of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Over a year ago an invitation was sent out as part of a Worship and Action message. This invitation still stands and is reworded for you today:
Let us be clear. Our intention here is to live our beliefs, with the understanding that our actions will always benefit from a constant returning to the Center, the Seed, our Pool of Nourishment and Peace.
Only then do we again look outward, perhaps even "outside the box," to new ways of sharing that which so deeply has called our souls. This calling may require us to develop our peacemaking skills to much higher levels. Right now we are inviting you to strengthen your skills of inward listening and of sharing the understandings you have been given.
Thank you. We look forward to where the Spirit will move us in the coming years.
Jens Braun, CCOMT
Are We Called Together?When I visited Attica Worship Group this fall, I asked the incarcerated Friends there if they had any questions they wanted me to relay to the Yearly Meeting. One Friend who had been imprisoned for forty years responded: "What is the Yearly Meeting doing about parole?" I felt that I didn't have an adequate response to this question, but I gave it a try.
I talked about how the Yearly Meeting has a Prisons Committee, through which much good work is being done on the issues of prison reform and outreach. And I talked about how there were many individual Friends who are strongly led to work in prison ministry and who carry parole as a major concern. I went on to explain that the Yearly Meeting does not have a common, unified stance on any concern, parole or otherwise, and how that is not exclusive to this Yearly Meeting, but is the state of modern Friends. We do not have universally held concerns that might form a common testimony to add to the four testimonies early Friends gave witness to.
I felt like a mealy-mouthed bureaucrat giving an answer that is a non-answer. I felt very uncomfortable, not just about the issue at hand, but what it laid bare about the state of Friends today. A week after I got home, I read about how our clerk, in her work with the New York State Council of Churches, has been effectively advocating for parole reform with the Pataki administration. I sent this information on to the men at Attica and I felt a little better.
But I remain ill at ease about the wider questions this Friend's question raised. Can we come to any common testimony as to how we are being led to work in the world? Should we be laboring with each other about the concerns we carry, or is it okay to let my concern be my concern and to let your concern be your concern? If the latter is true, what does that say about how we understand God to be leading us? Do we believe that God speaks only to some on a particular issue, and not others? Or do we believe that some are called to a particular work for the benefit of the whole body? We need to become more aware of the tacit assumptions underlying how we are practicing individual and corporate discernment. And if we believe that the Divine, if heard correctly, calls all of us in the same direction, should we not be laboring more intentionally with the issues that some Friends are called to? This issue of Spark focuses on one such issue, conscientious objection to military taxation, held as a powerful leading of conscience for some Friends in this Yearly Meeting. For those of us who are uncomfortable with paying for war and its incumbent horrors, but are not led at this time to give witness to our actions, how do we respond to the challenge of these Friends' leadings?
Is there some aspect of this concern that modern Friends can come to unity on? Should we be seeking to do so, or is it enough to let these Friends' lives speak for the rest of us?
These are uncomfortable questions to live with. I pray that we let our discomfort teach us rather than shying away from it.
Christopher Sammond, gen. secretary
Young Friend's Inner and Outward Journey
The farm is run using a principle called permaculture. This term stands for permanent culture—and it deals with the practice of using agriculture and design that follow patterns seen in nature. It has recently been broadened to include the social pattern of community living required to accomplish such a feat. Its goal is for humans to exist and thrive in harmony with nature. Other terms commonly used are sustainability or sustainable development. Using the concept of permaculture helps to make our society more sustainable. Sustainability has been described as "walking lightly on the earth, so as to leave a small footprint. In other words, using resources wisely so future generations can be guaranteed to have them available.
I planted using the permaculture techniques I learned while I was on the farm. The basis of the idea is that everything grew perfectly well at some point without human intervention. In permaculture, things like fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides are not used. It's really an amazing system when you look at it—many of our gardens here grow one or two things in long rows, but on a permaculture farm you can barely tell what is a garden—it just looks like a forest or haphazardly planted area. But if you know what is planted there, you can harvest the food.
I helped plant things in a system that they could grow naturally, with minimal help from us after they had established life in the gardens. God took care of the rest, and when it came time, he provided us with the fruits, nuts, vegetables, medicinal plants, and yes chocolate, too. For meals we would wander out into the 85-acre farm and find and pick whatever was ripe and we felt like eating! And this food was unlike any other…you could taste that it was good food, and you could taste the love that someone had put into the plant. Before each meal we said a blessing for the food, and we always asked that the food would provide us with the energy to accomplish the work we needed to do that day, the work that God had planned for us.
The second to the last week of my stay I went on an eight-day Sustainable Learning Journey with nine other people, led by the nonprofit organization EcoVentures. We visited various local communities that were attempting to make a living by preserving rainforest land, and also trying to reverse the damage done by the boom in cattle farming taken up after the devastation of the cocoa plantations by a fungus from Panama. Eco-tourism is a rapidly growing industry in Costa Rica, where local people invite tourists to their land to show them the beauty of the natural world and how we can sustainably use it. They share their stories and their history, and explain how they make a livelihood.
This experience was definitely an eye-opening one. I learned to live simply with what has been provided—something that we rarely get to do. In today's hectic fast-paced lifestyle, I got the chance to take a step back; a chance to focus on the things that really matter and learn to appreciate those I was without. I was in an environment where I could meditate and center to think about issues awaiting my arrival back home and on family and friends I could not call, and at the same time interact daily with the other interns and members of the farm. I lived with and worked beside these amazing people who had traveled from every continent across the world and happened to end up congregating on this small organic farm. And all the while being inspired and encouraged by the natural beauty around us. By this slowed and deeper glimpse of people and of nature, I began to see the small things I miss from day to day, in the rush to finish a paper or leave work. I learned to let each one of my senses work alone, and heighten each experience by one sense—see more colors or hear more birds, smell the salt in the ocean. I experienced the way my body can feel—stress replaced by a good-feeling tiredness from growing and caring for the food I ate. I could not walk away from this without saying something within me has been deepened—spirituality? God? Appreciation? I think all of those now occupy a larger part of my existence, and I try to carry them with me everywhere.
Jenny Pronto, Adirondack Meeting
What Story Are We Telling Ourselves?At Westtown School recently, Tom Hay, who teaches U.S. history, said that, in his opinion, slavery was built on perceived economic necessity and racism was the story slaveholders told themselves to be able to sleep at night.
Hearing that led me to ask myself: What stories do we tell ourselves so that we can sleep at night while the media negatively affect the children of our society? We tell ourselves that media (television, video games, Internet, etc.) are only entertainment. We tell ourselves that we can control this influence by limiting our own family's exposure and that our responsibility ends there.
That television and video games are merely entertainment is a myth. They are potent teaching devices, voluntarily used in the home. Any teacher will tell you this is a prime teaching environment. Children are taught that what they have is not as good as what is being sold, that who they are is not as good as the image being projected, and that violence is the way to resolve conflict. This is not entertainment; this is indoctrination.
Sheltering our children may work in the short run, but eventually they will have to interact with others who have been immersed in the popular culture.. If we let another generation be exposed to this indoctrination before we wake up from the stories we tell ourselves, we will all be responsible for the results.
We wish our children to have lives that are connected to who they are in the deepest sense. We pay attention to and guide them. We must face the fact that a lot of other people are paying attention to our children too. Corporate interests, the entertainment industry, and advertisers spend billions of dollars a year on increasingly sophisticated interactive media to attract and hold our children's attention and, yes, to guide them.
There is ample research showing the effects of media messages on children's attention and behavior. It has been gathered and assessed in books such as Dr. Douglas Gentile's Media Violence and Children and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's On Killing, both of which point to behavioral changes due to exposure to media violence. We can no longer claim ignorance.
To address this situation, we can begin by asking ourselves: What is the most potent antidote is for a climate of noise and violence? While we need to ponder this as an open question, we can begin by looking at our Testimony of Simplicity. If we seek simplicity in order to diminish clutter in our lives and beings so as to hear the "still, small voice," then we must ask ourselves if and when our children have the opportunity to have that stillness. I propose that we take a first step and simply observe. Is the child's schedule so full and hurried that there is little time just "to be"? Are our children "plugged in to" music devices, television, videos, and video games during the time they have for relaxing? What interactions are the children in our homes and meetings having with others? Do we discuss what they witness in other homes? If we have young children, what habits might be in formation that will lead to more interaction with media than we would wish?
In our First Day schools, is providing space for an age-appropriate period of quiet a top priority? How can we begin to take this important aspect of our children's lives to heart in our meetings and with families in the larger community?
These are only a few of the questions we must be asking. Nothing is more important.
Mary Rothschild, Brooklyn Meeting
CPT Call to Action: Shine the LightChristian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) invites supporters around the world to help "Shine the Light" on torture, hostage-taking, and abuse of detainees in an effort to expose the shadowy scourge of war and end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Beginning January 15, the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., through January 29, 2006, CPT will carry out a series of processions in Washington, D.C., starting at institutions that bear key responsibility for warmaking and ending with a brief prayer service at the White House.
Each day, candle-carrying participants will walk in prayerful silence guided by a torchbearer shining the light on a hooded detainee who symbolically represents all persons held captive by war and occupation.
In 1967, reflecting on the U.S. war in Vietnam, Dr. King exhorted those gathered at the Riverside Church in New York: "I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours." In that spirit CPT encourages supporters to join this effort in Washington and beyond.
Come to D.C.
Every morning, the D.C. team will gather for prayer and preparation. Each afternoon's two-mile procession will march around the institution chosen for that day. Those participating will be mindful of the biblical encirclements of Jericho when the walls came tumbling down. Participants will then convene at the White House for a concluding prayer service.
For more information, contact Cliff Kindy at 312-933-0546 (cell phone) or by e-mail at light [at] cpt.org.
Shine the Light at Home
Register your "Shine the Light" actions at www.cpt.org/iraq/shinethelight.php. Sample prayers, leaflets, and media releases are also available at that site.
Don't Let the Light Go Out
While the D.C. portion of this campaign contemplates an ending date of January 29, local communities may wish to "Shine the Light" throughout the Lenten season or the period leading up to March 19–20, the third anniversary of the war. (See www.aglobalcall.org for details about A Global Call for Nonviolent Civil Resistance to End the U.S.-Led Military Occupation of Iraq.)
Since the four CPT workers went missing in Iraq on November 26, CPT has been overwhelmed by the expressions of support it has received from people all over the world. We hope this campaign might provide a framework by which Christians, Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths can continue to use that supportive energy on behalf of justice for all those detained and victimized by the war in Iraq.
Christian Peacemaker Teams
Clerk's Corner: Winter ReflectionsIn mid-December New York State Council of Churches Collegium members gathered for our annual retreat and business meeting. (As clerk, I represent NYYM Friends on this governing body of the state Council of Churches).
Always a treasured time, for the retreat this year we were asked to choose a favorite Advent text, and come prepared to read it in our preferred translation and share the reason why we had selected it. At the close of each person's reflection on their chosen text, time was provided for others present to respond to a word or phrase that had spoken to them.
One member read the familiar words of Luke 3:4–6:
Another member chanted the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46–55) just as she had learned it as a young child:
The text that had immediately risen up for me was Isaiah 9:2:
The prior week four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams had been taken hostage in Iraq and threatened with death. Among those captured was Tom Fox, a Friend from Langley Hill Monthly Meeting, Baltimore Yearly Meeting. My heart was heavy and I was feeling strongly the darkness afoot in the land in present times. One Collegium member was struck by the New English Bible translation, "dwellers in a land as dark as death," reflecting that "a land as dark as death" may refer not only to a particular geographical location; it may reflect the condition of an individual or collective soul as well.
We were drawn to stay with this verse for a time, sharing with one another times when we felt ourselves, our nation, our world to be in a place of grave darkness; times when we were tempted to despair, almost forgetting that:
Even as we plumbed the depths, we remembered and were eager to share our experiences of the "great light" that we have seen, the Light that has dawned upon us. We then continued reading Isaiah 9, verses 3 through 7:
I write this piece realizing that for some Friends, the observance of Advent and the celebration of Christmas may not be a significant or even welcome part of their spiritual practice. Some may have left a church where they experienced injury or irrelevance; some may have come to Friends from another faith tradition; some may object to the observance of the "world's holidays."
I write, nonetheless, because I see a deep connection between the expectant waiting of Advent and the expectant waiting that lies at the heart of Friends' manner of worship.
Interestingly, this year's Collegium retreat concluded with queries I often pose when leading retreats about Friends meeting for worship: "What is it that you are waiting for? What is your deepest longing at this holy time, in this holy place?"
For me, the waiting and longing is for the in-breaking of God's promise of "boundless peace"—a peace that goes far beyond the absence of war. It includes the presence of "justice and righteousness from now and forevermore" (Isaiah 9:7)—even though I am unable to conceive of or comprehend all that might entail. It includes the hope of individual, societal, and worldwide healing, reconciliation, and redemption.
I find I continue to carry the two questions from December's retreat in to the new year. "What is it that you are waiting for? What is your deepest longing?" I am led to invite others to take these queries into a time of prayer and meditation. What canst thou say?
Linda B. Chidsey, clerk, NYYM
The most common image of idolatry is the golden calf that Aaron made while Moses was absent on the mountain, and it is reported (Ex. 32:27–29) that its worship led to the slaughter of some 3,000 idolatrous Israelites by the Levites. The lesson is made explicit (Ex. 34:14): "You shall not prostrate yourself to any other god. For the Lord's name is the Jealous God, and a jealous god he is." Anyone searching the Scriptures can find many other instances of idols and idolatry, but the golden calf remains the popular paradigm.
We live in a sea of idolatry, worshiping, paying tribute to, trusting and depending on, and submitting to false gods. As a quick list of the false gods I am tempted offer a catalog of seven P's: Princes, Politicians, Priests, Preachers, Police, Prisons, Pentagon.
It is a tentative list because I am not a seasoned prophet, and I lack the rhetorical certainty a true prophet needs. It is never easy to know how to apply a paradigm, since all applications occur far removed from the original circumstances. The image of the golden calf leaves us, for all its appeal, unclear about what constitutes worship and what makes something an unworthy object of worship even though it does have real value. I think it is helpful for understanding both our society and the resurgent fundamentalism to say that we generally bow down to and pay tribute to the Seven P's, but saying that deserves closer scrutiny.
No one can even conceive of idolatry without a commitment to something that transcends earthly arrangements. Uncompromising commitment to justice is insufficient, and may indeed itself be a form of idolatry. A charge of idolatry can only be brought by a prophet, someone calling the people back to their original and underlying faith.
The Old Testament, being full of prophets, is also full of charges of idolatry. Consider again Psalms 46, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." It clearly speaks to people suffering trial and tribulations. A closer look at the first clause provides some light on how false gods can be recognized: God is our refuge and strength. Our refuge and strength is our god.
Since the text is an identity or equation, we can turn it around and see the same idea from another perspective. Where do we turn in times of trials and tribulations? Where did we as a nation turn after 9/11? Where do we turn when we sense that our property is in danger? Or that youth will get out of hand? Or when people have defied the law? Or when we decide where a tenth portion of our wealth is to go? Is it not to the Seven P's? Do we not live in a society where a visiting Martian would say that "our refuge and strength" is entrusted to Princes, Politicians, Priests, Preachers, Police, Prisons and the Pentagon?
The Seven P's
Of all the forms of idolatry we practice in this country, our idolizing of the Pentagon is the most egregious. As with police and prisons, one can acknowledge that armed forces may sometimes be beneficial. I myself remain unconvinced, because the military establishments of the world generally consume rather than produce national wealth, and the benefits seem incidental and accidental (such as racial integration, and quality education for service families) rather than intrinsic to the mission. But let us grant that, in proportion, some level of defense force is indispensable for a modern nation. In USA the expenditures are all out of proportion, and the continued increases are by any rational assessment insane. But of course it is not a matter of reason. Reason has been blinded by paranoia and drugged by our worship of the Pentagon as our only and true refuge and strength against "terrorism." We lay at the steps of the Pentagon the first fruits of our labor. Over half the national budget (excluding Social Security) goes for military expenditures, and in 2004 our military expenditures accounted for nearly half the world's total and exceeded the combined expenditures of the next fifteen countries. The Pentagon budget increases each year, sometimes more than the Pentagon requests, without regard to which party is in power and independently of how good or bad a job the Pentagon has done. Inefficiencies are mind-boggling but irrelevant. Disputes in Congress about Pentagon spending resemble instead disputes as to whether a goat or a lamb is the right offering to the god.
A visitor from Mars who understood the categories would have to conclude that the Pentagon is an object or worship rather than of practical reason. Our refusal to apply rational criticism and assessment to the budget and the practices of the Pentagon constitutes the foremost example of idolatry of our time.
The Voice of a Reluctant Prophet
The prophets were never voices of the mainstream, which at least since Constantine has regularly sanctified what I have labeled as idols. But the prophetic voices were embedded in tradition, not voices in the wilderness. Nor is my voice a voice in the wilderness. It is the voice, or one of the voices, of dedicated people all over the globe, in all sorts of cultures, who know (without relying on evidence) that there is something friendly and cooperative and immeasurably valuable in every person, and who seek to nurture and encourage that something through service, servant-leadership, education, and fellowship. Such people exemplify alternatives to the Seven P's. Their service, leadership, and fellowship with strangers as well as with close companions are patterns and examples that eloquently undermine the false theology of the Seven P's and attest to the old faith to which I mean to call people back. My naming of idols and false gods has roots in this broad and buoyant fellowship.
Peace Curriculum and God's Love for the PoorFor the Peace of the World: The National Council of Churches (NCC) has published For the Peace of the World: A Christian Curriculum on International Relations. The book seeks answers to questions of international relations and provides a resource for further reflection. It weaves together many strands of Christian faith to inform our discussion of current events.
Divided into six sessions of less than 60 minutes each, For the Peace of the World is designed especially for adults in religious education classes. It is also perfect for high school social studies classes, campus ministry programs, social justice groups, college seminars, and book groups.
God's Love for the Poor: Hurricane Katrina will perhaps forever be remembered for having shone a spotlight on racial and class disparities in the United States. In an effort to help the nation move forward, the National Council of Churches USA is releasing Love for the Poor: God's Love for the Poor and the Church's Witness to It, a 40-page booklet that seeks to help us engage more fully in prayer, reflection, and shared action on behalf of the poor.
For information contact Friendship Press at the address or phone number above or go to www.ncccusa.org/news/050920LoveforPoor.html, where you can download the booklet without cost.
M u s t Q u a k e r s P a y f o r W a r ?
Purchase Quarter Peace Tax Escrow AccountIf someone were to knock on your door and tell you that you were required to provide room and board for soldiers, what should you do?
If someone were to reach a hand into your purse and extract money, telling you that you must pay for guns for the soldiers to use, what should you do?
If money were taken from your bank account, with no explanation, and used to support the killing of other people, what should you do?
Some people who cannot in good conscience pay for the killing of others bear witness to their concern by paying taxes into the Purchase Quarter Peace Tax Escrow Account until such time as our government recognizes their human right of conscientious objection to the payment of war taxes.
Use of the account is not restricted to members of Purchase Quarter.
More information about the Escrow account is available from John Randall, QuakerJohn [at] nanamo.com, or by writing to the Escrow Account in care of the NYYM Office.
Simplicity, Integrity, Conscience, and Critical MassPart 1
I have two young sons. Several years ago, in the context of US troops fighting in Afghanistan and preparing for war in Iraq, I began thinking about how my sons will be asked (required) by the government to register for the draft. I consider myself a conscientious objector (CO), though when I was 18 years of age there was no registration for a draft and I never made a formal declaration of any sort. Now, as I think of what my sons will have to consider, and as a national militarism seems to have taken hold of this country, I have found myself thinking often of what it means, could mean, or should mean to be a CO. I hope I have raised my children in such a way that they will respond to the draft registration process in an informed, thoughtful, and spirit-led manner, but that is their choice. Meanwhile, I now recognize that my being a CO relates to more than just draft resistance. As my concern over the CO decisions of my children recedes, concern over my own CO positions has grown. Conscientious objection to war obliges me to consider how I might be supporting war efforts in other ways than as a potential soldier. If I am to be consistent and a follower of Christ's message of love and forgiveness, I need to look carefully at how other aspects of my life both promote God's peace and "take away the occasion for war."
Through readings, meditations, talking with friends, taking workshops, and listening to some major contemporary thinkers on peace issues, my religious convictions about the rightness of nonviolence and the evil of war and coercive force have matured. My convictions are moving from the realm of mere "belief" into the sphere of necessary action—action based on truths about God, people, and this planet that nonviolence embodies.
Over the past years of war and blatant promotion of violent responses to the world's problems by our government, I have become increasingly distressed by my complicity in this country's actions. By paying my taxes I directly support the war economy. By using considerably more petroleum and energy products than the average world citizen I encourage some of the unstated corporate objectives of wars in Kuwait and Iraq.
I feel there is a necessary place for individual action to uphold the dictates of conscience. However, as a Quaker I am part of a religious community. Is there something we can do together that will help us corporately live with our consciences and act on our beliefs?
1. Work to educate a substantial group of Quakers around the country about the issues so that they may make informed decisions about whether to withhold one or more forms of war taxes (stop paying telephone tax or military portion of income taxes, or earn below the taxable income level) and to place the tax funds in an escrow account until the government agrees to use them only for nonmilitary purposes. Be organized in this process, both following Quaker process, including clearness committees, and documenting all that happens as much as possible. Meeting for Sufferings would be established to support the war tax resisters, and nonviolent resistance training would be made available. Centralized record keeping by an organization such as the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund or the National War Tax Resisters Coordinating Committee might be advisable. It would be of use if NYYM could overtly and publicly proclaim a corporate testimony against paying for war.
2. Gather with those already working on a Peace Tax Fund at the Yearly Meeting and national levels to add our energy to the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund and implement a major program to establish laws that allow for a peace tax fund. Contact members of Congress who are known to be in favor of such a law and bring this before all legislators at the state and national levels.
3. Suuport legal actions on behalf of the war tax resisters (#1 above), challenging the violation of their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and developing other legal approaches to argue for the right to not pay for war on grounds of conscience. War tax resisters are being forced to go against their consciences and religious beliefs about not supporting war to comply with the requirements of being "good" citizens. This legal action should include a media campaign that intensifies as the IRS begins legal action against the tax resisters and as their homes, vehicles, or other assets are confiscated.
4. Reach out to others with our message. Begin with Friends everywhere, move out to other peace churches (Mennonites, Brethren), and from there speak to other religions and representative bodies. Garner as much support from the wider religious community, both national and international, as possible.
5. Organize (or work with AFSC or some other existing organization) to implement a program of the sort upon which Quakers would like to see their tax money spent.
Tax resistance is a gift that can help us think deeply about the hold that money, and those things we own, have over us. Not paying war taxes will inevitably lead to considerations of materialism and affluence. It will help us see those many other ways we maintain that which we know interferes with our relationships to God and each other.
John Woolman wrote: "Oh! that we who declare against wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the Light, and therein examine our Foundation and motives in holding great Estates: May we look upon our Treasures, and the furniture of our Houses, and the Garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these our possessions, or not."
This action gives us an opportunity to confront how fear often drives our lives, though we aspire to be motivated by God's love. Since 9/11 we have been bombarded by messages of fear, and fear is used to justify so much that is done in our name. War tax resistance leads many to a very fearful place: "What will they do to me? What if they take away my home? How will I put up with the stress of being persecuted by the IRS?" Consider instead how this is an opportunity for others to care and support us in our leadings. It is a chance to see if we can really believe that which is written on our money, "In God We Trust."
Though protests and vigils have their place, I feel Quakers could use the catalyst of an action that is proactive rather than reactive. Just as not taking off our hats to nobility once was a strong stand, not paying taxes for war is a statement for our times. It is inherently right that we not release our resources for aims we oppose when there are so many other needs toward which we would gladly pay our taxes and even give more. Our testimony on integrity holds us to a high standard. Though individual Quakers have been tax resisters in the past, we haven't seen what could happen if large numbers of people become tax resisters. With mass resistance, measures taken by the government will highlight both the expenditures being made for war and the inconsistencies of tax laws with the Bill of Rights.
The act of tax resistance has the benefit of simplicity and directness. It underscores the role of the spiritual realm in our lives, and invites the rest of society to think about how money has become a central role for citizenship, almost more so than any other form of civic activity. By creating a program to use unpaid taxes for the general good, Quakers would be helping redefine a role for modern citizens while at the same time deepening our spiritual understanding of the issues of our times. We should continue (on a number of levels) to protest specific crises, policies, and attitudes. Nevertheless, we all realize these things usually are symptoms of something much deeper: struggles for power or access to resources, or reactions to fear. Rather than reacting to a crisis it is often of much more service to reformulate our understanding of events by taking a course that changes the equation. The possibility of not enough money for the Pentagon because people would rather educate children, work to alleviate poverty, or spend their resources on peacemaking is such a change of perspective.
A plan for corporate involvement in tax resistance allows a variety of people to "carry their swords" as long as they can in a variety of ways. Those who can't lift the sword anymore will be among the 100 initial resisters. Those who are uncomfortable paying for war but still want to carry the weapon can work to change the laws of this country. Those who don't feel it to be a sword at all that they are carrying can participate in the issue of religious freedom for the sake of the principle behind the notion. Or they can work on the proactive project in which we engage to show another way of addressing national or world concerns. We can look to the gifts of each and ask all to participate based on the place where they are now.
One final note. Those who would consider becoming war tax resisters could be asked to write a letter describing the foundations of their conscientious objection to war. These letters, were they to be gathered and distributed, would, I am positive, be a powerful source of deep encouragement in faithfulness to any who would read them. It is a blessing to hear from others as they respond to the question To whom, and how should I be obedient?
Jens Braun, Old Chatham Meeting
A Gentle Guide to Military Tax WithholdingThese guidelines are intended for persons who wish to make military tax withholding an outward indication of their inner conscientious objection to all preparations for war.
Not everyone is able to challenge our government, refuse to pay federal income taxes, and withstand the consequences. The following three actions are low-profile, but effective ways to send a tax resistance signal. Even a few tax dollars can be sequestered and allowed to accumulate until our elected representatives establish a nonmilitary alternative for conscientious taxpayers. When many individual citizens set aside small but symbolic amounts of tax dollars in protest (or lend support to others who do), the need for revisions to the tax laws will become self-evident.
Telephone Excise Tax: The federal government charges a 3% excise tax on all telephone bills. Thousands of people refused to pay this tax in protest during the war in Vietnam. As a symbolic gesture, try withholding this tax when you pay a monthly phone bill. Include a brief note to the telephone company explaining the reason. The note might read: "I am unwilling to pay a federal tax which is used for military purposes. Please contact me if you have any questions." Deposit the amount withheld in an escrow account. After some time, if you feel comfortable with the results, repeat the action again. Your telephone service should not be disrupted if you maintain a dialogue with the company. If there is no cooperation, consider changing to another provider. For more information see www.hanguponwar.org/.
Symbolic Withholding: Calculate your federal income tax obligation and fill out the forms correctly. Reduce your payment to the government by a small but symbolic amount. This amount can be a little as one dollar. For example, there is a national campaign to encourage one million people to protest by withholding $10.40 from their income tax payments. Deposit the amount withheld in an escrow account. Send the government a copy of the escrow check, and an explanatory note, when you submit your tax forms. You may be assessed penalties and interest on the small amount sequestered, and you may eventually be levied.
If you ordinarily receive a refund, consider restructuring the amount withheld from your salary so that you owe the government some tax at the end of each year.
War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund: This fund was established to reimburse military tax resisters who are penalized by the federal government. Those who suffer large penalties for their peace witness can receive assistance from the fund. A donation to this fund will support the military tax resistance of others and will allow them to repeat their tax protest without the added burden of paying heavy fines. Contact North Manchester Fellowship of Reconciliation, Box 25, North Manchester IN 46962.
Escrow Accounts: An escrow account for sequestered tax dollars can be established with one of the following:
Personal Contacts: If you would like to speak to someone withholding the military portion of their taxes for reasons of conscience you may contact Daniel Jenkins or Rosa Packard, c/o New York Yearly Meeting. You may contact the Yearly Meeting Committee on Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation (COMT) through the Yearly Meeting office or directly at COMT c/o Jens Braun.
If you would like a speaker at your meeting on this topic or wish for more information, NYYM COMT is willing to help!
Jens Braun, Old Chatham Meeting
Friend's Letter to LawmakersAn open letter to Senators Clinton and Schumer, to Representative Kuhl, and to my neighbors and friends:
Tax time is all year; however, April seems a fitting time each year to protest the enormous amount of the taxes I pay toward the waging of war.
Don't misunderstand—I am not opposed to paying taxes. I am opposed, however, to paying taxes to fund war.
My conscientious conviction against paying taxes for military purposes is not based on mere personal or political preference. It is grounded in deeply held beliefs based on universally recognized moral, ethical, and religious teachings.
I would like to pay all my taxes, knowing that they would not violate my deeply held beliefs against participation in war. Therefore, I urge you to enact the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill, H.R. 2037 in the 108th Congress. This bill would allow sincere conscientious objectors to military participation to pay their federal . . . taxes into a fund earmarked for nonmilitary governmental purposes only.
U.S. law has allowed conscientious objectors to military participation to perform alternative service rather than be conscripted into the military. This law should be extended to allow alternative service for my drafted dollars.
Your beliefs may not be mine; however, I beg you to consider that the Bill of Rights protects citizens' rights to practice their religion. The religious body of which I am a part is The Religious Society of Friends, on record as opposing war since 1660. Conscientious objection to serving in the military was recognized in colonial times and throughout US history. As the military budget of the United States has grown steadily, amounting to about 1/3 of every US income tax dollar today, "tax resistance" has grown, too.
Much more honesty is called for in discussing the issues of war taxes. The Iraq war is not in the budget but only in supplementary spending; other departments than the Pentagon spend $$ for military expenses (such as nuclear weapons charged to the Department of Energy and the money spent on past wars). Please, let's introduce greater integrity into our presentations and conversations.
Sharon Hoover, [Alfred Meeting]
Farmington-Scipio Region Considers WitnessClerk Sue Tannehill read the minute from Alfred Meeting (9/24/05):
Suzanne Blackburn of Alfred Meeting provided background on the minute. Central Finger Lakes has minuted that they unite with this expression of our Witness. Perry City supported the spirit of the minute, but was under the weight of the challenges.
The clerk will forward this minute to the meetings in the region and ask that each meeting consider the minute and communicate with each other so that we may return to find wider and deeper unity.
Vicki Cooley, of Central Finger Lakes, adds:
"Paying for war" is often taken to mean "paying federal income tax." But war and preparing for war involve much more than the federal military establishment. The wording of this minute does not imply any particular analysis or imperative to action, except that to witness to the concern, in some fashion, in our communities, which is significantly different than how most of us have been responding to this violation of our religious conviction. Somehow putting it in the negative, "not paying for war," seems to help take a step back in terms of understanding the issue and possible responses.
F r i e n d s ' S t a t e m e n t s
From NYYM Faith and PracticeAdvice 14 Friends are earnestly cautioned against the taking of arms against any person, since "all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons" are contrary to our Christian testimony. Friends should beware of supporting preparations for war even indirectly, and should examine in this light such matters as non-combatant military service, cooperation with conscription, employment or investment in war industries, and voluntary payment of war taxes. When their actions are carefully considered, Friends must be prepared to accept the consequences of their convictions. Friends are advised to maintain our testimony against war by endeavoring to exert an influence in favor of peaceful principles and the settlement of all differences by peaceful methods. They should lend support to all that strengthens international friendship and understanding and give active help to movements that substitute cooperation and justice for force and intimidation.
Query 13 Do we maintain Friends' testimony against war? Do we "live in the virtue of that life and power which takes away the occasion of all wars"? Are we exerting our influence in favor of settlement of all differences by truly nonviolent methods? Do we strive to transmit to everyone an understanding of the basis of our peace testimony?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If I approved of my daughter and sons going to distant places where they killed men, women, and children whom they did not know and with whom they had no quarrel, because men and women of political power, with whom I strongly disagree, asked them to, would you call me patriotic?
If I helped finance unprovoked death and destruction here at home, would I not quickly be put away for life? Yet if I do not help finance unprovoked death and destruction abroad, why does the government then have a right to come take my money without my consent?
If I know that nonviolence has brought about more effective democracy and has proven to be a far superior agent of social change during the last half century than has any armed conflict during the period, why should I support war? And if it is said that a war will bring democracy and improve the welfare of peoples, why should I believe it when the evidence of history, and of this "War on Terror" too, is to the contrary?
If my heart tells me that Truth is being crushed by nationalism, flags, and slogans, should I listen to the emotions of country or to the cry of my soul?
If I have traveled the world and seen the light of God in the souls of people everywhere I have been, why should I consider citizens of this country particularly favored by God? And if I have seen how pursuit of material wealth has nothing to do with those things I consider most important, how should I spend my time on Earth?
If I feel courage comes in the living of my faith, should I fear being called a coward for acting on my beliefs? If I support killing though I believe killing is wrong, and if I go as the crowd goes in a time of injustice and evil, though I feel the direction of the masses is repulsive and counterproductive, would I not then truly be devoid of bravery?
If others think they are protecting my freedom, yet I am convinced they are merely perpetuating a world of injustice, increasing poverty and ignorance, supporting the power of the rich, and dying in wars that are justified with lies, should I help them feel noble or speak my understanding of the Truth?
If I do not share the fears of others, and do not wish to protect myself from the threats they feel, why should I imitate their defensive measures? If my experience is that I can never really be safe, but I can be at peace, why should I obsess about security? If I have observed how treating others with mercy and dignity makes friends of enemies, dissolves fears, and opens doors to peace, why should I favor the isolation that comes from tactics of defensiveness, distrust, and a reliance on the threat of coercion?
When the Beatitudes speak of the paradoxical blessings of meekness, poverty, mourning, hunger, mercy, a pure heart, peacemaking, and persecution for the sake of justice, I recognize the beauty in the harsh yet wonderful condition of this world. I wish my path to follow this way of blessing described by Jesus, which is not the way the world thinks or acts. Yet.
Jens Braun, Old Chatham Meeting
I currently pay my federal taxes in full, even though I am aware that a significant portion of the taxes go to pay for our military and the debts from past wars. If I could legally do so, I would place the military portion of my taxes in a peace tax fund.
How have I acquired these beliefs about war?
My mother was a birthright Friend (Quaker) and my father was a refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria. My mother raised my brother and me to be aware of the issues of justice and peace in the world, and we attended antiwar demonstrations as children in the early 1970s. While I was in junior high school, my mother refused to pay a portion of her federal tax that went to pay for the Vietnam war. I came to admire the courage and forthrightness of my mother's stand against supporting the military as she tried to raise her children to be peacemakers. While I was in college, I helped start a peace group called Peace Action. We organized speakers, attended numerous rallies and demonstrations. When I was in graduate school at Caltech, I was asked by my advisor to help him write a grant for funds from President Reagan's Star Wars initiative. I knew then that I needed to redirect my life as a peacemaker.
In those years I was very active as a supporter of the young men who opposed President Carter's draft registration for men who were born after 1960. My brother was a public non-registrant who wrote to our congressman, Gerald Solomon, about his stand. A federal indictment was drawn up that named my brother. Fortunately, he was never prosecuted.
How do my beliefs affect the way I live and the work I do?
I left graduate school and went to work as a teacher at Friends Seminary, a Quaker school. I have been active in my Friends meeting, including service on numerous committees: Peace and Social Action, Witness and Outreach, Ministry and Counsel. I currently serve on the executive committee of a pacifist organization, the American Friends Service Committee. I understand that the seeds of war have been sown by the active force of evil in the world. I believe that by seeking justice and living a thoughtful, mindful life we can overcome the effects of evil and good will prevail.
Benjamin Frisch, Brooklyn Meeting
Feb. 7, 2005
Beatrice Beguin, Saranac Lake Meeting
Irma Guthrie, Perry City Meeting
|Reprinted with permission from the April 2004 issue of Friends Journal. Copyright 2004 Friends Publishing Corporation, www.friendsjournal.org.|
At New York Yearly Meeting in 1999, I was given a message: The Spirit calls Friends to claim a corporate testimony against the payment of war taxes and participation in war in any form. Of course, we have had a testimony against war since George Fox's declaration to Charles II in 1660:
|Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace, and ensue it, and to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all. All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.|
Yet there is what British Friends in Quaker Faith and Practice call "Dilemmas of the Pacifist Stand" (24.21–24.26), which opens with a quote from Isaac Penington, 1661:
|I speak not against the magistrates or peoples defending themselves against foreign invasions; or making use of the sword to suppress the violent and evil-doers within our borders—for this the present estate of things may and doth require, and a great blessing will attend the sword where it is borne uprightly to that end and its use will be honourable—but yet there is a better state, which the Lord hath already brought some into, and which nations are to expect and to travel towards. There is to be a time when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more." When the power of the Gospel spreads over the whole earth, thus shall it be throughout the earth, and, where the power of the Spirit takes hold of and overcomes any heart at present, thus will it be at present with that heart. This blessed state, which shall be brought forth [in society] at large in God's season, must begin in the particulars [that is, in individuals].|
New York Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice, under which I currently reside, advises (p. 82, 1998 edition):
|Friends are earnestly cautioned against the taking of arms against any person since "all outward wars and strife and fighting with outwards weapons" are contrary to our Christian testimony. Friends should beware of supporting preparations for war even indirectly, and should examine in this light such matters as non-combatant military service, cooperation with conscription, employment or investment in war industries, and voluntary payment of war taxes. When their actions are carefully considered, Friends must be prepared to accept the consequences of their convictions. Friends are advised to maintain our testimony against war by endeavoring to exert an influence in favor of peaceful principles and the settlement of all differences by peaceful methods. They should lend support to all that strengthens international friendship and understanding and give active help to movements that substitute cooperation and justice for force and intimidation.|
NYYM corporately advises against taking up arms against another person, yet more vaguely warns to "beware of" voluntary payment of war taxes. The yearly meeting calls Friends to examine their own actions and "accept the consequences of their convictions" (emphasis mine). This is about individual conviction, not the corporate conviction we have against bearing of arms. We are squarely in the Penington tradition of advising Friends to testify against war by "endeavoring to exert an influence in favor of peaceful principles." We commit to the conversion of hearts and minds, one at a time, "seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all." Patience and persistence are employed in our participation with government.
As late as the 1970s, it even seemed that our experiment would come to fruition. Larry Apsey of New York Yearly Meeting called out, "The time is at hand." The Gandhian, civil rights, and women's movements made it clear that patience and persistence where about to pay off; we were about to come into this blessed state, not just as a people, but as a nation. What a far cry we are from that now! Fruits of the Spirit are a significant test of discernment for Friends, a test that our path has failed. We cannot put new wine into old wine flasks. We cannot be in that blessed state and support a military for those who have not yet arrived. We are called to choose, we are called to choose now, and we are called to choose as a people.
When we get quiet, every Friend I know says that payment of war taxes violates their conscience. It's been a long time since we acknowledged a new corporate testimony; this practice has fallen away. So let us remember. Friends experience a Living Presence among us and commit to being taught, guided, and shaped by the Living Spirit, placing great reliance on spiritual discernment. Meeting for business was organized to test the spiritual discernment of its members, affirm or suggest further laboring, and support those suffering for conscience' sake. If a Friend's testimony were affirmed, the question was, "Is this true for them alone, for others as well, of for all of us?" If it were true for everyone, then it was a corporate testimony.
If we are quiet and ask the question, "Does the payment of war taxes violate my conscience?" and the response is yes for all of us, then, Friends, this is no longer a personal act of conscience but rather a corporate testimony of the meeting. I am not suggesting we all do any particular thing. I am asking a question of faith. What we do about it will only be sought once we are clear on what we believe. We may pay in protest, become vocal, or resist payment, but whatever we do, we do, not only as an individual, but also as a religious body.
The Spirit is calling us to unite in the Power of the Living Spirit to give life, joy, peace, and prosperity in the world through love, integrity, and compassionate justice among people and to acknowledge that paying for war violates our religious conviction. It will be a long, hard, humble road, but it is the only road that promises a future for humanity. Life will go on with or without us. Let us stand up for our children and grandchildren and say we chose peace.
Nadine Hoover, Alfred Meeting
UNITED STATES TAX COURT
Docket No. 20217-03L
Daniel Taylor Jenkins, Petitioner v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Respondent.
Petitioner's Motion to Vacate or Revise Decision
The federal income tax code currently accommodates sincere convictions of conscience which are held by members of the Amish sect. Liberty of conscience rights involving exemption from military participation were established in state constitutions in time to be preserved and protected by the Ninth Amendment of the federal Constitution. The legal basis for the Amish income tax exemption is material and can be found in government documents which Respondent claims have "no relevance." The constitutional issue raised by the Petitioner was accepted by the Court but was never acknowledged nor addressed by the Respondent. Summary Judgment was inappropriate and premature. The Petitioner advances a novel, colorable case, which has no precedent, and he requests the opportunity to argue his position on the merits before the Court makes a final ruling or imposes a frivolous fine.
So begins a court motion submitted on March 30, 2005. Daniel Jenkins withheld a portion of his 2001 federal income taxes and placed it in escrow. He informed the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner by letter that he was not willing, as a matter of personal conscience, to provide funds that would be used for the preparation or conduct of warfare. He maintained communication with the IRS and followed every administrative procedure available to him, including taking his case to the U.S. Tax Court. Dan's case is currently being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
In following his conscience on the issue of withholding war taxes, Dan was fully aware of two monumental challenges that have discouraged many who do not wish their tax money to go toward military activities. The first is that the tax courts consider cases where taxes are withheld for reasons of conscience as "frivolous." The second is that the court protects itself from nuisance cases by maintaining the prerogative to fine what it deems "frivolous" lawsuits up to $25,000. By placing conscientious objection to military taxation in this category, the courts have successfully brought to just one or two per year the number of cases based on convictions of conscience that they must see.
Dan begins his motion by arguing that claims like his have not been universally rejected as frivolous. In fact, there is a precedent among the Amish where a federal court did not summarily reject arguments of conscience; the IRS established a moratorium on forced levies and seizures of Amish property; and the U.S. Congress eventually passed legislation exempting the Amish from paying taxes into the social security system.
|The conscientious objections of individual Amish farmers to the payment of any income tax which is used for purposes of "insurance" was thus acknowledged and accommodated by the federal government. This Amish tax exemption creates a precedent for other individual taxpayers who also have sincere conscientious objections to paying income taxes which are used by the government in ways that violate other long-standing religious traditions and moral beliefs. The personal beliefs of the Amish may be exemplary, but their convictions can not be treated as superior to similar deeply-held convictions of other taxpayers, without seriously violating basic constitutional principles.|
The motion continues with arguments about how individual rights of conscience are protected by the Ninth Amendment, that the summary judgment decision of the court was premature and inappropriate, and that the $5,000 penalty imposed for bringing a "frivolous" lawsuit to court is not based on sound legal precedent. The motion ends with the following conclusion:
The Petitioner respectfully suggests and maintains that a comprehensive review of the merits of his position, as once occurred for Amish farmers, may contribute to the resolution of a long-standing constitutional conflict between taxpayers who are conscientious objectors and their national government. The dictates of personal conscience have brought many sincere individuals into the courts, and also continue to cause untold thousands of American citizens to withhold their taxes from collection by the Internal Revenue Service.
"Liberty of conscience" rights were acknowledged and cherished by the framers of the federal Constitution. These rights were pre-existent and they were located outside of the scope of the national government that was envisioned at that time. These rights of conscience were already anchored in tradition, local statue, and in various state constitutions. The Ninth Amendment was created to ensure that such liberties, laboriously secured by the American revolution, were not eroded by the passage of time.
The enlightened work of James Madison and his contemporaries is the legacy of all American citizens. If we can just slow ourselves down, and take care to understand what they accomplished, I believe that the constitutional issues that underlie this case can be equitably resolved. A careful, measured, and judicious review of the case at hand, on its full merits and with proper due process consideration, may reveal unexpected solutions to this otherwise perpetually intractable problem.
Discussions with Dan have shown me that he has a wonderful ability to look at historical process. He has seen how legal cases in other realms (such as civil rights or environmental protection) have at first not had any effect, but legal challenges chipping away at issues from many directions do tend to open up the means for the courts to consider legitimate challenges to established viewpoints. When enough of us are in court for reasons of conscience, and our collective wisdom questions legal precedents with a depth of conviction that cannot but touch the humanity in our judges, changes happen.
But what about the threat of that $25,000 fine? When asked directly Dan responded:
I was aware of the U.S. Tax Court authority to impose a $25,000 fine for making a "frivolous" argument before I filed a military tax withholding case there. Any "liberty of conscience" argument can be considered "frivolous" by the court, and is subject to the same fine applied to other "vexatious" litigants.
However, I have more than enough money squirreled away in my retirement account to pay this penalty. And it is only just money.
Many "conscientious objection to military taxation" cases were brought into the Tax Court throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Many individuals represented themselves without using attorneys. Many of them were Friends. These sincere and thoughtful cases occurred in tandem with the development of Peace Tax Fund legislation.
The concept of "alternative service" for federal taxes paid by conscientious objectors has been refined and reintroduced in every session of Congress held since 1972. And this proposed legislation still attracts the support of many congressional cosponsors today.
But the flow of cases brought to the Tax Court by conscientious objectors to military taxation has been reduced to less than a trickle. . . .The fear of this "frivolous" fine has effectively silenced many who might otherwise have filed cases in the Court.
My case is based on constitutional principles that have been eclipsed by the passage of time, but "liberty of conscience" protections still remain alive and vibrant in the shadows. The history and tradition of religious liberty is firmly rooted in the American experience. This case invokes state-protected rights of conscience that predate the federal constitution and are thus protected by the Ninth Amendment from government disparagement.
. . . Perhaps a fine is simply the cost of sending out a message, loud and clear, that many Americans would like their fellow citizens to hear.
When our society is aware of such a punishment, when we all see that sincere expressions of consciences are labeled as "frivolous" and suppressed with stiff penalties, only then might all of us, as a society, begin to consider if this is the way that things must be done.
We no longer duel each other in the streets, we no longer tolerate corporal punishment of schoolchildren, and, as a society, we now acknowledge and protect the right of conscientious objection to military service. These changes took time, and they came at a substantial human and financial cost.
My retirement, if it should ever happen, would never be settled if my message had been stifled by a threatening fine. Because it is only just money.
Ironically, Dan expressed some disappointment that the fine was only $5,000 when the upper limit is $25,000. It should be noted that $5,000 is substantially higher than the norm for this kind of case. There is a point where punitive punishments for acts of conscience backfire on those doing the punishing, a principle that nonviolent leaders have often used to the benefit of us all.
In a very real sense, Dan is calling the government's bluff. He may lose. But there are ways we can help him—and others—bring about a much-needed change to our involvement in paying for war. People, including judges and IRS personnel, are not inclined toward making themselves look unjust. Nor do they like to flagrantly go against basic public principles of our society such as freedom of conscience and religion. They do want to do their jobs.
Can we help, by pointing out visibly and publicly that the government can consider alternatives allowing citizens to follow their scruples of conscience and pay all their taxes? Are we willing to say clearly that Dan is not a lone voice, but speaks for a major current in the stream of our society/Society?
Jens Braun with Dan Jenkins
|Bumber sticker available from National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund|
|NOTE: Letters to the editor are presented when space is available. Letters raise and explore topics of concern to NYYM Friends. As in any Quaker forum, views here are uncensored, should be expressed briefly and gently, and may discomfort some Friends. The Communications Committee welcomes unsolicited manuscripts of opinion or reporting and will publish material that seems provocative and timely.|
Where Is Our Pain?
Recently I discovered a book* on Christian Nonviolence in the U.S. at a F/friend's house and borrowed it. After reading the report of Mary Dyer's witness and subsequent execution, I read "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," written in 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Among other things, he responded to the criticism of Birmingham clergymen who called the nonviolent witness of Birmingham residents "unwise and untimely." He also decried the obstructive position of the "white moderate who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice." He expressed disappointment with white churches which "stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities."
I know that much has changed since 1963, but I am struck that his comments seem relevant for Friends in New York Yearly Meeting in 2005. One Friend recently wrote that it is a problem among Friends to believe there is a deadline for God's work. Perhaps there is a moral deadline which is long past, and we have failed to meet it.
The public discussions about racism last summer seemed to focus on process and language. As Friends we value both.
However, I want to ask, where is our pain, our agony, and our sorrow at the enormity of the damage racism has caused in the past and the present, in our country and among Friends?
Can we not hear the voices of Friends of color speaking of their experience of racism among us?
Where is our passionate expression of the need to end this—to eliminate the evil which prevents us from experiencing Spiritual wholeness?
Please hear me when I say that I do not blame. I plead for us to lay down our defenses and let our wounds be healed.
*Angie O'Gorman, Ed.: Universe Bends Toward Justice. A Reader on Christian Nonviolence in the U.S. New Society Publishers.1990
The Still, Small Voice
I was delighted to find Christopher Sammond wrestling with the question "What Do Friends Believe?" in the November Spark. Not only is it embarrassing to Friends not to be able to answer such a question from an outsider clearly, but it cannot help but weaken us spiritually not to be able to articulate what we instinctually feel to be a core faith that unites us. I applaud Christopher's groundbreaking work.
Christopher asserts that we share two central beliefs: (a) that there's That of God in each of us (call It what you will), and (b) that It can lead and guide us. I'd like to subtract a little from his statement of the first core belief, and add a little to the second. There are theological "minimalists" among us who avoid making any assumptions about what It is that leads and guides us, and might be more comfortable with our speaking of "the still, small voice." To speak of a "voice" refers merely to the experience of contact, which I think we all agree it's possible to have. To speak of the voice's Source or Owner is to make an ontological assumption that there's a He, She, or It speaking. I make that assumption when I answer the "voice" (rarely a voice for me, but more often a sense of holy presence) by addressing it as "God" or "Lord Jesus." But the Quaker sitting next to me who makes no such assumptions is not a worse Friend for her scrupulousness about avoiding assumptions; she may be a better one—if she's a better obeyer of that voice.
What I'd want to add to Christopher's formulation of the second central belief is that the still, small voice not only can lead and guide us, but we ought to let it lead and guide us. We who have experienced its promptings vividly know that when it expresses itself, we feel its absolute authority. (I am just now remembering a moment of temptation when I heard the Voice say "No!" to my impulse, with dreadful majesty.) Without this shared belief in the "oughtness" of following the holy prompting there could be no Quakerism. We might quickly become a club of flabby admirers of saintliness that made no effort to be saintly ourselves, and with no agreed-on basis for discipline grounded in our living experience of authoritative inward spiritual guidance, the Society of Friends would soon be no more than an umbrella organization of individuals that liked to call themselves Quakers for as many reasons as there were members.
Before I touch on our testimonies I'd like to add a third element: a central belief in the truthfulness, consistency and self-identity of the still, small voice. By this I mean that we would not accept it if a Friend that we were trying to discipline snapped back at us, "Well, you have your still, small voice, and I have mine!" No, light is light, and it shows things as they are. Nor would we fail to suspect a counterfeit if the still, small voice that rebuked our sins today winked at them tomorrow. The Heavenly Guide may keep me on a longer or shorter leash than It keeps you (as Paul recognized in Romans 14), but It will not contradict Itself when regulating our collective life: if two Friends bring incompatible directions to the community that defy a higher synthesis, one or both of the Friends must be wrong! Thus Friends indeed have a belief behind their tradition of collective discernment, that while individual Friends may be more or less accurate in their perception of the truth, there is an objective truth to be gotten at, which the still, small voice leads to.
And there is a Oneness to that voice. By this I mean that we Friends would —or most of us would—reject any world-view that ascribed mutually independent, multiple sources to our holy guidance: "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" (2 Cor: 6:15) Those who wish to make no assumptions about the Source of our guidance would, at least, refrain from imputing different Friends' guidance to, say, separate familiar spirits—or else risk serious confrontation with monotheist Friends.
As to our testimonies: Christopher is right that they "follow" from Quakerism's core beliefs, but they cannot be derived from our core beliefs by reasoning alone. They would not have been received by us without some tendering of the heart by the Holy Spirit —or whatever Friends wish to call It. How can we proud human egos hold to the testimony of equality, for example, without repeated humblings? Or the testimony of integrity, without feeling that awful shame over the lies we've told? Or the testimony of simplicity, without feeling sick of the cumber that keeps us distant from the Holy?
This is most telling, I think, with regard to our testimony against war. "Recognizing that of God in the other person" cannot be a sufficient reason not to take up the sword against him, because, in the Bhagavad Gita, the Incarnate Lord urges Arjuna the warrior to kill his opponents precisely because there is that of God in them, which undergoes no injury or diminution at the death of the body—and which, indeed, the Gita teaches, is all there is to the person that has any life, consciousness, or value! The living Christ seems never to have bothered using the "that of God in the other" argument (a product of 20th-century Liberal Quakerism, in any case) when He disarmed the first Friends: Thomas Lurting, aiming the cannon at the Spaniards, was stopped not by reasoning, or a dazzling revelation of their godlike qualities, but by having his heart pierced by the spirit of compassion. With theories about the indwelling God one can argue: with love's arrow one can only sink to one's knees.
I'm glad that Christopher mentioned corporate worship in connection with our core beliefs. One can be yogin, or a Christian hermit, without regular assembling for worship with co-religionists, but one cannot easily be a Quaker. Do we worship together because we like to, or because we have a commandment to? Is it an element of our covenant? Here we are likely to split into factions over the question of whether we have "commandments" or "covenants" at all, which in turn may lead back to the question of whether God is a Person with a will regarding His or Her creatures' conduct. If Friends ever had a tradition about the mandatory nature of meeting, one would expect to find it in Barclay's Apology, yet oddly, the whole of his discussion of "Proposition 11" cites no scriptural requirement to assemble for collective worship, but only Jesus' promise to be present "where two or three are gathered together in my name" (Matthew 18:20), a warning in Hebrews (10:24–26) not to avoid meeting together, and the Proverb (27:17) about iron sharpening iron. Perhaps the impulse to gather for worship can best be described as part of the "law written in the heart" (Jeremiah 31:33). Written out on paper as a codified obligation, it loses its living quality. Kept alive within, it regularly sets the alarm clock for First Day morning.
John Edminster, Fifteenth Street
It Is What It Is
I reread Don Badgley's Letter to the Editor in the September Spark shortly after returning home from a three-day Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop in Auburn Prison. I have been doing AVP workshops there for over 20 years and consistently experience being welcomed into the community of AVP. I know that I am deeply respected, and despite often being the only woman in a given workshop room know that I am always safe from threat of harm. I know that all of the men there—especially the inside facilitators whom I have known for many years—work hard not to say or do anything, even inadvertently, that might betray even latent sexist thoughts. And when something slips out, they correct one another—when they are aware of it. But to quote one of this weekend's participants, "It is what it is"; both sexism and racism permeate our culture, despite our best efforts to unlearn the misinformation associated with either and to undo the damage caused by both. Throughout most of the years that I have done AVP I have returned home where again I am the only woman. Yet despite the love and respect I experience in both places, it has been crucial to me to seek out women friends and to set aside two hours every Friday morning to meet in a support group of women who are working together to facilitate change in the larger world. I am renewed and nurtured by being with people who understand my daily life from the inside out and who are easy with one another, not fearful lest we offend by an offhand comment.
As a part of a multiracial family (7 of my grandmother's 16 great grand children are of African descent, the other 9 of mostly Anglo-European descent, and the first two great-great grandchildren are also of African descent) I have had to confront not only the racism that affects the lives of our children and grandchildren, but how racism shapes—however latently—how we understand the world and hence how we do (not) understand the daily-lived experiences of those we love most in the world. How tedious is must be for them always to have to explain to their white relatives how even the most mundane things are tinged by racism. So I am no longer surprised at family gatherings when the nieces and nephews and cousins of African descent find times and spaces to be with themselves. I am glad that they have this connection that in many ways helps them to stay connected to their larger family. And sometimes, when this family "segregation" has occurred, the gathered white relatives share thoughts, feelings, and experiences we've had as we try to understand our own internalized sense of white privilege and try to figure out how to broaden the lens through which we view the world, without dumping any more of our "unaware" perceptions and misinformation on our loved ones.
My hope is that within the Family of Friends we can allow one another the spaces we need to heal, grow, and return to one another with renewed faith, compassion, and love.
The location is the Fifteenth Street meetinghouse. Activities will include a visit to the Slavery in New York exhibit at The New-York Historical Society, lunch at Sylvia's in Harlem, and dinner at a Caribbean restaurant.
A full description of this workshop, with schedule, is on the NYYM Web site Events section.
January's theme was Living Simply. Friends asked, "What is our fair share of the world's resources?" They explored the "ecological footprint" of individuals and how we can reduce it.
Perry City Meetinghouse is on Rt. 227 in Perry City. Potluck is at 5:30 P.M., with discussion at 7:00. For more information call 607-387-9046.
The charge of PoGo would be to:
PoGo is looking for a minimum of six people to begin this work. Much of the detail work of PoGo will be developed via e-mail and phone. The group would convene in person initially to worship on and clearly form the vision for this sproutling program. People interested in serving on this working group or being added to the e-mail list should contact Chris DeRoller (convener) at chrisandmike [at] powellhouse.org, Alexander Haines-Stephan at alexhs [at] juno.com, or Margaret Obermayer c/o the Yearly Meeting office.
In peace and joy,
Melanie-Claire Mallison, clerk, Nurture Coordinating Committee
John H. Reedy, to Housatonic from Pennsylvania State College (PYM)
Frank Burke, member of Stamford-Greenwich, on October 7, 2005.
W. Pyke Johnson, member of Stamford-Greenwich, on October 30, 2005
Mark Lincoln Seiler, member of Montclair, on November 21, 2005
Joan Malin, member of Brooklyn, to Peter Pullman, under the care of Brooklyn Meeting, on October 15, 2005.
Owen Jude Walsh, on September 4, 2005, to Hannah Smith Walsh, member of Shelter Island, and Brian Walsh.
|Note: These are highlights of minutes from Fall Session. The full minutes are on the NYYM Web site at www.nyym.org/pubs/0512min.shtml.|
2. Paula McClure (Montclair), clerk of General Services, introduced the business of that section. Harold Risler (Buffalo) presented the treasurer's report (as of the end of October 2005), which was distributed to Friends as they arrived. Estimated contributions indicate that the meeting will have enough money to pay its bills this year.
3. Paula introduced Thomas Martin (Wilton) to present the 2006 budget of $544,220, which was printed in Spark, and to describe the budget-making process. This budget, he said, was again unbalanced, but is lower than the budget for 2005. After discussion by a number of Friends, who recounted the way their home meetings have considered their contributions, and their sense of the challenges facing the Yearly Meeting, Friends approved the proposed budget.
4. Paula proposed covenant donations for the constituent meetings totaling $490,400. These were accepted, as printed in Spark.
5. Paula introduced Christopher Sammond (Bulls Head-Oswego) to present his general secretary's report. After a moment of silence, instead of reading his printed report (already distributed), Christopher spoke out of a present concern for "wrangling" in the yearly meeting, which he connected to our lack of growth. If wrangling takes up most of a community's energy, he said, none is left over for spiritual advance. To prevent unproductive interactions with one another, we need a vision of where we are going. Our call, he felt, is to create the Peaceable Kingdom, the Commonwealth of God. He concluded: "When the quality of our laboring with each other is more important than any decision we might reach; when the faithfulness of our leaders and of the body is so powerful that we are bound together by it into deep fellowship; when we can take up difficult and painful topics such as child sexual abuse, racism, abortion, or the budget with equanimity and care for one another, lest any one of us stumble; when love and truth are inexorably wed, permitting neither empty saccharine nor slicing arguments; when we lovingly speak difficult truths to one another instead of remaining mute; when we can listen with love and tenderness to someone we vehemently disagree with, seeking to hear that piece of the truth that is for us; then, Friends, then we will be close to living in the Peaceable Kingdom, the Commonwealth of God. Then we will have a taste of what Fox was referring to when he said the power of the Lord was over all, and we will become patterns and examples, a living testimony in the witness of our being. We will know peace, and we will be peace. We will spread peace through the power of our witness, and instead of trying to make peace in the world while wrangling with each other, our meeting shall be a wellspring of peace we share outward, and we shall know that power that takes away the occasion for all wars."
7. Melanie-Claire [Mallison] introduced Julia Giordano (Bulls Head-Oswego), clerk of the Powell House Committee. Space needs for the Powell House weekend conferences have led Old Chatham Friends to make a commitment to building their own meeting house. If the Yearly Meeting approves, five acres of the Powell House property will be leased to Old Chatham Monthly Meeting for this purpose. Christine (Spee) Braun (Old Chatham), clerk of Old Chatham meeting, said that the growth of that meeting, especially its First-Day school, over recent years, and the need for increasing the meeting's visibility are reasons in favor of the building project. She asked Friends to hold Old Chatham meeting in the Light as the project goes forward. The lease is being considered by the Yearly Meeting Trustees, with encouragement from Friends present.
13. Deborah then introduced Joanna Komoska (Peconic Bay), clerk of the Committee on Conflict Transformation, who asked Cheshire Frager (Flushing) to describe a special five-day intensive workshop on conflict resolution being offered January 19–23. It is expected that participants in the workshop will form the base of a Yearly Meeting resource for spiritual resolution of problems within the Quaker community. Representatives from as many monthly meetings as possible are sought.
14. Melanie-Claire Mallison (Ithaca), clerk of Nurture Coordinating Committee, introduced Alexander Haines-Stephan and Joanna Hoyt, who reported on the first World Gathering of Young Friends in twenty years, held on August 16th to 24th, 2005, at Lancaster University, United Kingdom. Young people of very different Quaker traditions and politics found community there in a powerful working of the Spirit. Alex Haines-Stephan . . . challenged us to seek community with Friends who do not think or worship as we do, that we might feel as the young people felt, "open, amazed, stretched, and blessed." Joanna Hoyt reported that her eyes and her heart had been opened. She encountered Friends with many different expectations, practices, and definitions of Quakerism, who were nevertheless able, at times, to feel the flowing of the Spirit that needs no words. Together they shared the deep experience of being united in striving to choose love, to live in faithfulness, and to be brave enough to be open to new leadings. Joanna concluded, "The harvest is only beginning."
15. Paula McClure of the Transition Working Group asked for approval for having the Worship and Action Group turn over the Peace Initiatives Fund to the Witness Activities Fund, in order to support the peace witness of monthly and regional meetings. The balance in the fund as of October 31, 2005, was $2,512.57, with a few vouchers outstanding. Friends approved the transfer of the fund.
The Transition Working Group also affirmed the need for the various functions that the Worship and Action Group has filled within the Yearly Meeting. The TWG will bring recommendations to the spring sessions of the Yearly Meeting.
16. Anita Paul (Schenectady) of Witness Coordinating Committee announced that the 2006 goal for the Sharing Fund is $50,000. This is $5,000 more than previously gathered. Friends accepted the report.
17. Anita then brought forth a minute originally proposed by the Committee for Right Sharing of World Resources and approved by Witness Coordinating Committee in October 2005.
|New York Yearly Meeting commits itself, corporately and as individuals, to explore how we may facilitate meeting the minimum needs of all. We all have an impact. The products we choose to purchase, how we invest our money, and our lifestyles all play a role. We commit ourselves to doing research, educating ourselves, and sharing the results with each other so that we may all, as we feel led, be part of the solution.|
After discussion, Friends approved asking Witness Coordinating Committee to send the minute to monthly and regional meetings for prayerful consideration. The committee hopes to receive responses from meetings regarding the minute, including thoughts on how to implement the commitment the minute describes.
Friends received minutes from Long Island Quarter, also related to meeting the minimum needs of all, as follows:
1. Long Island Quarterly Meeting approves the definition of meeting the minimum needs of all peoples to be adequate drinking water, nutrition, clothing, and housing, primary health care, and five years of primary education.
2. Long Island Quarterly Meeting approves the widest communication about the critical circumstances of the global poor and of minimum needs by the year 2003.
3. LIQM approves the efforts of Friends, working with other faith-based groups, to encourage the World Bank and the World Trade Organization to work toward meeting the minimum needs of all peoples, as defined in the first of these three minutes.
Witness Coordinating Committee will send the Long Island minutes to monthly meetings as well.
The LIQM minutes will be revisited at the spring session of New York Yearly Meeting.
23. Friends charged the Clerk and the general secretary to work in consultation with the Worship and Action group to create a public message regarding the abduction of four members of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq, including Tom Fox, a member of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.