May 2012 Spark

SPARK
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
New York Yearly Meeting News
Volume 43
Number 3
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) May 2012
Editor, Paul Busby

Contents


Activism and Spirit, Part 2

Christopher Sammond, Poplar Ridge Meeting

In the 1830s and 1840s, across our country, including the area that was and is New York Yearly Meeting, the practice of holding people as slaves was considered by most as right, good, and an appropriate part of a moral, civilized society. The minority who questioned this accepted social norm were considered deviates, radicals, troublemakers who were undermining the values and norms that upheld a good way of life. They were vilified, beaten, ridden out of town on a rail. Their printing presses were smashed by huge mobs of outraged citizens, incensed that the abolitionists would question the common good. Some were murdered.

Today, we can look back and say “What were they thinking!” The error of their ways seems so blatantly obvious to us. How could they not see what the prophets in their midst could see so clearly?

Today, we are pumping billions of gallons of water laced with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals deep underground, with the hope, far from yet proven, that these chemicals will stay down there and not pollute our groundwater for millennia to come. Today, we murder those who have committed murder, and consider it justice. Today, we fail to question differences in economic means so vast that they are hard to comprehend, and the growing disproportionate impact the superrich are having on our political process.

Vigil at ICE detention center
photo by Sarah Jackson

And those who are questioning these social norms are being vilified as deviates, radicals, misfits undermining a good, just, moral system. Some have been beaten, pepper sprayed, incarcerated without cause. Seventy years from now, or less, our descendants will undoubtedly say of us “What could they possibly have been thinking!”

This issue of Spark features more articles from those and about those who question, from those working to change what is acceptable to society but is unacceptable to their conscience, and who feel led to act out of that conviction. We have particularly invited our authors to focus on how, in working to change what their conscience decries, they stay close to our practice of still witnessing that of God in those whose views they disagree with. We had such a strong response to this theme in the last issue that we decided to repeat it in this issue. This issue features articles focused on the Occupy movement, immigration, and the death penalty.

This issue contains information about our Summer Sessions at Silver Bay and also has articles about the changes in our communication director staff position.

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Immigrants and Immigrant Allies: Making Justice Visible

Lucy Duncan, Goshen Friends Meeting (PYM)

 

No Human Being Is Illegal!
Ningún Ser Humano Es Ilegal (“No Human Being Is Illegal”)
Chaplain Nancy (United Church of Christ) at immigration vigil
photo by Sarah Jackson

 

Note: This article was originally a blog post  by Lucy Duncan, with contributions and editorial support by Gabriela Flora, Jenn Piper, and M’Annette Ruddell.

That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality. —Ralph Ellison

 

Refusing to be invisible when people are conditioned not to see is a revolutionary act. Seeing and recognizing those whom we are not supposed to acknowledge is also a powerful act of resistance. Both small and large acts of such courage are being taken by immigrants and immigrant allies every day. I had the privilege of seeing such powerful witness when I visited AFSC’s Denver office in November.

Jenn Piper, AFSC’s Colorado Interfaith Organizing Director, invited me to go with her to a deportation hearing. Piper organizes an interfaith clergy witness network, the members of which serve as immigrant allies, and one service they offer is being prayerful presences at deportation hearings, offering spiritual support to the immigrants in the courtroom and afterwards.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) courtroom in Denver is in the Bank of the West building, which seemed both strange and fitting to me. We waited in the marble lobby for Alma,* the young woman whom we were there to support, along with Kelly, a Unitarian minister. Alma, a slight woman with round brown eyes, arrived with her cousins. She had left her daughter, who is sixteen-months-old and a citizen, at home with family. Not to be able to converse without interpretation with Alma felt uncomfortable to me, I felt my being monolingual as a disability that day.

An elevator took us to the courtroom level where we cleared the metal detectors before meeting with Alma’s lawyer in a small room off to the side. He didn’t know Spanish, so Liz and Piper translated. The lawyer said that, despite the fact that she had no criminal record, Alma’s legal options had been exhausted, and he recommended that she agree to voluntary departure. Alma asked questions about what this would mean and learned that she would have until March to report to the US embassy in Mexico City. If she did not prove that she had left the United States, she would be subject to detention and immediate removal.

With exasperation, the lawyer said, “In August, President Obama announced that he would be prioritizing those with criminal records in deportation proceedings, but that hasn’t happened. There has been no executive order, and the deportation of those with no record have continued or speeded up.” It was hard not to feel that there must be something more we could do. But really, there is no legal pathway to permanent resident status for the vast majority of people who are undocumented.

Alma looked scared and shaken as we went into the courtroom which was smaller than I expected. Hearings were scheduled for a number of people, not just Alma, and we watched as one man got a year extension to his visa. When Alma was called to the front, she put on headphones so that she could hear the court translator.

There wasn’t much ceremony. The lawyer said that Alma was willing to accept voluntary departure, the ICE prosecutor agreed, and the judge affirmed the decision. The Department of Justice insignia behind the judge struck me as ironic. Piper told me later that one judge presiding over deportation hearings of men in shackles acknowledged that what he was doing wasn’t justice; he was merely applying the law.

The whole process took just a few minutes. I wanted someone to yell, “No,” to reflect on what happened. How many families does that judge rend apart each day? How many does the prosecutor? It all seemed so perfunctory, so banal, while hearts were breaking.

We left the courtroom while Alma quietly wept. She’s young, maybe twenty. She’s been in the country for eight years, hasn’t been back to Mexico. Her partner is a citizen of Ecuador. If she leaves, will they ever be reunited? The choices all seemed untenable – to stay here and risk detention, then forced deportation, to go to a place without her partner that is no longer her home, to leave her child here with family and go to Mexico on her own.

Back in the lobby, we gathered in a little circle as Kelly offered a prayer about hardship and trusting in Jesus. Liz and Piper translated. We each hugged Alma, encircling her with our concern and compassion. What else could we do?

After Alma left, we drank tea together and talked about what we had witnessed, how helpless it made us feel, how senseless it seemed. Who would it hurt for Alma to be allowed to stay? Who is being protected? We talked about collusion and how each time we buy raspberries or strawberries or tomatoes we are participating in the exploitation of migrant labor.

APC member Tania, speaking at immigration rally
APC member Tania, speaking at immigration rally
photo by Gabriela Flores

That night, I joined AFSC staff and about sixty others for the monthly vigil held at the Aurora Detention Center, a for-profit detention center owned by the Geo Corporation (“one of the world’s largest corrections and detention organizations,” which is traded on the NYSE). It was early November and really cold. The detention center detains undocumented people indefinitely, without due process.

We gathered on the wide road nearby with candles, signs, noisemakers, and then proceeded to the detention center entrance for a ceremony. The group was mixed – immigrant allies and people without documents. The people without papers were brave to be there, to come out of the shadows and insist on being visible. To commemorate The Day of the Dead, culturally important to many of those gathered, they had brought pictures of their loved ones who had died, but whose graves they could not travel to visit. Jordan Garcia, AFSC’s Immigrant Ally Organizing Director, set out scarves and candles on the ground, and one by one those who had photos placed them on the improvised shrine. A thin man talked about being without papers for fifteen years and how he felt invisible as part of an underground and vulnerable work force. His assertion was that labeling him as “illegal” was intentional so that his wages would never be fair.

We shouted and banged on things, hoping those inside could hear us. Jordan told me the old detention center had windows and during vigils, those inside could hold signs against the glass to thank the protesters for being there. In addition to the monthly vigil, those detained are remembered by a huge pile of handmade cards Jordan delivers on Valentine’s Day. These signs of support from outside may seem slight, but they matter. Any indication that we see and haven’t forgotten them makes some difference.

Earlier the day of the vigil, a reporter had called Gabriela Flora, AFSC Regional Project Voice Organizer, and asked about the status of comprehensive federal immigration reform. She replied that, with the current Congress, there isn’t much likelihood of reform any time soon. With the help of “Secure Communities,”† the administration will have deported more people in Obama’s first term than Bush did in the eight years of his presidency. Accompanying Alma and others to deportation hearings and holding these monthly vigils are acts of faith, the impacts of which are felt deep within the communities most affected. People without papers feel less alone, less invisible. Piper and AFSC’s work with citizen allies is critical to help people understand the depth of the trauma current immigration policies cause. What does it mean to live in the shadows of the US economy, cleaning houses, harvesting food, making do? Or working professionally with a secret fear? Now every time I even think of buying raspberries or tomatoes, I think of Alma.

I think of Alma and take heart that immigrants are organizing in Colorado and across the country. People are refusing to be invisible, coming forward with courage and determination, like those at the vigil. They bravely share their stories and how the for-profit system of detention dehumanizes them and tears their families apart. Allies are listening to their stories and using their privilege to work for change, side by side with immigrants.

For true change to happen, it must be defined by those directly affected. The policy changes necessary to undo the damage done over the last 25 years (really the last 500) will not happen quickly. Real change takes time and takes commitment by everyday people like you and me. In bearing witness to the reality that people like Alma face, by standing with them and understanding how we are a part of the system that renders them invisible, we are working to create a just society where illegal will no longer be a noun, and law is based on respecting the humanity of all those in our society.

By accompanying immigrants in this resistance, we have the opportunity to see with our hearts. Immigrants refusing to be invisible, as well as allies willing to really see and accompany those affected by these policies, can help us to make manifest the invisible, the unseen but palpable, world which recognizes the innate worth and brilliance of every person.

* Alma is not this woman’s real name, I changed it to protect her.

† Secure Communities involves local and state authorities in immigration and customs enforcement. The program has encouraged racial profiling, divided families, and eroded basic community trust in law enforcement where implemented.

Lucy Duncan is AFSC’s Friends Liaison. She has been a professional storyteller for almost 20 years. Lucy has led retreats with Quaker meetings, helping Friends to tell stories of their spiritual experience. Lucy is a member of Goshen Friends Meeting of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and worked for FGC for twelve years. This piece was originally published on the AFSC Quaker blog Lucy writes and edits, Acting in Faith at www.afsc.org/friends. Used with permission.

Let us pray for the courage to be creatively maladjusted, to act and speak against the destructive status quo, to experiment with and embody a new way of being, seeing, and acting in the world based on equality, justice and dignity. Let us speak love with power.
—Lucy Duncan http://bit.ly/I0M01M

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The Accidental Activist

Tricia Shore, Arch Street Meeting, Philadelphia

It was 4:00 p.m. on November 29, 2011, the eviction deadline for Occupy Philly. Protesters were determined to resist. Even the Interfaith Tent was staying put as hundreds of police gathered in strategic areas. The police chief called it Operation Clean Sweep. I thought of the Meetings for Worship in the Manner of Friends I’d attended and the boxes of TastyKakes I’d donated to the cause and shrugged. But then, I felt an internal pull to go to Dilworth Plaza. So I went. I felt trepidation, but left the house while assuring my nonplussed family that I’d be ok. Knowing I could rely on presence of The Society of Friends gave me courage.

It wasn’t my intention to become a radical.

I was going to take mass transit, but then thought “Take the van.” I have spent a good part of my motherhood in this 8-passenger van with 107,000 miles on it. Parking was easy and I walked to Friends Center on 15th and Cherry. I sat down on a bench at 4:30. At that moment a concerned Hollister Knowlton said, “Does anybody have a van?” I said, “I do.” She said, “Would you be willing to take a group of homeless people to an undisclosed location?” Hmm, that was a big question. Was I willing?

I felt the same question when my sister needed help. She was an artist who struggled with mental illness and substance abuse. Since my parents died, she had spent her whole inheritance in Puerto Rico with her lover/drug dealer. She called me for help and I said, “Yes.” The next two years we visited hospitals, shelters, rehabs, psychiatrists, church, lawyers, and the Social Security Office of Disability. She was getting things together but needed a place to live. There were promises of “Rapid Re-housing” from the Office of Supportive Housing. Never happened. She ended up living with a very dangerous criminal who stole her Social Security disability benefits and threatened me. On October 16, 2011, he called and said, “Your sister is dead.” It was a drug overdose. I paid for her funeral because no one else would. I was still very sad about my loss when Hollister asked me that question.

So, I was presented with another lost cause times 12. I thought of all the wonderful messages we received from the homeless at meeting for worship. But also was aware enough that there was some danger involved here. If another Friend would come, I was willing. A sweet elderly woman volunteered. I was hoping for her husband, who worked at intake in a psychiatric hospital, but oh, well.

Protest signs
drawing by Lucy Sikes

We get in the van and drive around to Dilworth, where we see about a dozen people amid mounds of garbage bags. The bags were being loaded onto a pickup truck. I roll down my window and say we are here to give rides. Before I know it six people are in the van and we’re about to leave. A reporter comes over and says he’s from AP News. He says, “I hear you are transporting the homeless to an undisclosed location.” I look back at all those frightened faces shaking their heads, like, “No. Don’t tell him anything.” I turn to the reporter and say, “No, me and my friends are just going out for a beer.” I roll up the window and we roll away from Dilworth and follow the pickup truck. There was appreciative hooting and hollering from the backseats.

As we drive a few blocks, I realize that we are all completely nervous and freaked out. As a person who reared seven young adults, that situation is not new to me. I said, “How about some music?” Put on Bob Marley and introduced myself. We drove down Spring Garden toward the river. We joked about the Sugar Shack Casino. Somebody said they should have called it Sugar Stick because they “take all your paper and you’re stuck there.”

To my great dismay the “undisclosed location” was in a very dangerous-looking area past Penn Treaty Park and the old electric power plant. We drove up and the pickup was being unloaded. People were scrambling over concrete barriers to the woods. I turned and said to everyone, “I will take you to an emergency shelter. You don’t have to stay here.”

They all got out of the van.

We went back for more people and six more jump into the car. I kept repeating my offer to go to shelter or take them wherever they’d like to go instead of scrambling into the woods in Port Richmond. Two did take me up on my offer, one man and a pregnant woman. So, the four of us went off in the van. To cover my nervousness and bad driving I started to call my fellow Quaker friend Thelma and I was Louise. We dropped off the man back in Center City. Then we drove to shelters, called emergency numbers and finally found her a spot at 3009 Mellon St. I pulled up and a door opened. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were dozens of people, mostly men, on yoga mats in a big room with fluorescent lights. They took her in.

I dropped “Thelma” back off at Friends Center. She said, “That was a hoot!” I agreed and drove home.

That could have been that, but I had carried them all home in my heart. I woke to rain, to the thought of all those poor people out there. I went down and bought doughnuts a Box of Joe (coffee), and Newport cigarettes (something I picked up from working with my sister—People Smoke When They Are Stressed).

When I drove up there were cops, construction workers, a lady with a dog, and all the homeless dragging their stuff away from the woods across Richmond Street to under I-95. The Metro had a front-page story and the Daily News was there.

I spoke to a Civil Affairs officer I’d seen at Occupy who said the land is owned by Conrail and the homeless were trespassing. They couldn’t stay there and they couldn’t stay under I-95. Homeless Outreach was there, but I didn’t see them helping. I got frustrated. I said, “Aren’t you even going to ‘reach out’ from the van?” The Newport cigarettes were causing everyone to fight in the rain.

I said to the policeman Fisher, “Everyone is saying where they can’t go, and can’t do. Who can tell us where they can go and what they can do?” Officer Fisher said, “Deputy Mayor Rich Negrin.” I get on my handy iPhone and ring up the office.

I just happen to get a high-level bureaucrat, Marcelle Maguire, who I mistakenly think will do something about the situation. Whatever naïveté made me hear that in our conversation also convinced the cops. They backed off and we were “waiting for the mayor’s office to respond.” We were actually Waiting for Godot.

We waited for eight days.

This absurd situation took on a life of its own when we named it Camp Liberty. We were still energized by the Occupy Movement and decided to take things into our own hands. They had 24/7 police surveillance so the angry neighbors were held at bay. We huddled up and decided to strategize. We were going to be “very clean” and call it #OperationCleanSweep2. We were going to humanize their plight by calling it #OperationPoorBastard and if anyone was going to do something crazy, they’d do it outside the camp.

No one knew how this could possibly work out for the best. I thought, “Why not ask the homeless themselves?” I turned to Paul, one of the campers, and said, “You, write down what you want, what you think might work. Make it big. We won’t get it anyway, but we’ll give them something workable and smart so if they reject it we win sympathy.” I give him a paper and pen and he writes these words.

November 30, 2011

The Homeless Encampment at
Richmond and Cumberland

We are not here protesting or to make a statement. We’re homeless. We are sick of being forced to exist alone, sick of being told that shelters, which are not tolerable living facilities for sober people, are an adequate alternative to being “allowed,” by the government, to work, live and share together to create for ourselves, with much less help and expense than the government can do anything, opportunities to provide for ourselves that which our troubled economy cannot.

Philadelphia has about 4,000 homeless people and 40,000 empty dwelling units, but, apparently, unless the wealthy can profit by our occupying these dwellings, they would rather see us alone, with our possessions if not stolen by regular criminals, “confiscated” by police, since we have no place to store anything we can’t carry and are not allowed to congregate to watch one another’s belongings.

To have poverty forced upon us in the land of plenty is no longer a viable solution, if, in fact, it ever was.

I know how to grow food, build structures, build communities … make craftwork to supply cash for what it’s needed for, etc. My friends know how to do the things I don’t. Those who “have” seem satisfied to make sure I don’t “have” opportunity to gather to have a safe place to sleep, let alone organize to provide for our basic needs.

We need the use of at least one abandoned structure. If the law requires it to have electricity and water, the Obama administration provided $21 million to help the homeless, [and] this is a drop in the bucket.

We need an outdoor long-term camping area, close enough to mass transit for us to meet medical, legal, pension and benefits, and other needs, and large and separated enough to not disturb our neighbors and start to grow our own food and do art and craftwork, feed one another and see to one another’s daily needs.

In this sort of camp, people who get along can meet one another, … help one another, and be helped by those in the community who believe in, rather than merely preach compassion, to get long-term housing, use our varied skills to rehabilitate abandoned structures as we rehabilitate ourselves and work toward the caring, loving society that many believe we will make happen.

There are many caring people in Philadelphia, whose deeds as well as their words, demonstrate the belief that the present “crisis” is in fact an opportunity to create a land of “Liberty and Justice for All,” rather than a land of “Just us.”

I prefer to remain anonymous; but my name is Paul Klemmer

As I read these words, my understanding of why I was here, why I was helping, why should I care became crystal clear. The people I was helping are my brothers and sisters. Our system is woefully inadequate, as I knew all too well from helping my sister. I also saw that the vision we share is lovely. There are hidden beauties in every human being and everyone should have the right to live in dignity. We have it in our power to begin over again no matter where we are at the moment.

Ever since that day, I’ve been working to empower my new friends and find myself empowered. I am finding great beauty being an instrument amid their day-to-day struggles. Not only is Paul a wonderful writer and craftsman, Charisse is a talented R&B singer, Harvey is a minister, Brittney can make lovely jewelry, and CB is an accountant. I’m finding courage in working toward proving there is something better than what we have now. As we move forward into the future, we will rely on the powers that brought us together and seek to remain faithful to our common vision of a world where the poor can organize and empower themselves and the well-off can see how much they can help if they were only “willing.”

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Our task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
—Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Let’s Talk about Your Mother

She Created a Nurturing World for You, No?

Christine Japely, 15th Street Meeting

I  have a middle-aged brother who’s always lived in the suburban Midwest and has become more and more right wing as the years have passed. We find it difficult to talk about politics without one or both of us getting irritated and angry. And yet we love each other and so make an effort not to castigate each other as the “other.” But I need strength to maintain balance and kindness!

So I was happy and pleased to learn some new strategies when I attended the inspirational and invigorating Occupy the Mind: Progressive Moral Agenda for the 21st Century event last January, featuring brilliant speakers including Cornel West, Michael Lerner, and Richard D. Wolff at Riverside Church in New York City. All these speakers have been very involved in Occupy Wall Street, and because West and Lerner are both spiritual people, they were very concerned that we all maintain love and human regard for the “other”—the hard-core capitalist, the reactionary, the Republican, etc. Cornel West said that he loves our brother Obama and that we should all vote for him this year, but he also said we have to face the fact that Obama is a politician, and we have a responsibility to keep making demands of Obama to do the right thing.

During this wonderful evening, I was particularly struck by something Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun recommended regarding framing discussions about income inequality with folks who might be hostile or ambivalent or unsure about Occupy Wall Street ideas and who tend to feel the status quo is OK. Lerner said that we were all brought into this world in a very nurturing way: in amniotic fluid and then nurtured by a loving mother. And so in fact just biologically we can all agree that humans absolutely require and only survive by nurturing; babies can’t be left out in the cold to fight their way in a dog-eat-dog and rabidly capitalist society. It just wouldn’t nurture human life! Family units are intensely socialist at their best and most natural; the parents will go slightly hungry while watching their growing children get enough food. Rabbi Lerner suggested that we point out to hard-core pro-capitalism folk that in fact they themselves were probably beautifully nurtured in their first 15 to 20 or so years in a very “socialist” and loving and nurturing atmosphere. Would they have preferred that their parents had thrown them out at age 6 or 8 or 12 and said: You’re grown enough; go make it on your own!

This simple and beautiful advice was an eye-opener for me, and I am grateful that Rabbi Lerner shared it with us.

Richard D. Wolff is an economist who speaks brilliantly and concisely about the way the US has prevented criticism of capitalism and nurtured castigation of socialism for decades. He also explains how the unions really forced one-percenter Franklin Roosevelt to do the right thing back in the depression of the ’30s. If you haven’t heard Wolff speak, just google him. He’s on WBAI every Saturday. Many people find economics very difficult to understand, and that’s partly due to the befogging and subterfuge of the powers-that-be who want to maintain the status quo, according to Wolff, who cuts through all this and speaks so that high school students on up can understand the way our economic system has been subverted by the moneyed elite starting from the Reagan era.

For anyone interested, Occupy the Mind: Progressive Moral Agenda for the 21st Century is a movement that will continue to grow (with the involvement of many people including West and Lerner and Wolff). If you are interested, please contact occupythemind [at] theriversidechurchny.org

Also, Rabbi Lerner is cofounder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), along with Cornel West and Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and longtime social-justice advocate. These three wonderful people impart many ideas and strategies how to deal lovingly with people who hold political opinions that we find troublesome and/or harmful. NSP can be found at http://bit.ly/wM6U0V.

And finally, besides espousing a nurturing view of the planet and humans, we can also help educate people who are perhaps being duped by trust in the status quo. The documentary Inside Job (Academy Award winner for best documentary, 2011) is a fabulous film to recommend to people who were financially hurt in the past decade (and who hasn’t been?). This superb work clearly shows how the power elite and status quo (including top-name economists and business school deans at the “Ivy” business schools) are complicit in the mortgage debacle and economy meltdown of 2008—something that has begun opening the 99 percenters’ eyes to the inequities of our society.

We humans need to nurture each other, just as our mothers initially nurtured us. Human life just doesn’t work well any other way.

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Radical Witness

Judy Meikle, Wilton Meeting

It starts with a small voice whispering, “Something is wrong.” The voice grows louder, more insistent, more annoying, and if we are fortunate, we have Friends to help us discern if the conversation taking place in our head is mere words or something more divinely inspired—a leading.

For me the “something wrong” that pushed me to acknowledge a leading to witness against our criminal injustice system had to do with the men I met behind the walls when I did AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) workshops and joined a prison worship group. Why were these men all poor and nearly all black and brown? The “something wrong” became clearer as I visited two friends, one in Sing Sing prison in Ossining, NY, and one on death row in Alabama. The life circumstances of these young men prior to incarceration were not that dissimilar, yet their futures were horribly, capriciously different. Both had made mistakes, and both had great potential as sons, fathers, and human beings. One faced the opportunity to transform his life to some degree and perhaps come home one day, while the other lived with a death sentence. Such discrepancies made no sense. Finally, reading Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow brought many of my concerns into sharp focus, and my activism shifted up a gear into the radical witness of a leading.

To labor under the weight of a leading is a blessing and a responsibility. Leadings take us places. Mine compels me to travel and sit quietly with Friends and others to worship on the query “What is your understanding of the criminal justice system?” Astonishing and moving stories enter the circle when we gather in this spirit-led practice. I hear from victims of crime including murder victim family members, the formerly incarcerated, people who volunteer behind the walls, and people who work in the criminal justice system. All manner of perspectives are quietly shared, and I sense a shift in hearts and minds as people come to appreciate the wisdom in the room. I trust that having shared our truths, we may set in motion some individual and corporate plans to effect change.

Leadings call us to action. I have long supported the legislative process for abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut. This struggle has been hard, with politicians balancing the need for public safety (together with the public’s response to a particularly heinous triple murder in Cheshire) against many factors including innocence, racial bias, and arbitrariness. On March 14, 2012, I gave testimony at public hearings in Hartford on behalf of New York Yearly Meeting. This testimony is available in April InfoShare at http://bit.ly/IBnNMr. The Senate and House have since passed this legislation, and Governor Malloy has signed it, making Connecticut the seventeenth state without capital punishment and the fifth to enact abolition within five years.

The question that constantly arises for activists is, What next? What is the next tactic in the strategy? What is the next issue in the movement? What is the next movement in the struggle? I know that for Friends, the leading comes first and everything flows from there.

illustration by Lucy Sikes

Leadings remain strong when grounded in prayer. It has been my personal experience over recent months that bearing witness to the abolition of the death penalty has been physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. At times I have viewed those who advocated for keeping the machinery of death as “the other side”—those legislators and letter writers became “the enemy,” and to be in opposition to them stirred up negative emotions in my spirit. Debates with their “tough on crime” rhetoric were hard to listen to. Even now, I grieve that as we crawl out of the dark ages of capital punishment, the status quo of our society is to punish ever more harshly. So I turn to worship to soften my heart to the opponent, to ask for support for those engaged in making difficult decisions, and to give me the strength to face each day—stepping out in faith that my leading will take me where I am supposed to go.

Overall my journey is a blessed path. While I see that evil exists all around me in the world—in flawed humans and in broken systems—I am held up by my Quaker faith. Ours is a simple faith that love has the power to overcome evil. Ours is also a radical witness that when we put faith into action, the fear of evil will not paralyze us. Indeed when we place love before fear, we can move mountains.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil….

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Embracing the Past and Extending the Hand of Friendship

Susan Wolf, Indian Affairs Committee

I  first became interested in Native American issues when I was a child because my mother often spoke of how Native Americans had been treated unjustly. When I was older, I read several books that featured Native American leaders and issues. One I remember well was called Tangled Waters. This novel highlighted the impact of sending children to boarding schools, the effect of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)-managed reservation life on families, and the impact that out-of-touch non-Native visitors and researchers might have on a Native community. My reading opened my mind to thinking about Native issues in new ways.

Once I began attending Yearly Meeting I discovered the Indian Affairs Committee. I have been serving on this committee for more than a decade. I came to the committee with goodwill but also with a lot of misinformation, misunderstanding, and a misguided desire to “help.” Insights from other committee members taught me new perspectives and guided me in discarding preconceived ideas and learning more accurate history. I began to feel dismay, disillusionment, and a deep anger. The history lessons I had absorbed so proudly as a child were simply untrue. The noble stories of the founding and settling of our country were tainted with genocide. Even the “peaceable kingdom” of the Quakers in Pennsylvania was shadowed by the role Quakers played in managing boarding schools.

More than three years ago, the Indian Affairs Committee began work calling for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) and support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Doctrine of Discovery gave the mandate to all European (Christian) monarchs and their explorers to “discover” and claim any lands belonging to non-Christian peoples, and gave those conquerors the authority to disregard the sovereign rights of those same non-Christian peoples. This led to conquest, oppression, enslavement, and genocide. Since the onslaught of European conquest and settlement, Native peoples have lost their sovereign rights in the Americas and elsewhere. As we explored these issues more deeply, I realized that Native Americans, though still seeking justice and redress for broken treaties, have been denied that justice in our court systems, in part due to this pernicious Doctrine of Discovery.

Treaties were made with Native peoples in what is now the United States, but these treaties have not been honored—quite the opposite. Aside from blatantly violating treaties that had been signed, the United States government has conducted several systematic programs to eradicate the Native American populations in different parts of the country. One was to forcibly remove Native peoples from productive lands to lands that were unsuited for hunting, farming, or animal husbandry. Another was to intentionally introduce disease to Native populations. (In one instance, this was done by giving smallpox-infested blankets to people as part of their BIA allotment.) Yet another was to reduce Native populations through starvation by providing reservations with insufficient food supplies and foods of poor nutritional value. Alcohol was routinely used to undermine Native peoples and cultures. One of the most heinous methods of extinguishing Native population was the forced removal of children to Indian boarding schools, where the children were “educated for extinction,” or educated supposedly to be assimilated into the mainstream culture.

The children coming to these schools were stripped of their Native clothing, cultures, and names. They were forbidden to speak their own languages and prohibited from returning home lest they be “reinfected” with Native ideas and language. The children, some quite young, were forced to work long hours of hard labor without pay in order that the schools might be profitable ventures. They were beaten, starved, and exposed to diseases (especially tuberculosis) that killed more than half the school populations. The children who did survive to graduate found they had no place anywhere. They were no longer a part of their home cultures, and they were not accepted into the “settler” culture for which they had supposedly been prepared.

I am part of that settler culture. My ancestors, or others who were like them, were instrumental in fostering this shameful past and bringing about the state of affairs that exists today. I must acknowledge and somehow embrace this, and it weighs heavily on my heart. How do I move forward? How can I make amends and work towards restitution? What do I do when “sorry” is not enough? How can I extend the hand of friendship and support to Native people where I live, and how can I do so without giving offense? What I can do might be very little, but I feel I can never lay down the effort.

The Onondaga are planning an initiative to mark the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum Treaty signed in 1613. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) have honored this treaty for centuries and understood it to be the foundation for all subsequent treaties. This treaty outlines a model of friendship and peace, two peoples living and working together side by side, respecting and honoring one another. The Haudenosaunee and Europeans were to be traveling down the river of life in separate canoes, both agreeing not to interfere in the affairs of the other or to damage our shared environment.

In their initiative, the Haudenosaunee will reach out to the people of New York State, forging an alliance with the people of New York. The initiative will develop a statewide program of education and will call for social and economic justice for the Haudenosaunee and environmental justice for all people. I can work to bring awareness to the people around me, so that they better understand the history of what has happened here. I hope our Yearly Meeting will feel called to join the Haudenosaunee in this effort.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.…The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. —Howard Zinn

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Rochester Meeting Minute on Occupy Rochester

At the March 11, 2012, Meeting for Worship for the Business and Life of the Meeting, Rochester Friends Meeting approved the following minute.

The Religious Society of Friends, of which Rochester Monthly Meeting is a part, has a long history of working for social justice, as witnessed by our testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. Rochester Monthly Meeting unites with the Occupy movement’s prophetic voice that is working to peacefully arouse the conscience of all people to the worsening economic inequality in this country. We will continue to find ways to support Occupy Rochester as it works for justice in our community by peaceful means.

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People don’t come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God. —Kurt Vonnegut

When Will You Wake?

Angela Manno, Fifteenth Street Meeting

Much has already been written about the danger, destructiveness and morally untenable practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Most Friends would agree it’s time to stop such practices that are violating the Earth and switch to sustainable sources of energy—wind, water, and solar. Yet after all we have learned about the ill effects of extreme extraction, from an outright assault on our democracy, freedom of speech, property rights, human and ecological health, and the beauty and integrity of the natural world, Friends for the most part are still sitting on the sidelines.

Therefore I have chosen to address a troubling question:

What is the source of Friends’ failure to take corporate action on behalf of the planet? Why are Friends still so reluctant to take a stand in the face of the literal evisceration and shattering of our larger body—the Earth—through hydraulic fracturing?

I have pondered this state of affairs for many years, from my participation in School of the Spirit Quaker Ministry program from 2006 to 2008, where I was one of two voices crying in the wilderness, to the current onslaught of extreme extraction sweeping this country and threatening our beautiful state of New York, to my very backyard in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where plans to install a 32-foot-high pressure pipeline to deliver radioactive fracked natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to our homes and businesses, have been progressing almost completely unnoticed and without resistance.

The answer is not in a lack of knowledge. Friends are quite cognizant of the problems. The e-mail list of Quaker Earthcare Witness is an endless stream of news on the coming ravages of climate change, overpopulation, genetic engineering, hydrofracking, tar sands, strip mining, etc.

Albert Einstein said, “Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” Why, then, do so many Friends continue to shirk this grave responsibility?

To unblock the floodgates to action, we must first examine our unconscious fears and the errors in our thinking.

In my search for some answers, I have found that the most likely causes for inaction—both Quaker and non-Quaker—can be explained in the writings of Quaker activist George Lakey and eco-theologian Thomas Berry.

As a result of my investigation into these two seminal thinkers, and as I search my own heart, I have come to believe that the failure among the majority of Friends to take action beyond our personal realms (what George Lakey calls “earning Quaker merit badges by personal lifestyle choices rather than asking how much difference one is making in the movement’s struggle for macro-level change”) is due to our fundamental confusion about our true identity as Homo sapiens (a cosmological question) and in the unconscious limitations imposed by Friends’ respective social class (the domain of social science).

The primary error in our thinking, it seems to me, lies in the misconception that we are somehow separate from or “above” the Earth and all its life. As I wrote once to explain “why I care” to a group of Westchester Friends, “If you consider yourself separate from the Earth, from Gaia, the being in whom we live and move and have our being, then confusion sets in when you see the Earth in peril. But if you feel yourself to be part of the organism, of the larger being called Earth, it is a matter of self-careto want to preserve the beauty and well-being of the planet.”

An excerpt from a Buddhist Ceremony for Ecological Regeneration illustrates this inseparability in a highly evocative manner:

With heart and mind open, I see that there is no separation between my body and the body of the Earth. Every mineral in this flesh and bone has been stone and soil and it will be again. Looking into one calcium molecule in my bone, I can see that it used to be part of the body of a green leaf. Before that, it was part of the living soil in a garden. Long before that, it was a shell in the sea. I see the continuation of this calcium molecule in so many forms and now in my bone. I can see that the earth element in me will return to the soil and manifest as other forms of life in the future.

…With tenderness and love I bring my awareness to the suffering that is present in this collective body. I see the mineral element that is stone becoming soil becoming vegetation becoming flesh and bone becoming soil again. I also see the suffering that is present in the mineral element. I see the toxins we have made creating sickness and cancer in living beings, and the pesticides and fertilizers poisoning the soil. I know that the suffering of the mineral element is my suffering. I embrace this suffering with tenderness and love.

My query deepened: What is the source of this sense of separation that pervades our religious society and society at large, that keeps Friends mostly silent and immobile in the face of the poisoning of our planet? I noted that Friends were able to step up to the plate when the immorality of slavery finally became clear. What, then, makes the destruction of the Earth—the living host of all we know, the very source of the next breath we take—somehow less offensive in the eyes of Friends?

A major cause is species-centered narcissism, also known as anthropocentrism. In his Schumacher lectureEvery Being Has Rights,”Thomas Berry proclaimed that our love had become too narrow. “It has been narrowed to the human instead of including the whole of the universe, as it once was in the Christian teaching.”

We not only have our radical discontinuity with the rest of Creation to contend with. We are also, I have begun to learn, unconsciously bound by our class distinctions. In his article for the January–February 2012 Quaker Eco-bulletin, George Lakey writes that “middle class culture supports fitting in, being restrained. It was hard for nurses and teachers historically, to form unions, because they didn’t want to appear ‘unprofessional’ in the eyes of the world, since ‘professional’ is performed by appearing smooth and not making waves.…Quakers who stay in their middle class bubble guarantee the ineffectiveness of which they complain.”

To read his words was an awakening to me. I reached out to George to find out more. He explained that “no amount of consciousness-raising or discussion can ever take the place for Quakers of getting their bodies out of the chair and in motion, outside their comfort zone, taking a stand. One reason why a vigil is a waste of time for Quakers these days is that it is a ritual—the kind of ritual that early Friends scorned when they saw Anglicans doing it. Friends need to act, in situations of uncertainty, where they are slightly out of control, where nicely phrased locution is not the currency.”

In light of this new awareness, never having been a student of social science and belonging to the middle- to-owning class myself, it was interesting to consider my own resistance to nonviolent direct action. More burdensome, as a victim of child abuse, I had no desire to ever again be a victim of “the Man” by getting myself arrested and perhaps being helpless and abused with no way out. Yet I understood how facing my worst fears might redeem a lifetime of conflict avoidance. The answer, he told me, is to keep remembering, contradicting the message from my class background, “I am not alone. Others will help me.” He was right. My greatest fear, stemming from my childhood, is to be alone, abused, and helpless, so I grew up to create a façade of invulnerability.

In contrast to the middle-class tendency to shy away from conflict, early Friends embraced and cultivated it. They used conflict to create a stir, to bring injustice into the light. Friends can easily trace Quaker history to find myriad examples of conflict cultivation, from women’s suffrage, to civil rights, to the abolition of slavery.

This conflict aversion affects not only many Friends but middle class environmentalists as well, including the class of big name environmental organizations that veteran organizer Bill Moyer, author of Doing Democracy (a handbook of essential reading that maps the structure of successful social movements), calls “Professional Opposition Organizations.” George Lakey explains, “Even with the cliff edge of climate change staring middle class environmentalists in the face, most are reluctant to return to the strategy used in their biggest US victory, which they won against all odds, the 1970s nonviolent direct action campaign against nuclear power.”

In recent times we’ve learned how a number of the most established environmental advocacy groups have compromised their standing, quite possibly to avoid the inevitable conflict that must emerge if we are to safeguard the Earth’s living systems from the ravages of tar sands strip mining, nuclear energy, hydraulic fracturing, deepwater drilling, mountaintop removal, and genetic engineering. The most recent example to come to public awareness is Sierra Club’s acceptance of $25 million from Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest gas drillers in the world. A further investigation of this capitulating trend can be found in the article published in The Nation last year, “The Wrong Kind of Green.”We must all examine where we are unwilling to make waves, when our consciences dictate it’s time to move our bodies “out of the chair and in motion, outside [our] comfort zone, taking a stand.”

However, George offers us not only his critique but also uplifting solutions: “Brought up owning class? Great—bring the gifts (vision, big picture, aesthetics) often cultivated in the owning class, and let go of the isolation and need to control. Brought up middle class? Great—bring the gifts (optimism about making an individual difference, process skills, articulateness) and let go of both the obsession to fit in and conflict aversion. Brought up working class? Great—bring the gifts (directness, passion and willingness to fight) and let go of the deference to ‘superiors’ and the old label of ‘ignorant.’” He assures us that though the cultural differences between middle class and working class people often keep us apart, there are already guidebooks helping us to learn to work together. He cites Betsy Leondar-Wright’s book Class Matters as abundant with quotes and anecdotes. He also tells us that Linda Stout, who comes from many generations of Quakers, now leads the organization Spirit in Action and that her book Bridging the Class Divide is a great source of inspiration. (For more about the gifts and limitations of class conditioning, you can view the 2011 William Penn Lecture by George Lakey at http://bit.ly/JzgPL9.)

There are many more resources for Friends. For more about the Quaker tradition of cultivating conflict, listen to George’s FGC 2011 plenary address “Conflict as a Gift of the Spirit,” where he discusses the specific power of conflict to transform and bring about positive change in our society. Another is “New Theory, Old Practice: Nonviolence and Quakers,” George Lakey’s Southeastern Yearly Meeting 2004 paper, which also discusses the most powerful (though slightly rusty) tool in the Quaker toolbox for social change. Then there’s the organization Training for Change and the online blog/journal Waging Nonviolence. Finally, there’s the amazing Global Nonviolent Database at Swarthmore College: http://bit.ly/J3jeLx.

In the struggle for ecological justice, which is integral to human justice, we have now seen the victims’ faces. We see victims from 34 states across the US and around the world, animal stillbirths, destroyed land values, air pollution in Wyoming, the industrialization of the beloved landscape…

In closing, I recommend to you the words and final query of Christopher Frye in his poem “A Sleep of Prisoners,” which can be found at http://bit.ly/L3s8YM.

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Three recent NYYM clerks
Three recent NYYM clerks
(l to r) Linda Chidsey, Ernie Buscemi, and Heather Cook
photo by Claire Simon

 

Letter from NYYM’s Clerk

Beloved Friends,

Spirit moved powerfully among Friends at Spring Sessions! As a Meeting we experienced deepening maturity and trust in how we engage with Spirit and each other in our work together. We seem able to hold paradox and differences more confidently. What joy!

“If you were accused of being a Quaker, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” This challenging question from Friends and Alcohol: Recovering a Forgotten Testimony (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #313) raises up issues of integrity and of community. Do I spend more time talking about quaking than actually quaking and being changed by Spirit? Do I wear the cloak of a legacy rather than growing that legacy in my heart and actions? Is it enough for me to call myself Quaker? We tend to shy away from judging—after all, Spirit moves differently in each of us, our practices and resistances vary, we’re at different stages in our unique journeys. And yet we know the necessity for accountability to Spirit, both directly and through community.

With Maggie Harrison and Jon Watts as our plenarists and guests for the week, and with a threshing session and the life of the Yearly Meeting to consider worshipfully, our gathering this summer promises to be very challenging. Will you come?

At Summer Sessions, Jeff Hitchcock of Rahway & Plainfield Monthly Meeting will be nominated to shift from assistant to presiding clerk for the Yearly Meeting, and I will move on to pick up aspects of my life that have been on hold for the past three years. For the most part clerking the Meeting has been a joy and a challenge, and because it is real, at times it has been a drag. There certainly has been lots of growth! I thank the Yearly Meeting for the opportunity to serve, and to work with committed, gifted F/friends, both in the Meeting and beyond. It has been an honor.

In loving and joyful friendship,

Heather M. Cook, (Chatham-Summit), Clerk, New York Yearly Meeting

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An Invitation to Growth

Gabrielle Savory Bailey, NYYM Young Adult field secretary

 

path
photo by Gabrielle Savory Bailey

I  have traveled for a year now as Young Adult field secretary, and I have asked over and over what people want and need. There is a lot of Spirit-filled energy in this Yearly Meeting. It feels to me that it is a time of growth, of trying to be inclusive. In listening, I hear people wishing that things were different. I hear people feeling that there are walls that they do not know how to get over. I believe that these walls are stories. They are created to the point where we do not even know that they are stories based on expectations and assumptions that we hold, even if we are not aware—especially if we aren’t aware. I wonder if they are part of what is making it more difficult to be more age diverse and inclusive. Each member of our body holds expectations and assumptions about how things are and should be.

I invite you to sit with some queries that have come to me through the stories and experiences I have borne witness to in the past year. I ask you to receive them with an open heart. There is no blame, but rather I want to include you in the conversation. I am asking each of us to look carefully at what we assume. I mean these queries to be considered by all, of all ages. I invite you to enter into a conversation that may be hard, a little rough and awkward as we feel our way through, but if we are open, and don’t let ourselves off the hook when we feel challenged, can lead us to wholeness. If you feel something prickly rise up in you, I invite you to stay with that feeling and, if possible, ask yourself where the emotion comes from—was a hidden assumption or expectation challenged? I ask you if how we are doing things now is the only way. Does it help us be more faithful?

  • Am I afraid I will not be led if I release my assumptions and expectations about Spirit?
  • Do I assume I am not able to faithfully do the work that is asked of me?
  • Do my assumptions and expectations interfere with knowing each other and my experience of Spirit?
  • Do I assume that because I know someone for a long time, I know what they believe and their unique relationship with Spirit?
  • Do I stay safely in the idea that we are already a “community” and therefore always affirm each other regardless of what my experience and truth tells me? Do I challenge others to see what they are afraid to see and grow into what they are afraid to grow into?
  • How do my assumptions and expectations of others interfere with the integration of people of all ages and life stages fully into our community?
  • Do I welcome the gifts and challenges that come with spiritual community? Am I prepared to be whole?
  • Do I assume that children and YAF will not want to be in worship or business worship, when it is the central experience we have as a Religious Society? Do I expect that they will have trouble being in worship or participating in “adult” programs? Do I communicate to parents that their children are welcome to experience worship, and learn to sit in expectant waiting? Do I really mean that they are?
  • When have I experienced someone really seeing a spiritual gift or quality in me, telling me, and holding me accountable to be faithful to that which I am given?
  • Do I help to create a space where people are safe to talk about and challenge each other in their faith? Where it is ok to say what I believe?
  • Do I hold so dearly to traditions and past experiences that I am unable to see how Spirit is moving in the present? Do I allow Spirit to lead as the community is sculpted by those in the present? Am I willing to give up something precious in order to be faithful?
  • Do I challenge someone when I do not feel seen or heard, or when I experience an assumption or expectation? Am I faithful to my leading to speak truth to other people in my community? Do my monthly, regional, and yearly meetings teach people how to do that, especially when it is most difficult? What religious education is available to members of your community to encourage leadings of the Spirit?

I hear people saying that they are not being seen for the adults they are versus the kids they were; that they crave authentic Spiritual experiences; that they are burned out and overburdened by their Quaker work; that they have had valuable experiences of being seen and recognized by their faith community; that they know there is a problem; that there are exciting and energizing things happening in their meetings and regions; that they have leadings and crave accountability; that they feel a divide; that they want to include more people, keep more people, and have more families. I believe all of you. Where are our assumptions getting in the way?

I invite you to bring these queries to your committee meetings, your worship-sharing groups, your potlucks, your religious education programs, your selves. I have more available upon request as well. (nyym.yafs [at] gmail.com)

And so my invitation is “Ok, and? So what?”Can you change all these queries to begin with “Are you willing…?” Are you ready and willing to challenge expectations and assumptions about Spirit, about yourself, and in your monthly, regional or yearly meeting? I am excited about this conversation. Thank you for being a part of it.

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Farewell to a Longtime NYYM Employee

An Interview with Paul Busby

Paul Busby will be leaving the New York Yearly Meeting as an employee this spring. He recently sat down with Keith Johnson of the Personnel Committee to discuss his experiences and reflections on his twelve years of working for NYYM. Here are some extracts of their discussion:

KJ: How did your employment by the yearly meeting come about?

PB: In the early 1990s I worked for the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in their office on Rutherford Place, adjoining the NYYM office. I was also AVP coordinator for Bayview Prison, a prison for women in Manhattan. I sometimes volunteered to help out in the NYYM office. I started working for NYYM in January, 2000, as a part-time administrative assistant.

KJ: How did your work responsibilities grow and change over the years?

PB: My part-time work soon grew into a full-time position, and my title was changed to administrative associate. From the beginning, I maintained the Yearly Meeting’s Web site and continued to develop it. I became the assistant editor of Spark and then I moved on to become the editor. At one point the Communications Committee asked me to create InfoShare, an online Yearly Meeting publication to supplement Spark.

KJ: What changes to the Yearly Meeting office have you seen over the past twelve years?

PB: When I started, the two field secretary positions had been discontinued. Helen Garay Toppins, Barbara Heisman, and I maintained the functions of the Yearly Meeting office. When Barbara retired, Judy Inskeep took her place, then Walter Naegle, whose responsibilities were expanded considerably. Then a few years ago Christopher Sammond was hired as the general secretary.

KJ: I understand that you have a special interest in Latin America, particularly Mexico.

PB: After the Latin American Concerns Committee was laid down I became the Latin American Concerns resource person.

When I was a youth, my family moved to southern Texas, where we lived only six miles from the Mexican border. As a teenager I would hitchhike to Mexico for day trips. Sometimes I’d take a boat across the river; the boatman charged ten cents for the trip. My Spanish wasn’t so strong in those days, but in recent years I’ve been studying Spanish diligently.

KJ: You’ve traveled to Mexico recently?

PB: Yes, I go there every few months. I’ve developed a close father-daughter relationship with a Mexican woman I hired a while back to help clean my apartment. When I had my recent coronary-bypass surgery, her lovely face was the first thing I saw when I awoke from the operation. She has family in the town of Puebla, Mexico, and they have adopted me as one of their own.

KJ: What are your plans when you leave the yearly meeting employment?

PB: I’ve been a copyeditor and proofreader for decades, and I’m available for freelance work. I also have a certificate for teaching English as a second language, and I’m an experienced ESL tutor. I’m looking for ESL students.

KJ: How would you characterize your greatest contributions to the yearly meeting?

PB: I’m especially pleased with my work on Spark and InfoShare. I have also been editor of the Advance Reportsand the Yearbook. For some years I attended Summer Sessions at Silver Bay and this was a fine experience. But most of all I enjoyed being a part of something productive and creative. I’ll miss the interaction with the staff and others in the Yearly Meeting.

KJ: What is your connection to Quakerism outside of the yearly meeting?

PB: I began attending 15th Street Meeting in 1980, left for a few years, and then became involved again after an AVP workshop I participated in settled into the meeting for worship at the meetinghouse. It felt like coming home.

I became a member in 1996.

KJ: Having worked so closely with the yearly meeting, have you any reflections on its role and activities?

PB: I believe that Quaker meetings, on all levels, are essentially communities of worship. One of my favorite quotes is, “Ego is the part of us that thinks we are separate from God.” I would hope that our structure and activities bring us to conscious awareness of our unity with Spirit. Self-examination, both corporately and individually, is always necessary as we participate in the divine process.

KJ: Thank you, Paul. We all wish you well in your future endeavors.

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Change in Communications Director Position

Christopher Sammond, NYYM general secretary

In about mid-2010, the Communications Committee assessed how we were doing with our overall communication program. We felt that our predominant focus on print media was not reaching or involving the younger members of our community as much as we would like. We also saw that most of our communication was internal, and we wanted to do a better job of sharing who we are and what we are doing with the wider world. We wanted to communicate more effectively within our community and to ensure that we were not hiding our Light under a bushel.

The committee began the work of envisioning what communication was needed both within and outside of our Yearly Meeting, and how best to accomplish that. At a retreat in February 2011, the committee formulated an overall strategy for communication: parts to be done by staff, parts to be done by committee members, and parts to be done by volunteers not on the committee. This work resulted in a redesign of the Communications Director position, in which Paul Busby has faithfully served for some years.

This new position would bring the design portion of our communications, ably done for many years by Georgianne Jackofsky of Conscience Bay Meeting, in-house. It would have a greater focus on “new media,” such as Facebook, blogs, video, etc., and would devote some time to external communication through press releases. Given the stringent economic times it was designed to not increase the overall budget. This new position was advertised for some months, and we had eight responses. Paul did not choose to apply.

We are grateful for Paul’s many years of talented service, and we are celebrating Paul’s substantial contributions to this Yearly Meeting in the May Spark and will recount Georgianne’s equally important, and often unsung, contributions in September Spark.

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Songbird

Around Our Yearly Meeting

Chad Dell of Manasquan Monthly Meeting and a member of the NYYM Advancement Committee reports that he has been visiting New Jersey and New York meetings speaking about the value of inreach, the importance of preparing the soil in order to ensure more successful outreach efforts. Chad’s message draws upon Manasquan MM’s very positive experience planning and hosting their own version of Quaker Quest earlier this year called “Seeking the Spirit.” Several meetings are considering retreats around this topic. Contact Chad at cdell [at] monmouth.edu.

Albany Friends presented the Quaker Quest program (the first NYYM meeting to host the program) over a six-week period ending in March of this year. They found the experience, including a long and careful discernment process preceding the decision to host the program, enriched their meeting both spiritually and socially. Most members and attenders (34 in all) participated in the program in some way. Albany Friends feel the experience, and exposure they gained from their thorough advertising campaign (with financial assistance from FGC and NYYM), will have long-term benefits for successful future outreach. “All in all we found it a very positive experience,” says Judith Fetterley of Albany Meeting, which welcomes the inquiries of other meetings considering Quaker Quest. Contact Judith at jfetterley [at] albany.edu.

Rockland Friends are beginning a monthly “Exploring Quakerism” study group for all interested members of its adult community. They will be meeting the fourth Sunday of each month and using the text and materials taken from Exploring Quakerism: A Study Guide by Marsha D. Holliday, published by Quaker Press. Materials for each meeting will be made available to anyone wishing to participate and can also be purchased separately. Contact Joann Pensabene at jpensab [at] gmail.com.

On Sunday, March 4, the Young Adult field secretary, Gabi Savory Bailey, worshiped with Poplar Ridge Monthly Meeting.  After Meeting for Worship, 13 Young Adult Friends from that area, and many of their children, shared a potluck lunch and spoke about their experiences with Quakerism.  It was a spirit-filled time, which inspired the participants to talk to each other about how they can support one another better. Gabi also asked that they fill out the survey that she has been carrying around the yearly meeting, and spoke to them about her role as Young Adult field secretary.  If you would like Gabi to visit your meeting or region, please contact her at nyym.yafs [at] gmail.com.

All Friends Regional Meeting’s experiment in forging and nurturing friendships among Friends in their region met with resounding success on Saturday, March 24, when 48 children and adults gathered at Chatham-Summit Meeting for Arts Day, an afternoon of making art together and an evening of food, fun, and fellowship. Artists from the various meetings oversaw mini-workshops in sculpting, fabric construction, origami, book-cover making, and making beaded jewelry. Afterward, during Show ’n’ Tell, potluck dinner, and singing, Friends had even more time for fellowship. Nathalie Bailey of Chatham-Summit Meeting, reports that at the end of the evening, one parent left with a smile on her face saying she felt as if she had been on vacation and a child asked “Can we do this every week?” For next year there is talk of doing a Healing Arts Day. Contact Nathalie at nbailey555 [at] verizon.net.

On Saturday, March 3 Friends gathered at Ithaca Monthly Meeting for the 2012 winter session of Meetings for Discernment. Around 60 Friends were present for worship and to explore the queries: How are we living out a faithful response to God’s leading in community? How are we being faithful inwardly and outwardly? How have connections beyond our meetings brought opportunities for deeper faithfulness? Worship was deep and rich. Friends spoke of children and families; how inward faithfulness nurtures the ties that bind us together; and how monthly meetings are a place of cocreation as we join one another in caring concern to build a community. A full report from the Meetings for Discernment Steering Committee is forthcoming.

Over 40 members and attenders of Ithaca Friends gathered in March on retreat, with Christopher Sammond facilitating, on the subject of The Heart of Worship. Agreeing at the outset to listen to each other without judgment, Friends explored how they prepare for worship, center down, and open to each other and to God during worship, and how to practice discernment between vocal ministry and messages meant only for oneself. In preparation for the retreat, Friends were asked to practice a daily spiritual discipline of choice, which was then shared early in the retreat to help build an understanding of each person and of worship as part of the whole life of the Spirit. Reflecting on the retreat, Ithaca Friends describe not so much being filled with knowledge by the facilitator but a “calling forth of what was already there, drawing our attention to a place deep within ourselves from which we could draw.” Also noted was the significance of the individual’s role in corporate worship.

The centennial of Bayard Rustin’s birth was celebrated at Fifteenth Street Meeting on March 15. The event included readings from a new publication, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters (City Lights Publishers) by students from Friends Seminary. The editor of the collection, Michael Long, made a presentation, and a panel composed of Daniel Seeger, Eddie Ellis, and Velma Hill commented on Rustin’s life and work. Michael Long will also be appearing at Oakwood Friends School, 22 Spackenkill Rd., Poughkeepsie, NY, on Friday, May 11, at 2:30 p.m. as part of Oakwood’s annual Social Justice Lecture Series. For more info: emiles [at] oakwoodfriends.org; 845-462-4200. Friends interested in hosting a similar event or scheduling a screening of the film documentary on Rustin’s life, Brother Outsider, should visit www.rustin.org or contact Walter Naegle, walter [at] nyym.org.

If you have been hearing a still small voice nudging you toward a ministry of pastoral care of the elderly and people with disabilities, don’t miss this weekend! June 8–11 at Stony Point Center, just north of NYC ARCH (Aging Resources Consultation and Help) will provide comprehensive interactive training to become an ARCH Visitor for those feeling the call to serve their meeting and extended community in this way. All costs, including transportation, are covered for participants. ARCH is under the care of the NYYM Aging Concerns Committee. To register and for more information, contact Barbara Spring at barbarakspring4 [at] msn.com.

The Committee on Conflict Transformation is offering two one-day workshops in the Farmington-Scipio Region, Conflict in Monthly Meetings: Crisis or Opportunity. One will be held Saturday, June 16, 2012, at Ithaca Meeting and the second on Saturday, October 20, at Orchard Park. For information contact Peter Phillips, FPeterPhillips [at] aol.com.

Flushing Meeting urges Friends to follow the disturbing unfolding story of the apparent desecration of its historic graveyard as covered in the New York Timesof April 3, 2012, by reporter Sarah Maslin Nir (see http://nyti.ms/IuozdX). Excavation of an adjacent lot has resulted in an incursion and apparent desecration of centuries-old Quaker graves (unmarked, as was the custom of the times). Construction work has stopped and steps are being taken by all sides, closely monitored by Flushing Friends, to determine the extent of the incursion and why it occurred. Flushing Friends will be keeping NYYM informed.

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Dialogue is that address and response between persons in which there is a flow of meaning between them in spite of all the obstacles that normally would block the relationship. It is that interaction between persons in which one of them seeks to give himself as he is to the other, and seeks also to know the other as the other is. This means that he will not attempt to impose his own truth and view on the other.
Reuel L. Howe, The Miracle of Dialogue

 

September Spark: Friends and Science

The theme of the September issue of Spark is Friends and Science. You are invited to submit articles on the theme.

Although science is a rich source of information about formal properties of objects (or subjects), it is for the most part agnostic about values and ideas. But values and ideas often have a great impact. Quakers, with our insistence on simple personal ethics, can often provide moral guidance.

What has been the Quaker attitude toward science? What contributions have Friends made in various scientific fields? How has science informed our faith and practice—and our testimonies of social justice—and vice versa?

Possible topics are biographies; personal ethical decisions; and the “good, the bad, and the ugly” in science.

Submit articles before August 1, 2012, to Paul van Linden-Tol, the coordinator of the issue, at pvanlindentol [at] verizon.net and to Helen Garay Toppins, office [at] nyym.org.

 

Notices

New Members
Lynn Butcher—Orchard Park
Robert Butcher—Orchard Park
Amy Caccia—Easton
Susan Baker-Carr—Ithaca
Karen Hall—Poughkeepsie
Robert Kazmayer—Easton
Mary Klaus—Orchard Park
Cathy Mullarney—Poplar Ridge
Olive Niccolini—Brooklyn
Sara Niccolini—Brooklyn
Nick Rozard—Alfred
Kayla Scott-Tolbert—Westbury

Transfer
Nancy Riffer, to Ithaca from Syracuse

Deaths
Marijean Clark Arnold,member of Poughkeepsie, February 10, 2012
Ray K. Barnes,member of Poplar Ridge, April 22, 2012
Barbara Coburn, member of Easton, March 12, 2012
Jane Egloff, member of Buffalo, March 22, 2012
Walter Haines, member of Rockland, May 6, 2012
Karlin Monkemeyer, member of Ithaca, April 5, 2012

 

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