The Weirdest Thing I Have Ever Been To

This is a rare treat. A candid report on a Quaker worship service by an complete outsider.

I teach Psychology at the local college. The class before mine is American Religions. Quakerism is featured quite largely in their text. When their teacher found out that I was a Quaker pastor, he invited me to speak to his class. Since then I have become a favorite interview and research subject.

Below is the "Field Report" of a young woman named Kelli. I have her permission to share.  She spent time on Quaker and with the   F and P of Freedom Friends. She interviewed me and attended our worship service. She was raised Catholic and occasionally attends a non-denominational Evangelical church. She is about 20 and married. I have not edited her report. The pictures are the ones she included. (note - her pictures have not transferred - I have added notes  where she had pictures)

I am not interested in having us correct her small factual errors. I am very interested in what you think of  this very fresh view.


by Kelli X

Quakers or religious Society of friends started in the 1640’s. They were a group of people who were dissatisfied with the established church who believed one could get the direct experience of Jesus Christ without mediation of clergy or like minded people. The founder of the Quakers was George Fox and he found other people who thought like him and they began to spread their message. As they expanded they faced opposition and persecution. Many were imprisoned or beaten especially in the British Colonies. The Massachusetts Bay Colony would banish the circle of friend’s members or punish them by death and hanging. They were most welcomed in Rhode Island and made up most of the population. They also came to be in Pennsylvania. They made peace treaties with the Indians have good relations with them after that. In 1947 the friends accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for 300 years of working for peace. There are approximately 160,000 friends in North America but occupy many parts of the world including Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The religious circle of friends also helped or contributed to found current states such as NJ, Delaware, Penn and RI.

 (picture of Quakers protesting war and a picture of George Fox)

            For my field assignment I ventured to the land of Quakers. At first to be quite honest I thought that the Quaker religion was very much like Amish and expected it and the people to be very strict; wearing bonnets, having long facial hair and such. I am very surprised to learn that not only are Quaker people everyday people but they actually believe in a lot of what I believe in its just that they have made it a religion. 

(picture of Presence in the Midst)
For my research on this paper I attended a church in Salem called Freedom Friends Church and interviewed Peggy Senger who is the pastor at this church. I went on a Sunday to a “meeting” there at 10:30 am.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary they hold meetings on Sunday just like a lot of others, the building didn’t really look like a church, but it’s the address I was given so I went inside.

(picture of Freedom Friends Church and our banner)

The first thing I noticed that was different was it was very small just like a regular room. There were a few pews but instead of all facing to the front they faced each other with half on one side of the room and half on the other. There were no podiums or places where anyone stood up front. I watched as the people came in and they all sat wherever they wanted some not even sitting in the pews but in back at a table or in some chairs against the wall. A lady pulled up a music stand and pulled out her guitar and everyone picked up these binders that had hymns in them. I assume that these are the same hymns they always sing because they go in alphabetical order and it doesn’t look like any ever get added or taken out. We sung about 4 songs. I then expected the pastor to get up and stand at the front and start a sermon or something but it was just the opposite. She sat down right across in the pew and drank a beverage and just talked to everyone. She said it was time for gratitude’s and whoever wanted to could say anything they would like about what they were thankful for in that day or week or whatever. Almost everyone said something they were grateful for but not in any order just whoever felt like speaking. Next she said if anyone had concerns or cares or had something on their mind they could say that at that time, again some people spoke up about whatever was on their mind. The next thing was she said we were going to take some time and talk to god and you can do whatever is necessary to do that but it’s a time for you to talk to god and for you to listen to what he is telling you. You can do this by reading scriptures, coloring, or maybe saying something out loud if necessary. But in this time everyone was silent, I had no idea what was going on no one spoke. After about what seemed like a long while (to me) she prayed. It wasn’t a prayer I ever heard before, most churches I have been to, the prayer was organized almost written down? This pastor just talked… like she was just having a conversation with god but so everyone could hear. After that it was over. I didn’t know what to think it was pretty much the weirdest thing I have ever been to. I couldn’t get over how there was no sermon and basically the entire thing was silent for you to just sit there and think. I really enjoyed it though for the fact that it was welcoming. I didn’t feel really like an outsider and I didn’t feel stiff after I had sat down but I felt that this was kinda like a place to just  hang out with fellow people and talk to god.
            The church I went to is a semi programmed and socially progressive Quaker church. It has been around for about five years and as Peggy Sengerson (the pastor) told me they are an “experiment” taking on all sorts of the different beliefs that many Quakers have with a few basic key ones. They believe in a few key things I think are important to share. They believe in God, Jesus and spirit. They believe god is our creator and loves every single person no matter what and that he is creator. They believe Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected conquering sin, death and hell once for everyone.  They do not believe that communion or baptizing is something that you need other people for but is between you and god. One of the big things they believe in is peace. They don’t agree with war, violence of any kind, or anything else that corrupts holy living. They are one of the few religions that do not have to participate in war but as Peggy was telling me you have to go thru a lot to prove that you’re a true Quaker to get out of this. They don’t believe in capital punishment, abortion, domestic violence and child abuse. They believe in simple living meaning that greed, envy, and security based on wealth are not examples of holy living. They have these meetings to conduct business. In bigger societies they have yearly meetings but not at hers. Conducting business in their place is a big deal because there is no boss. Everyone has the right to think what they want but basically if not everyone agrees no one agrees. If they do have a problem that comes up and can’t decide on an answer they leave it and come back later.

            Three things that the Freedom Friends Church opposes greatly are Slavery, Fundamentalism and Evil. Slavery, not just of person to person but of yourself and your addictions to anything. Fundamentalism as they think that what they believe is on the correct path to what god wants but they in no way saying their way is the only or right way to go. They are truly against trying to be evil or anything that has to do with it. I asked Peggy how you don’t do that and she said like for example when everything is going wrong and you want to hate something or someone you think instead of all those bad things what can I do to make this better or make the situation better?

            I could go on and on for days about all the interesting things I learned from her or how most of it actually makes sense to me. I really am glad I chose this religion and think I have learned a lot about it and also about being open minded to other types of religion because I think we are all getting the same message from god just in different ways.

(picture of  Hold On - Let Go quilt at FFC)

Either Hold On - to God, to each other, to the truth - or Let Go, of your expectations, fears or anything that keeps your from proximity to God and to freedom. Sometimes the answer is do both.



The Call to Boston

(notes to obscure Quaker references will be in the comments)

I have internal signposts.

Small spiritual prompts that my Guide uses to give me a "heads-up." One of these is "Bristol City Limits." This indicates the dangers of acclaim, and causes me to check my grandiosity quotient.  It will rise up in me like a clear, cheery voice of a cosmic conductor, "Bristol City Limits, darlin', time to get off!I usually do.

Another that gets less use is  "The Call to Boston."  This call is a reference to the actual dangers of following spiritual leadings.  Most of the dangers in my life are the consequences of my own foolish risk taking, not like the Sacrifice of Mary Dyer.  But once in a while I have heard "Careful, this has the potential to be the Call to Boston." I take this quite seriously.

But this week I got an Actual Call to Boston!  I am going to be this year's  Weed Lecturer at Beacon Hill Friends. We are looking at a June date.  I am very excited about this.

I am hoping that it does not involve  any of this:



When Tyrants Tremble

When Tyrants tremble sick with fear
And hear their death knells ringing
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing!

There are some despots shaking in their boots today. It is not unusual for them. Those who dish out fear have the most of it to spare, but today especially they fear that they may really lose their grip. They are calling their slimy advisors and making plans. They are right now stacking bribes and threats to make sure that they do not lose control of THEIR militaries.

Tunisia threw out Ben Ali, and then Egypt ridded themselves of Mubarik in half the time and with considerable less violence. The North African revolution may not be over.

From way down South, The Rev Doctor Desmond Tutu has this to say. 

“Brothers & sisters of Egypt, you have given the world the most precious gift: the belief that ultimately right will prevail.”

What a consistently humble man he is.  Because much of the world would say that the South African revolution of the last decade of the 20th century was an earlier example of the same thing. I sincerely hope that Madiba is well enough to watch what is going on up North. He set the ultimate example by leading a mostly peaceful revolution, taking the reins of power when elected and then laying them down in due time and walking away. A stunning example. One not followed very often in Africa.

This is one of our deep blessings in the USA that we take for granted. Love them or hate them, you can vote them out. They will actually leave the White house when they lose. They will shake the hand of their successor and wish them luck. Anyone who thinks that our government is kind of despotic needs to take a vacation in the neighborhood of an actual despot. I would suggest Harare. I would also suggest that the new democracies put into their constitutions protections and pensions for retiring presidents. Some African despots hang on simply because there would be nothing else for them to go on to. We are a country rich in ex-presidents. Some of them are better ex-presidents than they were presidents. Obama is young, he is going to make a great ex-president in two years or in six. He isn’t thinking about this yet, but I bet his wife is.

Even a non-violent revolution is not without bloodshed. They say that there are 300 martyrs in the Egyptian protest. But poverty and disenfranchisement kill more in nearly every country in Africa on a daily basis. If this transition is accomplished with even some level of transparency and results in some kind of free elections, the heroes of this revolution will be the Egyptian Military. Somewhere high up there is a general or generals who decided to try neutrality, and maybe more. They saved their nation. Now they must follow Mandela’s example and hold their ground, facilitate change, put out fires, and then step away. Really, it’s an awful lot to expect from an Army. May they be up to it. 

If they are, I believe that the continent will change. One way or another. 

The villains of this revolution will be the phone companies. Vodaphone is everywhere in Africa, they make their bread from the masses, and they knuckled under. The next job of the Egyptian protestors should be to make Vodaphone et al pay economically. The people are only beginning to taste their power.

I am glad that the Obama administration and the rest of the world mostly stayed out of it, at least on the public side. The worst sin of colonialism is to think that you know better for them than they know for them. The Egyptian people did this themselves. They own the glory.

Kenya almost tipped over into Chaos in 08. But the revolution was not completed there. Its leaders need to pay attention.
Maybe Bashir has been watching and reading the signs, and so he will actually let Juba go.  Then he needs to go.

The people of Ethiopia are watching, Chad is watching, Ertitrea is watching. All of Africa now had satellite dishes and cell phones. There are at least a dozen despots who need replacing, and a dozen more potential despots.

Mr Mugabe, you have just been served! 

Mr. Museveni in Kampala, when you took power you said that no African leader should be in power any longer than 10 years. That was 24 years ago. You have been given notice.

Mr. Kagame. You have turned into what you once said you hated. It is time to let go and model the elder statesman.

And Pierre Nkuruziza, in my dear Burundi. WATCH! You say you want a prosperous Burundi as a part of an East African Union. Prosperity is best built on peace and freedom. I drove around your barricaded office last summer, as you holed up, fearful of Al Shabab. When bold risk takers become old men barricaded behind their fear, they are of no use to their people. They often become a curse to their people. It is not too late to change!

 So enjoy your fear old men! You earned it. 



Wee Bairn Biker

Our clan's youngest daughter was here recently.
Naturally she wanted to sit on Gran's bike.

She declared it to be "My Bike"

She was quite comfortable. Gran, of course has a rule about babies and bikes. But thought that she might be impressed with a little engine sound. She was handed off to Mom and she batted not an eye when the motor went vroom. So Gran thought to demonstrate and put on a hat and roared just up the lane. The Bairn let out a banshee howl. We weren't sure if for fear for Gran or for the shame of being left behind. So Gran invested in a bit of vintage Radio Flyer to get the babe some chrome bars of her own. She declared it to be "Baby Motorbike!" and was content.



Vengeance is Mine saith the Lord

A  Movie review of True Grit
Especially for my Friend Duncan
(Spoiler Alert - but you probably won’t be interested unless you’ve seen it)

It is not often that I go to see a movie twice in three days.  Not often like maybe never.  But this movie rattled so many of my doors that I had to go back and pay closer attention to why. Sure it had cowboys and I like cowboys. And horses, I like them even better. And a spunky gal - that’s always good, but that didn’t explain the fascination. Those Coen boys can’t seem to stay away from old timey Gospel stuff and Biblical references, I knew that. They Gospelled up Odysseus just fine. But that didn’t explain it either. I never saw the John Wayne version of the thing, so I had no dog in that fight. I watched it at the Saturday afternoon matinee expecting a good time, mind and heart. I did not expect that my soul would jump up, sit on the edge of the seat and steal all the popcorn.

The movie starts with silent opening credits and I counted it off at about 30 Quaker seconds. This of course made the audience uncomfortable and at one showing some wisenheimer had to break it. But it sets up a sub-theme of who speaks, who is silent, and who publishes truth.

After the silence you get a black screen with the scripture quote - the text for today’s message.    Proverbs 28:1 “The wicked flee when no man pursueth. One of the things I presume about a Coen Brothers movie is that you may mid-rash to your heart’s content. Go as deep as you wish. The layers are there, they are intentional. So I feel perfectly safe in interpreting not just what they put up there, but what they left out - the second half of the verse - but the righteous are bold as a lion.” This movie is an exploration of who is wicked and who is righteous.  It is also about the vengeance of God, the “B” side to God’s grace. God’s pure vengeance is played by 14 year old spunky gal Mattie Ross.  She is on the path of her father’s murderer, and she will not be denied. It is she who sheds the light on the quick and the dead, showing their goodness or depravity. She herself is unstoppable. It is she who lays out the eternal paradox as narrator when she says that while the killer may have thought he got off scott free that there is “Nothing free in life except God’s grace.” Mattie’s theme music is the 1887 hymn “Everlasting Arms”

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms

Mattie is pure of heart,  unaffected by the  proximity of death, knows no fear, and is bold as a lion.

The speaking truth about judgment theme continues as Mattie arrives in town just in time for a triple hanging.  The three condemned men each have their say. The first tearfully blames his wickedness on others, lack of good training and drink. The second does not deny his sin but claims relative goodness, saying that he is no greater a sinner than many he sees before him. The third, an Indian, is hooded mid-sentence. He is allowed no voice. The three conditions of human kind it seems.  Through poverty she ends up sleeping in the undertakers workshop in the presence of these three and says that she felt like Ezekiel in the valley of dry bone.  The bones Ezekiel sees were resurrected. Prophet Mattie must produce a resurrection of her own.

The vengeance of God picks an unlikely handmaiden in Rooster Cogburn.  She raises him from a drunken death.  She says she picked him for his “true grit” but he is described to her as “pitiless, fear does not enter into his equation.” He is an irreverent drunk who states that he does not believe in “sermons, fairytales or tales about money.”  Yet Cogburn is prone to long bouts of moral self-examination on the trail. Even he isn’t sure whether he belongs on Team Righteousness or Team wickedness. The two of them take up with a Texas Ranger who is bit of a dandy. Debauchery, Vanity and Wrath going out looking for Justice. The three of them fall into discussion of the finer points of law such as the difference between “malum prohibitum and malum in se,” things that are wrong because they are forbidden and things that are just Wrong. This is a very important point for Wrath to take up with Debauchery and Vanity. Would killing the killer be malum, or simply prohibitum?

The Bad guys are not all bad. One unlucky criminal is stabbed to death by his own partner, who is then dispatched by Cogburn. They dying man gets to be the voice of Grace. He asks Mattie to send word of his death to his brother, a Methodist circuit rider. Cogburn asks him if they should tell him that he took up thievery. “It does not matter, I will meet him later, walking in the streets of Glory.”  And so the dying thief presumes paradise - it is an optimistic Gospel.

But things do not go according to plan. The trackers fail. The trail goes cold. Ambushes fall through, and eventually both Cogburn and the Ranger Le Beouf are ready to quit. Mattie tries to encourage them, shame them and beg them to no avail.  When all is lost she finds the man by pure chance, or the hand of God, which ever you like. She is captured and rescued and takes a mortal wound, but not before she, herself, takes vengeance on her father’s killer. Her last word to him are “Stand up, Tom Cheney.” She calls his name to judgment and, as the Gospel says, his life was required of him that day. She makes several passes through the Valley of the Shadow of death, but shows no fear of Evil. She is eventually saved by deep sacrifice. Cogburn and LeBeouf are proven to be righteous.

Some people knock re-makes. But every good story is a re-make. Joel and Ethan Coen know this. There are only so many stories. The best of them are hard-wired into our souls.  We could not stop telling them if we tried.  Love trumps death. Truth will out. Sacrifice saves. Mercy and Justice are two sides of a coin. Redemption happens. Sin causes fear. Righteousness is unstoppable. Etc. etc. etc.

I believe in wrestling a blessing out every Biblical topic. True Grit rustled me a blessing out of Vengeance.

I am grateful for the excellence of our great storytellers. I heard the Coens on NPR. They state that they are non-observant and non-believing Jews. Couldn’t prove it by their work.  Their name is Hebrew for Priest. Their name claims a genetic descendance from the Temple. Apparently you can take the Coen out of the temple but not the temple out of the Coen. Holiness persists unto many generations.

Now a request: Please, Ethan and Joel. I have been waiting for another famous supposed non-believer, Joss Whedon to do this, but you could do as well, maybe better.  What you have done for fourteen year old girls and sixty year old drunks - this empowerment and redemption. Could you please do this for a menopausal woman? Please? If you need a story line, call me, we can talk.