig Freshley’s Message, “Please, Thanks, Sorry,” at his website Craig’s Quaker Messages.

This message focuses on three types of prayer and during this message I held up three little signs to match what I was saying; signs that read PLEASE, THANKS, and SORRY.

For a few cycles to start the breathing exercise at the end, I held up PLEASE as I inhaled, and THANKS as I exhaled.

There’s silence in the middle of the message from 13:30 to 16:30, and also at the end of the message beginning at 18:34.

Here is a transcription of the message:

Please, Thanks, Sorry

Good morning, friends.

The last message I brought was about prayer, and today’s message is about prayer. Last time I recited my prayer, a specific prayer that I have pushed myself to write over many years, and it’s evolving. In fact, I’ve changed it since the last time I spoke to you about this prayer, and maybe I’ll say it at the end of today’s message. Last time I talked about the value of what I’m going to call stock prayers, prayers with specific words and verses that we say over and over again the same way. The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of St. Francis, the 23rd Psalm, the Prayer of Yellow Hawk, the Serenity Prayer. These are some of my favorite stock prayers. A lot of thought has been put into the words of these prayers, and it’s so helpful to say them and think about their meaning. Take them to heart over and over. Reciting stock prayers is, for me, a form of meditation. It focuses, the mind cuts out distraction. It’s in keeping with the Catholic tradition of using rosary beads, or the Buddhist tradition of chance or mantras. It provides a discipline. So whereas last time I focused on my stock prayer, my way of bringing discipline and saying the same things over and over. I say that to myself several times a day that, that prayer,

But I also ex explained last time that sometimes I make up prayers, and that’s good too. That’s the focus of today’s message, is making up prayers on the spot. I think there is great value in quieting the mind in wrestling with this question. What should I pray for right now? What a big question it requires me to consider all that I could pray for and make a short list. It pushes me to decide what’s most important. Just the exercise of making that decision before we even get to the prayer. Deciding what to pray for is, I suppose its own form of prayer. I’ve been told, I don’t remember where I heard this, but I’ve come to believe this, that there are basically three kinds of prayer.

Please. Thanks, and Sorry. So to help me make my short lists, I think of prayers in these three categories. I think to myself, what do I want help with? What am I thankful for? What things have I done that I’m sorry about.

In a moment, I’m going to ask you to think about your short lists of what’s most important in these three categories. But first, I’m going to say just a little bit more about these three different types of prayers and what they mean for me, how I think of them. These are often prayers of desperation. Please help so and so get better. Please prevent X, Y, z, bad thing from happening. Please stop the fighting. Stop the oppression, stop the flooding. Please help those in desperate need. Please help me get out of this jam. Sometimes those are the most desperate prayers of all. I’m in trouble. I need help. Please help me. But a please prayer can also be from a not so desperate place, a more, a more thoughtful place. Please help me be a better person by blank, blank, blank. Please help me with this particular thing so I can be better. Please help me better understand why. Blank, blank, blank, blah, blah, blah. Please help me forgive him or her. Please help me be more open to them.

It can also be a prayer of humility. Just yesterday, I heard Rob Levine say, if you don’t know what to do, pray. If you don’t know what to pray for, pray for help. Sometimes I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know how to be, but I remember that I have this available to me. I can ask for help. I can say a prayer and I can begin it with please. It’s really hard for me to ask for help. Yet I’ve learned that it’s one of the most valuable things I can do, and I’ve learned that when I ask for help, it’s good to be okay with non-specifics rather than please change that person in these ways so that they’re nicer to me. I’ve learned that’s not a helpful prayer. I’m likely to be disappointed with that type of prayer, but rather, please help me find peace in this situation from a place of humility, not knowing the answer, rather than, please tell me what I should do about this or that. Instead, please help me be okay with however, turn this turns out and help me play my part.

It’s okay to ask for help. It’s good when you start with the word please, and it’s good to be open to however the help might come. Thanks. This is gratitude. When I’m not feeling good about myself or about the world around me, there is nothing more helpful to me than to take stock of the good things I have. Do not take things for granted.

It seems to help me every time. I knew a guy named Leon, an old guy, and when you asked him how he was, he would always say the same thing. I’m fantastic. I woke up on the right side of the grass today.  Every time, same answer, grateful to just be alive. That is a good place to start.

But not only that, it’s not just that I’m alive. I have an amazing life. So many blessings. We as humans have a long and deep tradition of prayers, of gratitude and blessings. Blessings before a meal, blessings at the start of an endeavor. Gratitude at the end of an endeavor. Gratitude upon winning the award. I couldn’t have done this without you. All prayers of gratitude. Folks in recovery are often asked to make a gratitude list. When I was a child, my mom encouraged me to end my day by kneeling at my bed and thinking of the good things that happened that day. Pretty simple prayer. Just think back on the good things that happened. I have found that gratitude is pretty much universal medicine for whatever ails you.

Sorry, another type of prayer. You might call this confession or repentance. I’m going to bring something else that I have learned in recovery. This is, this book is called Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m going to read a paragraph. “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest, or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves, which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving towards all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others of what we could pack into the stream of life?”

But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse, or morbid reflection for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review, we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken. I find it helpful to review my actions, to look at me and consider how I have been aligned or not aligned with how God wants me to be. And consider what corrective actions need to be taken. What apologies do I need to make to help me feel better? What do I have to fix with actual actions and what do I need to let go of? I don’t need to be responsible for everything. Back to please. I can ask for help with the burdens of my regrets. I would like us to pause for a moment. I’m going to stop talking and I’m going to offer a few minutes of silence for you to consider, for us all to consider our transgressions. What are you sorry about? What regrets do you have between you and your God? Let’s just take two or three minutes here and each try to make a short list.

[PAUSE]

I love that everyone seems to be praying so hard, and I hate to interrupt.  But I’d like to wrap up and take us into even more silence, and I’d like to do one or maybe two more things before I walk back over there. I’d like to do a little breathing exercise with you. 

We just spent some time reflecting on, sorry, regrets, transgressions. Now I’d like to spend a little time reflecting on please and thank you. And the way that I do this sometimes is I, I breathe and when I breathe in, I think please. And when I breathe out, I think thanks. It’s a really simple prayer, and when I breathe in, I think of things that I need help with, and when I breathe out, I think of things that I’m grateful for. So I’m going to ask that we start this together. I’m going to hold up signs, and then I’m going leave you to your own rhythm and we’ll see what happens after that.

We breathe in and we breathe out.

Joy and Love, from Maine Council of Churches

For five weeks every year, songs about the incarnation of Christ can be heard playing everywhere—on your radio and TV, at the car wash, in the grocery store.  And just about everybody knows the words.  They might not be able to tell you what the first book of the New Testament is (just for the record, it’s Matthew), but they can tell you that all is calm, all is bright on a silent, holy night in the little town of Bethlehem where away in a manger the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head while certain poor shepherds lay in fields listening to angels on high singing “Gloria in excelsis deo,” and three kings of the orient bearing gifts traverse afar.   Christmas carols are, after all, the best known of all religious music, and these days, most people get the only theology they have from the carols that they sing.  This year our Advent blog series will explore a favorite carol each week, listening to familiar words with fresh ears and learning the story of when, where, and why they were written. (We also have an Advent message for December’s National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath available at this link.)
O Holy Night
O holy night! the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope- the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we. Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever! His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim! 
Christmas Eve 1906. The clock on Reginald Fessenden’s workbench in Brant Rock, Massachusetts, struck nine.  He carefully set the needle of his Victrola down on a spinning record and pointed a homemade microphone into the gramophone horn.  When a short aria by Handel finished playing, he stopped the record, and moved the microphone over to his wife, Helen.  He motioned to her to begin reciting the words from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel, the story of Jesus’ birth, but she froze in fear and couldn’t speak.  Flustered, Reginald brought the microphone up to his own mouth and blurted out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace…to men of good will.”  (It should have been “peace, good will toward men,” but close enough!)  Then Reginald handed the microphone to Helen, picked up his violin, leaned in as close as he could and played the French carol “O Holy Night.”  He sang the final refrain before switching off the transmitter.
 
Somewhere out in the cold, dark, Atlantic Ocean, miles to the east of where Reginald and Helen sat wondering if their experiment had worked, wireless operators on several U.S. Navy and United Fruit Company ships sat in amazement.  Before that moment, the only sound they had ever heard coming through their radio headsets were the dits, dots and dashes of Morse code. But on that Christmas Eve, they heard music and the sound of a man’s voice saying, “Glory to God in the highest.”  It must have seemed like a miracle!
 
Three days earlier, Fessenden had transmitted a message in Morse code to ships at sea telling them to have their wireless transmitters turned on at 9:00pm on Christmas Eve.  He was going to test out his theory that if he combined two frequencies together he would be able to transmit more than just Morse code over radio airwaves—he would be able to transmit music and the spoken word.  This theory had gotten him nothing but ridicule—in the press, in the business world, even in scientific circles.  He was seen as a crackpot outsider with hare-brained schemes.  But on Christmas Eve 1906, it was his voice reciting the gospel of Luke, his violin playing “O Holy Night,” that were heard for the first time over the radio.  After his death in 1932, a stone memorial was erected over his grave bearing these words: “By his genius distant lands converse and men sail unafraid upon the deep.”
 
Fifty-nine years before that first radio broadcast, another pair of oddball misfits who lived in France had composed “O Holy Night.”  Placide Cappeau, misfit number un, was the wine commissioner of Roquemaure, a small town in the south of France where Monsieur Cappeau didn’t quite fit in. For starters, he only had one hand (his right hand had been amputated when he was 8 years old after a playmate accidentally shot him); then there was the fact that, unlike his devout Catholic neighbors, Placide Cappeau didn’t attend church; and finally, the icing on the gâteau—he was a political radical, affiliated with the socialist movement.  But he was known in his village as someone who had a way with words—he enjoyed writing poetry as a hobby.  So, when the town church’s organ was renovated and plans were made to include a rededication ceremony during Christmas Eve services in 1847, the local priest asked Monsieur Cappeau if he would write a special poem for the occasion.  Cappeau wrote the poem, “Cantique de Noel,” and then, realizing his words really should be set to music for maximum effect, asked his friend Adolphe Adam to compose a song to go with it. 
 
Enter misfit number deux: Adolphe Adam, a Jewish musical composer who worked in vaudeville, opera and ballet with a notoriously bad temper and a permanently empty bank account.  He had his fifteen minutes of fame as composer of the music for the ballets “Giselle” and “Le Corsaire,” but then a tantrum put him on the outs with the movers and shakers of the Paris opera world, and he spent the rest of his life in bankruptcy.  That day in 1847, he accepted his friend Placide’s request and wrote the soaring score we now know as the tune to “O Holy Night.”  The combination of music and poem made the carol instantly popular, and soon it was being sung in churches and homes all over France.
 
That is, until French religious authorities got wind of the fact that the carol’s composers were a non-believing socialist and a red-light-district musician with Jewish ancestry.  Immediately the carol was banned from churches throughout France.  For more than two decades it would not be heard in worship services there, though it continued to be sung in homes and loved by many.  It wasn’t until Christmas Eve 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, when a French soldier laid down his weapon, faced the enemies’ guns and sang “O Holy Night,” the Germans responded by singing a carol by Martin Luther, and a Christmas truce began, that the French Catholic church relented and once again allowed “O Holy Night” to be sung in worship.
 
Despite its twenty-year ban in the churches of France, the carol had grown in popularity across Europe and even in America, where a young Unitarian minister who believed deeply in the movement to abolish slavery, was so inspired by the words of the third verse that he felt compelled to translate the entire carol into English.  It was an instant hit, particularly in the North, during the Civil War.  
 
You may not be surprised to learn that this American, Rev. John Sullivan Dwight, was…you guessed it, a bit of a misfit, an outsider!   Extremely intelligent, John Dwight had attended Harvard Divinity School and then took his first call.  But after only one year, he had to resign because he suffered from what we now know as agoraphobia. After leaving the ministry, he tried living in communes associated with the Transcendentalist movement (think Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson), but eventually found his calling as a writer and music critic, and the founder of an influential music journal.
 
And so, the story of “O Holy Night” is a story of outsiders, outcasts, misfits and broken people: a disabled socialist poet, a bankrupt Jewish vaudevillian, an agoraphobic abolitionist, and a ridiculed crackpot inventor playing his violin into a microphone that might—or might not—be transmitting his song to anyone. 
 
That sounds like a story that’s got God’s fingerprints all over it!
 
Outsiders, outcasts, the ridiculed.  It’s the story of Christmas, too.  Mary: the unwed pregnant teenager.  Joseph: the man facing the prospect of raising someone else’s child.  Together: part of a community oppressed by the occupying forces of the Roman empire, forced to deliver a baby in a stable and lay him in a feed trough.  Then there’s the shepherds: people not welcome in polite company—dirty and smelly, they slept outdoors, were often suspected of being thieves, their testimony wasn’t acceptable in a court of law.  What about the magi?  Strangers, foreigners from the East, who practiced a mysterious religion and had unfamiliar clothes and customs.  The oppressed, the poor, the hurting, the outsiders.  That is who comes to the manger. 
 
Even as an infant, Jesus was already turning the world upside down.  Dirty, smelly shepherds are serenaded by angels from heaven; foreigners who practice a different religion are among the first to be invited to meet the Christ child; and an unwed, pregnant teenager becomes the mother of God.  Once again, God chooses the foolish and the weak to transform the world; God stands with the poor, the outsider, the last and the least that they might be first in the kin-dom, that their souls, in the words of the carol, might feel their worth, that their weary hearts might feel the thrill of hope.
 
But God doesn’t stop there.  As the final verse of “O Holy Night” expresses so beautifully, God is clear about how we are each called to respond to that thrill of hope, to that great good news that our souls do have worth in the eyes of the Creator.  We are to love one another, to abide by God’s law of love and to preach Christ’s gospel of peace.  We are called to recognize every enslaved person as our brother, our sister, and to work to break the chains of oppression in all its many forms: poverty, hunger, addiction, racism, loneliness, greed.  When we hear the Christmas story, when we listen to the beautiful words and music of Placide Cappeau, Adolphe Adam, and John Sullivan Dwight, we should ask ourselves, “What am I doing to give others the thrill of hope?  What can I do to break the chains of oppression?  How can I show others the worth of their soul?”  There is a weary world out there in need of hope.  There are people in need of love and peace and justice.  Do we have a song to sing to them, a story to tell them of a new and glorious morn? 
 
I believe that we do.  I believe that we, like Reginald Fessenden, are meant to sing that song out into the night sky, even though we’re not sure anyone will hear it.  We sing because we have faith, trusting that someone is listening, and maybe, just maybe, because they hear us, will no longer be afraid to sail upon the deep. 
 
May it be so.
 
All of us here at the Maine Council of Churches wish you the blessings of hope, peace, love and joy this Christmas and in the New Year,
 

Rev. Jane Field, Executive Director
Maine Council of Churches
202 Woodford Street  |  Portland, ME 04103
www.mainecouncilofchurches.org

Click here to read the whole Advent Blog series. 

“What I Bring to the Spiritual Potluck,” by Diana White

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 10, 2023

Good morning, Friends,

This is Diana White in the Meeting House. I have not yet met all of you. I am in the process of transferring my membership from Portland Friends Meeting. In my request for transfer, I said that I feel that the semi-programmed worship here speaks to my condition. My sense is that in a silent Meeting there is not the opportunity for sharing, education, and spiritual development in the same way that is possible in this setting. I am excited about becoming a member of this Meeting.

Robert Lawrence Smith, head at Sidwell Friends for many years, said that a Quaker Meeting is “…something akin to a spiritual potluck. Each person [brings] something personal, simple, and sacred to the table in the belief that out of the silence, the voice of truth might be heard.”

Today I will tell you something of what I bring to this spiritual potluck, the Durham Monthly Meeting of Friends.

I first attended Quaker Meeting as a teenager, in Princeton, New Jersey. I was a well-churched child, baptized twice after the Methodists found the Dutch Reformed baptism an insufficient guarantee of my membership in the Kingdom of Heaven. I have many years of Sunday School pins, acquired into my teens. I was also a Pioneer Girl, a sort of fundamentalist Girl Scout. I earned badges for such skills as being able to recite all the books of the Bible.

I was brought up in a union family. My father served in the Pacific theater in World War II. He was a civil rights activist and a champion of democracy. I was raised as an activist and a patriot. Four members of my family, my grandmother, my father, my sister and I, all ran for public office. We are proud losers, zero for seven. My father’s death when I was a teenager left an indelible mark on me about the importance of living one’s life in the moment, because there may not be that many moments. I became a nurse and union activist, then a lobbyist and organizer.

I started attending Quaker Meeting regularly in Farmington in 1990. I spent 25 years active in my monthly meeting, Vassalboro Quarter, and New England Yearly Meeting. I was the first woman to serve as Yearly Meeting Treasurer. I was clerk of Friends Committee on Maine Public Policy after Ed Snyder stepped down. I found Quaker thought and practice consistent with my sense of justice and activism…. “Let your life speak.”

When my son started college, I felt restless. I was teaching at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. I loved my life in northern Maine but felt led to make a contribution to social justice. That sense slowly became a leading to go South, to work for change around issues of racism. I met a professor from Tuskegee University at a conference and then was recruited to teach there.

One of the books that deeply affected me was Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up from Slavery, which I first read in elementary school. I have returned to it several times in the last 50 years. Washington was a freed slave who founded Tuskegee Institute to educate other freed slaves. Tuskegee University is a Historically Black University, what is known as an HBCU. It is now one of the Black Ivies. When I first visited there, I felt that I was standing on Holy Ground.

In August 2011, I went to Yearly Meeting in Vermont, and then drove south. I stopped to see my brother in New Jersey. He asked me if I knew the difference between a Yankee and a Damn Yankee. I did not. He explained that a Yankee visits the South, but a Damn Yankee stays. I stopped at my father’s grave to tell him where I was headed. Two days later, I arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, and started at Tuskegee the next day.

I left Maine, with one of the lowest rates of church attendance in the country, to go to

Alabama, which has one of the highest rates of attendance. There is always a whole lot of public praying going on. We always said grace at meals and prayed for success for the football teams. My students prayed before exams… not just prayed… one of the students would spend several minutes in fervent exhortation for their success.

At the end of my first week at Tuskegee, I was asked where I planned to go to church. I said I did not know. I was living and working almost exclusively with African Americans. That Sunday morning, I decided that I needed to find me some white people. So, at the most segregated hour in America, 10 am on Sunday, I attended the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. A week later one of the regulars called me a Damn Yankee.

I was frequently asked by my co-workers about my religion. I said I was a Quaker and then I was asked what Quakers believe. I used a phrase I learned from Brian Drayton, a New Hampshire Quaker. I said that Quakers believe that the Kingdom is already here and we live in the Kingdom. Anyone who asked found that an acceptable answer although I don’t think that was understood in the way that I meant it.

It was easy to live the testimonies in Alabama. I settled in and learned a great deal. My overall contribution may have been that I demonstrated that there are white people who understand the problems and are supportive of change. More than once I was told, “You understand. You can talk to white people. They don’t listen to us.”

My work in Alabama extended beyond my involvement with Tuskegee University and the Tuskegee community. The US Air Force graduate school is in Montgomery, educating officers advancing to higher ranks. Every year, there are also several hundred foreign officers who are educated with US officers to support collaboration around the world. I started working with the program for foreign officers from Botswana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, and Zambia. I did not know how to square that with the peace testimony.  As I got more involved, my dilemma worsened. I talked with a Quaker I knew in Montgomery, a war tax resister and activist. We decided that I was speaking truth to power, in the “belly of the beast,” as it were. I was demonstrating that there is a different way to be an American patriot. I did my best work undermining the Air Force doctrine of air power, supplementing for African officers a different approach, an African framework.

One of the Ugandan officers was a helicopter pilot and an attorney. The Ugandans have long fought the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian rebel group which sent armed child soldiers into action against Ugandan troops. He asked me to help him with the literature review for a paper he was writing, evaluating the ethical issues when faced with an armed child shooting to kill. I was witness to his distress, and by proxy, to the suffering faced by those who live in very difficult and complex situations around the world. 

I sometimes worked with a defense attorney who had a well-honed sense of justice, with righteous indignation about the injustices of the criminal justice system. I was an expert witness in federal court in a high-profile prisoner abuse case. My testimony gave the judge a rationale to reduce the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years to four years.

I also went to an execution at the lawyer’s request, to evaluate the efficacy of the drug cocktail used to terminate the prisoner’s life. When I arrived at the maximum security prison, I was met in the parking lot by officers who greeted me, “Are you the witness?” I answered, “I am the witness.”  I was strip searched and then taken to the viewing room of the execution chamber.

Both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Equal Justice Initiative are based in Montgomery. The Civil Rights Memorial Center is fronted by a Maya Lin sculpture. The sculpture includes the verse from Amos frequently cited by Martin Luther King, “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” 

I returned from Alabama in 2019. I was very ill and spent 2020 so sick that my son returned home to take care of me. My daughter was deployed for much of 2020 and 2021, as a nurse supporting COVID care. I have been recovering slowly and learning to walk again. For three years, I have been asking myself, “What am I to do with the time I have been given?” It is still a question that I ask myself every day.

Ten years ago, I met another Damn Yankee, a career Air Force attorney from New Hampshire who was living in Montgomery. He wanted to write a book and needed help. We published Heartlessness of Dixie in 2016, documenting the conditions in Alabama which support racism. Things have not changed much since then.

I was the witness. I was there, in Alabama, to witness. Change occurs in our society when many people work to make that happen. It is important that we witness, name the injustices we see, and stand with those who are burdened by injustice. We witness and we show respect, over and over and over again. Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

“Our Losses, Our Sorrows,” by Tess Hartford

message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 5, 2023

Dear Friends,   It is my privilege to bring the message this morning and my hopes are that it will bring blessing and closure in some manner to us this day, in this season of the drawing back of nature’s life force to be contained and conserved in the darkness, preparing for another season of growth in yet another time. I asked to bring the message today for two reasons. One, because there was an empty line on our calendar for message bringers, but more importantly  because this message has been growing inside of me for at least two years, perhaps even more.

I have captured little thoughts and inspirations from the life and lives we share as a corporate body and of course from my personal prayers, meditations and conversations with the invisible realms, with the angels and spiritual guides, with my relationship with God.

This message comes out now following our last Sunday’s Meeting for Grieving as a continuation of the deep need to honor and grieve all those we have said goodbye to over the last three years and also all that has been lost within our community as a result of the Corona virus pandemic.  I want to speak to all of this because our wounding from it is deep, and because it continues to reverberate throughout the present experience we share. I am mindful that not all has been lost, and there have been gains of new growth and adaptation throughout this period as well. BUT, I want in this moment  in time to give attention and voice, here and now, to what we have lost. To give voice to that which causes us to sorrow, here, in our small beloved community and beyond! Because our small, beloved community exists in the larger world and we recognize how our lives are affected by tragedies around us. That which we sorrow after is the physical, warm, flesh and blood and bone presence of our friends. Those who we sorrow over have vanished from our sight and we are filled with sadness while we continue to yearn for the, while we long for their presence among us. The spaces that they inhabited are now hollow……….. We no longer feel the comfort of their tenderness, or the joy of their laughter. We no longer bask in the light of their eyes and the music of their voices, each one’s unique and distinct personality and the vibrance  of their spirits. What makes these losses even more poignant is that they are not flesh and blood family members. They and we are a body of like- minded spirits who come together in relationship because we share in the common desire to seek after God, we come together to worship the Divine in all life and in each other , to lift one another into that light and to be led by that life and fullness. So, it is right and good that we suffer the absence of their warmth and companionship and shed our tears and feel the gnawing in our throats when their memories rise within us.

I personally grieve a lot of life that has been missed since we stopped meeting here in this holy space, our Meetinghouse. And I will say it again, how I ache over missing our connectivity by not gathering near to one another for two long years. My soul aches terribly when I think about the slow deaths of aged ones who in their isolation during the lockdown, were buried  by the weight of loneliness and lack of human touch. I grieve over the loss of our young families and the precious growing years of our youth, never to be recovered. And I grieve over the misunderstandings and hard and difficult differences among us that were only magnified when we couldn’t sit down with one another in attempts to work things through. I grieve the loss of normalcy and the strange, cold distancing that kept us afraid of one another getting close. I the reality and trauma of mask wearing, robbing us of seeing each other’s facial expressions and smiles, and I grieve that weddings and funerals and birthdays and graduations were not celebrated as is our custom in the life of our Meeting community. I grieve and regret the disruption of our lives together and many who are no longer with us.’ But,’ you might say, we survived and we came through and we and we and we……………………………………………. And that is true, but today’s message is not about survival, is not about adapting, it is not about how we came through. As I said at the beginning, this message is about loss. Let us allow one another to grieve our losses, pay them the attention they deserve, and then and only then, in the space that follows look to and acknowledge all that we have survived and how we have come through.

When my mother died eleven years ago, I remember the sense of losing the biggest part of myself, that beautiful woman who brought me into the world and was my anchor here spiritually and physically. Suddenly, she was gone, no more laughter and shared moments, no more going to the grocery store with her or for her, no more dinners and sleepovers and family gatherings, no more trips to PA, or Vermont or Ohio. She was just gone- and her leave taking ripped away at the very fabric of life and time and purpose. I remember feeling such terrible loneliness and raw sadness going into the grocery store, knowing that I was not shopping for her anymore. It would come over me and permeate my whole self, such that I would feel like a little lost girl and could not wait to get out of there.

And so, it is with each one of us, missing the people who have gone on and are no longer with us.  Who have gone with their precious human forms, leaving with a little portion of our souls that go with theirs.

And so, here we are, still here, with each other, figuring out the new dance steps with fewer dancers remaining. Like survivors of a shipwreck holding tight to the flotsam of debris left floating on the sea, holding on for dear life to one another.

It becomes even stronger then, our need for one another. Our need to pray with one another and for each other. To bear up patiently and with deep kindness, the understanding that we are all surviving the pain and the losses, the trauma of our collective suffering on a grand scale. And that we carry the burden of grief and sorrow together.

I want to close now with the words of an amazing soul who was a poet, philosopher and artist. Born in 1883 and who lived till 1931. Kahlil Gibran, who  many know, for his seminal work,” The Prophet. “  It is one of my favorite works of spiritual writing which as of this year is 100 years old. It is a collection of poems in which innumerable people have found in them an expression of the deepest impulses of man’s heart and mind.

So I end this message with Gibran’s poem called, “On Joy and Sorrow”

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered:

Your joy is you sorrow unmasked.  And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, made by the carver’s knife?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you that they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

“In Praise of Tolerance, a Second-Best Solution,” by Doug Bennett

[Or, We’re Slipping Again into a Time of Religious War]

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 12, 2023

It is tolerance that is on my mind this morning.  Tolerance isn’t one of the Testimonies of Friends, and perhaps it should not be so considered, but still it has an importance for Friends. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us agreed about everything?  Wouldn’t that be splendid – a harmony.  A peace, you might say.  I don’t mean we’d all agree about the little things, like which flavor of ice cream is best, or whether the Patriots are our favorite team. 

I mean wouldn’t it be great if we all agreed about the big questions like what is the proper name of God, or how should God be worshipped or what is sinful in the eyes of God and what is not.  Wouldn’t agreement on those matters be heavenly?  Surely in heaven there is nothing but agreement. 

Or would it?  Maybe you can think of some reasons this might not be so good.  Maybe you can think of reasons this would be hard to achieve without conflict or violence.  Humans can find it hard to agree with one another; that seems to be just the way we are.  Sometimes people try to force others to believe what they believe, to achieve that uniform harmony of belief.  And that conflict can be painful.  It can become religious war – war to achieve heaven on earth.    

Today, I’ve been thinking we are slipping again into a time of religious war – or something very like it.  Conflict, yes, but “religious”?  Is that the right word?  That may strike you as an odd thing to say.  In the United States many fewer people consider themselves religious than just a few decades ago.  The same is true in Europe and in much of Asia and Latin America. 

Nevertheless, around the world we have religious wars between Jews and Muslims.  Think about what’s happening in Gaza.  And we have religious wars between Shia and Sunni within Islam.  Think of the long struggles between Iran and Saudi Arabia for dominance in the world of Islam – struggles in which we are constantly being caught up.  These conflicts are heartbreaking. 

But I’m also finding myself thinking there is a possibility of religious war here in the United States.  Some of this mirrors those global conflicts, but more to the point it involves conflicts among Christians, and between some Christians and others who do not consider themselves religious at all. 

1648.  That’s a date I don’t imagine many of you ever think about.  It’s the year the great religious wars in Europe ended.  It was the conclusion of what we came to call the Thirty Years War, but it was really a war that lasted longer than that.

The Thirty Years War was a long, extremely bloody struggle to decide what was the one true religion – the one, true religion that everyone should believe and practice – to achieve that universal agreement bon big questions.  It was largely between Roman Catholics and Protestants, though sometimes also between different kinds of Protestants.  Each side tried to impose its understanding of the one true religion on everyone else.  Our understanding of sin.  Our understanding of baptism and communion.  Our understanding of marriage. 

This was an appalling war.  The International Red Cross estimates that between 4 and 12 million people lost their lives from combat, or from resulting disease or famine.  Perhaps 20% of the population of Europe died. 

The Thirty Years War ended in a stalemate, a very bloody stalemate.  Exhausted and appalled at the carnage, the various kings and princes and Dukes of Europe agreed that each country would have whatever religion its king or prince or duke decided, and that the various countries would no longer try to impose their religion on others.  These wars ended in 1648 with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia. 

This wasn’t yet religious liberty as we know it today – the kind of religious liberty that we celebrate in the First Amendment.  After 1648 Kings could still impose the one true religion on those in their own country.  And they did. But they agreed not to try to impose across national borders. 

Nevertheless, it wasn’t many decades before countries began to agree that there wouldn’t be religious war within their own boundaries.  They began to agree that each person could worship God as he or she saw fit (or not worship at all).  They began to agree that governments wouldn’t say this is the right way, the only way allowed.  It wasn’t so far and so long from The Thirty Years War to the First Amendment, from the one true religion to religious liberty. 

Aren’t I talking politics here in Meeting?  Yes, but I’m also talking religion.  The beginnings of Quakerism are deeply connected to this search for religious liberty.  Remember we’re the religious group without a creed, without an authoritative statement of belief.  We’re a religious group whose beliefs and practices disturbed many people. 

Let’s come back to 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia.  It was just four years after that date that George Fox climbed Pendle Hill and had his epiphany: Christ would speak to him if he stilled himself to listen.  And that very same year Fox preached to over a thousand people at Firbank Fell beginning the movement we call Quakerism. 

The beliefs and practices of Quakers were deeply offensive to the leaders of the Church of England.  I think we can lose track of that.  Fox was imprisoned and more than once.  Dozens, hundreds of other Quakers were imprisoned.  Some died.  Why?  Because Quakers wouldn’t go the local Church of England church.  They wouldn’t take off their hats to nobility.  They used “thee and thou” with everyone.  They believed they didn’t need priests.  They wouldn’t swear oaths.  They wouldn’t recite the creeds of the Church of England.  They wouldn’t fight in wars.  They allowed women to preach.  All these upset people in the established church. 

In those first decades of Quakerism, it was perilous to be a Quaker.  It took secrecy or courage – or both.  Not until the Petition of Right, in 1685, was there even a modest measure of individual religious liberty in Britain.    

We all know the stories of people coming to the American colonies for religious liberty.  Often, however, they created communities where there was one true religion, their own, and they persecuted others.  In 1660, Mary Dyer was hanged in Boston, in Massachusetts Bay Colony, for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony.

We might think those days are long in our past.  After all I’ve mostly been talking about the 17th century.  But here in the 21st century, some of our most difficult conflicts involve abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and attitudes toward those with different religious beliefs, Muslims or Jews or Sikhs.  We’ve come to call these “social issues,” but they are very much like religious ones.  They involve beliefs about “the right way to live.” These are conflicts fueled by strong beliefs about what is sinful and what is not:  like abortion, like sexual identity.  I fear we are slipping back into a time of religious war. 

We often talk about the religious freedom part of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution as “Separation of church and state.”  Those aren’t the words of the Amendment, though.  The Amendment really has two parts.  It says there shall be “no establishment of religion.” That means no official church.  No one is compelled to have any particular beliefs or practices, and no church is given special status.

And the Amendment also says (this is the second part) that there shall be “no prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”  That means each person can have whatever beliefs they choose or use whatever worship practices they choose. 

“No establishment of religion” and “free exercise”.  Those two principals have defined what religious freedom has meant in the United States since our founding.  They are bookends.  And they are simple, aren’t they?  No, not really.  Both principles are open to a good deal of interpretation.  And we are finding ourselves again in a time when the current interpretations are being challenged. 

“Tolerance” is another way to talk about these two principles.  ‘You go your way and I’ll go mine.’  ‘You worship as you please and I’ll worship as I please.’  We can try to persuade one another, but we won’t try to coerce others into sharing our beliefs or our practices.  It’s a way to avoid conflict over deep beliefs.  “Tolerance” is a basis for living together with people with whom we disagree – with whom we disagree about the most important matters. 

“Tolerance” is a good thing, or so we’ve long thought.  Quakers have valued it because tolerance has allowed us to have our unusual practices without being thrown in jail.

We should recognize, however, that “tolerance” is a second-best solution.  Wouldn’t it be better if we all agreed?  Wouldn’t it be better if we all shared the same beliefs and practices?  Wouldn’t that be best?  I think we’d all rather live in harmony with people in a situation where no one did things that horrified or disgusted anyone else.  But is we cannot have that, tolerance is second best, and the best humans can achieve. 

Such harmony can be hard to achieve.  We found that out in the 17th century in a very deadly, bloody war.  And it seems like some people are aching again for that first best solution: everyone agrees, and we use the law and coercion to insist that everyone agrees. 

Nevertheless, if we want everyone to agree, the only way to achieve that is likely through coercion, conflict and war.  Think about that when you hear someone say this or that is the only right way to live, or you hear someone say that this or that practice should be outlawed.  Think about that when you hear someone speak of the U.S. as “a Christian nation,” and men by that their own particular brand of Christianity. 

If we don’t want that, if we don’t want religious war, tolerance is the way to live together.  We’ve been here before.  Tolerance doesn’t mean we give up having our beliefs and our practices.  It simply means we give up trying to coerce others to follow our beliefs or our practices.  We can try to persuade people, but not coerce them.

As William Penn says, ““Let us then try what love can do to mend a broken world.”

Also posted on Riverview Friend

“When the Signs of Age Begin to Mark My Body,” by Teilhard de Chardin

At worship on October 29, Tess Hartford read the following, from French priest Teilhard de Chardin:

When the signs of age begin to mark my body

(and still more when they touch my mind)

when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me 

 off strikes from without

or is born within me:

when the painful moment comes in which I 

 suddenly waken

to the fact that I am ill or growing old;

and above all at the last moment

when I feel that I am losing hold of myself

and am absolutely passive in the hands

of the great unknown forces that have formed me;

in all those dark moments, O God,

grant that I may understand that it is you

(provided only my faith is strong enough)

who are painfully parting the fibers of my being

in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my 

 substance

and bear me away within yourself.

   —Teilhard de Chardin

“Craig’s Prayer — the Latest,” by Craig Freshley

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, October 15, 2023

Craig Freshley began his message by reading the latest version of a prayer he has been writing and rewriting for several years.

Creator,

Thank you for making the universe.
Thank you for making me a part of it.
Thank you for providing me with all that I need, and more.

You are the light upon me,
the heat within me,
and the time that carries me along.

I want to see straight and stand true,
notice miracles all around me,
always ready to receive, give, and forgive.

Help me detach from expectations.
Help me like me.
Help me do what’s light.

Here is a recording of the whole message — what he said about this prayer.

“Walking Together,” by Elder Albert D. Marshall and Louise Zimanyi, Illustrations by Emily Kewageshig 

At Durham Friends Meeting on October 8, 2023, Ingrid Chalufour read Walking Together, a book the Meeting is distributing to teachers participating in our Social Justice Project. The book tells of the blessings that come from “walking together in a good way.”

ELDER DR. ALBERT D. MARSHALL is from the Moose Clan of the Mi’kmaw Nation, Eskasoni First Nation in Unama’ki-Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. A fluent speaker of Mi’kmaw, he has brought forth the concept of Etuaptmumk / Two-Eyed Seeing which honors the strengths of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing for the benefit of all.

LOUISE ZIMANYI, who is of French-Canadian and Hungarian descent, lives as a guest in Tkaronto/Toronto, Treaty 13 territory. As a professor and researcher, she is co-learning from and with the Land and wise teachers, co-transforming early childhood pedagogy and practice.

EMILY KEWAGESHIG is an Anishnaabe artist and visual storyteller whose work captures the interconnection of life forms using both traditional and contemporary materials and methods. She creates artwork that highlights Indigenous knowledge and culture. Emily is from Saugeen First Nation in Ontario, Canada.

“Pause and Be Still (PBS),” by Lisa Steele-Maley

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, September 24, 2023

Psalm 46 verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God.”

This morning, I’d like to spend a little time celebrating PBS – not Public Broadcasting Service but the invitation to Pause and Be Still. Like Public Broadcasting Service, Pause and Be Still (this morning’s PBS)  is free and available to all. Tuning into PBS offers access to the most important stories of any day. It is here whether you use it or not. There will never be a pledge drive.

When I truly settle into a moment to pause and be still, the chatter in my mind quiets and the seeking in my heart rests. I sense a clearing opening; I have made myself ready to be more fully present to God in that moment. I have taken a step toward the divine and the divine has sensed my readiness and stepped closer to me. In the stillness, we may dance or cry or laugh or embrace. There is awe. In the stillness, we know each other and are known by each other. And I am reminded that the divine is always here, in me and around me. I just need to pause and be still to remember.

This summer, I began paying close attention to invitations to Pause and Be Still and I have found my connection to the life of Spirit within me deepening and stretching. Granted, my practice of paying attention and embracing invitations to pause was likely supported by the fecundity of the summer season, but even that was a bonus, not the doorway. The doorway is this intention to pay attention to the invitations to PBS.

The doorway has stayed wide open as we enter this season of transition and all the fullness that it holds. The fall equinox invites us to let go of all that summer abundance and to prepare to receive in the fullness of the emptiness of the darker months. Each releasing and receiving is an invitation to pause and be still.

My curiosity about PBS began on the acupuncture table. I have been receiving acupuncture for over a decade and, each time, after I have been poked full of needles, the practitioner asks “music or silence?”. I don’t even have to think about it. Silence is the obvious answer. An hour of silence sounds like heaven ~ but of course it is not silent. As soon as she leaves the room, I hear her receding footsteps, the bird song, the tumble of the dryer downstairs, the neighbor’s car door opening and closing…Laying there immobilized, I tune in to my surroundings. Arriving more fully in the moment, I become aware of the temperature in the room, the heat on my feet, the gentle breeze from the window. The thoughts that have been occupying my mind fall away. A silence of sorts arrives in my being.

Finally after one appointment, I realized that it is not external silence that I am choosing, it is inner silence. Her question “music or silence?” is an invitation that my body has come to recognize as an invitation to pause and be still. PBS.

You may have recognized a similar process of arrival as you settle into Meeting each week.

“Thomas Merton advised, “May we not neglect the silence printed in the center of our being. It will not fail us.”

Seeking to tend the silence in the center of my being on a more consistent basis, I have begun to look for and step towards invitations to pause and be still. I don’t need to wait for a weekly gathering at Meeting or a monthly acupuncture appointment, or even a daily meditation practice. Invitations to PBS are happening everywhere all the time! I will share a few of the invitations that I have accepted over the last few months in the hopes that they may help you begin to notice invitations to pause and be still when they arrive in your life:

One morning, I raced out to get a few groceries. Knowing that I had to make two stops before getting back to a work commitment, I raced through the first store only to find myself arriving at the second store 7 minutes before they opened. As I put my timepiece away, I realized I had been granted 7 minutes to pause and be still. PBS! I sat down on the stoop and felt my shoulders relax. Feeling the sun on my face, watching the cars, people and pets pass, and listening to the seagulls overhead, the urgency and self-importance of my task melted away. I was reminded that I am one of many, a single part of the whole in this glorious dance of humanity and divinity. Pause and Be Still.

As I sat, working on this message one evening, I looked up from my computer and was startled to see a young deer standing 15 feet from the house. Calm and unafraid, browsing on the tall grass, I recognized her presence as a gift – an invitation to PBS. I watched her for what felt like a long time, but maybe it was only 3-4 minutes. Over the course of the next hour, we had two more encounters – one outside standing only 10-15 feet from one another. Curiosity, gratitude, wonder, and something that felt like yearning exchanged between us. Pause and Be Still.

The more attention I paid, the more frequently and persistently the invitations arrived. Anything that caught my eye or ear and caused me to do a double take or to catch my breath became an invitation to PBS.

Over the summer, it was:

Microfilaments of spider web suspended from tree to tree

The hummingbird at the feeder, appearing to hover effortlessly while his wings beat rapidly

Strawberry leaves ringed with dew drops

Early morning mists descending on the field

Rain that penetrates every pore

Pause and Be still

The smell of the roses and peonies

The memory of a loved one

The newborn loon baby in the lake

The deer, killed by a passing car

The haunting, far-away look in that gentleman’s eyes

Pause and Be Still

As autumn arrives, I see invitations to PBS in:

The oak leaf falling ever so slowly, held aloft by a breeze so light I can’t feel it

A perfectly whole and beautiful monarch butterfly lying dead among the garden’s tangle

My neighbor singing to herself as she works in the yard

The three-day old chick laying lifeless face-down on the floor of the coop

The little bird’s slow breaths of air and movement of body as I held her in my palm

Pause and Be still.

Accepting these invitations, truly pausing and being still to let wonder and gratitude sink in is a simple and profound way to honor Creation and my place in its web. For me, this is worship in its most humble and profound form.

May you find and accept many invitations to pause and be still this fall season. And, in those PBS moments, may you remember that the divine is always present, always here to be welcomed and known and always waiting to welcome and know you.

__________

Lisa Steele-Maley is the Dean of the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine (ChIME)

“I Am a Special Agent of God,” by Doug Bennett

Message given @ Durham Friends Meeting, Sept. 17, 2023

“I am a special agent of God.”  True statement.

How about you?  Would you say, “I am a special agent of God?” True or false?

I have to say True.  I am a special agent of God. 

September 1964: that’s when I encountered that question.  It was an item on a psychological test administered to all the members of my entering class at Haverford College.  It had a powerful effect on me:  not just in the sense that I still remember it nearly 60 years later, but in the sense that it made me think – and still has that effect. 

I am a special agent of God.  True or false?

That question came at me when I was in a difficult place in my religious life, as so many young people are when they are just about college age.  Did I believe or did I not?  If I did believe, what was it I believed?  I didn’t know the answers to those questions.  I was in a muddle. 

But this item came at me from an unusual direction.  “I am a special agent of God.”  True or false? I was pretty sure as I read it that the answer was “true,” for me.  And I was just as sure that answering “true” was the crazy answer on this test.  That’s why it has stayed on my mind all these years.  True, and crazy. 

All of us in that entering class took a bunch of tests that first week.  Some of them were placement tests, like the one I took that showed I hadn’t learned enough in high school French to take second year French at this college.  But other tests were psychological tests of a sort I’d never taken before. 

I learned from the sheet on which I was writing answers, true or false in response to each of dozens and dozens of statements (over 500 actually), that this was called the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.  Or I know I know it’s also called the ‘Mini Multi.’   It’s still used, still “the most common psychometric test devised to assess personality traits and psychopathology.”

Taking the test that day, I remember there were involuntary giggles around the room as one and another of us came to various statements we should mark true or false.  I remember only one other specific statement from that day.  “I have black, tarry bowel movements.” True or false?  It’s one of the ones that made me laugh involuntarily.  Not because there’s anything so shocking about that item; it’s just such a strange thing to be asked.  I’d certainly never been asked before, whether “I have black, tarry bowel movements.”

Decades later, when I became more interested in psychological tests, I learned that the MMPI can be helpful in diagnosing such things as depression, hysteria, paranoia, psychopathic deviance and hypochondriasis.  (That last one means “excessive concern with bodily functions.”  That’s why that item “I have black, tarry bowel movements,” is on the MMPI.)  I learned the MMPI was developed by faculty members at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s. 

Some other statements I now know are on the MMPI, true or false to each of these:

  • I feel uneasy indoors.
  • I am sure I get a raw deal from life.
  • I believe that I am being followed.
  • People say insulting and vulgar things about me.

I’m pretty sure I answered false to each of these. 

But I didn’t need to know any of this about the MMPI to realize that that this test was trying to sort us out psychologically – even to find out if any of us were mentally disturbed or “crazy” as we would have put it in 1964.  All of us taking the test realized this.  That’s probably why all of us laughed at one or another of the items.  Could you really imagine anyone answering “true” to this or that statement?  But I guess people do. 

So there was that item: “I am a special agent of God.” True or false?  As I’ve said, I was pretty sure that the answer was “true,” for me.  And I was just as sure that answering “true” was the crazy answer on this test. 

That day, I thought about it for a bit.  Did I really think I was a special agent of God?  And if so, did I want to say that on this test?  Who knew what would happen next?  Would I be carted off in a strait jacket? Ushered off the grounds?  Those didn’t seem likely, especially for only one crazy person response, so I marked it true.  And it has stayed with me, kind of a marked man. 

Am I a special agent of God?  What does that even mean? What makes me think so?

I wasn’t a Quaker then.  I don’t think I’d yet encountered the idea that God can and will speak to us in the here and now, often in the silence of gathered worship.  But it seemed right to me, even then, that in being given the gift of life, I had been given directions of a sort.  That there were expectations – sacred ones – about what I should do and what I shouldn’t do.  Didn’t those directions or expectations make me an ‘agent’ of God?  I wouldn’t have put it that way without the prompt.  But when faced with the statement “I am a special agent of God,” wasn’t the best answer – the honest answer – True?

How about the “special” part?  Why a special agent?  We all don’t seem to be given exactly the same directions or expectations.  There seemed to be lots of difference, lots of individuality, among humans.  I don’t think I would have picked the word “special.”  That sounded then, and now, much too much like I thought I was better than others, and I was pretty sure that wasn’t so.  I might have said “particular,” as in “I am a particular agent of God.  And perhaps “special” meant something like “beloved” or “loved by.” But who was I to quibble?  There was the statement: “I am a special agent of God.” True or false? 

True, I think.  What do I mean by that? 

It means I try to take direction.  I have a handler.  I try to do what God tells me to do, on those rare occasions when I’m given any guidance at all.  (But isn’t that true of other special agents: they don’t hear from their handler for long stretches?)

It means I feel like I’m accountable.  Someone’s watching to see whether I do what I’m told.  That someone watching me cares for me, but also has pretty high expectations.  It means I submit my will to the will of my handler – and my handler is God. 

And it means I hear voices.  Or at least I try to.  That’s the crazy-sounding part.  To admit you hear voices.

“I am a special agent of God.” True or false?  I still think it’s true.  I think each of you are special agents of God, too.  It may not be much of a belief to one as muddled as I was then and now.  But it’s a beginning. 

I am a special agent of God.  And you are a special agent of God.  Others may think us crazy, but it’s a good kind of crazy. 

Also posted on Rover View Friend

“Individuals in Community,” by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon

The message at Durhgam Friends Meeting on August 13, 2023 was given by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon, our member now living in Northern Ireland.

Greetings from Coleraine Friends Meeting.  Been in Northern Ireland for two years this summer.  

Busy days!  Helping my parents move and was the registrar for New England Yearly Meeting.  Love the job.  Love the people. Love sorting and packing!

This is in contrast to my not so busy retirement days in Northern Ireland where I volunteer with the National Trust, Corrymeela reconciliation center and other odd activities.

Two weeks ago I spoke of being individuals in a community versus being a community of individuals.  Where do we focus?  On ourselves or on our community?  

At Yearly meeting there were 402 individuals.  Some more attentive to the Spirit and community than others.  In my humble opinion.  Some seemed just interested in hearing their own voices.  As we do. Who am I?  Who are you?  Both.  Sometimes one?  Sometimes the other? 

When growing up in Wellesley Friends meeting I learned of the GreenCircle.  A way of peace and reconciliation, a way of being in community.  In a circle all are equal.  No one is at the head of the table.   No one is in the front or behind.  

Another image.  The Third Way.  Palestinian lawyer, Jonathan Kuttab wrote of a third way in the conflict in Palestine and Israel where I first heard of this concept.  We tend to think of us versus them.  Only two ways to solve conflict.  In the third way there are more than two ways.   Multiple ways.  I believe that is what Jesus taught.  Alternative ways to see the world.  Ways that take into account the whole community rather than the winner and loser.  

Joseph and Jesse Bruchac, from the Abenaki nation, shared stories and music as keynote speakers at NEYM.  Jesse is an author and native languages speaker, Joseph a storyteller.  One story told how animals became smaller when humans were created.  Their telling of this story and others is on the NEYM website.   My summary version is this.  When humans were created the other animals were angry and wanted to be rid of them, these strange creatures.  The creator soothed each creature with a touch, a stroke, a word of calm. This decreased their ferocity and size to not harm humans.  Except for the mosquito.  The vampire spider.  

Because the earth is not for the comfort of humans.

Community is not the stage for individuals.  

Community is for all to be heard and listened to, for all to be equal, for all to hear of the wisdom of the Spirit, the creator, the Other.  Wisdom is not from one voice but from a weaving together of voices. Weaving together of voices that may introduce a third way or more, of leadings based on being open to the wisdom of others, especially those who may be contrary to us.   For when we are not willing to listen to others we are not willing to learn of new possibilities, new solutions.  In our listening I invite you to ask others why they feel or are led in a certain way.   (

I invite you to be willing to be open to a third way, a way led by the Spirit and not our own desires or wants.  I do not believe that our wants and desires are bad and the Spirits are good and that they conflict but that sometimes our wants and desires may not be what is best for the community and from Spirit.

This is not always easy but it does lead to a peace of mind and soul.   This I know.  

Isaiah 58: 6-12

At Durham Friends Meeting on August 6, 2023, Renee Cote, co-clerk of Ministry and Counsel, read Isaiah 58:6-12, the theme of this year’s New England Yearly Meeting annual sessions, August 5-9, 2023. “Like a Watered Garden: Open to Grace, Loose the Bonds of Injustice.”

Isaiah 58:6-12 (New International Version)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

“Recognizing and Appreciating,” by Richard Rohr

In opening worship on July 30 at Durham Friends Meeting, Wendy Schlotterbeck read this meditation from Richard Rohr, posted on the website of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Recognizing and Appreciating, by Richard Rohr

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Contemplation is a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see but teaches us how to see what we behold.  

But how do we learn this contemplative mind, this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of seeing and of being with reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Actually, it does come momentarily in states of great love and great suffering, but such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. A prayer practice—contemplation—is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul and in different situations. And that takes a lot of practice—in fact, our whole life becomes one continual practice.  

To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe, and usually be humiliated by, the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well-practiced in just a few predictable responses. Few of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us. The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, knee-jerk reactions, a spirit of dismissal, and overriding judgmentalism. It is so dis-couraging when we have the courage to finally see that these are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data—instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us and teach us something new! 

To let the moment teach us, we must allow ourselves to be at least slightly stunned by it until it draws us inward and upward toward a subtle experience of wonder. We normally need a single moment of gratuitous awe to get us started. [1] 

In her book on spirituality and parenting, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg emphasizes the special awe that arises from paying attention to our ordinary lives:  

The twentieth-century rabbi and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel [1907–1972] wrote a lot about “radical amazement,” [2] that sense of “wow” about the world, which he claimed is the root of spirituality. It’s the kind of thing that people often experience in nature—at the proverbial mountaintop, when walking in the woods, seeing a gorgeous view of the ocean. But it’s also, I think, about bringing that sense of awe into the little things we often take for granted, or consider part of the background of our lives. This includes the flowers on the side of the road; the taste of ice cream in our mouths; … or to find a really, really good stick on the ground. And it also includes things we generally don’t even think of as pleasures, like the warm soapy water on our hands as we wash dishes. [3] 

References: 

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2017), 7–9. 

[2] Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Macmillan, 1976), chap. 4. Cited by Ruttenberg, Nurture the W0w, 293. 

[3] Danya Ruttenberg, Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting (New York: Flatiron Books, 2016), 56–57.