15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
|New York Yearly Meeting News|
|The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)||March 2010|
|Editor, Paul Busby|
When Christopher Sammond came on board as NYYM general secretary, he suggested that we develop a theme for each Spark issue. Friends have responded warmly to these thematic issues of Spark. To change the pace a little, the Communications Committee decided to make this issue an open issue. Heather Cook, NYYM clerk, entitled it Quaker Potluck, and Friends were invited to contribute whatever they were led to share.
Quakers certainly stepped up to the plate, to use an image appropriate to the approaching baseball season, with 35 Friends from 21 meetings contributing.
So many submissions came in that we could not print all of them in Spark, but you will find them on the Web site, in InfoShare, or in future issues of Spark. Not surprisingly, many of the articles revolved around our Quaker testimonies, particularly the Testimony of Peace. For dessert, we feature poetry and artwork.
Future issues of Spark will return to the thematic format. Quaker membership, humor, holidays, and sexuality will all be explored. If you would like to submit an article please e-mail it to the Spark editor, paul [at] nyym.org, or send it via postal mail to Paul Busby, NYYM, 15 Rutherford Place, New York, NY 10003.
Peace Is the Way
If Peace Is the Way, how did I find that road? One milestone on this journey comes from one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, who said, when speaking about war and nonviolence, “There is no reason that good can’t triumph—if only angels would get organized along the lines of the Mafia.” Kurt Vonnegut and I share some similar experiences. We both suffered in the Second World War. Our experiences brought home the personal horrors that come from war. The ravages perpetrated on men, women, and children are not measurable in any significant way.
Let me tell you a little about my own personal journey. At the age of 18, I was serving in the Army Air Force in World War II. Living near London in 1944 and ’45 during the German V1 and V2 rocket attacks, I watched people go about their daily lives with streets, houses, and stores all destroyed. As a member of a bomber crew, I was shot down on my 18th mission over Germany and became of prisoner of war (POW). Wounded, beaten, almost executed, and imprisoned in a number of stalags (German POW camps) I found out very quickly what the consequences of war are all about. As a POW I was marched through the cities of Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Regensburg, and others. As a result of the Allied bombing raids, not one of these cities had a whole building that was standing. The people, mostly women and children, walked about like robots with nothing to do and no place to go, except to hide when the air raid sirens went off. I watched them standing in lines that stretched for miles with pails, waiting for water from a public spigot. I came away from all of these experiences knowing that war was not the answer. Vonnegut became a brilliant, cynical writer, but I searched for a different road. In that search, I found, over time, some of the answers to my personal questions regarding war and peace in the Religious Society of Friends, especially their long-held traditions and testimonies against war. This led me to become a Quaker and work as a peacemaker over the last 60 years.
In the summer of 2000, as part of my own personal journey, I returned to Germany to find closure to my wartime experiences. Here, thanks to the mayor of Sonthofen, on the site where my plane was shot down, I was able to meet four men who had been involved in my capture. One discussed the beatings we received by the townspeople and another related how he stopped our execution by the Hitler Youth.
It was for me, and the men I met, a very emotional and meaningful time. A time for reconciliation and remembrance, for both the living and the dead.
How do we continue today, or even start to find a way forward knowing peace is the way? Where the 20th century was said to be the bloodiest, the 21st century already presents us with many dilemmas as peacemakers. As one Quaker expressed it, “Friends are not naïve enough to believe that such an appeal to God in a dictator, or a nation in an aggressive mood, will be successful in converting the tyrant or preventing aggression. In following the path of nonviolence Jesus was crucified, and Gandhi and Martin Luther King were assassinated, yet they did not fail. War, successful or unsuccessful, does leave hatred, devastation, and bitterness. What can be claimed, moreover, is that this method of opposing evil is one in which no person, no group, no nation need be ashamed, as we may and should be ashamed of the inhumanities of war that are perpetrated in our name and with our support.”
It is not easy, and no one promised it wouldn’t hurt—this way of life, this trusting in one another, and this trust in God. Salvation from war will not appear at the next corner. It also means that we cannot abide in despair or depend on the next peace rally or scheme. As believers in nonviolence we know that religion should not be separated from political action. Our vision should be carried forward into deeds. It is up to each of us to attain these goals through the power of nonviolence.
This means we all have work to do. This task—this choice of the life of the spirit over the death of the spirit—may not be found in our lifetime, but this should not deter us. We must find ways to make people listen and care, for there is no time but this present to pay attention and to be awake to the choices we have.
What have I learned as a human being? As a Quaker? As a peacemaker? That I always remember the prophetic words of the poet W. H. Auden, “We must love one another or die.”
Adapted from a presentation to the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Cherry Hill, N.J.
The Peace Testimony & COMT
Throughout the history of the Society of Friends, our Peace Testimony has moved us to grapple with the issue of conscientious objection to war, and has led to significant individual and corporate statements and actions relating to this issue, both regarding those payments which could be considered voluntary (investments, purchases, and the general conduct of one’s economic life) and those which are mandatory (federal taxes).
As we consider the role of militarism and the human, economic, and environmental costs of militarism, and of our continuing involvement in wars, many of us come to realize that paying for war is a form of participation in war. One of the approaches to enable those of us who are, in conscience, unable to pay for war (while we are willing to pay the full amount of our taxes if they could be used for peaceful and constructive purposes) would be to have Congress extend the principle of conscientious objection to military service to the realm of conscientious objection to military taxation (COMT). This legislative work in Congress began in 1972 with the introduction of the World Peace Tax Fund Act and has continued in every Congress since then, with the relevant bill (since 1998) being the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill (in the present 111th Congress being H.R. 2085). Copies of this bill can be found at the Library of Congress Web site, http://thomas.loc.gov. This bill, when passed, would establish the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund, into which the full amount of a conscientious objector’s federal income, estate, or gift taxes would flow. The amount of funds flowing into that trust fund would be reported each year to the public (via the Congressional Record). These funds “shall be allocated [by Congress] annually to any appropriation not for a military purpose.” (Emphasis added.) This legislation would in effect create a system of alternative service for one’s federal tax dollars.
Since 1975 this legislative work has been coordinated by staff and volunteers at the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, www.peacetaxfund.org.
There has also been an expanding international effort, dealing with both legislative peace-tax-fund efforts and war-tax resistance, in a number of countries. The organization coordinating these efforts is Conscience and Peace Tax International, in Belgium, www.cpti.ws. Here one will find a wealth of information about the worldwide efforts to establish the human right of conscientious objection to military taxation.
The Peace Tax Fund legislative efforts have been significantly helped at many points along the way by the Friends Committee on National Legislation, www.fcnl.org. The extent to which FCNL is able to direct staff time to this effort is influenced by expressions from Quakers around the country made to FCNL in support of the Peace Tax Fund concept.
David R. Bassett is honorary chair of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.
A Saturday Vigil Remembered
I knew when I first read about a planned peace demonstration at Nanuet’s Four Corners on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq that I would need to be there. I had been deeply moved being present at the massive demonstration in New York City on a sunny frigid February Saturday the year before, so I tried out several different wordings for a simple sign I could carry while I stood on the highway corner, settled on one, “Violence is Never the Solution,” Sharpie-ed it onto a long, narrow piece of leftover Coroplast, and was ready for the world. I parked, joined the unfamiliar faces, found a few Friends, and talked a little with a few strangers carrying what I thought were better signs than mine. It got very windy, and I was glad I had bundled up.
Four Corners in Nanuet, N.Y., is the very, very big and busy intersection of Route 59 and Middletown Road. There are at least five lanes of traffic on each highway, with many complex signal arrangements, leaving much time for the people in the cars to read our signs, give thumbs-up or -down, or look away making no eye contact at all. I smiled at a teenage girl riding with her mother, and she was unable to grasp the fact that I was smiling, she was so embarrassed to be singled out by a protester! How un-cool she thought us, I guess. Many signs read, “Honk for Peace,” and it was so easy to do that, just honk the horn, no need to consider the How of it, so there was cacophony much of the time. Once there was an obbligato of obscenities as counterpoint to the background bedlam. A man with a long red-light time to fill was leaning out of his window pontificating loudly on the subject of our morals, our intelligence, and our sexual orientation, all accompanied by grimaces and gestures. It was an education, really.
I think there were 50 people on our corner for almost two hours. On an adjacent corner, across the five lanes, stood about a dozen men, young to middle-aged mostly, carrying simple rather uniform messages—”Support Our Troops.” One added “Support Our President.” I looked at them. There were no women there. And it came into my mind, and would not leave, that I should and would walk over there to greet them and somehow make a bridge between us. I truly didn’t know what I would say (oh where are my eloquent and experienced friends when I need them!) but I guessed I’d think of something. So at a green light I started across, waiting in the middle and then half-running to get all the way across. Well, almost all the way. The men on the corner looked at me coming, perhaps stunned at the sight of a gray-haired woman in a red coat and red beret carrying a sign and assaying a visit. I had a feeling that they pulled their covered wagons into a semicircle as I approached, but then as I stood in the puddly gutter, they started to speak to me.
Had I changed my mind and come to join them? “No,” I said, “I just couldn’t bear to see you there so separate, and I knew somehow that we had much more in common than we had that separated us, and I came over to say hello.”
In a moment one said, “You better come up out of the street or you’ll get run over,” and so I was accepted. And one of them, younger, with long, dark hair, I think maybe in a pigtail, began what was evidently a well-rehearsed speech with questions that had no answers (on the order of “Have you stopped beating your grandmother?”). I need not have worried about what I would say, because I had no opening in his speech to get a word in edgewise, upside down, or flat on its back. I did finally reach over to him and put my hand on his arm, saying “May I say something?” At which he magnanimously and perfectly courteously said, “Of course.” (Now what do I do?…) I held up my sign and said, “The thing about violence is that it doesn’t work.” He began a list of what in our world required the use of force, and it wasn’t till later that night, before I went to sleep, that I realized I should have said, “All those things you mention were preceded by acts of violence that made more violence inevitable.” Funny how the answers come too late sometimes. I guess I’ll have to go back…
The other men were quite friendly: One put his arm around me, and another said, “Well you can’t do anything about it anyway; the military-industrial complex has it going” (which made me think, “What are you doing on this corner of the street?”). But suddenly, to my left, was the photographer who had already spoken to me on Corner Number One, and there she was on her knee snapping away at this unfolding scene. Unfortunately my expression looks anything but Quakerly-calm, because of course that was the picture they published on the front page of the Local News—“Confrontation at Protest Rally” or some such title—but all I was trying to do was get an opening to say something.
It was a peaceable exchange, and memorable. Nobody changed minds or sides, but civil words were spoken, and when I ran back across the highway after saying goodbye, and got into my car and drove away, I waved out the window at them and smiled, and so they did to me too. And would that we might all disagree so agreeably.
New is better. You deserve a break. Go ahead, have it all. What is most convenient? Living simply and having restraint are equal to living without. Teens are rebellious. It should be fun!
Perhaps not. Disentangling our priorities from the messages of culture and corporate advertising is almost like trying to live without the air that surrounds us, yet is invisible and only occasionally noticed through breath and wind. One such message is the ubiquitous “Safety First,” which seems so reasonable and appropriate. Perhaps not.
Here is an alternative message (you might, after consideration, lower the rank of safety yet further):
Spirit First. Where is the Spirit leading? What is the witness to which I am called? What stands in the way of my following the urgings of conscience? Do we place physical, mental, and social comfort ahead of the action consequent to discerned Truth?
Family and Community Second. What is best for growing a strong, resilient, capable family and community that is not bounded by fear nor constrained by societal impositions that tend to regulate life into meaninglessness? Do we seek out and accept the kinds of challenges that later provide the experience, balance, and honed skills necessary for lives of service and grace?
Beauty and Goodness Third. Can we practice and live our callings in beauty, passing through the journeys of this life in ways that, though the roads may be difficult and dangerous, look easy and attainable? Do we recognize that staying in familiar valleys precludes the views from the mountaintop and the wisdom gained when learning from the mistakes that invariably happen while climbing? Do we help each other and live generously?
Safety Fourth, but not out of fear. As we engage in life, it is important to do so in a manner that cares for and nourishes our physical beings, but let this not be at the expense of our spirits and souls. Pain, even premature death, need not be invited, but seeking at all costs to avoid their entrance into our homes can well shut doors to the fundamentals of our humanity.
The Testimonies and the Table
In deep reflection, Quakers often find a calling to address injustice and seek a harmony in this world. Because of this, Quakers are often associated with political activism and have been in the forefront of many important social movements including the abolition of slavery, the equality of women, the rights of prisoners, and the antiwar movement, including the advocacy of nonviolence. These social movements were (and are) founded in the Testimonies that guide Quaker action and belief.
To the list of concerns I would propose an evaluation of our relationship with animals, specifically those we eat. In my own journey I have seen a number of intersections between vegetarianism and the Quaker Testimonies, and I feel called to share them with the broader Quaker community.
Stewardship: While the testimony of Earthcare is not one recognized by all branches of Quakers, Stewardship is a common theme among Friends and across the Christian spectrum. At the very least, stewards protect that with which they are entrusted, and will often seek to improve that which was given. As continual consumers of animals we exact a heavy toll on the Earth’s resources; meat consumption has high environmental costs in terms of deforestation, water use, land use, pollution, and global warming. When considering one’s ecological impact, food choice can be more significant than what vehicle one drives or even how low the thermostat is set.
Peace: For Friends peace is often sought through nonviolence. While violence can be difficult to define precisely, I have found the treatment and slaughter of farm animals to be unquestionably violent. Taking the life of a sentient creature who wills to live, whether infant, ape, or pig, is a burden Friends should consider deeply before bearing. The way meat is most often obtained, through a grocery store, obscures the process of animal slaughter and places the burden of taking a life onto others.
Equality: There have been many times where Friends have opposed society’s attempt at unequal treatment between groups, whether women and men, blacks and whites, or children and adults. Today, society draws a line between pets and livestock. While New York State law protects domestic animals from cruelty and even death with “no justifiable purpose,” the same is not true for farm animals. Were animal cruelty laws to be applied equally, not only would the current methods of animal husbandry be considered illegal, but the slaughter of animals for human consumption would be questionable. I do not question the weight with which we consider the interests of our companion animals; I question the lack of consideration we show to others. To quote John Woolman, “Many…on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High. Such are the purity and certainty of his judgments, that he cannot be partial in our favor.” Nor should we.
Integrity: While this testimony has changed over time, from one focused specifically on the importance of truth to one representing the broader importance of acting honestly and with principle, the Testimony of Integrity remains deeply personal. To live with integrity is to live wholly, guiding one’s life by sound principles and evaluating the cost of one’s actions in accordance with those principles. To me it is a willingness to follow through at both the personal and the political level, to vote against racial discrimination and to treat others with dignity when you pass them on the street. Friends’ attentiveness to the parallels between the personal and the political is most important concerning our relationship with animals. Our Testimonies lead us to show compassion and consideration, and we do this both in the world and in our homes. Ultimately, the question of eating animals is a personal one. When choosing to do so, Friends should bring the Testimonies to the table.
In conclusion, I would like to share an excerpt from Lloyd Lee Wilson’s Essays on the Quaker Vision of the Gospel Order, which led me to draft this appeal:
“There were Friends deeply concerned about slavery before John Woolman, and other Friends as deeply opposed to slavery as Woolman who were his contemporaries; Woolman’s great effect was due in large part to the preparatory and concurrent work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of Friends in Woolman’s home meeting and in the meetings he visited.”
I believe through the practice and acknowledgment of the Testimonies, the modern Quaker community is as prepared as Woolman’s contemporaries were to begin an earnest examination of personal choices. In addition to where our labor comes from, consider where our food comes from, and the costs associated with it. Even while Woolman worked for the rights of enslaved people, he expressed his concern for the mistreatment of animals. We can do as much.
Queries on Friends and Money
After reading the issue of Spark titled “Friends, Money, and Class,” I wondered if some suggested queries might help us to think about the issues that lie in that title. In the way of Friends, I have listed some questions we might ask ourselves and our meetings. I have limited myself primarily to issues surrounding money and left those specifically about class for another day.
First, we would, of course, have to ask: Do these questions resonate with me? With other Friends? If not, how should they be revised?
• As John Woolman reminded us, many mercantile fortunes were built on the system of slavery, whether or not Friends recognized or acknowledged it. Does my portfolio or job today rely on exploitation of other humans or of the natural world?
• Do we respect individuals who work in corporations who seek to bring as much humaneness as possible to those corporations and who live simple lives and share their largess in responsible fashion?
• If we object to corporations, have we directed our energies to learning about and becoming involved in changing a particular aspect of them, such as the “personhood” of corporations?
• Are those of us who live “very simply” able to do so because we have been able to rely on unacknowledged privileges, such as white skin, a good education, and a family that is educated and affluent?
• How have government programs changed our views of work and responsibility? How do programs such as Social Security, Medicare, WIC,* food banks and stamps, and anticipated government “bailouts” in poor economic times affect our thinking about our relationship to money? Have such programs encouraged less monetary responsibility or more a feeling of entitlement among us?
• If I am a Friend who grew up with few privileges and little money, do I resent what other Friends are able to do or how they are able to speak? Do I become impatient with their stories of travel and far-flung meetings? Or, can I remember at all times that all Friends are equal in Spirit—that our experiences may be different but that as Friends we are the same?
• If I grew up with privileges, am I sensitive at all times to Friends who did not?
• If I “earned” my way into the middle class, am I sensitive to those who have been more or less fortunate in “rising” economically and/or in status?
• In guiding our youth, do we reflect on what vocations and jobs are open and comfortable for young Friends today? Do we listen to their concerns arising from their experience of the world that is coming into being? Do we advise and guide our young Friends about earning, saving, and spending? Do we have workshops that speak to growing into responsible economic lives as Friends? Do we speak with them about the sensitive issues of wealthier and poorer families in our meetings and youth gatherings? Even the children know that there are classes within Yearly Meeting.
• As Friends, do we provide enough service opportunities for our teenagers and young adults and do we help them to take advantage of such opportunities? Do we guide them to examine both the spiritual and practical aspects of such work? Do we support them in whatever way they might need so they may take advantage of such opportunities?
• Are we comfortable with the fact that few Quaker children can attend “Friends” schools?
• Do we willingly support spiritually and materially those Friends who live below the poverty line in order to separate themselves as much as possible from the great war/consumerist machine that defines the United States today and is not compatible in the Religious Society of Friends? Most of our meetings have minutes that say that we “support” the stand of those Friends. How do we experience the nature of that “support”?
• Experiencing different clerks, and different worship meetings and worship for business, is important to all of us in our Friendly development. Friends in small meetings especially may need a greater variety of Friends outside their meetings to learn from. Do we work to bring committees and workshops to meet where Friends are? Are scholarship monies adequate to support Friends to participate in Yearly Meeting gatherings and responsibilities? Are those monies requested and dispensed in gentle ways without undue embarrassment and unspoken feelings of resentment on either side?
• Have we searched deeply as individuals and as meetings to ascertain how we determine such things as our “covenant” donations and what some of us used to call “tithes”? Do we discuss in meeting our responsibilities to Friends’ diverse programs of social witness?
• Friends have decided that Lake George is affordable for a week. Who decided? Those who can afford to attend Yearly Meeting gatherings and meetings? Or those not able to be present? Or both?
• Do we wish to have farmers, nurse’s aides, restaurant servers, school aides, and “mechanicals” among us?
Friends can talk about race and sex. I’m not certain that we can talk about money (and class). Not yet. Maybe we shall first have to pray about our understandings of these issues.
*WIC: Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children
Bridging the Marriage Divide
Our meeting for marriage on June 8, 2002, at Hudson Friends Meeting was a joyous occasion attended by about 70 family members and friends in a meetinghouse usually seeing two to seven members and attenders on a given First Day. The process preceding our marriage included a painful and prolonged threshing process for several months preceding 9/11. Way did not open until a single member, a small f and capital F friend who supported our “joining” but not our use of the word marriage, was asked to stand aside by a weighty octogenarian Friend.
We never thought that we would live to see the day when any state would provide legal access to marriage equality for GLBTQQ* citizens. Our own meeting’s discernment of what was the sense of how we as two men in a 26-year committed relationship asking to be embraced and supported by our faith community should be treated, was a turning point in the life of the meeting itself. The weighty Friend asked for Friends to consider Friends’ historical claims of being on the right side of social justice issues, such as, slavery, human rights, and equality. This convinced our Friend, who seemed to be presenting legalistic arguments or personal opinions, to stand aside.
The concerns included the feared “violence” that would be done to male-female marriages in our county by our use of the word marriage itself. It was synchronistic that on the first Sunday’s threshing session after meeting for worship, an attender recently graduated from Cambridge University, who was a professor at Bard College with a specialization in kinship relations in New Guinea, reminded us that marriage in other cultures is not always defined as it is in mainstream 21st-century Western culture.
Our personal experience at our wedding was of a circle of ancestors being present along with the members of our families, our mothers, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts, lifelong and recent friends and their children. About a third of those present and signing our marriage scroll were children with whom we have deeply loving familial bonds. Although we were never led to have, adopt, or raise our own children, the presence of the multiple generations of our families was critical to our feelings of the deep significance of our marriage for us and for our loved ones.
We received assistance for the process of our Friends’ marriage from a pamphlet written by two men previously joined by Putney, Vermont, Meeting in the 1980s. We hope to write another pamphlet for Friends to give hope to others seeking spiritual and practical advice at a time when legal options and resources for marriage equality are not provided to all individuals in the U.S.
*GLBTQQ: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning
Turning the Other Cheek
The story of Jesus’ teaching on loving one’s enemies is a familiar one. Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek, to give your shirt to the one who stole your cloak, and to walk an additional mile with the one who asks us to walk one mile. It’s a teaching that is often quoted in the context of advocating a nonviolent approach as opposed to, say, giving the other guy a knuckle sandwich or calling out the police. But it’s also a difficult teaching, as it seems to ask us to submit ourselves to injustice and harm. I believe that the teaching goes deeper, and shows us the best way to deal with violence in both its overt and its subtle forms.
The teachings of Jesus are often allegorical. This does not make them less true; rather, it makes them more profound. Examining the teaching more closely, notice that Jesus did not say to present the same cheek to our enemy to be struck again. He said to turn the other cheek. This is the great lesson of peacemaking, relevant to all situations from international crises to disaffections within our family or our meeting.
The story’s obvious teaching is that we must turn away from anger and retribution, and that a system of justice that relies on payback will fail. But there’s a more profound lesson. The other cheek doesn’t mean that opponents should have the opportunity to harm us a second time. The other cheek is the alternative to violence, the symbolic reference to creative peacemaking. It shows us that negotiation requires us to come to the table with open minds and hearts—the exposed and open cheek. The variations and possibilities are endless. It teaches us that foreign aid buys alliances more surely and more economically than military conquest. It teaches that education and treatment are a more effective way of turning people away from a life of crime than incarceration. It teaches us that a kind word or deed, especially when done in response to a hurtful one, is the surest way to bring out the best in another party. Of course, it brings out the best in the cheek-turner, too.
Jesus told us to love our enemies. Loving our enemies is hard work, especially when they are close to us—family, coworkers, or meeting members. Jesus never told us to let others take advantage of us, so it’s not necessary to be a doormat to be faithful to this teaching. The role models in my life are those who have understood and followed this beautiful lesson.
The Other Quaker Silence
In his hope for a “great people to be gathered,” Fox said, “Let all nations hear the word by sound or writing. Spare no place, spare not tongue nor pen, but be obedient to the Lord God and go through the world and be valiant for the Truth upon earth.” And a great people were gathered, spreading across England, east to Europe, and west to the colonies.
Now, however, for more than a century, the Society of Friends in New York has been fading away. One only needs to look at the maps of active Quaker Meetings from the 18th and 19th centuries to be certain that we are becoming little more than a historic remnant, albeit a good people and gathering of faithful Friends. Most of our meetings are small and aging, and many struggle to survive. Only a very few are strong and growing. Our annual State of Society Report has expressed this malaise for years, even as these same reports also tell of the great joy of fellowship, worship, and the good work done in our communities. When we gather at Silver Bay for Yearly Meeting, we celebrate our young people (most of whom are not active in any monthly meeting) and feel the power of the Spirit moving within and among us. Yet still, we remain nearly mute and invisible beyond the meetinghouse.
The Friends movement grew because Quakers were not reticent to share with others the joy of their experience and to “publish the Truth.” Not proselytizing; this was the ministry of example, driven by the experience of the Divine Presence in worship and in life. Our testimonies were not just ancient statements of belief; they lived, were lived, recognized, proclaimed, and respected in the world. Today we cling to them proudly, a relic of our past that we hold in obscurity rather than share with the passion and conviction of our experience.
Today, we are free to speak our Truth without fear and the opportunities to communicate “the word by sound or writing” are infinitely greater. Yet we are nearly silent. Silence in worship leads us to our Source, but silence in the world does nothing and serves nothing. Does that silence represent a failure of belief, passion, or faith? Why do we so religiously hide our Light from our wider communities and the world? What constrains us? What uncertainty keeps us still? What prevents us from expressing our experiences and testimonies broadly and publicly?
One answer may be that many join Friends in their dissatisfaction with more traditional hierarchical and creedal religious groups, and they are grateful for unprogrammed worship and the fact that Friends never seek to impose their beliefs upon others. No proselytizing here! However, we are left to wonder rhetorically what would have become of the Friends movement if our ancestors had shared this reluctance to express their joy in the experience of the Divine Presence or to proclaim to the world, in word and in deed, what they had discovered experimentally.
We “Quakers” have a message and experience that can speak to people of all walks of life and all faith backgrounds. Our testimonies are just as radical, enlightened, challenging, and attractive as when they were first expressed. Imagine the impact of publishing those testimonies and experiences to our wider communities, not with the intention to preach, proselytize, or convert but simply to share our joy with all we can reach. The price of our silence and invisibility is clear. The question to consider is: Are we willing to once again put the lamp upon a lamp-stand?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Don is the NYYM Advancement Committee clerk.
In my Quaker bones I feel
This work, and its maker, are but figures in a dream,
Snow dust on bamboo
What do I care
A circle of people
Hand in Hand
“As the deer longs for the water brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God.” Psalm 42 vs.1
Several years ago a friend asked me what I wanted more than anything else in life. The rapidity and clarity of my response caught me quite off guard. I said “I seek to be at one with God.” It is what I yearn for with all that I am. As a Friend, I firmly believe that there is that of God within me and every other being on Earth and so, in that infinitesimal part of my being I and we are one with God. I am not naive enough to believe that that is the sum of it for God exists far beyond the realm of my human understanding. Indeed, from time to time, when I have found the strength to do as God has required of me, I have drawn near, I have taken a sip from God’s cup and I long for more.
My personal journey has been long and winding: From the child whose secret playmate was God, to the nine year old girl who wanted only a prayer book for her birthday, to the acolyte, to the Novitiate, to the candidate for the priesthood, through failed marriages and broken hopes and dreams it has always been my relationship with God that carried me through: Faith and the fruit it bore. I have been blessed with pain and joy, challenges and gifts that have opened way for the many things that I’ve learned along the way. But we each have our own journeys. Mine is not so very different from yours.
The many twists and turns of life have led me through many changes and understandings that continue to shift and grow over time. It is not the questions that change but the answers. We learn to take risks in the name of L/love. The understanding that it’s not about me or what I think I want rather, what God wants for me. It is the understanding that “all that I am and all that I have” God has given to me. It is the Suscipe—a prayer that is one of the gifts of my time in the Novitiate “Take and receive O Lord, my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I am and all that I have you have given to me, and I give it all back to you to dispose of according to your good pleasure. Give me only the support of your presence and the joy of your love, for with these I shall be more than rich and desire nothing more.” After years of praying the Suscipe daily I suddenly understood that it was all of me that I was returning to God; asking God to transform me. That I was asking not that God take control of me but that I be opened to use all that I’d been given as God would have me use it. Not the giving up of all but the freely giving over to All. I began actively listening for God’s will for me and began testing what I believed I was hearing with a care committee. I believed I was being led to do the work of peacemaking. I labored, sometimes with great frustration, with a care committee that pushed me to dig deeper, listen harder, until I could say not only what the leading was but how I was led to live into it. It was grueling work and sometimes I wanted to forget about my care committee and just get going with “the work”. In the end, they were right. The foundational work needed to be done. I came to clarity that the message I need to carry is that the path to peace begins within ourselves; understanding that, as we find our way to inner Peace we radiate that Peace outward—the Peace that passes all understanding. The journey has taught me patience, and how to open to the voice within and the voices of God speaking through others. It has changed me.
Change can be a fearful thing when we try to do it alone. But when we open our hearts and minds and souls to the Love of God both inwardly and outwardly through the love and of friends and community we are supported and uplifted and even though the fear may persist we find the courage to move forward; to change. With God, all things are possible.
EDITOR’S NOTE: At the author’s request, this article was not edited.
The Quaker Community in Bolivia
ARUSKIPASIPXAÑANAKASAKIPUNIRAKISPAWA (Aymara expression meaning “All of us, we must talk with each other all the time.”)
Knowing that, I have this chance again to exchange information between U.S.A Friends and Bolivia, especially with NYYM Friends. I would like to start with this: After my return from my internship at Oakwood Friends School in New York, U.S.A., I have been doing many things in Bolivia: coordinating the English program for the Quaker schools, sharing in a conference and a workshop with Quaker pastors and teachers about my experience in U.S.-related Quaker education, building a project proposal for the new Quaker Model School, participating in and facilitating AVP workshops, helping with the scholarship program and with other Quaker Programs in Bolivia, and in my free time practicing Andean music and being with my mom and brother.
Teaching English in the Quaker Schools is really challenging because the classes are really diverse, mixed with students who really like to learn and those who don’t. The teachers have to work to make them see why it is important to learn English. Later in the English program in the Quaker Schools, we saw that many students had improved their English and were enjoying the language. Personally, I saw many students majoring in linguistics in different colleges. And now many students are using this language in their higher education. They say that our program helped them a lot.
Quakers worry about what is going to happen with Quaker Education in Bolivia, because the government is supporting public schools but not private education. I have noticed that Quaker Education has never been exclusive; it has always been education for social service. Quaker schools educated native people for the first time in Bolivia starting in 1932. The pastors in Santidad Amigos limited the education to basic literacy skills. Until 15 years ago, they said going to college was a sin. This is one reason we do not have many professional people among Bolivian Quakers.
In one conference when I shared Quakers’ concern for the earth, one of the pastors asked me, “Do Quakers worship the Mother Earth like our ancestors?” Many Quakers have separated from values of our ancestors because the church focused on just the Bible. People in Bolivia including Quakers need a lot of education about recycling and taking care of the earth, like about not throwing trash on the streets. Also the students need to be aware of what is happening in this century with the earth and with other societies.
I have also been working with other Quaker teachers and scholarship recipients in creating a proposal for a new Model Quaker School. This proposal presents a new vision based on the Quaker values that Alicia and I learned more about during our stays in the U.S. We also include the new vision and philosophy of my country, which is inclusive and multicultural education. Former scholarship students have participated and contributed ideas to this project.
AVP in Bolivia is growing more and more. Now there are AVP workshops in three departments (states). I really like AVP workshops, because they have fun and reflective games. Many people do not understand nonviolence until they experience the workshops. I have been participating and facilitating. In June of this year there will be a series of AVP workshops in Bolivia. After that all the facilitators are going to get together to share their experiences.
One of the main programs in BQE is scholarship program. I was part of this program for three years. At the beginning I did not understand why people wanted to support me even when they did not know me. And after talking with Hermano (Brother) Bernabé Yujra, who is one of the persons who started this program in Bolivia together Hermano Newton Garver, I noticed that there are good people around the world who are concerned other people’s needs. And when I was in the U.S. I saw it more closely. We are now interviewing new applicants for this year’s scholarships and I see in them the same need I had. This year we are creating a Community of ex-becarios (former scholarship students). The goal of this group is to support one scholarship student, creating the chain of support for others who have the same need we had.
After my return my family and I felt really good seeing each other again. And many people have been asking about my trip to the U.S. In my free time I am helping to promote my mother tongue—Aymara—on the Internet through Web 2.0. We have formed a virtual Aymara community, www.jaqi-aru.org/blog, open to all Aymara speakers around the world. Jaqi aru means human language. We have been translating many articles into Aymara for Global Voices http://aym.globalvoicesonline.org. People in Bolivia are really concerned about learning a native language as well as a foreign language, in addition to Spanish. We hope that my government is going to get a satellite for Bolivia, giving considerable access to the Internet for all people. That’s why as Aymara speakers we want to do something on the Internet.
In my family, my brother is learning violin and we are always practicing Andean music, and most of the time I am talking good things with my mom. She likes to tell us about her past, especially about when she was young.
All my experiences changed my life, giving me a new vision, a global vision, and improving my belief that all human beings are equal and have rights for the good life.
Keeping in touch.
Exploring Spirit-Led Discernment
On November 7, 2009, a retreat entitled Spirit Led Discernment was held at the Friends’ meetinghouse in Purchase, N.Y. The retreat explored: What is Discernment? How does one prepare for discernment? and How does Spirit-Led Discernment differ from non-spirit-led discernment such as ego-driven discernment? Discernment was described as a way of listening, finding clarity or a path, and seeking input beyond ourselves from God or divine Spirit.
Those in attendance shared ideas how they prepare for discernment before attending a Friends’ meeting. Examples included listening to soothing music on the way to a Friends’ meeting, greeting fellow Friends before the meeting, yoga breathing during the meeting, and praying silently for each person at the meeting. Quieting the mind is essential to allow for attentive listening to the Spirit within ourselves and the Spirit in each other. We are all messengers of God.
Learning to listen to God is a lifelong endeavor not only in the meetinghouse but also in our everyday life. We need to provide space daily for God to work in our lives in a loving, caring way and the willingness to be led.
Peacemaking, Egg Balancing, and Ego Management
In a recent Quaker Conversation, we considered the question of war-making and peacemaking. This led me to consider the ancient Chinese art of egg balancing. I heard about it on the radio years ago. It may have been at the vernal equinox—at any rate, at the time of year when tradition says the course of the earth through the heavens is most propitious for balancing eggs on their ends. In the long, dark night in the countryside, we took up this challenge. At first it seemed absolutely impossible to balance an egg on its large end on a smooth surface like a wooden table top. We became very determined and overcame the temptation to smack them down. After a few hours of practice, we did have a good number of balancing eggs. They would stand for a few minutes, or 10 or 15 minutes, before obeying some influence and rolling over. Finding the balance took patience, perseverance, and minute listening with the fingers. Sometimes an egg would suddenly jump out of my fingers and onto its tiny balance spot. Other times, the transition was so subtle as to be unnoticeable, so I’d keep nudging it off. Each balancing egg seemed magical. There was some tiny principle that applied, some tiny right action that made it happen.
This led me to thoughts of ego management. For several years I’ve thought a lot about egos (partly in the context of a possible sculpture project). We cannot exist without egos—I think they are a necessary part of our psychic anatomy. But they are often so problematic, both one’s own and other people’s. What can we do with them? I see them as egg shaped. I’ve imagined them in various circumstances and conditions. I considered a padded ego pouch, worn on the belt, where it can be stored, put out of action and out of the way in a safe place. I did discover one useful thought technique that works very well for me. When I think “ego-strife” is imminent, or when I worry about my own possible ego reaction, I imagine gently scooping up egos (starting with my own) into egg-shaped capsules and floating them out of my hands onto a nurturing, universal sea. This takes some practice, like balancing eggs, but is very effective. I don’t have to think I’m in control, as with the eggs that find their own balance point.
I don’t have an answer to our war-making and peacemaking. But I think working with it takes minute listening, patience, perseverance, and the willingness to put everyone’s ego in a safe place.
Amawalk Cornmeal Apple Cake
Here is a recipe for cornmeal apple cake, which I hope will delight the Friends who try it. It was a hit at Amawalk Monthly Meeting.
¼ cup butter
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan; set aside. In a large skillet, melt the ¼ cup butter over medium heat. Add sliced apples and golden raisins. Cook about 8 minutes or until apples are just tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir together the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Stir sugar mixture into apple mixture. If desired, reserve a few apple slices for garnish; set aside. Set the remaining apple mixture aside.
In medium bowl, sir together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat ¾ cup butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1 cup granulated sugar and vanilla and beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour cream and milk; beat until combined. Fold in cornmeal mixture.
Pour two-thirds of the batter into the prepared pan. Add the apple mixture, arranging evenly on top of the batter. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and spread evenly.
Bake in the preheated oven about 40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool 20 minutes more. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with reserved apples.
Around Our Yearly Meeting
Adirondack Meeting Grappling with Afghanistan: Friends at Adirondack Meeting will be devoting the Lenten season to an in-depth consideration of the history of, and current situation in, Afghanistan. During March they will be reading and discussing the book Stones into Schools by Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea.
Easton Meeting Quakerism Study: A six-session introductory Quaker study group, open to the community at large and spearheaded by attenders and newcomers to Easton Meeting, began meeting in January. The one-hour discussion sessions, which focus on the “distinctive beliefs and practices of the Religious Society of Friends,” draw for guidance upon Howard Brinton’s Pendle Hill pamphlet A Guide to Quaker Practice. “Brinton’s pamphlet is proving helpful to us in more ways than we imagined,” says Jeannine Laverty of Easton MM. “We find that it encourages not only discussion of historical Quakerism, but also its application to the issues that confront us today.”
One in Christ Worship Group Open to All: Brian Doherty (Purchase Meeting) reports that the One in Christ Worship Group began meeting in October 2009 and continues to meet on the second Wednesday of each month, 7 P.M., at the 15th Street meetinghouse. Between 15 and 20 Friends have been gathering to worship and “abide in the spirit of Jesus Christ.” Eliezer Hyman of 15th Street Meeting and Bridget Orozco of Flushing Meeting are also involved in the informal organization of the group. All are welcome. To be placed on the One in Christ e-mail list contact Brian Doherty, bdoherty1969 [at] mac.com.
New Brunswick Friends Are Rutgers Chaplains: John Menzel and John Rogalski, who have been representing New Brunswick Meeting on the Rutgers University New Brunswick and Piscataway campuses, recently gained recognition as chaplains. A “chaplaincy” designation permits NBMM to be represented on the Religious Life Council and to work with students, faculty, and staff on campus. John Menzel reports, “Since our Friends House is literally next to two of the campuses, it is easy for students to join us. We keep in contact with several students, and some of them join us for Sunday and/or midweek worship.”
“Feeding the Fire” Series at PoHo: Apr. Session Still Open: There is still time to sign up for the next workshop, “Feeding the Fire: Living A Life Of Prayer,” to be led by Mary Kay Glazer, Friday, Apr. 30, to Sunday, May 2. A short description of the workshop includes this: “Rather than give in to the temptation to act first and pray if there is time, we will explore how a life of prayer keeps us in touch with the Source who leads us.” The workshop is open to all, regardless of age or background. For more information consult www.powellhouse.org or call 518-794-8811.
Everyone can be a Nightingale! The joyous Nightingales will be at it again, singing from their hearts and songbooks, Apr. 23–25, 2010, at Mohawk Valley Monthly Meeting. Modeling themselves after a Northern Yearly Meeting a cappella singing group, Friends in NYYM have been gathering to share fellowship, food and the great joy of singing together whatever moves them. Nightingales always emphasize that the experience is open to all: “It is not about being a great singer. It is about being in a community singing with love.” A very modest fee for the weekend is involved. For more specifics about the weekend, including accommodations and transportation, contact Christopher Sammond at nyym.gensec [at] gmail.com or 212-673-5750.
Shrewsbury &Plainfield Half-Yearly Meeting: Shrewsbury & Plainfield Half-Yearly Meeting will be held on Mar. 27 at New Brunswick Meeting. The afternoon program will be on “Quakers in New Jersey” with speaker John Vincent, a member of Princeton Monthly Meeting.
“The Gift of Covenant Community”: Peconic Bay Workshop: In addition to its rich and diverse monthly spiritual discussions, Peconic Bay Executive Meeting will spend a full day in retreat on Mar. 28, 2010, with Christopher Sammond on the topic of “Members, One of Another: Exploring the Gift of Covenant Community.” A partial description of the workshop reads: “We will take a look at what brings us together in community and how this is reflected in our shared worship and our work in the world.” Contact Sheila Okin, coclerk, 631-267-6606.
A Ministry on Thomas Kelly Bears Unexpected Fruit: Peter Lang of Chatham-Summit Meeting notes that February 22 marked the first-year anniversary of his ministry among Friends to share the message of Thomas Kelly and the impact of Kelly on his own life. Peter has traveled to ten meetings in both NYYM and PYM to share his talk entitled “My Journey with Thomas Kelly: Seeking the Light Within.” Peter says, “The connections I have felt, both in the Silence and in the spoken word, have touched me to the core and enriched my spirit immeasurably.” For more information call Peter at 973-267-9342.
Brooklyn Meeting Workshop on Quaker Peace Testimony: Chuck Fager, Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville, N.C., spent Friday evening, Jan. 20, 2010, at Brooklyn Meeting facilitating “The Quaker Peace Testimony: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” The workshop was organized by Ministry & Counsel to help address questions and concerns about the meaning of the peace testimony, its intention, and its applicability to present-day conflicts. M&C hopes to keep the conversation about this historic Quaker testimony open and ongoing.
Ramallah Friends School Director Tours NYYM: Joyce Ajlouny, director of the historic Ramallah Friends School (RFS) on the West Bank in Palestine, visited several meetings within NYYM, bringing to Friends the story of RFS and describing the impact it has had on the community throughout its 140-year history as well as the challenges that lie ahead. Current conditions living under a military occupation present especially difficult challenges. Quakers have been educating children in Palestine since 1869, and the school has survived many wars and occupations. Throughout its history, the staff and families of the school have remained resilient and dedicated to their mission to offer a rigorous education to Palestinian youth guided by the principles of the Religious Society of Friends.
Purchase Quarter Program on Peace Action in Afghanistan: ”Rethinking Afghanistan, the Peace Testimony, and Nonviolent Action” was the program at Purchase Quarterly Meeting, held at Purchase Meeting Feb. 7, 2010. Organized by the Peace and Social Witness Committee of Purchase Meeting, the program featured dramatic readings of quotes from many activists and spiritual teachers; selections from the groundbreaking documentary Rethink Afghanistan by filmmaker Robert Greenwald; worship sharing; and closed with an impassioned round of the song “Vine and Fig Tree.” The goal,” says Vitalah Simon of Purchase Meeting, was “to educate people about the realities of the war in Afghanistan as well as the presence of nonviolent activism in Afghanistan in the life of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and to raise our spirits from the despair that can so easily affect us.” Contact Vitalah, vitalah [at] verizon.net, if interested in the quotes and passages used.
Cayuga Worship Group Receives Light—and It’s Green! In March of last year, Poplar Ridge Friends reported that the Cayuga Prison Worship Group was ready to begin, pending Department of Corrections approval of volunteer facilitators’ applications. Approval has been granted, and the worship group started meeting in mid-December. It meets twice monthly with between three and four Friends from Poplar Ridge and a like number of seekers on the inside. Contact Ruth Ann Bradley, 315-497-2254.
Young Friends Gather to Deepen Friendships and Spiritual Lives: 33 young adult Friends from the Circle of Young Friends gathered at the Beloved Community House in Newfield, N.Y., Jan. 8–10 for a retreat entitled “Drawing from Deep Wells,” facilitated by Christopher Sammond. See the full epistle from the retreat in February InfoShare.
ARCH Training Scheduled for June: Aging Resources Consultation and Help (ARCH) will conduct training for volunteers to become ARCH Visitors June 11–13 at Oakwood School in Poughkeepsie. The free training is designed to enable Friends to support seniors, families, and meetings to meet the needs of our aging and disabled members and attenders, and their families.
ARCH Visitors will be supported in their work by the ARCH coordinators, Barbara Spring and Anita Paul, and paid $.15 per mile for travel expenses. For further information or to sign up for training, please contact Barbara Spring, 518-772-2290 or barbarakspring4 [at] msn.com.
Thoughts Turning to Silver Bay July 18–24, 2010
Sessions Committee Recommends Equalization Fund
At its January 30 meeting, NYYM Sessions Committee approved the recommendation of its Working Group on Site Selection and Affordability to establish an Equalization Fund as a voluntary fund outside of the Yearly Meeting’s operating budget. The new fund would be managed as the existing Advancement Committee funds are, and could receive contributions from registrants to YM sessions and from other sources. A line on the registration form would invite Friends to contribute to this fund if they wish.
Silver Bay YMCA is also helping by making some complimentary rooms available, which can be used in addition to the Equalization Fund to reduce expenses of some registrants. Details of the fund will be presented to General Services Coordinating Committee at their March 6 meeting and to the Yearly Meeting Spring Sessions in April.
Camping for Summer Sessions 2010 at Silver Bay
Are you a camper or camping family? Camping at Summer Sessions may be right for you this year. Friends who are experienced in woodland camping may wish to consider the Silver Bay YMCA Adirondack-style lean-tos on Ryan’s Ridge, a 15-minute hike up Woodside Trail on the west side of Route 9. There are two sturdy lean-tos, picnic tables, and a privy. There is no water supply at the site, but campers may use the bathrooms and showers in the gym basement. Each lean-to can accommodate four or five people, and rental is $20 per day for each lean-to (not per person). Off-campus rates ($240 per family for the week) also apply for use of all the other facilities at Silver Bay.
Closer to campus are two raised wooden tent platforms on a knoll behind the Fisher Gymnasium (near the Council Ring). Each platform is 20 by 20 feet, large enough for a family tent or two smaller ones. The rental rate is the same (per platform) as for lean-tos (above). Bathrooms with showers are in the nearby gym basement; a cooking space for campers will be located near the cafeteria.
If one of these options is attractive to you—family, cluster, or several individuals who could share—please contact John Cooley, clerk of Sessions Committee, for more details and to find other campers for sharing space. E-mail jhcooley [at] aol.com.
Rogers Rock State Park, near Ticonderoga, is familiar to many campers from past years. Campsites rent for $22 per night for up to six persons. Use reserveamerica.com or call 800-456-2267. Kaki Sjorgren suggests that people claim the sites 226 through 236, and reserve early. Shuttle arrangements to Silver Bay may be available.
JYM Volunteers Needed for Summer Sessions
Volunteers are needed to work with the youth of NYYM (grades K–12) at Junior Yearly Meeting (JYM) at Summer Sessions. Volunteers plan and carry out a program, prepared at the JYM Planning Weekend, June 18–20, at Powell House, which is mandatory. The JYM program runs from 9:00 A.M. to 12:15 P.M. Monday through Friday during Summer Sessions. JYM volunteers also provide afternoon and evening childcare (referred to as “PM Childcare”), for children through age 10, during committee and session times Monday–Friday. The commitment includes attending the JYM Planning Weekend in June, a 7:00 A.M. meeting each day at Silver Bay, and the morning JYM program (or PM Childcare) each day. Financial assistance will be discussed at the JYM planning weekend.
If interested, please contact Susan Stillman, coordinator, sustillman [at] gmail.com ASAP.
Request for Spark Articles
The May issue of Spark will focus on the nature of membership in the monthly meeting. Our Faith and Practice says, “Friends accept into active membership those whose declarations and ways of life manifest such unity with Friends’ views and practices that they may be expected to enter fully into religious fellowship with the meeting. Part of the essential genius of the Society is the experience of growth through common worship and the loving acceptance of an individual by the group. It is an open fellowship that recognizes that of God in everyone.” How would you define membership in a local meeting? How should the meeting recognize children? What should a meeting do about Friends at a distance? What about the member who no longer participates or financially supports the meeting?
Friends may wish to consult the Membership section of Faith and Practice as they think about writing for this issue.
If you would like to contribute an article to this important discussion, please contact Barbara Menzel at bjmenzel [at] optonline.net or telephone the NYYM office. Articles will be due by March 15 for consideration.
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 should be expressed briefly and gently, and may discomfort some Friends. The Communications Committee will publish material that seems provocative and timely.
This column is prepared from information about membership received from the local meeting recorders.