Quakers: Not just for breakfast anymore

2/28/06 upi article

So There I was…

… At a truck stop café, stocking up on a warm breakfast to keep me going through a long day of motorcycle riding. My ride is a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 named Rocinante, or Rosie, or just “The Holy Kaw.” When I am out on the road my mode of transport is obvious, even when she is parked outside because I am always wearing leathers and there is a full-face helmet on the counter next to me. I usually take a seat at the counter because the leathers don’t bend so good, and it’s hard to get in and out of them.

I am minding my own business, but that never seems to prevent other people from minding my business with me. A big trucker plants himself next to me. The correlation between truckers and bikers is significantly high.

“Hey, pretty lady, where you riding off to today?”

They never seem to be able to leave the solo female biker thing alone. But I take no offense. I give a brief itinerary. Weather is discussed -- I never discount weather info from a trucker.

“So, Whatcha do when you aren’t ridin?”

“I’m a Quaker preacher.”

This always stops them for a moment. Silence ensues, which is appropriate since Quakers often worship in silence. The next question is almost always…

“I thought you guys were all dead.”

We are often confused with the Shakers – an 18th century sect that did not believe in procreation and hence mostly died out. Quakers have been around since 1652, have had women preachers all that time, and, for good or ill, we do have children.

“Nope, we’re still going strong.” I answer.

“And you ride motorcycles?”

Confusion with the Amish is often next. Quakers have no conscience against technology per se.

“Yep, and cars and airplanes and everything.”

“Hunh” I can see the confusion generalizing. I decide to volunteer a bit of information.

“And, we don’t look like the Quaker Oats guy anymore.”

“I can see that – but you are eating the oatmeal.”

“Oh Yes, we are very religious about the oatmeal.”

Actually, Quakers have never produced, sold, or had any official connection with commercial oatmeal production. Those guys are trading off our good name. I think we should get a discount, but we don’t. However, sometimes I just can’t resist messing with the heads of random truckers.

“So what are y’all about?”

“Oh, you know, the standard Jesus stuff -- being good to folks even when they aren’t good to you, taking care of the poor, keeping it simple, telling it like it is.”


“OK, we don’t really care so much about the oatmeal. Cream of Wheat is perfectly acceptable.” (Got caught by my own preaching once again.)

“You know, I always thought Jesus would make a good biker.”

“Me too, buddy, me too.”


Ascending Acoma

Tuesday's UPI column

So There I was…

…In the St. Esteban del Rey Church up on Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. My youngest daughter and I were visiting my eldest daughter and her husband. It was Sunday, but there was not much interest in the group in finding the Quaker meeting that I knew was in town. The day was October clear and crisp. I suggested we take a drive out to Acoma Pueblo, an hour’s drive outside of Albuquerque. I had not been there in decades, but I knew the drive was beautiful, and I could enjoy my daughters’ company and get them a history lesson at the same time.

We ended up on the walking tour through a village perched on a small Mesa that rises 367 vertical feet out of the desert. Our tour guide was Dale Sandoz, a matriarch of the Eagle Clan of the Acoma people. We were lucky to get Dale. She is small and round, “Like the cedar trees that grow at the base of the Mesa – strong, dry country growth.” She splashes water on the ground from her canteen as a gift to Mother Earth, to secure a safe tour. The Acoma are matriarchal; all property passes from mother to the youngest daughter -- “Because we expect that she will outlive us all.” A couple of long tall Texas cowboys in our group discovered that you do not walk in front of an Acoma matriarch without being rebuked -- “ But you ladies can walk where ever you like.” Acoma governors are all men. “Women have more important things to do -- so we nominate them, and if they do good -- we keep them, if not, we don’t.” The village has been continually inhabited since at least 1150. The houses are two or three stories high, none have electricity or water. They are made of limestone blocks (the traditional material), or adobe, or cinderblock -- Dale regrets these innovations -- “But there are no zoning laws up here, and you can’t tell a youngest daughter what to do with her house.”

We started our tour in the church. It is huge -- at least three stories up from the plaster and dirt floor to the massive ponderosa pine beams that were carried many miles from Mount Taylor in 1629. “Because they were holy, they never once touched the ground between here and there. The men took turns carrying them, and rested them on platforms at night.” The Spaniards gave them a bell as a peace offering -- and a peace offering was dearly needed because of the massacre of 1598. Thirteen Spanish soldiers tried to steal grain and were killed by the Acoma. One of them was a relative of the governor, Juan de Onate, and he retaliated with a brutal assault on the pueblo that saw the women taken as slaves, the men killed or left alive but with their right foot cut off, and children were pulled screaming out of hiding in the kiva -- their throats slashed and dragged through the village behind horses. The atrocity shocked even the Conquistadors, and Onate was eventually prosecuted. The Acoma were ‘given’ a church. I’m not sure what ‘given’ means when you spend a lifetime of the people -- 40 years -- building it yourself. The Acoma chose Saint Stephen for their patron. When they heard the story of the man who prayed as he was being stoned to death, “Lord, do not count this sin against them”; they recognized him as their own. Dale says that they freely accepted the religion of their oppressors because they recognized the truth in it beyond the actions of its adherents. This woman is so NOT oppressed! She says they recognized that it was in harmony with their own native beliefs – “99% of Acoma are Catholic – 100% practice the ancient religion -- because they are so similar”. At the altar are four pillars carved from those ancient ponderosa -- carved as twisted, entwined beams of white and red “For the two religions that are practiced here.” Symbols of the people are painted on the walls of the church along side paintings of saints and a prominent picture of purgatory. There are only a few pews up front to accommodate the elders -- the rest of the space is left free for dancing. A small window is aligned to admit a ray of sunlight to fall directly on the Santo only on the winter solstice. It is a most integrated place.

We walked out through the burial yard and through the village, I bought a small pot. I was deeply moved, but it took days for the full truth to sink in. The Acoma built that church twenty years before Quaker George Fox stood and preached for the first time. The Acoma had found Christ in the church of their murderers. They found a faith that spoke to their condition. They found ‘That of God’ in the ugly ‘other’. They found a model for forgiveness in the worst of situations. We consider these to be Quaker testimonies. George would have had no truck with the Spanish church; but he would have understood the Acoma.

One of those near the stoning of St. Stephan was the Apostle Paul – spiritually preserved, perhaps, by the prayer of his victim. Paul’s image is also on the Acoma altar. I wonder if the prayers of the Acoma have saved Onate.


The Sisters

Part of my spiritual discipline is to spent 24 hours every month cloistered. Thirteen miles from my house is the Queen of the Angels Monestary, and the Shalom retreat center. My spiritual director Sr. Jo Morton lives and works there. I took a two-year spiritual direction class from them a few years back and they did such a good job of spinning my head that I try and go back once a month. I crave regular spinning.

I grew up in a Catholic stronghold outside of Chicago; the notions I had of nuns have been completely blown away by these Benedictines. Turns out Quakers and Benedictines have a lot in common so we get along fine. Sr. Jo likes me to use my time for R and R - she thinks I run a little quick. Just being out there is a rest, but I often find that I get inspired and do good hard thinking and writing when I am there. Today is my day. So I will turn my cellphone (which is FFC's chrch phone) off for 24 hours now. The Fam can fend for themselves for dinner. If you need me, tell God, we stay in touch, or call the clerk.


Quaker Orphans

I taught in Burundi, Africa for three months in 2003. My students were from Burundi, Rwanda and Congo. They were are are fabulous people. I hear from them from time to time by e-mail. I recently had the chance to send a few REAL letters in my own handwriting with a traveler. I know that letters like this are treasured, read and re-read, and passed about, so I sent one to a well known student in each of the three countries.

Yesterday I had an e-mail from Augustin Habimana of Rwanda Yearly Meeting. He was one of my very best students. After greeting me in fine African style and giving me the news of his family and church he closed with this

In the Church I am leading, I have unhappy Christians who are crying for help,These Christians are suffering from AIDS, We are trying to take care for them but our means are limited, We have tried to gather them in one association called UMUTIMA W.IMPUHWE which means THE HEART OF LOVE, through this association,it is easy to give them the message of God,to comfort them,and so on. This is the big problem I have. In our country,AIDS is really a calamity. Now,what I ask you is to help those Christians by finding for them some individuals, Churches, or some organizations which can intervene in taking care maybe for the orphans they have. Please,Peggy,have special times to think and pray for that burden I am struggling with. I promise to send you our news as possible I can.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the crisis of aids in Africa. And the best help we can give is to continue to advocate for research, debt relief, and help on the large scale. But while we do that, sometimes we have to also dip our hands into the ocean size problem and do some small good where we can.

There are maybe 50,000 adult Quakers in Central Africa although most of them would not know the work Quaker" they are 'Amis' Friends in French. The best guess is that 20% of them have AIDS. I had 26 students in the pastoral training class Augustin sat in. One of those students has died since I left - he left seven children, his wife died before him. There is no medical help for the vast majority of these people. Augustin is not asking for medicine he is asking for comfort for the dying and help for the orphans. So we may have 10,000 Quakers with AIDS, men and women in central Africa (Kenya is a whole 'nother thing). Let's say 5,000 couples. The average African couple has 3-5 children. That is a possible 15-20 thousand Quaker orphans. Our orphans.

I have recently taken on a trauma healing project in Goma DRC. I cannot take on Augustin's project. But somewhere out there on the Q continuum there is a church or meeting with a concern for AIDS that would like a small project like my friends.

I know this man personally - I can vouch for him. His YM is in good shape and non-corrupt. If someone out there takes this up - I will personally stop in when I go back next year and get a report for you. It is a solid request and a solid cause.

I encourage you to pray for this and then copy and paste it into an e-mail and FWD it to as many Quakers as you can.

I can be reached at


Tuesdays UPI Column

Loving Las Vegas

So There I was...

...Getting my boots shined in McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada. I was passing through with three hours to blow. The State of Nevada is, at times, difficult for me to enjoy. As a mental health professional and a volunteer fire-of-addictions fighter, the "Addictions R Us" atmosphere creeps me out a bit. I suspect that the blessing of Las Vegas is the feeling of normalcy for folks who may not always feel so normal at home in Des Moines. There are people there who will cheerfully help you hock your wedding ring to continue playing games, and do it as if this were perfectly normal behavior. There are people who will help you get married to someone you met yesterday, and act like this makes perfect sense. Women on stage wear enormous hats and not much else — no problem. Night and day have no differentiation. The party is endless — of course it is. I had told myself that I would self-pamper by using the break to buy a good, relaxed meal. So I walked the concourse with anticipation, scoping out my choices. Alcohol —slots — slots — chocolate — greasy burgers — alcohol — slots — alcohol — Subway — slots: that was the choice. Subway appeared to be the top of the food chain. The most wholesome option was a flavored oxygen bar. Now, while I might wish that I could survive on peach flavored oxygen, I had been on one four-hour no-food flight, and I had another one ahead of me. "Six inch turkey, please." With two and a half hours to blow and still in the mood to be nice to myself, I looked for an opportunity. I am a collector of novel experiences, and when I spied a bored looking shoeshine man, I realized that warming on of those shoe thrones would add to my collection. The charming gentleman attending to my iguana skins was from Kenya. I had been to his homeland recently and we had a nice chat about Africa. Then I asked him how he felt about Las Vegas. He looked up at me, clearly deciding whether to give me the tourist bureau answer or the truth. "The truth, please." "I have a daughter in college at home and she is precious to me. So I am forced to love Las Vegas because I love my daughter." I told him it was the best reason I had ever heard for loving Las Vegas.

— — — Peggy Senger Parsons is a motorcycling Quaker preacher, counselor and free lance provocateur of grace. She is pastor of Freedom Friends Church. © copyright 2006 by Peggy Senger Parsons.

— — — UPI Religion & Spirituality Forum is a big tent for all expressions of faith and spirituality, neither excluding nor favoring any. All opinions expressed belong to the writer alone, and are not necessarily shared by UPI Religion & Spirituality Forum.



Over on "The Good Raised Up" Liz has a fine post that includes stages of worship set out by Marty Walton. I appreciated it. It describes pretty accurately what I experience in worship. But then I have a pretty mystical bent. I have discovered that this is not true of everyone. Some people are really hardwired to this world. And they are not lacking, or undeleveoped. I know seasoned Friends who have worshipped for decades without experiencing "sinking into the stream" or "transcending the Earthly plane". They tell me that they experience a turning of their own thoughts - sometimes to unexpected places; that they accept this turning as evidence of encounter with the Divine within, and they speak, when led, from their thoughts. I think this is good, for they ground us mystics. We compliment each other without needing to replicate each other's experience or think that the other is less deep or more weird. One of the things that I like about Freedom Friends Church is that we are inclusive along mystic/grounded lines.


more testimony

I discovered today that -- Stupid Hurts.
And that not every story needs to be told.



I discovered today
that when you have an absence of data on the causes of another's behavior, you can ascribe to them:
plausible circumstances
positive motives
laudible testiony

and then you can choose to be inspired
and follow their fine example.

This worked out exceedingly well for me today.


harmonious post

Here is a post by a Berkeley blogger I had not seen before, on Quakers, and why they get spied upon. If I were not a Quaker preacher I would accuse him of stealing some of the thunder we have planned for the QHD weekend. Since I am a Quaker preacher I take this as clear evidence that Marge and I are listening well to what the Spirit wants said. This is getting interesting!


A Fun New Gig

Someone recently gave me this quote:
"You concern yourself with the depth of your ministry and God will take care of the breadth." I have found this to be true.
(Does anybody know who said it originally?)

I have a new gig that came to me serendipitously this week. I am now a weekly columnist for the United Press International's religion and spirituality forum. I am narrowcasting as a Quaker voice. (Some of you may know Friend Margaret Benefiel - she is also writing for them, but on issues of business and faith.) The UPI editor Larry, says that the feed is read by one to three MILLION people a month - that is broad. I am a Tuesday columnist and if you are eager you can see my column each week here. Or I will post it on
Silly Poor Gospel on Wednesdays.
The Column is call So There I was.

This week's effort:

Sanctification's matrix found at Safeway
February 6, 2006

I've got this thing about saving old words. Dusting them off, shining them up, flashing them about; especially words that describe the fluctuations of the soul. Faith is a weird world, and it needs good words. One of my favorite words is "sanctification" - the process of becoming a saint. Everybody knows at least one saint - Michael, the tough guy; Anthony for when you can't find your car keys. Did you know that the Vatican is looking for a patron saint of the Internet? Not a moment too soon there, boys! Most faiths have saints in some form, and most faiths believe that we can all be on the path to sainthood. There seems to be a very common notion that something about this life is supposed to polish us like stones in a rock tumbler - that we are supposed to come through all the trash and abuse better, and cooler, and knowing a thing or two.

I work on my sanctification at my local Safeway grocery store, usually about four in the afternoon. They've got everything you need to perfect a deep spiritual path. Temptation, thy name is Ken, plying me with free chocolate samples. Wisdom works in the back with Sue in the pharmacy - I have seen her do compassionate alchemy for the uninsured. I've discovered that true love does wait - for tomatoes and strawberries in their real season, as I pass by the winter fakes. I practice discernment as I leave the Starbuck's alone and find the fair trade coffee. I watch Flo gracefully slow down her line for the intellectually or reality-challenged folk. I see the kindness that Angela has for the elderly. I practice patience as I watch the staff practice grace. Anyone who is moving so fast that they are irritated by human kindness needs to slow down, and that includes me. I have learned to meditate while reading the Weekly World News.

Late night Safeway is another world yet. The homeless teenagers come in when they mark down the deli Chinese - counting their quarters, trying to decide whether to have the sweet and sour or the fried rice, 'cause it looks like they can't get both. I delight in one small problem I can fix - all the Chinese and a quart of milk each, kids - Momma says. I met a schizophrenic prophetess in there one night - she told me I looked to her like Judith of old, and sent me scurrying for a copy of the Apocrypha. There's life at Safeway, and sometimes death - too many people have stepped in front of a train at the crossing in front of that store. I've seen the checkers hold their breath when the whistle sounds frantically wrong - prayers ascending.

Yeah, they've got everything you need over at Safeway, body and soul. That is, if you slow down, and open your eyes, and let your community, and its Creator, shape you and make you better. Saints; every one of you.


Losing a good mother always hurts

Coretta King was the same age as my mother. My mother left this planet in 1989, as I have watched Mrs. King age with such grace I have always imagined my mother attaining the same age as gracefully. The loss of a good mother is something that human society always feels, and cannot easily afford. But this mother certainly earned her rest and joy. Coretta left on the same bus as Betty Friedan, now THAT must have been an interesting conversation!


California Teasers

A little bit more about what the Berkeley Chats will be about:

God's Agenda For Us: Will We Cooperate?

Session 1 -- "We Have a Great Trailer -- How's the Movie?"
In signing on to be Friends, we are acknowledging that God's peace throws the conventional wisdom of the world into disorder and that transformation is dangerous and leads us into unsuspected ways.

Session 2 -- "A Fearless Faith"
When we are transformed in holy love, fear takes its rightful place. As we cooperate with God and are obedient we come to live truth more fully. Motivation for an action-based fearless faith comes both from knowing God's love and the undeniable truth that people are dying for want of what we have.

Session 3 -- "If Not Us -- Who?"
Cooperation with God also presses us to see the divine reality which we have ignored. In our "niceness" and idolatry there is much which needs to be rooted out and fall away in order for us to live freely in the power of the cross.


Call for a Convergent Conversation

On March 4 and 5, Margery Post Abbott and I will be speaking at Quaker Heritage Day at Berkeley Friends Church, Berkeley CA. We are going to be having a future focus to our ministry, and I think it would be lovely to see how many bloggers we could gather under one roof at one time. I like Robin M's use of the word 'convergent' and would like to explore what that could mean in the Quaker context.

Here is the link for info on the weekend.

The theme of the day will be "God's Agenda for us -- will we cooperate?"
I will be bringing the Sunday Morning message, and I have already 'caught' it.
The title is "Dangerous Quakers"

Let me know if you can join us, and I will set aside some semi-private blogger time.


Well, I have been standing on the edges of this pool for long enough.
The waters seemed to be stirred -- might as well jump in.