The Potluck from Hell

Today's UPI Column

So There I was... the kitchen with daughter #1. She was four years old. It was a few days before Halloween. I had finished making her a blue gingham dress and found the required red sparkly shoes. She had a handbasket, and one of her stuffed dogs had volunteered to play Toto. I thought we were all set. But this was the child who from birth had done things all or nothing. She had one more request.

"Mommy, could you make me a cyclone?"

"Uh... no baby, I don't know how to make a cyclone."

"Why not? It shouldn't be hard - cyclones are made of air.
Stop laughing Mommy - cyclones are not funny!"

I never really have stopped laughing about that one. She was right, of course, cyclones are not funny - but four-year-olds are.

I have always loved Halloween, and not just for the candy. I love the imagination, the limitless possibilities. I had a very imaginative mother who was good with the sewing machine, and she worked hard to make our dreams come true. You went to school in costume, and the teachers didn't bother trying to teach - it was an all-day party.

Back in the day (pre-maternal paranoia) once you were old enough to walk to school alone, you were old enough to trick-or-treat alone, especially if your older brother was supposed to watch you. Of course, your older brother and his friends always ditched you because you couldn't keep up with their door-to-door capacity, but that was fine.

We were members, and multiple-times-a-week attenders, of a pretty conservative Christian church, but I don't remember anyone saying a word against the holiday. We dreaded that seven-year occurrence of Halloween on a Sunday, but those years most people would trick-or-treat on Saturday night, so we didn't suffer.

Which is why I have trouble with the segment of American Christendom that feels that they have to turn Halloween into a "biblical costume only - Harvest Party" event. It looks as if they are afraid of Halloween - which misses the whole point! Halloween is the day where WE laugh at darkness, death, and all things spooky. Halloween is a celebration of anti-fear.

As the year wanes, as darkness and leaves fall, we send our little children out to mock the unknown. They can be fairies or witches, ghosts or pirates and take no harm at all from it. We reward them with sweets for knocking on strange doors.

I love it when there is a three foot tall Darth Vader on my doorstep. Christendom should be proud of the fact that we send our most vulnerable out to deal with the dark side of the force. I do not for a minute fear that this will lead to a life of galaxy-wide domination.

I am not always thrilled with the levels of homicidal violence being portrayed. I do not like to see little girls being uber-sexy. Good parents can and do moderate these things well into adolescence. But these things reflect our greatest fears, and we conquer them by reducing them to manageable size.

I love the implication that fear, and the conquering of it, is child's work. The mature members of our spiritual community are busy turning the actual non-metaphorical Hell into a skating rink. We may not live up to this ideal, not often even close, but the model of it is there if we wish to participate in it.

The other despicable thing that is in vogue in some parts of Christendom is turning the traditional haunted house into a "Hell House," where you attempt to scare teenagers straight by depicting hell in all it's torment. Intentionally scaring people into faith has been tried since the third century. The Spanish inquisition (while never expected) had a real specialty in it. It didn't work then and it doesn't work now. What these folks are doing is using the tools of darkness - fear, terror, revulsion - to try to control. Using the tools of the devil to attempt God's work, backfires every time. When, oh when, will we learn this lesson?

Hell Houses encourage the adolescent carnage fascination that adults should be moderating. Also encouraged is judgmentalism in all its forms. They only depict certain sins; usually the ones they think they themselves do not commit. Always the gory ones.

An honest Christian Hell House would have one room dedicated to gluttony; a portrayal of a typical American potluck would do. In another room would be the gossips and backstabbers. I suppose you could get some gore mileage about a beam protruding from the eyeball of the person calling others sinners. Unlike tiny witches, who only very rarely actually ride broomsticks as adults, youthful training in judgmentalism does often lead to a lifetime of sin.

Tomorrow is All Saints Day. Same deal — part two. Not only are we not afraid of darkness, but we know where our dead loved ones have gone - and they are not lost. They are right here with us, cheering for us from the stands. We know we will join them one day. Death where is thy sting? The Mexican people take Thursday to have Day of the Dead - not a scary zombie flick - but a day to take a picnic lunch out to the graveyard to visit with the old folks.

This is our week to celebrate our lack of fear in the face of death, sin and all its fellows. Pass the sugar!


DQ handout on Anger

What Marge brought to class last week

Ruth A.B. Bradley, Pastor
Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting
September 19, 2004

“Be angry; but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger…” Eph 4: 26 (RSV)

Our topic today is anger, and I selected that last hymn (“We Shall Overcome”) because I wanted us to be reminded of the profound anger present in our country at the time of the struggle for racial justice, and I wanted especially for us to remember how anger was put to both destructive or constructive purposes.

Many human beings have a problem with anger. I say humans have a problem with anger, and not that anger is the problem, because anger is just an emotional force. Saying anger is a problem is a little like saying that gravity is a problem. The force of gravity produces certain effects that are essential to life as we know it. Some of gravity’s effects are hurtful to us, as we realize when we have a bad fall. But, we don’t think to blame gravity for that; we try, if we are wise, to anticipate the force of gravity and to handle it intelligently.

Andreas put up sturdy scaffolding to ensure that those painting our meetinghouse were protected from the dangerous effects of gravity. We place babies and young children in cribs so that they don’t tumble out of bed while sleeping, and we protect ourselves when we are older with canes and walkers and such. And yet, we are not so wise or resourceful when it comes to the force of anger.

We frequently look for the cause of anger outside of ourselves and ignore the reality that anger arises as an invisible force from within ourselves. It is there that we must look if we are to understand it and become wiser about harnessing its energy in useful and constructive ways.

Quakers are not immune to the challenges of handling anger and managing conflict. Some of you may have seen the short article in Spark from the NYYM Conflict Transformation Committee that reflects this. Many Quakers apparently adopt a strategy of avoiding conflict altogether or giving in, in the face of it. Could this be due to some mythology that to be the peaceful people Quakers are supposed to be, we don’t get into conflicts? Or a myth that truly spiritual people don’t experience anger?

The emotion of anger is a natural response that arises as a result of a real or imagined threat, insult, frustration, or injustice to you or others who are important to you (Carlson, p.49). It ranges from mild irritation to rage and has cognitive, emotional and physical components. When a car races through a red light nearly colliding with us as we start into the intersection, we feel a rush of physical, mental and emotional responses and one of these responses is probably going to be anger. But it is important to note, and this example demonstrates it as well as any might, that anger is what is called a secondary emotion. The first is fear, after the recognition of threat. Anger comes following after. If someone were to drop a can on your foot, you would first feel and express the physical pain, then the anger. Likewise, if someone belittles or insults us in public, we immediately feel the emotional pain or discomfort of the threat to our identity or well-being, later we might express anger for the disrespectful treatment.

This is important to understand, because it allows us to go back to the source of our anger and be wise about how to proceed in the face of real threats to our physical safety or to our human dignity. If our actions do not acknowledge and address our fear or our physical or emotional pain, if we just lash out at the stimulus in anger, frustration or rage, we are on the wrong track. We are not likely, then, to respond effectively to the real issue(s) before us.

Both the Old and New Testaments repeat the wisdom saying which allows for anger, but not for sin (Psalm 4:4). “Sin” is a word we don’t use much in Quaker meetings. It is a word so laden with misconception that, like many religious terms, it is easily discounted as no longer relevant. But this is not so. The word itself may not be useful to us, but the meaning of sin is essential to us, so we will have find another term to replace it.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, who has such a talent for explaining religious concepts in contemporary terms, suggests the word, “alienation.” He writes, “Alienation suggests an uprootedness from one’s true self, from God (or whatever else ultimately matters)… Sin alienates. An action is sinful to the degree to which it causes alienation. Without alienation there is no sin.”

So, we might then say that in our Judeo-Christian tradition there is room for anger, but that our actions in response to anger must not alienate us from others, but find expression that honors the truth of our oneness. As the volubility and vitriol of divisive rhetoric increases in our nation, as the human and environmental and economic costs of international violent conflict mounts, the contagion of anger is all around us and, sometimes, if we are truthful, we are infected by it.

In a 2001 publication titled, Anger - Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Thich Nhat Hanh gives us an image that helps us understand the common sense and the importance of taking care of the anger that burns within us. “If your house is on fire”, he says, “the most urgent thing to do is to try to put out the fire, not go after the person you suspect of being the arsonist. While you are chasing him or her, your house will burn down. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you acting exactly like someone who is running after the arsonist while your house goes up in flames.”

Just as firefighters need tools to put out house-fires, we need tools to cool the flames of our anger. There are many resources to help us. This is important peace work for each of us to do. So often we give tribute to the leaders of the non-violent movements for peace and justice, and leadership is crucial, as it sets the tone. But, I want to give tribute today to the thousands of common people who were active in the civil rights struggle for racial justice, because I think that in them we can find a lesson for ourselves at this time in our nation’s history. When there was every reason for hatred and retaliation, tens of thousands of Southern Blacks had the patience, the courage, and the discipline to turn swords into plowshares (Micah 4) convinced, as was Franklin Mc Cain, one of the students who sat in protest at that segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, that there is no defense against the potency and power of love (Apsy, p. 55). Our equal conviction in that power is as necessary a force for peace today as it was then.

Dangerous Quakers Handout 10/25/06


So as wise in the Light, prove your Freedom, from that nature which is high, and fierce and hasty, or any way above the meekness, for therein stands your perfect Redemption to know that, that you are not servants to that nature; for it's the same that hasteth into the greediness after worldly things, and fears, and distrusts, if it hath not in its sight and possession what it lusts after; which being convinced of an inheritance in heaven, would have that also in all hast by Sight; but not through Faith, Patience and obedience; which if it may not obtain into its own sight, and in its own way and time, it will be ready to faint and distrust, and this will never strip himself of all, in hopes of an inheritance it hath not seen; so this is in Bondage, and not to be Heir; but the just live by Faith, whose Birth is free from this World, & your redemption from the other into the leadings of this, which will bring to the inheritance of the purchased possession. [James Nayler, 1661. Milk For Babes.1]

And this ever mind, That whatever Freedom you obtain through the sufferings and patience of Christ in Spirit, you part not with it to please the flesh, but hold it as your everlasting possession purchased for you, not with corruptible things; so that which is dearly purchased, let not lightly go; but remember Israel, who was redeemed out of Egypt with much hardships, and many signs and sufferings, but soon in hast got up that which said, Let us return back again; and this grieved God above all: And this you will find ready to rise upon every further hardship and want, as it was with them. Wherefore stand fast in that which you have proved to be Liberty indeed, and by no means look back nor hearken to that which is behind, to let it overtake you again: . . . Wherefore stand single in your minds to follow nothing new or old, but what the Holy Spirit leads into; . . . [James Nayler, 1661. Milk For Babes.]

Wherefore dearly beloved in my soul, above what I can write, this I lay upon every one of you in particular, and warn you, That you prove and examine your selves herein, what spirit you are of, and what is your freedom herein; and note that Spirit which steals your minds into earthly things, and wandering thoughts, for that is not of God, but is of this world, & works after the power of the Prince of the Air; and in this Spirit all have fellowship with the world, & are in the Power web works against God and the Lamb; nor can any in that Spirit serve God, nor have fellowship with him in the Light; for it is carnal and devillish, and shut out from God the Father of Light, and so becomes a Vagabond, wandering, chaffing Spirit, not capable of God's Counsel nor Service; nor can you have fellowship with the Brethren in the Light and Power of Truth, so long as this reigns and is followed by you; and so this must be judged in every motion of it, that it may be subdued and put under foot, lest being once enlightened, you become wandering Stars from God's presence for ever. So be you faithful to God who judges you, and gird up the loins of your minds, and wait for stable, heavenly Spirits, that you may be born thereof, and rule therein over your selves, and so overcome the world, that you may walk at liberty in God, and in Christ Jesus whom he hath sent; and herein is life eternal, and rest to your souls, what ever befall you; and only blessed is he that enters thereinto; and it is the faithful that enters, and in faith and obedience is the Covenant kept, which keeps quiet the mind, and in perfect peace in all Conditions, the purchased possession of every redeemed soul, thorough the blood of Jesus. So God cover you all with his Spirit, being buried into his Death; and the Almighty arise among you, and judge every evil root in its first motion, and give you the knowledge of himself in Love, and build you up above all strife and enmity, and fill you with his Grace, and season your hearts therewith, and make himself your delight, and bless you all, . . . [James Nayler, 1661. Milk For Babes.]

For all that are saved, must be led by the saving Power which redeems and brings up the soul of man out of death, and out of captivity. O that I could cry aloud, and so loud that the sons of men may hear the sound of the Glory of the Day of God which is now revealing. O that every soul had a deep sense of the Word of the Eternal Power engraved in his heart by the finger of the Lord God! And unto the Nations that it shall hear, I do proclaim the Day of Free-love , even the Day of Everlasting Mercy from the God of Abraham, who is faithful, just and true, who hath a Remnant yet to gather of the Seed of Abraham the Just, which Seed shall inherit all things; for with it God hath made an Everlasting Covenant: Therefore be ye awakened unto Righteousness, O ye Inhabitants of the Earth; for the Day is come wherein the Lord God is come to Judgment, and all must know the righteous Judgments of the Lord God to be set up within, that the Inhabitants of the Earth thereby may come to learn Righteousness, and Sion through Judgment must be redeemed, and her Converts by Righteousness must be set free for Freedom; in the Name of the Lord God, and in his Authority I do proclaim Liberty and Freedom to the Captives, that the Seed of the house of Jacob may arise unto the Resurrection of Life, and Immortality, and Glory, and Beauty, and Holiness is broken forth, and the Glory of the Day of the Lord God is shining forth, which will cover the whole earth, and the Beams of Brightness shall overshadow the Mountains, and the Sun of Righteousness shall arise in his healing virtue, to heal the Nations that have been long wounded: yea, the Prisoners of hope shall come forth rejoicing in the God of the Tribes of Israel, who sits on the Throne of true Judgment. [Dorothy White, Trumpets of the Lord of Hosts, 16622]
Dear Friends: if the Truth makes you free, then are you free indeed? So then, there are none made free men but by Truth. All that are free men, they are made free by the Truth. They are God’s free men. They are free citizens. They are freeholders of an everlasting inheritance and free [in] an everlasting Kingdom. They are free heirs of salvation. They are free [in] the heavenly city Jerusalem, which is from above. And they are free [in] the Power of an endless Life, which was before Death was.
So, they are not captives. . . . and what has made them free men and free women, but Truth? For, if Truth has made you free, then you are free indeed.
So, free to worship God in Spirit and in Truth . . . to serve the Lord God in the Spirit and in the new Life. . . So stand fast in the Liberty wherewith Christ has made you free; . . . For free men do walk in their freedom . . . all out of the Truth are slaves in old Adam, slaves to sin and to Satan . . And to their own self-righteousness . . serving divers lusts, . . . serving the desires of their own minds. So, as slaves are kept in bondage. All in prison, all in the bonds of death; for [those] who are out of Truth are not free men . . . [George Fox, Epistle 260, 16683]


The SPiritual Discipline of Gratitude

Today's UPI column

So There I was...

…Getting my clock cleaned weekly.

I was training to be a counselor. I was in my last term. I had 18 months of clinical practicum in my backpack. End of tunnel in sight – didn’t expect that light to be an oncoming train.

I had a new supervisor, and she did not appreciate me. I don’t think that there was anything about me that she liked. And her disdain of all things Peggy Parsons was apparent in the first session. Our meetings focused on listening to, and critiquing tapes of my counseling sessions – my clients signed up for this by getting a cheap student driver counselor. From the get go it was apparent that she thought that I could do nothing right. I remember her criticizing the tonal pitch of one of the sounds that counselors make to show empathetic listening. She didn’t like it when I spoke, she didn’t like it when I was silent. Realizing, of course, that a good supervisor would never give ONLY criticism, she occasionally faintly praised ridiculously small things; as in “Well, Peggy at least you called your client by their proper name – that was adequate.”

I never did figure out if there was anything I did to precipitate her treatment of me, but I do know that moment that I sealed the deal.

After weeks of tearing apart my work, we ended a meeting and I looked up at her shelf of books by feminist theologians and psychologists and said “Gee, you know, I would have thought that feminist supervision would have been a little more nurturing than this.”

It wasn’t a clever thing to say. After that she called the school I was to graduate from, and the clinic where I was doing my practicum and tried to get me fired and held-back. It’s pretty rare to get held back a grade in graduate school, but she tried.

At that point I was starting to wonder if, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, I really sucked at this. And if I did not, how I was going to get through the last couple of months of the ordeal.

I hired an independent person, another clinical supervisor, to give me some perspective. He listened to my tapes and told me that I was doing fine. I asked him for advice on surviving an upcoming exit interview, when my supervisor would meet with me and the director of the clinic where I was working. The one I was hoping would hire me after my graduation. I was certain that she was going to try and make sure that I did not get that job.

His advice; “Thank her.”
“For what? – abusing me?”
“Yes, call it diligence and thank her for it. Make a list of everything you could possible think of, and thank her for it. Thank her for providing you with a chair to sit in, thank her for agreeing to see you, thank her for her attention to detail. Start with that list – take up as much time as possible and then when she gets her say, argue with nothing and thank her again, in detail. Gratitude is your only option, any other response will look like defense or offense and they will both fail. But Peggy – you have to thank her sincerely, you can’t sound facetious when you do it.”

I didn’t like his advice, but I took it.
It was nasty hard to do, but I did it.

The look on her face was pretty precious, but the bottom line was that I graduated, got the job, and that woman has become an unnamed footnote in my story.

That was my first awareness of gratitude as a spiritual discipline.
I am grateful to her for that. Really.

My mom taught me to say thank-you – but that was usually for things that were good, and that I liked. She gave me a way to express my natural gratitude.

The discipline of being grateful when things are going to hell in a hand basket came harder and later.

But I have come to believe that it is a foundational spiritual discipline. It is the discipline that frees you to learn all the others. It completely circumvents resentment. It takes anger and divides it into that which requires action and that which can be released. Eliminating resentment and reducing anger allows you much more time for attention. It makes failure bearable. It sweetens everything that is already sweet.

If I start and end my day with gratitude, nothing that happens in between has the power to ruin tomorrow.

A couple of years back I received a second-hand instruction from a Benedictine nun. It was shared with me by a friend, and it dropped immediately into that hole in my soul that is truth shaped. She said, “Pray this prayer daily; Thank-you for everything – I have no complaint.”

I have tried to do this, not just daily but hourly and moment-by-moment. It is not easy. Some things, like interruptions and thwartings, do not fall easily into the gratitude basket.

I wrestled for a while with thanking God for things that I did not really believe that God was sending me. I do not believe it is God’s explicit intention for me to be sick or stupid or in harms way. But then I came to believe that these things were part of the global package and that for all its faults I choose to believe that the package is good.

Most of my problems are the consequences of my own foolish actions. I realized that having painful consequences for stupidity was indeed a gift from God, how else was I going to know when to change?

A smaller percentage of the things I hate are the consequences of other people’s stupid actions. But I have learned to thank God for this because it gives me a chance to be perfected in my own reactions, and to step up to the plate for things like justice and peace.

The smallest percentage of my grief is in response to things that are not in human control, like death and sickness. This IS God’s deal – it is part of the set-up. I do not like it very often. But I have come to accept even these things, and trust God in them.

The hardest part of this prayer is the “choosing not to complain” bit. For years I have used God as my unedited sounding board. If I have to yell at somebody, why not God, I mean God’s a tough mother and can take it, right? God has always seemed patient about this, and after I rant a bit, I always feel better and settle into a better place. So to give up complaints, seemed to be giving up one of my favorite coping mechanisms. It also seems at odds with justice. There is a lot of bad stuff going down on this planet; don’t we need to make an issue of certain things?What I have discovered is that forsaking complaint and going straight to gratitude has zero affect on the truth, in fact, it makes truth clearer, and you can move straight to action.

Dear God, thanks for this mess – I have no complaint – please get my back as I step into the middle of it.

Sometimes I need to do something. Sometimes I need to be something. I have found that gratitude is the fast track to the place where God needs me most, and where I most need God.


Young Mr Elie is incorrect

My young bruundian friend over-estimates my French - the second half of the first sentence is a mystery to me." First Friend to provide a translation in the commenst along with a Snail address will receive an Alivia Biko CD - My regular readers in Europe?

"bonjour ca va je suis content de vous ecrire encore et aussi vous nous manquez
I think you andarstand what I am righting at school it is ok moi et james et anna et elie
peggy dit bonjour a derek et a olivieram very happy parce que vous allez venir demain.
ok god bless you. Elie"

Comments on this week's class

Ken Comfort a member of out DQ class e-mailed me this commentary on the class.
We are test driving this material, and I am not sure we really got our point across on Wednesday. but Ken's comments really thoughtful so they appear here. with his permission - Pp

Fox or the other early Friends were not quiet people but were rather outspoken on issues pertaining to truth. The position you gave us about accepting everyone’s truth, in other words “I’m OK, You’re OK” leads to the age of quietism and keeps us there.

Jesus did not walk away from the truth but spoke obediently to it. True prophets obediently speak the truth that God speaks to them regardless if it will offend the recipient. The messenger is God's vessel to be used as God sees fit. Jesus gave us this example recorded in John 12:49,50: “I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me gave me his own instructions as to what I should say. And I know his instructions lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say!” This is the core Quaker value of communicating God's word and God's truth!!

Dangerous Quakers are people who are in tune with God and God's purposes. Dangerous Quakers are not afraid of what someone might do to their physical body because they stand for this truth. Dangerous Quakers are willing to suffer for the gospel and for the truth that God speaks. Speaking out can have many forms such as; quiet protest, not conforming to senseless practices, and even prophetic exhortation. Speaking out takes on many forms - except backing down from the truth that God instructs.

It is important to remember that it is God's Word heard directly (I do not necessarily mean the Bible), that we are to pass on to those who need to hear. This truth has a check in that it does not contradict the ageless truth that God spoke to the prophets in ages past. Dangerous Quakers read and meditate on the scriptures because through them they learn to distinguish God's truth from human perceived truth. Only through the undeniable recognition of the voice of God can we also say; “I say whatever the Father tells me to say!”


Marge's second handout from francis Taber

Paradoxical Understandings to Hold in Creative Tension

by Frances Irene Taber, Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative.

Adapted from an article in FGC Focus, Feb. 1992, Friends General Conference

The chart on the other side of this page elaborates on the elements from Bill Taber's circle chart. It can be considered as another way of looking at the elements found on the wheel; it goes into more detail and in addition names what often happens when we allow our faith to fracture out of that center in which paradoxes can be held in creative tension. It illustrates the implications of allowing ourselves to fly out of the living center of Quakerism.
Our view is that a whole Quaker-Christian faith includes some element of both central columns. A complete absence of either is likely to lead to a distortion in the element which is retained. Thus, a person whose faith is best described by the left center column, and who does not resonate at all with the elements in the right-center column, may find without that balance that the reality of experience moves towards its spin-off extreme in the far left column. If this distortion does not occur in the life of a given Friend, it is likely to happen in the faith experience and expressions of his or her spiritual descendants. The equivalent pattern is likely to hold for a faith experience described primarily by the right-center column, without counter-balancing from the left-center.
The chart also illustrates how people have trouble understanding one another?s religious language. One's viewpoint- far left or far right - has a tendency to create a distortion in perspective, making it difficult to distinguish between the two degrees on the opposite side. As either central viewpoint fails to be balanced by an element of the other, the person with that perspective tends to assume that the viewpoint represented by the opposite central column includes its aberration.

It would be an unusual Friend whose faith and life experience is a perfect balance of the two central columns. Most of us experience one side more fully than the other, at least at a given period of our lives. It is our understanding that a living growing faith experience which starts out heavily on either left or right, will often, when it remains vital, expand in time to include some understanding of the opposite side of the paradox.
In reflecting on this chart, it is useful to take a long-term view. Although it may appear so at a given point in history, neither side represents an intrinsically ?conservative? or ?progressive? view. That depends on historic context. It has flipped twice since 1800. Also, neither side is intellectually more respectable in a long-range view. That, like the question of which one is conservative, is a matter of current fashion.
The chart is neither definitive nor infallible. It is merely a description of tendencies we have noticed among Friends, intended to simulate reflection on our own spiritual journeys and on the way we communicate with other Friends and hear them.

(more formatting problems - the chart really didn't come through - we will have more available in class next week. - e-mail if you just have to have it and I will fwd to Marge -PP)


This week's Dangerous Quakers Handouts

From Marge Abbott

The Unity of Paradoxical Quaker Extremes

By Bill Taber, Ohio Yearly Meeting, Conservative.

Adapted from an article in FGC Focus, Feb. 1992, Friends General Conference

A careful reading of early Quaker writings up through the early 19th century shows that earlier Friends were able to combine, in dynamic, creative tension, the paradoxical extremes (both ends of the arrows radiating from the center), while later Quakers, as we have become more acculturated and intellectual, have tended to separate into ?camps? or ?parties.? Once we have separated and lost frequent contact with one another, the tendency is to take one end only of a paradoxical truth, and thus gradually become more extreme. It is as if there is something in the human, analytical mind which wants to reach the security of a point of philo-sophi-cal certainty rather than staying in the seemingly less comfortable and more dynamic flux which keeps the paradoxical extremes in some sort of creative tension.

(formatting Issues alert - imagine these words in a circle - each across from their opposite)

Jesus Christ Intuituve
Individual Inspiration Biblical
God Within +
God Beyond
Humanistic Service
Rational Outward
Universal light Experience
Corporate Inspiration

The mark in the center represents that place, in the heart of each tradition, where there is unity, and that it is possible to look beyond the boundaries and polarization and recognize one another as sisters and brothers in the faith, even beyond differences of theology, language, and culture.

Is it possible that the unquestioned power of earlier Quakerism lay in its ability to stay with the dancing, living Spirit in a place beyond the limitations of linear thinking, in a wideness of heart beyond the limitations of words and ideologies and systems?

See part two: Frances Iren Taber's Paradoxical Understandings to Hold in Creative Tension
These articles are from Resources for Fostering Vital Friends MeetingsSee also: the FGC Quaker Library


Hell's Freezing Over

Today's UPI column

So There I was...

Sitting at a lunch table with a group of insightful, visionary, powerful, spiritual women. We were talking about what it would take for our corner of the Body of Christ to embrace an application of our professed testimony of equality. Specifically, what it would take for the spiritual sea to change enough to make gender identity and sexual orientation non-obstacles to membership and ministry.

“What if we just opened that door and walked through it and let them watch? – Maybe they’d follow.” I proposed.

“Yeah, when Hell freezes over!” said one of my sisters.

That phrase haunted me for a while after that. It rattled around in my heart like a marble in a glass milk bottle. Then the bottle broke, and it was spilt milk all over, but I had a jagged glass epiphany.

That is our job.

That is precisely our job.
We are supposed to be freezing Hell.
Turning the thermostat of evil down till the devil is wearing thermal underwear.

Hell requires conflagration.

Badness expends huge energy.
Evil itches, and requires lots of scratching, which leads to angry inflammation.
But the truth is, Hellfire can be quenched.

The best way to chill inequality is to not participate in it,

not cooperate with it, not ignore it.

Racism is not by any means conquered in our world. But in our country in the last century it has been moderated by courageous people refusing to accept that it is the norm. Racism lives, but Jim Crow is history. People, a few people at first, just refused to be segregated, black people and white people. They just stopped participating. They had a chilling effect on evil.

We were created to be effective.

Each one of us individually and all of us together.
Individually we can douse and stomp on fires of evil that spark up around us.

As a people of God we can be the cool soft rain that puts the forest fire to bed.

Hell loves a mob; especially a trauma crazed mob, an unthinking angry mob.

Hell especially loves an armed mob; guns are nice, but machetes will do. But it is amazing what a few people or even one person can do to a mob.

Hell was having a picnic in My Lai, Vietnam when Hugh Thompson, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta landed their helicopter between their comrades and their comrade’s innocent prey. They stopped the carnage.

The devil considered those guys to be party crashers.
They were called traitors when they got home.
Eventually they were decorated as heroes.

What we don’t know is how many similar atrocities, in that war, and in the wars since then, including the travesty of a conflict we are engaged in now, have been stopped short by one person saying “Hey, that’s not what were here for” or “Don’t even think about it.” They don’t get written up as heroes for preventing evil. Loyalty and humilty keeps them from talking about it, but It happens all the time.

The devil doesn’t want you to know that he gets thwarted a thousand times for every time he succeeds in getting drunk on mayhem.

And don’t think that it is only warriors who block disaster.

I have seen a pig-tailed eight-year-old walk into a knot of bullies and take a scared six-year old by the hand and walk them out with a “Shame on you – I’m telling” look.

The truth is that evil is the sissie.

Our spiritual adversary and all his minions are cowards of the first order. Hell can be frozen by the kindness of a child, the courage of a man, the voice of a boy, the persistence of an old woman.

All we have to do is wake up, speak up and step right in.


The view out my window


My Favorite Super Powers

Today's UPI column

So There I was...

Walking down the street with my four-year-old daughter. Well, actually, I was walking, she was running ahead – full tilt. I wasn’t worried about her because she was a pretty well trained child, and I knew I could rein her in with my voice. I was just enjoying watching her move like every baby racehorse ever born. As she approached the corner I called out “That’s about far enough, honey.” She started her deceleration. Then she turned around, tiny hands on tiny hips and eyes of blue flame surrounded by sunburst of yellow hair. She was clearly a little put out with me.

“Mommy, there is something I have to tell you.”
“Ok, baby, what?”
“Someday, when I am running like that, I am just going to take off and start flying.”
“I thought you might be scared – so I am telling you.”
“Thanks, hon, you’re right, that might scare me.”
“I’ll be just fine, but if I am flying, I might not come back when you call.”
“Thanks for the warning. You would come back eventually, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes – I’ll always come home for lunch.”
“Great to know that – you gonna let me hold your hand to cross the street?”

I thought about this last week when I caught an episode of the new TV series “Heroes.” It is the story of a group of regular people who suddenly discover that they have superpowers. A guy in Japan finds that he can stop time. A cheerleader finds out that she is indestructible. Another fellow discovers that both he and his brother can fly. The newly minted marvels don’t know each other. They all think that they are unique. I don’t know what they are going to do with this yet. Save the planet, I presume.

What an amazingly old story this is. Hercules old. Moses old. Buddha old. Shaolin, Shaman old. It is also new. Jedi new, Matrix new. I cannot think of a culture in which there is not a story line of mixed god/humans, or humans who attain a superhuman level of enlightenment and skills that go with it. The crux of the story is always what they do with the powers – save themselves, save the planet, or seduction and self-appropriation of the power to the destruction of themselves and others. Mr. Jung would have called the story archetypal, meaning hardwired into the human mind. I think it is so universal that it must be true. God has put into us a truth so strong that every four year old believes it. And even after we crush the literal possibility out of the minds of our children, it is a truth so strong that it oozes out of our consciousness every time we tell a tale.

We are meant to be so much more than we are.

John the beloved disciple, John of Patmos, writing a letter: {italic}Beloved, we are even here and now God's children; it is not yet disclosed or made clear what we shall be, but we know that when He is manifested, we shall resemble and be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He really is (1 John 3:2).{/italic}

We have gotten immune to hearing “Everyone is a child of God”, blah blah, metaphor, blah. John’s ancient readers would not have heard it that way. They would have heard “Right now, you are Xena, you are Hercules, what you are going to become can’t even be described but will make those two look like sissies.”

I have come to believe that this is true, that we are supposed to be superheroes. I have come to know this experientially. I am going to tell you about my top five favorite superpowers. You will probably dismiss this because it doesn’t involve capes and tights, and leaping tall buildings. You will say, “I don’t want cheesy metaphorical powers, I want a light saber, I want bullets to bounce off my chest.” But I say to you, the light saber is the metaphor. These powers are real, they are available, and if you surrender to the Divine you will get your own set, and when you discipline yourself and learn their use, your life will be transformed.

Power #1

I have become frequently impervious to insult and offense. This was the first power that I discovered and so named. I was shown that just because someone is offensive, it does not mean that I have to be offended. I can choose, and offense is so rarely a good choice. Offense is a huge waster of time and emotional energy. I have much better uses for my time.

Power #2

I can forgive those who actually hurt me - the ones who do it accidentally and the ones who do it rather intentionally. This power breaks chains of bondage. It crushes walls of isolation. It allows me to move through regions that otherwise I would have banished myself from. It erases enemies. It short-circuits revenge. It stops wars.
You need to see this work? Ask the Amish – ‘nuff said.

Power #3

I have started to have what I call Quixotic vision. Like the old Don from La Mancha I have started to see people as God sees them. This is amazing. Some of the human trash of our society, the ones we warehouse, or worse, abandon to the streets are beautiful and saintly. Some of the most physically beautiful, smart and powerful, are actually wizened, shrunken and deformed in their souls. The scariest part of this power is looking in the mirror.

Power #4

I can travel through time. Not kidding here. I am connected to a supernatural being that exists completely outside of time. Through that One, I can communicate and work in other places and times. So far, this is mostly through the work of prayer. I have prayed for my grandparents, I pray for my grandchildren who are not yet conceived. When I work with a person who was damaged as a child, I pray for the child they were, sending them strength and hope to arrive at the day of their healing. I pray for my own death. I believe that the universe changes when I pray. Not always the way I want it to change, but it changes.

Power #5

I am becoming hyper-resilient. One of my favorite story heroes is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One of the cool things about Buffy is that she takes her hits but she heals fast. A good night’s sleep after the worst day fighting evil, and she is back at it again. Me too. If I take care of myself; sleep good, eat right, escape to my fortress of solitude every so often, I do not run out of energy or hope. If I disconnect from my Divine power source through will or inattention, I fail. If I ignore my spiritual disciplines of restoration, I might as well have a back pocket full of Kryptonite. I wilt. I whimper. I lose all my other powers. I screw up. I die.

So there you have it. I am “out” as a superhero. Deal.

But I leave you with another lesson from Buffy. At the series finale, Buffy and her friends defeat the ultimate evil by finding a way to break the Buffy-world rule that “once to every generation there comes a slayer.” They elevate every potential slayer to full force, all at once. They kick evil butt. They unlock this truth – we are ALL supposed to be superheroes. There are infinite powers. There are infinite skill sets. Evil doesn’t stand a chance.

Let’s go save the planet.
It’s still OK to hold hands when you cross the street.


Second handout from Second week

Peggy talked about the dangers and possibilities of transformation
Encouraged us to think about honestly articulating
the likely conditions of the path we reccomend and profess to be on.

the handout below is such an articulation
put in the style of a prescription drug
warning and information sheet.

An Honest disclaimer
About a life lived
In the presence of Christ

Therapeutic effects: You can expect…

Soul awakening, Wider vision, Better vision,

Better self-esteem+ humility,
Increased resiliency, Healing,
More self-control+ surrender,
Soul peace, Occasional joy,
Intermittent clarity.

This remedy does not produce:

Wealth, Unremitting happiness,
Physical or Relational peace,
Physical health, Safety, Certainty.

Possible Side Effects:

Loss of friends, New Friends,
Frequent change of ideas and behaviors,
Loss of favorite coping skills,
Loss of favorite excuses, Public scorn,
Frequent confusion, Risk of Jail time, Only rarely - death.

If these side effects are disturbing please talk to your maker.

How I explain being "born again"

By Pp from Q 101

I used the peach pit because it is a nice big visible, and tactilely interesting seed - that and my peach tree was producing during our Q101 lessons.

The seed represents a (not The) Quaker view of human nature.

It has encoded within it everything it needs to know to become a peach tree. It cannot become and apple tree. There is nothing wrong with the seed in its dormant state. It is perfect, complete and everything it is supposed to be as a seed. Yet, it is not a producing peach tree - and it is in great need of external help to become that tree.This is a Quaker view of the human condition - NOT ruined, depraved or necessarily even fallen, but valuable and invested with life and a plan even in the simplest stages. This is the view of humanity that we see in the first chapter of John - life and light in everyone born, but still in need of Divine visitation and assistance.In addition to time, the seed needs at least two things to become a producing tree. The first is to be planted and watered, which will allow the see to be germinated and awaken. This awakening is programmed into the seed - the seed 'wants' to germinate, and yet it will not happen until the conditions are right. This can happen by fortuitously falling to the right place on the ground at the right time, or it can happen with the help of a tree grower who intentionally plants and waters the seed.This is the process that Jesus refers to when he speaks with Nicodemus in John chapter three. This is the 'second birth' that has become the clichéd 'born-again'. The truth that we see here is that there ARE two 'births' of the peach - the original pollination of the flower that produces the fruit that produces the seed, and the awakening of that seed in Germination. And both of those awakenings require some external help and influence.

But even the planted, watered and germinated seed is not a producing peach tree; and so we come to a critical idea about human spiritual health and growth. The climate must be conducive to growth. A peach tree planted on the windy high desert is unlikely to make much of a tree. A banana tree planted in the Willamette Valley will try and grow but is unlikely to make any bananas. Good seed and a well-intentioned orchardist will not produce peaches in the wrong climate. And again this is not within the control of the seed.In the natural world, without human intervention, the seed will only fall where a tree has grown to maturity, and so the chances are pretty good that the climate will be good for the seed of that tree. In the spiritual world, souls are planted everywhere, and spiritual climates are quite changeable. Jesus told a parable where the seed is scattered on the good ground and on the bad. This is how we find ourselves - good, wholesome souls, with an innate plan for health and productivity, in need of awakening, nourishment and a healthy spiritual climate in order to flourish.

My favorite definition of Salvation

Comes from Samuel Caldwell
from his essay"The Inward Light: How Quakerism Unites Universalism and Christianity"

"God gives to every human being who comes into the world a measure of the divine spirit as a Living Witness and a Light to be inwardly guided by. Those who learn to heed the promptings of this Light within them come to be "saved" - that is, they come into fullness and wholeness of life and right relationship with God, themselves, and one another. Those who resist, ignore, or otherwise deny the workings of this pure spirit within them, though they make a profession of faith, are "condemned" - that is, they become alienated from God, from themselves, and from one another. The chief end of religious life, therefore, is to hearken to and act in accordance with the promptings of the Inner Light in one's life."

This description closely parallels George Fox's original "opening" concerning the Light in 1648, as recorded in his Journal (Nickalls edition, p. 33). "

This week's DQ handouts

Marge spoke about Transformation,
using examples from the journals of early Friends.
This is the handout of Early Quaker understandings

and definitions of some of the words used to describe

Different Words for Transformation

Baptism: "Now here is the baptism of Christ by fire: this Holy Spirit to plunge down the foul spirit and power that has got into man, which fills him with chaff and corruption. This baptism destroys him and his work in man, and burns him up and his chaff with his fire. So man and woman have had this chaff in them, with which the god of the world hath fed them. Now every one must know the baptism with the Spirit before they can come up into the garden in Paradise again; every man and woman must know this without book, in their own particulars " [George Fox, 1680]

Conversion: "(4) Spiritual change from sinfulness to righteousness; change from one religion, political belief, viewpoint, etc. to another; (5) a change of attitude, emotion, or viewpoint from one of indifference, disbelief, or antagonism to one of acceptance, faith or enthusiastic support." [Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary]

Convincement: "Convincement or ‘conviction’ in its original 17th century sense, was the name given to a two-stage experience common among the first Quakers. Initially, the Light would reveal a person’s sins and he or she would be convicted of them. The same Light, however, would then set this person free from sin and release him or her into a new and renewed intimacy with God. Over the centuries, the term has remained but has taken on new emphases. The chief aim of the preaching of Quaker evangelists is to effect a conversion in a person from being a nonbeliever to being a believer. ‘Conviction’ and ‘conversion’ are used to describe a spiritual process involving the relationship of the individual with God. The process of convincement specifically indicates the decision of the believer or convert that Friends’ faith, practice, and fellowship are the best ways and the best places to live out this relationship." [William F. Medlin, The Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers).]

Conviction: "a fixed or firm belief (2) the act of convincing (3) the state of being convicted" Convicted – (1) to prove or declare guilty of an offense . . .(2) to impress with a sense of guilt . . . " [Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary] Early Friends spoke of "being convicted of sin" as part of the work of the Light in the human soul.

Justification: "The act of God whereby humankind is made or accounted just, or free from guilt or penalty of sin." [Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary]

Perfection: Many pilgrimages of faith ahve begun from hunger for moral perfection, dedication, and personal purity. Early Friends took seriously Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect’ in loving everyone impartially (Matthew 5:48) and to the rich young man: ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions. . . . Then come, follow me’ (Matthew 19:21). Quakers, like many Christians – and also Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims – rejected moral compromise." [Hugh Barbour, The Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers).]

Redemption: "Redemption is a central category of Christian theology, for it explicates the Christian proclamation fo Jesus at the Christ, as our Redeemer and Savior. The English work ‘redemption’ literally means buying back. The term ‘redemption’ is closely related to but distinct from three other terms. ‘Atonement,’ which is often used to express a kind of propitiation of God by Jesus, literally means at-one-ment,. a bringing together of parties divided against each other. ‘Reconciliation’ refers to the bringing together of parties that have been estranged and separated from one another. Strained relations of discord and hostility are brought back to harmony and peace. ‘Salvation’ refers to a healing, a bringing to health or making whole and well. All terms refer to a transition from one state or status to another. The term ‘redemption’ is best understood as a liberation from one state to another: from bondage to liberation. Redemption is the act or process by which the change takes place." [Joseph Komonchak, etal. The New Dictionary of Theology]

Salvation: "Thus, ‘to be saved’ can mean to be made whole again’ or ‘to be restored’ to a condition of spiritual health. Most traditional discussions of salvation also speak of the Christian understanding of redemption as a process involving stages of spiritual development. Beginning with the assumption that human beings are in a state of sin and separation from God, the first step is to reverse this by repentance and conversion , which means to change (turn around) one’s direction of life. This entails a human response based on an act of free will. Next comes justification , or God’s acceptance and affirmation of us. Justification is seen as a necessary action of the part of God to complete the process of salvation, the assumption being that we cannot save ourselves, but by the grace of God we can be restored to a right relationship with God. A number of Christian groups, including Friends, believe that the redemption/salvation process is not authentic until we enter into holy obedience to God. In some traditions, including evangelical Quakerism, this stage of spiritual development is called sanctification – that is, being made holy in the presence of God." [Wilmer Cooper, A Living Faith, p. 66]

Sanctification: "Derived from the Latin term for holiness, ‘sanctification’ means to make holy; to be set apart for a special work of God; to be full of love and free of evil. Early Friends spoke of this as ‘perfection’, a doctrine that at times resulted in imprisonment for blasphemy. The earliest Friends believed in the possibility of total eradication of sin, emphasizing the active work of God in this life. George Fox believed that complete sanctification was both possible and the intended design for Christian living. Robert Barclay modified Fox’s position, seeing perfection in this life as attainable but rare. Neither man emphasized sanctification and conversion as separate works of the Holy Spirit. Both saw the Light of Christ working to seal human salvation and ensure conformity to the life of Jesus Christ. William Penn articulated clearly Friends’ view that every individual must experience the cross and daily die to sin. In this way the cross – the power of God – would obliterate sin and sanctify those who submitted to its discipline." [Gayle Beebe, The Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers).]

Taking Up The Cross: "For all Christians the cross refers to the crucifixion and atonement of Jesus on the cross. Friends have historically referred to the cross of Jesus as the way of self-denial and simplicity in Christian living. Early Friends often spoke of ‘taking up the cross daily’, whereby they sought to set aside the ego and be faithful to the Light in their words and actions. They also defined the word ‘cross’ as the power of God." [Wilmer Cooper, The Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers).]

Transformation: "(3) change in form, appearance, nature, or character . . . " [Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary]

Turning Point: "(1) a point at which a decisive change takes place; critical point, crisis (2) a point at which something changes direction . . ." [Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary]


Some phrases of George Fox from his Journal (references are to page and line numbers in the Nickalls’ edition)

"Which of you convinces me of sin?" (John 8:46) "be . . . still in the Light that convinces you" (283/40-41)

"In that which convinced you, wait, that you may have that removed you are convinced of." (228/14-15)

Convert – "from death to life, from darkness to life" (283/16, 376/32)

"They that are in the Life are justified; they are they who have unity with God and with one another" (The Papists’ Strength, p. 26)

"There is no justification out of the Light, out of Christ" (175/6-7) "many cannot justify himself by the [outward] law . . .; for he cannot get out of that state but by abiding in the Light" (60/22-24); "There is no salvation, justification, sanctification, but to them who believe in the Light" (Epistle 265)

"In Christ’s Power and Light, translation (into the Kingdom) from the power of Satan is known" (p. 283/13-18, 367/21-27)


The Beauty in the Darkness

today's UPI column

(this was written before the awful news from Pennsylvannia yesterday - it makes this painfully poignant - but I stand by every word - And the testimony of our Amish pacifist brothers and sisters in the face of evil - is indeed beautiful - I am praying, as I am sure you are, for all the grieving families)

So There I was...

…six years old – on a family summer vacation in a cabin by a lake in Wisconsin. I was tucked into a warm bed on a back sleeping porch. It had been a warm August day, but the summer night air was decidedly cool. I had played myself into righteous childhood exhaustion. My parents were sleeping in another room - my brothers were near by. There were no locks on the doors. All was quiet, and with no moon that night, stunningly dark.

Sleeping deeply, at first I was not even aware as the strong male hands folded the blankets under me, and lifted me from the bed. Groggy, when the voice whispered “Shush, don’t wake anyone.” I obeyed.

It was only when I was carried out the back porch door, and slipped out into the dark woods, that I realized what a strange thing was going on. I looked up into the face of the man carrying me.

“Daddy, why are we out in the woods in the middle of the night?”

“I’ve got something important to show you, Peg.”

Good enough for me. I think I snoozed some more as he walked on.
Up a hill and into a clearing.

“Daddy, it’s cold!”
“I know, Honey. Look up”

He cradled me in his arms and I looked up into the night sky. There was a meteor shower going on – the Perseid meteor shower to be exact. And it was a good show that year. Stars rocketed like fireworks across the heavens.

“Wow, the stars are running all around!”
“Peggy I want you always to remember this – sometimes you have to go out into the dark and the cold to see the really beautiful things that God has to show you.”

I remember.

Being as we are; human, mortal, fragile, stuck in time and space, we tend to have human, fragile, and stuck values. Pain is bad- pleasure is good. Life is good – death is bad. Wealth is good – poverty is bad, and so on.

Unable to do much in the way of comprehending the actuality of God, we tend to project upon the Divine our own values. Surely God agrees with us, wants for us what we want, right?

I think perhaps not.

Here’s what I have observed about God’s apparent values.

I think that God cares more about beauty than comfort.
I think God cares more about courage than safety.
I think God cares for about freedom than good behavior.
I think God cares more about sacrifice than suffering.
I think God cares more about generosity that wealth.
I think God cares more about honor than position.
I think God cares more about truth than harmony.
I think God cares more about grace than rewards or punishment.

I think the list goes on.

To see the things that God cares about, you have to go into some pretty cold dark places of human behavior. War is evil – in every case, but in the dark, joyless, airless mineshafts of war there are sometimes found diamonds of human nobility, honor and sacrifice that stand out more brilliantly for the despicable background.

In the midst of our cold harsh treatment of the homeless and the mentally ill, I have seen kindness and courage.

I have camped out in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and while the amenities are nothing to right home about, there is a little restaurant there called “In the Presence of my Enemies”, where the Maitre de is Jesus and the kitchen is full of cooking angels. You can always get a table there. No reservations required.

I have seen sick and suffering children preach sermons of simple hope and truth that Spurgeon and Dr. King could not touch. If it were up to me, no children would ever suffer. It appears to me that God wants to hear them preach.

I hear people say;
“I don’t want a God who claims to be loving, but lets this stuff happen!”

I get this. But I honestly don’t think we get to pick our God. I think we get to pick our response to God. I think we get to spend our lives aligning our values (or not) to a cosmic set of values in which death and pain are no longer relevant. Old Father Job expressed this when he said “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you” {italic(13:15).}

I choose to believe that God’s values are better than mine, because I have seen the beauty in the darkness.

I remember, dad. It's hard today, but I remember.